The Perpetual

Part XXIV continued

"Okay, Dr. Handley, we've got to take you outside now." the words were like knives in Thibaudet's throat. He knew that they would cut deeply into Emma's psyche, but he also felt they would slice his own throat open. It made him feel ill just doing this to such a nice seeming woman. He had remembered her in their orientation as being a rather insistent woman with a strong personality. Where was that personality now? Was the wolf so strong that it crushed her will in its jaws? Did it intend to destroy her entire existence so that it might recreate her in its own image? He had seen the same thing down to Dutton, and then later more tragically with Rhodes. He remember snatches of their conversation, who the Captain had kept using words like alpha, pack, and mate; those were words used by humans to describe the wolf, and yet Rhodes was using them to describe himself. How long did it take before the wolf mentality had subsumed the normal rational human personality? How long would it take to dethrone a skeptical mind and place in it a bestial construct whose only thoughts were eating and reproducing? Thibaudet did not want to ever have to face that possibility for himself. True, he was no longer a complete skeptic, he was offering prayers to God again, something he hadn't done in years. Still, he did not want to lose himself to the wolf the way these people had. Each one was a terror to witness.

Handley of course, did not like the idea of going out. Penny had asked that Anselm and he carry her out. McGee was waiting by one of the doors and Penny by the other. Jansen and the four Shapeshifters - the irony of that name would never cease to make him chuckle - were watching from the center of the group. Of course, seeing Jansen standing with the Shapeshifters took him a moment to believe. He had apparently hated them from the very first time he had seen them. Before the launch his had been a consistent voice against their presence on the ship. He had even ranted about them during the beginning of their confinement. Now he was with them almost all the time, or at least with Lassie. Thibaudet had to admit that things like this in the world were simply so complex that he would never understand. He may be able to comprehend how the werewolves did what they did, but he would never understand the fickleness of the human heart.

Handley yanked her arms back and forth, trying to break free of their grasp. She dug her heels into the ground, screaming her head off, shaking about, crying and nearly reaching over to bite them. Thibaudet feared her bite more than anything else. If she did that then they were going to be in very serious trouble. She reached for his hand with her mouth, and he had to quickly let go to escape her teeth. It was so fast, she almost managed to nick him, but instead she got her own arm. Thibaudet pulled his gun from its holster, and pointed it at her face. She did not seem to notice him as her arm reached over to claw at Anselm. Anselm did not let go though; he twisted her arm back, bringing it behind her chest, and pushed her forward. She fell face first into the ground, though she was up on her feet again in moments, her eyes wild, and her coppery curls dangling in front of her sweat drenched face. They were not the eyes of a human, but those of a wild beast that needed taming.

"You stay away from me!" She screamed, pointing her finger at both of them.

"Dr. Handley, you have to go out!" Anselm told her in a very strained voice.

"I will not!"

Thibaudet kept the gun trained on her, "Yes you will."

"Please don't do this to me!"

"We don't have a choice," Thibaudet reminded her in a sad sounding voice. He really did not want to do this, but what other choice did they have? He vaguely remembered seeing Rhodes get slashed by Dutton when he had tried to put him out. Would she do the same thing to them if they pushed her any further? He hoped not, but for some reason, the near bite he had received was enough to make him reconsider.

"Please don't put me out there," she begged, her eyes still wild.

"No, we will do it, and there is nothing you can do to stop us," Anselm replied dryly. "Now you either come willingly, or you add to your misery. Which will it be?"

Handley looked both of them in the face, staring especially at Thibaudet's gun. She then bolted away from them. Both chased after her as soon as she started running. Anywhere she ran would be good because it would take her closer to one of the doors. Anselm jumped on her from behind, sending her sprawling to the ground. Her face was smashed into the dirt, her already smeared clothes only being stained further. Anselm rested a knee on her back as he grabbed both of her hands and held them firmly behind her. Emma was crying out the whole time in pain and horror. Thibaudet could see McGee shaking his head out oft he corner of his eyes. Penny was watching unemotionally, almost detached from the events that she was witnessing. Thibaudet turned back to his roommate to see that he had her firmly by both wrists, and was pulling her to her feet. "Pierre, can you help me with holding her, I think she's going to break free."

Dr. Thibaudet nodded, holding her arms against her back as she struggled to get free. She twisted and turned in every direction, pulling and yanking. For a few moments there would be nothing, no attempts to escape. Pierre knew that it was done in hopes of them realizing enough to let her make her escape. As he had guessed she would jerk suddenly in an odd direction, pulling and snapping at the most inconvenient times. His grip never slipped though. This was too important to let her escape so easily. They marched her to the door, shoulder to shoulder, holding her tightly together. No chances would be taken with this one.

