By Charles Matthias
Part IV - continued
The Greenhouse was a huge structure on the top floor of the ship, which during the course of a normal orbit would face the sun for about thirteen hours. Dutton rarely came here as his assignments were usually elsewhere. However, given the presence of the Shapeshifters, he had become much more intimate with the greenery and the scent of actual air in the room. For some reason walking into the Greenhouse made him feel more alive, as if the plant-filtered air was somehow purer than the machine-filtered. The room however at the moment was empty except for the plants and the security staff. He wanted to check over the Greenhouse first before moving onto the research stations because he was more suspicious of the Shapeshifters than the scientists.
Since the Greenhouse was so large, and there was a lot of ground to cover, Dutton ordered them to spread out. He noticed that Kilpatrick who had been asked to go along with him was making his way towards the end with Dr. Jansen's workstation. Dutton peered into the foliage, keeping an eye on the executive officer. Though they had been firm friends, Dutton's suspicions were too great for him to ignore. Friends or not, if Kilpatrick had killed Tembo, than Dutton was going to make sure that he paid in kind. Kilpatrick seemed completely calm though, his face showing no signs of strain. He appeared a little resentful, but other than that, it was the same Samuel Kilpatrick that Dutton had called friend only hours before.
Dutton moved the fronds of a particularly large fern aside to peer at the ground. The dark soil was still rich, and had obviously not been disturbed since launch. Dutton knew that he was looking for either something bright that stood out, or a patted down or overturned section of soil. It was going to take them quite a while, but with five people working on it, they should be able to move on within an hour. Of course once they were finished they were theoretically supposed to let the Shapeshifters out of their rooms. Dutton had no intention of complying with that order, at least until he knew more of what was going on.
As he was squatting by a small oak, he saw something odd. Kilpatrick was leaning down next to a row of tulips and was reaching down into the dirt with one hand. Dutton let his eyes drift over to watch him completely. He couldn't quite see what Kilpatrick was doing, because Samuel's back was blocking his view, but he just knew Samuel had found something. He couldn't resist the urge to prod Kilpatrick further, "What did you find, Sam?"
Kilpatrick looked back at Dutton, and then stood up. He turned to face Dutton ever so slowly, the hand he had reached into the ground on his far side. Kilpatrick held out his hand, and there was a tuft of fuzz upon it, "I found some lint. Nothing important."
"Oh, well never mind then." Dutton shook his head, wondering if that was entirely true. He didn't think Samuel was quick enough to slip his hand into his pocket and pull out some lint, but it could have been done. However, he doubted that severely, as he had never known Kilpatrick to be that manually adroit. Just as an experiment, Dutton ducked behind the tree, and tried to do the same turn as Kilpatrick had, as well as slip his hand in his pocket, and pull some lint out. It took him a couple tries, but he was able to do it quite easily. He grimaced, that told him nothing but what he already knew. Dutton sighed; he really should not be so quick to suspect every little action.
Dutton turned his attention back to the ground, and his eyes continued to search the ground for any clues of that missing passcard. He would handle Kilpatrick later, when the appropriate time came.
Lapwolf, after beating on the door a few more times, came to sit down next to Pillow on his bed. Pillow was not sure what to do, and had sat just staring at the floor lost in his thoughts. He had not even bothered to put on any music. He just didn't feel like it, he was too worried about what they might to do Black-Tiger, which had to be the reason that they had been locked up in their rooms. He had been part of Donkey at the time, and the only thing he knew how to do was to run, which he had done quite convincingly, but now it was gone, and he was himself again.
Lapwolf on the other hand had forced the security guard to throw him into his room. That would have been Lapwolf's style, to fight against any authority whatsoever. Lapwolf was a very single minded individual, with usually only one thought on his mind at any time. His mind skipped about so fast that it was hard to tell just where he was going. Right now though, he had a feeling that he knew exactly what Lapwolf wanted.
"Hey Pillow, I'm bored, you want to screw me?" Lapwolf asked in his typical blunt fashion.
Pillow usually had acquiesced, because it was easier than arguing with the man, but something in him snapped. No, he was on this ship because of a lie, why perpetuate it with more sin? He was already standing up with those who had denounced his God, why should he go any further? There was no reason for it, he had to draw the line somewhere, and now was just as good a time as any. He cleared his throat, and shook his head, "Nah, I'm not in the mood."
