Faster. Argus urged the two black-clad mutoids. He was tempted to knock their heads together and be done with it, but they were getting close at least. They stopped before large double-doors with a wolf's head emblem that split as it opened.
* Are you ready, Wolf? *
* One is always ready. *
A snarl twisted Argus's lips as his fingers stroked the straight edge of the pistol. * Then it's time. We will make them pay for what they did to us. *
Wolf bared his teeth and a low battle growl rumbled deep in his chest.
Checking that the corridor was empty, he strode up to the door.
One. He took a deep breath, the oxygen flooding his lungs and his hand lightly gripping the pistol.
Two. He released the breath slowly and raised the gun, his mind crystal clear and body ready.
Three! He slapped the door control -- the wolf's head seemed to wink at him as it parted and let him in -- and sprang into action.
A step in…and two shots rang out! The two mutoids he was following earlier crumpled to the ground.
He rotated and spotted two more mutoids who had been leaning on a long railing looking down. With inhuman speed they drew their weapons just as Argus fired. Two more shots. Two clean kills. The black-figures fell, their guns clattering to the ground.
The smell of wolf and blood choked Argus's throat and nostrils. There was a sharp yelp of pain and a growl of anger that rumbled the walls. Argus leaned over the railing and looked down into the dim, cavernous room below.
Brave-Heart! The harried creature scrabbled across the blood-soaked metallic floor as two mutoids shouted taunts at it. They struck out with long sticks, the ends rippling with deadly orange energy. The wolf sidestepped, its flanks heaving and one of its hind legs dragging uselessly behind it. His body was scored with deep cuts, its fur matted with blood, and his ears drooped but there was still fierce anger in its eyes.
Argus/Wolf howled with anger as he leapt over the railing, his gun blazing, cutting down the two startled mutoids as they looked up. The last thing they saw was the blurred image that, in the dim lighting, looked like a nightmarish creature, half-man, and half-wolf.
Wolf bent over the bodies of the mutoids with fire in his eyes, wanting to rip their throats out.
* Wolf, they're dead! We must see to Brave-Heart. *
Wolf snarled and sneezed, annoyed yet realizing he was right. Brave-Heart was regarding him warily, his fangs still bared, and a low menacing growl rumbling deep in its chest.
The wounded wolf gave a half-growl, half-bark of query at the use of its name.
* I know you can speak into my mind. *
Suspicion clouded the wolf's eyes.
* Your mate is here. She is looking for you. Bright-Eyes. *
The wolf circled him warily, limping. * How do you know my mate? *
Warm recognition burned inside Argus, it felt as if he had found a long lost brother. "Brave-Heart, do you remember me?"
The wolf backed up. * The voices. * It shook its head, as if it were trying to shake something off. * You sound like the voices. But different. *
It must be the connection to the clones, thought Argus. He wondered. * Can you hear me? *
Brave-Heart cocked his head in interest. * You speak inside my head. *
Argus froze in astonishment. It had been a crazy chance, but there was still a connection between them. Maybe something they put in his head or something on a genetic level. * It's Jack…the first one. *
The wolf gave a short growl. It had no idea what Argus was talking about.
The memory blocks. The wolf must have them too. The memory of their past. The painful, anguished past. He was the only one who remembered it.
He directed his thoughts to the Wolf in his head. * Brave-Heart doesn't know. Maybe it's better this way, Wolf. It's early in the conditioning if they only took him recently. He never has to know the other things they did to us. *
* Agreed, * said the Wolf.
Argus switched to verbal communication with Brave-Heart. "Ignore what I said before. I was confused."
* One sounds confused. *
For a moment, Argus wasn't sure who spoke to him. The voices sounded the same in his head. He wasn't about to ask. "The people in this lab…"
Brave-Heart gave an angry growl.
"Yes, they're bad people. There are children here. One's like me but much younger. The bad people are trying to twist their minds using yours."
* Why would they do this? *
* I'm not sure, but I am trying to stop them. *
The wolf nodded gravely. * That is a good thing. I will help. *
* But you're… *
* Yes? * Brave-Heart asked, its eyes strong and resolute.
Stubborn. Proud. Brave. His heart went deep. Argus could see it clearly in the wolf's eyes. It was why he was called Brave-Heart.
It was not a weakness.
Argus bowed. "Thank you."
* An Alpha does not bow, * sniffed Brave-Heart.
Argus smiled. "Let's find your mate."
* There is one thing you must do first. * Brave-Heart looked up. High above them was a large silver sphere rotating clockwise.
The clones stood in two perfect lines, their young bodies clad only in a pair of briefs and glistening from the light green fluid of the Transforming Pods.
The door started to open. Jenna brought her pistol up, and sighed when Reya, Cally and Vila entered, large, bulging bags slung over their shoulders.
"Oh! It really is him…but younger." Vila stood, his mouth agape. "This is creepy! Look at them all."
Reya and Cally came over, dropping their bags on the ground.
