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Orac and the Art of Programming

By Alicia Ann Fox
Page 1 of 3

Cally was sprawled nude, her hands loosely spread against Avon's bare chest. His leg was comfortably nestled between hers. Air wafted from a vent above her head, cooling her damp skin. "Your mouth," she murmured, "is like a flower." She traced the contours of his lips and said, dreamily, "Petals."

If her poetic reverie unnerved him, he did not say so. His fingers combed through her hair, stroked the smooth curve of her shoulder, repeated. He turned his head and gently kissed her forehead. "Stay for a bit longer?" he asked.

Cally nuzzled at his chest. "Mmm."

"Is that a yes, or a--"

Over his sudden silence, Cally could hear a steady hum, growing louder. A split second later, she realized the sound came from Orac, still activated on the desk. "Avon? What's that noise?" She sat up, to look at him.

He convulsed once, then fell back. Cally sucked in air deeply, choking on a scream. Then Avon began to fight her, trying to get past her. She pinned him with her weight as best as she could. "Signal," he panted suddenly. "Respond. To. Signal."

Terrified, knowing she would be overpowered in moments, Cally hurled a mental shriek at the next cabin. **Avon's cabin--Stop Orac!!!**

Avon's struggles were increasing. "Must comply," he gasped, barely audible over Orac's dull hum. "That's the signal, that's it!"

**Now hurry Vila!!!**

The door flew open and Vila burst into the room. After a moment of paralysis he leapt forward and yanked off Orac's key, tossing it dramatically into the corner. Avon's body went abruptly limp. Vila stumbled forward, bending to examine the other man. "Is he alive?! What's wrong with him? What's going on?" Suddenly he groaned. "Oh, you've killed my head, Cally."

Cally was waving her hand before Avon's face. After a few moments his eyes began to follow it. **Avon!**

Vila slapped his fingers lightly against the other man's cheek. "Come on, wake up!" he demanded.

Long seconds later Avon asked, squinting painfully, "Where's Cally?"

"Here I am."

He stared at her, blankly.

"Orac was having a go at you!" Vila exclaimed.

"Orac? What? I was...was...." Avon said in a confused tone.

"You don't remember?" Cally replied. "Do you feel all right now?"

Very slowly Avon shook his head. "No, I don't." It wasn't immediately apparent which question he was answering.

"I threw the key over there," Vila said. "I never did trust that--" Vila stopped. He took a step backwards.

Avon stared at Vila for a long moment, puzzled. Then he clutched for the blanket. "What are you doing here?" he asked sharply.

"It's all right," Cally said quickly. "I had to call him-you were fighting me--"

"Sorry...." Vila's voice trailed off. He looked appealingly to Avon and shrugged. "If it makes you feel any better I'd already figured things out on my own."

Avon continued to stare at him, measuring. The dull glaze had evaporated from his eyes. Finally he said, "The Federation has surely learned how to get Orac's attention by now, that must be what happened." He looked away. Cally saw him swallow convulsively, as if he were trying not to throw up. After a moment, under control, he looked back. "Get it out of here, Vila, it might be able to convince me to reactivate it." He fixed Vila with his eyes again. "And get yourself out of here, while you're at it." Vila didn't move immediately, and after a moment Avon continued, "We'll have to do without Orac, until we know for sure what happened." He paused. His hand worked in the tangle of blanket he had grabbed to cover himself. "What...did I try to do?"

"You wanted to answer a signal, you said," Cally informed him. "You insisted that you had to reply."

"What signal?"

Cally shook her head. "I don't know. Orac was making a humming noise."

"What was it saying?"

"Nothing," Cally said. "Nothing that I could hear."

"Like Blake," Vila said edgily. "Remember? Pulse-tones?"

Avon did remember, all too clearly. "I shall have to be watched," he said, his expression hard. "Damn it, the Federation has all of my psych records, there's no telling what they could do to me, given access. What they may have done already...."

#

Four days later, to Cally's relief, Avon had exhibited no further signs of strange behavior, other than increasingly open hostility resulting from the constant observation. His resentment was often aimed at her, and though in theory she knew that he had good reason to be afraid, and that she ought to make allowances, in reality this was more difficult than she had hoped. More and more often, she was reacting with irritation that she knew he did not deserve.

