Corbin, Sophia, and Bern showed the young man with the wolf and Hana to a room that was being used as the medical area for the facility. They left Fane and Ishan to attend to the other wolves in the cafeteria. The group regarded each other with unease.
One eased from the lineup after a long show down to approach Fane carefully. His ears flipped back softly, a whine escaping him. Where had the golden wolf gone? “What do you want?” Fane asked, taking a step back, checking his periphery. How had he lost that wolf? The wolf in front of him sat down and turned to one of the others.
“Maybe they’re hungry?” Ishan asked as he eased over to the kitchen, putting a counter between himself and the beasts. Fane watched one’s tail flip once. The creature was a dark coal grey with a massive white starburst running from his chest up and over the left shoulder.
“Uh…” Fane backed up a step.
One of the female wolves rubbed herself under the coal grey wolf’s muzzle. She eased past Fane and out the door. Fane followed her path with his eyes, his attention split. The other female followed her lead. Fane glanced at Ishan. He turned back to a pair of naked men standing in front of him and no wolves. The Glock was up and the safety clicked in the quiet of the room. Ishan dropped a spoon on the metal counter, the ring reverberating. “Woah, jeeze,” Fane cleared his throat.
“Food sounds good, but a pair of pant’s’d be better,” the thinner of the two men stated. Asian, his black hair hung to his shoulders. He was built like he spent time in the ring. The brown haired Caucasian next to him had to have been a running back, triangular, most of his bulk in his chest and shoulders. “The girls went to hunt down Sophia to see if she can get them some clothes.” The brunette sat down in one of the chairs with complete disregard for modesty.
“Ishan…?” Fane’s voice wobbled.
“Fane?” Ishan asked.
Fane licked his upper lip nervously. “What exactly did you and Bern do to my head?” he asked. He could feel heat creeping up his neck, his hands trembling. The tips of his fingers were burning with the chill that came with his frost. The two men cast a glance at each other.
“I’m seeing the same thing you are, Fane. So unless this is one really big hallucination, they’re real.” Ishan turned his back on the men. He meandering about the cabinets and put a pair of pots and pans on the burners of the stove. The three at the table watched his nervous movements as he pulled ingredients and measuring cups from drawers and shelves.
“We don’t swing that way, man. The ones that do are holed up in the medical ward.” The running back waived off Ishan’s kitchen meanderings.
Fane threw him a cold glance. “The fuck you mean by that, new comer?”
The man laid a finger at the side of his nose. “You belong to him, don’t you.” The man pointed Fane to Ishan’s back.
Ishan spun, a kitchen knife in his hand. “He doesn’t belong to anyone and if you wanna keep what’s between your legs, don’t insult him.” The brown haired man put up his hands, opening his chest up wide in a non-confrontational stance. He had haggard wounds across his chest and the stripes were caked in dirt and blood. They had been in a fight that day.
Fane tilted his head, looking down on the man sitting across from him. “We are dating, if that’s what you meant.” He eased into a chair across from the two.
“You’re a Shaman.” The thin one’s voice was a deeper octave then what Fane could recall it being, and a soft accent lilted his vowels. Fane took pride in learning a person’s mannerisms, but these two were fluid.
He could not catch up with their metamorphosis. He raised his eyebrows at that proclamation and chuckled. “Dude, I ain’t no witch doctor. The best I got is murderer.” He smiled slyly, allowing the silver to flash through his eyes, plunging the room into frost. Thin whisps of ice coated the windows and table tops in sparkling ferns. The humidity crystallized, dropping across their skin.
“Pure Blooded Red Hare.” The running-back sucked in a breath of reverence, his voice going low, his accent thicker. Fane placed it as an Eastern Block accent. He would have to listen to it longer to make an educated guess as to which country they were from. He tracked the seeping fog. A gear clicked.
“Hey, Ishan?” Fane called.
Ishan busily hid behind his counter, working at the stove. “What’s up?” he called back.
“Mind coming over here for a sec?” Fane asked.
