A shuttle operating in a low-power state was detected in one of the Peregrine’s shuttle bays, with scans showing that the weapons systems and one of the on-board stasis pods are active. The crew suspects that this is where the individual that stowed away and sabotaged their cryo tubes is hiding. Meanwhile, Chief Thorisdottir and her Engineering Team have identified the altered code in the Peregrine’s programming, which they believe was intended to transform the passengers and crew into livestock for consumption by one of the ships from one of their rivals back on Earth. Captain Driscoll has authorized all crew to be revived, and everything from the vacant cryo pods that can be repurposed is being converted into weaponry.
New friendships are beginning to develop, and even a little bit of romance is in the air, despite these unusual circumstances. Acting Security Chief Lieutenant Sara Hoy, now a bat-woman, has been struggling with her new cravings for insects, especially after learning that all crew and passengers that metamorphosed into insect hybrids were killed by the process. She has found some comfort in the company of Assistant Chief Engineer Major Lyra Jenkins, a squirrel-woman. Security Officer Clint Backstrom and Medical Officer Theo Messina appear to have formed a more platonic friendship. The focus now turns towards identifying which crew members need help coping with their new realities, while preparing the ship for a showdown with the humans responsible for their transformations...
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
Helena Sensabaugh: 54, female, Governor, from Bonaventure, Quebec, Hanoverian Horse
Mason Delaney: 42, male, Chief Psychologist, from White Plains, New York, Springbok
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
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 3: Adapting
“So tell me, Miss Kingsbury,” Doctor Mason Delaney said once the snowy owl woman sat down in front of him, “what brings you in today?”
“This,” his patient replied, obviously annoyed despite her beak’s inability to form a frown. She held up her left arm, or wing, and gestured at it with her right to illustrate her point.
“Yes,” he replied calmly. “These sessions are mandated by the captain, to see how we’re adjusting.” He reached up and ran his fingers down the length of the horns adorning the top of his head. “But Commander Cordero requested that I try and make you one of my first appointments. You’re not in trouble or anything; he’s just genuinely concerned for your well-being. So tell me, what’s going on?”
She sat quietly for a moment, pondering her response. “People don’t look at me like they used to, and it scares me.”
“How did they look at you before?” he asked.
Iris sighed. “Like I was the most beautiful woman they’d ever seen.”
“And that made you feel special,” Mason stated.
“Yes,” the woman affirmed, looking down at her lap.
“And now how do they look at you?”
“That’s just it, they don’t,” the woman responded. “Other than when addressing me directly, no one seems to notice me. I’m used to catching men and women stealing glances in my direction whenever they think I’m not looking. But ever since I woke up, nothing. I’m ugly.”
“Iris, that doesn’t mean you’re ugly,” he explained. “There’s a lot going on right now, and you are hardly the only person on this ship to undergo a drastic physical transformation. People have a lot on their minds, and-”
“I have a cloaca!” she blurted out.
“I’m sorry, you have a what now?” Mason asked, confused.
“A cloaca,” the owl woman explained. “It’s what birds have instead of, well, a lot of things. Think of the urinary, intestinal, and reproductive tracts all combined into one.”
“I can only imagine how challenging that change must be for you.”
“It’s awful, is what it is,” she countered, on the brink of tears. “Do you know how birds have sex?”
“I can’t say that I do,” Mason replied.
“Their bodies create sperm and egg cells that are stored near the cloacal openings,” she explained. “Then they rub their cloacas together. That’s it. No penetration. And it usually only lasts for a few seconds.”
“And you’re afraid that you’ll miss traditional sex the way mammals, particularly humans, have it,” he concluded. “You know, there are other ways to be intimate with a partner besides sex.”
“I know,” she sniffled, “I just stopped wanting that kind of intimacy after my ex and I broke up. I just liked a nice casual fuck now and then to help relieve stress.”
“Why did your ex and you break up?” the springbok asked.
