Sester leaned back in his seat. The flight couch moulded to his contours and with the dim lighting of the observer craft, it was almost like being in an artificial womb. He absently drew his fingers along the edge of the flight panel, the slightly bumpy texture keeping him anchored even as his mind drifted in thought. One of these days, it may never come back. Sester sighed. He was in a peculiar mood, even more than usual.
What would it be like to be a disembodied intelligence? Not that he would consider it seriously. There were some advantages to having a corporeal form, despite the few minor irritations. And Kirsten might object. A grin played at the corners of his mouth. There were distinct advantages, not to mention quite a few pleasures he was unwilling to give up.
The last few days had been unexpected. Without his mind and his skills as a psychostrategist, he had been useless, unable to help with the Thaarn. He should have been able to provide a ready strategy to defeat the Thaarn, faster than the others.
Instead, he had been frozen in fear and panic and had run from Kirsten, Jenna and, he grimaced at what had happened with Reya. What almost happened.
The cushioning chair felt claustrophobic, trapping him in its confines. He had been making great strides in regaining his mental prowess and abilities but it wasn't enough. The sharpness that characterized him was missing and he suspected the unreasoning panic was still lurking. This would never do.
The computer reported, "Connections established."
Sester straightened up, his heart beating just a little faster. "Put it onscreen, computer."
There was a timeless quality about Guildmaster Venner. In his official black and silver colours, dark hair streaked with white and deep penetrating eyes, he was the unchangeable and commanding spirit of the Guild. "Charles."
Sester's throat was a bit too dry for his liking and he fought back the need to wet his dry lips. "Master."
Being without a fully functional mind was like being back in the punishment chamber, naked and vulnerable to his master's will. Panic gripped him but he refused to let it appear on his face. He couldn't face Venner like this, but it was because he couldn't, that he had to. The Guildmaster was the only one who could help him. This man had given him his identity.
Venner asked, "Do you have something to report?"
"Something's happened, sir."
After arranging for the care of his crew, and having his shoulder popped back into place, Argus, against the protests of the doctors, nipped back to his cabin to put on some clothes. He stretched his shoulder tentatively, wincing as it seemed to complain at his precipitous exit from the medical unit, and opened the wardrobe. Perhaps a lighter grey shirt.
Does it matter? asked the Wolf. The coverings do not look different.
It's a lighter shade.
It does not look very different. Wolf sounded grumpy.
Argus wondered if he was imagining the Wolf's attitude as he removed the shirt from the rack and shrugged it on carefully. His skin cringed and itched the moment it touched his flesh but he continued, resolutely determined to be fully clothed. The metal clasps snapped shut as he fastened them. Suddenly, he shivered and began to scratch all over. It was unbearable. Argus's eyes widened. Wolf! It's not that bad. Stop exaggerating.
The Wolf humphed and the itching eased to a light annoying sensation. The coverings itch.
You'll have to get used to it. I'm not going out naked again.
One was not naked.
Nearly naked is just as bad.
One's mate did not appear to think so.
Reya-mate, said the Wolf with an air of pride and affection, and a host of other feelings that made Argus very uncomfortable.
He shoved a leg into a pair of trousers. She's my mate.
Yes, one's mate, agreed the Wolf. Can one wear only the top covering?
The Wolf exhaled sharply with displeasure. One does not understand why coverings are necessary.
It's a human custom.
It is a silly custom.
Well, as long as this is my body, we will follow the customs no matter how silly you think they are.
The Wolf harrumphed.
Argus completed his ensemble with a belt, cinching it tightly.
Must one squeeze one's tummy?
It's a belt, said Argus.
What is its purpose?
It holds my trousers up.
The Wolf tilted its head in puzzlement. The lower coverings were not falling down.
No, they weren't but… The Wolf was right. Why did people wear belts when they weren't required to hold trousers up? Argus had no idea. He sighed. It's another silly custom.
One would like to wear the colour blue.
Argus rolled his eyes to the ceiling and wondered if prayer would work even though it had been outlawed long ago in the Federation, along with all other religious expressions. Let me guess, you want me to find some blue clothes?
