Book 3 – 96: Genie Unbottled

Inner Quadrant.

Planet Quazi

Planet Core.


Figaro was in two minds about Ubik’s sabotage of the entire Seneca fleet.

He was no fan of the Seneca Corps, but neither was he a fan of unfair fights. Even when it was the bully being bullied.

“What have you done?” screamed Fermont. She was on the ground, her only remaining limb propping her up as she glared impotently at Ubik.

“Me?” said Ubik, holding up Fermont’s severed arm and using it for emphasis as he spoke. “What about you? What did you do to my Grandma? She’s just an old lady, you psychopath.”

“I have no idea who you’re talking about,” said Fermont, her anger derailed by the incomprehensible accusation. “Why would I do anything to your grandmother? Why would she even be here?”

“You think I believe you?” said Ubik, waving the arm around. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. And she definitely knows.” Ubik turned and pointed the hand on the end of Fermont’s arm at the other Seneca woman, Otenu. “Look at the guilt on her face.”

Otenu didn’t look in the least bit guilty — she was Seneca, they couldn’t afford to feel guilt — but she did seem to be stunned and unresponsive. She was having trouble accepting Ubik’s complete unravelling of her understanding of tronics.

“Snap out of it, Otenu,” Fermont shouted at her. “Find out if the fleet is in danger.”

Otenu took a long breath as though she had just remembered to breathe, and then grabbed her helmet off the floor. She began trying to get it to work.

“He isn’t bluffing,” said Figaro. “Have you ever heard of anyone else breaking into Seneca coded frequencies or shutting down all comms systems from a helmet? If he says the fleet is defenceless, it is.”

“Reverse it,” said Fermont. “Undo it.”

“I won’t,” said Ubik. “And you can’t make me.”

Fermont began to desperately get closer to Ubik by shuffling across the floor towards him, presumably to throttle him with her remaining hand.

“Figaro, you have to stop him,” said Speers. “If the fleet is defenceless… Your mother and your sister are up there.”

“I know,” said Figaro. “I tried to warn her but you know what she’s like. I can’t hold back Armageddon, never could. What she does is up to her. I’m sure she’ll find a way to survive. Right now, we have other problems.” He turned away from Speers, whose pleading expression changed to a frustrated one. “Ubik, is the cube operational?”

The lights had returned to the cube’s surfaces, but they were flashing on and off and forming incomplete patterns that failed to stabilise for more than a moment.

“It’s operational,” said Ubik. “It’s just warming up.”

“What does that mean?” said PT. “Since when do Antecessor devices need to warm up?”

“It’s just a figure of speech,” said Ubik. “What I mean is that the Fourth and the Machine are in there and they’re refusing to come out, which probably means the Machine has realised that the Fourth is not working in pursuit of the Antecessor cause, so now they’re locked in some sort of struggle for control, and once they settle who’s in charge, the fate of the quadrant will be decided. Fingers crossed our side wins.”

“That’s what warming up means?” said PT.

Ubik nodded. “Short version.”

“Um,” said Figaro. “I thought they were both working for you.”

“Working for me? No, more like working near me. I just lay the groundwork. Set the stage. You can’t really control what anyone else does, can you? I mean, you can if you turn them into mindless drones like in Seneca, but when it comes to attempting mutual benefit, there’s usually mutual lying and mutual unpleasantness. Which is why I find it’s better to work alone.”

“Good advice,” said PT. “I wish you’d take it.”

“But the Fourth is the equivalent of their gods, isn’t he?” said Figaro. “Can’t he just order the Machine to do what he says?”

“The Machine is a machine,” said Ubik. “And this is the machine it was made to operate. No one can work it as well and no one knows its purpose better. It already knows what to do, we just have to convince it our purpose is the same as its purpose.” Ubik lowered his voice. “Which it isn’t.”

“It's going to help the Antecessors capture me and kill the rest of you,” said Figaro.

“Well, it probably is now that you’ve suggested it,” said Ubik. He lowered his voice again. “It can hear everything we’re saying right now, so don’t reveal any sensitive information.”

Ubik didn’t seem very concerned about the fate of the galaxy being so precarious, or allowing the Machine to know their plans. He seemed happy to wait for the outcome of the Fourth’s struggle with the Machine.

