The Perpetual

By Charles Matthias

Part V - continued

Dutton looked at Kilpatrick and Gorecki as McGee led Bowman down the hall, "I think this guy is guilty. All the evidence points to him at least. He may not have killed Tembo, but he certainly could have found the body and taken the passcard. He has the utensils, and he certainly had the time."

"What about motive?" Kilpatrick asked. "Why in the world would he smash the security office if he wasn't trying to hide something?"

"Perhaps he did kill Tembo." Dutton reasoned.

"But why, it makes no sense."

"I don't know. Maybe there is something in his file that we don't have either. All I'm saying is that he is our best possible lead."

"What about that kid Ascot. It is possible that he could have done it all. He could have sneaked into Bowman's room while he was in the bathroom and stolen one of the magnets. He might be the only one involved in this act. I don't think we should make any judgements just yet. Besides, we still don't have the murder weapon." Kilpatrick pointed out.

"That is true." Dutton looked thoughtful for a moment, "Still, I think Bowman might have been involved somehow."

"Ascot couldn't have done it all," Gorecki spoke up, her voice harsh and quick. "How could he have left the card at the door when he was dead?"

"That's true." Dutton nodded. He then looked at Kilpatrick, wearing a self-congratulatory smile. "Well, Samuel, care to revise your opinion?"

Samuel shrugged. "I guess it's obvious, there had to have been at least two people involved in all this. Ascot was one, and Bowman might be the other, but something tells me that is not the case."

Dutton nodded, "Well, we have to figure that out for ourselves."

Just then, Corigliano came running into the room. He was running at a good pace, but not so fast that he would exhaust himself. He looked over at Kilpatrick, "Rhodes wants you to take this and help Penny with the navigation down in the engineering room." John held out a sheet of paper to Samuel, who took it rather reluctantly.

"So he finally got orders, huh?" Dutton asked.

"Yes, and one of them is to release the Shapeshifters immediately."

"Damn it! I am not going to let them go until I know what is going on!"

"Well, Rhodes wants to talk with you personally up on the bridge."

Dutton nodded, "I guess that makes my immediate future pretty clear." He turned to look at Kilpatrick who was still standing in the room looking over the orders. Dutton glared at him, he still was a bit suspicious about whether Kilpatrick had anything to do with this; after all, he had lied about going to the greenhouse. "Why are you still here, Sam, shouldn't you be heading down to Engineering?"

Samuel grunted, and walked off, leaving the trio to themselves. Dutton watched the man disappear, not taking his eye off him for a minute, making sure that he was headed down the right passageway. He did as far as Dutton could watch, and then turned down a corridor, and was out of their range of sight. Dutton turned back to look at both Gorecki and Corigliano, both of whom were giving him thoughtful glances.

"You still think he did it don't you?" she asked him, her eyes piercing him.

"I think he might have done it." Dutton admitted. "I hope I'm wrong though, because I've considered Sam a good friend for any number of years now. To think that he murdered Tembo is horrible, but it is a very real possibility. He's already lied once to me since Tembo's death, there is not telling what his motives are."

"When did he lie to you?" John asked a bit confused.

"I asked him if he had gone to the Greenhouse, something I know he did, and he told me he didn't."

"How did you know that?"

"Xenakis mentioned it when he was on the bridge to collect Alan."

"And you trust him? He probably couldn't have told you whether the guy was wearing clothes or not!" John exclaimed, very sure that their mutual friend could not have been responsible.

Dutton sighed, not wishing to discus the matter further. "Well, I better go see what Rhodes wants."

Lucille Penny looked up form the screen as Kilpatrick stepped into the room. He was looking a little nervous, careful not to step on the spot where only a few hours ago, the body of Tembo lay. He held in one hand a piece of paper, and he was feeling the lock on the door in the back carefully. He then turned to her, brandishing the paper like some sort of accolade. "I have the orders to engage in our new orbit. We have about an half-hour before the window arrives."

Penny gingerly took the sheet from his hand, and glanced down the lines of instruction. The directions were barely meaningful to her; the class on introductory starship navigation that she had to take back in the academy had been too boring to keep her attention for long. She much preferred to tinker with the various mechanisms than bother to learn how to use them. She handed the sheet back to him, "I don't know what these instructions mean."

"That's why I'm here, I can understand them. However, I need your help to program them into the computer. You know this room very well, and you know how to make it work. We can do this together." Kilpatrick smiled at her, a faint longing in his voice apparent. Penny smiled, and nodded. That he missed Simmons was readily apparent. That there was something else, she could vaguely guess. What it was, she was not sure though.