Lapwolf did not seem to care, "Well I am in the mood!"
"Not right now, please."
"You're not doing anything, and I want to be fucked." Lapwolf began to grow cross, and Pillow thought him as whiny and petulant as a child who did not get his way.
"Look, Lap, I just don't feel up to it."
Lapwolf looked hurt for a moment, before bringing up the line that was starting to get on Pillow's nerves, "You said that I owned you, so you better do what I say. Now fuck me!" Lapwolf dropped his pants then, and laid down, his rear pointing directly in Pillow's face. Pillow just turned away from it, looking at the wall, not wanting to think about. He had seen that rear many a times before and each time before he had done what Lapwolf had wanted. He felt weak, but this time he would not relent, he was going to do what was right.
His resolve to remain abstinent certainly was not impressing Lapwolf who looked at him and kicked him in the back. Pillow fell to the floor, the breath completely knocked out of him. He lay there, gasping for breath, his back hurting insanely. His back was one of the few places where he couldn't hide a pillow, and so it was unprotected. He could hear Lapwolf climb down off the bed, and he felt his presence kneeling over him. "Well, maybe you want the screw." Lapwolf commented more to himself than anybody else.
Pillow tried to object, but he was still in too much pain to object or struggle. Lapwolf undid Pillow's pants, and pulled them down to his ankles, removing two pillows from the seat of the pants as he did so. Pillow felt Lapwolf's hands on his cheeks, and then the single member moving down into position. He nearly began to cry, just willing to take what Lapwolf wanted to give him, but his eyes fell on something that completely changed his weak spirit, at least for the moment. He saw the stack of books that he had brought along with him to read when things had gotten boring. He had brought many of them, though most were fiction of one form or another. The book however that grabbed his attention was leather bound with gold sgraffatoic lettering on the binding. It was a book that he had cherished all of his life, but over the past few years had paid it but lip service. He saw before him the Holy Bible.
Pillow forcibly turned himself over, staring with a calm face up into Lapwolf's. Lapwolf didn't look too disappointed, he had apparently missed the intention of Pillow's action, "Well hey if you want me to take you right side up that's okay too!"
Pillow put a hand to Lap's chest, "No. This is not right."
"What's gotten into you, man?" Lapwolf was still feeling his erection, obviously the hope for sex hadn't been completely killed yet.
"I realized that we shouldn't be doing this. It's wrong." Pillow slipped his legs out from underneath Lap, who was so dumbfounded by what Pillow had to say that he just sat hunched over not moving or speaking at all. "I just can't do it anymore. Sorry Lap, I love you and all, but I will not have sex with you."
Lapwolf stared at Pillow for a few more minutes, before his face became like stone. He stood up, pulling his pants up as well. He picked up the two pillows and hurled them at Pillow with all his might. Pillow was knocked back and hit his head against the floor again. He could already feel the bruise starting to swell from that one. "Fine! Have it your way! I don't need you!" Lapwolf turned about and returned to beating on the door.
Pillow held his head in his hands, and stared at the furious Lapwolf. He would calm down before too much longer; he could never stay angry for long. However, Pillow still was going to have a bruise on the back of his head. Pillow pulled his own pants up completely, zipped them up, and then looked back to the object, which had stopped his submission. He reached out a hand to touch it's smooth surface, but that was all he could do, touch it. He felt quite incapable of pulling it from the stack and opening it. He could not move it in anyway; all he could do was stroke its surface. He let his hand rest on it, but then after a moment it fell to the ground. He sighed, taking a brief look at the now still pounding Lapwolf, and then back at The Bible. He rested his head on his knees, trying not to think about anything, trying to just let his mind wander aimlessly, hopefully to happier times.
Danielpour leaned back in his chair, looking over the console, waiting for a message. The message would be from Earth, and it would give them instructions on their new orbit. Without a proper navigator on board, such computations would have to be left to Earth, as only they were qualified to make them. Danielpour knew most of the people on the other end of the headset pretty well, having talked with them for hours on end before. When they were in a typical orbit, the delay of communication was only a matter of a few seconds. The delay was now ten minutes.