"They're…just like him." Reya said with wonder.
"Younger versions," said Avon, standing up from the computer terminal.
"Jack?" asked Vila, coming right up to one, close enough to see every ridge of defined muscle. The clones had not moved. Each one was stared straight ahead, eyes dead. It made him ill seeing them like this. They were just children; no one should do this to children, or anyone.
Vila still didn't remember the Academy, only what the others told him, but the thought of Argus as a child being placed in one of these pods...made Vila want to cry for him. Jack didn't have anyone to rescue him, he had to face the Federation alone. As Vila looked at these children, their minds so innocent, only filled with what someone else gave them, he was determined the save them.
Cally touched Avon's arm. "This is their army?"
"They're trying to create more like Argus," said Reya, her anger growing.
"Better than him," said Sester, coming up to stand beside her.
“What do you mean better?” she asked brusquely, not liking what had been done.
Vila was studying the clones up close, going down the lines, trying to provoke a reaction, hoping to see something alive in their eyes. He said, “There’s something strange about them.”
“What's strange?” asked Avon, annoyed he couldn’t see the differences for himself.
"It's their eyes."
Reya looked closely at the one on the end. “They look the same. They’re just like his.” Her voice became a tad softer. She had strange feelings when looking at the young clones.
“You have to catch them in a certain light,” said Vila.
“Vila’s right,” said Sester, “They are different. It’s their wolf DNA.”
“Did you just say wolf DNA?” Vila asked, his eyes widening in alarm.
“Yes. These clones can see in the dark, just like a wolf. They’re also faster and stronger than a normal human, even more than a mutoid.”
Vila automatically thought, Werewolf! Some of his favourite holovids as a child were ones with fantastical half-human creatures like vampires and werewolves. He would imagine himself as one, something scary, with superhuman powers to fight other monsters with. "I never thought I’d see a real werewolf.”
“They’re not werewolves,” said Avon as Cally led him forward. He asked, “What percentage of wolf DNA is in their profile?”
“A small percentage. Less than one percent,” said Sester, moving over so that Avon and Cally could stand beside him.
“Psi abilities?” asked Avon.
“Yes, that was the main change. And someone’s idea of a joke...” Sester stepped up to one of the clones and peeled back a corner of its lips.
Vila gasped, “My god. I told you they were werewolves. Why doesn’t anyone believe me?”
“What do you see?” snapped Avon, who was starting to get very irritated with his disability.
“He’s got fangs, I mean not very large ones, but they look pointy.” Vila stared into the eyes of another one. “Why aren’t they moving?” He passed his hand in front of the clone’s eyes but there was no response. He snapped his fingers in its face. There was a blink but no other movement. “Well, it’s not a machine. But why are they just standing there?”
Avon said, “They haven’t received the trigger words.”
“What trigger words?”
Reya turned sharply towards him. “Avon, what are you doing?”
“Servalan must die.”
All of the clones turned towards him, their eyes alive. As one, they asked, “What would you like us to do, sir?”
Avon’s lips widened into a wolfish smile. “The bags contain clothes. You will find the appropriate clothing and put them on. You will follow the directions of the people in this room, except for...Cally point out Sester for them.” She pointed a finger at the amused man. “Are there any questions?”
In unison they answered, “No, sir.”
“Good, follow the instructions.”
In an organized fashion, the clones did as ordered.
“I don’t think I like this,” said Vila.
“When have you liked anything?” asked Avon.
“I do sometimes,” Vila said defensively. “These clones, they’re like mutoids.”
Sester said, “In programming, yes. Their minds have been conditioned to receive orders only from the person who first uses the programmed trigger phrase.”
“Shouldn’t that be Argus?” asked Vila.
Avon hadn't been this bothered by the loss of his sight in a long time. Being away from the environment of the ship, one he was intimately familiar with, made him feel useless and dependent on others. He was in very ill humour. “Would you rather they do nothing until Argus returns? Whenever that is?”
“Well, when you put it that way...”
The clones moved quickly, dumping all the clothes out and sorting the different items and passing them around. They worked silently, quickly pulling on the black-shelled, tight-fitting mutoid uniforms that moulded to their bodies
“They’re adorable,” said Jenna admiring their perfectly proportioned masculine physiques.
“They’re obedient,” said Avon, “which gives them one advantage over the original.”
Bright-Eyes stood up, her eyes alert, ears flicking with excitement.
Avon’s eyes suddenly went wide and his hands went to his head. The pack was talking to each other all at once, excited they had 'found' Brave-Heart again. Avon could hear them as a distracting roar of chattering voices.
“I can hear the wolves,” said Cally. She looked over at Avon with concern, she could feel his mind struggling to maintain control and not be overwhelmed by the voices.
* Avon, I will help you. I will teach you how to push back the voices, * said Cally.
“Argus must have disabled the jamming device,” said Avon, his hand still to his head as Cally helped him to concentrate. “Long-range psi abilities are no longer blocked.”