The tension in the room was palpable; Simmons glared at Throckmorton, her eyes dark morbid and clearly frightened. Throckmorton gazed sympathetically back, his own mind recognizing that he had been absolutely correct in his guess. The surmise that he had reached had been startling, and it also involved many dangers. He had concluded that a woman not five feet from him sitting in a wheelchair with a cast about one leg was a werewolf. Apparently, he had been correct, her glowering silence only seemed to further his point. Would she at any moment sprout claws and fangs and try to kill him for his insensitivity? He doubted it, but it had been a risk he was willing to take. Besides, that cast constricted her, there wasn't very much she could do. Also, he knew that she did not welcome the change and so would not voluntarily bring it on, even if that were possible.
However, the greatest of all shocks was that he was standing in front of a real live werewolf, and he knew it was true, and he didn't need any confirmation. The look in Simmons's eyes told him everything he needed to know. Everything both he and Brucker had said about the werewolves had been true. Simmons must have joined up because she hated changing shape, and this would provide her with a way of escaping that animal nature for a good long time. However, when the schedule was organized so that she could not help but give in when she went up, se panicked. However, she must not have counted on Kilpatrick somehow contracting the disease from her. He wondered idly how it had happened, but did not doubt that it had. If Kilpatrick was the only person on board who could have been the werewolf, then Simmons must have given it to him. Everybody knew they were close, so something must have happened, some accident perhaps, an accident that passed the condition from one to the other.
Colonel Edward Throckmorton pushed himself away form the metal railing, taking a step back from Simmons as she fumed in her seat, her eyes building with rage. He wondered just what had been going through her mind. Had she feared discovery? Certainly she must, this whole series of events must be the worst nightmare of her life realized. No wonder she had so easily believed the news reports, she must have known them to be true. And of course, being discovered only made matters worse, because then everybody would know that it was her fault. Every one of her friends now just like her, and many innocent people dead, because of who she was and what she made Kilpatrick. How could she stand to look in their faces and see the accusation in them? She was the source of their monthly torment. She was the origin of their new pain. She, Lieutenant Michelle Simmons was the reason they were all now werewolves.
"Simmons?" Brucker broke the silence, his own face aghast. "Simmons, are you all right?"
Simmons broke the rapport of rage she had developed with Throckmorton and looked over to the younger Major. Major Brucker was breathing deeply, his eyes alert and his hands still at his sides. Brucker continued, seeing the she was not speaking, "Simmons, it's all right. Nobody is going to do anything to you."
Her eyes narrowed slightly, taking him in. She put on arm on the railing, and leaned over as far as she could towards them, her face stern. "How dare you?"
Brucker kept his mouth shut, his eyes dropping to the floor. He put his hands behind his back, clutching his wrists.
"How dare you, Colonel," she snapped, her gaze leveling on him. Throckmorton returned it, not intending to be intimidated. "How dare you think you know anything about me!"
Throckmorton cocked his head to one side, "Lieutenant, it is my job to know people. You are no different form the others."
"Not anymore, you've made them all werewolves too!" her voice was low, just low enough so that nobody else would overhear them.
"Not true. I've tried everything I could do to save them."
"Why did you have to say that?" Simmons's rage looked to be departing, her body slumping back into the wheelchair, her eyes turning to the ground as well. Her voice was still on fire, but there was little heat in it anymore. "Why did you have to ask me if I was a werewolf?"
"Because I wanted to know what happened. I wanted to know what the truth was. I haven't been living in it enough," Throckmorton replied, his words flowing easily now. The tension was still there, but now it was more from fear of her sinking into hopelessness instead of her jumping out of her seat to bite them.
"I didn't want to hurt anybody!" Simmons pointed out, looking feebly at her hands.
"I believe you."
"I never wanted to hurt anybody." Simmons insisted, weaker this time.
Throckmorton sighed. He gave Major Brucker a quick glance, and Brucker nodded. Brucker turned about to oversee the launching of the Hyperion, while Throckmorton once again approached the rail. "Perhaps we should talk?"
