Argus rushed into his cabin, threw open the cupboard, pulled out the first shirt his hand touched and quickly shrugged it on.
Is it the requirement of a pack leader to wear this colour? asked the inquisitive Wolf.
Closing the fastenings, Argus grimaced at the intrusion of the imaginary creature in his head. There was no time to wonder if he was going insane. No. Why do you ask?
They are all the same colour.
Argus stared at the cupboard. I…hadn't thought about it before. He realized with shock that they were similar in style to the black uniform of his old commando days. It was amazing that Reya hadn't said anything. I used to wear clothes like these when I was in the army.
The Wolf in his head sneezed and shook its muzzle. One has memories of this army pack.
Argus had put on a pair of briefs and had been reaching for trousers when his hand paused. You do?
The Wolf shook its head vigorously. One has dark dreams. One is compelled to hunt human creatures for the safety of the pack.
Maybe I'm not going insane, thought Argus. The Wolf in my head isn't just a figment of my imagination. What am I saying…
The creature barked-laughed. One is very real.
That's what a figment of my imagination would say, said Argus.
One must ponder this.
Argus began pulling on a pair of black trousers and absently wondered if he should have more variety in his wardrobe. Did Reya have any preferences?
One's mate does not require one to be clothed.
Argus nearly choked and fell over with half a leg in his trousers. The idea of the Wolf and Reya. He shuddered.
She is one's mate, said the Wolf with an agreeable dip of its muzzle.
You mean, my mate, said Argus decisively.
Yes, one's mate.
Now, just a minute.
Does one not have responsibilities to attend to?
We're going to talk about this later, said Argus as he tightened the belt around his waist and headed back to the flight deck.
Sester had been reflecting on the nature of wolves and other strange happenings on the ship when Lt. Dain arrived on the flight deck with the Admiral. The other soldiers had been assigned by Reya to secure the ship and locate all the missing members of the crew. The Admiral sent his own men back to his flagship and stayed on to speak to Argus.
Lt. Dain spotted Sester sitting on the couches and said, "This is…"
"The name's Chuck, Admiral," said Sester good-naturedly as he stood up and extended his hand.
The Admiral shook it in a crushing grip that made Sester's lips curl up in a stiff wince-concealing smile. Tarkov asked, "You're one of the civilian members of the crew?"
"Not quite," said Sester, placing his hand behind him and trying to shake some circulation back into it.
Tarkov's eyes narrowed. He could always spot a troublemaker. "And what do you do on this ship, Chuck?"
"As little as possible if Argus had his way."
Dain said quickly, "He's a guest onboard, sir."
"Usually an unwanted one," quipped Sester.
"A guest?" the word passed over the Admiral's tongue as if was an alien concept. "Are there many onboard?"
Dain answered, "He's the only one at present, sir."
The Admiral nodded. "Good." His eyes had been roving the flight deck with a look of wonder. He stopped short of checking out the control panels and instrumentation but it was clear that he would have liked to. "This is an incredible vessel. I've heard of the Liberator of course. This is a similar ship?"
"So I understand, sir," said Dain.
"Do you know how they came by it?" asked Tarkov.
"I don't know, sir. Any details would have to be directed to the Commander," said Dain.
"Of course." Tarkov ran his fingers lightly along the ledge in front of Zen. "What I could do with a fleet of these…"
Sester had a light friendly expression on his face but his mind was studying the Admiral carefully. He slipped in casually, "You could take over the galaxy."
The Admiral turned slowly and faced him sternly. "Who are you?"
"Someone too curious for my own good," said Sester with an ingenuous smile.
There was an awkward silence as the two men stared at each other, an air of challenge between them.
Finally, Tarkov said, "Then it's a good thing that I have no designs on taking over the galaxy."
"I never thought you did," said Sester.
"Then why…" Tarkov favoured him with a hard, penetrating glare.
"I'm a troublemaker." A barest of smiles lifted the corner of his lips. "But you already knew that."
"How…" It was something Tarkov had thought, but he never voiced his impressions. "You must be another Auronar."
"It would be much less work if I were," said Sester. "But no. I'm human. At least, some people still think I am."
"I can see why you're an unwanted guest."
Sester chuckled affably. "Be glad I'm not yours."
