The Perpetual

Part XXVI continued

Saltonstall continued moving through each of the screens in turn. He had set them on a rotating cycle, and was just watching it all as he continued to pace back and forth. It really made no sense to him why they would be down there. What were they going to do, climb up the engines? The very notion of those two being able to get back in the ship was ridiculous. If Anselm had done as he said he would and seal off the airlocks, then they would not be able to get back in. There should not be any other ways in. Besides, it had been several minutes already, and he had seen nothing. They had to be dead, the human body could only survive out in the depths of space for at most a minute, and that was under the best of conditions and greatest health. He doubted that Thibaudet was in the best of shape, though he was sure Penny was. After all, being in the Space Force did tend to keep one in shape, well, most of the time. Rhodes was one of the few who was obviously in need of a workout, though Saltonstall really did not relish the idea of fighting even him. Oh Saltonstall knew that he was no slouch when it came to physical combat, but he'd just rather sit back and watch things happen.

Still, if that was the case, then why was he pacing this much? It wasn't really that he couldn't do anything about the events, it was just that they were going well out of his league. He personally found killing people offensive. Of course, nobody should have died on this mission. They were not expecting any fatalities. It was supposed to have been over within a few hours of making the moon orbit. Instead it had dragged on nearly a day already. He wondered if he was ever going to get any sleep. Oh, there would be time enough for that later, once they came back to Earth. Why had things gone wrong? Because he had thought it would be okay to leave the door to the engine room open after stealing Tembo's pass card that was why. That stupid kid had found the body before Tembo had gotten the chance to change, and had flipped out. Now almost everybody on board the ship was a werewolf, and now that he'd had to flood the research stations everybody was going to become a werewolf most likely. That was never part of the original plan! It was just supposed to be enough to get the footage, and that was all. Not this. What was Anselm doing? Why had he tried to kill Thibaudet and Penny? Well, they had found out what was going on. He hoped that Anselm would come to his senses soon enough, this was just crazy.

Turning to take another peak at the screen, his eyes fixed on it, he noted something that made him stop. There they were. The two of them were standing on his screen in some room. The image disappeared almost as soon as it arrived, and continued on to other areas of the lowest floor of the ship. Saltonstall jumped into his chair, and picked up the remote, and began cycling back through the screens, finding them again. They did not seem to be doing anything at the moment, just standing there regarding each other. There was something odd about the way they appeared. Their faces were slightly distorted, and appeared to be a pinkish colour. How did that happen? Was it a side effect of being in outerspace? Still, how had they gotten there, and where were they anyway? He quickly checked the computer, and saw that the camera was to the filter room. On a whim, Everett quickly took a peek down the hallway outside the research stations. There was a hole blasted through the doorway, and the chlorine gas was spilling out into the hallway. Well that explained a few things. Somehow, they must have come back through the research stations. He pulled up another screen, trying to see through the mist to the room where he had kept the tank. The chlorine obscured anything he might see, so he quickly changed the range of the light. Suddenly, the mist cleared, and he could see the rods and the casing for the rods had been completely upended from the tank. The tank was only a quarter full anyway. This was really bad.

He picked up the radio, and turned it back to the screen with the filter room. They were slowly making their way to the back of the room. "Anselm? Anselm, I found them."

"They made it back in? Where are they?"

"The filter room. They came back in through the research stations. I don't know how, but they got out and it looks like they are trying to change the filters now to keep the gas from spreading throughout the ship." Saltonstall called back, wondering just how Anselm was going to take this. He hoped that he would be reasonable.

"How do you know they came in through the research stations?" Anselm's voice was cautious.

"Well, there is a big hole in the door to the research stations, and there are chunks of that door on the ground in the hallway outside the stations. I'd say they somehow blew a hole in the door to get out."

"How in the world did they do that?"

"I don't know, but they did."

"Is the chlorine leaking?"

"Yes. The chlorine is leaking."

Anselm sounded thoughtful. "Those two are probably sick. They're both going to die if we don't do something."

"I thought you wanted them dead?" Saltonstall felt very confused now.

"I want them werewolves. Death is just the other option." Saltonstall continued to watch the screen, glad to hear that at least. It was a step up at the very least. "I think we should give them ten minutes to fix the filters, and then we'll do something. I don't think they are going to be going anywhere right now. Yes, let them fix our air for us, and then we will deal with them. Keep n eye on them though, if they try to leave, let me know immediately."

"I will." Saltonstall replied numbly.

"And, Everett, don't worry, everything will be fine. Besides, we kind of need the research stations cleared anyway. Let them do our work for us." Anselm chuckled slightly, and Everett joined him in that. True, they had not wanted to use the chlorine, but it had been a necessity. One of those contingencies that had been planned for but had hopped would never arise. It seemed that they were having to use all of their contingency plans of late.

