Wolf nuzzled Argus in concern, its furry muzzle softly rubbing against his face. It's tongue flicked out…
Argus's eyes popped open, his hand reflexively wiping his cheek. Wet. "No slobbering, Wolf. Wh…." His eyes widened. He had been expecting to see the creature standing over him, not…"Reya!" She was by his bed, her face concerned.
The comforting green walls of the medical unit greeted his searching eyes and a less comforting crowd surrounded his bed. He fell back and groaned, pressing his hand to his forehead.
"How do you feel?" asked Reya.
Argus really missed the days when it was Avon who was asked that question and not him. "Like someone is stomping on my head with metal boots."
Dr. Sun was on the other side of the bed. He asked in a gentle competent voice, "Where is the pain localized?" The doctor's fingers were cool and soothing on his fevered head.
"Are you going to give me something for it?"
"We have to understand the problem if we are to treat it. Can you tell me where the pain is?"
It felt like everywhere. He concentrated, trying to identify where it hurt the most. His hand went to his head and indicated a broad band at the top. "Here." An area at the back. "And here."
"What does that mean?"
"I'm not certain." Sun rubbed the back of his neck, his lips pursed in thought.
Avon asked with his normally impassive tone, "But you have an idea?"
"I'm not a specialist in this area," said Sun.
"You've mentioned that."
"My guess would be that the Thaarn's machine separated out the alternate personality."
"That's apparent," said Avon.
"But it's inherently a strong personality." His eyes met Argus's. "And it's been separated too long for it to be reintegrated easily."
There were puzzled faces all around. Cally asked, "Reintegrated?"
Dr. Sun continued rubbing the back of his neck. "Having two personalities inside his head is causing a great deal of mental and psychological stress. His mind is trying to resolve it by reintegrating them as they were before."
Sester had suspected some of this already from his observations on the flight deck.
Avon said, "We don't want it reintegrated. We want it removed."
Sester said, "It can't be removed."
Shocked and suspicious looks were turned towards him. He smiled and turned to Argus, "The Wolf isn't just in you, it's an integral part of who you are."
Reya's hand rested on Argus's arm. "Are you saying that he's part wolf?"
The psychostrategist shook his head. "Genetically, as the doctors have said, he is human." His fingers traced the hard end of the bed. "Federation criminotherapists are able to implant personalities and create false memories. The most successful ones are those that utilize what is already there. Using the existing building blocks of a person's character. In this case," he faced Argus, "your leadership ability, your dominant Alpha personality, your overriding instinct to protect those around you, your aggression and innate physicality, and your courage. They took these and readjusted them to build an alternate personality. One that is you, but a different you."
Argus sat up. "Why a wolf?"
"Because you have many characteristics that are suited to a wolf. Even your reaction to Reya. Wolves mate for life."
Avon said impatiently, "This is all very interesting, but why did they pick an animal? I'm assuming the reason they did all this was because of his aversion to killing? Then why not condition him to kill? Why go through this charade?"
Sester's mind was in full gear, filtering through the information in his head, deciding what to reveal and what to hold back. "Because, even with the advanced conditioning techniques at their disposal, the Federation still cannot force anyone to do something that is against their conscience."
Argus's eyes were troubled. "But I did kill. I…" His eyes closed tightly as the faces came to mind easily. "I was…" His fists clenched. He could never shut out the screams in his head or the accusing look in their eyes as the life bled from their bodies. The ghosts were never far away. His eyes opened and he looked at Sester. "Are you saying it was me all along?"
"It was the wolf."
Avon glared at him with his sightless and disturbing eyes. "Explain. Without the riddles."
Sester suppressed a grin at his tone. "You may not be able to force someone to do something against their conscience but what if you can convince someone that what they're doing is not against their conscience?"
Vila said, "That doesn't make any sense. Does it?"
"I think a demonstration is in order," said Sester. He looked around him and opened up a drawer. "What if I can convince you to kill me? Right here?" He held up an object that glinted. "Slit my throat with this surgical implement?"
It was a surgeon's knife, its sharp edge faced towards Vila.
Vila said nervously, "I can't do that."
"I give you permission to."
"But…" he looked around for help, "That would be cold-blooded murder."
Sester smiled. "And that would be against your conscience?"
"I can't let you do that."
Vila nodded emphatically, "You can't make me do it."
"That's good to know. But what if I asked you to use the flat of the blade?" He turned his wrist and showed the dull edge of the blade. "And pretend to kill me? Could you do that?"
Vila could feel Sester was up to something. He said apprehensively, "I don't know…"
"Come on, Vila. It's harmless." Sester drew the knife across his palm and held up his uninjured hand. "You see?" He held the knife out, handle first. "If it will make you feel better, why don't you test it on my hand as I did?"
Vila took it. For a moment, he stared at the blade, making sure to use the dull edge. It felt odd. There was a slight tingling sensation. On the other hand, maybe he was just nervous with all the people staring at him.
Sester held out his hand, palm up. "Like before."
Vila held out the knife, trying not to shake. It wasn't as if this was real. He wasn't going to hurt Sester.
Then why did he feel nervous? The psychostrategist was up to something. He was almost sure of it.
Positioning the knife, Vila turned his head away as he drew the blade down and across Sester's palm.
There was a collective gasp. Vila quickly looked back and nearly fainted at the line of red across Sester's palm. Blood seeped from the wound as Cally quickly got a tissue regenerator and applied it to his hand. "What did you think you were doing?"
Sester winced. "Making a point."
"I didn't know you would be crazy enough to turn on the vibroblade!"
Vila took a step back, "A vibroblade?"
Cally said, "It's used in some types of surgeries."
Sester winced as Cally tended to his wound, not too gently. He said lightly, "The only risk was having either you or the doctor stop me. But it was a low risk."
"Neither one of us thought you were insane enough to turn it on," said Cally as she checked the sealed wound.
"I suppose your opinion of me has been changed accordingly?" asked Sester with a grin. "There was no real risk of injury. At least not permanent. We are in the medical unit and I was fairly certain you wouldn’t let me bleed to death."
Vila’s face was pale. “Were you going to...” He felt weak at the knees and sat down heavily on a nearby bed.
“Don’t worry, Vila. I wasn’t about to let you anywhere near my throat.” It had been an easy manipulation. A small deception that was almost beneath him. He had far more interesting and potent psychological tools in his arsenal.
Avon said coldly, “I might.”
Sester chuckled. “Then it’s a good thing you can’t see me.”
“Play that kind of game again and I will tell Wolf that you are not one of the pack.”
They faced each other like opponents in a deadly game of chess. Everyone seemed to be holding their breaths. Even without his sight, no one doubted Avon was still a very dangerous man.
Sester said finally, “I believe you would.”
"Then you might live, but I wouldn't guarantee it."
“As I was saying,” said Sester. “If you can make people believe what they’re doing isn’t wrong, then you can make them do anything. In this case, the act of killing is natural to the wolf. It sees nothing wrong in killing for its own reasons.” He turned to Argus. “We cannot remove the Wolf. The only people who know how to do that without damaging your mind are the ones who did the programming.”
Reya squeezed Argus’s hand. “There’s nothing we can do?”
Sester’s tone softened. “If you want to avoid the problems with the reintegration, Argus will have to come to terms with having the Wolf in his head.”