“I don’t know what you three think you’re doing here,” said Speers, “but your best chance of coming out of this alive is to give yourselves up and let the Corps protect you.”

“You know her, don’t you?” said PT. He was looking at Speers as he spoke. “She’s about your age. Childhood friends?”

“No,” said Figaro. “She’s part of my mother’s personal guard. She’s the youngest one because my mother wanted her to seduce me and form an emotional attachment which could be leveraged against me in the future.”

“And did she?” asked PT.

“Yes, several times,” said Figaro. There didn’t seem any reason not to be honest, although Speers didn’t look like she was happy with his summary of their relationship. “What? You were acting under orders, weren’t you?”

“Of course,” said Speers. “That doesn’t mean that’s all it was. Was it?”

“Wait,” said Ubik, as though he’d had a momentous epiphany. “Is she your girlfriend?”

“No,” said Figaro and Speers at the same time.

“Wow,” said Ubik. “I thought you only dated princesses. Wasn’t expecting a grunt. Like it rough, eh?”

“Did you call me a grunt?” said Speers, her pretty face transforming into a gargoylesque leer, which Figaro found oddly arousing.

“Yep,” said Ubik. “Now, where’s my Grandma? I know she’s not up there, and she wouldn’t have let you come here without her, so where is she? I should be able to contact her but I’m getting nothing.”

Rather than attack him, which was what Figaro was expecting, Speers straightened up, pulled her shoulders down and recovered her calm exterior.

“You have gathered some very strange companions, Figaro.” She looked at him with a cool demeanour. “Even without shields, the fleet will defeat all enemies, and then they will come for you. Do you really believe these people will be able to avoid capture and the inevitable consequences?”

“I don’t know why you’re asking him,” said Ubik. “He isn’t even our leader. He is.” He pointed at PT.

PT’s eyes slowly closed. Figaro could appreciate the bind Ubik had just placed him in. If he denied Ubik’s pronouncement he would look cowardly — a weak leader trying to avoid trouble.

But if he confirmed it, he would be playing into Ubik’s machinations, whatever they were.

One or the other. Staying silent and hoping everyone would move on never worked.

“Ubik, get the Fourth out here,” said PT, eyes open and using his position as ‘leader’ to order Ubik around. Figaro smiled at this third option he hadn’t even considered. If Ubik wanted PT to appear as the leader, he would have to show his obedience.

“Yes, sir,” said Ubik, immediately turning his attention to the cube, a small smirk indicating that either this was all part of his plan or that he liked the way PT had turned his ploy against him. It had to be said that Ubik was always appreciative of any form of deviousness or deceit, even when it was aimed at him.

“You’re the leader?” said Speers with a sneer. “Fight me.”

“What?” said PT.

“Fight me. Prove yourself.”

“Why?” said PT. “What will proving anything to you get me?” He turned away from her, ready to shout more orders at Ubik.

“If you can beat me, I’ll answer your questions.”

“Speers!” said Fermont.

“I know what I’m doing, Captain.” Speers kept her eyes on PT. “But if I win, you come with us, as our prisoners.”

“No,” said PT.

“No weapons, no organics,” said Speers.

“And once again, no.”

“Yes,” said Ubik. “Do it. Beat her up and then ask her what they did with Grandma.”

“Even if I beat her, she’ll just lie,” said PT.

“Seneca honour code,” said Ubik. “She has to keep her word.”

“That’s not how the code works,” said Figaro.

“She’s Seneca, not a djinn,” said PT. “She isn’t bound by magic to grant my wish.”

“I need Grandma.”

“Are you saying you need Grandma to get the cube working or do you just miss her?” said PT.

“Bit of both,” said Ubik.

PT frowned. He looked over at Figaro. “Can you beat her?”

“Yes,” said Figaro.

“Only in training,” said Speers. “The real thing is completely different.”

Speers was already in a fighting stance, hands open and raised. She was going to go for his neck, smash his trachea and then attack the eyes. Standard opening gambit.

“Fine,” said PT, taking up a similar stance. “If I lose and we get taken prisoner…”

“You won’t lose,” said Ubik. “Think of how much I’d enjoy it if you did.”

PT’s expression became serious. As a motivator, Ubik knew how to press the right buttons.