Saltonstall got out of his chair and began pacing once more. "I'll let you know as soon as something happens, Frederick."

"Good. I'll be waiting." Anselm was then gone. Saltonstall tossed the radio on his nearby bed, staring at the jury-rigged screen. This was going to be a long ten minutes.

Thibaudet peered at the monitors on the one side of the wall. Penny was standing next to him, favoring her good leg, and was pointing out all the symbols. It was not like they were hard to figure out. There was one on the air quality for the various ventilation systems about the ship. The one in the research stations was pretty deadly, the rest were nominal. They had just come through that, managed to find a few moments for breaths, and yet they were still sick beyond their own understanding. The chlorine was very likely going to kill them unless they could get some medical attention soon. Oh, it would take some time; it was going to be a lingering death, but still, a death just the same. He hoped that it was not too late to be saved from this malady. Of course, had they breathed any of it, they would probably be dead already. Still the skin contact with that high a concentration of chlorine was more than enough to do serious damage. Still they had made it to the filter room, even if the werewolves had scratched Penny. That too was his fault. He had condemned her to grow fur and fangs and lose her mind to the beast. That alone made him feel worse than any disease could do.

Lieutenant Lucille Penny however was all business. She turned around and pointed to a large stack behind them. It was closed, but it did have a handle on the front. "Now, in that stack are the filters for the research stations. We are going to have to go through every one of them and replace them. They will get corrupted fast, but they will also replenish the air in the research stations fast. I think if we replace all of the filters in there just once, it should reduce the chlorine to safe levels in there. I could be wrong, but I think that is all we have to do. Now you get that thing open and I'll go get the replacement filters."

Thibaudet nodded, and grabbed the handle in both hands. It was surprisingly easy to pull out, as it was on rollers, and the sliding mechanism was not jammed. The stack was a good eight feet in height and three feet wide, and when he pulled it out all the way it was six feet in length; it was completely filled with small grey boxes along both sides that had blinking red lights flashing. There were unlit green tinted lights next to each of the blinking red lights. He presumed that meant that the filter was no longer good and had to be replaced. Penny came over to his side, with a whole stack of the boxes in her arms. "There are a lot more of these in the closet, this is just to get started. To pull those boxes out, you have to first lift up on the handle, and then pull outward. They will disengage and come out into your hand. They might be a bit heavy, so be careful." Penny demonstrated by pulling one of the boxes in the middle out by the handle. The light stopped flashing. Inside the box were layers and layers of greenish material. Penny dumped the box to the side, and picked up one of the ones that she had brought over. The ruffles on the inside were white on this one. She slid it into place, and the green light began flashing before it settled into a steady serene glow.

Pierre walked over tot he closet and grabbed an armload of the neatly stacked boxes himself, and began working on the opposite side of the stack, starting up in the top corner and gently removing each of the corrupted filters and tossing them into a corner behind him. He found that there were six per row, and that he could fit only six of them in his arms at once. It was going to be from the looks of things about ten trips to get boxes. He was already in pain, and the stretch up to the top row was especially difficult on his legs. However, he managed to get them all glowing green. He came back around and saw that Penny too was taking care of the top row first. However he had stacked a couple of the dirty filters and was standing on them. He wanted to chuckle at how much he'd had to stretch just to make it and here she had come up with a simpler solution. However, that was not his concern. He grabbed another armload of boxes, and began again. This was going to take a while, but it would be necessary. Certainly nowhere near as long as it had felt like it had taken to make it through his space walk. No, that was an experience that he cared not to repeat. This was probably the most mendacious task he had accomplished since stepping foot on this cursed vessel.

Taking occasional glances at the monitors, he noted that already, the new filters were making a difference in the air quality in the research stations. The measure had dropped a bit, not much, but a bit. The top row that Thibaudet was working on started changing to red while he worked on the fourth row. He stared at the new filters becoming corrupted so quickly. Just how much of it was there? "Penny, can you look at this?"

"I know already. Leave them alone. They are still sucking in chlorine, but not as fast. The ones that have been red from the beginning aren't doing us any good anymore, those ones still are. We should change them only after we are finished with the rest." Penny then went back to feverishly pulling out the old filters and placing new ones in. Pierre took a deep breath, so happy that he finally could do it so freely. Finishing up that row, he went and grabbed another set of boxes. His arms sure did hurt though, as did his legs. In fact his whole body ached and was going to ache for quite some time. The itching sensation was near frantic, but he continued resisting the urge, knowing that this was more important, because it was going to save lives. Who would be around to appreciate it though? Penny was going to be a werewolf now too, and he hardly expected Anselm to be pleased to see he was still alive. Saltonstall, well that was a different question, one that he didn't think he could answer. Jansen and the four shapeshifters? Certainly they would be happy about it. The werewolves would have never realized they were in any danger. Besides, the thanks they might want to give would be to make him one of their pack. The thought sickened him; he did not want to have that sort of company. He was not the type.