"Please!" she cried out as they reached the door. Thibaudet used the card that Penny had handed to him, and it opened up. With one final shove they sent her sprawling into the hallway beyond. He then closed the door and locked it again. Handley was up at the door, her face one of sheer terror and fright. She pounded on the door, screaming at the top of her lungs, her whole body quivering. Her eyes steamed with tears, her face red with the exhaustion. Thibaudet turned from the sight, too sick to watch. He walked back over to Penny with gun and card in hand and Anselm right behind him. Penny shook her head sadly, but said nothing to them.

Lieutenant Lucille Penny was very tense, something that they could not see from the other side of the room. She turned and looked down the length of the Greenhouse, and called out, "All right, Mr. McGee. You may go now. We will wait thirty seconds before we leave. See if you can keep them on your tail, but don't let them lose interest in you."

"I understand. Do you want me to go anywhere in particular?" McGee called back.

Penny picked up the radio, "Saltonstall, where are most of the werewolves?"

Saltonstall's voice sounded slightly distracted. "Um... most of them are on the second floor. A few are coming up now to take a peek at Handley I think."

"Thank you, watch the hallways that we'll be in and warn us if anything is coming."

"Understood." Saltonstall replied, sounding quite nervous.

"McGee, go to the second floor and stay towards the front of the ship as long as you can," Penny called out one last time.

"Good luck to you, Lieutenant." McGee nodded, opening the already unlocked door. "I hope to see you all back on Earth when this is over."

"You will. Now go!" McGee was then gone through the doorway, and it shut smoothly behind him. Penny took the card from Thibaudet, and swiped it through the door she was in front of. She then turned around and tossed ii towards the others. "Jansen, lock the doors and don't let anybody in until we return."

Jansen reached down and picked up the card, "I understand. Good luck to you too."

Thibaudet looked at each of the faces standing there watching them prepare to go. There was Lassie standing next to Jansen, her face one of calm, but at the same time she was quite evidently concerned. HuggyBear, who seemed to be completely placid now, was rubbing his palms together nervously. Darkwolf was watching them with a sort of eagerness that made Thibaudet wonder whether or not the young man wanted to join them on this crazy plan that might work, or whether he wanted to stay right where he was among friends. Pillow, John H. West, seemed to be mouthing something under his breath, he couldn't tell what. With a bit of a chuckle he knew; John was praying. It was probably a good thing to do; they were going to need it. Jansen of course, seemed anxious and quite out of sorts. Perhaps he had wanted to go too. Whatever was going through that botanist's mind, Pierre felt that he wanted to know now. Perhaps now that they were all coming together to solve their problems he could find it in himself to try and be friends with the man. He had shrugged him off before, but next time he would not. There wouldn't be a next time, if they survived this he planned to give the man a hug. He felt like he had always known them all, they had gone through so much together. This was the first time he was going to be leaving the Greenhouse since he had been locked up in it nearly a half day ago. It had been so long he hadn't bothered to count the hours. Still, if this plan worked, that would be the end of it and they could all relax until Captain Harper arrived to refuel them.

Turning back to the door, he saw that Penny's hand rested on the hatch. He saw her body tense with each heartbeat. Holding his breath, he wondered how long thirty seconds could last. Finally, she pushed the button, the door slid open and she called out, "Let's go!" All three of them were through the doorway and out into the werewolf's territory. He felt his hair stand on the back of his neck. This was it. He wanted to run back, but no longer, they were now committed. Now they would see if Penny's plan would work.

Stepping out that door had not taken much from him. He knew that his path lay away from the Greenhouse anyway. It felt somehow like he was giving up that part of his humanity forever when he did so though. McGee was going to be irrevocably changed, he knew it. He could feel it in his bones already. He wondered why he felt it so soon. The wolf was beside him as always, there in his mind comforting him and giving him counsel. Everything he had said about the wolf had been true. It was his friend. The wolf's plans were not to destroy him, but to improve upon what was already there. It enjoyed the discussion, and it had been by him, rubbing its fur into his mind. He even had thought the way the wolf had marked its territory in his mind had been humorous, though he doubted others would find it so. Still, the wolf was there with him as he casually walked down the steps near the doorway he had passed through. He knew that the wolf was not going to let him do anything stupid.

