Throckmorton finally twitched at the sudden question from Brucker, "Well, sir? What are your orders?"
"I don't really know. This situation is beyond me. I'll have to talk to the press again soon, and I really want to know what to say." Throckmorton kept his eyes on the ground before him, not wanting to look at anybody else.
"Didn't the Secretary give you any advice?" Simmons asked suddenly.
Throckmorton shook his head, "No, she told me that it was my decision, and that we never officially even talked to each other. She's saving her political life, and letting me take the fall. It's probably a smart move on her part, even if I hate the fact she's doing it."
"Anything else?" Brucker queried.
"I'll need the files on every passenger on board the Pytheas. We need to find out who sent that video back to Earth soon. That way we have a finger to point to when this is all over. We need somebody to crucify in the federal government, and if it isn't this person, it will be me."
"It's not your fault," Brucker pointed out, his fist clenching angrily.
"I know that, you know that. Hell, even Blumenfield knows that. However, the public needs a scapegoat, and I'm the easiest target now," Throckmorton sighed.
"We'll find a way to clear your name," Simmons assured him.
"I'm sure you will, but I need those files soon."
Brucker called out the order and then turned back to his superior officer, "Sir, Captain Harper will save them, and then we will bring this traitor to justice. Whoever he is, we will find him."
"Assuming that any of them are left alive when Harper gets there." Throckmorton voiced the unspoken suspicion that they all shared. "Of course, it seems that anybody killed by a werewolf is becoming one too. I guess that isn't so bad."
"Its worse." Simmons muttered lightly.
"I imagine it is, but at least they are still alive in some fashion. That is something is it not?"
"I'd say so. Although I'm not too sure I'd like to hang around them late at night," Brucker tried to joke, but it fell flat.
Simmons looked like she was lost in thought. She felt the cast on her leg with one hand. Throckmorton stared at her face, watching the eyes work over some problem, the tears still barely visible in her face. How could he know the depth of her sorrow? He knew Rhodes and the others as friends in the program, but no more. There was no familial attachment that he had to each of them the way that Simmons must have. Usually she was the type that knew her job, and got it done without any complaints. Now, she was a mess, barely able to control her own emotions.
"Simmons, they are going to live."
"But what will they be?" She asked in retort. Her hands were shaking in the rage at her inability to help. He could see it clearly; he too had suffered a similar rage before.
He would have been suffering now if it weren't for his fear of what he might have to say to the press. What could he tell them? The truth? He could see it now, "Yes there are werewolves on the ship. Yes I did blatantly lie to you earlier. Why? Well national security issues and all conflicted with it at the time. That tape should never have gotten to you all; somebody who hacked into the security grid on the Pytheas sent it. Don't worry though, everything is under control."
Yeah, that would go over real well. He might as well as pull out his gun and shoot himself in the foot now. They were certainly going to take more than just his foot when they got through with him. He wondered idly if the man in the tan coat and pipe would be back to ask him really drilling questions. Of course, it probably wouldn't matter, he doubted the man could ask any tougher questions than anybody else was going to ask him this time.
Of course, he could deny the whole thing, claim the tape was a forgery, and try to keep at his engine failure story. That probably would not pan out either. Of course, it would look more like he was trying to cover it all up than before. Before the video had come out, he was mostly credible. Now, nothing he said would be believed. Of course if he admitted that he had lied, then nobody would be able to trust him ever again. Of course, no matter what happened the truth was going to come out of this one eventually. Would it not be prudent to face it now, and save the Space Force the dignity of a massive investigation later?
Looking back up at Simmons he just had to shrug, "I guess they will be werewolves. Is that so terrible thing? One night out of every month they have to confine themselves, but other than that, they are still human the rest of the time."
"So terrible?" Michelle Simmons looked stunned at his blase remarks. "So terrible! Look at what Malcolm did to John there. He tore his chest out! Is that what you call something that Malcolm is going to want to live with?"