It might have been the death of Tembo. The Lord knew that it had certainly upset her, but not so greatly as had the death of Ascot right there on the bridge. She shunted the image of his head exploding from Ziegler's bullet to the back of her brain, and out of her consciousness. She did not even want to think about it. She probably would have collapsed if JUDE had not cleaned up the mess in Engineering. However, her recovery would take some time. She had been in space many times before; she had gotten to know most of the crew very well. Rhodes, Kilpatrick, Danielpour, Simmons, Xenakis, and even Tembo and Dutton; all of them were very good friends. Now whom did she have for support? Simmons had broken her leg and was not able to make the flight, Tembo had been brutally murdered, Dutton was leveling accusations at just about everybody, and Rhodes seemed like he was on a quest, too preoccupied to do anything else. Who did that leave? Danielpour? He was too wrapped up in himself. Xenakis? A nice man, but much too flighty to really understand. Kilpatrick? He might understand, he might be able to comfort her.

"Penny?" he asked, seeing her distraction.

"What? Oh Sam, I was just thinking about something, you were saying?"

Samuel stared into her face, his own unreadable, "I was just saying that we can do this together."

Penny smiled, "Yes, let's do this together."

Kilpatrick nodded, and glanced at the sheet, "Okay, it says that we need to begin the orbit change a T+ 5:46.02. I guess we should program this into the computer."

"Right." Penny pulled up the proper screen, and began typing into the panel. She checked a few things, and then waited expectantly, "Okay, I can now preprogram the automatic pilot to make these changes. Now what was that time?"

"T+ 5:46.02," Samuel reiterated.

"Got it."

"Okay, now we need to change the azimuth by +20 degrees. And we have to do it using the forward rockets, the retro rockets would use up too much fuel."

"Uh huh."

"Simultaneously we have to fire another forward rocket +70 degrees yaw."

"All right."

"Then, we need a single pulse from the main engine. The burst should not last more than five seconds."

"The computer has that too." Penny typed away at the keyboard, preferring manual interface to the confusing voice interaction. It was simply easier this way, and less likely to promote confusion.

"Okay, this will get us out of the Venusian orbit, and send us towards Earth. It will take just under an hour to get there." Kilpatrick set the page down. He turned away for a moment, "I think we should enter the instructions for orbit about the Earth system once we are underway, and know that we are on the right path."

Penny nodded, engaging the instructions that Kilpatrick had given her. She saw that Samuel was brooding about something, something that was obviously disturbing him greatly. He was staring down at the floor near the exit, almost obsessively. Penny, her own problems fading away, saw his concern, and came around to his side, "What's the matter?"

Kilpatrick stared down at her figure, "Nothing."

Penny put her hand on his shoulder, "I can tell that you are worried about something."

"Nothing you should worry about."

"Hey, you can tell me." she smiled at him, hoping to break his resolve.

Kilpatrick snorted, "I wish I was with Simmons, that way I wouldn't have to worry about any of this mess."

"It's about Simmons then?"

Kilpatrick let out a little laugh. She wasn't sure whether it was fatalistic or ironic, "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

"Is it because you love her?"

"Possibly, you couldn't understand." Kilpatrick sighed, and turned even further away, looking over at the computer screen. "My relationship with Simmons is one that most everybody knows about. I mean, I'd like to marry her someday, but, I don't think I'm going to survive this trip."

Penny stepped back in horror, "You're not going to die," she insisted.

"I don't think Ascot killed Tembo. I think the killer is still loose, and I know that ultimately, I'm the target."

Penny for once did not know what to say. Here was a man that she had always thought of as being a playful sort, but very strong willed, and he was certain that he was going to be a target of whomever was doing the killing. She sat there staring at the side of his face; he wouldn't let her look into his eyes, groping for words, hoping that he would continue to fill up the empty space in the conversation. He did not say a word for a few moments, and then shuddered, "I just don't know who it is."

"What are you going to do?" Lucy asked, not sure why, but she needed to say something.

"Everything I can. You have to listen to me, and trust me. Do you promise to do that?" He turned and looked into her face, gripping her by the shoulders.

"Of course. I'll do anything you ask me."

