By Charles Matthias
Captain Rhodes looked over the crew manifests and then nearly spat out his coffee. He set his cup down on his metal-frame workstation, and leaned forward in his chair. He looked over the list of names one more time, and then set the sheet down. He looked across the small compartment at the junior officer sitting straight up across from him. He was a lean fellow, crew cut blonde hair, straight chin and thin lips. His face was thick though, and his eyes a rather dull blue. His expression was a friendly one, as Rhodes insisted that all his men wear such expressions. Rhodes himself was a portly man, not too obese, but he did tend to roll when he lay on his side. He had a firm muscle tone though, and his dark hair was firmly trimmed. He breathed once, letting his surprise come out in a reasoned tone.
"Have you seen the passengers yet?" Rhodes asked the officer.
"Yes sir, I saw them this morning when I was helping Dutton get them into position for the launch." the officer replied.
"Did you notice anything unusual about them?" Rhodes queried.
"Well, the scientists have all gone up before, some of them several times." the officer replied.
"No, this civilian group. Did you see them?" Rhodes pointed at a list of names on the manifest. He seemed rather perturbed at the names themselves.
The officer smiled, "Oh yes them." He shook his head, "A bunch of wackos I'm afraid. They call themselves the Shapeshifters. They think that they can turn into all sorts of animals or what not. They are coming along on this trip to worship the moon or some such garbage."
"I don't need a bunch of fanatics practicing arcane rituals on my ship." Rhodes declared.
"Sorry, sir, but according to the present interpretation of the freedom of religion we as government officials are supposed to assist in any way their attempts to practice their religion. They want to worship the moon, specifically the full moon. The way our flight pattern works out, we will see a full moon for nearly two months. They demanded to be allowed to come aboard, so we have no choice but to accommodate them."
"If they start burning incense or anything like that, I'm afraid that I am going to have something to say to them." Rhodes declared sullenly. He hated religious fanatics, especially when the believers were crazy to begin with.
"They brought no incense, if that's any consolation. Though they demand free access to the greenhouse." the officer replied.
"Nature freaks? I should have guessed, look at these names: Black-Tiger, LoveWolf, HuggyBear, Darkwolf, Lassie, Pillow, Ascot, and Lapwolf; what the Hell have they been smoking? The 2010's are dead!" Rhodes lamented.
"I'll keep a watch on them sir, if it's any consolation." the officer replied.
Rhodes shook his head, "No Kilpatrick, I need you to man the navigation helm, you are the next best after Simmons."
"Too bad she broke her leg." Kilpatrick sighed.
"Miss her already, huh?" Rhodes smirked.
"Yes I do." Kilpatrick admitted.
"Now you know there is to be no fraternization, this is a government ship." Rhodes reminded him with a twinkle in his eye.
"We only fraternize when we're off duty, sir." Kilpatrick pointed out.
Rhodes winked at him. "I hear you. It's not right though for an Executive Officer to be associating himself so freely with the Navigator."
Kilpatrick replied with a straight face, "She taught me everything I know about docking maneuvers."
Rhodes laughed, "I believe that. She probably showed you her personal airlock didn't she."
Kilpatrick blushed slightly, and looked away. "That's what I thought." Rhodes smiled sadistically. Rhodes then let his eyes drift back to the passenger manifest. No matter how much he joked with his next in command, he still had to deal with these passengers.
"Now, about these passengers, have Dutton keep an eye on them instead. We only need one security officer on duty at all times, and I think Tembo can handle the job just fine by himself. Now, there are eight in this group, yes?" Rhodes asked, looking over the list.
"Yes there are eight of them, and as you can see we have a team of ten scientists as well. That's the only passengers we have."
"With six officers and five personnel here, since Simmons couldn't make it. I already called back and the front office claims to have nobody to spare." Rhodes pointed out.
"What did you expect, she only broke her leg this morning." Kilpatrick pointed out. "It was a pure accident, she was walking down the stairs."
"Talked to her already have you?" Rhodes asked.
"Well of course, she called me from the hospital as soon as she got there. I was helping Dutton out at the time get the passengers squared away."
"Look, don't worry about it, she'll be fine. You worry about making sure this ship goes where it is supposed to." Rhodes told him. Rhodes looked at his watch, "We launch in about five hours, so you better get down there to cover the preflight checkups. We want no mistakes to occur."
"Right, when will you be along?" Kilpatrick asked his captain.
"I'll be along shortly, I just want to take a look at a few things first." Rhodes pushed a button on his workstation, and a monitor lifted itself from the center of the metal plate. A keyboard moved into position from where there had been solid metal before. "This shouldn't take me too long anyway." Rhodes muttered as Kilpatrick backed out of the room.
Mr. Tembo, a seven-foot tall dark-skinned man with a wide nose and a glaring set of eyes looked over the passengers as he wore his security uniform proudly. He carried in one hand a clipboard, and he repeatedly flipped through it and starred at the faces of the people who were assembled about him in the main cafeteria. They were all sitting in groups at each of the small tables. There were eight very unprofessional looking characters sitting by themselves, some of whom were acting like slobs. The other ten were split five by five amongst two other tables. Each of them were reasonably dressed, but most also looked in Mr. Tembo's estimate to be very unprofessional as well.
