It was a few minutes before Throckmorton called back, and when he did all of them were immediately disappointed even before he said a word. From the way he hesitated, the way the breath was transmitted to them, they knew that there was going to be no hop eof finding a new orbit. His words only confirmed what they already knew, "Rhodes, I have some bad news. If you want to get out of the full moon orbit, you are going to have to use basically all of your remaining fuel, and even then you are either going to be in an orbit that will crash into the moon or one that will take you out of range of any ship that will be able to intercept you fast enough. I'm sorry, but you have to stay right where you are."
Rhodes nodded, expecting as much. "Colonel, we have a small problem on our hands. I sent two people down to the engine room to order a change in orbit. I don't have access to anything but wireless communications, can you send a message directly to the engine room letting anybody there know not to tamper with the engines?"
Throckmorton's response was quick, "Yes, we can do that immediately. Is there anything else?"
Rhodes began with a slight catch in his voice, "I have lost most of my security personnel, and probably most of my command crew. I need help here, and fast. Can you get a ship up here within the next twelve hours?"
"If I rush it, I can get one to you in just under eight hours." Throckmorton replied. "Of course, I have to get the Secretary's approval."
"She'll do it. Just mention Marco Polo and she'll do it." Rhodes replied.
Throckmorton seemed rather distant at the mention of that name, "Yes, well, what besides fuel do you need?"
"Weapons, bring lots of weapons. Silver bullets would be good if you could get them. I recommend trying tranquilizers, as regular bullets don't do much more than slow this down. Other than that, get me a new command crew and some more security officers. We still have some scientists and Shapeshifters left so we don't need a restock on that." Rhodes tried to be whimsical, but his humor did not make anybody laugh.
"I hear you, Rhodes." Throckmorton replied gravely. "Silver bullets is probably not an option, but I will arm them with tranquilizers if I can. Is there anything else that you will need?"
"Sleep?" Rhodes replied fatalistically.
Throckmorton could sense that everything that had needed saying had been said, so replied with a fatalistic farewell of his own, "Good luck Rhodes, we're all pulling for you."
"Send that ship as soon as you can, Colonel." Rhodes said, before the radio went silent again. He set it down, and then looked at the others, "Well, hopefully Lassie and Lovewolf will see that message soon. I hope Kilpatrick and Penny are still alive, because they will know what to do when they see it and will definitely stop them. I for one don't want to crash into the moon."
"I have a similar distaste for that too." Jansen remarked acidly.
"Eight more hours? Why not just wait until we leave the full moon orbit in twelve? It would be less dangerous," Thibaudet pointed out.
"Because we need the fuel if we want to get out of this orbit period. If we don't we'll be perpetually circling this full moon orbit, only having an hour of respite out of nearly every thirty, until our orbit here finally collapses in about a week. The sooner we can get refueled the better."
"What if Lassie and Love miss the message and Kilpatrick and Penny aren't alive to stop them?" HuggyBear asked, rolling over on his paunch.
Rhodes stared at the kid -- he had to be no more than twenty-two -- who had the distinction of being the only one on board with a bigger belly than his own. He shrugged his shoulders, "Then we either crash into the moon or drift through space for an awfully long time. If we crash, well we might survive, as long as the structure holds together up there," Rhodes pointed at the transparent ceiling that showed a portion of the full moon above them. "If we leave the moon's orbit, we are almost certainly going to die when the food supplies run out. We might last a year, but I'm sure some will kill themselves after a while, and others might stoop to murder to make the food last longer. Cannibalism might even be an option if that happens. Either way, it is not a pretty picture."
HuggyBear rolled back over, looking at the dirt beneath him. It was obvious that he was sorry he'd asked.
"I guess crashing into the moon wouldn't be too bad." Jansen concluded after that little speech. Jansen looked over at the very distracted security guard, "What do you think, Dutton. Crashing into the moon or floating through space for all time."
Dutton looked up at him, his calm eyes poring into him. He spoke softly but not hesitantly, "I want the moon."
Throckmorton looked to Major Brucker, his lips parted in a grin, "Well, it seems that there is a werewolf up there. I doubt Rhodes is making this up. If he is, I am going to have his head on a plate, and stick a 'Havergal' sign on it."