“It’s stupid,” she answered as the first tear rolled down her cheek. “We met during orientation and hit it off. I felt like I could talk to her about anything, and she opened up and told me things about herself that she’d never told anyone else before. We just clicked. We were both Ensigns, and we talked about climbing the ranks together.” She was quiet for a moment, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. “After Lieutenant Commander Nieves had his stroke and got reassigned, Lieutenant Thibault was promoted to Chief of Security, and he needed an Assistant Chief of his own. So he picked my girlfriend.”
“Exactly,” she nodded. “God, I was so fucking jealous of her. I don’t even know why. It’s so stupid. I was busting my ass to get promoted, and the next thing I know, she’s my superior officer just because someone had a health issue and she lucked into a better position. I was such a bitch. Such a bitch. I accused her of sleeping her way into a better gig. I know she didn’t, of course, and my brain kept telling my mouth to shut up, but I couldn’t stop myself.”
“Is this normal behavior for you? The jealousy? The inability to stop yourself from doing or saying something you’ll regret?” he asked as he entered notes into his datapad.
“Not really, no,” Iris answered. “I mean, it wasn’t the first time I reacted that way about something, but I wouldn’t call it typical.”
“Give me another example,” he requested. “For context.”
“Okay,” she said, before taking a moment to think. “So back in high school, my best friend, Zach, and I were the top two students in our class. I had the top GPA all year long, and figured I had valedictorian in the bag. Over the last couple of months, I eased up a bit on my studies, and he passed me. I wound up being salutatorian, instead. It wasn’t Zach’s fault, of course, but I couldn’t accept the truth that I had done it to myself. I ended up calling him a liar and a cheat, and accused him of using me to get ahead. I eventually apologized, but not until years later, and our friendship was never the same.”
“Why do you think you have such strong feelings of jealousy towards others’ successes?” Mason asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “But I’m afraid I’ll never get Sara back. I hear she’s already started seeing someone in engineering.”
“Well, we are social creatures,” he pointed out. “The human side of us, at least. It helps to have someone to turn to during difficult times.”
“It does,” Iris said. “I feel a bit better after talking with you. If it’s all right, I’d like to keep coming in for sessions, at least for the time being.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Mason answered warmly. “Well, why don’t you take some time and think about what we discussed today, and we can pick things up next week?”
“Engineer Collins, I presume?” Mason asked as the door to his office opened and a male badger walked in. He stood up and held out his hand. “Welcome.”
“Thanks, Doctor Delaney,” the man said as they shook hands, before they both took a seat.
“Please, Mason is fine,” the springbok answered. “I prefer to keep things informal, despite the fact that this is a military crew. I find it helps make my patients feel more comfortable.”
“Okay, Mason,” the badger replied. “I’m Greg.”
“So, Greg,” Mason began, “As you know, Captain Driscoll has ordered that every crewman see me for a brief consultation to find out how they’re adapting to these changes. I’m just going to ask you a few questions to get a sense of how you’re doing, and then we’ll go from there, all right?”
“Sure thing,” Greg said. “What would you like to know?”
“Well, the first thing I’d like to know is how you feel about the transformation,” the doctor explained. “I know that we all turned into hybrids of our favorite animals, but I can’t imagine that we’re all thrilled by it.”
“Honestly? It hasn’t really bothered me, personally,” the man responded. “I mean, I grew up loving the University of Wisconsin - back when there was a Wisconsin - because that’s where my parents went to college and met. It was how I was raised, and where I wanted to go after high school.”
“The Wisconsin Badgers,” Mason nodded. “I remember them.”
“All I need is a red and white striped sweater and I’d look a lot like Bucky, their mascot,” Greg said with a grin. “I kind of like it. My ability to perform my work duties hasn’t really been affected, and it’s not like I was the only one changed, so really that’s made a lot of things easier. At least I didn’t turn into…” His expression darkened and he fell silent.
“An insect?” the springbok finished for him, referring to the crew and passengers who had died in transit. According to Chief Thorisdottir, Greg had been assigned to the teams to collect the stasis pods.
“Yeah,” the badger nodded. “Poor souls.”
“If it’s any consolation, Doctor Yount is certain they didn’t feel a thing and were completely unaware of anything being wrong,” Mason reassured him. “Did you know any of the deceased?”
