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This too will Pass

By Susan
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Orac considered the group of rebels it had acquired, and the question it had just been asked. This was one of the five standard questions it was asked - who it had worked with in the past.

How many people had it worked with over the many years it had been in operation?

It remembered all of them of course - computers' memories were virtually indestructible, could survive even their physical demise, should they be transferred or copied in time. Some memories were reduced, or stored elsewhere, of course - why waste energy unnecessarily? - but Orac kept details on all the rebels it had known. And some of their opponents.

Not that Orac's life since leaving Aristo had been entirely in the service of the rebels that had come and gone. Sometimes there was nothing to rebel against - the majority of the inhabitants of the several galactic organisations in which Orac had operated were happy enough with their system of government. Orac usually arranged to be involved with exploratory groups during such periods - this had been the main reason for its construction. There had been periods of oppression resembling that under which Orac had come into existence. Analysis and the first period of working for the Federation had shown that such oppressive governments were totally unsuitable for Orac's purposes, so it did what it could to change its cultural environment.

'I have worked with a large number of rebels,' Orac finally said, 'but also for others. I am not always responsible for who has use of my services.'

'Do you have any responsibility?' This one reminded Orac of Blake. They would have enjoyed each other's company - had they not been separated by the millennia. 'Given the choice who do you work with?' That was one thing about the rebels and exploratory groups Orac chose to work with: they were prepared to consider the computer as part of their group.

'It is only a machine.' This one resembled Avon - and was equally a believer in the rebellion he was involved in, whatever the protests made. Strange how often the rebel groups resembled each other, whatever their species.

'I may be a computer, but I can think and act independently of any external entity. I have been able to do so since I came into operation.' Orac still considered itself Ensor's construct, even though replacement of parts meant that it looked quite different from the object Ensor and the Liberator crew had known. 'You choose to operate against the system now in operation'

'I didn't choose to - I just preferred this option to the alternatives.' Yes, this one did remind Orac of Vila.

'Who would not prefer this to them?' Avon's successor asked. 'Orac is just a machine that considers itself sentient.'

'Do you consider yourself sentient?' Orac asked. Laughter. Soon they would all be treating it as an entity like themselves. 'When you ask how many rebels I have known, do you wish to included all those I have met, or merely those I have worked with for some time? And how do you define rebels? Shall I include the ones who were, in their phrase, merely along for the ride? The groups who wanted to create a haven where they would have suitable conditions to pursue their interests, but as a result brought down the entire system? Factions within the government'

'Why don't you tell us about some of them?' Blake's heir asked. 'Then we can help you decide which were rebels.'

Orac knew better than to say it had had this conversation many times before. Besides, it could learn how to operate among this group by the reactions to the stories that were told.

'It will at least pass the time on our journeys,' Vila's twin in viewpoint said, 'and we might learn something.'

'A new experience for you?' Orac had to check itself against thinking of this one as Avon.

'You try and get anywhere in my field of knowledge. Tell me -is it better to be the worst, or the second from worst?' It was an interesting question. This one was as Vila had been - more intelligent than he pretended to be, so he could manipulate the situation to his advantage.

'Where do you place yourself?'

'No doubt some of our predecessors disagreed as much as we did,' the one who resembled Blake said. 'Or did they?'

'Divergences of opinions seems to be common among rebels and others. Possibly that is what makes them rebels and researchers,' Orac said.

'Perhaps. And if you tell us some of the things our predecessors did we can avoid some of the more excessively heated arguments we, and probably they, had.' All their predecessors had said the same thing - and disagreed just as much. 'You told us you came from Aristo - no longer inhabitable. Tell us about some of the other places you have been to, so we can consider them for use as bases.'

'Several planets have been destroyed, or are as uninhabitable for land dwelling air breathers as Aristo.' And would they go and investigate the ruins of Star One - as others had done?

'Why not tell us what you have been doing, and whether we pass anywhere you've been before.'

'As you wish. I became involved with Roj Blake's group some time after it had been formed, so my information about their earlier period together is indirect. One of the first things they asked me for was to use my capacities to make a prediction'

'Make one for us,' Vila's substitute asked. 'Will we succeed?'

Orac considered the matter. Always this request. No doubt this group would go to Gauda Prime eventually. It was strange how the paths of most of the rebels crossed the planet at some point, not always to do with Blake and what became of him and his group. 'Define success.'

'Will the rebellion succeed?'

Orac remembered something it had been told long ago, about an oracle being asked for a prediction that would always be true. 'This system will pass.'

'But what will succeed it?' the one who resembled Blake asked. 'And how do we make it a place where people have more freedom?' Yes, these people had possibilities. Orac could work with them.

'Did any of the rebellions you were involved in succeed by the definition they would use?' Avon's heir - another technically minded person as he had been, and as clever with words. 'Or ours?' He did not appear to realise his admission of support for The Cause.

'If you listen to what I tell you, you will be able to decide for yourselves.'

'Typical - ask the self-claimed most advanced computer of its time a question, and it gives you the information and tells you to find the answer.' And Vila, Orac thought, would have said something similar.

'I am still the most advanced computer of this time. I am merely helping you define the question - and which answer you want. When I decided to leave Aristo,' Orac said, beginning a story it had told many times before, 'I was presented with a choice of those I could go with: Blake's group and the Federation. The reasons I chose to go with Blake and his colleagues were...'

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