The Argus-Wolf raced through the corridors, effortlessly jumping over the few scattered bodies of the crew.
One's pack is waking, said the Wolf.
"We have to hurry," said Argus, his arms and legs pumping harder. "We don't have much time."
The stick will help Avon-Alpha? asked the sceptical Wolf, who still insisted that Avon should be licked.
One is holding a stick.
Argus brought the injector up to his eyes. "It's a stick with medicine that will help him." He rushed into the lab and his face fell as he saw Avon's still body. Approaching apprehensively, he knelt down beside him and felt for a pulse.
The Wolf whine-howled with concern. The beat was weak and thready but Avon was still alive. They both breathed a sigh of relief before Argus injected the Shade.
When will Avon-Alpha wake? asked the Wolf worriedly.
"I don't know." He felt Avon's forehead. It was still hot to the touch but there wasn't much else he could do. "We have to let the drug work."
He had to finish Avon's machine before the others woke. There was no telling what would happen when the Thaarn activated his own machine.
The last time, it had brought out the Wolf. What it would bring out next time? Argus did not want to find out.
Going back to the workbench, he picked up the discarded wire and threaded it through the clear tube, holding it in place with the magnetic probe.
It looks a strange weapon, said the Wolf.
"Don't talk to me for a bit. I have to hurry."
The Wolf fell silent while Argus focused, blocking out all distractions. The instinct for danger and battle sharpened his senses, made fingers sure, steady and even quicker than they were before.
Even though the Wolf was quiet, Argus could feel its strong presence, as if they were one in this endeavour.
"Have you made a decision?" asked the Thaarn.
Avon stopped pacing and turned to face him. The prize was great and the temptation irresistible; every easy, painless step he took made it even more of a draw.
He could become healthy again, no longer dependent on anyone. Most of all, he would be free, at the expense of Cally's freedom.
The other choice was less certain. He could fight and lose everything. Or he could win, Cally would be saved and he would continue the half-life he was living now.
Such a simple decision. All of the measurable benefits lay on one side. It all depended on which was more important to him.
Avon tilted his head and a smile slightly lifted the corner of his lips. It was an odd expression to have at a time when the situation was at its most urgent, but for him, it was the most appropriate.
Amidst the maze of motivations that determined his actions, there was really only one important one.
It was why he was willing to sacrifice himself in order to save Anna. And years later, to risk his life for her memory.
It was why he had taken the risk to save Blake on Terminal.
It had been this irrationality that caused him to tell his crew to abandon him at the first hint of danger, so they could be safe.
It was why he stepped into the warehouse and gave himself up to his greatest enemy in order to save Cally's life.
It was a hard decision, one against all logic and instinct for self-preservation, but at the same time, it was a very simple one for him.
Avon's hesitation wasn't regret, it was calculation - trying to find the best way to leverage the situation - but the Thaarn didn’t know the difference.
The Thaarn might heal him and immediately take Cally away. If that happened, the chance of finding her again would be remote. Avon could not take that chance.
The only opportunity she had was if he went through with the contest and relied on his plan and his own abilities. This was what Cally had chosen. It meant giving up the Thaarn's tempting offer but it didn't matter.
Avon knew if Cally had been given the same choice, she would give up her own life for him. It was possible that the Thaarn was giving her the same choice. Avon could not allow her to make that sacrifice for him.
It was something they would do for each other, of this Avon was certain. Just as he had been sure of the Anna of his illusions.
The Thaarn said, "You would be whole and you would have the lives of your crew. You're a rational man, Avon. Isn't it worth it?"
Avon said coldly, "You're wrong. If you don't understand that, then she will never be yours."
"And you think she's yours?" the Thaarn snorted in derision.
"Cally belongs to no one except herself. Return me to the ship and let us finish this."
The Thaarn's face had turned bright red. He was livid that Avon was not performing as he had expected and this time, Cally had been watching. It had been a grave mistake on his part.
All of his plans were failing. He wished he had never found this accursed ship.
This was completely unacceptable. The Thaarn refused to accept failure again. The last time, he had barely escaped with his life. He had been injured by Cally and his gravity platform had been destroyed.
There was no hope she would be his willing queen now but it didn't matter. Her cooperation was a luxury he could dispense with. She belonged to him; it was all that mattered. After he destroyed all those who would defy him.
With grim satisfaction, the Thaarn slid a control into place and activated the switch that would bring out the darkness.
Argus closed up the case with a snap and turned it on. The machine hummed to life with white lights that flashed in a regular pattern. He hoped it was supposed to do that.
One is finished? The Wolf had remained silent while he worked.
"Yes. We have to bring it to the flight deck." Tucking the machine in the crook of his arm, he bent down to check on Avon. He was still unconscious but his breathing and heartbeat seemed steadier.
The air suddenly exploded with glaring light. Argus desperately threw his arm across his eyes but managed to keep his grip on the machine.
Throughout the ship, men and women collapsed as the Thaarn's amplified wave influenced their minds.