ShowdownBy Troy Latto
Page 1 of 1
There was pandemonium on the flight deck. No sooner had the vision of the
exploding Liberator on the view screen faded than everyone began shouting.|
"ZEN!" ordered Avon "I want a full systems diagnostic run immediately. Navigation, main drives and energy banks. Override priority Alpha! -
Blake sprinted to the pilot's station and began running system checks. He looked up as Cally reached her station "Full area scan Cally, maximum range. Include all local systems, asteroids and stars. If there is anything hiding out there we need to find it and fast!" Cally bent to her task intently "nothing on local or long range scans. Energy signature from a class 4 planet hopper at extreme range but its very old, Blake"
"The ship or the energy signature?"
Gan rushed in to the flight deck "I've checked all the power conduits, hull integrity systems and the teleport - all functioning normally" He uttered breathlessly.
"Great" said Vila, checking weapon systems. "We now know that we are going to blow up because of nothing. That's a comfort.."
Avon rounded on Vila "If you have nothing constructive to add to this crisis then kindly shut-up". Vila shrunk back in to his chair while Avon resumed his vigil in front of Liberator's computer. "ZEN! Report status of diagnostic program" he barked.
+ ALL DIAGNOSTICS NOW COMPLETE. LIBERATOR SYSTEMS ARE FULLY FUNCTIONAL+"
Blake stepped down from the pilot station and joined Avon in front of the computer console. The computer tech's inscrutable gaze was fixed on the view screen.
"What do you make of it Avon?" Inquired Blake.
"Same as you. Nothing"
"Well we can't just ignore a warning like that! Time to get moving I think!" Jenna! Lay in a course for Proxima 4, speed standard by 6.
Jenna looked up toward ZEN "ZEN - Lay in.." "NO!" interrupted Blake. "I want manual! We must leave ZEN out of the loop until we know what's happening!" Jenna frowned momentarily before laying in the course and manipulating the pilots controls. The Liberator's engines hummed as they brought the ship round in a wide arc and accelerated it toward the Proxima system. "Course layed in," Jenna reported " speed standard by 6. Flight time 36 hours, 27 minutes". She paused and looked across at Blake. "If whatever was going to get us is in the local area we should outrun it soon."
Avon walked over to where ORAC sat silently on the table in front of the flight deck couch. He rested his hands on it and thought for a moment. Vila left his console and slumped down opposite him.
"So, what's that plastic doom-sayer's problem then? Didn't it want to come with us?
Avon ignored the thief's banal attempt at humour. "A computer makes a judgement based on available data." He postulated to nobody in particular" "We asked ORAC to formulate a prediction and it showed us our destruction" He whirled to face the others. "Why that particular scene from a nebulous future? Why not one of us on a planet somewhere or just sitting on the flight deck?"
"Are you saying ORAC made it all up?" asked Gan.
No! I am asking why it chose that particular segment of our supposed future and not something more mundane?
Blake wandered over to the couch. "Surely nothing can possibly sift the multiple billions of outcomes from each second and calculate it accurately enough to make a prediction like that?"
Avon pondered. "Usually I would agree, however ORAC's capabilities seem to far outstrip anyone's understanding of it. But, like all computers, it can only draw a conclusion based on AVAILABLE data. Either it knows something we don't, or..
"Its just trying to see how we react to extreme stimula. According to ENSOR, Part of its function is the observance of the human condition. We would be the first humans to ever come in contact with ORAC besides ENSOR and his son. This may be a test."
"I think we failed!" muttered Vila
Cally wandered over to where Avon stood near ORAC's table. "How much do we really know about ORAC then?" She asked. "We know it was commissioned by the Federation's last President but what of its purpose?"
Avon looked down at her and smiled slyly, holding up the activation key he had retrieved from the flight deck floor. "A good question," he said. "Lets ask it shall we?"
Cally snatched the key from Avon's hand with a sardonic look and fitted it to ORAC. The computer whined in to action.
Avon Strode over to ORAC and spoke intently to it."ORAC, state the nature and purpose of ENSOR's commission for your design and your ultimate purpose"
*Such information would be of little value to you*
"Regardless, you will answer the question."