Mr. Tembo called out above the din of chatter in a deep baritone, "I am head of security for this trip, if I catch any of you breaking the rules that have been posted in each of your rooms then there will be severe punishment. This is not a pleasure cruise, despite what many of you think. If I catch you breaking the rules, then I will be forced to put you in the brig, there will be no questions asked, and you will have no recourse to sue. This is a government operation, we are giving you a certain amount of leeway, as much as the Constitution grants, but after that, you have no rights. I am here to ensure that you obey the rules and restrictions that we have established.
"Mr. Dutton here, my second-in-command, is also authorized to use whatever force he feels necessary. Mr. Ziegler, Mr. McGee, Mrs. Gorecki, and Mr. Corigliano are also authorized to do the same. Obey them just as you would obey me, or Captain Rhodes." Mr. Tembo gestured to his security personnel. Being the security officer, he had full authority to dictate the organization of his staff. This was something that none questioned. "That is all I have to say. The rules are posted on the doors in your rooms, read them and obey them."
Mr. Tembo left the cafeteria, looking over each of the passengers. The group of eight were eating something already. As he passed he could smell it was chili. "Hungry already?" he asked them.
One of them, a young man who had to be the thinnest of the whole group replied, "We always eat chili before we howl."
"Or in your case hee-haw." one of the others, a slightly younger fellow with a northern accent and appearance told the first. The group laughed at the joke, but Mr. Tembo was not sure what to make of it. He knew they were some sort of religious nuts, but now he was sure that he didn't want to know quite what type of nuts. He promptly left the room, not wanting to say anymore to these weirdoes.
Executive Officer Kilpatrick stepped on the bridge, and saw that it was already well in order. Communications Officer Malcolm Danielpour was checking over the various frequencies of communication, making sure that the various radios were operational on all fronts. The only other officer on the bridge, ship's engineer Lucille Penny was perched precariously on an overhanging compartment where she was checking through the wiring.
Kilpatrick came to stand beneath her and looked up at her, "That's a nice set of wires you got there."
Danielpour looked up from what he was doing for a moment, and then back down at his controls. Penny looked down at Kilpatrick, "Oh, Sam, do you mind handing me that pair of pliers." she pointed down to a toolchest resting firmly on a control panel. Samuel Kilpatrick picked up the toolchest, looked underneath to see if anything had been damaged, of course nothing had, and then flipped through the various implements till he happened upon a pair of electrical pliers. He handed them up to Penny.
"I always thought that this kind of work should be done well before the flight is supposed to start, not a few hours before." Kilpatrick noted.
"Oh silly, " Penny smiled, "of course it's been done. I'm checking to make sure that I did it right."
"Have you?" Kilpatrick asked.
"Of course I have." Penny flashed him a dimpled smile, and then jumped to the ground. She handed him the pair of pliers, and then climbed up onto the console. She pushed the overhang back into the ceiling compartment, and then began to rebolt it.
"You know that we have ladders to stand on instead of control panels." Kilpatrick pointed out, looking at the various buttons marked there. Nothing important thankfully, but it would be a pain if she started stepping on them accidentally. Having the umbilical arms extend while the hangar was still closed would be rather embarrassing to try to explain.
"I know." was her reply to his suggestion. "I don't need it though." she finished securing the plate, and then looked at Kilpatrick expectantly. "Help me down."
"I saw you jump from the bulkhead, why can't you jump from a control panel?" Kilpatrick playfully pointed out.
"Oh, Sam, help me down, you're not doing anything useful." she demanded.
"Yes, my queen." Kilpatrick remarked mockingly. Kilpatrick grabbed her by the waist, lifted her off the control panel, and set her firmly down to the ground. Her shoulder length dark hair fell into Kilpatrick's face, and he nearly sneezed on it. She must wash it with one of those naturalizing shampoos, as he smelled some sort of fruit.
Danielpour looked at him stiffly, "I don't think that particular title meets the regulations." Danielpour was always a boor, very strict in his job. Of course he spent all day talking to the home office so he was bound to become a little stiff-necked about their policies. He was also a younger man than any of the others; he had only been doing this for about a year now. Once he had been doing this for a few more years like most of the rest of them had, with the exception of the security personnel, who were continuously rotated to prevent corruption from developing due to familiarity, he would soon drop a lot of the formality that marked the way things worked in Earth, but in space, it was a different matter. Space made such things as rank nearly obsolete, and regulations, while for the most part good, on occasion had to be broken. After all of that excess was removed, all that was left was the principles of preserving life.
Kilpatrick did not make an attempt to ignore Malcolm, that would only exacerbate the tensions already there. "Malcolm, I think that you will learn that not all actions have to follow the regulations."
"It would be better if they did." Danielpour replied. "I thought Executive Officers were supposed to enforce the regulations?"
"I do. But we are not officially in space yet, so..." Kilpatrick left it hanging. There was no point in arguing with the man. Kilpatrick turned to see where Penny had gone. He liked Penny, not nearly as much as Simmons. There was something about Simmons that had drawn him to her, but Penny was a nice enough girl as well. She certainly was flirting with him, and he enjoyed that.
"Oh, Sam?" she called. "Could you help me with this bulkhead?" she asked in a sweet voice. "It's stuck."
