Author: Brendan Chris
Ensign Greg Mayle sat quietly at his table in the crew mess of the USS Farkas, picking at his filet mignon with a distinct lack of interest. Partly because the meat was replicated, which no matter what the lab brains said was never the same as real meat. But also because he was getting really, really tired of eating almost nothing but meat.
“I just really want a salad right now,” he groaned to his dining companion, Nurse Carolyn Bayles, “I never thought I’d hear myself say those words. But I really want a salad,”
“Unless it’s chicken or tuna salad, don’t you dare,” Balyes replied, fishing a cheese and spinach stuffed ravioli out of the pile of pasta swimming in sauce on her plate, “The gas you get from eating greens should be declared a cruel and unusual punishment,”
“Yeah, I know,” Mayle sighed, looked jealously over at Bayles’ pasta, then ate a piece of the rare meat in front of him. The taste was fine. The texture was fine. Something was just missing.
“Definitely sucks that you got all the drawbacks of being a Howler and none of the perks,” Bayles said. She paused, mentally reviewing what she’d just said, “I’m sorry. That was thoughtless of me,”
“You’re not wrong,” Mayle shrugged, “I don’t know why, but especially lately it feels like there’s this whole aspect of being a Howler that I’m just not able to experience. I just don’t know why it’s bothering me now!”
“It never bugged you before that you couldn’t change with the rest of them?” Bayles asked.
Mayle thought back to his first few weeks aboard the USS Farkas, the super-secret ship assigned to transport and study the group of officers who had been infected with an alien virus that allowed them to change into dangerous, wolf-like creatures. He was apparently a one-of-a-kind exception. Most gained the not-yet-understood ability to change shape. A rare few of those infected recovered from the virus as if it were simply a minor flu, experiencing nothing more than mild discomfort. So far, he was the only one to still have signs of the virus in his system, side effects of the virus, but no metamorphic abilities.
He was also the only member of the team who knew they weren’t the first Howlers. During some snooping in the science lab, he’d found records of the USS Vilkas and Starfleet Intelligence’s first, disastrous attempt to study the crew members infected by the Howler Virus.
“It bugged me at first,” Mayle replied, choosing his words carefully. Whether it was the norm on SI ships or just a special precaution given the nature of the Howlers, the Farkas sported the most impressive (and invasive) array of surveillance and security scanners he’d ever seen. “We tried so hard to get me to change. And then I guess I must have…stopped caring…?” Mayle trailed off. Why had he stopped caring about being able to change?
“I guess I must have gotten too distracted with the Liaison Officer thing,” he shrugged, not meeting her gaze, “I hadn’t thought of it at all recently, not until that mess of a group counselling session the other day,”
“Ah,” Bayles was quiet for a couple of moments, spearing ravioli and popping them into her mouth. After she’d successfully devoured a particularly evasive piece of pasta, she looked up again, “Has Travs talked to you about the little accident in the cargo bay? How’s your…back?”
Mayle struggled not to roll his eyes. Damned surveillance system! He hadn’t hurt his back at all, the whole injury had been a staged excuse to get Lieutenant Commander Travs into Sickbay so Bayles could remove some weird tumour that Chief Medical Officer Wolfman had claimed was a fetus. Mayle had been slightly surprised that Bayles, unlike most of the Farkas crew, was secretly trying to help the Howlers in some way that she couldn’t or wouldn’t explain. But what had really shocked him was that Wolfman, one of the men responsible for the barrage of torturous ‘science experiments’ and ‘medical tests’ the Howlers were subjected to, might also be working against whoever was actually in control of the Farkas. He already knew First Officer Martin Belis was playing games of his own. Add Wolfman, Bayles, Cargo-master Becky Ianda along with Ensign Sebbit, and Mayle had started to realize there was no telling in just how deep this thing ran.
Bayles was still looking at him expectantly. Her eyes flickered up briefly as if to remind Mayle that somewhere, someone was listening in and expecting him to say something. Right. So…she was probably asking if they’d discussed the tumour? Or was she asking if they’d discussed Wolfman’s apparent willingness to help?
“Travs and I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about anything other than mission stuff,” he replied, “It’s only been a couple days,”
“You can’t hold things off when it comes to…um…injuries,” Bayles insisted, “There are…forms to file, records to update. You have to be sure the…incident is on file in case it causes problems in the future. Don’t let Starfleet Medical say it wasn’t their fault!”
Mayle wasn’t sure how much of that was coded message and how much was genuine medical advice. But he knew the key point: he needed to sit down with Travs and the Howlers and tell them everything he knew. But such a talk had to be private, off the record. And with the last of the surveillance scrambling pucks ‘accidentally’ scattered around after an incident in the cargo bay now rounded up, returned and accounted for, finding that private time was impossible.
“I know,” he said, “And I want to have a…a talk with her. But it’s just so hard to find the opportunity!”
“Ah,” Bayles’ mind started churning, “I see.”
First Officer Martin Belis sat in the command chair of the USS Farkas, a broad viewing padd propped up against one knee and a small earpiece tucked into one ear. He flipped from Mayle and Bayles’ date over to the squad room in the Howler’s Den. It was empty. He flipped to the locker room…empty. He expected their briefing room to be empty, considering there were no missions on the books for at least a week, but was only moderately surprised to see Ensigns Paulson, Syl and Porkchop engaged in yet another round of three-way sex.
“That’s different,” he muttered, quickly averting his eyes. The position they were in wasn’t one of their usual ones, the fact that the three of them were getting intimate in yet another part of the ship certainly wasn’t different. Belis did his best to respect their privacy, but the sheer frequency of occurrences was making it difficult not to stumble in on them mid-mating.
Perhaps a computer filter that could identify when surveillance subjects were amorously engaged, Belis wondered to himself. Hmmm…except that post-mating pillow-talk was a high-probability timing for sharing classified or sensitive information. Not to mention that the computer might have difficulties in distinguishing mating from wrestling or other athletic competitions…especially with Ensign Syl. He concluded that whatever he thought of, Starfleet Intelligence had probably thought of it years earlier.
Flipping over to the Howlers holodeck, he was encouraged to see they were running the street-side market program again, instead of Grandma’s Cottage. But they were still glumly sitting around, watching ‘normal life’ parade past them while they sat in their little cordoned-off restaurant patio.
