Colonel Throckmorton returned from the pressroom feeling drained. He had lied his head off about almost everything he could think of. He laughed dryly to himself. He may have saved the lives of the men on that ship, but in so doing he had basically sacrificed his own job security. For some reason, he was not too disappointed about it either. Of course, he was expecting a call from Secretary Blumenfield. Surely she must nearly be here by now. Probably within a half-hour she would arrive and take him up to her office here and chew him out for the rest of the evening about his stupid public relations stunts.
Strangely, he found he no longer cared what that bitch thought.
He was a bit shocked at the way he thought of her. She was just doing her job, trying to save her political life, she was no different from the thousands of other politicians across the country; they were all the same except that she had a more important job than they did. Still, both could be fired. Of course, she couldn't fire him, as he was military personnel, and if she wished to remove him from his position she would have to have him court-martialed. Having lied to his country, he did not think it would be that difficult to do. He was now planning on resigning to save his name from the marring that it was going to receive for its labors. He had lived a good hard life, and he had served his country, and he had saved the lives of his countrymen, at least he had done everything he could to save them. His father would be proud.
He thought about what he could do after he resigned. He could always freelance program again. He still had the magic of coding and could design his own Operating System in his spare time if he needed to. Then again he was a bit behind on the current trends in programming languages, he would have to catch up with it again. Still, he would miss Brucker, Rhodes, Harper and the others here at the Homebase. MOCR was almost another home to him now; he had many fond memories of it. Leaving it would be hard. He had many fond memories of places like this, many friends that he had to leave behind as he had progressed in life. Though he had been a recluse in his younger years, preferring to do things himself, during his time in the Space Force he had learned the value of teamwork. He wished to the very bottom of his soul that he could be up on the Pytheas taking charge of the situation, or on the Hyperion leading Harper's men to subdue the werewolves. However, he was stuck here, dealing with the press. Like many a politician, they had been the death of him. For some reason, the sting did not hurt so much anymore; especially after he had found out that the man with the tan coat and pipe had been a Hasmonean.
That they were behind the entire affair did not surprise him. The things he knew about them were shocking, but being a high level officer in the military he was privileged to know a few things. What he did know made him wish that he'd gone to a less sensitive job so that he wouldn't know about it. Still, he did not have any real regrets, except for the fact that he had to go back and face his friends and let them see his face and know that he was a liar. He had claimed to be planning to tell the truth, and in fact, he had lied to them just as well. Could he even be honest with himself? What he had done had been to save the lives of his friends, people who now had fur and fangs. Was he even remotely successful? Only time would tell that. Public opinion was so fickle, one moment they could be supporting the werewolves, the next they could be calling for their crucifixion.
Finding his way back into MOCR, he looked to see the faces of Brucker and Simmons watching for him. Both of them looked distraught. Simmons looked disgusted as well. He sighed, the interview had been broadcasted and they had watched. Before he could even make it to the platform, one of the orderlies ran up to him with a phone in hand. That would be Blumenfield calling to congratulate him on an early retirement, he realized. He nodded to the orderly, giving the two waiting for him a shrug and took the phone in hand.
"This is Colonel Throckmorton," He said into the mouthpiece, sounding as sure of himself as he could.
"Colonel, do you know what I meant when I told you to handle it?" the voice of Secretary Blumenfield was cold, and calculating. She spoke slowly, but forcefully. There was a sharp edge to her tone, something that he could not miss.
"You wanted me to come up with our cover story."
"And you call this a cover story?" her voice sped up slightly in agitation.
"There is some research into that stuff right now. It wasn't completely implausible."
"No it wasn't, but it was a complete lie."
"So was denying the existence of the werewolf the first time," Throckmorton pointed out. He really didn't want to talk to her right now. He had never known her not to be a pain.
"A lie that you should have stuck to!"
"I did. There is no werewolf. Didn't you catch that part?"
"I heard it, but nobody else did. Do you know what the media is reporting now?"
"No, but I bet you're going to tell me."
