There must be an explanation.
Avon concentrated a still sluggish mind. * Cally? *
The darkness remained silent.
He didn't know who was in attendance but it didn't matter, he needed information. "Doctor?"
No competent medical voices answered back.
"Is anyone in the room?"
It was as if everyone had suddenly become mute. Cocking his head, Avon listened intently.
No faint sounds of aspiration. No bodies sliding in sheets. No shuffle of footwear. No click of medical instruments. The room seemed empty.
Was he still unconscious? A blind man dreaming…of being a blind man in an empty room? Had the drug taken away his imagination as well as his mind's ability to think? An involuntary shudder passed through him as Avon remembered the experience of his mind slipping away, being reduced to little more than a biological life-support system for his body. If it had not been for Cally's reassuring presence in his mind…
Unbidden fear crept in like an unwelcome guest.
There had to be a reason why Cally had not kept her promise to him. She had pledged to be here when he woke, to provide a point of reference for his drug-dulled mind.
The fact was, she was not here.
Argus huddled naked and shivering in the corner of the shower room; his arms wrapped tightly, almost desperately around his chest. His muscles bunched in hard-corded knots as he fought the beast that demanded to be set free. Pained whimpers emanated from his throat, like a wounded animal in a losing battle.
Inside, the beast struggled to be free. It wanted to kill and destroy; it had been deprived too long of its pleasures.
It could not be let out. It would destroy everyone. He let out a deep-chested, howl of misery.
Fear tasted like blood.
The animal pulled back snarling lips and stood up, shaking the water from its damp, cold body, sending droplets flying in all directions. It reached for a dark grey towel and tied it firmly around its waist.
It was finally free.
Run! Vila, Run! The expression from a children's story echoed inside Vila's head as the flotilla of angry ships came closer. Small specks becoming large moving dots of menace. His mouth was as dry as the desert sands and it hurt to swallow.
He'd only fallen asleep for a few minutes. It wasn't his fault.
They had came out of nowhere. Appearing on the screen like a nightmare suddenly coming into focus. He was alone on the flight deck. The comms didn't seem to be working. Where was everyone?
A half-recalled memory made him turn his head. "Jenna, let's run for it." Jenna was not there.
Vila sought out the man at the tactical station. "For pity's sake Avon, get this ship moving while we still have a chance!" But Avon was not there.
There was no one here, except him. No one to listen to his panicked suggestions. No one else to make the decisions. Who the hell would leave him all alone with no one else in charge?
He knew he should do something but his mind was a blank.
Run! Vila, Run! He could taste the fear in his mouth like a bitter potion that would not go down his throat. His knees were shaking so hard, they were knocking against each other.
It was born to kill. It wanted to kill. It needed to rend the flesh from the bones of its enemies, to sink its fangs into unprotected throats and taste the fresh nectar of blood gushing out. Its nose twitched in anticipation of the sharp metallic scent of death.
It reached for the blade that was never far from its owner. He looked down at it in satisfaction. It was an extension of himself.
Instinct told it to arm itself with weapons that were more lethal. It had been civilized that way. A weaponized animal, trained in the armaments of war. They were its old friends.
He stalked the corridors, looking for the armoury.
Vila took in a shuddered breath. He didn't know how to be brave, he only knew how to be himself.
That self felt small and very afraid.
Where were the big people to take care of him? The ones he needed to tell him what to do, make all the decisions and take responsibility? Ever since he lost his mother and found himself alone in a world that didn't care one jot about him, he had been afraid.
Avon must have been wrong. Or Servalan was lying to him. Wouldn't put it past that snake of a woman. The Federation didn't condition him to be afraid and easily led. This was who he was.
"Information. Incoming message."
Vila fled. He ran from the voice of the computer that wanted him to do something, to make a decision that would affect all of their lives. He wasn't meant to do this, he couldn't do this.
The smooth metallic walls were cold to the touch as Avon felt along them, a blind man moving through the ship, trying to find someone who could give him answers.
But so far, there was no one.
He was utterly and completely alone, just as he had always wanted. A paradise without people. Or a hell where screams made no noise because there was no one there to hear them.
* Cally. *
Think. Concentrate. No time for the weaknesses that others consider a necessary part of human existence.
Visualize. The layout of the ship was firmly placed in his mind. He knew every conduit, junction, control and bypass. What he didn't have were precise measurements that told him how many steps to take to the flight deck. An oversight he would rectify the moment he sorted out this problem.
He had to get to Zen. The dependable computer would have the information he required, unless it followed the obscure whims of its creators and refused to cooperate.
One of these days, he would have to reprogram that machine but for now, it was his only hope.
Fear lurked like a thief, just outside the window of his conscious mind, reminding him that he was more human than not. The remembered voice of Cally called to him; the one person he had chosen to trust even more than any computer.
He had to find out what happened to her and the rest of the crew.
There were other nagging thoughts.
