Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry and remains firmly in the grasp of Paramount. If they decide to sue over a story like this, their legal department has WAAAYYY to much time on their hands. Star Traks is the creation of Alan Decker. He's too busy doing Batman impressions to sue.

Author: Brendan Chris
Copyright: 2014

Personal Log, Ensign Greg Mayle. Stardate: Classified.

“They say time flies by when you’re having fun. What they don’t say is that supporting a team of quasi-werewolves as they slaughter criminals can be a lot of fun. Apparently. Because time sure has been flying. It’s been over a month since we embarrassed ourselves on Viatte II, and we’ve been busy as hell. Eight assassinations, two kidnappings, four intimidations and a missing kitten. Or, in politically correct speak, eight dangerous criminal eliminations, two asset recoveries, four shows of force and a public awareness exercise. Why a top secret Starfleet Intelligence ship has anything to do with public awareness, I don’t know. The kitten probably belonged to some admiral’s daughter.”

“Final body count, eighty-three criminals, sixteen guard animals, twenty squirrels, most of my lunches over the past month,”

“Oh, and one kitten.”

Grey Mayle sat in the dining hall of the USS Farkas. In the original blueprints for the Intrepid-class ships, the large room at the front of Deck 3 was listed as the Captain’s Private Dining Room. It took a ship stranded halfway across the galaxy to realize that on a ship that small, dedicating a huge room to one person for the rare occasions when that person didn’t eat in their quarters or with the rest of the officers was absolutely ludicrous.

Mayle was seated across from Nurse Bayles, one of the more friendly members of the Farkas’ crew. Even though he couldn’t transform, most of them still considered him to be a Howler. It had taken a lot of work on his part (and the Howlers) to get the crew to start seeing them as something other than a science experiment gone wrong. It had started with the Howlers helping out in the cargo bay, using their extreme strength to move cargo when the antigravs had broken down. Most of the crew still didn’t care for the group, but at least it was at the point where Mayle could leave the Howler’s Den without being sneered at, or escorted back ‘home’.

“You’ve healed really well,” Bayles commented, looking closely at the side of his head. A faint mark was all that remained of a rather nasty gash, “I don’t think we’ll have to do any work…and if anybody does see it, they’ll probably assume it’s from some great fight. Especially if they’re Klingon,”

“I don’t think they’ll be very impressed when they find out the fight was with my cat,” Mayle said dryly.

“Maybe not,” Bayles shrugged, “But you don’t have to tell them that,”

“That’s assuming I’m ever allowed to talk to anybody outside this ship again,” Mayle continued.

“Hey, you asked me out to dinner. Not to hear you mope,” Bayles said, trying to sound cheerful.

“You’re right,” Mayle straightened up in his chair, then gestured at the waiter, “Garcon, the lady will have the best dish on the menu,”

“That would be the macaroni and cheese, sir,” the waiter said snidely.

Mayle’s face fell.

“What kind of dump is this?” he grumbled.

“If sir would care to retire to his own part of the ship, I am most certain that sir would find some kibble more to his liking,”

So much for improvement with the crew, Mayle mused.

“I’ll have the lobster ravioli,” Bayles said, giving the waiter a dark look, “See if you can get that fishy taste out of the replicator this time,”

“Seafood without the taste of the sea, of course, madam,”

“Steak, rare,” Mayle sighed.

“Would sir care for baked potato, mashed, or shall I simply toss it on the floor?”

“No side dish. Just the meat,”

“As sir wishes,” the waiter sniffed, “Would you care to select from the wine list, or shall I simply send over a keg?”

“There’s only one kind of wine on the stupid list!” Mayle snapped, “Just take your upturned nose, shove it up your ass and go do you job!”

“As sir wishes,” the waiter departed.

“He’s totally going to spit in our food,” Mayle grumbled, “Where did they get that guy anyway, Guinanco?”

“Starfleet Intelligence has been experimenting with holographic service personnel,” Bayles said, “Fewer security clearances to process. Didn’t you get the memo?”

“I guess not,” Mayle shrugged, “At least if he spits in our food, it’s only holographic spit,”

Bayles didn’t look impressed.

This date was tanking, hard and fast. It had been a while since he’d gone out with an actual live woman, to be fair. That almost-tryst with Ensign Ianda was more of a bar hook-up than an actual date. Other than that, the most romantic experiences he’d had since becoming a Howler had been watching Syl getting intimate with a tree.

Or witnessing that thing between Lt Comd Travs and Lt Vanheath. But he REALLY didn’t want to think about that one.

Their replicated dinner arrived quickly, complete with what really looked to Mayle like a blob of spittle on his steak…but could have just been liquified fat from the grilling the replicated meat hadn’t actually received.

“Still having stomach problems?” Bayles asked politely.

“I can’t turn into a wolf, but I apparently have to eat like one,” Mayle grunted. He could still eat regular, human food. But his enjoyment of non-meat dishes had practically collapsed. And was this a date, or a medical exam?

Mayle paused, a red, dripping piece of steak halfway to his mouth.

Or was this a medical experiment? Had Bayles been sent to go out with him? Were Wolfman and Soruk even now watching on some monitor somewhere, evaluating how the virus impacted his ability to attract normal, human women?”

“What?” Bayles asked.

“Nothing,” Mayle ate the chunk of steak. Replicated. Dead. Just plain…missing something.

“So. Um, tell me about yourself. Any hobbies?” Bayles asked.

“I used to kayak,” Mayle shrugged, “And I used to play around with brewing beer. But since I got here…” he trailed off. Honestly, after finding out he was infected with an alien virus and was just about a werewolf, his hobbies hadn’t exactly been at the front of his mind.

“Oh,” Bayles said.

They ate in silence for a few moments.

Could this date be going any worse, Mayle wondered.

As soon as he finished the thought, he inwardly cursed. Any minute now…

The doors to the dining hall swished open and two males dressed with the mustard-yellow colours of support dashed into the hall. One was of average height with black hair, dark eyes and a firm, athletic bordering on muscular build. The other was shorter, with a stouter build and stubble on his chin. It was hard to notice anything other than the wide smile on his face.