Danielpour gave him a leery look, "Simmons." he whispered, and then put his headset back on and returned to the world of communication. Kilpatrick gave Danielpour a dirty look, and then went over to Penny's side and looked at the bulkhead she was trying to move. It was stationed behind Rhodes' chair, and obviously had to do with his personal controls. Even if he hadn't been familiar with the layout of the ship he'd have known that it was Rhodes' chair, since the cushions had long since gone flat.
"This the one?" Kilpatrick asked pointing at the bulkhead she was standing by.
"Yes, would you be so kind as to help me move it?" Penny smiled at him, showing him those bright dimples.
Sam shrugged, grabbed the bulkhead around the edges, and pulled as hard as he could. At first it was very resilient, but then it suddenly burst free, and Sam tumbled to the ground, very nearly hitting his head. He looked at the insides, the mesh of wiring and the frame supports were very confusing to him. He knew that Penny was more than capable of handling herself, and frankly, Malcolm was right, he already had his girl - how he wished that she were here instead of in the hospital - and Penny was notorious for flirting with any guy that crossed her path.
"If you need any help, I'll be around. I have to make sure that the rest of the systems work properly." Kilpatrick sat down where Simmons usually sat, feeling the contours of the chair reshape themselves for his particular body. He looked over the various screens, and began to run the proper tests. How he wished Simmons was doing this instead of him. He would just have to perform ably in her absence.
Dr. Thibaudet reclined in his bunk after a delicious meal, and an unsettling demonstration of power by some of the security officials. He had left the cafeteria along with his fellow scientists, walked past the bizarre collection of fanatics on what he had been told was some sort of pilgrimage, and out into the hallway where the sole female security member, who looked like she had walked out of some action-movie - drop-dead crew-cut blonde, finely wrought muscle-tone, wearing a skin-tight leather outfit with the security insignia emblazoned on her shoulder - engaging in a martial arts contest with one of the other security officers - a short man who looked to be in his forties with the name patch "McGee" across his front pocket. Both moved faster than he thought was humanly possible.
Thibaudet had retired to his room trying to stay out of harms way, but they had never come near him, though they moved about all other portions of the corridor. It was like they were deliberately telling him and anybody else who might come by not to even consider interfering with them. He certainly did not intend to break any rules while he was here. Of course two months with those goons watching over his shoulders would not be pleasant, but it would not be wholly unfamiliar either. Wasn't that exactly the same way it worked on Earth now in the government laboratories?
He tried to shrug such thoughts away. He had known that this would happen when he agreed to go on this mission. He had nobody to blame but himself. Of course, this mission wouldn't be all bad; he'd finally get some first hand evidence on the effects of solar radiation upon superconducting materials. Each scientist had a workstation prepared that was built into the ship itself in modules that could be easily removed upon return to Earth. His involved a sun-side portion of the ship, but the port windows were specially designed to block the deadly Ultraviolet radiation. However, the panels of superconducting material which would have a current continuously flowing through them were not shielded from any radiation that would come their way. He wanted the unbiased effects the sun had on such materials, and he would get to analyze the evidence as it occurred not months or years later like he would have had to only ten years ago.
He looked over at the other side of the room, and saw his roommates bunk. Of course though they were still in the beginning phases of these projects, and space was a consideration. Certainly on later voyages they would be able to house thousands in independent rooms, each one equipped with their own facilities. However, at the present, they were forced to make do with roommates assigned randomly - though there were no coed rooms as a matter of policy - and public facilities. It wasn't so bad, Thibaudet thought, it actually reminded him of his college days when he lived in the dorms. Those were fine times, and he enjoyed them mightily.
Of course, it was his luck that of all the other scientists going along, he would be roomed with the only non-physical scientist. Apparently Dr. Anselm was a psychologist. He had discovered that in their conversation that morning when they first moved their personal affects into their living quarters. What his entire purpose on this flight though was apparently none of his business. Anselm had grown very distant for a moment when asked about his research and had then returned to his usual affable state with equal speed, although he had deftly changed the subject. Thibaudet had not really noticed at the time, but now that he thought about it and the silliness and imprecision of such a study as psychology, it made all the more sense. Of course these nonphysical scientists would be more subject to the emotions than to raw logic.
However, that was not his major concern. He had to admit to himself that raw logic was a very hard term to define in itself, but he was not one to argue with the years of tradition that science had developed by following such a maxim. He reached over the side of his bed and picked up the latest copy of Science News, looking over the featured article on Fractal Gravity Patterns in the Three-Body Problem, found it mildly interesting, but quite useless to his present topic of research. Searching through the rest of the magazine, he found it to be much the same. The books ads were featuring yet another biography on the life of Albert Einstein, and 'The Cycles of Existence: Science Rediscovering Myth' by Fulton Swiley. He was sick of that book already, but it was number one on the bestsellers list, so of course it would make the pages of Science News, even though its 'Science' was mostly a bunch of superstitious garbage.
Thibaudet had no patience for such filth, and so tossed the magazine to the ground in disgust. He looked down at it, and realized something else; it was not secured away. They would be launching in another few hours, and anything not secured could fly anywhere and get damaged. He hated that rule, since it did limit the number of items that could be brought on board, but it was a necessary one. He stuffed the magazine into the compartment he had pulled it from, and then sat up on the bed. When the time came that too would fold neatly into the wall and lock in place.
