The command crew convened on the flight deck to discuss what to do with the wolves and the clones.
Reya, Cally, Kirsten, Jenna and Corinne came in with armloads of clothing and dropped them on the table, some of them tumbling to the floor.
Argus looked up at them, a puzzled frown on his face. “What’s this?”
Vila picked up a pair of trousers that looked suspiciously familiar, “Are we doing laundry?”
Avon’s lips thinned in irritation, his ears straining to identify what was happening. “What are we doing?”
“Looks like laundry,” said Vila as he picked up a shirt. “Hey this is mine!”
“I hope you don’t mind, Vila,” said Corinne, her soft voice apologetic.
With a tight, and increasingly annoyed tone, Avon growled, “Tell me what’s happening.”
“We’re doing laundry, Avon.” Vila picked up a jacket from the floor, another one of his, the design a patchwork of browns, oranges and greens.
“On the flight deck?” asked Avon, as if everyone were going insane.
“No, no,” Reya began handing out short rods with various controls on the side. “The clones need clothes and there are almost none in their sizes.”
“Yes, their pants keep falling down, they’re using rope to tie them and they have to fold up the sleeves and legs,” said Corinne. She picked up a pair of trousers.
Reya handed a rod to Argus while Vila was already picking out his own clothing from the pile.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” asked Argus, looking dubiously at the rod and pointing it like a weapon.
“You sew with it,” said Reya, who was looking carefully over at what Cally was doing and trying to copy her movements.
“You don’t know how to sew?” asked Kirsten, adjusting a dial on her sewing rod and turning it on.
“I’m a soldier; I don’t do things like that.”
Reya said, “I am too, but I’m learning.”
Argus grumbled, pointed the rod the right way and grabbed a shirt from the pile. He glanced over at the suspiciously silent Avon and scowled. There was a distinctly smug smile on the man’s face.
“What do I do with this?”Argus turned the rod on and jabbed the end into a sleeve, poking a thumb-sized hole into it.
“First of all,” Cally carefully took the potentially lethal rod from his hands. “You measure off the amount of sleeve to be adjusted.”
Argus the grouch said, “Where is Sester, why isn’t he here sewing?”
“He is doing psych assessments of the clones,” said Avon.
That caused their grumpy leader to pop out of his seat. “I am not letting him anywhere near the clones. Where are they?"
Reya gave him a hard stare, “Argus, he is only doing a preliminary psych evaluation.”
“Why wasn’t I told?”
Avon twirled the black cane between his fingers, his head cocked to pick up sounds. “We knew how you would react.”
“You ordered this?” Argus fell back heavily onto the couch, bouncing Reya and Kirsten who sat next to him.
“Why? You don’t trust him any more than I do.” He gulped and looked nervously at Reya. “What I mean is...”
Her hard eyes dared him to go on.
Aware of the tension but unable to see it, Avon said, “I trust him within narrowly defined parameters. He is the only psych specialist on this ship and we need to determine the level of conditioning the clones received.”
Everyone was busy altering clothes, except Argus who was more concerned with the clones being in the clutches of his rival.
“You have an answer for everything,” grumbled Argus.
“I usually do.”
“All right, how do I do this?”
Kirsten leaned over. “You measure the sleeve and cut it like this.” She showed him the setting for the cutter. “Then you...”
As she continued demonstrating, Argus said, “Now can we get back to something more important? What are we going to do with them?”
Cally looked up from measuring a trouser leg. “I have a proposal. We can bring them to Kaarn.”
“They are conversant with psi abilities.” Avon planted the cane on the floor and rested both hands on the dragon handle. “And the secrecy of the location would provide the security required.”
“Will they do it?” asked Argus.
“I will contact them when we get closer,” said Cally as she cut the cloth.
Avon leaned on the cane as his mind considered all angles of this proposal. “The wolves can function as an additional security force.”
“They will probably agree to that in exchange for a new home,” said Argus who was sewing his first trouser leg. He applied the sewing rod to the material and carefully drew it across the cloth.
“You’ll take forever that way,” said Kirsten. “Just do this.” She took his hand and pulled it across the trouser leg with a swift motion. The material sealed immediately.
Argus stared at it. “That’s amazing.”
Holding another shirt, Vila said, “This is mine too.” He dug through the pile and pulled out a few more. “Corinne, do I have any clothes left?”
“You have a lot of clothes.”
“Well, not anymore.”
Sester made a final few notes on his datapad. The clones sat in three rows, their faces attentive.
“Do you have any questions?” he asked. Avon had left specific instructions for the clones. They would respond to him during the examination but little else.
They stared at him.
“You’re not curious about what's going to happen to you?” he asked, knowing they weren’t.
A clone in the front row middle said, “We don’t understand.”
You’re talking to each other. “Curiosity, it’s a human trait.”
“We understand curiosity. We don’t understand its relevance to our situation.”
You sound like Avon, but he has a strong sense of curiosity. “People are making decisions about your life. Does that not concern you?”