* My original specifications were for an independent intelligence gathering entity that could draw information from all Tarial Cell based computers and convey it to a central source. The ultimate purpose being for my functions to augment those of the Federation Central Control*
Stunned, Blake strode purposely toward ORAC "Central Control! You were going to be the new Central Control?
* NO!* snapped ORAC * I was merely to form the information gathering function. Central Control was to proceed independently of my input*
Avon narrowed his eyes. "You say `was'. Explain"
*My functions have long since surpassed their original specifications and those of the system I was meant to form part of. I can now easily function in that capacity you know as central control. Now kindly leave me to my research* Avon snatched the activator key out of its cradle and stared at Blake.
"Did it just say what I think it just said?" Asked Blake in an awed half whisper.
Avon didn't answer immediately. He stared at ORAC then slowly looked up as he spoke. His visage was thoughtful..calculating. "Here is a computer that is, according to its own admission, more powerful than Federation Central Control. By definition, it holds more destructive capability than the combined Federation Battle Fleet and can influence events on worlds light years from its physical location." He turns and fixes Blake with an almost disbelieving gaze. " With one word of command it can override security protocols, shutdown entire worlds, create chaos and mayhem in the microseconds it takes to complete a link to another Tarial Cell based computer anywhere in the known worlds!"
Blake stared at Avon as the reality hit him. " Using ORAC we can disrupt Federation Communications. Stop the production of mind suppressants. Free thousands of worlds from Federation control. We could overthrow the Federation in a matter of weeks"
Vila squirmed in his seat "I don't like where this is going". He shared a worried look with the rest of the crew. Blake and Avon ignored them..
"The question is," continued Avon "Should we?" The statement hung in the air. Blake's expression hardened. "It is in our power to wipe the Federation from the galaxy -" "And replace it with what?" Avon interrupted " Anarchy? Chaos?"
"Choice!! The choice to command your own destiny without oppression" thundered Blake.
"NO!" Avon rejoined. "When given the choice between anarchy and order, people will always choose order! The majority find comfort in the rule of law. It defines their lives no matter how miserable that may be. You have as much right to decide for them as the Federation has to rule them."
Cally entered the debate "What of the worlds that depend on the Federation for survival, Blake? How would you supply them without a bureaucracy, without law? If you overturn the Federation too quickly millions will starve before you can establish a new order"
"The prison colonies, the mines, all rely on the Federation for sustenance." said Gan."Surely we should do this slowly.."
"I can give them freedom! "Blake bashed the weapons console with his fist, drawing their full attention to him.
Slowly Avon moved to put himself between ZEN and Blake. He seemed to speak to the computer but his voice was obviously directed toward the group. "A wise man once said that "Freedom is just another word for a change of oppressor"
Blake looked up. "Are you saying I am as bad as the Federation?"
Without turning around, Avon responded. "The Federation is a known. You, Blake are an unknown. I know how to survive in the Federation but I do not know how to survive with you!"
"Fortunately you may not have to worry about that much longer, Avon."
Avon whirled around, his hand in his leather coat. "Is that a threat, Blake?"
Assuming a commanding air, Blake confronts his nemesis. "You are free to leave whenever you want - and I think now would be a good time, don't you?"
"You would put me off the ship based on a difference of ideological opinion?"
"There are things that need to happen that are best done by those who are willing. You, obviously, are not willing. I need a crew that back not only my judgement but my ideals."
Avon gestured to where ORAC sat silently on the table. A knowing smile flickered across his lips "And now you have a tool that can beat the Federation computer systems. You no longer need my skills. I have suddenly become redundant. A dangerous passenger. That's closer to the truth isn't it, Blake?
The flight deck took on a chill atmosphere. Gan, Cally, Jenna and Vila all stayed rooted to their spot, aware that something momentous was about to happen between these two giant ego's but not sure what.
Blake's face hardened as he replied in measured tones. "If you like. Yes."
Before anyone can react, Avon drew a gun from inside his coat and shot Blake in the chest. Stunned, Blake hits the floor, blood bubbling from his mouth. "Wrong answer!" Sneers Avon as he holds the rest of the crew at bay with his weapon. "Nobody do anything stupid now." The crew stare open mouthed as Avon continues his mutiny "ZEN! You will activate security protocol 117 .Acknowledge!"