He finally started having to bend down to continue changing the filters. The top three rows al had red lights once again. Those blinking lights reminded him of Penny's eyes, inflamed red from the chlorine, stinging and screaming with pain. Pain seemed to be the only constant in life. It was one pain right after another and right after another. These last ten minutes of his life must have been the most painful that he had ever endured. He found himself praying thanks to God for letting him live through it. He had to wonder at that. Did he really believe in God, or was it just a reflex action? Somehow, his mind wanted to go with the latter, but his heart, the former. He hated indecisiveness, but this was really neither the time nor the place to be discussing theology with himself. Before, when they had been locked up in the Greenhouse, he'd had very little to do but to think about the world. Philosophy at the point of a sword was always the most life changing, and he knew that never again could he be the person that had set foot on the Pytheas almost a day ago. That man was now dead. He had died, probably about the same time that Rhodes had left the Greenhouse with Lapwolf's body. Of course, he hadn't yet become alive again until now. That time in between was not life, just existence. He'd had no purpose and no direction. Now, through pain, he'd been reforged. His mind was slowly giving way to the passions of his heart, and to the pain. He had a job to do, and he would do it. He was something new, something that had not existed before. He had been Pierre Thibaudet, a doctor of superconductive physics, who had looked down his nose at the world a bit too much. Now, he was still Pierre Thibaudet, but his mind was now opened to so much more than he had ever thought possible. He was changed. Changed forever.

Thibaudet really didn't want to think about those things, so continued changing the filters. He would lose himself in this work. Though his body screamed in agony, he would lose himself in this work.

Saltonstall picked up the radio as soon as he heard Anselm's voice again. It had been a very long ten minutes, as he'd expected. His feet were getting tired, and his head was spinning. The two had done nothing other than stand at the filters the whole time. He couldn't even see Thibaudet most of the time, being behind the huge stack that they had pulled from the wall. He was not too familiar with those systems, but he did know what they were for. Still, that did not change his job, he was just to observe. They were doing nothing but preventing the rest of them from being poisoned. It looked like they were already in bad shape from here. He'd never imagined anybody actually staying in that area for as long as they must have. He was amazed they were still alive. It was not unheard of, but it was still unusual for a human being to survive being ejected into space without a spacesuit.

"Their ten minutes are up." Anselm was almost clinical in his detachment. "What are they doing now?"

"They are still changing the filters."

Anselm took a deep breath, "I don't really want to wait any longer. How does the research stations look?"

Saltonstall reached over and picked up his remote. Taking a moment to find the right buttons, he quickly changed the camera to the one that was in the central nexus of the research stations. There was quite a difference in visibility than what he had seen before. The green gas was mostly dissipated, though there was still a significant amount left. Those cleaning systems worked faster than he'd realized.

"It's pretty clear, though I still wouldn't want to go in there."

"Well, " Anselm replied slowly, giving careful thought to his words, "I think we should get them out of the way now. We can handle it ourselves."

"Do you want me to open the door to the filter room?" Saltonstall offered, not wanting to look at the two of them anymore.

"I'll do it. I have access here, and besides, I need the practice. Just keep an eye on them."

Everett took a deep breath, and turned the channel back to watch them. Thibaudet was pacing in front of Penny with an armload of the filters once again. He waited for the expected look of shock on their faces. They probably didn't even realize they had been discovered. They must have thought that Anselm and he had assumed they were dead. However, he kept watching, and they continued going about their business as if nothing was wrong. Wasn't Anselm opening up the door? Or perhaps they had both already been injured. It look liked there was a little blood on Penny's pants leg, but that could have come from the festering sores over her body, but still there weren't any on her face that he could see.

"Saltonstall, can you please try to open the door, and watch the door itself if you can. I can't seem to open it from here." Anselm's voice was slightly worried.

Pulling his control pad onto his chair, he leaned over and quickly found the codes for the door on the filter room, and sent the command to open the door. Changing the screen on the monitor, he saw the outside of the hallway directly beneath the steps on the bottom floor. The door to the filter room was still closed. He sent the command away again, just to make sure. The door did not move. Saltonstall was very worried now. How had they circumvented the computer controls? The insight that struck him made him feel very stupid. Of course they'd know how to do that, or at least Penny would know how to do that. She was the ship's engineer after all.