"Malcolm was dead, at least that is what Rhodes told me. Now he's alive again. John Corigliano is probably alive as well, but now as a werewolf. I don't know what to say, it's better than being dead."
"Maybe," Simmons muttered.
Brucker cleared his throat suddenly. Both turned to look at him. Throckmorton noted the grim expression on his face. It seemed that they all wore grim expressions of late. He wondered if there was anything else that a person could look like. Was their another façade that a person could wear? Was there anything else left for them but this dark grim terror? Could he ever sleep at night again? Did he even want to, knowing that somewhere out there a werewolf might be lurking, ready to draw him into its clutches and to warp his own mind into that of a mad slavering beast?
He did not have the answers to any of those questions. He hoped he had the answer to the one that Brucker looked like he wanted to ask. Brucker spoke clearly, though stiffly, "We might be forgetting something. Isn't it more likely that the government is going to hide these werewolves away from the public eye? Won't the government want them for secret tests and research to see why they are werewolves and all that?"
Simmons looked even more frightened by that. "Don't let them do that, Edward, please, don't let them do that!" she would have gotten on her knees to beg at his feet if she could have, he could see it in her eye. She did not want her closest friends and her lover being sent to some hidden research facility where they would be subjected to the cruelest sorts of experiments, testing the extent of the harm they could take. He wouldn't be surprised if they tested a minor nuclear blast on one of them at ground zero just to see if it would survive. He then began to wonder whether they would survive such a blast. For some reason, he doubted it.
"Lieutenant Simmons, I have my job to do. I will do what I can, but if they want them for research, then there is nothing I can do to stop them." Throckmorton admitted, spreading his hands helplessly.
Brucker interrupted, "Perhaps there is a way, sir."
"How's that, Major?"
"Well, you know that the press wants to hear your side of the story. Give them a story that will protect Rhodes, Danielpour and the others. Make sure that people know about the werewolves, make sure that people know who they are, what they look like. The government can't shut you up then."
Simmons gave him that pleading look, and he knew that he was not going to be able to say no, at least, not this time. However, was that the best interest of the country, or in fact the world? Was revealing the fact that there were werewolves to the world something he wanted to bear the responsibility for? Was the world ready for werewolves? Could the people accept the fact that there were other that were fundamentally different from them in a very frightening and physical way?
Did he have a choice either way? Fulton Swiley and the networks and cable news shows had thrown down the gauntlet. He had to come up with a response, and he had to do it soon. They would not wait forever. Simmons and Brucker would not wait forever. They were three people in the entire world, and both were urging him to tell all. However, it was his decision, the responsibility lay on his shoulders. They would never know the repercussions of the decision that he had to make now. They would never know what was involved in that decisions, what the consequences would be either way. They would see the end result, but neither would know how much he had to struggle with it.
"Colonel? What is your decision? The press won't wait forever you know," Brucker reminded him. It was obvious that the Major was getting slightly impatient.
"Colonel, please don't do anything to hurt my friends," Simmons pleaded, her eyes telling him the depth of her misery more than any words could. He wanted so much to tell her that things would be fine. He wanted to tell her that she didn't need to worry about them, but what could he do? He was stuck here on Earth, and there was no way he could stand in the government. Even if he did as Brucker suggested, it might not work. Unless of course he could exonerate his own mistakes. Perhaps there was a way to make this work after all.
"I think that I can do something, but I'm not sure just how effective it will be. I think you two are right about saving the lives of Rhodes, Danielpour and all the others. However, is Earth ready for this? Are the people of this world ready for werewolves?"
"Why not, we've accepted it?" Simmons pointed out, asking him quite directly.
"We kind of have to, Michelle. It's our job."
Brucker interrupted, "I don't see why not. Swiley prepared them for it. They've seen the footage. I think they are ready for it. I don't think they will like it, but there have been lots of things in this world that people have not liked. They will get used to it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, sir, I am." Brucker stood his ground.