"Anything you want to talk about," Throckmorton put one arm on the rail, and gently put his hand to her shoulder. She flinched at the touch, but she did not lash out at him, as he was afraid she would. He really didn't know what to say that could comfort her; there really wasn't much of anything that could be said. If there was one thing he had learned, sometimes the best thing a man could do for a woman in need was just to shut up and give her a hug. While he wasn't about to hug Simmons, he did know that this was probably the time for her to get a chance to speak. He waited patiently as she gathered her breath, fighting the oncoming tears and sobbing. Edward hoped that the Secretary was not too quick in making her way to his office, this was probably more important. No, it was certainly more important than getting his ear chewed off.
Simmons wiped her eyes once with her right hand, and then looked over at his face. The stern rage was now completely gone, replaced by a very weak countenance. She nodded, gingerly biting at her lip. She gently brushed the brown curls of her hair out of her face and behind an ear, and then sighed. "Do you know how much and for how long I have hated what I am?" He shook his head. "All my life. You probably already know that I was adopted as a child, and my new parents were very loving. I'll never forget the look of horror on my mother's face when she found out what I was. I was fifteen, and it was April tenth, about nine o'clock. I had been trying my hardest to get out of going to the movies with them that night, I knew it was the full moon. I'd known what had happened to me since I was about ten. Before that I knew I was different somehow. I always knew the wolf inside me, but I thought everybody had a wolf inside them, or something. Well, the wolf was tired of me keeping her locked inside, and she came out. It was horrible; I fought it every step of the way.
"That night, I remember fidgeting through the whole movie, my attempts to feign sickness getting me nowhere. I loved my parents, but I didn't want them to think I was a misfit. I tried to behave; I tried to convince the wolf that tonight was a bad night. It wanted out. I held it in as long as I could, and I did very good at keeping it inside me, until we got back home that is. We were at the door waiting for my father to unlock it with his keys when I knew that I couldn't hold it in any longer. I ran. I just kept running away from them. My father didn't see me start running, so he was too far behind me to see me change, but my mother had started after me the moment I began. I tried to tell her to turn back, but she wouldn't, she just kept screaming for me to come back. That is when the wolf finally got control, and came out, stretching and bending my clothes again as it always did. My mother always wondered why I wouldn't wear my pajamas; I didn't want to have to explain to her that I was a werewolf.
"Anyway, she saw me change, and she screamed. I remember it, hearing it fill my ears, thrill me beyond belief. When the wolf is in control, I can fight as best I can, but my mind is not my own. I remember enjoying the idea of slashing her apart. I remember how much the thought thrilled me. I woke screaming from the dreams for months afterward, just hearing her scream and how much fun it sounded. I wanted to kill my own mother, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I wanted to turn myself around and dart off into the woods. I would kill a rabbit or something, like I usually did. I'd always walked there in advance; I made myself a little den out there that I could protect while I was a wolf. I wanted to run back to that haven, but I couldn't. That scream had electrified me, and made my blood surge through me, my nose bristling, my muscles tensing, and my mouth slavering at the thought of attacking her.
"I am glad that she ran, ran faster than I thought she could. She and my father made it back into the house just in time. The door shut on my face, and they were safe. I don't usually remember what happens while I am a wolf so vividly, but that was too horrifying to bear. My parents found me on their doorstep the next morning, crying. I had come back as soon as I had changed back. They let me, their faces still terrified. I told them all about what I was. I didn't know how it had happened, nor did I know why. I loved my parents. They loved me just the same, but my father did make precautions. He built a cage that I could go into when I felt the change coming on. He hated to do it, he told me so, and I hated to make him do it, but I didn't want to hurt them.
"I don't think my mother was ever the same after that. She still loved me, and still does, even now. They've never told anybody about what I am though. We were too afraid that somebody would come and take me away and do awful things to me. I was sixteen when the standard shuttle patterns that we use now where instituted, and I knew that would be the best thing that I could possibly do. My parents agreed, and encouraged me on. I studied as hard as I could, knowing that it was my only chance to get away from the full moon. All my calendars have it marked, and I set my schedule around those dates. I had to miss my prom because it was held on a full moon, and I dumped every guy I dated because they just couldn't handle me, and I was too afraid of what might happen to them.
