The Perpetual

By Charles Matthias

Part IV

Looking from one side of the conference room to the other, Captain Rhodes examined each of the faces before him. All of his officers and security personnel except for Xenakis, Tembo and Ziegler were there. Even Kilpatrick who had been aimlessly wandering the halls of the ship was now present. They all looked a little better since the events of only an hour previous. Penny had recovered somewhat, her face still somewhat pale, but her emotions were no longer living on her outside. Danielpour looked very serious, as did McGee and Dutton. Corigliano was still fuming slightly, and Gorecki was barely containing her anger.

Rhodes cleared his throat before beginning, "All right, I'm sure you've all heard about what's happened. Now we have to figure out what to do about it. There are a few things that we need to know though before we can make any decisions. I've had Penny investigate the extent of the damage that we have sustained, and to determine how long our present orbit will last. I've also had Danielpour talking to the home base and I'd like us all to hear what they have to say. No, just one last thing, Dutton, are you sure that all the passengers are locked in their rooms?"

Dutton nodded, "I personally accounted for everyone. I also pulled the security file on the kid who wasted the Navigation console. Would you believe that half of his file is blacked out?"

Rhodes stared at Dutton and the file that he held in hand in shock. "Why in the Hell has it been blacked out?"

"I don't know. All eight of the kids have portions of their files blacked out. None of the scientists have anything marked out on their files," Dutton replied angrily.

"My copy of their files isn't blackened out," Rhodes pointed out testily.

"Because regulations state that the Captain and crew are to have an incomplete copy. Only the security officers have the complete sheets. We aren't even supposed to look at them unless we have an emergency." Dutton explained, a little disturbed himself.

Rhodes sighed, "Fine, let us see what information we can glean from them anyway."

Dutton snorted, tossing the files onto the desk, "Feel free. There is nothing in there that you don't already know."

Rhodes was slightly offended by Dutton's cavalier attitude, but said nothing. Instead, he turned to Penny who was not even looking at him anymore. Her eyes ha once again started to stare off into space, as if there was nothing behind them. "Penny," he said gently, hoping not to startle her. She turned to face him slowly, her face slowly gaining comprehension.

"Oh yes," she said, slightly embarrassed for spacing out. "We are down to ten percent fuel reserves, which is not enough to land the ship on Earth."

"So we're stuck here!" Corigliano interrupted his face livid with rage.

"No, we just can't land this ship unless we can be refueled. I'm sure home base has already told Malcolm what we need to do about it, but from what I've seen it looks like we are in an orbit that will deteriote in three weeks. We are presently circling Venus, and if we do not leave orbit within a week we will not be able to get back to Earth again." Penny's voice was so lifeless and hopeless that it made Rhodes sick to his stomach, and that was a difficult trick to do.

"Well, we leave within a week then. I'd rather not take any chances," Rhodes remarked, not sure how he felt about the news. It was not what he'd hoped, but at least they had time to make a decision.

"Why should we even want to stick around here anyway?" Corigliano asked, fuming still.

"I don't. But until we can figure out what to do, then we are going to stay right here," Rhodes pointed at the table for emphasis.

"What are we going to do about those kids though?" Kilpatrick suddenly asked. It was rather uncharacteristic of him to interrupt and fly in the face of the order of the agenda.

"We'll see, right now I want to know what homebase wants us to do," Rhodes said, looking at Danielpour's face, which was stiff but serious-minded. Rhodes took a glance at Kilpatrick, noticing something in his hair. He couldn't quite see what it was, but Samuel suddenly ran his hand through his hair, and it was gone. Rhodes shook his head, ignoring it, and returning his attention to Malcolm.

Malcolm sighed petulantly, "They are still consulting amongst themselves. Right now they want us to wait where we are. There is one other thing though that you should know, Captain, and I don't think you are going to like it, sir."

"What is it?" Rhodes asked.

"They want you to unlock the Shapeshifters and let them have free access to the ship again," Malcolm reported.