The Admiral nodded curtly. "How do you know I have no interest in taking over the galaxy? Or at least the Federation?"
"If you did, Argus wouldn't trust you," said Sester matter-of-factly.
Tarkov looked at him squarely, trying to pin down this man who seemed to know more than he should. "He told you this?"
Sester shook his head slightly in amusement at such an idea. "I'm the last person he would trust."
"Do you always like making things more complicated than they are?"
"Have you ever considered that people often make matters less complicated than they are?"
"That's nonsense," Tarkov snorted in derision.
Argus came down the steps, his eyes glaring suspiciously at Sester who seemed far too pleased with himself.
The key pad was smooth under Avon's finger. He'd never noticed tactile sensations this strongly before he lost his sight. It was now one of the few things that kept him connected to the real world.
An undeniable fact. Atoms vibrating at difference frequencies; pulsating energies exerting force on each other.
He pressed the button.
The Thaarn was ready, his hand reaching for the control that would send a river of thought waves towards his intended victims. He glanced with eagerness at the monitors that kept track of his test subjects.
They were all…passed out? A screech of anger and frustration echoed through the would-be god's ship.
After the Thaarn calmed down to less than boiling level, he checked all of the monitors, scrolling through each of the test groups. The crew was still alive at least. But something had knocked them out.
Avon! On the screen, the blind man was feeling his way to the door.
Of the engine room.
"What is he still doing there?" The Thaarn was not pleased when people didn't do what he wanted them to do. "He should be bumbling around trying to find the flight deck!" The Thaarn had been looking forward to watching the show. It was entertaining.
The Thaarn's lips curled downwards. It was inconceivable but Avon must have managed to knock out the crew. A visual check of the engineering section revealed Avon's handiwork. The Thaarn snarled.
How had Avon done this? Blind men should be helpless. He should not be running around ruining the plans of far superior beings!
It must be luck. Or an accident.
And bad timing. Now the Thaarn would have to wait until the crew woke up before he used the thought wave. He wondered if he could do anything with the other ships. Someone should be missing the Admiral eventually. They would most likely look for him if he didn't report in. Then they'd try to revive the crew.
He should kill Avon now before the man made more of a nuisance of himself.
But not yet. Cally would be upset. Women were such sensitive creatures.
He might be able to take advantage of this situation. He was determined that Avon would not thwart his efforts.
"Cally, wake up."
Cally found her disembodied self in the engineering section, watching Avon trying to feel his way to the door. Because of the Thaarn's interference, this was virtually impossible and he was becoming increasingly frustrated.
She shook her head in anger at the Thaarn's accusations. No! I don't believe you!
The Thaarn said again, Avon killed the other members of the crew to save himself, Cally. He used poisonous gas. He didn't care who he killed - not even you - as long as it eliminated the danger to him. He is not worthy of your devotion. Do I have to show you the bodies again?
Cally fell silent. Was this a good sign?
After a long moment, she said, I want to see the bodies.
Smelling victory, the Thaarn smiled, Of course. It is hard to believe that someone we trust would betray us.
No. I want to see the bodies, for myself. In person.
This was not good. He couldn't possibly let her see the live bodies. I can't let you do that.
Then I won't believe you. This is all a trick in my mind. I know Avon would never do this. He would give his life to save mine. He would never sacrifice mine to save his own.
Nothing was turning out the way the Thaarn had planned. This was extremely aggravating.
Cally said, I challenge you to a contest.
You wish to challenge me?
You want me to be your queen. How do I know that you're fit to be emperor?
The Thaarn wasn't sure he liked where this was going.
Cally continued, I would agree to be your queen if you proved to me that you're worthy.
That's preposterous! I'm a god! No one is more fit than I am. Certainly not a puny human.
Cally said acidly, If I remember correctly, you're the one who's puny. Remember that I've seen your physical appearance. I refuse to be queen of someone who is not worthy. My heart belongs to the one who is able to succeed.
The Thaarn scoffed, A contest against a blind man whose mind is damaged? He might as well give up before he begins.
You're right, it isn't a fair contest. He will need some help.
The Thaarn sniggered. You're expecting a fair one?
I would expect nothing less.
His queen was clever but the Thaarn was even more. Very well. I will give him the one you call Argus.
So you lied to me. Avon didn't kill them.