"Good. There may be a chance after all." Kilpatrick let go of her shoulders, and returned to his silent contemplation. Penny took a quick glance at the computer screen; only twenty-five minutes left before they changed course. She sat down at the terminal, trying to control her self, trying not to let her fear come bubbling up to the surface again. She had already been on one emotional roller coaster; she did not need to take another trip. However, it was too much for her, and she began to cry again unable to keep the fear inside of her any longer. Kilpatrick saw it, and came over to her as swiftly as he could. He wrapped his arms about her, holding her tightly, "I'm sorry I said those things. It's all going to be all right. Nobody is going to hurt you. I won't let them hurt you."

Penny cried into his arm, feeling the reassuring embrace rock her back and forth as she let it all flow. She held his arm tightly to her, not wanting him to ever let go.

Danielpour came struggling back into the bridge a few minutes after Corigliano left. Rhodes looked the man up and down, seeing that he had quickly pulled his clothes on and that he had indeed managed to get some sleep. It was also obvious that he had not had enough, from his drooping eyebrows, and his long face, slow shuffling gait, and from the way he slouched in his chair. He stared at the screen and panels before him disinterestedly, his head leaning forward ever so slowly, until his whole body just sort of sunk into the chair in a half-doze.

"Malcolm!" Rhodes barked.

Danielpour looked up suddenly, his eyes struggling to half-open, his mouth hanging open in protest. It was obvious that Malcolm was fighting a losing battle. Rhodes shook his head, this situation was draining them all, but Malcolm should be able to stay awake, he had already slept a few hours after the launch and another just now.

"Malcolm, you need to wake up and stay alert."

"I'm trying." he muttered while nearly yawning.

Rhodes shook his head, wondering whatever it was that he could do with the man. Rhodes himself was getting a little sleepy, but the adrenaline rush of seeing a kid get his head blown up was still fresh in his memory. He closed his eyes for a moment the scene replaying before him; the kid firing into the console; Alan firing that fatal shot. He then saw the mess and watched as JUDE sat by it, the various implements sliding form its cavity to rinse the mess and scrape it clean. He opened his eyes, the images still playing before them. He shook his head again, turning his thoughts to less gruesome matters.

He stared over at Danielpour, who was beginning to nod off again. Rhodes stood up, gingerly walked over to the console, and slammed his hands down on top of it, right in front of the man. Danielpour jumped, his eyes suddenly alert. "What?" he asked, his voice shaken.

"Stay awake." Rhodes reiterated before returning to his seat.

Malcolm gripped the sides of the console deliberately breathing, shaking his head every few seconds to keep himself awake. Rhodes slumped back down in his chair and rubbed his temples. This trip was a nightmare, there was no other way he could describe it. He could think of only one thing that could have caused this problem, the Shapeshifters. They were the only things on board that he had never had to deal with. He had never taken any nonscience personnel up into space before. Certainly the pressure must have cracked at least one of them. Ascot was a testimony to this. The others each must also have their little quirks.

He turned in his chair when he heard footsteps coming down the hallway. Dutton was by himself, and he seemed very frustrated at something. Rhodes motioned for him to have a seat, and then smiled, "I have the complete reports on the Shapeshifters."

"Excellent!" Dutton smiled, "That's the first good news I've heard all day."

"You are not going to believe what was left out of their files." Rhodes pointed out, handing Dutton printed off copies. "Apparently Ascot is a student at the Academy, studying Navigation specifically. He knew exactly what he was doing when he sent our ship into a Venusian orbit. Oh, and Ascot isn't even his real name. His real name was Lars Thordegaard, he was from Duluth, Minnesota, and he had a perfectly normal psychological profile."

"Lars Thordegaard?" Dutton made a face. He examined Ascot's picture. "I guess he does look a bit Scandinavian." Dutton then read a bit further down, and began to shake his head, "Third year at the Academy, who would have known."

"Well, they certainly didn't think it that important to let us know to begin with." Rhodes grumbled. "Actually, four of the eight are enrolled at the Academy; Darkwolf, HuggyBear, and Lovewolf are the other three. None of them has specialized in navigation though."

"Wait a second, they only told us Ascot's real name!" Dutton realized leafing through the eight pages.

"I know, very frustrating isn't it."

Dutton put the pages down in disgust. He then looked over Rhodes's shoulder and squinted, "Why is Malcolm sleeping?"

Rhodes turned and saw Danielpour slouched in his chair again. Rhodes just shook his head. "I give up. When I need him to do something, I'll wake him up."

"Well, I have found out a few things. You know that we discovered Tembo's passcard in Dr. Richard Bowman's station."

"Yes, I remember Corigliano telling me that."