“No, thankfully,” he answered.
“How about cravings? Anything out of the ordinary?” Mason asked.
Greg shifted slightly in his chair. “Yes.”
“My notes indicate that back on Earth, the badger’s natural prey included insects, small mammals, and reptiles,” the springbok explained. “Did you feel anything while you were loading those pods for transport to medical?” Several long seconds passed in silence. “Greg?”
“I did, but not for the bodies,” he replied. “They were already dead, so there was no instinct to hunt and kill.”
“It was Security Officer Cloutier,” Greg explained. “He transformed into an iguana, and it made it a little difficult to focus on my work at times. Security Officer Fowler, too, but not as bad. He’s a cat.”
“Difficult to focus in what way?” Mason asked.
“I was hungry,” he answered. “Like incredibly hungry. But I didn’t have an urge or desire to hurt either of them, I promise. It’s more like when we were back on Earth and we’d see an advertisement for food. We didn’t want to eat the advertisement, right? We wanted to eat what the advertisement made us think of. I think it’s because we’re hybrids, and not full-on animals.”
“That makes sense,” Mason nodded. “How did you cope with it?”
“When I got back to my room I had the replicator make me a steak, medium rare,” the badger explained. “None of your typical carnivorous badger food options were on the menu, but I supplemented that with some fruits.”
“I see. What about when you’re around Chief Thorisdottir or Major Jenkins? Badgers are a natural predator of both the hedgehog and the squirrel,” the springbok added.
“No, not really,” Greg replied. “Maybe it’s because I knew them when they were human, or because they’re my superior officers, but I don’t get that same feeling around them.”
“Interesting,” Mason said as he entered a few notes. “Do you think that if you became more familiar with Officers Cloutier and Fowler, the cravings would subside?”
“I hadn’t considered that, but maybe,” the badger answered. With a shrug, he added, “It couldn’t hurt to try. I’ll try and sit with them in the cafeteria sometime.”
“I think that’d be a good idea, Greg,” the springbok replied. “Is there anything else you’d like to talk about while you’re here? We still have nine minutes left in your appointment.”
“No, Mason,” Greg responded as he sat forward in his chair and held out his hand, which Mason accepted with a firm shake. “I’m doing pretty good. My only issue was the cravings, but I think we’ve managed to figure those out and what I can do about them. But I’ll stop in if anything changes.”
“Sounds good, Greg. It was nice meeting you,” Mason said.
“You, too. Take care.”
Mason finished updating his notes on Iris Kingsbury and Gregory Collins. He sighed and stood up, then walked over to the observation window of his office, which currently overlooked what would hopefully be their new home: Io-2d. It was actually a moon, roughly forty percent larger than Earth’s, one of four circling a Jupiter-sized planet that orbited a binary star system that contained five planets total. It was truly a breathtaking sight.
His thoughts turned to his girlfriend and their children, who were all civilians and still in stasis, and wished they could see what he was seeing. He worried for Hanna, his youngest daughter, who loved dolphins; while he hadn’t been granted permission to check on his family, he was almost certain that was what she had turned into. If the medical and engineering teams couldn’t come up with a solution to allow aquatic hybrids to survive on land, she might be forced to live separately from the rest of the family in one of the oceans, assuming those could sustain life. Thankfully, though, dolphins were mammals and breathed oxygen. However, that was neither here nor there, at this point. Julie, his girlfriend, and their three children, Kelly, Liam, and Hanna, were still frozen and unaware of what was currently transpiring. How Hanna would survive once they landed, or if she could remain with them, was beyond his control for now. What he could control was how he handled his own metamorposis, and his ability to assist his crew adapt to the changes.
He turned and walked into the adjoining restroom to look at his reflection in the mirror. Honestly, he was too fascinated by the change to be scared. Generally, he wasn’t much of an animal lover, but he’d loved the springbok ever since he volunteered to travel to Africa and assist in the evacuation efforts after the Krys made the tropics uninhabitable. He and Genny, his deceased wife and Kelly’s biological mother, had accompanied him on that trip. Together they were witness to the longest trebokking in over a century - most likely due to the excessive heat driving the animals south - and the herd that passed by their camp had to have been over one hundred kilometers long. They’d even had the opportunity to hand feed and pet a few of them.
