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Deliver Us From Evil

By Willa Shakespeare
Page 2 of 7

The white-haired scientist eased himself into his chair, grumbling about his son's delay. By the time Alin and the surgeon reached him, it might be too late. He should have gotten the power cells for his artificial heart sooner, but he kept putting off dealing with the Federation. Restless, he got up to set his metal bird singing while he fed his fish and watered his plants. His world had reduced to this- one room of living things, and a dying man to care for them. And Orac, who was not quite alive. And Alin, who would inherit an empty world if he took much longer.

Ensor settled carefully into his recliner. He should sleep, to make the limited energy last longer. He lay back and closed his eyes. A stranger's voice roused the old man before he had quite dozed off. "Ensor, this is the Liberator. Roj Blake speaking."

Ensor opened his eyes, irritated. "Orac, why are you relaying that message? You know my orders. I don't want to bother with anyone. I haven't the strength to waste."

A voice similar to Ensor's replied, "They say they have the energy cells. It seemed likely you would wish to converse with them."

"Yes. Yes. Of course." Ensor sat up, holding onto his chest for a moment as the too sudden movement strained his failing heart. "I want to talk to them, Orac. Blake? Do you hear me, Blake? How did you know I was here?"

"Your son Alin told my crew when we picked him up."

"This is against our bargain. My son and the surgeon were to come alone. Orac can keep you off this planet, you know. He controls a very powerful force field, nothing can get through it once he activates it." Even weak, Ensor refused to kowtow to authority.

"We're not Federation. But the Federation did break your bargain. They sabotaged your son's ship. He was injured in the crash, but we think he'll recover. We do have your power cells but unfortunately, the surgeon died."

"No surgeon? Well, why did you bother to come then? For Orac, I'll wager. Thought it would be simple, stealing from a sick old man. Well, you'd better think again."

"We can get a doctor," Blake assured him. "And in the meantime, our surgical unit is well supplied and has the most advanced equipment. We'll do the best we can for you."

"Advanced, you say? Well, then, there's no problem. Orac will handle the operation. It should be simple enough."

"Orac?"

"Yes, yes, what's the matter, are you hard of hearing? Come down in your shuttle or landing pod or whatever and get me and Orac. You do want Orac, don't you? What are you waiting for?"

"I have to ask one thing, first. We need anti-radiation medicines, urgently. Four of my crew, and your son, too, have been exposed to radiation."

"Filthy stuff, drugs. Never touch them myself."

Blake groaned.

Ensor continued, "Have them, though. You're welcome to as much of it as you like, provided you get your shuttle moving and get to me before I keel over and die."

"We have teleport."

"Oh?" Ensor sounded mildly interested. "Not my field, but still, I'd like to look at that- after the operation."

"Anything you like, Ensor. If you can give coordinates, I can come directly to you."

"That would be a time-saver, most efficient." Ensor nodded, approving. "Orac, you heard? Give the coordinates for this chamber to Blake's computer. Direct to this teleport apparatus, if you can. Let's not waste any more time."

Jenna had been at her post during the whole conversation. "Ensor sounds like a charming fellow," she commented, then wiped a sweaty strand of hair away from her face.

Blake said, "He and Avon ought to get along well." He looked at Jenna closely. "Can you stay on watch alone? I want to take Cally with me. I could call Avon," he offered.

"No thanks. Even when he's feeling well, he isn't good company. I'll be all right. Just hurry, Blake."

"I will." Blake squeezed her shoulder in passing.

"Took you long enough," Ensor complained as Blake and Cally appeared before him. He didn't bother to notice the guns they held at ready. He turned and took a couple of steps, then looked back. "Well, come on. No time for sight-seeing." He pointed out a dusty box on a shelf otherwise loaded with tropical plants. "There's the drugs." He pointed in the other direction at a clear plexi-box filled with lights and electronic parts, seemingly attached at random. "And that's Orac. Pick them up and let's be off." He was practically dancing with impatience, while Cally checked that the box did contain the needed medicine. Blake put the computer into a carrying case and hefted it. It wasn't an impressive object. Maybe Avon was right and Ensor a madman who'd fantasied a remarkable computer. Still, as long as the drugs were real, he wouldn't quibble.

Cally placed a teleport bracelet gently on Ensor's wrist. "You need this in order to teleport."

