Space Station Werewolf, Part II

There was a clear trail for Garza to follow. Strangely elongated bloody prints smeared on the walls, and floating fragments of a person though, thankfully, nothing as large as the arm she’d seen. It took all of her training to keep calmly going forward. What kind of horror had come the station?

After seeing the arm, she had taken a moment to extract one of the short, sturdy titanium prybars kept in emergency alcoves throughout the station. Their stated purpose was to act as door openers in case of a catastrophic power failure; they also made a mean bludgeon, and Garza felt better with it gripped tightly in her right hand. She didn’t want to hurt Heim, but something had to be done.

She saw a purple navigation arrow on the wall, half hidden behind a smear of blood, and recognized that the trail was heading towards her lab. What would Heim be doing there? Why was he methodically destroying the labs? She swallowed, gripped the rod tighter and pushed her way forward.

It was ruined, same as the biology lab. She peeked around the corner, scanning for any movement, before letting herself drift in. The smell made her pause; it was metallic and stuck in the back of her throat. She had a brief memory of the big jar of pennies her grandfather had kept, many years’ worth, in a big gallon glass jar, the green-tinged copper smell that would almost overwhelm you if you got to close –

She reeled back when she got to the computer cases at the far end of the room. The door of the cabinet was open and the contents had leaked considerably. Certainly, it was the rest of whoever’s arm she’d found back in bio. Her gorge rose, and she felt the sweat prickling on her skin. Time to go.

She was halfway to the common room when she heard the screams, a chilling rush of animal terror that echoed up the lonely tube of the passage she was travelling down. Cursing, she flung herself down the hall, the rod at the ready. The screams got louder.

She rounded a corner, saw the press of people, registered the gout of blood that rippled and coalesced and floated in the air around them. Horrified eyes turned towards her, and there were more screams.

“What the fuck is happening?” she shouted over them.

“Heim,” gasped Cortland, gripping his wounded arm close. He nodded over his shoulder towards the closed door behind them. “He attacked us, almost got me. Lisa hit him with a tray, and that gave us time to get out.”

“Where’s Heim?” she asked, pushing through them to help Cortland with his injury. It was a deep gash, actually a series of deep punctures, a bite, but not from a human. “We should get to medical, we need to stop the bleeding.”

“Can’t go back that way,” said Cortland. “I spiked the door after we closed it, to keep Heim from following us.”

“Give me your jacket,” she said to Lapham. She tore strips out of it and bandaged his arm as best as she could, then made a sling out of the sleeves. “Keep pressure there,” she said. “What are we going to do?”

“We gotta find Ames,” said Glendon. Garza shook her head.

“He’s dead. I think Heim got him first.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead. “We have to restrain Heim somehow –”

“Xo,” said Cortland. His face was pale with blood loss, but his eyes were hard. “Heim is, I don’t know how to say it –”

“He’s a goddamn werewolf,” said Lapham. Garza blinked.

“What?”

“It’s true!” said Glendon, gripping her arm tightly. “We were in the common room, and Commander Cortland was explaining the situation to us, when Dr. Heim showed up.”

“And he was a werewolf?”

“No, he was normal, at first,” she said, shaking her head. “Normal-looking I mean. He was acting strange, confused, and he didn’t have any clothes on, just a sheet or something wrapped around him.”

“And he was covered in blood,” whispered Whack. He was shivering.

“I tried to talk to him,” said Cortland, shifting his position to crouch in place against the wall. “He did seem confused, and he said something about Ames having destroyed the lab, but then…” he swallowed, and his voice trailed off.

“Then he changed!” said Lapham. “It was something out of a nightmare. He looked behind us, through the window at something. I followed his gaze and saw the moon rising, again. When I looked back he was, ah,” Lapham paused, and his voice grew quiet. “Peeling apart, I guess is the way to say it. Everything just sloughed off him, and in place was a, well, a monster. Hairy, and with huge teeth and terrible red eyes. A wolf! A werewolf!”

“That doesn’t make any fucking sense,” said Garza. “There’s gotta be an explanation. Something in the air, food poisoning? Ergot! Everyone just hallucinated!”

“We saw it!” said Glendon. Garza turned towards Cortland. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing hard.

