Throckmorton returned to MOCR feeling slightly on edge. Here he was, a septuagenarian, contrarian that he was, but devoted to his duty to his country out of reverence for his father who would have wanted it this way. Yet he had let some man in a tan suit with a pipe get the better of him and make him into the fool. He hated to resort to the lame response that it was top secret matter sand could not be divulged, but that man, who did not seem to be with the press had forced that response out of him in nearly every avenue. Also, how did he know about the weapons? They hadn't even begun loading them yet!
Perhaps that had just been an attempt to throw him off guard. He probably believed that there was a werewolf on board the Pytheas and made a guess that the mission was going to be very military in execution with the possibility that people were going to be killed. It was probably a very logical conclusion, but he'd also know the name of the ship that they were sending up into orbit to rescue the Pytheas. That was not something that he could have guessed unless he had some inside information. At least he hadn't mentioned that the weapons were tranquilizers. Edward had no idea what he would have done if the man had asked that.
Fortunately, he hadn't said anything about the weapons, and at Throckmorton's firm rebuttal, had dropped the issue. Perhaps he had been mistaken, and had heard the name Hyperion mentioned about the pressroom. It was entirely possible that he could have just made an assumption based on the presence of werewolves aboard the Pytheas. However, the fact that he was not with any press agency, and yet had been allowed into the pressroom disturbed him. That was not proper protocol, and he would have to talk to a few people about that. At least the main crisis had been averted, for which he was very glad. Blumenfield would not be too upset about the situation now. She would still chew him out, but at least his job was safe.
Returning to MOCR, he saw Brucker standing on the platform giving orders to a few people. He looked at the main screen, checking the flight status of each of the five ships in orbit. All except the Pytheas were running nominally, and none of them was having any difficulties whatsoever. If he could have, he would have ordered the closest one to intercept the Pytheas to assist. However, that would have been an engineering feat of colossal proportions, since by the time the Pytheas would have enough fuel to refuel, the other ship would also have to abort their mission from lack of fuel as well. So, a rescue ship was necessary. Harper and his men would take the Hyperion in another five hours, dock two hours later, and then they would begin to round up the werewolves. It was simple, and it might not work, but it was the only thing they could try. A second mission would look suspicious and then they would have to admit what was going on, or at least admit that the problem had nothing to with the engines. That was a possibility that he did not want to think about.
He came back over to his podium, and noticed that Brucker saw him almost immediately. Brucker saw the haggard look on his face, and his own expectant visage fell grim. "It didn't go well did it?"
Throckmorton shook his head, "No, it went pretty well actually. There were a few people there who couldn't seem to get off the idea that there was a werewolf on board the Pytheas. And there was one individual who asked very pointed question, stating facts that he should not have known." Throckmorton let his frustration carry over into his voice as he spoke through his teeth.
"He knew the name of the rescue ship, and he seemed to know that we were going to put weapons on it. He thought there were weapons on it already. So I didn't completely lie when I shot him down. But still, I want to know how in the world he knew that stuff."
Brucker looked about a bit guiltily, "I have made sure that nobody has left this room. Perhaps somebody down at the hangar said too much?"
"Perhaps." Edward nodded glumly. He didn't really want to think about what had just happened in the pressroom so he changed the subject. "Any word from the Pytheas?"
"I hope Rhodes is still with us. I'm not too sure I want to have some scientist running the show up there."
"Well, McGee is technically in charge, sir," Brucker pointed out.
"I'm not too sure I want a security guard in charge either."
"There is not much that you can do about it, sir," Brucker pointed out, his own voice rising. "May I have permission to speak frankly, sir."
Throckmorton chuckled slightly, "I've never known you to be anything other than frank with me. Permission granted, Major."
