"Avon, have you…" A question was on Vila's lips the moment he entered the medical bay. "Oh, hello, Cally," he said as he spotted her holding Avon's hand in an intimate gesture. "I should come back later."
Cally motioned him to enter. "Come in."
Vila entered on tiptoe, not wanting to disturb whatever it was they were doing. It was then that he noticed the odd look on Avon's face, completely relaxed, like someone who had no worries in life because he didn't have the mind to understand. "Is he…alright?"
Giving a sigh, Cally's eyes rested on the highly drugged man. She imagined that 'alright' was a word that Avon would prefer never to hear again. It had been a disturbing experience as Avon had slipped into an almost catatonic state. He had held onto her, squeezing increasingly tighter, keeping his face passive and refusing to voice his fears but unable to hide them from her. It was as if her hand was a lifeline and he had to hold on or be lost. She had promised that she would be here when he woke up. "He's taken a full dose of Shade."
Vila's mouth opened in, "Oh. Then he's dead to the world."
"Something like that. Is there something you wanted?"
"No…it can wait. I mean, it's not important."
"What is it, Vila?"
"Have you seen Argus lately?"
"No. I've been in here."
"Oh… then you wouldn't have seen him…"
Cally wished Vila would get to the point. "What is it, Vila?"
"He growled at me."
"He does that at times when he's angry or frustrated."
"This one was different. He growled at me and then he ran off. Made my hair stand on end. I was only asking if he wanted to see the new act Corinne and I came up with."
"Perhaps he was irritated about something."
"I thought he was going to tear my head off."
"You must be exaggerating."
"You wouldn't say that if you were there." Vila shuddered at the memory.
"Why don't you ask Reya if there's something wrong?"
"That's a good idea. I'll just go and do that."
Cally shook her head in amusement as Vila went off in search of the Commander.
In a flurry of precision kicks and punches, Argus demolished the training dummy. It wasn't a display of skill or a practice of technique and it certainly wasn't for fitness reasons. It was outright aggression visited on a poor defenceless inanimate object, pounding it into submission and an early death. The unfortunate thing was still flickering and suffering a slow demise as its circuits registered that it was in a thousand unconnected pieces.
Argus was still bursting with energy that he couldn't seem to expend fast enough. He had to; he knew he was dangerous this way. The memories of what he had done to Sester and almost to Reya were all too disturbing reminders.
Heat rose from his body as if he were burning inside. His fists and jaw clenched, trying to contain the boiling fires. An angry growl came out in a roar of agony as he smashed his hand into the bulkhead.
Muscles stood out in tight knots, sculptured power in its rawest form. No longer graceful, acrobatic motions; it was a predatory animal, skilled to the hunt. Beautiful in its deadliness. Its eyes blazing with contained fury and the need to kill and destroy. Lips pulled back in a snarl, revealing some teeth that seemed sharper in the light.
He was slipping into something that he dared not name; a creature that had always frightened him. One that he hid from; the darkness inside. He did not want to hurt anyone, but the beast was created to hunt and destroy enemies. It was in its nature.
Argus placed both fists against the wall, concentrating, bringing his mind to bear, and forcing the beast to retreat.
No. I. Will. Not…let…it…win!
The one called Jack, the part of him that he had given name to - the boy who did not want to kill - fought against himself.
The fires slowly diminished as he wrestled back control, but the seething flames licked his soul, threatening to erupt if he had a lapse in concentration.
At the sound of the human voice, Argus whirled to face him. For a moment, the dying embers of fury nearly made Lt. Dain take a step back.
"Sir? What happened?" Dain, asked as he skirted the hapless training dummy. A brave soldier, intent on caring for one of his own, not knowing that he was in the sights of a creature that had moments ago, needed to taste blood.
Argus ordered his body to relax and his fists to open. In a hoarse voice that barely seemed to remember how to speak, he said, "Accident."
Dain, ready for exercise in navy blue shorts and black sleeveless shirt that accentuated his dark, brown eyes, surveyed the detritus of destruction and said, "I've never seen a training dummy malfunction like this before. It looks like it exploded." His thigh muscles stood out in relief as he knelt down on one knee and poked at the wreckage. "You're lucky you weren't hurt, sir."
It was still hard for Argus's brain to find words to speak and he only managed a gruff, "Yes."
Dain crossed over to the comm unit on the wall and sent for one of the automated cleaning units.
Vila found Reya in the weapons range, teaching Corinne and Kirsten the finer points of target shooting. He watched admiringly from the doorway, appreciating the lines of their profiles as they lay face down on the ground. Their elbows were propped up in classic sniper position, the rifles snugly against their shoulders and heads tilted to sight along the scope.
A slight squeeze and death shot out in invisible rays, unseen until the targets at the far end fluttered as they were hit.
Reya squinted and leaned forward. She said blankly, "You hit it."
Kirsten lifted her head up. "But?"
"Too wide a spread."
