Lassie and Lovewolf were lost. It had been inevitable ever since they had made the first turn in the airducts, but they had resolutely pushed on forward. They had found so far only one way to get down a level, so they knew they had to be on the second floor, but other than that, they had no idea where they were. The duct frequently revealed a grating that they could peer through, but most of the time they could not see much other than the floor of some nondescript hallway. Of course, the blood trail that they were leaving could easily be followed back to the Greenhouse; they were not going to go back without some form of success. The only time they would turn back was when they reached the Engine Room. Right now, that seemed like a pipe dream.
They both stopped at a corner, hot, sweaty, and thoroughly sore from having to bend down and crawl the entire way. Lassie leaned against the wall, rubbing her calves methodically, warding off the developing cramp. Lovewolf lay panting on the floor of the shaft, his wounds no longer bleeding. In fact, after the first few minutes, she was no longer able to get any blood directly from his wound, not that she had wanted to in the first place. Wiping the bloodied rag that he kept over the claw marks across the turns was much simpler and got the job done just as well. Looking at his wounds, she could see that the smallest of them had already scabbed over, and the others were looking much better as well. Curiously she stared at them further, she did not think wounds like that healed so fast. Then again it had been nearly a half-hour since he had been injured. It only stood to reason that some healing would be expected.
After catching her breath and wiping her brow, she asked in a sultry voice, "How much longer do you think this will take?"
Lovewolf breathed deeply for a few moments, "I don't know. I have no idea where we are."
"Neither do I," Lassie pouted a bit. She could now understand why Thibaudet did not want to come in here. It was a claustrophobic's nightmare. Already, she was developing an urgent need to find an exit, to stretch her body once again. She could if she lay down as Lovewolf was, but it wasn't quite the same as the real thing. She wanted to run about in the freedom of the air, to jump up high, to catch the wind in her hair. Here, there was only a mild breeze, and they had to nearly crabwalk to get anywhere. The effort from such locomotion had already exhausted them and made them sweat badly. She peered around the corner, noting that it turned again only a few more yards down. At least they were safe from the werewolf in here.
That was another thing that she was still getting used to. She could not imagine that the werewolf was actually a cruel being. He seemed so mindless in his actions, so determined to kill them all, as if they represented any real threat. What could they do but die under those slashing claws and those great teeth? She brought the image of the beast, covered in the caking blood of one of its victims snarling, snapping its jaws at her. The thought sent a shiver down her spine. Before coming on this trip, her image of the werewolf was of a proud creature, one who could become a wolf, a wolf-man, and a human. One that lived in both worlds, but also one that did have that human capability to reason. That creature seemed to have only one thought on its mind, to kill them. The werewolf was a hunter, but it never killed indiscriminately. At least, not the way it should be.
The legends generally spoke of the proper werewolf as a ravaging beast. Some of them had them being intelligent wolves, but they were not the classical werewolf that shapeshifted only under the light of the full moon. It seemed that some part of the legends were true. If they were true, then why not those other stories, such as the one about the wizard who cursed a town such that for every seven years some of its inhabitants would be wolves. She thought back tot he story of a priest having a wolf ask him to shrive for his dying wife, who was also a wolf. She wondered if that had been a true story, she wondered if the priest had performed the ceremony. She wondered if such things were still possible today.
She looked back at Lovewolf who was slowly getting back to his hands and knees. What was he thinking? He'd always wanted to see a real physical shifter, and now he had. It had nearly killed him. She had been sure that he was going to die. The werewolf had left him alone. It was not a mindless creature after all. I had left him there in the hopes that they would save him, giving it the opportunity to kill them as well. It had set a trap, and it had almost worked. But why was it so single-minded?
