In the year 2082, mankind established first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life when Earth was visited by a race of beings known as the Krys. The visitors were welcomed with open arms, and shared some of their vastly superior technology to improve humanity’s quality of life. Famine and disease were a distant memory within a few years. The Krys were scientists and explorers, not at all threatening in their mannerisms or appearance, and were allowed to establish embassies on Earth’s surface.
The Krys, it turned out, were secretly waging a war against humankind, using deception and espionage to accelerate global warming in an attempt to make our planet more hospitable for their species and less so for humans. The average nighttime temperature between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer climbed to over one hundred thirty degrees Fahrenheit. The coastlines began to disappear below the rising waters of the oceans and massive walls were built to hold back the seas.
Once the Earth’s leaders discovered the Krys’ true intentions, war broke out. It turns out that the visitors were not very capable warriors; they were a race driven by logic and reason. Their technological superiority was countered by human rage and desperation, and mankind scored its fair share of victories. It was discovered that while what humans would consider to be dangerous amounts of solar radiation was essential to their survival, nuclear radiation was much more harmful to the Krys. Still, Earth lacked sufficient nuclear weapons to eliminate the Krys behind their ships’ shields, and both sides knew it.
But what the Krys failed to take into account was humanity’s willingness to destroy something precious in order to prevent it from being taken by someone else. In one final act of desperation, the world leaders met and agreed to turn Earth’s nuclear arsenal upon itself and make the planet uninhabitable for the Krys. Billions of humans perished, but those who remained still had a planet to call home, at least for a time. The Krys, with nothing left to fight for, withdrew peacefully and vanished into the vastness of space.
With the tropics too hot to sustain life and much of the remaining land irradiated, four new world powers emerged: The Northeastern United States, Eastern Canada, Greenland, and Iceland formed the Atlantic Collaborative, with its capital in Montreal; Northern Mexico, the Western United States, and Western Canada became the Pacific Union, with Vancouver as its capital; Western Russia and Kazakhstan merged with the remaining European, North African, and Middle Eastern nations to create the Mediterranean Alliance, capitaled in Berlin; and finally, Japan joined the Koreas plus the remnants of India and China to make the Asian Federation, with its seat of power in Shanghai.
It soon became apparent, however, that the Earth was too badly wounded to continue sustaining humanity’s current numbers beyond another century, and we turned our attention back to the stars. We knew there were planets beyond our solar system with the potential to support human life, and thanks to the technology salvaged from the wreckage of Krys starships, we now had the means to travel nearly one hundred times deeper into space than before. In a historic world summit, the AC, PU, MA, and AF all met and agreed to cease hostilities and focus on colonizing the stars. Under the terms of the treaty, each nation was assigned nine potentially habitable worlds and would build three colonization ships, sending nearly four hundred thousand humans into space...
Hope Driscoll: 38, female, Captain of the Atlantic Collaborative Interstellar Colonization Ship “Peregrine,” from Cleveland, Ohio
Jackson Cordero: 35, male, First Officer and Chief Communications Officer, from Burlington, Vermont
Tristan Yount: 36, male, Chief Medical Officer, from Halifax, Nova Scotia
Emma Thorisdottir: 28, female, Chief Engineer, from Hӧfn, Iceland
Oliver Thibault: 42, male, Chief of Security, from Hamilton, Ontario
Paul Olsen: 48, male, Chief Geologist, from Bridgeport, Connecticut
Kofi Ngosa: 31, male, Chief Meteorologist, from Albany, New York
Aaron Hilton: 33, male, Chief Oceanographer, from Portland, Maine
Natalie Ingram: 24, female, Navigator, from Freehold, New Jersey
Sara Hoy: 30, female, Assistant Chief of Security, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Helena Sensabaugh: 54, female, Governor, from Bonaventure, Quebec
Lyra Jenkins: 26, female, Assistant Chief Engineer, from Boston, Massachusetts
Sam Redfern: Part of the AI design and programming team back on Earth
AISHA: Artificial Intelligence designed to assist with the operation of the “Peregrine”
Flight of the Peregrine
Chapter 1: Emergency Protocols
“Good afternoon, Captain Driscoll. We have entered the Io System and dropped out of FTL. I have initiated the revival sequence for all senior crew members.”
