Chapter X

"I am going to go in there." he told the recalcitrant scientist. Doctor Harris was a most unreasonable sort, and he seemed quite set on the fact that nobody was going to enter any of the chambers, in any condition without proper authorization. To him, Dr. Michael Hall was not remotely authorized. It's not like he was asking to be let into the chamber with the second stage victims without the benefit of a environmental suit, he just wanted to talk with the first stage victims, to hear from them what had happened. After examining the notes, he had sought to reconstruct the virus that Dr. Sauer had injected into each of these kids, minus the destructive additions that Salinger made. It had taken him most of the night, but following Sauer's well laid out instructions, it had not really been hard. He had made a couple mistakes along the way, and each time had to start over again, but in the end, he had crafted it. It was ready; whomever he injected with that would begin the metamorphosis into a bear.

His reasons for talking with these kids was twofold, on the one hand, the scientific part of him wanted to know what these kids felt, while the more human part of him wanted to find out how they felt. The distinction would not be subtle; one dealt with their physical well being, the other their emotional. It also occurred to him that these were probably the only innocent people in this whole mix; not even Dr. Sauer was completely innocent in Hall's eye, as it had been Lane's hand that had brought these boy and girls here. It was Dr. Lane Sauer's hand that had relegated these adolescents to an ursine fate. It was Dr. Lane Sauer's hand that had forever closed these young boys and girls' doors to the rest of society. About as close they could ever come to society again would be in a zoo. The thought of society reminded Sauer of the reference to that strange new society that Sauer had mentioned a few times in his notes. That was something he did not understand, something he hoped Asgaard could explain.

However much he wanted to talk with Asgaard, he felt as if this would really be the only time that he would have to talk with the victims personally, not from behind some Plexiglas window, not from behind the confines of a environmental suit, but face to face, like human beings should talk. Dr. Harris was standing in the way of that, "I cannot let you in there, Dr. Hall."

"What reason do you have?" Hall asked, frustrated by this obdurate scientist.

"We don't let people go in there to talk with them, it's against protocol." Harris reiterated standing between him and the airlocked antechamber leading into the holding pen.

"I'm the one who's been given authority to deciphering this virus that's afflicted them, I should have the liberty to go and see them personally, to ask them what they feel!" Hall pointed out, trying to get around the big man.

"If you go in there you might die." Harris also pointed out. "We cannot afford to lose you."

"Who can't afford to lose me? Asgaard or Morgenstern?" Hall challenged.

Harris frowned, "I'm afraid I can't let you through, now please turn around and start walking back to your work station."

"Who's in charge here? I was told that I had the other scientists at my disposal." Hall asked curiously, not turning to move.

"Would you please turn back around, Dr. Hall. I would not like to have to call security on you." Harris reached for the phone set in the wall.

"Get out of my way, Harris. I am going in there to talk with them." Hall glowered at the man, tensing his hand into a fist.

Harris ignored him, and pulled the phone up off the hook. He reached with his other hand to start punching in numbers, when Hall swung at the man, knocking him to the ground. Hall grabbed the man's keycards that hung from his belt, and tore them free. Harris, now lying on the ground, stunned from the sudden attack, reached up to grab at the keycards, but Hall kicked him in the stomach. Hall put the phone back on the hook, and then swiped the keycard through the lock, and the door opened up. Harris jumped to his feet, and knocked Hall into the wall at the end of the airlock. Hall dropped the keycards to the floor, the wind knocked from him completely. He tried to push himself up off the wall, but he felt a fist plant firmly against his back, and then another one again. Hall sank to the floor, gasping for breath, feeling the pain swell in his back, as he heard the big man groping for the keycards which been thrown to the floor.

Hall then felt himself lifted by the back of his shirt, and tossed out through the doorway. He landed on his rear, rolled over, and then settled in a clump in the middle of the hallway. He heard the door shut, and then looked up to see that Harris was retaking his position at the door. He saw the man pick up the phone again, and heard his voice in just a moment, "Dr. Hall here was trying illicitly to gain access to the holding pen for the first stage victims. Can you send a few men down to take him back to his research station? No, I don't think he'll prove a further problem. Thank you."

Hall looked for a moment at Harris, who returned the look, stone-faced. "Why couldn't you just let me see them?" Hall asked.

"You are too important, going in there could have killed you." Harris replied quietly.

"Both you and I know that is a lie." Hall said, almost challenging the big man to disagree.