Did they leave him? Abandoning him in their haste to escape some nameless horror? Paranoia ate away his confidence; a lifetime of betrayals whispering bitter nothings in his ear. Reason and sentiment wrestled for dominance in his mind, like ancient enemies.
No! Not Cally. Not Argus. They would stay to the death rather than abandon him; accompanying him into whatever void awaited them all.
Loyal, Avon's lips lifted in the beginnings of a smile, but not very smart. For them, the irrational was the logical option. Theirs was a choice that followed a predictable pattern. One that he could trust.
There was serious danger if they could be ripped from his side. They would not have done it willingly. Avon quickened his pace, stumbling as he went. It was a long way to the flight deck.
The animal crouched on its haunches, ears straining, nose lifted to the recycled air. There were people onboard. Humans. Prey. A wolfish grin curled his lips as he stood up. The gun felt good in its hands as energy surged through his body. Exultation roared in his ears. It was time to hunt.
The hungry beast padded off on noiseless feet.
Vila ran, faster than he thought his feet could carry him. Where is everyone?
A prey went past, unaware that it was being stalked. The creature crouched and its haunches bunched, ready to pounce with a sharp, unerring burst of its weapon. It sniffed the air, mouth open to taste the fear that rolled like waves from its target.
It gathered its might and…almost fell over as the other presence inside it stiffened the leg muscles unexpectedly with a shout of, No!
The creature yelped in startled complaint. The other wanted to spoil its fun. It could feel it trying to regain control. The other did not want it to kill, it was struggling…strong, like itself.
Lips peeled back as a low growl rumbled from deep in its chest. It refused to give up its hard fought freedom. Its hand tightened around the grip and took a step after the prey.
No! The leg muscles stiffened unnaturally and the creature fell to its knees. Its shoulders hunched up and it gave a deep bass howl of anger. It could feel the other was trying to do something it did not understand. The struggling was different.
No! Don't attack! It's a friend.
The creature shook its head with a modulated growl of incomprehension. It did not understand the word.
It's…part of your pack.
The creature's head tilted and it gave a short bark. Pack it understood.
Vila is one of your pack.
The creature gave a half-howl of complaint and puffed its chest out. The Vila-human smelled of fear. It did not have such members in its pack.
You're wrong. Smell again.
The creature gave a low grumble of protest, it didn't know why it was listening to the other's voice but it sniffed tentatively. Fear. It growled. But something else. The creature's nose twitched. The scent…the Vila-human was fighting the fear. It was trying to be brave and it was looking…for its leader. The creature gave an accepting half-growl. It would accept the Vila-human as part of its pack. But it would not have it running around scared. It was not seemly.
The creature huffed. It was the pack leader. The pack should not be afraid when it was around. It would protect and fight for the pack.
Good. Now go and see what's wrong.
It gave a guttural growl and rocked its head. It was the Alpha. No one gave it orders.
We both are. We don't have time for this, Vila's in trouble. The pack is in trouble. We need to find out what's wrong.
The creature gave an exhaled huff and went after Vila. It knew its responsibilities as pack leader; it didn't need to be told.
The beast was swift and caught up to the fleeing Vila-human. It barked out a command for it to stop. Not surprisingly enough, when faced with a wild animal hot on his heels, Vila ran even faster. He dared not look back in case it was gaining ground or to stop and think why there would be a creature onboard in the first place.
The beast growled in annoyance. How did it end up with a pack member this dense? Even if the Vila-human did not understand the language, one did not present your back to an attacker unless you wanted to die faster. Did it not understand that? The beast shook its head; it would have to do some training of the Vila-human before it could function as a useful member of its pack.
It needed the other's voice, but it could not allow it control. The beast opened its mouth and composed its tongue, lips and teeth in the appropriate shape for human communications. "Vi-la."
The Vila-human ground to a halt.
Good. It would not have to overrun it and yank it to a stop by the scruff of its neck.
Vila turned around fearfully, like a nervous animal ready to bolt. "Argus?" His eyes bulged at the nearly nude man who for some reason seemed larger than life and was staring at him with a wolf-like expression. Ready to eat him? "Why…are you dressed…or not dressed…like that?"
"Vi-la." The pack leader had more pressing matters than to answer such frivolous questions. It asked, "Why…are…you…run-ning?"
"Eh?" The creature saw that Vila was relaxing though there was still a nervous look in his eyes and also a look of confusion.
Did the Vila-human not understand its own speech?
You're stuttering. You need to give me more control.
A low negative growl rumbled in its chest.
At least let me speak to Vila. He's supposed to be on flight deck duty. Our territory might be in danger.
The creature was immediately alarmed. Enemies in its territory was unacceptable. It opened its mouth to speak again.
"Vila, what's…happened? Why aren't you…on the flight deck?"
Vila's eyes lowered. "There's a fleet out there. It's coming this way. I didn't know what to do."
Ready power filled the creature's body, its mind and senses clear and alert. The pack needed to be protected. Enemies were waiting to be vanquished. The two acted as one as a fierce growl erupted from its lips and the Argus-Wolf raced towards the flight deck.