The Perpetual

By Charles Matthias

Part V

Rhodes poked himself in the side with a pencil to keep himself awake. Had they been working on regular schedules, then he would be sleeping in bed right now. He felt himself drifting off again, as the comforting embrace of his bedsheets began to call out to him. He poked himself again, and snapped up once more. He regretted his dismissal of Malcolm, as now he was the one being forced to wait for a message from homebase. He did not appreciate their habit of giving him orders that made no sense without giving him a reason. After this affair, he would probably call it quits. Although he had been hoping to retire after a successful career with happy memories, it seemed like he was going out with a bang.

He stared at the screen before him, looking at the stars, and the crescent of Venus that was in sight. He had always yearned after the stars; it had been his dream in childhood. He fondly recalled those days when he had been leaner and younger; he remembered the smell of the baked bread his mother used to make, and of how delicious it tasted too. He dwelt on his father; a man of integrity who looked much like Rhodes did now, with a propensity for telling jokes as well as fanciful tales. He felt himself transported back to the day when he had told them his intention in life.

"I'm going to be a starship captain!" he proudly declared to his parents one spring morning. He knew it was a weekend, because his father was actually at home in the morning. His father had a morning job, while his mother went to work a few hours later. It made things a little difficult, but since he was the only child, he always knew that somebody would be home with him.

"A starship captain?" His father had asked, sipping a cup of coffee. "I thought you wanted to be a firefighter?"

"No, I want to be a starship captain. That way I get to zoom across the Universe, and shoot up space aliens." the little Rhodes flew his hand across the room making typical spaceship noises, and blowing up make believe hostile forces. He had been only seven at the time, and a precocious seven at that. Already he was doing well in all of his classes, and most everybody at school liked him. He felt like he'd be a natural leader, plus it'd be exciting. Just like all those cartoon shows depicted.

"Now dear, you know that starship captains don't really fight alien beings," his mother told him, picking him up by his sides, and setting him down in his high chair. She then placed a plate of scrambled eggs in front of him. He loved scrambled eggs, still did in fact. He quickly began to gobble the food down.

"Now take it slowly, son. You know your table manners," his father had stared him down, watching as the fork scooped up the eggs and shoved them into the still chewing mouth. Rhodes had taken a cue, and knew better than to argue. He ate his food much slower, taking time between bites to swallow and ask his parents questions.

"Can I be a starship captain? I really want to!"

"Well, I don't know." his father had always been one to be sarcastic, even when he was too young to know the difference. "I'm sure they'll make you take all sorts of tests."

"I like tests."

"Yes we know." his mother sat down next to him at the table, her own plate brimming with piping hot scrambled eggs. She sprinkled a little pepper on top, and then took a bite. After chewing, she smiled at him, "And we're so proud that you do so well on them!"

"Your mom's right," his father declared. "You are good at taking tests on paper, but what about physical examinations? I know your tough, but can you stay tough?"

"I can keep in shape. Fighting all those aliens is tough work!" he had then returned to zooming his hand over his plate, strafing his eggs.

"No playing with your food young man!" his mother had slapped his hand so quickly that he hadn't even had the time to pull it away.

"Yes, Mom."

"So, you really want to be a starship captain?" his father asked, taking another sip of coffee. Even to this day, Rhodes was unsure whether his father had been playing with him or if he was just unusually dense that morning.

"Uh huh." he gulped down another bite of eggs.

"You realize that it will be many years before you can send in an application?"

"What's an applecashon?"

"An application is something you do if you want to get involved in something like being a starship captain."

"Oh goodie! When can I do an applecashon?"

"When you're eighteen," His father had told him, and that had ended the conversation. Rhodes wasn't completely sure though. It could have continued further, but that was all he remembered. Indeed, once he had turned eighteen, he had submitted an application, and much to his delight, he had been selected as a trainee. It had taken him seven more years before he had finally reached space, but every year of the wait had been worth it. And now, here he was at the almost certain end of his career, and two members of the crew were dead, and a third injured. Never before had he even seen death quite so close up. True, he'd seen the effects of rapid depressurization -- it was a standard film to watch at the John F. Kennedy Academy for Spacefarer's -- and several other grisly ways that space could kill a person, but that had all been accidental death, and it had all been on film; what he faced here and now was wanton murder, and it had happened before his face.