"Watch your mouth, or I'll destroy you even worse than you've managed yourself." Blumenfield was barely controlling the tone of her voice. It was obvious that she was in a towering rage and was not going to take any insolence from him. He found her dictatorial attitude amusing, where before it had just been annoying. That he no longer cared anymore about what she thought seemed to free him up and gave him more room to act. He was dedicated to his task of saving those people's lives, even the lives of the werewolves. Especially the lives of the werewolves, he realized. They were the most important part of all this. If they were indeed people as he suggested, then nothing would come of this other than his resignation and a sudden interest in metamorphic material. The werewolves would become famous for a time, and then they would disappear into obscurity, brought back on the anniversary, or followed on the night of the full moon to see if it was true.
"Fine, what are they saying?" Throckmorton asked in a much more conciliatory tone of voice.
"The media is still calling it a werewolf, and is now talking about possible cures to keep oneself safe from them. They are recommending people to keep crucifixes in their homes and spread garlic about, at least some of them."
"That's vampires, not werewolves," Throckmorton pointed out.
"I know that. There is also a strict warning to lock your door on the full moon and the price of silver has skyrocketed in the last ten minutes to triple its starting value."
"Triple?" Throckmorton was the one now who had a chance to be incredulous.
"Yes, triple, and it is still climbing. In another hour it might become the most precious substance on the face of the Earth, despite the fact that it is not all that uncommon."
"I never thought of that," Throckmorton admitted.
"I gathered that. I noticed you didn't place any orders to buy silver before you went in there to give your speech. I wished I had, I knew you were going to screw things up." That Blumenfield was now blaming him for a missed financial opportunity only made him laugh. He kept it to himself however; he did not want to infuriate her further.
"Is there anything else?"
"I want you resignation ready to hand to me by the time I arrive. I will be there shortly, I'm in the car now heading from the airport."
"I'm afraid that won't be possible."
"And why not?"
"Because the Pytheas is still up there. Until we get that ship back safely, I am going to stay in this position. Once it has landed and everybody is found to be safe, I will resign. Not until then."
"I will have you out of there when I arrive, so help me..."
"No, I am going to save these people's lives. At least let me have that. At least let me know that I have saved the lives of those men and women. That is all I am asking of you, Secretary. I will resign after this is over, but until then, please let me do what I have to do." Throckmorton was practically begging of her, forcefully stating each word, but at the same time pleading with her sense of dignity. He knew that lives were important to her as well. If people died, this would be even more of a political blunder. He knew she did not want that at all.
There was a moment of silence on the other end. He knew she was considering her request. At least she wasn't completely unreasonable. "All right, you may hold your job until the Pytheas has landed. I will hold you to your word to resign when this is over. If you try to back out on that, I will nail you to the wall, do you understand me? The wall!"
"I understand. You have my word."
"For whatever that is worth."
"It is worth a lot, Secretary. I just wished I'd realized that sooner." Throckmorton pulled the phone away form his ear, unwilling to listen to anymore. He turned it off, and handed it back to the orderly. He looked back at Simmons and Brucker. Both were giving him rather skeptical glances. He walked over and took his place on the podium; neither said a word to him. He glanced at each of their faces. He saw that Brucker was a little shocked, but otherwise he betrayed nothing. Simmons on the other hand seemed to radiate what she thought. She thought him a traitor, she thought he was the worst kind of human being. He sighed; these were the last people he wanted angry with him.
"How goes the situation?" Throckmorton finally asked.
"It goes tolerably well on our side, no new news from the Pytheas though," Brucker replied in a sullen emotionless voice.
"And on the other side?" Throckmorton turned to face him. He did not want his men to hide anything from him. He hated it when they did that.
"You gave an interesting little speech there. The switchboard tells me that we've received almost a thousand calls already from people asking if they can be test subjects for the metamorphic materials of all sorts of animals. You've certainly caught their interest. However, most people are still going with the werewolf story. You should see some of the online polling results in the last few minutes. From a sampling of over two hundred thousand, apparently eighty-five percent now believe in the existence of werewolves. Do you know what the percentage was before that?"
