The Perpetual

By Charles Matthias

Part II

"....59....58....57...." Danielpour called out over the silence of the bridge. Kilpatrick glanced over the little tabulation sheet he had put at Simmons station to remind him of every single procedure in case he forgot where a particular button was. Being realistic though, he didn't need it. He knew the procedures well enough that he could launch this ship with his eye closed. It was more of a crutch that he did not yet feel comfortable to abandon. He could not quite say way, perhaps it was because nobody should be able to navigate quite like Simmons, perhaps it was just him holding onto something that she had given him. Who knew, and frankly, why did it matter to him? Perhaps because he did not want to think of the next two months without her?

Kilpatrick looked up from his console at the sky before him. It was a beautiful day about, a few more hours and it would be night. A few more minutes for them, and such designations would become meaningless. The actual time to break the horizon would be only three minutes. It would then be a few more hours before they settled into their proper orbit. It was an odd sort of orbit, more like a path from one point to another. They would leave proximity with Earth in only a few more hours after that, but they would still be able to see the Moon and the Earth clearly. He was no physicist, so he did not have to work out the mechanics of such a path, he just knew how to follow that course. Simmons knew how to do it, but she broke her leg. Why did that have to happen?

"....54....53....52...." Danielpour's monotonous voice droned on.

Rhodes then spoke promptly in his authoritative manner which he used only when he wanted his subordinates to do exactly what he said immediately. "Open the Propulion Vents on my mark." Kilpatrick moved his right hand over to the particular switch, and awaited his commander's word. It was a tense few seconds, there was very little tolerance in the timing of these matters, and even the slightest second one way or another would cause the flight to be immediately canceled. After all these hours of preperation, that was the last thing that he wanted to happen. It was the last thing anybody wanted to happen! He wondered what impact such an occurence would have on the pilgrims who wanted to see a full moon for two months. The home office would probably request they use part of their exce fuel to position themselves in such an orbit to guarentee them the moon to worship. He rolled his eyes at the thought.

"Mark!" Rhodes called out, and Kilpatrick without even thinking about it pushed the switch. He heard a dull clanging from behind, and he knew that it was the Propulion Vents moving into position. The first procedure had been accomplihed without failure. Only a few more steps till the engines fired and they began their ascent into the sky, and upwards to the empty ether.

Thibaudet watched the screen critically, seeing the number stick down mechanistically, "....49....48....47...." He braced himself in the straps, feeling the protective covering and the latch that held it all together. It was secure, he had no worry of it snapping on him. It would be only his second trip up, the first having been quite unremarkable and unsatisfactory as a meteorite had grazed his receptors on the second day up, rendering them useless. He was not going to make the same mistake twice, having brought extras with him in such an event.

Dr. Anselm was sitting in his chair looking quite ecstatic. He looked up at the screen and the steadily reducing numbers with a child-like delight. Thibaudet knew that Anselm had been in space many times, Anselm himself had confirmed that, once even before the invention of a workable anti-gravity device. Thibaudet did have to envy him in one way, at least he was joyou about what wa to happen, Thibaudet thought upon the upcoming launch with dread. He hated turbulence, and remembering his first flight, he had barely been able to contain his vomit after they had reached space. It had been a very embarassing moment, especially since his roommate at the time had never been in space before either and had thought the trip invigorating.

Thibaudet wondered whether Anselm had a weak stomach too. He hadn't said much since coming back from their meeting with the rest of the scientists. He had apparently been flipping through Dr. Swiley's accursed book and marking certain pages with a highlighter. Did everybody but him like that book? Was he the only sane scientist left in the world, the only one who could recognize superstitious garbage when he saw it? Apparently so, since even the more conservative of scientists such as Arkady or Bowman were quite reluctant to say anything negative about Dr. Swiley's waste of good trees.

Being a good introspective scientist, he had to ask himself whether it was worth such vehemence. Had it stayed on the sidelight of the scientific world, he probably would have ignored it. However, once it had gained a good ground with most of the respected thinkers in the world, it became almost required reading. Thibaudet had read it once, and only once. It's conclusions were so trite and based in old world thinking that he was disregarding them without much critical analysis. He should probably for the sake of the scientific community go page by page, line by line thorugh that book and how how everyone of Swiley's conclusions was utter nonsense.

