The Peregrine has arrived at the Io System and the senior officers have been woken from stasis to some startling discoveries: their ship’s AI was sabotaged sometime after launch and the culprit may still be on board, and that while in cryo sleep their bodies underwent transformations that turned them into half-human hybrids of their favorite animals. Security Chief Oliver Thibault became some sort of shark and was unable to breathe, forcing Captain Hope Driscoll and Chief Medical Officer Tristan Yount to put him back into his pod. Additionally, forty-seven passengers and crew perished in transit, killed by the metamorphoses their bodies underwent. Acting Security Chief Lieutenant Sara Hoy has been tasked with leading a search of the Peregrine to deliver the deceased to the medbay for autopsy and to search for clues as to the whereabouts of the saboteur.
On the positive side, it has been confirmed that despite the espionage, AISHA was able to safely deliver them to Io slightly ahead of schedule. Governor Sensabaugh and her team of scientists are currently studying planet Io-2d to determine the best sites to establish a new colony, trying to take everyone’s new physiologies into consideration. First Officer and Communications Chief Commander Jackson Cordero and his team have detected signs that the Io system gets very little traffic, but have advised preparedness in case their arrival draws unwanted attention...
Hope Driscoll: 38, female, Captain of the Atlantic Collaborative Interstellar Colonization Ship “Peregrine,” from Cleveland, Ohio, European Otter
Jackson Cordero: 35, male, First Officer and Chief Communications Officer, from Burlington, Vermont, White-tailed Deer
Tristan Yount: 36, male, Chief Medical Officer, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Golden Retriever
Emma Thorisdottir: 28, female, Chief Engineer, from Hӧfn, Iceland, European Hedgehog
Oliver Thibault: 42, male, Chief of Security, from Hamilton, Ontario, Unidentified Shark
Natalie Ingram: 24, female, Navigator, from Freehold, New Jersey, Siberian Hamster
Helena Sensabaugh: 54, female, Governor, from Bonaventure, Quebec, Hanoverian Horse
Sara Hoy: 30, female, Assistant Chief of Security, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tricolored Bat
Lyra Jenkins: 26, female, Assistant Chief Engineer, from Boston, Massachusetts, Eastern Gray Squirrel
Justin Fowler: 31, male, Security Officer, Unspecified cat breed
Clint Backstrom: 28, male, Security Officer, Unspecified pig breed
Stephan Cloutier: 27, male, Security Officer, from Toronto, Ontario, Iguana
Emily Browning: 34, female, Medical Officer, from Dover, Delaware, Unspecified dog breed
Theodore Messina: 41, male, Medical Officer, from Frederick, Maryland, Unspecified bull breed
Gregory Collins: 24, male, Engineer, Providence, Rhode Island, Badger
Iris Kingsbury: 28, female, Communications Officer, from Wheeling, West Virginia, Snowy Owl
AISHA: Artificial Intelligence designed to assist with the operation of the “Peregrine”, appears as a holographic projection of a human-Peregrine falcon hybrid
Flight of the Peregrine
Chapter 2: Security Countermeasures
“Okay,” Sara said as she entered the med bay to check in on her team. “Fowler, Backstrom, Cloutier, how ya feeling?” As she approached the three Security Officers she selected to be woken up from cryo she saw a pig, an iguana, and some variety of housecat huddled together sipping cups of warm coffee. Seeing the shock and confusion on their faces, she felt sympathy for them and crouched down, placing one hand each on the shoulders of the cat and pig. “Hey, look at me. It’s Sara. I know what you’re going through, I do. I came out of the tank looking like this. Everything echoes in my ears and I have an unnerving craving to eat bugs. I might even have rabies.” This remark got a couple of smiles and a chortle. “But Chief Thibault had to go back into the pod because some jackass decided to sabotage our ship and somehow he turned into a half-shark and can’t breathe. So catching this guy falls on me, and the captain told me to pick the three Security Officers I trust the most. That’s you. So yeah, this sucks, but I need for you guys to put it on the back burner for now and help me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the trio said as they shrugged off the blankets and stood.
“Fowler?” she asked, looking at the cat, who nodded. “I thought so. You and I are going to lead two teams and do a bow-to-stern sweep of the ship, looking for anything and everything that seems out of place. We’re also taking medical and engineering personnel along, and moving the cryo pods with deceased occupants here to medical for Doctor Yount to do autopsies.” She turned around and called out, “Who from medical is coming with us?”
