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: 2022

USS Farkas - Today

Ensign Greg Mayle came to a sudden stop as he walked into the mission briefing room attached to the Howler’s Den complex on Deck 7. It was time for yet another mission briefing, but for some reason the rows of seats had been reconfigured into a circle. The thing that had really caught him by surprise though was that the terraced, auditorium-style floor was now level, rendering the place…just an ordinary room.

“I didn’t know the floor could do that,” he muttered.

“This ship can fly hundreds of times the speed of light, land on a planetary surface, evade the sensors of most space-faring civilizations, and it’s the moving floor that impresses you?” Lieutenant Commander Travs asked dryly. She gave him a gentle nudge, reminding him that he was holding up the flow of traffic. He quickly moved towards a seat.

Travs and Mayle had become close in recent weeks, far closer than he’d ever been with any of his other superiors. Starfleet might try hard to put the ‘para’ in ‘para-military’, but it still had a rank structure and a chain of command. And Ensigns did not socialize or bond with Lieutenant Commanders, outside of some very awkward attempts at team-building or get-to-know-you sessions in the holodeck. But the Howlers were not like other officers and crewmen. The ability to transform at will into a werewolf-like creature was difference enough. But because of that ability, the Howlers had the dubious distinction of being what Mayle really hoped was the Federation’s only extra-judicial kill-or-capture squad.

He’d really like to hear just what interpretation of Starfleet regulations and Federation law managed to justify that.

Mayle suppressed a sigh. His nightmares continued to plague him on a regular basis, and with them had grown a deep feeling of…emptiness? Absence? This building sense that something was just missing. Right. Well there really wasn’t any mystery there, was there? He’d been trapped on the USS Farkas for months now, unable to communicate with friends, cut off from his family, and although relations with the rest of the crew had thawed, he still found himself being gently corralled back to Howler’s Den area of the ship on a regular basis.

Mayle’s musings were interrupted as Counselor Tomillo strode into the room, pushing a cart upon which was a human coffee service, Vulcan tea service and Andorian water, chunks and all. And snacks.

“Good morning everyone,” Tomillo said cheerfully, “Sorry I’m late. I realized at the last minute that the usual morning pastries probably wouldn’t cut it with a group of obligate carnivores. Best I could come up with is charcouterie and cold cuts. Hopefully that’s OK?”

“Uh, boss?” Lt Vanheath sounded skeptical, but his nose was already sniffing in the direction of the cart and he seemed poised to jump out of his seat, “I thought we had a briefing?”

“The mission was scrubbed,” Travs said, fixing herself a cup of tea before Tomillo had even finished positioning the cart in one corner of the room, “An away team from the USS Olonzac managed to apprehend the target.”

“I thought the target was a convicted cannibal?” Paulson asked, “Escaped from two penal colonies? Ate his roommate’s leg? High risk to re-offend?”

“As if this group can talk,” Tomillo muttered very quietly, looking towards Ensign Porkchop.

“He is,” Travs said, ignoring her, “But for some reason he called Starfleet and turned himself in. So he’s back in the hands of the Federation justice system.”

The Howlers looked uneasy.

“You don’t ask yourself, maybe he heard a rumour that criminals like himself are often these days having…accidents?” Ensign Sly asked, stumbling a bit in his thick, Quebecois accent.

“Anyway,” Tomillo said cheerfully, “Since we have this extra time, I thought it might be a good idea for us to sit down and have a nice chat,”

“You usually only talk to Mayle,” Porkchop said bluntly.

“And then he tells me you’re going to put me in diapers,” Crewman Vorns said.

“Or that I’ve indicant…ent…de-cant…” Syl paused, then carefully said, “In-de-cent-ly expos-sed myself,”

“Yes, well,” Tomillo took a sip of coffee, “This time we’re trying something different. So make yourselves-“

“Oh no,” Mayle bit his lip.


In less time than anyone could have thought possible, Sly was butt-naked. Vanheath flew towards the snack table, audibly sniffing like a madman. Vorns went full-on Howler, causing Tomillo to jerk back with a loud squeak. Without even looking at her, he spun around three times then curled up comfortably on the deck, folding one paw over the other then resting his chin on them. Paulson and Porkchop moved their chairs just a bit closer together, Porkchop tossing a towel over Sly’s lap as he joined them.

“You said ‘comfortable’,” Travs shrugged giving Tomillo a fairly insincere grin and reaching down on one side to scratch Vorns between the ears.

Tomillo looked thoughtful. It wasn’t a look Mayle had associated with her when they’d first met. Initially, the counsellor had been far more interested in treating the Howlers as a pack of raving deviants, insisting that Mayle reign in any behaviour that could be considered the slightest bit unusual. She certainly hadn’t been interested in group counselling, and she definitely wouldn’t have tolerated the current situation. But she seemed surprisingly calm as she took another sip of coffee.

“Does anyone know the stardate?” she asked, “New day, new dawn, time to rise and shine!”

Mayle blinked. Stardate? Huh. Were they up to the 6000s yet? Probably not. Even the Farkas crew wouldn’t have been able to hide that party. And he was reasonably sure it was still a ways off. But time had had a tendency to get away from him since he had awakened aboard the Farkas.

Vanheath knew the stardate. He was also reasonably sure that the reason Tomillo was asking was because First Contact Day, an Earth holiday celebrating the first landing of the Vulcans on Earth and humanity’s first encounter with an alien race, was only a few days away. But he himself wasn’t particular interested in First Contact Day. Even before the accident that had exposed him to the Howler virus, he hadn’t celebrated it. He’d grown up on a colony, and the biggest party of the year was always the anniversary of the landing of the first colonists.

No, to Vanheath, the stardate meant that today was his little sister’s birthday…

Mantamar IV Colony - Two Years Ago

“Jacob, what do you mean you’re leaving? It’s Jen’s birthday, and if you leave now she’s just going to be heart-broken,” Vanheath’s mother was standing in the middle of the entry hall to their house, hands on hips, “You just can’t!”

