Point-Two was surprised by how small the explosion was. As a device produced by the wantonly destructive Seneca Corps, he expected a massive detonation, killing everyone including themselves (just to show dominance — we don’t even care about ourselves, imagine how little we care about you…).
But it was just a small bang, a sudden flash of yellow light that bloomed for less than a second before swallowing itself, along with Captain Fermont’s legs.
It took them off at the knees, very cleanly, vaporising them so nothing was left to stitch back on.
She now had no legs and one arm. Her condition would have been quite tragic if not for the connectors hanging from her exposed titanium knee socket that indicated these were not the first pair of legs she had lost.
Everything went quiet, although he may just have been deaf. Point-Two checked his ears for bleeding.
Ubik showed no interest in the mayhem he had caused, his eyes were on the cube, which was flashing intermittently. “What did you guys do to it? You tried to access it, didn’t you? Without consent. Look at it, it’s all traumatised. You of all people…” He shook his head.
“How did you detonate it? How did you control the explosion? Why didn’t it blow when it was in your hands?” blurted out the woman called Otenu, stunned more by how Ubik had done it than what he had done or who he had done it to.
“The more energy the bomb absorbs, the larger the explosion,” said Ubik, like it was obvious.
“That’s not how it works,” said Otenu.
She was holding her position on the far side of the cube, probably trying to figure out her best move. Her best move was to run away, but she was Seneca, so that wasn’t going to be an option.
Point-Two assumed she was the one in charge of the explosive device, probably her area of expertise. Experts were the ones most offended by Ubik’s total disregard for the basic rules of their craft. It took a lot of effort to become an expert, and all their hard work was invalidated by Ubik’s existence. It was understandably demoralising. Point-Two sympathised.
“Did you know about her legs?” asked Point-Two. He was good at spotting artificial movements, but he had been completely unaware of Fermont’s legs. Which meant they had been of very high quality. And also very expensive. One more thing for the Corps to hold against them.
“No,” said Ubik. “But the Corps are very good about taking care of their girls, right?”
“Yes,” said Fig. “Free prosthetic limbs for anyone who needs them.” He was walking towards Fermont as he spoke.
She was sitting on her butt, adjusting the tourniquet around the stump where her arm used to be, more or less ignoring the absence of her lower limbs. Her eyes coldly watched Fig approach.
“Good,” she said. “Very good. You really live up to your family name. But even you won’t be spared if you kill us.”
Point-Two couldn’t help but feel a little insulted. He had taken her arm and Ubik had taken her legs, but Fig was the one she saw as the main architect of her defeat. It was a strange thing to feel wronged over.
Fig didn’t respond to her, he simply grabbed the top of her helmet and pulled it off like a bottle top. He dropped it on the ground and then he pushed down on her closely shaven head, his movements rough and impolite, holding her so the back of her neck was exposed.
“Can I borrow your knife?”
Point-Two shrunk his sword down. “How big?”
“That’s fine,” said Fig. He caught the knife thrown to him and casually nicked the back of Fermont’s neck. There was only the slightest trace of blood on the blade.
Fermont didn’t make a sound. Fig held the blade in his mouth, undeterred by the bloodstain, and used his thumb and finger to remove something from Fermont’s nape. Fermont let out a small gasp as he did this.
“Suicide pill?” asked Point-Two.
“Suicide bomb,” said Fig. “She would have used it already but the K-30 command doesn’t apply to me, not yet anyway.”
“Don’t be so sure,” said Fermont through gritted teeth. “We have to bring your bodies back. Can’t do that if we’re all dead.”
Point-Two wondered if that was true. Had they been ordered to bring back Fig alive and so hadn’t triggered the subcutaneous bombs that would have killed all of them and solved everyone’s problem?
Of course, there was no guarantee a bomb like that would kill anyone apart from the carrier. Ubik would certainly have found a way to survive.
Fig let go of Fermont and walked towards Otenu, who didn’t look very pleased to see him coming her way. Her stance shifted as he got closer, and then she took a swing at him.
He caught her arm in the crook of his elbow and rotated it hard to snap her bone cleanly. She had expected this, had given him her arm to distract him while her left hand came in from the other side.
Fig smoothly turned further to her right, turning her captured arm at an impossible angle and hit her on the back of her helmet, sending it flying off her head.
Two swift moves later he had kicked her legs away and her down on her knees, head bent down, neck cut open.
He let her go and the broken arm snapped back as the sleeve of her suit stiffened to form a brace. The Corps really did equip its people with the best, no expense spared. The big corporations wouldn’t have supplied their people with a suit like that.
Fig moved towards the third woman, the youngest of the three.
She had a knife in her hand, a trace of blood already on the blade. The other hand was palm-up, holding her own bloodied device, a small disc, saving him the trouble.
Fig took it from her. “Thanks.”
“Your mother?” she asked him, her manner far more informal than the others.
“No, my father. He’s been training me to deal with the Corps since I was born. He knew you would come for me eventually.”
“How did he find out all our secrets?”
Fig shrugged. “Maybe Mother talks in her sleep.” He tossed three discs to Point-Two, flicking them off his thumb one after the other. “Can you turn them into sand or something?”