"....44....43....42...." the timer read. He could feel the ship start to vibrate beneath him, they were starting the engines, probably the auxiliaries if what he could remember from his briefing material on shuttle launch. All passengers were required to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how the ship operated. The knowledge he possessed was not enough to be dangerous, but he knew of things that he simply could not do. One of the modifications that he was informed of was the security encoded airlocks. The inner doors could not be opened without a certain set of keypunches. The outer door could not be opened except from the inside of the hatch, to prevent any accidents. He was glad to hear of the precautions, but he had no intention of walking into an airlock.

"It has beckoned us since the dawn of time. From Goddess to atronomical body, it has watched over us, winking in it's inimical way. Look yonder caveman, see it for yourself spacefarer, for it is the beginning of dreams." Anselm recitated in some sort of frenzied passion.

"Pardon?" Thibaudet asked the pychologist, turning to look at him, the sound of the engines still quite distant.

"Oh, I was just quoting Swiley's poetic introduction to chapter two, Moon: Earth's Companion." Anlem replied, miling a bit.

Thibaudet nodded, feeling ill already. It was bad enough that he had to have a copy with him, but now he was quoting it too!

Kilpatrick took a brief moment to listen to the droning sound of Danielpour's voice, "....39....38....37...." He tried to focus on the launch procedures, but he found his mind wandering constantly back to the emptiness that was before him. The very fact alone that he was performing Simmons duty perturbed him to the point of actual sorrow. When he had first heard the news from her mouth itself, he had been stung. The sting had quickly dulled in the flury of activity that had come after it, and for a time he though that he could endure it. But here, in the final act that would separate them from each other for two months, he felt the sting resurface a thousand-fold.

His mind went back over the annals of his memories, pulling up every occasion he had suffered with Simmons, every instnac eof their relationship brought to the fore in hope of quenching the pain that he was suffering. He felt himself magically transported back to the day they first went up together. It had been only a year ago, Simmons, already an experienced pilot was transferred to fly on their ship as the previous navigator had retired. He could remember the way she walked on board the ship, confident, yet at the same time a little nervous. She had been dressed in dark slacks, with a pair of sunglasses over the rim of her nose. She had tied her cedar-brown hair back in a pony tail, and was looking about the exterior of the ship inquisitively.

"May I help you?" Kilpatrick had asked her on his way to the entrance. Although the hangar was not a place that most of the pilots ventured before a launch, she had been there, and so too had Kilpatrick. Sam always felt that it was important to keep in mind just how big a ship it was that you were piloting, or commanding as it was in his case.

"Oh, hi, I'm Rebecca Simmons" she had introduced herself, holding out her hand. Kilpatrick had taken it and given it a firm shake. She had quite a grip too, firm, a little diffident at first, but not so by the time they had let go. It was if all her nervous tension was eliminated after the shake. "I was just looking at the ship. It's amazing."

"Oh, you're the new navigator." Kilpatrick had said, smiling. She was a beautiful woman, not the type that looked as if they were brain-dead, just a beautiful woman. Her breasts were not too large, nor were they nonexistant. Her ass was well proportioned, but not so large that it obscured her legs, which were, while not the nicest pair he'd ever seen, certainly worth his while.

"Yes, and you?" she had asked him, lowering her sunglasses to take a better look at him. Kilpatrick remembered a later conversation where she admitted that she thought he was some mechanic at first, though she did not mean it in a bad way. He knew precisely what she meant, and assured her that though not a mechanic, he knew how to tell whether something was well constructed.

"I'm Samuel Kilpatrick, the executive officer, it's a pleasure to meet you Rebecca."

"Just call me Simmons, I never go by my first name." she had told him then, though not in a snotty tone as he was accustomed to dealing with from some women, but in a cordial manner, one that spoke of an affectionate person beneath. Kilpatrick was happy to have discovered that not only was she beautiful, but she was smart, and very enjoayble to be with. Sex was one of the nicer parts of their relationship, but he could live without it. However, he did not want to live without her.