Major Brucker grinned, "I don't think Captain Rhodes would appreciate that."
"Well, if he is kidding about this, then he will never fly again, I'll see to that. He's making me call the Secretary, and you know how much I love talking to her."
"She thinks I'm nothing more than a washed up computer programmer. I have been proving her wrong for the last few years, and it bugs her," Throckmorton smirked as he spoke.
"Shall I get you the phone?" Brucker offered.
"Absolutely. Let's get this done as quickly as possible."
Brucker returned a few moments later with a black phone, which he handed to Throckmorton. Throckmorton was still staring at Pytheas's statistics, shaking his head as he muttered the word "werewolf" to himself. He picked the phone up, and quickly punched a number in and then waited. After a few rings, he heard a click on the other end. The voice on the other line was that of a man's. "This is the Secretary Blumenfield's office, how can I help you?"
Throckmorton put a hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and complained to Brucker, "She's run my line through her office now that is low!"
Brucker just shook his head.
Throckmorton put the phone to his head a gain and in the cheeriest voice possible replied, "This is Colonel Throckmorton, I need to speak to the Secretary immediately, this is an emergency."
"She's currently in a meeting right now, you'll have to wait."
"No, I'm not going to wait. This is an emergency of the highest possible degree; I need to speak with her right now. Interrupt her meeting if you have to, but I am going to speak to her." Throckmorton's cheeriness was gone instantly, replaced by the forceful command of a high officer in the Space Force.
The man didn't say anything for a brief moment, obviously not sure what to do. Finally he replied somewhat reluctantly, "All right Colonel, I'll try to put you through."
Throckmorton waited another minute before he finally heard the quite peeved voice of Secretary Blumenfield. She was obviously aggravated about having her all-important meeting disrupted for some stupid emergency on Throckmorton's part. Frankly, he didn't care; he was going to save those people's lives if he could. "This had better be worth my time, Colonel. What is going on?"
"I need you to authorize a rescue mission for the stranded crew of the Pytheas. She is in a failing orbit about the moon and has no fuel to escape."
"Is that all?" She asked rather petulantly.
"No, five members of the crew have been brutally murdered." Throckmorton didn't really want to tell her that it was a werewolf doing the killing, he had enough problems already.
There was silence on the other end of the line for a few moments. Obviously that had stung her and taken away her anger. Not even she was so cold to ignore the lives of her pilots and commanders. She was also in a position to take all the blame if anything happened to them. With five already dead, what more could she do?
When she finally spoke, it was in a rushed tone, but it was completely neutral, and the animosity she had shown before was gone. "Rescue mission authorized. Launch as soon as you can. Do whatever is necessary to save them. Find the murderer as well. I don't care if they are dead or alive, but we need a scapegoat on this, I don't care what it is." She paused briefly as if in thought, and then continued, "I have to go now, the French ambassador is trying to secure rights to use our space stations anytime he pleases, and if I don't get back in there he might just get it."
"Thank you, Secretary." Throckmorton smiled to Brucker and gave him a thumbs up. Brucker quickly turned to several other orderlies and gave out the orders to prepare a rescue ship with the tranquilizers and silver bullets if they could get them quickly enough. Throckmorton put the phone down and looked back at the main screen. A werewolf was really on board the Pytheas. Who could have guessed that one of the Shapeshifters was actually a werewolf in real life?
"So now what do we do?" Thibaudet asked finally, still leaning into that tree. It was a short tree, not more than seven or eight feet in height. Of course any trees that they had in this greenhouse were going to be of small stature. Thibaudet himself was a tall man, but sitting down he was dwarfed by the tree, resting in its shade. However, Thibaudet looked anything but rested. He looked to be calm, but he was certainly not as passive as one who was tired would be. He appeared to be in contemplation, no more no less.
"We wait again!" Jansen declared throwing his arms up in the air. "Wait for the two kids to get back from their little crawl, and we wait for this rescue ship to arrive. Then we wait to die if necessary! Let's just wait and see!"
