Pulling the last filter out from the bottom stack, Thibaudet felt a bit of relief when he pushed the last new one in place. The light clicked to green, and his job was complete. At least for the moment. The top half of the stack had blinking red lights, filters that had already become corrupted. Turning to look behind him at the significant pile of discarded filters, the insides of each a putrid green. Green from the chlorine that they had extracted from the research stations. The mechanical whirring of the machines in the room did not go unnoticed; it was still struggling to clean out that place. Peering over at the monitors, he could see that the research stations were much safer now, out of the red zone, but still not completely safe. Still, he had survived, at least for now. He was in desperate need of medical attention. Too bad the only certified physician on the Pytheas was now a blood soaked, fur covered monster that wanted only to add him to their number. Either that or eat him. He was most certainly not in the best of health; perhaps they would view him as a snack, just like Lapwolf had been a snack.
Idly tapping one of the discarded filters with his foot, he called out, "What do we do with these things?"
"What do you mean?" Penny's voice was a bit strained, probably from all the heavy exertion and stress they had been through in the last fifteen to twenty minutes.
He gingerly picked one up in his hand, wincing as it pressed against his inflamed palm. He walked around to the other side and held it out to her. Penny looked a little better than he did, her skin was not so terribly inflamed, and her eyes seemed slightly less puffy than before. He wondered if his own were any less red. They still stung though; he had a hard time to keep from blinking every few seconds. He so wanted to rub them, to get that sting out, yet he knew that would only make the pain worse. "These, what do we do with these?"
Penny glanced at it, and then shrugged, "At the moment, nothing. Normally we'd dump them in a special receptacle over there, " she gestured at a small panel on the other side of the monitors, "but at the moment it doesn't really matter."
Thibaudet nodded, fingering the cold metal of the handle. "Well I got my side finished."
"You mean all the rights are green?"
"Well, no, but every filter has been replaced."
"We don't stop until every light is green. It is policy not to leave a corrupted filter in, even when there are no filters left. They can only foul up the air circulation." Penny explained, pulling another filter out, and replacing it with a new one at her feet.
Thibaudet grimaced, tossed the filter back into his discard pile, and walked over to the closet to get another batch. While picking up six more in his arms, hefting them, straining as his back screamed in agony from the swelling and the sudden lifting, Thibaudet had a thought. This closet seemed awfully big, and there was nothing in it but stacks and stacks of unused filters. "Penny, just how many filters do you have?"
Penny yanked another from its place, and turned to him taking a deep breath. "Oh, I think we have enough to replace each one of these stacks twenty times. That makes it about six-thousand."
"Have you ever used all of them before?"
"No, never. But we have used an awful lot of them. One trip we had this leak, I couldn't figure out where it was. Well, it was interfering with a bunch of systems, and had caused a few of the chemicals in the engine room to start leaking as well. The gravitational systems were thrown out of whack, because it was a lubricant problem in some of the mechanics down in the engine room. That was what caused it. I think we had to change the filters for the fuel rooms every six hours for a week. We got through half our filters because of a lubricant problem that took me a week to find. It was very frustrating. I've always been meticulous about the gears since then." Penny walked over to the closet and grabbed a few more of the filters herself, and then returned to her place. Thibaudet carried his own back behind the stack and started pulling the filters along the top row down again. "At any rate, it was a mess. I'd never heard of anybody needing to go through that many filters before. However, that is why they are there, in case of accidents like that."
"Do you know what caused it?"
"Yes, one of the screws in the mechanism was a fraction too loose. Once I found it, I tightened it up, and the problem disappeared."
Thibaudet chuckled, despite the pain. He did not think he would ever grow accustomed to it, but it was not so great as to put him on the floor. No, this pain was not so terrible, more like a rash all over his body and inside it as well. "It's always something like that isn't it."
