Dr. Everett Saltonstall looked up as Arkady returned with the chip in hand. Of course he didn't really need it, but it had been the best pretense he could have arranged with those two still around. Arkady had a few other things with him, but that was the one that his eyes went to first. Arkady looked quite happy to have managed to remove the chip without snapping it in half, though that would not have made his life anymore difficult. He had after all a replacement, and the fact that they did not know the levels of deception he was forced to play against them almost grated on his conscience.
He wondered what Dr. Bowman was up to. He was rather fond of the overtly pessimistic man, and knew that he was a bit too inquisitive for his own good. However, he knew little of Dr. Arkady, except that he was a mycologist, and that made him stop and wonder just how he would react, and how willing he would be to accede to Saltonstall's demands. Of course, he hoped that he did not have to make them. It was his constant desire to be surrounded by people easy to manipulate. Bowman was easy to handle, as long as he played upon his pessimism and contrariness. Arkady he did not know about and that might make the way he would have to deal with him a little different.
"Ah, you got the chip!" Saltonstall looked at the chip happily, setting his hand-held calculator/computer down, and walking over to pick the chip up. Arkady handed it to him, dumping off the little pouch he was carrying in his other hand upon the bed. "Excellent, let me reinstall this now."
He heard Bowman's voice from down the hall calling out a bit peevishly, "Did Arkady beat me to it?"
"Yes, but I might need another so just keep at it, Richard," Saltonstall called back as he began to remove the screen to the television set. Arkady watched over his shoulder silently as Everett plugged the chip back in. Reattaching the screen, he tried it once more, and the image came back to life. He saw some corridor on the second floor with a stairwell along one side. He could see one of the werewolves's perched on the stairwell ready to spring, and another stood behind it. Saltonstall feigned shock at the sight, and Arkady gasped behind him.
"There is more than one of them!" Arkady said in a shocked voice. "Two of these things?"
"Perhaps it is more than we thought before. Perhaps it is the real thing, a real werewolf, and it is spreading its disease to others," Saltonstall offered him, not taking his eyes from the screen. The werewolves did not move their position much, but occasionally scratched at themselves and flicked their tails back and forth.
"Real werewolves?" Arkady asked, as if the question itself were preposterous.
"That's what I said. I mean, how many wolfsuits could they bring? And why would they all go running about in them killing people? It doesn't make any logical sense."
"Somebody being a werewolf makes less sense."
"I know, but that's what we're looking at," Everett pointed his hand at the screen, as if there was nothing he could do about what they were seeing. He forced himself to shiver at the sight of two of them.
"What are they doing?" Arkady asked in a low voice. He shuffled back and forth from foot to foot, peering down at the screen from behind Everett.
Saltonstall turned slightly and shrugged his shoulders, "I wish I knew. It looks like they are waiting for something. Perhaps it's a trap of some kind. An ambush perhaps?"
"But of what? What is on the third floor near a stairwell?"
"If my memory serves me correctly, the Bridge, the Greenhouse, and the Research stations. Other than that I don't know."
"Could there be some of the others still alive up in one of those rooms?"
Again, Saltonstall shrugged, this time looking up to stare at Arkady. He was a lean man, with that dark goatee, and slick-backed hair and hooking nose. He was probably a western Russian, judging from his appearance. His accent made him sound from the north, but he could never be sure, it was hard for him to distinguish between the different Slavic dialects. He sighed, "As soon as I can get this up to the third floor I'll see what I can find out. It doesn't appear like there is anybody still alive but us and the wolfmen on this level."
Bowman interrupted as he idly leaned in the doorway, "If we don't do something soon, it may only be that loony on this level."
They both turned to look at the balding man. He was holding a second chip in his hand, twisting it back and forth in his fingers. He seemed quite pleased with himself that he had managed to extract it without breaking it. Then again, he was supposed to be an expert with magnets and their ilk, and circuitry was not that much different.
"Dr. Bowman, the situation is worse than you have insisted," Arkady informed him noncommittally.
"What do you mean? It's just one of those idiot Shapeshifters in a wolfsuit. A very realistic looking one mind you, but a suit nonetheless. I mean, you're not going to tell me you actually believe that it's a werewolf are you?" Bowman stared incredulously at Arkady, and then at Saltonstall. Everett noticed his face fall at their dark expressions. It was obvious to him that Bowman knew they believed at least in some small way that the impossible was true. A look of contempt spread across Richard's face and he sauntered into the room shaking his head.