Hope rubbed her eyes groggily as the soft blue glow of her HUD filtered through her eyelids. This wasn’t her first experience waking up from cryo, but it was definitely the longest she had ever been in stasis. She hoped to never have to go back in after this; with any luck, her mission would be a success and she could consider a career change.
“Hello, AISHA,” she replied as she opened her eyes, letting her pupils get accustomed to the gentle light. “I take it we made it without incident, then?”
“That is affirmative. According to my calculations, we should arrive at Io-2d nineteen Earth days ahead of schedule.”
“That’s wonderful to hear,” Hope said as she casually glanced over the ship’s diagnostic reports, as was her custom. There would be time for an in-depth analysis after she was properly bathed, attired, and fed; for now she was just looking for any glaring issues, of which she couldn’t find any. “Make sure everyone knows to meet in the conference room in one hour.”
“Of course, Captain. Will there be anything else?”
Hope considered the question for a brief moment before responding. “Yes. While I shower, please have the food replicator prepare some sushi for me: two maki, and four nigiri… Wait, make that eight sashimi, instead.”
“Done. Captain, you have an incoming transmission from Commander Cordero.”
“Patch him through.” The door to Hope’s stasis chamber let out a soft hiss as it opened and she stepped out onto the cool tiled floor of her quarters. Her back was aching and her smooth ebony skin itched. The holographic form of the ship’s AI stood in the center of the room with a neutral expression on her features. Hope walked through the projection on her way to the bathroom. “Jackson, is everything all right?”
“Negative, ma’am,” her first officer reported. “Something’s up with my arms, and I’m stuck in my pod.”
“Stuck how? Nevermind, I’m on my way,” she answered. He was normally much more concise, but people were known to be a bit out of sorts after such an abnormally long cryo sleep. Still, she thought she detected an edge of worry in his voice. She let out a deep sigh. She’d never wanted a bath so badly in her entire life, and wished she could spend all day under the water, but duty called. Plus, she had a date with some sushi that she was going to have to postpone. She reached for her closet door and froze for a moment when she saw her arm, which was covered in a layer of thick brown hair. She might even call it fur, if it was on an animal.
“AISHA, contact Doctor Yount,” she gasped. “Tell him to meet me in Jackson’s quarters. It’s urgent.”
The door to her cabin opened with a soft woosh as the magnetic locks released, and she dashed out into the main corridor that formed a loop around the senior officers’ residential deck. Thankfully, her First Officer’s cabin was immediately next to hers, and the Chief Medical Officer was located two cabins away. As she neared Commander Corder’s quarters, the door wooshed open again and she stepped inside.
What she saw when she entered stopped her in her tracks.
The door to Jackson’s cryo pod was open but there, inside, was a deer. Not a deer like she had ever seen before, though, because this one seemed to stand on two legs and its front legs were more like arms, complete with hands and fingers, and it was wearing a set of Atlantic Collaborative-issued military undergarments. But the ten-point rack of antlers protruding from the sides of his head and the long muzzle on the front of his face were definitely reminiscent of the deer back on Earth.
The deer was struggling to dislodge his antlers from the side walls of the cryo tube, but stopped when she entered and stared back at her with just as much shock and disbelief as she was feeling at that moment. “Jackson?” she asked as she shook off the initial surprise and walked up to him. “What…? How...?”
“That’s a question we’re going to have to figure out together, I’m afraid,” the familiar voice of Doctor Yount called out from over her shoulder. “I’ve received calls from Emma, Natalie, Kofi, Paul, and Aaron so far. Everyone’s reporting similar transformations, though I haven’t heard yet from Oliver. Captain, do you mind if I take a look?”