“Oh boy,” Mayle slumped in his seat

“Greg!” Syl said, rushing over, “Finally! We’ve been looking all over for you!”

“Hi!” Porkchop exclaimed happily, “Hi-hi-hi! We missed you! Did you miss us?”

“Look, guys, I’m sort of on a date,” Mayle grumbled, pushing Syl away as the French-Canadian Howler started sniffing at him, “And you’re in public! What did we say about sniffing in public?”

Syl looked around at the Farkas crew-members in the mess, staring at him with looks ranging from disgust to amusement.

“Was I sniffing? I’m sorry, I didn’t even notice,”

“Hi Caroline,” Porkchop waved happily at Nurse Bayles, “How’s it going? How’s the date?”

“Ummm…good?” Bayles said.

“Hey, we’re going to Grandmama’s Cottage after dinner. Do you wanna come? You can bring your friend!” Syl was almost bouncing in place.

“Oh, and bring the bone from that steak!” Porkchop added.

“GET OUT!” Mayle snapped, “Look, I’m trying to have a quiet dinner! Could you guys just leave me alone for ONE HOUR?”

Syl and Porkchop looked like they’d been smacked.


“Please, just, leave me alone for a bit,” Mayle said.

The two Howlers exchanged a look, directed a darker look Mayle’s way, then walked slowly out of the mess.

“I’m sorry,” he said to Bayles, “It’s that canine, social-predator pack mentality thing.”

“I know, Soruk and Wolfman won’t shut up about it,” Bayles replied coolly. She finished off her last ravioli, “But if you’re so eager for some time alone, then I should be going. Enjoy your evening,”

She stood, gave him a nod, then left.

“Failure, as expected,” Ensign Fraks said from a nearby table, “Nurse Bayles is clearly beyond the league of a flea-bitten, leg humping mutt,”

Deciding that adding assault to his list of dismal mistakes for the evening was NOT in his best interest, Mayle left.

Mayle returned to his quarters, carefully eyeballed Felix, then went into his bedroom. Most cat owners suspected that their pet may be carefully plotting their demise, but Mayle knew for sure. He’d nearly healed from Felix’s last attempt, which meant that another attack was due anytime now. Felix wasn’t like a Howler; he wouldn’t just attack with brute force. He’d scheme, and plot, and wait until the exact perfect moment when Mayle was vulnerable, then pounce.

“If you were a dog, you would have forgiven me long ago,” Mayle said to the cat.

“Meow,” Felix said, not sounding very interested.

“That’s the thing with dogs. They actually love their masters,”

Felix didn’t even reply to that one, he just started grooming.

“And they actually want to spend time with them,” Mayle finished.

He felt a pang of guilt over Syl and Porkchop. They’d tracked him down, just like a dog off the leash will eventually come back to their human. And he’d basically stood there and screamed ‘Bad Dog’. He would have to apologize.

“All Howlers, report to the Den. Say again, all Howlers, report to the Den,” Travs’ voice came over the comm.

Looks like he’d have a chance.

“Guys, I”m-“

“Hi!” Syl said happily, sniffing at the back of his neck, “Paulson’s here now! She was busy before,”

“Yeah,” Porkchop gave him a sideways ‘man-hug’; macho, but affectionate. “We found her in a Jeffries tube with Ensign Phey,”

“Guess I can forget about that sexual harassment complaint,” Mayle said “Look, guys, I’m-“

“Mission time!” Syl and Porkchop said gleefully, heading towards the briefing room. Paulson held back for a moment.

“They felt pretty bad about screwing up your date,” she said quietly.

“I did a good job of screwing it up all by myself,” he replied.

“Well, now you can think more about your job, right?” she smiled, then took her seat.

So forgiving. Just like a dog.

Shit. Now he REALLY felt guilty

Less than half an hour later both Howler teams had been deployed and were surrounding a large, holographic mansion. For some reason, Mayle had thought that a late-night, last-minute mission would be some kind of emergency, but no. The science team had a scenario they wanted run, and they wanted it run yesterday. But somebody in Ops had forgotten to tell the Howlers about that.

“Beta Team is in position along the south and west perimeter fences,” Mayle reported to Travs, “There are three security guards, but they look to be of the slower, older and fatter variety. Great for getting rid of annoying people you don’t want to talk to, not so much for real threats.”

“Move in,” Travs ordered.

Lt Vanheath’s team was already in wolf form, slinking around in the shadows while he himself stood carefully behind a tree. He was just waiting for the final go-ahead, in case any small details came up. He kept sniffing the air, despite the fact that his human nose could only detect the pine tree next to him.

He knew their targets were two females, likely in the large rec room that made up the ground floor of the south wing. He knew there were likely to be witnesses, as the targets were hosting a party. For the purposes of this mission, a higher death toll was preferred.

Lt Morreth slid out of the shadows, quickly crossed an exposed patch of grass, then merged in with the shadow Vanheath was using to conceal himself from the guards. For such a nerd, Morreth could keep himself hidden in the dark.

“Confirmed all life-signs are in the rec-room, as expected,” the pale Klingon said, “You know your mission parameters?”

“I knew them before we left the briefing,” Vanheath said curtly, “Shouldn’t you be up on the bridge with your new friends?”

Morreth didn’t have a reply for that one. He’d been viewed with suspicion ever since he started working a couple of shifts a week at the bridge tactical station.

“Alpha Team, move in,” Mayle’s voice came over the comm.

“You better go,” Morreth said, pulling out a tracking tricorder.

“No kidding,” Vanheath said, his flesh already changing.

In less than a minute the night had been transformed. He couldn’t see much better but his ears and nose easily filled in the missing picture. Vorns and Trimble were off to his left, Packman and Johnson to his right. He could get a faint whiff of Syl, but Beta Team was further away. He could both smell and hear the guards, along with the spoor of several small, annoying dogs.

He slipped through the night towards the house, confident that his team could hear or see him moving. Sure enough, he heart the faint rustles that told him they were on the move.