Lovewolf had gotten to his knees, and was gingerly feeling his wounds. Suddenly, an insight struck her. It must have also struck him as well. She saw the way his eyes creased in pain as he felt the wounds. She knew that he was aware of what was going on in his body, and the legends were also true about something else. She remembered now, that the bite of the werewolf would turn the one bitten into a werewolf as well. Would the claws do the same as well? Lovewolf had been panting, and he had been healing faster than expected. Could he be possibly becoming a werewolf not just in mind but also in flesh? Would he attack her when he finally shifted, growing that fur that he so loved, that tail that he so desired, and the face and muzzle that his soul yearned for.
"Love, are you all right?" she asked in a timid voice.
Lovewolf nodded, "It still hurts, but I'll be okay."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure, I'm sure. Why would I lie?" Love asked, trying to sound sure of himself. He was obviously unconvinced of his own status. It was quite evident that he feared hurting her or anybody else, and for that she was glad, but if he doubted his control over his body, then why would he stay with her at all? How could he take the chance to hurt her?
She shook her head, perhaps it took more time. Dutton had been injured long before Lovewolf had, and he was still human. Perhaps that was because he was bigger. No, she was letting paranoia take over, and that was not good. She could still trust her friend. Smiling at him, she began to crawl down the passageway. Since there was no other way to turn at the next corner, she just went on without benefit of the blood rag. Pointing the flashlight down the corridor she could make out a few passages of to both sides. A bright light came in from the grating up ahead another twenty yards ahead. Each of the passageways were dimly illuminated themselves.
With Lovewolf in tow, she began to crawl towards the first passageway. She peered down the end, and saw that it ended abruptly only five feet down in a grate just big enough for them to squeeze through. She scrambled down towards it, eager to see if she could identify their location. Peering down she saw an unkempt bed with clothes scattered about and books piled behind it. There was a single screen of the other side, which sat above a perfectly ordered bed that looked quite unused. She stared at the clothes for a moment before recognizing the dark figure on the upper shirt. It was Darkwolf's clothing, the trademark black wolf giving it away.
"Lovewolf! I know where we are! This is Darkwolf and Ascot's room." Lassie was quite excited by the discovery, because now they could check on the others. It had been through dumb luck that they had come here, but now they knew which direction they should head in, and it was back the way they had come. Obviously that turn near the fan back after they had dropped to the second level had been the wrong one. They would take the passage in the opposite direction; it should take them back towards the Engine Room.
First however, they must see if their friends were all right. Lovewolf could not get close enough to peer into the room himself, but he did look much happier, "Is Darkwolf in the room?"
Lassie peered back into the chamber, trying her best to make out the whole room. She could only see the back half of it, but from the looks of things, she doubted it. Just to make sure she called out, "Darkwolf! This is Lassie. We're up in the ventilation system. Darkwolf? Darkwolf? Darkwolf, please answer me!"
She tried not to cry but the fact that Darkwolf was not in his room made the prospect that he was dead all too real. She had already lost one of her friends, she did not want to lose another. She looked back at Lovewolf, his expression already grim, "He's not there."
Lovewolf sat back, "Poor Darkwolf. He will be missed."
Lassie leaned into his shoulder, her sorrow barely under control. She did not want to cry, she was a strong woman. Crying was something that other people did, people who did not know the wolf, or like her the dog. Mourning was fine, but crying was strictly off limits. Yet, she was pushed to that limit now. Never in her entire life had everything she had believed in come crumbling down quite so rapidly. She finally pushed Lovewolf back, unable to stand the thought of it anymore. Wiping her nose, she pointed the flashlight back out the short recess. "Let's go take a look to see if the others are in."
Lovewolf nodded and crawled back into the main hallway. Lassie once again took the lead. Heading down towards the next passageway, she tried to remember who had the next room. Then she nodded; it was Pillow and Lapwolf's room. From what Huggy and Love had said, they should be here. They should also be doing some things that she would find distasteful. Wouldn't Lap ever grow up? Pillow was just as bad, he sort of took what Lap was going to dish out without ever thinking to question or stop him. How pathetic did one have to be to submit to the sorts of games that Lapwolf liked to play? Lassie pushed the thoughts from her mind. Pillow was a nice guy, even if he did suffer from an inability to stand up to others.