"Ignite the fuel cells." Rhodes called out, snapping Kilpatrick from his pleasant reverie.

Kilpatrick reached over and pushed a single red button, and a distant sound of shifting metal could be heard, which was followed by a roaring conflagration. Any living matter that had been in the hangar was now burnt to a crisp. Of course this was not even the propulsive force to launch them, this was just to heat the proper ducts before the actual fuel was expended. It would not be much longer now.

As if on queue, somebody's thoughts turned to matters best left alone.

"....31....30....29...." the timer read on their display. Darkwolf tried mentally counting down, but it did him no good. It would not move any faster. How he desperately wanted to get this part of the trip over. The simulators they had been on to prepare them for the trip had been tame compared to this. It wasn't so much that there was shaking, he could deal with that, it was that it was so constant! Not a moment passed by anymore when his head was not vibrating. No wonder they had not permitted a few of their number form coming, for their medical problems had made it impossible for them to survive this trip!

Ascot seemed completely complacent so far. He had said a little since the meeting had broken up, his northern accent very distinctive amongst the rest of the crew. However, nothing to shed any light on what was disturbing him. This was probably more worrisome to Darkwolf then was the constant chatter of his teeth. If he did not have a firm control over his tongue, he might have bit it off. There was no chance for conversation anymore, not since that second ignition. He remembered all the techinical discussions that they had faced before coming on this flight. It had seemed like it would never end, but here it was.

He remembered when the group all got together to file a petition to come onto this flight. There had been fifteen of them then, fifteen that wanted to go. They had room enough for all fifteen, but for one reason or another, seven had been eliminated over the course of the month of preperation they had undergone after receiving clearance to go. LoveWolf had of course drafted the document, having taken several classes in law when he had been in college, he knew how best to phrase the petition. Darkwolf remembered the final clearance test that was administered before they were personally cleared to fly. He could remember the faces of several of his friends who had been denied passage. That test had been hideous, and he kept trying to tell himself that he had failed it, and there was no hope of his getting into space. However, they came and told him that he had passed with flying colors. The joy he felt in that moment was almost enough to make up for the discomfort of actually participating in this launch.

Almost enough to make up for it though, but not quite. He looked at the clock again, "....23....22....21...." and was disappointed to see that there was time still left before the actual launch. It was going to be a miserable twenty seconds.

Mr. Tembo and Mr. Dutton sat strapped in their respective chairs in the security office watching the various plethora of screens before them. Dutton was not nearly so impressive as Tembo in physical stature, but he was no slouch either. Tembo had worked with Dutton many times, and they made a perfect team. Both being exmilitary helped, though Tembo had found the military life less interesting to him than Dutton had. He only left because of the better pay and the less strenuous existence working security on one of the space shuttles.

Not that any of them would use that as an excuse to get lazy or to grow a layer of fat like many in the security program did. No, Tembo and Dutton made sure that those under their command were completely physically fit at all times. They even recommended learning several styles of martial arts to keep them in shape and to keep the defilers of order restrained. Tembo was personally proud that in his years of experience there had never been an instance that he or his men could not handle. Dutton had proved invaluable, for his insight into the common problems that plagued humanity was quite telling, and he could spot a troublesome one miles away.

He had spotted five separate individuals on this voyage. That four of them were among the so-called Shapeshifters did not surprise Tembo, he had seen already that one of them was well deserved of the accusations that Dutton had made. The one called Black-Tiger was already known to be prone to violence. And while they had yet to take action against him, another occurence of what had happened earlier that day would not be tolerated.

Of the one individual who appeared to be a possible problem who was not amongst the shapeshifters it seemed to Dutton that the scientist named Bowman might be a problem. Tembo had looked at the man's profile and found it quite lacking in the usual trouble signs with one small exception: the good doctor Bowman had once been a morphine addict. That made the number of people on this voyage with medical problems two, Bowman and the Shapeshifter named Lapwolf. Neither however provoked anything in Tembo but contempt, both were too weak to do anything but token resistance to any of their men.