Thibaudet sighed, reaching up to the highest boxes, and pulling each one out in turn. The satisfyingly serene green glow from the new filters eased his tension. What was done tot hem was not going to happen to anyone else. The fact that the chlorine tank had been in an unoccupied room had never really struck him before. It made sense though. After all, who was going to check the rooms that were not supposed to have anything in them? Keep it far back enough that nobody is going to look, and check on it to make sure that it was set up properly. He speculated idly about the composition of the rods and the liquid. Whatever it had been, it had been designed to give off chlorine gas when the two came in contact. Anselm must have made sure that it was secured before take off. Perhaps that was why he'd only brought the moon rocks in later, because he hadn't had the time to take them over in the first place? Then again, perhaps Anselm had wanted them to see the rocks? Of course none of it made sense. Then again, this was the wonderful Dr. Anselm, the mad little scientist himself. Why would anything he do ever make sense?
The silence in the room, apart from the clinking and the whirring of the machines about them, and the clatter as the filters were tossed to the ground, was finally getting to him. Oh, he had sat in silence while his mind worked, but there was very little to work out. Everything was happening so fast, he'd barely had anytime to stop for breath. This was the closest thing he could call a time of rest. Not that he was resting, but at least his life wasn't in immediate danger. Clearing his throat, wishing it weren't so parched, he asked, "That was a nice looking watch, how old was it?"
"My watch? Oh, that was a family heirloom." Penny's voice was busy. She was clearly intent on changing the filters; talking was just something that he wanted to do, and he was making her do.
"You destroyed a family heirloom?"
"Would you rather Anselm have opened the door?" Penny asked, her voice clear.
"I didn't think so." He wished that he could see just what her face was like. He wondered if she was contemplating her action to destroy a family heirloom just to save their skins. It seemed a bit excessive. Still, she was right, it was better than to survive than to die over a silly watch.
Thibaudet pulled the next filter out, replaced it, and then walked back to get some more. It was almost a mindless process, and the pain in his body was so ever-present that he didn't even think about it anymore. Surely he was running off of pure adrenaline, there was no other explanation for it. Having spent most of the last twenty-four hours awake and active, he was very tired. Yet to lie down and contemplate sleep would be to invite death; even if they were behind a door that Anselm couldn't open!
As he was walking back around, he heard something at the door. Pierre glanced over his shoulder, seeing that the door was not moving, nor was there anything there. With a sudden start he realized that something was on the other side of that door. Quickly moving back around behind the stack, he tried to look as normal and calm as possible, given somebody in his position. "Did you here that?"
"Somebody at the door?" Penny asked.
"I guess so. Do you think it's the werewolves?" Thibaudet hefted the first of the new filters, pulling out the next corrupted one. This task seemed to never end.
"I'd say that it might be. It could be a human too."
"Why don't they just open the door then?"
He heard Penny toss another defunct filter into the growing pile behind her. "I don't know."
Thibaudet listened for more sounds from the door, but none came. Presumably, whoever had been at the door was gone now. He hoped that was the case, as he really wasn't sure who he trusted anymore. Then again, it was really only Anselm that he had to worry about. Oh, and Saltonstall. Still, the chances that either of them could do anything worse to them were slim. Pierre could never remember a single time in his life when had felt as much pain as he had during that space walk, or even while he was in the research stations. He hoped that he would never have to feel anything like that ever again.
Finishing up the second row, he saw that he only had three more to go. No wait, four, the bulbs were clicking to red on the next row down. Sighing, Thibaudet made his way over to the closet once more. As he walked past Penny, he took a moment to stare past her auburn curls to the hot pink of her face. The lesions had certainly subsided, and her skin seemed in much better condition than his own. It was no longer deniable; she had become a werewolf. Pierre felt that sick sensation in his stomach again, forcing his legs to move him past. He tore his eyes from here, keeping them on the ground, ignoring the pain of his own body.
Dumping the new filters to the ground at his feet, Thibaudet leaned against the stack, catching his breath. This was hard work, and with all the stress and pain, it only made it worse. Finally, he found his tongue, "Penny, do you feel the wolf?"
