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Living Fossil

By Jackie
Page 1 of 2

If Avon did not see what was on the next table within ten seconds, Vila decided, he would have to buy the next round.

Six Seven damn.

Vila himself could not have moved faster.

'Where did you get that computer?' Avon, at his most charming, asked.

'If I'd known it didn't work, I wouldn't have accepted it as part of the exchange deal.' Vila had grown up doing such work - one of the reasons he had first become interested in locks and how to open them. It could be interesting and prov

ided a good cover - but was not likely to make one rich. There was therefore no contest with life on the Liberator. So long as Avon was there - part of Vila's survival tactics was to follow whoever had the strongest sense of self-preservation.

Avon put a banknote on the table. The dealer looked at him in surprise, but pocketed it.

'For that, you can have the tools that went with it.' Half a dozen pieces, which did not appear to impress Avon.

'Put that in your box of tricks,' Avon whispered to Vila moments later, as the dealer left. It only just fitted.

'And don't tell our glorious leader?' Blake tended to tease Avon on his hobby.

'Yes. Here he comes.'

'Not that I don't appreciate him buying drinks, but why that one?' The colour was distinctive. 'An acquired taste I cannot be bothered to acquire.'

'I must stop agreeing with you Vila.'

On the Liberator Blake reminded Vila as he went to return his "box of tricks"- whose change in weight Blake appeared not to notice - of his approaching shift. Avon's cabin was near Vila's so Blake was not suspicious that they walked off together.

'Does this dysfunctional computer have any sentimental value? The one you first dismantled and put back together in a working condition when you were' Vila asked when they reached the cabin Avon had turned into a workroom.

'Eight,' Avon replied, smiling at the memory. Vila understood the feeling of triumph. Avon extracted the handful of newly acquired tools from a pocket in his clothes Vila was unaware of. 'You can have these two, and the one that replaces, if you want.'

'I lend you my tools'

'Half of which you appropriated from me in the first place. Could you return some of them please.'

'Eventually.' Avon had already started browbeating the machine to do something more than flicker erratically. He then started to open it up - more parts than Vila expected. 'So what's so special about this computer-that-won't-work then? It looks slightly old fashioned.' An understatement, as Vila knew.

'It is somewhat over forty years old.'

'Before Tarriel cells?' Vila hazarded.

'You can count,' Avon smirked.

'And if you can get it to work, Orac won't be able to poke its metaphorical nose into what this does.'

'Occasionally you use your brain.'

'Would Servalan buy it if you got it to work?'

'Your brain?'

'No this machine.'

'Servalan is ruthless not stupid.' Avon appreciated practical - and thus measurable - talents and skills over theoretical. One of the reasons he tended to find fault with Blake.

'How many machines are there like this - outside museums and a few universities and research laboratories?'

'Difficult to tell offhand - probably not many.' Vila could tell Avon was curious, even if he had already thought of what Vila was going to say.

'Servalan would want a very unusual machine that the rebel Avon had had.'

'I am not a rebel, whatever they say.' The protest was even more muted than usual.

'But she would be interested.'

'Yes.' Avon agreed. Even if he - probably - had been half tempted to keep the machine to annoy Orac with.

'How different is the programming of this to what you're used to? No more than language differences from one planet to another?'

'A simplification, but yes.'

'A challenge for you - putting files in that look right and have the dates fiddled with, which tie her and hers into knots.'

'Perhaps you should develop your flashes of intelligence.'

'Then I'd be made to work hard.'

'That excuse I believe,' Avon said with a grin. 'Time for your watch.'

'Do you want Orac later? And Ensor might've had some stuff from way back.'

'Yes' Was the remark addressed to him or the interesting bit of computer Avon was now attacking?

Vila could think of better places to go to than Aristo, but also much worse. And he could tease Orac with this machine.

'Where is this machine I will not be able to deal with?' Orac asked irritably.

Avon looked up. Vila placed Orac next to its "relative" which now flickered slightly more consistently.