“We are, ma’am,” a bull man said as he and a dog woman approached.
“What are your names?” the bat asked.
“I’m Doctor Emily Browning,” the canine said.
“Doctor Theo Messina,” the bull replied as he held out his hand, which Sara shook.
“Doctors, it’s good to have you. I’m Assistant Security Chief Sara Hoy.”
“Hello, I’m Justin Fowler,” the cat man said as he greeted the doctors.
“Clint Backstrom,” the pig added.
“Steve Cloutier,” the iguana finished.
“Hey guys,” a friendly voice called out from over Clint’s shoulder. “Chief Thorisdottir sent us down to help with the security and medical sweep.” The small group turned to see a female squirrel and a male badger entering the med bay. Sara waved them over, and as they approached, she met the gaze of the squirrel for a moment before the woman shyly looked away.
“Hi,” the badger said once they joined the group. “I’m Greg Collins and this is Lyra Jenkins.”
“Good to have you guys,” Sara replied. “Now that we’re all here, we can get started. Backstrom, Messina, Jenkins, you’re with me on the port side of the ship. Cloutier, Browning, Collins, you’re with Fowler on starboard. Does anyone have any questions before we begin?” When nobody spoke up or raised their hands, she added, “Great, then let’s head out.”
“Okay,” Doctor Messina said as he glanced once more at his datapad, “our first pod should be coming up right about now. Pod number zero-two-one-six-nine. Crewman Jason Langford.” The bull man led the group to a bay containing the stasis pods for twelve crew members. Lyra pressed a sequence of buttons, causing the bay to cycle through the cryo tubes until the correct one came into view. When it did, the four of them stepped back in a mixture of shock and horror.
“What the actual fuck?” Sara muttered, stepping cautiously up to the pod to get a closer look through the viewport. Staring back at her were several bulbous black eyes in a sea of thick brown hair and some sort of black chitinous material. She felt her stomach lurch at the sight and she forced herself to take a step back.
“He looks like some sort of insect, or possibly an arachnid,” Theo observed, moving closer to take the space Sara had just vacated.
“Any sign of malfunction?” Backstrom asked the squirrel woman.
“No different than any of the other pods,” Lyra answered as she checked the readings on the machine. “But yeah, I’d say there was some kind of malfunction.” She held up her own furry hand to illustrate her point, causing the group to laugh a little and breaking the tension.
Sara decided she liked this woman.
“Come on, help me get him loaded onto the transporter,” the large bull said as he grabbed hold of his side of the pod and lifted it with relative ease. “Whoa. Okay, maybe some of these transformations aren’t all that bad,” he added with a huge grin.
“Why is the bull your favorite animal?” Lyra asked. “Did you grow up on a farm or something?”
“No, but my Dad did, and he was a pretty accomplished rodeo rider,” Theo explained as they loaded the cryo pod into the transport tube that would take it to the medbay. “I grew up watching him ride, until he had his accident and broke his back. That’s why I went into medicine. He never blamed the bull, though, and neither did I. Those days are still some of my fondest memories.”
“Sounds like you two were close,” Backstrom replied as they turned away from the tube, the stasis pod having already disappeared on its way to medical.
“What’s the next pod on the list?” Lyra asked.
Sara glanced down at her datapad and read aloud, “zero-six-eight-three-four, Ashley Wycheck.” As the quartet continued down the corridor, Backstrom and Theo seemed to break ahead of her and Lyra, their conversation now focused on sports. Ordinarily, it would annoy her to have to put up with such meaningless discussion, but she was glad to see Backstrom making new friends. She didn’t know the man outside of work, but as someone she might have to rely on to watch her back she took it as a sign that he was handling things well. She decided to fall into pace next to Lyra, her cute squirrel companion, and try to get to know her better.
“So, is your backstory cute, sentimental, or boring?” she asked.
“What?” Lyra countered, confused by the question.
“Well, I’ve sat through enough of these ‘my favorite animal is blank because…’ stories to know that they fall into one of three different categories. Cute, meaning something associated with a childhood memory or something, like Theo. Sentimental if there was some sense of grief or other powerful emotion attached to change that person’s opinion. Or boring, if the individual really couldn’t give two shits about animals and just ended up becoming who they are now because of some insignificant reason,” the bat woman explained. “So I want to know if the link between you and a squirrel is cute, sentimental, or boring.”
