It was a celebration and a reunion as Vila introduced the hybrid children to Corinne.
Of course, it wasn’t that straight-forward. He barely recognized them at first. The hybrids had been aged and were currently two years younger than the clones. But they all remembered their Uncle Vila.
Oscar and his brothers arrived on the planet with Avon, Argus, Cally and Reya. They looked around excitedly and with a great deal of curiosity. The buildings were prefabricated structures, functional but not ugly. They had been adapted to merge with their natural surroundings. Plants grew everywhere, flowers, bushes, and trees, guided around buildings rather than chopped and pruned.
The Auronar colony was bustling but calm as young people went about their business in unhurried silence, dotted occasionally by random conversations.
A woman approached them with a young girl by her side.
“Cally! It’s good to see you!” Clinician Franton’s arms were spread in welcome.
“It is good to see you too.” They hugged each other warmly. Tears of joy gathered and dripped down Cally’s face. For days she had been aware of the familiar murmur of Auronar mental voices, the community of minds that she missed so much.
They let go of each other, wiping tears from their cheeks.
“Avon, Argus and Reya! Welcome!” said Franton, turning her smile towards them.
Argus nodded, “It is good to be back. I see the colony has grown.”
She smiled, “Oh, yes. Everything has grown...” Franton turned to the girl beside her, “including Brina.”
They all stared at the young girl. “You’re Brina?” asked Reya.
“Oh, yes Auntie Reya,” Brina’s young voice was cheerful and familiar.
“We had to age them all.” Franton frowned, light regret in her eyes. “Their cellular structure was not stabilized.”
Avon’s head tilted when he heard this, his brow knitted in thought.
Argus asked, “Even though the growing process had been halted?”
“That was always a risk,” said Avon. “Halting the growth was a temporary measure. My specialty is not in genetics."
“You did very well considering,” said Franton.
As the adults talked, a young voice said into Oscar’s mind, * You’re Oscar? *
His eyes widened. * How did you know? *
* We talked to each other on the ship. * Her smile was infectious.
* But how did you know it was me? We all look alike. * He rubbed his right thigh nervously.
She leaned forward, peering into his face and then at the others. * You’re clones. You...look like Uncle Argus. *
For some reason, he felt embarrassed. * Yes. *
* Can you tell each other apart? * There was friendly amusement on her face.
* Of course we can. *
Brina nodded. * You know each other on the inside. That’s why we can too. *
A flash of brilliant rainbow colours blinded the audience and at the end, like a pot of shining gold, appeared Vila, a beaming smile on his face.
“Boys and girls and clones! Men and women! And Wolves of all kinds! Welcome to a Magical Musical Extravaganza!”
The outdoor theatre erupted into an orchestra of beautiful sound. A bright melodic tune that set pulses racing with excitement and eased the mind away from daily routines and worries.
* Oh. * Cally’s face was filled with wonder and she closed her eyes, allowing the music to transport her. * This is like being in the harmony room on the Justice. *
* An ambitious start, * remarked Avon. Despite his determination to win the newest bet, he found himself enjoying the music, a piece with complex harmonies balanced perfectly.
* They did it for you, Avon * said Cally, leaning lightly on his arm. She knew he didn’t like public displays of affection, but this was something he tolerated at times.
Avon stiffened at the unexpected contact that he couldn’t see, became irritated with himself at the automatic response and relaxed, allowing her warmth to flow into him. She didn’t seem to notice, or rather she decided not to notice, for which he was grateful.
* I doubt it. They did it for their audience, of which we are only two. *
Cally smiled, light affection in her tone, * I think he did it for you. *
He bristled, his back stiffening. * Because I can’t see. * Avon was already irritated that Sharp-Eyes wasn’t with him because Vila had recruited his wolf for one of the acts. His wolf.
To also be reminded of his disability...
* I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that, Avon. He didn’t realize it would be a reminder. *
A grumbling wave of annoyance rolled towards her. * Vila doesn’t think. * And he took his wolf away.
Cally sighed, knowing how difficult it was for him. It was hard to convince Avon that people weren’t out to make his life miserable. The deeper healing of the heart and mind would take a long time. * Try to enjoy it. *
On the stage, Vila had introduced his lovely partner, floating across the stage, apparently without any artificial aids, and landing next to him. Corinne was a dreamy image in a wine red dress, with a silver dragon brooch at her left shoulder.
The music reached a crescendo and Vila said, “For our first illusion, we present...”
From his first row seat, Avon’s sensitive ears caught each scuff on the stage surface...he gasped as sight suddenly returned and he saw everything!
* Cally! * He was hyperventilating, his mind in shock at the flood of visual stimuli. * I can see! * Avon froze in shock as the scene on the stage came sharply into focus. Vila and Corinne were beaming, looking in his direction. They nodded.
Avon became aware of Cally’s arm on his, supporting him. She said, * This is Vila’s gift to you, Avon. Part of his magic. *
* Magic? * Avon turned to look at her, and his breath caught at seeing her clearly with his eyes. She was beautiful; the light of the dying flames gave her a soft glow.
* Vila thought it might be possible so he asked Brina if the children could provide a live visual feed into your mind.”
The truth was a stab of pain and his face hardened. * I’m... not seeing with my own eyes? *
* I’m sorry, Avon. * She dared to hug him, resting her head on his shoulder and sending waves of affection and calm to him. * This was the best they could do for you. While you’re on Kaarn, the children will give you sight. *
The next breath was an unconscious shudder of pain and longing. He wanted to tell them to stop, that he didn’t want sight that wasn’t his own, but he couldn’t.