Just as he was about ready to pick something else up, the door to his room opened, and in came Dr. Anselm. "Hello Pierre." Anselm smiled as he came into the room.
"Bon jour." Thibaudet replied in a cordial tone.
"We'll it appears they aren't taking chances with security this time around. I guess it must be those Shapeshifters or what not." Anselm noted.
"I guess." he shrugged, not really interested in talking with the psychologist.
"Can you believe that they actually think they are Shapeshifters?" Anselm seemed shocked at the notion.
"No, can you?" he replied cordially, turning his back to the man, and examining the locking mechanisms for the bed.
"In a way yes I can. It's a common condition these days. In a world in which there is not much contact with nature, some feel stifled by this and react against it so massively that they begin to think of themselves as animals. Of course they claim that they have felt this way all their life, or at some point it just became clear to them. We have our theories though." Anselm spoke to him as to a peer, but Pierre really wasn't interested in his theories about a bunch of religious nuts.
"I can't imagine that they would agree with that assessment."
"Of course not." Anselm seemed rather pleased to hear his own voice, Thibaudet noted. "They have what I would call a benign psychosis, one that does not interfere with normal interaction in society in a negative way."
"I take it then that you have conducted psychological study on such people? Is that what you are going to be doing now? Studying how the presence of a two-month long full moon affects their minds?" Thibaudet turned to face the psychologist, now interested in the discussion. If that was his purpose here, then he was going to be severely disappointed. He was hoping in some way that it would be secret experiments with drugs on unwilling subjects in a confined space, something gothic like that. Case studies were always boring, and he frankly didn't want to have anything to do with a case study.
Anselm shook his head, "My function here is more than that. I will take notes on their behavior, it will be interesting to see what will result, but I guarantee that such inquiries are not my purpose here."
"Than just what is your purpose here?" Thibaudet asked directly, he was not going to let him weasel out of it this time.
Anselm stared at him for a moment, and then smiled, "I think though that such inquiry would be of general interest. I'm willing to bet that Fulton Swiley would be interested in such an inquiry. You do know that he's writing a sequel to his novel about how science has now come back to myth? He's planning on talking about specific myths in detail and the science that surrounds them, sort of the reverse of what he did in his first book."
"I know about Fulton Swiley, what about you?" Thibaudet asked, though it was obvious that Anselm was deliberately ignoring him.
Anselm turned about, and began to pace back and forth as if he were mulling over some great idea. "Yes, Dr. Swiley would love such research. I could gain a bit of prestige myself if I supplied such information. I must think about this."
"But what are you really trying to accomplish here?" Thibaudet asked again.
"Don't bother me now, I'm trying to think." Anselm replied, not even looking up at Pierre. Thibaudet shook his head, and walked out of the room without another word. They hadn't even launched yet and already he couldn't stand his roommate. The man was completely unfathomable, and very frustrating to say the least.
Pierre Thibaudet marched past the doors of several of the scientists, and then found himself passing by the open doors of the religious nuts. He briefly glanced in their doors as he walked past, and saw that they had all migrated to one room and were sitting on their haunches almost like wolves - some of them were at any rate. He had to walk back and take another look at the event because it was so odd. One of the eight, a rather fat man in his late twenties smiled at him, "Would you care to join in our communing with our animal spirits?"
Thibaudet had to repress a laugh at the silliness of the notion, "Merci, no. I'm afraid I have pressing business elsewhere."
"Assalam Alaikum!" the fat man called out. Thibaudet smiled once, and then left, bewildered. What an odd group!
Darkwolf looked at the other members of his order and shrugged, "I was being hospitable!"
"You interrupted our exercise." Lassie, the sole female of the group, pointed out. She was short, barely 5 foot six inches, with shoulder-length dark-brown hair. Her temperament was not one that produced much accord, but most of the time she was quite agreeable. However, there were certain things that did not get interrupted, such as quasi-religious ceremonies.
"Why would you want them in one of our practices anyway?" Lapwolf, a medium-sized teenager with curly brown hair asked nastily. Darkwolf turned on the offensive creature and scowled. "I did what I thought was right. Do you have a problem with that?"
"Look, " HuggyBear smiled broadly, his thick cheeks and ruddy complexion giving evidence to his name, "being hospitable is good, but not while we are doing the exercise."
Darkwolf shrugged, "Oh well, so I goofed this time, I am not infallible."
"It's okay, we forgive you." HuggyBear smiled at him. LoveWolf, a beanpole if there ever was one - he was affectionately called the giraffe by some in the group because of his stature - giggled a bit, "Just don't let it happen again."
"Whatever." Darkwolf mumbled to himself. He looked across the group at the silent few, Black-Tiger was almost growling at him from across the room, while Ascot was still sunk in his perpetual depression and Pillow had put on his portable Walkman once again. Each of the three were rather quiet individuals, all about the same size, though Ascot was obviously Scandinavian in origin, while Black-Tiger and Pillow were much more Americanized. Both had dirty-blonde hair and blue eyes, but their temperaments were vastly different. Pillow couldn't scare anybody, but Black-Tiger was very easily angered, especially over matters of religious doctrine, and in fact it was apparent that he had gotten in touch with his tiger-side before Darkwolf had so blatantly interrupted the proceedings.