"Those peoples lives may not be dependent on Harper at all. They are dependent on those two men. Harper will not arrive for another seven hours. Unless we give those two men our fullest trust , then Captain Harper may find a ship full of well-fed werewolves. Rhodes is or will be a werewolf in then next half-hour. Dutton has already succumbed, and Tembo is dead. Kilpatrick and Penny are in the engine room, but they don't respond to our messages. Lastly, Danielpour and Xenakis are both dead as well. That doesn't leave many people left now does it?
"I think we are going to have to trust these two men's judgement. You know Rhodes is not a stupid man. He may be a bit on the slow side at times, but he is always up to the challenge and he is a very good judge of character. I don't think he would have placed this scientist Thibaudet in charge if he did not think he could handle the responsibility. You know McGee is a calm character as well not prone to over react. I think that we can trust these two to do the right thing. I think you are being too hard on them, sir." Brucker finished his little speech, looking about him a bit embarrassed, as if hoping nobody else had heard it.
Throckmorton could not help but smile. Brucker had chewed him out once again! He always enjoyed being set straight in his path, even if it was from his junior officer. That was what made them a good team, because they trusted each other, and were not afraid to say when they thought the other was making a mistake. That Throckmorton was the Colonel and Brucker the Major had only to do with Throckmorton's better managing skills and the fact that he knew every in and out of the computer systems. Brucker was no less competent than he was, and his strengths were Throckmorton's weaknesses.
"Major, once again you have spoken correctly and wisely. I guess I'm getting too curmudgeonly in my old age." Throckmorton smiled at his friend of ten years.
"Sir, I wouldn't worry about it too much." Brucker returned the smile, though only by a bit. This was not the time for levity, and each knew it. This was serious business, but each wanted to pass it off, to think of more pleasant times. Each wanted to think about the four ships that were operating smoothly instead of the one that was in danger of crashing into the moon. They could only do what they had already done, and stay awake and in contact with the crew of the Pytheas. It was already past sunset. The midnight hour would be approaching soon. Though they did not like to launch ships at night, this time they would have no choice. It was the best and earliest window to get to the Pytheas.
"Well, what are we going to do now though?" Throckmorton asked rhetorically. "We can't really do much until they call us back. I hope people are still creating the evidence we need to back up our story."
"Good, now we just wait for either a call from the Pytheas or Secretary Blumenfield's arrival." Throckmorton concluded, leaning against the rail at his back. He shook his head in dismay at their inability to take action to stop the spread of the growing madness. He wished he could just do something about it! That was why he liked computer programming so much, no matter where the computer was, he could fix it, he could be of use. Now, here with this problem, he might as well have no hands at all. All he could do was offer hope to the beleaguered passengers of the Pytheas.
"Colonel? Major?" a voice from behind asked them. They both turned to see one of the door guards standing behind them looking confused.
"What is it, Corporal?" Throckmorton asked, hoping that it wasn't the press trying to get in here again. He always hated it when they tried that. After the fiasco with the Marco Polo he had learned never to allow the press see anything that might be slightly damaging to the Space Force.
"There is a young lady in a wheelchair who wants to be in here. She is a Lieutenant in Space Force, but I wasn't sure if I should let her in since your instructions stated nobody to be let in or out, sir."
"What's her name?" Throckmorton asked.
"Michelle Simmons, sir."
"That's right, she broke her leg this morning." Brucker mentioned. "She should be up there on the Pytheas right now. Talk about your lucky accidents."
"Let her in, corporal. She can be trusted, and I think she has a vested interest in this." Throckmorton commanded, amazed that she would be out of the hospital so soon. She had probably insisted, that would be so like her.
Simmons came into the room, her broken right leg up in the stirrups of the wheelchair as she used the control pad to maneuver up behind the rail where they were standing. Her face was ashen, and her lips were trembling. It was obvious she had heard the news, or at least some of it. Her cedar-brown hair was tied up in a ponytail, and her characteristic sunglasses were hanging out of a pocket on her black jacket that she had draped over the back of the wheelchair. She was dressed only in shirts and shorts. Her measured face took them both in. "I heard on the news that there is a werewolf on board the Pytheas. I have to know, is it true? Are there werewolves on the Pytheas"
Brucker looked sadly at Throckmorton. This was his job, he had to fill her in on what they knew. "Simmons, I hate to say this, but yes, there are werewolves on board the Pytheas. At least, Rhodes says it is true. I don't doubt his word."
