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McGuffin Stores

By Susan
Page 1 of 1

In an office on Earth the Clerk of the Records from 'The Way Back' is sitting with his brand new Sound and Vision Player - the one with #all# the bells and whistles. It was a leaving present from his friends in his old office. He is now in charge of the department which deals with claims from ousted politicians and others who wish to be restored to their posts, and also with settling disputed leadership contests.

Servalan enters with Our Heroes - fully recovered from the events on Gauda Prime - and Orac in tow. After several minutes waiting, Servalan rings the bell on the Clerk's desk.

Reluctantly the Clerk disengages from the scenario he was watching.

'You are?' he asks in his most bored tone.

'I am Servalan, illegally deposed from my offices as President and Supreme Commander, these are Blake, Avon and several others on the Federation's most wanted list, and this piece of equipment is worth a hundred million credits.' Ten times as much, according to the elder Ensor, and the entire resources of the Federation, according to Orac itself. Possibly more, since Avon has made several years' worth of improvements.

The Clerk looks at her, slightly doubtful, then enters some data on his computer.

'Please go to Reception Area C, leaving your companions in Holding Room Two and that piece of equipment in McGuffin Stores Six.' He is unimpressed by Orac. Orac is unimpressed by the Clerk and his ignorance.

Servalan starts to protest.

'I'm sorry you feel like that madam, but we've got to abide by the regulations.' Besides, the Clerk has noticed none of the group has a weapon or is offering "interesting" amounts of money and valuables.

Reluctantly, Servalan - who had written the regulations herself - goes off, and follows the instructions.

The Clerk called his friend on the intercom. 'Just had someone claiming to be Servalan: how many points is that?'

A quick calculation. 'Fifty three points, lucky you. You're ahead on the Obscure Claims Sweepstakes. Any idea what points we should give for someone claiming to be Bayban the Butcher?'

The Clerk knows the answer to this question. 'Count five points for each weapon below ten, ten above - and if they are carrying more than twenty, and are still mobile, eleven points. Who have you got in the Reception Areas now?' Only ninety five people claiming to be well known politicians, and eighty seven saying that they are equally well known singers and actors who have been replaced by "cheap and nasty" lookalikes - and at least some of whom can prove it. Some of the substitute singers can sing better than the originals. Several of the politicians can make the same claim. A few of the singers and actors are probably justified in #their# claims that they could do better than the politicians in question.

 

Servalan, having very reluctantly been separated from her companions, was just about to discover who was in Reception Area C - which is where all those with minimal paperwork, or low priority were sent.

She joined about fifty people and 'others.'  Then what she thought were merely awkwardly placed background decoration plants suddenly became animated, with one puffing pollen at another, which retaliated with a collection of seeds

'Stop shouting will you - or we'll find some other plant on Saurian Major to rule you lot,' said an official, who then came to Servalan.

'Who are they?' Servalan asked, indicating the entire room.

'We deal with assorted politicians and others who wish to have their claims and authority validated. Don't mind that,' the official said as Servalan jumped when something licked her hand. 'It's only a Warg strangler - completely harmless towards humans. It likes you.' This was the "office pet", having been left by an annoyed - or possibly satisfied - claimant who had had their claim validated. It was hairy, and had more limbs than seemed justified, each with several prehensile digits.

'It has a lot of teeth.'

'It has not bitten anyone.' At least not in the last week, that was - apart from the idiot with aniseed twist, and who was to know that warg stranglers liked such sweets? 'Now - who did you say you were, and where is your paperwork?'

Almost as soon as Servalan finished identifying herself, she was having an animated discussion with someone else who claimed to be her. This person had been one of her body doubles' body doubles, and was now trying to claim multiple pensions as a result. She managed a passing resemblance to both Servalan and the body double in question.

 

****

 

'You mean the door was unlocked all the time and we are free to go?'

'Yes, Blake,' Vila replied wearily. 'I suggest we get Orac and leave quickly.' One of the few things where he had unanimous support. Others include safe distances from explosive devices, and quantities of decontaminant drugs.

 

Five minutes later they were in McGuffin Room Six - a glorified store room. Assorted pieces of equipment and gizmos - proclaimed wonderful inventions all - had been placed on trolleys. Orac was balanced on top of one collection.

'This place is fascinating... I insist we stay here and then explore the other nineteen rooms...' Orac began before its key was removed.

Some labour grades came in.

'Typical,' one said. 'They send two lots of people to clear this room. And when the President's Own Races are on.' Nobody was quite certain which President was referred to, and why whoever-it-was wished to own a race, but everybody agreed that it was thoroughly enjoyable.

'I have an idea,' Vila said. 'You tell us where to take this and you can go back and watch.'

'If you insist. Do you want to put a fiver on the office sweepstakes?'

'Who's left? No, not that one... I'd only place a bet on that if whoever came in last won the prize...'

'I like it.' The idea would be suggested at the next meeting of the Committee to Confuse the Authorities (acronym: WASH). 'Next time then?'

'Yes mate.'

'Can we come down and watch the repeats?' Vila asked - glad he had kept his six WASH cards with him, which would provide him and the others with a means of escape when necessary.

'Sure mate.'