“Mom,” Vanheath sighed, “It’s not my idea. I either take the transport back to Starbase 14 today, or I have to take the next transport and try to catch the Winnipeg at Starbase 20. And if I do that, I won’t have enough leave time to come back for Christmas!”

“But it’s just one more day!”

“Well it’s one day that means an extra week of travel!”

“Surely the ship isn’t just going to leave without you,” his mother gave a sort of derisive laugh.

Vanheath, frustrated, put his hands on his own hips, “They absolutely will. Mom, this isn’t me cruising around the lake with Jeff and Sergei, this is a Galaxy-class starship with a mission!”

“Then you can go on the next mission,” his mother snapped right back, matching his increasingly angry tone, “Your sister is turning twenty, how often does that happen?”

“She’s old enough to understand what obligations are!” Vanheath snapped in turn, “Mom, I signed on the damned line, I have a responsibility to get back to the damned ship, and I am going on the damned mission to Cardassia Prime!”

“Fine!” his mother snapped back, “But if you’re not back for Christmas, then God help you!”

Vanheath sighed, dropping his arms, “I’ll do my best, mom. We should be back in Federation space by October.”

He stepped closer and gave her a hug.

“I’ll swing by Jen’s place on my way to the spaceport,” he promised.

He had stopped by his sister’s place. He had explained that he was going to miss her big twentieth birthday, he gave her the wrapped birthday gift he’d found for her on Rigel IV, he’d promised to do his best to be back for Christmas. And despite his mother’s dire predictions, Jen had been absolutely fine with it. Oh, she’d been disappointed, and she was worried as hell about his trip through what was left of the Cardassian Union after the Dominion War. But she’d understood. They’d said their goodbyes, he’d gone to the transport, made it back to Starbase 14 in time to meet the USS Winnipeg, and gone with the ship to Cardassia Prime. They’d done a tour of the core Cardassian colony worlds, part of the relief efforts following the devastation the Cardassians suffered during the war.

And at some point during an away mission to the colony of Panora, he’d been infected with the Howler Virus.

He didn’t know how or when it had happened. Not like Mayle, who’d nearly been turned into hamburger by whatever infected him. It could have been carried by an insect, or the result of pricking himself on one of those accursed thorn bushes the Cardassians were so fond of. But however it had happened, he’d set off a minor bio-filter alert on the ship when he’d returned. The virus itself might have been filtered out, and the doctors had quickly determined he was no longer contagious. But his cells had been altered.

All without most of the crew realizing anything was amiss. The Chief Medical Officer hadn’t seemed surprise at all, despite him suddenly contracting an alien virus. And within days of his ‘incident’, he was declared MIA.

An officer he didn’t know had just appeared in the sickbay isolation lab one evening, wearing a strange, black Federation uniform he didn’t recognize. He hadn’t identified himself, other than vague references to Starfleet Intelligence (though he didn’t actually claim to belong to that organization), but Vanheath had been fascinated to hear that the virus he’d been infected with had been encountered before. And that it made him very, very valuable to certain groups. If he had the stomach to do what needed to be done, ‘for the good of the Federation’, and could manage to disappear for a couple years.

Vanheath had agreed. And a few days later he was aboard the USS Farkas, learning how to turn into a feral, wolf-like creature capable of turning the enemies of the Federation into dog meat.

USS Farkas - Today

Was it really two years ago, Vanheath wondered? Two years into a commitment of ‘a couple years’. Two years with no contact with his family, two years of them no doubt wondering what had become of him. His mother was probably beside herself with grief.

But he didn’t want to think about that. He really didn’t want to think about that. Unconsciously, he sidled up a bit closer to Travs. Without even seeming to notice, she set down her tea cup and started working her fingers at the nape of Vanheath’s neck. He took a deep breath, relaxing a bit.

But that last discussion with his mother still nagged at him. Even though he hadn’t thought about it in years.

“Anyone? Today’s stardate?” Tomillo was asking again.

“It is the anniversary of the day mighty Kahless slew the dishonourable Baron Koghfit,” Lt Morreth said with a bit of a sneer, “The p’tak had no honour,”

“You sort of said that already. When you said he was ‘dishonourable’,” Ensign Nacht said. Morreth glowered at him.

“Was that with the Sword of Kahless, or had it already been lost?” Crewman Johnson asked, leaning in with interest. Anything to do with blades, spears or other sharp and pointy objects tended to grab his attention.

“With the Sword, obviously,’ Morreth said, “It was Kahless’ sword!”

“So is this a significant Klingon holiday?” Tomillo asked, turning to Morreth and putting on her ‘interested counsellor’ expression, “Did you celebrate it with your family?”

“Before or after they disowned him?” Nacht muttered, giving Vanheath a nudge with his elbow. Vanheath, lost in thought and neck massage, didn’t reply. But Morreth jumped to his feet and took a step towards Nacht.

“You have a problem with me, human, then say it!”

“You mean with you kissing ass with the senior staff, treating us like garbage, and being worried about your fucking career when we’re all been transformed into raging, murderous mutants!!??” Nacht’s voice had risen from ‘moderately annoyed’ to ‘totally furious’.

“Mutants? We have become glorious!”

“Let’s all take this down a notch!” Tomillo interrupted, putting her coffee down on her side table, “But this certainly seems to be a subject worth discussing. Morreth, Sean, I don’t believe you used to have this hostility in the past. Is it something you’d like to discuss?”

“No!” Morreth and Nacht said together…

Gygax Station - One Year Ago

“That’s a strength-saving roll,” the Dungeon Master said, leaning forward over the broad holo-table to survey the scene in front of him, “as you grapple with the skeleton for control of the sword,”

“That is with advantage, right?” Morreth demanded, “The skeleton has no muscles,”

The DM gave an exasperated sigh.