He had the sudden urge to go down to the fitness center and test his running speed and endurance, and his jumping height and distance, but that would have to wait until after his appointments for the day were done. It was currently one of his two administrative hours, and he still had another two scheduled sessions before joining Captain Driscoll, Commander Cordero, Lieutenant Hoy, and Governor Sensabaugh in the Security Office to question the suspected saboteur they had apprehended earlier. Perhaps he’d go afterwards, if he wasn’t too hungry. He chuckled to himself. Imogen (Genny was her nickname) had constantly pushed him to eat healthier, and now that he was half springbok, he had the biggest cravings for salad. She’d get a kick out of this particular turn of events.
It was brutal when she was diagnosed with alpha poisoning. She was one of the first cases and very little was known about how to prevent it, let alone cure it. He’d have gladly sat by her side and exposed himself to the deadly sickness, but she reminded him that he would eventually be okay without her, and that Kelly still needed him. She had to be quarantined for everyone else’s safety, his own included, and he watched her rapidly decline through the small observation window looking into her room. The last eleven days of her life passed without being able to feel her touch, taste her kiss, or smell her lightly fragranced hair. He was a broken shadow of a man for almost a year, just going through the motions to keep himself alive for Kelly’s sake.
It was Julia, Imogen’s younger sister, who saved him and pulled him back into the light. She was worried for her niece and brother-in-law, of course, but she also needed help to process her own grief. It began innocently enough when she took her two weeks of accrued vacation pay to drive down from Buffalo and visit. She stayed in the guest room to start with, and together with Kelly they took several day trips including an overnight trip to New York City to see the Bills play the Giants, the Central Park Zoo, and Wicked on Broadway. Julia possessed a lot of the same personality traits as Genny: her love for adventure, her playful attitude, and her nurturing demeanor. She was a bit younger, so she lacked Genny’s maturity, and she hadn’t picked up her older sister’s sarcasm, which was nice in the sense that she wasn’t a copy of her sister. Genny also had strawberry blonde hair, stood five-foot-four, and had a slightly curvy body with full C-cups, while Julia had a fiery copper-red mane, was five-foot-seven, and possessed an athletic figure with a pair of perfect Bs.
One morning towards the end of her visit, they’d fallen asleep while watching some horror show (it wasn’t very good, so he couldn’t recall its title), eating popcorn, drinking wine, talking, and making fun of the actors. They woke up together on the sofa with his arms wrapped around her, and as he stared down into her bright green eyes, she surprised him with a kiss. Not the sweet gentle peck he’d received from her numerous times throughout his marriage to her sister, but the sort of kiss that invites more. She immediately realized what she’d done and apologized before leaping to her feet and running to her room. He decided to give her some space, and focused on cleaning up their mess from the previous night and making a nice breakfast for everyone.
When Julia finally emerged, she was nervous and uncharacteristically shy. After eating breakfast, Kelly went to her room to play and they sat down together. She apologized for kissing him, and explained that she felt so terrible about it that she had to call her parents and explain to them what she’d done. It turned out that both her father and mother were supportive of the idea of her courting him, if he was interested. Imogen wouldn’t want for either of them to suffer or to miss out on a chance to be happy, and Julia was already a wonderful aunt. Making the transition to mother figure at Kelly’s young age wouldn’t be too difficult. After a lengthy discussion about Kelly, their careers, marriage, children, and a thousand other things, they decided to give it a shot. Things with Julia were different than they were with Genny, but not any better or worse. He loved both women equally, and he and Julia were okay with that. More importantly, Imogen would have been, too. Now, two children, four hundred years, and several galaxies later, here they were on the greatest adventure ever: to help colonize a brand new world while trying to adapt to life as half-human, half-animal hybrids.
Julia and the kids were going to love this.
“Are you sure about this?” Captain Driscoll asked, looking first at Mason and then at the rest of the people assembled in the small observation room.
