Valuable Asset chapter 5Author:
PG (so far)Word Count:
1,800 (this chapter)Summary:
Set after 'Project Avalon'. 'It's your misfortune to be worth a great deal, Blake. The others weren't." (back to start)
Chapter 5: Aggression
“It’s not that people necessarily choose to be oppressive. It’s just in man’s nature…”
That was the fourth interruption in what seemed like as many minutes. “What now?” Blake snapped.
“You were about to expound on humanity’s intrinsic fallibility.” Avon’s voice was dry. “Don’t tell it that we are fundamentally and incurably broken, Blake. Trust me, it won’t warm to us that way.”
“Why don’t you do this?”
“If I could, I would. Listening to you merrily stomping all over a minefield that you’re barely aware exists is not at all relaxing. But you’re the demagogue. I have no idea how one would persuade a computer to care about social justice in the first place and a similar lack of ideas as to how to get it to stop.”
“At least Zen’s heart is in the right place,” Blake muttered. “Unlike yours.”
“And I’m sure that fact will be a great consolation to the thirty eight million people on Theta Six in four days’ time. This is your mess, Blake. Try harder.”
“My mess?” Blake’s voice rose. “You’re the one who stole the ship and kidnapped me. All I did…”
“Was turn Liberator into an instrument of genocide. Under my plan it merely self destructed.”Unacceptable.
“Yes, thank you Zen. I rather assumed it would be. Go on, Blake.”
Blake sighed. “How about family. Is that a safe topic?”
“No topic is safe, but I can’t see any immediate pitfalls. Just be careful.”
Blake was most of the way through explaining immature dependency when Zen interrupted him.
You are oppressed by Kerr Avon. Confirm.
Avon had been studying the internal reports on the screen next to Blake’s console. He froze, then lifted his head, carefully, to look at Blake, the index finger of his right hand hovering over the trigger of the slowly rising gun.
He’d told Zen over and over how Avon had imprisoned him. Blake dropped his eyes deliberately to the gun and shook his head. Avon reluctantly let it fall back into the holster and moved his hand away.Confirm.
Contradicting himself to Zen so obviously was a bad idea. Confirming its view of Avon was a worse one. “All oppressors will be eliminated,” it had said. Blake took a deep breath, kept his eyes on Avon’s marble white face.
“Kerr Avon is now releasing me.”
Avon’s eyes flickered to Zen's rotating lights, back to Blake. He wasn’t moving.
“Ankle,” Blake hissed. Zen understood the significance of the restraints. He’d explained them to Zen in the gloom of his locked room, repeatedly.
Avon reached for the remote control tucked into his pocket and the restraint fell open. Blake stepped out of it and kicked it under a console. “Gun.”
Avon glared at him. “I’m going to…”
“Not in front of the children.” Blake said coldly. “Gun.”
Avon detached the energy pack, sent it and the weapon skittering across the smooth floor in opposite directions, well away from both of them. Blake felt a wave of relief. Whatever else might happen, he wasn’t going to be sold back to the Federation.
“I am not being oppressed by Kerr Avon,” he told Zen, in case there was any doubt about it.Confirmed.
Avon was breathing again, slowly. He caught Blake’s eye and his mouth twisted in a wry smile. “That was rather unnerving. Time we made sure it at least knows that we are on its side, I think. Zen, confirm Liberator’s crew as Kerr Avon." He paused, deliberately. "And, I suppose, Roj Blake.”Crew members confirmed.
“And the others.” Blake insisted. “Zen…”
“Shut up!” Avon said urgently.
“No! I’m not letting you get away with any of this, Avon. Not a chance. Zen, confirm…”
Avon flung himself across the space between them to slap him across the face. Blake swung a furious fist at the man. “What the hell?”
“Think, Blake, damn you!” Avon dodged back behind the console, hands raised in defence. “What can Liberator do if it has a pilot? Even an absent one?”
Go faster. With no control over navigation systems they could be at Theta Six in a couple of hours, with still no idea of how to stop Liberator carrying out its deadly new objective of liberating the galaxy from humans.
Blake rubbed the stinging patch on his cheek, reluctantly acknowledging Avon’s point. “Don’t ever hit me again.”
“How often did I tell you to shut up as soon as I told you to?” Avon said. “But no, you thought I was just being petty about your friends, didn’t you? Believe me, our squabbles are supremely irrelevant to this particular crisis. Unless we succeed, who gets Liberator after this is over is not going to be an issue.”
Squabble was not the word to describe what Avon had done to Blake and to the rest of them. “Just don't think for a moment that when this is over we’re going to let you off the hook, Kerr Avon." He walked over to retrieve the gun.
“I don’t.” Avon scooped up the energy pack. They faced each other across the wide room for a second with half a working weapon each.Ship detected.
Blake whirled around. “Put it on screen, Zen.”
