"We will begin with the tertiary sequencing today." Avon felt for the arms of the hover chair in front of the computer terminal, and lowered himself into it.
"Finally!" said Jenna as she let go of his arm and took up her own seat. She'd found a thicker padded one today. She needed it for the long hours Avon insisted on working. The man was a slave driver. It didn't matter that he worked even longer hours than she did. The man wasn't human, what did he care?
"Such enthusiasm." Avon's voice contained a sneer, even if his face didn't.
"Let's get on with it." She slid the old keyboard over and positioned her piping hot coffee next to it.
Avon sniffed slightly, savouring the rich odour. He was more appreciative of smells since he lost his sight, they added a level of detail he craved. There was time enough later to have Jenna bring one from the food dispensers. A task she would find demeaning no doubt.
"Use the formula we ended with yesterday."
Jenna asked with irritation, "How am I supposed to do that?"
"You don't remember." It was a flat, sarcastic comment that could have crushed diamonds.
"Not everyone's a heartless computer like you."
"As you undoubtedly define yourself as a human being, I shall choose to accept that as a compliment."
"Yes, you do that." She wished Avon could benefit from the snarl on her lips that accompanied the cynical tone, it was a work of art. Instead she jabbed the "ON" button on the simulator unit. "Well, what are we waiting for?"
Avon reached forward to the control panel in front of him. His hands immediately clenched, trying to hide the shaking of his hands. It was becoming progressively worse. He was aware of the increased rhythm of his heart, beating a staccato of warning. "Bring me coffee."
"What am I? Your personal slave?" Jenna's voice rose in the tone of the indignant.
"If the title fits." It was a struggle to keep his voice impassive.
"Why you…!" she rose from her chair, a vengeful ocean goddess rising from the stormy seas.
Avon clutched at his chest and doubled over as a stab of pain pierced his heart.
"Avon!" Anger turned to shock as Jenna's human reflexes took over and she put her arm around his shoulders.
He tried to push away the helping hands, but that only made the shaking apparent. "I don't need your help."
"Then you're not only a computer, you're an idiot." Jenna was not budging. "Why didn't you tell me it was this bad?"
"Would you have cared?" Cally's voice was a splash of icy water from the doorway. She had rushed from her cabin when she sensed Avon was in trouble. She was acutely aware of his deteriorating condition.
Jenna looked up, a glare in her eyes. "Don't you start."
"I don't need to start." Cally checked Avon's life signs. Her voice softened, "Avon, you need to go to the medical unit."
"The research…" he gasped, his words trailing off as his heart pounded in his ears.
"It'll have to wait."
"It…can't…w…" Breathing had suddenly become a monumental task.
Lt. Dain and Baxter entered the lab and rushed over to help lift Avon from his seat.
Argus raced into the medical unit so fast, everyone could feel a rush of wind as he skidded to a halt. "How is he?" he demanded when he saw Avon lying on the bio-bed.
Everyone stared at him.
"What is it?" he looked around at their puzzled faces.
"Wolf?" asked Cally hesitantly.
"I'm not the Wolf." Argus was finding it increasingly frustrating that people kept mistaking him for the Wolf. True, they were in the same body, but it was HIS body.
"You're naked." Jenna tried not to stare at his muscular physique, which stood out like a well-proportioned statue when he was angry or miffed as he was now.
Argus looked down at himself. "I am NOT naked. I have trousers on."
Cally said, "Yes, you can see why we were confused."
"I was in a hurry, you said it was an emergency. Next time, I'll take the time to put on some clothes."
"Perhaps a name tag could be useful."
They all turned to stare at Avon who had pushed himself up on his elbows.
Argus growled, "You must be fine. I'll go and put some clothes on. The sight of my naked body appears to be an eyesore."
Jenna said, "We didn't say it was an eyesore. In fact…"
"I DON'T want to hear it!"
"There is nothing wrong with my hearing," said Avon in a slightly elevated flat tone. People still insisted on raising their voices when speaking to him.
Cally asked Argus, "Why are you so irritable?"
"Is it a full moon?"
Argus whirled to glare at Sester who was leaning against the doorway. "What are you doing here?"
"I imagine for the same reason you are." He came towards them, a faintly amused look on his face.
"I don't believe you."
"Direct. And wrong, as usual."
Argus glared daggers at him as the Wolf gave him a low menacing growl.
"Now," Sester grinned with satisfaction, "that was the Wolf."
Argus took two steps, closing the distance between them in a heartbeat. He was so close, Sester could feel the heat of anger rising from his opponent and his breath, like hot flames against his face.
"You may think baiting the Wolf is amusing." Argus's voice was low and as sharp as a double-edged blade.
"It will kill you," said Avon.
Argus punctuated that statement by pulling his lips back and baring his teeth. Sester found it fascinating. The effect of that menacing act, a combination of the Wolf and Argus, made it seem as if some of his teeth were pointed and sharper, just like a real wolf. His eyes blinked. In reality, they were normal. This was interesting.
"The Wolf may kill you, but I can do far worse." Argus's voice had the effect of a blade slashing down, stopping just short of cutting his throat. The air was electric with tension that made their hair stand on end.
"Oh, I don't doubt that." Sester gave him an unconcerned smile. "But you won't. Yet."
Cally glared at him. "One of these days, you'll find the limit is much closer than you think."
"I doubt that."
Argus decided to ignore him. "Cally, how is Avon? What was the emergency?"
"The poison is no longer responding to the Shade injections."
"What? Why didn't you tell me?"
Avon explained, "I asked her not to inform you."
"But that's…Avon!" He blew out a frustrated breath. "I need to know things like that."
"Do you have the antidote?"
"Of course not! But…"
"Then there was no point in telling you."
Argus had strong objections to that logic but there were more important matters, such as the real possibility of Avon dying. "What can we do?"
"Go to Tingash."
There were shocked faces.
Jenna asked, "But isn't that the mutoid research facility?"
"I was captured there," said Argus.
"There are base elements of Shade that bear a resemblance to the blood protein nutrients used by mutoids."
"You're saying Shade has a connection to the mutoids? And the Federation might be behind it?" Argus was instantly in tactical mode.
"It's not out of the question," said Jenna.
Cally said, "Jenna's right. If the Federation is behind Shadow…"
Sester was in full analyzing mode. "It sounds logical, except for one glaring fact."
Avon nodded. "Why would the Federation be fighting itself?"
"Exactly. Though…" A cynical grin lifted the corners of his mouth. "I can think of one reason."
"It's all an act."
Everyone turned to see Vila and Corinne standing at the doorway. Vila said, "Don't you see? It's devious. Just like the Federation."
"I don’t get it," said Argus.
"That's because you're not," said Sester.
"Will someone tell me before I get a headache?" asked Argus.
Cally said, "Yes, I would like to know too."
Avon faced Argus. "The Federation fought the Terra Nostra. But they ran the Terra Nostra."
"Oh. You mean, the people behind Shade look like they're fighting the Terra Nostra, but they're both being run by the Federation?"
Jenna's face paled. "I was…working for the Federation all along?"
Argus looked down at the floor. "There's something else all of you have to know."