"Jansen, can you please shut up?" Rhodes demanded, his won nerves getting stretched too much to suffer through the botanists ranting.
"Fine!" Jansen turned back around and walked towards one of the doors. He stood there looking out at the empty halls, his arms crossed, muttering obscenities under his breath.
"Why don' we try to rescue my friends?" HuggyBear asked. "I still have four friends out there, and you all haven't lifted a finger to save them."
Rhodes sighed, "Where are they?"
"Well, I know that you all locked Black-Tiger up in the brig. Lapwolf and Pillow should be in their room. I guess Darkwolf is in his room too, but I don't know, I haven't seen him since we found out that Ascot got killed."
"Well, we could always try to find their rooms through the ventilation shafts." Thibaudet pointed out.
"Finding the rooms is probably going to be infinitely harder than finding the engine room." Rhodes pointed out. "If you want to go searching for them Pierre, go right ahead."
Jansen called out in a huff, "There are a few more flashlights left."
Thibaudet saw that HuggyBear was looking at him pleadingly. Thibaudet shuddered at the thought of going into the ventilation shafts, but if it was to save friends, he probably should do it. However, he was not going to put himself inside those tubes, he hated that! He had to admit to himself that he was slightly claustrophobic, but if he went in there he might become very claustrophobic, and that was something he did not want. He sighed, "Sorry Huggy, I just can't do it. Besides, they wouldn't trust me. Maybe we can send Lassie and Lovewolf when they get back."
Before HuggyBear could interject, Rhodes stepped into it, "I don't want anybody else leaving this room right now. If we have to make another rescue operation like we did for Lovewolf, we're going to need all the manpower we can get. Once your two friends come back, then we can see about finding your other friends. I'm sorry HuggyBear, but I have no choice in this."
Huggy sighed, returning to his own little shell again.
They all turned to look at the door nearest Thibaudet again at the sound of a pounding. The werewolf was back, and he was not happy, growling and snapping his jaws, beating on the door with his fists, running his claws down the glass. The spectacle, while rather startling and before today unprecedented for any of them, had quickly lost its novelty, and they all turned their gazes away again. Pierre, however, was intrigued by what he saw. He was either seeing things, or this was a completely different werewolf. There was barely any blood on this werewolf at all, more like a smear than anything else. He stared for a few moments, his mind trying to figure out how this could be possible.
"Rhodes, does this werewolf look strange to you?" he asked, gaining the Captain's attention.
Rhodes peered at it again, a bit disinterestedly though. "Other than the fact that it shouldn't exist, not really."
"This one has even less blood on it that before," Thibaudet pointed out.
"Maybe it got thirsty." Jansen called out petulantly.
"Maybe." Thibaudet shrugged. "Maybe we've forgotten something as well."
"Like what?" Jansen called back, his voice still shrill from his ranting.
"I don't know, something about werewolves themselves?"
"They turn into wolves at the full moon and kill people, what more do you need?"
"Don't forget that you can only kill them with silver." Rhodes pointed out.
"I don't know, I imagine burning up in the atmosphere would do the trick as well."
HuggyBear finally spoke up, "What about the victims of werewolf attacks?"
Dutton looked startled at that, and quickly asked, "What about them?"
"Don't the victims of a werewolf's attack become werewolves themselves?" HuggyBear asked, his own face still struck with fear. Yet there was also a sort of calm that had come over him, possibly of some sense of fatality.
All eyes turned towards Dutton. Dutton backed away from them, sweating profusely as he did so. Thibaudet shook his head in shame, "Ah yes, the loup-garou makes more from his bite. But Dutton was not bitten, nor was Lovewolf."
Rhodes looked from Dutton to Thibaudet to HuggyBear and then back again. He seemed quite concerned, "How's the arm Dutton."
"The bleeding's stopped." Dutton said.
"Can I see?"
Dutton balked on that question, his own anger flowing over, "Please, just stay back!"
That declaration confirmed it for Rhodes who took another step further, "Give me your gun, Max."
Max Dutton seemed reluctant to part with it. However, he pulled it from his holster and handed it over to Rhodes. "Please, I'm fine."