"Well, apparently he claims that somebody knocked on his door about ten minutes before we came by and locked everybody in their rooms. When he opened the door, he saw the passcard on the floor, but nobody was in sight. That is his story, but he has no witnesses to attest to his location. He also admitted that the magnet used was one of his own. It seems very likely that he was the one who did it, but we still have no motive for him to take such action. He might be telling the truth. If that is the case, then somebody is setting him up.

"Now, Dr. Frederick Anselm is also an interesting figure. I tried to use my card to open his lab, but apparently I don't have high enough access. Now, when I am supposed to have the most powerful passcard on the ship, aside from Tembo's and yours of course, then I get a little suspicious. I am going to interrogate Anselm shortly to see what he knows. Other than that, I have no leads, but I think that it is clear that Ascot cannot have done all of it by himself, there is still somebody on board this ship who is still alive that had some hand in Tembo's death."

"How do you know that?" Rhodes asked skeptically.

"If Bowman had nothing to do with it, his story is probably true, but by the time somebody could have left the passcard on his doorstep, Ascot would have already been dead. Somebody else is involved, and it seems like Bowman, but I want to talk with Anselm because a locked door is very suspicious." Dutton reasoned.

"I can ask homebase for more background information on all of the scientists too. It'll take about a half-hour before we get the information though."

"Well, I imagine that we can persuade Anselm to be quite forthcoming."

"Good, go to it. Give me a report when you're finished talking to him. Also, once we start heading to the new orbit, I want you to open all the doors again. There is no sense in keeping them locked up any longer."

"Even the Shapeshifters?" Dutton protested.

"Especially the Shapeshifters, you will need to search their rooms after all."

"Right, well I'll go talk to Anselm." Dutton rose from his position.

"Dutton, you watch yourself." Rhodes cautioned him, "Somebody on this ship was able to kill Tembo, and I don't think it was Ascot."

Dutton nodded gravely, "Yes, sir." He then turned on his heel and began walking down the hallway again. Rhodes watched him leave, his eyes following the man's footsteps until his head disappeared down the staircase.

Rhodes turned on the sleeping figure of Danielpour. "Malcolm! Wake up!"

Malcolm nearly jumped out of his seat, "I am awake!" he protested weakly.

Rhodes ignored the remark, "I need you to send a message to homebase. Make sure that they understand the gravity of the situation, and that all information that we can get will be very helpful. Now, we need background information on all the scientists, especially Dr. Richard Bowman, and Dr. Frederick Anselm."

Dr. Pierre Thibaudet was lying on his bed, letting his thoughts wander where they may. He had gotten a little bit of sleep, but it had not amounted to much. Everytime he was about to drop off into slumber, Anselm would pipe up, "Oh, I really like this part." and proceed to read more from that accursed book out-loud to him. He tried his hardest not to think about what Fulton Swiley had said, but those cryptic words kept springing back into his mind. The world would be one of magic again, one that was beyond the understanding of the human mind.

When he thought of magic he usually thought of Merlyn or Gandalf, but this time it wasn't in some far off world, or in some distant past, but in the near future. Swiley's predictions about the pace of technology and the human mind to correlate its contents was too startling for Thibaudet to admit might be true. However, his mind continuously betrayed him, dwelling on what such a future might be like. Certainly there wouldn't be elves, hobbits and whatnot in such a future, as that was too ridiculous to even dwell on. However, his mind was in a ridiculous mood he concluded as it began dwelling on just how such races might come into existence.

The topic of metamorphosis kept creeping back into his consciousness for it would be needed to create such things as dwarves or dragons, or dare he think it, werewolves? How could his mind not resist the temptation to dwell on the werewolf when they were hosting the Shapeshifters, a group of eight kids who seemed to think they were werecreatures of one variety or another. They were certainly odd, as he had stumbled into one of them completely naked in the hallway. Still, they possessed a certain nature that was disturbingly alluring to Thibaudet in his current state of mind.

He found the idea of transformation somehow very interesting, since the work that Swiley was so obsessed with was such an idea. Though he talked of things other than physical metamorphosis, one could make the case that his book was an attempt at completely transforming the human perspective on the world. The entire worldview would be completely restructured by his understanding of science and the capabilities of the human mind. It would be transformed into a world in which magic would be real. Who knew what could happen, perhaps the Shapeshifters would be able to really turn into werewolves or whatnot on the full moon.

The thought of becoming something else had never really been attractive to Thibaudet. He had to admit that Anselm's description of their motivations was quite satisfactory; as a means to escape responsibility and reality. However, he also was forced to admit that he sometimes wished that he could just break free of all restraints. He sat up in bed then, a question springing to mind. Though he did not really want to talk to Anselm, at least it would give him a chance to bounce the question off the man, "Hey, Anselm. I just had a thought."

