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Orac and the Art of Programming

By Alicia Ann Fox
Page 2 of 3

"Zen, what's our heading?" Tarrant's voice demanded loudly to the computer's flight deck reference point. "Who's made a course change? Zen?"

Shockingly, there was no response.

"What makes you think--" Avon said sharply, from his seat on the couch. He blinked twice; for a moment he had felt dizzy, and his head was furiously throbbing.

"I could hear it, the propulsion sound woke me, and as you can see Zen isn't answering."

"I've put up with this for too long!" Avon snarled. "I haven't had a moment's privacy in four days and I'm damn sick of that accusatory tone of yours, Tarrant!"

For once, Tarrant controlled his tongue, though the effort was obvious. "It was your idea for us to watch you," he said reasonably, jogging up to the flight controls. "And it looks as though you had the right idea. Zen! Respond!" He studied his console for a moment. "We have changed course, and we're at Standard by eight."

Avon shook his head. "No." Then, "I've not been anywhere near Orac. If I'd been in Vila's cabin he would have known. We've taken all possible precautions."

"Then where's Cally? And what are you doing on the flight deck?"

"Working!" Avon snapped. "My brain scans have been normal for four days," he said, defensively.

"It could have been in the initial signal," Tarrant said. "Some sort of delayed response. How are we to know what's possible?"

"By asking Orac," Avon said, vehemently disgusted. He got up.

"Don't move," Tarrant said, and suddenly there was a small object in his hand, pointed at the other man. "I'm sorry, but it's for your own safety. And ours."

"Damn it, Tarrant--"

"What's going on?" Vila said from the entrance to the flight deck. "What did you want, Tarrant?"

"We've changed course," the pilot informed him. "Avon won't admit to it."

Avon started to protest but was interrupted by Vila.

"What have you done with Cally? Avon, your lip is bleeding."

"She wasn't with him when I came in," Tarrant said. "You'd probably better go and find her."

Vila departed with alacrity.

"Maybe now we should find out where we're going, and why Zen won't answer us?"

Avon was wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand. The headache began to retreat in the face of more immediate pain. Grudgingly he said, "Yes, we probably should." He collected himself and went to his station, scanning readings for a moment. "I've put the coordinates of our destination up at the pilot's position, there isn't a nearby system."

Lowering his weapon, Tarrant said, "The closest is Caparra."

After a few moments of work at his console, Avon said in a frighteningly calm voice, "Well. It must be as you said. Zen is locked to my voice control only, through a mechanical override."

"Can you--"

"Don't be a fool, Tarrant. Of course I can. Zen, dis--dis--"

"Avon?"

"Zen, diseng--" Avon's mouth closed. His body convulsed once before he collapsed, clearly unconscious.

"Damn," Tarrant said fervently, diving forward.

#

Vila opened Avon's cabin door in a heartbeat. Immediately he locked the door behind him and rushed over to Cally's sprawled body. A split second later he noticed the disk and removed it, shaking at her shoulders. "Cally! Wake up! What the hell were you thinking?!"

Blearily, Cally opened her eyes.

"Come on, Cally! Avon's been got at again! And this time he's done something to Zen!"

More awake now, Cally groaned. "No...."

Vila was picking up her clothes from the deck. He shoved them at her. "No time for that. You have to get to the flight deck. Here, put these on. I'll go help Tarrant." He ran from the room.

#

Avon felt hazy and blurred as he squinted against the light of the medical unit. He was alone. He couldn't quite remember how he had gotten here, but had a fairly good idea.

He couldn't think of any way out of the situation. He couldn't really think at all. He wished irrationally that Cally were here.

Then she could let him out, and he could go to find Orac.

Where did that come from?

Never mind. He had things to do. Orac.

But he was trapped.

Therefore, he had to get out.

If he didn't fight the restraining field, his hands could reach into the pockets of his robe. There was a tool in each one. He made one of them part of his right hand and aimed it carefully. Circuitry burned for a moment before the bands withdrew. By the time autorepair kicked in, Avon was in the corridor.

#

Up to his elbows in the insides of the pilot's console, Tarrant cursed volubly and added, "Damn it, Cally should have been watching him!"

