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Jabberwocky - part 10 - Program

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 27

      Orac did not reply, and Jabberwocky turned back to Vila's lugubrious description of the planned mission to Foran Prime. Avon had instantly taken exception to the idea of a mission which would expose yet another planet to Blake's rhetoric, but Jabberwocky knew that Avon would back Blake, complaining all the way. The crew had grown closer since the Parais mission, aided by the strong bonding that had come about in the link used to rescue Blake, and Avon's son Kyl from Servalan. Though such linkage could only be used sparingly away from the ship, as it drained Jabberwocky's power, there had been occasional practice sessions since returning from that mission. Even Avon, who had scorned the idea of linkage for anything other than ship functions, had proven quite adept at merging into the gestalt link.

      That linkage had suggested the current project to Jabberwocky and Orac. Realising how close to all the crew he had become made him wonder what practical uses there were for the knowledge. In one of his customary links with Orac - the two computers routinely interfaced for information exchanges and to monitor ship's functions - the theory of developing comprehensive programs based on the personalities of members of the crew had come up. Realising how extensive was Jabberwocky's understanding of his shipboard friends, Orac had been fascinated. Soon Jabberwocky, whose thirst for knowledge had been cultivated to replace some of the physical functions he could no longer experience, was as caught up in the idea as Orac was.

      Even now, Jabberwocky didn't know which of them had taken the suggestion a step further. If it were possible to design a program which contained as many facets of a human's personality as Jabberwocky could bring to it, then why not design such a program based on a real person. A person who was no longer alive. Dayna.

      Jabberwocky blamed himself for Dayna's death, knowing if he had acted differently, she might be alive today. He missed her. Though Dayna had not been as open with him as some of the others, he had found the young woman from Sarran loyal and brave and would have given anything to bring her back. Instead, he did the next best thing.

      Some of Orac's techniques were beyond Jabberwocky's conscious understanding, and some of his own were Greek to Orac, but between the two of them, they got the point across. Laboriously they had worked to put every bit of information about Dayna into the program. Then Jabberwocky added to it, taking what he'd garnered from his linkages with the young woman, everything that made her Dayna, feelings he had sensed, reactions, emotions. Those things would be beyond Orac's abilities to add, but with them, Jabberwocky had given 'life' to the program that would have been lacking before. When accessed, it reacted and conversed with him and with Orac much as Dayna had done. He knew it was only a program, but lately, the dividing line had grown thinner and thinner. Orac was of the opinion that further input might take their program over the edge into something resembling actual sentience.

      Skilled and complex androids were possible, so why not create one using Dayna as a model. Avon and Blake had once reminisced about an android of Avalon which had been planted aboard Liberator that had even fooled people who knew her slightly, discussing the Cause without revealing itself. If true, why not design a Dayna-personality capable of reacting to the crew that was Dayna in all but the physical. Avon had done some basic programming on the Avalon android without much lead time. How much better could Jabberwocky and Orac do with their combined resources?

      A part of Jabberwocky liked the result; it filled a hollow place in his 'heart'. But it reminded him of what was gone in much the same way that contemplating his son did. Jabberwocky had adjusted to his present state, but there were still difficult times. Seeing 'Dayna' like this reminded him of another loss, a permanent one. Dayna was dead. The program was just that. Jabberwocky had far more; he lived, though in a different form. His reactions were really his, and though his personality had changed in the process, the man that he had once been remained beneath the powerful ship's computer. What he and Orac had created was just a substitute, no matter how real it seemed.

      There was a commotion on the flight deck as Soolin and their ship's doctor, Hugh Tiver arrived. They must have been prowling about the base marketplace that dominated Ryalon City, for Soolin had a new gun to display that she had bought there. Avon was interested and they bent over it to study its function.

      Dayna would have liked it, mused Jabberwocky, wondering if he should call the program up and tell 'her' about it. The Dayna program was stronger than he had expected. He was half afraid that one day it would pop up on the main screen and start talking to the crew.

      Jabberwocky couldn't bring himself to dump it. It would be like killing Dayna all over again. So he joined in the conversation and tried to turn his thoughts away from it all. One of the faults of his design was that it was impossible to shove unwanted ideas and thoughts into the subconscious mind. He could select what he wished to focus on, but the rest of it didn't go away. He could screen it out for purposes of ship functions, but he couldn't forget.

      //You seem sad.// Tarrant, his link mate was with Blake on the target range at headquarters, but the bond between them was strong enough to transcend the distance. //Should I return to the ship?//

      //No. I'm just remembering something,// Jabberwocky replied. //It's all right, Del.//

      Sensing Tarrant's doubt, he suspected he would return earlier than planned, but not even to his partner could he reveal this secret.

      

      ...Strange... It was strange. Something had happened, something she didn't understand. She couldn't think clearly, could get no sense of herself. She remembered conversations with Jabberwocky, with Orac, but none of the others, and she wondered why no one came to talk to her. She'd heard Vila once, but it had faded away.

      Even more frightening, she could not sense herself at all. It was as if she were bodiless, a strange, ephemeral being that drifted in darkness, that had no home.

      Sensory deprivation? Was that it? Was she prisoner, kept captive for some evil purpose of Servalan's, an attempt to drive her mad? She didn't feel mad, only detached and different, but the thought that she was a prisoner sent tendrils of fear racing through her consciousness. Maybe only Jabberwocky could reach her like this. Maybe the link was keeping her sane.

      Her periods of consciousness were so fragmented she did not know if they were real or only dreams. At first she had not remembered, responding to Jabberwocky or Orac then 'going away' afterwards. When next they talked, it was as if prior conversations had never been and only now did she guess there had been many of them. It was as if she had been mindwiped after each talk, as if she had no essence, as if the person that had once been Dayna was no longer real.

      She didn't know where she was now or why she was here, but she could feel nothing, hear nothing, see nothing. She was disembodied, drifting, and though she struggled after consciousness and awareness, she could not leave her limbo state.

      But she could hold it. When awareness had come before, it had gone again and she had been powerless to stop it. This time, she could hold it a little longer.

      Maybe it meant she was getting well.

      Getting well?

      She focused on that, trying to understand. Getting well? That meant she had been ill, or hurt. Suddenly it made sense that she could not rouse any further. A little at a time; she would come back a little at a time.

      But then why hadn't the others visited her? Why wasn't Hugh hovering at her bedside? Why didn't Vila pop in and talk nonsense at her in hopes of coaxing her back to consciousness? Why didn't Tarrant sit holding her hand? And why didn't Avon come whispering into her mind with his own particular brand of healing? She knew what that felt like. She had been through it before. She could almost remember it, but it was strange, skewed, as if she were seeing it from Avon's perspective rather than her own. But maybe that was the way of it. Maybe it was like the best of linking, when she felt like she and the others were one.

      Only it wasn't. When she remembered dying - dying?! - she only remembered Avon's pain and an echo of her own. She remembered... her death!

      Terrified, she shut out the memory, unwilling to accept what she had just seen. The memory faded abruptly after that, but a moment too late. She could not have witnessed Avon's stark pain so vividly if she were dead. Conscious, even partly conscious, she might have recalled it through the link, but dead...


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Sheila Paulson

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