“Bill?” she said. Cortland looked her in the eye and nodded slowly, emphatically.

“But how did it happen?”

“The tooth, don’t you see?” said Lapham. She scoffed.

“He got poked with a wolf’s tooth, so what, that makes you a werewolf?”

“No, not a regular wolf’s tooth,” said Lapham. “My grandfather who hunted it had said it was a wolf, the biggest and cruelest he’d ever seen, but the villagers, the ones who had called him for help, they didn’t believe it to just be a wolf. They thought it was a man in the shape of a wolf, a terrible curse that had plagued the Carpathians for millennia! They made silver bullets for my Grandfather to use, and when he killed it they wouldn’t let him take the skin or anything for a trophy, they wanted to burn the body and cast it into the river. He had to carve the tooth out when no one else was looking! It all makes perfect sense!”

“Well, that might be going a bit far,” said Garza. “But fine, whatever, Heim is certainly incredibly dangerous. What do we do about it?”

“First thing,” said Cortland, standing up and rotating around to face everyone. “We need to get all civilians off the station.”

“Commander,” said Lapham, “this is a major scientific discovery, I will not be –”

“No arguments,” said Cortland sharply. “In emergency situations I have unquestionable authority here,” he paused and smiled. “For what that’s worth. Xo, take them to the number 2 emergency capsule and send them home.”

“How the hell are we supposed to fly home?” said Lapham.

“It’s automated,” Garza answered. “Old Soyuz system. When you launch there’ll be a signal sent to Earth, and then the computer will take over. Geosynch over Kamchatka, then you come down, nice and easy, vodka and borscht for everyone.”

“We can’t leave you alone!” said Glendon.

“He won’t be,” replied Garza. “It’s a three-person capsule. I’ll put you three on there, and then I’ll come back to help Cortland.” She handed him the titanium bar she’d taken. “Here, you might need this.” Cortland nodded and took it. Lapham opened his mouth, but he shook his head.

“End of discussion,” he said, simply. “I’ll head to command, try and figure out where Heim is at.” He turned to look at the sealed door at the far end of the passage. “If he’s isolated, I’ll put us in lockdown and seal him in somewhere.”

“It shouldn’t have to be for long,” said Lapham. “Just the duration of the full moon, and then he should return back to normal. In fact,” he said, pointing out the port hole, “look, the moon is setting now.” He lifted his wristwatch and fiddled with the scroll wheel on the side, then tapped a button. “Sixty minutes of ‘day’ now that the moon is out of sight behind the Earth, right? Heim should be back to normal, more or less.”

“Can we get to him now? Maybe put him under, lock him up somehow?” asked Garza.

“I don’t know,” said Cortland, “you didn’t see him, Xo. He was a monster. Terribly strong. I’m not sure we have the means to tie him down here, not when he’s transformed. We’ll deal with that later. Get these folks to the capsule, and then call me on the intercom and we’ll coordinate. We’ve got an hour, at least, where we don’t have to worry about Heim.”

***

Heim shivered. He was naked, again, and he felt, what exactly? Anxious? Cheated? Like something had been snatched away from him, a crawly needling annoyance in the back of his head. He was also hungry. Ravenously hungry, in fact; he felt light-headed and wobbly. Low blood sugar. When was the last time he ate? He felt like it hadn’t been that long ago?

Weren’t there some leftovers, somewhere?

He shook his aching head. Where had everyone gone to? He’d come up here to talk to someone, to warn them about something. There was danger. Ames, or was it Lapham? They’d wrecked the labs? Was that it? Or something else.

He let himself drift to get his bearings. No one was here in the common room but there was blood on the door, sticky and fresh, and little droplets drifted in the air around him. That was bad. Something else had happened. Where was Cortland?

Well, his duty was clear – there was a disaster unfolding on the International Orbital Station and command had broken down. There were civilians in harms way, and the structure itself might be in peril. He needed to get to the command module, put the station in lockdown, and contact ground control, let them know that they needed help up here!

The first door he tried was damaged and wouldn’t open. He’d have to go the long way around, through the exercise module and up the unused side of the station to get to command. He could at least find some clothes in the gym.

Before he started out, he glanced out the big window.

Gosh, it was lovely out there.