Of course Ziegler's shooting of Ascot had been to save the ship, and Rhodes had been able to put it out of his mind, but Tembo had clearly been killed, slashed open in a way that was still yet to be determined. If Xenakis ever got off his ass and did that autopsy, then things would be moving along much faster. If Rhodes ever did go up again, he would be sure to request a more competent doctor. While he personally liked Philip Xenakis -- they frequently went bar hoping together during shore leave -- the man was too absent-minded. Of course, if he chose to retire, he'd still look forward to those times when he could visit his regular places with his old buddy Philip. Maybe he'd even settle down, find some woman that he'd like. He wouldn't mind having a family; one child would be all that he could stand though. Having more than one kid would remind him too much of some of the things that he had seen take place on board his ships over the years.

Of course, all this required him to survive the remainder of the voyage. There was a significant possibility that the murderer of Tembo was still alive. If so, he might find it necessary to kill again, and there was no way to know who would be next, though an officer was more likely than a scientist or crew member. Of course he had competent people handling it, such as Dutton and Kilpatrick. But what if one of them was involved in the murder? The question was quite unsettling, and ridiculous. Dutton couldn't have done it; he had several witnesses to his location. Rhodes trusted Kilpatrick too much to have done it. It made no sense for either of them. He shrugged the disquieting notion from his mind.

Suddenly, he heard the communications console begin beeping. He peered over the monitor, and brought the message up on his screen. It was from homebase, with detailed instructions on the path to the new orbit. He glanced quickly over the manifest, noting that the orbit that they had selected was specifically designed to show the full moon 23 hours out of a 26-hour rotation. The window of the orbit was in another hour, so they had sufficient time to make the changes. He then read the rest of the dispatch in detail:

"Another ship will reach you within a week to refuel you. This is the earliest possible time frame for refueling. You will be notified with further details and instructions when the proper time arrives. The investigation into Officer Tembo's murder must not interfere with the religious ceremonies of the Shapeshifters; they are to be given free access to all nonsecurity compartments of the ship. Once the physical evidence is gathered, all the scientists must be allowed to continue their research uninhibited. Report all evidence gathered, so that a case may be properly opened and the guilty parties prosecuted in accordance with United States Stellar LawCode 67.

"The forms you requested on the Shapeshifters are listed below. By the authority of the Beyer Emergency Disclosure Act, the most recent personal records of the Shapeshifters has been made available to you. Homebase has no further records available on the personages of the Shapeshifters. We will contact you after you have reached the new orbit with further instructions."

Rhodes smiled, glancing over the files, looking at Ascot's background specifically. He stared down the record, looking at everything that was before him, staring at the various medical conditions and his training. Rhodes leaned back in his chair, his hands shaking his teeth clenching. How dare they hold this information back! How could they, it was so vital to understanding how Ascot could have done what he had. He wondered what other interesting facts had been left out in the history of the Shapeshifters.

Dr. Richard Bowman stared at the security personnel that had requested his presence. They did not bother to introduce themselves or explain themselves, and the way each glared at him was quite unsettling. He felt distinctly uncomfortable in their animous presence, but his only other option was to try to run -- no point, the long-legged chic could probably catch him after no more than five paces -- or to return to his room for who knew how many more hours. While he enjoyed the company of his roommate Dr. Saltonstall, he could only stomach so much football in one sitting.

"So what questions do you have for me?" Bowman asked again, hoping that they would come straight to the point.

Dutton looked thoughtful for a moment. "Have you seen anything unusual or out of the ordinary since you boarded this ship?"

"Aside from those kids, no I haven't."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely," Bowman replied stiffly.

Dutton pulled a small yellow card that looked very familiar to Bowman. It was that card somebody had left at his doorstep! How had they found it? They must have searched his workstation. He certainly hoped that they hadn't touched any of his settings, he'd hate to have to recalibrate all of his instruments again, and it had taken him several hours to do that in the first place. "Have you ever seen this before?" Dutton asked him, waving the yellow card in front of his face.

"Why yes, I found that in front of my door after somebody beat on it." Bowman explained.

"Did you see this person?"


Dutton looked away from Bowman for a moment, his eyes peering backward at Kilpatrick who seemed quite placid in all of this. Kilpatrick's eyes had wandered as well, wandered around to the female security guards rear, though he kept flickering back to Bowman and Dutton. Dutton grimaced, and then returned his gaze to Bowman. Bowman returned the gaze, not planning on being intimidated by this oversized exmilitary goon.

"When did you pick this card up?"

"It was about ten minutes before Mrs. Gorecki came by telling us that we had to stay in our rooms. I remember it because I threw the door open in a huff declaring that I was sick of people banging on my door." All eyes turned to Gorecki when he mentioned this, except for Kilpatrick's as they were already there.

"Is he telling the truth?" Dutton asked her, his antagonism dwindling.