"I hardly think so. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do." then Harris stood stock-still, unmoving, not even looking at Hall. Hall stared at that figure, reminded of the British Royal Guards, who paid attention to nothing that did not require their attention. Hall was still staring dumbfounded at that man when the security men gripped him below the arms and half dragged half carried back to his workstation.

The two men climbed into the waiting airplane. It was barely dawn when they did so, and the biting chill of the wind which had been calm for the last week made both of them huddle protectively in their fur lined coats. The first figure, a tall gaunt man with a triangular shaped goatee looked at the wings of the plane, which even now the crews were meticulously deicing. He hated to fly in this sort of weather; in fact he hated to fly period. Despite the fact that company perquisites gave him this private jet, he still rarely used it. He much preferred to stay on the land, to be able to feel the ground beneath his feet. Modes of transport however across the vast stretches of wasteland and icy expanse were faster by dog sled, and even that was not very fast. Still, where they were headed made dog sled not only impractical, but also completely impossible.

The second figure was squat, slightly misshapen, and rigidly fixed on the figure before him. His hands were shoved fiercely into the pockets of his thick coat, and in one of them he grasped a small pistol, the barrel ever aimed at the first figure. Flying for him at this point seemed more a compromise, but not one he didn't mind making. Leaving his town did give him a bit of trepidation, but it was not something he minded doing at this point in the game. Things had simply become too interesting for him to back out now. He was going to see this to the end, for something more monumental than he had ever uncovered was occurring. Something of such a grand scale was transpiring that he wasn’t even sure whom he could trust. Until he knew the truth, all would be under his scrutiny.

The two sat down in the cushioned and well-heated interior of the plane, both facing each other. The gaunt figure striped the fur coat from around his body, and tossed the coat to onto the seat next to him. The misshapen second figure carefully removed his coat, pulling the gun out, and passing it back and forth between his hands as he removed his cloak. The first figure eyed the gun distractedly, setting his hands in his lap.

"Put your hands on the table." the second figure barked.

He did so. They both heard the sounds of the engines starting, and within moments, they eased into the air. After a brief period of ascent, they leveled out, and the flight got underway in earnest.

"Now, your pilots do know the destination do they not?"

"Of course." the first figure replied, his hands tapping out a simple rhythm. He suddenly sniffed the air and then smiled, "I see you've bathed."

"Just enough to sneak up on your guards. A man who stinks is easy to notice, but so is one who is clean." the man retorted acidly.

Just then a man of moderate build walked toward the pair, "May I get you anything Mr. Balakhna?"

The gaunt figure shook his head, "No, I think I'll pass this time. Thank you anyway, Ilya."

"And for you, Mr. Raporov?" Ilya asked, showing no concern whatsoever about the gun that was still pointed directly at Balakhna, whom he worked for.

"Do you have any vodka?" Raporov asked, never taking his eyes off Balakhna or his idly taping hands.

"Several brands in fact. Would you like a list?" Ilya asked.

"No, just give me the most expensive one." Raporov asked.

"Of course, how would you like that?" Ilya asked further.

Raporov wondered if this was intended to distract him, and thought that it really wasn't too much of a bad idea. Balakhna was no fool, nor was his men, but Raporov had made sure that the only weapon on board this plane would be the gun that he was holding in his hand. He was not a fool either, and nothing quite so simple was going to be the reason that he was killed. If he ever died, it would be from something completely out of his control. Anything he could effect would have nothing to do with his death, he would be sure of that. He had been too long in the business to be simply offed by some common vagabond, or even a rich one. "I would like mine chilled."

"Of course, Mr. Raporov." Ilya went back towards the bar, which was one section down.

"You know that if you fire that weapon, you're only going to rupture the hold of the plane and kill yourself and everyone else." Balakhna pointed out.

"That is if I miss." Raporov pointed out.

"What if you do?" Balakhna asked.

"I'm not going to miss."

"Can you be sure?"

"I'm not worried, your employer didn't design this plane weakly. The structural support throughout the fuselage seems pretty thick to me. I bet the windows are bullet proof too. Even if I miss, the bullets in this gun are not strong enough to shoot through the hull."

"Swan, you don't have to do this."

"Sure I do. Your superior tells me to kill you, saying he'll give me your job, a position that hardly seems secure to me."

"I recommend against killing me. If you kill me, do you think you could get this plane to fly to the destination?"

"They do or they die." Raporov pointed out. Ilya returned bearing a glass tinkling with the sound of ice cubes. Raporov took it in his free hand, and sniffed it. He then passed it over to Balakhna, "Drink it."