"They what!" Corigliano exploded again, his arms gesticulating wildly. "Do they have any idea what one of those freaks just did."

Rhodes motioned to Dutton with one hand, and Dutton grabbed John by the shoulder and forced him back into his seat. Corigliano was still doing everything but frothing at the mouth. Rhodes considered saying something soothing, but decided that it would be a waste of time, "John, be quiet. I want to listen to Malcolm."

John grumbled a bit, then sighed disconsolately, looking to Danielpour for more information. Malcolm shrugged, "They said that they will figure out what we are supposed to do Navigation-wise in another few hours. Of course we are now about ten minutes lagged, so they might give us a window of only minutes to prepare. I doubt it, but they give us the orbit, and with amount of fuel we have left, it might be our only chance."

Rhodes nods, "All right, now we know our situation. There is nothing we can do about it right now. The question is, what do we know about the events that caused it. Dutton, I know that you want to state your observations."

Dutton grunted, stood from his seat, and looked each one in the face, making sure that he had each of their attentions. Penny was staring off into emptiness again, but Dutton made no motion to distract her. She had probably never seen death before; it would be some time before she could come to terms with it. Dutton had seen too much death in his career, which was one of the reasons he had joined the security division for the space program. There was little chance of death, but here he was faced with two of them, one of them his best friend.

Dutton had seen lots of death before, he had lost friends before, he had even lost a sibling to death's icy clutches, but it had never gotten easier. It just got worse. He presented himself as a cool character, completely calm and placid, but very dangerous, but in reality, he was a very softhearted person. However, in his line of work, softhearted people tended to go crazy. He was not crazy, but there were times when he felt like he could be. Fortunately, this was not one of those times.

"Well, there is a variety of evidence that we have to investigate. There are three crimes that have been committed on board this ship. The first is the easiest one: this kid, Ascot is his name, walks up to the bridge, shoots Ziegler in both knees with Mr. Tembo's weapon, and then threatens Captain Rhodes and Lieutenant Penny. Ascot then takes the ship on a series of maneuvers that puts us in orbit around Venus, and wastes most of our fuel. Before Alan can stop him, he shoots the Navigation console, rendering it useless. A search of his body reveals that he is carrying nothing on him except Tembo's gun.

"The second crime is committed in the security office. Every television screen has been smashed, and the backroom that only Mr. Tembo and Captain Rhodes possess security passes to permit entrance has been destroyed. The backroom contains the recording devices so that we always have a permanent record of what has gone on. We usually do not use anything in there unless there is an emergency, but when I went to the office I noticed that the door was open. The door is never supposed to be open. I found that not only were the recording devices smashed beyond repair, but also somebody had placed a very powerful electromagnet in the center of the room. There is no way that we have any recordings left. Whoever came in there knew exactly what they were doing, and had access to a supermagnet. I don't think that is too many people on board this ship.

"The last crime involves Mr. Tembo himself. Apparently, from what Rhodes has told me, Tembo went down to engineering because he thought he saw something funny on the screen. I was occupied with putting one of the stupid Shapeshifters in the brig at the time. He had attacked the scientist working in the greenhouse. At any rate, I went down to see what had happened with Tembo, and I find his body sliced up the middle, his gun and his passcard to the security offices missing as well. It looked like somebody had attacked him with several knives, but we are waiting for Dr. Xenakis to come up with that report. One thing I noticed though was that the inside of the hatch leading to the engineering section was destroyed. If that door had been closed, then it would have been impossible for somebody to leave from the inside.

"The only piece of evidence that we are missing is Mr. Tembo's security passcard. Once we find that then we can know for certain what has happened. I guess having the Shapeshifters in the Greenhouse or something is a good idea because that means they aren't in their rooms. We can search them and the research stations. I am not taking any chances on this, everybody on board is a suspect in my opinion." Dutton declared.

"Even us?" Kilpatrick gestured to the group about the table.