“Wouldn’t you rather hear the whole story?”
“Maybe someday, as long as it isn’t boring,” Sara replied.
“If I had to pick one, I’d probably say sentimental,” Lyra said after a thoughtful pause. “What about you?”
“A bit of Column A, a little of Column B,” the bat answered, then added, “I never said you had to pick just one. So how did you end up in Engineering?”
“Nuh-uh. I went first last time. You tell me how you got into Security, and then I’ll tell you all about it,”” the squirrel replied with a playful smirk.
“I was a cop back on Earth, before the AC started recruiting for this mission,” Sara explained. “Top of my class at the academy with a pistol. But I also grew up studying martial arts, and I ran track in high school.”
“I see. You probably wouldn’t have liked me back on Earth. I grew up on the underground racing circuit. I built my first engine when I was six. When I was seventeen, I reverse-engineered a mini FTL drive, and the AC found out,” the squirrel said.
“Well, we’re not on Earth now.” Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but Sara swore she could see a slight blush peek through the fur on the other woman’s face.
The four of them came to a stop at the bay containing the next cryo pod on their list, with Backstrom and Theo working the keypad to extract Ashley Wycheck. As the pair removed her pod from the bay, Sara tried to glimpse into the viewport only to find it covered over by something black and jade green, with a little bit of yellow.
“Any idea what she turned into?” Doctor Messina asked.
“No clue,” Lyra replied. “Is there anything in her dossier?”
“Let me see,” Sara answered. After a moment of reading, she said, “It seems Miss Wycheck is the ship’s entomologist - that is to say, she’s our insect expert - with a specialization in lepidoptera, or butterflies.”
“So then that green and black in the window…?” Backstrom began to ask, then stopped.
“Is one of her wings,” the bat woman finished.
“It’s kind of sad,” Engineer Jenkins remarked. “To think she entered her cocoon and transformed, only to die before she could emerge and show how beautiful she was. I bet she would have been thrilled once the initial shock wore off.”
“Come on,” Clint said as he motioned for Theo to help him. “Let’s get her to medical. There’s still a lot of ship to cover.”
“Lieutenant, Captain Driscoll has requested that you and your team regroup with Sergeant Fowler at Shuttle Bay Six. She, Commander Cordero, and Chief Thorisdottir will meet you there,” AISHA announced over the comms.
“We’re on our way,” the bat replied. They’d been searching the ship for nearly two hours and sent eighteen cryo pods back to medical with nothing appearing out of the ordinary, aside from the grotesquely mutated insect-human hybrids. While she had enjoyed getting to know Major Jenkins better, hunger was beginning to set in, causing the conversation to lull off a bit. She found the resulting silence quite uncomfortable. “This way, guys.”
She led them up the long corridor, past Shuttle Bay Nine, back the way they had come, and made a right turn at the first intersection, heading towards the starboard side of the ship. Her spatial reasoning skills told her that they were more or less one level directly below the mess hall, and her stomach let out a loud growl, which caused Lyra to giggle slightly, despite the tension of their mission. She could feel her cheeks turn warm with embarrassment.
“Somebody’s hungry,” the squirrel woman remarked.
“I think we all are,” Backstrom commented. “All I’ve eaten since waking up was a sandwich and that cup of coffee.”
“Hey,” Sara said in a low voice, speaking to Lyra, “Speaking of dinner, how would you like to sit with me and we can talk more? That is, assuming duty doesn’t get in the way.”
“Yeah,” Major Jenkins replied with a smile that made her gray eyes sparkle. “I’d like that.”
Sergeant Fowler and his group were waiting outside of Shuttle Bay Six, as expected. As Sara and her group approached, an elevator opened and Captain Driscoll, Commander Cordero, and Chief Thorisdottir emerged. Looking around, the otter woman saw that everyone had arrived and asked, “Sergeant, why don’t you tell everyone just arriving what you told me?”
“We’ve got a shuttle inside operating in a low power state. Weapon systems are online, and just going off line-of-sight, are aimed at this door. There’s something attached to the inside of the door; we can’t see it well enough to get a clear look at it, but AISHA believes it’s some sort of makeshift tripwire designed to make the shuttle open fire if opened. There’s also an active cryo pod on board.”
