Avon worked quickly as he made the last few connections.
Is it always this chaotic in your den? the Wolf asked conversationally as Argus ran to stop Reya from shooting the Admiral's boarding party.
I'm a little busy right now.
The Wolf huffed. One was just curious. It may be better to find a more suitable den to raise one's young.
Argus hoped that he wouldn't be stuck forever with the voice of the Wolf in his head. At least he was in control of his body again. I don't plan to raise any young here.
There was a strong harrumph in his head. One's mate may have other ideas.
As Argus neared, his sensitive ears caught the chaotic sounds of men engaged in battle. He took a deep breath and bellowed, "Reya! Stop! Ceasefire! Ceasefire!"
He rounded the corner and dove for the deck as a shot lanced the wall beside his head.
The Wolf remarked. That was unwise.
Argus lifted his head cautiously and held up both hands, palms open, in a peaceful gesture. "Stop! This is a mistake!" He got up slowly; ready to hit the deck if he saw fingers tightening around triggers.
"I have spoken to Admiral Tarkov. This is all a mistake. I'm going to ask my men to drop their weapons. I ask that you do the same."
Argus gestured for his men to lower their weapons.
Reya stood up slowly. "Are you sure about this?"
Keeping his eyes trained on the black-clad Federation soldiers, he said, "Yes. Now. Everyone."
Reya pointed her rifle to the ground, followed by the soldiers. Young Baxter had sidestepped behind the lieutenant and lowered his carefully. His ears were red.
The Federation soldiers hesitated but they slowly lowered theirs as well.
A grey-haired man stuck his head through the access hatch and spotted Argus. "Oh, good. You've sorted it out. The comms stopped working so I thought I'd better come down."
Admiral Tarkov stepped through; his eyes instantly sweeping the field, like any practiced superior inspecting the fitness of the troops. There was a disapproving look in his eyes. "I hope you have a good explanation for the appearance of your men, Commander. And yourself."
Argus swallowed hard, feeling like a junior lieutenant caught with his pants down at an inopportune moment. "We're not normally like this, sir." His eyes narrowed as he spotted the nude young soldier. "We're normally…"
The Admiral chuckled. "Clothed? Relax, Commander. This is harmless compared to the other three ships we ran across."
Reya stepped forward and asked, "The other three ships?"
Argus made the introductions. "This is my security officer, Commander Reya Reve of the Athol Territories. Lt. Dain and the others are also of Athol."
Tarkov nodded approvingly. "Athol, eh? Tough fighters."
"They are, sir. You were saying something about an invisible anomaly earlier?"
The monster groaned. "Who shot me?" it complained and groaned again.
"Vila!" Corinne's rifle was forgotten as she dropped it and ran to the blocked doorway across which Vila was now lying and moaning bitterly about his life.
She switched on the illumination controls and Vila brought his hand up to shade his eyes. "Corinne? Is that you?"
The horrified young woman knelt down beside him. "Oh, Vila! I'm so sorry!"
"You shot me? Was it something I said?"
"I thought you were a monster."
Vila said, "But I haven't been a monster in ages. Not since the third form when I played…well, never mind that. How could you think I was a monster? I haven't been treating you that badly, have I?"
Corinne wrapped her arms around him. "You've been wonderful! You're the most unmonsterly person I've ever met."
"But you shot me."
"I didn't know it was you. I thought…" Corinne proceeded to explain about her childhood terrors.
"That's terrible," Vila said in sympathy. "No wonder you wanted to kill it."
Corinne's eyes suddenly scrunched up in puzzlement. "Vila, why aren’t you dead? I shot you point blank in the middle of your chest."
Vila looked down and rubbed the big bruise he was certain was developing where he'd been shot. "You did. But I'll be fine."
"I don't understand."
"They use training rifles in here. I thought you knew that. When the rays hit something living, it just leaves a nasty bruise." Vila groaned in pain. "I think I'm going to die."
"But you just said that…"
"D'you think there's a chance Cally would give me some soma?"
"For a bruise?"
"A big bruise. You can tell her you nearly killed me. She'll believe you."
"She'd probably say you deserved it," said Corinne. "Can you get up?"
"I think I'll lie here for awhile. That ceiling is a nice colour." Vila suddenly popped up and groaned loudly as he put his hand over his chest. "Remind me never to do that again. We have to get to the flight deck, Argus might need help."
Avon's finger was poised over the button. One press and it would send the noxious gas through the ship. A low enough concentration to knock everyone out without killing them. He could not risk anything more lethal in case the crew was still onboard. In case Cally was on the ship and needed him to save her. It would give him time to think of a better solution..