Jansen looked between the two, so lost in his own anger that he had failed to notice the gravity of the situation, "What's going on."
Rhodes did not take his eyes off his head security officer, "Mr. Dutton here is going to turn into a werewolf at some point. I don't know when, and I don't know how long it will take. He knows it too. I am at a loss as to what to do with him."
Everybody began to move away from Dutton, who backed into the wall. Dutton turned away from his captain, looking at the floor, his body shivering, his eyes shut as if trying to hold back the waters in a dam himself. Jansen began swearing again about how not only could he die, he might become a werewolf as well. Thibaudet looked out the door again, as if contemplating something, but said nothing himself. HuggyBear seemed to be taking it all in with stride, even smiling about it. He finally broke the tense silence, "I guess Lovewolf will get his wish after all."
"What was that?" Rhodes turned away from his friend and glared at the Shapeshifter.
"Lovewolf said that he would love to have fur and such as the werewolf did. I guess he will now."
Rhodes looked dumbstruck, "Oh no, we sent him to go to the engine room. He could kill Kilpatrick and Penny!"
"Not to mention Lassie." Thibaudet added.
"Unless he changes inside that tunnel, he'll probably get stuck then." Jansen added darkly.
Rhodes turned back on Dutton, leaning down over his friend. He gently pulled the shirt off his friendís arm, and could clearly see that there was not a single wound there. He sighed, patting his friend on the shoulder. "I'm sorry, Max. There is nothing I can do for you now." He stood there still, as if giving support to one whose fate was no longer in his own hands, whose destiny lied with inhuman creatures, who had no choice but to leave the realm of man for something completely different. He gave comfort for one who was going to be transformed and didn't want it.
"What's going to happen to me?" Dutton managed in a weak voice.
Rhodes shook his head sadly, "I don't know."
"Am I going to die?"
"I hope not." Rhodes nearly choked on his own words.
"Do you want me to leave?"
Rhodes stayed silent, unable to look his friend in the face. He knew that he was doing something dangerous, but there was no way to get around it, he needed to let Dutton know that he was going to do everything in his power to save him. However, he also had to save the lives of the other people in this room. If Dutton was representing a threat to that, then he had to remove him. Though it hurt to do so, he had no choice in the matter.
Rhodes stared into Dutton's face, taking a deep breath to give himself the resolve to say what he was about to say. "Dutton, yes, you do need to leave."
Dutton looked into Rhodes face; his own a study in horror. "Please, I can control it."
"Control what?" Rhodes barked.
"The wolf. It keeps whispering to me, I keep hearing about how wonderful it is. It calls to me, but I am resisting." Dutton tried his best to sound composed, but it only made him seem more doomed.
"Max, your sweating like a pig, and you can barely sit still. Plus, you'll change into one of those things anytime now. I'd rather you did it out there than in here. Max, I'm not going to let you die, but there is now way I can save you from this." Rhodes tried his best to sound supportive, but asking a man to submit to an animal demeanor was simply too much.
"I don't care about that! I don't want to be like that. I don't want to be part of a pack, at least not that much. Oh please Lord no! I don't want to change!" Dutton was nearly in tears now as his whole body began to convulse with a life of its own.
"Dutton, get up now!" Rhodes grabbed the man's arm and pulled him to his feet. "Please, I need you to leave this place now!"
Dutton walked sadly to the door, but turned around at the last minute, his eyes wild with fright. "No, I don't want to lose me!"
"Lose you? What are you talking about?"
"My individuality! I don't want to become a wolf!" Dutton practically screamed.
"Dutton! Get out that door!" Rhodes shouted at him, pointing the gun at the nearby door. Everybody stood back from this confrontation; not a one of them wanted to interfere. Each one watched Dutton, watched as his skin rippled as his face contorted in fright and fury. HuggyBear most especially was transfixed, sure that for the first time in his life, he would see an actual physical transformation. He stood on his feet, stepping closer, unable to resist the urge to get a good look.