***

            Cortland made his way slowly towards Medical first. He needed real bandages, real antiseptic, and some pain-killers. If he stopped or let his mind drift, he’d see the wide maw, red and ragged, lined with cruel sharp teeth, lunging towards him, filling his vision, big as the sky. He could close his eyes and count the teeth, still smell the rotten stench of the Thing’s breath.

He touched the wound and shuddered.

Heim had only needed a prick from the tooth, after all.

He put it out of his mind, tried to ignore the feverish pain of the arm, and pressed on.

The pills helped, one round for the pain and a second round to help him focus. He swabbed a thick coating of antibiotics over the wound and wrapped it tight. The bleeding continued, but it was slowing down now, which had to be good. His lightheadedness left him as the pills took effect, and he started forward, checking his watch.

Twenty-five minutes to another moon rise.

He hurried.

The passages were quiet, the modules he floated through utterly still. The power plant hummed along, obscenely unconcerned with the tragedies erupting around it, and the click and whir of the computers in central processing were blissfully unconcerned with the motion of the moon. Cortland paused to drink some water from the bottle he’d taken from Medical; he felt like he’d been running a marathon.

He paused outside the passage leading to command and listened, straining his ears. Nothing but the sighing of the recirculating vents. He hurried to the door, slid it open, and entered. Readouts flashed red warnings – damaged circuits and failed pings for biology and geophysics. He ignored them and strapped himself into his chair. There weren’t cameras everywhere on the station. The habitation modules were blanked for privacy, and they hadn’t finished installing some of them in places. Water recycling was a dead zone, and so were a lot of the air pumps. A lot of places to hide, if you wanted to. Heim knew about them too, of course, but how aware of things was he, especially when he was changed? He seemed more animalistic then – would he know he could hide in that form too?

He scanned the available monitors, saw Garza leading the civilians down the path to the solar observatory. They had a long way to go to get to the docking bay. The civilians made for slow going, bumping along; even with the handholds they were clumsy and uncoordinated. He scouted their path for them through the monitors – communications, mechanical, storage, the galley, and all the intervening connections looked clear. There was no sign of Heim. Where was he? If he could find him, remote lock the doors –

“Commander, there you are,” said Heim, wearily. Cortland froze.

“Heim,” he croaked. He surreptitiously undid the chair straps and gripped the titanium rod behind his back.

“I tried to find you earlier, something’s wrong here…” he put his head in his hands and rubbed his temples. “I feel terrible.”

“Maybe you should sit down, Heim.”

“Got to go into lockdown, Commander,” he said. “Labs destroyed and I think someone is injured, I don’t know who.” He stopped and sniffed the air, then looked up sharply. Cortland had risen up out of the chair and was sidling along the edge of the cramped workstation. “You’ve been hurt, Commander! What,” he stopped, shook his head, then continued. “What happened?”

“Better head to bed. Come on Heim, you’re sick, remember?”

“I don’t remember a lot of things anymore,” he answered, his gaze drifting off towards the front of the module. The shields were down, blocking the view of space. “I don’t know how I got here, Commander. I don’t know what happened to my clothes, either, for that matter.” He pulled at the sweatshirt he was wearing. “Had to get these out of the gym. I think they’re yours, actually, they’re much too big for me.” He paused, licked his lips. “It’s strange, though,” he continued. “I don’t know all that stuff, but I do know that the moon is just about to rise over the edge of the Earth.” He looked at the blank windows and pointed to their edge. “Just there, now, I can almost feel it, coming up.”

***

            Storage was proving to be a difficulty. The crates were stacked high and deep and a little pathway left through the middle of them, but they blocked the handholds and the boxes themselves didn’t offer any convenient grips. They’d reach for one and miss, flailing around and kicking there legs as if they were swimming, but with just air to push against they just kind of hung there, looking ridiculous. Then they’d finally get purchase with a finger or a toe, but without the hard-won practice in really living with Newton’s Third Law, they’d misjudge either their direction of travel or the force they were using; there were a lot of bruises.

“Goddammit Whack,” hissed Lapham, slapping at his assistant. He’d spun into his employer and, in trying to push him off, had sent himself ass first into a stack of air filters. Maybe if they were all tied together, Garza thought, I could drag them along.