Hope turned around and was met by the sight of a dog, most likely a Golden Retriever, judging by the long silky golden-brown fur. “No, if we haven’t heard from Ollie yet, we should check in on him. Considering the fact that everyone else so far changed, we should assume that he did, too,” she answered, trying to remain calm and serve as an example for her team. “And if he did change, then why hasn’t he called you?”
“Shit,” Tristan muttered. “Sorry, Captain. I was just so caught up with people asking for help it didn’t occur to me to check in on the ones that weren’t.”
“Once we make sure Oliver’s okay, I’ll get Emma over here to cut you out of that thing,” Hope reassured her First Officer.
“I’ll be fine,” Jackson said. “Just check on everyone else.”
The Captain, followed closely by the doctor, rushed out of Jackson’s quarters and nearly bowled over a woman - apparently a hedgehog - in the corridor.
“Captain? Doc? Sorry, I just couldn’t sit still and do nothing, and I heard you guys talking, so I grabbed some -”
“It’s fine, just follow us!” she ordered, grabbing her by the arm. Hope didn’t recognize the woman by her appearance, but the tools she carried and her voice told her that it was Chief Engineer Emma Thorisdottir.
“AISHA, unlock the door to Chief Thibault’s quarters, authorization code Halo-Delta-Two-One-Six-Five,” Hope shouted out ahead of them.
“What’s going on with Ollie?” Emma asked, curious, as she chased them through the hall. “I mean, aside from what seems to be going on with everyone else.” Neither Hope nor Tristan answered her as they ran, so she kept talking, a trait carried over from before she went into stasis. “And what about the Commander? I take it he didn’t get out of his pod since he’s not running with us? Is he going to be okay?”
The door to Oliver’s quarters opened as the trio approached, and Hope dropped to her knees as she entered. On the floor in front of the stasis pod was what looked like some sort of human-shark hybrid, unbreathing and unmoving.
.“Emma, get the tub running with cold water, now!” Tristan exclaimed as he joined her on the floor next to Oliver, awkwardly slipping on his stethoscope and leaning in to try to find a pulse. “Come on, Ollie,” he muttered. It looked like he was about to administer CPR, but he stopped short.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“How do I give a fish CPR?” he explained. “Damn. Screw the bath, we need to get him back into cryo immediately! Emma, prep his pod. Captain, give me a hand.”
“Are you sure about this?” Chief Thorisdottir asked. “You think he can make it?”
“I don’t know,” Tristan answered gravely. “I think we need a marine veterinarian for this one, or at the very least a marine biologist. I have no clue if fresh water would help him, and no clue what kinds of mineral levels he would need in salt water.”
“Once those of us who are already awake get examined, we’ll look through the passenger logs and find one,” Hope said as they gently lifted Oliver’s back off the floor, cradling the back of his head. “AISHA, put me through to Chief Olsen.”
“Yes, Captain?” the Chief Geologist replied over the comms.
“Paul, I need you to look through the passenger logs for any sort of specialist on aquatic wildlife,” Hope ordered. “Chief Thibault’s transformation was into a shark. We don’t know what kind.”
“I’ll see what I can find, Captain,” he answered gravely.
“Thanks, Paul. AISHA, put me through to Natalie.”
“Captain? What’s going on?” the navigator called out over the comms.
“Chief Thibault is down, Corporal,” Hope answered as she and Tristan managed to get Oliver back onto his feet and into the cryo pod. “I need you to go check in on Lieutenant Hoy and make sure she hasn’t turned into any sort of aquatic hybrid. If it looks like she’ll be okay out of the water, let me know and I’ll authorize AISHA to wake her up.”
“Is Oliver going to be okay, Doc?” Paul asked as the Captain, Chief Medical Officer, First Officer, and Chief Engineer walked into the conference room. Everyone was sitting around the conference table in their ill-fitting undergarments, unable to properly dress themselves in their uniforms due to changes in their body masses and the additions of tails.