Dutton stared at Kilpatrick for a moment, "That's right, even us." Dutton then smiled leaning forward staring into Kilpatrick's eyes, his own growing malicious, "Just what were you doing up about when it was your turn to sleep? You didn't happen to go down to the Engineering room by any chance did you?"

Kilpatrick shakes his head, "No, I did not go to Engineering. I was just walking about because I had trouble sleeping."

Dutton sets his jaw firm, "Did you go to the Greenhouse?"

Kilpatrick looks at Dutton a little confused for a moment, "No. I did not."

Dutton nods, leaning back in his chair, "That's all right, Samuel. I just needed to get a statement from you."

Samuel Kilpatrick looked offended suddenly, "You think I did it don't you? Why the Hell would I want to kill Tembo, we were best friends!"

Rhodes looked back and forth between the two, and there was a noticeable space developing between Kilpatrick and those sitting next to him. Dutton shrugged, "I accused you of nothing. You assumed I was making an accusation. Perhaps you have a guilty conscience?"

Kilpatrick threw his arms back in disgust, "I can't believe I am hearing this."

Rhodes then stepped in. A little badgering was all right, but Dutton was crossing the line for such public acts. "Dutton, Kilpatrick, that is enough! I do not need you two going after each other from hearsay! As far as I am concerned, the murder is almost certainly among the Shapeshifters. Though a scientist could have done it, I don't see why they would. Just find out who did it, and don't antagonize any of the crew, we need to stay in top form if we are to fly this ship. I don't need suspicion running through our ranks anymore than it already is."

Dutton nodded, looking at Kilpatrick with a particular glare in his face. Dutton knew who he was after now. Kilpatrick had lied about going to the greenhouse, since Xenakis had mentioned that he had seen him before he had come to the bridge. Why would he lie unless he was hiding something? Perhaps he had put the security passcard in the dirt somewhere in the greenhouse. Whatever he had done, it certainly wasn't good. Kilpatrick had never acted this way before, and it irked him at some fundamental level. Dutton then looked back at Rhodes, "I don't have anymore evidence to report at this time. I am waiting on Dr. Xenakis to tell me what killed Tembo before I can look for a murder weapon."

"Why don't we see what Dr. Xenakis can tell us, I'm sure he's investigated the bodies by now." There was a general consensus among the group, and Rhodes turned the screen on the far end of the room on. They saw into the infirmary, the two bodies, with Alan calmly reading his Playboy. They could quit clearly see the breasts on the centerfold that Alan was ogling. Dr. Xenakis meanwhile was casually reading some book, the title just barely out of the screen. He was talking back to himself as well.

"Dr. Xenakis, so good to see you hard at work." Rhodes remarked dryly.

Philip Xenakis looked up at the screen, a little startled. "Oh, Captain, Rhodes, sorry, I wasn't expecting you so soon." Xenakis tried to stand, but he fell clumsily from his chair, the book sprawling on the floor. He then stood back up, blushing furiously from embarrassment; he set the fallen chair to one side, and put the book on the counter. He straightened himself out and then looked primly into the screen, "What can I do for you?"

"You can tell us what you have found from the bodies. Any evidence yet?"

Xenakis smiled weakly, "I haven't look yet."

"Why not?"

"The bodies are still warm, and I don't like performing autopsies on bodies like that. It feels like I'm operating on a living person, and there is just something wrong about it."

Rhodes sighed, "Fine. Let me know when you are going to perform them, I'll be in touch with you." Rhodes turned off the screen then, and shook his head in dismay. He then looked at the faces about him. They were all expectant, some angry and some still vacant. He knew that now was the time to discuss a plan of action. He already knew what he wanted, and he was sure that they also knew what he wanted. Rhodes felt as if he were embarking on some ancient voyage by ancient means. He knew that they did not have the facilities to conduct a proper investigation. Much evidence was beyond the scope of their instruments, but they had enough to make sure that whoever had taken action would not be free for very much longer.