The sounds from the other end stopped, and he could tell that Penny was as shocked by the question as he was for asking it. Pierre had not realized that he was going to say that. It was as if his fascination with this topic was quickly outpacing his stomach for it. What was he trying to do? Was he trying to convince himself that it would be okay to be a werewolf? After all, then his pain would go away, his wounds would be healed. That certainly would be nice. Still, what good was a healthy body if his mind was gone, or corrupted just like these filters?
"No, not yet." Penny finally said, and her voice was sure, there were no doubts in it. Those words were good to hear, and he was glad that she was so willing to part with them. He hoped that it would take some time before it became apparent what was in her mind with her. Or, perhaps she didn't know what to look for. Rhodes had said that he felt it after only twenty minutes, but that might have been because he was thinking about it. Dutton had seemed fine for about an hour, but that didn't mean it wasn't there preying upon the corners of his frayed mind. Then there were the people who should by their wounds be dead; what about them? Were there minds left untouched by the wolf? Were they in some semi conscious state, unable to do anything, but aware of the wolf there with them? What was it like to have the wolf in ones mind anyway? It seemed like no matter how many questions were answered, new ones kept coming back up into his mind. The only real way that he would ever be able to answer any of these questions of course was to become a werewolf himself. That was not something that he had any intent of ever doing. His mind was too important to him. It had gotten him on this ship, and it would get him and as many other people as he could save out of it without becoming those beasts.
"Is there anything there?"
"Well, in the distance I guess. When I really think about it." Penny's voice then became a bit concerned. "Pierre, let's just finish this first before we do anything else. I don't want to waste anymore time." She yanked another filter from its place, and he could hear the clicking of the new filter locking into place. Pursing his lips, he thought of something else to ask, but decided against it. Besides, this job really was more important. Taking a quick peek at the monitor, he saw that the air content of the research stations was barely back in the safe levels. Still, it would be best if it was nominal, and not just barely survivable. Well, if he wanted to make it any better, then he was going to keep changing these filters. One by one they came out and were tossed onto the large pile behind him. One of them bounced down, with a loud clatter, and slammed into the back of his leg. Wincing, he gingerly kicked it aside with his other foot. He gingerly tossed the rest of the old filters onto a smaller pile that was developing; careful not to make any others fall down.
Suddenly, a loud detonation rocked the room, and Thibaudet grabbed onto the stack, as if that would help him. Penny screamed loudly, her voice shrill in the sudden quaking. The stack shook as something slammed into it hard from the other side, knocking Thibaudet backwards. He crashed into the pile of filters, the sharp corners of each stabbing at his pulpy flesh. He cried out in the sudden agony; it was the first time the pain had made him cry. The stack was bent at a slightly odd angle. It had obviously come off the tracks, as something had hit it very hard. Looking past the stack, he could see that the doorway was open and clear, and there were smoke trails rising up all about it. The door itself was lying on the ground in bent and distorted shape, having flown across the room and slamming into the stack. Had it hit Penny?
Suddenly, she came around the stack, running, obviously uninjured. She looked down at his sprawled form, staring at the open wounds, and the ridiculously swelled sores. Thibaudet rolled his head back and stared up at her. The pain in his body was threatening to knock him unconscious, yet he had to go on. He tried to push himself up, but that only made the pain worse. Wincing, and holding his tongue far back in his throat to keep from biting it, he just lay there on the scattered filters. Penny reached her arms out, and grabbed his hands. She pulled him to his feet, and much of the pain left; though he could see a few trickles of blood where the sharp corners had pierced his skin through his clothes. He could feel the wet warmth draining down his legs and back, making his pants and shirt stick to his skin. He leaned against her, as she held him up while he regained his strength. Blinking he stared at the mangled form of the doorway lying against the floor. It had been blown inwards, the edges all frayed and broken.
"That must have been what was happening outside," Penny murmured. "Whoever was out there placed explosives along the edges of the door."
"Anselm didn't have any explosives on him. He's probably still holed up by that console."
"I have to kill him," Thibaudet declared.
