The temperature dropped to freezing as the creature glared at Sester, its fierce eyes, almost glowing, and its lips pulled back in a snarl that would send most men running from the room, not to mention, the ship.
Several blinked their eyes. They could almost swear they could see a pair of long and very functional fangs extending, but this was ridiculous of course, he was still Argus. His muscles stood out in relief, each bulge sharply defined, stretching his clothes.
Vila swallowed hard and eyed the exit nervously. He remembered scary stories told when the power went out in the Delta grids. Fictional creatures with fangs, claws and fiery eyes. Or quasi-humans who changed when the moon was full.
He looked hard for the telltale signs. Were the muscles growing? Well, that was hard to tell. They were already bulging, more than normal. And seeing him nearly naked earlier…well, that had been even more impressive than the doll he'd made for the Commander.
Was the creature going to outgrow its clothes soon? Would they split, tear, and drop to the ground like discarded rags.
Argus had been running around naked lately. Was that why?
Vila did wonder about those Delta vids. How did these creatures lose all their clothes but still manage to keep their shorts on? Argus did have those on earlier.
Was he growing fur? If he squinted, he was almost certain he could see a bit at the tip of the ears. Slightly fuzzy. Would it would be hairy all over soon?
They'd all heard the creature growl, it seemed ready to eat someone. Vila shuddered.
The Wolf said to Sester in a low rumble, "Run."
Sester's face paled slightly and then he gave a nervy grin. "You won't kill a member of the pack."
"Not kill." The creature's mouth opened in a smile that was far from its eyes. "Hunt."
Sester was like a smiling man with a death wish, except he had every confidence he would survive this encounter. His voice contained a knowing, superior tone that only Avon could match. "That's interesting. I didn't think you acknowledged me as a member of your crew."
"Argus, don't." Reya's calm, concerned voice reached through the Wolf's anger and stopped it in its tracks. He turned to look at her.
Reya's heart was racing, but not with fear for herself. She was filled with worry and was determined to help him.
Like him, there was a raw truth and beauty about this creature. Its joy was a burst of warmth and its affection like Argus’s strong but gentle arms enfolding her in his embrace.
"Careful," warned Vila.
"He won't hurt me." Reya’s confidence did not come from clever calculation, as Sester’s did. It came because she knew him and believed in him. "Argus, it's me."
Fierceness faded from its eyes, replaced by joy.
Reya asked, "Do you know who I am?"
Wolf dipped its head and its voice rumbled in warm affection. "Reya-mate."
"Yes." She reached out her hand to him. The Wolf took it in his and drew her closer.
Sester asked, "Would you like us to leave the flight deck?"
The Wolf glared daggers at him, and his teeth were bared.
Avon had refrained from commenting on the nearly domestic scene. He had to admit to a trace of curiosity about the creature but its aggressive tendencies could prove unfortunate if it killed Sester in its annoyance. "Wolf, later."
The Wolf blew out a forceful exhale. "One will hunt now."
"You can chase him as much as you wish. Later. I doubt if anyone would stop you."
Reya said, "Avon."
Avon's head tilted in her direction, a hint of a smirk playing on his lips. "Almost no one."
"Sesters are devious," said the Wolf.
Sester smiled. “I’ve become a plural now?”
There was an answering growl.
“This is highly irregular,” said the Admiral, watching the Argus/Wolf warily. “How can we fix it? How can we bring Argus back permanently?”
“Spoken like a true military man,” said Sester, “Solutions are more important that the reasons. Aren’t you the least bit curious as to the origins of this alternate personality?”
“We all know the origins. It was the result of the Thaarn’s machine.”
“I don’t think so.” Sester’s mind was fully functional now and he was coming to some interesting conclusions.
“Of course it is,” said the Admiral.
Avon asked, “You have a different theory?”
“You’re not going to like my theory.” There was a faint smile on Sester’s lips.
Avon said one word, “Wolf.”
“Rrr?” answered the creature.
“Alright, alright,” Sester held up a hand in surrender but his smile had widened. “The Thaarn’s machine only brought out what was already there.”
“That’s ridiculous!” snorted the Admiral.
Reya’s hand was still in the creature’s hand as he gazed at her with affection, and alternately glaring warningly at the amused Sester. She did not like what Sester was implying. “Are you saying the wolf was always inside him?”
“I’m sorry, Reya,” said Sester.
Cally asked, “How is this possible?”
“I can think of one possibility.”
Avon said, “The Federation.”
“This must have been done after they took him from the Academy?”
“That’s my guess.”
Vila’s face had drained of colour as he remembered Jack’s ferocious struggle before they hauled him off. “That’s...horrible.”
Avon’s voice was as cold as the deep of space. “Wolf.”
The Wolf made motions to advance on Sester but Reya held him back.
Sester said, “Avon, it wasn’t my fault.”
Avon’s words were like a sharp knife plunging deeply and twisting on its way in. “How long have you known?”
They all stared at him and then at Sester.
“I didn’t,” Sester said with all the sincerity he could muster.
“You expect us to believe that?” asked Avon.
“It happens to be the truth.” He looked around at the disbelieving faces. “Not that any of you believe me.”
Reya said accusingly, “You deliberately provoked him in order to bring the wolf out.”
Sester suppressed a wince at her tone. “I had to confirm something.”
Her voice was almost as cold as Avon’s was and she gripped the Wolf’s hand tighter. “He is not an experiment you can play your games with.”
Inclining his head, Sester said, “I know.” He noticed the Admiral had fallen silent and his eyes were hooded in thought. “Admiral, do the reasons interest you now? Or do you already know them?”
Tarkov started at Sester’s question. He seemed to squirm for a bit in discomfort, or was it guilt? “I don’t know anything about this kind of conditioning.”
Avon pounced on his word. “You admit it is a form of conditioning?”
“I’m not admitting anything.”
It was Sester’s turn. “But you’re not denying it either.”
The admiral found it unnerving to be stared down by a man who couldn’t see and another who had a faint grin on his face. Not to mention a wolf that looked like a man. “Retraining is common practice for officers in the service.”
Avon scowled. “Conditioning.”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“Explain the difference.” The sarcasm was dripping from his lips.
Sester said, “He can’t. He doesn’t know.”
The Admiral’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know...”
“I have my sources,” said Sester. “But no amount of retraining explains this.” He pointed to the Wolf, who seemed to have a permanent snarl when facing him.
Tarkov fell silent, his eyes hooded in thought again. “There were times...”
“When he acted differently?”
“I’m not...” The Admiral hesitated as he regarded the Wolf. “He wasn’t like this.”
Reya’s voice was subdued as she remembered a different Argus too. His eyes had been dark and disturbing. “Was he out of control? More aggressive?”
“He was dangerous,” said Tarkov as his mind sifted through his memories. “But I wouldn’t say out of control. Fierce. Aggressive certainly. But it only happened a few times.”
“In battle?” asked Sester.
“Yes,” The Admiral’s words were drawn out as he tried to remember. “Or on a mission.”
Sester nodded. “That confirms what we expected.”
“And that would be?”
“This personality was used to enable Argus to perform functions he would normally refuse.”
The creature was trying to understand the strange ideas when pain seemed to split its mind. Images, like a distorted kaleidoscope, flashed in its mind and faded as quickly as they came.
Argus groaned and put a hand to his head.