“Not much longer now,” she said, trying to encourage them. How long ago had Lapham’s watch beeped? He’d set the alarm to recur with the rising of the moon, and it had sent them scurrying forward, although without much impact on their overall progress. Cortland should be up in Command by now, too, she thought. She glanced over her shoulder at one of the cameras. Why didn’t he contact them on the intercom?

The howl shuddered through the passage and into the storage module, a long, low, hellish baying, ineffably hostile. The low tone rose, became plaintive, before trailing off to a thin, wavering moan.

“Move,” Garza said, “now.”

They got through the door, panting and sweating, and into the galley. Round tables with recessed magnets to hold food trays, microwave cooking stations, and a small waste disposal station dominated the long cylinder, space for twenty or thirty people at least.

They were half way across when the door on the far side shuddered under an impact. Garza stopped her movement with a quick kick, catching her toe on the back of a chair and arresting her forward moment. She reached out at grabbed Glendon as she flew by, her arms scrabbling in the air uselessly, a look of horror on her face.

“It’s on the other side of the door!” she gasped, pulling herself alongside and then behind Garza.

“Back to storage, we’ll go around,” she barked. Whack and Lapham turned and had started back, when the far door slid open.

“Holy fuck,” gasped Garza.

The thing that stepped through the door was soaked with blood, its black fur matted and steaming. The eyes were soulless red pinpricks in the snarling face, inhuman and hateful. There was a suggestion of a muzzle, an elongation in the jaw, and the teeth, huge, white, and dripping, seemed to sparkle in the warm florescence of the dining hall. The thing’s arms were long, its hands wickedly clawed, and its short, thick legs were corded with muscle. It saw them, opened its mouth, and howled.

It bunched itself against the doorframe, tensed, and pushed off, hurtling down the length of the galley towards them.

“Go!” shouted Garza, pushing Glendon towards the door. Snarling, the werewolf was streaking towards Lapham.

Who grabbed Whack, spun him around, and then pushed him into the onrushing jaws.

The sounds were terrible, and Whack’s screaming went on and on, rising in pitch and terror as the thing tore him apart. Garza pushed off the edge of the table backwards, missing the door and slamming hard into the wall. She watched, horrified, as Lapham, slinking around the side of the galley, got behind the werewolf and to the door on the far side. Without even looking back, he slid through it and shut it behind him. Garza saw it shake and shiver in the frame. He was spiking it, trapping them on the same side as the wolf.

The werewolf heard the hammering behind him and turned to growl.

Garza grabbed for the doorframe and pulled herself through. Glendon, pale and shaking looked passed her and at the horror in the galley.

“Come on,” she hissed, sliding the door shut. There was no lock, and she didn’t have anything to spike it closed. “Go!” she said, shoving Glendon ahead of her.

Behind them, Whack’s screaming finally stopped.

***

            He’d hated to do it, he told himself, just hated to do it, but when it came down to it…

Him or me, him or me, and the math just made sense.

Lapham dragged himself along the wall. His hands were shaking, but that was just from the exertion of moving quickly, he told himself. Might be weightless, but it still took muscle to drag around all that mass!

“Ha ha!” he laughed aloud.

He hated to leave Glendon and whatshername behind, though. That was rough. But better one survive than none! Again, the math just made sense. And maybe they’d be okay? They could hide somewhere, wait out the full moon, and then everything would be fine.

I mean, until he sent the kill squad up here. No one was going to come back with stories of a werewolf running amok on his station, my God, could you imagine!

It was such an impressive beast, though, so much power! It had moved like a thunderbolt, and tore Whack apart like he was made of tissue paper. Poor Whack.

What would something like that be worth?

He stopped at the junction of the connecting passageway.

It’d be worth a lot.

He checked his watch.

There were five or so minutes left of the moon, and then he’d have another sixty before the next moonrise. Where was he? He looked around. Next station he built would have maps at all the junctions, he promised himself.

But there was the yellow arrow, and that was pointing that way. That’s where Glendon had been put. Which meant that if he went that way, he’d come to another junction where he should find the green arrow, leading to his sleeping module. Not to far. And plenty of time. He could do it.

He could get the tooth and then hurry back, get into the capsule, and be on his way.

Yeah, it was a good plan. It’d work.

He hurried, grinning.