"What is it, Pierre?" Anselm put that book aside for a moment.

"I was just wondering. If you could be an animal, which one would it be?" Thibaudet felt a little silly for asking such a question, but his mind would not let him think about anything else. Perhaps the exposure to too much Swiley was finally having an effect on his normally empirical brain?

Anselm looked a bit surprised at the question, "Well, I'm not sure. I guess I'd like to be a panda. Can't quite say why, I always liked them when I was a kid, and there are almost none left now." Anselm looked distant a moment, and then stared back at Pierre, "What about you? What animal would you most like to be?"

Thibaudet shrugged, "I don't know, I've never given it much thought. If I had to say, I'd probably want to be some sort of large bird. I'd love to be able to fly, and it seems that there is something freeing in it. I don't know how else I can describe it."

Anselm smiled, "For your interest, chapter ten of 'Cycles of the Universe: Science Rediscovering Myth' is about the desire to fly and what man has done about it."

Anselm offered him the book, but Thibaudet put his hand up. "No thank you, I don't really want to read that."

"Why not, I think it taps right into what you were saying about freedom."

"Let's just say that I cannot stand that book, and don't really want to even look at it. Fulton Swiley is a cretin who knows nothing in my estimate. Besides, I read the book once already."

Anselm shrugged, "Well, I think you should hear the introduction at any rate." He flipped through the pages in the book, while Thibaudet reach down to throw his pillow at the man.

Dutton was by himself when he came to Dr. Anselm’s room. He did not want the man to think that he was in any sort of trouble. Of course, the sight that he saw when he opened the door was enough to convince him that Rhodes was right, they had been locked up long enough. One of the men was about ready to throw his pillow at the other, who seemed quite oblivious to what was going on. Both however turned to face him when the door was opened. The one with the pillow cupped it in his lap quickly, looking a little sheepish.

"Dr. Frederick Anselm?" Dutton said plainly.

"That would be me," the man reading confirmed.

"Would you come with me for a moment?"

"Certainly." the man put his book down, and then turned back to the one with the pillow in his lap, "Au revoir." The pillow-man looked at him funny, and was then gone when the door sealed shut once again. Anselm looked clearly into the security officer's face, "What's the problem?"

"You'll see, just come with me."

Anselm was quite silent as Dutton led him up to the research stations, not even flinching a bit when he saw that Dutton had stopped in front of his door. Dutton glared at the man, "Why can't I access your research station, Dr. Anselm?"

Anselm shrugged, "Perhaps there is dirt on your card. Why don't you try it again?"

"I tried it three times already, and there is no dirt on my card, and before you ask, my card is working perfectly. Now, why can't I access your research station? Do you possess a card with a higher security rating than mine?"

Anselm looked distant for a moment than he said quietly, "I cannot answer those question."

"Can't or won't?"

"You pick," Anselm replied dryly.

Dutton grabbed him by the shoulder, "I want you to open up your door right now."

"I'm afraid that's impossible. I will not do it," Anselm replied stubbornly.

"And why not?"

"You do not need to know."

"I am chief of security on board this ship, and I have the authority of the captain, you will do as I tell you to!" Dutton was quite flustered by the man.

"You cannot give me such an order," Anselm remained adamant.

Dutton pushed Anselm away from him for a moment, no longer playing games. He drew his sidearm, and aimed it directly at the man, "I don't have time to argue with you Dr. Anselm, you will open that door. If you have nothing to hide, then opening it will make it a lot easier. If you continue to disobey my commands, I will be forced to fire upon you."

Anselm rolled his eyes. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small card. He handed it over to Dutton, and stood there solidly. The card was not a passcard, Dutton could see that immediately, but instead an ID. Suddenly, his knees began to knock together, and the gun fell from his grasp. He gingerly handed the card back to Anselm, "I'm terribly sorry about this Dr. Anselm, I had no idea."

"I understand. You are not going to tell anybody about this, now are you?" Anselm told him, his voice, once lax and uncaring had become hard and authoritative.

"I won't tell a soul," Dutton confessed.

"Good. Now pick up your gun, and stop shivering. You might want to let us out of our rooms shortly as well, I think Pierre is getting a touch of cabin fever."

"Of course, Dr. Anselm."

"Thank you." Anselm nodded, striding from the room, leaving the completely destroyed security officer behind him in the research compartment.

Onto Part VI!

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