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The Once and Future Liberator

By Jackie Speel
Page 3 of 3

Three

Six months Blake had said, to spend in the first exploration of this galactic satellite, then return to Earth with a report of what had been found. Long enough, it had been decided, to get an understanding of what might be there, and so i t had proved. The group on the Liberator knew what course they would recommend, and that Blake would readily agree to it.

Avon had enjoyed being in control of the Liberator, though at times he almost missed Blake leading them. Their plans had changed over time, from pure curiosity to something more sophisticated.

When they had first arrived Avon had told Orac and Zen to analyse what they encountered, and suggest places of interest.

Orac claimed that the first planet they approached bore some resemblance to Aristo, but denied Vila's accusation of sentimentality as anthropomorphic. Avon had then asked about curiosity, to be told that this was a natural outcome of any sufficiently complex entity.

Avon thought that the beach on which they teleported to had little in common with that he had briefly seen on Aristo. It was Vila who pointed out that what disturbed the group about this place was that while there was greenery on dry land there were no animal sounds - there was nothing larger than insects and beetles.

They walked along the beach, enjoying being planetside again, while the weather lasted. Orac had had Avon construct it a drone such as it had had on Aristo, and this bobbed around trying to get them to investigate things. Orac had a trick of making it "creep up" on someone and then speaking, and had taken on board Avon's advice that the best way of "handling" Tarrant was to have the drone "look down" on him. Much to the amusement of Avon and the others, it worked.

A couple of fishlike creatures emerged from the water, scuttled over their boots, grabbed some leaves and returned whence they came, as the first raindrops landed.

'So much for the first encounter with the inhabitants of this cluster.' Avon said.

'And what will they encounter when they reach our galaxy?' Dayna asked.

'Orac probably,' Vila's comment had disconcerted them all, and they had all been willing to follow his suggestion that they escape the weather. On the Liberator Avon invited ideas as to their next destination, with everybody agreeing to V ila's request to see an eclipse. Orac had found something with suspicious but not unwelcome promptness, and they had enjoyed a system with a complex and multiple system of eclipses. The only problem with their first choice of planet was t he plant life - somewhat more intelligent than that on Sarurian Major, and mobile. After the plants had shown interest in Orac's internal lights it had demanded to be withdrawn "very immediately" and to be taken to a satellite with appare ntly fascinating geology.

They had spent the next few months exploring. There were native space going species here, and once Orac and Zen had established contact with their opposite numbers, it was possible to determine the political structures present and then to make contact. Responses varied from the hostile to the curious. There were those prepared to make what would be largely theoretical links between this star cluster and the galaxy from which the Liberator had come. There was much that wou ld interest Blake when the ship finally returned home.

Now was the time for the Liberator to make that journey. On it they would make the decision as to what they would do next. As far as Avon could tell nobody had started on that process - not even himself. The logic of the situation made th e most appropriate course of action unclear.

He sat on the flight deck with Vila, contemplating the view. Orac glowed nearby. The others were relaxing elsewhere.

Eventually Vila spoke.

'Odd that the peoples here were not aware of the Andromedan transit to our galaxy.'

'Half our galaxy probably did not know - even the System only had fragmentary knowledge. If the galactic shield had been in place, this place might well have known.'

'And the Andromedans might well have been more dangerous, because their bases were nearer.'

'That is a possibility,' Orac said

'I wonder what happened to Andoromeda as a result of the War going our way.'

'It is too far, Vila, with present technologies to reach in a human lifetime.'

'I would prefer to do another galactic cluster or two in my lifetime.'

'You, Vila? I never expected to hear you say that.' There was a touch of humour in Avon's voice, but he recognised that Vila had changed as much as he had himself.

'When you are being chased by the Federation it is one thing, when you can choose to go it's another. And I was getting bored in the Presidential palace. Most of the locks could have been opened by a well trained child. And anything of an y value was too well known to be sold on.'

'And I never knew,' Avon recollected, 'that there could be so many objects in excruciatingly bad taste together.' Some of which would be rejected by the proverbial museum of failed kitsch.