***

            In the end, she just told Glendon to climb onto her back and hold tight. She was small, and even with her clinging to her, Garza could still navigate better and move faster than the reporter could on her own. Gritting her teeth, she got through the maintenance bay in record time, and they made a pretty good clip down the passage afterwards.

“He just killed him,” Glendon was saying, over and over again. “He just pushed him into that thing’s arms and then ran away.”

“Left us too,” grunted Garza. She was starting to feel tired. She miscalculated a push and had to put an arm out and pull them to a stop. She’d need a rest soon. She kept going.

“How could he do that?”

“Yeah, billionaire was an asshole,” she answered, “who’d have thought, huh?”

“What are we going to do?”

“First,” said Garza, hauling them into the module. The purification tanks loomed over them, bug blue bulbs with display lights that gave them an inquisitive look. Glendon slid off her back. “We’re going to rest for a minute. I don’t have a watch, but it must be safe now, or close to it. The sun’ll be up soon, at any rate. Once I catch my breath, we’ll swing by Command, pick up Cortland, and then use the other capsule to escape.” She shook her head. “Hate to leave Heim here, but there’re what? Twelve, thirteen more moonrises to go tonight? Not happening. We gotta get off this fucking station, now.”

“I guess you’re right,” said Glendon. “Not like there’s anything on the station that could stop something like that. No silver bullets hanging around.” She leaned back against the water purifiers and laughed.

“Silver…” said Garza. She stooped down, spinning around until her head was facing the walkway and, with a quick wrenching motion, lifted the whole floor panel away. Beneath it there were long boxes, all labeled “AgNP Flt.” Garza hauled one of the boxes up and flipped the lid off, exposing two thick dinner-plate sized discs. They were a pale blue in color, and on closer inspection Glendon could see that they weren’t solid all the way through. They were very finely etched in a strange lattice pattern. Garza smiled and shook her head. “These,” she said, “are the filters we use to purifying used water on the station. They’re a microporous ceramic, impregnated with silver nanoparticles.” She handed one of the disks Glendon, and took one herself.

“Pretty big,” said Glendon.

“They’re massive, but there’s a fair bit of silver in them. Pure silver too, all throughout.”

“And what do we, uh, do with them?”

“Man, I dunno,” said Garza. “Look; Heim turns into a huge wolf when the moon rises. Everything I ever thought I knew is out the goddamn window. I dunno, hit ‘em with it or something.”

“Better than nothing, I suppose!” said Glendon. She tucked the disc into the back of her pants. “Thing’s pretty big. At least he’ll choke to death on it if he tries to eat me.” She took of her jacket, looked at it, and then let it float away. She was sweating too. “Whew, is it always this hot here?” Garza shook her head.

“I think the environmentals are acting up,” she said, quietly. The controls for those were in Command, and she didn’t like to think what that might mean. “Ready to go?”

“Sure thing,” Glendon nodded. “Thanks for the ride earlier. I’ll try to keep up this time.”

They made good progress. Each window they stopped by they took the time to look out of, though, since neither of them had a watch. They felt each second slipping by and knew that, somewhere, a clock was running down.

The door to the command module hung open. Garza halted and signaled Glendon to wait. Glendon fished her ceramic disc out and held it high, ready to bash it down on any charging werewolves. Garza slipped quietly towards the door, paused, listened. Silence, although she recognized the labored beeping of several alarms coming from the room. She took a deep breath, and peeked around the corner.

Glendon watched her, saw her stick her head in, hold it, and then bring it back out. Her eyes were closed, and she knocked her head back against the wall a few times. Glendon swallowed, and then called out.

“Everything okay?” she asked. Garza coughed, then shook her head.

“Heim got Cortland,” was all she said. Glendon hurried towards her.

“Oh no,” she said, but Garza held up a hand to stop her from looking.

“It’s bad,” she said, quietly. “Nothing we can do, except get out of here. And the sooner the better. The environmental controls were damaged in the fight, and afterwards, too. We should leave, it’s a long way to the second pod.”

