Argus shifts his body on the cold metal cot jutting out of the wall in an attempt to sleep. He’s unsure at this point how long he’s been in the cell, but the dull pain in his lower back tells him it's been a few weeks. The yellow robed guard that arrested him sometimes visits, saying nothing but passing ocean-scented breads to him through the opening in his cell door. He can’t be positive, but he tells himself that they’re gifts from Helena. It’s what gets him through his days, this rare sustenance unmolested by the crawling appendages of the pests that plague this place.
On the opposite side of the room lay his bunkmate, an overweight brute of a character dragged in days before. The ruffian stands a head taller than Argus and speaks a language he doesn’t understand. They keep to themselves, but sometimes he’ll share one of his small loaves of bread, unwilling to create any unnecessary tension with a being three times his size. Whenever the guards drop by, with gifts for Argus or one of their standard moldy trays of scraps, the brute smacks his head against the plasma bars cackling at the shockwaves it sends through his body.
Less seasoned members of the Wolfpac scurry away at the outbursts, but Argus’ captor merely smiles. A long scar on her forehead, stretching up to the tentacles tied behind her, communicates her confidence in a way words can’t. She’s been through something bravado could never diminish, and it eeks out of her pores. This goads the brute into repeating himself, often enough to let the shockwaves do their work at incapacitating him. She chuckles as she leaves Argus behind to smell this unwashed wretch, to watch as he awakens hours later still seething.
Argus feels reduced to the life of a primate in the zoo. Living day in and out in his cell as those only slightly different than him revel in his captivity and their own voyeuristic tendencies. It makes him sick, this confirmation that the residents of the upper platforms view him and his family as less than.
He awaits sentencing from their Queen, Wanda, in the clouds. She’s rumored to be kind to offenders of his nature, more the scolding mother than the belt-wielding father. But her Wolfpac’s overbearing surveillance of the region guarantees there are hundreds of others awaiting an audience with her before him. He spends many of his waking hours scripting out his response to her one simple question: How do you plead?
When his time finally comes, his captor again appears at the bars, a pair of plasma cuffs in her left hand and a staff taller than her in her right. She calls to him and asks, “Are you ready?” while staring down his roommate, “Go ahead, and try me Rex.”
Argus nods, stepping forward while Rex visibly tenses up on his cot. The yellow-robed guard lowers the bars and restrains him when an explosion sounds somewhere in the neighborhood. Alarms, mounted on poles several dozen stories high emit a unfamiliar bleet. Not one of civil ordinance, but one of an oncoming attack.
His captor, momentarily frazzled, looks away for a moment and it’s all that Rex needs. The brute rams the full force of his body into her, sending her staff flying and Argus standing behind, confused. Rex bounds off of her toward the staff when she reacts, kicking out his ankles and toppling him. She pins him to the ground with her knees on his shoulders as he grunts in defiance. A prisoner in another cell shouts, “What the fuck is going on?” But no one else is around to respond.
The guard lands a few punches into Rex’s face before finally reaching the staff, slamming it behind her back, and into his gut. He passes out with little fanfare. She stands, wiping blood off of her face and spitting on him. She faces Argus, “Get back in your cell. I’ll deal with you later.”
In the one moment while she has her back turned, Rex stops feigning unconsciousness and stands quietly. Argus pleads with his eyes for his captor to turn around, and steps back into his cage without uttering a word. She doesn’t catch his failed attempt at telepathy, though, and is thrown from her feet as Rex pulls her back by the tail of her robe. The two continue wrestling when Rex briefly catches Argus’ eye. “Run, you idiot, run,” he yelps, for the first time speaking in the planet’s common tongue.
Still restrained, Argus takes off in the direction opposite of their scuffle. Other prisoners plead with him to free them, but he doesn’t stop. The women of the Wolfpac guarding this building have abandoned their posts to investigate the explosion, so his escape goes mostly unnoticed. Until, that is, he stops dead in his tracks mere feet away from the elevator that could take him to his salvation. An entire battalion of guards stands together on the balcony flanking it, yellow hoods removed and eyes thoroughly fixed up into the sky. Argus, who should fear these women, instead joins them in their curiosity.
One of them looks away for a second at him, perplexed, but instead of guiding him back to his cell she removes his cuffs and points upward. A vast array of alien warships are tearing through holes in the atmosphere and raining fire upon their city. The Queen’s anti-aircraft weaponry does its best to fight back, but Argus watches with her as their once impenetrable defensive is reduced to ash effortlessly. Two of the ships flank Wanda’s castle in the clouds, and begin infiltrating it.
The guard who unshackled Argus looks at him, “Whatever you did… it doesn’t matter anymore.” She looks down at her own arms and tears the robe off of her body. Not the first in the group to do so, they all head toward the elevator behind them. “Go and find whoever you care about. It may be the last chance you have left”
Argus, still silent, nods. Slowly, he follows the young defecting recruits toward the two elevator shafts and is faced with a decision. Upwards, toward Helena, the woman he loves but has never spoken to, and likely certain death. Or down, to find his siblings and the uncle who raised them. Maybe his one last chance at survival.
It takes him no time to decide.