Lapwolf however had completely lost it. He had broken the circle and was now pacing the room gyrating his arms erratically, and cursing silently at the air. Lassie rolled her eyes at him, and turned away, shaking her head in annoyance. HuggyBear and LoveWolf both sighed, and leaned back against the wall, looking into each other's eyes affectionately. It was their room, so the way things were turning Darkwolf might be compelled to leave as he did not like to watch the giraffe screw Mr. Fat as inevitably ended up happening when they started to look at each other like that. Darkwolf himself was not Mr. Athletic and he kept seeing himself as the person getting screwed, and as one of the few heterosexuals in the group - Lassie he knew was also heterosexual, but he had absolutely no interest in her - he found that the rest of the groups blase regard for such an act despicable.
Of course he had the fortunate luck of rooming with Ascot, who had displayed no sexual interest in anything ever since he had met him. The man, man he should say kid, he was barely twenty years of age, was simply not susceptible to good cheer. Of course he felt even greater pity for Pillow who roomed with Lapwolf, and it was generally known that Lapwolf thought he owned Pillow. From what he had gathered of Pillow, he simply went along with it because he felt sorry for Lapwolf. Submitting to sexual games for that purpose did not fit in his idea of a healthy relationship, but he was probably biased.
His attention was finally caught once more by Black-Tiger who was starring at him with calculating eyes. Darkwolf knew that Black-Tiger had completely submerged his persona behind that of Tiger and would be completely impossible to talk to. What happened though was not his guess. Black-Tiger gathered himself up, and then launched at Darkwolf. Darkwolf put his hands up to fend of the ferocious attack, hearing Black-Tiger roar in the triumph of the kill. Darkwolf felt Black-Tiger try to bite into him, but Darkwolf struggled against it as he lay on the floor, putting his massive arms in front of the man. It was not enough though, Black-Tiger managed to bite down hard on his shoulder, and Darkwolf could feel it pierce his skin even through his T-shirt. He kicked up, and Black-Tiger flew off him onto the far floor.
By this time of course the others had gotten into action and were securing Black-Tiger on the ground. Pillow was still sitting there listening to his music almost oblivious to the happenings about. He then abruptly stood up, and produced a pillow from nowhere it seemed. He had an uncanny knack of hiding things on his person, and he had earned his name by continuously producing pillows in excess amounts. He then proceeded to beat Black-Tiger over the head with the pillow before walking out of the room without another word.
"I think that was my exit cue as well." Darkwolf dusted himself off and looked at the pile of bodies on top of the still spitting Black-Tiger.
"I don't know quite what got into him." HuggyBear commented dryly resting his bulk on top of BT's arms.
"He hates it when the ceremonies are interrupted." Lassie pointed out.
"Oh that's right." HuggyBear looked like he wanted to slap himself for being so silly. "That's a Wiccan for you I guess."
"Hey, " Darkwolf interjected, "don't makes generalities about religion, it's always a bad idea."
HuggyBear shrugged, "I guess so."
LoveWolf laughed, "We'll calm him down, Dark, don't you worry yourself."
Darkwolf nodded and began to walk back to his room, which he shared with Ascot, who was still sitting on the floor in abject sorrow. What was wrong with that boy? He then noticed that his shirt was a little wet. He poked it once, and then sniffed, it was his own blood. What a way to start off the Howl.
Dr. Philip Xenakis was humming to himself as he put away his equipment. Standard prelaunch regulations stipulated that all instruments be checked at least four hours before launch. He had gotten very adept at following regulations, and had made sure that each and every one of his instruments was working in its proper capacity. In his twenty-three years of service, he had only had three occasions to use his tools. Two of the three occasions had involved depressurization problems associated with scientific experiments; the other had involved a scientist who had gotten his acids and bases mixed up and had them splash in his face. So he spent most of his time in space learning many new techniques for medicine, as well as perfecting the art of memorization. He prided himself on having many lengthy books in perfect memory, including The Bible, War and Peace, several notable medical publications, portions of the U.S. Tax Code - nobody could memorize the whole thing - as well as Ole Doc Methusalah by L. Ron Hubbard, the only doctor who was the hero of a science fiction collection. He liked to think of himself as such a doctor, but he had no multi-appendaged sidekick to keep him focused.
He continued humming, consoled by the thought of being such an interplanetary doctor, healing the entire Universe's sick. He wasn't even sure what sort of tune he was humming; all he knew was that it helped him concentrate on his work. He was so engrossed in the meticulous sorting of his implements that he did not notice the young man come into his office. The young man just stood there, not saying a word, as if his presence was enough to gain attention. Dr. Xenakis did not notice him until he walked right into him, carrying a hot plate over to the far cabinet.
The young man jumped back as the hot plate fell to the floor. Xenakis stepped back reflexively, slightly embarrassed. "I'm so sorry!" Xenakis apologized, reaching down to pick up the instrument. "How can I help you?" Xenakis took a look at the individual, he seemed modestly dressed, very unprofessional, T-shirt and black jeans. His face was thick, and he was slightly rotund, but not too much so.
"Yes, I was wondering if you could examine this." the young man pulled off his shirt, and showed him his shoulder.
Dr. Xenakis peered at his thick shoulder, he had a clear set of bleeding tooth marks across it, human to be judged by the shape of the, though the canine's were a bit larger than normal, both upper and lower. "A vampire?" Xenakis asked playfully.