Presently Avon sat with his bare feet propped up on his desk, fingers laced across his middle, staring at a piece of Dayna's latest weapon. Cally lay on her stomach on the bunk, studying his newest brain scan for abnormalities.

"Well?"

Slowly Cally shook her head. "Nothing that I can see."

"Waste of time," Avon muttered, dropping his feet to the deck. He pushed the firing mechanism away irritably. "We've been relying on Orac too often, for too much. If it's untrustworthy...if I'm untrustworthy. What good would a bolthole do us then?"

"A base?" Cally looked at him in surprise, upset that he hadn't mentioned this to her before. What else had he been planning? "Have you been thinking about it, then? What about Blake?"

"He's the reason we need a place to hole up. When we find him...." Avon slammed his right fist onto the desktop, abruptly; Cally jumped. "I was almost there, almost ready to set up Orac for infinite patterning. But how can I do it, now? I would lead the Federation right to him."

"How can we be sure it was the Federation who controlled you? Perhaps we were wrong, and it was just Orac up to something. You can fix Orac."

Avon's tone was bitter as he said, "What's the difference?" After a moment he continued, "We can't know without asking it. And I'm not in the mood for risking that just now. If it tried to attack me, I might have to dismantle the casing and dump it in a nice warm acid bath. And torch the puddle," he added, with a touch of grim humor. Cally didn't say anything. Finally he asked, in a different tone, "How long are we going to have to keep this up?"

"As long as it takes," Cally said, then regretted the flip answer. This was the first time he'd asked anything of her since the whole problem had begun. She got to her feet and walked over to him. "I don't know. Blake was fine, after we reprogrammed him."

"Reprogrammed." Avon said the word distastefully. "Was he, really? I suppose the others would like to lock me away. Tarrant, for example. He's been carrying a gun."

"Dayna's been glad of your help, the last few days."

Avon didn't seem to have heard her. "I should regret it if Orac should have to be destroyed. I should regret it even more if I should have to be destroyed." He grinned bleakly.

"Stop it," Cally said, angrily. "We'll just have to wait and find out, won't we?" Deliberately she began running her fingers through his damp hair, until he sighed. Continuing with her right hand, she spread the left across his forehead, gently forcing him to lean back in the chair. More quietly, she told him, "You're wearing yourself out before there's anything to fight."

"Do I look like I'm fighting right now?" His eyes were closed.

One last ruffle and Cally moved her hands to the muscles at his temples and face. "An old Auron proverb: you can't defeat the air. You look tired. Does your head hurt?"

"A bit," he began, but her hand covered his mouth before moving to the back of his neck.

"Then be quiet and let me do this. I brought sedatives if you want--"

"No." A few moments later he said, "That was never an old Auron proverb."

The fact that he wasn't avoiding her touch alleviated some of her worry. She reached down and unfastened his shirt. "Yes, it is. Really." Her fingers smoothed the skin of his chest, then pushed the shirt from his shoulders.

He sat up a bit and tugged it the rest of the way off before settling back again, into her enfolding arms. "Tarrant wants to take over, doesn't he?"

Cally snuggled her cheek more closely to his hair and passed her hands in a leisurely way over the warmth of his skin. "You're too hard on the boy. Sometimes," she amended.

"Hardly a boy. Well?"

"He's barely a man yet. And no, I don't think he does. I think he wants you to find a solution. But you aren't going to think about that just now."

Avon would have replied, but at that moment Cally's teeth grazed delicately against his earlobe; he drew breath sharply.

"Think about that, instead," Cally breathed into his ear, and nibbled again.

"Thinking isn't--what that makes me--do." When she didn't let go he gasped, "Stop," involuntarily closing his eyes and arching his back.

Cally stopped, unable to suppress a satisfied smirk. "Later?" she asked.