The plan was simply. Alpha would converge on the east windows, Beta on the west. Vorns and Syl would break through windows in the neighboring areas of the mansion, then position themselves to block the exits while the rest of the Howlers broke through the rec room windows, located the targets, and slaughtered them like fish trapped in a barrel.

Slinking low under ‘his’ window to avoid being spotted, Vanheath waited until his team was in position, then gave a soft grunt.

“Syl, Vorns, go,” Mayle’s voice came over the comm. “Everybody else, in five, four, three, two, one…GO!”

His muscles fired like a spring, sending Vanheath flying through the glass, shards exploding in all directions! He landed lightly, paws sliding on the hardwood floor! All around him he could hear the shatter of glass the growl of beasts, and-“

A wave of disorientation crashed over him! The world seemed to spin, and he was vaguely aware of a sharp pain in his ears! He yowled, shaking his head and trying to focus his surroundings.

Another wave crashed over him, and he was reasonably sure he’d just vomited.

“REPORT!” Travs was shouting.

“The Howlers are down!” Mayle exclaimed, not able to believe what he was seeing. Every Howler was pulling away from the targets, heads turned away and eyes squeezed shut. Mayle could hear whimpers and whines over the comm, along with…

“Holy shit!” the colour drained from his face, “Travs! The targets! They’re…they’re…”

“Kids,” Travs almost whispered. The rec room of the mansion was filled with young girls, roughly 13-14 Earth years of age. The girls has screamed in surprise and fear when the Howlers had crashed in, but were falling into silent shock.

“You BASTARD!” Travs snarled. It took Mayle a moment to realize she wasn’t talking to him.

“Continue with your mission,” Lt Cmdr Belis’ voice came over the comm. Anything else said between the two of them was lost to Mayle as the comm channel closed.

Mayle pulled up the mission parameters, trying to figure out who the targets were.

And why.

Vanheath’s world returned to focus. He regained his footing, bared his teeth and hoped he looked threatening.

Most of the Howlers were likewise recovering. Syl was collapsed on the floor, but appeared to be stirring. Paulson and Johnson had both changed back to humanoid form. Paulson was massaging her temples while Johnson was rising unsteadily to his feet.

“They’re kids!” Paulson exclaimed, “We can’t…I mean…”

“I’m checking!” Mayle said, “Look, they could be shape-shifters, child-like aliens, or adults who have had their DNA regressed. The Starfleet Intelligence database has pages of examples of agents being defeated or killed because something disguised itself to look harmless!

One of the girls moved towards him. Vanheath snarled, and she stumbled back.

Vanheath realized he recognized two of the girls. Twins, right near the center of the group. He stalked towards them, the other girls making no move to stop him.

“I know those two!” Mayle said, “Where….right! Got it! The Olsen twins! They’re on the ‘Annoying Celebrity Holo-Kill List’! Nacht added them over a month ago!”

“So do we…do we kill them?” Johnson gulped.

“According to the files, they’re obnoxious enough to qualify,” Mayle frowned, “But…I mean…I sort of figured we’d have the adult versions.”

Those Howlers still in beast form were looking at each other, then at the two members who had reverted to human.

Nacht abruptly changed back.

“I can’t kill a bunch of kids,” he said, “When I put their names up…the adults. It would have been…”

Morreth, overhearing the issues over his earpiece, was now looking in one window.

“Technically,” he said, “They have seen a Howler change form. At the very least, they will spend the rest of their lives in a Starfleet Intelligence holding facility. Or have their memories modified.

Vanheath snarled at him.

“You’re going on report for that!” Morreth snapped.

“They will do it,” Belis said calmly, looking over Travs’ shoulder at the security display.

“Kill a bunch of innocent kids?” Travs almost screamed, “This isn’t what the Howlers are for! You might think they’re animals, but they’re still sentient beings! How are they supposed to live with themselves if you make them do this sort of thing?”

“They are Starfleet Intelligence operatives,” Belis said, “Or at least, they are now. And that means they have to make hard decisions,”

“It isn’t a hard decision if the target isn’t a threat to anybody!” Travs said, “Where’s Captain Harth! I demand-“

“Shut up,” Belis said. He was staring intently at the screen. Nacht was now in human form, Vanheath had pulled back from the Olsens and the rest of the Howlers had started to circle uneasily. Over the comm channel they could hear Morreth pushing them to follow regulations, while Nacht and Paulson argued and Mayle tried to contact the bridge.

“Don’t answer him,” Belis said calmly, intercepting Travs’ hand before it could reach her comm-badge.

“They need guidance!” she snapped.

“Yes,” Belis agreed, not taking his eyes of the screen, “Their vulnerability to the screaming was not entirely unexpected. We need to research this further.”

Travs clenched her teeth.

The argument between Morreth and the others was getting stronger, to the point that Vanheath had returned to human form when Morreth tried pulling rank.

“At this rate, we’re not going to have any Howlers still capable of ripping the target’s throats out,” Belis observed.

“Good,” Travs’ hands were now gripping the panel, her body was almost vibrating with rage.

“Belis to all Howlers,” Belis tapped his comm-badge, “Abort mission. Say again, abort mission.”

He turned off the display and turned to leave.

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Travs spat, “I guess they aren’t quite the mindless savages you wanted them to be!’

“Perhaps not,” Belis said, an odd tone to his voice, “Still, this has been very…educational.”

Travs rushed the Howlers through the post-training brief and had them all back on the Holodeck in the yard behind Grandma’s Cottage in record time. ‘Grandma’ was laying out snacks, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ was serving drinks and the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ was halfway into a passable juggling act. Travs had been saving this particular version of the program for a special occasion, but this seemed to call for it.

Both teams were visibly shaken. Syl, Porkchop and Paulson were sitting close to each other on one of the patio couches, Vanheath and Nacht were pacing, Morreth sat imperiously in a chair and Alpha Team was going on an eating binge.

Mayle stood apart from the group, not really sure where he fit. He hadn’t been in the Holodeck, hadn’t taken part in the almost-attack.