Simmons' head crumpled into her arms, "Oh, poor Samuel." she moaned, her body shaking.
Brucker jumped the rail, and came to her side, pulling her arms away from her face. "Simmons, we are doing everything we can. Captain Harper is going to be there in seven hours, and everybody will be rescued, don't worry."
"What about Kilpatrick?" she asked, tears standing in her eyes.
Throckmorton sighed, "Rhodes said that he was in the engine room, but we have not been able to make contact with him since. I'm afraid that the werewolf just might have got him."
She nodded, "That sounds right, but why did it have to happen! Why?"
Throckmorton shook his head, "I don't know, Simmons. If you asked me yesterday whether I believed in werewolves I would have laughed at you. Now, I don't know what to believe. For me, that is pretty tough to deal with. I've become set in my ways. I'm sorry about Kilpatrick, but there was nothing we could have done. Nobody could have known about this."
"The werewolf would have." Simmons insisted. "Or should have."
"What can I say?" Throckmorton leaned over the rail and put a hand on her arm. "Nobody believed that one of the Shapeshifters was an actual werewolf. It is, was, foolish to send them up, we all knew it, everybody but the courts that is. This will never happen again."
"But it's already too late to save them!" Simmons wailed, her face furious. "Who is left alive?"
Throckmorton sighed deeply, 'You are not going to like to hear this."
"Tell me!" she insisted hotly. Brucker tried to pat her on the shoulder to calm her down, but she shrugged him off.
"Danielpour and Xenakis are both dead, we know this for a fact."
"How did they die?" she said in a suddenly weak voice.
"The werewolf killed them. Or werewolves, I'm not sure how it was at the time." She nodded and motioned for him to continue. "Then there are Kilpatrick and Penny. We don't know if they are alive or not. They both were in the engine room. Nobody's been able to contact them since. Tembo, Gorecki, and Corigliano are all dead as well. Tembo was the first to die in fact. McGee is still alive, and we don't know about Ziegler yet, he was injured but we know nothing else."
"By the werewolf?"
"No, one of the Shapeshifters shot him."
"Oh." her voice was quit soft, almost indistinct.
"Dutton, well he's a werewolf now, we know that for a fact. Captain Rhodes, well, I'm sorry to say that in a short while he will be a werewolf too." Throckmorton hated saying this to her. He knew that she was in love with Kilpatrick, everybody knew that. He knew that she was also a very vital part of the crew and great friends with each and every one of them. To hear of their deaths must be terrible. Though he never served on a ship with any of them, he hated hearing it to. Rhodes had been a good friend, and now he was a ravaging beast, or would be shortly. IT was more than he wanted to think about.
"What is Harper going to do to them?" Simmons asked suddenly, her voice filled with a new fear.
"He is going to tranquilize them and lock them in cages until we can get them away from the full moon. What happens to them once they get back to Earth, I don't know."
Simmons nodded, "I understand. I hope they are not locked away in cages."
"Me too." Throckmorton nodded. For some reason having Simmons here made it more complete. She was an actual crewmember of the Pytheas, one who had just barely escaped the terror that was gripping folks up on the ship. She was somebody who could sympathize greater than any other. She was somebody who would need their support. She was somebody that he could actually help. She was a way for him to be useful.
Lassie looked at the grate that was before them. Through it they could see a dimly illuminated room. Getting closer, with Lovewolf close behind. Lovewolf did not look good at all. He was sweating all over, and was shivering and shaking as he moved. She did not want to slow down, because they were now on the bottom floor, and this grate must be the engine room. However, Lovewolf seemed to be incapable of moving much. She wondered if it was the claustrophobic effect kicking in. For some reason, the back of her mind told her that is was something far more insidious.
