The Justice was finally approaching quadrant eight and everyone was on the flight deck. Even Avon was at his operations station; though Cally was standing nearby.
Argus nodded to Avon.
Avon was not normally a self-conscious person but he could almost feel all of their eyes on him as he made his way slowly over to where ORAC lay on the table in the conference area. This was the first real test of his improved concentration.
After his last session with Argus, Avon had insisted on trying. It was important to him that he become a useful member of the crew again; instead of someone they all had to make allowances for. Argus had agreed.
Avon hoped he was not being overconfident in his own recovery. The thing he needed even less than dismal failure was pity.
We shall see if we are both fools, thought Avon as he slipped the activation key into ORAC's case.
"ORAC," said Avon.
"Yes Avon?" the computer's familiar voice replied.
"Have you made the projections as to the possible locations the phenomenom will appear next?"
"Of course I have," the computer responded irritably.
Avon smiled. The attitude of the computer unit was both irritating and reassuringly familiar.
"Project the locations on a gridded holomap," instructed Avon.
"Very well," the computer said with great reluctance.
The requested gridded reference map appeared above the table. Argus, Reya and Jenna gathered around the map with Avon. There were six red points mapped.
"That is considerably better than our own projections," said Reya.
"Yes, it is much more manageable," agreed Argus. "Do you still have a unit monitoring here?" he asked Reya.
"Yes. Three ships. Here, here and here," she pointed out the locations.
"What do you suggest Avon? We have six points and four ships," said Argus. He refused to treat Avon any differently; he knew that Avon did not want to be treated differently.
Avon studied the map. He was trying to remain relaxed as he concentrated.
Avon had never found this type of thinking difficult; on the contrary, it always came naturally to him. It was not the case now as he tried to concentrate on the map. He had to consciously think about each step; it was no longer an automatic process.
He was aware that his own breathing was becoming rapid and that he was expending an increasing amount of energy in order to maintain his concentration and to apply the complex thinking required for this kind of problem.
This should be child's play for me, thought Avon. He hated that it wasn't.
Cally had been watching Avon carefully. He is still having difficulties, she noted. She decided that he was all right for the present.
"ORAC, show in chronological order, the sightings of the phenomenom," Avon instructed the computer.
"Observe on the screen," said ORAC.
Green coloured spots began appearing on the map. They all studied them.
Avon compared the projected locations with the observed ones.
There is something, thought Avon. His mind recognized that much; pattern recognition had always been one of his strong points. But what is it? He struggled to reason it out.
"Argus, what projections did you ask ORAC to make? I need your exact instructions." Avon was starting to get an idea; he was also starting to develop a headache.
Avon was finding it increasingly harder to maintain his concentration. Pieces of information were becoming jumbled in his mind. It took a great conscious effort to keep it coherent.
I need to finish this, thought Avon. Before my mind fails me again.
"I asked ORAC to project the possible locations the phenomenom would appear next; given the characteristics of the locations it has been sighted at and the pattern of the locations," replied Argus.
"That's all?" asked Avon.
"Yes. Is there something wrong?" Argus could see that Avon had an idea.
"Yes. There is something wrong if the sightings are not the only locations where the phenomenom has been."
"But those are the only ones we are aware of," said Reya. "Those are the only locations we can provide for the projection."
"Yes, those are the only confirmed locations," agreed Avon. "An ordinary computer is limited to operating on known facts."
"But not ORAC?" asked Reya.
"ORAC," Avon addressed the computer again.
"Yes Avon," it was sounding oddly cooperative. ORAC seemed to know that it was going to be asked to do something very clever; something only it could do.
"Am I correct that you can apply the principles you used for locating Blake to this situation; and recalculate the possible locations using both the confirmed locations and the possible unconfirmed ones?"
"Well, get on with it ORAC." They could all see the lights on the computer unit becoming more active. Just a little longer, thought Avon.
"How is that possible?" asked Reya. "How can ORAC do that?"
"I could explain it to you," said Avon. "But I would have to spend years teaching you the theoretical mathematics required to understand it."
Avon was feeling very tired now. Why must this be so hard? he thought.
"Is he always like this?" asked Reya asked Argus.
"Actually he must like you," volunteered Vila from his neutron blaster control station. "He's never offered to teach anyone before."
Reya wasn't sure it was meant to be a help coming from the cynical Avon.
"In your case, Vila. I doubt any level of teaching would help," remarked Avon dryly.
"How would you like me to colour all your clothes pink," retorted Vila.
