Lieutenant Lucille Penny stirred in her bed as she began to wake from her deep slumber. As she began to rise she noticed something that was amiss; it was something that brought back the memories of her dreams -- dreams that bordered on the edge of nightmares -- and the events that had been responsible for them. She had been in the Engine Room with Lt. Commander Samuel Kilpatrick, and she had been frightened by the prospect that one among them was a killer. Kilpatrick had made the prophetic announcement that the killer was after him, and then had ordered her to go to her room and get some rest. She had been up almost the entire time since the launch, and the stress was finally beginning to wear on her system.
Lying down in her bed after locking her door -- something that Kilpatrick had advised her to do -- she had fallen almost instantly into slumber. It was a mostly pleasant rest; her dreams broken only by the sudden terror of finding herself trapped while the walls were pounded upon by some fierce creature. That was an image that she did not want to think about. It came to her now, more so than ever before as a clairvoyant expression of what was to happen. Penny was not one given over to superstition, but she also knew that there was something fundamentally wrong. She could tell without opening her eyes by the sounds of the ship about her, by the scent of the passing wind, and by the taste of the air itself.
There was somebody in the room with her.
She did not no how long this person had been in the room with he, and frankly, Penny didn't care. If she was still alive, then it must have been obvious that whoever it was had no ill intent towards her. Still, the very fact that another was in the room was enough to cause her heart to jump, and her body to tense. Was this Tembo's killer coming for her as well? Or perhaps he wanted to gloat to her about what he had done, how he had sliced his chest and neck open. The thought made her shiver. She could not stand it any longer, and sat up in bed, opening her eyes and letting the dim light about fill her.
It was dark in her room. She could make out a figure in the shadows at the other end of her room. The figure was sitting in her chair, hands before him. She knew it was a he, even though she could not see his face. Those were big hands, appropriate for his larger than normal waistline. He was not that big, but big enough to give him a menacing appearance. He did not move as she got up. There was one other thing about him that was quite obvious even in this dim light: he was completely naked. Thoughts of indecent acts swam through her mind. Did this pervert want her body? Did he want to rape her before he killed her?
She quickly reached a hand beneath her pillow; her gun was still there. She watched the figure carefully; he was breathing heavily, "Ah good, you're awake."
"Yes, I am." Penny was breathing fast now. This man dared think he could sneak up on her. She felt the handle on her pistol, ready to draw it if he seemed about to do anything odd.
"Sorry for intruding like this but I need your help." The voice was innocent, gravelly, but otherwise it was completely devoid of any hostile intent. It seemed as if he were not talking to her like a victim but like an old friend. She wondered if he noticed the hard edge to her voice. She looked to the light switch over by the door. That was three steps away, too far to risk. He could have a gun of his own on her in one step. Why he hadn't taken hers she did not understand.
"What sort of help?" She wanted to keep him talking as she slowly slipped her gun out before her. She tried to keep her fear down, tried to hold it inside. She was not very good at keeping her emotions deep down, she never had been. When Ascot had been killed her tears had come fast, and when she found out that Tembo was dead they flowed even more freely.
"I was hoping you knew your way about the ventilation ducts. I've been crawling through there for the last few hours, and I was lucky to have found you. I was about to go crazy in there, so I had to get out and stretch my arms and legs. Hope you don't mind that I came down here." He was apologetic about it! At least he claimed he was so, and what was with this not wearing clothes bit. Surely he didn't loose them in the ventilation ducts. What would he be doing up there though, and why would he need help to get through them?
"Can't you just walk back to your room? And why are you naked?"
The figure leaned forward a little, almost modestly from what she could tell. The gun was proceeding smoothly out from beneath the pillow. This pervert would never know what had hit him. "Well, ah, my clothes are kind of back in my own room. I was in a sort of hurry, and I didn't have time to get them back on. And no, I can't just walk back to my room, not if I want to live at any rate."