He was not alone on the bridge; Captain Rhodes was sitting in his chair, contemplating the recent events, occasionally glancing at the navigation console and grimacing. Malcolm found Rhodes to be an invigorating individual, quite competent at his job, with a peculiarly forceful personality. He seemed to radiate command, though pictures of him did not do him justice. He was an individual that had to be experienced.
Danielpour looked away from his brooding captain before Rhodes decided to start a personal conversation. Malcolm was not intending to ignore Rhodes, he just wanted his own time right now, he needed to sort his own thoughts out. He was also worried about his emotions, for he felt so empty of them. Though Samuel probably thought him bland, Malcolm had a very rich emotional life, and he was moved by his passions in many ways. However, the deaths and the shockwave they had sent through the ranks had not yet affected him in anyway. They were terrible turns of events, but they meant nothing to him.
Danielpour tried vainly to summon up some emotions to feel, but the only one that he managed to conjure was fear. What if Tembo's murderer was still alive? What were the killer's plans? Did he have a pattern, was he going to attack the officers until all of them were dead. He had destroyed the head security officer; perhaps his next target would be the communications officer? Danielpour looked over his shoulder reflexively. The door to the bridge had been closed for the first time in his memory. The door did not possess a locking mechanism though; it gave the a few moments warning when somebody was entering the bridge, but that was the only protection it afforded them.
Malcolm turned back around from the door, looking at his console, waiting, not so patiently anymore. Any moment now, somebody could be coming up those stairs with a gun in hand, ready to mercilessly kill him. He tried to remind himself that everybody on board was supposed to be locked in their rooms, but that did not matter. Anyone of them could have devised a plan of escape. They could be marching up those stairs now, blood dripping from the sides of their mouths as they came to feast upon his flesh like animals. Now where had thought come from?
Danielpour was now visible shaking, his own self-induced fears getting the best of him. He kept looking back over his shoulder at the door; to find the door still closed. He slipped the headset partway off, so that with at least one ear he could listen for approaching footsteps. He began to tap with his feet, as if rhythm would keep his body under control. He closed his eyes, putting his head in his hands, trying to clear his head from these disturbing thoughts, but they remained, plaguing him with their phantasmal presence.
He then heard something coming from behind him that made his whole body freeze. His heart died in his chest, his face turned white, and the sweat starting to dribble down his cheeks. From behind him, outside the door, was the sound of footsteps approaching. They moved slowly, calmly, self-assuredly, and each percussive heel-toe rang out clearly through his whole body. He felt his whole body reorganize its internal rhythm to match the footfalls. Suddenly, just as they had begun to draw near, they stopped for a moment. He held his breath, not daring to open his eyes, not even daring to move. He wanted to move, but his body just refused.
Then Malcolm heard the coup de grace, the door to the bridge slid open, and a breeze from the hallway flowed over him, the air chilling, stale and lifeless. The staccato steps came again, coming closer to him, moving nearer, and nearer. His heart was ready to burst; the neurons in his mind firing in all directions, but unable to activate any of his muscles, as if it had been completely cut off from the rest of his body. The steps then stopped, the figure directly behind him. Malcolm finally found his voice, though all it could do was whimper slightly, his lips trembling, his whole body rebelling against the end to come. He heard from directly behind his head the cocking of a pistol, and his whole body gave up.
"Malcolm?" the voice behind him asked.
Danielpour let out a frightened scream, and jumped up from his chair, and turned to face his would-be assailant. It was Rhodes, who was looking at him with a touch of concern in his face. Danielpour at first cringed, but then his muscles began to relax as he took in the scene before him. The door to the bridge was still closed, and both of Rhodes's hands were in front of him, nowhere near a gun. Danielpour settled down a bit in his chair. "I'm sorry, I must have dozed off."
Rhodes snorted in disbelief, "Dozed off? You looked like you were having an epileptic fit or something."
"I must have had a nightmare or something."
"You probably should get some sleep. I can handle the oncoming call."
"Sleep? No, I don't need anymore nightmares." Danielpour objected, it did not occur to him that he had completely forgotten his protocol.
"Look, I need my officers in top shape. You need some sleep right now. I doubt you'll have another nightmare. Go talk to Philip, he'll give you something to help you sleep."