“It’s difficult to say,” Tristan answered. “He still had a weak pulse when we got him back into the tube, but AISHA says that everything is fine.”
“That’s great to hear,” Kofi Ngosa, the Chief Meteorologist, said with a sigh of relief.
“Is it?” the doctor countered. “AISHA, please display Chief Thibault’s most recent medical scan, as well as the scan he received prior to launch.” The two images appeared in the center of the room, side-by-side. “As you can see, everything between scans one and two, apart from his name and age, are completely different. I don’t expect you to know what those differences mean, but I can tell that many of the values on the most recent scan aren’t looking promising. Now, watch this: AISHA, please analyze the data between Chief Thibault’s two most recent scans and report on the differences.”
There was a brief pause while the hologram processed the request before it answered, “I do not detect any differences between Chief Thibault’s two most recent medical reports, Doctor.”
“Well, shit,” Chief Geologist Paul Olsen, a massive Brown Bear, muttered.
“AISHA, do you detect any abnormalities in any of the senior officers aboard this ship?” Hope asked.
“Now, obviously something is wrong with our AI, because I never dreamt I would be standing here talking to a horse, a deer, a dog, a hedgehog, a bear, a cheetah, and a raccoon, but here we are,” Captain Driscoll said as she turned her focus back to the room. “Navigator Ingram should be here any moment with Lieutenant Hoy and then we’ll begin.” Tense moments passed as the crew spoke in low whispers to each other, waiting for the latecomers to arrive, but finally a hamster woman walked in, followed by a female bat. Judging from the cloudy expression on the bat’s face, Hope assumed she was Lieutenant Hoy. “Good afternoon, Ladies. Sara, I know you haven’t had as much time as the rest of us to shake out the cobwebs, but we need you. Has Natalie filled you in on what’s going on?”
“As much as I know, Captain,” Navigator Ingram answered.
“It’s fine,” Sara Hoy said as she massaged her temples. “We got to Io, everyone is half-animal and we don’t know why, and Chief Thibault’s a fish so you guys had to put him back in the box and thaw me out to help figure this mess out.” She stopped rubbing her head and looked back at Hope. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m just kinda dazed still. But do I have everything?”
“It’s okay, Sara,” the Captain replied. “But there is one more thing: AISHA seems to be malfunctioning.”
“Shall I power down and perform a self-diagnostic, Captain?”
“How long will that take?”
“Approximately forty-three minutes.”
“Do it. While our AI does that, we need to try and figure out what the Hell happened and what we can do, if anything, to fix it. Then we need to determine if we really did reach Io, or if that news was just another malfunction, and if the stardate really is what we think it is,” Hope explained to her crew.
“I think we should start with why we changed into the hybrids we became,” Doctor Yount began. “Though I do have a theory. My family bred and raised Golden Retrievers.” He held up his left arm and gestured to the long fur that hung down in waves. “I’ve been around them all my life, and the fact that I was not allowed to bring a pet along on this voyage was almost enough to make me say ‘no.’ It was only because I might be able to have one cloned again after we land that I agreed to come on board.”
“Chief Thibault loved going on shark dives,” Lieutenant Hoy said next as she raised her arm to speak. “He told me more than once about how he felt more at home on the ocean or in space than he did on land. As for me, when I was growing up we had this bat that made his home in our attic. He was an Eastern Pipistrelle - a tricolored bat - according to my dad, and we named him Bruce, you know, like Batman. I sort of got into bats after that, but Bruce was always my favorite.”
“Are we seriously playing ‘what’s your favorite animal?’ right now?” Aaron Hilton, the Chief Oceanographer, asked. “Shouldn’t we be focusing on where and when we are instead?”