When she reached the grate she called out in a loud voice, "Kilpatrick! Penny! Where are you two! We need your help here!" She waited a moment, hoping that they would appear out of the corner and come to their rescue. She waited, but there was no sound, no movement at all. She shivered. So it was true, they were not here after all. The werewolf had gotten them too.
Realizing that she would have to open the grate herself, she peered out and saw the means to open it on the other side. Sticking her fingers as far through the grating mesh as she could, she began to pry at the latch. It was not easy work, as the latch was very stubborn, and quite stiff. It was going to take her a little while to get it undone. Moving her fingers back and forth across it, she began to slowly wiggle it loose. It was slow going though, and it began to quickly frustrate her.
She finally took her fingers out through the mesh and leaned back against the wall. She pointed the flashlight back at Lovewolf who was quivering in a heap just behind her. "You want to give this a try, Love?"
Lovewolf shook his head no, and she grimaced. What was wrong with him? She felt like she knew the answer, but did not want to admit it to herself. However, she needed to know, and she suspected that Lovewolf probably already knew. He hadn't said anything since they had left Lapwolf and Pillow at the ladder. It seemed with each passing moment he only grew worse. Finally, unable to stand it anymore she asked him, "Lovewolf, something's wrong I can see it clearly. Now tell me what is wrong with you!"
Lovewolf rolled himself into a sitting position, his arms clutching his sides. "I'm going to be beautiful." he whispered, almost dreamily.
"What do you mean?" the words had such a haunted quality about them that she felt like she already knew the answer. Could it be true? Could the legends of the werewolves be true on that one basic fundamental point? Could the victim of the werewolf also fall to the curse? AT first she would have never called being a werewolf a curse, but after she saw what the one had done, she could not think of it anything but a curse.
She did not need to hear his words to know what he said. "I am going to be a werewolf. And I am going to be one very soon. I don't think I can hold it back much longer."
Lassie did not, could not say anything in response to that. She turned back around and began to fiddle with the latch again. She heard him speak some more the words resonating through her mind. He almost wanted it, but at the same time, he was holding it at bay. Why? For her sake? Or because he was afraid he would die in the ventilation shafts? Maybe he realized that he owed the others a chance to live too. She liked to think that he was holding it back because of her.
"I will be a werewolf now, in mind and body. I wonder if I even need the full moon to affect a transformation. I hope not. I hope that I can control it. I doubt it though. The wolf is so strong now, it seems so different yet so familiar to the wolf I have known all my life. That wolf just wanted to guide me, this one wants to live with me and be me. I can't think of anything I've ever wanted so much in my life. Now here I am going to have it, I am going to be a werewolf.
"I want you to leave me behind after we finish this Lassie. If you want to be beautiful too, I will scratch you. That's all it takes you know, a simple scratch. But only if you want it. Do you want it, Lassie?"
She pulled her fingers back from the latch. She almost had it undone now, but that question had thrown her off guard completely. Did she want to be a werewolf? She liked domesticated dogs better and felt closer tot hem, but wolves were close to dogs. They were the same species after all. Did she want him to make her into a werewolf? Did she want to be a ravaging beast that killed humans? Did she want to be locked up in a specimen cage and studied for the rest of her life?
"Lovewolf, no, I don't want that. Not yet." That was all she could manage to say. The "Not yet" had come out as almost an afterthought, as if she would take it under better conditions. If she knew that it would not destroy her mind, she might have said yes. If she thought that he had a reasonable chance of not being locked up and poked and prodded like a guinea pig, then she might have said yes. However, neither was the case. So she said no. Or at least, not yet.