***

            The tooth was right where he left it, floating on the leather loop that he’d tied to his sleeping hammock. He grabbed it, had a little trouble with the knot, but got it off and safely into his pocket. The discovery of a lifetime! He was shaking with excitement. Cars and Space Stations and 3D Printers were one thing – this, this was another thing entirely. He’d own modern warfare with that tooth! And who knew what else was out there. If werewolves, why not vampires? Why not all sorts of shadowy things, right out of Hell. It was the ultimate ground floor, and he was coming right in on it.

Of course, he needed to hurry and escape too. Get home, then conquer all of creation, that was the thing. It had taken him longer to get to his bunk than he’d expected, but even so, he was still slightly surprised when the 90-minute alarm he’d set on his watch went off.

The Moon was up again.

***

            “I don’t like the looks of that,” muttered Garza, scowling.

“Is that smoke?” asked Glendon, peering over her shoulder, nervously turning the silver-dosed ceramic disc around and around in her hands.

“No,” said Garza. “It’s fog.”

Billowy white banks of mist filled the passage, pouring out of the open doorway ahead of them. Condensation beaded on the walls, drops occasionally growing so large that they would bud off and float away, tiny diamonds of water, sparkling in the lamplight.

“Where’s it coming from?”

“That’s the hydroponics bay,” whispered Garza. “The misters are part of environmentals and they’re all fucked up. They’re just spraying full blast. Probably have been for hours now. Feel how it’s cooler here? Separate system to keep things from getting to hot, and without instructions from the central computer it just cranked the A/C as low as it’ll go. Cool air, warm water, fog.”

“I can’t see anything, though,” said Glendon.

“I know.”

“There’s no way around it?”

“Not a timely one. We’d have to go back the way we came, then all the way around the station to come at it from the other side. Lapham really fucked us when he spiked that door.”

“What are we going to do?” They waited, and listened to the hiss of the sprinklers and the hum of fans, and nothing else.

“Come on,” said Garza, finally. “Stay close, and stay loose.”

The fog rolled, flowing sedately around them as they floated through the door. In microgravity, the fog had no definitive top or bottom – they were like tiny clouds, billowing in long cylindrical banks that interfingered with one another, sometimes separating into gauzy mists that were almost invisible, sometimes overlapping and thickening into dense, opaque lozenges. Everything was muffled, and wet, and the air was so thick it was hard to breath. They pulled themselves slowly along, using the plant table or the watering armatures as anchors. Their eyes bulged, their ears strained.

“–” Glendon had just opened her mouth and started to talk when Garza lurched backwards, driving an elbow into her stomach, knocking the air from her lungs and sending her flying into a tower of young chard.

“Move,” shouted Garza, ducking.

The werewolf ripped past them, jaws snapping. It turned in midair but kept going, vanishing into the fog. Glendon heard a crash.

“Keep moving,” shouted Garza. “Don’t stand still!” She leapt up and vanished into the upper portions of the room. Glendon pulled herself around the kale and then kicked away, hearing the snarl before seeing the werewolf rushing down on where she had just been standing. A second, a half-a-second more, and that would have been it. She hit the far wall and didn’t wait, pushing hard and away, grabbing a table as she sped by and pulling herself down. She felt the wind as the wolf passed over her, smelled its wet fur, heard its disappointed growling.

Garza had kept moving too. She’d hauled herself along the ceiling, trying to get to the door. She heard the grunting of the wolf but no screams, so she assumed Glendon was okay. She didn’t have much time to worry about anyone else, though; she saw the wolf flying by below her. She tensed her legs against the ceiling.

“Keep moving to the door!” she shouted, then pushed off. Just as she did, the wolf came hurtling towards her, slamming against the water tank she’d been holding on to. It couldn’t see either, she figured. But its hearing must be better – that’s how it’s pinpointing us.

She saw movement below her and felt a brief moment of panic before she registered that it was Glendon, leaping away and to the left. Garza struck a table, used all her core strength to curl around and under it, and began to pull herself towards to door.

She felt the wolf hit the upper surface of the table, the whole structure rocking with the impact. His claws clicked against the metal, and she heard him tearing out the planters, ripping aside hoses and lamps. He was running along the upper surface, pulling himself along the same as she was. It was stronger, though, and could move faster.

How smart was it? She’d have to gamble.

It was crashing overhead, nearly on her. She ripped one of the spare metal brackets off of the legs of the planting table and hurled it, up and at an angle, into the fog. She heard it clatter, ringing brightly as it bounced off the opposite wall. The table shuddered again as the wolf leapt after it.

