The Admiral's men, under the influence of the Thaarn, were convinced the ship they were docked with, was an alien-infested vessel that had to be destroyed. To that end, the dark-clad spectres of death, otherwise known as the boarding parties, were pouring through the ship, trying to remove all opposition.
Unfortunately for them, the crew of the Justice did not submit easily to being killed. Lt. Dain was getting some very hands-on experience in dealing with boarding parties. There were some fierce firefights being conducted throughout the ship.
Vila and Corinne were pinned down between two groups, one their own and one the Federation troopers. Corinne still only had her training rifle and for lack of a better weapon, was learning to, with some useful suggestions by Vila, put bruises in some very painful places.
One party made it to the lab just as the Wolf and Avon were preparing to exit.
The dark figures burst into the lab, firing as they saw Avon and Argus.
The Wolf had smelled them first before they entered. A low rumbling growl formed at the back of its throat, a menacing sound that made Avon jerk his hand back from a creature that seemed prepared to tear his arm off with its teeth.
"Argus!" he shouted in alarm just as the Wolf launched itself at the opening of the door, flying through the air, all teeth and muscle and no mercy.
By the time the troopers appeared at the door and saw them, they barely had time to register shock at the snarling man-creature and fire a startled, defensive burst with their rifles. One of the shots lanced the Wolf in the side, but its adrenaline-filled body didn't feel it. It only had one thing on its mind. Kill the enemy.
Its knife glinted in the ship's overhead lights, flashes of quick death that sliced into flesh and bone as the stunned and terrified troopers desperately tried to defend themselves from the beast that looked like a man. Some of them could have sworn later on that the nearly naked man had sprouted sharp fangs and a coat of sleek grey fur. It was an illusion of uncomprehending minds as they tried to understand this man who made the frightening sounds of a beast and moved with such terrifying precision.
Avon's mind moved as quickly as the Wolf's actions. The Thaarn must have activated his machine. Argus might be killing their own people or the Admiral's men. That would be unfortunate.
He hoped the Wolf was as responsive to him as Argus was. He shouted. "Wolf! Stop!"
Amidst the red heat of battle, the Wolf was almost oblivious to anything other than the overwhelming need to protect the pack and to kill the enemy. Its dark eyes flashed dangerously at the command to stop. It curled around and with lips peeled back, snarled at the one who would interrupt its actions. Fingers gripped the knife and turned it upwards.
Avon heard the Wolf falter. It was a dangerous animal. His ears had caught every frantic movement of the troopers as they shouted in fear and shock at the creature that was suddenly in their midst, snarling, slashing, and moving as quickly as lighting.
He hoped the pause was an indication that it was paying attention and not sizing him up for a bite. Becoming dinner was not on Avon's menu. "They are not the enemy! Stop! Don't kill them!"
The Wolf shook its head and sneezed in stress. It didn't know why it listened to this wounded Alpha but something inside made it stop and think. The fiery heat in its veins was still burning, driving it to kill, but Avon-Alpha said they weren't the enemy.
It gave a low, rising growl of query and annoyance and sneezed again.
The frantic, and moderately bright, troopers took the opportunity to run as fast as their legs could take them away from the wild animal that looked like a man.
The Wolf snarled in irritation and prepared to go after the cowardly enemy.
Avon's calm voice said, "Wolf. Don't go after them. The enemy has made them ill. That's why they're attacking."
"Arr?" the Wolf asked, understanding 'sick' but not what Avon was saying.
"We have to stop the enemy with this." Avon lifted the device in his hands. "Then they'll stop attacking us and, I suspect, each other."
The Wolf nodded and barked a partial understanding.
"Will you help me?"
The Wolf nodded again and gave a barking-growl. "Ar-gus-Al-pha trusts."
Avon gave a slight grin. "He's not very bright sometimes."
Wolf opened its mouth in a responding grin. "Av-on-Al-pha trusts."
Avon tilted his head and his sightless eyes stared hard at the Wolf. Had an imaginary creature just insulted him? Or had it made a joke? This incarnation of Argus did possess some intelligence. "Alright." He held out his empty hand. "Take me to the flight deck and try not to kill anyone."
The Wolf laughed and took Avon's arm.
The Thaarn was moderately pleased. The two crews were trying to kill each other, this was very good. Events were not unfolding as he wished, this was very bad. The crews should be fighting amongst themselves as much as they were fighting each other. Instead, the Justice crew had drawn together and were working as a team.
What kind of ship was this? The would-be god stamped its small foot in aggravation. These were humans, weren't they? Perhaps he should have checked. At least they would all kill each other and put themselves out of his misery.