“Well, you blew out my pilot light, so can’t really cook at the moment till I find where Corbin put the lighter,” he grouched as he came around the counter. He focused on Fane solely, refusing to acknowledge the men sitting across from him. “What’s up?” he stood next to him.
Fane motioned him down. He traced a hand gently around Ishan’s neck, his thumb brushing the hollow beneath his earlobe behind his jaw, allowing possession to cross his own features blatantly. This was his first time doing it without Bern, but he knew he needed the quiet, lest the beasts across from him knew what was going on. “I don’t know what is going to happen, but I need for you to not let go of me in case I screw this up,” he whispered into Ishan’s mind. Ishan met his eyes, startled at the intimacy of the path. Ishan nodded and moved up behind Fane, his hand at his back between his shoulders.
Fane launched himself across the table at the running back, his speed a blur. The large man didn’t have time to jump away. The thinner man came up as defense, fangs barred and dripping, but fell away from the gun pointed at his heart. Ishan kept his hand at Fane’s lower back, now that he was reaching across the table. The prince eased up to sit on the table, transferring the gun to his own hand. Fane took the rest of his weight on the table and turned all his concentration to the running back.
They dropped into the black inky fore-void before finding themselves trapped in Fane’s cavern. The wolf landed softly on its feet, sniffing at the liquid of the pool. His hackles raised. He bared his fangs at the pool as the tension flicked and slithered. His form shifted to that of a thickly muscled man, a touch shorter than the person who had been sitting out in the cafeteria. He was older, looking to be in his late forties, or early fifties, with grey streaks running through his thick hair. The running back, who had dropped in clumsily next to the wolf, glanced over at the man, surprised to see the wolf transform.
The space was rank. The taste of copper was heavy on their palettes. The running back stood up in the room, his skin crawling. “This is not good. Shouldn’t have made him mad.” The brown-haired man turned to the other man, the one who had been a wolf. The wolfman was ignoring him, staring up into the dark. The younger man followed his sight up to the individual strung up in the wires, cold eyes watching them. The world dissolved, and they fell back into their own bodies.
Fane collected the gun from Ishan and flipped the safety as he eased his way back into his chair. “So, what’s the wolfman’s name?”
The man hitched a breath, trying to regain his sense of place. “My name is Dietrik, Shaman.” The low voice permeated the room, the man bowed his head to the table.
“And your human?” Fane demanded.
“Alexander Deck. We did not mean you ill will, Shaman.” The man kept his head to the table, a shiver running across his shoulders.
“I’m no Shaman, Dietrik.” Fane dismissed the man. He turned his eye to the thinner man. “And you are two individuals in one body too, I’m to assume, along with the other wolves.” Now that he was getting a hold of the situation he was calming down. The frost dissolved off the window panes.
“My name is Benjamin Pak. I go by Benj. My wolf is Heinrich. The two who just left are Zola and Sun Hee, Dietrik and Heinrich’s mates reside in their bodies.” The thin man followed Dietrik’s lead and bowed where he sat.
“Hana and the gold and white wolves?” Ishan pressed. He eased his touch from Fane’s back and went to move away from the table. Fane brushed a trailing finger along Ishan’s hand as he left.
“Nat carries two wolves within him. We cannot lose him now. He has Sven, my Father’s second in command, and Tereza, Cashia’s mate. Yeller has Cashia. Hana has Sylvi, Sven’s mate, Shaman,” Heinrich filled him in.
“Father?” Fane raised an eyebrow.
“Dietrik is my father,” Heinrich elaborated. Fane’s eyebrow went farther up. “Deck and Benj may share a close age range, but Dietrik is my father, Shaman,” he explained respectfully.
“Why do you insist on calling me Shaman,” Fane asked, getting real tired of nicknames.
“Respect for who you are, as we call the man named Bern a Healer. When we were of our own form, many years back. We are much older than you can possibly imagine us to be. There were Shamans that resided in the valleys, in the deserts that bordered our hunting grounds. They were members of a fierce tribe. The tribe kept Red Hare and White Horses, the Shamans and the Healers. They were special to the Emperor there. They succumbed though to the desert. The fine blowing sand affected their lungs badly,” Dietrik explained.