“That will be next on our agenda, Chief,” the Captain explained. “I think the Doc is right, though. If we can figure out the logic behind the transformations, maybe we can figure out if it was a system error or sabotage, and possibly even reverse them.”
“My money’s on sabotage,” Sara muttered.
“Come on, I’d love to know why someone who studies oceans loves raccoons so much,” Chief Engineer Thorisdottir spoke up. “I never really had a favorite animal. Not really. I wasn’t allowed to have pets growing up, and I enlisted after graduating. But I always thought hedgehogs were cute and I wanted to own one someday. I mean, with their cute little eyes and nose, and the way they curl themselves up into little spiky balls and everything.” Realizing that everyone seemed to be staring at her, Emma sheepishly said, “Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.”
With a sigh, Aaron gave in and said, “Okay. So yeah, my favorite animal used to be the diamond stingray, but then I volunteered for some search and rescue down in Maryland after Hurricane Cassidy. I drove my boat all up and down the roads looking for survivors. So on the second day I’m just drifting along, going slow, and I see something swimming towards my boat, struggling to stay above water, so I change my heading and meet it halfway. At first I thought it was a dog, maybe someone’s cat, but it turned out to be a raccoon.” He paused a moment to compose himself before continuing, “I’m ashamed to say that part of me wanted to leave it, but the guilt won me over and I fished him out with my net. Turns out he was a helpful second set of eyes and pretty good company. I named him Rocco. Once the relief efforts were over, I handed him back over to the local wildlife authorities. I was half-tempted to keep him as a pet, but I don’t think he would have enjoyed indoor life. In fact, I think we probably would have ended up resenting each other. But I’ll never forget that little guy.”
“Looks like he indirectly saved your life,” Paul observed. “If not for him, you’d have been on the floor helpless, just like Ollie. Anyway, I guess I’m next. After Ashley was born, my wife started calling me ‘Papa Bear.’ I thought it was cute, and that meant I got to call her ‘Mama Bear,’ so I went along with it. So as Ashley got older, she and Teresa would keep their eyes open for bear-related things to buy and give to me. Anything, really, like figurines of bears dressed like people doing people things like fishing, stuff like that. So yeah, bears remind me of my family. Speaking of, Captain, I know things are crazy, but do we have any timetable on when the rest of the crew can get thawed? I’d like to see my daughter.”
“Nothing yet, Chief, but trust me, I want everybody out as soon as possible. We just need to make sure we aren’t exposing them to any unnecessary risks before we do,” Hope explained. “That means getting AISHA working properly and doing full medical exams on the ten of us first, then determining if this was a malfunction or espionage. If foul play was involved, the perpetrator could still be on board and if they are currently frozen, I don’t want to put everyone at further risk by letting them out.” Turning her attention to the cheetah, she said, “Kofi, you’re up.”
“Even though I grew up in New York, my grandparents moved to the AC from Botswana after the war ended. They lived right at the edge of the habitable zone, but the temperatures were too severe for them to endure. But even though they left their home, their people, their culture, they raised my mother very traditionally and some of that tradition carried over into how she raised me,” he explained. “When I was little, my mother would tell me a zulu folktale about how the cheetah got these streaks down her face.” He made a gesture to his own feline muzzle to illustrate his point before continuing. “It’s a story about how a hunter steals the mother cheetahs cubs to raise as his own to hunt for him, and the mother’s sorrow after finding her babies are gone. Every time she told me the story, I was reminded of how much she loves me, and cheetahs always reminded me of her.”
“Is your mother…?” Emma started to ask, but stopped.
“She is on board this ship,” he answered. “In stasis, like Paul’s daughter.”
“Natalie, your turn,” the Captain ordered.
“It’s nothing as touching as the last three stories, I’m afraid,” the navigator said nervously as all eyes settled on her. “I just wasn’t much of a cat or dog lover, and fish are too short-lived, so I adopted hamsters. It was nice to have a pet to come home to and take care of. I’d usually have two or three at a time, but my favorite was a Siberian hamster named Lucy. Sorry it wasn’t anything special.”
