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Chapter 27
COLLATE


In the secretarial pool on the eighth floor of the Galaxy Building was a rather amazing machine built and leased to Galaxy Communications by the Xerox Corporation.  The function of this machine was simply to reproduce what was written on paper.  That is, if a sheet of paper with something written on it were slid into a certain slot of the machine, the images on that paper would have a bright light shined on them and then the images would be momentarily recorded inside the machine.  The machine would then grab the top sheet of blank paper from a pile of its own supply, print the information in total from the first sheet on this second sheet of paper, belch the new copy out into a neat little pile of such copies, and immediately forget the information it had just recorded, ready to copy a fresh sheetful.  To the machine, of course, this information it recorded and copied was not writing or drawing or anything meaningful at all.  It was gibberish.  Lines, points, curves and such had no significance to the machine.  The machine did nothing to the information, it simply recorded this for the benefit of the machine's operator, exactly as it appeared on the original copy.

Xerox Corporation did not sell these machines, or any of the many similar models which they manufactured.  This equipment was only leased, and the corporation kept scrupulous track of their products.  Occasionally certain illegal and morally questionable things were done with these remarkable machines.  For example, Earth people would use a Xerox copier to reproduce several copies—in effect, publishing written material legally protected from such free publication by unenforceable copyright laws.  Another problem with Xerox copiers was that they disappeared with alarming frequency.  They mysteriously vanished, from time to time, from the offices of companies which leased them, from shipping trucks and from the factories in which they were manufactured.  Xerox Corporation hired scores of private detectives, over the years, to track down this phenomenon of the vanishing Xerox machines, with no significant results.  What the officials of the Xerox Corporation did not realize was that if they stopped only leasing machines and started selling them outright, this problem would be largely solved.

It seemed that nowhere else in the immediate Galaxy were there machines constructed which were capable of doing what Xerox machines did as efficiently as they did it.  Hence, any wealthy individual with any interplanetary connections at all and who had some use for the Xerox Corporation's products, did business with a group of pirate Xerox exporters based in the Alpha Centauri star system.  These pirates also legally bought and sold huge quantities of Earth photographic, recording and amplification devices which were also without peer in the immediate Galaxy.  They would have been happy simply to buy Xerox copiers as well, but since these machines were not for sale stealing seemed their only reasonable recourse.

The Master was the proud owner of six Xerox copiers of various models, including a duplicate of the one that stood in the secretarial pool on the eighth floor of the Galaxy Building.  At this moment, Superman was acting a great deal like this Xerox machine.

Luthor would unwind his rolls and flash his piles of plastic and paper readout material past Superman's face.  Superman would glance over them much more quickly than any Xerox copier could.  A major difference between Superman's behavior, and that of a Xerox copier was that once Superman imprinted all of what was apparently nonsense on his mind he would not forget it.

"Can you make any sense out of it?"

"Ssh!" Superman sat on the bed with two fingers pinching the bridge of his nose.  It was the first time he had felt safe in Luthor's presence with his eyes closed since they were teenagers.  "I think—"

"Everything's there, right?  All the stuff I said?  Was I right about it?"

"I'm trying to figure out the mathematical code.  I think I've got it."

"Are you familiar with the twenty six brands of Moroccan coffee?"

The Kryptonian didn't question the crack, probably didn't even hear it.  After a few moments he said, "I think I know where the time-snatcher is."

"Where?"

"In a tight orbit around Vega, maybe forty or forty two million kilometres from the star."

"Do you know exactly where it is now?  Can we get there?"

"It's small enough and close enough to the star so that it can't be seen from any observatory in the star-system.  It's camouflaged by the-overpowering light of Vega.  I can find it."

"Want to sabotage it?  Do you know how it works?"

"You can figure it out when we get there.  It's got a control cab that reproduces the atmosphere of Oric."

"I can stand a little more ammonia for a while."

"If you found out all the Master's secrets, can't he ask the computer banks what information you asked for and figure out what we're up to?"

"I told you, as an intelligence gatherer he's strictly bush.  You feed this gibberish code into a computer terminal and it automatically forgets the last command it carried out.  You just say, 'scramble pattern pipeline yellow' and nobody knows you've been snooping unless he was monitoring you at the time."

"You're a good man, Lex Luthor.  Ever thought of going into the hero business?"

"Nah, you never get a chance to sleep late.  Listen, Supes, I can get out of here easy, but have you given any thought to smuggling yourself to the nearest exit?"

"I've got an idea.  This data gave me a pretty good picture of the layout of this pyramid.  We're on the first level below the ground level, right?"

"I think so."

"Is there anyone guarding this room?  Someone about my size?"

"One guy almost as big as you, but he's got three legs."

"Here's where I show you some super-speed tailoring.  Can you mug him and bring me his clothes?"

"Piece of cake.  He doesn't look like he's ever worked on a rock pile."



S!


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words by Elliot S! Maggin
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