He flipped back to Mayle and Bayles. The nurse had delivered the message he’d instructed, but Mayle’s response had only confirmed what he’d suspected: The ongoing surveillance had made the man so paranoid he was constantly delaying a conversation that Belis desperately needed to happen. He’d thought they’d move a lot faster after Counselor Tomillo removed the hypnotic blocks that had prevented the Howlers from dwelling on their family or friends outside the Farkas, but rather than galvanizing them into action, it was pushing the whole group into a depressed funk. Well, except for Paulson and her boyfriends, though to be fair this was the first time he’d seen her acting as the top in the bedroom.
Belis blew out a frustrated breath. The way he saw it, he had two options: He could keep waiting until the Howlers stopped being the obedient little puppy-dogs they’d been conditioned to be, or he could take matters in his own hands and gamble that the Howlers would actually do what he needed him to do…instead of ripping him limb from limb the second he put his trust in them.
He flipped back to the recordings of Mayle’s ‘accident’ in Sickbay. The footage had been badly scrambled seconds after Mayle had been carefully placed on the bio-bed. Ten minutes later, it abruptly cleared up just as Dr. Wolfman walked in to check on the patient. It was almost completely believable that the whole thing had only been an equipment malfunction or an errant vole playing with one of the scattered surveillance pucks, except for one tiny detail visible only if one jumped directly from Mayle being positioned on the bio-bed to Wolfman walking in:
The stasis tube holding Mayle’s cat had abruptly changed position, with no reasonable explanation or justification in evidence.
He knew through Bayles what had actually happened: whatever Wolfman had removed from Travs was hidden inside the cat. And he had to hand it to Wolfman, even SI wasn’t fucked up enough to think to look for something inside someone’s beloved pet. But every day that passed was a risk that someone else would notice the anomaly, and start digging deeper.
He couldn’t afford to wait.
“Lieutenant Morreth,” he said, shutting off the padd and turning to the pale, gangly Klingon at Tactical, “Call Lieutenant Commander Travs to the bridge to take over your station. I would like you to go run another diagnostic on that slaver ship we captured. I’m not satisfied with the report on the sensor scrambling they installed…it shouldn’t have allowed them to evade our upgraded sensors, yet it did. I want to know how.”
“Yes, sir,” Morreth said, shifting his weight nervously. A few minutes later Travs stepped out of the turbolift. With a hesitant look towards Belis, Morreth turned to leave.
“Hey, Morreth,” Travs called, “Vorns asked for Klingon food for dinner tonight. Can you double-check the replicator programs when you have a minute? We don’t know what’s authentic and what’s been…uh…‘rendered safe for human consumption’. The labelling just has ‘coward’ and ‘warrior’…but you guys think steak tartar is a warrior’s dish and limp gagh is for cowards.”
Morreth was slightly taken aback, but nodded amicably as he left.
“Working on team cohesion?” Belis asked casually.
“I wouldn’t need to if you hadn’t been playing games with him,” Travs said flatly, “Playing on his ambitions for promotion, bringing him up for bridge shifts, special ‘social time’ with the senior staff.”
“If you’d been properly developing him, I wouldn’t have had to interfere,” Belis shot back. He quickly looked around the bridge. As he’d expected, the officers manning the helm, ops and engineering stations were carefully focusing their full attention on their consoles, the better to remain unnoticed during a confrontation. Good.
“Let’s take this conversation somewhere a bit more private, Lt Commander,” he said, walking towards Captain Harth’s ready room.
“Is this why you summoned me to the bridge, to berate me?? Sir?” Travs demanded, following him in.
The second the doors hissed shut, Belis pulled out his tricorder, a specially modified unit specifically designed to detect and troubleshoot advanced surveillance equipment.
“Quiet”, he quickly silenced Travs, then started scanning around the room. Travs just stared, confused. Finally, he was satisfied.
“This is the only room on the entire ship that doesn’t have some form of surveillance,” he said without preamble, “In theory. Frankly, I’m not willing to take Captain Harth on his word with that. But I believe for the moment we can speak freely,”
“Oh we can, can we?” Travs crossed her arms, “And what do we have to ‘freely’ say to each other?”
“The Howlers Initiative, which is what Section…uh…Starfleet Intelligence calls us by the way, must end,” Belis said bluntly, “I know you think I’m the enemy. I had hoped that Mayle would have explained more of the situation by now,”
“Hard for Mayle and I to have a frank chat without having a private, scanner-free room of our own,” Travs lifted an eyebrow. Mayle had in fact managed to tell her that Belis didn’t seem to be the enemy. She didn’t really believe it, but she knew that there was more that Mayle needed to tell her.
“I didn’t expect Morreth to round up the surveillance scramblers so quickly,” Belis admitted.
“Ah-hah!” Travs pounced, “I knew that was too convenient to be an accident!”
“There are very few ‘accidents’ on this ship,” Belis said, somewhat ominously, “But here is what will happen: Sometime in the next two days, the surveillance system on the entire ship is going to go down. I will create as much chaos as I can, but it will only last for forty, perhaps forty-five minutes. You will have that much time to discuss what needs to be discussed. If you decide you’re going to trust me, destroy the security control array on Deck 4.”
“Just like that?” Travs was dumbfounded, “We’ve been on this ship for nearly two years, and suddenly we can break stuff? Commit acts of treason and sabotage??”
“You’ll understand once you’ve heard everything from Mayle,” Belis said, pacing anxiously, “At least, I hope you will.”
“Why don’t you just tell me now?”
“Because you have no reason to trust me,” he turned back to Travs, “But I don’t think I have to work hard to convince you that your days, the Howlers’ days, on this ship are numbered. You’re incredibly valuable, but also a huge risk. And when the experiment ends…”
“You think they’re going to ‘disappear’ us?” Travs hissed.
“I think you’d all be safer in a civilian-run, Federation lab,” Belis shot back, “With an independent ethics board and publicly published research. But we both know that will never happen. You’re too valuable, and if the Dominion or the Founders ever found out what we were doing to you, well, you’re not Changelings. But I wonder if they’d consider you Solids at this point? Close enough to be distant kin? Don’t you think experimenting on you and exploiting you as a kill squad might piss them off just a little bit?”
He walked back to the ready room doors.
“Watch for my signal,” he said, “Then make your decision: Keep things the way they are, and hope your precious ‘pups’ survive. Or trust that I…that we are willing to help you. Even at great risk to ourselves.”
With that, he strode out of the ready room and towards the command chair, Travs following.
