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Jabberwocky - part 10 - Program

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 27

"I'm not sure this is such a good idea," Jabberwocky said aloud.

      //Interface, // Orac urged through the computer link. //It is the only way.//

      "No, Orac," Jabberwocky replied still speaking orally, though he firmed up his link with the Orac computer to echo his own uncertainty there. "Our project will be best if the rest of the crew don't know about it. I still think it's a big mistake." He approximated an all too human sigh. "But I couldn't resist it either."

      "Do not assign my project human motivations," Orac replied tartly, defending his motive of pure research. "I feel that to duplicate this program for each member of the crew could be beneficial."

      "How?" Jabberwocky wondered sceptically.

      "By preserving knowledge."

      "But it risks all kinds of emotional disturbances among the crew. With me, too," he confessed ruefully.

      "Humans appear to enjoy the sentiment involved in wallowing in their memories," Orac returned. "Why should this be different?"

      "It's a lot more detailed than most memories," Jabberwocky replied. "We've achieved more than we bargained for, and I don't think I like it."

      "More than you bargained for. In spite of your abilities, your thinking is still almost entirely human." The criticism in the observation was poorly concealed.

      "And your snobbery isn't? I am human, and I'm glad of it. Maybe you wish you were."


      Had he still possessed a body, Jabberwocky would have smiled at Orac's decisive reply, but then he remembered something Ensor's creation had said, and he asked, "What do you mean, more than I bargained for?"

      "You underestimate your abilities. I do not. I knew more was possible than you would admit - or realise. With our combined input, the result would naturally achieve far more than a normal human brain could ever accomplish. You will note that you have already far exceeded your own design specification. Why not in this as well?"

      Jabberwocky brooded a bit. "I thought we were coming closer to self-awareness than I'd imagined possible."

      "It may yet be possible."

      "How?" Jabberwocky was openly sceptical and more than a little wistful.

      "Input from the human crew of this ship might complete the process."

      "No!" Jabberwocky was shocked at the suggestion that he would put the crew in a position to be hurt. "I won't do it," he burst out. "Avon's my father. I won't do this to him, and I forbid you to do it either. I'd like to take the program to its logical extension too, but it's hard enough already. Don't ask me to do any more, Orac, because I won't. This stopped being fun a long time ago."

      "Humans," sniffed Orac impatiently. "Such a waste."

      "Waste!" Jabberwocky returned hotly. "What are you doing now? Psychological studies of a crew under stress? I'll dump the program before it comes to that."

      "I think not. Taking an experiment to its logical conclusions is the only rational action."

      "Are you studying me too? Are you enjoying my reactions?"

      "As an example of atonement?" Orac asked, displaying more understanding of human motives than Jabberwocky had expected.

      "Enough!" he cried. "Leave me alone, Orac. I won't take it any further. It would really be best to erase the program now." But he knew he could not bring himself to do that.

      "Could you?" Orac asked perceptively, and Jabberwocky was surprised to hear faint sympathy in the computer's question. He wasn't sure if it were real or if Orac had learned to mimic such responses, using them when necessary - Avon would deny that any such thing was possible, and as a computer expert, he should know Orac's parameters, but both Orac and Jabberwocky knew he was not entirely correct.

      Orac was right. Jabberwocky sighed again. "No, you know I couldn't. Maybe I'm punishing myself, but I want to keep the program."

      "Then we must take it that final step?"

      "I almost went insane once," Jabberwocky said obscurely. "I know what it's like. We mustn't."

      "The situations are not the same."

      "Near enough."

      "You adapted."

      "I'm still partly human. Do you believe even my father can 'heal' a program?"

      "He might welcome the opportunity to try."

      "No. He'll deny the entire program and refuse to associate with it. This is enough, Orac. Leave it."

      "Cally could finish it for us," Orac wheedled. "There would be no need to involve the others."

      Orac must have been very excited to suggest using a human to complete the work, but Jabberwocky was adamant. "I know Cally. We were linked and I owe her more than this. You can't understand how it would hurt. Leave it."

      Orac was silent, and Jabberwocky suspected he was in a snit, but after a brief interval, the computer said, "We will continue this discussion at another time."

      No, we won't, thought Jabberwocky, but a part of him tended to agree with Orac, even though he understood better than anyone the problems involved in completing the experiment.

      Vila wandered idly onto the flight deck - not much was required for maintenance when the ship was grounded on Ryalon, their home port, and not everyone was even on board today. Jabberwocky had registered Vila's return to the ship and had monitored him automatically as he pottered around here and there. Now he tried to put the project from his mind to greet Vila normally. Orac chose not to react to Vila's presence verbally - when it came to the rest of the crew, Orac rarely spoke unless spoken to. Like a good child, thought Jabberwocky, keeping it from Orac, who wouldn't have appreciated it, and from Vila, who would.

      "Vila. You're back then. I thought you were gone for the day. What's the matter, are you bored?"

      "Bored? No, I'm not bored," Vila said with a yawn that spoke of a late night or a sleepless one. "I've been thinking of something to do to liven everyone up. Complacent, that's what they are. Mind you, we've been lucky lately. Nothing really dangerous since our last run in with Servalan. I wonder if she ever managed to escape from Parais, or if they've got her doing hard time." Though his babble sounded slightly forced, he grinned broadly at the idea. Then his face fell.

      "No, Blake wants us to traipse off to Foran Prime so he can make speeches. I ask you."

      "You can always sleep," Jabberwocky returned. "I know you, Vila. You sleep better when you're supposed to be paying attention than anyone I know - and with your eyes open."

      Vila took it as praise. "Years of practice," he replied smugly, buffing his fingernails against his shirt.

      "At what? Sleeping?" Avon asked, entering the flight deck with Cally. Both halted abruptly when Vila and Jabberwocky went into gales of laughter.

      "I think they're bad for each other, Cally," Avon told her instructively. Jabberwocky considered his 'father' for a serious moment. Avon looked good, as well adjusted as Jabberwocky had ever seen him. The last thing he needed was to get wind of his and Orac's project. That would put an end to all good moods on board.

      "Laughter is good for the spirit," Cally replied in the tone she used when quoting another old Auron saying. Jabberwocky noted the momentary sadness in her eyes at the reminder. Vila didn't notice, because he was watching Avon, but Avon did without even turning in Cally's direction. He placed an unobtrusive hand on her arm, and her eyes warmed again. A sense of contentment warmed the ship/computer at the sight. Avon had made great strides of late.

      Better to keep his project to himself. Even if Orac was right, that it would take very little to extend the program a step beyond the possibilities, Jabberwocky decided to stay away from it for a while.

      //I don't want you going behind my back,// he instructed Orac through their interface.

      //You could not stop me.//

      //There are ways,// Jabberwocky transmitted ominously. //Don't push me too far, Orac. You may be able to control some of my functions through my tarial cells, but I have ways of circumventing you.//

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Sheila Paulson

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