Argus tugged the end of his shirt, studying his reflection in the mirror. He wriggled his shoulders and tried to pull the shirt together. It refused all efforts to meet in the middle. “There’s something wrong with this.”
Looking over, the impeccably dressed Reya, her eyebrows lifting said, “Have you gained some weight?”
“What?” He stared at himself in the mirror, rotating his body to the side. “Gaining more muscle maybe.”
“It does look tight on you.”
She came over, eyeing him critically. “It doesn’t fit and it’s short.”
“Short!” Argus stood on his toes and sunk back down. “But...”
Reya put her arms around his waist, looking at their images in the mirror. “Don’t worry; I’ll still love you...” There was an amused grin on her face as she hugged him.
“I’m going to have to do an extra session at the gym.”
“You have nothing to worry about.”
“I have to stay in shape, Reya. What if we run into something?”
“Well,” she brushed the nape of his neck, “unless I’ve become shorter too, I don’t think you have to worry. This may simply be a laundry problem.”
“Laundry?” he stared hard at the mirror, comparing their heights.
Reya went over to the wardrobe, slid another shirt off the rack, and threw it to him. “Here, put this one on.”
It was the only light blue shirt he possessed. The rest were all black or dark blue. Puzzled, Argus wondered if it meant something.
Quickly shrugging the offending shirt off, he slipped on the new one and groaned. “Not this one too.” He exhaled and forced the clasps together. “This isn’t working, Reya.”
“Another one?” She pulled more shirts off the rack, comparing them with the one he discarded. “These must have all come from the same batch. It’s a good thing the pants weren’t affected...though...” She held a pair up to the lights. “The colour seems off...and...” Deft fingers picked off a glob of yellow. “What is this?”
He came up beside her, his shirt open, showing tantalizing glimpses of his powerful body. “We’re going to have Avon look at it. I mean...fix it.”
“Yes, it could be something wrong with the programming. Though...” She smiled, slipping her hand into his shirt, rubbing the well-defined ridges of his chest. “This isn’t a bad look for you.”
There were scratching sounds and the buzzer sounded.
Argus groaned. “Now what? I’m not dressed.”
“You’re dressed enough.” She went to open the door and paused at another scratching sound. Her head angled, listening. “It’s probably one of the wolves.”
“I’m definitely not ready.” The last time, it was the young wolves and the clones coming to see if he wanted to join them in a game of catch. They seemed to like playing with him; they found him more of a challenge than the others.
“Now, now...you can’t disappoint them.”
“I have work to do,” Argus grumbled.
“I can take your shift on the flight deck and I doubt if the wolves or the clones would notice if you were only half-dressed.”
“Now behave yourself.” She reached for the door panel.
“I always do.”
“Uh huh...” Reya opened the door to two fully grown wolves standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
Bright-Eyes cocked her head at the sight of Argus. She projected, * You are not dressed. We will come back. * Her mate looked puzzled.
“Please come in,” Reya made a welcoming motion and stepped aside, directing a teasing grin at Argus, who opened his mouth to protest but backed up to make room for the large wolven.
“Yes, don’t mind me. We had... a little laundry accident.”
* Laundry, * Bright-Eyes nodded gravely, * Yes, humans have many curious customs. It must take up much time. *
Brave-Heart’s waving tail hit the table leg. * Your advanced technology must be helpful. *
The odour of wolf filled the cabin, their fresh, earthy smell a sharp contrast to the artificial, generally metallic scents on the ship that no fragrance enhancers could entirely cover.
The self-conscious Argus pulled his shirt closer together. “Is there something you wanted?”
The wolves glanced at each other and Sharp-Eyes nodded.
Brave-Heart said, * We wish to discuss where you are taking us.”
“Of course. Did you need any more information on Kaarn?” He crossed over to the wardrobe and drew out a dark grey jacket with hardened patches at the elbows. Turning his head away quickly to hide a scowl, he put the ill-fitting jacket back on the rack.
* We have enough information. Thank you. * The she-wolf dipped her grey muzzle. * It seems like a good hunting ground. *
Sensitive to the tone in the wolf’s voice, Reya asked, “You have concerns?”
The tawny-eyed wolf turned towards her. * We understand there are many planets beyond our home. *
Giving up on finding anything that would fit him, Argus squared his shoulders and turned around. “You want a choice?”
Brave-Heart nodded. * We wish to know our options in case Kaarn is not suitable for our pack. *
“There aren’t many that are as secure and as fertile.” Argus crossed his arms over his chest in a vain attempt to cover up. He didn’t know why he was so uncomfortable when he often went bare-chested in the gym.
The male wolf stood tall, every inch the Alpha and his projected voice rumbled in their minds.* We understand the danger from the Federation humans. *
Reya regarded him with curiosity, glancing from Brave-Heart to Argus, comparing them. The way they stood, full of confidence and used to being in command was very familiar, from Argus’s straight back and squared shoulders to the wolf’s raised head, and their slightly puffed out chests. It wasn’t pride in themselves, it was the innate sense of their own position and assurance in their abilities. No one messed with either one of them or those they swore to protect, without risking life or limb.