Jenna took a step forward." Avon! What are you doing? What is going on" Vila replies morosely from the couch. "It should be obvious - mutiny."
Avon brings his weapon to bear. "Not just mutiny - survival. I suggest you all look to your own from now on. I will kill anyone who moves!"
The lights on the flight deck dim briefly.
+ INFORMATION. SECURITY PROTOCOL 117 NOW IN FORCE. ALL LIBERATOR SYSTEMS ROUTED THROUGH CENTRAL COMPUTER AND RESPOND ONLY TO VOICE PRINT OF KERR AVON+
Sweat poured from Avon's brow as the pace of events exceeded his capacity to think clearly. Sensing his vulnerability, he moved to put ZEN at his back while covering the rest of the crew.
"ZEN, you will change course for Drisell and increase speed to standard by 12".
Stunned silence, punctuated only by choking noises from a rapidly expiring Blake. No-one could believe what had just played out in front of them. Cally broke the silence. "Avon! Blake is dying!" "That's generally what happens when you shoot someone!" he replied coldly. "You must let us help him." She moved forward but stopped as Avon's gun pointed in her direction. "You will all move to cargo hold 4 where you will be held until we reach Drisell. There you will be put off the Liberator."
Cally uttered the question that was on everyone's mind: "Why now Avon?"
Calmer now, but still on edge, Avon contemplated his reply. "Blake would use ORAC to overturn the Federation, destroy the order and leave the galaxy in chaos. What good is chaos when no-one can profit by it?"
"Profit!" Sneered Jenna "That is you all over, Avon. You would betray us and consign millions to die for a few measly credits!"
"If it suits you to think that of me then that is well and good.I don't give a damn. The truth is I never gave a damn for Blake's noble ideals or his cause. The only reality is money and power and with this ship and ORAC at my command I will have both!"
Gan shook his big head sadly."I thought you had changed Avon but it seems I am as bad a judge of character as Blake."
Avon shifted his gaze to Vila who turned pale. "I will instruct ZEN to shutdown life support in the hold if you so much as touch the lock or attempt to interfere with ANY of the ships functions," he looked up " - that includes removing panels and inspection hatches. MOVE!"
The stunned assembly of Liberator's ex-crew moved off the flight deck.. A stream of blood trickled across the floor from Blake's lifeless corpse and pooled at the base of ZEN's console. Like the rest of the ship, ZEN was indifferent to the fate of the man who once commanded it.
+COURSE FOR DRISELL LAYED IN.SPEED STANDARD BY 12.ESTIMATED FLIGHT TIME 52 HOURS 14 MINUTES+
Four pairs of eyes watched as a speck moved across the night sky, disappearing in to the corona of a dying red giant.
"I can't believe he just left us here" said Vila. "I can't believe he shot Blake in cold blood! No..hang on, that I can believe"
"Well," said Gan, removing his teleport bracelet and throwing it in to the bushes, " he could have killed us as well."
"He will wish he had if I ever catch him!!" said Jenna ferociously. "Come on. Its only 3 miles to the main settlement. Lets see if we can get there before daylight and scout around."
"3 miles?" whined Vila "I'll die of hunger before we get there! What if there are patrols about? Or wild animals? Better wait til daybreak I think.."
"Why would Avon set us down here?" Gan speculated
"Drisell is outside the Federation, so no patrols. Unfortunately, that also means not much space traffic. We could be stuck here for a long, long time." said Jenna wearily. "However they do have a ravenous type of Lizard that can eat a human if it catches one alone. You can stay here if you want, Vila.."
"Alright, alright. I'll come. But I'm not walking at the back!"
"Don't worry Vila" smiled Gan, "I'll be right behind you."
Cally stared up at the night sky as the speck of the Liberator vanished from sight. Summoning all her telepathic energy she reached out for the mind of Avon..
//May you die alone and silent, Kerr Avon. Such is the fate of traitors//
On the Liberator flight deck, Avon looked up from the pilot console as Cally's words brushed his consciousness. Her message one of anger tinged with sadness. He smiled briefly and said to himself: "So be it!"
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