Corinne popped her head up too. "But we hit the targets."
"That's not the point. I know you can both hit it. If you weren't able to do at least that, I would not be giving you advanced lessons."
Both women sat up and stretched aching muscles that had been in one position too long.
Eying them critically, Reya said decisively, "You need conditioning."
"Conditioning?" Kirsten asked, not understanding how this could have anything to do with shooting more accurately.
Reya's lips pursed in thought, "Yes…a tougher physical regimen to increase your metabolic efficiency. Hand-eye coordination exercises. You need better awareness of the movements of your own body. I will draw up a schedule. You will begin tomorrow."
Laying down her rifle, Kirsten got up and argued, "Now, wait a minute. I thought the point was to hit the targets. We did, didn’t we?"
Corinne, still sitting down, was trying to see if she had missed any of her shots. "It looks like we did."
Vila grinned. This was the part that had floored him when the Commander had tried to assess whom of the soldiers and the crew had the ability to be trained as sharpshooters.
Activating the control panel in front of her, Reya brought the targets closer and indicated with a laser pointer. "The goal is to hit the target marks on the scoring area. These four red circles." She pointed to the four tiny dots with the green beam. "And do it in a tight cluster pattern."
Kirsten looked incredulous. "But we can't even see them."
"You can with the scope."
Rubbing her eyes and then looking down at the scope, Corinne said, "I thought…they were specks on the scope."
"In the limited space of the cargo hold, I've had to scale down the targets in order to approximate real distances."
"Then that's not fair," complained Kirsten.
"Mathematically, they are to scale," said Reya. "Whether you can hit accurately at this level of skill, will determine if you miss your intended target or possibly hit one of your own people."
"You're asking us to do the impossible," said Kirsten. "I don't believe anyone can do it."
Corinne raised her hand, "Can we see an example?"
Reya had noticed when Vila came in but didn't acknowledge this until now because she knew this would interrupt the focus of her two charges. There was a barely perceptible smile on her lips as she glanced briefly in Vila's direction. He smiled back and nodded.
Lifting the rifle from Corinne's hands and turning to face her left shoulder to the target, Reya smoothly placed the butt firmly against her shoulders. She was like an immovable statue as she stood contemplating the target. Then with hardly a suggestion of movement, the target was hit in rapid succession, eight times without a breath in between. When it was over, she stood still, like the statue again and then the rifle lowered.
Kirsten went to press the controls to bring the target forward.
Mouths dropped open and eyes widened in awe. Corinne said with amazement, "That's…that's…amazing."
Kirsten stared at Reya with increased respect. "That's not possible…but I see it."
Each target mark had been hit twice, almost dead centre.
Reya said, as if it were of little note, "This is the job of a sharp-shooter. Nothing amazing to it."
Vila came forward with a broad smile. "And if you believe that, I have some property on an ice planet just waiting…"
Sighing, Reya asked her charges, "Are you interested in the training?"
Corinne said enthusiastically, "I'd love to be able to do that! Vila…maybe we can include it in our act?"
Rubbing his hands together in anticipation, Vila said, "That's an idea. I can think of…"
Reya sighed again in exaggerated patience at the idea that this useful and deadly skill would be used for entertainment purposes. "Vila, did you come for something?"
"Oh…yes." Suddenly he wasn't sure it was the right time. "Well…"
"Out with it, Vila."
"I ran into Argus earlier and…" It seemed silly now. "…he…growled at me. I mean, it sounded…"
"You mean that it alarmed you? It wasn't his normal behaviour?" asked Reya, instantly alarmed.
"Well…yes." He hoped that it was something or this would be embarrassing.
"Do you know where he is now?"
"He ran off to the gym."
There was tense concern on Reya's normally composed face. "Lessons are over today. I will see both of you in the gym tomorrow. 0800." She rushed out.
Vila spotted the wall chronometer, "I have to get going too. My shift today."
Reya arrived at the gym only to find Lt. Dain and several of the soldiers being very industrious. They told her that Argus had gone back to his cabin for a shower.
Corinne stayed in the weapons range in order to practice more.
Argus set the water temperature controls in the shower to just short of frozen and turned it on.
Jenna decided to make a visit to Sester's cabin. There were some issues to be resolved and she was in the mood for making someone's life miserable.
She rounded the corner and nearly ran into Kirsten.
There was a hard look on the young woman's face. "We finished the wine. There isn't any more."
"I'm not here for wine."
"Well, he's finished with you too."
"We'll see about that," said Jenna as she reached for the door panel.
Cally waited until Avon settled into a restful sleep before going to see the doctors about what could be done about his eyes.
After doing the regular system's checks, Vila settled on the couch and flipped through a deck of cards, trying not to fall asleep. Stifling a yawn, he glanced over at the viewscreen and bolted up in alarm. "What is that?"
Every corner of the ship was flooded with intense white light that seemed to bore through unprotected eyes straight through to the brain. Anyone who had eyes to see immediately collapsed.