Throckmorton put his face in his hands, rubbing his cheeks, trying to think. What could he possibly do? Both of them were egging him on, and he did not want to make a decision. It all rested on his shoulders, and would he be able to look in their faces again if he did what he thought was right, despite them? Did he really have a choice? He had to tell all, denying it would only make the truth harder to accept. If he wanted people to accept the truth about the werewolves and to get the public all anxious to see Rhodes and the others safely back to Earth and humanity, then he would have to do it now. If it came out later, people would not believe, and the government could do whatever they wanted with Rhodes and the other werewolves.
Throckmorton knew what he had to do; there was no other option available to him, not anymore, not now that he had thought it through. He turned his back to the two of them, intent on heading for the pressroom. He needed no briefing this time; he knew exactly what he would say. This time, he would say what was right.
"Where are you going now, sir?" Brucker asked him, reaching out to grab his arm, but stopping before he reached him.
"I am going to talk to the press. Major Brucker, make sure this place keeps running smoothly. If Rhodes or that French scientist call, tell them where I am, but do not tell them about the video, at least not yet." Throckmorton called over his shoulder. He then continued to walk towards the exit that led tot he pressroom.
"What are you going to tell them?" Simmons shouted after him, her voice quavering, and full of trepidation.
Throckmorton cocked his head over his shoulder, giving her a brief smile, "Why Lieutenant Simmons, I of course will be telling the truth. What else can I tell them?" He then turned about and kept on walking, no more protests following his heels.
He looked over his pack, carrying the scent each owned deep into his nostrils. He looked over the motley crew, examining each as they hunkered down before him in some metal passageway lacking in color and the scents of life. This was certainly no place for them. The place with trees and real ground was where they belonged. He must take his pack there, but there were also other matters of concern.
He looked at his own mate. Being the alpha male, he had first choice. There was only one female in the whole pack, and she was jealously guarded. Of course they would need more mates, but they could not get to them. They had tried, but had found all their attempts had failed miserably. The alpha female, somehow the word Gorecki kept coming back into his mind whenever he thought of her. It made no sense; after all, she was who she was, no more, no less. Whatever this Gorecki had to do with it certainly confused him.
He was remembering things, and he was beginning to understand them much clearer now, but a few things were still too difficult for him or too remote. He knew that for some reason Tembo held significance for him, but he did not know why. He also knew that the youngest of their pack who had brought the delicious meal with him had once been the alpha of the humans, and of them when they had been like the other soft fleshed beings with no fur. However, he was now alpha, he was the strongest and the most determined and apparently the smartest. The others did not seem to grasp as much. They barely could understand the concept of the passcard to open doorways.
He scented his mate and she obliged him, giving him a taste of what he wanted. She was so beautiful, her dark fur a pleasant coat, striking down her body, with a lighter shade on her chest and belly. Her ears were tall and proud, and her amber eyes glinted with ferocity. She was ready to hunt, and he thrilled at that. The others, each of whom he had a word in his mind, Danielpour, Black-Tiger, Xenakis, and others. What did they mean? Were they important somehow?
Slipping down to all fours, he stretched his muscles. The walls had locked them off, and his card did not work in all of them. Getting back to his hind legs, he scratched his back at the base of his tail, working out a bur in his fur. The caked blood on his chest had long since been cleaned out of his fur; it had been rather unsanitary and quite unsightly. Of course, some of the others had yet to realize this.
He would not give them lessons in grooming, that was for pups. These were his packmates, and they were old enough to hunt. They needed to hunt for more mates. It was the right thing to do. The pack could not grow without more mates. With only one female in the pack they were quite limited, and he certainly was not going to share her, and she was not going to share him either. Of course, that was the way it was supposed to be.