"What do you mean?" Penny asked pointedly as she inched the gun out further. It was rather difficult given her desire to remain unnoticed, and her still slightly frightened nature. She did not trust this man; he seemed too bizarre to be telling the truth. Why would anybody leave their clothes back in their room and then go crawling through the ventilation ducts? She did not understand it at all.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkened interior of her room, she began to make out things about the place. Nothing was out of place, except for that grating from the ventilation duct leaning against the far wall. It was obvious that he had gotten into her room through the airshafts. She looked down at her sidetable briefly. Her communicator was gone. He must have taken it. His intentions could not be saint-like and as innocent if he made them out to be if he had absconded her radio. Without that she could not call Rhodes or Danielpour or Dutton or any of the security guards for that matter. It was just up to her and her gun.
The figure sitting in her chair was much clearer now that her eyes were better adjusted. He had a thick face, with an unruly mop of dark hair atop his head. He was not actually that big in retrospect, probably only an inch or so taller than her. His chest was thick with hair, and it curled up and about in every which way. His hands were resting in his lap so she could not see his maleness; at least he was not so immodest as to let it hang out suggestively. Still, he had taken her radio; his plans must not be beneficial to her in some small way.
"Have you been sleeping in here the whole time?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes, I came here shortly before the ship returned to the proper full moon orbit," Penny replied, wondering what was distracting the kid.
"So you haven't seem them?"
"The werewolves," the kid replied as if it were a common thing to see.
She stiffened for a moment, and then the tension in her body released quickly. This had to be the worst con job that she had ever seen performed. Werewolves on board the Pytheas? Werewolves existing period? She knew that they had brought along a group of religious nuts, it seemed one of them had gotten just a bit too unscrewed. At least it seemed he was not after her body to screw her. Then again, he might very well still be. She was not going to take her chances, but she still wanted to make sure that he was not armed as well. If he would just talk a little longer, then perhaps she would be able to pull her own firearm on him.
"Werewolves? Are you trying to insult my intelligence?"
The kid shook his head, "I know what I saw. I've seen them several times now. I know they are not friendly. I barely escaped untouched. They are real; I'm surprised you haven't heard them banging on your door trying to get in. I have watched them do it enough times from the safety of the ventilation system."
At the mention of them banging on doors the images and flashes of her nightmares came back to her. She had been trapped, and things that she knew instinctively were monsters were slamming into the walls from outside trying to get it. Could that have actually happened, but only her locking of the door had kept her alive? Was it possible that her nightmare had been not prophetic as she assumed but instead what was really happening? It was not an uncommon phenomenon. Many sleepers could describe events in their dreams; things that had actually taken place. Still, a group of werewolves was probably the most irrational explanation that she had ever heard for anything of this sort.
"Why should I believe you?"
"Because I'm telling you it is so."
"That's not much of a reason."
"I know, please trust me." His face was pleading; it was obvious that he so wanted her help. She was inclined to help others, but this person, she could not bring herself to get up to help him, no matter what he did. There might be a very good reason for that too.
"I don't like to help strangers." Penny told him in a calm even voice. She was finally getting control of her emotions, and putting them in a useful order. She was nearly motionless, and the gun was nearly out from underneath the pillow. In another few moments, she would be his.
The kid nodded, "I can understand that. My name is Darkwolf. Well at least now it is."
"Darkwolf, so you are one of the Shapeshifters then?" Penny asked, already knowing the answer. She had suspected as much, he did not look to be old enough to be one of the scientists.
"Yes, I don't know where any of the others are though. I remember Lassie saying that she was going to the Greenhouse, and the others went to the Cafeteria, but other than that, I don't know where people are. Besides, that was hours ago, who can say where they are now, if they are even still alive. I hope they are, they are all my friends. I know one of them is dead though." He looked to the ground, his face becoming one of sorrow.
"Ascot?" she asked, remembering the look on the kid's face as he fired the gun into the Navigation console. Her heart began to ache at the sight of it. It had been so horrifying, so terrible. What could drive a person to do that? What could drive a person to give up their life for no apparent reason? She did not know, and she doubted that Darkwolf knew either.
"I'm sorry about him. I wish that hadn't happened."
"I do too, he was one of my closest friends."
She finally had the gun out, but for some reason, she wasn't sure if she should use it yet. For some reason, it seemed as if Darkwolf did not have any ill will towards her. His intentions, though he was naked, seemed completely honorable. He wanted her help, and she was not yet willing to give it. However, her intuition told her to give him the benefit of the doubt. The fear that had at first gripped her had finally left. There was a dull pain however, what about the others? Had they been taken in by Tembo's murderer? She could still be staring at him, but for some reason she doubted it.