"No, a were-tiger." the youth responded absolutely deadpan.
"Oh well, lycanthropy is not my specialty, but I'll see what I can do." Dr. Philip Xenakis pulled out a form and handed it to the youth. "Fill this out."
The young man looked at the form. "I thought this was a government operation. I didn't know that we were going to be billed for medical services."
Dr. Xenakis laughed to himself, "Oh no, that is just for record keeping." Xenakis reached into one of the secure cabinets beneath the first operating table. He pulled out a package of bandages. "We like to keep track of all the medical emergencies that we have on board."
"How many have you had?" the youth asked, one hand on his shoulder, as if that would contain the blood.
"Just three." Xenakis piped up, still humming to himself contentedly.
The youth looked at the sheet and then back at the doctor, "Um, I need a pencil or something to write with, unless you want me to use my blood."
Dr. Xenakis put the bandages on the operating table and then looked abashed, "I'm sorry about that, let me retrieve one for you." He reached into a cupboard and pulled out a various selection of pencils and pen and markers. He put the tray down in front of the youth who quickly selected a yellow pencil and began to fill out the form. He winced every once in a while as he was writing with the same are that had been bitten.
Xenakis pulled out the bandages, and prepared one, looking at the size of the wound and at the size of the gauze pads he had handy. He guessed a size, and then the wrappings to cover up the wound, and the clips to keep the wrappings in place and moved over to his patient. He also took a piece of cloth and doused it in the medicinal sink. "This will take just a second."
The youth nodded, and lowered the pencil to the paper. Philip applied the wet cloth to the wound, wiping away the blood, and then tossed the cloth into the sink hearing it land with a wet splat. He carefully applied the disinfectant to the area of the wound, and then placed the adhesive over top of it. He wrapped the bandage about his shoulder several times, and then put the clips in place to secure the package. He padded it to make sure it fit properly, and then nodded to himself, "That should be fine, don't do anything strenuous for the next couple of days while that arm heals."
"Do I still have to fill out this form?" the young man answered.
"Of course, why wouldn't you?" Xenakis asked, perplexed by the question.
"Nevermind." the young man said, still writing on the form.
Xenakis went back to replacing his instruments in their proper locations when a thought occurred to him, "You said that you were bitten by a were-tiger?"
"Yes, he's a friend of mine, and I did something to offend him." the young man answered in between writing on the form.
"I never caught your name." Xenakis pointed out.
"Just call me Darkwolf." the young man replied absently.
"Is that your legal name?" Xenakis asked, now greatly perplexed.
"Yes. What's yours?" the youth asked, still writing away at the form.
"I'm Philip Xenakis, the ship's doctor, but I guess you figured that out."
"Greek-American, my family came here in the twentieth century. I look more like my mother than I do my father. You notice I don't look Greek." Xenakis pointed at his balding straight hair and Nordic appearance. The youth nodded, but did not ask anymore questions.
Xenakis was still confused by this whole situation. He resisted the urge to ask anymore questions, but he still had so many. The desire to know began to get to him so he interrupted the young man's writing, "How is it that if your friend is a were-tiger that the bite mark is that of a human?"
"Oh he can't physically transform into a tiger, he just mentally transforms into a tiger." Darkwolf replied, actually looking up form the paper.
"Do you believe this?" Xenakis was now very skeptical. He'd seen lots of strange things in his time, but lycanthropes?
"Of course, I can mentally shift into a wolf if I want to." Darkwolf replied placidly.
"Is there anyone else with this ability?"
"All eight of us. That's why we are here, to honor the moon. It seems pretty odd I know, but that is what we believe." Darkwolf explained.
"Can any of you physically shift?" Xenakis asked.
"Well, Lapwolf claims he can, but he has never shown anybody else. I think Lapwolf is a bit of the edge though."
"Lapwolf?" Xenakis asked, perplexed even further.
"He has a mental disorder. I forget what it's called." Darkwolf shrugged. "We all take names appropriate to our true selves. One of our number is named Pillow, another Ascot, so make of it what you will. We will continue believing what science scoffs at because we have actually experienced it, they have not."
"You sound pretty serious about it." Xenakis was impressed in some way, but also frightened in others. How did somebody with a mental disorder get on board this ship? He was going to report this to the captain at once.
"Well, it's part of who we are." Darkwolf sounded rather apathetic about it, but Philip could not fathom why. "Most of us cannot stand normal humans, but I say Assalam Alaikum." Darkwolf then handed him back the form and the pencil. "I hope I don't have to do this again."
"I like it best when I am not needed up here." Xenakis agreed.
"Well, nice talking to you." Darkwolf smiled and headed for the door. "Hey, do you know how long until we launch, I'm getting kind of anxious."
"In another four hours. Less than that actually, but pretty close to that."
"I hate waiting." Darkwolf sighed, and then quickly disappeared back out the door. Dr. Philip Xenakis continued to pack his things away. Four hours would be gone before he knew it, and then back to space once more. As he was putting the form in the proper location, he noticed the title of the latest book he was working on memorizing, 'The Cycles of Existence: Science Rediscovering Myth' by Fulton Swiley. How apropos.