"Well, I wouldn't want to be poisoned." Raporov pointed out.

Balakhna smiled, "I assure you, there is no poison in that drink. Am I not correct, Ilya?"

"You are correct."

"Then you shouldn't have any fear of drinking it then should you?" Raporov pointed out. "Now drink."

Balakhna hesitantly took the glass, his hands halting their tapping for a moment, as he lifted the glass to his lips. "Drink all of it." Raporov said, seeing that Balakhna was only intent on sipping it. Balakhna complied, and the vodka quickly disappeared down his throat.

Jacob woke up that morning - he guessed it was morning, they never turned the lights of in the room, so he couldn't tell - with the sound of a fight. He looked up to see two men struggling just outside the door that he had been brought here in. Looking up, he could see that the others had also turned to watch the excitement. Unfortunately, they did not last more than a few seconds, and everything was back to normal in moments. Almost normal that is. Jacob turned to look at what he'd left of the remains of the fish that they had fed him that night. They had given them all a large number of fish, and to his surprise he had eaten it quite contentedly. He had never eaten that much fish in his life, especially not when it had been raw, but like Frederick had said, he had been hungry, and it still surprised him.

Of course what really got his attention was the screaming that occurred a few moments later. He turned to see Jean, the only girl that was with them in the room jump up and down on her legs looking at her chest, and ripping at what had appeared there. All along her chest, was a nice film of white hair, covering every curve, even up to the nipples on her breasts. Jacob had stared abstractedly at those breasts for a while the previous night, and for some reason this morning they didn't look as large as he remembered them. It wasn't only on her chest as well. Along her arms and legs, the white film of hair was also abundant. There wasn't as much on her hands and feet, or her face, though the roots of all the hair on her head was now white. Even the little hair she had in her crotch had turned white.

Jacob looked over at Frederick who was watching this with a detached expression. Frederick turned to look at Jacob, and must have seen the worried look on his face because he said, "This is what's been happening."

Jacob felt a shiver of cold run through his body, and he stared once more at the screaming Jean. Jean who had once been in Jacob's mind an attractive young girl about his age, one who under normal circumstances he would have immediately approached and tried to become friend with, was now something no longer human, something that was more likely to be seen in a carnival side show than at a mall or in a school. Jacob watched as she threw herself against the mirror, prostrating herself before it, screaming at the top of her lungs, "Why you bastards! Look what you've done to me! You bastards!"

Jean then collapsed in a heap by the one way mirror that dominated one side of the room, and began to weep uncontrollably. Jacob could hear her call for her parents amongst the uncontrolled sobbing. Jacob could not help but feel sorrow for her, and moved to approach her. He saw that Jeff, who looked to be the oldest of the six also move over to help her. Jeff had the body that Jacob could only dream of. Athletic build, obvious upper body strength, it looked as if he worked out in a weight room pretty consistently. His face was lean, almost aquiline, but still had a measure of firmness in it that made Jacob envious. Anytime Jacob tried to look that firm, he looked as if he were scowling like a three-year-old might.

Jeff reached her first, which Jacob quickly became happy about, because Jean then lashed out with her nails, scratching Jeff on the arm, shouting, "Get back all of you! Stay away!" She then descended into tears again. Jacob at back on his haunches, looking at the scar that she had made in Jeff's left arm. The blood flowed lowly, oozing out rather lugubriously. While staring at that cut, Jacob noticed something else about him. Jeff himself had, though not quite as pronounced as Jean did, a smattering of white fur all over his body. Jacob then saw that Jeff noticed it as well. Jeff felt it with one hand, his eyes wide. His mouth quavered, but he never cried. He then retreated to another corner of the room, and huddled up by himself, pulling his knees in close to his chest, as if to hide the fur.

Jean was still crying, and it sounded like she might never stop. Jacob could make out only smatterings of words, mostly about how much she missed her parents, and her friends, and the occasional vituperative against one or more of the scientists here. Jacob moved over to Frederick who looked to be talking everything in rather calmly.

"How long before they get taken away?" he asked.

"Shouldn't take them too long to figure it out." Frederick replied shrugging his shoulders.

Jacob looked helplessly at the pathetic heap of Jean in the corner. She had completely crumpled to the floor, and her face was drenched with tears, and she was snuffling rather loudly. Her chest was heaving, and he imaged that all the crying was hurting her more than anything else was. "I wish I could do something."