"Do you mind if I turn the light on?" She asked suddenly, she was not going to stay in the dark any longer. She needed to see him; she wanted to make sure that she knew what he looked like, and that she knew exactly what was coming her way.
"Go right ahead." Darkwolf nodded.
Penny slipped the pistol into her pants, just enough so that he would not see, and then slipped out from her bed. She had slept in her clothes once again. Normally she was not so sloppy, but this time she made an exception. Being as tired and exhausted, both physically and emotionally as she had been, it had been a matter of slipping under her covers and drifting off into slumber. Nothing else had been required. She stepped over to the switch, and quickly turned it on. The bright light was a bit much after her eyes had become used to the darkness, but in a few moments the effect wore off and she was comfortable staring into the bright room.
Darkwolf was not much different in the light, except that now she could see that he was slightly sweaty. It was amazing, but he apparently did not have much of a body odor, as he did not smell that bad at all. He was well muscled as well, but there was a significant bit of flab there as well. His dark hair was quite a mess, and his skin was slightly pale. He must have taken too many shocks recently. Her communicator was sitting on the dresser next to him. He had not even bothered to hide it from her view.
"Why did you take my communicator?" she asked suddenly, the hard edge returning to her voice.
He picked it up in one hand, the other still covering his privates. "This? Well, I guess I just wanted to make sure that you would listen to me, that's all. I wasn't going to hold a weapon on you, so I figured something else that you would need might be enough to get your attention."
"Give it back," she accosted him, her fury rising at having something stolen from her.
"Not until you agree to help me get through the ventilation shaft."
"I can make you give it back," she threatened her voice stiff.
He stared at her face a moment, his brown eyes searching over her, examining her. He then nodded, "I'm sure you could. I'm still not going to give it back. After all, you are a stranger to me you know."
She wanted to remain angry with him, but she found that she could not. She was not sure why, or what was going through this kids head. She hoped he wasn't letting his eyes take in too much. However, what harm was there in telling him her name? "I'm Lieutenant Lucille Penny. I'm the ship's Engineer, and you should know you picked the absolute best person to ask for help in the ventilation shafts."
"Nice to meet you Mrs. Penny." He nodded, putting the communicator back down on the table. "Now, why did I pick so well?"
"I've had to crawl through the ventilation ducts before, so I am familiar with them. However, if you want my help, you are going to have to do better than werewolves and my communicator."
Darkwolf nodded, "I figured as much. There really isn't much more that I can give you. The truth is all I have."
"What is the truth?"
"There are werewolves on this ship. I don't know how they got here, or how in the world we're going to get off without getting killed, but they are on this ship."
"Are you sure that it isn't just some of your friends?"
"No, I've been with them many times before; not a single one of them has ever physically shifted."
"You know, grow fangs, claws, fur, that sort of thing," Darkwolf explained patiently.
Penny stood there, the gun in the back of her pants. It seemed that he had yet to notice. It was firmly there, nobody would notice it at least, and she had it at easy disposal. If Darkwolf did prove to be a bit lecherous, or have any murderous tendencies, she could take care of him. Perhaps she should help him. Whether the werewolf story was true or not, that was something she would have to see for herself. However, she was not quite ready to commit to anything yet.
"Well, if what you say is true," she began, trying to find some way to make the thought of being up in the ventilation shaft less repulsive.
"It is." he quickly interrupted.
"Then, " she continued, "I think it is in our best interests to find the others. If you give me my communicator, I can call and find out."
Darkwolf shook his head, "I don't think so. I hate to be obstinate, but it is in my best interest to hold on to that communicator. It's my insurance that you will help me."
Penny sighed, wishing that he wouldn't be so stubborn. However he had a point. It was obvious that he didn't completely trust her, and that he knew as long as he had something of hers that was important she was going to have to help him out. Well, then she would, but not when he was in his birthday suit. The very thought of it repulsed her. Perhaps a man in his thirties, now that might be kinky, but not this twenty-year old. It would be like being attracted to her younger brother, a feeling that she did not want to experience.
