Jabberwocky - part 4 - The FromaBy Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 11
So he inserted Orac's key. "Orac,
we request information about the
Instead of claiming other tasks, Orac responded immediately. "Fascinating. I have never considered the Froma before, but what little information I have been able to gain so far is of great interest. The Froma is worth further study."
"Do you know what the Froma is?" Avon asked, interested.
"Federation records are inconclusive," replied Orac. "I have accessed everything available locally, and have come to an interesting speculation. It is possible that the Froma could be a living creature."
"Made out of solid metal with an irrestium shell?" Blake asked incredulously. "Oh come on. Orac. That's not likely, is it?"
"Why not? Not all life forms are carbon based. I refer you to Sopron. It was certainly a powerful entity. Simply because the Froma resembles no known life form does not mean that it does not live."
"Surely not sentient, Orac?" Cally asked.
"There is no evidence to support such a speculation. Communication has never taken place."
"Only negatively," Vila put in. "Lightning bolts make their point all right."
"There have been many non-sentient life forms that have excellent defence systems, some painful, some lethal, some merely unpleasant," Orac continued. "I do not insist that the Froma lives; I merely point out that it could. Further study is warranted. I recommend Avon and Vila visit the Froma for that purpose."
"Is that practical, Orac?" Blake asked. "Won't the Federation have it under surveillance?"
"The Froma guards itself. Its reputation is a better defence than anything the Federation can devise. It is, however, housed in a museum with a complex alarm system and monitors. The Trianians maintain the museum under Federation authority. While it is believed unstealable, precautions are made to prevent its theft."
"And you want us to go down there?" Vila asked in outrage. "We'd be captured immediately. It's not safe."
"What is?" asked Tarrant. "I thought you were the one who was so anxious to go down there and prove you could steal it. I should have known your sudden courage was too good to be true."
"That shows what you know, Tarrant," Vila retorted hotly. "There's more to being a good thief than you understand. I can't just go in and study it; I have to plan it differently. I'll need to be a tourist and I'll need somebody more than Avon. Soolin might be good, because I don't think the Federation has identified her yet. Hugh too." He added quickly when Blake started to speak, "Not you, Blake. Too many people know your face."
Blake raised an eyebrow at the unlikely spectacle of Vila taking charge, but then Vila was in his element when there was something to steal. The time for Vila to panic would be afterwards or at the first sight of major trouble. Until then, he could be counted on to do his very best.
"Thank you, Captain Vila," he said with mock sarcasm. "Anything else?"
"Yes," Vila decided, apparently loving the attention. "Tarrant can come too. If we have to haul the bloody thing away, he's big enough to do a decent day's work."
"Thank you, Vila." There was nothing mock about Tarrant's sarcasm.
Jabberwocky suddenly chuckled. "He's right, Del. You are good for manual labour."
"Not you too, Jabberwocky," Tarrant protested. "I thought you were on my side."
"Just because I'm linked with you doesn't mean I'm opposed to anyone else," the ship reminded him. "But you can't be carrying the Froma about, not if it gives killer power surges. It wouldn't be safe. Orac, how about a shielding for the device?"
"I have been considering that," Orac replied with such impatience that Blake realised that the two computers had been chatting back and forth about it already. "I might design a casing which could resist the voltage put out by the Froma. I have accessed Federation records and am now planning such a container. Transference from its present position would be difficult, and it would appear that the Froma has more options than that, since an electrical charge, unless very specifically directed, would not be sufficient to bring down a ship. For a directed charge to be emitted indicates not only sentience but that of a higher order."
"Not necessarily," Avon disagreed. "Random electrical bursts if emitted in great enough quantity could do the necessary damage."
"Every single time, Avon?" Blake asked.
"Design your container, Orac," Blake instructed. "And continue your research. We will not attempt it without proper guarantees."
"Assuming," Cally put in suddenly, getting up and turning to face Blake, "that the Trianian rebels really want us to steal the Froma."
That won a startled look from the others. "What do you mean, Cally?" asked Blake.
"Asking you to attempt the impossible might sound like a valid test of your abilities, Blake, but on the other hand, perhaps the rebels merely wish to ascertain how realistic your plans are. Anyone can race around blowing things up; but coming up with a reasonable plan to defeat the Federation is much harder. Perhaps they are saying that we should prove to them that we will consider all aspects of a problem and refuse to attempt that which is bound to fail."
"You mean they want us to say no?" Vila asked in surprise. "Then why even ask?"
"Suppose we agreed, then we were captured or killed in the attempt. We would have proven that we couldn't deliver. We would also have proved that we'd taken too many unnecessary risks. We would be of no use to anyone dead, Blake."
"She might be right," Jenna agreed.
"It's possible," Hugh said thoughtfully. "What are you planning, Blake?"
"Certainly I won't refuse out of hand. I still want Vila to examine the situation. He can take whoever he needs. Once he's seen the Froma and reported back, we'll see if it's really feasible. I think we have a better chance than anyone has had till now, thanks to Orac and Vila."
Vila looked unbearably smug, flashing a triumphant glance at Avon, who grimaced and turned to Blake. "Do you honestly imagine that with Orac and him you can achieve what no-one has ever succeeded at, Blake?"
"No, Avon," Blake replied with a sudden smile. "I will be counting on you too."
"Entirely as an afterthought," Avon muttered. "I shall go down, Blake, but only because I am curious. I find the whole plan highly suspect as it is."
"It will work," Servalan said to Space Commander Clancy. "I am certain it will work."
"You'll be taking a big risk, Sleer. If it weren't for the Supreme Commander's vouching for you, I wouldn't even consider such a risk."
"Is it a risk, Clancy? If the rebel Blake and his crew are successful in stealing the Froma, we can remove it from them, and the Federation will be that much richer at the same time as we put an end to Blake's rebellion. The rebels on Triana will be discredited and their cell broken up. Your job will become that much easier."
"If you fail, the rebel Blake will be free and the rebellion in possession of the Froma."
"That will never happen," Servalan insisted. She looked round this provincial office with its outdated equipment and its cheap decor and shuddered. If she could not regain power, something like this might be her fate, trapped on one of the outer worlds, serving the Federation in some thankless task. No, she would not fail. She had infiltrated the Triana rebel cell a month earlier, knowing that Blake would come here soon - she had her sources within Avalon's operation to keep her informed of Blake's itinerary. With her usual skill at manipulation, Servalan had wormed her way into the confidence of Marthonal Tant, and it was from her that the suggestion of stealing the Froma had come. Triana was an isolated world, useful only because two Federation space-lanes crossed near here and because of its mineral wealth. The Froma itself was only a very valuable curiosity, one that she would like to possess, but one that could be used far better as a tool. The rebels wanted it, the Federation wanted it. So far, Federation attempts to remove it had met only with death and a loss of several ships. Better to let Blake's crew remove the Froma, which might then destroy them, and if by some chance they succeeded the Federation could remove it from the rebels using Blake's techniques, at the same time as they smashed the rebel cell here. The resultant publicity would do her no end of good - in fact if she came home with Blake's head and the Froma, she could write her own ticket. Arpel would then be no stumbling block - not if Servalan announced that she had gone temporarily under cover to rid the galaxy of Blake. She smiled at that thought. This would work. It had to. She held all the cards. At the very least, she would come away no worse than she was now, and any failure could be laid at Clancy's feet. The casual red-haired space commander was nearing the end of a not very spectacular career and it would be no-one's loss if he were to take the blame for any mistakes here.
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