By Charles Matthias
Part II - continued
They were all outside their adjacent rooms, stretching, and chatting, with one exception. Darkwolf was leaning over the toilet in the bathroom, trying to recover his stomach. Ascot had told them all that Darkwolf had gotten sick during lift off, and had even showed them what Darkwolf had done, much to their displeasure.
"That's nasty." Lassie remarked, looking at the spot where the vomit had been, before it had slipped down to the floor in a messy chunky puddle.
Pillow took one look, and then turned about, looking as if he was going to be sick. Black-Tiger snorted once in indignation, and then moved over to the end of the hallway. Lovewolf and HuggyBear both shrugged off the sight, and began calling into the bathroom, "Hey Dark, you all right?" Lapwolf didn't seem interested at all.
"Has he always been like this?" Lassie asked Ascot, who stood at the entrance to their room as if it were some form of punishment.
"No, he's usually got a good iron stomach," Ascot replied in his northern accent. "He just couldn't take it this time I guess."
Lassie turned to the door of the bathroom, the sound of Darkwolf retching reverberating back through into the hallway, "Dark, are you going to be okay?"
"Uhhhh...." Darkwolf moaned from the bathroom. "I hope so."
Black-Tiger grimaced viciously. "Well, I'm going to the Greenhouse. It will be facing the moon until we get into orbit. I want to see it when it first becomes full." Before anybody could object, he started down the hallway his feet lightly touching the floor, making almost no sound.
The other six just looked at each other and at the retreating Black-Tiger, not quite sure whether to wait for their friend, or to go see the moon. Ascot finally shrugged, "You all go on ahead, I'll wait for Darkwolf."
The others once again looked at each other, but one by one they went to follow the already disappeared Black-Tiger. Pillow gave Ascot a thumbs up, but otherwise, they all departed to the greenhouse. Darkwolf called out in a weak voice, "Sorry guys."
Ascot slid down the wall, and sat on the floor, staring at nothing, thne up at the bathroom door, his face blank. He opened his mouth to speak, and nothing came out of it. He closed his mouth again, looking as if he were surprised that he did not speak. He leaned his head against his knees, rocking back and forth gently, arms clutched around his legs. His blonde hair fell down a bit into his face, but he paid no attention to it. He suddenly started to hum to himself a tune he'd once heard.
"Ascot?" Darkwolf's voice called out uncertainly.
"Ya?" He replied in his thick Minnesotan accent.
"Could you at least talk, that way I know you're there." Darkwolf suggested in a weak voice.
"I can." Ascot affirmed. His voice went on, speaking of subjects that came to his mind, saying whatever occured to him to say. For the sake of company, he spoke more than he had in the last week.
Pierre Thibaudet found his way to his workstation on the shuttle, eager to get things organized. Of course, there was a little bit of activity buzzing about the place. Both Bowman and Arkady were talking amongst each other right in front of the doorway into the scientific section of the ship. There was a clear demarcation between living quarters, command station, and scientific research facilties. The reason was to prevent people of one variety from stepping over the line into a facility that they were not supposed to venture. The content of Bowman and Arkady's discussion seemed to revolve about that very topic. Apparently, Bowman was still concerned about the Shapeshifters.
"Look, " Bowman was saying to the obdurate russian, "they have free access to most of the ship, it won't take too much for one of them to wander in here. The security on this ship is not that great, and while they claim that they are oging to keep a watch over this area, there is no way that they can do so. I mean, are any of the security officers here now?"
Arkady shrugged, "It's the way of the young and foolish. We cannot expect them to not attempt to interfere. However, once they realize the penalties of doing so, they will not do it again."
"What if they do?" Bowman pursued.
"Then your government will not permit such people from coming on these trips again, as the research is more important," Arkady replied, almost disintrestedly.
Bowman snorted. "If only..." he then turned to see Thibaudet approaching. "Oh, Thibaudet right?"