Rubbing his neck, Argus grimaced, realizing he’d made a mistake. “This is about the future of your pack. I should have consulted you first. My apologies.”
Brave-Heart fixed him with stern eyes and dipped his muzzle formally. * We are Alphas, used to giving commands. *
The Bright-Eyes huffed and projected with a slight shake of her shaggy head, * Males. *
Man and wolf stared at the she-wolf as Reya rubbed her jaw, covering up a smile.
Argus brushed his fingers through his slightly longer than brush-cut hair and there was a sheepish look on his face. “It was my fault. I should have thought of it. Reya, would you draw up a list of possible alternatives? ”
* I would like to assist, * said Bright-Eyes, lifting her paw.
Brave-Heart looked at her with a soft, affectionate glow in his eyes. * My mate is very particular about our new home. She is concerned for our young ones. *
“Of course, I would be glad of your help.” Reya nodded.
After the wolves left, Argus sighed, “I really should have thought of it.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything.”
He gave her a wry smile; the overly small shirt didn’t seem to be as much of an issue now.
The cabin buzzer sounded again.
Argus groaned, “Who is it this time?”
“Let’s find out.” Reya opened the door.
Cally, in a willowy soft green and brown patterned blouse and dark green pants, entered. “Argus, I’m glad you’re still here.” She nodded a greeting. “Reya.”
“Should I leave?” Reya asked. She’d been about to check out the rest of Argus’s clothes.
“You may be interested in this news, but...” She had a puzzled expression on her face as she looked at him.
Argus felt self-conscious again and almost considered throwing on a blanket, a robe, anything to cover himself. “What is, Cally?”
Her brow furrowed. “Your shirt appears to be a size too small.”
“I know,” he gave a long-suffering sigh. “It’s a long story. What did you want to tell us?”
Cally handed him a flat data crystal. “The doctors are satisfied with Avon’s progress and have cleared the Shade antidote for full-scale use.”
“That’s excellent news,” said Reya, her face brightening.
“Avon is going to make a full recovery?” asked Argus.
“The prognosis looks good.”
“Now we just have to fix everything else.”
“We will fix everything.” The steel resolve in Cally’s voice left no questions she was going to make it happen.
“All right. Why don’t you and Reya contact Kameron and give him the good news. They can start mass-producing the antidote.”
Cally and Reya left to make contact with the Atholians and Argus began pulling clothes out of the drawers, dropping all the non-fitting ones on the floor. A small mountain was forming beside him. If this didn’t work...
I’ll have to track down the old clothes and hope none of them has been shrunk yet.
The cabin buzzer sounded again. Cursing under his breath, he pulled hard on his shirt and went to open the door. “Avon.”
He breathed a sigh of relief; at least Avon couldn’t see him. “Come in. Excuse the mess.”
“Mess?” Avon asked as Sharp-Eyes guided him in, deftly avoiding the mound of clothing. The young wolf sniffed in passing but found no odours to interest him. He sat back on his haunches.
“Uh...it’s nothing. What did you need?”
Avon ‘stared’ at him for a moment. ”I am not going down to Gourimpest.”
“Oh. Well, if you don’t want too...”
“Are you going to tell me why?”
Sighing, Argus said, “Why did I know you were going to say that?”
“Then why ask?”
Argus rubbed his tense neck. “I don’t know.” It was going to be a long day and it had only just begun. “Habit?”
“Your tendency to commit irrational acts?”
* The Argus-Alpha’s clothes look odd, * said Sharp-Eyes, cocking his head on a sharp angle to look at Argus.
Avon turned his head in the wolf’s direction. * If he’s wearing no clothes, I don’t want to hear it. *
* He is clothed, but... *
* I am not interested. *
The wolf cocked his head the other way to look at Avon. His eyes contained intense curiosity. * You have no interest in clothing, Avon-Alpha? *
* I seldom comment on other people’s fashion choices, * Avon said flatly.
* I will not mention it again. *
“Now, if you’re quite finished talking about me and my lack of fashion-sense...” said Argus, his voice a disgruntled growl.
“You heard that?” Avon’s eyes narrowed.
“The wolf’s end, yes.”
* One spoke to both Alphas, * said Sharp-Eyes, dull apology in his eyes. * One did not wish to be rude. *
“I appreciate it,” said Argus. “I think...”
“Are you naked again?” asked Avon.
“I thought you didn’t want to know?” Argus grinned, putting his hands on his waist in an exaggerated gesture, not a typical pose for him; he never needed the image of being larger to be dominant.
“Then why did you ask?”
“I'm sorry I mentioned it.” Avon’s voice was so dry, it could have sucked all the moisture from the cabin.
Argus chuckled. “Avon, are you sure you don’t want to tell me about Gourimpest? Just in case something comes up?”
“It is highly unlikely something will.” He felt for the wolf’s shoulder, readying to go.
“Yet, you came to tell me you don’t want to go down to Gourimpest.”