"Five percent. With one speech you caused a shift of eighty-percent, Colonel. Congratulations, never before in the history of this country has one speech changed the nation, or the world for that matter, so much," Brucker remarked bitingly.
"Look, I know what I said was rather shocking, but it was the only thing I could say and still remain credible."
"Credible to whom?" Simmons snapped.
"Frankly, I don't really know anymore."
"You said you were going to tell the truth!" Simmons spat at him, her body shaking with the rage.
Throckmorton had expected this, and was not really that surprised by it. He sighed and worked his jaw lose, "I know that I could claim that I told the truth as far as anybody can prove, but that would be as much of an excuse and false justification as everything I said to the press was. I just was doing one thing, and that was trying to save the lives of all our friends on board that ship. They are you crewmates, don't you want to see them alive too?"
Simmons ignored his pointed question. "I thought you said you were going to tell the truth! You lied to me."
"How dare you?"
"Because I was an idiot," Throckmorton said plainly. "You were right, I should have told them all the truth. I should have said that I was a liar in front of everybody on international television." Throckmorton did not want to be so waspish, but he found himself getting annoyed by this wheelchair-bound girl.
"You'd rather betray your friends?"
"No, I'd rather save them. I did what I thought was best for Rhodes, for Danielpour, and for Kilpatrick. I did what I thought would save their lives. That my opinion of it changed between here and the pressroom is not something I can do anything about. Except to say that I am sorry I did not warn you about it." He tried to moderate his tone, and make himself sound apologetic. He truly was, he did not like to feel like he had betrayed them. He did not want to be a pariah.
Simmons glowered at him, but said nothing.
Throckmorton sighed, "Look, if something happens to Kilpatrick, or to any of the others, and they die, then you may blame it on me. It will all be my fault, and you may do whatever you like to me, I won't care, and I won't press charges."
Simmons snorted, "I don't want to hurt you, and I don't want to blame you for anything you couldn't control. You hurt me!"
"And for that I am deeply sorry."
Simmons turned away from him, and stared at Brucker, "When does Harper leave?"
"In another three hours. They will reach the Pytheas two hours after that," Brucker replied. He avoided looking at Throckmorton who felt somehow like unwanted baggage.
"Good, tell Captain Harper not to hurt any of them."
"Those are his instructions." Throckmorton pointed out.
"Was I talking to you?" Simmons snapped.
"Simmons, it doesn't really matter whether you were talking to me or not. I said it, and that is that. Would you rather I not do anything to help the one you love?"
"There is nothing you can do to help him now." Simmons did not look at him, but kept her eyes on Brucker, and growled at him out of the corner of her mouth.
"Simmons, I said I was sorry I hurt you. You know I don't want to do that."
"I don't care what you want, I just want you to leave me alone," Simmons seemed on the verge of tears again, her fists beating the armrests of her wheelchair.
"Simmons, please hear me out." Throckmorton pleaded with her.
"No, I told you to leave me alone!" Simmons yelled at him, gaining the attention of quite a few in the large room. She turned to face him, her eyes on fire, yet at the same time sinking beneath the waves of misery. "Just leave me alone!" With that she began to ride back in her wheelchair towards the door, unable to stand it anymore. She disappeared out the doors at the one end, her chest heaving the whole way. Then she was gone, and the sound of the door sliding shut came in full silence before everybody returned to their normal duties; the spectacle was over.
Throckmorton shook his head, sighing deeply. He'd goofed, and he knew it. It was not the first time he'd done that, he was rather bad with women, tending to say some really stupid things at times. It was probably the reason he was still a bachelor. He slumped to the floor, his head in his hands, pulling at the greying hair. He took deep breaths, trying to calm the storm of emotions flying through him. He was doing the right thing; he was trying to save the lives of his friends. Yet while did he feel like he was only destroying them? Why did he feel like he was just causing the destruction of their lives? He couldn't do anything to help them, and everything he did do to help seemed only to make matters worse.
