Black-Tiger had been locked up in that cage for who knew how many hours, he was not relishing the experience at all. Of course, being what he was, he made good use of the time by cleaning himself up, and by getting plenty of rest. Somebody would by to get him his food shortly, and perhaps someday would let him out. He looked forward to that day, that moment with great expectations, as he hated to be confined in such cramped quarters. He couldn't even get proper exercising done in these tight chambers. The cell was barely big enough for him to lie down in, probably only seven feet by seven feet. There was one bench that had a rather thin mattress on it for him to sleep on, and there was a toiletry, a cold metal one with only one roll of toilet paper in the holster. He had refrained from using it yet; he did not want to stick his bottom on such a cold instrument, at least not until he really needed to go.
Black-Tiger lay stretched out on the cushion, rubbing his sore bones, his fight with the security guard Dutton had left him a little bruised, but nothing that he couldn't recover from. However, given the flimsiness of the cushion and his aching body, it only made him all the more uncomfortable. He rolled about a few times, always keeping his face turned towards the bars which held him in place. They were not electrified, thank goodness, but neither were they going to bend to his strength. So, like any good prisoner, he turned his mind away from thoughts of freedom to other more mundane things. He was not going to let himself get unnerved by being in this cell, though he would like to have a rematch with that security guard.
He instead groomed himself like any proper feline would, taking the time to make sure he looked extra dashing, and waited, his thoughts turning to his happier days when he had been with his friends, of the places where he would romp about his home, about many of the good times he had had. Those thoughts brought him some respite, and were able to take him from his dreadful situation. He kept those in his mind, guarding against any attempt to sink into misery.
Passing in and out of sleep, the time swept by him, no longer was he counting the hours, but his stomach was telling him that he would need to eat soon. He wished he had something to eat, and began to grow restless. They should be showing up to give him so food before too much longer. However, like his confined state, he needed to think about pleasant things to keep the hunger from getting to him.
Finally, he heard something approaching from the outside world. He crept up on silent hands and knees to the edge of his cage, and peered out form a concealed position upon the outside world. He saw a large shadow pass in front of his cage door; something was outside, probably with his food. However, the scents and sounds that quickly came to his ears, gave him cause for alarm. Whoever was out there was breathing rather heavily, almost panting like a dog that had been running about. Also, there was a faint clicking sound that accompanied the person's movement.
However, it was what Black-Tiger's nose detected that gave him real terror. It was the scent of blood.
Dr. Arkady stretched as he got out of his bed. It had been a pleasant nap, but he really did have work to get to, and he could no longer afford to spend his time sleeping. Who knew how long he would have to examine the fungoidal growths that had continued without his presence? He had to monitor them constantly if he wanted to get precise results. Of course, he could not monitor them constantly, so he would settle for results that were pretty accurate. Slipping out of bed, he puts his trousers back on, and slipped a loose fitting shirt overtop his rug-like chest. He put his shoes one, and looked at his face in the mirror. He inspected his short beard, taking scissors to a few loose strands that had grown out of his preferred well-manicured style.
He stretched one final time before stepping out into the hall. He looked down both ways, seeing that there were no open doors and nobody in sight. Arkady had not expected to see anybody in the hall at this time, they were probably all down at their research stations investigating into particle physics or some such science that he did not understand. He had to admit that the conclusion that Swiley had come to in his book was probably correct: they were becoming so specialized that it took a lifetime for a human to make any advancement in science. These days, it took teams of scientists to come to any new conclusions. One was all that was needed to do research, but to advance their understanding it had to be through the use of computers or through a collective intelligence. In another generation, advances in science would probably take place solely with the use of computers themselves. Humans were falling behind their mechanical creations in terms of scientific ability. Oh they would always have the basics, but the advanced material was too far above the average humanís mind to comprehend.
He started off towards the nearest staircase, as the research stations were on the third floor, and he was on the second, when he stepped in something slippery and fell to the ground. He pushed himself to a sitting position, and began to look at the floor where he slipped. He could see the streak of his shoe, how he had slided a foot or two before falling down. He had stepped in a dark red liquid pool, one that was now scattered about that spot. It took Arkady only a moment to catalogue that liquid, to understand what it meant. It was blood.