Captain Rhodes stepped onto the bridge and looked about with a contented grin. Danielpour was sleeping in his seat again; he always seemed to fall asleep after talking to the home base for hours on end. Kilpatrick was logged on to the ship's computer, probably checking to see if he had any messages. Penny was sitting at her console, looking over the choices in the bridge for her. Rhodes laughed to himself; fraternization was against policy, but that didn't seem to stop anybody. Of course he was not going to stoop so low, but he knew Kilpatrick would, Danielpour wouldn't, Dr. Xenakis was too clueless to notice a girl flirting with him, and Mr. Tembo was probably already sleeping with Mrs. Gorecki. As for the other guards, he wasn't too sure; Dutton was a reliable man, he had flown with him before, but he did not know the other three. Then there were the passengers.
When in space for two months, there was not much to do; so many passengers get other ideas. He could think of no voyage that he had been on in which somebody did not copulate. He resisted the temptation, after all, he was captain. However, looking at his watch, he saw that they had but one hour left before the launch, and frankly, it was always this last hour that was the most pensive. In another ten minutes or so, the station would want to go over ever last bit of prepping that they could muster. Not that they hadn't been doing that for the last few days, but it was always best to make sure.
He was about to check his own instruments when he saw that the intercom light was on. He quickly pulled out his earpiece and put it in place, pulled up the portable microphone from his console, and then activated it. "Captain Rhodes speaking." he called into the microphone quietly enough so that the other officers wouldn't hear him. It was his duty to take his calls privately, standard regulation. Of course, he was not to receive any calls except in the case of an emergency, so this had better be good.
"Dr. Xenakis speaking, do you realize that one of our passengers supposedly has a mental condition?" Xenakis sounded a little apprehensive. Obviously he didn't like not knowing about this sort of thing.
"Oh yes, I remember reading that." Rhodes grimaced. This was not important enough to warrant using the private intercom - especially since Dr. Xenakis should have a list of the crew and their medical histories. "Asberg's condition, basically the kid has no social graces. As long as he stays on his medication he should be all right."
"Oh good, I just wanted to see if you knew. Also, I've already had to bandage one of the passengers."
"Oh?" Rhodes was now interested.
"Apparently one of the crew became like tiger and bit one of the other passengers."
Rhodes shook his head. He hated the fact that they had to bring those religious nuts already. "Great, well, don't you worry about it, I'll handle it myself." Rhodes took the earpiece out and replaced the microphone. He then called over to Kilpatrick, "I'll be back shortly. You have the bridge."
Kilpatrick nodded as Rhodes left the bridge. He walked down the main arterial passage of the ship over to the security office. Mr. Tembo was casually watching the security screens as Rhodes came in. He was reclining in the swivel chair, chewing on a bit of tobacco. Tembo didn't turn from the screen, "Captain Rhodes, how can I help you?"
"I need surveillance doubled on the so-called Shapeshifters. We've already had one medical incident involving them, and I don't want a repeat of that." Rhodes explained.
"I've already got Dutton working down in their section; McGee and Gorecki have been demonstrating their martial arts capabilities in that section to convince them that we really know what we're doing; I also got a constant recording being taken of their rooms, and several set up in the Greenhouse since they seem to want to spend time there. What more do you want?" Tembo explained between bites.
"What are they doing now?" Rhodes asked.
Tembo changed the channel on one screen and they could see into a room in which two figures were gyrating beneath a set of covers. Both were male. "We have the queers screwing each other in room number one." Tembo replied, spitting into his cup. "Another queer trying to talk this skinny guy into screwing him in room number two. This guy who just sits on his bed and reads all day in room number three, and this guy asleep in room number three while his girl or something watches him. The eighth guy is walking through the Greenhouse." Tembo looked over at Rhodes, comparable in height even though he was sitting down and Rhodes was standing. "Anything else you want to see?"
"I think I've seen enough." Rhodes admitted.
"Damn queers." Tembo spat into his cup again.
Rhodes nodded his assessment as he returned to the bridge.
"Look, I don't want kids to be interfering wit my research. If they get into those experimental pods, which they shouldn't then my months of preparation will be wasted!" one of the scientists, a balding middle-aged man of the name Bowman complained.
"There's not much that we can do about it other than we have though. " Dr. Arkady pointed out in his thick Russian accent. His overtly Slavic appearance contrasted with that of the entire crew. "The security personnel know enough to make sure that any of them in the research area are to be turned back."
"Yes, but I do my work in the greenhouse." Dr. Jansen reminded him. Dr. Bowman began nodding vigorously as Jansen spoke. "Those kids have been given free access to the greenhouse, how am I supposed to keep them form interfering with my work?"
"You can't." Bowman interjected. "That's what I've been saying all along, they are just going to interfere."
Thibaudet leaned back in his chair and yawned. This was boring, and an utter waste of his time. They were supposed to be using this time to discuss matters of policy between each other, not over a group of people that they had no control over. He looked about the conference room at the various faces present, some familiar, others new to him. He spied Anselm quietly reading something at the far corner, but otherwise doing nothing. "I say let the kids alone, there's nothing we can do about it."
A young woman of African descent nodded, "That's absolutely the way to be. There's nothing we can do about it. Let's just make sure that we can collect our data, and let security handle the situation. We were all kids once."
"Dr. Johnson, " Bowman leaned across the table and smiled warmly at her, "I never was a child."