“We live to serve.”
“What if you didn’t have to serve?”
The clones looked at each other, uncertainty in their eyes. Sester noted this with satisfaction. It was the first time they displayed an emotional reaction. Of course, he was deliberately trying to provoke one.
The clone who was their spokesperson said firmly, “We serve.”
“If your only function is to serve and there is no longer anyone to serve, then what happens to you?”
Sester put the side of his index finger to his pursed lips as he studied their impassive faces. “Explain.”
“We would have no function.”
“You mean you would do nothing at all?” He leaned forward a bit.
“We would maintain physical function.”
“You would eat and sleep?”
“Maintain physical function,” said the young clone.
“So you can serve.”
“That is our function.”
There was a flicker of discomfort across Sester’s face. Federation criminotherapists from Central Clinic consulted the Guild on the finer points of conditioning. It never bothered him before but interacting this closely with the end result was disturbing. “It isn’t,” he said with more force than he intended.
The clones were watching him intently. They were always watching, listening, learning, processing information, but for what purpose if they had no purpose?
To prepare themselves to serve. He asked, “Do you know who you are?”
“I am number one.”
Sester’s eyebrows lifted in amusement. “Didn’t the others give you names?”
“Yes. We have been given other designators.”
“What is yours?”
The young clones all looked at number one and for the first time, he had a different expression on his face than the others. He was faintly unhappy and his voice was barely a low rumble. “Oscar.” Number one glared at the others, challenging them to react. They all kept carefully stony faces.
“You don’t like the name?” asked Sester, amusement tugging at the corner of his lips. He didn’t want to embarrass the boy.
“That is my designation.”
“But you don’t like it. It’s clear you don’t.”
“It has no relevance to my function,” said the boy.
“The others want you to be happy.”
The clone’s forehead creased. “My function is to be happy?”
It was progress of sorts. They were starting to think as individuals rather than as a hive mind.
“In a way. Your happiness is an indicator of your mental and psychological health.”
“We will serve more efficiently if we are happy?”
Progress of sorts, indeed. On the other hand, the possibility for mischief on his part was very high. All these young, impressionable minds.
Sester sighed. He didn’t want to hurt the young versions of Jack. Besides, he never took advantage of easy challenges; they were far too cheap for his taste. “In a manner of speaking.”
Number one looked at the others; they all nodded. “I...” The clone paused, as if this took a great effort. “...do not like the name Oscar.”
“What name would you like?”
The young clone’s forehead crinkled again. “I don’t...”
“You can think about it. Look on the computer for a list of names or ask one of the others about names. Then you can choose one you like.”
The clones all looked at each other. Sester could tell they were having a conversation.
“We would like to choose names.”
Sester looked over the sea of faces. “All of you?”
After the preliminary decisions were made, Avon retreated to the sanctuary of his lab. The others were finishing off their sewing tasks.
He tapped the side of the doorway to orient himself and stepped in confidently. A picture of the lab appeared to his mind’s eyes. Every inch of this workspace was committed to memory, unless someone dared to move something; then he would not be responsible for his actions.
Seven steps to the edge of the workbench. One, two, three...Avon sniffed. That smells like...
His next step was cautious. “Is anyone here?”
There was a whine. A wolf. Young. Not a cub.
A sneeze. * Hello, * a tentative voice said into his mind.
* What are you doing here? *
* I was curious. *
* Your curiosity led you to my lab. * He readjusted his steps to go around the young wolf and sat down on a chair, leaning the cane on the side. A soft brush of tail flicked against his leg. * You moved. *
* I’m sorry. I will go now, * the wolf said politely.
He heard padded feet and the clicking of nails as the wolf got up to leave. What should he work on next? There were so many on the list.
The door swished open to let the wolf out. * There are many interesting objects in this den. *
* Shiny no doubt, * Avon said absent-mindedly as he felt along the workbench.
* Some are shiny, * said the wolf. * It seems very advanced. *
Surprised, Avon cocked his head in the wolf’s direction. * Advanced? *
* Two-legs are clever. *
* Yes, well, some of us are. *
* Two-legs hurt the pack with clever things. *
This was a strange wolf. It had intelligence beyond that of normal wolves. A wolven perhaps? A legendary creature with the intelligence of a human.
Was it possible? A few weeks ago, he would have considered psi-enabled wolves to be a figment of Vila’s fertile imagination.
A divergent evolutionary path? He wondered how intelligent these wolves were. The one in his lab exhibited higher reasoning abilities.
Padded feet came back into the room. Avon said, * You want to understand technology so you can protect your pack. *
* The pack leader says you are very clever. I wanted to see. *
* You want to learn. *
* Yes, but...you are busy. *
* How do you know? *
* Your mind is busy. *
Avon bristled, his mental walls slamming into place. * You can read my mind. *
* No. * The wolf whined. * I can feel it busy. *
Avon felt a warm muzzle nudging his leg. He asked, * What’s your name? *
* Sharp-Eyes *