He got to his feet, being careful where he stepped, because there were several such pools of blood about the floor, almost a path of them. It was as if they had dripped off something that had been taking its time in going form one place to another. Arkady, feeling a bit afraid, knocked on the first door he came to. There was no answer. He moved onto the next door, and pounded on it. He waited a few moments, his head turning this way and that, looking to see if the man who dripped blood would be anywhere about. He did not know what was going on, but the sight of blood was enough to make him frightened. Something bad was happening, and he wanted to see if anybody knew anything about it.
He finally moved on to another door, and beat on it as well. A few moments later, the door opened, and a very tired looking Dr. Bowman, his large forehead wrinkled up as he squinted out into the hall, "What is it?"
Arkady could see Dr. Saltonstall sitting at the back of the room with his eyes glued to the television screen. Bowman looked to have been trying to get some rest as well. Why Bowman had answered the door and not Saltonstall he wondered briefly, but he did not have the time for such things.
He breathed as quietly as possible, hanging back behind the corner, sniffing the air, and listening to their voices. There were two, no three of them. They were just standing there, waiting for something; waiting for him most likely. He felt his body quiver in excitement, the desire to do what was right flowing through him in every way. Here were three more that he could help, three more that could be worked upon. Three more for him.
He slowly tensed his muscles up, his tail straight out behind him, his legs crouched, his arms with a tight grip on the wall, and his ears flattened, his lips pulling back over his teeth. He was ready to strike.
Arkady motioned for Bowman to join him in the hall, "Will you take a look at this?"
Bowman walked out into the hall, his eyes following Arkady's finger, staring at the pools of blood for a few moments before the full enormity of the situation came to him as well. "Is that what I think it is?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Where did all this blood come from?"
"I don't know, I was hoping that you could tell me."
"I haven't left my room since Dutton dragged me out for questioning. I've been trying to get some sleep."
Arkady nodded, "So was I. I just left to go to the research stations when I stepped in this." Arkady looked past Bowman, and into his room. He stared at the fixed figure of Saltonstall whose eyes never wavered from the screen. What was he watching? "Has Dr. Saltonstall seen anything that you know of?"
"Other than the Saints-Falcons game, I can't tell you. He's been staring at that screen since I woke up." Bowman looked back over his shoulder, his face a little confused and perplexed.
Arkady smiled a moment, "Well I'm glad I didn't wake you up."
"No, I got up little while ago. I was going to get back to sleep shortly, but after seeing this, I don't think that itís wise."
"Should we report this to the security people?"
"Of course. I suggest we go there now." Bowman looked down both sides of the hallway, and then frowned, "One of the security people should be around here somewhere, probably over with those damn Shapeshifters."
Arkady turned to look down the way he had come when he heard a sudden noise, sort of like a clicking coming from around the corner. He shrugged, "That's probably one of them right now. I'll go get him." He began to walk back down the hallway, being careful where he stepped. He called out, projecting his voice as he did so, "This is Dr. Arkady, we have a small problem here."
Bowman stood in the doorway, shaking the fog of sleep clear form his head as he stared at the bloodstains on the floor. Something horrible had happened somewhere on this ship, and it might just have something to do with those questions that they had been asking him earlier that day. He could not imagine who could have caused this to happen, but something must have. Unless this wasn't blood at all, but ketchup and a very cruel practical joke. Probably done by the same person who had slipped that yellow passcard beneath his door. The memory of that little incident sparked a frown on his face; if he could ever find which one of those kids had done that to him, he'd throttle them.
Suddenly, he was shook on the shoulder by a very frightened Saltonstall who looked into his face wildly and then down at the figure of Arkady who was steadily walking away. He did not even look at the blood, but instead pulled at Bowman's shoulder, "You've got to get back in here, now!"
Bowman shrugged his hand off, "What's the rush, Arkady will have the security guard down here in another moment or two."
Saltonstall wetted his lips with his tongue, as if trying to think of something to say, but his own trembling prevented him from doing anything but trying to pull him into the room again. Bowman shoved him off, "Stop it, don't act like a child. What's wrong?"
Saltonstall finally unable to bear it any longer turned around and called out after Arkady, "Get back in here! Now!"
Arkady turned around his face a study in confusion, "What?"
"Get in here now!" Saltonstall yelled after him, his whole body quivering from fright.
Arkady took a few steps towards him, "What's wrong?"
"Just do it!"