“That’s not how it works, ‘Krogorr’,” he said. Next to him, one of the other players picked up an electronic pen and added a tick to a floating holographic list labelled ‘Krogorr Doesn’t Get It’, “You only get advantage in specific circumstances, not just because it’s a skeleton!”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Morreth, aka Krogorr the Barbarian (with a couple of levels of Paladin thrown in), grumbled as he tapped the command to roll the holographic die.

“And that’s a botch!” the DM laughed, referring to a roll result of the lowest possible value, “The skeleton overpowers you and your sword falls to the ground!”

“The skeleton doesn’t just take the sword for itself?” one of the other players, a Bard, asked.

“Well, that would leave Krogorr without a weapon, and I don’t really want to go that far, yet,” the DM said thoughtfully, “I think it’s fair to say he loses his attack roll next turn, but he can pick it back up then. Now we need a consequence for this botch…hmm. What would fit the narrative?”

“Maybe the skeleton gets an attack of opportunity while Krogorr is picking up his sword?” Nacht, AKA Svenson the Rogue, suggested. He was sitting next to Morreth at the holo-table, and like Morreth he was dressed in real-world cloths to match his character. Unlike Morreth, Nacht was easily able to look the part of a rogue: He was slim, appeared dexterous, and his compact, wiry build made it easy to believe that he could sneak around and jab a dagger into your back. Morreth, on the other hand, did not look like a barbarian. His armour was the correct size, at least. But it did show a bit too much skin for him to be taken seriously, especially as the skin it revealed was pasty, pale, and…well…scrawny. Morreth really wasn’t one for the gym, or for heavy physical exertion beyond what was required to keep up with the rest of the security team aboard the USS Toulouse. It didn’t help that as a Klingon, a race most Federation citizens never met face-to-face, the stereotype most Federation citizens had of him was as a strong, proud, bigger-than-life warrior.

Yeah, he didn’t fit the stereotype.

“I like that,” the DM nodded, tapping at his panel, “OK, so attack of opportunity for the skeleton…and…nineteen. Does that hit your armour class?”

“Yes,” Morreth said through clenched teeth, turning to glare at Nacht.

“Twelve damage,” the DM said, “What does that leave you with?”

“I have four hit points remaining,”

“Don’t worry,” Nacht muttered, “I think I can take out the skeleton on my next turn, then the healer can probably buff you up before the boss fight,”

Morreth grunted.

Nacht didn’t take out the skeleton on his next turn, but the fighter of the group, an Andorian named Xixixis, did manage to defeat the muscle-less monster. And T’Mara, the healer of the group (played by a Vulcan also named T’Mara), did in fact attempt to heal Morreth’s character. Unfortunately, the dice were not in the mood to cooperate, Krogorr only received five more hit points, and he was killed fairly brutally early in the boss encounter. Despite his best efforts, Morreth failed all three of his death saves, Krogorr died, and the rest of the party found themselves unable to defeat the boss without their ‘tank’ there to deal damage.

“That was educational,” T’Mara nodded to the group as she turned immediately to leave.

“Yes,” Xixixis bared his teeth, “I learned even Klingons can be impotent in battle,”

“Better luck next time,” the human who had been playing the bard said as he shook Nacht’s hand. After a brief (but noticeable) hesitation, he shook Morreth’s as well.

“OK, clear out guys,” the DM said, “I have to get something to eat before the next group gets here.”

As they left, Morreth was fuming.

“It is your fault,” he snarled, “You gave him the idea to take an extra swing at me!”

“Yeah!” Nacht look incredulous, “What, you don’t think an attack of opportunity was the best way out of that botch? He could have broken your sword, or given you some kind of story consequence! You’ve got a high AC, there was a good chance you were going to be fine!”

“Oh, so you were helping me!” Morreth spat (literally spat) on the deck. It was probably the most Klingon thing he’d done all day. (Neither of them noticed a nearby Andorian giving an approving nod.) “I do not need your help, human! You know nothing of battle and conquest!”

“Oh, sure, says the Klingon who barely made it into Starfleet! No wonder the Empire didn’t make a big deal of it!”

“YOU TAKE THAT BACK!” Morreth lunged at Nacht, pinning him to the wall. The hold lasted about three seconds, then Nacht twisted his way free.

“Take what back? A bit of truth?” Nacht took a deep breath, “Look, OK. We’re both a bit worked up from the game. Let’s just swing by the Yorski Pavilion, get something to eat, maybe watch one of the comedy games. That’ll lighten the mood,”

“I do not want to lighten the mood,” Morreth clenched the hilt of the prop sword hanging off his belt, “I want…I want to fight!”

“OK, well they’ve got holo-suites for that,”

“I will fight you!” Morreth slowly pulled his sword, “We will settle this like warriors, as it should be!”

“Seriously? Neither one of us are warriors. Well, we’re in Starfleet Security, but we’re probably the least warrior-like officers on the team,” Nacht sort of giggled.

“If you are no warrior, than you are an honour-less p’tack!”

“Oh yeah?” Nacht said, warily keeping his distance, “In case you didn’t notice, I’m the only friend you’ve got right now. Don’t angry at me because the dice didn’t roll in your favour.”

Neither of them knew if he was referring to the DND game, or to Morreth’s lot in life. And by the time they founds themselves aboard the Farkas, they weren’t really on speaking terms anyway.

USS Farkas - Today

Both Morreth and Nacht were gazing down at the floor, lost in thought. After a moment Nacht looked up.

“I honestly thought I was helping you,” he said, “And I…look, I still don’t understand Klingon culture. But I read up on it a bit more afterwards. Maybe sparring it out would have helped you vent some frustrations.”

“I do not want to talk about it,” Morreth said firmly. A couple of the other Howlers exchanged confused glances. Flashbacks were private, after all.

“And we’ll respect that,” Tomillo made a note on her padd, “But I think the three of us are going to have to have a few discussions. Do you prefer together, or separate?”

