"I need ORAC," said Avon as Argus guided him into a chair.
Argus reacted in surprise, "But isn't ORAC…"
"Yes, I wish he was here too. We could use his expertise," said Avon with a touch of regret.
Puzzled eyes were replaced with comprehending ones. "Yes, couldn't we all. I'll…get your supply tray."
"Do that." In his lab, Avon knew the location of every item. While Argus went to locate the cabinet where he kept ORAC's parts, Avon walked over to the instrument station. The familiar tools were certainties beneath his fingers as he drew several out.
Argus carried over a large, multi-coloured tray and carefully set it down on the workbench. He was amazed as Avon moved around gathering equipment. There was no hesitation of movement and only the occasional reaching out with a hand to verify his exact location. It was almost as if Avon weren't blind in here.
With a handful of tools, Avon came back over to the table and set the items down.
"That's amazing," said Argus. "I could almost swear you could see."
"I can." Avon touched his temple. "In my head. As long as no one moves the items. Slide the tray over here."
Argus pushed the tray to Avon's side of the table and watched as Avon touched the clear covered compartments and the silvery numbers that glinted in the overhead lights. He appeared to be counting. Compartments across and down. He slid several open, drew out complicated looking pieces and set them down in front of him. "I will need you to take readings."
"Alright." Argus came over and sat next to him as Avon began working on the pieces of ORAC.
Knowing he preferred working in peace, Argus kept silent. Besides, he got the message that they shouldn't talk about ORAC. Avon didn't want the Thaarn to know what ORAC was. Argus had no idea why this was but it didn't matter.
When does one fight? asked the Wolf in his head.
We are fighting, said Argus.
The Wolf cocked its head and then looked around.
Stop moving my head, said Argus with annoyance.
One is searching for the battle.
One must be mistaken.
Avon is making a weapon to fight.
The Wolf leaned over to look at what Avon was doing.
Stop that! said Argus.
One is curious.
Well, stop moving my head.
A pack must not have two Alphas but this one is clever with its hands. One will accept him.
For some reason, the approval of the Wolf was important to Argus. I'm glad.
Avon raised his head and turned in his direction. "Are you trying to be quiet or are you talking to the wolf?"
"I'm…uh…" A flush of embarrassment reddened Argus's cheeks.
"I thought so." Avon's voice was making note of a fact. He turned his attention back to the equipment in his hands.
Argus asked worriedly, "Do you think I'm going crazy?"
Without lifting his head, Avon noted vaguely, "Frequently."
"Oh." Argus's shoulders slumped.
Avon's hands paused. "I don't think you are crazy."
"Is there a difference?"
Argus frowned. "You wouldn’t want to explain that, would you?"
The corner of Avon's mouth twitched in a near-smile. "What's happening to you must be a result of the Thaarn's machine."
Argus straightened up. "That must be it."
"Unfortunately, we don't know how it works. The wolf persona may be something implanted in your mind or it was something that was drawn from your mind."
Argus's brows knitted in thought. "I do remember a lesson about wolves when I was young. Group dynamics and social theory. I don't remember being scared of them."
"This was before the Academy?"
"Yes. Strange to remember it after all this time."
Avon shook his head slowly in thought, "It's unlikely."
"But it's the only wolf-like thing I remember from the past."
"It must be something else. An implanted persona." Avon turned on a blue energy arc and felt for the right wire.
Argus asked, "Avon, should you be using that without your eyes? You might weld something."
Finding the one he wanted, Avon applied the bright arc to it and said impassively, "That's the idea."
"I meant by mistake."
“I don’t plan to make a mistake.” He felt for the next two wires.
“I know, you’re perfect, but mistakes happen. You don’t plan them. I want to help. Not to mention, I don’t want to see you lose any fingers.”
Avon raised his head and regarded him with sightless eyes before flicking the switch on the energy welder. Wordlessly he gave it to him handle first.
He has the pride of an Alpha, remarked the Wolf.
Argus turned the welder back on. “Which ones?”
Avon felt for the two wires.
The Wolf said, One cares for him. It wasn’t a question.
Yes. He’s my friend. It’s...a special pack relationship among humans.
The Wolf wanted to understand. He is not one’s mate?
Argus asked with surprise, Why would you think that?