"Yes, I'm Pierre Thibaudet." Pierre smiled, "Bon Jour. I couldn't help but overhear your conversation. Have either of you met any of these Shapeshifters?"
"No, and I don't want to either," Bowman snorted in disgust.
"I haven't had the pleasure either," Arkady admitted.
Thibaudet nodded. "That's what I thought. I actually talked with them for a brief moment in passing. They do not seem like bad people, but they are rather odd. One of them asked me if I wanted to join in there little ritual ceremony."
Bowman rolled his eyes. "Look, I probably should get to work preparing my research station. It's kind of the reason I'm here."
Pierre looked at the balding man with slight amusement. "What are you researching?"
Bowman had already moved to turn away, but stopped for a moment. "Magnets. Super magnets." Thibaudet thought about that for a second, but did not comment further.
Arkady smiled, "By all means, attend to your duties." Bowman walked through the single doorway, and disappeared behind a turn. Thibaudet looked at Arkady, who seemed quite clam about the whole affair. He wondered just whether Arkady really did not care one way or the other, or whether he just hid his feelings very well.
"So, how do you feel about having these kids on board?" Thibaudet remarked casually.
Arkady yawned. "They do not concern me. They have just as much right to be here as we do. If they want to worship the moon let them. Stranger things have been venerated."
Pierre nodded. "That's certainly the truth. Just what are sort of research are you conducting here?"
Arkady smiled, giving to Pierre the first hint of passion he had ever seen the Russian reveal. "The effects of microgravity on the formation of fungi. I have a veritable collection of the various mycotes that exist, all the way from simple bread molds to athlete's foot."
Pierre now regretted asking Arkady what he did. That was one thing he did not like, fungus, the idea of it bugged him in some fundamental way that he could not quite describe. That was one of the reasons he went into physics instead of biology, despite the fact that he had an aptitude in both. Thinking on it, he decided that it must have been the fact that when he was young his parents consistently served various mushrooms at meals, and he never remembered liking any of them. They were probably still eating mushrooms all the time, as that was one of their favorite foods.
Arkady then looked into his face, the slanted dark-brown eyes giving him a probing examination. "And just what are you working on?"
"I am trying to determine the effects of solar radiation on superconductors." Thibaudet replied. He was about to go into further detail, when the sound of somebody dropping something heavy on the floor came form around the corner. Both Thibaudet and Arkady turned to see that a few dark rocks tumble across the floor at the turn. Curious, they both walked over to see what had happened. Around the turn was Dr. Anselm, bending over picking up some of the rocks which had spilled out of a container that must have fallen from his grasp.
Anselm looked up and saw the two of them, "Would you all mind helping me carry these to my research station, it's kind of heavy?"
Thibaudet picked one of the dark rocks and held it before his face, studying the rough unhewn features. "What are these?"
"Moon rocks. They've been collected over the years from the various expeditions to the moon. I need them in my research," Anselm replied, dumping the rest of them back into the box. Arkady sat down on his haunches and began to experimentally feel the weight.
Thibaudet dumped the one he was holding back in the crate, and then asked, "What do you need them for?"
"For my research," Anselm replied, moving over to lift it up as well. Thibaudet bended over as well, and the three of them heaved otgether, and it easily cleared the ground.
"What sort of research?" Arkady asked this time.
Anslem didn't say anything for a second, but then pointed out, "This is much lighter with three people, thank you both for your help." They walked into the research facilities, and over towards Anselm's particular cubicle. They set the crate down, and Anselm turned to open his door. "Thank you all so much, I can handle it from here on out."
Arkady looked at him momentarily, but then shrugged and turned back the way he had come. Thibaudet did not feel like pressing the issue at the moment. Whatever Anselm was up to, it was obvious that he was not going to consciously reveal it. Thibaudet caught Arkady around the corner, and pulled him to one side, "He is so frustrating, he does that everytime somebody asks him what he's doing. I wish I knew what he was up to."