Now, they had something they needed to accomplish. He would lead them in the right direction. It was just a matter of time, they couldn't hide forever. The pack split up, he let the beta, for some reason he thought of Dutton, lead a few to watch the Greenhouse. He led the smaller pack of his own on a hunting mission. There were no other predators to take their dens, so there was no worry of intruders. Scouting the area well, they knew were to stay hidden, stay to sniff out the humans, to invite them into their pack. They would be so happy that they joined too. He just knew it.
Thibaudet was staring at the ground where he had been dry heaving. It had been such a long time since he had last ate, but he felt so ill that he had to vomit something. Now that it was over, and he was left with an awful residue in his mouth, he wondered if all this had really been worth it. Was Jansen right? Were they doomed; was fate laughing at them? It certainly seemed like that. Every time he tried to do something he thought was right, disaster was soon to follow.
He looked back at the figure of John H. West, AKA Pillow as he sat in the folds of Huggy's thick arms. Huggy was trying to comfort him as Pillow continued to cry and sob. He was not over the death of his lover, and probably would not get over him for quite some time. He had let him die, in his attempt to save Pillow. Perhaps had Rhodes slashed Pillow, to knock him out of the way it would have been as Pillow had said. Both he and Lapwolf would be werewolves, but at least they would be alive.
However, what choice did he have? Hindsight was as they said 20/20 but apparently he presently blind. He did not know what to do; he did not know what he could do. He had been responsible for that boy's death, no matter how obnoxious he had been, he did not deserve to become snack food for a bunch of half-crazed werewolves. Nobody did. Nobody deserved to become a werewolf either. Not Rhodes, not Dutton, not any of them in this room.
He turned back around and walked a bit away from what he had managed to upchuck and sat down upon the floor. He peered out the glass in the window and saw nothing as usual. The werewolves almost never attacked the doors anymore; it was as if they knew it was a hopeless battle. Of course, it was probably a hopeless battle for them as well; they would never be able to stop them. The only thing that they had going for them was time. Once Harper arrived, they would be saved. Then they could walk the halls freely. Then they could get some sleep, and some food.
He had no idea how long he had been in the Greenhouse, but it seemed like an eternity. The tension had never left his body for a moment, at least as soon as it became clear that not only could they die, but they could also become werewolves. Since then, he was on edge. He did not want to grow fur. He did not want a bushy tail. He did not want to be part of a pack; he did not want to eat human flesh. The very thought of it repulsed him. He could not bear the idea.
Dr. Pierre Thibaudet sat in the dirt, looking over the three remaining people in the Greenhouse. The last of the crew was gone, only McGee was certainly alive. It was two Shapeshifters and two scientists. How were they supposed to save them all? How could they? They could do nothing but wait. There was nothing more that could be done for them. They were incapable of anything else. He just hoped his card would be enough to keep them safe.
He saw Jansen approaching. He looked calmer and saner than he felt; Pierre really did not want to talk to the man right now, but it looked like Jansen was angling for a conversation of some sort. He watched as Jansen came over, sitting down beside him, his lanky form dirty from the soil that had accumulated in parts. His whole frame shook with the need to get some sleep. They were all tired, but he could not let himself go to bed, at least not yet. If he did, he'd never know if the werewolves had managed to get through the door that he had locked with his inferior card.
"What do you want, Emil?" He figured it was probably best to get this over with as painlessly as possible.
Jansen leaned back against the wall, "Nothing, just wanted to see how you were feeling."
"I'm feeling absolutely miserable, now go away." Thibaudet did not really want this man trying to get close to him. For some reason, Jansen seemed to have almost no control over his actions. He lost control quite easily, and that scared Pierre.
Jansen looked a little upset at that, "I'm trying to help you out here, Pierre. I think you did just fine back there, and you don't even want to hear what I have to say? That's awfully low of you."
Thibaudet sighed, "Fine, what is it you want?"
Jansen seemed to calm down quickly, "As I said, I just wanted to see how you are feeling. Also, I want you to know that despite what Pillow thinks, you did the right thing."
