Avon sat next to Cally on the flight deck, listening intently to the voices, concentrating on tone and inflections as well as content. It was Cally's suggestion.
He had scoffed at the idea at first, he was only interested in facts and rarely paid attention to the wrappings of tone, inflections and language, but it was proving to be an interesting exercise. In his shadowy world, any ray of light shed into the darkness was welcome.
Cally sat beside him, her thigh pressed up gently against his, a warm presence. He wouldn't have considered it important, except that it was. Each sensation added detail to his perception of the world, like an incomplete puzzle whose pieces were falling into place.
Her presence was a peaceful wave lapping gently against the barriers of his mind.
He said, "Without access to the Thaarn's technology, it's almost impossible to reverse the process."
Argus turned to him. "Almost impossible?"
"Given enough time and resources, virtually anything is possible. The question is, is it feasible?"
Cally said, "Fortunately it only seems to have affected our ship and the Admiral's. The others were untouched."
Avon tilted his head in thought. "His machine may have had a short range. Admiral Tarkov, you said there were three other ships affected?
Tarkov's voice, when it wasn't bellowing, was a deep bass sound that lent a sense of gravity to everything he said. "Yes, three," he rumbled. "They were not as fortunate. The crews turned on each other. Many of them died." His eyes crinkled in a grimaced. "I would like to know why it was different here."
Sester sat squished against the corner of one of the couches. "I have a theory if anyone's interested." He regarded them all with a pleasant, almost self-mocking smile as he absently wondered if it was possible for Reya to sit even farther away from him without being out in the corridor.
A low rumble formed deep in Argus's chest, a combination of his own reaction and the Wolf's.
Does one have to hear this? asked the Wolf.
Argus said, "Go ahead."
The creature blew out a sigh of complaint.
Sester's lips twitched briefly in a stifled grin, which made Argus wonder if the insufferable man could hear the Wolf too.
The psychostrategist said, "You may not like what I'm about to say, Admiral."
Avon remarked, "We usually don't."
Sester chuckled. "That's true."
"Then why should I listen to you?" The Admiral's glare had flattened many lesser men, but it did not work on a psychostrategist.
"Because I am too useful to be ignored."
Vila's eyes brightened and a memory caused him to blurt out, "He's like ORAC."
Avon said, "Hardly." His sightless eyes stared at Sester. "But you should listen."
The Admiral found this very irregular. "Very well."
Sester drew his fingers casually along the upper edge of the couch as he said, "The reason why the Thaarn's machine did not have the same effect is because of the nature of the crews." He glanced up for their reaction.
Tarkov asked, "What do you mean by 'the nature of the crews'?"
After a mental sigh at the linear nature of military minds, Sester was about to say something even more cryptic when Cally said, "Yours are Federation crews."
"And that makes a difference?" asked Tarkov.
Avon said, "Federation crews have different agendas."
Vila said under his breath, and using his hand to cover up his mouth for good measure, "Yeah, like murdering innocent people."
"What was that?" Tarkov turned his considerably commanding and distinctly unimpressed attention towards the mutterer. Vila shrunk visibly into his couch.
Argus said, "What Vila is trying to say, Admiral, is Federation crews follow Federation orders and Federation rules."
The two military men locked eyes and an understanding passed between them. Tarkov's manner became less abrasive. "Of course."
Avon's eyes narrowed. It was strange how old reflexes still held true even without his sight. "Just like that?"
Argus's leg suddenly flicked out and shook itself, stamping hard on the ground. His face was mortified even as he demanded of the Wolf, Why did you do that? "Sorry, my leg cramped."
One does not like boots, complained the Wolf. One cannot move one's toes.
Reya asked immediately, "Are you alright? Is it…" She was about to ask if it was the creature in his head but she knew he was already embarrassed enough. "Do you need to go to the medical unit?"
Cally made moves to come over to examine him but Argus waved her off, "I'm alright. Just a slight twinge. Now, we were discussing…"
"It's the Wolf," said Avon.
Argus's eyes took on a wounded and long-suffering expression as he looked towards the obstinately silent ceiling for support.
Vila glanced around in alarm, "Wolf? What wolf? Wait a moment," His eyes unfocused briefly as something came to mind, "I do remember hearing animal sounds before. It could have been a wolf."
Argus said through gritted teeth, "That was me."
Cally asked in surprise as they all stared at him, "You?"
* Avon, did you know about this? *
* Yes. * Normally, Avon would have left it at that, but he found he couldn’t, not with Cally. * I didn't have time to tell you. * There was a slight flush to his next thought even though his tone was factual. * We were preoccupied. *
Cally's eyes opened up in his mind, like stars sparkling in the darkness, * Yes, we were. *
Argus coughed in discomfort. "Yes. Didn't Avon tell you?"
Cally glanced sideways at Avon as a tinge of pink coloured her cheeks, "He didn't have time." She asked quickly, "What is this wolf?"
Argus looked over the assembled group; they were all staring at him intently. Half of them already knew. How many found this highly amusing and who thought he was insane? He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Reya leaned discreetly towards him, causing their thighs to touch imperceptibly. He gave her a brief nod and faced the others squarely. "I have a wolf personality inside my head."
Cally and Vila looked at him warily and both said at the same time, "You're possessed?"
Argus's eyes sought the ceiling again as he sighed. "No. It's a wolf, not an alien."
Cally asked, "You're possessed by a wolf?" She didn't want to admit it but the idea that she, for once, was not the one with this problem, was comforting.
Trying to explain something he didn't understand himself was proving to be difficult. "It's not possession; it's just…inside me."
Cally knew what to do with possession. "Then we have to get it out."
"One wishes to stay," said the Wolf.
They all stared at him. Argus stared back. "You…heard that?"
Avon said, "It was hard not to. I take it that was the Wolf?"
Argus grimaced and he said in a tight voice, "Yes."
Sester had been watching with clinical fascination. "Can we speak to it again?"
"No!" Argus’s patience was wearing thin. If one more person mentioned ‘alien possession’, he couldn’t be held responsible for his actions.
“Then how do expect me to help?” Sester pointed out.
A low growl escaped Argus’s throat.
“Was that you, or the Wolf?”
Avon said, “It was both.”
Sester was finding this a highly enjoyable situation. “You already knew about the Wolf?”
“We worked together briefly.”
“Avon-Alpha.” The Wolf’s head dipped in a nod and its voice rumbled low in its chest. The creature's mouth opened in a smile.
Avon’s head tilted in the direction of the creature. This was strange. The creature’s affection was like a warm fire inside him. It slid past his defences and he hadn’t been aware of it. “I sent it over to deal with the Thaarn.”
Sester chuckled. “You have a guide Wolf.”
The growl became louder.
“Let me guess, that was both of you again?” Sester asked facetiously.
In the twinkling of an eye, the Wolf had leaped through the air at Sester but Reya’s quick reflexes caused her to grab his arm. The Wolf crashed to the ground with a startled yelp, immediately rolling to prevent injury. It bounced back up and turned to his mate with a look of reproach in its eyes.
“Hello, Wolf,” said Sester with a satisfied smile.