"You're not typing that in," said Argus, putting his hand over Jenna's.
"Jenna, continue," said Avon.
Jenna lifted her hands from the keyboard. "No. I'm with Argus on this."
Jenna did not budge, but neither did she continue entering the code.
Argus said, "Avon. You can't do this to me. I mean...them."
Avon 'stared' at him, which considering he was blind, made it even more disconcerting. "The clones are dangerous. We need to ensure they can never be used by the Federation."
"I am not letting you program a self-destruct, Avon. I don't care what you say." His jaw was set in his most obstinate mode.
Avon didn't need his eyes to know the look on Argus's face. "That is why we need one."
"That's not funny."
"It wasn't meant to be."
"They're not really mutoids. You said physically, they're like me."
Sester was only half listening to their argument as his fingers traced the edge of the desk. The other half of his brain was trying to think of a way to follow his master's orders in a different way, one that did not involve killing all the Argus clones.
"They have the same conditioning," said Avon.
"You mean like mine?" His fist tightened and his despondent and anguished voice made Sester look up and say, "Not just yours."
There was a flash of anger in Argus's eyes. "I want to know what you have to do with all this."
"Should I bother denying it? It might be amusing."
Argus half-rose out of his seat. "You mean you did have something to do with it?"
"None at all, but I doubted if you would believe me."
"Can we deal with the problem at hand?" Avon's voice was a bucket of ice-cold water on their antagonism.
"Sorry." Argus sat back down.
Before Avon could demand that Sester tell them what he knew, Sester said, “The clones have your brain and your personality. It's why they had such a high failure rate.” There was an amused smile on his face. “Your stubbornness must have driven them to distraction."
The Argus-Wolf growled.
“In an attempt to counter your apparent...flaws,” this time Sester suppressed a smile, “they used the personality of a wolf to trick your mind into believing it was natural to kill.”
“Why a wolf?” asked Avon, his head was tilted slightly in thought.
“In order to fool his brain into accepting the new pattern, the matching personality had to be similar. They considered many predatory animals, but found a wolf mentality to be the most compatible. Even then, it was not that simple. They needed a creature that had as strong a mind and personality as Jack’s or his mind would never be influenced.”
“They found Brave-Heart,” said Argus. A memory trickled into his conscious mind. Familiar amber eyes. Strong and passionate. Dark grey shaggy fur. The lifted head, proud and confident.
The Wolf in his had been unusually quiet since his mate rejected him. The amber eyes opened in Argus’s head. * That is my name. * There was great sadness and loss.
* Yes. I’m sorry, Wolf. * Argus suddenly wished the Wolf could become a real one rather than being trapped in his head forever.
The Wolf sighed loudly in his head. * One must accept the truth. *
* Even if you don’t want to? *
* What one wishes does not change what is. *
It was hard to hide something when you share the same mind. * I think you’re fooling yourself. *
“Are you speaking to the Wolf?” asked Avon.
“How did you know?”
“The long pause without dialogue was a good clue. And you,” Avon pointed his finger in the direction of Sester’s voice, “were silent.”
Sester chuckled, “You must admit, it is fascinating.”
“Stop treating me like a lab experiment.” There was a snarl on Argus’s face.
Sester said, “They've also adapted the conditioning used for mutoids.”
Avon angled his head slightly towards the direction of the pods. “They believed it would overcome the flaws in his personality.”
“It’s not a flaw,” growled Argus.
“That’s one view,” said Avon.
“You must admit,” Sester glanced slyly at Argus, “it did prevent them from creating a successful...”
“Don’t say it.” The note of warning rang clear as a bell.
Sester smirked, “I was going to say, berserker.”
“True,” said Avon. “As you said, it must have been frustrating.”
“What if we don’t imprint them on anyone?” asked Jenna.
“It wouldn’t work,” said Sester. “Mutoid programming makes it an imperative to serve. If there is no one to serve, they cease to function.”
"You mean they would stand there not doing anything?" asked Argus.
"They would have no reason to."
Argus was outraged. To take human beings and reduce them to the level of inanimate objects was horrifying. His mouth tasted bitter and the acid of anger filled his stomach. In these pods, they had turned him into a tool to be used.
The trickle of memories became a stream of images and feelings as the maze of memory blocks toppled like a house of cards. His head hurt in flashes and his hands pressed against his temple. His legs felt rubbery, no longer able to hold up a weight that had become overwhelming. He sat down heavily, only vaguely aware of concerned faces and the guiding hands of Jenna and the man who was his nemesis.
Trapped in a dark place, unable to pound his anger on the sides because they had bound his hands.
Anger. Helplessness. His face wet because there was no one to hear, because there was no one to care.
Feeling empty and alone. Reaching out with his mind for something he knew was missing and not knowing what it was.
Now he knew what had been taken. "Kerr…don't do it…don't let them do it to me."
Pain. Exhaustion. His own young, screaming voice as his mind was invaded.
The companionship of a presence as angry and defiant as he was and just as afraid.