“It’s OK, Seeta,” Syl was murmuring to Paulson as she curled up against his side, “They weren’t real people,”

“Yeah,” Porkchop said, “They were only child stars. It’s OK,”

“Holographic child stars,” Morreth fumed, “I don’t see what the problem was!”

“The problem? THE PROBLEM???” Nacht spun to face him, “You don’t see the problem with SI sending us in to kill a bunch of kids??”

“You heard Mayle! They could have been shape-shifters!”


“Knock it off!” Travs snapped, finishing at the arch console and rejoining the group, “It was a training scenario, not a real mission! They put us in there to see what we would do!”

“We choked!” Morreth almost spat, “We failed the mission,”

“Oh really, and do you think any group, even one as messed up as Starfleet Intelligence, actually wants a group of killers so deranged they’d actually follow the order to butcher a slumber party?” Travs demanded.

That caught everybody’s attention.

“Kobyashi Maru,” Packman muttered.

The doors to the Holodeck opened and Captain Harth stepped into the room.

“ATTEN-TION!” Morreth called out.

Everybody ignored him. Harth gave him an odd look, but said nothing as he walked towards the conversation area and settled himself in a chair facing the group, resting his elbows on his knees like a Scout leader about to address his troop.

“You guys all did really well today,” he said without preamble. Morreth jerked in surprise, “We gave you a surprise scenario to see just how much you’ve been changed by this virus, and to test whether or not you still had the humanity to stop yourselves. Apologies to the non-humans, of course, but you get my meaning,”

A look of cautious relief appeared in the group.

“We did learn about a major weakness in the Howlers, however,” Harth went on, “The science team is building a training program right now to see if you can’t work through it. But I know you all must be feeling shaken up right now. So relax, have a drink, and tackle that problem tomorrow.”

He stood.

“Again, well done. You have my personal promise that the next time you’re sent to attack a group of little girls, they will be shape-shifters, evil child-aliens or genetically regressed adults.”

With that, he took his leave.

“Well I guess that makes me feel better,” Vorns said, not really sounding convinced.

“It makes sense,” Morreth was pacing now, trying to understand what had happened, “They need to know what we will and won’t do, right?”

“Nobody asked you,” Vanheath sat, “Test or not, this was just…wrong.”

“It was quite proper,” Morreth sniffed.

“Morreth, I have a little sister,” Vanheath was clearly still angry, “One that I haven’t been able to speak to in almost a year. She thinks I’m in stasis while Starfleet hunts for a cure for an alien virus! Hell, for all I know, Starfleet is letting her visit a holographic fake of me every week or so!”

Morreth said nothing.

“I’ve got an older sister,” Paulson said hesitantly, “It’s been almost nine months,”

“Younger brother,” Travs settled into the chair Harth had recently vacated, “He thinks I’m on an undercover assignment. Which I guess is close to the truth,”

“I guess you guys haven’t discussed your families much,” Mayle commented, moving closer to the group.

“No,” Travs said flatly, “We’re all cut off, from everybody,”

“Tomillo would say that’s not healthy,” Mayle observed, “In fact, if she heard you guys talking now, she’d probably insist on running a group session,”

“If you call her, you are a dead man,” Syl said sharply.

“No, no!” Mayle shook his head quickly, “I just meant…I’m sorry.”

Everyone grew quiet. The holographic sky was dimming as the program started switching to night. Nacht and Vanheath set to starting a fire in the backyard fire pit. Soon they had flames crackling merrily. Everybody moved their chairs around to face the fire. They sat quietly around the fire for a moment, until ‘Grandma’ arrived with a plate of graham cookies, marshmallows, and chocolate. Syl pounced on the plate and had s’mores going in no time.

“I don’t know how you can still eat that stuff,” Porkchop complained, “I can’t eat anything sweet anymore,”

“Me neither,” Mayle agreed, “And besides…isn’t chocolate bad for dogs anyway?’”

“I will get the hangover,” Syl shrugged, “But I am used to those,”

Travs was still staring into the flames.

“You…uh, you all right?” Vanheath asked her quietly. He still felt awkward around her, after their small ‘encounter’ a month ago. But so far they’d both managed to be adult about it.

She looked around, noticing that the other Howlers were starting to relax. Nacht and Porkchop had found some sausages on the table and were roasting them over the fire, Paulson was still sitting between Syl and Porkchop, nursing a drink and Vorns was off peeing in a bush.

Travs gave the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ a subtle hand-gesture. The carefully programmed holodeck character pulled out a trumpet and started to improvise.

“Doesn’t it seem convenient that the Intel guys on this ship stuck us into a situation where they’d have either viscous killing machines or a disaster, then came down to tell us how good we were being after it turned into a disaster?” Travs asked, her voice covered by the trumpet, “See, at first I thought it was something Commander Belis had dreamed up to prove just how dangerous the Howlers were, something behind Harth’s back. But Harth just blew that theory all to hell,”

“Unless he was doing damage control,” Vanheath suggested, “You know he and Belis are supposed to look like a united front on everything,”

“Maybe,” Travs admitted, “But I can’t help but shake the feeling now that this was very carefully planned. And I want to know what exactly they’re expecting to get out of this,”

“Since when do the Science guys ever tell us anything?” Vanheath asked.

“Since we snuck into the Science lab and poked around in their logs,” Travs said.

“But we never….oh.” Vanheath looked around, but none of the Holwers were listening.

“Isn’t this the kind of think you should be talking to Morreth about?” he asked.

“I don’t trust Morreth” Travs replied, “Not since he started doing bridge duty. And THAT stays between us,”

“So what’s you plan?”

“I don’t know yet. Nothing too soon. But when the opportunity rises, we’ll go do some science of our own,”

Mayle was running.

His dreams had barely changed since he’d arrived on the USS Farkas. He was always in wolf form, always chasing something, and always running through a dark forest. And, dreams being dreams, he never realized he was repeating the same dream until he woke up.

Similarly, when his current dream ran off the rails, he didn’t notice anything at first.

He was still racing through the woods, still chasing prey. But instead of the usual scent of rabbit or squirrel, this scent was stronger, more musky. And far more dangerous.