Arkady smirked, "He might have instructions not to tell anybody. It is probably classified information, so he cannot tell you. Don't worry about it." Arkady patted him on the shoulder, and moved over to his own cubicle, and disappeared rom site into the open doorway. Thibaudet, growled under his breath, and then went miserably to his own station, and began to calibrate the instruments.
Darkwolf finally emerged fromt he bathroom, Ascot still rambling on about the people he knew in Minnesota. He had already described his family life in detail, as well as all the friends he had had since elementary school. Darkwolf had only been half paying attention, feelign as awful as he did. It was not natural for him to feel so bad, he usually did not get this sick. As he stumbled formt he door, Ascot stood up, and helped him stay on his feet.
"I need to lie down." Darkwolf mentioned, putting one hand to his forehead.
Ascot nodded, and took Darkwofl into their room. He folded out Darkwolf's bed from the wall, and he laid his friend down on the cushions. Darkwolf moaned once , rubbing his temples. He stared up at Ascot who as hovering over him protectively. "Tell the others that I am just going to lie here."
Ascot nodded. "I'll let them know." Darkwolf watched absently as Ascot left the room, turning the light out as he went. Darkwolf stared up at the forward monitor, looking at the expanse of stars that were before him. He could see the moon in one corner, it's bright silvery complexion calling out to him, calling him by name.
Dr. Jansen put his hands over his ears once again. He was sitting at his desk at the far end of the greenhouse, making notes on the beginning state of the various plants which had been preplanted in the greenhouse prior to launch. After removing the structural supports that had been put in place to ensure that they did not get damaged durign launch, Jansen had started to catalogue the beginning state of the variety of plants and other life that had been placed in this very organized and well planned arboreum. They had no full grown trees, they would never fit in such an enclosed space, but they did have a few saplings. There were several varieties of flowering plants, as well as a whoe host of ferns. This climate was supposed to be temperate, and the area was specifically designed ont his trip for such a purpose, with ideal soil conditions and water and food. Of course, the soil had to be consistently nourished with manure, to keep the bacterial population thriving, but other than that, it was a fairly simple job of observation.
Of course, that was where the Shapeshifters came in. They were making all sorts of noise, all in honor of the moon, which even now grew to completion. In another few minutes, it would be completely full, and they would never see anything but that for two more months. He glared at the group of six which sat in a circle at the far end of the room (they had at least done that out of deference for him) and were each calling out in an animal voice to the celestial body. Three of them were howling like wolves, another let out a feline roar, while one more bellowed like a bear, while the last brayed like a donkey of all things. It was getting on his nerves.
He tried to stick a few cotton balls in his ears, but they kept slipping out. He gritted his teeth in frustration, causing the lead of his pencil to snap in half. This was simply too much! They'd been doing this for the last hour or so! Jansen finally got up, no longer able to tolerate it, and began to march down to where they were. He did not get too close, afraid that one might try to attack him or something, who knew what they would do, but they simply had to stop. "Would you please shut up! I am trying to work, and your little caterwallig is driving me crazy!"
They did suddenly quiet down, though all gave him baleful stares. The one that had been making the feline roar, slinked off behind a row of bushes, walking on all fours. He looked at the others to see if they too would leave. They seemed to split off in pairs, with the sole female of the group just storming out of the greenhouse all together. Jansen satisfied, turned around, and headed back to his desk. Finally, he could get some work accomplished in peace and quiet.
Suddenly, he felt a large body slam into his back. He fell to the ground, smacking his face into the dirt. He rolled over, and saw that the feline one was jumping on top of him again, hands held out like claws. Jansen screamed, putting his arms before him to slow the coming of the psychotic. He felt the man land on his chest, and his luns were quickly emptied. He gasped for breath while the man who would be a cat tried to slice his jugular open. He beat on it's head pathetically with his arms, trying to push the obsessed man off of him. He tried to scream for help, but his voice was gone completely, only a faint whisper could come from him. He vaguely saw the othes in their group trying to coax his assaliant off, but it did no good.