As McGee came down the steps he noted a particular odour about him. It seemed that there were a few of his fellow werewolves about. He did not see them immediately, but he did not need to see them. Thinking about what he could do, he continued walking. He wanted to draw them away, which means he needed to catch their attention somehow. It was obvious that his presence was just being noted, and nothing was going to be done about it. There had to be something more he could do aside from walking into the middle of their presence. There were at least two of them, hiding beneath the staircase; that much he could tell just by sniffing the air. The passageway before him was clear, though after twenty yards it turned off to the left. Up that way would be the command crew's quarters. He spun about on one heel, and made a sudden menacing growl towards the staircase, his arms held out wide like claws, and his jaws open, spitting and growling at what was behind him. He felt a little silly for doing it, but he noted that the wolf in his head was getting excited. McGee felt pretty good.

The dark-furred figures stepped out form behind the staircase in a low crouch. They were two males, obviously he did not know which was which. McGee had been hopping that he would run into Gorecki again. He would love to spar with her one last time before he became like them in body as well as in spirit. The energy flowing through him gave it all away. He knew that they were flowing differently, strangely and not in the classical patterns. It would make it hard to direct his power through his arms and legs. Still, it would be interesting to try. Crouching low to the ground, he approached the oddly docile werewolves who were looking at him with some mild surprise and confusion. They must recognize some quality, possibly his aura that lets them know he is to be their packmate in good time. Or perhaps they just had never seen a human do this before. It had not stopped them from chasing them down before. Still, whoever they were, probably somebody from the command crew and one of his fellow security personnel, it was his job to make sure that they did not chase after Penny.

McGee lunged suddenly, striking one of the werewolves square in the chest. It was so sudden that the werewolf did not even respond till it was flat on its back on the floor, tail twitching, and legs in the air moving back and forth. The other one took a moment to react as well, swiping at him with the back of its paw, a move the McGee easily ducked. He grabbed that arm and twisted it, locking the joints in place, and then continued to push it further, until the werewolf was lifted off its feet along with it. He smacked the thing into the wall, hearing a loud cracking noise as it did so. The creature put a paw to its head, as blood began to spill from its brow. McGee stepped back, noting that the first werewolf was getting up then, also in a low stance. Somehow, it had an almost frisky look to its eye. McGee then suddenly laughed to himself, and the wolf in his mind capered about madly. This was nothing but packmates playing together!

Taking a few steps back, McGee saw that he had been successful in drawing off these two. Their attention was totally riveted on him now. How he wished he could have put names to their faces. Was this Corigliano? Was the one whose skull he cracked Danielpour? Who could say, he certainly didn't know. Neither looked to be tall enough to be Tembo, and most certainly none of them were Gorecki, or those three scientists that he had lost on his way here; they would not have changed quite yet. True, it had been over a half-hour ago, but still that was not nearly enough time. Well, at least he didn't think it was. He hoped it wasn't.

Stepping back again, the one wolf loped after him, jumping at him finally. McGee stepped to the side, grabbing the werewolf's upper arm and twisting his about. The wolf spun as it crashed into the floor. He turned back to see the other werewolf, still bleeding form its forehead, beginning to approach. The wound appeared to be healing fast, as he could no longer see it beneath the fur. Of course, they were all werewolves; even his own wounds should heal that fast. For some reason that was a satisfying thought. Stepping back against the wall, and deftly stepping past the one werewolf on the ground, he continued to lead the two away from the rear of the ship. They were following him enjoying the romping. Though they could not land a blow on him. It looked like they were getting very frustrated. The wolf in his own mind laughed at their disorganized efforts. Shouldn't they be using pack techniques to hunt? It seemed enough of their humanity remained for them to try taking him on one on one. When there were so few people to face, they became like all others, abandoning any pretenses of strategy. Battle was a flow, and even though they thought this fun and games, they did not have the flow and therefore could never win.

When McGee reached the turn he noted that there were two other werewolves at the other end. He quickly roared and snarled at them even as he played more with the other two werewolves. That brought them running. He knocked the one werewolf into the other, seeing the wound completely gone, and then turned to face his new opponents. He had distracted four of them, certainly that would be a good enough number. Even better, he knew whom he had distracted. He could see quite distinctly that one of the figures coming towards him was Gorecki. His smile widened as he stood with feet spread shoulder width apart in the center of the hallway as they approached. He did not care about the two behind him anymore. If Gorecki wanted to fight, they would only watch. That much he knew. It had been the way before. The other werewolf, who was probably Tembo, he was big enough, was just going to watch. After all, like with many animals, the female was the dominant. Of course, he could still defeat her hand to hand. At least he hoped he could.