Edward peered up at Major Brucker who stood over him looking down sympathetically. He sighed; at least this man was still his friend. "I hope I didn't do too badly?"
Brucker shook his head, "You shocked me, and the world I bet. However, I know you have everybody's best interests at heart." He looked over his shoulder at the door that Simmons had come in and just now left through. "You just need to be successful, and she'll forgive you."
"Yeah. I just wish there was something I could do about it."
"You've done all you can, we all have. I wish I could be up there too, but we've all got our place in life. There's nothing else to be done. Colonel, you are the only one who could have gotten us this far. Without you, we would never have been able to contact Rhodes." Brucker tried to smile at his boss, but it was very weak, but enough to make Throckmorton realize the truth. He had been helpful, and he had done something that nobody else could. He had reprogrammed the satellites faster than anybody could have done. Still, it was not much, but it was something at least.
"I guess you're right. Simmons will just have to wait."
"So will we. Five hours is a long time."
"Yes, especially when you haven't gotten any sleep recently."
"Oh come now sir, it's barely ten o'clock."
"Still, I have a feeling that we are going to be up all night on this one."
Brucker nodded, "I have that feeling too, sir."
Dr. Emma Handley leaned over to her vent again. Yes, she was right. She sat back up again and walked over the door intent on going out and warning the security guard. She pushed the button, and then remembered that she had been locked in. She beat the door with her fists, grumbling in anger, and then in a bit of trepidation. If that was what it smelled to be, she could be in very real danger. It was poisonous, and it would kill her. She did not particularly relish the idea of having her lungs bleached out.
The scent of chlorine that she had found reminiscent of swimming pools had come back to her. Before it had just been a passing odor, and she had thought it nothing more than the fumes from somebody's project, nothing to cause alarm. Now it was constant, and it was spreading throughout the room. While she was standing by the door she would be safe, but not for long. As if almost on cue, a yellowish green mist began seeping out the ventilation duct, and settling along the bottom of the chamber. She shook with fright; this was not good at all.
Thoughts of Nobel prizes for uncovering the mysteries and secrets of the werewolf left her mind. Sheer panic and the need for survival kicked in. She began pounding on the door harder this time. She began to detect the acrid scent of the chlorine even where she stood; it had permeated the room that much. She screamed in fright, hoping that somebody would hear her. She peered back at the vent and saw that even more of the yellowish-green gas was pouring into the room, piling up and spreading about. Dr. Handley screamed again.
McGee noticed that faint pungent odour shortly after he heard Dr. Handley begin pounding on her door. He was not about to let her out, she was too dangerous and could get them all killed if he wasn't careful. Her desire to collect some samples from the werewolves was simply ludicrous. He did not want to face the creatures; he wanted to stay right where he was until they passed out of the orbit of the full moon. Then measures could be taken to restrain the werewolves and everything would be all right. Until then, his plan was to sit tight and make sure nobody tried anything stupid. That meant he couldn't go to sleep.
Oh he could take naps; he was a very light sleeper. However, he could not take the chance on missing even the slightest attempt at subterfuge by the scientists that he was watching over. Dr. Handley had already tried; she had even been hitting on him. While he found her a bit attractive, their was not a one beautiful enough or charming enough to convince him that he needed to open this door for them. Of course, any attempt to attack him physically was a waste of time. There were many men and women in the world who could defeat him, he was nowhere near the best at what he did. However, there was only one other person on this ship that had been capable of even matching him in a hand to hand fight, and that had been Gorecki, and she was now dead.
That angered him, something that did not happen often. She, along with the rest of the crew, had been very important to him. They were his friends, the ones that he felt most comfortable about. He knew that he could always unwind with them, and now that possibility was forever gone. Taken away by some creature that was mythical in nature, but very much a part of reality. That was an odd sort of juxtaposition, a place where reality and the myths of ancient lore met. He wondered if there were any other such juxtapositions, and if so how any were there. Perhaps this was only the first of many that they would find, perhaps this was the new beginning of an age of discovery; the discovery of a world that we could not see because their eyes had been trained not to.