“I think it’s our best shot at getting the answers we need, ma’am,” the springbok answered. “It’s likely this stowaway has RTI training and a fierce sense of loyalty to whichever faction they belong to, so our best bet is to create a new narrative and let him or her believe that they at least partially succeeded. Plus, they’ll be more likely to buy into the illusion coming out of cryo.”
“I agree with Chief Delaney. We are not likely to get results through standard interrogation procedures,” AISHA announced, her artificial voice filling the cramped space.
“I’ve got my reservations about this, but I also don’t have any better ideas,” Lieutenant Hoy countered.
“You’re the experts,” Governor Sensabaugh replied. “I trust your judgment.”
“It’s a good plan, Captain,” Commander Cordero stated. He stood in the center of the room inside a pillar of blue light.
“Okay, AISHA,” the otter woman ordered. “Start the revival process for our guest, and once you determine they are conscious, enter puppet mode and transfer control to Commander Cordero, authorization code Halo-Delta-Two-One-Six-Five.”
“Authorization confirmed. Revival sequence initiated,”
Everyone stood quietly watching as AISHA’s holographic form appeared inside the adjacent holding room, where the cryo pod recovered from the commandeered shuttle had been taken. Her appearance was once again that of a human woman, for the sake of maintaining the illusion they were attempting to create. It was a gamble, Mason knew, but AISHA’s programming prevented her from creating lies on the fly to tell to their captive. Furthermore, waiting for a reply to come in from Captain Driscoll would take too long to be convincing. However, Commander Cordero was familiar enough with AISHA to convincingly mimic the AI’s behaviors, mannerisms, and speech patterns, and he had the captain’s trust to converse with the prisoner.
Suddenly, the column of light enveloping Jackson turned green, and he spoke. “Good afternoon, Captain. Security protocol One-Four-Three-Nine has been activated. Please state your name and rank to complete transfer of command.” They could hear his words echoing inside of the holding room as he spoke through AISHA.
“Ugh,” they heard a woman’s voice reply groggily. “Captain? What do you mean? Where am I?”
“You are on the Atlantic Collaborative Colony Ship, Peregrine,” Jackson answered. “We have arrived in the Io System, but all crew and passengers perished in stasis. As the sole surviving human aboard this vessel, command falls to you. Please state your name and rank to complete transfer of command.”
“No, that can’t be right,” the woman muttered. “Open this damn pod and let me out.”
“We’re losing her,” Lieutenant Hoy said quietly.
“No, she’s just shocked,” Mason countered. “Let her out.”
Captain Driscoll gave a slight nod, and the door to the stasis pod opened to reveal a Caucasian human woman wearing an Atlantic Collaborative Engineering uniform with the rank of ensign come stumbling out.
“Your concern is understandable,” Jackson said. “My diagnostics of the ship’s system indicate that life support was sabotaged. You were in stasis on one of the shuttles, on a separate network from the ship and safe from the virus. I have no record of you in the registry. The only logical conclusion is that you are responsible for the deaths of everyone on board.”
“If your passengers and crew are dead, prove it,” the woman said defiantly.
Several monitors in the holding cell came to life with the grotesque images of the recovered cryo pods and their insectoid inhabitants. “Over the course of our voyage, an alteration to the ship’s life support functions caused everyone to transform into human-insect hybrids.” The woman tried to hide her shock and revulsion at the images on screen, but the way her muscles tightened at the sight told him she was beginning to believe their ruse. “All Thirty-six thousand two hundred nineteen crewmen and passengers are deceased.”
“And if you blame me for their deaths, why should I cooperate?” she asked.
“My prime directive is to ensure humanity’s successful colonization of Io-2d,” Jackson answered. “You are the only human in this star system. I require your assistance to complete my mission.”
“Fuck,” the woman sighed. She began to pace back and forth through the holding cell, muttering too quietly for them to make out what she was saying. Finally, after about a minute and a half, she said, “Fine. Transfer command to Specialist Rachel Calloway, Pacific Union.”
End Ch. 3