"I have made the necessary recalculations," interrupted ORAC. It sounded very pleased with itself. "Please observe on the screen." Their attentions turned back to the holomap.
Three of the green dots disappeared from the screen.
"That's very impressive," said Reya. "But how accurate is this kind of projection?"
"ORAC?" Avon asked. He was sweating now.
Cally had not missed the deterioration of Avon's physical and mental condition. She was close to stepping in and recommending that he go and get some rest. The Auron had held off as long as she could. I can wait a few more minutes, she thought as ORAC responded.
"The accuracy of the projected locations is 89.02 percent with an error factor of plus or minus two percent."
"What about the accuracy of the original prediction?" asked Avon.
"The accuracy of the original prediction is 91.34 with a plus or minus factor of one percent."
"We have our three locations then," said Argus.
Argus had also been observing Avon carefully and noticed that he was having difficulties. When the others had their attentions occupied by the images on the holomap, he caught the analyst's eyes and imperceptibly shook his head.
Avon understood what the rebel leader was trying to communicate. Argus wanted him to leave the flight deck and get some rest. Avon's automatic response was to rebel at the idea of being told to do anything. But he decided it was less embarrassing to follow Argus's direction rather than be stubborn and collapse from exhaustion on the flight deck.
Avon was having considerable difficulty now. The pain from his knee always seemed to be worse when he was like this. When will it end, he thought tiredly. Avon was tired of the pain. He nodded in agreement to Argus.
"Commander Reve," Argus addressed Reya. "Can you direct your ships to patrol the designated areas?"
"I will do that," agreed Reya.
"Cally can you set up the necessary communication links to the ships?" Argus continued giving directions.
As the crew focused on their various tasks and watched as Reya use the ship's comm system to communicate with her ships, Avon quietly left.
Argus nodded to Vila. The thief knew what to do and followed after a few seconds.
Avon moved slowly down the corridor away from the flight deck. He was breathing as if he had just run a long distance. Both his mind and body were exhausted. His head was pounding. He reached out with his hand to steady himself against the wall.
Must not stop. He forced himself to keep going.
As Vila followed Avon, he was envisioning a repetition of the previous collapse.
I hope not, thought Vila. He did not want to see Avon suffer a setback; not after he seemed to be making so much progress.
Avon stopped. "If you insist on following me, Vila. You might as well make yourself useful," said Avon without even looking back towards the thief.
Vila was almost certain he had not made any noise.
"Oh. Right." Vila came up to where Avon stood, leaning with his hand against the wall.
"You look terrible," said Vila.
"That's not the help I was looking for," said Avon.
"Sorry," said Vila, as he took Avon's arm and put it around his shoulder; so that the analyst could lean on him.
The analyst and the thief made their way slowly towards the corridor containing the sleeping quarters. By the time they reached Avon's cabin, both of them were breathing heavily.
I must get in better shape, thought Vila. Maybe I can join the girls in the gym. He thought it was an idea worth exploring. He knew that the two women had been spending a lot of time working with the female commander in the gym. Vila was curious to find out more about her. Not that she's my type, thought Vila.
"Do you want me to tuck you in?" asked Vila jokingly as Avon activated the door control. Avon glared at him.
"I guess not," said Vila hastily. He was about to leave when he realized that he had made a mistake. "I forgot."
"What is it?" asked Avon irritably. He was about to close the door on Vila.
"I forgot you're supposed to be sleeping in the medical bay." And restrained. But Vila did not think it a nice thing to do to Avon after what he had done for them on the flight deck.
Avon glared at him again.
"Unless you think you can carry me to the medical bay by yourself, Vila, I suggest you leave," said Avon.
Vila was torn. He did not like difficult decisions. This was one. He knew that all he needed to do was go back to the flight deck and get Argus. Both Argus and the female commander were quite capable of carrying Avon to the medical bay, regardless of how much he resisted.
Vila did not want to take that step. He knew that not only would Avon not go willing with him; physically he was probably not able to. After their journey through the corridors, Vila knew Avon did not have much energy left.
"Trust me, Vila," Avon reassured him. "I have no intention of killing myself. Have I ever lied to you?"
Why did you have to say that? thought Vila. He had to admit that though Avon may have consistently insulted him and given him a hard time over the years; Avon had never lied to him.
"No. You haven't," said Vila. "Don't start now," he added.
"Get some rest," said Vila as he went back to the flight deck.
Avon's door slid closed.