Cally barely had time to throw a blanket over Avon's naked body, hastily readjusting the thong that had been…well, she made sure it covered the relevant bits now. She wrapped a large robe around herself, Avon's was the only one at hand, just ahead of the door chime.
The medical personnel must have flown through the corridors. They rushed in breathlessly and quickly examined Avon's inert form, his chest barely moving. There were no comments, only a few raised eyebrows when they stripped off the blanket and saw what was underneath.
Portable instruments were passed over his body, beeping sounds emanating from them with distressing regularity. Three doctors worked on him, blocking Cally's view.
"He's very hot to the touch," Cally said. "Even more than before."
Too hot, her mind had screamed. Why hadn't I noticed?
They'd been too caught up in their mutual desires, the heat of their sexual energy masking troubling symptoms in Avon's body. He had acted odd, but that was normal for Avon in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation. His face had been slightly pink, an indication of the rise of temperature ever since he started injecting himself with the altered Shade antidote.
It had been frustrating for him, for all of them, when there was no sign the antidote was having any positive effect. And now, it seemed to be having a negative one.
Cally nervously squeezed the ribbed edge of the sky-blue robe. Mental touches of Avon's mind only met a wall of confusion.
Dr. Sun's almond eyes gazed up at her and he nodded thoughtfully. His soft, confident voice was reassuring. "These are good signs."
"You were expecting this? Why wasn't I told?" Her anxious voice a little harsher than normal.
"I'm sorry. We informed Avon. We thought he would…" He glanced down at the unconscious man and sighed.
"He didn't tell me." Cally leaned back against the table, her knees feeling weak.
Sharing of information was a constant battle between the two of them. Not that she hadn't done the same thing to him in the past, something she regretted. It had seemed justified then; at least Blake had convinced her it was.
Avon didn't have a habit of sharing information, and even less of sharing information about himself. It was the habit of a lifetime, not easily broken though he was trying with her.
Obviously, it required much more effort.
Did he not want to worry me? Or didn't he know how to tell me?
"What," there was a lump in her throat and the question had to be squeezed past fearful lips, "What does this mean?"
"Avon identified there were two possible outcomes of using the altered antidote and I concurred. One. That it would have an adverse effect and speed up the progression of the poison. The other was a full recovery."
"Doctor…which one is it?"
His kind eyes gave her no clue, she suspected he would look like that even if he were about to tell her Avon was going to die.
"He is going to make a full recovery."
Cally fell back and sat heavily on the chair beside the table, afraid to believe her ears. "He's…going to be fine?"
"It will take a few more days but the antidote is destroying the poison and reversing the damage to his body. A sudden, rapid rise in metabolic activity triggered the final elements of the anti-serum and it became fully active. We will include this in future treatment instructions when the antidote is ready for mass production."
"With some modifications," Avon's suggested in a thready voice as he struggled to sit up. A thin sheen of sweat coated his brow. His body stiffened briefly when he felt Dr. Sun's hands on his shoulders, but he allowed the man to help.
"Avon!" Cally bounced up from the chair and came to his side as the doctor discreetly moved over to check the life readings on the scanners.
Cally asked, "How are you feeling?"
"Did I hear correctly about the antidote?" asked Avon, angling his head in her direction.
Argus rushed in like an unexpected storm of concern, a bare chested one. Reya entered a few steps behind, dressed in a tasteful silky white robe, tightly cinched at the waist with a soft belt. "How is…" The trouser-clad man skidded to a halt when he saw the object of his worries sitting up. He stared and his eyes blinked when he saw the leather thong. 'Avon! You're up!"
"What happened?" He entered the rest of the way, stopping at the foot of the bed. "They said you collapsed."
"A momentary condition," said Avon, his impassive voice perfect for dismissing topics he would rather not discuss, such as his annoyingly weakened physical condition.
"Yes, but you were momentarily unconscious." Argus sought Cally's eyes for information.
"He's fine, Argus. It's good news. The antidote is working."
Sester ran in, wearing only a towel tied around his waist and a determined, challenging smile. Kirsten followed him in, with all her clothes on and a smirk on her face. They both stared when they saw Avon and the leather thong he was barely wearing. There was a thoughtful look in Kirsten's eyes.
"We heard Avon collapsed," said Sester.
With annoyance, Avon realized the door to his cabin must have been left open. It was getting crowded.
Argus's lips thinned when he saw the Sester in a towel. "Avon's fine. Are you?" he asked, his voice indicating he thought the psychostrategist must have lost his mind.
"Well, I don't have a wolf inside my head, if that's what you mean," Sester's white toothed smile was aggressive, in a stepping on toes sort of way.
The Wolf inside Argus growled as his human counterpart demanded to know, "Why are you in a towel?"
Kirsten was watching Sester's face intently. The man was squirming on the inside; she just knew it. "He couldn't find his clothes," she said innocently.
Sester had a pained look on his face, just short of a wince. "Can someone tell us how Avon is? That's why we're here."
An annoyed look darkened Avon's brow. Being unable to see was becoming extremely irritating. * Cally, what is going on? *
She explained as Avon's frown became a scowl. He refused to picture the scene but his imagination wasn't cooperating.
Dr. Sun straightened up from examining the life scanners. "You can all be assured, Avon is going to have a full…"
Vila and Corinne entered side-by-side in matching light brown terry cloth robes, with an embroidered Justice over the left breast. They stopped at the entrance, with startled looks on their faces. "Did we miss a memo?" asked Vila as they entered slowly, their eyes seeking out Avon to assure themselves he was fine and staring hard at the sight of him in the leather thong. There was a curious look on Corinne's face and her lips pursed in thought.