Gorecki stood before him, taller than she had been as a human, with more muscle, and breasts he noted. She had never been that well developed in the chest area, but what she lacked for in size she clearly made up for in number. Ten of them in fact, all small and flat. For some reason, it was kind of interesting to note them. Then again, everything about Gorecki was interesting to him. Of course, she was Tembo's mate, and the wolf reminded him of that. Still, it was going to be a lot of fun facing her again. McGee stood ready in his stance, feeling the pleasure of the game come over him, washing him in its euphoria. The fight was everything, the pure physical combat and ability absolving him of all other concerns. The wolf stood at his side, closer and closer still, its face joyous as he knelt beside it. Gorecki brought her paw down on his head, and he stepped to the side, grabbing her arm and twisting it back. Her leg came up then as he did so, but he slid underneath it, letting go of her arm and grabbing her by the tail and yanking hard. She slipped on her one paw, and fell, but got her fore paws in front of her in time to spin about and backup to a standing position.

McGee could feel his heart pounding hard; he could feel the passion and that singular joy and exultation at the exercise. His head beat with each move, the slow rhythmic dance they performed about one another, Gorecki swiping her claws at him, he blocking, pushing forward in a new direction, making the energy flow through him in those new pathways, and capitalizing on their strength. He found himself floating through the air, falling to the ground and getting back up to do it all over again. The wolf in his mind had one paw on his haunches, leaning in closer, the muzzle brushing up against his thigh. Gorecki bore down on him relentlessly as the other three werewolves watched submissively. The gaping jaws snapped at him, the teeth powerful, almost cutting him on one occasion. With his new energies he repulsed the attack, making sure not to fall prey to the same schemes he did last time. He would not be knocked to the ground and let her get on top of him again so easily. Besides, the wolf was doing that already.

He grabbed Gorecki about the midsection, the feel of her tummy warm and smooth against his head. He wished he could lie on her belly all day, it was perfect for that sort of thing. McGee pushed her against the wall then, spinning her about, and dropping her, but catching one arm in the process, and twisting it behind her. Like Anselm had done to Handley, he did to Gorecki, pinning her massive bulk to the ground beneath his thick knee. Glancing up, Tembo advanced on him, intent to protect her mate from his play. The jaws were growling at him, the jowls pulled back and the eyes wild. McGee was not going to disrespect his boss, his alpha. Bowing his own head, he slinked off the top of Gorecki, tucking his tail between his legs as he did so. That he was no longer a man did not concern him in the least. The merging was complete and the wolf was with him in body as well as spirit. The energies flowing through him were powerful ones. Looking about at the others, he saw Xenakis rubbing his forehead with own paw, the blood mostly gone, and another packmate whom he did not recognize. Probably from among the Shapeshifters. Yet, somehow, he was still able to be happy about one thing that he had accomplished, if only for a little while, he had distracted four of them. Suddenly, even thoughts of that vanished. Here he was with his pack, and it felt good; he felt like this was his first day alive.

How could they have put her out? How could they have done that to her, Dr. Emma Handley? She was supposed to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Biology, but now that was impossible. If only that man had let her out earlier, she could have gotten what she needed. Now she was going to be a test subject just like the rest of them, and somebody else was going to get all the glory! That and the bitch in her mind was still trying to convince her that she wanted to be a furball. Never! She was never going to give in! But now, did she have any choice, they had thrown her out of the Greenhouse; it had been the only place where she would have been safe, and now even that was gone.

Pounding on the door wasn't helping either! They had thrown her out and the five left in there were not even looking at her, but doing their best to ignore her. They were leaving her to die out here when the werewolves would come for her. Of course the wolf told her that she was not going to die. Of course it was lying; it wanted to make her into a monster, why would it tell her the truth. And then of course she couldn't forget that even becoming one meant her mind was gone. Of course, now what could she do? They wanted her to be a distraction so that they could save the 'humans'. She was human too! She, Dr. Emma Handley, was still a flesh and blood human! Couldn't they see that?