His greatest source of irritation was the beast. The creature was a great disappointment. Anticipated hours of enjoyment were turning into the Avon and Wolf adventure. This was definitely not on the Thaarn's program.
There was still a ship full of trigger-happy people to get through. With all the shots being fired, surely one of them would manage to kill them, if only by accident.
The Admiral's ship was responding well. The crew there, in their paranoid delusion, was preparing to fire on the Justice.
He looked over at Cally; she was asleep again on the furs, courtesy of his abilities. It was unfortunate that changing her mind was not as easily accomplished as putting her to sleep. No matter, there would be time enough to work on her after Avon and the others were dead.
If the thought wave did not work, he still had the gravity generator. A much smaller version than his old one, but more than enough to crush both ships with its energy fields. It was a last resort but one that he would have no qualms about using.
Sester was having a very good dream. Soft, insistent lips were kissing him, tasting like sweet strawberries. He was too lazy to open his eyes to verify whom it was, but he didn't need to, he was certain it was Kirsten.
His lips parted and their warm breaths mingled as…
Suddenly she was gone and the warmth against his body was replaced by cold air.
"It's my turn."
Sester groaned as he recognized Jenna's determined voice. His eyes opened quickly, registered he was lying flat on his back on the flight deck and there were two beautiful and very serious-looking women staring down at him with great intent. This wasn't a warm, pleasant dream; it was a nightmare in the making.
"Now, ladies…" He stopped in shock as no words came after those two. Nothing witty to say, no sharp perceptions or insights. He was mentally naked again. His heart pounded and his mouth was as dry as the desert sands of Kronore.
"What are you both doing here?" Pushing back with his elbows, he got up and took a few discreet steps away from them.
Kirsten's eyes were soft and enticing and her voice tickled his ears deliciously, "Don't you know?"
Jenna was alluring and her body slinked quite effectively when she moved towards him. "Isn't it obvious?"
Sester swallowed hard. "I…uh…" Think of something brilliant to say. Unfortunately telling himself to do that, didn't necessarily mean his mind was listening. "We're on the flight deck."
Jenna offered, "We could fix that."
"That's not what I meant," said Sester. He looked around desperately for some inspiration. The viewscreen showed the Admiral's ship docked. His hand went to his sore head. Something. "Something's wrong."
Kirsten had a pained look. "Yes, there is."
Sester rubbed his head, trying to relieve some of the pressure. "What is it?"
"You have too many women in your life."
It wasn't the answer he was looking for.
Jenna suddenly grabbed him by the arm in a punishing grip; her voice was firm and insistent. "Am I still beautiful?"
Even without his mind functioning at full capacity, he could see that she needed someone to validate her. He glanced nervously at Kirsten's expectant face before answering. "I'm sure some people think you are."
Jenna squeezed tighter. "I want to know what you think."
Sester grimaced, he was certain she was cutting the circulation in his arm. Why did he always find himself in these situations? "I think…I think I'm going to get slapped by someone eventually, I might as well get it over with now. Which one of you would like to do the honours? Or will it be a group effort?"
With a despondent expression in her eyes, Jenna let go of his arm. Her hands covered her face. “I’m hideous aren’t I? I’m past my prime. No one wants me anymore, not even as a pilot. Everyone hates me on this ship.” Tears slid down her face and she sat down heavily on the couch, like someone sinking into waves of despair.
Sester reached out a hesitant hand in sympathy and sat beside her. “Everyone hates me on this ship too.”
Kirsten said softly, “I don’t.” She sat down next to him, her thighs lightly brushing alongside his.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean you,” said Sester quickly as the contact sent a jolt of energy through his body.
“And Reya doesn’t,” added Kirsten. “How many have there been?”
“You mean people who don’t hate me? I’m sure there have been a couple.”
Kirsten had the suspicious look of a woman who knew he was avoiding the question. “You know what I mean.”
He gulped and loosened a collar that seemed to be strangling him. Being a man who found women fun in many delightful ways, there had been many who didn’t hate him. “They don’t matter.”
Kirsten asked, “Are you going to say that about me when you move onto the next one?”
Jenna muttered bitterly as she lifted a tear-stained face from her hands, “He already says that about me. I never mattered to him.”
Sester was feeling like the squished filling between two slices of bread. The truth came to his lips, “I...” But he stopped.
If he told her the truth, Jenna would feel even worse. He didn't like making women cry. But if he told her a lie, then Kirsten would be hurt. He could never do that.