"You read memos?" asked Avon automatically.
Vila eyed the three nearly naked men with a twinkle of laughter in his eyes. "I'm glad I didn't read this one. Why is everyone naked?"
"I'm not naked!" Argus and Sester shouted together in outraged unison, and then glared at each other. Sester clutched the towel that was threatening to slide down.
Avon, acutely aware of the light brush of air against his thong-clad body, said quickly, * Cally, a blanket. *
* Sorry, Avon. I should have thought of that. * She drew a blanket over his lower body. * But I must admit to liking this thong. You look very... * There was something about Avon and leather that made a good combination. Cally gave him a projected wink, causing him to send a mental scowl, and then a moment later, a wry smile.
* Perhaps, later, in private... *
"You're not the Wolf, are you?" Vila asked their half-naked and obviously fearless leader.
"I can be naked and not be the Wolf!" Argus groaned and clapped his hand to his head. It was starting to feel headachy. "I can't believe I just said that."
"This time, it wasn't to the Commander," said Avon dryly. "I would not call that an improvement."
Vila turned to Sester. "Why are you naked?"
"I'm wearing a towel."
"Can someone tell us how Avon is?" Sester asked loudly.
There was a faint sneer on Argus's face, "You sound desperate."
"He does," said Avon.
Sester asked, "Why are you wearing a thong?"
Avon's sightless eyes narrowed in a clear message; step off this precipice if you dare.
"We want to hear how Avon is," said Vila, trying to defuse the situation. "The suspense is killing us."
Dr. Sun, his eyes sweeping the group to make sure they were ready to hear his news, said, "The antidote appears to be working. It is neutralizing the poison. Avon should make a full recovery in a few days."
"That's wonderful!" beamed Corinne.
There was a huge grin on Vila's face and relieved looks all around.
Reya asked, "I thought the antidote wasn't having an effect before. What changed?"
There was a second of awkward silence before Sun repeated what he said to Avon and Cally earlier.
"Oh." Vila's eyes went wide and everyone's gaze went to Avon's covered groin. "Well, if that was the cure, I would have suggested the thong earlier."
Avon greeted this with a stony expression.
Vila watched the clones climbing the vertical maze extending from the floor to the ceiling. "Oscar, watch out!" The boy had thrust off and caught a higher rung deftly, his powerful body easily manoeuvring the ropes.
Shaking his head, Vila told himself not to worry. The ropes looked dangerous hanging so high up but the clones were as agile and sure as monkeys swinging through the trees. Though even with the crash mats lining the floors beneath the ropes, he was sure it would hurt if they fell.
The boys loved physically challenging activities, anything that used the information that had been conditioned into them, though he drew the line at killing people and bloodshed was out of the question. He had the soldiers set up this jungle gym for them.
His chronometer beeped at him, reminding him there was another purpose. He sighed and brought the whistle up, blowing strident call. Twenty-four boys instantly dropped to the ground and lined up in two rows in front of him, their faces impassive, not even breaking a sweat. Well, they hadn’t been on it more than five minutes, had they? Just enough to get a taste.
Vila hoped this would work. Give them a little incentive, Sester had suggested, something they’d like.
The lead clone stepped forward. “Sir.”
“What did I tell you to call me?”
There was indecision in the boy’s eyes, a moment when his orders conflicted with his programming, but it was brief. These clones were intelligent and adaptable. “Vila, sir.”
“It’s my name.”
“Yes, sir, Vila.”
Vila sighed; it was one step forward, and a hop to the right. “All right. Did you like the jungle gym?” He waved his hands, indicating the rope maze.
“It was adequate for physical exercise, sir, Vila.”
“But did you like it?”
“It was...” The boy’s eyes tightened, as he tried, hopefully not in vain, to process another request to access his emotions.
Afraid the boy was going to go through all that strain just to say it was adequate again, he tried something else. “What if I told you that was it for today? You didn’t seem to have any fun so I’m going to have the soldiers take this down. But I won’t if you don’t want me to.”
The boys all turned to look at the ropes. Oscar said, “That would be an inefficient use of effort, sir. This is a good physical training tool.”
“There are other good training exercises, but we’ll only keep this one if you find it fun. Remember how you felt when you were on the ropes? Didn’t it feel good?”
The clones exchanged glances. Vila was sure they were talking to each other.
Oscar looked with longing toward the jungle gym.
“It...” He reached for words like a man trying to describe an alien landscape. “...was a good sensation.”
Vila leaned forward excitedly. “It felt good?”
The clone said solemnly, “It did.”
“Then you had fun?”
“We fulfilled the mission objective.”
Vila grinned. “You can say it, it won't hurt you. You’re not Avon.”
There were puzzled looks.
“Forget that last bit,” Vila chuckled. “You fulfilled the mission objective, so you had fun?”
“Yes, sir, Vila.” Oscar’s young face strained and his lips formed unfamiliar words. “We...had fun.”
“See? That wasn’t so hard. You can smile too.” At the blank faces, Vila said, “Well, maybe that’ll be the mission objective tomorrow.”
“Can...” Oscar started and then stopped, uncertain.
Vila almost jumped forward and hugged him, except the boy might think he was being attacked. He said warmly, “Go on, you have something you want?”
Oscar took a deep breath, just as Argus would when he was about to do something difficult. "Can we keep the jungle gym now, Vila, sir?”
“Yes, you can,” Vila beamed at him. “Go ahead now. You have a couple more hours before your next session.”
The corners of Oscar’s mouth twitched for a second but there was no smile, only a look of gratitude in the boy’s eyes. “Thank you...Vila.”