Before Arkady could take another step, something large and imposing stepped out from behind the corner. It was still a good twenty feet from where Arkady stood, but seeing it in that moment was one of the most frightening things for Bowman to ever see. His eyes went wide, and his mouth fell open, and his left hand came up, his index finger pointing out as he gibbered hysterically at the creature, which stood behind Arkady. It was large, larger than they had imagined, it stood on two thin legs, the feet more paw like than anything else. It had a large dark tail that stood out strait behind it. The entire chest was covered in crimson sticky fur that was horribly discolored. Its arms were held out to its side, sickle like black claws grasping at the air. The head, a monstrous formation, staring at them with yellowed eyes that saw them as its prey; the lupine teeth and ears giving evidence to its own stock. Though each knew what it was, none could put name to it, none could even speak.
Arkady turned to look behind him, and then began to run straight towards them, his fright not taking control. Bowman was still pointing, unable to move. Saltonstall grabbed him by both shoulders and began to drag him back into the room. The creature charged down the hallway, the sound of its panting as it ran filling each of them with dread. Arkady pushed his legs to their limit, not for a moment giving into the pain he felt as he moved. Bowman watched in horror as the werewolf drew closer and closer to him, getting within inches of Arkady as he slammed into the door.
Saltonstall finally pulled Bowman back into the room, and reached out for Arkady as well. Arkady stepped into a pool of blood, and slipped onto his back, sliding to a stop right in front of them. He held out his hand, which Saltonstall grasped quickly, pulling on it as soon as he made contact. The werewolf was similarly adroit, falling over in the pool of blood, and sliding past them all. It's arms reached out to grab onto Arkady's legs, but he pulled them in tight, and the werewolf slid past him.
Arkady managed with Saltonstall's help to crawl into the room. Bowman finally recovered enough to shut the door, just as the werewolf regained its footing and lunged for the opening. It made a solid thunk as it slammed into the shut door. But they were safe for the moment. Saltonstall slid his card through the door, locking from outside access. He finally slumped to the ground, his whole body quivering as well. Bowman stepped back form the door as the werewolf continued to pound upon it for a few moments. A minute later, there was complete silence, the werewolf was probably gone.
Arkady looked to both of them, his eyes wide and his chest heaving from his run. "Was that...what I think....it was." he managed between gasps.
Bowman nodded weakly, while Saltonstall gulped for air. "Yes," Saltonstall finally replied, "that was a werewolf."
Dutton shivered in the light of the full moon. How he hated it already. Many of his friends had been taken by that thing, the werewolf, the moon's child. He wished that he could destroy it, he wished that it would just disappear and let them be; let him be. He looked back and forth over the four others trapped in the greenhouse with him. Rhodes was lost in thought as he always was -- probably trying to come up with a plan that would save them all from this fate -- Thibaudet was also lost in thought, though a different kind, one more intent on discovering more about the werewolf itself than anything else; Jansen seemed content to continue to rant and fume about everything that was wrong with his life; HuggyBear seemed to be yearning for his lover -- Dutton had to cringe at that thought.
However, the creature of most importance was the one standing just outside the door, the one that was peering in at all of them, the one that stared at him in particular. He could feel its eyes, feel them calling out to him. He had known only minutes ago what was going to happen, and each passing moment confirmed it all the more. He was going to join his packmates. He hated that thought, but it kept coming back. He kept feeling the desire to belong to a pack, to be part of a group, to lose himself to the pack's goals. He rebelled against the thought, preferring to be himself, to be an individual. Society at large did not have many individuals anymore; those that were jealously guarded that individuality. He was one oft hose people, and he was not going to lose it for anything, no matter what the benefit.
Why defend something that gave him nothing but pain? Why defend something that only deprived him of greater happiness. Damnit! He was happy, he liked who he was, and he liked serving as a security officer on board this ship. He was not going to be part of something as evil as what awaited him outside. Did he have any choice? He took a peak at his left arm again. It had been nearly ten minutes since the wound had healed over completely. He might as well not have been injured at all. There was something churning beneath his skin, something that was pushing to come out, to take over to remake him completely. He was not going to let it come to fruition. He was going to fight it as long as he could. Hopefully, it would be long enough.
Rhodes looked at Thibaudet who was staring vacantly at the werewolf outside. "What did you say?"