“Man your station, Lt Commander,” he ordered Travs, “There have been reports of Romulan activity in neighbouring sectors, and I would hate to be caught off guard.”
The next day…
“…amid reports of increased smuggler activity in the sector,” Travs was saying, standing at her usual place at the front of the Howler’s briefing room, “It is assessed this is due to a decrease in Orion and Nausican activity due–”
“…due to Howler operations against high-value criminal targets in the–”
“Will somebody please close the door to the head?” Travs demanded, dropping the padd with her briefing notes to her podium, “Dammit, Vorns, why did you ask for Klingon food if you knew this was going to happen!”
Vorns didn’t answer, being too busy decorating the toilet bowl with his insides.
“He thought he was tough enough that this wouldn’t happen,” Morreth said, a bit of a grin on his face, “Most of the Klingon food we replicated had been ‘adjusted’ for humans. He demanded I gave him the authentic, ‘warrior’ stuff.”
“Nobody else is sick?” Travs asked.
“We ate the safe-for-humans versions,” Vanheath offered, “I might be a carnivore now, but some of those Klingon side dishes were…uh…sorry Morreth. No offence.”
“This from the race that invented ‘Pad Thai’, Morreth gave a visible shudder of disgust.
The human members of the squad quickly rose up, defending the popular dish.
“What’s ‘Pad Thai’?” Paulson leaned over to ask Mayle. The latter had been sitting off to the side, as usual, but appeared to be even more lost in thought than normal.
“Noodle dish,” he muttered back, “No surprise Klingons wouldn’t like it. I sure do, though. Man, what I wouldn’t give to be able to eat a big, steaming bowl of Pad Thai right now,”
“That’s why you’re stewing over here, basically ignoring Travs’ brief?”
“Hmm? Oh, no. I was just wondering why Morreth was back to being so chummy with the team lately,”
“I guess group therapy accomplished something, at least,” Paulson offered.
“Sure. Group therapy,” Mayle frowned.
“OK pups, let’s get back to the situation briefing,” Travs called for everyone’s attention, “Now, it is assessed that the most likely response by criminal elements is…”
Back on the bridge, Harth and Belis were seated in the twin command and first officer’s chairs. Harth was absently going over personnel reports, while Belis was watching the surveillance feed from the Howler’s Den.
“We really should find a mission for them, soon,” Belis remarked, “They’re going to start going stir-crazy,”
“Sounds like a good opportunity for Dr. Wolfman to study their stress reactions to boredom,” Harth noted absently.
Belis looked at Harth out of the corner of his eye. The captain appeared to be engrossed in his padd, but was he really? Not for the first time, Belis deeply regretted getting involved in Starfleet Intelligence, the Howlers Initiative, and what he was certain was Section 31, which seemed to have taken over after the incident aboard the USS Vilkas. The subterfuge, the sneaking around, the complete lack of trust was just. Absolutely. Exhausting!
“Report, Ensign Yurkar,” Belis ordered the grey-skinned being manning the helm.
“We are continuing our patrol route, course 034 mark 001. Current speed is warp four. In three hours and ten minutes we will be passing close to the Zeta Endura star system. No habitable planets, but there is an automated Federation listening post due to the proximity to the Cardassian border. Former Cardassian border,” she corrected.
“Might be worth swinging by for a quick look,” Belis suggested to Harth, “God knows how often Starfleet actually has ships in this system,”
“Hmm,” Harth put down his padd, “What can you tell me about the system, Lt Drepla?”
“It is a Type-A white dwarf,” the Denobulan female replied immediately, “There is considerable dust in the stellar envelope. The listening post is in a cluster of asteroids, likely planetary remnants, at the edge of the envelope,”
“Looks like a nasty place,” Lt Miller spoke up from tactical, “I’m picking up the remains of at least four planets, likely destroyed when the star went nova.”
Belis shrugged, “It actually sounds sort of interesting. When’s the last time we were able to actually do some sight-seeing, instead of shuttling around the killing machines we keep below-decks?”
Harth leaned over Yurkar’s shoulder to study the helm readouts.
“Very well. Bring us close enough to the listening post for short-range scans,” Harth ordered, “We’ll check the outpost, update the survey charts for this star system, then be on our way,”
“Don’t get too close to the listening post,” Miller warned, “There’s enough dust to cause considerable electrical discharge between the asteroids,”
“Like flying a fork into a toaster,” Yurkar commented.
“Yes,” Belis nodded, his expression blank, “Let’s certainly keep that in mind.”
“That’s odd,” Nacht said, looking at the status screen in the Howler’s Den squad room.
“What?” Travs asked, looking up, “Another fluctuation in the ODN network? Nacht, I’m tired of you trying to get out of your counselling sessions with Morreth!”
“Tomillo keeps trying to do couple’s counselling on us!” Nacht complained, “We’re not a couple!”
“Two friends who apparently…” Travs frowned, “Forget it. You’re going.”
“Fine, but this isn’t an excuse anyway,” Nacht turned back to the panel, “We just stopped.”
“The ship. It just stopped at the edge of a white dwarf system. And…yeah, the bridge just sent a warning to all decks to shut down any high-energy systems.”
Here we go, Travs thought to herself. Her eyes flicked over to the exit. Most of the Howlers were somewhere in the Howlers Den complex, except of course for Morreth. Morreth might have been starting to reconnect with the rest of the team lately, but he was still taking every opportunity he could to work up on the bridge and further ingratiate himself to Harth and Belis.
The door hissed open and Morreth walked in.
“Lt Commander,” he nodded to Travs, “Commander Belis sends his compliments and has ordered the Howlers to shelter here until we finish our stop at Zeta Endura,”
“He has, has he?” Travs lifted an eyebrow, giving Morreth a very cold stare. Was Harth behind this? How was she supposed to go blow up the security control systems on Deck 4 if she was holding her people in the Den down on Deck 7?
“Strange that he didn’t order me directly,” she said. At the opposite end of the room, the doors leading to the briefing room opened and disgorged Mayle and Paulson.
“What’s this about locking down?” Mayle asked, “Paulson and I were getting ready to test the new sonic filters!”
Travs spun towards Morreth.
“I took the liberty of summoning everyone,” he said, “Being your second in command, and all,”
There was an abrupt jolt as something struck the ship. The lights flickered and even gravity seemed to lighten for a moment, but the systems recovered quickly.