“Eand’s got no desert like that,” Fane protested, confused. Bern had told him the Red Hares had been part of the Fyskar tribe many generations back who had helped guard the wall against the Romans.
“Never said our territory was on the Isles.” The wolf’s eyes flashed in the human face. Fane motioned for him to elaborate. “I’m speaking of the Shamans of the Bai, those living in what is now Shan Hai Jing,” the wolf supplied.
“All right, what are you talking about?” Ishan walked over, shoving a pair of plates filled with cheese sandwiches in front of the two men. “I’ve been out in Xianjing, and Fane, from everything I know of him and the DNA sequencing Corbin has ran on him, is most definitely not Han. Not sure if he relates to the red-headed mummies up that way -” Ishan shrugged and sat down next to Fane, glancing at him curiously. Fane’s brain was frying all over again. He had just gotten his head wrapped around the fact that the two men sitting in front of him had wolves inside of them and that he could randomly drop people into his subconscious without assistance.
“Bern also called me a Red Hare. He calls himself a White Horse of the Fyskar. What does Eand and China have to do with each other?” Fane asked the two wolves.
The wolfmen glanced at each other. They rolled their shoulders. “Fyskar is not a name we recognize from our upbringing. The Bai or those who kept the White Horse; the ancient Bai respected the Red Hare and the White Horse. Red Hare were special members of the tribe, those that protected the White Horses, that protected the herds, as they liked to say.” Dietrik bit into his sandwich.
“Are you talking about the Baima of Tibet or the Baima temple of the White Horse?” Ishan pressed. Fane blinked, lost on the conversation.
“Neither, though there are legends that say an old White Horse of the Bai guided the first Bodhisattva through the valleys to establish a practice in the hills of Zhong.” Heinrich picked at the food. The group fell into silence while the two wolf men gorged themselves.
Fane was the only one to not flinch when a knock came at the door frame. “How’s he doing?” he asked, not turning to see Corbin leaning against the metal.
“He’ll make it…barely. Sophia has her team working on him now. He’s been intubated and has a machine breathing for him right now. Reconstructive surgery might keep both his lungs working. He’s…he has internal bleeding and they are prepping him now. She’s got him on monitors. Bern says that one more good blow would have ruptured his kidneys. Yeller has a pair of broken finger and has had them splinted until the swelling goes down enough to set them. I’ve sent Yeller and Hana to the staff commissary to pick up clothes for everyone.” Corbin made his way into the room. Deck and Benj’s faces fell into worry. “I was told to have you two show up to the infirmary to have your cuts looked after and to have you get clean.” He shifted into a seat across from the two men.
They hurriedly finished off their plates and took them up to the counter. They glanced back at Ishan, uncertain what to do with them. Ishan waived them off. Corbin sighed and pointed out the door. “Infirmary’s down through that corridor, hang a left at the bathrooms and go right at the second hallway. Follow it to the end. There’s a door with a massive red cross on it, can’t miss it,” he directed. The two men nodded their heads and shifted. It was an amazing transformation to watch as fur pushed through their skin and their bones popped and shifted into a new position. The wolves lopped out of the room and down the hall.
Fane turned to Corbin who was watching him steadily. “So, you’re a godfather?” Ishan asked amiably.
“Never thought I’d get called on to godfather a college student.” Corbin rubbed his head in his hands.
“Could be worse, could be kids,” Fane mused. Corbin glared at him. “What?’ he asked, not sure at what that look meant.
“You’re joking!” Ishan cried indignantly.
Corbin burried his head in his hands. “…’parently all the misses are carrying…” He breathed a sigh of frustration.
“And we have to get a bird in the air in how many weeks?’ Fane pressed.
“Five,” Corbin conceded.
“Are we going to be responsible for taking care of a litter of…puppies..children…wolflings while in space?” Fane slid farther into his chair.
“If we take them,” Corbin nodded.
“Is there any reason not to take them?” Ishan demanded.
“Sophia doesn’t know if we can freeze the girls and the babies stay viable. They are apparently quite close in term considering they have a different gestation rate because of the wolf hybrid thing going on. At least, that’s what one of the girls said.