Avon missed the ability to see. Without it he felt naked, vulnerable, and always dependent on others. Survival had become a cruel joke and the darkness a prison.
On the ship, he had forged an illusion. With his intimate knowledge of the ship, he could fool himself that the loss of his sight was of little consequence. He could still function normally. Cally had helped to foster his independence, accepting his need to be treated like everyone else and not an invalid.
The arrival of the Thaarn had shattered that illusion.
* Tell Vila...thank you. *
There was a loud explosive flash and crackling sounds as flames engulfed the centre of the stage and through the blaze, they saw the outline of a well-built but not overly muscular man. “Commander Argus!”
Applause of appreciation rose as the flames died down and the toned figure stood proud and straight in a snug-fitting black short-sleeved shirt and military style camouflage pants. There was a gruff growl at the title being used, but one look at the clapping audience caused a reddening flush on Argus’s face. He smiled shyly and nodded.
The music changed, a sombre, majestic melody with a tinge of sadness.
Vila said, “Sometimes, we are not always what we seem.”
Reddish light bathed the stage and a bright spotlight focused on Argus as a foggy mist rolled onto the stage. The audience blinked, their eyes straining, everyone watching with rapt attention.
Argus seemed to grow, his shoulders hunching slightly and his chest expanding. The black shirt stretched and his rippled muscles stood out in sharp relief. The material ripped and there were collective gasps as his smooth chest sprouted hair, thick and shaggy, becoming dark grey fur. The pants widened and tore as his thighs thickened like tree trunks. Young voices from the audience shouted as he stretched forward, his mouth opening, distorting forward. A column of light bathed the stage and in the twinkling of an eye, the man had become a wolf, dropping on all fours, and lifting his muzzle to give a haunting mournful, howl.
The magic show was a huge success. Vila and Corinne received accolades from everyone but at the back of everyone’s mind they knew there would be a time for goodbyes.
Argus and Reya coordinated with the Athol troops on Kaarn, upgrading the security measures with equipment from the ship.
Transfer schedules were arranged so that the troops would be able to go home on leave and replaced with fresh ones. The security of Kaarn was paramount.
The wolves decided to stay and aid in the security of the colony. Kaarn was a lush new world with plentiful game to provide for the pack.
Oscar, his sleeves rolled up and collar undone, was holding a metal post into place as Argus welded it to the existing frame.
Argus wiped a forearm across his forehead and applied the welding torch to another junction. “Yes?”
“We’ve all decided to stay here.”
The torch paused just as it touched the metal. Argus looked up. “Even you?”
The boy scuffed his boots, his eyes looking down. “Yes, sir. I...hope you don’t mind. We’re very grateful to you and the others for rescuing us.”
“What brought this about?” Oscar had been adamant about wanting to stay with them on the ship. It was a problem Argus hadn’t addressed yet because he hoped Kaarn and the Auronar would change their minds.
Oscar raised his eyes to look at him squarely. “Our friends are here...the wolves. And you are right. There are many things we don’t know. We will follow the correct order of things and learn to be children first. And...” The boy seemed uncomfortable but did not lower his eyes. “We’ve made some new friends here.”
Brave-Heart and his mate nodded their muzzles in greeting as they approached Argus. Oscar had been sent off for some rest.
The Alpha wolf regarded Argus with serious eyes. * We are grateful for what you have done for our pack and for bringing us to a new home. We can never repay you. *
“You would have done the same for us.”
* We will work with the Auronar and aid in the defence of this place. *
“Then I am grateful to you,” Argus inclined his head formally.
* It is our home, * said Bright-Eyes.
Wolf looked with sad and mournful eyes at the two wolves as they ran off into the woods to rejoin the pack.
The Wolf in his mind had been very quiet lately. Argus asked * Why didn't you say something to her? *
* It is better this way. *
Argus could feel the pain that ripped a hole in Wolf’s heart and the aching loneliness that was already there.
* How can it be? *
* It is better for her. She is safe and happy. It is all that matters. *
Argus didn’t know what to say, all he could do was share the sadness and offer his support.
After a pause, as they both stood silently, Wolf said, * There is one thing humans can do that I have always envied. *
* What is that? * he asked gently.
* Would you allow me the use of your body for a few minutes? *
Argus bowed his head and the Wolf opened his eyes. He turned towards the setting sun and the direction Bright-Eyes and his namesake had gone. How much he wished he were the one to run by her side. All he was, was the shadow of a memory. He wasn’t Brave-Heart. He was Wolf and that was all he would ever be. Tears began flowing down his face.
* No, you are much more than a memory. You will always be real to me. We helped each other survive. Together we did remarkable things. Things no one else could do. *
* It hurts. *
Argus wished the Wolf was real and he could put his hand on his shoulder in support. He imagined it in his mind. * I know. I am here with you. You will always have me. *
* I thought you did not want me inside your head? * said the Wolf.
* That was before I understood. If you wish, you can have the use of my body occasionally. I won’t complain if you want to eat raw meat. *
* One is kind. *
* I know what it is like to be trapped. *
* We both know, * said the Wolf.
Argus nodded as his body became his own again. He wiped his hand across his wet cheeks. * Yes, we do. The nightmare has ended for me. I want it to be ended for you. *
* One has become accustomed to this existence. *
* We will make it work, Wolf. You’ll see. *
The two watched in companionable silence until the wolves were no longer in view.
* One would like to race the wind again. *
Argus smiled and took in a deep breath. The air was sweet and fresh, and the land was green with life. It was a perfect day and he felt as if he could run forever.