The mirror on the ceiling, the round bed with plush red coverings and heart-shaped pillows, and delicate laced trimmings made both women stare in dumbfounded silence.
The tempting odour of strawberries and chocolate beckoned, the scents intertwining in delicious unison, tickling the nerve endings, a light caress of smells hinting at pleasures that had been sampled in this room. It was like being an olfactory voyeur.
Reya and Colonel Strevins stiffened their spines and hardened their eyes, becoming the consummate professionals.
The deep scowl on Strevins face made the soldier by the door stand straighter and the hint of a smile disappeared from his face
"These are not the normal fixtures in this room," said Strevins.
"I would hope not." Reya managed to keep an even tone, despite the memory of the contents of her own room. Someone had been very creative setting out the furnishings in both rooms. "We need to check for surveillance equipment."
Strevins lips thinned. "Yes. It would be logical." Signalling to the guard to get a ladder, she tapped fingers to her lips, studying the younger woman for a moment before saying, "Your room is arranged like this?"
"Fortunately not." Reya avoided her penetrating stare and wondered if the grim woman was hiding a sense of humour. She was very glad they weren't starting with her room first, though they would have to get to it eventually.
The wood-grained table next to the bed drew her attention.
"But you were affected by the drug?" She stripped the soft covers off the bed with a single pull, letting them drop to the side.
Reya glanced over quickly, keeping her head still as she searched for surveillance equipment along the back edge of the table and the lamp. "Yes we were." She firmly ordered herself not to blush.
There was a curved-necked pitcher of water and two lip-stained glasses on the table and the single drawer slid smoothly to the touch. She rummaged through it.
A few scented candles, self-lighting. It gave the drawer a light rose scent. A pile of towels with lime green stripes. And a turned out grey sock. She stared at it; her eyebrows rose, not sure if she wanted to know what happened to the other one, or this one for that matter.
The guard came back with a long ladder.
Colonel Strevins climbed up, examining the mirrored ceiling. Feeling the edges, she grunted softly and pushed it to the side. A recessed indentation revealed hidden surveillance equipment. She peered at the dials and dull indicators. "It's inactive. There's no power."
Reya stared up with a look of disgust. There had to be one in her room too and she was going to find out who was responsible and rip their eyes out. "That model has a limited range."
"Then…" Strevins climbed down, holding the offending object in her hands and looking towards the door and the guard who stood by it. The man winced slightly, probably wondering if she suspected him.
"Then the receiver must be in this building," said Strevins.
"Someone working on the inside…"
"Yes. And we're going to find them." Strevins rushed out.
It felt like they were like shutting the door after the thieves had made off with the jewels, but they had to try.
Reya ran after her.
Sester leaned casually against the wall, swinging a pair of handcuffs, a faintly amused smile on his lips. "Where did you get these from?"
Sitting at a table across from Avon, with the wolf next to the table, his head peaking over the side, Argus grimaced and tried to sound casual. "We found it. In the drawer."
"You had to put them on," said Avon.
"Yes…well…" He coughed, and his ears turned slightly pink. "I was curious."
"Of course you were."
The wolf sneezed, puffing out a breath of moist air over Avon's hand.
"Didn't you have these in your room?" asked Argus.
The decisiveness of the reply made Argus smile. "Are you sure?"
"Certain." Avon 'glared' at him, hoping it would prevent any further questions. He did not want questions as to what had been in his room, though the idea that the commander and Colonel Strevins were investigating...was discomforting.
The sliver of a smile escaped briefly and touched his lips. Cally had found the mirror quite…interesting. And the chocolate fondue and strawberries had been entertaining.
"Cally might not have told you," said Argus.
"She would have told me."
Sester chuckled, the handcuffs swinging slowly from his fingers. "She probably found more interesting things in their room."
The 'glare' was directed at both of them. "I will not dignify that with a response."
"You just did." Sester smirked as he stuffed one loop of the handcuffs into his jacket and opened up the drawer next to the bed. A second pair of handcuffs made him laugh quietly, along with a thick black piece of cloth. "Now this is fascinating."
Argus looked away, his ears a crimson red. "No it isn't."
"What is it?" Avon tilting his head, and Sharp Eyes did the same.
"Something long and black and…" Sester held the cloth up by its end, dangling it like a stripper who had just removed a choice piece of apparel.