Much to their delight, both were there in the room, and they were not doing anything but playing some sort of master pet game. Lapwolf had Pillow on a leash and collar, and was telling him that he was a bad dog or something or other. Lassie saw the sneering grin on Lap's face and wanted to deck him with every last ounce of strength she had. He was sick! Even if he did have a mental disorder, he was still sick. There was no excuse for the things he was doing to poor Pillow.
She banged on the grating calling out, "Pillow! Lapwolf! Up here!"
Both of them turned to look up to the grating, but Lap slapped Pillow on top of the head for raising from his prone position. Lassie really didn't want to deal with his antics right now. Lovewolf just rolled his eyes muttering, "Idiot." under his breath.
Lapwolf stared at them for a second, his lips curled in anger at being interrupted. Then his face went blank in confusion at seeing them behind the grate, "What are you doing up there?"
"Is your door closed and locked?" Lassie asked quickly.
"Good, then climb up here with us, we need to get out of here."
"Why the Hell should we go up there? I'm fine where I am."
"There's a werewolf running about this ship, Lap." She said calmly and deliberately. "If he finds you he will kill you."
"Oh come on, that's a bunch of horseshit." Lapwolf replied skeptically. "If that thing comes around here I'll just transform and take care of him."
Lassie hadn't expected this old argument to come up again. Not only was Lapwolf demented, but he also was deluded. He seemed to think he could actually physically transform. It was a constant struggle, but she was not in the mood to debate it here and now. If this idiot wasn't going to leave, then maybe Pillow would.
"Pillow, please listen to us. There is a werewolf out there. Lovewolf here can tell you, he was scratched by it. I think it killed Darkwolf too already. Please, can you both join us up here?" Lassie pleaded.
"She's right. My back is still bleeding a little form where he clawed me. It is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. I don't think I can stand that I don't see it all the time. But if you don't join us up here, it will get into your room and kill you both. Lassie knows what she's talking about."
Pillow looked up at him again, casting a wary glance in Lap's direction. He finally sucked in his breath and stood up. Lap turned on him, his eyes flaring, "I told you to stay!"
Pillow shook his head, "Lap, if they are telling the truth, then we need to get out of here." Pillow removed the leash and took the collar off from his neck. "Sorry about this, but we don't have a choice."
Lap was nearly frothing at the mouth, his hand nearly ready to beat Pillow into submission, but he lowered his hand at the last moment. Obviously he realized the danger too. He looked back up at the grate and sighed, "Fine, letís go. We can finish this later."
Lassie helped them get the grate off the hatch, and then Lassie and Lovewolf backed off to give the r two room to climb into the grate. Lapwolf came first, grumbling about something or other, and then Pillow climbed in after him. Once they were all in, Lovewolf looked them over, "Glad you two could join us."
"Where's Huggy?" Pillow asked.
"Do you think Huggy could fit in here?" Lovewolf asked archly.
"No, I guess not. This place is pretty cramped," Pillow ceded.
Lassie then ahemed, and looked over the two, "We are trying to get to the engine room because we need to put this ship in a new orbit. You can come with us, but I'd suggest you go to the Greenhouse. That is where the others are."
"HuggyBear, Captain Rhodes, that annoying scientist Jansen and a couple more whose names I forget." Lassie replied.
"How the Hell are we supposed to find that place if we have to stay here?" Lapwolf barked discontentedly.
"Well take you to the ladder, then follow the blood trail."
"Blood trail? Cool!" Lap seemed excited about that.
"It's my blood, Lap," Lovewolf pointed out.
"Anyway, it is good to see that you two are still alive." Lassie smiled her beaming smile, trying to calm down the tensions that were building in this cramped vent.
Pillow then looked up, "How do you know Darkwolf is dead?"
Lassie shook her head, "I don't. I saw his clothes spread about, and his bed looked like a mess. I haven't seen him since they let us out of our rooms though. I doubt that he's alive, but he might be. I hope he is."
"Me too. Ascot's death is more than enough." Pillow nodded.
