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The Critic

By Susan
Page 1 of 1

The five of them had been two months on the Liberator, and were still discovering things on it, and suspected that they would for a long time yet.

They had still not worked out precisely what the ship's purpose was. From the facilities available it was clear that the maximum permanent crew would be about three dozen, though it could work with a much smaller number. Avon had asked Zen whether the Liberator had, or could, work as a research ship, going on long distance explorations. Zen had replied that the ship could so function - and Blake had deduced from Avon's expression in response that this was Avon's heart's desire. He had not pursued the topic - and was half tempted by the idea himself. Should they win the rebellion, Blake decided, he might suggest they go exploring. There were worse goals in life.

'Avon,' Vila asked, on their next shared watch together.

'Yes?' Obviously expecting one of Vila's dreadful puns, which he sometimes admitted finding amusing.

'Given the choice between the Liberator and the contents of the treasure room, which would it be? Assuming you could have a small ship or sufficient money to cover your needs, as appropriate.'

For once Avon was unable to answer immediately.

'With a ship like this who wouldn't?' Avon began, obviously disconcerted. It was not money he wanted, but the things that he could do with it.

'Come back with an answer another time,' Vila said, to put him out of his misery.

'Yes.' But, Vila reflected, if even he wished to see what the ship could do, Avon would go for the same choice.

'So once the Federation stops interfering with what we're doing, you'd go exploring?'

'Stop trying to surreptitiously convert me to Blake's cause.'

'I wasn't. Answer the question.'

'Yes.' Ambiguous as ever.

Vila maintained his best "innocent" expression as he spoke. 'Perhaps you could convert him to *your* cause.'

Avon laughed. 'Define what my cause is.' Getting the Federation off his back, and seeing what this ship could do and what Blake was capable of achieving. 'But not all of your statements are stupid.'

'Define stupid.'

'Most of your statements.'

'Circular argument. What do you want to do apart from go exploring?' Vila turned to the computer. 'Zen - where does all the stuff in the treasury come from?' As if the computer would answer.

'More than one place.'

'Did the stuff come here in one go?' Avon let Vila continue.

'At least some did.'

'Why have the jewels and whatever been collected? Apart from for the immediate use of the crew.' That would be a partial explanation. Wherever you were a jewel was something readily understandable.

'They are of greater use than the conventional currencies in use in the galaxy. They were given for services rendered.'

'In what field?'

A list of names appeared on Zen's screen. Vila and Avon recognised some of them as authors.

After a few moments Avon laughed. 'Zen - are you responsible for at least some of the output of these "persons"?'

'Affirmative.'

'Who collects the royalties for you? The crew?'

'That occurs.'

Blake came on to the flight deck. 'We are going to pick up a group of rebels from ' he stopped.

'Are you OK?' Avon was almost choking on a laugh.

'Will you tell Blake or shall I?' Vila asked, grinning. Avon had obviously thought of the same joke.

'Tell me what?'

'They aren't rebels - they are Zen's on-board story advisers.' Vila replied.

'What have you been drinking?'

'Me, nothing. Ask Avon and Zen.'

'Why do you find it strange that computers should write?' Zen asked.

'A suggestion, Blake,' Avon said, having recovered his composure. 'Instead of taking us on stupid missions'

'With a high risk to ourselves,' Vila added, as Avon would not say it.

'You get Zen to publish whatever exploits you care to invent, confuse the authorities, and we gather the profits and do more interesting things.'

'I will consider this way of publicising our events - and which missions in particular are you describing as stupid? We are still picking up the rebels.'

'No, critics.'

'Not afraid of the competition Avon?'

'Should I be Blake?' In that respect, Vila considered, Avon was probably right.

'Lay in a course for...' Blake continued.

'Sales have been declining recently for several books' Zen began.

'Can we become critics to five star restaurants as well?' Vila asked, as they got up to leave, shift's end. 'And where was it you wished to go the other day?'

'If you behave yourself,' Avon replied, in a tone that indicated he did not expect Vila to do so, 'I might promote the idea.' Vila had long ago discovered one means of being popular - suggest to people what they really wanted to do before they thought of it themselves.

'We can always classify it as research Avon. And you might be able to persuade Blake to follow your lead' Vila smiled at Avon's expression.

'What now - just because you had a good idea at last' Avon was in a tolerant mood.

'So we cooperate with Zen on writing books then?'

'Zen is just a machine Vila.'

'Some of the books are very popular.'

'Some people will read any junk.'

'Write something better then Avon.'

'I might, I might.' It was a better idea than some of Blake's.

'And I will give you my valued opinion to turn what you write into million credit blockbusters.'

'Valued by whom?'

'I am a representative of popular taste'

'I will bear that in mind Vila.' Avon could never resist a challenge. This one might be more interesting than most. What bizarre adventures could he think of for the Liberator - the more implausible the better.

He quite enjoyed the research - and, for some reason, what actually happened was as strange as his stories.


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