"Only if there's time to ravish you in great detail," Avon said quickly. He broke free of her grasp and stood. She encircled him with her arms from behind and stroked his ribs, feeling the ripples they made under her palms. Not quite laughing, he wrestled free and used his weight to topple them both onto the bunk. Cally grinned broadly, relieved. His hands went under her shirt and cradled her breasts as his mouth sought hers in suddenly anxious inquiry.

"Umm," she replied, trying to catch his tongue, but he wouldn't come to her. She tugged at his arms, wanting him closer, wanting to hold him.

Avon was having none of it. "Clothes first," he said, dragging his hands away from her skin. He undressed her methodically, breathing as if he'd been running. Cally pursued his hands, brushing the backs of his fingers, trailing her index finger through the hair on his arms, wishing he could just relax and get on with it. She felt as much hunger for contact as he was presently demonstrating. He must have been concealing a great deal from her in the last few days, for she hadn't accurately sensed exactly how much he needed her until this moment. That realization made her limbs melt.

Mission accomplished, Avon added his own remaining clothing to the pile. Immediately he began to kiss her, hurried inconstant darts that provoked Cally into grabbing the back of his head in both hands, forcing his mouth to her lips and holding him there. Once caught, he seemed to want to devour her, and Cally zealously responded, glad to temporarily ignore her worries.

His tongue thrust urgently against hers, one hand pulling at her right nipple, the other crawling down the outside of her thigh. Caught between sensations, Cally wrapped her arms around him, then her legs, twisting beneath him. There seemed no way to satiate the precipitate craving she felt from him and felt herself answering with equal crazed fervor. She had to wrest her mouth from his to breathe, and to gasp, "In."

"Now?" he said breathlessly into her ear, sounding frantically desirous yet at the same time surprised.

She grabbed his head again and hissed into his mouth, "Yes. Now."

Unexpectedly it hurt, a little. He must have felt her wince, because in the next moments she felt his hand brushing against her clitoris, probing in the folds of her vagina where he still filled her. Cally couldn't breathe for the intense pleasure, so edgy and nearly tormenting. Then she was flying, breathing in great rhythmic gusts. She clenched her jaw over an escaping sound, her teeth sinking into his lower lip. Dimly she heard him exclaim with surprised pain.

The hot wetness on her chin was blood. Avon twisted his body and suddenly she was looking down on him as he wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. His hand was shaking, his lungs laboring.

**I'm sorry....**

"It's all right," he gasped, in one slurred exhalation. He'd smudged blood across his cheek, it was smeared on the back of his hand and wrist. "'s all right. My fault. Too fast." He couldn't seem to stop touching the wound, though it obviously hurt to do so.

Cally grasped his forearm and gently pulled it away from his face. "Let me see." Appalled, she fumbled for the kit she'd brought with the sedatives and found gauze and analgesic to daub the wound. She hadn't thought she would need a regenerator.

"I just...," he said. At the first touch of fabric to the bleeding wound he went motionless, muscles taut; but his breathing began to slow.

Cally wasn't sure if he wanted her to touch him or not, but she couldn't bear not to. Finally she took his hand. Drying blood felt tacky under her fingers. "I'm sorry," she said again. She paused. "Do you want to go on?"

"I think that's enough for now," Avon said, low in his throat. He reached out his arm and pulled her to him, using his leg to trap her more tightly.

Cally said, "Do you want me to--"

"No," he said, muffled. "No, I'm fine." His grip tightened. "I'm hardly likely to sabotage the ship like this, am I?" His tone was bitter.

"You're too tired. It was my fault. I'm sorry." She stroked his back, trying to soothe the tight muscles.

"Never mind," Avon said. It seemed a long time before he finally slept. Cally debated leaving him, and finally decided that she would surely wake if he moved. She allowed herself to drift off.

A few minutes later, Avon's eyes popped open. His head rotated, looking for something. Suddenly he was reaching into the bag Cally had brought. She stirred at the noise; he froze, then slapped a sedative disk against her forehead. Her breathing deepened.

Must dress. Hurry.

Mechanically he got to his feet and dressed in the clothes he'd left on the deck. No, he didn't have time for his boots. He had to hurry.

He needed to be on the flight deck.

Yes, he had things to do on the flight deck. Something to do with Zen. He left his cabin soundlessly.

#


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