"How are you going to get to him. He has the blast doors down, and he'll probably be expecting you to come through the ventilation shafts."
Thibaudet shook his head, "There has to be a way. You're the engineer, don't you know this ship backwards and forwards?"
Penny nodded, pulling her gun from her pants once more. Her eyes turned to the opening that she was moving towards. "Well, yes. There might be a way; it all depends on what Anselm has tried to use. He might have already blocked them off, but it is worth a shot. We need to get back up to the third floor. There is a JUDE room right outside that blast shield. We need to get into it. Oh, we also need to destroy every security camera along the way that might see us. I don't want Anselm figuring it out."
Thibaudet finally stood on his own feet. shaking her off. "What do you have in mind?"
"Not now. Those werewolves could be here any second." Penny was reaching down among the shards of her broken watch and picking through the glass.
"What about the stack? Shouldn't it be put back in place?" Thibaudet jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the slightly angled contraption.
"It will be fine. The vents in the back and through the middle were not severed; that is all that matters."
Thibaudet pocked his head out the door. The stairs were clear, and there didn't seem to be anything about. Then again, there never seemed to be anything about, but the werewolves were still there. Penny was soon at his side. Glancing about. Her eyes fell on the video camera that was at the top of the stairs. "Destroy that thing. Just rip it out of the wall."
"You want me to rip it out of the wall? What if the werewolves come."
"Then you run back here, and I'll shoot them. If we are closed up here Pierre, then we are dead. We need someplace to run, now get moving and hurry this up." Penny gave him a very cold stare. She was not fooling around. He had to do this now, and exactly as she said or they were going to die. If Anselm found out what they were doing, then they would be dead, or werewolves, which wasn't really better. Then again, Penny was a werewolf too, or at least was in the process of becoming one. How much could he trust her? Did she already feel a kinship with her fellow packmates? Or was she telling the truth when she said that she couldn't hear or see the wolf yet? He hoped and prayed for the latter.
Stepping out into the hall once again, he felt that realization that he was no longer safe. He had stepped back into the danger, but then again, he was in no more danger than if he had just waited in that room for the werewolves to come and kill them. He was injured, and from what Rhodes said, he knew that they thought of him as a meal. Pierre felt his stomach continue to turn and turn as he climbed the steps, his arms reaching up to the camera. Grabbing it on both sides, he yanked and jerked at it, tugging in every which way. It was putting up a pretty good fight, being firmly attached to the wall, but finally, he was able to dislodge it, and smash it against the wall, sparks shooting out at him as it shorted out. Penny was then up beside him as they moved out onto the second flood.
Thibaudet kept his eyes open for the cameras as Penny watched for the werewolves. He wondered where about the ship they were. According to Saltonstall, they had been congregating on the second floor. That was not a reassuring thought. Where on the second floor though was an unanswered question. They seemed to be everywhere. As they continued to move forward, Thibaudet spotted the security camera. It was high up along the wall off to one side, just before the twin staircases. The undersides of the staircases faced them. Both looked to be utility closets. Pierre peered back at Penny, and she nodded quickly, the gun held behind her and out of sight. Thibaudet strode forward, and reached up with one hand to grab the camera. He yanked on it a bit; noting that it was probably a bit harder to reach than the first. He wondered if Anselm was watching any of this. He glared into the lens, but could not seem to move the thing.