“I prefer not at all!” Morreth grunted.

“You can go voluntarily, or you can go because I dragged you there,” Travs leaned towards Morreth.

Morreth looked around the group. “Very well.”

“OK, does anyone else have something they’d like to bring up? I understand the last mission went particularly well?” Tomillo was saying, “Quite the motivational triumph!”

Ensign Seeta Paulson wasn’t thinking about the last mission, whatever the hell motivational triumph was. Or the mission before that, or even the last dozen missions. Like Vanheath, Nacht and Morreth, she was still thinking about the stardate. She wasn’t human, so First Contact Day was just one more on a long list of human holidays. She didn’t pay much attention to them in general, but she did enjoy Saturnalia, an obscure human holiday celebrated by a small group of humans, including Porkchop…

USS Farkas - A Previous December

“I just wanted to see if my message went through,” Paulson was asking Lieutenant Miller, the tactical officer aboard the Farkas, “I sent it a week ago, but the computer doesn’t have a delivery confirmation code,”

“So ask the computer why it didn’t go through,” Miller, like many modern tactical officers, was not a fan of whichever Starfleet bureaucrat had decided that tactical should handle communications instead of having a dedicated communications officer, “Or better yet, check with the messaging centre on Deck 10.”

“I tried, they kicked me out and sent me back to ‘my’ part of the ship!” Paulson complained, “That’s why I’m comm-ing you instead of just coming to the bridge and asking in person,”

“Heaven forbid,” Miller muttered. He tapped at his panel, “Ok. Fine. Your message was rejected because it was flagged as containing classified information,”

Paulson nearly exploded, “Again?? That’s the eighth message I haven’t been able to send! I triple-checked it! What part was classified?”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you,” Miller grimaced.

“And why the hell not?”

“Because that’s classified,”

Paulson slammed a fist down on her table, startling the Howlers in the room with her. But since the noise-reduction algorithms filtered it, Miller didn’t hear a thing.

“Look, I haven’t been able to talk to my family since I arrived on this ship,” she said, “They’ve got to be worried sick! Can you help me draft a message that will go out?”


“Why not?”

“Because we’re on a top-secret ship on a top-secret mission. Nothing is going out. Well, except me. Miller out.”

The line went dead.

Paulson slammed both fists down on the table several times, then let her head fall forward with a thunk, tears threatening to spill down on to the surface. Weeks, weeks of trying to just send even just a brief ‘Hello, how are you, I am fine’ continued to hit the solid wall of ‘classified covert ops’ bullshit.

“Hey,” someone sat down next to her, but Paulson didn’t look up, “Are you OK?”

“How do you guys do it?” she asked, her voice muffled by the table, “How do you put up with…with being so isolated?”

“It’s not exactly new. We’ve all done deep-space missions that have put us out of touch for a few months.” her unknown companion replied.

“But this isn’t comm range limits or ion storm interference! This is people, other Starfleet officers, doing everything they can to keep us cut off!”

“Well…we can spontaneously transform into some pretty fierce beasts. I don’t really want to try coming up with a good lie when my mother asks ‘Hey Porkchop, how have you been? What do they have you doing out on that ship?’.”

Paulson looked up, finding herself seated next to a very average looking human male. They’d been introduced of course when she’d arrived on the ship, but their interactions had been polite and professional so far. His brown hair was average. Build, average. Height, maybe a bit below average. The only thing that really stood out on him was the stubble on his cheeks. Calling it a beard would be a bit generous, but it was uniform enough that it wasn’t a sad, patchy beard attempt either. Everything about him was just so very, very…average. It was, she mused, probably why she hadn’t really noticed him up until now.

“There is no way,” Paulson said, “that your mother calls you ‘Porkchop’. Unless the translator is malfunctioning and it’s not a piece of Terran pig meat?”

“That’s exactly what it means,” Porkchop shrugged, “And she does call me that.”

“I bit you miss her,” Paulson looked down.

“Like you wouldn’t believe. Especially now. It’s the holidays,”

Paulson inwardly groaned. She didn’t want to deal with another Earth holiday, but on the other hand, a bit of commiserating with a colleague was better than fuming over Lt Miller being an obnoxious ass. “Ok, I’ll take the bait. Of the many Earth holidays, which one is this? It’s…wait, I actually know this…Christmas, right? With the obese male in red with mutant animals, and he gives away gifts? Someone was just talking about it the other day,”

“Well, you’re close,” Porkchop stood and offered a hand, “It’s the holiday Christmas is based on, and I was just on my way to this quiet, off-the-beaten-path spot on Deck 15 to celebrate with Syl.”

“With Syl?” Paulson’s ears perked up. Syl had caught her attention shortly after she’d arrived on the ship, being (in her opinion) a very attractive male. Whether it was his relaxed attitude, sweet disposition or his accent, she’d certainly felt drawn to him. She’d just been a bit too stressed and busy do to anything about it, even if he’d given her any sign that he was interested. Which…well, she’d been too busy to notice it if he had.

“Wait, it’s not Christmas, but you’re still celebrating with Syl?” she asked, “Don’t most humans celebrate Christmas? Wasn’t he the one talking about it last week?” Realizing she had nothing better to do that sit here and stew in her emotions, she took Porkchop’s hand and followed him out of the Howler lounge and into the corridor.

“Yeah, none of the Farkas crew want anything to do with us. And Christmas and Saturnalia are…well, one led to the other. But between you and me, Saturnalia is more fun,”

They took a turbolift down to Deck 15, thankfully not running into any Farkas crew members that might try to ‘suggest’ they stay in their part of the ship. Deck 15 being at the very bottom of the ship and stuffed with antimatter pods and landing struts, there wasn’t very much space for people. Porkchop led her through a narrow, twisting utility corridor. After a few turns they found themselves in a small room, either an office or some very uncomfortable living quarters. A single, small porthole looked out into space. Syl was seated in the middle of the couch, wearing what looked to her like a comfortably baggy set of pyjamas.