"I know that!" Cally snapped back, from across the flight deck. "I didn't expect he would manage to sedate me!"

"Really, Tarrant," Dayna said, looking over the schematics one more time, in the vain hope that something new would surface. "She tried to fight him off, you said he was bleeding." She paused. Cally had no comment to interject. "At least you're doing something. I'm still trying to decipher Avon's scratching, it's horrible."

"That's Blake's," Vila informed her, peering over her shoulder. "Avon doesn't write much down, somebody might get to know more than he does. Look, the big black writing is Jenna's, that's probably worth more."

"I don't care how she handles," Tarrant exploded. "I know that. I want to know how to get manual control."

Cally was staring hopelessly at the mass of circuitry beneath Zen. "I don't think we ever found that out, Tarrant. It isn't the controls that are the main problem, it's Zen."

Tarrant scowled and sighed enormously.

"He's locked out the neutron blasters, too, if anyone cares," Vila said, into the rumbling silence.

"Maybe I can do something with those," Dayna said, bounding to her feet.

"It's useless, Dayna," Tarrant interrupted her, wearily. "I admit it, I'm out of ideas, and we'll be there in less than an hour."

Cally closed the panel and walked over to join the rest of them. "Perhaps Avon will be able to tell us more now."

"It might kill him, to try," Dayna protested.

"I don't think he can," Vila said. "If he could have, he would have done." When no-one said anything, he turned and headed for the corridor. "I'm going to get Orac."

Vila was halfway back from his cabin when Avon burst from a turning in the corridor and knocked him unconscious to the deck with two blows.

A look of great satisfaction settled on Avon's features. He dug in Vila's pockets until he found the key, then hunkered down next to the computer and inserted it. "Orac, send a message to the Space Command ships near Caparra."

*I cannot.*

"What do you mean, you can't?!"

*You have been conditioned. You yourself have instructed me what is permissible in these circumstances. If I comply with your instructions, I will be in danger.*

"Conditioned? Nonsense. I feel fine. Damn it, Orac, I need to contact those ships."

*For what purpose?*

"I have to tell them how they can come and get us," Avon said reasonably. "Surely you could have figured that out for yourself, Orac. That's the only way they're going to give us Blake."

*I must admit to having been a cause of your current predicament,* Orac said. *However, such events are to be expected, due to your continued commands to interface with Federation computers.*

"Do it, Orac!"

*I will not.*

Avon growled in frustration, and headed for the secondary communications backup. He would do it himself.

#

When she found Vila's sprawled form next to an activated Orac, Dayna said calmly, "Oh, no."

Cally was only a few steps behind her. "I've got to find him, Dayna."

Dayna was already scooping Orac up in her arms. "Don't go alone, it looks like he's hit Vila pretty hard," she said quickly. "Look, I'll take Orac to the flight deck, we can defend from there if we have to. You take Vila, then we'll look for Avon together."

After a moment of hesitation, Cally bent to quickly examine their injured crewmate, and Dayna took off running. Vila was unconscious, and Cally was disturbed to find that his collarbone was broken. Quickly she ran to the empty medical unit. She snatched regeneration equipment and a basic kit and flew back to her injured companion. "You'll be safer on the flight deck, too," she decided. Grunting, she hoisted him over her shoulder.

#

Carefully, Avon inserted a probe into the secondary communications backup, sealing open his voice link to the Federation ships that awaited Liberator. Then he went to the intercom which he had rerouted. "Federation command ship," he addressed it. "This is the Liberator." His mouth hurt from talking, and he reached up to touch it.

"Liberator, have you followed instructions?"

"Instructions?" What was this? Avon's thought was cut off by a piercing hum that seemed to slice open his head. His momentary doubt evaporated, flash-burned. "Liberator is approaching the rendezvous point, arrival time in approximately twenty minutes. I will open the airlock."

"Confirmed, Liberator." There was a pause. "We'll be waiting for you. Out."

Mechanically Avon withdrew his probe, and let it fall to the deck.

Go to the main hatch.

Permit no resistance.

Go to the main hatch.

#


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