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Jabberwocky - part 3 - Healer

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 31

Avon and Dayna were on the flight deck when Vila arrived: Avon engaged in fine tuning his improved detector shielding and Dayna playing a game of 'Ship and Asteroids' on the secondary screen. She was vocal about her triumphs and disappointments and the game in itself was noisy, but Avon seemed completely unaware of it. How he could work through all that racket Vila wasn't sure, but he did until Dayna muttered a curse under her breath. "Blast. I always get stuck at the same place. I don't believe anyone could win this game."

      "No?" Avon set aside his tools and rose. "It simply takes a proper understanding of the game, strategy, and a modicum of manual dexterity."

      "I suppose you think you can do it?" she said with amusement lurking in her eyes. Spotting Vila in the doorway, she threw him a smile but didn't speak to him. "Tarrant says you invented the game. I find that hard to believe."

      Vila found it impossible, then he remembered Avon coming down to Freedom City with him and breaking the bank at the Big Wheel. Maybe underneath that stuffy exterior, a man who enjoyed games of chance and skill was struggling to get out. Anyway, Avon was a computer expert. Maybe he really had invented the game.

      "That is neither here nor there," Avon replied, replacing Dayna at the controls. "Any reasonably intelligent person should be able to win with practice."

      He punched a few buttons and the game started. Avon began to play, very rationally, very calmly, with exquisite control of the screen pieces, weaving them in and out in an intricate pattern. Dayna hung over his shoulder, watching his hands, while Vila's eyes remained firmly fixed on the screen. The game became more and more difficult as the ship wove its way through the complexity of the asteroid field, ducking its pursuers at the same time.

      "There," exclaimed Dayna. "That's the place where I always get stuck."

      But Avon kept on going and Vila snuck a look at his face, then he bit his lip to keep from laughing out loud as he realised that Avon had become involved in the game and was playing it with as much enthusiasm as Dayna had, his face intent with concentration, even smiling a little as he worked his way past the spot where Dayna had become stuck. Vila even thought he detected the slightest trace of an enthusiastic bounce in Avon's posture as he worked the controls.

      Then as the ship slid safely out of the asteroid field and the screen flashed the rare congratulations on a job well done - Vila had seen Tarrant come this far only once in all the times he'd tried - Avon caught himself and the big smile on his face faded away, replaced by his habitual demeanour. He turned to Dayna and said calmly, "That is how it is done," and walked away to retrieve his tools.

      Only then did he notice Vila standing there in the doorway watching him.

      Vila grinned.

      Wonder of wonders, Avon's eyes twinkled with a momentary agreement before he said in pretended annoyance, "What are you doing here, Vila? It's your sleep period. Surely you are not volunteering for extra duty."

      "No, I came along because Jabberwocky tried to bake me alive in my cabin."

      "He what!"

      "The heat went way up and Jabberwocky didn't fix it until I woke up and complained about it."

      Avon's eyes narrowed and any lingering pleasure over his triumph at 'Ship and Asteroids' vanished. "That is not supposed to happen. Jabberwocky, explain yourself."

      "Yes, Avon, I know, and I'm sorry. It was a momentary fault in the environmental controls, and I have corrected it. It's true I should have noticed it before Vila did. Maybe I was concentrating too hard on Dayna's attempts to beat your game."

      "Indeed? That is no excuse. Suppose we had suddenly been attacked by a flotilla of pursuit ships? Would that have been your excuse if you had overlooked them too?"

      "I have been monitoring and examining my entire system, Avon, and I see that I did discover the fault in Vila's cabin just as he did. I'm sorry he was made uncomfortable and it won't happen again, I promise you."

      "You had better," Avon snarled.

      "Avon, I didn't know you cared," Vila said with a big grin.

      "Did I claim to? This could be symptomatic of a major problem, Vila, possibly even a design flaw. Jabberwocky, I'll have your schematics now. Run them on the main screen. We'll go through life support and environmental control first, since the problem seems to be there."

      He then became lost in diagrams and blueprints while Vila and Dayna exchanged uneasy glances. Jabberwocky ran highlights and flashing lights on the screen to detail where the various circuits ran and Avon followed them carefully, his face intent. Finally, he said carefully, "I can see the fault."

      "Yes. It would have temporarily blinded me to the problem," replied Jabberwocky unhappily. "That's not good, is it, Avon?"

      "No, but it could be worse. I can design some safeguards into the system, and until they are completed, you must simply recheck anything that could be involved with the safety of this ship and the crew."

      "Yes, father," Jabberwocky agreed.

      "And don't call me that. You can be reprogrammed, you know, and I am more than capable of doing so should it become necessary."

      "Since you did a lot of work on me in the first place, I know you can," Jabberwocky answered. "All right, be a spoilsport. I shan't call you father again. I shall call you Kerr."

      Avon's mouth tightened. "I think that altering your programming is long overdue. Your function here is to provide for the comfort and safety of the crew. It is not to interact frivolously with them. Our lives are dependent upon your ability to maintain the ship properly. Unless you can do so, I shall be forced to make some major changes."

      "He was only teasing you, Avon," said Vila in dismay, wishing he'd kept his mouth shut about the whole thing.

      "It is not part of the ship's function to tease the crew."

      "Yes it is," Jabberwocky defended himself. "It's my job to see that the crew operates at optimum function, not only in the performance of their duties but in their emotional well being as well. I detected that you were stressed, Avon, and endeavoured to relieve the situation."

      "Naturally I am stressed," Avon replied stiffly. "When confronted with a major problem in your design, I must react to it as potential threat. Teasing at such a moment is not only frivolous but a sign of very bad judgment."

      "I hate to admit it, Jabberwocky," Dayna put in, sitting at the couch and calling up a cup of coffee on the drinks dispenser, "but Avon's right. This is hardly the time to be frivolous."

      "What harm did it do?" Jabberwocky demanded.

      "None," Avon replied. "But it could have done."

      "I suppose you'll have to tell Blake about this?"

      "He doesn't already know?"

      "He's asleep," explained Jabberwocky.

      Avon frowned as he went over and inserted Orac's key. "Orac, prepare to receive data."

      "I am busy," Orac replied predictably.

      "Orac, you will immediately run a thorough check on all of Jabberwocky's systems. You will report any anomalies to me immediately, and you will detect any flaws or weaknesses in any area of the ship. This is a priority one directive and you will clear all circuits to perform this function."

      Orac must have detected the seriousness of Avon's voice. "Oh, very well. I shall report back to you when the testing has been completed."

      "Avon, I've got an idea," Vila put in hesitantly. "In fact, I've got two ideas."

      Avon turned and stared at him in astonishment. "For you to have one idea is remarkable, but two? I am astounded."

      "All right, Vila," Dayna said, setting aside her coffee cup and grinning at Vila. "What are they?"

      He strolled over to the couch opposite Avon and sat down, stretching his feet out in front of him. "Well, there's Witt," he remarked, "Maybe when he stole Jabberwocky from Blake he damaged something."

      "Could that happen, Orac?" Avon asked.

      "Of course not," snapped the computer. "Ship's functions were never influenced by Witt. His only influence was over Jabberwocky himself, causing discomfort rather than actual damage, and of course over Blake."

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Sheila Paulson

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