"Yeah." Lap agreed solemnly. Lassie had to smile at that. Though he was unbearable, he did show some sympathy from time to time. Matters of life and death were about the only time, and it seemed that he had at least had some begrudging respect for Darkwolf. It didn't matter, her opinion was already set in stone, and it would take a lot of work from Lapwolf to change it. However, now was not the time for argument. Time was short, and they had to get to the engine room. Their wrong turned had panned out at least in this way, but they could not afford another mistake like this. More accurately, Huggy and company could not afford another mistake like this.
Jansen could not shut up. Pacing back and forth, kicking up dirt and grass as he stomped he cried out in the most annoyingly strained voice. One would think that after a time he would get hoarse. Not this man, though his voice was getting a little thin. He wasn't even ranting intelligently anymore. At the very least when he had first taken up his vocal art he had gone over the incidents in his life and point by point showed how they were unworthy to be compared with running into the werewolves. Now it was just gobbledygook, a mish-mash of words in no particular order. Or so it seemed to Thibaudet who was tiring of this man.
Thibaudet had tired of him long ago, but was too lost in his own thoughts and the present revelations concerning Dutton and now Rhodes. These men who he had never know before today were werewolves. That thought sent a shiver down his spine. They should not exist according to science. But then again, science had said that breaking the sound barrier was impossible. Science was not infallible, it could be wrong on occasion. It did not mean that the methods of science were inaccurate, but that a conclusion that was made based on those methods had not been in full possession of the facts. Science was not at fault, just that there had been no way for it to know of the werewolf. He wondered what other phenomenon was real that science had overlooked in its quest to eliminate that which it did not understand.
That his mind was taking this track might have at one point startled him, but no longer. Nothing could shake him to his very foundations than to see a real live werewolf. Well, perhaps if the Christ came down and said "Hi" or something grander he would probably find himself shaken a bit more. However, no Christian he knew thought it likely so he was going to have to settle for the werewolves being the biggest change in his outlook upon the world.
Anselm would probably be on his side rolling about in the dirt laughing uproariously at Thibaudet's line of reasoning. Here he was admitting science could be wrong, and that it was fallible. The methods were correct though, and they could be applied to this situation right here. He had only a minute or so after Dutton had been ejected from the room and Rhodes had begun staring at the moon picked up the bit of flesh that he had sliced form the werewolf earlier and placed it in a specimen bag. There would be a time and a place where that could be properly analyzed. However, he needed to store it in ice to preserve it, and that was something that he didn't have any of. Instead, he had placed it in Jansen's desk, hoping that it would not stink up too much when it rotted. Rotted cells were better than nothing.
Of course, he had no knowledge of such things, so would be useless in the investigation. Somebody like Arkady who was a biologist (actually mycologist), or perhaps even Jansen though he was a botanist, would have to examine them to determine what made the werewolf tick. Of course, the only way they could get a body full and intact would be to use silver to kill it. He had seen the effect of regular bullets, the creature had begun regenerating in moments. That was an awesome power when compared to the weakness to silver. Of course, silver was not so easy to find on a starship.
He turned to look at Rhodes. His head was still arched backwards as he stared up at the silvery moon. Rhodes was not the most pleasant man to know, but he was a good one, and he certainly was dedicated to his ship and to his men. It was a shame that most of his men were dead or werewolves. Now Rhodes was a werewolf too, or at least he would be in another hour or two. The scratch was not very big, and the blood had only drizzled for less than a minute before it had stopped. Had this been Earth, nobody would have looked at it twice, being so insignificant. Here, in space, and done at the claws of a werewolf, it was a different story.
Thibaudet began to look at the other two who were in the Greenhouse with him. Huggy had disappeared among the foliage on the opposite side, probably in hopes to be alone or to drown out Jansen somewhat. Jansen was still gyrating about like a madman. He did not seem to care that he was slowly digging a ditch in the ground where he walked, only that he conveyed his grievances to everybody. Rhodes of course was watching the moon, his whole body a study in disinterest. Thibaudet wondered what must be going through his mind, what must he be feeling now knowing that his days as a human being were over.