"It's not important," said Argus, trying to inject a firm note of command into the proceedings, and failing miserably because he was now blushing furiously.
The wolf's soulful brown eyes regarded the object, and he whined a soft query. * What is the purpose of this cloth? *
"I believe people call it a blind fold," said Sester, in response to Avon's question. There was a twitch at the corner of his lips, quickly suppressed.
* Humans are strange creatures. *
* Welcome to my life, * said Avon.
Sharp Eyes turned to Avon, nudging the back of his hand with a moist nose. * You have much patience, Avon Alpha."
The young wolf abruptly lifted his head, nose sniffing urgently. There was something at the edge of his hearing.
Avon sat up sharply, his body hard with tension. "What's wrong?"
* A noise… * The wolf turned his head this way and that, angling his ears to pick up the slightest of noises. They flicked with acute attention.
"What is it, Avon?" Argus instantly leaned closer, pressing against the edge of the table, his eyes intent on Avon's face, and his wolf-inspired senses at work.
"The wolf hears something." He stood up, knocking the table against Argus's abdomen and his hand instinctively reaching out for the wolf's head, needing the reassurance of his borrowed eyes.
Sester twisted the blindfold in his hands and pulled it tight. "What does he hear?"
The wolf padded forward with Avon following. His deep breaths and the soft click of his nails punctuated the silence the others heard, his ears twitched constantly and his bright eyes searched high and low.
"He's not sure." He felt the tension of the bunched muscles as they moved smoothly beneath his fingers.
"I…think I hear it," said Argus. It was a familiar hiss. Shock widened his eyes. "Avon!" He gripped the table, his head heavy with sleep, and his only thought to get Avon out of the room.
The wolf shook his head violently, and would have knocked Avon off his feet if he wasn't already grabbing for the wall and sliding down, his legs rubbery. "Gas…" His eyes glazed as he saw Argus reached towards him. "Have to…get…away…" He slumped over, fast asleep.
Sester had landed gracefully on the bed, snoring gently, his hands still gripping the blindfold.
"There's only one other place we haven't checked," said Colonel Strevins. The corridor echoed with the sound of their matched, booted footsteps. The military precision was intimidating but they didn't notice.
"Because it's the least likely of places," said Reya. She had been impressed with the Colonel's quick and efficient security staff, but it didn't change the fact that they hadn’t found anything. The uneasy feeling this was an inside job was becoming stronger by the minute.
Was the helpful Colonel not so helpful after all?
"We'll check it anyway." Strevins lead the way to other guest room. She was a lean figure in a dark green uniform, and her easy stride made her seem younger.
"I'm impressed with your corridors," said Reya.
They almost seemed like sisters, one a younger version of the other. Reya's dark blue Athol uniform seemed a bit more elegant but that was a minor detail. They moved fluidly and with strength; authority was part of their uniform.
Strevins grunted softly. "You mean the lack of alcoves, large wall-hangings, or dark corners?"
"I've never understood the need for hazardous security features."
"It wasn't always like this."
"Oh?" Reya turned to look at her. The instant feeling of kinship she felt with Strevins had not abated. She hoped the truth would not be disappointing.
A soldier nearly brained himself with his rifle as he snapped to attention when he saw them. Strevins stared at him in passing as she replied, "It was one of the things I did away with when I was appointed Chief Security Officer. I insisted on it."
Reya chuckled. "I imagine that went over well."
"I'm not here to win popularity contests." She added with a biting note of sarcasm, "Unlike most people here."
"You're not like most of the people we've met here."
"I'm from the South," said Strevins as if it made perfect sense.
Strevins opened the door before Reya could announce their arrival. Their eyes widened and they staggered, each one reaching for the door frame.
In the room was a single occupant, the wolf lying on its side, its flanks barely moving.
"Gas!" said Reya, shaking her head, trying to stay awake. Hazy eyes strained and she breathed deeply. The wolf seemed to be alive at least. If they could…
She slammed her hand on the control panel and the door closed.
"Y-yes…" Strevins leaned against the frame. "Have to…lock down." She staggered towards a comm panel down the corridor, hanging onto walls that seemed to be moving. "E-mer-gency! Lock-down pro-ce-dures!" She took a struggling breath and repeated it, this time clearer.
The corridors erupted in the wail of sirens.