“Welcome,” Syl said politely, “Porkchop, you were not telling me you would be bringing a guest?”

“I didn’t think you’d mind,” Porkchop said mildly, “It looks like she’s having a rough time of it, and could use some company. And I don’t know about you, but I sure could,”

Syl didn’t answer, just took a deep sip from his wine glass. ‘Sip’ might be too mild a word. ‘Gulp’ might have been better. “You are…not wrong. It ees a difficult time of year.” Reaching for the bottle, he refilled his glass. Porkchop tapped at the replicator, which obediently produced two more glasses. He said on the couch and poured himself a drink.

“So this is Saturnalia?” Paulson asked, “You sit in the…” she glanced at the placard on the door, “The ‘Inventory Office’ and drink?”

“No,” Porkchop said, suddenly looking sad, “No, normally my family would be having a big get-together to celebrate. We’d exchange gifts, everyone would work together to fix a huge meal. Oh, and we’d always hide a tiny crown in this special dessert cake! Whoever got it became the King of Saturnalia! They’d oversee the rest of the party, and they’d have to come up with pranks for people to play on each other! And well, yeah. We’d drink a lot too. Pranks aren’t really fun if you’re sober,”

“The first part is very much so like my family veille de Noel,” Syl smiled, “The food, the family, the gifts. The drinking. But no roi du chaos, thank us very much.”

“Thank you,” Porkchop corrected.

“You are welcome,” Syl replied dutifully.

“No, I mean…forget it. Seeta, you want to come have a seat?”

Seeta looked at the two males…the two attractive males…sitting on the couch in front of her and thought about it for a minute. Species and racial differences aside, she’d gone to Starfleet Academy. She’d lived with humans before, human males in particular. It was very likely that Porkchop, seeing she was having a miserable day, was just offering to share company, drinks and some pleasant conversation with her. It was also possible he was interested in pursuing a more…intimate…means of relaxation. It was also possible both males had that in mind, and would now compete for her attention.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time she’d have to deal with males expressing interest in her. And even in the 24th century Federation, there were a lot of places where a female would have to navigate the situation carefully and take steps to ensure her safety. Up to and including a quick departure.

But with hundreds of species and cultures and a smorgasbord of genders filling its ranks, Starfleet had gotten very effective at quickly and firmly communicating the limits of someone’s personal space, and the consequences for those who refused to respect it. If she felt uncomfortable, she was sure they’d back down, immediately.

And Syl’s accent was really, really cute. And Porkchop’s relaxed, welcoming attitude was a side of him she hadn’t seen yet. Maybe getting to know him better would be a good idea.

Taking the offered glass of wine, she sat on the side of the couch opposite Porkchop, next to Syl.

There was conversation, there was drink, and there was a modest, replicated meal. And Paulson had to admit that it was exactly what she needed. Syl and Porkchop exchanged gifts, offering apologies that they didn’t have anything for their unexpected guest.

“I…I think this evening is gift enough,” Paulson said, smiling. She had to admit to being a bit disappointed that neither of the males had made a move on her, aside from some fairly innocent flirting. She was actually getting ready to make a move of her own, either due to impatience, feeling emboldened by the wine, or both.

But then she noticed that Syl’s hand had made it’s way to Porkchop’s thigh.

Syl noticed where her gaze had gone and quickly pulled his hand away, blushing. “Ahh, desoles. Must be…er…the wine…”

“Ohh,” Paulson tried to hide her disappointment. Suddenly things made sense, in a way she hadn’t expected. But in retrospect, she should have considered the possibility, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you two were together,”

“We’re not,” both Syl and Porkchop said in unison. They looked at each other, then started giggling.

“I mean, well,” Porkchop was also blushing now, whether from embarrassment or the wine, “You could say there are a few benefits to our friendship. And…uh…Saturnalia doesn’t exactly frown on…celebrating intimacy,”

Noel, I mean, Christmas, certainly does,” Syl chuckled, “Especially between les gars. But is 24th century, after all.”

“And you still invited me?” Paulson was still disappointed, but sort of touched, “I didn’t mean to intrude on a romantic evening,”

“Oh, no, no, you do not be understanding,” Syl shook his head, “There is no romance. And you are not intruding,” he shyly put a hand on her arm, “I was in fact very happy to see you,”

Now Paulson was just confused. She said as much.

“Well. Umm. Look, I swear we didn’t plan this. But it looked like you could use some company, and I thought it might be a chance to get to know you better. And Syl, well both of us actually, prefer to date women,” Porkchop informed her, looking away and swallowing, “Uh, and we prefer them…in the bedroom…too.”

“Most of ze time, I do.” Syl corrected, sipping more wine, “Making love to a beautiful woman is ecstasy itself. But zhere is something to be said for…how do you put it? Being dominant with another male? Aggressive? Je ne sais quoi. And Porkchop is very open-minded…so it sort of… just worked.”

“We enjoy it,” Porkchop shrugged, still looking embarrassed, “And we need the…stress relief once in a while”

“Um, OK,” Seeta was careful not to picture the two males ‘being aggressive’ together. Or Syl being dominant.

Her careful ‘not picturing’ lasted about two seconds. Then she started picturing it. A lot. In multiple positions, with various techniques, and maybe a leather harness or two.

“Huh. Interesting. But you’re not dating?”

“Well…no.” Porkchop said, “Like I said, we both prefer women,”

“Or,” Syl took another gulp of wine and visibly collected his courage, “Or maybe both?”

Things ran a fairly predicable path from there. Porkchop proved himself to be above average in at least one regard, and Syl demonstrated a level of stamina that frankly took the full efforts of both Porkchop and Paulson to fully satisfy.