"Tell him that."
"I don't think that is necessary. As long as you believe it, others will."
"That sounds like nonsense," Thibaudet scoffed.
"It probably is, but at least I'm trying to get you out of your self-inflicted misery."
"I appreciate the concern, but you didn't cause that kid's death now did you."
Jansen shook his head, "You're wrong. We all are to blame for it. Each of us could have done something to save him; we made the wrong choice. I chose to save myself. I could have stopped Rhodes from taking him, I really could have. We all could have. You did what you thought was right. You did a lot more than I could have. Stop blaming yourself Pierre, it's not your fault alone. We all share in the blame."
Thibaudet wrapped his arms about his knees, "I don't know. I feel like it was me that finally did him in."
Jansen shrugged, "Don't feel that way. We all had a part in it. Rhodes put you in charge. Step up to the plate, and swing. Get us out of here before we all die or join Rhodes's pack."
"Like there is any chance I can do that. I'm no leader." Thibaudet looked away, he did not like this conversation.
"You don't have to be a leader, you just have to keep everybody alive," Jansen pointed out. Thibaudet wasn't sure what the difference was.
"Tell me how to do that. I couldn't keep Lapwolf alive."
"Everybody could have done that. Pillow's wrong. If he hadn't stepped in front of the werewolf it would have gotten out the door and nobody would have been hurt. He distracted it first, it is just as much his fault as it is yours."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"No, it's supposed to make you think about how you are acting. If you act like this, then you will get us killed." Jansen retorted hotly.
Thibaudet finally stood up, unable to bear it any longer. He did not like the feeling of accusation. He knew he was incapable of leading them, yet Jansen was insisting that he do so. Wasn't he listening? He told him that he did not want to speak with him in the first place, Emil ignored him. He said that he wanted him to go away, Emil persisted. Why wouldn't he ever just do what others told him to do? If he wanted Thibaudet to lead, why wouldn't he do what he said?
"Jansen, do you know what the words 'go away' mean?" Thibaudet asked in a calm steady voice.
Jansen stood up coming to his back, "Yeah, so?"
"Then why don't you go away and let me sort things out myself?" Thibaudet turned to glare at the obnoxious man. He stood stunned unable to comprehend the words. His colleague was directly challenging him, and he could see that it was flustering him quite quickly. He probably thought he was being Pierre's friend. Pierre had friends, and Jansen might rank among them someday, but this was not going to be the way he did it.
Jansen finally turned around as he expected him to, throwing his arms in the air, "Fine! I try to help and what do you do, just what everybody else tells me to do! You'll never be a good leader at this rate."
Thankfully, Jansen did not go into another tirade, but sat behind his desk and typed angrily away at the computer. Thibaudet ignored him, instead getting his thoughts in order. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, he needed that. It had cleared his brain, and had given him the urge and will he needed to go on. Yes, he had made mistakes before; Rhodes had made them too. They all made mistakes. He would just make sure that his mistakes were small ones that didn't cost anybody their lives.
He could be a leader, he just needed to learn the first lesson: mistakes are made, but they can be fixed. Regardless, the leader went on. Thibaudet would go on.
Dr. Emma Handley sat in her office fuming. That man had no right to do what he had done to her. How dare he embarrass her by carrying her over his shoulder? It was downright degrading. She sat at her desk, looking at her notes. She had begun doodling a while back, and now had a rough sketch of a werewolf on her notepad. How she so wanted to collect some samples. If she could unlock the mystery of the change, the Nobel Prize would certainly be hers.
She jabbed the led of her pencil into the paper in frustration at McGee. It snapped in half, and the one half went sailing off her desk. She wanted to kick something, preferably McGee. She leaned down to pick up the other end of her pencil, and suddenly was distracted by a faint odor. Odd, it smelled like she was at a swimming pool. Now how could that be?
End Part XVI