"I don't know how, but they've blocked the computer out of that room. I can look in, but I can't do anything. That door is not going to open on remote. Well have to open it manually." Saltonstall did not like the idea of actually having to walk through the ship. Besides, Anselm was closer.

"No, that is too risky. We have to remote open the door. Do you still have some of the explosives you used in the security office?"

"Yes, a little."

"Do you think it would be enough to blow that door open?"

Saltonstall shrugged. "Maybe, if I used all of it."

"Okay, here is what we are going to do. I know that you have radio timers, can you get a detonator set up?"

"I already have some." Everett really did not like the way this conversation was going.

"Here is what you are to do then. Clear a path for yourself to the filter room. Place the explosive on the door, and then get back to your room. Then we can detonate it, and be done with them. Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on you the whole time, well that is once you give me the security codes for the cameras."

Saltonstall quickly rattled off the codes he'd pilfered from the security office, and then began pulling out some of his equipment form the red box underneath his bed. He opened it up, and quickly pulled out a few implements, as well as a small ball of clay. Placing them in his pocket, he looked back to the door. He kept his radio in one hand, and his gun in the other, though he would most likely not need it.

"Okay, I've got you sighted," Anselm said from the other end. "Looks like there is a clear path already, seems most oft he werewolves are in the cafeteria and there abouts at the moment. Okay, I've got the path sealed off, you can go now."

Saltonstall looked at the door. It was his safety. If he left the room he might die. Well, most likely not, he'd probably at worst become a werewolf, which really wasn't too bad a prospect. Still, he had been in here watching from the beginning, and this was the first time that he would be taking any active role in these affairs other than smashing the security office. How odd, he would be part of the beginning and the end. The middle was just an interlude for him, like a play he'd observed on stage. Gritting his teeth, he pushed through the door, knowing that Anselm would not lie to him.

The hallway outside was quiet. The bloodstains on the floor had long since dried. Looking to the left, he could see that the blast doors were in place. Turning to the right, he saw that the way was clear and straight back. He took it carefully, knowing that Anselm could have very easily missed one werewolf. Yet there was nowhere really for it to hide. Still, he kept his eyes focused forward. They certainly would not come at him from the rear. It was an amazingly quick walk; he must have been nervous, or very fast on his feet. Either that or it wasn't as long as he had remembered it being. He silently tread down the stairs, and noted the door to the engine room. There were two werewolves still back there. And there were two possibly even more dangerous people behind the door tot he filter room.

Saltonstall pulled the clay from his pocket and gently rolled it back and forth between his fingers. It was a bit sticky, but it would do the trick. It was not a big blast; he didn't want a big blast. He gently placed it on the door alongside the cracks, and smoothly inserted the detonator. The radio attachment was in place, and it should work as soon as he sent the signal. Stepping back from the door, he climbed the stairs again, and started walking back to his door. His nerves were wound so tight that he nearly jumped when Anselm's voice came back over the radio.

"Did you get the explosives in place?"

Saltonstall took a deep breath and pulled the radio out, "There in place. All you need to do is send the signal and the thing will explode. Should knock the door in."

"What's the signal?" Saltonstall told him, and then began to walk back to his room again. Suddenly, the blast door behind him closed shut. He turned back to look at it, stunned. He then saw that another was closing ahead of him. What was going on? However, one to the side was opening up. He walked over to see what was there, and was nearly frightened out of his wits. There was a rather fat werewolf standing down at the far end of the hall.

Saltonstall spoke quietly into the radio, "Anselm, there is a werewolf in the passageway with me." His voice however, was quite strident.

"I know."

"You know! Bu...wha...Anselm!" Saltonstall backed against the wall, his body frozen. The werewolf turned about, its gleaming eyes meeting his.

"I'm sorry Everett. You know our orders, everybody is to be turned into a werewolf, and that includes us. I no longer have need of you. Thank you for all your help though." For some reason, Saltonstall found Anselm's sympathetic voice to be the most offensive sound he could ever imagine.

"Those weren't our orders!" Saltonstall objected, noting the slow loping gait of the werewolf. His whole body rebelled against him. He wanted to run, but there was nowhere to run, and even still, his arms and legs wouldn't move.

"They are. Goodbye, Everett." Anselm was then gone.

"Anselm! Anselm!" Saltonstall shouted into the radio, staring, his mouth agape as the werewolf ran faster and faster, getting closer and closer, its claws wickedly sharp, and its jaws wide. He felt a trickle of urine seep down his pants leg as he screamed.

End Part XXVI

Charles Matthias