"Richard, there's more than one of them," Saltonstall said in a weak voice. He pointed at the screen, and Richard came and peered down at the two figures. He shook for a moment, and then became very still. He worked his tongue over his teeth, licking his lips while his fingers gently rubbed against each other. He took a few breaths, studying the scene before him, letting it bore into his skull. Saltonstall watched his face change, first from one of derision to one of shock, then to wonder and finally to confusion.
Bowman turned his back on him, breaking the rapport with the screen. Saltonstall glanced at the figures, wondering just who they had been. Of course it didn't really matter all that much who it was, it could have been anybody. Being stuck here he was mostly out of the loop. He did not know just who had become a werewolf, nor did he know who was still alive. He knew of a few, but considering the size of the ship, almost anything was possible.
"Richard, neither of these are the ones that we saw in the hall attacking Arkady. Neither of these are the one we saw taking a leak. There are not only two of them, but at least four of them. Do you think that there are four people running around in wolfsuits?"
Arkady backed him, "I agree with Dr. Saltonstall on this, my friend. There can be no doubt; this is not a bunch of kids in costumes; this is the real thing."
Bowman barked a sudden laugh, "Do you know how crazy you two sound? Do you think for a minute that transformation can actually occur? Do you have any idea the sort of metabolic processes it would entail? I certainly don't, but I can guarantee from what I do know of biology, it is basically impossible."
Arkady shook his head, "Caterpillars become butterflies, tadpoles become frogs, and maggots become flies. There is a lot of transformation about the world even today."
"That's natural development, and it takes a lot of time," Bowman disagreed. He gestured with his hands at the screen as he spoke, his eyes diverting to peer at the monstrosities every few moments. "To become one of those things from a man is not natural, and if you two are right, then is taking a lot shorter time. There weren't any cocoons that I saw being put on board this ship. If that's a werewolf, then he was a human just twelve hours ago."
"I'm not saying it isn't inconceivable, Richard. I'm saying it's real. Whether we understand it or not means nothing. Just because we haven't figured out why it works doesn't mean it can't. Hell, most of science has come about from investigating things that we haven't understood. Isaac Newton explained how classical mechanics worked, I mean, that was something nobody could properly explain before him, but they didn't say that because we didn't know how it worked, it just didn't work.
"Perhaps there is some rational explanation for all of this, but look at the evidence, thing that looks like a werewolf with a very realistic looking costume - even you have admitted that - chases Arkady down the hall. Its chest is covered in blood, and the blood looked old. Next we see the body of some crewmember eaten to pieces, that was certainly not pleasant. It looked like it had been gnawed on quite thoroughly, even the bones. Then we see another one of them taking a piss right through the costume. What sort of sick individual creates a costume with a penis? Now we see two of them together, and not a single one of them has looked alike. Let's face facts Richard, there is something going on here, and I don't think costume explains it anymore."
Bowman had patiently waited for Saltonstall to end his little tirade. He was still glancing at the screen, seeing the creatures move. Saltonstall turned to glance at it, shaking his head. Then he noticed something about the werewolves. Their tails twitched and moved back and forth. He quickly pointed to it, "Do you see that, Richard? Do you see them moving their tails? Do you think a costume can do that, or at least do it so convincingly?"
"Perhaps they are controlling them through some means," the balding man remarked, though he did not sound quite so sure of himself.
"What other means?"
Bowman shrugged spreading his hands helplessly. "I don't know. Does it look like I'm wearing one of those suits?"
"Thank the Lord, no," Arkady murmured.
"What will it take to convince you?" Saltonstall pondered out loud.
"Seeing one of them transform. Have you seen it?"
Saltonstall looked helplessly to Arkady. He'd rather not lie about that. Arkady shook his head then. Saltonstall followed that up by shrugging his shoulders, "What can I say, I have to admit defeat there."
"I thought so."
"Look, let's not debate this issue any farther. You refuse to believe what your eyes have shown you, and we have chosen to accept it. Let's leave it at that," Saltonstall deliberately antagonized him. He knew it would infuriate him more, as it was very condescending. It had the desired effect.
"Excuse me, I'm leaving, call me when you have proof." Bowman waltzed right back out the door, turning left. He probably was heading back to the two ladies's room; he had told him that it was more comfortable. Arkady shifted uncomfortably in his seat behind him. That was one of them out of the room, now he just needed to get the Russian to leave.
Saltonstall shook his head sadly. "I wish he would be more reasonable."
"Well, you did insult him very badly," Arkady pointed out.
"That is true. I didn't mean for it to come out that way though. I guess I was getting a little mad at his constant idiotic denials."
"He is more skeptical than you or I. I have always wondered if the old stories were true. I am reluctant to believe so, but there does not seem to be an alternative. Perhaps one will spring up. Even still, Bowman might be right. Those might just be people in costumes."