“All hands, this is Captain Harth. Nothing to worry about, we’re checking in on a Federation listening post located in the dust envelope of a white dwarf system. Dust currents and electrical buildup are a bit more than we expected, so if you haven’t already done so you are to move to sheltered areas of the ship. Bridge out,”
There was another jolt, another flicker of lights. This time there was a split-second delay before backup systems cut in.
“Nacht, Vanheath, Trimble, you’re with me,” Travs said, rising from her seat and moving to the door. Morreth immediately moved to intercept her.
“Commander Belis insists you stay here,” he said. His tone was strong, but something in his eyes…
Travs took a step forward, but suddenly found a phaser pointed directly at her.
“Oh no, you didn’t!” Vanheath shouted. His eyes fluttered, then a ripple of dark fur spread across his body as he started to change. Morreth turned and fired the phaser, but the low-powered stun shot just seemed to annoy Vanheath. If anything, the change accelerated.
“Travs…Alice!” Morreth pleaded, “This is a really bad time to be disobeying orders!”
Travs hesitated, but at that moment Vanheath completed his change. He charged at Morreth, who backpedalled frantically. With a snap of his jaws he sliced the phaser in half, leaving Morreth holding a sparking grip. The big Howler growled, spitting out the other half of the phaser and baring his teeth.
“Guys, please!” Mayle jumped in, “I think-“
Vanheath almost absently batted him away. His claws were retracted, but the blow sent Mayle crashing back against the buklhead.
“Travs!” Morreth tried again, “You’ve got to make him stand down!”
There was another deep growl, but it took Travs, Morreth and Mayle a moment to realize it wasn’t coming from Vanheath, but from Nacht. The small man had also changed, and although his Howler form was smaller and less impressive than Vanheath’s, it was more than enough to give the bigger Howler pause.
“And now we have a stalemate,” Mayle groaned, picking himself up off the deck as the ship shook again.
“Give me one good reason why we should listen to you!” Travs said to Morreth.
But before Morreth could say anything, Paulson cut in.
“He didn’t change,” she said flatly, “Coming into a room full of Howlers, one of them full on wolfing out at the sight of him. And he’s in here with a pathetic little hand phaser set to ‘stun’?”
Travs mulled it over.
“Stand down,” she said. She repeated herself louder when Vanheath hesitated. Finally, he gave one short bark at Morreth, then retreated behind Travs. “OK,” Travs said, hands on hips, “Now why-“
This time when the ship shook it wasn’t a just a jolt. The entire superstructure seemed to scream for a split second as sparks flew from consoles and light fixtures. Main gravity completely failed, coming back at perhaps half strength as backups kicked in. The ship seemed to groan as main power failed, and only a few consoles lit back up as secondary systems came back online.
Morreth pulled out a tricorder and started tapping frantically.
“Borrowed it from Commander Belis,” he said, giving Travs a meaningful look, “Surveillance systems are down. We have to move quickly, the sensors in the Den are the highest priority on the ship, and they’ll be the first to come back up,”
“You…dammit Morreth!” she snapped, “If you’re on Belis’ side, why the hell were you trying to keep us in here! If we’re going to blow up the security systems, we need to get our asses up to Deck 4!”
“Because whatever happened in here before the static strike was going to end up recorded in the computer banks anyway!” Morreth shot back. He was speaking now with a confidence that none of the Howlers could ever recall see coming from him, “We don’t know how this is going to play out, but if Harth watches that recording he’s going to see two things: me being perfectly loyal to him and Belis, and you submitting to their authority!”
“Bullshit!” Travs said, “The second he finds the smallest thing out of the ordinary, he’s going to think it was us!”
“Not if we do it right!”
“HEY! EXCUSE US!!”
Morreth and Travs spun around to find Vanheath, Nacht, Paulson and the rest of the Howlers standing and staring at them.
“Would someone care to explain?” Vanheath demanded, the last of the fur fading as he resumed his human form.
“We have to be quick,” Travs said, setting a countdown on her wrist chrono, “Belis arranged this little outage so we could talk. I guess that’s the first thing to say: as hard as it is to believe, Commander Belis is trying to help us,”
“Bullshit,” this time it was Porkchop who objected, “He’s had it out for all of us since Day One!”
“It’s an act,” Mayle broke in, “Really. Remember when you guys were getting your asses kicked by the Celine hologram? It was Belis who gave me the right sonic filter configuration. And there’s more. More than any of you know. While you were in the holodeck getting your ears shredded, I had the chance to get into the full science database. I’ve been trying to find a chance to tell you about it for weeks, but if Harth…” Mayle swallowed.
“We’re on borrowed time, pups,” Travs said, crossing her arms, “I don’t know why we didn’t pick up on it already, but sooner or later this experiment is going to end. If Harth thinks any part of it is about to go off the rails, it’ll be sooner. And we’ll be…well…”
“We disappear,” Nacht said, blood draining from his face, “Spirits, it’s so obvious! How…why…why didn’t we realize this months ago?”
“We were conditioned,” Morreth said, “Belis told me bits and pieces, when he could. They used techniques to subdue us, keep us from getting too aggressive, from thinking too much about our friends and families outside the Farkas. Or thinking about what was going to happen to us in the future. Tomillo turned that off at group counselling. That was the whole point.”
“And we’re running out of time,” Travs said, tapping her chrono, “Mayle, what did you find?”
Mayle took a deep breath. He’d had weeks to think about how he was going to do this, but now that the moment had finally come he found his mind going blank. Where to begin? What was the most important?
“This doesn’t have anything to do with you shouting the word ‘Vilkas’ in your nightmares for weeks, does it?” Syl asked, “I still am not knowing what it means,”
“I know Farkas comes from an old Earth language,” Travs said, “Hungarian, I think. It means ‘wolf’,”
“There’s also an old legend of two brothers named Farkas and Vilkas,” Nacht said, “I think it was in twenty-second edition Dungeons & Dragons. Or maybe one of the old human computer role-playing games. They were brothers. Twins. Werewolves.”
“Twin werewolf brothers?? Vanheath demanded, “Doesn’t that hit a little close to home?”
Mayle closed his eyes.
“More than you know,” he said, “We’re not the first Howlers. And the Farkas isn’t the first ship dedicated to studying them.” He had their complete attention and the story was falling into place in his mind, but Travs was still pointing at her chrono. He had to be quick.