Danielpour reluctantly stepped out form his console, slipping his headset off as he went. "All right, I guess so, Captain." He walked over to the door, and then hesitated. Perhaps the murderer was waiting for him on the other side of this door? Some part of him screamed to him that if he opened this door, he would be dead. He put his hand on the latch, and it just sat there, unmoving.
"What are you waiting for, Malcolm? It's just a door," Rhodes asked, his own face a little confused now.
"Nothing. I'm not waiting for anything." Malcolm pushed the latch, and the door quickly slid open. Danielpour reflexively stepped back, but saw nothing in the passageway beyond. He poked his head out the door and made a quick survey to both sides; nothing hiding in wait for him there either. He sighed, and walked cautiously down the hall, being careful not to make any noise himself. He heard Rhodes mumble something to himself from behind him, but he did not look back. As soon as he was down the stairs leading form the bridge, he ran towards his room, opened the door, shut it, locked it from the inside, and then jumped in his bed. He pulled the covers up over his head, and then finally sighed.
He sat up in bed, shaking his head; he was being absolutely ridiculous. Even if the murderer was still alive, he or she was locked up already. There was no way that they could get past the security locks, it just wasn't reasonable. He laughed at himself a bit, though his laughter was dry. He had been a great big idiot, and he should probably go back up to the bridge and tell the captain so. He did have a duty to perform. He slipped from his bed, and was about to open the door when another thought struck him. What if, like Dutton had implied, the murderer was one of the officers? They were not locked up, and they could be looking for him right now. Danielpour took his hand form the door, and slipped back under his covers. He was better off not taking chances.
Darkwolf sat on his bed, looking across the room at Ascot's empty bed with a bit of trepidation. It had been an hour since he had been locked into his room. He had managed to slip into his room undetected, redress himself, and then wait calmly until the security guard had locked his door from the outside. He had expected Ascot to return at some point, perhaps in five to ten minutes, but those five to ten minutes had stretched to fifteen, twenty, thirty, and the forty-five; it had been a whole hour, and there was no indication that his roommate was ever going to return.
Darkwolf had occupied himself the first half-hour by making sure that the mess he had made during launch had been completely cleaned up, and then by reorganizing the entire room. Both beds had been perfectly made, all of his clothes were neatly folded and put away, and his books had been experimentally sorted in five different ways. He had then cleaned himself up, ensuring that he looked presentable. He had taken a look at the wound on his shoulder where Black-Tiger had bit him just before launch. He must have removed the bandage at some point, though he couldn't seem to find the wrappings anywhere. The wound itself was mostly fine, just a purplish spot where the tooth marks had once been. He had smirked, modern medicine was amazing.
However, after a half-hour of rearranging the room, and rearranging himself, he grew quite bored. Also he began to get seriously worried. Ascot had still not come back yet, and there was no indication that they were going to let them out anytime soon. He had tried to read a book, but found that he could only do that for a short period of time before he had become too frustrated to continue. He had replaced the book, and then had begun to stare longingly at the empty bed. He had reflexively begun to pull on his hair, debating the problem to himself. He was still there a half-hour later, no closer to a solution.
He lamented that there was no communications device, that he knew of at any rate, in their rooms. At a time like this it would be very useful. However, they had probably not foreseen such a turn of events, so had not planned on it. Also, he wanted an explanation as to why they were being locked up here like this. He did not like to be caged like this. He wanted to roam, to move freely, and to break off all restraints.
Darkwolf conjured the image of wolf again, feeling the fur flow over his body, and his clothes stretch at the embrace of his lupine metaphysics. He pulled his clothes off, letting his body rearrange itself according to his design. He felt his ears atop his head, he snuffled with his nose, taking in a larger variety of scents, and his eyes caught sight of the muzzle that was now before him. He held his tail aloft, with pride and assurance, and his thick belly slimmed up a bit, barreling outwards. However, he was still a fat wolf. He stretched his muscles, feeling them respond, flexing and stretching in response to his every action. He watched his fur flow this way and that, the blackness of them darker than even that of the space outside. He lowered himself to all fours, summoning up his own will to become even less human and more wolf. That was his entelechy, he knew it to be so, for only when he was free from all extrapersonal restraints could he ever obtain happiness.