Whatever it was, it could not be too terrible. From what Thibaudet had seen, Rhodes was the sort of man who did not succumb to depression, but acted quickly, deliberately, but never without thought. He was almost certainly deliberating what should be done now that his leadership position had been compromised. He was probably going to make arrangements with this Throckmorton -- whose name was slightly familiar to Pierre -- and then talk with McGee about what he wanted done in the next eight or so hours. Of course, Thibaudet knew what his plans were, stay right here and hope that the werewolves could not figure out a way to get through those doors. If they did then his plans were to make a jump for that airshaft, taking his chances with his claustrophobia. Hopefully, the werewolves would not be able to fit.
Looking back at the Captain, he had to wonder, what if Rhodes was thinking about life as a werewolf? What would it be like, to change between the form of a man and a wolf? Thibaudet remembered the conversation he'd had with Darkwolf only a few hours ago. Darkwolf had known what it would be like to be a wolf, and had sympathized and helped Thibaudet discover his own allure to the albatross. A much more pleasing thought to him was what would life be like as an albatross. He pondered the great bird's wings and the gentle waves of the sea and all of that air and silence all for him to share in on a trek of unimaginable proportions. To fly through the air on wings so graceful as that, such were the dreams of men.
Then, another thought occurred to him. If there were werewolves, why not werealbatrosses? Of course a much better name would have to be developed than that, it was so cumbersome, unwieldy. He would name it himself, something from Francais. Of course, he wasn't sure if he would mind too much to be an albatross by the light of the full moon. Of course, up here in space he would be pretty ineffectual, but there, over the vast expanse of the sea, so inviting, so turbulent and peaceful, he would flourish like he never has or ever would. Perhaps if there was a way that the flesh of the loup garou could be analyzed, then the secret to lycanthropy could be catalogued. If that was the case, then a way to make him into an albatross could be found.
Then again, if such were the truth, then it would be possible for people to be almost any creature they so desired. What would happen to the world that he knew? Could he truly say that he had left the old world behind when he had set foot on this ship? The world that he had once known was gone; it had disappeared several hours ago into the mists of history. It would be remembered as a time in which humanity was bounded only by the blinders of their own indulgent skepticism. Now where had he heard that phrase before? He knew that 'indulgent skepticism' was familiar in some small way. He pulled a leaf from the tree and began to trace out the veins as he thought about it, trying to remember. He then pulled another leaf, but the phrase was no more familiar then when he had first thought it.
He sighed, turning back to look at the figure of Jansen ranting. He had become quite disconnected in his speech, going for long periods of time without saying a word, just huffing and blowing and stamping the ground like the horses his parents had owned when he was young had when provoked. This man was so easily flustered it was amazing. He was probably the most high strung of each of them in the room. Rhodes and Dutton had of course been calm and deliberate, even the Shapeshifters had been mostly sane. But Jansen, his fellow colleague, had gone completely over the edge. His words made some amount of sense, and for a time he had shared in Jansen's sympathies, but now the man was only irritating them.
From all estimates, this man was not going to shut up at any point soon, and it was distracting him. He finally leaned over towards him and called out in his most plaintive sounding voice possible, "Emil, could you please stop that caterwauling, you are driving me crazy." His choice of words had been deliberate. Caterwauling was the way that Jansen had described the Shapeshifters actions earlier in the flight.
Jansen did not miss his meaning. "I am not caterwauling! You have not heard what real caterwauling is about. Besides, what else am I going to do for the next eight hours?"
"Well, if you keep on screaming like you are you won't have a voice in another two hours."
"Oh very funny! I'd bet you'd prefer it if we all just went to bed and let the problem take care of itself wouldn't you?"