Then, another figure stepped into the room, and he stood over Jansen like a tower. The man who would be a cat was flipped from his perch, and Jansen scrambled away from the action. It was Dutton, moving fast to intercept the situation. The others avoided him, their eyes wide as the man who would be a cat leaped ferociously at Dutton. Dutton grabbed his hands, and twisted both his body and that of the kids. The kid spun about, and was sent sprawling to the floor. Before the cat could even get up again, Dutton had put wrapped his arms about his neck, and had lcoked them in place. There was a lot of hissing and clawing, but Dutton just slowly applied pressure, and the protestations got weaker and weaker. Finally, the cat disappeared, and the visage of a man returned to his face, gasping for breath.
"I yield!" he called out.
"We're going to take a litle walk, Mr. Black-Tiger. Let's go." Dutton pulled the kid up to his feet, and forced him to walk away. Dutton turned to Jansen, "Sorry about that, continue with your work." Dutton then glared reproachfully at the four left int he greenhouse, and then marched Black-Tiger out of the room as quickly as he came. The other four also left promptly, leaving Jansen by himself, as it should be.
Jansen sat back down in his chair, still breathing hard. He looked up at the moon, almost completely full now, probably only a matter of a minute or two. Damn thing, why did it have to be so now?
Mr. Tembo picked up another wad of tobacco, and slipped it into his mouth to chew. He enjoyed the taste and the feel of it in his mouth. True, he could get cancer, but so what, he had to live, he had to do something to pass the time, and gum was simply too sweet for his taste. He needed something that bespoke of his masculinity. Chewing tobacco achieved this like nothing else could. Not that his physical shape and size detracted any from his maleness, he just wanted every base covered.
He glanced once more at the screens before him. Typical images, nothing real exciting going on anywhere. He had seen the fight in the greenhouse, but Dutton had taken care of it, so there was no need to worry himself about it. He had a constant cycle of angles, trying to peer into every corner of the ship. Normally, nothing important would happen, and he could spend his time reading or in exercise. However, when something extraordinary did occur, he was not going to let it occur without his attention.
He saw something dark move by one of the screens suddenly, and then it was gone. He immediately stopped the action, intent on what was happening. He looked at the location, "Bottom Level: Engineering". nobody was supposed to be down there unless there was a problem with the ship. If that had been the case, then somebody would have informed him. He kept an eye on the camera angle, trying to see if there was something down there, it could have bene just his imagination; however, in all his yearsof experience, his imagination had never been wrong either.
It only took a few moments for the image to come back. He could not see what it was, it was too indistinct, but he definitely saw a humanoid shadow. That was all he needed. He picked up his communicator, and called Rhodes. "Captain, do you have anybody dow in Engineering?"
Rhodes seemed startled, and slightly annoyed. "No, the only perosn who would be down there is Penny, and I'm having a pleasant conversation with her at the moment!"
Tembo grunted in displeasure. "I'll check it out then, it looks like there is somebody down there."
"Why not have Dutton do it?" Rhodes asked.
"Dutton is busy at the moment. I'll leave word for him." Tembo replied.
"Fine, if it's one of those Shapeshifter's I want them put in the brig. We simply cannot have them running around places they're not supposed to go." Rhodes commanded.
"That was my intention." Tembo asserts. "I'll go take a look at it. This shouldn't take me long."
Tembo was out the door and down the hallway towards the back of the ship with one hand on his side arm. All weapons on board the ship were by law required to be in the hands of security only. They were also supposed to be ancient weapons, made in the twentieth century, guarenteed not to cuse hull damage in the event they were ever used. Tembo was prepared to use his on these kids, he had no qualms about shooting them wherever necessary.