Speers and PT began to circle each other. Figaro could see the satisfaction in her eyes at having goaded PT into a fight. A fight she had no doubt she would win.

PT was moving very lightly on the balls of his feet, arms down by his sides, watching Speers’ lower half.

“What combat techniques are you trained in?” said Speers. “I don’t recognise your movement patterns.”

“He isn’t trained in any combat techniques,” said Figaro. “He plays a lot of zero-G tag.”

Speers stopped moving. “The game?”

“It’s a sport,” said PT, and used the distraction to kick Speers between the legs.

She should have been able to block it, but seemed to be caught by surprise. She managed to use the force of the hit to jump back. She looked more confused than anything.

“What was that?”

“I think the technical term is toe poke in the balls,” said Ubik.

“But I’m not a man.”

“I know,” said PT.

“Then what was the point of kicking me in the groin?”

“It hurt, didn’t it?”

“A little.”

“One point to me, then,” said PT.

“You think this is a game? You want to win by scoring the most points? You only win by submission or death.”

“It’s the same in zero-G tag,” said PT. “It’s a very competitive scene.”

“Enough of this,” said Fermont. “Stop playing around and finish him.”

Speers came running this time, feinting a forward kick at PT’s chest, then twisting so her other foot came spinning around for a strike to the side of PT’s head.

It was a very smooth move that could easily snap the neck if undefended.

PT didn’t make a move to stop her or to dodge the strike. She was in mid-air and had no way to reposition herself. PT took a step forward, walking into the kick, but only getting hit by her calf on his ear.

He took the hit, but chose where she would land and with what part of her body.

She had expected to miss and then follow up with the rest of the move, which had sixteen steps in all, any one of which could be fatal, or to land a clean hit and take the victory in one.

Hitting and not having any effect wasn’t the most likely outcome, but even then, she would have momentum on her side and a range of options to choose from for her next move.

The opponent would be on the backfoot at the very least.

PT was very much on the front foot as he leaned in and slid his face up the inside of her thigh and slapped her from above and below in the stomach and the small of her back.

Speers let out a gasp as the air rushed out of her body. She seemed to bounce in the air and then slammed down like gravity had increased tenfold.

“You breathe too much,” said PT, already a step back and out of the way. “You do the same,” he said, turning to Figaro. “Overactive diaphragm.”

“You attacked her diaphragm?” said Figaro. It wasn’t a move he was familiar with.

“A static diaphragm is hard to move, but a moving diaphragm is easy to push further. And you can’t stop air leaving a squeezed lung.”

Speers groaned as she tried desperately to regain control of her breathing. She managed to get on all fours, head bowed, heaving loudly, but suddenly she was lunging at PT’s legs.

She didn’t make it. She got hit in the head by a flying arm and hit the ground as Ubik landed on top of her, pinning her to the floor with his knee in her stomach. Figaro hadn’t even seen him move.

“You lost,” said Ubik. “Now, where’s Grandma?”

“I didn’t submit,” wheezed Speers. “And I’m not dead. But you are.” Her eyes glowed red.

Ubik didn’t dive out of the way, which Figaro had expected, he instead pushed down with his knee.

Speers let out another gasp and the light in her eyes went out.

“Hey, that diaphragm thing really works,” said Ubik. He looked up at Figaro. “How come you didn’t stop her organic?”

“Wanted to see what you’d do,” said Figaro.

“What are you doing to that poor girl?”

Ubik looked up. “Grandma?” An oddly moving droid was coming towards them, along with a group of women. “Where have you been?”

“Ooh, they locked me up in a closet with all these floozies. Worst day of my life. I’ll need to be sterilised. Luckily, this nice woman let us out.”

There was a woman carrying a baby next to the droid.

“Hello, Mother,” said Figaro.

“Figaro, I’m disappointed in you. You’ve really been quite badly behaved recently. It’s time to go home.”

“I can’t, Mother. I have to—”

The cube’s lighting stabilised and the chamber lit up.

“What’s it doing?” said PT.

“Erm, opening something,” said Ubik.

“Opening what?” said Figaro.

“We have failed,” said the Fourth’s voice. “They are here, and they have taken control of the network. The portal is about to open. The Creator will be here soon. This universe is dead.”

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