“I found science team records from the USS Vilkas. It was an Intrepid-class starship with one mission: study and understand the mutagenic virus that was affecting a small group of Starfleet personnel. I didn’t have time to go over all the files, but I did find their last few log entries. Their Howlers…their Howlers went berserk. They weren’t using them for covert missions, they were just studying them. Trying to figure out what they were, and what made them change. And they lost control. Their Howlers killed half the crew before the security team could take them down. They decommissioned the Vilkas, I don’t know what happened to those Howlers. But about a year later, the USS Farkas is commissioned, and sets off to study a handful of officers affected with, surprise, a mutagenic virus. This time it’s also using them as a killing squad,”
There was silence for a moment.
“Merde” Sly said finally.
Travs felt like her head was spinning. They’d told her she was the first. Maybe that was true, in a way. She was the first Howler to be used as a killing machine. But the first Howler? Clearly not. But maybe…maybe the first one not to go kill-crazy?
“Mayle, how long did the Vilkas experiments last?” she asked.
“I didn’t see all the logs,” he confessed, “But it looked like there was maybe a few months of data there.”
“And the Farkas has been running for nearly two years,” she said, “What does that say to you?”
“I think,” Mayle said, “that they either did something to the original virus or they did something to us. Something to stop us from going out of control.”
“What does any of this have to do with destroying the security control systems?” Ensign Trimble asked, “I have an idea or two on how to do it, but I don’t get the ‘why’?”
“Commander Belis told me this experiment has to end,” Travs explained, “He said he’d arrange a surveillance outage so we could have a little talk, and we could either decide to take our chances with Captain Harth and his plan, or we could try to end things on our terms. If we decided to help him, we’re supposed to destroy the security surveillance control systems. That will disable the surveillance systems, and at least give us a chance to get the drop on Harth and his supporters.”
“How much of the crew is with Belis?” Vanheath asked.
“Nurse Bayles,” Mayle said, “Ensign Sebbit. Ensign Ianda. Um…Doctor Wolfman…”
There was an uproar from the Howlers.
“There is NO WAY that butcher is on OUR SIDE!” Porkchop shouted, “Do you know how many tissue samples he’s taken??”
“Il a mis tellement de sondes dans mon cul!” Sly yelled, “Tabernac!”
“Look, we don’t know how much danger these people have been in,” Travs said, “If they had to keep up the act then so that they could help us now, then so be it! But we have to decide whether or not we want to take our chances with the way things were, or find a way to get off this ship and out of this mess!”
The two Howler teams immediately broke apart, huddled and started chattering.
“It is not MATTER how small the probes were,” Syl shouted at something Nacht had said, “They were not on mine own terms!”
As the Howlers bickered, Travs kept glancing at her chrono. Finally, she’d had enough. “Look pups, we can-“
“NON!” Syl cut her off, “We are not ‘the pups’ right now. The time for the cuteness is ended. We are being used, and if what he,” his hand snapped out to point at Mayle “has found is true, we will be soon being disposable. We will not be ‘the pups’, it will be le temps de sortir les poubelles!”
“And that time to take out the garbage is going to be right now if we’re still talking about this when the surveillance system comes back up!” Travs snapped right back, “So are we doing this, or are we trying to keep things the way they are?”
Nacht and Vanheath looked to their teams for a moment.
“We’re doing this,” Vanheath said.
“But we’re NOT doing this Belis’ way,” Nacht added.
“And I have some thoughts on that,” Mayle chimed in, “But first things first,”
“OK,” Travs nodded, “Trimble, Vanheath, you’re with me. The rest of you wait for us here,”
They started for the door. Morreth moved to follow them, but Vanheath stopped him with one hand.
“Give me that,” he plucked Morreth’s comm-badge off his chest, “I might be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but you send the smallest squeak to Harth or Belis and I will tear you apart,”
To his surprise, Morreth simply nodded.
As soon as Travs left, Morreth turned to one of the few mission support panels in the Den showing any sign of life. He started tapping away, but only managed a few commands before Nacht pushed him away.
“What do you think you’re doing??” he demanded, “Sending a warning message to Captain Harth? Trying to suck your next promotion out of his-“
“I’m pulling up all our personnel files and records,” Morreth interrupted, “Then I’m going to Science Lab Three to pull the USS Vilkas database. My last stop will be Sickbay, for all our medical records. Every. Last. Ruthless. Experiment.”
“I…WHAT?” Nacht’s eyes bugged out, “You think Wolfman is going to just let you walk in and take his secret, prize data that just happens to expose him as a..a…torturer!?”
“He sure will,” Mayle almost reeled as the realization dawned on him, “In fact, I bet he’ll be waiting right there to hand it to you, personally. Just like Ensign Sebbit is going to have the Vilkas and Farkas databases ready to go.”
“C’est pourquoi vous avez embrassé les culs des officiers supérieurs????” Syl exclaimed.
“Enough babe, turn on your translator!” Paulson didn’t even wait for him to comply, just reached over and squeezed his comm-badge.
“You’ve been kissing senior officer ass so you can get their records?” Syl demanded.
“No, Belis recruited me and made sure I had ties with the senior staff, to make sure at least one Howler was on their good side.” Morreth said, “And so that the rest of the crew was used to seeing me coming and going! And wouldn’t stop me!”
“Like they might stop Travs or the rest of us?” Mayle gestured for Nacht to allow Morreth to work. He hesitated for a moment, then moved back. Morreth nodded at Mayle, then quickly downloaded the data to an isolinear chip.
“They might,” Morreth said, “And they might stop me anyway.”
“Multi-prong attack,” Paulson nodded, “So which prong are you?”
Syl didn’t give him the chance to reply, “You’re going to whistle-blow, aren’t you? That’s why you’re taking the data.”
“That’s the plan,” Morreth grimaced, “Take every piece of data we have on the Vilkas, the Farkas, the Howlers, and make it fully public. Starfleet Intelligence can’t deny we exist, a few Admirals probably go on trial for war crimes and maybe, someday, we can all go back to our old lives.”
“And a cure?” Paulson asked.
Morreth didn’t reply.
“You hate this idea,” Nacht accused, “I can see it on your face. You LOVE being a Howler, you’ll never let them end it,”
“I leak the data, Belis lets me go,” Morreth replied. “That’s the deal. You all can chase after cures or ‘ethics board protections’,” scorn dripped from his words, “Me, I’m looking for a quiet place to…to be what I was meant to be,”
“You won’t just run?” Syl demanded, “You will do Belis’ bidding?”