"So, I did everything I could to join the Space Force. It was my only goal in life, and when I was accepted into the program I made sure that I knew every in and out of every procedure; I had to be the best or I would never get to go up and I would be stuck in a cage every 28 days. It wasn't easy for me, sometimes I just wanted to toss it all in the trash and run off to the woods where I wouldn't hurt anybody. But I don't know much about the woods, except that I've always liked them. You wouldn't believe my horror when I had to take a night class. I was so afraid that I would forget which day the full moon was and change in front of everybody that I missed an entire week of class."
"How did you survive?" Throckmorton interjected.
Simmons shook her head. "I just kept that goal in mind. I thought that my pain would be over then. I guess I was wrong."
Throckmorton licked his lips, "Well, it has been several years. You have to succumb how many times since you were made navigator on board the Pytheas?"
"Twice," she mouthed.
"There, isn't that an improvement?"
"But everybody else. Rhodes, Danielpour, all of the others, and most especially Kilpatrick. They didn't even know, and now their whole lives have been destroyed! I don't know what it is like to suddenly find the wolf with you, but I do know that I do not wish this fate on anybody. My wolf has always been with me, I always thought she was normal, just another part of me. I never realized just what it meant, until it changed me. What about them? What about my friends up on that ship? They now know what the wolf means, and they know what it is trying to do to them? How do you think they feel? What is going through their heads right now? Do you think they wanted this? Do you think they'll be glad to see me and know that I did it, I was the one who cursed them all to a life of pain and fear from yourself? Do you?" Simmons nearly shouted the question at him, but her voice was pretty restrained.
Throckmorton shook his head resignedly, "No, I don't think you understand them. I know that I would not blame you if I had been on that ship and infected. It is not your fault, Michelle. It is not your fault. You did not ask for this either. Don't ever believe that you are responsible for this."
Simmons shook her head, "Then who, who is responsible for this?"
"There is no who, that is responsible for this," Throckmorton pointed out. He had let her get most of it off her chest he just had to make sure that she didn't blame herself and made her recognize the fact that she too was a victim in all of this. She was somebody in need of support and love, not hate and reprisal. "You are the prey of this wolf too, Simmons. You didn't ask for it, and you didn't want it. Did you want to be a werewolf?"
Simmons looked down at the ground, "No."
"Then you are not to blame. You had no idea this would happen. Who could blame you? I certainly don't. I am in fact impressed by your tenacity to conquer this thing in yourself. You are quite resourceful, a person I admire."
Simmons did not seem to hear the words. She looked at the ground, keeping her eyes fixed there, unable to look into either of their faces. Throckmorton noticed that Brucker was back at the rail with them again, listening in. He looked back to Edward, his own eyes weak. "The launch is proceeding smoothly, everything is checking out so far."
"Good," he mouthed.
"I was wondering, " Brucker turned to Simmons, his voice gentle, smooth. "Did you ever enjoy becoming the wolf?"
"Did I what?"
"Did you ever enjoy it? Did you ever look forward to the full moon?"
Simmons nodded, "At first I did. It was my little secret, and I loved it. I was afraid of what might happen if others found out, and I was afraid that I might hurt somebody by accident. The wolf and I ran through the woods, hunting, howling, and having a merry time. It was very refreshing, and I exuberantly went to bed early on the nights of the full moon when I was young for that very reason. When my parents found out though, and when I chased my mother, it all stopped. I realized that the wolf did not care about those I loved, and I feared her ever since."
Brucker nodded, "Do you ever wish that you could go back to that?"
Simmons looked distant for a moment, her hands in her lap, her mouth hanging slack. "Once in a while I will daydream about running through open fields, the world wet about me, the scents driving me wild. It is a whole different world, full of life and vitality. Yet, it is also a world of fear and terror. Everytime the wolf reminds me of those carefree days, I keep hearing my mother scream. I don't like to think about it."
Throckmorton could see Brucker sweat, "I'm sorry to hear that."
"I wish you didn't have to. I wish that none of this had ever happened and that they would be up there in space for two months. I wish that you didn't have to send Captain Harper and his men to risk their lives in this crazy attempt. I wish that Kilpatrick was still human," Simmons trailed off, her voice dying out once more.
