This was written for the b7friday topic a few weeks ago of turning points.
At the Core
"Will you be all right for a minute?" Cally asked. "I'll be back."
Ensor nodded, exhausted, as Cally left to see how Blake was managing with blocking the way they had come. He slumped, holding Orac on his lap. He'd have to ask these kind people to hand it over to the Federation. Not of course that he had any love for the Federation--why else had he left it so long ago?--but Orac had his personality and his attitude to authority and obeying orders. He laughed, and it turned into a cough, then the pain and a vast dizziness hit him.
Mmmrisss was in search of the strange scent she had detected on Xxxlishhh when she had found him stopped. She halted. She knew this creature and his was not the scent. She raised her head and let the damp air waft over her gill glands; there were two other creatures further up. She almost decided to investigate, but hesitated. The natural Phibian curiosity prevailed: the old one held a shiny object she had never seen before. She reached out a webbed finger and poked him. He just slipped further over, his eyes looking at nothing. Stopped too, but not with violence; it was just his time. She touched the shiny thing and found that it was humming with some sort of life she did not know. She grabbed it and ran back down the tunnel.
"I am sorry," said Cally, seeing that Ensor was dead. "Just a little longer and we might have-- where is the computer?"
Blake looked around wildly. "Someone's taken it!" He pointed at the wet, webbed footprints, already evaporating. "A Phibian! Quickly, we'll have to check all the side passages."
Mmmrisss emerged on to the beach and halted. There was that smell she had detected on Xxxlishhh. She looked around.
"There!" Servalan pointed. "That thing has it!"
As Travis raised his arm, Mmmrisss, not wishing to be stopped for a bauble, dropped the box and ran for the safety of the sea.
When Cally and Blake came out onto the beach empty-handed, all they found was Avon and Vila, both looking wilted and wan.
"It's all right," said Cally wearily. "We did not get Orac, but we have the decontaminants,"
Blake sighed. At least it was not a total loss. "Tell them to bring us up."
Servalan hesitated--these exchanges never went well--and inserted Orac's key. "Tell me how to gain more power."
"That is a laughably nebulous and ill-defined question. Do you mean a higher political position, or do you wish to run several toasters and an entertainment system simultaneously? Be specific."
"I would remind you not to talk to me like that."
Orac hummed and twinkled.
"Talk to me!" Servalan said crossly.
"Make up your mind, if that is at all possible."
Servalan gritted her teeth. She had a headache and it was getting worse. "Outline the steps required for me to become President of the Federation."
"That is still too general," Orac said smugly. "You must narrow your requirement to a logical query which has some possibility of an accurate and unequivocal answer."
"Don't be ridiculous. I see the big picture." Servalan waved her arms extravagantly. "I am a strategist. I give directions; others take care of the boring details."
"Then I cannot help you."
One never really values cut-price bargains. Servalan opened a drawer and picked up a large but elegantly designed energy weapon. "Either you do something useful or I shall vaporise you."
"Oh, very well," Orac said sulkily. "I can make predictions. Black and feathers will be in fashion in two years time." He did not add that Servalan would almost certainly be going by her emergency alias of Sleer by then.
Servalan was briefly diverted. "Really? Feathers?" She frowned. "Something useful, I said. Can you take over the Liberator's computer and force it to surrender to our pursuit ships?"
"Zen does not use tarial calls." Orac did not need prediction circuits to know that Servalan would take that as a no.
She removed his activator and savagely threw it across the room.
"So much for that," said Vila after they'd left Bek and Hanna back on Space City. "Bit uneventful all around except for blowing up the President's shadow garden."
"Are you complaining?" Avon turned to look at Vila curiously. "I'm surprised you didn't sneak off to Space City after all your talk about it."
"You kidding? Dangerous place, that, and me with a bounty on my head." He shrugged. "I did tell them not to deal with the Terra Nostra, but did they listen?"
"The President seems to have suffered some sort of financial misfortune." Servalan laid her glass flower on Orac's twinkling surface. "Tell me how I can take his place."
"It would take an intergalactic war to remove him with the backing he has and place you in power, and that is most unlikely."
"Oh, very amusing," Servalan said in her coldest voice.
But it was. There had been a path that would have gone there had Travis been punished for not acquiring Orac, but he was now a Space Commodore. Orac amused himself for a few nanoseconds by following that path not taken: the Federation would have fallen within 30 years. It did give him an idea for a little game though. "I can make a prediction."
"It had better not be feathers."
"Look at your screen." It was easy enough to activate it and put up an image of the current President being dragged away by an angry mob outraged by the Terra Nostra connection. "He will fall within a year."
"I do not care about him. I want the Federation."
Orac added the words 'to fall' and would have smiled had he been able to. "Within a year," he said out loud. It would be a challenge worthy of his skills to engineer that.
"I doubt very much whether it was anything we did, Blake," said Avon as they watched the news. "All organisms, including empires, have a life time, and this one was obviously rotten at the core."