As they drifted off to sleep, the three of them curled up together, Seeta couldn’t help but wonder if that was why Porkchop had thought to include her in the first place. Someone to share the ‘work’ with. As she closed her eyes, she decided it didn’t matter. She might be isolated from her friends, family, and everyone who was part of her old life. They all were. But at least they didn’t have to be alone.

USS Farkas - Today

Paulson gave a small smile as she sat between her two lovers. No, being stuck on the Farkas wasn’t all bad. The relationship between the two males had grown as quickly as their relationships with her, as if she were the catalyst for a reaction that had been waiting to happen. They’d tried to keep their relationship private, not because they worried it wouldn’t be accepted but more because of the possibility for drama among the small (at the time) Howler team. But as more virus victims joined the pack and the Howlers split into two teams, it had seemed less important. Then it became an open secret among the Howlers and they’d basically given up on hiding it. Oh, they tried to keep public displays of affection to a minimum, especially with Syl’s tendency towards public nudity and his…ah…biological response at the slightest touch from either of his partners. They weren’t sharing quarters or anything. Yet. Hmm. They weren’t sharing quarters…yet.

Something to think about.

“Such a quiet group today,” Tomillo was saying. She clearly meant it in jest, but Travs thought there was something in her eyes that was just a bit off. She looked uncomfortable. Maybe even a little scared.

Like cornered prey that is just beginning to realize its danger, something in her mind spoke.

Travs realized she had one hand scratching Vorns’ furry ears while the other worked the knot of muscles at the nape of Vanheath’s neck. She’d zoned right out, had been thinking of her younger brother and the last trip the two had taken together to visit their parents in South Africa. Suddenly uncomfortable, she brought her hands together on her lap and shifted her weight. Then reached over to retrieve her tea cup.

“Definitely a change from this group,” she said, trying to make the comment sound light-hearted, “Usually I can’t get them to shut up,”

“Yes, Mayle has spoken very highly of the camaraderie between your people,” Tomillo said, “It’s admirable that you’ve all managed to make the best of such difficult circumstances. One might even say that each of your dogs has had their day, and made a killing of it!”

“That’s an odd thing to say,” Travs frowned.

“Yes, well,” Tomillo fluttered her hands in front of herself and looked down, “It’s still early, and I haven’t finished my coffee yet. Speaking of, yes Mr. Packman, by all means help yourself to more. Unless you’re more of a tea person?”

As Tomillo attempted to animate the group, Travs found herself thinking back to what Nacht and Morreth had said earlier. What was it? Morreth had said they’d become glorious, of course ‘glorious’ was just the Klingon equivalent of ‘cool’. But what Nacht called them?

Mutants. Murderous mutants. Yes, that was it.

Travs shuddered, goose flesh popping up over her arms. It was true. For all their cuddly, puppy-dog antics on ship, when the Howlers were on a mission they were deadly killing machines. She was a deadly killing machine. Harth and Belis could give her all the justifications in the galaxy: They were a last resort. They were only used against the most dangerous, most depraved criminals in known space. Any of their targets could escape a bloody death by surrendering to Federation authorities, like the last one had. And she’d done her best to bury her trepidation under the weight of those assurances. But now it was all bubbling up again. Bubbling up the same way it had on her very first Howler mission.

USS Farkas - Nearly two years ago

She had been the first. The USS Farkas had rescued her and two of her colleagues from a remote M-class planet near Cardassian space. Their runabout had been attacked by Orions on their way back from delivering supplies to one of the Cardassian colonies, and once they’d realized their target had nothing of value the pirates had just left them plummeting towards the planet. They’d all survived, but Tomillo had been bitten by a member of the local wildlife. She’d seemed to be none the worse for wear, just a few indications of a minor viral infection. But mere hours after her rescue, her shipmates had been delivered to Deep Space 9 while she had found herself in a dark room. It only took a bit of prompting from the shadowy figure seated there for her to change, sprouting fur, fangs and the mentality of a hungry predator. Travs had been terrified, changing back immediately. The shadowy figure apologized for rushing things, and Travs found herself being offered a sedative and the opportunity to rest.

But she hadn’t been able to rest. Her mind was consumed with those few second she’d spent as a wolf. A wolf! The sights, the smells, the sensations of that even that small, dim room had almost been enough to overwhelm her.

She needed to feel it again. And so when they came back, she had a simple request: Let her try changing on a planet surface. They’d immediately agreed, and it hadn’t even occurred to her to wonder why they didn’t seem all that surprised that a random virus had given her this ability. They’d beamed her back down to the same planet where she’d been rescued, along with a couple members of the science team. And she’d changed again.

This time she managed to contain her panic. As the changes swept over her and the animal instincts kicked in, she started reciting the alphabet. First Federation standard, then Andorian. She made it about a third of the way through the Vulcan alphabet, but when the quadratic letters kicked in she always got lost. In any case, it worked. She was calm, and while she could feel the strange feelings and urges that apparently came as part of being a wolf, she was able to better control them.

She sniffed at the boots of one of the science team members, ignoring him as he puttered about with his tricorder. Nothing interesting. Ohh, but there was something interesting over there! Near that bush! It might be…could it be…


Travs bolted after the small rodent, racing after it as it rocketed away. She could feel the soil beneath her heavy paw-pads, was breathing in a thousand scents as her lungs drew in and expelled the fresh air. Her ears were alert to every sound!

But the damned squirrel, er, squirrel-like alien rodent, still got away. It managed to bolt up a tree, well out of her reach. Travs barked, deep bellowing woofs that brought the science team running.

“Lieutenant,” one of them gasped, trying to catch his breath after running to catch up, “Try to stay near us!”

Travs shook her head. Near them? Why? What did they want? She wasn’t here to listen to some strange bipedal life form, she was here to have fun! It was a gorgeous day, and she just wanted to run and play.

She charged right at one of the science team, yipping playfully, not noticing the absolute terror on the man’s face as he cringed back. She jumped back, stretching with her paws out front in an invitation to play. The one who had yelled at her was still frowning, but the other brought himself under control, found a sturdy stick and threw it with all his might.