"Yes, he did scream at me. You should have seen how red his face had gotten when he realized his mistake." she winked at him once, then her eyes shifted slightly, peering over at Samuel, whose attention was now completely focused on Bowman. Bowman, blushing slightly, had to admire Kilpatrick, he knew just how long to look.

Dutton however, didn't seem completely satisfied. "You work with magnets, is that not correct?"

"Supermagnets actually," Bowman corrected him. "They are much more powerful, some of the most powerful magnets that can be generated without use of superconductive materials."

"I don't need the scientific explanation," Dutton grimaced. "Can you come with us please."

"Certainly, where are we going?"

"John, would you please go to Captain Rhodes, and tell him what we have so far discovered. Tell him why I didn't call him over the radio quite yet, I'm sure he'll understand." Dutton looked to the wiry Italian man who had been hanging at the back of the group. The man nodded, saluted, and then dashed off down the corridor at a reasonable pace.

Dutton then turned and began heading in the other direction. Kilpatrick motioned for Bowman to follow, which he reluctantly did, with the middle-aged man and the butch woman following up behind. Bowman did not feel safe amidst this group of people. If they required three security guards to watch over him, then there must be something serious going on. That yellow card had something to do with it, he was sure of it. Whoever had left it at his door probably had not dropped it by accident as he previously surmised. It seemed much more likely now that the card had been left there on purpose.

"Um, where are we going?" Bowman asked again.

"You'll find out," Dutton called back over his shoulder. "It shouldn't be too much of a shock to see."

"I don't like surprises." Bowman complained.

Dutton turned around and stared down into the scientist’s face coldly. His lips gave worth a sickeningly dark whisper, "Neither do I."

Rhodes was halfway through reading the files when Corigliano came dashing into the bridge. So far, most of the files had been interesting, but there were not quite as many secrets that Ascot had possessed. Still, there had been a few interesting ones, but he doubted that most of them would assist them in finding Tembo's killer. So it was when Corigliano came rushing in with news, that Rhodes felt that he was going to have to take some action.

"What's going on?" Rhodes asked him, turning the viewer off.

John saluted and then spoke quickly, "We found the yellow passcard in Dr Richard Bowman's research station. He claims that somebody knocked on his door and left it there."

"How did he say it? Did he say it quickly, or did he have to think a bit?"

"He said it the moment, Dutton showed him the passcard."

Rhodes shrugged, "He might be telling the truth then. It could be somebody is trying to frame him."

"He's working with super magnets though, and he is using magnets just like the one found in the rear security room. He had several magnets placed on a shelf, and there was an empty space right where a magnet of the size Dutton found there could fit." Corigliano pointed out. It seemed that Corigliano was convinced of Bowman's guilt, but Rhodes wasn't sure yet. He'd need a bit more proof, such as a murder weapon.

"Couldn't somebody have taken a magnet from his room?"

John looked a bit startled by the suggestion, "I guess it might be possible, but they only have passcards for their own research stations, none of them would have access...." John's voice trailed off, as his mind began to do a few mental calculations.

"What is it John? You've hit something?"

"One of the scientist's research stations was at a security level that not even Dutton could breech. I forget the guy’s name, but Dutton is planning to talk to him after he finishes interrogating Bowman. Perhaps he could have a passcard that gives him unlimited access throughout the ship. He could have gotten into Bowman's room to plant the magnet." John explained.

Rhodes nodded, if there was somebody on board with such a powerful passcard, information which homebase had also withheld from him, then he would have to investigate the matter personally. That meant leaving the bridge, and the only person qualified to monitor the bridge would be Danielpour, who he had sent to his room personally! He wasn't sure if he wanted to drag Danielpour up here and leave him by himself, but he didn't have much other choice. He needed to get this ship moving back to the proper orbit before too much longer. The window was in less than an hour; there could be no more delaying.

"Here's the game plan. You go find Dutton, tell him that I need to speak with him as soon as he's finished interrogating Dr. Bowman. I'll be right here waiting for him. Also, take this to Kilpatrick," he handed him the new orbit orders, " and tell him that he needs to get down to Engineering to help Penny out with these orders. Tell him to contact the bridge through the main channel once they have everything set up. Also, stop by Danielpour's room and wake him up, tell him that I need him here shortly. Do you got all that?"

"Yes, sir." Corigliano nodded.

"Good, now get to it." Rhodes waved him off and then turned back to his screen. He waited until he heard the footsteps disappear down the hallway, and then he turned the screen back on. He glanced over the files till he found his place, and then continued reading. However, with the present revelations, he had too much on his mind. The idea that there was somebody on board with a master passcard made him quite wary. Not only did he have a murder, a psycho kid with a much more colorful background than they were led to believe, but now he had a scientist who not only had the yellow passcard but was working with magnets, plus somebody who might just be able to get in every door on this ship. This was not good news at all.