He let out a howl, as he felt even his fingers pulling back on themselves, and his legs reducing in size. However, the changes only went partway, they did not complete themselves. He growled at the still thick fingers, which did not even have pads yet. Why could he not have pads? He needed to be the wolf; he must be completely lupine. He bristled his fur in anger at the enemy he could not defeat, growling, and snapping wildly at the empty air, as if to chase it off. He crouched low, glaring off into the nothingness about him, the bestial threat coming clearly from his throat, his jowls pulled back to reveal his fangs, and his tail held high in defiance. His body still would not change any further.
In a last mad effort he began to bite at his fingers, hoping to reduce them in size himself. He should have paws, not hands! He felt the blood sink into his mouth, and then it was all gone. He blinked a few times, looking into the floor, feeling the air upon his bare skin. He looked down at his hand, a trickle of blood coming form one of his fingers. He stared at his body, flabby, unrefined, and beyond a shadow of a doubt, a human body. He sat down dejectedly against the bed, casually sucking on his finger, completely empty of anything but despair. He was forever a slave to physical reality. Though it was but the shadow of his true self, it was the only thing that anybody could see.
He sat there for many minutes, Ascot's absence no longer his primary concern, for his own failure to throw of the human shell had made him miserable again. Why couldn't his parents have been wolves? Why did they have to be humans? He sighed abjectly. He couldn't really blame his parents; they didn't have any say in it either. However, if they had been wolves, then he would be alive, truly alive. He remembered all the dogs from his childhood, how he envied them. He knew he was more than a dog though, he was a wolf. Dogs were nice, and they had almost everything they needed taken care of, and Darkwolf was sure that he could have been very happy as a dog; but to truly have lived, he would have had to be a wolf. A dark wolf specifically, for everytime he looked into a mirror, he was disgusted by what he saw. He had become very good at envisioning his lupine nature covering the human instead of the human covering the lupine. He wished in some small way that the lupine would just swallow his human self, then digest it completely taking some nourishment from it, but just shitting the rest of it after he was finished.
He raised his head to look about the room once more. There was nothing for him to do, and he was beginning to become more depressed by the moment, and he did not want to. He felt as if he was about to cry, but he did not want to be weak, that was a human frailty. His eyes fell upon the screen that was permanently set to show them what was straight ahead of the ship. He saw a plethora of stars, but they were not what had caught his attention. On the left side of the screen was a large milky yellow celestial body. It took him a moment, but being an educated person, he was able to recognize it. "Venus?" he asked himself out loud without realizing it. "What are we doing near Venus?"
Having searched through the entire Greenhouse, and finding nothing more than lint, Dutton led them to the research stations. The research stations were all nestled together towards the back of the ship on the third floor in a compartment behind a securable door. Once they were all in, Dutton sealed the door, and swiped a red card through the slot on the inside panel. The green light over the slot became a bright red. "All right, nobody can get in or out of here now. In case there is anybody still in here trying to destroy evidence, we'll have them. Similarly, nobody can come in here to get evidence until we've found it. Every other door in here is open; I want each one searched twice. I want you to investigate even the rooms where nobody is conducting research. Until we are absolutely certain that no evidence remains, we will stay right where we are. Is that understood?"
"Implicitly." Kilpatrick spoke for the group. Corigliano was quick to agree with him. Gorecki and McGee both nodded before walking off to opposite ends of the compartment. The compartment had twenty-two individual rooms, six on each side of the hull, with the central ten staggered in the center. Most of the rooms were empty, not having been opened since the last researcher had moved their equipment out after the last flight. Dutton wasn't sure whether he was glad that only the presently occupied rooms were indeed occupied, but it certainly made going over the scene easier.
He walked to a door that was unremarkable, and read the nametag on the front, "Dr. Frederick Anselm" He tried the latch, but to his surprise, the door was locked. That was odd, none of the doors on this hall were supposed to be locked. He tried it again, but as before, it was still locked; the laws of physics had not changed just for him in this instance of a locked door. He swiped his passcard through the slot in the door, and tried the latch again, but the door was still locked. Now Dutton was quite vexed, his security rating was high enough to get him into all but two rooms on the ship: the security recording room, and Captain Rhodes's personal quarters. Who was this Dr. Anselm to frustrate him so?