Tembo looked once at Dutton, who returned the glance with a thumb's up, and Tembo nodded before returning his attention to the screen before him.

Danielpour's voice continued to call out - did his mouth ever run dry? - "....15....14...13..." Rhodes did not let his eyes avert from the main screen above them. He licked his lips in anticipation, regarding the three officers on his bridge with a calm analysis. It was obvious that Kilpatrick's mind was not where it should be, his constant fidgetting was not like him, though he was executing his duties perfectly. Usually Kilpatrick was a stiff as a rock during launch, but he supposed that this time there was an appreciable difference to cause Kilpatrick to fidget: Simmons had broken her leg.

For Rhodes, this simply meant that their schedules would be changed. They always had to have at least two people on the bridge, regulations stippulated it. The others could be called to duty at anytime. However, during the two month period, they would need to sleep, so they rotated sleeping arrangements. By design, Rhodes preffered to take the first watch himself. The adrenalin that rushed through his body after a launch made it impossible for him to get to sleep. He had already decided to send Danielpour and Kilpatrick to bed once they had reached space. While it was not usual to relieve the navigator before they reached their orbit, the navigator did not need to be there as the orbit was preprogrammed. He preffered having Penny on the bridge over Danielpour for a simple fact, Penny was better looking than Danielpour, and much more interesting to talk to.

Of course, if worse came to worse, both Tembo, Dutton, and Dr. Xenakis knew the procedures to operate the ship, and they could if necessary be called upon. Unfortunately, given the fact that these Shapeshifters were on his ship, Dutton was permanantly assigned to watching them, and Tembo was going to have to be monitoring them as well. From what he heard already from Dr. Xenakis, it seemed likely that there was going to be a significantly larger rate of injury on this voyage than before so he would have to stay at his post as well.

Danielpour was looking up at Rhodes as he continued to count down, "....9....8....7...." Rhodes looked squarely before him, his eyes narrowing before he called out in a booming voice, "Ignite primary thruster on my mark!" Kilpatrick put one hand over the proper button, and tensed as he waited for the command. Penny gripped her seat tightly, her lips set together as if she were afraid her teeth would fall out.

Rhodes listened to Danielpour's voice, hearing the contours of every numeral, detecting the shape of each one as it slid off of his throat, "....5....4...." There was no way he could mistake any of them for anything else, Danielpour's voice was crisp and clear. It was also redundant, but that sort of quality was necessary for such a delicate procedure as launching a spaceshuttle into chilling depths of space.


"Mark!" Rhodes called out, and at the same moment, Kilpatrick pushed the button that his hand had been so precariously overshadowing. The shuttle, which at this point had been vibrating, suddenly came alive pushing thme into their seats as it clearing the hangar. Rhodes felt his mass shift backwards as he was pushed forward, the shuttle finally leaving touch with the ground.

"We have lift-off!" Danielpour cried out, no longer counting. Of course he still kept time, certain procedures had to be performed at certain points, but they were more fluid than the initial launch preperations. Rhodes looked forward as best he could, the pressure of liftoff keeping him glued to his seat. This was such a familiar experience that he did not think it spectacular anymore.

Darkwolf regretted his rather premature estimate on how much this flight was going to make him sick. He had known nothing of being sick until it actualy started moving. Now being pushed back into his seat, which wasn't all that comfortable in the first place, though if he really had a physical tail as he liked to imagine, he was certain that it would be infinitely worse. He conjured up for himself the image of the wolf, black as midnight, darker than oil, darkwer than even the night, and superimposed it upon himself. He felt his head lean back because of the new shape of the muzzle. He felt his tail pinched incredibly between his rear, folding up over his crotch as he would if he were submitting to an elder. He flexed his feet, feeling the cold steel of the bulkhead against his pads. He could mentally hear the clicking of his claws on the floor, even over the subdued roar of the engine behind him. He could feel his fur crushed beneath his back, pulled this way and that by the confines of his clothes. He could feel his tongue nearly pulling back so far in his mouth to choke him, but he kept his mouth closed, no need to bite himself. His jowls were flapping open, letting spittle drip onto the wall behind him. He tried to swallow, as he knew some was coming into his eye.