“Belis is actually right,” Paulson had one arm around Syl and was trying to calm him. Porkchop was at her other side, but simply looked lost in thought, “We need to burst this thing open like a messy, disgusting boil. No plausible deniability, no sweeping it under the rug.”
“And Harth will fight to the end to stop that,” Porkchop finally spoke. He moved to Syl’s other side, putting an arm around their partner.
Mayle looked thoughtfully at Morreth. “The slaver ship. That’s why Belis insisted we take it. You’re supposed to run off in that thing, and hope the Farkas can’t track you.”
“Oh!” Syl gently eased himself away from Paulson and Porkchop then started rummaging around in a storage bin. After a moment he pulled out a couple of blank chips, “Make a few copies of that data. I have better idea!”
For all the build-up, trashing the security control array was surprisingly easy. Whatever had hit the ship had left the door stuck half-open, and several access panels had been knocked off the array itself. Trimble looked into one open panel for about ten seconds before grabbing a piece of metallic debris and tossing it in. There was a brief explosion of sparks, then a neighbouring panel flew across the room as the array puked its optrontic guts all over the floor.
“You get that from a ‘Tech For Dummies’ book?” Vanheath asked.
“No,” Trimble replied, “But that’s how I failed third year ODN circuit repair at the Academy,”
They were halfway back to the Howlers Den when the ship shook again. Even more lights and panels went dim. Travs quickly stopped to examine a ship status board.
“Let’s get back to the Den,” Travs motioned with one arm.
They’d no sooner made it back to the Howler’s Den when Syl and Nacht pulled them right back out the door. They nearly ran down the empty corridors to one of the Jefferies tubes, down two decks, over to another vertical tube, then finally stopped at a junction.
“If Harth has the slightest suspicion of sabotage, the Den was going to be the first place he’d look,” Nacht told Travs, handing her a tricorder with an isolinear chip plugged in, “Morreth and Mayle are getting all the records from Sickbay and the Science Lab. It’s what Belis had planned for them. We need to get into position so they can dump the data to us.”
“I thought I told you to stay put! I don’t recall planning any data dumps or ‘positioning’,” Travs said, but she took the tricorder.
“We were thinking while you were gone, and we know what we want to do.” Syl quickly explained their plan.
Travs nodded, but her lips pressed tightly together.
“It’s a good plan,” she said, “But what makes you think Harth isn’t just going to blast us to pieces as soon as we leave the ship?”
“Sensor-jamming-“ Paulson started, but Travs cut her off.
“I don’t care what schemes Belis is running,” she said, “every shuttle, life-pod, impounded slaver ship and environment suit has been stuffed with enough tracking devices the light up this whole quadrant,”
“That’s why we need to eject the Farkas’ warp core,” Syl said excitedly, “Poof. No pursuit!”
Travs nodded thoughtfully.
“I’ll do it from the bridge. Belis might be keeping Harth distracted right now, but if he’s been helping us all this time…” she paused, her face suddenly looking tired, “We can’t just leave him out to dry,”
“We might be able to just beam him off before we jump to warp,” Mayle suggested.
“No,” Travs shook her head, “I have my own plan in mind.”
“I’m going with you,” Vanheath said, stepping over to her, “Whatever you have planned, you can’t take on the entire bridge crew on your own,”
“Jacob,” Travs objected.
“No choice,” he said flatly.
Travs looked around, then lowered her voice. “This is Starfleet Intelligence. There’s going to be a backup plan. There’s always a backup plan.”
“I know,” he said, then tilted his head as if he’d just had an idea, “Let me be yours.
Up on the Farkas bridge, Belis was working frantically at one of the panels. Travs’ forty minutes were up. He’d stretched his repairs as much as he could, almost to the optimistic forty-five minute mark. But if he didn’t restore power to the security systems, Harth would be suspicious.
“Rerouting power,” he announced. There was a low groan as the bridge lights came back up, then a flicker.
“The security array is still offline,” Lt Miller called out, “My readouts show massive damage to the controller circuitry on Deck 4,”
“How massive?” Harth asked slowly.
“Primary and backup systems are down,” Miller said at once, “There’s no way the electrical discharge did this, sir,”
“Security to the Howler’s Den” Belis barked, hoping they had better sense than to hang around. He’d known that as soon as they found the damage to the security array the Howlers would be the prime suspects, but with any luck they should be off the ship any minute now. He just had to keep security away from the shuttlebay, and hope Travs and her people didn’t try anything stupid! He turned back to Harth, only to find the Captain’s phaser aimed straight at his face.
“Captain?” he asked, doing his best to look confused.
“You’re nowhere near as clever as you think,” Harth said coldly, “I’ve seen you work that security grid like it was a piano. You expect me to believe you’ve been doing repairs all this time without noticing the controller was damaged?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Belis said, slowly raising his hands, “With the power outages, I couldn’t get any diagnostic-“
“And I suppose it’s a coincidence that you put us on a course that just happened to bring us too close to the asteroid fragments? And exposed us to conditions that resulted in the ship being disabled?” Harth gestured to Miller, “Tell your people going to the Den that any Howler in wolf form is to be killed on sight,”
Morreth staggered up to Sickbay, Mayle’s arm draped around his shoulder as the other man tried to pretend he was injured. It was turning into a recurring theme for him, but at least this time it was a bit easier to keep a grimace on his face. Morreth might be small, pasty and nerd-like for a Klingon, but he still had a warrior’s body odour.
The doors hissed open and they staggered through. Wolfman saw them and immediately handed his hypospray to Nurse Bayles. But instead of handing them a data chip, he slung Mayle’s other arm over his shoulder and guided them towards an empty bed. Bayles gave a pointed look at the other nurse, who quickly started herding the two other patients out of Sickbay, going on about ‘classified procedures’. Rather than looking surprised, the two crewman just rolled their eyes with an air of ‘oh SI, here we go again’.
“Uh, doc,” Morreth muttered, “Sort of in a hurry,”
“I know,” Wolfman said, getting Mayle situated, “Nurse? I need a protoplaster, 20ccs ectrozine and…well, you know.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Bayles quickly came over and discreetly slipped Morreth a data chip. Then she vanished into the back of Sickbay.
“Doc, we really don’t-“
“Are you making copies of the data?” Wolfman asked, noticing the outline of additional chips in Mayle’s pocket as he slipped up the man’s tunic, exposing his belly, “Good idea. Here, give me that,” He grabbed the chip Bayles had given Morreth, one of the blanks from Mayle and quickly copied it.