Dr. Xenakis took another peek at the temperatures again. Tembo: 98.6, Ascot: 85.3. He grimaced, wondering why Tembo was still after three hours no colder than when he was alive. He put his book down, and looked at the body, feeling it, pressing the chest down, and watching the blood pool a little bit. He grimaced. The blood wasn't draining as well, probably because the wounds were all up front. He noticed a little clotting along the sides, and wondered about that. He hadn't really dealt much with things that were dead, and couldn't quite remember everything about he way a dead body was supposed to act. Something in his mind told him that all this was normal for somebody with a large body mass to body surface ratio, which Tembo had, but couldn't remember the rationale behind it.

He pushed those thoughts from his mind for the moment, turning instead to look at Ziegler who was actually reading one of the articles from his Playboy. The blood ad long since stopped, and it looked like the swelling in his leg had gone down some. He poked Alan on the shoulder, "May I take a look at your wound?"

"Certainly! I want to get out of this place, it stinks in here!" Alan rolled over, putting his magazine down.

Xenakis sniffed the air. "I don't smell anything."

"That's caused you've killed your nose with all these sterilizers " Alan laughed.

"I hardly think so." Philip reproached his patient, and then began to undo the wrappings about both knees. The artificial healing salve had done its job, and the skin completely scabbed over. There was certainly no chance of further injury if Alan laid low for a while. "This looks very good. I think you can even go back to your room now. However, you'll have to use crutches to get around. Here let me find you a pair." Xenakis reached underneath the main operating table, and pulled a pair of extendable crutches out, and handed them to Alan who was sitting up.

"Thanks." Alan put them beneath his arms; it looked like he was familiar with them.

"You need to set them to the proper height first." Xenakis pointed out.

"I know." Alan proceeded to set the crutches to his height, and then he experimentally stood on them. He winced a bit as he felt the pressure on his knees. But then he grimaced and smiled, "Well, I knew it was going to hurt."

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry! I should have given you some painkillers for that." Xenakis reached into a drawer, pulled out a white bottle, opened it, and dumped a couple round pills into his hand. He offered them to Alan. "Here take these, that should numb the pain some."

Alan nodded, popping the pills, before smiling a bit and slowly making his way out the door. He stopped and looked back over his shoulder, "Can you put my magazine in my pocket? I don't want to leave it."

Xenakis rolled up the magazine, and slid it into Alan's back pocket. "Now, you get some rest!"

"I gotcha, doc," Ziegler nodded as he stepped out the door. Xenakis watched the door close behind him, and then he turned back to deal with the dead bodies. He glanced at the thermometer, saw no significant changes and then harumphed. He pondered what he could do, when an idea struck him. He looked at Tembo's pulse, there was none of course, nor did he exhibit any brain activity. Well, Tembo was obviously dead, but he wondered what he could do those wounds. He wondered what the artificial healing salve would do.

He pulled out a bit of his supply, feeling excited as he was embarking on a medical experiment, something he did not get to do too often. He was about to apply the salve when another thought struck him. If he applied this salve, then he could be destroying evidence that he would need to perform the autopsy. He sighed, realizing that his little experiment would have to wait. He sat back down in his chair, his back facing the bodies. He picked up his book again, and continued memorizing, "It has beckoned us since the dawn of time. From Goddess to astronomical body, it has watched over us, winking in its inimical way. Look yonder caveman, see it for yourself spacefarer, for it is the beginning of dreams."

It didn't take Bowman too long to figure out that Dutton was taking him to his research station. He knew that they suspected him of something major when they entered the research compartment and Dutton slipped a card through the lock, sealing them all in. Kilpatrick was watching that motion quite attentively. Bowman wondered why for a moment, but he had other more immediate concerns to worry about. "Why lock the door?" Bowman ventured a question, hoping to break the military man's silence.

"So nobody can interrupt us." Dutton replied unconvincingly. "Now, which one of these facilities is yours?"

Bowman decided that lying was fruitless, he had nothing to hide after all. He walked straight over to his door, and opened it up with his own blue card. "This is my research station. You know the one that reads, 'Doctor Richard Bowman' across the top." Bowman even pointed.

"No need to get sarcastic." Kilpatrick smiled playfully. He walked over to the room, "Yup, you're right, it does say 'Doctor Richard Bowman' on the door." Kilpatrick then turned and looked at Dutton whimsically, "Why couldn't you figure it out?"

