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By Judith Proctor
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If you look very closely, you can see the watercan on the roof.

      (All places mentioned in this tale really exist)


Jenna looked at the wooden handle she was holding. It appeared to be the end of a three foot long horizontal brass rod which then bent through ninety degrees to go down below the deck into the water.


      Something definitely wasn't right here.

      "What," she announced to the world at large (which seemed to consist of four people trying to stand on a deck that would have been small for one) , "is happening?"

      "Liberator has just passed through a massive improbability field," said a rose-decorated water can resting on the cabin roof in front of her. "It would appear that the ship has passed backwards through time and been transformed into a primitive barge."

      "Wherever we are," Vila said hurriedly, "I want to go back. Avon's digging an elbow into my chest; there's water all around us, and I can't swim!"

      He glanced up and ducked hastily. "There's a tree coming at us!

      "Jenna, you're the pilot, do something!"

      Jenna pulled the tiller in a random direction, apparently the wrong one as the tree promptly approached even faster, its branches almost knocking her into the water. Blake and Avon clung tightly onto the rails on the cabin roof, while Cally clutched at the water can which presumably was Orac, to stop it falling overboard.

      "Orac, how does this thing work?" shouted Jenna.

      "The application of water pressure against the rudder causes a lateral thrust..."

      "Orac," said Avon dangerously, "just tell her what to do."

      "Very well," said the water can, "in order to move the vessel to the left, move the tiller to the right and vice versa. Remember that the change in direction will apply to the stern of the vessel and not to the bow."

      The seventy-foot long narrowboat slowly moved into the centre of the waterway, weaving in an interesting zigzag as the Liberator crew struggled for space on the tiny platform at the rear.

      Blake addressed the brightly-painted can: "Where are we and what happens next?"

      "We are presently on a canal, a man-made waterway designed for the transportation of bulk cargo. The canal is divided into sections by locks. The narrowboat enters a lock and the lock gate is closed behind it. A crude system of manually operated paddles is then raised to allow water to leave and to lower the vessel to the level of the next section of canal.

      "One of the crew will need to leave the boat to operate the paddle gear. A windlass slides onto a metal rod. Turning the windlass turns the rod, and through a series of crude mechanical gears raises the paddle. If the equipment is badly maintained, it can often require considerable physical effort to operate it."

      As if by magic, a bent metal bar with a square shaped hole at one end appeared on the cabin roof. Cally took one look at the windlass and promptly volunteered to go inside the cabin and make a pot of tea.

      Jenna smiled; she was secure as long as she was doing the steering.

      Vila eyed the device warily, hard work was not his idea of fun. "Orac," he asked, "are we approaching a lock now?"

      "Indeed we are," said the rose-covered can with satisfaction. "We are approaching Blake's lock on the Kennet and Avon canal."

      Avon looked at Blake. "Your lock I believe; you'd better do the honours."

      Blake looked at Avon. "Your canal. I'd hate to deprive you of the pleasure."

      They both studied each other for a moment, then Avon grinned. "Shall I tell him or do you want to?"

      Blake's face broke into a smile as he ceremoniously handed the windlass to its new operator.

      "Vila, you always say there isn't a lock that you can't open!"


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Judith Proctor

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