A mate is special to one.
No. He’s not but...
Avon said, “Stop talking to the wolf and pay attention.”
Argus looked at the two indicated wires and waited for Avon to remove his fingers. “How did you know I was talking to the Wolf?” He applied the welder. The wires turned white hot and fused together.
“Your breathing is different.”
“It is?” he asked, trying to listen.
“It’s apparent to anyone attuned to sounds.” Avon found the next wire, slid a scissor-like instrument into place and stripped it bare. “Take the frequency scanner.”
Argus turned the welder off and picked up the rectangular device. “I think he likes you but he doesn’t understand you.” Which makes two of us.
“You are talking about an imaginary creature,” said Avon, picking up another one of ORAC’s parts, this time one that had a bank of indicators, which were currently off.
“I...” Argus sighed. “...suppose I am.”
One is real, said the Wolf indignantly.
Avon felt along the ends of the indicators and inserted a wire into place. Cheerfully coloured red, blue and green lights lit up. “What’s the reading?”
Quickly turning on the scanner and pointing the sensor to the part, Argus said, “32.6 on the top row. Nil reading on the bottom.”
“Damn. This was one of the affected circuits.” He reached over to the tray and pulled out the bottom section, revealing more compartments. “I’ll have to adapt a working one.”
“ORAC isn’t going to like this,” said Argus with a grin at the idea of cannibalizing the cantankerous supercomputer. He couldn’t say he was that sorry.
“It’s fortunate he’s out of commission then,” said Avon flatly as his fingers dug into a compartment and brought out a complicated-looking cylinder.
“I wouldn't want to be here when he's back to his old self.”
"He doesn't need to know." Avon yanked out two flat discs.
"It might be fun telling him."
Avon turned his head towards Argus, his face expressionless, and then a lopsided grin crossed his face.
The work of a Federation President never seemed to end as Servalan called up the next urgent file for her perusal. Not that she minded. The advantages of having absolute power far outweighed the disadvantages of being without it.
She blinked weary eyes and leaned back in her seat. It was a comfortable chair with full back support and just the right feel of luxury with its smooth, almost living material, that was purported to give the user extra energy just sitting in it.
So far, she couldn't attest to its claims but it was restful when she leaned back into its welcoming confines. With a negligent finger, she scrolled through the contents of the file.
Central Security seemed to have 'misplaced' one of its top infiltration agents. He had been at the vanguard of a major operation to undermine the rebels.
This was annoying.
She would have to do something about that. Servalan had been biding her time since finding out some people at CS had been keeping information from her.
A covert group within the organization with unknown parallel interests.
This was highly unacceptable. She would get answers out of them soon, one way or another.
Snapping her fingers, she signalled one of her black-hooded attendants by the door to approach her exalted presence. They were here to fulfil her every whim. Most of them were nameless to her, except this one. She recognized the walk, the bend of the body, and the dry voice.
"How may I be of service, Madame President?" asked T-3 politely.
Servalan picked up a cup of tea on her desk and brought it to her lips, frowning slightly that it had become cold. Instead of drinking, she studied the mutoid on its reflective surface. A dark shape distorted by the light ripples caused by her breaths. "How do you think Argus is managing?"
"I don't understand."
"No. You wouldn't, would you? You don't know anything anymore. Don’t you find that sad?"
"I have no emotions to feel."
"Fortunately for you," said Servalan ruthlessly as she absently took a sip and spit it out in disgust. "Bring me some hot tea."
As the mutoid went to follow her orders, her mind turned to thoughts of the man who must be in great agony right now as he tried to control the unquenchable desire for aggression. His discipline should be able to keep it in check, but it would be like a war raging inside him. At least that was what she had been told.
She had been shown test subjects nearly tearing themselves apart because the pressure was too great when they were not allowed a release. And when they were, they were like ravenous animals, no longer human until the urge to kill and destroy had been sated.
No matter how much a subject did not want to kill, they always did in the end. They had no choice. From all reports, Argus had held out the longest, but in the end, he had become their best killer.
She wasn't told how it was done but she had no interest in the mechanics. He was hers now. Between Avon and Argus, she had two of the most formidable human tools in the Federation.