They had tried to remake him, taking away the parts they did not want and replacing it with something more useful to them, but they had never truly succeeded. The pieces of his character that made him exceptional, were the ones they could not get rid of and the ones they could not control.
The Jack that he had been felt the pain of each killing. It was Jack who could not let go of the faces of the dead, the guilt of all the things he had done and in the end, and it was Jack who had pushed him to escape.
"Kerr…I don't care what you say. I can't let you take away what little they have left. I fought too hard to escape the Federation, but if you do this, then it will be like I never did. I know it doesn't make sense." Argus brushed through the cobwebs of memories that obscured his vision and focused his eyes. He was looking down at his clenched hands resting on his lap. There was a hand on his shoulder. He lifted his head and saw Avon beside him. "Kerr?"
"It's alright, Jack." Avon voice was unfamiliarly gentle; it was the one he used with Cally. In the pain and anguish of the man who had been his friend, Avon remembered, not the visual memories of the past, but the deeper ones of a connection that had never been broken. "We will find a way."
Sester knew what he must do; interacting with these two had forced a decision. His master would not approve, but as long as the goals were met, he didn't need to know the details. Not to mention, it would take longer to convince these two of the better course of action, time they couldn't afford.
There was a yelp of pain followed by howls of anguish, magnified by muffled echoes inside prisons of metal.
Argus jumped up, dislodging Avon's hand from his shoulder. "We have to find him!"
"Who?" Avon's calm voice asked.
"The wolf, Brave-Heart. They're hurting him."
There were snarls and more yelps of pain, weakening sounds.
Argus gripped Avon's arm to steady himself as clear memories came on like a light in his head. "They did this to us before, me and the wolf. It means they haven't fully conditioned the clones yet. We have to stop them! Avon, can you break the connection? I'll find the wolf."
"I can try. Jenna…"
"I'm ready, Avon. What do you need?" she asked.
The she-wolf came towards Argus. * We will find my mate. *
* No. I need you to stay and watch the door. Keep Avon and Jenna safe. They will be too busy. *
She growled and shook her head. * I will go with you. *
* I will find Brave-Heart and bring him back to you. You have my word. We must not alert the people on the base or we will never be able to rescue him. It is easier for me to stay hidden than it will be for you. *
His eyes stopped her even more than his words. They were so much like her mate's and he was just as proud and strong. She whined but dipped her head in agreement. * I will keep your pack safe. *
* Thank you. *
Avon heard rushed feet leaving the room. "Jack…"
"He's gone, Avon." Sester watched the door, a smile playing on his lips. "Give him a moment."
Argus rushed back in. "Avon, I need a schematic of the building."
Reya, Vila and Cally stuffed tough-shelled clothing into sacks.
"It's going to be strange having all those clones of Argus running around," said Vila, jamming another pair of pants in to his bag and glancing over at the Commander.
"Yes…" said Reya as she closed up her bag and hefted it over her shoulder. She had avoided thinking about the implications of the Federation creating clones of Argus.
"Do you think they're mutoids?"
Cally was keeping her psi senses sharp to keep track of the minds on the base. Any unusual activity and she would inform the others. She said distractedly, "Avon said they are modified versions."
"Whatever that means," said Vila, as he wrapped his arms around his bag and lifted it up.
Reya checked that the corridor was clear. "Let's go."
Argus gripped the gun tightly as he flattened himself into the shadows. Two mutoids passed close but did not break stride. He waited until they rounded the corner before following them. They were going in the same direction but hopefully not the same place.
More memories filled his mind but they were not as intrusive.
The exultation of man and wolf as they stood over the bodies of their enemies.
The joy of running, testing their body.
The sweet, metallic smell of blood that made him howl.
The encouraging voice that urged him to go on when he lay in his own blood, unable to move.
The roar of the beast inside him when the lights flashed.
* You were there with me all along. *
Sester was thinking quickly. "Avon, speaking of self-destruct."
Avon turned his head abruptly towards him. "There will be no self-destruct programming."
"I wasn't talking about that. I'm his friend too, remember?"
"I wonder if you do," said Avon, his words cutting sharply.
"When I was investigating, I found a way to destroy the base."
Jenna eyed him suspiciously. Her limited experience with this manipulative man did not fill her with confidence. "You've done it already, haven't you? You were going to destroy this base with everyone in it."
"As a matter of fact, I was going to. I know how dangerous these clones are, I've had longer to study their files. The Federation cannot be allowed to use them. But I swear to you, I didn't know whom they were using. The files only contained a number, not a name."
Avon 'stared' at him and his voice was unmoved. "You suspected."
"Yes. That was why I came to investigate."
Jenna's voice was just as hard as Avon's. "Would you have killed the clones if we hadn't arrive?"
"Why don't you tell me?" Sester's tone was suddenly harsh and angry, not like him at all.
The truth was, he didn't know. The friend part of him wanted to believe that he wouldn't have, but he knew the psychostrategist was very capable of it.
Sester never had to kill a friend before. He was secretly glad the others arrived when they did and he did not have to face the test.