'Blake appeared to like the stuff. Although I think that monstrosity in the President's reception area was a bit over the top.'

'Calling it a bit of flim-flammery was being polite.' It had been the one piece of fenuine full-blown kitsch in the place, and Avon had some sympathy for whoever had to clean the wretched object. Predictably it had been Blake's favourite object.

'And what about those little gizmos you collect? The rest of your stuff's so plain it must be expensive, but whenever you see one of those' Vila produced an example from his pocket.

'They are amusing,' Avon replied trying to work out precisely what the object did without snatching it from Vila.

'I buy things which are in good taste, or amuse, you buy things which are acceptable or time wasters, he buys overpriced and pointless trash.' A game they had all played as children.

'Not quite elegant enough,' Avon said, increasingly distracted by the object in Vila's hands.

'Have you got any more examples of that type?' Orac asked. It was fascinated by word games.

'Before we get into a long discussion,' Avon interposed, 'perhaps you can start plotting the way back.'

'Be more precise.'

'Home,' Vila said.

'Define home?' Orac's voice sounded almost plaintive. It was easy to forget, Avon thought, that for the small computer "home" would be Aristo or the Liberator - and what answer would Zen give? Then - he came from Earth, but where did he place himself mentally?

'Our galaxy in general and the Earth in particular,' Avon said.

'That has already been done. This has been a most interesting venture, despite the limited time we have had here.'

'Don't worry Orac, you can come back. Or you can instruct other computers to go adventuring for you.'

'That is an interesting idea. The Andromedan galaxy was mentioned earlier.' Orac's tone was hopeful.

'Is there time enough in the universe for you to explore it all?' Avon asked.

'All the interesting features.'

'Why do I have the feeling you have already decided where you will go?' Vila asked.

'Planning is an essential part of such a program. With other computers designed to deal with specific aspects I will have to recalculate what my priories will be.'

'Avon - imagine the Liberator staffed with Oracs.'

'And how long before the ship remained in the middle of nowhere while they argued where they would go next?'

'Having more than one computer of my capacity on a ship would be an ineffective use of facilities'

Zen interrupted Orac. 'Two ships approach. Neither is hostile.'

'Ask for identification.' Avon had a strange sensation he knew the answer.

A few moments' worth of communication passed. 'The ship from this galactic satellite belongs to the local opposition. They have heard of your reputation and aid to others, and wish to engage in discussion.'

'Here we go again,' Vila said. 'Just when you thought it was safe to explore'

'Tell the local ship to wait for a reply. And the other ship? Does it come from our own galaxy?' Avon asked. Why did he feel so nervous? Somehow he had acquired Vila's toy: he started playing with it. Most ingenious. Vila had a good eye for such things.

'Yes.'

'Tell Roj Blake I wondered whether he would tire of being President and come to meet us.'

'Why,' asked Orac, 'do you assume it will be Blake? You are correct.'

'I am not bored of being President,' Blake said, appearing on the screen, though his body language indicated otherwise. 'I just wanted to see how you were getting on, and bring you the latest technological developments.' Avon felt more pl eased than he expected to see Blake again. He had missed their games - and, he realised, the friendship between them. It seemed an odd word in his vocabulary, friendship, but he accepted it. 'Have you found anything interesting?'

'We were about to come back to tell you.'

'You should see what has been developed Your place or mine?'

'Best come over here - Orac and Zen can speak to the locals who happen to be near us.' Avon suddenly realised that he would have to put his exploring on hold for a little while - and that he was willing to do so. 'They have a proposition which you might be interested in.'

'What?' Immediate curiosity.

'How does the prospect of returning to your old job strike you?'

'I'll get Tarrant to operate the teleport,' Vila said on seeing Blake's face light up. As the screen faded Vila spoke again, 'That's ten credits you owe me. I told you he wouldn't be able to wait.'

'Win some, lose some.'

Avon summoned the others, enjoying the brief moment of silence before the group reformed.

Tarrant came in with Blake.

'It's him - Blake not the President,' Tarrant said.

Blake reached out to embrace Avon, who held his hand out.

'I was waiting for you.'


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Jackie Speel

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