Handley slammed her fist into the door one last time, before crumpling beside it in a small heap. Her hair fell down into her face, but she made no move to touch it. She put her hands in her face and cried once more. It was a strange sensation, unlike anything she had ever felt before this day; the wolf in her mind, that bitch of a creature was tempting her with so many different things. It kept showing her all that was to offer as a wolf. What was it but a life of romping through the woods and hunting and eating things that might still be alive! The thought made her tremble and pound her head on the floor. Whatever it took to get the wolf out oft here to get away form it. Was there anyway that she could escape it? Could she possibly hope to be free from its horrendous influence? It was always there and she could not scare it away! What could she possibly do? Was it as Dr. Thibaudet said? Was she doomed to the life of a werewolf already?

No! It couldn't be! Somehow though, a part of her knew that it was. She wished that it were not the part that was wolf now. It was there, even though she wanted to cut it off and never see it again. Pulling herself up off the floor, and coming to her feet, she beat on the door a few more times. Too angry to even look at them anymore, she turned about and slammed her back into and stared directly ahead, her face set in a grimace, her eyes still wet with slowly dripping tears. She took a few deep breaths, trying to calm herself, but every time she calmed herself the wolf would be there trying to offer her sympathy. She didn't want to have anything to do with it! Why wouldn't it leave her alone? Why did it have to pester her continually with its observations, its nuzzling and its infernal eyes? Those eyes were the worst. The way it just stared into her and striped bare her soul and made her an empty chalice to be filled, and the way it reduced all of her training and intellect into a meaningless pile of goo was almost enough to make her want to run back to the Research stations and take a nice deep breath of that chlorine gas.

Suddenly, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She turned to look, and saw something just around the corner. Handley froze, her whole body twitching solidly into place. One of those beasts was out there and it was not a few feet from her. Her spit caught in her throat and the sweat rolled down her nose and cheek. This was not good at all. Now she was going to die. She saw it come out from behind the corner. It was large, ugly and gruesome. The way it's teeth were hooked beneath its lips and the jowls pulled back and the ears upright made her shudder. It's clawed hands reached out for her, moving with a deliberate slowness. One part of her cried out to leap into those waiting arms. Another wanted to see this thing die where it stood.

Handley finally managed to get her legs working and took a tentative step backwards, leaning away form the beast as it drew nearer. She shook the panic out of her eyes, trying to think rationally. Yet there was nothing that she could do, and there was no way her mind was going to let her think through this. Her instincts were coming forward once again, driven by that wolf or something else, some primal fear that lay deep in the heart of all humanity. How she so desperately wished to remain a part of it. It did not look like it wanted to attack her though, but then again that was only a pretense and she knew it!

Stumbling backwards, Handley continued moving away from the werewolf, who did not seem to mind taking his time walking over to her. What did it want with her, and what was it trying to do to her. It was just following her, and watching her. It made no move to attack her, its arms were held at its sides, and its tail wagged a bit, but other than that, nothing. It was as if it meant her no ill will. She was not going to stop though, not even for one that appeared to be doing nothing. It would not touch her if she could help it. It was all she could do to keep from running; that might excite the creature into chasing her. She knew she was no match for this thing. It would run her down and then feast upon her flesh if she even dared to try to get away any faster. There was no way but to keep backing up. And she dare not turn her back to it, who knew what it would do then.

For some reason, she should have known that it was a trap all along. They were smart, the bitch in her mind kept telling her that. When that paw came down hard on her shoulder gripping tightly, she could no longer hold back her screams. Her voice felt terrible as it picked her up and over her head, much in the same way that McGee had done earlier. It couldn't be McGee though; he had just walked out the door as well. She beat against it with her fists, trying to break free, but it was no good. It carried her down the stairs, despite her screams and kicking and clawing. She tried watching, noting the other werewolves that were about her. She screamed again, her heart nearly bursting with fear. The wolf in her mind was scampering about happy that her life was at an end.

Suddenly, she found herslef being dumped in the cafeteria. It smelled awful, hair and grime and other things that she didn't want to name. Handley looked about, and saw in one corner something that only made her feel even worse. Lying there in a bundle were Sessions, Panufnik and her own roommate Dr. Johnson. All of them were slowly healing. She could see the wounds slowly mending themselves before her eyes as she watched. She turned away from it, her own stomach hurting at the sight.

However, she had to wonder whether it was the best idea to even do that. Dr. Handley watched in horror as two more werewolves came into the cafeteria carrying the bodies of Dr Bowman and Dr. Arkady, both recently slashed to ribbons. She fell back against the floor, smashing her head into it, unable to stand seeing it all now. The werewolves had just killed five of her fellow scientists, and she was certainly next. Of course that bitch of a wolf told her that she was wrong, but who could trust a werewolf?