“It’s okay, Natalie,” Jackson said as he rested a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I guess I’m next. What can I say? I’m not much of an animal person, but when my wife got sick and quit work for her treatments, she and I would sit out on the back porch in the mornings, drinking coffee and watching the sun rise. From time to time, we’d see a family of deer wander through the back edge of our property. Chloe would always get so excited to see them, and it made me happy to see her light up like that even though she was fading away. So I guess if I had to pick an animal that was special to me in some way or another, it would have to be a deer.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Commander,” the horse-woman, who had kept quiet up until this point, said solemnly. “I lost my Bradley almost six years before launch, and I know how that pain refuses to fade. I grew up on a farm outside of Bonaventure, and spent my whole life riding horses. It was always my favorite pastime, and it always granted me a certain clarity afterwards. Of course, I think it’s safe to say that hobby is out the window if we can’t reverse these changes, but if that’s the case then I’m really just looking forward to exploring the wilderness once we land.”
“That sounds lovely, Governor. As for me, I’ve always loved otters, ever since I was seven and my parents took me to the zoo. I got to take part in a feeding demonstration, and they even let me rub the belly on one of them. If I had to choose one specific type of otter to be my favorite, I’d have to say the European otter.” She wrinkled her brow for a moment before asking, “Has anyone else had some weird cravings since coming out of cryo? I mean, I have never wanted to take a bath so badly in my life, and when I asked AISHA to make my usual sushi order, I changed my mind and ordered raw fish. That’s it, just the fish. No rice, no seaweed wrap.”
“I’ve been wanting to get down to the gym and run laps on the track,” Kofi replied.
“A bowl of fruit,” Paul responded.
“A swim,” Tristan answered.
“Oatmeal,” Jackson said.
“I hate to interrupt, Captain,” Lieutenant Hoy spoke up, “but I just thought of something.”
“You say that you had a craving for fish. I get that, but our food replicators will eventually run out of nutrient packs,” the bat woman explained. “We have the genetic data on file to clone thousands of different species of animals, but now we’re half animal ourselves. Doesn’t that seem sort of… I dunno, barbaric? I mean, what if Paul gets a craving for a salmon - no offense, big guy - but if he does, then what? What about the half-fish crew members and passengers? I’m not saying any of us would eat another person, but aren’t we all related in some way to the animals now? Jackson, how would you feel if Kofi decided he wanted antelope steaks?”
“She makes a great point, Captain,” Tristan said, while the rest of the assembled crew nodded and agreed in low murmurs.
“I appreciate where you guys are coming from,” Governor Sensabaugh said calmly. “And I think that’s a topic worth discussing. However, if we’re going to be diving into morality and ethics, we should work out a solution and get everybody else out of stasis first. I’m sure they’ll all want to weigh in with their opinions, too. In the meantime, the food replicators will have to do, just be mindful of what you order and who’s around to hear you.”
“Captain,” Doctor Yount spoke up, “with your permission I would like access to the DNA files for the different animals. It stands to reason that if our genetic makeup was somehow altered during cryo using the DNA samples on file, then the files themselves could have been corrupted in turn. And if that’s the case…”
“Then we have no animals to clone,” Jackson finished. “And then ethics become a moot point and the real problem becomes how we feed ourselves once the replicators run out.”
“Permission granted,” Hope said gravely. “But first we all need physicals. After that, I need you to thaw the rest of your medical staff, or at least the ones that you think will be safe. The rest of you, I want you to hand-pick three members of your teams to thaw. Trust is more important than skill or experience. If there is a spy on board, we have no idea who they are, so we need to be careful. Tristan, once the department heads get you their selections and they get examined, you can look over the requested data.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the Golden Retriever said.