"I said, wasn't the blood stain much bigger?" Thibaudet reiterated, facing Rhodes this time.
Rhodes turned to examine the creature. He had never really taken a thorough appraisal of the werewolf before, and he really didn't want to do so even now. Of course, he didn't really get much of a choice in that matter. He had only about five seconds to peer at it before it had darted off down the hallway, presumably to look for more victims. Well, there shouldn't be too many more of those, as long as everything went smoothly. Of course, in perhaps another half-hour, they would be out form under the full moon, and would be able to walk the halls freely again. Once they figured out who the werewolf was, they would have to lock him up for the remainder of the trip, but at least they would be safe. Who knew what would happen to that individual when they got back to Earth. He imagined that they would be studied extensively to determine why they shifted under the full moon.
However, the most important thing to consider was the amount of blood on the werewolf's chest. In his brief glimpse, he had seen a small quantity and had to admit that it did look to be less, and in fact, the werewolf itself looked a bit smaller. He did not know whether it actually was or not, or if his eyes were just playing tricks on him, but he was not one to take chances. He needed to consider all the possibilities.
"Perhaps, Pierre, but I can't tell. Maybe he just cleaned himself off."
"Perhaps." Thibaudet muttered beneath his breath.
Suddenly there was a sound from Rhodes's communicator. It was the sound of an unfamiliar voice, "This is homebase calling the Pytheas. Come in Pytheas."
Everybody's attention snapped up instantly. Rhodes picked up the communicator and called back, "This is the Pytheas. Captain Rhodes speaking."
A second or two later, there was the sound of cheering in the background, and a few applauseís. Finally another voice came over the air, "Captain Havergal Rhodes, how good to hear your voice again."
Rhodes looked slightly embarrassed. "Colonel Throckmorton, you know I hate it when you say my first name."
"I know. Why do you think I do?" the response came back a few seconds later. It quickly became clear to all that being on the opposite side of the moon from Earth that the communications was delayed a few seconds. The lag was not enough to be a problem though, as it was only a second or two. However, the voice form Earth was enough to put a little hope in each of their spirits.
"Look, Colonel, I'm glad you called, but we are in a very serious situation here. We are being stalked and killed by a werewolf. I am serious when I say that, because I don't know how else to describe it. It has the head of a large wolf, with the over all shape of a man. It has killed at least five people, maybe more. I'm trapped here in the Greenhouse with four other people. We really need some help."
The voice on the other end took a little longer to reply, obviously the Colonel was taking some time to think before he spoke. Obviously, he must have some brains in him. "Rhodes, I don't know how much we can do. We got a message from Mr. Corigliano telling us that there was a werewolf on board, but we were rather skeptical. Now you tell me that there is a werewolf. That is kind of hard to accept."
"Throckmorton, I'm not making this up. Corigliano is dead; he was killed by that werewolf. I'm glad he sent you a message, but please believe me. The werewolf is real."
Another extended period of silence followed. Each of them looked to the other, the hope in their eyes and hearts not diminished, only put on hold while a skeptical Colonel thought what to say. When Throckmorton spoke again, it was in a neutral tone, "Rhodes, I know that you are trustworthy, and not prone to make things up. I believe you, no matter how impossible it may seem. What can we do to help?"
There was a collective sigh of relief at that statement, and Rhodes quickly continued, "Okay, can you take control of our engines and put us into a new orbit? We need to get out form under the full moon."
Throckmorton's voice was uncertain this time, "I'll need a moment to consult with a few people on this one."
Rhodes replied, "I understand." He looked at the others. Each looked to him, realizing that their lives might very well be in the hands of a person who consciously liked to prod the Captain about his rather unusual first name. However, if they could be saved, then what else mattered. "Colonel Throckmorton should probably be able to figure a way to get us out of this orbit. They probably can override our own controls so we won't have to wait for the others to get to the engine room."
"We're already low on fuel." Dutton pointed out. 'He'll probably send a ship up to refuel us as well."
"That too." Rhodes nodded.
Throckmorton's voice came back a few minutes later. From the cautionary tone in his voice, the situation did not sound good. "I can't say quite yet, but it looks like that if you change your orbit to the extent that you are no longer viewing the full moon then you'll run out of fuel. Also, that will mess up our intercept numbers, preventing us from getting a ship out to you to refuel you before your orbit deteriorates. There is still a chance, but I'm not holding my horses if you know what I mean."