The tiny blip was going to cross more or less at right angles to their path. “It’s slow.” Avon said. “Zen, speed of unknown ship?”Standard by one.
“It’s big, as well. Must be a heavyweight ore carrier.” Blake said. “Crew of three or four, probably no escort- the cargo will be too bulky to be pirated. Zen, divert course to stay outside its scanner range.”Ship identified as carrying humans. Moving to intercept. Battle computer online.
“No!” Blake told it. “That’s an unarmed civilian ship. It is not an appropriate target.”
Ship identified as carrying humans.
Zen repeated. Target confirmed. Neutron blasters cleared for firing.
“Zen, stop! Do not fire on that ship! It’s got innocent people on board.”The probability of it containing one or more innocent humans is under 0.001%. Opening fire in thirty nine seconds.
“What about your other objectives, Zen?” Blake tried desperately. “We have to get to Polaris.”Battle computer estimates total time of engagement one point three minutes. Delay to Polaris objective within acceptable parameters. Opening fire in twenty six seconds.
The ship had accelerated now to something like standard by five. There was no chance of the freighter evading. A slightly shaky woman’s voice was coming through; “Fairisle to unknown vessel. This is a civilian freighter. Please identify yourself. Please state your intentions. This is a civilian freighter! Please respond!”
Blake was yelling at Zen now to stop. The computer was taking absolutely no notice. The two dots were approaching each other inexorably.
“Zen!” Avon said sharply. “That ship will contain a computer. That computer is not guilty. You cannot destroy it.”Attack paused.
Zen’s lights flickered. Possibility of computer system capable of sentience on board target ship estimated as 0.07%. Estimated number of sentient lifeforms 3.5007. Percentage innocent sentient lifeforms 0.01999%. Significance level 0.01%. Attack aborted. Resuming course for Polaris.
The ship returned to its previous heading and dropped back to a slow crawl.
Blake closed his eyes for a moment in sheer relief, opened them to look at Avon. “Just like that?”
“Apparently so. Did you follow the maths?”
“No. I was too busy trying to work out if it was actually stopping or not.”
“Even with only a very small chance that the onboard computer was capable of sentience, the mean percentage of sentient entities on that ship that Zen considers innocent was higher than its self imposed significance level of 0.01%. Basically that means that it will not destroy a definitely sentient computer unless it can kill more than 10,000 guilty humans in the process but if the computer is only possibly sentient it might destroy it for the sake of ten or a hundred people.” Avon stowed the gun’s energy pack away in an overhead locker and keyed his hand print to lock it. “Not particularly good news for Theta Six. It’s not a technologically advanced system. Still, it gives us some idea of the basic algorithm Zen is applying to the problem.”
Blake moved to stand solidly in the other man’s way as he turned back into the room. Avon raised an eyebrow at the obstruction. “Shall we get back to work?” he suggested.
“You’ve lost,” Blake told him. “Your gamble failed.” With no restraints and no weapon held against him he was determined to have this out now.
Avon shrugged. “Barely relevant right now.”
Blake had been through days of hell and he wasn’t prepared to just put it on one side. “I could have confirmed Zen’s statement. God knows it was true enough. I saved your worthless damn life, after everything you did.”
“I assumed you were thinking of the chances of thirty eight million people on Theta Six, rather than my particular welfare. That freighter would be fragments by now without me.”
“None of this would have happened without you.”
“If you’re reduced to stating the obvious, there are definitely more constructive things that I could be doing than standing here listening to it.”
Blake glared at him. "You're not even sorry, are you?"
Avon's voice rose in irritation. "Of course I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I'm in this mess, I'm sorry that I dragged you into it and I'm sorry that you dragged the rest of the galaxy into it. Since we are unlikely ever to be in a position to make the same decisions again I don't know how that is supposed to help any of us."
"I suppose that I know you too well to expect anything like an apology. " Blake snarled at him.
Avon stepped back, his face going stiff and cold. "No. You do not get an apology. And if you understood me at all, Roj Blake, you'd know why. We both need to eat something and I don't want you confusing Zen without supervision. I'll see you in the galley in ten minutes. Put some coffee on."
He turned on a scraping heel and went striding off the flight deck towards his quarters. Blake hurled the useless gun at the back of his head but it fell short. Avon didn't even check his pace at the clatter behind him.
"Damn you!" Blake said to the empty room, with feeling. He walked over to the bank of guns. “Zen.” It was hard to shift the sensation that he was doing something illicit. He had a perfect right to talk to Zen without Avon at his shoulder. “Recalibrate one of these guns so that I can use it.”Recalibrating.
Blake watched the lights flashing on the nearest weapon.Recalibrated.
“Thank you, Zen.” He picked up the gun, turned it over, checking it.
Kerr Avon is required.
Blake looked up again at Zen’s swirl of lights. “Really? Well, I suppose you’re right. I’ll try to remember that.”
He shoved the gun into his waistband and set off for the galley.next chapter