Throckmorton interjected, "We all have wishes; I have mine as well as Brucker and you have your own." He put a hand on her shoulder again, "Sometimes, we just have to wish that everything will turn out all right, and not what could have been. The past is intangible; the near future, now that's something we can handle."
"But what will happen to them when they get back?"
"As I told you before, I am going to do everything in my power to protect them. I thought I was doing that by what I said out there. I showed everybody who these people were, and how can anybody take them away now?"
Brucker coughed lightly. "The public might ask for them, sir. The public might demand that they be kept away. How can Captain Rhodes go anywhere now without people recognizing him and running away in fear, fear that he might change in front of him?"
Throckmorton rolled his tongue over his teeth considering that. It was a distinct possibility. There was a price for fame; he knew it well, having been on the cover of every computer magazine for the last twenty years. It was often times unpleasant, with people asking him horrid questions. He was sure that he received hundreds of letters of hate mail from people whose software had gone defunct because of his efforts in the programming industry. Of course he never saw any of them, thankfully, but he was sure that they were there. Then of course there were the admirers, he had a lot of them too, and they were sometimes even worse than the people that hated him were, as they tended to get drool on his best clothes. Fame was not something people really wanted, at least most people, as it was more of a hassle than it was worth. He might just have very well given such fame to the people on board that ship, more fame than they needed.
Simmons gave him a very frightened look, he just shook his head, "It was the only way that I knew of. The press was screaming for blood, I had to give an answer. It was the best one I could come up with. As I said, it was not the best solution in the world, and I do not even stand by it as a good decision." Throckmorton turned on his side, putting his hand back on the rail, looking across at Major Brucker who had become quite critical of late. He stared at the man, his eyes intent. He wanted Brucker to think, but he did not want him to overtly backstab him in policy decisions. He could fall by himself very well without having this man push him over the edge. "But it was my decision. I made it, and that is that. If it comes back to bite us, then I will be the one who gets bitten, not you, nor anybody else."
"No, I will get bitten if all this comes back on us!" Simmons insisted. She had a very concerned look on her face, her hand pushing another errant curl back behind her ear. "If they want to confine the werewolves for 'public safety concerns' then they are going to start investigating everybody who has had any contact with anybody on that ship, just incase one of them was also a carrier. Well, once they investigate me enough, they'll find some very suspicious things. Do you realize that I still have a cage in my basement where I can lock myself up if need be? My wolf's claws can't manipulate the small key, so I can't escape, and believe me, I've tried to escape, and I've tried for hours to unlock the door. Yet I can't until I'm human again. Werewolves are not stupid, especially when you've been one for long enough. Once you stop fighting, it is the most amazing thing because you can just see the wolf take firmer control, and then the wolf can do things like you wouldn't believe. They will find me, and I will be in just as much trouble as you, or as the rest of my friends."
Throckmorton swallowed his spit then, this was something else he hadn't considered. He was used to having full possession of what he needed to accomplish a job. Any task was always like a computer program, identify your objectives, what you need to accomplish them and how to get there, and then do it. Life was so much more complicated; there were too many bugs in the code to sort through. How nice it would be if he could just error test his solutions before he implemented them. There were things he could have done, but not this much. He was right about only one thing, there was really no time to make a very thorough decision, and he just needed something quick. Now, it was going to mean his job. He was prepared for that. It could also mean the lives of others. That he was not prepared for.
"I'll do everything I can. Perhaps some arrangements can be made. I don't really know. I will see what I can do."
"What could you do? You are the one who said that he had already made his decision. That decision may leave us high and dry! How could you do that? Why should we trust you to make everything all right? Why should we believe you could fix things for us? You've already fixed us over real good as it is!" Simmons was beginning to get angry again, and Edward knew that it was a never-ending cycle. Her whole world had been cracked asunder today, what else should he expect. Her whole world? Everything he had grown to accept for all seventy some odd years of his life had just gone out the window. The comfortable place he called Earth was no longer quite the compartmentalized place it used to be. There were new fears out there waiting for him, new vistas, things that the older generation would never understand. He was not going to be part of this new world, he was going to be left behind, and he knew that already. He was a relic, too set in his ways to ever change. Things were changing too fast for him to deal with. Perhaps somebody younger was more suited to the task, and it was time for him to leave the world to take care of itself. Who needed Colonel Edward Throckmorton watching over them anyway?