"All right, I'll help you find your way through the ventilation shafts on one condition only."
"What is that?" Darkwolf asked, watching a sudden smile grow on her face slightly bemused.
Penny did not immediately respond, but strode over to her dresser, at which Darkwolf snatched away the communicator, got up off the chair, and took a few steps back. She could feel his questioning eyes on him as she began to pull some of her own stretchable clothes that she was sure might possibly fit him. Of course, the only undergarments she had were probably too feminine for his tastes, but it would be neat to see the expression on his face when he looked at them. She'd always wondered what a man would do in this situation, and now she had a chance to find out.
"I am not going to climb through those cramped ducts with you being naked. So put these on." Penny handed him the ensemble, not that feminine, but enough to make people's eyes go up in surprise. The look on Darkwolf's face as he took the clothes in one hand did not disappoint her at all.
Lassie climbed up the last rung of the ladder to reach the top floor. The tears were still in her eyes and she was still shaking ever few moments. Working her way back through the ventilation system was not that hard. However, at every bend she could see Lovewolf's blood stains. That was enough to make her shake with misery once more. He had been a close friend, somebody that she had cared for dearly, and now he was gone, or at least some of him was gone. He was now beautiful, just like he said he would be. He was one with the wolf in a way he had never been before. He had also taken a great risk in saving her life, but it had been the last act of his human self that had done that. Would the werewolf that was Lovewolf do the same thing or even consider doing the same thing? She could not believe the answer to that question was yes.
Then there was the fact that their mission had been a total failure. They were supposed to change the orbit of the ship so that they would no longer be under the influence of the full moon. Instead, Earth had given them explicit instructions not to. Still, if they had changed the orbit they might have crashed into the moon or drifted into space, but still it infuriated her that after all that time and after all that pain, the pain of knowing what was happening to one of your closest friends, that was the pain she could not stand. It was simply unconscionable that they would sacrifice Lovewolf for nothing, a false hope.
It was terrible that he had to be sacrificed at all. If only they had not dilly-dallied when opening the door for him and HuggyBear those few hours ago. Then Lovewolf would not have been injured, and he would not be the way he was now. He would not be beautiful.
She cried it ached so much. She sat at the top of the ladder, no longer moving. The tears flowed once more again out her eyes. Why did it have to be him? He had so accepted the fate, been so calm about it. Why did he have to leave her? Why must he have left her to do this all by herself. Every time she saw his blood at the intersection his beautiful lupine face sprang to her mind again. Standing there next to the one who had attacked her and nearly had her, growling and snarling at her as well. Did he have a choice about it? How much of him had been left by the time they had reached the Engine Room? How much had he been struggling to hold it back so that he hadn't hurt her?
Leaning back into the wall, she wiped the tears from her eyes. She was not a crier, never had been. Then again, never in one day had all her friends either died or become monsters. It was like all of her worst nightmares had suddenly come to fruition in one single moment. No werewolf movie had ever so poignantly touched her that she had felt any actual fear for the characters. No story before had ever made her realize the depths of fright and terror that the werewolf wrought in their hearts. For her, the werewolf was a maligned creature that was ill presented by a foolish and prejudiced mass media. That they werewolf could indeed be a murderous beast struck her almost as much as did the fact that Lovewolf, one of the gentlest of men she had ever known, was now one of them.
She so wished that it were only a temporary condition that they would be the same old people that she had known before when this was all over. How could they be though? Ascot was dead; good old Lars, he had never seemed the type capable of losing it completely. How much about the other Shapeshifters did she not know? How much of their lives were still wrapped up beneath their very human skin, unable to express themselves for fear of recrimination from the others. They should have taken a clue from Lapwolf; they were a very tolerating group and would be willing to entertain almost any notion. After all, most of them believed themselves to be werewolves, what was more off-the-wall then that?
Well, there were some things. Still, the idea that there were real werewolves, not just the wannabes that many of the Shapeshifters along with her thought of themselves, was a shattering revelation. That and the fact that Lovewolf was now among them. She tried to hold back her choking sobs, and after a few moments was able to catch her breath long enough to fight them. She wiped the tears from her eyes once more, drying them on the sleeves of her shirt. She looked down the passageway that would take her back to the Greenhouse. Whether she liked it or not, she had to keep going. She had important things to tell them. And, she had something she needed to give back to Jansen, whether he would appreciate it or not.