Saltonstall shook his head sadly, "I doubt that. I just have this gut feeling about it." He peered over at the small pouch that was sitting on the bed next to Arkady. "What do you have there?"
Arkady picked up the pouch and began to empty it of its contents. He did not have much in there, just a few gadgets and a small booklet on fungus. He picked the booklet up in one hand, it looked to be at least twenty or thirty pages thick, "Just in case I get bored."
Saltonstall frowned, "If you're going to read, why not do it in your own room?"
"Because I can watch the wolves only in this one."
Saltonstall shut up then; there would be another way, he knew it. There was always another way, something he had learned a long time ago. That he had to achieve this goal was not in question, it went without saying. If he failed to achieve it, then things might get a little haywire. He was nearly finished with his tasks, in fact, he had only one more, and then he was done, and he could lean back, and enjoy the show, and reveal himself to the others. Before then, he had a job to do.
"All right, what else do have there?"
"Well, this is some stuff that I use to kill fungus." Arkady held up a small bottle. "I doubt it will do much against the werewolves, but you never know."
"It certainly won't kill them."
"Well, are you sure we want to kill them?"
"What do you mean?" Saltonstall lead him on. He already knew the answer to the question, he just hoped that Arkady had discovered it himself.
"Well, if they are werewolves, then they might be people too. I don't know whether they enjoy the killing or not, but if they don't then I don't want to kill them until they've realized what they've done. Then they should be promptly executed." Arkady said the last with an edge of iciness in his voice. It was clear that he meant just that. He seemed not to have any remorse about it either.
"What if they don't have any control when a werewolf, are we really to blame them for something they cannot control?"
"I still think that to ensure the safety of others, they need to be executed."
Saltonstall wondered about something, and then pushed it from his mind. It was worthwhile to use, but only if the man proved to be obstinate. "Well, I'll guess I am just more forgiving then."
"That might be unwise."
Saltonstall looked back at the screen. The two werewolves had not moved much, crouching low to the ground, ready to dart up the stairs at a moment's notice. He flipped through the channels some, finding another set of staircases, and two more of the werewolves similarly perched. He shook quite visibly, and Arkady took notice of it, "Are those two more werewolves?"
"Yes I think so. Perhaps they are planning an ambush."
"But an ambush of what? Ah well, at least we are safe."
"As long as those doors hold."
"I'm sure you can handle it. I mean you haven't touched the calculator once while I've been in the room since. It is as if you no longer have any problems with it." Arkady pointed out. That was more than enough. Arkady then looked speculatively at the screen and then back at the thin wiry man who controlled it. "Just how did you break into the security system?"
"I told you, I was fooling around with the connection, when suddenly, I'm there. I don't know how, I just got lucky." Saltonstall replied defensively. Dr. Arkady was pushing his own limits, and if he did not stop soon then he was going to have to take some sort of action, premature though it may be. He certainly did not want to have to do that, it would reveal himself, but Arkady appeared not to leave him much choice.
"I may be a biologist, but I have friends who work with computers. I know one thing. It takes a bit more than a calculator and a jury-rigged television screen to break into a maximum-security server. You are on their camera system; that just doesn't happen by luck. How did you get on?" Arkady was not being openly hostile, but he was being very insistent, much to the detriment of his own health.
Saltonstall sighed, and put one hand on his bed spread. He got up from his chair and stood over top of it, his back to Arkady. He took a few breaths, reaching under for the red box he kept beneath his mattress. He pulled it out, and flipped it open, staring at the parts and products inside. He pulled a few out, and began to put them together in a recognizable form. "That question is hard to answer. I hate doing it to, it is really not something I think you should be asking about."
"I want to know the truth, Dr. Saltonstall. You have managed to keep us out of this room for some time before, and now you have deliberately pushed Bowman out, and now you are suggesting I leave as well. I don't like to be manipulated. What are you up to? How did you find your way into the security system?" Arkady was now standing as well; he could hear the creek of the mattress as he stood up. Everett quickly slid the nozzle in, and made sure that there was at least one bullet in the chamber before turning back around.
"I can't tell you that, Dr. Arkady, and I am going to have to ask you to leave." He held the gun in his hand, not pointing it at the Russian scientist quite yet. He hated doing this, but the man was leaving him no choice. Arkady stared at the gun in some surprise, his mouth opening and shutting a few times, just like a fish taking in water to breathe.
"Who are you?"
"Dr. Everett Saltonstall. That was an easy question," Everett gave him a whimsical smile, then waved at him to back up with his gun hand. "I like easy questions."