She had seconds. She pulled out from under the table and kicked against the legs, propelling herself straight towards the door.

She heard the shattering howl.

She twisted, saw the vast dark shape resolving itself into the figure of the wolf as it sped towards her, saw the burning red eyes and the outstretched claws.

With a shout, and holding it in both hands, she swung her ceramic disc as hard as she could, twisting her trunk, putting her whole body into the motion. She felt the impact all the way up to her shoulders, felt the disc slam up into his lower jaw and heard the dismayed yelp of pain. There was a sizzling sound, and the smell of burning fur.

But her blow had sent her flying downward against the floor, stopping her forward flight towards the door. It also sent the wolf spinning around in a circle towards the ceiling. She heard the yelp transform into a low, hateful growl. She looked up into the red eyes again, pointing directly downwards at her as it prepared to attack. She raised the disc.

It had shattered, almost completely, leaving her with just two fragments, barely more than a handful in each fist.

The werewolf snarled and leapt.

Glendon, screaming defiance, slammed the edge of her disc straight against the werewolf’s spine. No yelp this time, just a deep lingering scream as the monster was flung into the fog. The recoil sent Glendon spinning away, back towards the door.

“Garza!” she shouted as she vanished.

Garza pushed herself up and towards to door. Glendon was there, chalk white and wide-eyed with fear. She clutched her disc to her chest like a talisman.

“Nice fuckin’ hit!” shouted Garza as she pushed the shaking woman through the door and out into the passage.

“We did it?” asked Glendon, still shaking. “I mean, we survived a werewolf attack! No one was bit. My God, are you bit?” She began feeling over Garza’s arms and neck until she battered her hands away.

“No, Jesus, I’m fine,” she slapped the tiny woman on the back. “Thanks to you, slugger. Goddamn, you hit that one out of the park!”

“I just reacted,” squeaked the woman.

“Well, I owe you a beer for that one,” said Garza. “Now come on, we’re close! Let’s go!”

“He didn’t like that silver, did he?” asked Glendon as they went.

“No, he didn’t, that was really something. It was like it burned him. I probably left some of mine in the wound. Shattered it, completely. Here we are!”

“The pod?”

“No, but we go through here, and it’s a straight shot,” she paused and looked beyond the door down the rest of the hall. “That way to pod number 2, the one Lapham took. Pod 1 is closer though, just through here. This was Heim’s room, watch out, it was kind of foul last time I saw it.”

It still was when they entered. Garza covered her nose and mouth with her hand, and Glendon gagged a few times.

“It’s like an animal’s den,” she said, between choking fits. Garza nodded, and they hurried through it. She pushed Glendon through the door and paused to toss the remains of the silver ceramic filter into the room, and then shut the door.

“Just down there!” she said.

***

            It hurt, it hurt, it hurt so much, what was it?

He scratched at his jaw and howled with pain. There was something in the flesh, something that stung and burned and burrowed deeper with every scratch. And his back screamed with pain, he reached around behind it and felt the raw skin, like a burn, knives of pain that shot up and down his whole body.

Maybe that was enough hunting for now.

He yowled some more, and bit at the furniture, but his heart wasn’t into it. He felt pain, and he wanted to rest now, sleep through it, sleep it away. More hunting later.

He paused at the entrance to the hydroponics lab, and sniffed. He could still smell the burning thing that hurt him, little fragments in the air. He growled. But he didn’t smell the people. Maybe it was safe.

Back to his den, to sleep and heal and get stronger.

He limped along, his movements slow, unsteady. The pain was bad, but he felt a numbness in his limbs, a kind of deadening.

He almost cried when he got to his den, his sanctuary, his home – all his smell was there, but there was something else, the burning smell, the bright hateful burning smell. He saw the ceramic fragments in the air, spinning slowly, and he backed away. He couldn’t stand the sight of it, could barely breathe near it, and it seemed to make his wounds pound and scream and tingle and burn, more and more the longer he was by them.

He would have to abandon his den.

He would need a new den, someplace he could sleep in safety. Someplace cozy, where he could hide out the hours of weakness. He went searching.

He found one.