In the discussion that followed Orac expressed curiosity in its "ancestor" while denying that "antiquated objects" - with the exception of certain "extremely specialised models" - could do anything that it could not.

'Could Avon develop something that is an advance on you out of this?' Vila asked, keeping a straight face.

'That would not be possible starting from this model,' Orac answered almost too quickly. 'Nor from any of its predecessors. Little better than abacuses they were, and some of them further apart from me than you and an amoeba'

'You admit to appropriating interesting bits of programming from elsewhere' Vila replied before Avon could make the cutting remark - or several - he obviously intended. 'And if you understand this machine, you will be able to access others like it'

'That matter will have to be considered.'

'What can you tell us about this machine?' Avon asked.

'It is an ancient computer that does not use Tarriel cells.'

'Tell us something we do not know.'

'Where do you wish me to start?'

Avon had been tinkering with the machine as he spoke, and held out his hand for Vila to give him the next tool. It took Avon a few moments to realise he held something unexpected, but was obviously pleased on realising what it was.

'You've talked about it often enough.'

'Where did you find it - or shouldn't I ask?'

'There weren't any more like it there.' A reasonably truthful answer.

'Thank you Vila.' The "I owe you one" was, Vila hoped, implicit.

'Can we get on with this machine?' Orac asked, and gave several instructions. The old computer responded a few moments later.

'Avon - another thought.'

'Careful - you don't want to overtax your brain.'

'And how many locks can you open without a moment's thought?'

'What did I just say?' Vila grinned back. 'What is it then?'

'Orac - how soon before Tarriel cells became general was this type of machine in operation, and this one in particular? And how quick was the changeover?'

'This model just predates the Tarriel cell computer, which came fairly rapidly into general use.'

'And people don't always chuck out things if they are still fairly new, of some vague future use, and have somewhere to put them.'

'The sort of people you know,' Avon replied, blithely ignoring his own collection of "interesting" computer components. 'Continue.'

'So there might well be lumps of old computer programs knocking around in corners of computer memory storage'

'Programming does not come in lumps. My memory does not have corners.'

'Spare areas of computer memory, in which to store back up programs and things of potential use then but which are then forgotten because they were never needed, and never checked because the memory they occupied was never needed.'

'That is a better description Vila. Though you should say forgotten by humans.'

'Why would anyone be interested in information from before we were born?' Avon asked, curious rather than sarcastic as he might have been. 'This part of your plan to confuse Servalan?'

'Do you remember the access tunnel into the bigwigs' apartments - the one they'd forgotten about? All sorts of interesting things discovered before the officials discovered what was going on.'

'Tell me the full details when I'm bored. Very bored.'

'After half an hour of one of Blake's political speeches? Or ten minutes?' Avon laughed. 'Well, I'm sure you two could find some equivalents - those dead bank accounts you were accessing with your scam'

'What use do I have for money?' Orac asked.

'An interesting idea. But most of what will turn up will be junk, forty year old useless gossip, and out of date versions of current programs.'

'The crew of the Liberator should turn their attention to such ideas, rather than pester me with irrelevant questions which they can resolve for themselves.' Orac interposed.

'Unfortunately some people here want to run a revolution and consider you an essential element in their activities,' Avon replied. 'I would be perfectly willing to take you to places we both find of interest.'

'Do not disturb me!' Orac complained. 'Kindly tell Blake not to ask me irrelevant questions, and that we may have to go to Aristo and elsewhere to collect some necessary equipment Preliminary inquires suggest that there are a number of computer research units and museums with the necessary equipment for accessing this type of machine. There are twenty three which provide links to earlier computers still. Most fascinating. What is a Millennium Bug and why are there so many remedies against it? Avon - is this something I might be endangered by encountering?'

'Machine or not,' Vila said, 'Orac has a strong sense of self preservation.'

'Why shouldn't I? I need to carry out my researches. Go on shift. Have some adrenalin and soma. Watch a viscast.'

Vila laughed. 'Just tell us to go away Orac if that's what you want.'

'Do so.'

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