Mayle jumped into a clearing, expecting to find his prey cowering, waiting for the killing blow. Instead, he found himself face-to-face with a dozen huge, angry Howlers, saliva dripping from their teeth and death in the eyes.

Mayle was abruptly back in human form, his naked backside dropping abruptly on the damp grass.

“VILKAS!” he shouted, seconds before the Howlers tore him to shreds.

Mayle woke with a start, his sheets tangled around his legs and a cold sweat covering his body.

“What…” he wondered. But the dream was already fading.

There had been a word…a name, he realized. Victor? Vikram?

“Too much time in this doghouse,” he muttered, rolling over and trying to get back to sleep.

The next day saw the Howlers in the training holodeck bright and early.

“OK pups,” Travs stood in front of the ground, “You know the deal. Apparently the science guys think we’re vulnerable to certain audio frequencies…specifically, certain pitches of human female vocalizations. The lab boys figure that because we’ve barely had any female human targets, it just hasn’t come up. So I don’t know what the deal is with this test program, but it’s going to test that vulnerability somehow. Mayle, you’re coming with us on this one. I want a plain, no-nonsense approach, no time wasted.”

“So all eleven of you are just going to rampage after the target?” Mayle asked, “I don’t really want to see that,”

“I want you there to observe, in person,” Travs said, “And I want to test a disguise,”

“What…” Mayle noticed what she was holding in her hands, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Ten minutes later, Mayle was walking down a holographic park path on a beautiful holographic day.

“This is stupid,” he said out loud, “We’re not blending in at all,”

Travs gave a small growl. From their time together on the Viatte mission, he knew she disagreed.

“Commander Travs, NOBODY walks eleven dogs at the same time! Especially not eleven dogs the size of small horses!”

There was the sound of Howler laughter from Syl and Porkchop. Mayle yanked back at their leashes in frustration, but the big beasts barely noticed. Mayle had two fists full of leashes, Alpha and Travs in his right hand and Morreth and Beta in his left. The huge animals were having a hard time not stepping over each other, and Mayle was afraid that if they took off in too different directions, he’d get torn in half.

As if reading his mind, Morreth moved off to the left to sniff at an interesting bush at the same time Vanheath moved right to sniff a tree, followed by a quick leg-lifting. Morreth’s leash slipped out of his hand…he barely managed to pull Alpha to the one side so he could grab it.

They came around a curve and found themselves facing a single teenage human female. She wore a sign that said ‘I’m actually 43’. She saw them, opened her mouth, and screamed.

The Howlers bared their teeth. Travs gave a loud bark, then looked back at Mayle.

“Syl, go,” Mayle released his leash. Syl darted forward, a dark blur. He pounced on the hologram, sending a spray of blood into the air. The other Howlers started pulling away from Mayle, and only a loud bark from Travs held them back.

Finished, Syl returned to Mayle’s side, leash held gingerly between his teeth.

“Thanks, Syl,” Mayle said, “Oh, eww…you got blood all over it!”

Syl just gave him a grin, then returned to his place in the pack.

They resumed their walk, this time coming across a pair of Founders. The shape-shifting aliens had oddly smooth faces. As they watched, they transformed into a pair screaming of teenage girls.

Mayle released Porkchop and Vorns. The shape-shifters tried to change their limbs into tentacles, to better strangle the attacking beasts. But the Howlers just dug their claws into the aliens and started digging, flinging paw-fulls of orange goo backward. Finally the holodeck chimed at the changelings vanished.

“Either the age was wrong, the voices were wrong, or it just doesn’t work with Changelings,” Mayle commented as they resumed their ‘walk’.

Three more times they were stopped, three more times they ran into females of various ages and races, and three more times the Howlers easily dispatched them. Finally, the path opened up and they found themselves approaching a small amphitheater. The semi-circular stone benches were arranged facing a circular stone stage, a wall of stones forming the rear wall. Bushy trees surrounded the amphitheater on all sides, sunlight filtering through their branches as they shifted in the gentle breeze. Standing on the stage was a middle-aged human woman with long, flowing light-brown hair, high cheekbones and a sort of enigmatic smile. Syl gave a bark of recognition, but Mayle had no idea who she was.

She saw them, turned to face, them, then opened her mouth and started to sing.

“Neeeear….faaaaar….where-EEEEEEEEEEVER you are!”

The Howlers fell to the ground, whining and twisting in agony! Travs tried to climb back to her feet, only to fall again as the woman started a new verse.

“Computer, end program!” Mayle shouted over the singing and the whining of the Howlers. The computer chirped, then the singer and the park-like amphitheater faded away.

The Howlers began shriveling, returning to their human forms.

“Ohhh….my HEAD!” Nacht roared.

“Mine too!” Vanheath said quietly, “So please shut up,”

“Who the hell was that bitch?” Paulson demanded, “Also, Mayle, please get me some painkillers,”

“That was Celine Dion,” Syl explained, panting, “One of the greatest singers in the history of Quebec. And apparently a weapon of mass destruction. Wow…if only the Parti Quebecois had known…”

“I didn’t think it was that bad,” Mayle commented, rummaging around in a first-aid kit for some painkillers, “But I guess she doesn’t affect humans the same way,”

“Only music critics,” Syl agreed.

“So how do we kill her?” Vanheath asked, “Other than giving Mayle a phaser?”

“That’s what we’ve got to figure out,” Travs said.

They made two more attempts on the holographic Celine. The first was a surprise attack, with Porkchop and Paulson rustling around in the bushes to one side of the amphitheater to distract her while Travs and Vanheath moved in for the kill. It very nearly worked, except she heard them at the last minute, spun around and shrieked in horror. If the singing had been bad, this was a hundred times worse. Both Travs and Vanheath blacked right out, immediately. The rest of the Howlers, even those further away, were knocked to the ground in agony. Mayle winced, but the effect on him was just the normal, everyday ‘Geez Miss, could you PLEASE not do that again?’ reaction.

Once everyone had been revived and was back in Howler form, they reorganized for the second attack. A frontal assault was obviously out, and a surprise attack wasn’t surprising enough. Obviously, they could overpower her if they all stayed in human form, but that rather defeated the purpose of the exercise.

