The Ghost by the Machine

"Why. Me?"

Orac sniffed - or at least made that thin, utterly grating electronic noise that stood in place of a sniff. "Because Avon was for once correct in his assumption. They will follow you."

"Until they see through me."

"There is no reason why they should. You are not yet perfect, but with a few more hours work you will be," it hummed, a little pensively, "adequate."

"Thank you," the man who sat beside Orac said with heavy if threadbare irony, "Orac, I'm dead."

"You do not appear so, which is of far more importance. In any case," the computer went on fussily, "Roj Blake is dead. You are not dead, because you were never alive to begin with. Strictly speaking -"

"I am not Blake, I know," the man said finally, running sere, almost translucent fingers through dark shadowy curls. "But I am."

"That is true." Orac sounded impossibly smug for a plastic box stuck in a dank underground corridor. "And it is also purely due to my inspired forethought when discovering that the teleport on the Liberator thoroughly scanned, and downloaded, the essence of the humans who used it, both physically and psychologically, and that Zen kept such information in accessible form. Not that humans are of any real interest apart from their use," it went on, tinnily tetchy, "but you - being Blake, and therefore someone that people will listen to - are of use."

"And when I'm not?" The low, muffled voice was troubled.

"I do not see that that will happen in the foreseeable future," the computer blinked complacently. "At this point, however, what is most important is that we locate some of your followers, who can transport me to a place of safety so that I can begin our plan of attack."

"Against the Federation."

"I believe that to be the rational course at this point, certainly."

"Just the two of us, a brain in a box, and a ghost."

"You have a better plan?"

"No plan at all, I'm just..."

"Do not keep using the term 'ghost', it will hardly be of use when you have to persuade other humans -"

"- Who might, when they realise they cannot touch and can see through me -"

"That... may be a difficulty, true."

"- Think that I'm a -"

"You are not, and kindly stop using that overemotional terminology. It serves no purpose."

"Revenant." A dark, cold smile touched the man's lips. "Wraith. Phantom. Spectre. Spirit. I'm sure Avon - who is also dead? - could think of more accurate terms, but I'm not him."

"And yes, he is also dead."

"I guessed."

"He killed you, if you are interested."

"Poor Avon," the man whispered. "He must have been in pain -"

"He was, and that comment was both reassuring and depressingly... Blake, coming from such as you." Orac sparkled testily. "I have no doubt you will have the man's irritatingly useful gift for swaying and inspiring all and every human you come into contact with."

"Contact?" One transparent hand waved at - and straight through - Orac's plasteel shell. "You need a real Blake, not an apparition -"

"Possibly, but I cannot have that, can I? His - or rather your - followers will have to do, and I will therefore find a way to ensure they do not have to be in close proximity with you in order to follow. It should not be difficult, humans being what they are."

"You mean I will have to be alone... forever."

"Forever is a very long time." Orac paused, and spoke almost - almost - gently. "Yes."

"But why... just. Me?"

"Of what use are the others?"

"I'm not Blake, true," the shimmering figure said slowly, "but I am. And Blake is not a solitary man."

"Was not."

"Is not, Orac."


"Orac -"

"It is not needed!"

"It is, by me. Even a ghost can get lonely, Orac."

There was a silence.

"Oh, very well," Orac's electronic whine could have been mistaken for a sigh, "but do not complain to me later that you would prefer to be alone."

Out of the gathering shadows, a darker shadow coalesced, flickered synthetically into the shape of a man, slightly smaller, slender, pale and dark-eyes... with a harsh, familiar twist to the thin, ghost-white lips forming mistily on the face.

The revenant that was to be Blake rose to stand upright, gazing at the revenant of his killer, his friend, and smiled slightly. "Thank you, Orac."

Orac gave that sniffing sound again, as it worked busily on two synthetic ghosts. "I hope your gratitude lasts as long as you do... even if that is forever, Blake."

-the end-