He blinked, and it was over. How he wished that it wasn't all just an image, how it wasn't just a fantasy, but it remained that. He tried not to think about how his stomach was about as thick as a sheet of notebook paper, or how his brain was probably leaking out his ears from the pressure. However, the short solace that the image of the wolf gave him was just that, short. It only abided him a time before the reality of the situtation came back to him. He felt as if he were going to pass out from the pressure, the images before him seemed to cluster before him at a small point. Everything looked like he was glancing through a looking glass. He turned his head to the side, and let his mouth open up before him. He felt the contents of his chili lunch come up and out of his mouth, spraying across the wall. He was too weak to even turn his head back, but let it sit there in the mess beside him.

Pillow felt the crush of the pressure as they continued to gain speed and altitude. He reached into his shirt, and slipped a feather pillow from beneath it, and then placed the pillow behind his head. That was much better. The cushioning they had on these seats was nice, but it hardly made him feel good. He liked the feel of the pillow, with its contours and shape, it was so joyous to nestle into the embrace of a bed of pillows, and feel oneself lost among the curves. It was his personal pleasure to see to it that he could stuff as many pillows on his person as he could. It always amazed his friends how many he managed to place about on his person. The trick to it was making sure that they could be compresssed in such a way that it would not appear that he had any pillows. Needless to say, he had gotten quite good at it.

Lapwolf was groaning in ecstacy beside him. Pillow snuck a peek at his friend, and saw that he had been turned on by the force of liftoff and was trying to feel himself. Pillow averted his eyes, he did not want Lapwolf to think that an excuse to want more sex. That was all he ever wanted, sex and beer; that and Prokofiev's Fifth. Of course, beer was not an acceptable beverage for space flight, so he would have to forgo the beer, and just take sex instead.

That was most certainly not the reason that Pillow had let himself get closer to Lapwolf, who's social graces were quite lacking. He was very blunt about what he wanted, and he didn't have any problem about saying it to people. What had drawn the two together was the fact that in the group they two liked classical music. Pillow listened to it obsessively, not so much the neams most associate with classical music such as Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms, but more esoteric composers such as Dohnanyi, Simpson, or Brian. Lapwolf enjoyed many pieces, but his favorite had always been Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony, and Pillow had to admit, that it was an outstanding work, though he thought the rest of Prokofiev's output was a little to bizarre and disonnant for his taste. Of course, Lapwolf had gotten Pillow involved in the sex and beer, though he could never stomach much of it.

Thinking about music, Pillow could hear the strains of Simpson's First Symphony, the opening fanfare of trumpets and tympani, and the polychordal relationships thereof. He loved Robert Simpson's works. It seemed to fit the launching of a space shuttle, the harshness and abrasiveness perfectly represented by the constant pressure and shimmering of the shuttle as it propelled itself further forward. He glanced towards the screen above them, clouds went by so fast that they did not even appear to be there. He could see the sky steadily darkening above him, and before too much longer it would be the eternal night of space.

Rhodes gazed relentlessly forward. He felt his bulk slip further and further back into the seat as the pressure from liftoff continued unabated. He had been on too many missions to be fatiged from even the paltry manner of launch. He was hardier than most, and he was not going to let anybody or anything distract him form his duties. As captain of a space shuttle, his duties wer eminimal during the actual flight, just make sure that no accidents happen and that everything goes according to schedule. Of course, in the event of an emergency, he was required to take full action in whatever manner he deemed appropriate. He was proud to have a near perfect record when it came to emergencies. He'd had a few before, but none ever of significance. Of course he had a group of eight emergencies waiting to happen now.

They were called the Shapeshifters. Already they were performing up to expectation. They had a medical emergency before lift-off, he had never heard of such a thing before. He was not going to count Simmons breaking her leg an prelaunch medical emergency, that happened while she was at home, and not on board the ship. Of course the very presence of the Shapeshifters was not supposed to distract him either, and he would not let it, though he was taking more precautions than usual. He felt sorry for whichever scientist had to work in the Greenhouse, as the Shapeshifters had been given permission to use that facility whenever they wished and for however long they wished; it was certain only to cause problems for said scientist.