Sester pushed himself up, intending to escape as he did before, but both women were ready and pulled him back down.
A pained looked crossed his face. “Why don't you both just slap me now? I'd feel much better."
Avon could tell the Wolf was having a great deal of fun. His hand rested lightly on the creature's muscular shoulder as they silently proceeded through the corridors.
Occasionally, the creature would run off without a sound or warning. Avon couldn't hear anything but in the distance, there would be a short period of frantic shouting and then silence.
While the Wolf was away, Avon would continue on his own, feeling his way along until the creature come back and gently guided his hand back to its broad shoulders. It would be panting, but it wasn't the strained sound of someone engaging in physical exertions. He concluded the Wolf was laughing in enjoyment.
Avon noticed that instead of making sudden movements as other people did to indicate changes in direction, the Wolf would slowly arc in the direction it wanted them to go and Avon would naturally readjust his own steps. In a way, it gave Avon a feeling of control over his own movements. He wasn't being pushed or pulled along.
Despite himself, Avon was intrigued at being this close to a man who either was deeply into a delusion or was living an implanted personality. But it wasn't time for satisfying his scientific curiosities, he needed to understand this creature and determine what its capabilities were. Without Argus, he needed the Wolf to do what he couldn't.
After the creature returned after its next foray, Avon remarked dryly, "You like fighting."
The Wolf gave a double bark. "Fun."
"Both of you are incorrigible."
"Do you have independent memories?" he asked.
If the creature insisted on speaking wolf, they were going to have problems. "Can you speak in human language so I can understand?"
The creature huffed and formed its mouth, "Y-yes."
"Good. I need to know if you have the same knowledge as Argus."
"Grrr-arrr." The creature huffed again and formed its mouth. "N-no. Yes."
Avon's eyes narrowed. "What does that mean?"
The Wolf whine-howled as it tried to put together a complex idea. "Ar-gus-Al-pha. Fight. One."
"You're saying that when you're fighting, you're both one?"
Avon's head cocked to one side in thought. "Is he with you now when you're fighting?"
The creature gave a whining growl that rose in pitch. "Grrr-rrr."
Avon's mind sifted the possibilities. "I don't suppose you know how to operate the teleport?"
"It’s a machine that…" Avon paused. It was pointless trying to explain the teleport to the creature. That would be like trying to explain flux dynamics to Vila. Mildly amusing and a complete waste of time.
A blind man operating the teleport might produce some interesting results but none that would be useful. The only hope was to find a member of the crew.
Avon asked it, "What have you been doing with the people you find?"
"Yes, I know that. Have you been leaving them alive?"
Avon was beginning to recognize that as a yes. "Then you've been knocking them out?"
"Do you recognize the members of the crew?"
"One knows-the pack."
"Good. Leave the next one conscious."
"I need the person awake."
The Wolf nodded. "Arr."
Sester squirmed uncomfortably as Kirsten and Jenna tried to outdo each other in gaining his attention. Their hands slid slowly, suggestively up his inner thigh, sending delectably warm sensations throughout his body. His physical reactions were immediate and embarrassingly obvious.
His teeth clenched as he tried to dampen the overwhelming feelings. He couldn't believe he was saying this. "Kirsten, Jenna, ahhh…" He grabbed their hands as they moved further up towards their goal. "This may be…fun…" He groaned. His vivid dreams were coming true but this was the last thing he wanted now. "But we can't."
He looked carefully into their feverish eyes. "I can't believe I just said that."
Jenna drew back her hand and he let go. "I can't either."
"It's not that you're not a beautiful woman, Jenna."
"You're just humouring me." She sat back dejected.
"You're an impressive woman. I have studied your file. You were fighting the Federation in your own way, long before you met Blake. And quite successfully."
"In the past."
"No. You're wrong. You succeeded in capturing Avon and setting up a complex scheme."
"I wouldn't call that a success," she said bitterly.
"You made a mistake but it doesn't diminish your achievements."
"Fortunately for Avon. But you were one person against some very formidable opposition. You did very well under the circumstances otherwise I wouldn't have chosen to play with you."
"You mean, toyed with me."
"No." Sester shook his head. "I don't find many people worth playing with. They don't have the intelligence."
Kirsten squeezed his hand slightly. Sester didn't look at her but a shadow of a smile made the corner of his lips quiver imperceptibly.
The three on the couch heard a sudden rush of feet. By the time they turned to see what the commotion was, Argus had pushed the two women aside and was straddling Sester with his knife pressed up against his throat.
Sester froze in momentary shock and then an amused smile formed on his lips. "Not you too?"