Point-Two didn’t get the chance as Ubik intercepted them. “I’ll take these. Never know when a blood-smeared neck bomb might come in handy.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be fixing the cube?” said Point-Two.
“I’m working on it,” said Ubik. He pointed at his head. “Up here.”#
“You have his suppression ability,” said the young woman.
“Hmm,” said Fig.
“They won’t leave you alone now they know. How will you survive?”
“The same way as my father,” said Fig.
“He had the strongest of us by his side. You seem reluctant to let her do the same for you.”
“She treated him as an equal, she’ll never see me that way,” said Fig.
“What other option do you have? You’re too powerful to leave out here. And you aren’t even our priority target.” She looked over at Point-Two. “Give us him, and you can set your own price. Even your freedom won’t be off the table. Limited freedom.”
“Me?” said Point-Two. “Why do you want me?” But he already knew. They wanted his organics, wanted to know how he had obtained them.
Ubik was the one they needed to talk to, but they wouldn’t believe that. They would want to get him on a table and dissect him and learn nothing. And then blame someone else for their own stupidity.
Which was going to be a problem once the current crisis was resolved. Fortunately, they would probably all wind up dead, which would make things a lot easier.
“She’s treating you like a commodity,” said Ubik to Point-Two. “That’s got to feel bad, being objectified like that. Like a piece of meat.”
“I quite like it,” said Point-Two. “Let’s me know where I stand.” He turned his attention to the girl. “Not that it matters. We’re all going to die when the Antecessors destroy the universe, so there’s that to look forward to.”
“They’ve already been dealt with,” said the girl. “His mother took care of it.”
“Nope,” said Point-Two. “She just delayed them.”
“He’s right,” said Fig. “She didn’t stop them. And Speers, you know I’ve always liked you, but if you try to access that pouch on your waist I will break both your arms.”
Speers lowered her hand to her side.
“Come on,” said Ubik, banging on the cube with his fists. “It’s safe to come out. Hello? Fourth?”
“That’s what you came up with?” said Point-Two.
“Don’t dismiss the obvious,” said Ubik. “It’s often the right answer. If the Seneca Corps hadn’t turned up and ruined everything as usual, we’d already have saved the galaxy by now. You guys can’t help yourselves, can you?”
“We didn’t do anything to it,” said Otenu, her hand on the back of her neck.
“Yeah, sure,” said Ubik. “It was like this when you got here.”
“You don’t think the bomb you set off might have affected it?” said Otenu.
“No, I don’t,” said Ubik.
“Then why are our comms down?” said Otenu, picking up her helmet and throwing it at Ubik.
He caught it and held it up to his face. “Looks fine to me.” He threw it back to her. Then he turned to face Point-Two. “Might have broken the cube when I set off the explosion.”
“What does that mean?” said Point-Two.
“It means the explosion released a certain amount of electromagnet—”
“No,” said Point-Two, “I don’t want to know how your stupid bomb broke the cube, I want to know what the cube was meant to do that it can’t now.”
“Oh,” said Ubik. “Right. You want the meat, not the juice.”
“That isn’t a phrase,” said Point-Two.
“Could be, if we—”
“Okay, okay. We can’t operate the planetary network without the Fourth and the Machine. Mostly the Machine, to be honest.”
“Then fix it,” said Point-Two.
Ubik looked at the cube which was still flashing. “It isn’t that easy. If Grandma was here, then, maybe…”
“Where is Grandma?” asked Fig.
Ubik put his hands on his hips and looked around. “Good question. Where are they? The robots. They’re around here somewhere, right? What did you do to them?”
None of the women said anything.
“Infil team, can you hear me?” said Otenu’s helmet, taking her by surprise.
“Control, this is infil team,” said Otenu. “Mission has failed. Send—”
Fig took the helmet from her. “Put my mother on.”
“This is General Freya. Stop this foolishness at once. We don’t have time—”
“Where’s my mother, General? Never mind, it doesn’t matter. You just initiated contact with us because this helmet registered a Seneca biosignature. I don’t know why Ubik wanted your ship to initiate the contact but I’m guessing it has something to do with your systems. You should do a full scan as soon as possible.”
Ubik walked over to Fig and snatched the helmet from him. “You really don’t know how to have fun, do you?” Ubik turned the helmet over and fiddled with it. Then he raised it to his mouth and said, “Hello, Mother, can you hear me?”
“This is General Freya. Who is this?”
“Hello, General, this is Admiral Ubik. You should hear a beep followed by a clunk.” Ubik waited. There was a beep, followed by a clunk. “That means your defence grid is down. I assume you’re locked into a ship-to-ship network, so your whole fleet is naked. Basically, you’re wide open to any sort of attack. I mean, if they knew you were defenceless right now, anyone with a grudge, from like the last couple of hundred years, could attack you with some stones and bricks and knock you out of the sky. Good thing they don’t know. Oh wait, this is an open channel. My bad.”
Ubik turned off the comms and dropped the helmet. “Right, that should keep them busy for a bit. Now, where’s my Grandma?”