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Living Fossil

By Jackie
Page 2 of 2

Avon brought his "toy" to the flight deck, having spent much of his free time for the last few days with it.

'So,' Blake said, 'this is Orac's rival.'

'It is a vastly inferior and outdated machine. You might find it useful to deal with some of your many trivial questions.'

'Define trivial,' Blake asked.

'The shortest explanation would require four hours. If you refrain from interrupting.'

'If it can handle most of our questions, perhaps it would be more useful to us than you are.' Blake teased. 'I understand you wish to return to Aristo. If you wish to continue your researches there'

Orac suddenly realising it had made a tactical error. 'It does not have Tarriel cells and cannot access other machines. The questions it cannot answer are the ones you seem to find most important. It is just a machine. Avon has another use for it.'

'Your logic is slipping,' Avon replied, half tempted again to keep the machine to annoy Orac, despite creating an equivalent from modern equipment to investigate the information they were now coming across.

'Orac - go and do some of your research while Avon and I discuss his plan.'

'I cannot "go anywhere" but I will continue with my researches,' Orac replied and switched itself off.

'What was Vila saying about it being his plan?' Blake asked.

'He provided the idea for it.' Avon gave a brief summary of his investigations so far - without mentioning the number of the bank accounts that had persisted after the projects to which they were attached were shut down, or the actual qua

ntities of money involved. It was clear in some cases that others had had the same idea, even if they had never collected all their acquisitions.

'So what, apart from fascinating historical gossip and some assorted moneys have you found?' Blake asked. 'And what is your plan? Vila was saying we could bring down the Federation with it.'

Avon handed Blake some memory units. With luck they would distract Blake for some time. 'A slight exaggeration - but you could cause some inconvenience. These are various pieces of forgotten legislation and suchlike, and several "loopholes" into the Federation's system, mostly obscure.'

'Which you will need no excuse to investigate still further,' Blake said with an indulgent smile. 'I expect no protests when I ask you to pursue the matter.' They both knew Avon would protest, as a matter of form. 'Anything else?'

'There is some evidence that machines such as this, mostly incompatible with modern ones, are used to provide secure systems. Orac thinks that - with some specialist equipment - we might be able to access them.' And contact some of his old friends on the computer developers' network.

'Zen - lay in a course for Aristo.' It was easier than Avon had expected. What had Orac said about giving people the right bait?

'Confirmed.'

'You wanted to go to some other places as well Avon?'

'A few universities and laboratories. It is difficult to know what of the equipment and information required is where. Some of it is probably in storage.' And he might find a bolt hole or three.

'We will investigate the matter, though you two should accept other things may take priority.' Avon nodded. He had got what he wanted, and he could think of ways of diverting Blake's attention if more time was needed. 'And no more than one room full of equipment in the process.'

'Accepted.' Avon smiled. The Liberator had some fairly large storage areas. 'And you decide what is going to fill the spare memory on this computer. I am no politician.'

'And have you decided where you are going to leave this bait? On Aristo perhaps?'

'Sometimes Blake you do have sensible ideas all by yourself.'

'I thought the agreement was that I involve myself in the rebellion, you think up the sensible ideas.' Blake was obviously teasing.

'But you have to be able to think when I do finally go my own way.' Avon replied, slightly unsettled by the implication.

'Supreme Commander,' the aide said nervously, fully aware of the Supreme Commander's reputation.

'Yes?'

'It appears that the Liberator has been contacting various specialist computer research facilities, and projections indicate it may be going to Aristo.' The aide did not mention that the information seemed almost too easy to find.

'Interesting.' A trap, probably, Servalan decided, but she would investigate. Avon would expect her to do so. When she had been at university - so that she could acquire connections rather than learning - her family had suggested she seduce him as a useful acquisition. She almost regretted letting him escape to follow his own course. Now, however, if she acquired him, he would belong to her alone. 'Arrange a course for Aristo. See that we do not arrive ahead of them.' They would no doubt be monitoring Federation military movements, and hers in particular. 'And bring me the reports of the last survey of Aristo and Ensor's base.' It was Orac's home ground, and Avon was a computer genius so something might have been missed when the Federation research team had been sent there. And Travis was elsewhere, so would not let his obsession disrupt things as before.

'Yes Supreme Commander.' Just because she hadn't caused problems didn't mean he was in the clear.