“Sophia said she’s uncertain of attempting a live birth in space though…” Corbin poked at the swirled frost on the table, melting points. Ishan shoved a cup of coffee into the man’s hand and sat down next to Fane. Corbin nodded his head in gratitude and downed the tepid liquid. The scientist drew in a sigh, looking into the bottom of the empty cup. “We have to get Nat stable before we can even start thinking about the girls. For now we’ve got bunks that the group can sleep in.
“Talked to the young man, Yeller, for quite a time when Bern and Sophia stabilized Nat. The human side of them are from up in Oregonia. College age kids from a town that hadn’t been wiped out from the drought and the war. Yeller’s a music major and bilingual in English and Irish. Deck was going in for business.
“Benj is molecular biology – which I know Sophia would be keen on. Sun Hee was starting in on a physics degree, so that’s workable. I can probably apprentice her to Teslanoviach. Zola’s dual majoring in animation and computer science. Thought she could create a new physics engine with Sun Hee for gaming. She’d do fine behind a computer terminal. Hana posed as a veterinarian technician with little training. Bern said he’d take her under his wing and teach her medicine. Nat’s certified fluent in French with a goal of international translation – he’s able to speak Irish with relative fluency because of Yeller. He wanted to get certified in Russian and Chinese next spring. Yeller said that he’s picking up Croatian from the wolves most likely. He’s apparently a fast hand at it. If Nat’s able to come out of coma that is.” Corbin shrugged. Ah, that explained the Eastern block accent, Fane though. “He could probably help with translation work if we have some language programs downloaded for him to work through.
“Kid explained how they got into the situation they are in now. I think they, at least the wolves, would be a descent security squad for us, but it’s not like we really need much security in space. They apparently sought me out to have the wolves removed from them, but I don’t have a single clue how to do that,” Corbin confided.
“You’re about to set the largest spaceship on earth out into space with over five hundred cryochambers and three hundred functioning personnel. There’s going to be a need for at least minor security. Guess the girls could have the kids in space. Not like we aren’t going to end up with a few pregnancies on board anyway amongst the personnel. I want to see three hundred people not get it on for a hundred years.” Fane leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.
“With some luck it’ll only be a hundred years if you can jump us far enough ahead,” Corbin nodded.
“What’ll happen when I’m too old to make the jumps?” Fane sat up to put his hands on the table. He pushed at the ice, melting wiggly circles across it.
Corbin mulled that over. He pulled his shoulders up and shook his head. “We’ll have to just hope that we can make it the remaining years.”
“Did you figure out exactly what they did to me?” Fane asked. Ishan slipped his hand into his.
“The relay seems to only work on you because of what you are. I looked through the files from the fourteen others before you. They fit very similar profiles, at least from where they got the men: body composition, age, weight, height, nutritional state. They repeated it over and over again with very minor variability between each case. Then you came along and they got a read on the relay and started focusing on you explicitly. They noted that you have amnesia most likely related to the surgery.” Corbin filled him in.
“So, I’m a one-off anomaly.” Fane looked up at the ceiling and scrunched his nose at the thought. The amnesia wasn’t news for him.
“Not necessarily a one-off.” Corbin got up to refill his cup.
“What do you mean by that?” Fane called after him. Corbin poured the burnt brew into his cup and buried his nose in it to draw in the scent. He turned to the two men and rested his hip against the counter, watching them. He took a sip, thinking. “I don’t think you’d like it.” The scientist shifted his weight. Fane raised a sceptical eyebrow at him, waiting for him to elaborate. “Possible cloning. If you had children, they could maybe do the same thing,” Corbin explained.
A chill swept up Fane’s tendons. Ishan rested a stilling hand on his arm, aware of the frost spreading up Fane’s skin and across the table. Fane rose quietly. That swamping sense of screaming pressed through his muscles, creeping from the ground up to wrap around his bones. His blood sang to him. He swallowed, stilling the rage that burned just behind his eyes. “Ah’m gonna kip. Ret’ink yer wor’s ‘fore ye see me ‘gain.” Fane walked out of the room, Ishan trailing after him.
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