Anselm looked up from his reading material, "Clone? Or was that a figurative statement?"
Bowman looked abashed for a moment and then admitted, "Figurative."
Thibaudet laughed, "Look, whatever happens, we're stuck up here with them for two months. Let's make the best of it."
"Do you want those kids fooling with your equipment?" Jansen challenged him.
"Merci, no. But they won't do that, they're not that intelligent." Thibaudet remarked cynically.
"Pierre is right." Arkady assured them confidently. "They wouldn't even know how to manipulate our instruments."
"Are you sure?" Bowman challenged. They all stared at each other for a moment, not a long one, but it was just enough for them al to hear the knocking on the door. Jansen stood up and opened it up to reveal one of the security officers. He was an Italian man, short curly hair, with a thin mouth and face. His nametag read Corigliano.
"I'm afraid that you will all have to return to your rooms, we are in the final stages of preparation for the launch." Corigliano told them in a very sublime voice, unlike that of Tembo, which had been rough and forceful. Thibaudet looked at Corigliano and knew that he could trust this man to do his job, but he would make no discrimination between him and anyone else.
Pillow slipped the safety straps over his shoulders, and he saw that Lapwolf did the same. Their door was closed, and they both were leaning against the far wall. They had turned the wall monitor on, and it showed the open air before them. In moments, they would be propelled by sheer force into the deep cold of space. For both this was a first, and probably a last. Neither of them would ever get another opportunity like what they had now. Neither could confess anything but excitement at what lay before them. Even though Pillow was usually sedate, usually spent most of his time listening to his music, this was one occasion in which he glorified what was before him. Lapwolf too, was struck dumb by the enormity of what they were undertaking; his usual disruptive attitude was replaced by one of awe. He couldn't even find it in his mouth to swear.
Pillow was so excited, almost like a simple child that he simply could no longer contain it and turned to look at his roommate. "Do you know what keeps going through my head right now?"
Lapwolf looked over at him, and then smiled seductively, "How much fun it would be to sit in each other's lap during takeoff? I know that I'd like to have you in my lap."
Pillow shook his head; he had half expected such a response. "No, I mean like as in musical themes, you know, the 2001 theme?"
"Oh, Strauss?" Lapwolf asked, a look of understanding crossing his visage.
"Yeah, Also Sprach Zarathustra Fanfare. I keep expecting to see a monolith or something come out of the sky." Pillow admitted. That had not gone quite as he hoped, as Lapwolf appeared not to have seen it.
"Well, I guess the Star Wars theme music wouldn't be too bad, or Prokofiev's fifth." Lapwolf conceded.
"You and Prokofiev's fifth!" Pillow cried a bit exasperated. "Is that the only piece you listen too?"
"Don't you like it? I thought you liked it?" Lapwolf was confused.
"Well, I like it but that doesn't mean I don't listen to other stuff." Pillow lamented. He then turned back to looking towards the monitor. The day was clear, and there were almost no clouds in the sky. He could see the crescent of the moon through one corner and it made him smile a bit. The sun was thankfully off to one side, so they could not see it. He saw a flock of birds move past the screen, too small to identify. He hoped that they got out of the area quick enough so that they wouldn't be incinerated.
Lapwolf had gone back to being struck dumb by the concept of space travel, while Pillow continued to stare at the sky. Something he had always wanted to do, and here it was. He felt a little guilty by the way he managed it. It was supposed to be a religious experience, but the last thing Pillow considered himself to be was a moon worshipper. He knew that Black-Tiger believed it, and that most of the other gave lipservice to it, but he was different. He actually believed in something else.
Pillow looked once more towards Lapwolf and then back at the sky. He should never have come, he was here because of a lie, and because of that, he felt guilty. Lying was wrong, there was no question of this, but he was willing to say that he worshipped something that he didn't just to get into space. Why had he done that? What possessed him to change his official religious status from Christian to Shapeshifter? Space had possessed him, that great emptiness between all the celestial bodies possessed him. He began to feel just as empty as space did inside, what he had done had been wrong.
However, there was nothing he could do about it, and he closed his eyes, unable to look at the sky anymore, ashamed of himself.
Lapwolf looked over at his playmate and saw his pained expression, "Hey Pillow, are you all right?"
"Not really." Pillow admitted.
"C'mon man, we're going into space, two months of the full moon! Let your jack ass out." Lapwolf replied harshly.
Pillow smiled weakly, a bit of him jumping in delight at the sound of his token animal. "Well, it's too late to do anything else anyway."
"Hey, do you think they'll leave it zero-G for a while?" Lapwolf got a sudden smile, "I bet fucking is really interesting in zero-G."
Pillow shook his head, half in response to the question, and half because of the question. "I don't think so."
Lapwolf swore to himself, and then began looking back at the sky. Pillow looked at it again, praying to himself that this burden would be taken from his shoulders.
Samuel Kilpatrick checked the last of the instruments, and then called through the short wave, "We are prepared for launch."
"That is a go." he heard from the otherside. "You have clearance to initiate the countdown."
Rhodes called form his position, "Initiate countdown. T-minus, 1 minute."
Kilpatrick stared at the clock as if it were the time left before the world would end. Why did Simmons have to break her leg? Why did she have to do it?
Onto Part II!
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