“Merely a precaution. A slim one.” He squeezed the wolf’s shoulder lightly and Sharp-Eyes stood up, his black nose pointing towards the door.
Argus shook his head, a bemused smile on his face. Something told him he was going to find out eventually.
The cabin buzzer sounded again. Argus grumbled under his breath, “I need an office.” He slapped his hand on the door switch. “Come in!”
Framed in the doorway were visions of loveliness, a handsomely dressed Vila, in a rich velvet smoking jacket, black pants and glimmering dark red shirt and a glamorous Corinne, in an elegant dark red evening gown matching Vila’s shirt.
“Hello,” Vila asked trying to sound cheerful but nervously. He saw the half-open shirt and asked cautiously, “Are you...the Wolf?”
“No!” said Argus, a low growl forming deep in his chest. “I’m possessed!”
Vila was caught between entering, or leaving and coming back when their fearless leader was a little less fearful. “I didn’t say anything.”
“You don’t have to.” Argus pointed a finger at Avon. “He does.”
Avon didn’t have a friendly face either, but then, he rarely did. “Uh...hello, Avon.”
“Vila.” Avon ‘glared’ at him. From the sounds of his voice, Vila was blocking his exit.
“It’s me too, Avon,” said Corinne brightly.
“Yes.” Avon’s mind was busy, thinking of a way to remove Vila from the exit without participating in an inane conversation first.
Argus really wished everyone would leave his room and he would be ecstatic if no one mentioned, naked, possessed or clothes for the rest of the day. He jokingly considered putting out a ship-wide bulletin, but of course that would immediately result in everyone coming to ask him about it.
Sighing abnormally loudly, Argus said, “Did you want something?”
“You don’t sound so sure.”
Vila looked around the cabin, seeing the heap of clothes on the floor. “I have a question first.”
“Is this relevant?” asked Avon. From the sounds of it, Vila had not moved. He wondered if a little baring of teeth by his wolf would make a difference.
* One would be willing to try. *
Turning sharply to the young creature, Avon said, * You can read my mind. *
Sharp-Eyes whined. * I cannot Avon-Alpha. You were thinking very loudly. *
Vila said, “Not exactly relevant, but...”
“He wants to know why your clothes look like that,” said Corinne.
“Is he naked again?” Avon asked, his brows furrowing. “No, don’t answer that. I have no interest.”
“I am not naked!” Argus was reaching the end of his patience. “I am slightly possessed!”
Avon turned to him. “Why are you yelling?”
“Because I need an office! And none of my clothes fit!”
“Oh, you’ve gained weight,” said Corinne sympathetically, her critical eye measuring how much.
“I have not gained weight!”
Vila was looking him over from head to toe. “It could be muscle. You do look a little bulkier.”
“I am not...oh...well, maybe.”
“While this conversation may be educational for some,” said Avon bitingly, “I have work to do.”
“Wait a minute,” said Corinne. “Vila, whose clothes did you wash?”
Avon looked in Vila’s direction. If he was a superhero of the Delta vids, one might think he had x-ray vision. “That explains it.”
“What?” Argus was puzzled, and trying to decide if he should be angry, outraged or some combination of the two. “Vila, you washed my clothes?”
Vila swallowed hard. “Well, not in so many words...”
Trying to hold his temper and not growl even louder, Argus said, “How many words do you need?”
“What I mean is...” Vila wondered if it was too late to run. “Well...I lost a bet.”
Argus was getting a headache. “Avon, you’re responsible for...for this?” He pointed to his shirt.
“Someone explain to me what is going on or I’m leaving,” said Avon.
“Oh...forgot you couldn’t see...sorry.”
“How observant of you.” The sarcasm was dripping all over the floor.
“I...” Argus looked up at the ceiling gods that never listened and sighed. “All of my clothes seem to have shrunk. The shirts and jackets.”
“Is that all you have to say?”
Argus growled, “That’s not funny, Avon.”
“Of course it is.”
When it came to glaring, Argus wasn’t as good as Avon but was still very effective. “Now someone tell me why a bet shrunk my clothes.”
Avon said, “The bet was for Vila to do the laundry without the benefit of the auto-cleaning programs.”
“I don’t know what went wrong...” Vila shook his head and looked suitably sorry but it was hard not to find it somewhat funny.
“Vila, what temperature did you set the machines?” asked Corinne.
“Temperature?” Vila scratched his head. “I was supposed to set the temperature?”
Avon was glad his clothes hadn’t been touched yet. “You didn’t read the manual.”
“The thing was two hundred pages!”
“You weren’t supposed to read all of it.”
“Now you tell me.”
Argus shook his head. His life was a comedy and tragedy all rolled into one. “Can my clothes be saved or do I have to lose weight?”
“I will examine the machines,” said Avon.
“Thanks. Now will everyone get out of my cabin before something else goes wrong?”
“Oh, we forgot to say why we’re here,” said Vila. “We wanted to move the magic show to Kaarn, that way the kids can see it too.”
“That’s fine.” Argus glanced over at the chronometer as the numbers changed. “Now if everyone will leave, I’m due on the flight deck.”