Still, he was not goig to be distracted form his duty. "Begin azimuthal rotation. Mark 030." He called out in his booming voice. He saw Kilpatrick punch in the numbers on a keypad set into the navigational control panel, and then push the execute button. Suddenly the ship begin to have pressure form two differnt directions as it slowly turned in the atmosphere. He marveled that his paunch did not sway with the turn. Of course considering the four straped security belt he was wearing, there wasn't much chance that he would move anywhere.

He felt his paunch with one hand and smiled to himself. He was rather proud of it. He had drunk just enough beer while off-duty to give himself a respectable gut, but not enough to make it look disgusting. He had one that was just the right size. He wasn't sure quite why he wanted one, but it seemed to fit his personality. He thought it looked rather nice, and he made sure that it was kept in shape. However, on such a trip as this, he knew better than to mess with regulations. No alcohol on board ever. He upheld that stipulation as best he could, and so far, not a drop of the stuff ever came on board. Some wondered how he could stand it, considering that he usually drank all the time back on Earth. He didn't know either, most loved it so much that they had to have it. Rhodes had what he wanted, glancing a moment at his stomach, the alcohol was just a means to gain it.

Of course, that he wanted a beer gut would be kind of hard to explain to others, so he never bothered. He hadn't even tried to tell Kilpatrick, it just would complicate matters, and he was content with the way things were going anyhow.

Daneilpour called out, " 2 minutes...." as he continued to count off every thirty seconds.

Rhodes stared up into the parting veil of blue sky, as the slowly appearing stars began to twist before his eyes.

With a sudden start of realization, somebody's mind screamed.

Danielpour looked at his clock, the headset still on his ears as he listened to the commands and the chatter back at mission control. He was good at listening to them as well as watching everything else go on. That Kilpatrick was now brow beating himself was plainly evident. Penny looked like she wanted to get up and comfort him. Rhodes was once again ruminating on his waistline. The way he touched it, almost fondly as if to caress his skin. He liked his fellow officers, though he was not one to show his feelings very much. They bugged him though because of their complete lack of decorum and understanding and appreciation of the rules that mission control had ordained. He tried not to be a killjoy, but sometimes, he just had to remind them of what had been said regarding certain behavior.

Danielpour looked into the sky as the azure sky began to give way to the blackness of space. It was always amazing, he didn't remember any time that he thought such an act commonplace. He couldn't imagine such an act ever being thought of as commonplace. Here they were setting off from their planet of birth, into the harshness of emptiness. Who had said it best, "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind"? Niel Armstrong, ah yes, that was right. Those words were still true even now, Danielpour thought. There would never be an occupation that more showed the endeavors of the human spirit than exploration. Space, and some would contest the sea, was the only frontier left.

"....2 minutes, 30 seconds...." he called out as the watch clicked off another thirty seconds. There was not much time left now.

"Cut off the secondary engines." Rhodes called out, and Kilpatrick moved quickly to do so. The ship, which heretofore had been trembling violently as it always did form the pressure of launch began to still. It was not quite motionless, but it was much calmer now, though they still had a little bit further to go before they finally settled into their orbit. Danielpour took another peak at the front viewer, and saw that the sky had completely disappeared finally, and all that was left was the twinkling of the stars. He could see the crescent moon in one corner of the screen. It would be the last time he saw such a moon for a while.

He never really gav emuch thought to the moon before, it was always just up there in the sky. However, he could not help but ruminate on it given the cargo they were carrying: the Shapeshifters. They who wished to worship the full moon, to howl at it like some madman, they were the ones who turned his thoughts to the arcane and the forbidden. He had always been a reasonable man, having both feet on the ground. He questioned most anything that contradicted with what he could see and feel. He knew of things that could not just be defined by simple human understanding, and accepted them, though not without some reservations. However, one thing that had never occured to him before was the arcane and the dark knowledge. Such things were beyodn his realm of concern, and never before had he even given it credence. Even now he did not, but how could ignore the fact that eight people who believed in lycanthropy were on this ship to worship the full moon. The thought made him uneasy.