He swiped his card another time, wondering if maybe the machine had misread his card. Again, the latch would not budge. He wiped his card on his shirt, wondering if it wasn't dirty or something. He looked at his card, making sure that it was perfectly spotless, before he slid it through the recalcitrant slot. Still the latch was secured, and he could not investigate the contents of Anselm's laboratory. He beat his hand against the door, howling in rage.
"Something wrong, Dutton?" McGee asked him coming up upon silent footsteps from behind him.
"I can't get into this room. The door is locked," Dutton gestured at the door as he spoke, slipping his passcard back into his pocket.
McGee tried the latch, also ineffectually, and then shrugged. "Perhaps we should talk to this Anselm and see why it is locked?"
"I intend to do that," Dutton declared hotly.
"Right now?" McGee asked, eyebrows raised.
"Why not?" Dutton turned towards the exit, when he saw Kilpatrick come around the corner, holding a yellow card in hand. "You found it?"
"It was in Dr. Bowman's room. It was lying right in the middle of his desk. You have to come and take a look at what else is in Bowman's room."
"Just come see." Kilpatrick motioned for the two to follow. Dutton and McGee followed after the nearly gloating Samuel. Dr. Bowman's room was neatly organized, with manuals lining his bookshelves, and instruments still functioning and occasionally beeping. Words flashed across the still functioning monitor, though they were of little interest to Dutton. There was even a half-eaten browned apple sitting on his desk. However, what struck Dutton were the magnets arranged neatly along one shelf. They were of the exact same style as the one he had found in the recording room. Even better, there was a space missing where a supermagnet just might fit. He smiled to himself, wondering a bit how Kilpatrick would have known to check Bowman's room, but with other thoughts on his mind. Dr. Anselm could wait; he was going to go chat with the good Dr. Bowman.
"Yes! Touchdown!" Dr. Saltonstall jumped up and down on his bed in joy, his bearded face grinning from ear to ear. His eyes were alight with a passionate fire as he watched the two teams on the screen prepare for the extra point kick. Bowman looked at his roommate and laughed to himself. Trust Saltonstall to figure out how to reprogram the receivers in the screen to pick up the feedback from a football game. The game was at least an hour old, but that didn't matter to Saltonstall, who was not going to find out any other way.
Saltonstall was an electrician specializing in wave mechanics. Apparently he was hammering out a corollary to J.S. Bell's theorem on electron collapsation, which was a topic beyond Bowman's understanding. However, their research was quite complimentary, for the instantaneous shift in spin of an electron could do wonders in the production of even more powerful magnets. However, he never intended to use his research to watch football games.
"So Everett, just how did you reprogram the wiring again?" Bowman asked out of disbelief.
Everett shrugged. "It was a piece of cake. Just open up the panel in back, and cross a few wires and move a few modules and Tada. It was probably one of the easiest jobs I ever accomplished." Saltonstall watched the extra point kick go directly through the posts, and then turned back to face Bowman, "I'm thinking of building a remote system so that I can access every satellite channel being broadcasted."
"Are you sure you'd be able to get all of them while we are in orbit?"
"Oh yeah. We'd have to be on the other side of the sun before we started getting interference."
"So what's the score?"
"Saints 31, Falcons 6. I'm telling you the Saints are going to the Super Bowl this year. I mean, the Falcons are one of the best teams out there, they won the past two Super Bowls after all. This year, though, it'll be the Saints," Saltonstall declared prophetically.
Bowman was about to say something else, when the door to their room opened. Both of them turned to see Mr. Dutton and several others standing in the doorway. Dutton looked between the two, but his eyes finally settled on Bowman, "Dr. Richard Bowman, would you kindly come with us, we have some questions for you."
"What sort of questions?"
"You'll find out, now let's go." Dutton asked again. Bowman shrugged and walked towards the entrance. As he stepped past the threshold, his arms were grabbed forcefully and he was dragged into the hallway. The door was quickly shut behind him, the sounds of the football game being cut off instantly. From the hate-filled expressions on Dutton's face, he knew that whatever they were going to ask him, he certainly was not going to like.
Onto Part V!
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