"You might be right," Throckmorton muttered. He turned back to look at the countdown clock, there was only fifteen minutes left on the dial. Had it been that long? Had they been talking for fifteen minutes already? It seemed like such a long talk. Then again, what was taking the Secretary so long? He was sure that she would be ready by now. Still, he'd rather be here then with her. "I have been a fool. And I still want to be a fool. I don't want to have anything to do with this. I thought that I could solve it my own way, a way that might have worked. Instead, I screwed things up even more. I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Simmons was incredulous, the lines on her forehead scrunched up in frustration. He was sure that she wanted to beat on something, preferably him. "How does that help? What does sorry mean? It means that you goofed and that you aren't going to do anything about it!"
"No, it means that I can't do anything about what has already gone by."
"You've said that before."
"And so have you. Look, Lieutenant, we all make mistakes. Everybody does, you, me, Brucker, the people on that ship, the people out there in the pressroom, everybody. Who can say just which mistake it is that causes somebody's life? Is it the mistake done by a person who while drunk decided to go driving, or in that he got so drunk he would be foolish enough to do something like that anyway? He knew the risks before he started drinking. Now tell me, when did I make the mistake that caused the people's lives up there on that ship?" Throckmorton waited a moment, but Simmons said nothing. "You can't tell me that because it hasn't happened yet. As I said, the future, that's something we can handle. I may not be the best person for it, but I am certainly going to do my best to make sure that they are all saved. Every last one of them that I can. Not only are they going to come back to Earth alive, but they are not going to be locked up hidden to be investigated and experimented on. I will do whatever it takes, trust me."
"Why should I? Because you said so?"
"No, because I am not going to tell anybody about what you are," Throckmorton replied in a very level tone, his intent clear now. He was not going to lose any of them if he could help it.
"So, what are you going to do about it?" Simmons asked. "You said you could handle the future, so what is your plan for it?"
Throckmorton took a deep breath. He really didn't have a consistent plan yet. He was still thinking of one. He rubbed his forehead, "Well, it goes something like this. I can't tell you everything, as it depends on you not knowing some things that might be shady. No need to get you indicted by association."
Brucker then tapped him on the shoulder. He stopped and looked to his second-in-command, "What is it?"
Brucker nodded in the direction of the doorway. Standing there was the aide who had told him of the Secretary's arrival. His heart sank; she must be ready for him. He was walking straight towards him, his face white, "Secretary Blumenfield waits for you with her guest in your office, sir. She told me that I was to come and get you and Lieutenant Simmons."
"I didn't ask, Colonel, but the man who was with the Secretary specifically asked for her." the orderly appeared nervous about something, but he wasn't saying.
"The man?" Throckmorton raised an eyebrow. Who would Secretary Blumenfield invite along for an interrogation, and why would he want to see Lieutenant Simmons. He suspected the answer should be obvious, but he was rather preoccupied with worrying over his eventual discharge. "Who was he?"
"He didn't say, sir, and I didn't feel it my place to ask."
"Fair enough." Throckmorton nodded, though he was really worried now. Perhaps this was somebody here to make sure that nobody knew of what they knew, nobody knew of the werewolves. Perhaps he was the cleanup crew, sent down here to make sure that all the evidence was gone. If that was the case then a lot of people were going to die. He might have made the right decision in telling everyone about it already. But if he were of the cleanup crew, wouldn't he have come a lot sooner?
"Major, Brucker, you are in charge until I get back. Nobody's goes in or out of this room, do you understand?"
"Of course, Colonel." Brucker saluted him and Throckmorton returned the gesture, he then followed the orderly towards the door. Simmons followed after them in her wheelchair, her own face a mixture of emotions. The alternating rage and depression were cycling through her all at once, now mixed with something else, raw fear. Perhaps she suspected something that he did not. Of course, there might be a very simple reason why she was being called, perhaps to be asked if she had noticed anything odd about her crew members as people on Earth tried to sort out the mess. Then again, it might be more insidious. Throckmorton figured that in this particular situation, it was best to err on the side of insidiousness.