Reya-mate likes blue.
How did you…
At that moment, the door to the cabin slid open with a swish and Reya entered.
The Wolf's mouth opened with pleasure and its body reacted instantly to her presence. It swept her up in its arms and began kissing her with great fervour.
Reya was startled for a moment as she felt his clear intentions pressed up against her. His enthusiasm was infectious and her own body was responding. She began to share the kiss.
"Stop that!" Argus shouted, pushing Reya away from him.
"What's wrong?" She reached out and gently touched the injured area. "Is it your shoulder?"
He flinched away. "No. I'm sorry, Reya. It's…" How was he going to explain this? "You'd better sit down. I have something to tell you." He pulled over two seats, the cushioned pads sliding noiselessly across the floor.
Reya sat down and regarded him curiously. "What's this all about?"
He took the seat next to her and took a deep breath to steady himself for a gargantuan task. "I have a wolf inside me."
"You ate…a wolf?" she asked as she reached for his forehead. "Do you feel alright? Do you have a fever?"
Reya-mate is funny.
Argus grimaced and took her hand in his. "No, not a real wolf."
One is real, huffed the creature.
"When the Thaarn was playing with our minds, he brought out something inside me."
"I don't understand." She was very tempted to suggest he go to the medical unit for an examination.
Crinkles gathered between Argus's brows. How could he explain this so she wouldn't think he was as crazy as he felt? "I have another personality inside my mind. It comes across as a wolf."
Reya's words were slow and thoughtful. "You think the Thaarn is responsible for it?"
He sighed heavily. "I'm not sure. I think…" He massaged his temple as understanding dawned. "It's always been with me. It feels familiar."
Reya put her hand on his shoulder. "It's going to be alright."
His anxious eyes met hers. "How can it be, Reya? What if I'm part animal? What if becomes worse and I grow fangs or…" He shivered. "A coat of fur?"
One would like that, said the Wolf. Then one would not need itchy coverings.
"My feelings for you will never change." Reya brushed her fingers through his hair. "Not matter what happens. I think…you must be human. If you weren't, the Tellarans would've noticed when they did their exams."
"But what if it's just coming out now? What if the Thaarn's machine brought out the animal parts of me that were dormant?"
"Let's go to the medical unit."
The medical unit was back to full staff as the various personnel filtered back to their duties.
Dr. Sun tapped an index finger on his pursed lips as he read the results of Argus's exam. "Genetically, you are undoubtedly human."
Argus slid from the bio-bed and let out a loud sigh. "That's a relief."
"But there is something different."
Argus winced. Just when things were looking up, someone had to dump a load of rain. "Different how?"
"Your genetic profile is similar to Avon's."
There were confused looks. Argus asked, "You mean, Avon and I are related?"
Sun shook his head. "No. You both have superior genetic material. You are predisposed to excellence."
"You mean…" Argus leaned back against the bed. "…I was created?"
"It's hard to tell without more sophisticated equipment. It is possible you are the end result of a eugenics program. Coupled with some genetic manipulation."
Reya had been looking over Sun's shoulder at the examination results. "Avon was part of a eugenics program."
"Then it is likely they were part of the same program."
"Can you tell anything about the wolf personality?" asked Reya.
"For that, we will need psych specialists. Unfortunately, none of us are. We would have to go back to Tellar."
Argus grimaced and his face had paled. "You mean I might be crazy?"
"No. We need to understand how this alternate personality developed. If, as you say, it predates the interference of the Thaarn, then the most logical conclusion would be that it was something done by the Federation."
Sun glanced at him with an uncertain look on his face. "There is a psych specialist onboard."
Reya had been watching Argus worriedly but she turned the doctor, "Who?"
After several hours with the Guildmaster, Sester was feeling his old self again.
Venner said, "This experience has been useful."
Sester nodded his head slightly, a shadow of a smile on his lips. "For both of us."
"Do you have anything to report?"
"You wanted me to inform you when I found one of Argus's military contacts."
Venner's eyebrows raised a little. "You've found one?"
"Admiral Tarkov is here."
The Guildmaster's lips curled in a pleased but chilling smile.