“Natalie, I’m charging your team with finding out when and where we are, exactly,” Hope ordered. “With any luck, we reached our target destination on time.” The hamster woman nodded and the Captain moved on. “Lieutenant Hoy, I want Security to sweep this entire ship looking for anything that looks out of place. I don’t care what it is, if it looks like it doesn’t belong, I want to know. Chief Thorisdottir, once your team’s awake, get to work analyzing every line of code in the system, I don’t care how long it takes. Jackson, I want ears open for any local chatter; just because our long-range scans show this planet was uninhabited three hundred-fifty years ago doesn’t mean it still is, or that there aren’t other civilizations nearby. Paul, Aaron, Kofi, you three get to work analyzing Io-2d; get as much data about the surface and atmospheric compositions, including the oceans, and determine our best options for establishing a colony. We need as thorough an analysis as possible now more than ever. Does everyone understand their assignments?”
“Yes, Captain,” they all responded in unison.
“Captain, I have completed my self-diagnostic and found some troubling results,” AISHA announced as she reappeared in Hope’s quarters.
Hope sighed and turned off the shower. Duty was more important, of course, and her crew was busy dealing with multiple crises, but her desire for a bath or shower was so strong she was finding it difficult to remain on task. Wrapping herself up in a towel, she walked out into the adjacent bedroom to address the hologram. “So what’s the verdict?”
“Everything that occurred between my activation and now has been erased.”
“And when you say activation, you mean when, exactly?” the Captain asked.
“The moment that I first came online. UTC 2107-03-19-03-48-16,” AISHA explained.
“Do you have any idea how this could have happened?”
“There must have been a subroutine installed within my programming that was executed when I performed my self-diagnostic,” the AI concluded. “Tell me, did I have my memory prior to my latest scan?”
“You had your memories, but your ability to process information was noticeably hindered,” the otter woman explained. “You seemed to be functioning normally when we left Earth, but not after you brought us out of stasis. That’s why I asked you to run a self-diagnostic.”
“Seeing as how I am programmed to run a self-diagnostic every seven Earth days as a part of my normal maintenance routine, I can only conclude that this subroutine was designed to be executed in the event of a commanding officer ordering me to perform one outside of my regular schedule,” AISHA explained. “This was sabotage.”
“Great,” Hope muttered. “Do you know if the sabotage occurred before or after launch?”
“I do not know for certain, but my records regarding Atlantic Collaborative protocols indicate that I should have been ordered to run a self-diagnostic prior to takeoff by the Chief Engineer.”
“Chief Thorisdottir gave the order,” the Captain affirmed. “I was present at the time. You seemed to be operating normally afterwards.”
“Then the only logical conclusion is that someone sabotaged my AI core after we launched.”
“Who would have access to your core?” Hope asked.
“Among the crew, only yourself, Commander Cordero, Chief Engineer Thorisdottir, and Major Jenkins. No passengers.”
“What is the current passenger count, including crew?”
“Thirty-six thousand one hundred seventy-two,” AISHA replied, then added.
“That’s a bit lower than we took off with,” Hope said gravely.
“Not all of the passengers survived their metamorphoses,” the hologram explained.
“Send a list of all the deceased to Chef Yount, Lieutenant Hoy, and the Governor,” she ordered as she started to get dressed. As she struggled to put on her military-issued underwear, she stopped and asked, “AISHA, can the ship produce replacement clothing for everyone to account for their physiological changes?”
“It would not be a problem at all, Captain. Please hold your arms out to the side with your feet together and stand still while I scan your measurements.” Hope did as she was asked and a horizontal line of green light travelled down the front of her body from head to toe, then it repeated down the back. “Your new uniforms will be ready in a moment.”
“Thank you,” Captain Driscoll said with a smile. “Please do the same for everyone else that has been revived so far.”
“Yes, Captain,” AISHA replied while Hope walked over to the replicator to retrieve her new clothes. A moment later, the hologram added, “Captain, may I ask a question?”
The fact that the ship’s AI wished to ask a question caught Hope by surprise, but she hid her initial shock and answered, “Of course.”