Crawling on hands and knees was slow going, but she made good progress, reaching the first turn quickly. She pensively wondered whether Pillow and Lap had made it to the Greenhouse okay. They had come this way only a half-hour ago, perhaps a bit longer, but not much. That would make seven people in the Greenhouse waiting for her. No, that would be six, Dutton had been scratched by the werewolf when he first arrived. He had probably already succumbed to the wolf and become just as beautiful as Lovewolf now was, as they could all possibly become if they were not careful. Perhaps he had been better at resisting it than Love had been. After all, Lovewolf wanted to be a werewolf; he probably had only given into it when he realized it was safe to do so. He had wanted to join a pack of wolves, and in so doing he had left her alone.
She slammed her palm down into the vent in frustration. Why did he leave her like this? He could have held on long enough to help her get back, but no, he had to go romping with his lupine buddies. She hurt, and there was no better way to describe it. She could not believe that he would do that to her. She angrily pushed on forward, not sure whether she should cry or whether she should hit the wall again. Crying would probably hurt her hand less, but still, she did not want to do that again. Whether she liked it or not, she was alone till she got back to the others at the Greenhouse.
That thought got her moving faster. It wouldn't take long anyway, but it was a strenuous journey. Her arms and legs ached by the time she reached the last curve. The passageway continued on past a right fork, but she wanted the right fork, as that led directly into the Greenhouse. She leaned against the wall, her chest heaving, and her body sore from her travels. That her emotions were uncertain did not help. She wished that he could have been beautiful with his mind still intact. Why did the murderous beast have to take over? Why did the werewolf have to be a monster? Was it the moon that did it? Did the moon drive them crazy with its tantalizing distance and permanence, the one obstacle they could not overcome? That sounded ridiculous.
Lassie sighed. No matter how much she hated that fact, it still remained true and as true as it ever was. That they only found out about it today meant nothing. The werewolf was a monster that had no regard for human life. They were not the werewolf's former identities and friends, but instead they were its prey, the hunted. She did not like thinking of herself as a meal to her best friends. She had known that there were many creatures in the wild that might have eaten her if they got very hungry, but she had never imagined a creature that was above humans on the food chain. Even though she wished she wasn't human, there was still some manner of species pride left in her. She still felt a bit of a blow to find out that the human was no longer on top, even though she had wished it otherwise herself many times.
Then again, they were still smarter than the werewolves were, as they had their reason. There had to be some way to stop a creature that could not be hurt by normal metals or mundane materials. Silver, if they had some silver perhaps that might be effective. Still, they were her friends, even if they did not recognize her, there had to be some way that she could stop them without hurting them. She just wished that it would come to her. Moving the orbit had been the only way that she could have known. If they had been able to do that, then they would have changed back into human beings. That would be so pleasing.
Sighing once more, she turned about the corner, and looked at the entrance to the Greenhouse. It was open wide, and all she had to do was to climb to the end of it. Then she would be rejoined with the others at least and then she wouldn't be so alone. This place was giving her the creeps. She could certainly understand that French guys concern about going into the ventilation shafts. They were quite cramped, and if one had even a hint of claustrophobia one was not going to be able to stand it. She was beginning to develop a bit of claustrophobia herself now, but there was nothing she could do about it. Except get out of course.
When she reached the edge of the ventilation duct and looked out below her she saw that there were not quite so many people as she expected. She saw HuggyBear cradling a crying Pillow in his arms, though neither noticed her as of yet. Jansen was at his desk typing away at the computer, he looked to be mad, which was not a new emotion for him. That French scientist was standing next to a rather beautiful fruit-bearing tree that did not have any ripe fruit at the moment. Thibaudet, yes that was his name, was tapping his foot as he rubbed his chin with one hand. He was obviously lost in thought. Where was that fat Captain? Or more importantly, where was Lapwolf? Neither was there. What had happened here?
End Part 1 of Part XVII
Continued in Part 2 of Part XVII