Servalan wondered if she could obtain the records of Argus's conditioning. She could add them to her collection of Avon's sessions at the Detention Centre. Her tongue slid over her lips in delicious anticipation.
The Wolf sniffed deeply and tilted its head. There was something wrong.
Argus carefully threaded a wire through a clear narrow tube using nothing except a magnetic probe to guide its movements. Can you stop that? This is delicate work. The wire can't touch the sides.
Not understanding a word that Argus was saying, the Wolf said, Avon-Alpha is ill.
Give me a minute, said Argus as he continued guiding the wire along until it began to meet resistance from the negative field, and slotted it into the end. He carefully removed the probe. "Whew."
He picked up another wire from the table, one of three more, put it into the next tube and used the probe to hold it in place.
Argus blinked as his vision blurred. I can't be tired. He blinked hard several times. His eyes were drawn towards Avon. Stop it, Wolf. I need my eyes.
Avon-Alpha is ill, the Wolf said firmly.
He's been ill for a long time, explained Argus. Now, can I have my eyes back? This is important.
His eyes were still targeted on Avon, who had his head down, his arms crossed over his chest, thinking. As he had been for quite a while now.
The Wolf said stubbornly for the third time and stressed, Avon-Alpha is unwell now. Can one not smell the illness?
The warning made Argus focus sharply on Avon and he saw what he didn't see before. The man's body was not only closed, it was tight, stressed. "Avon. Are you alright?"
There was no movement or answer. Argus guided the pin out and dropping it on the table, rushed over. He gently lifted Avon's head. Lines of pain stood out like grooves on a face that was slick and shiny with a sheen of sweat. Jaws were clenched tightly. Breathing was shallow and thready.
Argus put his hand on Avon's forehead. "You're burning up."
Ill, said the Wolf with concern and bent forward.
Argus jerked his head back. I am not licking Avon!
The Wolf gave a whining howl. Avon-Alpha is hot. It moved forward again.
Stop it! Humans have medicine. We are not licking him.
Argus said worriedly, "Avon, why didn't you tell me?"
Avon's head stirred slightly and gasped, "Have to…finish." He began sliding from the seat. "… save Cally." Argus grabbed him by the shoulders and laid him carefully on the ground. He felt for the pulse in his neck. The beat was racing and erratic. This was just like Rane.
"It's the Shade, isn't it? You need another shot." He stood up. "I'll go and get it." And raced out.
Avon was barely aware of Argus leaving the room. It took all of his effort to keep from screaming and clawing at the ground as desperate waves of agony swept through him. A painful craving that sent shivers through his body and pierced his brain with hot fires of need. He must have the drug; he could not do without it.
He curled in a ball, arms wrapping tightly around his drawn up knees. His body rocked in time with the pulsing fires in his body. Groans of anguished denial escape from his lips. He would not give in. He could not.
Cally reached out towards the screen. Avon!
The Thaarn, who sat on a little throne in front of the viewer, said, "He cannot hear you."
"Let me speak to him. Please. He's very ill. This contest isn't fair."
"You are the one who set the conditions and I met all of them."
"No, you didn't," accused Cally. "You promised to give him Argus."
"I kept my promise," said the Thaarn.
"You gave him the beast. It wasn't Argus."
"It is a part of him you do not recognize, but it is him."
"You tricked me."
"A slight misleading. You tricked yourself."
Cally said bitterly, "You're very good at that. But it didn’t work out the way you planned. The creature didn't kill Avon."
"A minor inconvenience. I will still win." The Thaarn waved dismissively with his small hand.
Cally's eyes widened at the casualness of his attitude. "You knew! About his illness."
"Just as you appear to have forgotten."
"I…" Cally's head bowed in anguish. "I wasn't thinking. It's my fault." She had been so absorbed in defeating the Thaarn and so confident in Avon that, at times, it was hard to remember that he was not a well man. "Don't make him pay for my mistake. At least, let me talk to him."
The Thaarn stared at her and then at the screen. "Very well. The others are about to wake soon, you can say your farewells."
Cally's heart fell. "How long does he have?"
"Not long." The Thaarn looked over at a control panel. "Thirty Earth minutes. Then I will turn on my thought machine. I have increased the intensity of it considerably. None of them should be able to resist. It should be quite interesting." He closed his eyes for a moment. "You can speak to him now."