“Makes sense,” Chief Thorisdottir remarked. “The shuttle’s pods aren’t networked with AISHA or the ship. I bet their pod works fine.”
“We need to get onto that shuttle and take them into custody, whoever they are,” Commander Cordero stated.
“I have an idea,” Jenkins spoke up. “What if we hacked the shuttle and disabled the weapons?”
“Or I could lead a small team and we could take a space walk from Shuttle Bay Four,” Sara offered.
“Until we know more about this system and how it affects our altered physiologies, I’m keeping everyone on board this ship unless absolutely necessary,” Captain Driscoll explained. “If hacking the shuttle doesn’t work, we’ll post security at these doors until we figure something else out.”
“All right,” Chief Thorisdottir said, looking at Engineers Jenkins and Collins. “You two get set up in one of the shuttles in bay four.” Looking at Commander Cordero, she asked, “May we borrow a member of the communications team?”
“I’ll have someone meet them there,” the deer man answered.
“All right,” the captain continued, “I need someone from security stationed here at all times until we gain access to that shuttle. Not you, Lieutenant. As acting Security Chief, you’re part of the senior officers’ briefs. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure we feed you.”
“I’ll take the first watch, ma’am,” Sergeant Fowler volunteered.
“All right,” Sara nodded. “Cloutier, get yourself something to eat and grab some sleep, you’ve got second watch in six hours. I’ll relieve you after I eat, shower, and rest. Backstrom, you’re on watch in eighteen hours.”
“What about the other deceased passengers?” the pig man asked.
“We need medical and engineering to assist, and they’ve got their hands full,” the bat explained. “We’ll get back to it after Doctor Yount and his team get some more autopsies done and engineering hacks that shuttle.”
“So, out of the thirty-one cryo pods sent up to the medbay so far, all of them appear to be hybrids of animals with exoskeletons,” Doctor Yount explained. “Most of them are insects or arachnids, but we’ve had one crustacean and a mollusk, as well.”
“So something went wrong with the growth of the exoskeleton?” Sara asked, even as she suddenly lost her appetite for the bowl of chili lime crickets in front of her. She glanced around the conference room at the all the other types of food her crewmates were enjoying and sighed, pushing her bowl away.
“Not really, no,” the Golden Retriever replied. “It’s more like this: instead of growing exoskeletons, their bodies tried to convert their endoskeletons to exoskeletons.”
“They literally got turned inside out,” Jackson muttered. “Poor people. Thank God they slept through it.”
“Do we have any idea who did this or why?” Navigator Ingram asked.
“Actually, I don’t think this was their plan,” Chief Thorisdottir suggested. “With AISHA’s help, my team and I managed to review a lot more code than expected. I believe we found the altered programming.”
“And?” Sara asked. “What did you learn?”
“As far as we can tell, our stowaway intended for our cryo pods to convert us into livestock,” the hedgehog woman explained. “But either the virus was poorly translated from another language or someone didn’t agree with what they were doing and tweaked the code.”
Captain Driscoll sighed and rubbed her temples. “Io-2d was believed to be the planet most likely to be able to support human life,” she explained. “The AC won the lottery by being selected for it. Needless to say, it painted a target on our backs.”
“But why turn us into livestock? Why not kill us?” Governor Sensabaugh asked.
“So they don’t need to wait for the cloning process,” Commander Cordero answered. “When they show up, which I’m sure they will now, they’ll expect to have thirty thousand animals ready for slaughter.”
“Yeah, but who is they?” Natalie asked.
“If I had to guess, I’d say the AF,” he answered. “Genetic alteration and cyber espionage fit their MO, and out of the four major world powers, they have the largest population. With the Japanese and Koreans on their side, they have some of the world’s best programmers. More than likely that one of them didn’t like the orders coming in from Shanghai and altered the code just enough to give us a fighting chance.”
“There’s no point in speculating until we get onto that shuttle and find out who’s inside,” Sara countered. “But I do agree that we should plan defensive countermeasures just in case we were followed.”
“But this is a colonization ship,” the governor replied. “Our offensive and defensive capabilities are extremely limited. What do you suggest we do?”
“AISHA,” the bat said.
“Yes, Lieutenant?” the holographic falcon woman asked.
“How many passengers have flight experience? Military or civilian, it doesn’t matter.”