"....3 minutes...." Danielpour called out, not even coming close to missing the time, even if his mind had strayed a bit.

Rhodes boomed, "Cut off primary engines, engage artificial gravity, and activate auto-orbital control."

Kilpatrick pushed one button, and the ship suddenly became very silent. Another, and all of their body matter felt reaffirmed as the artificial gravity came to life. Kilpatrick then turned a key, and they felt a momentary push, and the shuttle began to move further and further away from the Earth in rendezvous with it's predesigned orbit. For a moment they sat there in silence, as the moment came to them. Danielpour heard the joyous cheering from mission control on another successful lift-off. It seemed to be habit for them to jump for joy at each successful launch. Danielpour suspected that there was a regulation about it somewhere and nobody told him. Frankly, he felt like jumping for joy too, as mission failures were infrequent - the last one had happened ten years ago - but utter disasters when they occured.

The signal that everything was settled was always made by the captain. Rhodes put one hand on his security straps, and unleashed them. The buckles feel to the sides of his chair, clanging on impact, and then the retracable receptacle reeled them in until they were flush with the chair. He stood up form his seat, his waistline expanding out a bit at the release of pressure. He looked about the officers and smiled, "Inform our passengers that they are free to move about once again," he told Danielpour softly. He then looked at Penny, "You and I will take the first shift, while Sam and Malcolm get the first sleep. We will be oscillating on a four hour schedule until the orbit is stabilized. After that, we will take consequtive shifts of six hours each, one person on bridge at all times."

"Isn't that just a little lax?" Kilpatrick asked, looking worried about something.

Rhodes harumphed, "Not hardly! I have requested that Tembo keep one of his guards posted at the doorway at all times. Nobody is coming in here who is not authorized."

Danielpour picked up the intrarelay communications headset, and took mission control off. He placed the headphones and mic over his head and called out in a simple voice, "We have completed the first stage of our trip. We are now officially in space, and you may now safely remove your security belts. We ask that you obey the rules that have been posted in your rooms at all times durign the course of this voyage. You will beon this ship for two months, and life is more comfortable and enjoyable for everybody when these rules are obeyed. Thank you, and may your work be productive, and your worship illuminating." He repeated the script that he had been given to address them all when they finally reached space. It was nothing elaborate, but it had to be inclusive to all, and since the ywanted to worship by the light of the moon, the word illuminating had been chosen for the Shapeshifters. How silly.

Rhodes looked once to Danielpour, "Have you told them yet?"

"Yes, Captain, they know we are in space," Danielpour replied drily.

"What is mission control saying?"

Danielpour picked up the headset, and listened in, "Nothing important, Captain. The usual sort of merriment following a successful launch. I think they have confidence that nothing is going to go wrong from here on out, sir."

Rhodes laughed, "They would think that."

Kilpatrick was already getting up from navigation, and was walking past Penny, who winked at him, "Sleep well!" and he looked once at Rhodes. "Are you sure that these Shapeshifters aren't going to pose a problem?" he asked, a slight note of concern in his voice.

"Why do you ask?" Rhodes looked perplexed. Danielpour began to get up from his station, but he stuck around to hear the end of their discussion.

"Well, I just got this feeling, these guys seem like bad luck."

"I know, but we don't have much of a choice. I already have them being watched by Dutton, and the other security officers, there is no way that they could get away with something." Rhodes replied confidentally, patting his belly absently.

Kilpatrick nodded, "Well, I guess I shouldn't worry about it. Tembo and Dutton are good men.... I guess I'll get some sleep or something." He began to walk towards the exit; Danielpour dallied, pretending to look at the monitors at his station.

"Samuel, " Rhodes called after him, "you can always talk to Simmons via electronic medium you know."

Kilpatrick grunted a little laugh, and then walked out the door. Danielpour stopped waiting, and looked at Rhodes, smiled once, and thne turned to leave as well. He was definitely looking forward to some sleep. He still had numbers going through his head, and probably would all three hours of his sleep!

Part II continued!

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