"Jansen!" It was Rhodes this time. His voice was quite angry, and very fierce. His gaze leveled with the man, his reveries ended. Rhodes lifted his massive bulk up from the floor; all attention now riveted on him. His roundish face was set, firm and without any remorse; it was quite like his face had been before, determined to save the lives of as many as he could. It was as if he had never been scratched by Dutton's claws. Thibaudet realized then that this was not a man that was despairing about becoming a werewolf, but one who had accepted the inevitable and was making plans around it.
"If you don't shut up, you might not be human in two hours," Rhodes leveled the threat at him, coldly and without any indication that he was not being serious.
"What are you going to do?"
"I'll bite you." Rhodes said it without even the slightest bit of humor that would normally be associated with such a ridiculous suggestion. This time, nobody was laughing.
"You'll bite me?"
"Yes, I'll bite you."
Jansen looked completely flustered, his mouth hanging agape, and his arms still tense at his sides. Huggy popped up out of the brush to watch the confrontation; his own ruddy complexion paling at the words that Rhodes used. Thibaudet began anew to wonder just how much of Rhodes was still human. That could not be the man talking, but the wolf that wanted to be free to rule.
Rhodes continued to emphasize the threat, seeing that Jansen was for the first time in the last ten minutes, completely speechless. "If you don't want to be a werewolf, then I suggest sitting down and keeping you mouth shut."
"You wouldn't dare!"
"Under normal circumstances, no I wouldn't. This is far from normal." Rhodes kept staring at Jansen with his cool gray eyes. Jansen looked away from them, unable to return the stare, his own defiance having been sucked out of him once more. That was one thing about Jansen that Thibaudet had to admit he liked, his ability to suddenly turn off the anger. Of course he usually turned on the shame and moping as soon as he turned the anger off, but moping was much less aggravating then having to listen to a continuous spiel about how terrible Emil's life was.
Jansen finally did sit down, but he deliberately faced away from Rhodes. Rhodes then let his face relax back to the more contemplative facade that he had seen Dutton had been ejected from the room. Thibaudet had been intrigued by Rhodes suggestion, and simply had to know why Rhodes had made it. He stood up from the tree, taking a moment to stretch his arms and legs, and then walked over to where Rhodes was just standing. Rhodes saw him coming, and turned his head to the side, as if ashamed of himself.
Thibaudet put a hand on his shoulder, to reassure him, and Rhodes gave him a weak smile. "Are you feeling all right?" Thibaudet asked in a low voice.
Rhodes replied, his own voice quiet, barely audible, "It was a flash of insight. Perhaps from that other side of me that I know is growing in me. I don't feel it yet, but I know it is there."
"Do you think it would have worked?"
"What? Biting Jansen? I don't have any idea whether that would have worked or not. The doubt was enough to make Emil be quiet though and that was what you wanted wasn't it?"
"Well yes, but I'm worried about you, Captain. Don't you need to put things in order here, tell Throckmorton what is going on, and inform McGee and the others that you are not going to be with us much longer?"
"Don't be too hasty to get rid of me now. I have still at least another good hour before things start to get bad. I will inform them, do not worry. I have been trying to decide what exactly I should do for a while, since I don't want McGee to leave the safety of the Research stations, but there are still people out there, at least in theory."
"Well, maybe you should get what you know you want done first, then figure the rest out later." Thibaudet suggested. He did not want Rhodes sitting on his rear wasting time. If he was going to become a werewolf, then at the very least he should get his plans made early, that way if things changed or he changed sooner than Dutton did, then things would not be left for them to sort out.
Rhodes sighed, his mind obviously going over the possibilities, considering what he could and could not do. He must have been planning out each step carefully, trying to decide what he should say, whom he should tell and every other minor detail that had to be taken care of in order to save the lives of the remaining people on board the ship. Thibaudet did not want to know the weight of such an awesome responsibility.
Rhodes finally started to walk towards the front end of the Greenhouse, where the desk was, and where he had left the radio. Thibaudet followed him up there, very interested in knowing what he was going to have to say to his friends back on Earth. Rhodes picked up the radio, holding it in his hand for a moment before he even uttered a single word.
End Part 1 of Part XI
Continued in Part 2 of Part XI