Frederick nodded, "Do what you can if you feel like it. Me, I'll wait till they take me wherever we go after we get that fur."

"What is happening to us?" Jacob asked helplessly, feeling his own fears welling up, compounded by his sympathy for Jean.

"Man, I don't know!" Frederick replied. "If I did I'd tell you. This place is just too weird."

"There's got to be something...." Jacob stopped as he saw the door open, and four men walk in with a couple gurneys trailing along behind them. A thick plastic shield covered the gurneys, and there were straps inside the shield, obviously to restrain the individuals placed inside there. What made Jacob start though was that he recognized the one in the lead. It was Dr. Simpson, one of the men that had been there when they had killed Dr. Ryan, and possibly even his parents if what Frederick said was to be believed.

Jean started hissing at them almost, screaming expletives, her crying stopped completely, now only a fit of fury. She threw herself at the nearest one, intent on ripping the environmental suit that he wore to ribbons. The man deftly slapped her, sending her sprawling to one side. Another moved into hold her down, and the first pushed a syringe into her leg. She spasmed a few more times, then went still. Those two then proceeded to load her onto one of the two gurneys.

Jeff glared at the other one, who was moving toward him, syringe in hand. Hank and Skip were both cowering in the other end of the room, Skip shaking so hard that the fat on his belly was jiggling ridiculously. Frederick and Jacob sat watching as the doctors performed their removal. Jacob saw that Jeff was holding the one moving toward him at bay successfully, and was wondering whether he could manage to slip out of the room, but he saw that Simpson was pretty much standing in his path.

Jeff finally went down when the two that had taken care of Jean went to assist him. Simpson never strayed from his position by the door, watching them all carefully. The other three scientists then wheeled Jean and Jeff out into the airlock beyond, and Simpson stepped back to follow them, closing the door after him. Jacob watched them use the decontamination shower for a few moments, and then they left the airlock, and continued on down the hallway, and then they were gone.

"Tomorrow they will probably come for Hank, Skip and me. Then it will be you." Frederick told Jacob, before walking away. Jacob stared at his reflection in the mirror then, wondering if this would be the last time he would see his face as a human being.

"So you're changing them all into polar bears? If I wasn't a spy, I don't think I'd believe it. That's almost as unbelievable as the idea of alien life." Msitislav Kordei Raporov pointed out, resting his elbow on the table, the gun still pointed at Balakhna, who was now tapping out a 3 against 2 pattern with his hands.

"Well, I always say that the truth is the most unbelievable thing in the world." Balakhna commented idly.

"Well now that I know the truth, what am I going to do?" Raporov asked.

"I'd suggest putting the gun down myself. Swan, you know I'm not going to kill you. I need you now, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would assist me in making sure that these leaks that Morgenstern is so worried about are taken care of professionally. Morgenstern is good, I can not deny that, but he is also convinced that the easiest way to silence somebody is to kill them. I prefer different methods."

"Oh you have a heart? Don't play games with me, Balakhna, I'm not in the mood." Raporov looked at the empty glass, "So what if you didn't poison the vodka, I know you are not going to imply let me sit here and talk to you. We both know that you are not that stupid."

"I never play games, Swan." Balakhna said in a quiet voice.

"So what are these more humane methods that you employ?" Raporov asked exasperatedly.

"I like to determine the usefulness of a person before I have them killed. You, Swan, are one of the most useful men I've ever met, if a little unruly."

"What so I can do whatever you want me to? You must be kidding Left Hand of Fate!" Raporov replied.

"I am not completely without reason you must realize." Balakhna informed him. He then began to tap the table in a 3 against 4 pattern.

"Would you stop that tapping, it's distracting." Raporov chided him.

"What, don't you appreciate my wonderful sense of rhythm. I can do 5 against 4 if you wish, or 5 against 7, or 7 against 9. I haven't gotten 13 against 17 worked out yet, but I'm still trying." Balakhna then began to beat out a rather complex rhythm on the table that Raporov could only assume was 13 against 17. Raporov then made a mistake. He let his irritation at Balakhna's tapping draw his eyes down to momentarily glance at his hands. With a sudden jerk, Balakhna ducked away, his right hand slamming into the side of the table as he did so. Raporov, who was resting his gun arm on the table, was thrown to the side, the gun skittering across the floor of the plane away from him. Raporov dived after it, but was too late as Ilya, Balakhna's man, snatched it up, and negligently held it pointed toward Raporov. Raporov tried to slap it away, but Ilya deftly stepped back.