"Danielpour, I want you listening to homebase, let me know the moment they give us the new orbit. Dutton, you and the rest of security should begin investigating the various places of work. I am not opening any doors until you are finished. We'll get their food from the cafeteria for them if we have to. Kilpatrick, go with Dutton for now. I'll call you if I need you. Penny, stay down in engineering, JUDE should have cleaned up the mess by now. If these orders change, I'll contact you. This meeting is adjourned."

Rhodes watched as each person slowly got up from their seat, and filed out the door. He noted especially the enmity and suspicious that seemed to pass between Dutton and Kilpatrick. Perhaps there was something to what Dutton had said, but he could never believe that Kilpatrick would have done anything, he was too much of a lover, not a fighter. Tembo and him had been best friends; there would have been no reason for Samuel to kill him. Still, how did Ascot get the gun unless he killed him? Had Ascot simply stumbled upon the scene? It seemed likely that if there was only one person involved that it was all Ascot, but given the missing passcard, there seemed to be a very good possibility that another was involved.

Thibaudet was still pacing back and forth the middle of their room. Anselm lay pleasantly on his bed, Fulton Swiley's atrocious novel in hand as he daintily ate a sandwich that he had snagged from the cafeteria before being sent back to the room by the officious security guards. Anselm had immediately picked up the book and had begun reading it. The fact that the book was in this very room annoyed Pierre, for it was an abomination to the world of science. Pierre had at first satisfied himself by mumbling expletives about Fulton Swiley the pompous ass from California Technical University who thought he could redefine the entire world understanding of science. However, that had grown quite tiresome as the minutes dragged by.

Finally, unable to stand it anymore, he cried out in exasperated tones, "Je m'ennuie!"

Anselm did not look up but turned the page of that book and smiled to himself. "We feed each other, share in each other's lives, and struggle together in bonds beyond forces of science. We are friends, enemies, and slaves to the same master. We are in a harmony, and nothing can destroy it. We are animals! Hear our voices cry out in joy and anguish!"

Pierre felt like he wanted to throw up. Anselm was quoting that book again. He seemed to like it for some odd reason, probably because he was a psychologist and wouldn't know what solid truth was if it came up and bit him on the tail. Pierre tried to ignore him, putting his hands on his ears, but Anselm seemed determined to read the book to him out loud now. Thibaudet slid his head under his pillow, hoping that would block out some of the annoying prose. There was only so much he could stand; recent events were only serving to frustrate him and confuse him all the more.

However, he could still hear Anselm's droning voice while under the pillow, "... and the physiological difference between the various canines only serve to highlight humanity's fascination with the wolf. The lupines were unlike almost any other canis to be found during that era, and in all eras before it. The lupine represented the essence of wild rebellion against man, for while it was similar in shape to other canis, they were domesticated, dependent upon their human masters. The ultimate sense of rebellion could then be seen in the human shape taking on that of a wolf's characteristics. It was a rejection of God's lordship over humanity, which is why so many people accused of lycanthropy, were also accused of worship of the devil.

"Given the thorough studies into the anatomy of the wolf, and in today's cultural analysis, a similar notion can be maintained. The sense of rebellion against the stiff rules of humanity's reasoned understanding can be broken down by a desire for things that are only myth. The scientific concept of genetics and its eugenic applications hint at the possibility of a metabolistic restructuring of the human physiology. What was once done with magic will soon be done with science. The modern therianthrope will emerge from an appreciation of such rebellious nature and hatred for the confining laws as they stand now.

"An appreciation of the complexities of such an endeavor must be maintained at all times though, for such a feat will seem to many to be just as magical as the mythical transformations of days bygone. Furthermore, such a complete knowledge will be impossible for the human mind to grasp fully. The majority of the labor will become dependent on the growing and growing capacities of microcomputer technology. Perhaps with the creation of biological computers which even now looms on the horizon, the entire process will be undertaken by a nonhuman 'intelligence'.