He dropped down the flight of stairs to the bottom floor, and made his way past the stoarge chambers towards the engineering rooms. He found the single door leading there. It was closed, sealed completely. Tembo tried the hatch, it swung open easily. He looked down the dark hallway, illuminated only by the lights of monitors alongside the innerwall; there was nothing in sight. He sniffed at the air, it was mostly sterilized, but there was a definite something here that should not be here. Tembo stepped over the threshold into the series of rooms. He tried to close the door behind him but saw that the mechanism for opening the door had been smashed to pieces. That was odd. How were they expecting to get out?
Tembo left the door hanging limp, its usefullness at an end. He looked down the passageways surrounding the main engine core. The core was in a central room which was sealed to all access apart from the officers. The surrounding hallways were connected to monitoring devices that reported back to Lucille Penny's station on the bridge. Tembo glanced momentarily at them, all things looked nominal. He turned then, and glanced at the video camera, it was pointing off toward a particularly dark stretch of corridor. He pulled his gun out of his holster, this situation simply too much for him to enjoy.
"All right, whoever is out there, come on out. You are not supposed to be in here." Tembo called out in a veritable roar of volume. There could be no doubt that whoever was here had heard him. He spoke up again, when there was no repsonse. "This is Mr. Tembo, head of security, you will come on out."
He heard the beep of a computer off to his right. He quickly slided over to the source of the sound, one of the computers was rebooting. He glanced at the screen, watching the lines of text scroll up, seeing his own reflection in the blackness of the monitor. For a brief moment, he thought he saw something else too. Tembo turned around, his eyes peering into the blackness behind him that had produced a visage that for a brief moment he though he had spied. There was nothing there. Tembo looked about him carefully. This situation was getting to be too much. Whoever had come down here was trying to scare him, and Tembo had to admit, they were doing a pretty good job.
He walked back over tot he entrance way, no sense in letting the practical joker lock him in here. He looked up at the camera once more, still operational, pointing in the same direction it has always been. He peered out the doorway into the light beyond, nothing had changed. There was still soembody in here with him. Tembo slowly pulled out his radio, he needed to talk with Dutton, busy or not. He held it up to his ear, still staring down the passage he thought he'd seen the figure move. The light from the doorway was helping to illuminate the path, though he could see nothing down there at all.
It was then that he remembered something else, the entire hallway moved in a circle about the central room. Tembo turned to look down the other path, which was obscured in darkness. He could see something, just barely in the darkness, barely visible before him, running silently towards him. He stared at it in shock, for it was his own size, but nobody on this ship was quite nearly as tall as he was. He raised his gun to fire, the static form the radio no longer worrying him.
LoveWolf and HuggyBear returned to their rooms promptly after being evicted from the Greenhouse. It was all right, they had seen most of the moon rise, the full moon was not going anywhere soon. It was while they were passing an open doorway that LoveWolf stopped to peak in. "What is it?" HuggyBear asked his skinny friend.
"I'm looking for Ascot and Darkwolf, this is their room, but they don't seem to be here." LoveWolf pointed out.
HuggyBear's face one of growing concern, "Didn't they say that they'd be along as soon as Darkwolf was feeling better?"
LoveWolf nodded. "They're not in the bathroom, and they're not here, and they never stopped by to say hi even!" LoveWolf then shrugged. "They probably took a walk about the ship or something, I mean it is a big ship."
HuggyBear laughed. "You bet."
Mr. Alan Ziegler was sitting idly in front of the bridge's only entrance reading a magazine. He expected to have this magazine memorized by the time this trip was over. It wasn't the worst magazine to memorize, the contours of the breasts and legs and hips of the near naked women was something that interested him. Frankly, it also gave him something to look forward to when the trip was over. It was really the only thing he looked forward to. Just mentioning that you were an astronaut tended to make girls become more interested. He liked to use that line to pick up dates, and it had worked pretty good so far. He did not intend to stay in the security business forever, just long enough to get enough money to start his own business back on Earth. So far, he would only need about two more trips up. Of course, each would seem to take two years, it was the nature of waiting.