“I don’t want to know your plan or where you’re going,” Wolfman said, not giving them the chance to speak, “Just listen. Ensign Mayle, you are infected with the Howler virus. The original virus, from the Vilkas. We managed to push it into remission after the incident. I have a more detailed message for you on the chip, but what you need to know now is that we’ve been using your antibodies and neurotransmitters to create a serum that, well, moderates Howler behaviour.”
Bayles had returned carrying the stasis chamber containing Felix, Mayle’s cat. “Aww, poor kitty,” Morreth sighed.
“Yes,” Wolfman said. With Bayles assistance he quickly extracted the lump of flesh he’d hidden under a patch of loose skin on Felix’s belly. He turned to Mayle, readying the protoplaster.
“Whoah, whoah, that’s the thing you took out of Travs!” Mayle nearly jumped off the bed before Bayles pushed him down with surprising strength.
“It’s a collection of bio-engineered cells that will grow into a gland that will produce the same serum we’ve been making from your blood,” Wolfman deftly cut the lump in two, then with a series of quick cuts implanted half of it next to Mayle’s spleen. In seconds Mayle was shakily getting off the bed. Wolfman quickly started repeating the process with Morreth.
“How did I have the original virus?” Mayle asked, “Do you mean it wasn’t an animal attack that-“
“The details are on the chip,” Wolfman cut him off, “We don’t have time. But every Howler will need a piece of this to grow their own glands, otherwise the original virus will eventually re-assert itself and they’ll…go feral.”
“You saw the Vilkas records,” Bayles shuddered, her eyes meeting Mayles, “That’s…that’s what will happen again without the serum, a gland to produce it, or a cure. And we don’t have a cure yet.”
“Will we still be able to change?” Morreth asked, looking more worried about that possibility than he was about the hole currently in his side.
“Yes, yes,” Wolfman waved him away, “Neither the gland or the serum has any effect on that. Only what we had to do with Mayle’s immune system to produce the serum had that effect, and even then it’s not an actual cure.”
Wolfman closed the incision in Morreth’s side, then turned and grabbed Mayle by both arms, “Now listen to me, because this is important. We’re risking our lives to get your people out of here and expose this…this…travesty. But if even one of you loses control and goes on another rampage, people will think it justifies what Starfleet Intelligence has done to you. Everyone. Needs. An. Implant. Directions are on the chip, try not to kill each other with surgery. Nurse, serum.”
Bayles handed them each several vials of bluish liquid. “Better to have some of this on hand if you need it.” Suddenly one of the consoles started beeping. Nurse Bayles rushed over.
“Security was just dispatched to the Howler’s Den,” she said.
“You’ve already seen Ensign Sebbit?” Wolfman asked.
“Yes,” Mayles answered.
“Then whatever you’re doing, do it fast. The jig is up,”
Belis kept his hands perfectly still and took a slow breath.
“Captain Harth,” he said, “We need to move quickly if we’re going to stop whatever Travs and her people are planning!” Please, he thought silently to himself, please let their plan be a rapid and stealthy getaway on the slaver ship. If he could just keep Harth distracted long enough for the Howlers to get away…
“Travs and her people aren’t going anywhere,” Harth glanced over to Miller, who nodded.
“Security is converging on the Howlers Den and on the Deck 4 surveillance control room,” Miller reported.
“The real question,” Harth asked, “is why you brought us close enough to this apparently volatile listening post and allowed the ship to be damaged.”
Stall. Delay. Buy time. Belis thought, Any second now they’ll get an alert from the shuttlebay…
The doors to the turbolift hissed opened and Lt Commander Travs stepped out and started moving towards the tactical station.
“I don’t care what you think, Lt Morreth is…oh.” she noticed the standoff in the center of the bridge, “I’m sorry, am I interrupting?”
“Just what do you think you’re doing here?” Belis’ voice was nearly a growl, the anger in his eyes very, very real.
Harth didn’t even give her the chance to answer. “Stop right there,” he snapped, then gestured to Miller. Miller drew his phaser and aimed it directly at Travs. “Lt Commander, you will report to the brig and confine yourself and your team there until this situation is resolved.”
Travs looked quickly around the bridge as her security training kicked in. Harth had his phaser on Belis, who was standing there with his hands above his head. Miller was now pointing his phaser at her, but his thumb was nowhere near the trigger yet. Ensign Yurkar was keeping her eyes carefully on the helm console, her grey skin beginning to glisten with…sweat? Opposite Miller at the Ops console was Ensign Fraks, his dark amethyst eyes flashing as they darted around, taking in the scene.
OK. She knew Belis was out to help her. Harth clearly wasn’t. Miller appeared to be loyal to Harth, and Yurkar probably was just trying to do her job. Fraks…Fraks was so hostile to the Howlers that she had a sneaking suspicion he was putting on the same act as Belis. The lad dost protest too much, methinks.
“I don’t want any trouble,” she said, holding her hands in front of her…putting them over head would take them too far from her phaser. Harth, Miller, Fraks or Yurkar? She might be able to stun one of them, but that was it. If she didn’t stun Harth, he’d shoot Belis and it would be a toss-up as to whether she’d be able to pivot to him in time…but only if she shot Miller first. If she shot Fraks or Yurkar, Miller would shoot her before she could pivot to Harth. Unless Miller wasn’t loyal to Harth. Oh boy.
“Then leave,” Belis said, “Now. That’s an order.”
“Respectfully sir,” she replied, “I can’t walk off the bridge with one Starfleet officer holding another at phaser-point. Two officers,” she corrected, giving Miller a somewhat accusatory look.
Miller didn’t flinch, didn’t give the slightest sign that he was uncomfortable with the situation. OK. So the likelihood that he was loyal to Harth just went way up, which was bad.
“Please sir,” Belis said, turning back to Harth, “I’m not your enemy here,”
There was a burst of motion from the helm as Yurkar spun around and fired her phaser, stunning Harth. Travs jumped to the side as Miller fired, grabbing for her phaser but missing him as he ducked under the tactical console.
“OPS!” Travs shouted.
“No, wait!” Belis cried out. But before he even finished the emergency escape hatch hear the bridge viewscreen popped open and Vanheath surged out, firing his phaser at Ops. He hit Fraks dead center, the Xenxian officer falling against the rear panel and slowly sliding to the deck with a very surprised look on his fase.
Belis scrambled to put the helm console between him and Miller, who managed to stun Yurkar.