Thibaudet could barely find his breath as the three of them, Lt. Penny, Dr. Anselm, and he, ran down the hallway as fast as they could. He held Rhodes's gun in hand, and was quick to check all side passageways. There was nothing, nothing at all. Their distractions must have worked. Either that or the werewolves were hiding elsewhere. He grimaced, his breath coming raggedly as they moved towards the rear of the vessel, trying to get to the brig. He shut the memory of throwing Handley out the door from his mind; it was something he did not want to think about. It had to be done, that was the only thing he could tell himself. It had to be done.

Of course, there were other things that had to be done as well. The excitement and terror had driven his heart to beat faster than he thought possible, and his body felt like it would melt from the heat of the adrenaline pouring through him. The walls of the passageway disappeared as they ran forward, continuing on. The thought of a werewolf was terrifying indeed. Who knew were one would pop up. Would it suddenly jump in front of them from a side passageway? Or would it chase them from behind, and cut their backs down? Thibaudet did not want to dwell on either. He had a job to do, and that was to get to that computer! He could see the terminal right there not twenty yards ahead, and yet, it would still take them several more seconds to reach there. Anything could happen in those seconds, anything at all. Still, there was no sign of the werewolves at all, and for a brief moment, he felt hi heart rise up into his throat, for certainly, they would come.

Pierre had to stop himself from running into the wall, the terminal at the brig, with the inner hatch to an air lock only a few feet to their left, came upon them so suddenly that he was surprised that they had made it. Penny jumped onto the console, while Anselm stayed back looking about, frightened and obviously very disturbed. Thibaudet took a look back the way they came, and down the other passageway to the right. There were two sets of staircases there, and he could see that up them were coming the werewolves. He pointed his gun and shot at the nearer of the two, and sent it sprawling backwards. He tried to make only the best shots though, because he had no idea how many bullets he had left.

"Penny! Hurry!" Anselm shouted as Pierre fired into the massive forms. Two shots, and two werewolves down, but getting up again quickly. He shot a third time into the first one, grimacing as it took the beast in the shoulder, spinning it about. His marksmanship was improving; he hadn't missed the target yet at least.

Thibaudet could hear Penny punching a few things into the computer terminal, but he dare not turn back to look at what. After all that he had seen though, he found that he would never cease to be frightened by the visage of a werewolf. It was a terrible thing, covered in blood soaked fur, with glistening fangs and yellow eyes. Those eyes were terrible; they spoke of things that he did not ever want to hear about. He probably would have been happier if he'd never found out about the werewolves. Then again, he probably would have been just as ignorant of the real world as he had been before.

Before he could fire a fourth shot, two thick metal doors came sliding out of the wall between them and the werewolves. They closed shut with a satisfying metallic thud. Thibaudet turned to watch behind them as a similar pair of doors sealed them in and away from harm. He leaned back against the wall, wiping the sweat from his brow. He could not remember a time in his life where he had ever sweated this much or done this much in the course of one day.

"Well, it looks like we did it." Anselm observed contentedly. "I mean, all we really had to do was get here, the rest should be easy from here on out."

Penny nodded, "Yes, I think we all can take a big breath. This should be over in another half hour."

Thibaudet sighed, slipping the gun back in its holster. "I guess that means we just wait?"

"Yes. I'll talk with Saltonstall and well see about trapping the werewolves." Penny pulled out her radio, and called out, "Saltonstall? Are you with me?"

The reply was quick, "Right with you. Gosh you guys are lucky. Those two were the only ones anywhere near you all."

"Good, the distractions worked." Penny fingered the console, tracing over the screen. "Now, are any of them on the third floor now?"

"Aside from the two you all shot, I don't think so," Saltonstall replied only a few seconds later.

"All right, then lets close off all the stair ports." Penny began punching numbers into the console. Thibaudet crossed his arms and leaned over to watch what she was doing. The console had a picture and layout of the ship, all three floors. She certainly knew her way about the system, but of course, being the ship's engineer she would have to. While she was typing, he felt something brush up against his pants. He moved his hand down to feel and it, and crossed over the holster momentarily. It was empty.

With a sudden leap of his heart, Pierre turned around. Anselm was staring at them both; gun leveled directly at them. "What are you doing?" Pierre cried out breathlessly. Penny turned about, and nearly jumped out of her skin.

"What am I doing?" Anselm replied, a smile crossing his lips. "Why, I'm following my orders."

End Part XXIV

Charles Matthias