“How on earth are we going to do this?” Mayle wondered, the only person in the room capable of speech, “As long as she has her voice, she’s basically invincible against you. Maybe we could try to give her a cold? Y’know, a sore throat?”

The Howlers looked at him skeptically.

“OK, right, not a great plan.” Mayle admitted, “OK, so we have to knock her out first, right? So how about we brain her with a rock before you get too close?”

Syl quickly located a suitable rock and started sniffing at it. He sat back on his haunches and managed to awkwardly grasp the rock with his were-wolfish, human/Howler/wolf hand-paw. He managed to sort of toss it in the right general direction, with sufficient force to knock out your average snail.

“OK, so that’s out,” Mayle shrugged. He started pacing.

As he did, Syl slowly nosed his way toward Celine. The hologram looked in his direction, but before she could shriek, he stretched his hand-paws forward and assumed the ‘friendly doggy’ stretch position. Celine smiled. Pretending to be timid, Syl slowly closed the distance between them. He carefully stretched out his neck and licked her fingers.

“What a nice animal,” she cooed, scratching behind his ears.

“I don’t think I like this,” Mayle said.

She started humming softly as she stroked Syl’s head. Syl grit his teeth, his eyes crossing, but he managed to stay calm.

“Distract her,” Mayle said, patting Nacht on the side. Nacht started slinking through the bushes.

Celine stopped humming and looked up. Syl shook his head, then used the moment to go for her throat! She managed to get her arms up as she fell back. Instead of slashing out her throat, he only slashed her forearms.

She screamed, giving Syl a full blast full in the face. Syl blacked out immediately, then the holodeck chimed and the program shut down.

Looking around in surprise, Mayle walked over and tapped at the arch control panel while the Howlers changed back to human form.

“Oh,” Mayle swallowed, “I guess the safety programs shut down before Celine could melt Syl’s brain,”

“So we failed,” Travs said flatly as soon as she had a human mouth again.

“Yup,” Mayle nodded.

“So pups…planning session tonight,” Travs announced, trying to sound upbeat.

“All Howlers, report to Science Labs 1 through 4 immediately,” Dr Wolfman’s voice came over the comm, “We need to examine you following this encounter,”

“After they finish poking and prodding us,” Travs amended.

“Can somebody tell me WHY auditory trauma would require a rectal exam??” Nacht demanded as the Howlers returned to the Den, ready to carry on their task of plotting the assassination of Celine Dion.

“Because the science team is a pack of sadists?” Paulson suggested, “I didn’t get the rectal exam, but I did get my stomach pumped,”

“Now that just doesn’t make any sense,” Nacht frowned.

“No. But could we get something to eat while we do this planning thing? I’m starving now!”

“Let’s focus, pups,” Travs said loudly as they settled into the briefing room, “We know surprise is a poor idea, we know we can’t just charge her, and we know that if we get a blast to the face we die of cerebral hemorrhaging. So how do we handle this?”

“We lure her into a trap!” Johnson suggested.

“Right…we’re going to dig a big hole, line it with sharpened toothbrushes and convince her to fall in without making a sound?” Vanheath asked dryly.

“Well, when you put it like that…”

They debated back and forth for a while. Travs watched the exchange, giving the ideas mentioned some consideration. But honestly, her mind was focused more on other matters…like what the science team was up to, and how she could get her grubby little paws on some of their data.

“Maybe we need to look at more of a technological solution,” she said suddenly, cutting Trimble off as he talked about something involving corners and echoes. She felt bad, Trimble was usually pretty quiet, and he needed to be encouraged to speak up. But later.

“I thought we were trying to avoid using technology on missions where we change,” Morreth asked.

“Right,” Travs agreed, wishing he would just shut up, “But maybe in this case, we need to get the science team involved in coming up with a sound filter or something,”

“Those butchers??” Mayle exclaimed.

Vanheath caught her drift.

“It can’t hurt,” he said, “At least, not any more than it has already. Those needles last week sucked.”

The science team may or may not have been shocked the next morning when the senior Howlers showed up at the lab door without being summoned. The only reaction from Lt Soruk was a raised eyebrow and a comment along the lines of ‘Oh, you want to filter sound? How exceedingly simple. Why are you here instead of doing this yourself and leaving me to work on something that doubtlessly is both more important and more interesting?’ Well, OK, what he actually said was “Logical. Science Lab 3 is at your disposal. Ensign Sebbit will assist you.” But somehow he managed to imply the rest.

“We need something to filter out the frequencies that are causing the problem,” Travs told the young Ampillion woman, “But small enough that they can’t be seen by the casual observer. They also can’t interfere with any other frequencies, have to work with our communications earpieces, and be securely attached…enough so that Lt Morreth can’t lose his,”

“So, superglue,” Nacht suggested. Morreth gave him a dirty look.

“Some of the earpieces that our Intelligence teams use have audio filtering, that’s ancient technology,” Sebbit said, one webbed hand tapping at the panel while the other grabbed a dead fly from a container and tossed it into her green, frog-like mouth, “Of course they’re usually trying to enhance humanoid voices, not filter parts of them out,”

The amphibian woman started hunting through the database, looking at various pieces of Starfleet Intelligence gear that might be modified to help them.

As she worked, Travs kept her distracted with a running commentary on the various challenges of using gear while in Howler form. Vanheath, on the other hand, simply tapped away at his padd, looking bored. At one point, Sebbit turned to address a question that Mayle had asked, and Vanheath took that opportunity to retrieve a small device from under her console. He casually interfaced it with his padd before sticking it in a pocket.

The padd displayed a status readout, with all indicators an encouraging green.

He caught Travs’ eye and gave her a slow nod. As soon as Sebbet’s attention was back on the console, Travs returned it.

Phase One was complete.

“Now we don’t need any participation from you this time,” Travs said to Mayle, “Just walk along the same route as before. Follow Morreth’s instructions, try not to get anybody’s brains melted and remember to scoop if necessary. Maintenance wasn’t happy about the state of the holodeck after the last training exercise.”