Lovewolf sighed, "I am glad in a way that you said that. I don't know if I will be able to keep my mind either, and I don't want to destroy yours. But the wolf is so friendly and loving. It just wants to heal us of our humanity."
"Some might not think it needs healing."
"Oh, but it does," Lovewolf replied with firm conviction. "I have learned that. I only hold this back out of respect for your wishes."
"Lovewolf, please, I need to get this grate off."
"I'm sorry, continue." Lovewolf then fell silent, his almost Heavenly voice murmuring to himself.
Lassie really hated this latch, it was taking forever to pry it loose. She continued wiggling, slipping it up a bit here and a bit there, but never by much. After what seemed to take forever, the latch finally popped free and she could swing the grate up and lock it in place with a metal support. She stuck her head out into the chamber, and looked about. In front of her was a massive array of computers and terminals with screens showing various statistical information. One screen was flashing down to the far side, but she could not see what it was saying from her lofty perch. There was only slight illumination in the room, and the back half of the place was shrouded in darkness. She did not like this place already.
She slipped down to the ground, and then helped Lovewolf get out. As he did so, she noticed his back. The scars were completely healed, it was as if he had never been injured in the first place. Lovewolf looked about, sniffing the air casually. She scanned the rows of computer screens looking for the one with the engines. She was not good with that sort of stuff, Lovewolf was the one who had to change the orbit of the ship. However, she did spot something that shocked her and sent a shiver down her spine. Lying down on the table was a diamond ring, the very diamond ring that she had stolen from Jansen's desk so many hours ago. What was it doing here?
She gotten a sudden chill, the person that she had thought was in the Greenhouse must have seen her drop it. It was either Kilpatrick or Penny, as they had been the only two down here since that time. However, it did not matter which one it was to her. She picked up the diamond ring and stuffed it in her pocket. She needed to return this, there was nothing else she could do with it. For some reason, that made her feel a lot better.
While Lovewolf was examining the terminals, Lassie began staring about the room, and then noticed one singular thing about the place. There was no blood anywhere about the room. JUDE had cleaned up the first mess, at least that was what she had heard from people. If Kilpatrick and Penny were caught and killed, why wasn't there any blood? And why was the door closed? She tried to open it, and found that she could not. The handles had been damaged, making it impossible to open from the inside. No why would somebody do that?
Lovewolf then gave a barking laugh that caught her attention. "What is it, Love?"
"Would you believe this! We were sent all this way to change the orbit but no! Homebase has told us that changing the order will kill us." He was pointing at the flashing screen. "That is so ironic."
"Why will it kill us?"
"Because we are too low on fuel to risk it. Either we'll crash into the moon or go floating off into space."
"I guess there is no way to avoid it now, I'm going to be...Watch out!" Lovewolf pushed past her suddenly, his eyes going wild. She turned around just in time to see a werewolf behind her, ready to lunge for her. Lovewolf however intercepted it, and was able to knock some of the momentum out of its charge. He was knocked to the floor though, and nearly smashed into her when he did so. Lassie back up, the sight of the werewolf slavering jaws, the yellow eyes staring at her, wanting her, to rip open and slice into little bits was so intense that she could smell it. She could smell mostly her own fear though.
Lovewolf grabbed the creature about the legs, holding it with all his might. She could see the back of his shirt straining, his effort to hold back the werewolf in himself becoming too much for even him to control. She couldn't help but stare as the werewolf tried to kick Lovewolf off his legs, and trying to slash at Lassie. Lassie was shaking in fright, only able to stay out of the way.
Lovewolf however turned to look at her, the front of his face distending slowly, "Get out of here Lassie! If I change you’re dead! Go!"
Lassie bolted then for the ventilation duct. The werewolf reached out after her, kicking Lovewolf away from him finally. She jumped for the hole, and managed to get halfway in before the creature began to charge her again. She pulled herself up, pushing harder than she thought possible. She did not take the time to look behind her as she scrambled madly into the passage, pulling her legs up after her. The werewolf was then there, reaching its claws into the hole, barely able to get more that a forearm in after her. It snarled and snapped in frustration as it tried to climb up after her.