Weapons fire. He withdrew his hand. So, I'm not alone.
Should he still use the gas? It would remove any immediate danger. The crew might be annoyed at being rendered unconscious but it was better than being dead. He reached towards the button again.
[Back to the beginning. When the ship ran across the anomaly. From Cally's perspective.]
"It is possible," said Dr. Sun, his almond eyes crinkling in thought. "Success with stem cell differentiation is still fairly new. Even on Tellar. But the possibilities are limitless. We've have been concentrating on critical organs such as the heart."
Cally asked, a tinge of anguish constricting her throat. "And eyes are not considered critical?"
The doctor nodded gently, "I understand your urgency, Cally. You feel Avon's pain and frustration on a level that I can't even begin to imagine. It's a terrible experience for him and for you. Technically, the loss of one's sight is not considered life threatening."
"Does that mean you're not going to do anything?" she asked, crestfallen but refusing to accept his words.
Sun touched her arm lightly and his eyes were kind. "That's not what I meant. We will try our best for him."
Without warning, the air around them glowed and then burst into light that would rival a thousand suns. Cally's hands flattened over her eyes as she tried to protect herself. But the unnatural light seared through sinew and bone right into the core of her being.
There should have been pain or screams but there was only silence. Her mind automatically reached out to Avon but the thought was never completed.
Where am I?
"I have waited for you, Cally," a disembodied voice spoke directly into her mind.
On a bed that was not her own, Cally's unconscious body moved restlessly. She'd heard this voice before. "I know you."
"We are meant to be together."
"You're the Thaarn!" Cally's head shook from side to side as she struggled to free her mind from his control.
The voice sounded pleased, "You remembered."
She had to warn Avon and the others. "I remember that you're insane. You wanted to rule the universe."
"And you were to be by my side. The queen of a thousand worlds."
"You're still insane."
The voice roared with laughter. "If wishing to rule the universe is madness, then all gods must be mad."
"You're not a god, you're just insane. And if you want me to join you, then my answer is still the same. I will have nothing from you."
"I made an error at our last meeting. You were not ready for me. You had other loyalties. You had your crewmates. You were joined to them and to one in particular."
Fear drummed in Cally's heart. Avon.
"Yes, the one called, Avon. I can see the threads that bind you. I can almost…"
In her mind, Cally had the impression of invisible hands reaching towards her.
Cally's body tightened and a groan escaped her lips at the sudden unbearable pressure in the centre of her chest. It as if someone was trying to rip her heart from her body.
"You fought for him. You refused to let the alien entity harm him even though her mind was stronger than yours. Your bond to him gave you strength. I need someone who is capable of such loyalty. Such devotion."
She shouted, "Get out of my mind!"
His 'hand' withdrew and she slumped back on the bed, her breaths staggered. She reached out with her mind and called, * Avon! There is… *
"He cannot hear you. None of them can while you are here."
"I will not give you what you want. I would rather die first!"
"But I do not want you to die. You cannot keep me out forever, Cally. Soon we will be together. We shall rule the universe together. But now, you must sleep, sleep, sleep. We will talk again soon."
"Cally, wake up."
Cally stirred on the round bed but her eyes remained shut. The return to herself was only in her mind. She demanded, "Let me go."
"I cannot do that. I'm alone. So alone. I need you, Cally."
"You cannot keep me prisoner here forever."
"Not a prisoner. A friend. Perhaps much more."
Cally's head shook. "You're dreaming."
"I know that you will never come to me if I destroy your friends. So I will show you what they truly are. I will reveal to you humanity at its worst."
"None of them could be worse than you."
"Then watch and learn daughter of Auron. These humans are not like you. Not like us."
Cally found herself as a disembodied presence, staring down at a well-built man curled up in a shower stall, his arms wrapped around himself.
* Argus! *
The Thaarn's voice sounded next to her ear. He cannot hear you.
Whimpering sounds, like those of a wounded animal were coming from Argus. His muscles were tightly defined and flexed as someone engaged in battle.
What did you do to him? Cally demanded angrily.
I want you to see your companions for what they truly are, Cally. This one has darkness inside him. A creature who would kill without a moment's hesitation. Normally he is able to hide it. I am freeing the creature so that he will no longer be able to conceal the truth of what he is.
No! Leave him alone!
It is already too late. The creature is free.
The man below threw his head back and let out a deep-chested howl of misery.