Travs bounded after it, snatching it up from the ground and immediately bringing it back. He was going to throw it again, right? He was totally going to throw it…YES! He threw it again! YES!

Travs lost track of how long she spent on the planet that day. After fetch, more members of the science team had beamed down, and they’d setup various obstacles for her to cross. Beams to jump over, beams to crawl under. They’d staked out a track and measured her speed. They measured how far she could jump, how quickly she could turn. It was all just so much fun!

Finally, it was time to turn back into her old self. She had been absolutely exhausted, wanting nothing more than to beam back to the ship, eat something and fall into a deep sleep. But she’d never forgotten that first day, or what had truly caught her off guard when she first started to explore herself as a Howler: Joy. Pure, white-hot joy. A happy innocence, something she dimly recalled form her childhood, but that she’d thought lost forever. Nothing could have prepared her for that, and after that first day she was willing to agree to anything her new superiors wanted, as long as she could feel that joy again.

Of course, that would be her undoing.

“You understand the assignment?” Commander Belis asked, standing in the transporter room with his hands clasped behind his back, “Any questions?”

Lieutenant Travs stood alone on the transporter pad, clutching a housecoat over her otherwise naked body. “No, sir,” she responded. She knew the mission. She knew the…the target. Knew the Orion was a vicious criminal, had pirated along the fringe of Cardassian space for months, stealing supplies and butchering freighter crews…or leaving them marooned to slowly die. Just like he had with her runabout.

“Good,” Belis said. He turned to leave, “Leave the housecoat,” he called over his shoulder.

Travs nervously set aside the housecoat, then changed into her wolf form. This time, as the wolf awakened in her mind, it wasn’t playfulness or joy she felt. This time she felt the cold determination of the predator.

The transporter chief ran her fingers over the panel and Travs’ word swam in transporter haze, coalescing into the cargo bay of a ship. The restrictions on this mission were simple: Starfleet cannot appear to be involved. No phasers, no tricorders or other equipment that could be lost. No clothing fibres from Starfleet uniforms. No DNA remnants that could be traced back to a Starfleet officer, preferably not even a Federation member race. Just a very dead target.

According to her new superiors, her wolf form was perfect. It ticked all those boxes, and more. A minor tweak to the Farkas’ transporter to scramble the signature, and it was beyond perfect.

Travs’ nose dropped to the deck, immediately picking up the scent of at least four individuals. One stood out, a particularly strong scent that would have been alien to her, were it not for samples provided during the mission briefing. It was her target. She exited the cargo bay, following the scent.

The ship was small, and evidently had detected her beam-in. In less than a minute, two Orions came running down the corridor. One started to raise a weapon, and Travs’ twinned wolf and security officer instincts responded instantly. She leapt, knocking the alien to the ground and tearing out his throat. Blood sprayed across her, across the corridor, and across the second Orion. The second alien screamed in terror and turned to run. Travs pounced, knocking him to the ground and bounding past him to pursue the real target.

It wasn’t even close to a fair fight. She found him rushing down the corridor, weapon in hand. But he clearly hadn’t been expecting a snarling beast to charge down the corridor bristling with fangs and claws. He went down fast, Travs finding herself unable to stop from tearing him apart. The pirate’s terrified wail was cut short as she ended his life, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t pull herself away from the corpse, the wolf screaming to attack, attack, eliminate the threat!

There was another haze of transporter sparks, then Travs found herself back in the Farkas transporter room. She charged, only to be thrown back by a force-field.

“Lieutenant Travs!” a voice shouted, “Change back at once! You must regain control!”

With her prey gone (aside from the various bits clinging to her fur), the threat eliminated and the unfamiliar alien ship replaced by the reassuring Starfleet grey interior, the wolf seemed to lose interest. It was not happy at being trapped, thought it seemed to realise it was back in ‘the den’. It was still pushing her to charge the force field again, but she managed to restrain herself, changing back to her human form perhaps a bit more slowly than usual.

The relief on Belis’ face had been unmistakable, the man using one hand against the bulkhead to support himself. How nice that he’d been that concerned for her. But Travs was quickly distracted by the scent of blood and viscera. She looked down, seeing shredded Orion remains splattered across her body, and promptly splattered the contents of her stomach across the transporter pad.

USS Farkas - Today

Being in her Howler form had never been the same after that day, Travs reflected. The innocence was gone. Any time spent as her Howler now carried the shadow of dozens of deaths, that first one most of all. But sometimes, when they weren’t on a mission, when it was just her and her pack, the joy returned.

Travs found her gaze resting on Mayle, who looked absolutely bored out of his mind. As group counselling sessions went, this one was a complete bust. And she couldn’t understand who’d had the bright idea to try it anyway. But if the glazed expressions around her were any indication, it was at least giving the other Howlers the chance to do some of the same reflection she was doing.

But Mayle…the Howler who wasn’t a Howler. Infected by the virus, but unable to change. Feeling only a dim shadow of the animal instincts that had grown to affect them, even in their human forms. How could she explain to him what she felt, what all the Howlers felt when they were able to make that change? Not to just be affected by animal instincts, but to actually be wolves. To run as a pack. To surrender the worries and complexities of starship living, and just…play.

Mayle must have sensed her gaze, and she looked away before he could catch her staring.

“OK, well I guess that wraps up today’s session,” Tomillo said uncomfortably, rising from her seat, “Thank you for coming, and may the Great Bird of the Galaxy guide your pack.”

There was an assorted collection of mumbling and waves. Realizing that she had actually come to them, Tomillo gathered her refreshment cart and made her exit.

“Well that was useless,” Mayle sighed, “Sorry guys. I didn’t know this was coming.”

“It’s fine,” Travs said, thinking back again to her brother and that last trip they’ve taken together. When would they take their next?

The room was quiet for a moment.