"Holding horses?" Jansen asked incredulously.
"Well, keep us posted, we're not going anywhere for the moment." Rhodes called back.
HuggyBear got a startled look on his face, "What about Lassie and Lovewolf? They're heading down to the engine room. What if they change the orbit when we're not supposed to?"
Rhodes looked startled, and then began to swear at himself, "I should have thought of that."
"What?" Thibaudet asked idly looking out the door where the werewolf had been moments before.
"An orbit about a planet or a moon is a very delicate thing, if we move too far away, we'll break free and be floating endlessly in space, if we get too close, then we'll crash. We are in a mostly stable orbit right now, if we tamper with it too much, then we could get ourselves killed. If Kilpatrick is down there, he'd know better than to move us too far," Rhodes explained, with an obvious how-could-I-be-so-stupid expression planted on his face.
"What if the only way to get away form the full moon is to go into an unstable orbit?" Thibaudet pressed.
"Then we are just going to have to wait it out that's all." Rhodes grimaced.
Dutton did not want to say too much, as it took his concentration away form what he was trying to do. He needed to prevent himself from being subsumed by this force, by the very presence and mentality of the wolf. Somehow he knew that if he let it take over, then his body would become just like the werewolf's outside; just like his packmates. He cursed himself for letting that slip through, it was getting more insidious now, and every moment the human nature was trying to prevail against the wolf -- the proper nature, the more civilized one. He gritted his teeth in fury; he would not lose control of himself!
His thoughts were so convoluted now, one moment in words and pictures, the next in sounds and scents. Whether Throckmorton could help them or not was intransigent, he was going to be like this the rest of his life, unless a cure could be found. A cure! Right, like they could find a cure for being human 27 days out of the month. He nearly hit his head against the wall with that one, the wolf was certainly twisting his mind, putting images in it, images of things that were beautiful, and concepts such as the pack and fidelity and honor that while seemed nice, were an affront to his individuality.
He was sweating hard now. He wiped his brow, his sleeve coming back wet. Perhaps he should try panting to help cool himself down. Perhaps, that might be a good idea, it did work after all. No, he would not do it. They just wanted him to be a part of their pack, to be one of them, so that he could kill his friends. He did not want to kill Rhodes, or even Thibaudet who had proved himself to be a smart and resourceful human being. HuggyBear, well, he was a little sick for his tastes. Homosexuality had long since gone out of style, something about inability to reproduce. True, it was genetic, but once they had been allowed to marry, the gene sort of diminished in significance, till only an insignificant portion of the population was homosexual. Of course, that didn't mean that husbands and wives were anymore faithful to each other. At least in wolves they mated for life and meant it.
There it was again! Even when he tried to turn his mind to matters that should have nothing to do with that other species, it still managed to try and sell itself to him. What could Throckmorton do to save him? He was going to be a werewolf no matter what. Hell, he was already a werewolf, it was just a matter of time before the pressure and allure of the pack became too much for him to resist. Of course, if Throckmorton did manage to get them into a different orbit, then it was still a matter of escaping that Hasmonean Anselm. Certainly Anselm must have figured out that he had told Rhodes and the others, there was no chance of him surviving. Of course, he'd already known that when he'd told Rhodes. Had he not suspected that he was going to be a werewolf, he would have said nothing.
Of course, if he did transform into his wolf-hybrid form, there was a chance that he could kill Anselm and escape. He wondered idly, could he become a pure wolf with no human traits? The very idea repulsed a small part of him, a part that had continued shrinking and shrinking up until that question had revitalized it. He was not going to transform; he would not become one of them, even if it meant killing Anselm. Even if it meant living, he was not going to spend the rest of his life in fear every full moon that he would lose control and kill somebody. He was not going to become a human!
He grimaced; there it was again, the wolf coming for him. It invited him with its noble appearance, the proud head and ears, the tail held high. It was a wondrous creature, and it was a pack, there was a duty to the pack, and the pack's duty to each individual. They worked together, they cared for each other, they helped each other, and they hunted together. They were like the military units that he had served in several years back. They were a team, and nobody was closer than a team member was. He had liked being part of a team. How was being part of a pack any different?
They weren't human, that's what, and he was going to stay human, even if it killed him!
End Part 1 of Part X
Continued in Part 2 of Part X