"What are you doing here?" Arkady asked in a shaky voice, walking backwards, stumbling a few times, but always keeping his eyes on the gun.
"Ushering you out the door."
"But the werewolves..."
"Are not going to hurt you. Nobody's going to hurt you if you do exactly as I say. Turn around now, I don't want to trip and fall, you might break a bone or something."
Arkady turned around, keeping his hands at his sides. His head cocked backwards, trying to see where Saltonstall was. "Head forward, and now lets take a little stroll outside shall we?" Everett poked him in the back with the barrel of the gun. Arkady took a few tentative steps forward, and then stopped. He looked back, not caring about the danger it seemed.
"Why are you doing this?" Arkady asked, a look of complete and utter contempt written all over his face.
"Because you would not leave when I asked. You will set foot on Earth again if I can help it. However, you are not going to wait out that time in my room. I'm afraid that is all I can say. Now, let's go." Saltonstall motioned with the gun towards the door, and expected Arkady to turn back around. He did something completely different. He slapped hard at Everett's gun hand, suddenly and without warning. The gun sailed across the room, clattering over in the corner by the door. Saltonstall had spun slightly, but was quick in returning the blow, punching the Russian in the gut. Arkady grabbed him about the neck, and tried to get him in a lock, but Everett jabbed him in the kidney with his fingers, and then did it again.
Arkady fell back against the wall, clutching his stomach. Saltonstall jumped for the gun, grabbing it, and pointing it back at the cringing man. He was breathing heavily, "That was a mistake, you should not have done that."
Arkady coughed for a moment as he caught his breath, "I was not going to go without trying."
Everett chuckled lightly, "I was a fool for thinking you would then. Come on, let's get you locked up tight and safe."
Arkady stood then, one hand over his stomach. Everett waited for him to pass out the door, and then followed him out. Arkady was just standing in the hall, looking from one end to the other. Both of the shutters were still closed and sealed tightly. They were not going to be opened by any means outside of his own influence. He motioned for the still slightly gasping man to head to the right. He followed after him, and then stopped him at his own room. "Get in."
Arkady stepped into his room, just inside the doorway. Arkady put his hand on the door, preventing him from closing it, "Tell me one thing. You are not trying to protect the werewolves are you? Did you cause them?"
"No, I did not cause them." Saltonstall told him. It was the frank truth, and one thing he was glad about. Lycanthropy was not something that he wanted to create, only to understand. "As to your other question, I am not protecting what they are, but who they once were."
Arkady took his hand off his door and turned into his room. Everett closed the door behind him, and then slid his card through the lock. Nobody would be able to get in there now. He then walked past his own door, and saw that both doors to the left were closed. He swiped his card through both locks, sealing Bowman in as well. He did not care what the man thought anymore, he really had no excuse for his actions. They would never be able to understand why he did it, especially not his overly skeptical roommate.
He returned to his own room, and locked the door behind him. He tossed the gun unused back on his bed, and began flipping channels on the television screen. He quickly pulled up the Research stations, and managed to find the room he wanted. There was a slim man sitting at a table pounding some rock into dust. A mortar and pestle sat just next to him, and his whole body was tense in some undefinable way. Saltonstall stared at him for a few moments, and then pulled a small object out from his red box. He flipped open the top and the bottom again, and pushed a small black button.
The figure on the screen turned about, and reached down into his pocket and pulled out a similar device, and opened it up and put it to his head as well. "This is Anselm. What do you want?" he heard through the headset.
"Well, I've done all but one of my jobs now. It's your turn."
"Are all the other scientists taken care of?"
"All but the two still in the Greenhouse."
"Good. Is there anybody else left on board the ship not in the Greenhouse?"
"Not that I can tell, and I've made a pretty thorough search."
"Good. And the tapes delivered?"
"Nearly a half-hour ago."
"Excellent, everybody should know about it by now." Anselm stood up on screen and began pacing back and forth, his other hand stuffed into his pants pocket. He turned and looked up at the security camera, almost looking straight into Saltonstall's eyes. He knew that Frederick could not see him, but it felt like he could. He did not want him to know what was being hidden.
"I don't imagine it took long for him to get the tapes distributed."
"No I don't either. At any rate, are you ready to continue?"
"Actually I was calling to make sure that you were ready," Saltonstall pointed out. The figure of Anselm was peering into the camera, not really as if he was seeing anything, but just enough to make Everett uncomfortable.
Anselm then turned back from the camera and looked at his table before glancing back at the camera. "I'm basically ready, even though that fool McGee stole my card. I have to admit that surprised me and I do not want to fight him hand to hand. I would lose."