“You idiot!” he hissed at Travs, “Fraks was on our side! And Miller’s going to be calling for reinforcements!”
“Well thanks for telling me that!” Travs had managed to scramble over behind Fraks’ Ops panel. She and Vanheath hadn’t figured out much of a plan other than ‘Wait behind the emergency access until I tell you where to shoot.’ Certainly less sophisticated than what had apparently been Yurkar waiting for Belis to say a certain phrase before coming to his defence. Turning her attention to the panel, she could see a flashing alert on one screen: the shuttlebay doors were opening! If she could just keep Miller busy until they were far enough for the slaver ship to get away!
“Miller to Engineering! The bridge is compromised! Transfer control to-“
“Oh no you don’t!” Travs fired her phaser in an effort to keep him down, then started tapping at the Ops panel. Transporters were still down, but it was an effort to block Engineering from locking them out, “Belis! Cover Vanheath!”
“Engineering to bridge! We have an unauthorized launch from the shuttlebay!”
“Pursuit-“ Miller ducked as Belis fired another shot. The turbolift doors opened to reveal a squad of security officers, and Belis and Vanheath were both suddenly busy trying to defend the choke point, “Pursuit course! Don’t let them get out of range!”
“Vanheath! Now!” Travs shouted.
“I can’t get to the Engineering console!” Vanheath shouted back, “Not until we can lock down the turbolifts!”
“I can keep Engineering from locking us out, or I can lock out the turbolifts,” Travs said, “Doing both at once is a problem!”
Belis finally managed to hit Miller, sending the tactical officer spinning to the floor. “What are you trying to do?” he shouted at Vanheath, turning his attention back to the turbolifts.
“Eject the warp core so the Farkas can’t chase down the escaping slaver ship!”
“Oh for,” Belis rolled his eyes, “Computer! Emergency warp core ejection, authorization Belis Tango-tango-four-two-foxtrot!”
There was a confirming beep, then a slight jolt.
“Warp core ejected,” the computer announced.
“You couldn’t have just told me that five minutes ago?” Belis asked. He jumped over to the tactical panel and started locking down the turbolifts.
“I…um. Well.” Vanheath shrugged sheepishly.
There was a groan as Harth stared to regain consciousness. Travs and Vanheath exchanged a look, Travs giving him a slight nod.
“Vanheath to Syl,” he tapped his com-badge, “The Farkas has been neutralized. Godspeed.”
“Acknowledged,” Sly replied, “Time to see how fast that slaver ship can go,”
Travs checked her panel, sure enough the slaver ship was powering up to jump to warp.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” Harth gasped, pulling himself to a sitting position, “You can’t let those animals loose!”
“Can’t we?” Travs asked mildly. She looked down at her console. Engineering was apparently a bit too busy dealing with the missing warp core to continue their efforts to lock them out. She relinquished the panel to Vanheath, then moved to guard Harth.
She thought Harth was reaching for his head. She’d been stunned by a phaser enough times to know how much of a headache it caused, and his hand was careful to avoid his com-badge. Even when he started rubbing the back of his neck instead of his head, she didn’t think anything was off. But she was surprised when he suddenly grabbed one of his rank pips, squeezing it and shouting “SILVER BULLET!”
Travs stunned him, but Vanheath’s panel was already beeping.
“There’s a ship decloaking ahead!” Vanheath cried out, “Intrepid-class! Transponder reads…reads…” his eyes widened “USS Vilkas! They’re arming weapons!”
“On screen!” Belis ordered. With Harth unconscious again, Travs took the helm console. A ship identical to the Farkas appeared on screen, barrelling towards them at full impulse. Travs glaced at her panel and saw the shields were still offline, but before she could say anything the Vilkas shot right past them, her nacelle pylons shifting to warp configuration as she shot off, chasing after the slaver ship.
“So,” Belis crossed his arms, “Harth has had a little shadow following us the entire time. I’ve always wondered what happened to the Vilkas after the massacre. And now we have to pray that your people can either outrun them, outmanoeuvre them, or give them the slip.”
“Not a surprise that Starfleet Intelligence would have a backup plan,” Travs said, “In fact, we were counting on it. Vanheath, are you still reading them?”
“The Vilkas is still pursuing the slaver ship,” Vanheath reported, “They’ll overtake them in two minutes, but they’re already too far out for short-range sensors.”
“So now what?” Belis asked, “We sit here until they finish blowing up your people and come back to finish the job?”
“No,” Travs spun towards him and pulled out one of the chips Mayle had given her, “Now you broadcast a distress signal with every erg of power you have. You include live footage of the Vilkas, and all the Howler data you can manage.” There was another beep at the console. She glanced over and nodded, “Which is exactly what the slaver ship is doing right now. I just doubt it will get much out before the Vilkas blows it up. But you’ll get enough out that Starfleet Intelligence won’t be able to cover this incident up.”
“Maybe,” Belis said slowly, but he tapped at the tactical panel, “Broadcasting distress signal and sensor readings.” He turned back to her, “That insurance policy might work for the Farkas, and it might work for the crew and I.” His voice suddenly grew very angry again, “But you’re dead the second they finish killing your team! You ignorant, stupid…after everything I’ve done, after everything this crew has done to try to save you, to throw your lives away-“
“Can it, Commander,” Travs said with a smile, “We have a backup plan of our own. But we had to get Harth to show his hand first. And…as much as we’ve hated each other over the past two years, we didn’t want to leave you behind.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Belis sneered, “I’m not abandoning my people and running off with you. Thank you for the offer, but no. And I certainly hope you’ve put better thought into your own escape!”
“We have,” She tapped her com-badge, “Syl, Belis has decided to stay here. Two to beam up.”
Belis’ jaw dropped as Travs and Vanheath vanished in a whirl of transporter sparks. It dropped even further as the ship shuddered slightly, then his panel beeped to alert him to the unauthorized departure of…
“The aeroshuttle??” Belis blinked, then started to laugh, “They stole the aeroshuttle???
He was sitting in the command chair, still chuckling when the turbolift doors hissed open and another security team rushed in. They looked around in confusion at the bridge full of stunned bodies, but with no Howlers or other hostiles in sight. Only their first officer, sitting calmly in his chair and raising his hands over his head.
“Well done, Lt Commander,” Belis murmured, watching the screen as the small craft normally docked on the underside of the saucer vanished into warp.
“Everybody always forgets about the fucking aeroshuttle!”