Raporov then felt Balakhna grab him about the legs. Raporov kicked back, struggling to get them free from Balakhna's grasp. Balakhna then jabbed him right behind his kneecap, and Raporov jerked spasmodically. The time was sufficient for Balakhna to secure his hold on Raporov, holding him down in a secure grip. Raporov tried to flip over off his belly and onto his back, but Balakhna had too tight a grip for him to break free. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ilya drop the gun into a bin of some sort, and then close it and press some button. Raporov had the feeling that the gun was no longer on the plane.

Balakhna then let go of him, and stood up. Raporov jumped to his feet, his hands flashing at the two of them, faster than the eye could follow. Balakhna was ready though, and he deftly countered each blow with a movement of his hands as well. Balakhna then grabbed at his arms, and pushed them against each other, locking him in place. "Stop this insanity, I nor anyone else on this plane is going to kill you, Swan."

Raporov slipped one finger out of the lock, and jammed it between the two bones in his arm, and dug deep. Balakhna jerked back, and Raporov broke the lock. Balakhna fell back, the sweat form the exertion dripping from his brow. His hair was tousled, and he was breathing heavily. Raporov moved in to attack again, his hands darting into deliver well placed blows, but each time Balakhna blocked them, and returned with a pair of his own jabs. Raporov knew that both of them were some of the best, and that if he ever expected to beat Balakhna, it would have to be from sheer endurance.

He was not surprised at all to find that Ilya was refraining from helping his employer. He was certainly talented, this Ilya, Raporov had no doubt about that, but he knew that all Ilya could ever be was an observer, since his talent was most certainly not on the same level as theirs. Raporov held back for a moment, while Balakhna moved his hands back and forth, gently, almost as if they weighed nothing at all. This battle seemed too evenly matched for him. His eyes never left Balakhna, for to do so would be tantamount to suicide, yet he was at one light disadvantage here, he did not know the terrain as completely as Balakhna most certainly did.

With a quick flick of his wrist, he wiped the sweat from his forehead, and moved in for another attack, this one easily blocked, but he didn't mind, he hadn't put much force behind it. If he held back long enough, perhaps Balakhna would waste his energy, and he could make the finishing blow, and end this fight. Despite Balakhna's assurances that he was not going to be harmed, he was not sure that he could possibly believe him. He was going to fight till one of them won, and he was going to make sure that it was he.

Dr. Michael Hall looked about his workstation. This whole mess was a collection of insanity, and the drubbing he had taken was still echoing from his bones. He could understand the desire to make sure that he be kept safe, as he was probably the only person on the earth who could understand the equations that Sauer had devised. However, those kids were really the ones suffering ere, and he wanted them to know that somebody cared about them. Then again, there was another part of him that was glad they were here. That was the part of him that was trying to make him jam that syringe into his arm.

He had filled a syringe with the formula that would turn him into a bear. He had always wanted to be more like the animals, and he had always liked the bear. It was certainly not his favorite animal, but it was among his favorites. Here was the chance to become an ursine morphs, how could he pass that up. A childhood dream to be a morph, and now he had the means.

He sat there, syringe in hand, staring at his arm. Thousand of thoughts flew through his head. Some continuously reminded him that he had responsibilities to take care of. Others pointed out that with these sets of instructions almost any morph could be created. Another reminded him that he needed to be able to insert the buffer, to stop the virus from turning him completely into a bear. Another pointed out that if he did stick himself with this, then they'd have to put him in with the kids.

He sat there, syringe in hand, staring at his arm.

Feodor Arensky glanced off at the horizon. There in the distance over the ocean, he thought he saw a dark smudge. Could it be land? Could he have finally reached the Bering Strait? He felt a surge of joy leap up in him. If this was indeed the Bering Strait, then he was nearly to safety, where he could live out his life in peace and relative security. He lumbered forward along the coastline, not even caring now that he was moving on all fours. His last meal had been good, but he was still slightly hungry. Didn't smell any fish though. Salt. Water. No fish. Dark smudge up ahead, could be land, and if so, then he was nearly to freedom, and he rejoiced in that knowledge. Once there he'd be able to eat all he wanted. He surely wanted to eat, tasting the flavor of his last meal against his large thick teeth. He didn't always have those, but they sure were nice now. Made it easier to eat, same with his claws. Running on all fours, easier. Much easier. Dark smudge up ahead, hopefully land, Bering Strait, across from it he was free from danger. There he would live.

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