"Surely magic has returned to science, for no longer can humanity comprehend the wonders it has created for itself. Physical transformation will always be magical, for the science can never be completely known to the mind of a human being," Anselm read triumphantly, as if somehow he were declaring Swiley's words to be gospel. He heard Anselm sigh contentedly, "I just love that passage, it is so beautiful." Pierre groaned to himself, wishing that the man would shut up. It was then that he noticed that Anselm had, at least for a few moments, "Are you okay, Pierre?"

Pierre didn't bother to move his head when speaking, and the bed muffled his voice, "No."

"I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you." Anselm repeated.

Pierre sighed, and sat up on his bed, and glared at the psychologist, "No, I am not okay. I wish you wouldn't read that book aloud." He nearly spat out 'that book' from contempt. He was certainly not in the mood to talk to the man, but since they roomed together and the security guards wouldn't let them out for some reason, he was stuck here.

Anselm looked offended, "I'm sorry, I just wanted to share something that I really liked. Have you read 'Cycles of the Universe: Science Rediscovering Myth' by Fulton Swiley? It really is an excellent book. A very good look at the social and scientific dilemma that we are facing now at the middle of the twenty-first century in my opinion."

"I don't want to have anything to do with that waste. It is based off of foolish suppositions and it comes very close to claiming that the myths of the medieval period and before were true. I don't see how anything that does that could be considered 'scientific'."

"You must not have read it close enough. It does not say that the myths of the past were true, it says that with the huge strides science is making these days, there will be a time in which man cannot comprehend science any longer, and the nature of the universe will be something that machines figure out for us. Science will seem like magic to us; that is what Swiley is trying to say," Anselm patiently explained as best he could.

Thibaudet snorted, "I doubt it. The human mind is very flexible. People in Newton's time couldn't understand what we are doing now, even if we explained it to them. They were simply the products of their environment. Our children will know more than we will, always. There is always room for more knowledge."

Anselm smiled suddenly, "Are you suggesting that there is an infinite capacity for the mind?"

"Merci, no! That's ridiculous." Thibaudet had said the words in haste before he realized just what he had conceded.

"Well, Swiley is just saying that we are reaching that limit." Anselm pointed out, before opening that book again to continue reading.

Thibaudet sneered at it, rising from his bed again. He paced back and forth some more, staring down at his slipper-shoes -- they were more comfortable than regular footwear -- and trying to get thoughts of Swiley and Anselm from his mind. He couldn't help but dwell on the words that had been read, for they were very powerful words, speaking of a time, which would see the end to reason as, he knew it, and the end of the human adventure to understand the nature of the Universe. He did not like that idea, for it was his purpose, and without a purpose he could not find his way in life.

Pierre took a brief glance at Anselm who had gone back to eating his sandwich -- peanutbutter and jelly from the look of it -- and then walked over to the door. He pounded on it with his fist a few times, and with his other hand tried the latch. Still locked, and if there was anybody out there, they certainly weren't going to let him out. Thibaudet turned from the door fuming, his hands clenching and unclenching as he walked back to his bed. He sat down, and crossed his arms, his eyes trying to bore holes into the recalcitrant door. How he hated this trip already!

Dr. Xenakis put down his book, and took a look at the thermometer. Tembo: 98.6 Ascot: 89.2 He picked up his book again, and began to mouth the words he just read. If he kept up this rate, he would have chapter one memorized by the evening. He was getting very good at memorizing large sections of prose now, and he had to admit he was moving along faster than he had expected to. He was going to have to find another book after a month if he kept going like this.

He looked over at Ziegler who was still eyeing the voluptuous females. He was sitting up at least, but his legs were still pretty well wrapped up. In another half-hour or so he'd check the bandages and wounds, to see how the artificial healing was coming along. Artificial healing was a nice supplement to the body’s own natural regenerative processes, it simply sped them up. Some government doctor had stumbled upon it many years back, and it was still revolutionizing the field of science. Philip was proud of himself that he had memorized the book describing its various properties.

Xenakis looked over at the thermometer one more time, saw no significant changes, and then returned to his book.

Part IV continued!

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