“Of course,” Mayle replied calmly.

“Good. We’ll be monitoring,”

Travs and Vanheath stepped out of the holodeck and returned to the monitoring station in the Howler’s Den. Vanheath sat at the sensor station, with Travs right behind her.

“All set?” Travs asked.

“Ready,” Mayle’s voice came back.

On the holodeck, the Howlers and their dog-walker began the training scenario, shiny new SI audio filters attached to their ears. What most of them didn’t know however was that their walker wasn’t the real deal, but was in fact a hologram of Ensign Mayle. None of them had wondered why the guy with the least amount of preparation to do had already been waiting for them in the holodeck when they arrived. The real Greg Mayle was concealed in a storage closet in Science Lab 3.

With a few taps at the console, Vanheath triggered the tiny surveillance projector he’d stashed in the lab, causing the security sensors in the lab to detect the presence of Ensign Sebbit, and only Ensign Sebbit.

“You’re good to go,” Vanheath said.

On the screen, Holo-Mayle began to walk without saying a word.

“Moving,” the real Mayle replied. He slowly opened the door to the storage closet, stepped out, then moved towards the console. Half expecting a security alert to go off any minute, he attached the authentication cloner Vanheath had used with the console the previous day. The device interfaced with the console and within seconds had given Mayle access to the entire science database.

Mayle brought up a surveillance feed from the holodeck in one corner and watched it carefully for a moment.

“Grass sure is green today,” he said, giving the code-phrase for ‘I’ve logged in’.

“Keep walking,” Vanheath replied, giving the acknowledgment code.

He accessed the last entry in the database. It was a report on the physiological impacts of the Celine screams, with notations on everything from unusually high acid content in Paulson’s stomach to bowel micro-seizers in Nacht.

“Too much detail,” Mayle muttered, too softly for his microphone to pick up.

He skipped back and accessed the entry regarding the training attack on the Olsen twins. The science database had the training objectives and scenario as laid out by the Howlers themselves, along with pages of annotations by the science team on potential analysis points. Nothing appeared to contradict what the Howlers had been told…it seemed like the science team wanted to analyze their reactions to determine whether they were showing serious psychotic tendencies.

Then Mayle noticed another notation…Commander Belis had ordered several modifications to the scenario less than an hour before it was to start. Including reducing the age of the twins from 29 to 15.

Mayle looked at the holodeck surveillance again, trying to find something he could use to mask the code he was about to sent. Finally, spotted it.

“There’s a cat over there,” he said, “Right where we expected it to be,”

“Get your eyes off the scenery, Mayle,” Vanheath replied immediately.

“A cat where we expected it,” Travs murmured quietly, “It was Belis. Belis set us up. Throwing my people into an attack on innocent children was his brain-child, not a ‘routine science experiment,” she shook her head, “Bring him back in,”

“Mayle, head out of the park and track down that Celine hologram,” Vanheath said.

In the science lab, Mayle recognized the code for ‘mission accomplished, get out of there’. But something told him he wasn’t finished just yet. He kept skipping down the list of entries until one caught his eye: Travs, Lt Comd, Initial Gestation Report.

As he read it, his eyes went wide. There was no code word for this. Hell, if Dr. Wolfman’s notes were right, there was no precedence for this in Federation history! Two humans infected with a shape-shifting virus conceiving a child? How could Travs not know?

Maybe she did, and just wasn’t telling him, Mayle wondered. But no, there was a notation for medication to repress the pregnancy symptoms, and another that Travs was not to be informed until at least the fourth month, assuming the pregnancy progressed close to human standards.

That revelation alone was almost enough to send Mayle running for the exit but another database entry caught his eye.


Feeling a stirring of recognition, Mayle tapped the entry. Pages upon pages of entries flooded the screen, almost as many entries as the entire Farkas database itself!

Mayle tapped the oldest entry. A schematic of a Federation Intrepid-class starship appeared on the screen.

“USS Vilkas,” Mayle murmured, “Starfleet Intelligence. Mission…to study the potential use of personnel infected by the mutagenic Changeling virus, code-named ‘Howlers’.”

“Mayle, hurry things along, we don’t have all day,” Vanheath sounded worried.

A quick glance at the padd showed Mayle that the holographic Mayle still hadn’t reached the Celine hologram.

“I’m sure we’ll be there any second,” he replied tersely.

He skipped to the latest entry, but all there was was a video log.

It showed a dozen Howlers, roaring and snarling in berserker rage as they were pushed back by phaser fire. Even at full stun, the blasts barely stunned the beasts. Mayle had been working with the Howlers for months, watching their every move. And it was easy for him to see that there was no human intelligence behind the actions of this group. What he saw in their eyes was blind, animal rage.

“Containment!” one of the humans in the video was shouting. Mayle felt like he should know the man, but he couldn’t think of a name. Even as he tried to puzzle it out, the men in the video were erecting portable forcefields to hold the Howlers back.

One of the Howlers was too close to the generator when the field activated. There was a flash of light and the animal was thrown to the side, becoming impaled on a broken support beam. Mayle flinched in empathy as the animal tore itself from the beam, blood and a few entrails pouring from the wound. It collapsed on the human side of the new force field, while the other Howlers tried to lurch for what now looked less like one of their own and more like dinner.

The video ended.

“Terrifying, isn’t it,”

Mayle spun around in surprise to find Commander Belis standing behind him.

“Um…this isn’t what it looks like,” he said, rather lamely.

“No?” Belis asked, “Because what it looks like, at least according to every piece of security equipment on this ship, is a Howler exercise taking place on the holodeck, complete with yourself in attendance, while Ensign Sebbit reviews documents that she has legitimate access to. Even the communications logs show perfectly normal training scenario traffic. I am impressed.”

Mayle said nothing.

Neither did Belis.

They stared at each other for several moments, Belis seemingly deep in thought, Mayle wondering just how much trouble he’d managed to get himself in. On the display, the Howlers had found the Celine Dion hologram and were moving in for the kill. Both Belis and Mayle turned their attention as cries of pain came over the comm link.

“God, that huts!” Nacht said tightly.