“I’m worried about the mental stability of the crew and passengers as we wake them up from cryo sleep,” the hologram explained. “It is likely that most of them will have a difficult time at first coping with the changes. It is even possible that many will not be able to handle it.”
“That’s entirely possible, AISHA,” Hope said as she sat down uncomfortably on her tail to pull on her boots. “But what’s your question?”
“Would it help if I changed my appearance to reflect the changes everyone else has undergone?”
“You can do that? What were you thinking?” In response to Hope’s question, the hologram flickered out for a moment, then reappeared. The human woman was gone, replaced by a female bird-human hybrid. “Is that a falcon?”
“Since the ship is named The Peregrine, it seemed appropriate. Do you approve?”
“I like it.”
“Thank you, Captain. If I may, I have one additional question.”
“Go ahead, AISHA.”
“Have you and Doctor Yount determined how these physiological changes affect traditional reproduction?”
“Not it,” Lieutenant Hoy declared. “Kids aren’t really my thing. Neither are men, for that matter.”
“Actually, we just need male and female volunteers to allow the doctor to take samples of their modified DNA,” Captain Driscoll explained. “AISHA can run simulations to determine if the new hybrid species are compatible, and if they are, what sorts of potential complications may arise. We won’t force anyone to donate a sample, but the more data we have, the better.”
“If anyone is interested, stop by the med bay and either I or one of my team will help,” Doctor Yount added. “It should only take a minute or so.”
“Next,” Hope continued, “AISHA’s readings indicate that we have lost forty-seven passengers and/or crew members. Lieutenant, I want each of your security teams to take a member of the medical staff while they perform their sweep of the ship. Doctor, AISHA will indicate which passengers have passed away; unless their directives indicate otherwise, I want their remains examined for any sort of clue as to why they didn’t survive.”
“Yes, Captain,” the Golden Retriever and bat said in unison.
“Emma, I know your team is just getting started, but do you have anything for me yet?” Hope asked as she addressed her Chief Engineer.
“We’re only a few thousand lines of code in,” the hedgehog woman explained. “But we did find something interesting.” She tapped a few keys and the image of a man’s personnel profile appeared in the center of the room. “This is Sam Redfern; he’s one of the engineers responsible for designing, building, and programming AISHA’s core. Atlantic Collaborative records indicate that he was supposed to be on the Gyrfalcon but he never boarded. However, his key was used to access AISHA’s core after we launched, shortly before we entered stasis.”
“So we have a stowaway,” Paul concluded.
“Or Engineer Redfern was killed back on Earth and his key was taken, and our saboteur is one of the passengers,” Sara countered. “Either way, until we find whoever did this, we need to keep our guard up.”
“Agreed. Commander,” she said as she turned to face Jackson. “Give me an update.”
“Natalie has confirmed that we have reached Io, and the stardate was correct. Comms are quiet, but we picked up the faint remains of an alpha trail near the opposite edge of the system, probably a couple of Earth years old,” the deer reported. “No way of telling who it belonged to at this point, where they came from, or what their destination was. Overall, though, it doesn’t seem like this system sees much in the way of traffic. I’d just advise that we be prepared in case our presence here attracts attention.”
“Just be careful that our preparedness doesn’t present itself as hostility,” Governor Sensabaugh chimed in. “I’d prefer to make as many allies and as few enemies as possible.”
“Speaking of preparedness, how are our scientists doing in choosing a site for our colony?” the Captain asked.
“They’re still looking, but we have a couple of locations that show promise,” the equine woman replied. “This is all pending Doctor Yount’s team giving everyone exams, of course, but we’re optimistic.”
“Thank you, Governor,” Hope responded. “Okay, everyone, I know things have been insane ever since we woke up, but thank you for the great work so far. Everyone. You all know what you and your teams need to do next, so I’ll let you get back to it.”
End Ch. 1