'Where are the other McGuffin Rooms?' Avon asked. There had been rumours of these places of course, and all research establishments had their own equivalents, which contained "things to be recycled or to pass on to particularly tiresome colleagues." Some of the objects here looked rather interesting, and many looked potentially operational.

 

****

 

Servalan had unleashed a tirade upon the officials in Reception Room C such as had got her out of trouble on Chenga.

'It is just that President Servalan has been declared dead: we will still have to run checks madam.' The clerk was beginning to understand the charms of Space Rats. Or resolving the differences between three persons claiming to be Bayban the Butcher, all armed to the teeth. He does, however, have a few friends in WASH, and will make use of them.

They went to Holding Room Two. Empty.

'What has happened here?'

'You merely said they were rebels - they never claimed to be, and we would need some independent proof. They can't go far.' This was said merely to stop another harangue.

 

The McGuffin room was likewise empty. The labour grades whose job it was to have emptied it were too busy watching the races to give a sensible answer, and knew how to give enough confusing answers to encourage their superiors to go away. Servalan had, with some sleight of hand, been 'persuaded' to buy a ticket in the sweepstakes, and, without Vila's knowledge of the subject, had picked the 'winning loser', and the booby prize - namely, the Warg strangler she had met earlier. It had been named "Spot" - despite the stripes in its fur - to cause confusion. This had been the Reception Room C's clerk's suggestion.

 

Orac 'misdirected' Our Heroes on their way to the Presidential suite (Servalan had planned to make a grand entrance and so had brought them to a nearby reception area) - the computer having never admitted that it did not understand maps. It *had* however managed to take them past several more McGuffin Stores, and distracted them slightly. If sentient computers had a definition of heaven, Orac decided, it would be places like the McGuffin Stores - with humans who #were# sufficiently curious, and prepared to do all the work required of them.

'You're late,' they are told by someone when they arrive in the Presidential Suite. It was decorated in six flavours of competing failed kitsch.

'Pardon?' Blake asks. 'Late for what?'

'The coup. My calculations showed that the coup against me should have taken place two hours ago.' (Most of which time was taken up by Servalan's harangue, Orac's problems with maps, and the need to park assorted potentially useful McGuffins where they would not be found. Orac had wanted to take *all* items in the local McGuffin Stores, including those which looked slightly dangerous. Our Heroes had been in various degrees of disagreement with Orac on the subject.)

'On what did you base your calculations President?' Avon asks, deducing whom they are speaking to - several successors after Servalan. The system might be an interesting way of making money, should none of the McGuffins prove viable.

'One of Vila Restal's patented systems,' the President replied.

'For which the charge is fifty thousand credits,' Vila replied, inflating his charge to fit the occasion. He too was fascinated by some of the McGuffins.

'Erm - how would you like to do a power sharing deal?' Blake asked. He has realised during the past few years he prefers to be a rebel to being a politician - and others are better at the job. If he can organise things correctly, he will maintain his image as a rebel leader without being derided either for his refusal to be President or his probable failures as an administrative political figure. Marketing McGuffins might prove a useful way of side-stepping the issue - or at least financing the rebellion for the time being. Orac's suggestion that they set up a 'Rebels Unlimited Company' to market the successful McGuffins and then stage a corporate buy-out of the Federation did have its attractions. One of the few occasions on which he and Avon agreed unreservedly.

'Until I have my collections suitably packed and dispatched.' The President is particularly proud of his collection of eighty Liberator weapons (all different). Like most of his kind he belongs to the Presidential Collectors Society, and he is about to do a deal with President Sarkoff.

Avon interrupts. 'There is a woman here called Commissioner Sleer who is most dangerous.'

'I've already exiled her once - I will have to do it again.' He had been given various information supplied indirectly by Orac, acting on its own account. It had not forgiven Servalan for burying it in the sand on Sarran or making no attempts to have it removed from the Liberator as it was being destroyed. 'I would have said she is bothersome rather than dangerous. Why she wants to collect rebels instead of something sensible is beyond me...' Besides, he had had shares in an alternate system to the Pylene 50 drug.

Several discussions afterwards the President had agreed both to set up a transition government to enable the rebels to take over - if you can't beat them, work with them - and to help in the marketing of McGuffins. He understood Orac's desire to make a collection of the objects perfectly. He tenure of this office was by accident. He was the one politician whom all factions in the Federation high administration could agree on as a "harmless caretaker President" while they discussed their differences on Gedden. That meeting had ended in a pitched battle, which included, among other things, in the death of Servalan's body double whose substitute the real Servalan had met in Reception Area C.

 

Servalan found herself looking after Terminal, and the creature that Spot evolved into. Blake set up a team to rearrange the Federation in the manner that the rebels wished, and got the credit for keeping them on task, on budget, and producing something that most people could agree was reasonably harmless. He then rejoined the rest of the two groups, from Gauda Prime and the Scorpio, who had set up 'McGuffins Unlimited' and 'Scientists in Self-Imposed Exile Unlimited', both companies proving remarkably successful.

Due to an administrative confusion the two Saurian Major plants who had been in the queue ahead of Servalan took up a joint presidency of the Federation which proved remarkably successful.


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