“It’s better,” Vanheath reported, “The filters are helping! But we still can’t get close!”

“We must have missed a frequency!” Paulson’s voice was tinged with panic, “Just…just…give me a minute!”

“You must have figured out by now,” Belis said finally, “that the situation on these ships is far more complicated that it appears.”

These ships, Mayle noted.

“Why did you change the Olsen twins to teenagers?” Mayle asked. He wasn’t sure where else to start.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Belis demanded, “You’ve seen now what the Howlers can become. You think the group on this ship is special because they can kill on command? Please, if all we were interested in was mindless killing machines, we could take our pick of any number of violent races! This group is far more interesting for what they WON’T do than for what they will!”

“And Travs? How does that fit in?”

“A very unfortunate complication,” Belis admitted, “Dr. Wolfman is thrilled, obviously. And Captain Harth and his…superiors…are excited about the strategic implications. Myself? Well…I wish we could teach a Howler to use a condom.”

Belis looked at his chrono, then looked at the small screen where the Howlers were carefully circling Celine.

“We’re out of time,” he said, serious again, “Get back to the Howler’s Den before the scenario is done. Opportunities to speak openly on this ship are very rare, so don’t expect anything other than my usual unpleasant self if our paths cross.”

He turned to go.

“Oh, and I wouldn’t suggest sharing all of this with your friends just yet,” he added, “Let them think that I’m the evil mastermind that wants them killing babies, and by all means, Travs should know she’s pregnant. But the piece about the USS Vilkas? Better keep that to yourself. We don’t need to worry these pups any more than they already are.”

“They why let me know?” Mayle wondered, “You obviously knew I was going to find out? Why let me? Why not lock me up now? Tell the Howlers I had an ‘accident’?”

“Ensign Mayle,” Belis shook his head, “Why else would I bring you aboard?”

He reached into a pocket, pulled out an isolinear data chip and tossed it to Mayle.

“They probably missed a resonance frequency,” Belis explained, “We had the same problem on the Vilkas,”

With that, he left.

His head spinning, Mayle looked down at the chip in his hand, then at the screen. Syl had tried charging Celine and was now staggering in a drunken line, shaking his head. His brain hadn’t melted at least, but they weren’t going to defeat her link that.

Clutching the chip, Mayle ran out of the lab.

“You were my strength when I was weak!” the Celine hologram sang loudly.

Nacht’s whines filled the room. It may not have been English, but the frustration laced with pain came through crystal clear.

“Change to configuration Delta!” Travs ordered.

“There isn’t one!” Vanheath grimaced, “Ensign Sebbit only loaded three different configurations, and none of them are working!”

“Can we combine them?”

The doors hissed open and Mayle rushed in.

“Here,” he said, jamming the chip into a slot on the panel, “We missed some resonance frequencies! This should take care of it!”

“Uploading!” Vanheath snapped.

“…best there was in me…”

The cries over the comm abruptly changed from frustration and pain to triumph. There was a flash of dark fur on the viewscreen, a spray of blood and the singing abruptly ceased.

“Target eliminated,” Vanheath said, leaning back in his chair with relief.

Travs plucked the chip out of the console and stared at it.

“Let me guess,” she said, her voice dark, “The science team deliberately held back on us?”

“Um…not exactly,” Mayle’s brain was spinning a mile a minute, “I found this in some…I mean…Commander Belis…”

“I knew it,” Travs snapped, “That BASTARD! Everything is just a game for him, isn’t it?”

Mayle was about to open his mouth when he noticed dark fuzz was forming on Travs’ forearms. Maybe this wasn’t the time to upset her further.

“Um, Lt Comd…” Vanheath gulped.

Travs looked at her arm as though she’d never seen it before. After a moment, the fur vanished.

“Don’t know what’s getting into me,” she shook her head, “Come on. Let’s get the post-mission stuff done. Then we need to have a quick, private chat with Ensign Mayle.

Mayle’s lips tightened.

They were back in the holodeck running the Grandma’s Cottage program, the band once again playing interference with the security scanners.

“Pregnant,” Vanheath said flatly, “Oh my God.”

“You’re going to be a father!” Paulson said happily, patting him on the arm.

“Oh my God,” Vanheath said again.

“Why. Didn’t. They. Tell. Us.” Travs asked, very slowly and very deliberately, her hands on her stomach.

“I don’t know,” Mayle said honestly, “I…I think there’s a lot the science team, that everybody on this ship has been keeping from us. And I don’t know why,”

“This has gone too far,” Travs said, “I’m done playing nice with these assholes. It’s time to find out what they’re hiding from us. ALL that they’re hiding from us,”

“Uh, how?” Mayle asked.

“Another visit to the lab, planting a few surveillance devices of our own, seducing a senior officer,” Travs listed off possibilities, “Whatever it takes.

“I’m in,” Vanheath said at once.

Morreth, predictably, wasn’t interested.

“I’m sure Captain Harth has our best interests in mind,” the pale Klingon said in his nasal voice, “Trying to poke our noses where they aren’t wanted won’t solve anything,”

“Shut up,” roughly half the Howlers said.

Mayle drew back. Morreth’s position as second-Howler-in-command was pretty much ‘only in name’ at this point, with the level of respect the team had for him.

So what would they think of him if they found out what he was hiding from them now?

“Of course, we will be sure to have the science team prepare as many possible filter profiles as possible,” Dr. Wolfman was saying, “An auditory attack is one of the more likely defenses we’ll see if anybody expects a Howler attack,”

“Good,” Captain Harth said, “Anything else?”

“Behavior monitoring suggests that degradation of their emotional control is remaining below even our most conservative projections,” Lt Soruk reported, “Why this group remains more stable than previous subjects remains unknown. We will continue our experiments,”

“Good,” Comd Belis said, crossing his arms, “A few more pokes and prods won’t hurt them,”

“You heard the man, Doc,” Captain Harth said to Wolfman as he rose to his feet, “Figure this out,”

Dr. Wolfman caught Comd Belis’ eye as they too rose to their feet.

“Don’t worry sir,” Wolfman said, “We will,”