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The Third International Chess Tournament at the Devonshire Inn, Stocklepath, near Okehampton, appeared, to all participants, to be a huge success. But the landlord, John Verner-Jeffries, seemed unusually subdued when it was all over. "Pity about the rain," he said.

"Well," I sympathised, "it would have been pleasant to play the games on the lawn, as last year, but the upper floor of the foundry was an admirable alternative venue."

"It's not that," said John, shaking his head ruefully. "It's Aquarius Six."

"What's that?" I asked, finding myself edging away from him slightly.

"Our secret project," he explained. "A sixth-generation, state-of-the- art, water-powered chess computer."

"Tell me more," I said, moving closer again.

"Basically it's the world's first intelligent clepsydra: 66 kilolitre processor, 8 megagallon RAM upgradable to 24 megagallon, one Olympic-sized hard-water drive and a biodegradable three-and-a-half inch floppy sponge. And it plays a damn fine game of chess."

"Er, how does it work?"

"Remember that trouble the other day with Genius 2 overheating when it played Kasparov? Well, we've got the old forge water-wheel next door, and that's what gave us the idea of a hydraulic chess computer. It'd be self-cooling, you see. Bound to give it an edge over the old electronic models. Then Binkie did the rest."

A ginger-bearded man, the size of an ox, strode towards us from a nearby table and extended a dripping wet arm. "Name's Braithwaite," he bellowed. "Sorry about the soaking. Lap-top prototype sprang a leak."

"Doyen of the aquatic intelligentsia," said John inclining his head deferentially.

"Used to work on water reactors for British Nuclear Fuels," said Binkie Braithwaite. Then he added enigmatically: "Very dry."

"So what about this Aquarius Six?" I asked.

"All ready to go, it was." Performed brilliantly on all the test runs. Sixty-four parallel aqueduct water processors capable of analysing a billion droplets a second. The water level in the trough goes up as your position improves, and the best move appears in the bucket at the end. But then it rained." He shook his head sadly.

"Overloaded its memory circuits, you see," Binkie explained. "Aqueous equivalent of a power surge."

"There's an umbrella in the blueprint for Aquarius Seven," added John.

Binkie put a gnarled finger to his lips: "Don't tell Intel."