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The Wit and Wisdom of the Dead

By Neil Faulkner
Page 1 of 8

What turns a man into a traitor? I should know. I feel like one now as I load the chip. Slot it, anyway. After all it's been through, there's no guarantee it will actually load.

      Perfidy! That's what Servalan would say, or something very like it. It rather sums up the way she's locked in her wistful dreams of Old Calendar elegance. What I say is, if you have to find your truth in the past, you're admitting the present is a pack of lies. Some people can't seem to find any worth in themselves.

      Perhaps I'm one of them now.

      ...that I shall at all times and in all ways enact my loyalty to the Terran Federation, to its President and Supreme Commander, to its furtherance, that it may endure forever.

      I took that oath when I was seventeen. That was a long time ago now. Times have changed, I have changed, and I'm not sure which is the greater pack of lies. Time to find out.

      The chip loads smoothly. I've got it slotted in the main computer, the one with a voice synth. Hopefully I can talk to it. And it can talk to me.

      <Hello?> It sounds exactly like the comp acknowledging routine instructions. A standard electronic voice, sexless, impersonal. But there's an edge, a hint of something that might be called life. A bit like a bad actor over a long-range relay.

      <What is this? Where am I?>

      All in due course. First I want to make sure I've got what I really came for. "What's your name?"

      <Name? Name's Lurgen. Who are you?>

      "Travis, Space Commander. Seconded to Supreme Commander's personal staff." Not strictly true any more, but he's in no position to know.

      <Are you really? Any chance of telling me where the hell I am?>

      "You're on solid state ROM. A brainprint chip."

      A long pause. Then, <I remember. He came to do the op.>

      "Docholli?"

      <That's right. You know Docholli?>

      "We've met. Briefly. He told me all about it."

      Lurgen sounds cautious. <Everything?>

      "He told me you arranged to fake the operation between you. The brainscan was taken, but the second stage wasn't followed through. Then you both made a run for it."

      <He told you that?>

      "Oh yes. And it worked, too. You both got clean away. Gave Central Intelligence quite a headache. In the end they gave you up for lost."

      <Have you come to arrest me or something?>

      "No, just to talk. I need some information. Need it very badly."

      <How badly?>

      "You're the last one, Lurgen. All the other brainprints were destroyed. The original technicians are burnt-out zombies. You're all that's left."

      The ROMstruct falls silent, stays silent. In the intervening time it strikes me that I've been talking to it as if it were the man himself, not just a recording of his brain. Why not? To all intents and purposes, it is.

      <So?>

      "So nobody knows where Star One is. Don't tell me you hadn't realised. I've been to a lot of trouble to get you."

      <I see,> it grunts. <What makes you think I'm going to tell you anything?>

      

      

      

Knowledge of Star One was the most closely guarded secret in the whole of the Federation. Details of its construction, operational parameters, and most especially its location, only existed on thirty brainprint chips, and they were securely locked away in the bowels of Central Intelligence's headquarters on Earth. The repository managers themselves didn't know what they were guarding, only that they could only grant access on hearing certain passwords from certain authorised personnel. The brainprints in turn could only release the information after being given additional passwords to verify security clearance. It was about as foolproof as anyone could devise.

      Nobody reckoned on the Nova Republiko suicide squad blasting in to plant a home-made nuke.

      I remember the incident well. It was shortly after I had secured Blake's capture and put an end to his activities on Earth. The NR bombing was supposedly a retaliation. In a pre-recorded declaration, they said they were doing it in the name of 'freedom'. I'm sure the thirty thousand plus citizens who died in the blast were gratified to know that.

      Not that there was any real panic among those who knew. Star One, as far as they were concerned, was now even more inaccessible than ever. The brainprint chips were just a failsafe anyway. Star One was self-monitoring, largely self-repairing, and there were technicians there to deal with any short-term crisis or broadcast the location if anything truly serious happened. And eventually, of course, Star One would, like Central Control before it, become obsolete, and need replacing. It would, in its time, tell those who needed to know that.

      That only left the Lurgen chip, but that had been a security headache for a long time by then. The hunt for Lurgen and Docholli had never officially ended, but as time had passed and nothing undue seemed to have happened, the search had been wound down. There were simply too many places for either or both of them to hide. In the absence of anything to worry about, Central Intelligence effectively stopped worrying.

      Most of that I pieced together for myself. I wasn't going to go crawling to Servalan for information, and simply asking would have aroused her suspicions. It was only after my court martial that, for the very first time, I exploited the security clearance my appointment to Servalan's staff had given me. The codes to the really sensitive data were changed regularly, out of my reach since I gained outlaw status, but others I could access with little or no trouble. Le{\160}Grand, fool that she was, told me what little she knew, and the Arbiter General was most helpful. Fortunately he didn't think to bring the matter up with Blake. I was closing in on Docholli before Blake even knew who he was looking for.

      That was my one real stroke of real luck in this whole sordid affair. My authorised search for Blake had brought me into contact with a man by the name of Vidor. I knew the name was an alias, but that was nothing unusual, nor was his obvious nervousness in dealing with me. As it turned out, he proved to be a dead end, and would have ended up dead in other respects if he hadn't disappeared by the time I went back for him. It was only later that I realised Vidor was in fact Docholli. And although he was long gone, I now had a reason to devote real effort to tracking him down. Elusive he certainly was, but not untraceable. I found him.

      

      

      

      Time Distort 9 puts the rendezvous point just over two hundred hours away. There's that nagging temptation to shave off that little bit more by exceeding the safety maximum, but the last thing I need now is a blown-out drive. I've got to be there, and before they start. There's no guarantee they'll send a ship, like they promised. I can't even be sure they got my last transmission. Blake blew my command ship away over Goth. One more reason to kill him.

      Later, though. Much later. Other things are more important right now.

      The Lurgen construct is evasive. It knows all too well there's nothing I can do to threaten it, not while it's got the information I need. It doubts my credentials and there's no way I can prove them. If I had the equipment, I could read the information direct, but I haven't got it. If Servalan bought anything of the kind, she didn't tell me, and it's certainly not on her ship. This ship. I should know, I've looked hard enough.

      It all comes down to how much I can afford to tell the ROMstruct.

      "You know about the Andromedans?"

      <Know what about them?>

      It's like that all the time. Challenging, querying, refusing to give anything away. No doubt the real Lurgen was much the same.

      I need patience.

      "Aliens from M31. Initial contact in the late twenties. Cryptographers decoded their first transmission to humanity. It was a declaration of war."

      <Really? Might be your kind of story, but I prefer proper literature.>

      "It's fact, Lurgen, and you know it. They're out there and they mean to invade. They've got forward bases in the Magellanic Clouds. Their fleet is ready and only one thing's stopping them."

      <Star One.>

      "That's right. Once they know where that is, they can destroy it. Paralyse the Federation. There'll be no stopping them after that."

      <So all they've got to do is find Star One. Shouldn't take them long. They've only got a couple of billion stars to check out.>

      The nuances of irony disappear in a standard voice synth.

      "They'll know soon enough, Lurgen. Because you are going to tell me where, and then I'll pass it on to them."

      <You're not serious.>

      "I've never been more so."

      <You do that and you let the aliens in.>

      I smile. "So you do admit they're out there, after all?"

      Another pause. The ROMstruct often pauses. <Travis?>

      "Yes?"

      <You're a swine.>


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Neil Faulkner

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