Dutton finally roared with rage, the terror overtaking his mind, and he reacted in an animal panic. He threw his arm out at Rhodes, slashing with claws that only moments ago had not been there. He screamed as he did so, falling backwards, the last parts of his mind that was human seeing what he had done. He backed into the door before Rhodes could even move to react. He pushed the button to open the door, and slipped out into the hallway, his mouth hanging agape, mouthing an unspoken apology. Rhodes shut the door behind him, and slid his card through the slot locking Dutton out in the hallway.
Dutton let out a scream of anguish, which over a matter of seconds became a howl. His face quickly distended into that of a lupine muzzle, his tongue lolling out his mouth as he cried into the void. His arm, which already had claws upon it, sprouted a multitude of fur, as his chest bulged and grew upward. His clothes tore form his body as they were stretched past their limit. A tail quickly burst forth from behind him, as his now digitgrade legs bent into their new position. The newest werewolf after howling, looked into the room, and then dashed like mad at them, pounding on the frame. Rhodes leaped back dropping the card as he did so.
Thibaudet got up from his seat, and walked over to Rhodes, who was still in shock about what had happened. Pierre looked at Rhodes's chest, seeing the slash marks along his chest dribbling blood. The cut was not that deep, but it was enough. Rhodes looked blankly into Pierre's face, and then at HuggyBear, and finally over to Jansen who was still standing far back. "What have I done?" he finally asked, looking completely ashamed of himself.
Thibaudet licked his lips before answering, knowing that no matter what he said, it would be all bad, "You just saved our lives."
Rhodes looked down at his own chest, and felt the blood trickling down his shirt, "I'm going to join him in his pack soon aren't I?"
Thibaudet stammered. In the few hours he had known this man, he had gotten to like him an awful lot, and now what could he say to him? What else could he say but the truth? "Oui."
Rhodes swallowed the bile in his throat, and tossed the gun to the floor. "It took Dutton perhaps an hour-and-a-half to change into that," he gestured at the werewolf pounding on the door. "It will probably take me about that long. I will try to help out as best I can until then, but once I start to feel the call, I will be forced to leave."
"What are we going to do?" HuggyBear asked, frightened.
"We do what we have to do, we survive." Rhodes told him. "I know that you three are resourceful, you'll just have to find a way without me. I'll give instructions to my men, but I'm sorry, I am going to be a werewolf too it seems."
Jansen nodded, and turned back to his sulking. Thibaudet stood there, his mouth open, but no words came out. HuggyBear, sat back down on the ground, sighing. Rhodes turned away from all of them and leaned against the wall, feeling the scratches in his chest. He slumped down into a pile, turning over and looking up into the sky. He laid one hand on the gut that he loved so much, a gut that would sprout fur in another hour or so. He imagined himself, a rather fat looking wolf, and had to smile a bit. No matter what anybody said, they did look rather impressive.
However, if he was going to be a werewolf, he was going to settle his affairs first. He had things to do, and he should get to them. However, his eyes were locked on something that he could no longer ignore. The moon, bright and full, not a shadow upon it, beckoned to him. Though he knew that he should stay, some small part of him wanted to go. He called that part of him back, letting it fester and grow in him. In time, it would be larger than his human side, and that would be when he would have to leave; for now though, he just wanted to look at the moon.
Mrs. Clarendon held the cordless phone in the nape of her neck as she unrolled the paper that she had stolen from the copy machine before leaving MOCR. Nobody had seen her take it, but that was usually the way it worked. Of course, she could get an injunction preventing her from entering MOCR again if she became too blatant, and with this story it seemed quite likely that she would be. However, considering the nature of the story, she would probably be promoted to something much more glamorous than just reporting on the trials and tribulations of the Space Force. This could get her on network news, telling all the people who watched TV what to think about the world's events and issues. That was the kind of power that this report might bring her.
She waited on the line till her superior at the network was put on the line. "What is it this time, Susan?"
"Mr. Abernathy, you are never going to believe what just got sent to the MOCR."
"Well what is it? Don't make me wait till I die, Susan, you know I have a weak heart." Abernathy was always a kidder.
"Well, let me just read to you this message sent from the Pytheas not to long ago." Mrs. Clarendon cleared her throat and began to read. She could feel her promotion coming already.
End Part X