"Knock it off, Samuel," Dutton growled petulantly. He walked over to the room, and stepped past the boundary, and glanced over the place. He motioned for Bowman and Kilpatrick to join him, while the middle-aged man and the blonde woman stood at the door looking nonchalant. Dutton was waving his arms about the room, "Do you notice anything missing, Dr. Bowman?"

Bowman first looked over his main table, glancing at the instruments. Amazingly enough, everything was still properly calibrated, and they were still getting readings from the empty experimental chambers that he had erected. They were facing the outer hull of the ship, and when he placed the magnets into the compartment, they would feed energy into the system based on the amount of solar radiation that they received. He was planning on comparing that to feeds from Supermagnets used in STP conditions as well as varying Teslas of magnetic strength. He opened his drawers, flipping through his utensils and reams of notebooks. It was obvious that they had been through his drawers, but he found nothing misplaced. He stood up, and peered about the room, scanning for the even the least item out of place. It was then that he noticed his utility shelf was missing one magnet, his most powerful.

"Yes, I notice something missing. One of my magnets seems to have been absconded." Bowman pointed.

"Did you notice this before?"

Bowman scratched his chin, "I don't know. I can't remember if I noticed it or not. I'm sure that if I noticed it I would remember, so I guess I just never noticed if it was missing before."

Dutton turned to look at the balding man standing in the doorway. "McGee, bring it in." McGee turned and waltzed down the hall, his feet not making a sound. Bowman did not even notice that at first, but only after Kilpatrick walked over to the door making a clicking noise with his boots. Kilpatrick peered out the door, with Gorecki glancing at him as one would a child. She shook her head, and then put her finger to his chin, and pushed him back, "I don't think so, Sam."

Sam smiled, kissing her hand before leaning back in the room. She chortled slightly, and then shook her head reproachfully again. Kilpatrick shrugged, and then leaned back in the room. Dutton was smiling a bit as well, chuckling lightly to himself. Apparently, everybody was in on the joke except him. Bowman laughed slightly, trying to ease the palpable tension between him and the security division. It also didn't work, as it brought their attention back to him, and the humor quickly vanished. Bowman kicked himself for being stupid. These guys suspected him of something, and they did not look like they were going to tell him what it was.

McGee returned carrying a large magnet with a handle at the top, and small button on one side. Bowman immediately recognized it as one of his. "That's the supermagnet that I am missing." Bowman pointed out.

"This is your magnet?" Dutton asked, pointing at it.

"No, it's a supermagnet, there is a difference you know. And yes, it is mine."

Dutton exchanged glances with the others, his face grim. Kilpatrick shrugged, obviously not willing to come to a decision on some unspoken question. Gorecki and McGee looked to be debating it, until finally Gorecki nodded, and McGee shrugged, obviously as unsure as the Executive Officer was. Dutton then turned back to Bowman, his eyes still searching, ever searching. "Can you tell me exactly where you were at about T+ 2 hours 23 minutes?"

"Sure, I was in my station, calibrating my instruments."

"You didn't leave your room at anytime?"

"Well, I went to the rest room once. Can't remember when though."

"How long would you say were you in the bathroom?"

"I don't know, maybe a few minutes," Bowman replied a little mystified as to why Dutton would want to know about how long he had been in the bathroom.

"Do you know of anyone who can verify your location at this time?"

"No, but I'm sure your little cameras can." Bowman pointed at the security camera that was innocently looking down on them all from above.

Dutton then smiled for some reason that was beyond him. Bowman wondered just what they were trying to get out of him, and it seemed that whatever they wanted, they had gotten. Dutton turned to the others, "I think we have used enough of Dr. Bowman's precious time don't you all?"

"Oh, absolutely," Kilpatrick droned.

"McGee, would you please escort him back to his room." Dutton told the middle-aged man. The man nodded and motioned for Bowman to follow him. Bowman had jut about had enough of this cloak & dagger secrecy.

"What in the world is going on, and why am I being asked these questions, and why are you locking us in our rooms?" Bowman spluttered before McGee could reach him.

Dutton sighed, "Bowman, you are not being accused of any crime, so you do not need to know."

"It is my right as an American Citizen!"

"Only if you are being accused of a crime. You aren't, so deal with it." Dutton turned away from him then, obviously intent on ignoring the man. Bowman became incensed, but could not find it in him to say anymore. He followed McGee out the door, spluttering to himself. Dutton walked to the main door to the compartment, and unlocked it with his card again, and then watched them leave. He crossed his arms, feeling miserable and staring down at the ground. He didn't even look up when that figure ran by him. He just didn't care.

How dare they do that! How dare they ask him all those questions without telling him why. Of course, now he would get a full update on the Saints-Falcons game.

Part V continued!

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