“Perhaps,” Morreth hesitated, “Perhaps we should take an early lunch. In the holodeck.”

“You’re going to join us? That hasn’t happened in a while,” Travs lifted an eyebrow.

“Maybe…maybe I have been spending too much time away from…the pack,”

“So you guys know what stardate it is, right?” Vanheath asked, “It’s almost First Contact Day. We’re going to do something, right?”

“I wish,” Ensign Trimble swallowed, “I wish I could spend it with my family. No offence, guys. I just…I suddenly can’t stop thinking about them,”

“Me too,” Vorns agreed, having returned to human form, “It’s weird. I don’t even like my family. Haven’t thought about them since I came aboard the ship. But now…I just want to be back home.”

“Let’s go get some lunch, and we can make some plans,” Travs said, “You know, assuming another mission doesn’t come up.”

The Howlers suddenly looked uncomfortable, but they followed her out of the briefing room and down the corridor towards the holodeck. Vanheath waited until the last of them had left, then tapped a control. The floor started shifting, re-configuring itself back to its usual terraced layout.

“I still think that’s cool,” Mayle said, waiting for him in the corridor.

“Yeah. So, hey, does your family celebrate First Contact Day? Mine actually celebrates Planetfall Anniversary,” Vanheath said.

“Most of the time,” Mayle sighed, “But it’s one of those holidays that’s as much trouble as it’s worth. Inconvenient timing, and Mom goes on about how people don’t properly celebrate Easter anymore.”

“So you’re not in favour of a big party?”

“No,” Mayle sighed, “I’m just…not.

They arrived in the holodeck, but instead of the usual Grandmother’s Cottage simulation, it was running an outdoor simulation of a restaurant patio. Mayle wasn’t sure what planet they were on, but it was a beautiful, clear day, the streets were full of (holographic) people going about their (holographic) business, and the scent of (holographic) barbecue wafting from the restaurant kitchen was intoxicating.

They placed their orders, then just…sat. Quietly. Mayle looked from Howler to Howler, confused. ‘Why so glum, chum?’ might be a bit insensitive and cliche, but that’s sure what he wanted to ask. Even as the food arrived, the Howlers seemed distracted. They watched the people come and go, their eyes moving from face to face. Almost as if they were looking for something. Someone?

Mayle sighed as he cut into his duck leg, wishing he could stomach something other than meat. He was never a huge fan of vegetables, but he found himself missing hummus, of all things. And crackers. He noticed that next him, Travs was barely picking at her chicken.

“You guys must have really hated Tomillo’s session,” he said, trying to sound upbeat.

“Hmm?” Travs shook her head, “I’m sorry, I was just distracted. Thinking about…things,”

“What sort of…things?”

Travs looked him dead in the eye, “You mentioned something a few weeks back, right after the incident with the Celine hologram. I think it’s time we found an opportunity to discuss it. Fully.”

Mayle let out a deep breath. “I agree. It’s past due. I thought we would have talked about it sooner.”

“I guess we’ve had a lot on our plates, and not much time to talk,” Travs said carefully, clearly referencing the constant surveillance, “But suddenly, the missions just seem…less important.”

“Don’t let Commander Belis hear you say that,” Mayle’s gaze flickered towards the invisible holodeck ceiling.

“Hmmm.” Travs leaned back, looking thoughtful.

Commander Martin Belis walked down the corridor, nodding pleasantly at passing crew members as he moved towards his destination. The corridor grew increasingly empty as he neared the secondary deflector control room, near the front of the secondary hull.

Careful not to look over his shoulder (only people up to something did that), he stepped into the room. Doctor Wolfman and Counsellor Tomillo were waiting. They had been pretending to examine the backup plasma relay for signs of radiation leakage, but Belis interrupted them immediately.

“The security sensors in this section are undergoing routine maintenance,” he said without preamble, “We may speak freely. Counsellor? Is it done?”

“It’s done,” Tomillo said, wrapping her arms around her body and shifting her weight from foot to foot, “All three trigger phrases. The initial effect was immediate, but it’s going to take a couple of days for the mental conditioning to really wear off. I don’t recommend any missions until their moods stabilize,”

“Yes, the next mission isn’t for at least a week. This cancellation was a very, very lucky break,” Belis nodded, “Doctor?”

“I’ve gone over the data again, and it’s as I said: All the tests and scans were conclusive,” Wolfman said, “It wasn’t the mental conditioning that’s kept them…stable. I mean, it kept them from dwelling on their isolation and family, which was very helpful. But in terms of aggression? It was a combination of the new virus modifications and the serum we made from Mayle’s blood. As long as they keep getting injections, they should stay…well…”

“Sentient?” Tomillo asked bitterly, “Human?”

Wolfman’s face went very pale and his eyes seemed to glaze as he was swept back into memories of past events. After a moment he collected himself and turned to Tomillo.

“We’re not going to have another Vilkas incident,” he said, “We’ve spent over two years working to make sure that never happens again. And Mayle is proof that it won’t.”

“Mayle’s memories of the incident?” Belis asked.

“No, they’re still buried,” Tomillo said, “It’s a different technique,”

“Mayle’s conditioning may be weakened,” Wolfman added, “But he won’t regain his memories without the antidote to the memory blockers. Maybe not even then.”

“Very good,” Belis nodded, “What about the contingency plan?”

“You mean the tumour hidden in Mayle’s cat?” Wolfman asked, “Yes, I managed to test a sample during the surveillance window you arranged yesterday. Soruk outdid himself. It’s exactly what we needed. Ethically, he and I are going to a rehabilitation colony for a very long time when this is done. But it…works.”

“A rehabilitation colony is the best any of us can hope for, at this point.” Tomillo muttered.

“Enough,” Belis looked at the other two officers, “We’ve started the clock. Now we have to end this before it runs out. Inform our people, discreetly of course. If what happened on the Vilkas is anything to go by, the Howlers will move quickly.”

“And so must we,”