"Well not all of us have four blackbelts," Saltonstall laughed.
"It doesn't matter anyway. I have spares, and his having that card actually helps my plans. At any rate, I am prepared. Just give me a moment and we can get underway."
"All right then, I'll give you a few minutes," Saltonstall nodded to himself.
"That should be enough. I'll talk to you when this is over." Anselm lowered the communicator as he turned away from the camera back towards the desk. Suddenly he brought it back up again, "Oh, in case something odd happens, for example, I don't make it, then you have to fulfill my duties. Also, I want you to contact the people in the Greenhouse if anything strange happens that we did not expect."
"Not a problem."
Anselm nodded then again, and put the communicator down this time for good. Saltonstall lowered his as well. He switched the screen and quickly found his way to a different compartment in the Research facility. There was a single object in there, a large tub of bright green liquid over which was suspended a series of metallic rods that glinted a brassy color. The very tips of the rods were just barely touching the liquid, and occasionally he would see a wisp of greenish gas floating up from the surface. At the base of the rods he could see the corrosion that had already taken place. He grimaced, that wasn't supposed to have happened; the rods should not have been even touching the liquid. Perhaps he had set the calibration too low. At least Anselm had made sure that the device hadn't been harmed during launch. He could see the metal cover standing off to one side that had kept the liquid from spilling out prematurely.
He leaned back against the wall, moving his hands through his hair as he watched. This was something dangerous, and he hated doing it. He knew there were six people in the Research facilities, one of them being Anselm, and this could very well kill them if they did not act fast enough. That thought sickened him. He wished he had never been chosen for this assignment, he wished that he hadn't let his association with Anselm on this little pet project drag him along. He hated going into space, he liked having the Earth beneath his feet and the sky and his family about him. He was not yet a married man, but he would be soon. His fiancée would be most upset and distraught if he did not return in one piece. She did not even know what he did, and he was not going to tell her, he couldn't. It would break his heart if he had to keep the fact that he had killed men or women hidden from her. Most of what he did was harmless, and he did not have a problem with it. But other than that, he was completely honest and forthright with her. This could not get in the way of it.
He stared at the device again. It was a hideous thing, and it was not going to be pretty to watch it do its work. There was enough of the liquid and the metal to break off enough of the Chlorine gas to kill every living thing in the compartment. Of course, it would take time to work, and nobody would die instantly, but it was going to be painful, and they had to act fast to survive. He looked over at the simple remote control he had sitting in his little box. He pulled out the device with the single button on one side. He fingered it, not sure if he should press it. To do so would commit him, and that was more than he wanted to face. To not do so would be to let down Anselm and all the others that depended on him.
Of all the tasks that he had been called upon to perform, this one seemed the most meaningless to him. It was also the most dangerous. Getting those tapes to Earth had been a snap, and was going to cause no serious damage. Of course, he was going to have to admit to his fiancée that he was partly behind it, but she would see in time the good it would bring. The future was going to be a bright place, but that was contingent on him doing what he had to do, what had been required of him.
Saltonstall looked at the button again. It had probably been long enough for Anselm to get himself prepared fully. Once he pressed that button there was nothing more he could do but watch. It would take a minute or two probably before anybody noticed anything, but after that, it was going to be too much for him. Looking at the corroded ends of the metal rods he wondered if any oft hem had noticed anything odd already. If they had sensitive noses they should have been able to smell the faintest hint of Chlorine in the air. Of course, that was probably excusable, somebody's experiment just had Chlorine as a byproduct, nothing the filters couldn't clean up. This however, would be too much; it was meant to be too much.
Dr. Everett Saltonstall swallowed as he sat on his bed staring at the screen before him. He had performed his job capably. He had smashed the security office, and had left the supermagnet that he had snuck from Bowman's supply in the room to clean off the videotapes. He had collected the pass codes for the security server and then had hacked into it from his remote terminal. He had also managed to tape some of the more blatant evidence of the werewolves. Finding the one of the transforming werewolf had been pure luck, and something that had been the crown jewel of his collection. He was sure that every network would be playing that one, for no finer evidence - aside from the werewolves themselves - existed. Now he had to just push this one little button and he was done; the rest of his task involved monitoring the condition of the people in the Greenhouse. One little moment of trepidation and then all would be fine. Then he go back home to his fiancée and never have to worry about this again.
The future would be beautiful. He gritted his teeth, keeping those two things in mind: the wonderful new world that was going to be opening up to them, and the image of his fiancée in a very revealing nightgown as she slowly undid the lacing.
He smiled, and pushed the button.
End Part 1 of Part XVIII
Continued in Part 2 of Part XVIII