He stepped over to the closet, and casually opened the door up and peered about inside at the array of tools before him. Grabbing a large screwdriver, he walked back over to the camera and proceeded to jam the sharp end of the screwdriver through the camera lens and the machinery at the back. The sparks crackled and snapped at him as he drove it further and further in. He wished that it were Anselm's eye that he was puncturing, and not some mechanical construct. Yanking the screwdriver back out by the rubber handle, he found that he had some sick sadistic smile on his face. He'd enjoyed that. He had enjoyed the thought of stabbing Anselm through the eye. It had given him a good feeling inside. What sort of monster was he willing to become? Was he going to become an even worse thing than the werewolves just to destroy one man who was intent on killing him as well? It felt as if all of his pain had been transformed into rage, rage greater than he'd ever felt before. His entire life before setting foot on the Pytheas had been wrapped up in the pursuit of his work. He greatly enjoyed it to no end, his pleasure came from how intellectual he had been, and how dispassionate and how so much smarter he was than everybody else. Well, he wasn't quite that egotistical, but he had thought very highly of himself. Yet now, for the first time in his life, every thought and action was directed by pain and rage. By his emotions! By his emotions of all things! He'd never succumbed to them before, and yet here they were as if they had been the driving force in his whole life. It was as if all of that repressed rage from the failures and the setbacks in his life, coupled with every pain he'd ever felt, was gathering behind him now in his single-minded quest to kill Dr. Frederick Anselm. It frightened him.
"Pierre! Look out!" Penny screamed from behind him. Turning to look back past the closets, he saw four werewolves advancing on him as fast as they could go in the confined space of the hallway. He jumped back from the camera, almost unable to move or to run. Where could he run, they were trapped in a dead end. Perhaps this was it, perhaps now after all of these struggles he was going to die and be eaten by these beasts that had once been his fellow human beings. Staring at each and every one, his eyes walked across the fur, across the upstanding ears, the sloping foreheads, and the jaws with thick red tongues and large white canines. Their bodies, swelled up, the only place where the fur gave way on their belly's just like normal wolves. He avoided what he saw there, going down each powerful leg, to the nasty black claws that scratched at the metal floor beneath them as they ran, heedless of any attempts at hiding now. Their arms outstretched, much like human arms, but only with those black claws again at the end of each digit. Each had a tail held out straight behind them. The tail, the mark of an animal, seemed the last indignity in the subsuming of the humanity into that of the lupine.
Suddenly, each of them fell back in turn with a small detonation behind him. He turned around, and saw that Penny had pulled out her gun. That was four shots, he wondered just how many she had left. He still felt the screwdriver in his hand, turning it over and over again in his palm, as the plastic pulled at the swelling. Penny was up beside him in moments, and she grabbed his arm, as the werewolves slowly stirred on the ground, each one shot square in the head. No normal being could survive a headshot given so precisely. These were not normal, or were at least not parts of his common scientific understanding. Of course, Anselm said that they could never fit there, but Anselm of course had made very little sense.
Thibaudet and Penny ran up to the prone figures. Penny quite deliberately put another bullet through each of their brains. That was eight shots. If her gun was standard, that meant she had seven left. He needed at least one of those bullets for himself and Anselm. Stepping over the bodies, they made for the left staircase. He didn't know why, but it just seemed to be the one to head to. Thibaudet saw another camera at the edge of the staircase, and quickly jammed the screwdriver into the lens, destroying it. Penny fired another couple of shots down the corridor. Pierre turned and saw two more werewolves fall to the ground. She was a good shot! He had yet to see her miss
Running up the stairs, Thibaudet saw the blast door down the corridor in front of him, as well as a few doors along the way, one marked "JUDE" on the front. At his feet was the liquid oxygen tank. It had been left untouched; right where he'd dropped it. Looking at the ceiling and along the walls, he saw three separate cameras all aimed in the general vicinity of this nexus point. The one nearest him was right down the corridor where the research stations were set. He jabbed the screwdriver through that lens, and watched as the indignant sparks shot out from front end. Turning back, he saw Penny climbing the stairs, firing a few more shots in the werewolves that were coming after them. That was thirteen shots now. There would be only two bullets left. To his dismay, she turned about, and fired another shot into the werewolf coming up the other staircase. Pierre dived for her, knocking the gun from her hands before she could fire another shot. She turned on him so suddenly that he didn't have time to react as she pushed him backward with both palms. He slammed into the oxygen tank, smacking his head against the back of it.
