"We don't need you," grumbled Argus as Sester sat down near Avon and made himself comfortable. The amused twinkle in his eyes was particularly bright in the flight deck lights.
"You need my ship." He lightly traced the back edge of the couch as he spoke.
"Your ship, not you."
"I’m afraid the two go together."
Avon's head was cocked in his direction as he listened. He was finding it easier to recognize differences in inflections, tones and even changes in breathing patterns. As always, Sester was smooth in his replies but there was also determination. This was suspicious.
Argus was feeling increasingly out of sorts with Sester here and the fact that they needed something from him. "We could just take your ship."
"We can't," said Avon.
Argus turned to him in surprise. "Don't tell me you object to taking his ship?"
"It's not that."
"Then what?" He sounded more like a grumpy bear than a wolf today. In fact, he was deliberately trying not to sound like a wolf with Reya sitting as far from him as possible. His imagination was giving him vivid reminders of what happened the other morning and why he was still sleeping in Lt. Dain's cabin.
"Do you plan to push the ship out of the airlock with your bare hands?" Avon's voice was flat. He turned in Sester's direction. "I’m assuming your security protocol would require a week to break?"
"For you? Maybe three days."
Argus grumbled to Sester, "I'm very tempted to beat the security code out of you."
Sester only grinned at him, not a concerned bone in his body.
"There's something I don't get." Vila had been very quiet since coming back with Sester. Something was bothering him.
"What is it, Vila?" asked Argus.
"Join the club," grumbled Argus.
"No. I mean…" He turned to Sester. "You said something before."
"Nothing incriminating I hope." He was relaxed and seemed to be enjoying himself.
"I think..." His brow was furrowed in thought, "you made a mistake."
"Really? This is unprecedented."
Avon's eyes narrowed at the tone in Sester's voice.
Vila said, "When I tried to tell you it wasn't a good idea to come, you said…you were familiar with the conditions on Tingash."
Argus leapt to his feet. "How do you know about the conditions there?"
"Oh dear. I did say that, didn't I?" Sester rolled his eyes. "I knew Kirsten was going to get me into trouble."
"That's unlikely," said Avon.
"What are you thinking, Avon?" Argus asked as he eyed Sester warily.
"It's too obvious."
"You mean, he deliberately said something suspicious, so we would be suspicious of him?" He advanced on Sester and stood over him. "Why?"
"I was bored?"
Avon's brain was measuring all the angles. "You knew we would find a way to use your ship without bringing you with us."
"I must have great faith in your abilities."
"By setting yourself up, you knew we would be suspicious. Enough to bring you with us to find out why."
"You wanted to make sure we brought you with us?" Argus growled, grabbed Sester by the collar and pulled him to his feet. "Why?"
"Are you turning into the Wolf?" There was great curiosity in his voice and he seemed to be studying him, like one would with a lab animal.
"It's not going to work," Argus snarled. "You cannot manipulate me using the Wolf."
He let go and Sester fell back onto the couch with a knowing smile on his face. "You've either come to an agreement with the Wolf or you've come to terms with it."
Vila scratched his head. "Isn't that the same thing?"
"It's not," said Avon, his head was turned towards Argus now, the slight tilt of his head indicating curiosity.
"Can we not dissect me today? We still have a mission." He glared at Sester. "And you're not coming with us."
"He is," said Avon.
Argus whirled to face him. "Didn't we just establish that he's trying to manipulate himself onto this mission? Do we really want to fall into his trap?"
"We can't afford not to."
"That was far too easy." Sester sighed and looked upwards at the ceiling.
"Avon?" Argus was getting a headache. "Can we kill him now?"
"Don't make a mess."
Argus's lips pulled back, baring his teeth in a wolfish smile.
"I was the one who arranged the trap." Sester’s fingers stopped their tracing of the couch.
The flight deck was deathly quiet.
“Explain,” demanded Avon.
“The last time Argus and his rebel group went to Tingash, I was consulted to construct a trap specifically designed for him.”
“You were responsible for that?” Argus asked angrily.
“I’m afraid so.”
Reya's voice was softer than the others but it had the same hard, challenging effect. "Why are you revealing this now?"
Sester's hand went flat against the edge of the couch and he looked slowly in her direction. When their eyes met, there was a slight wince in his. "I…"
He wanted to tear his eyes away but he couldn't, she still had a powerful effect on him and unfortunately, for him, he was still committed to telling her the truth. He had to be careful. "You're right, I have an ulterior motive."
Argus loomed over him. "What motive?"
The tracing of the top edge of the couch began again. “As I said to Vila, I may be able to help. I am familiar with conditions on Tingash and the base you will be infiltrating.”
This time, it was Avon’s turn to snarl. “He’s lying. He could not have been on Tingash during that period. He was at the Special Detention Centre. With me.”
The nightmarish memories were burned into Avon's mind.
Sester drew a line along the couch before saying, “That’s true. But I never said I was on Tingash.”
“What trick is this?” asked Argus.
“I was given information of the conditions on Tingash and the base. Including files on you and your team. I devised the strategy ...” There was a slight catch in his throat but his lightly controlled tone didn't change. “...while working on Avon at the Detention Centre. I never set foot on Tingash.”
“Why should I believe you?”
Sester looked at Argus and then Avon. “Because it is very tempting to believe that I was already a thorn in your side even then.”
“It is tempting,” said Avon.
“Don’t tell me you believe him,” said Argus.
“I don’t believe in anyone.” The shadow of a smile played at the corner of his lips. “With a few rare exceptions, but I am inclined to believe the probability given the nature of the trap you faced. It bears the signature of someone with his abilities.”
Argus blew out an aggravated breath. “Alright. You’re coming with us.”
“Thank you.” Sester smiled.
“But that doesn’t mean I believe you had a fit of conscience and wanted to help.”
“I never said it was.”
Avon’s manner was also one of suspicion. “The problem remains the same.”
Argus nodded. “We need to keep him close.”
“Kirsten still has those handcuffs if that would help,” offered Sester.
Argus growled, “Don’t tempt me.”
Four mutoids carried the unconscious wolf into the lab and laid it on the examination table.
Senior researcher Dr. Devon Samuels, a grey-haired man in a standard Federation white lab coat, came over. “Any difficulties?”
The mutoid sergeant said, “No, sir. The tranquilizers were effective.” She handed the heavy jammer pack back to him.
Samuels received it in both hands and placed it on the table, a pleased look on his face. “And this must have worked as well.”
“Good. Good. You’re dismissed.”
The mutoids left without a word as the other three researchers, two men and a woman, surrounded the examination table.
“We were right then,” said Dr. Peters, a plain looking woman who always seemed to wear varying shades of green. “They use waves similar to the ones the Auronar use.”
“Don’t you mean, used?” asked Dr. Chen, a lanky man with a thin moustache.
“I don’t believe they were all killed. Some of them must have been off-planet when the plague hit.”
Dr. Inchill, a rough-looking man with a faint scar across his left cheek, drew back the wolf's lips and touched the sharp canines. "Are we sure this is the right wolf? They all look the same to me."
Samuels slid out an instrument tray and picked up a scanner with a small spherical probe. "Let's verify it then." He flicked a switch and the instrument hummed to life, the sphere rotating. It immediately began beeping in a regular pattern. "No question. It's the alpha wolf. The sub-dermal tracer is working perfectly."