He suddenly saw something which made him lower his magazine. Somebody had come up the stairs leading towards the upper floor, bridge-side. It was one of the kids, tall, medium build, with a nordic appearance. He had his hands behid his back. Ziegler told him in a fimr but polite voice, "I'm sorry, but you are not permitted up here, you'll have to turn around and head back."
The boy did not respond, but pulled his hand around to the front of his body. He had a pistol in hand, and a completely empty expression on his face. Ziegler repsonded by quickly pulling his own weapon, but the boy caught him by surprise. He felt his knees shatter at the impact of the bullets, and he buckled under the pain. He collapsed to the ground, clutching his legs in agony. The boy came up, kicked Ziegler's weapon away and then moved towards the bridge doorway. Ziegler futily called out after him, but the boy was gone into the doorway after another moment.
Rhodes and Penny had bothed looked up at the sound of the gunfire, and they both turned to see a young man aiming a pistol at them. "Don't move." the boy commanded. Rohdes noted that he had a thick northern accent.
Penny was already blubbering, "You didn't kill him did you?"
Rhodes sat back down in his seat, eyeing the boy carefully. He pushed the alarm button, within moments security would be here to stop this crazy child. The kid stood before the navigation station, and began to type in numbers on the keypad. "What are you doing?" Rhodes demanded.
"Shut up!" the kid yelled back, pointing th egun at Rhodes. He fell silent, just watchingt he kid, not sure how he was to react to this menace. The kid continued to enter numbers into the system,and then pressed the execute button. Immediately the ships engines kicked into life, and they were thrown from their seats by the force of the propulsion. The kid however, had been holding onto the panel, and stayed standing. Rhodes watched in the forward screenas the full moon passed by them, shadows falling across it's surface as they went far from the prescribed orbit, beyond Earth's path.
"You're going to kill us." Rhodes told the kid, even as he pulled up into his seat.
The kid did not respond, but just turned around to watch the two of them. His hand on his gun the whole time. "I can't let you do this." the boy said once more in his northern accent. "I have to stop it."
"Stop what?" Rhodes asked. "What are you trying to stop?"
The kid looked like he was about to answer, but then he turned back around and entered another set of coordinates into the keypad, and hit the execute button again. Once more the engines flared to life in a different direction, sending the two of them sprawling. "You're wasting our fuel, we need it to land back at Earth!"
"They can rescue us." the kid said almost as if he were a machine. Something was dreadfully wrong here, this kid looked like he was tripping on something. There was no way that this could be allowed to continue, but there was nothing that Rhodes could do himself about it. He had to wait for security to show up. He took a peek behind him, he could hear that Ziegler was still alive, though moaning. The kid has obviously missed any place vital, which was a good thing. He turned back to look at the kid, he was plugging in another set of coordinates, and getting ready to fire the engines again. Penny, was sliding from her chair, gripping the anchor. Rhodes held onto the arms of his chair, and was able to stay seated after the ship was sent spiraling on another course change.
"If you empty our fuel supply, we'll just float here in space till we die!" Rhodes screamed at the kid.
The kid turned back around once more, and shook his head, "If I don't we'll die."
"What? Why are we going to die?" Rhodes asked one more time.
The kid suddenly stared past him, and picked up his gun again. Ziegler was propping himself up in the doorway, with his gun aimed directly for the kid's head. "Put it down now!" Ziegler commanded, his stern voice covering over the pain that he must be feeling. His knees were simply bloody messes, and Rhodes wondered how he was standing on them at all.
The kid turned around then, pointed the gun straight into the navigation computer, and began to fire. "No!" Penny gasped as the panel exploded in a flash of sparks and fire. Before the kid could get off two shots, Ziegler had fired, hitting the kid directly in the back of the head. The kid flew over top of the panel, his face detonating outward from the blast. Rhodes stared at the mepty faced boy, who had just destroyed their navigation computer, and put Earth beyond the reach of their engines. In all of the history of space flight, never had such a terrible occurence been sought after so voluntarily.
Onto Part III!
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