One hand reached up to rub the back of his head, where he knew a bruise would form, when he hand fell upon the hose. A sudden idea sprang to life, and he grabbed it, and dragged it back to both staircases. Penny was crawling for the gun, and she shouted, "Don't touch it, I need at least one bullet." Penny hesitated, but instead grabbed the screwdriver that had fallen from his hands. He had been too worried about the gun that he hadn't even noticed it. Shaking that from his mind, he faced the werewolves on either staircase, pointing the hose at them meaningfully. They saw it, and quickly backed off. They did remember! That liquid oxygen must have really hurt them bad. They just backed to the bottom of the staircases, dragging the injured after them, and glared back up at him. He waved the hose menacingly at both of them, backing up towards the JUDE room behind him. He heard a sudden smashing, and knew that Penny had destroyed one of the other two cameras.
The werewolves however, were not too intimidated by the threat of the hose. He hoped that they did not pressure him too much. It was a flimsy hope, if they made him try it, he knew that there was nothing he could offer them in return. All it would do would be to take one werewolf to call his bluff, and then the rest would know that he had nothing with which to stop them. He saw them climbing the staircases as he moved further and further away. They were giving him a respectful distance, but that was it; they were fully prepared to attack him as soon as he dropped that hose. He felt his heart in his throat, beating hard, sending his blood coursing through his veins like hot molten lava. He stared into those amber eyes that faced his own. Those amber eyes, behind which, somewhere, maybe in the darkest deepest recesses of their comparatively smaller brains, but somewhere was the minds of people he had called friends or at the very least had respected professionally. If only he did have some of the liquid oxygen left, then he could make a token threat to force them to back off even further. They needed to get in that room, and until they did they were in grave danger.
It was with a sense of great relief that he heard th4e third camera smashed to pieces. Penny opened the door to the JUDE room, and yelled after him, "Come on, Pierre, fast!"
Thibaudet dragged the tank with him, no sense in letting the werewolves fool with it. They jumped for him, but he dived into the room, yanking the tank after him, smashing against his leg and sending a beacon of pain through it. He felt it right down to his bone. He'd probably chipped it a little, as every time he moved it there was a strange biting sensation in his leg. Yet still, they were safe. Penny closed the door, and pulled the control panel from the wall again, just as she had done before. The room was small, and there was a large JUDE sitting in the middle, the compact trapezoidal device on wheels reflected back at him blankly as he lay there against it. Penny sliced the wires with the shard of glass, and then sighed herself. She slumped to the floor, wiping a bit of sweat from her brow. They had made it, and were safe, and Anselm did not know where they were.
Pushing the tank back up off his legs, Thibaudet shifted about getting himself more comfortable. The sound of the werewolves beating against the door died out after a few minutes. Penny was staring at the machine behind his back. The room was dark, the only light being a small one that made it possible for them to find their way about. Other than that, nothing. Once again, Pierre found himself amazed to be alive. His opponents were hardly mindless; they just lacked some of the finer subtleties of human understanding. Had he been a second slower though, they would have gotten him. Their claws had nearly been upon him, at least the two closest, when he managed to pull the tank inside and the door was closed. If they had been able to get a hand through the door, they would have been quite dead. Well, they probably would do nothing to Penny, as she was one of them. That thought reminded him just how alone he really was. He was the only one who could stop this madness, the only one who could kill Anselm and get this ship back under sane human control. Penny could only help him get there.
"Now what?" He asked, looking to her relieved face.
She smiled, and got back to her feet, the screwdriver idly held between two fingers. "Now, I get to work reprogramming this thing." She pointed to the JUDE he was leaning against. He scooted out of her way as she began to open up the maintenance panels along the side. He hoped this didn't take long.
"Do you still have the gun?" He asked, a worried frown crossing his face. In his haste to get to the room safely, he'd forgotten about it completely.
"No, it's still lying out there on the ground, but I have a plan, do not worry." Penny smiled again, pushing a few of her curls behind her ear. Thibaudet nodded. There was nothing he could do now but wait.
End Part 1 of Part XXVII
Continued in Part 2 of Part XXVII