'I'll retrieve Avon and Orac,' Blake said as Vila was about to teleport up with the last of several boxes of equipment from Ensor's base. Blake suspected Avon would be involved for weeks now in using it.

'Zen says we better leave sharpish - several pursuit ships are on their way.'

'That was the intention.' It required careful timing to " rescue" Avon at the last moment.

Avon was in Ensor's research area, almost dozing off when Blake got to him. Orac was flickering gently to itself, and a small viscast receiver chattered softly. The machine Avon had acquired sat nearby.

'Ensuring the Liberator was not destroyed or victorious during your temporary absence?' Blake asked with a smile. A news broadcast began - the usual uninformative pap.

'I had prepared for all eventualities. You are late.' Avon got up and pocketing the receiver and picking up Orac.

'Is there anything left here that you need?' Blake said.

'No.' Avon looked round. 'From what was left here, Ensor was an interesting man.'

'Vila, take us up.'

'I have much of his collected notes,' Orac stated when they had teleported to the Liberator.

'Not quite the same,' Avon said, with a tone of regret Blake would not have expected from him. 'Let's go.'

Plan completed.

As on her previous visit, Servalan was glad to leave Aristo - the Liberator was long gone. As far as she, and those who had surveyed the planet after her last visit, were concerned, the Phibians were welcome to it - the mineral resources of the sea were not valuable enough to exploit. The original computer team she had sent to analyse what Ensor had left had sent in a report that drooled over what had been found - but there was no Orac substitute. The military team sent in after them reported that they had probably removed any computer related spare part they could obtain, which, it was said "would probably have been given to them anyway, and avoided a certain amount of paperwork." Rights of looting, if done discretely, were one of the ways the Federation rewarded its own.

What remained was mainly of obviously antiquarian interest - apart from the object that had been left - presumably by Avon - in what had once been Ensor's main laboratory. It looked like nothing those on Servalan's team had seen before. Once it had been confirmed as safe, they left with it.

'What do you mean - this machine would have been worth a large sum of money had it not been for Ensor?' Servalan's fury was making her aide and the technician nervous. 'Initial reports said that it was possibly unique.'

'It was thought to be unique - we have since discovered a number of machines like it elsewhere - involved in some of the secure networks you use.' The technician had received several very interesting offers for the machine while he had been researching it.

'Has this machine been interfered with recently?'

'No. Apart from an unsuccessful attempt to patch a repair program into it.' The technician had decided not to mention the minor anomaly he had discovered. He had erased all trace of his investigations in an area where nobody would have expected him to be. Others after him would overwrite anything he had missed.

'It is what is on the machine that is of interest,' the aide said. 'Much of it was encrypted and we had to make use of experts to decode them.' In fact the technician had managed to work out the principle behind it within minutes but had triple checked his overtime payments and flight path to a safe posting as well. He was dismissed by the aide, and escaped hurriedly, first from the room and then from the base.

'It does not appear that the secure network systems have any connection to Star One.' Although, the aide thought, that would be the sort of joke the constructors of Star One would play - and no doubt it amused the computer experts to make use of overtly outdated systems to communicate between themselves. Not that he would suggest it.

'I am fully aware of the secure networks. This will be my personal access point to it - use the name Sleer, so that they do not recognise me. See it is done.'

'Yes Supreme Commander.'

The computer did provide interesting - if ancient - data. Some of the things it connected with were, however, fascinating.

It was a good thing, Servalan thought, that Avon had failed to make use of what the machine could provide - it would have been far more devastating than the unit that had been appropriated from Saurian Major, and its existence would have been completely unknown. As it did not use Tarriel cells, Orac would have not been able to help him.

The machine did not have a transmitter, but some of those it linked up with in the several networks were accessible to Orac. All the checks on the computer had ignored the recognition codes it used in communicating with others of its kind Nor had it been considered that they programmer might be another computer rather than a human.

Orac had long been aware of the Federation's secondary computer networks, but had not been able to access it readily. The accidental acquisition of this machine - and the Liberator crew's willingness to exploit what it could do - had meant that Orac was able to avoid a considerable amount of work. Perhaps Blake and Avon could be persuaded to acquire other such 'antiquated equipment' to see what could be done with them. If they wished to disrupt the Federation administration that was their concern - so long as they co-operated with Orac's interests.

But, despite all its researches, it never did discover whether there had been an actual Millennium Bug, or what effects it might have had.


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