"Yes, yes, I can see that. This must be a focus- a link with the main device." He almost took the bracelet off to examine it, but Cally stopped him, with a "Please, we must go now."

"Hmm? Oh, yes."

The three appeared in the teleport chamber. Ensor promptly collapsed. Blake let his box fall to the deck, so he could catch him. Cally set the precious drugs down more gently. She checked that Ensor was still alive, then nodded. "The teleport stress was too much for him in his present condition. We will have to operate immediately."

Blake picked Ensor up. "If this Orac isn't as good as he claims, we've only hastened his death." He strode off, carrying his burden effortlessly.

Cally paused long enough to tuck the small packet of drugs into Orac's case, then she picked up the computer which weighed much more than it seemed- unlike its master. She followed Blake as quickly as she could, knowing six lives depended on her

"I still don't see why I can't return to my laboratory." Ensor's operation had been very successful. Perhaps a little too successful. He felt so well in comparison to his previous condition that he had a tendency to overdo, which returned him to the medical unit in the bed beside his son. Where he complained bitterly of boredom and tested even the philosophic Auron's patience until Gan took pity on Cally and volunteered to sit with the impatient patient.

"You know it wouldn't be safe, Ensor," Gan reminded the scientist. He moved his pawn and Ensor shook his head and made 'tch, tch' noises. "If the Federation planted that bomb on your son's ship, they would have waited until they knew its destination before they triggered it. By now Aristo is probably swarming with guards."

"It's just I left in such a hurry, you see."

"Did you leave behind important notes or equipment?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that. Once I developed Orac, I didn't have to bother with that nonsense. He is quite capable of carrying out all my experiments and theories. Orac is remarkable, you know."

Gan nodded, but kept his private opinion on the computer to himself. Ensor was the only one the machine gave any respect. He'd even seen Avon eying it while idly flipping a laser probe and muttering about a complete overhaul- without anesthesia.

"It's my plants. And my fish." Ensor sighed. "I was quite fond of them."

Gan was sympathetic, but realistic. "Still, look on the bright side. Orac has found you a very nice new planet where the Federation never goes, but the natives are friendly. After thirty years in isolation, the change will do you good."

"Doubt it." Ensor looked over to his son. "Wouldn't have agreed to it at all except for Alin. I've taught him everything I know, and he needs more training. He has a fine mind, Gan. If he just learns to apply himself, he'll do great things."

From his own bed, Alin looked at his father, but said nothing. He was still suspicious of the Liberator's crew. Even Blake's promise to let them select their own gems from the treasure room to pay for Orac hadn't soothed him. He'd spent his life protecting his unworldly father from a hostile universe. He'd learned to fly their old SpaceMaster when he was barely a teen and quickly took over the task of acquiring supplies and keeping the two of them alive. Ensor never had any idea where the necessities came from, never even wondered. Suspicion was a large part of the reason Alin had always returned home and he wasn't ready to take anyone on trust. After all, Ensor could build more Oracs easily, which made the scientist as valuable as his invention. Why was Blake letting them go at all, far less giving them a fortune for what he could simply take? It wasn't human nature- at least not the kind he'd learned while scrounging in dirty spaceports on the rim worlds. If Blake would show a few faults, then maybe Alin could understand him.

"Take your hands off me, I am perfectly capable of finding my own way!" Avon's voice came from the suddenly open door leading to the main corridor. Alin stiffened. He didn't like Avon either, although for different reasons. Avon was openly hostile, to everyone. Alin had seen him say, to Blake's face, that he was a generous fool and one day Avon would have his ship because of Blake's stupidity. Blake had laughed. Why? In the three days Alin had been on this ship, Avon had fought with Blake constantly. Blake got angry with him, yes, but still allowed him liberties that would have made any other captain invite Avon to step outside -without a space suit. Alin would be glad to leave this ship for the planet Morete, even if the Federation had laid a trap for him and his father there. He had a chance of out-thinking them- he understood their motives.

Blake was close behind Avon, his hand dropping as though he had just released the other man. "Yes, and you're perfectly capable of ignoring the situation until I have to scrape you up off the deck. Let Cally sort you out."

"Is that an order?" Avon snapped.

Blake sighed and ran a hand through his tousled curls. "No, dammit. Consider it a personal favor to me. Despite what you think, I don't enjoy ordering people about."

"Even when it's for their own good? That is your usual rationale, isn't it?"


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