The Thaarn blinked at being caught in his own error. You're right.
She said with angry accusation, You were trying to make me believe he would kill me to save himself!
The Thaarn never apologized to anyone. He was not about to start now. A slight misleading. Under more urgent circumstances, he would have.
I demand that since Avon does not have psi abilities, you will refrain from using yours. Avon will try to stop you using whatever means he can. You will try to stop him using your thought machine only.
The thought machine amplifies my psi abilities for broad range access.
Then only use your abilities with the thought machine.
The Thaarn realized that he had to make some concessions since he had been caught lying. He couldn’t have his queen thinking he was completely without honour. Even if it means killing him?
I suspect that you were going to kill him regardless. You cannot allow anyone with a brain like Avon's to live.
Very well, I accept this contest. If Avon wins then you and the others are free. If I win, then they all belong to me, including you.
Can I speak to Avon?
You can tell him about the contest. I will give you one minute. There was a brief pause. You can speak to him now. He will hear you.
Cally projected, * Avon. *
Avon stopped and tilted his head to listen. * Cally? *
* Yes, Avon. It's me. *
His mental voice was full of concern. * Where are you? Are you safe? *
* For the moment. I am no longer on the ship. *
His brows knitted. * Do you know where you are? *
* Avon, I don't have much time. It's the Thaarn. He's the one who is responsible for everything that's happened on the ship. *
* I had suspected someone was manipulating my mind. *
* You did? *
* It was conceivable that I could become lost on the ship, but not in the same room. That stretched credibility. *
* The Thaarn wants me to be his queen. *
* Ah. *
* He has agreed to a contest to decide on the outcome. *
* What kind of contest? *
* I'm sorry, Avon but it's one between you and him. You will try to stop him and he will try to stop you. *
* It is rather primitive. Fighting for the favour of a woman. I take it he would have killed me otherwise? *
* Yes. *
* I am somewhat at a disadvantage * Avon said dryly. * But I imagine that doesn't concern him. *
* He's agreed to suspend use of his psi abilities. *
* Charitable of him. Does he also plan to poke his eyes out for the duration? *
* He's agreed to give you Argus. *
* That may be a bit of a problem. They're all currently unconscious. I had to knock them out. *
* Avon. He tried to make me believe that you would kill me, all of us, just to save yourself. *
An angry snarl appeared on Avon's face. * I would never do that to you. *
* That's what I told him. *
Cally directed her thoughts to the Thaarn. Will you wake Argus?
I thought you didn’t want me to use my psi abilities for this contest except with the thought machine?
Just to wake Argus.
You are very demanding.
I am your queen.
The Thaarn chuckled. Very well. There was a pause as he concentrated. Done. He's awake, he said with a smile on his face that Cally, unfortunately, couldn't see. Your time with Avon has expired. Say your goodbyes.
* Avon... * her mental projection was full of warmth and love that her words could not express in such a short period of time.
Avon concentrated his own mind. His simple words were full of his regard for her. * Thank you. *
The Wolf woke and found itself looking through the eyes of the human that it shared the body with. It didn't wonder that this was a strange thing. It had learned to accept things as they came and do its best for the pack.
There was danger! It could smell the scent of it in the air long before its eyes spotted the other humans who appeared to be sleeping. The Wolf nudged the young one by the shoulder and barked sharply for it to wake up. Now was not the time for rest, the pack was in danger.
This sleep was unnatural. The young one did not wake. The Wolf gave a partial howl-whine of worry. There was no sharp smell of fresh blood or injury to its body. Was the young one ill? The Wolf lifted its head to look at the other two. It was a strange illness that could hurt more than one at the same time.
Where was the Alpha human? One needed answers to strange questions.
It padded over and nudged the others, snarling as it came upon the one it did not like. The Wolf wondered if it would be acceptable for a pack leader to nip it a little while it was asleep. This one needed to know who was Alpha.
The Wolf bared its teeth and nudged it harder. It was fast asleep. With a loud exhale, it sighed and left it alone. Lifting his head, the Wolf took a deep breath and gave the howl of danger to its pack; a loud, rolling sound that echoed throughout the ship.
Its ears pricked up for an answering response but heard none. This worried it. Huffing with resolve, the Wolf went to scout the rest of its territory for the others and kill any enemies it could find..