***

            Lapham very nearly collapsed when he got there. The escape pod, the door wide open and inviting. He was almost home free. He patted the tooth in his pocket. Thanks, Grampa, he said to himself. Still haven’t let me down yet.

He paused at the entrance of the pod. There was an earthy smell here, something off, but then again, he’d been smelling off stenches the whole time he’d been traveling. The vents were failing and the air was getting stale in places, strange chemical odors as the scrubbers worked overtime, he guessed. He climbed inside and shut the door, and even allowed himself a little sigh of relief as he bolted.

The pod was long and dark. There were three seats up front, but plenty of shadowy alcoves with securing belts that floated loose, ready to receive experiments or equipment thought worth saving. He floated to the front of the pod and began the launch procedures. The airlock door closed, the last bit of trapped atmosphere outside the pod was evacuated, and the bay door slid noiselessly open. It was all rather elegant, and the sight through the forward windows was breathtaking, nothing but stars and darkness and ultimate freedom. He leaned back in the chair. He’d strap himself in when he got into orbit. Now, he could stretch out and enjoy himself.

He pressed the button and the automatic pilot cut in. He felt the gentle thrust as the ship left the station, then a bit more as the engines took him out and away, turning in a wide arc. Earth rose into view, the edge of Europe below him. The ship turned east, burned hot for fifteen seconds, then the engines cut off. There would be various adjustments as he went on, but he had an hour or two before they were over far eastern Russia. He sighed again.

There was a noise behind him. He jumped and turned.

Heim crept uneasily out of one of the storage alcoves. He looked terrible, haggard, his skin greying. There was something wrong with his jaw; he had a huge open wound that seemed to run all the way down his neck to his chest, and he kept gingerly inspecting his back with a free hand. He winced as he moved, floating forward.

“Mr. Lapham,” he croaked. His voice was terrible, the pathetic bleating of a sick animal.

“Heim! Where did you come from?”

“I don’t know,” he said, pausing to lean against one of the chairs. “I was looking for something. I think I found it.” He coughed, and spat blood, which remained floating in the air before him. “I think I’m dying, Mr. Lapham. I got hurt, and I don’t think I’m going to make it.” Lapham stared at him, but didn’t say anything.

The alarm on his watch went off.

***

            It had been a month since the survivors of the IOS had landed in Kamchatka. Dr. Xochitl Garza, geophysicist, and Lisa Glendon, reporter. They had told a strange tale, many times and to many people, but it had remained the same and, despite being completely unbelievable, there were indications that something untoward had happened.

It took them a month, but they were eventually able to assemble a security detail and get them launched before a storm moved in over the West Texas site. The board of directors had insisted on it, especially when the DNA results from the other escape pod had shown both A) tissues belonging to Mr. Oliver Lapham, and B) a horribly decayed and nearly liquescent something else, which had numerous unidentifiable components in its genetic makeup.

They docked, they secured, and they searched.

“Captain,” said Lt. Marks, saluting. “First sweep is complete; everything seems to match what the two survivors told us, sir. Labs are destroyed, and there’s various human remains in the locations they said there’d be. No sign of the thing they described though.”

“Fine,” nodded the Captain. “Secure the station and post guards, I want full patrols and hourly check ins.”

“Yessir,” said the Lieutenant. He hesitated.

“Anything else, Lieutenant?”

“There’s been a casualty sir. Private Walcott was, ah, bitten by a rat, sir.” The Captain sucked a tooth.

“A rat?”

“A big one, sir,” said the Lieutenant. “Very big. Honestly, at first I thought it was a dog. It was very aggressive, too. We were securing the biology lab with Walcott on point when the thing just, well, leapt out of a cupboard and latched onto the Private. We beat it off him and it escaped into the ductwork.”

“Is Private Walcott okay?”

“Well, sir, it seemed so at first. The wound was ugly, but shallow. But it’s gotten very red and, well, the rat was acting strange.”

“Who knows what those eggheads were up to up here,” said the Captain, shaking his head. “Alright, send Walcott back down with the rocket so they can check him out back on Earth. Better safe than sorry, I imagine.” The Lieutenant snapped off a salute and floated away to carry out his orders.

The Captain looked out the big window of the common room, watching the world turn slowly below them.

END

Advertisements