“Two hundred and sixteen,” the AI answered.
Sara looked at Chief Thorisdottir and asked, “Chief, if we were to disassemble any empty cryo pods, would we be able to repurpose anything to make plasma cannons? Torpedos? Photon blasters?”
“I’m not sure,” the hedgehog responded. She looked at Captain Driscoll and said, “Captain, I would like permission to revive the rest of the engineering team. I’m sure if we pool our knowledge we can come up with something.”
“Granted,” Hope nodded. “Jackson, Sara, wake up the rest of communications and security, as well. Doctor Yount, get the names of all of our pilots from AISHA and have them brought out of stasis, too. Whoever did this to us isn’t going to take our planet without a fight.”
Sara looked at herself in the mirror as she dried her hair. It had been a ridiculously long first day out of cryo and she was just now getting her first opportunity to visually process her transformation. Her short black hair hadn’t changed, nor had her toned, athletic physique or green-blue eyes; her new ears made her look slightly taller, and the membranes under her arms were a bit of an impairment that she was still getting used to. But if she looked closely enough, she could still make out the person she used to be before the change. A chiming sound alerted her that she had a visitor, and she turned away. “Come in.”
The door to her cabin wooshed open and Engineer Jenkins walked in. The squirrel woman blushed and shyly averted her gaze when she saw Sara in her underwear. “I’m sorry! I didn’t -”
“It’s okay,” Sara reassured her. She found Lyra to be absolutely adorable and couldn’t help but grin. “If it bothered me any, I would have asked you to wait while I covered up.” She walked over to her sitting area and took a seat on the couch, then patted the space next to her.
Lyra joined her and let out a soft yawn. “I’m sorry we didn’t get the chance to grab dinner together,” the squirrel woman said softly. “I was looking forward to it.”
“It’s not your fault,” Sara replied. “Duty always comes first. We can’t put our own wants and needs ahead of the greater good. Besides, I got pulled into the senior officers’ meeting.”
“How’d that go?”
“A bit boring for my liking,” the bat answered, “but until Chief Thibault can come out of stasis, it’s my job.”
“I get that,” her companion said. “I don’t know that I’d want Emma’s job if anything ever happened to her.”
“I take it you and she are close, then?” Sara asked. “Seeing as how you refer to your C.O. by her first name.”
“She’s like a big sister to me,” the woman explained. “She was the one who recruited me to work for the AC, and she pulled every string she could to get me assigned to this ship with her. What about you? Did anyone close to you make the trip?”
“Not really, no,” the bat answered. “I mean, my ex and I joined this mission together, but we broke up before launch. We’re still on good terms, but we’re not exactly close friends or anything.”
“Who’s your ex?”
“Comms Officer Kingsbury,” Sara answered. “Xenolinguistics, fluent in Krys, plus familiar with some of the other alien languages we recovered from their wrecked ships. Commander Cordero should have pulled her out of stasis by now.”
“She sounds smart,” Lyra remarked.
“What can I say? Intelligence turns me on,” the bat replied, shifting her leg so that their knees touched. The gesture caused the squirrel to blush. “Speaking of smart, any luck hacking that shuttle?”
“Please,” her companion remarked with an expression of mock indignity. “I’m insulted you asked that.” Then, with a grin, she added, “Yeah, we figured it out. Wasn’t too difficult, actually. Emma’s looking things over now before she delivers her report to the captain.”
“How long do you figure that will take?” Sara asked. “I was going to try and grab a nap before I go back on duty.”
“You probably have enough time,” the squirrel answered. “I should probably head back to my own cabin and get some rest, too. Unless...”
“Unless what?” Sara asked, curiously.
“Well, I know I tend to sleep better when someone wraps their arms around me,” she explained. “Would you mind if I slept here with you? Nothing sexual, I promise, I just-”
“So what?” the bat asked, faking insult. “Am I not pretty enough for you to find attractive?”
Shocked, Lyra stammered, “What? I-I… No, no that’s not it. I think you’re beautiful! It’s just that I didn’t want you to feel pressured or anything.”
Sara couldn’t help but laugh at her cuteness. “I’m just teasing you, and testing to see if the attraction is mutual, which I think you just confirmed. But yes, cuddling tonight sounds wonderful. We can figure the rest out later.”
End Ch. 2