She then acted quickly, seeing the only way to keep herself safe. She kicked at the metal support holding the grate open. It slammed down on the werewolf's hands and arms as the support was knocked loose. The werewolf howled in pain, ripping both arms out from the hole, leaving a great wad of fur in its wake. She was shaking and trembling, she had nearly been killed, and that thing had been lurking in here the whole time. It had probably killed Kilpatrick and Penny in the back where they couldn't see, and then gotten locked in the room itself.
She watches as it glowered at her, not removing its intensely yellow orbs from her. As she watched, another werewolf stood beside that one to watch as well. Lovewolf had been right, he was beautiful. Lassie stared at him, werewolf now, and forevermore, and could think of only one thing to do for her friend. She began to cry.
Dr. Everett Saltonstall sighed. Finally, they were out of the room! He closed his own door, and returned to the television. He pulled out a small box that had been hidden beneath his mattress. Opening it up he pulled forth a replacement circuit for the television and quickly plugged it in. The screen came back to life, and he saw an empty hallway again. He pressed a few buttons, and suddenly the view of the Greenhouse came to life. He stared at the figures all crouched over Captain Rhodes. There wasn't much he wouldn't give if these cameras also had audio capability.
He looked at the small tape he had, and stuck it in a slot in a compartment he had, and then attached it to the cable wires in the back. He then pulled from the box a small picture phone. He quickly plugged it into the television, and began pressing numbers. The receiver was picked up almost instantly. The face on the screen was a plain one. The man had a pipe clenched between his teeth though, and the tan color of his coat was just visible at the bottom of the screen.
"About time you called," the man complained.
"I had trouble getting rid of my roommate." Saltonstall admitted.
The man nodded slightly and chomped down on the pipe some more, puffing a bit of smoke as he did so. He then gave him a knowing look "Do you have the tapes?"
"Of course. I have several clips. I have one of the werewolf on the bridge killing Corigliano. I also have one with the werewolf transforming and a few others you might find very interesting. How long before they are on the air?"
"Five minutes at most. Every station is going to be dying to get hold of these tapes you know."
"Well that is what we had in mind." Saltonstall pointed out.
"I know. Are you ready to transmit?"
"Yes. Are you ready to receive?"
"I'm all prepared, just push the button and in five minutes the whole world is going to know that there are werewolves on board the Pytheas." the man shifted the pipe in his mouth. He looked contemplative for a moment. Then smiled, "This is the moment we've been waiting for for quite some time."
"Well, here goes the world." Saltonstall pressed the button on the box, and the television screen flashed a bit. Then, the connection returned to normal, and the procedure was done. "All right, I've got to get this stuff put away and get back to normal. You take good care of this for me."
"It's all taken care of. You've done an excellent job."
"Thank you." Saltonstall bowed his head respectfully.
The man shifted his pipe again, "I'll see you when this is over."
Saltonstall nodded, and then put the phone down and closed off the connection. The man's face disappeared immediately. He put the phone away, as well as the transmission box, and the disk. He then disconnected the necessary cables and stuffed them back in his secret box. He then turned the screen on to the hallway just outside. He scanned it, and to his satisfaction saw that there was no werewolf outside. He picked up the pocket calculator and reengaged the security protocols. The doors on either end of the hall slid shut once more. He then reached into his television and removed the circuit, placed it back in the box, and then shoved it under his mattress again.
He opened up his door and yelled out, "It's safe to come out again, I've got the doors closed. I think they'll stay closed too, the security system isn't fighting me anymore!"
He heard the two other doors open. Bowman had a silly grin on his face, "I don't know, but I might like to stay over here a while, they've got the most comfortable setup I've ever seen on a starship.
Saltonstall just laughed a good heartfelt with his roommate.
End Part XIV