However, none of that was his immediate concern, not anymore. He caught the faint edge of the chemical in the air, but at first thought nothing of it. Many of the people here were working with chemicals. That this one was deadly did not jar him either, many chemicals were toxic, some much more than this. By comparison this was tame, though just as lethal. Still, he did not worry about it until a couple of things happened almost simultaneously. First, the vent began spewing the chlorine gas in much greater quantities. Second, three of the other scientists came out of their rooms with worried expressions on their faces. Lastly, there came a scream from Dr. Handley herself.
"What's going on?" McGee asked the others.
The two men and one woman looked at each other, and at the gas pouring out of the vent, "Somebody's experiment went really badly," a short Polish-looking man replied.
"It's coming out of everywhere!" the other man exclaimed stepping back from the vents, all of them now pouring forth the gas.
Suddenly there was a masculine voice calling out for help. That would be Anselm, McGee realized. He had locked both of them in to prevent anything from happening. Apparently something had anyway. He ran down the hallway, passing through a small pile of the gas that had accumulated at knee level, and quickly slid his card through Handley's door. She fell into his arms, shocked that she was now out of her room. She looked into his face with her bewildered green eyes partially concealed beneath her coppery curls.
"We have to get out of here. The chlorine, it's..." Dr. Handley was breathless with fear.
"I know. Get with the others while I get Anselm." McGee pointed to Johnson, Sessions and Panufnik who were hanging by the hatchway to the rest of the ship, each trying to hide their fear. Handley nodded and ran through the growing mists of Chlorine gas.
McGee stepped over to the door on the opposite side of that section of hallway, and quickly opened the door. Anselm stood there, breathing a sigh of relief, "Thanks, you had me worried there."
"Just get with the others, I need to do one last thing." McGee pointed to the front of the hall. Anselm stepped out of his door and shut it behind him. McGee was already running back up to the others to pull out his communicator. If Anselm wanted to keep his door shut, then fine, let him. It would not stop the chlorine gas, wherever it was coming from.
McGee pulled out the radio and quickly called into it, noting the rather frightened faces of the scientists. "This is McGee calling the Greenhouse! Please, we have an emergency."
He heard the voice of the French physicist over the radio only a few moments later, "This is Thibaudet, what can I do for you Mr. McGee?"
"We need to evacuate this area, it is being filled with Chlorine gas. I don't know why, nor do I have time to find out."
"What do you want me to do?"
McGee licked his lips, watching the advancing green cloud. Tendrils and penumbras cast about as if they were looking for them so that they could drag them to their deaths. It seemed almost alive, and it was pouring rapidly out each of the ventilation ducts. "I need you all to be ready to open the doors when we arrive. I am going to try and get as many of us as possible to the Greenhouse."
"You might die!" Thibaudet protested.
"If we don't try, we will die." McGee pointed out. "Just be ready to open those doors for us. There are six of us here now. Myself and five scientists."
"Yes I know. Hurry up, we'll be watching for you," Thibaudet called back, all protestations at an end.
"Thank you," McGee called before putting his radio back. He had not wanted to do this, but no they had no choice. Once outside the research stations they would be safe, as they were connected to a different set of vents than the rest of the ship. However, they would then be at the mercy of the werewolves. Well, it seemed Dr. Handley was going to get her wish to leave the room after all. It did not look like she or any of the other four were looking forward to it.
He put Anselm's card that he had absconded into the locking mechanism, and opened the door. The clean air outside in the hall looked so inviting, and each rushed out into it quickly. McGee quickly shut the door behind him, and relocked it with the card. He then, stepped to the front of the group, looking down the hallway ahead of them. If the werewolves came at them, they were certainly going to be at a disadvantage. However, there was no choice now but to take the chance. He slipped his gun from its holster, he hated having to use it, but now there was no choice. It would give them a chance. A small one, but a chance nonetheless.
He looked back over their faces, each knew the danger, and none was eager to face it. They were all depending on him to lead them to safety. They had never seen a werewolf before, and neither had McGee. In the next few minutes, they all just might.
End Part XVIII