"The new neural pathways have been firmly established and are functioning with minimal conscious maintenance," reported ORAC.
It had been forty-two minutes since the last application of the disruptor waves to Avon's brain. It appeared that the current pattern was holding.
"How much longer do we have to wait ORAC?" asked Argus.
"Another eighteen minutes should be sufficient," replied ORAC.
Hold on Avon, thought Cally.
Argus and Cally both felt drained but they knew it was nothing compared to what Avon was experiencing.
When it was finally over Argus deactivated the restrictor bands. Avon's breathing was weak and thready and he was barely conscious.
Cally was checking his condition using a bio-scanner.
"How is he?" Argus asked her.
"He's very weak, his body functions are severely depressed and he will require much rest; but otherwise he is fine," said Cally. There was great relief in her voice.
"Good." Argus was also relieved.
Cally brought the medical scanner further down to Avon's knee. The one which kept bothering him but refused to allow her to look at.
Argus stopped her, pushing the scanner away from the knee.
"No Cally. We will not do it without his consent. Especially not after this," he told her.
Cally nodded. I should have thought of that. I'm supposed to be the one who is sensitive. She put the scanner down.
"You should go now. I will do the rest," Argus told her. "Avon doesn't know yet that I am not the only who knows about his conditioning. He will have to find out eventually. But for now when he wakes up, it's better that he doesn't know yet."
"Yes, you're right." Before she left, Cally patted Avon's chest.
* Rest Avon * she projected to him along with feelings of comfort and reassurance.
She still felt the deep sense of damage whenever she touched his mind but she hoped that with what he had been able achieved today, one day he would be whole again.
Cally left the medical bay.
After Cally left, Argus injected various fluids and nutritional supplements into Avon's arm to replenish what he had expended during his struggle. He pushed away the head array and removed the headphones.
The analyst's breathing was easier now, though it was still very weak. He was starting to move.
Avon opened his eyes and blinked at the bright lights over head. He brought his hands up to block the light. He had a blinding headache and he was exhausted but there was something he had to know.
The light was turned down.
"Thank you," he said. His voice was raspy and his throat was sore and dry.
"How are you feeling, Avon?" said Argus.
"Alive," the analyst replied. "Did it work?"
"Yes," the rebel leader told him. "ORAC says that the necessary neural pathways have been established."
"I need to know for certain," Avon told him.
The rebel leader hesitated then said, "You're right."
He went to the data terminal and recalled the sound file.
Over the speakers, a phrase was played, "It's time to work Avon."
This time Avon heard the phrase.
So the reversal undid that as well, thought Avon. It was the first time he had consciously heard the phrase since the conditioning had programmed his responses to it.
The two men waited.
Avon dispassionately searched his mind. There did not appear to be any pressure.
"Yes, Avon," the computer responded immediately.
"Is there any change in brain intensity?"
"No. All current brain activity is registering within normal operational parameters."
"As eloquent as ever," remarked Avon.
"You have your proof," said Argus. To have gone through all that only to have it not work, would have been horrifying.
Now that his mind was reassured, Avon felt intensely tired; the headache seemed to make his mind feel heavy.
"Yes," agreed Avon. He was about to ask that Argus return him to his cabin so that the others would not know, but exhaustion overtook him and he passed out.
"Avon?" Argus said. When there was no response, he checked the medical scanner and saw that Avon was only unconscious and was now sleeping. The rebel leader remembered to inject the drug which would allow Avon to sleep without the nightmares bothering him.
You've already had enough nightmares today, thought Argus.
After a night of sleep, Argus did not feel any more rested. He still had a headache. His sleep had been plagued by another nightmare he could not remember.
Things were looking up though: Avon had beaten the conditioning, and the ship was scheduled to arrive at Zirgon within the hour.
Argus went to the medical bay to check on Avon. The analyst was still sleeping, tended to by Cally.
"How is he? Has he woken up yet?" asked Argus.
"His body is recovering from the ordeal. He will likely not wake up for another twelve hours," said Cally. "I will stay with him."
"Make sure you get some rest yourself," Argus told her.
"I will." She was about to suggest that Argus looked like he needed more rest as well; but he was already on his way out.
"I am going down to Zirgon. Keep me informed if anything develops," he told Cally before he left.
"Commander Argus. Welcome back."
"I never thought I would be back so soon. What is this unusual phenomenon you mentioned to Vila?"
The two men were meeting in Borel's office on Zirgon.
Always the operation first, thought Borel. This was something he understood; but this time Borel also had another agenda.
"Isn't there anything else you want to ask me first?" Borel asked.
"I'm not sure what you mean?"
"Never mind," he said. He proceeded to relay the few details which Reya had reported on. As he did, Borel paid close attention to the rebel leader. The man looked strained and tired but he was fully focused on the current problem.
"So there is no discernable pattern?" Argus asked when Borel was finished.
"There doesn't seem to be. It definitely poses a threat, especially if it ventures out of quadrant eight. There is no way to track it or predict where it will show up. And most of the ships which have encountered it have been destroyed, including one of our heavy cruisers."
"That definitely is a problem. What can we do to help?"
"Reya thinks she has found something and she thinks that your computer unit, ORAC may be able to help."
"Does she say how?"
"She didn't specify but she is scheduled to arrive tomorrow morning. You can talk to her then."
When Argus was in operational mode, nothing personal existed for him. Even the news that Reya was arriving soon made no difference to him.
You really are a cold one when you are focused, thought Borel. That's what makes the both of you so good.
When they finally finished discussing the situation Borel said, "I would like to extend my hospitality to you. You are welcome to stay here at the castle tonight."
"Thank you. I would like that," said Argus. Now that they were no longer discussing business, Argus allowed himself to think about personal concerns. He didn't want to go back to the ship tonight. Cally was taking care of Avon. The analyst would sleep at least until tomorrow. Nothing urgent required his attention.
Staying here at the castle made Reya's imminent arrival seem even closer.
"You look tired," remarked Borel.
"It's been a long few weeks."
"Do you swim?" asked Borel.
"Yes. Although it has been along time. Why do you ask?" Argus was puzzled at the strange question.
"There's a place I go to when I need to be alone. It's quiet and peaceful. A good place when you don't want anything artificial around you."
That sounded like an appealing idea. Argus did not really want company tonight; he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. Waiting was a private thing.