Walking back into his office, he noted that the conference table had been set up, and that there were tow people sitting about it. Obviously they wanted to talk, not as visitors to his office, otherwise they would have just waited for him to sit at his desk, no they wanted him right across from them in chairs of his own. They did not want him at an advantage in any means. The orderly waited till they both were inside and then closed the door behind them. Throckmorton suspected that there was a lot more going on here than he had at first presumed.
He recognized Secretary Blumenfield immediately; her short hair and menacing gaze too hard to not notice. She was not in the least bit attractive; the makeup she wore only highlighted her natural deficiencies. Then again, she held a position of power, so it was entirely possible that she no longer cared what she looked like to others. They had to deal with her on her terms whether they liked it or not, and deal with them she would. Her once black hair was streamed through with streaks of grey, and the sullen calm of her dark eyes belied the fire that must surely be raging beneath it. All of that fire directed at him of course. He had been the one who had gone up there and declared that no they weren't werewolves although any thinking human being can see that they are. He had been the one who had gone over her head and illegally got those frequencies for the on board communications systems of the Pytheas. He was the easy scapegoat. He knew it, and for some reason found that he could not worry about it.
"Sit down, Colonel, we would like to have a talk. Lieutenant, you may stay where you are," Secretary Blumenfield called out, her voice clear and precise. It broached no argument, and gave him no ground to maneuver in. Still keeping his gaze fixed on her, he sat down. He did not want to cause any major difficulties. He'd much rather that this be as painless as possible.
"What do you want to know, Secretary?" Throckmorton figured that at least one thin he could was be direct with her.
"From you? Nothing. I already have all the information I need. However, you may find what he has to say to be of more interest." Blumenfield gestured at the man sitting a few seats over on the round table. Throckmorton let his eyes pass over to him, and then his heart skipped a beat. The man held a thin pipe between the fingers of his right hand, had one leg hooked over the other, and was wearing a tan coat. His middle-aged faced stared back at him; his lips curled up in a smile. It was the man from the pressroom who had asked the very leading questions. It was the Hasmonean.
"You?" Throckmorton shouted before he realized what he'd done.
"Who is he?" Simmons asked quietly.
"I don't know. All I know is that he's a Hasmonean. Is that not correct?" Throckmorton prodded, his anger swelling. He did not like this man, he had made him appear the fool before the press already, he certainly was not going to give him any quarter, and no matter what authority he had.
"You are partially right about that." the man smiled, puffing into his pipe a bit, sending a thin trail of smoke into the air as he exhaled. "I am a Hasmonean, and so much more. But you do actually know me by name."
"I doubt it."
"Really?" The man turned to Blumenfield, "Secretary, do you think I should show them who I am?"
Blumenfield shrugged her shoulders, still glaring at Throckmorton. "That's your decision. You wanted to come here, so I don't see how that is going to harm anything."
The man nodded, "Yes it was wasn't it? Well then, I guess I should show you." The man laid his pipe on the table, being careful not to spill it, and then his hands began to scratch at his face. Suddenly the skin began to come up and off. With a start, Edward realized that it was fake skin, a mask to hide his true identity. He watched as the real man emerged from underneath it. From the almost childlike look of wonder on the face, to the arched eyebrows to the smooth chin he knew instantly who it was. After all, he'd seen his face on TV only a few hours ago. The man picked up his pipe again, dumping the fake skin onto the able. He puffed a few times, sucking in contentedly as he did so. He smiled, his eyes peering over at Throckmorton. Edward returned the gaze with at first astonishment, then that same dread calm.
"In case you did not know me, let me introduce myself. My name is Dr. Fulton Swiley, current and sole occupant of the directorship of the Hasmoneans. I would like to congratulate you on a job well done."
Throckmorton could only stare slackjawed at the man.
End Part 1 of Part XXI
Continued in Part 2 of Part XXI