Chief Psychologist Mason Delaney has been counseling the crew of the Peregrine in individual sessions. Despite the drastic physiological changes, the general morale of the ship seems to be positive. It appears that having everyone transform has helped with the adjustment, rather than only a few. Most are thankful to still be alive and are looking forward to getting planetside. Only a handful are resentful of their new bodies, or are mourning the passing of a loved one.
Meanwhile, the saboteur has been captured, and through a clever ruse, has divulged her name and which faction she belongs to: the Pacific Union, their closest ally...
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, Acting Chief of Security, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tricolored Bat
George Woodbourne: 53, male, Engineer, from Charleston, West Virginia, Polar Bear
Adam Keller: 41, male, Engineer, from Bangor, Maine, Liger
David Owens: 49, male, Acting Assistant Chief of Security, from Ottawa, Ontario, Black Jaguar
Alita Smythe: 34, female, Communications Officer, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Corgi
James Grant: 32, male, Communications Officer, from Morgantown, West Virginia, Pale-throated Sloth
Jason Mitchell: 42, male, Communications Officer, from Trenton, New Jersey, Bearded Dragon
Lilly Waterford: 31, female, Medical Officer, from Erie, Pennsylvania, Virginia Opossum
Joshua Madden: 33, male, Security Officer, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Suffolk Punch Horse
Talon Bonadell: 29, male, Security Officer, from Syracuse, New York, Elkhound
Michael Tisdale: 36, male, Engineer, from Quebec City, Quebec, Black Leopard
Trisha Huntsman: 44, female, Medical Officer, from Cincinnati, Ohio, Panda Bear
Rachel Callaway: 33, female, Intelligence Specialist, from Modesto, California, Human
AISHA: Artificial Intelligence designed to assist with the operation of the “Peregrine”, appears as a holographic projection of either a human or a human-Peregrine falcon hybrid
Flight of the Peregrine
Chapter 4: False Intelligence
“Take me to the bridge,” Specialist Callaway ordered. “I need to get word to The Orca.”
“As you wish, Captain,” the holographic projection replied, gesturing to the door of the holding cell as it opened with a whoosh. The holograph reappeared out in the main corridor. “Right this way.”
“What about the planet?” Rachel asked. “Is it habitable? Are there any locals we should be concerned about?”
“Initial scans indicate that the atmosphere contains dangerously high levels of Fluorine,” the program answered as they walked towards the bridge. “However, the atmospheric processors provided for this mission could have the air breathable within four years. Additional scans will be necessary to determine agricultural viability and the safety of the water. My long-range sensors do not show any other civilizations in this system, but residual alpha particles indicate that other spacefaring cultures frequently pass through the Io System.”
“Thank you,” the woman responded as they entered the lift to take them to the bridge. “I’m sorry. What is your designation?”
“I am called AISHA, Captain,” the holographic woman said.
“It’s nice to meet you, AISHA,” Rachel replied. “I suppose it’s just going to be the two of us until support arrives from the PU. What recreational activities are there on board this ship?”
“The console in your cabin has a catalog of classic video games and movies,” the projection explained. “There is also a fitness center, which includes an indoor track, a swimming pool, and a weight room.”
“And that’s it?”
“This ship had a military crew, Captain,” the holograph answered, before flickering out.
“Great,” Specialist Callaway muttered as she stepped out onto the empty bridge of The Peregrine. “I’m dozens of light years away from the closest humans and my only entertainment is an AI.” AISHA reappeared in front of her. “No offense.”
“As I am not programmed to be an optimal companion, and lack emotion, I take no offense to your statement, Captain.”
“I don’t need an explanation every time I treat you like another human,” Rachel explained. “Just accept the apology.”
“Understood,” AISHA said. “Apology accepted.”
“Right. Now then, I want you to create a new subspace communication. Frequency ID Six-Two-Foxtrot-Nine-Five-Kilo. Copy message to ID Six-Two-Papa-Three-Eight-Yankee, additional copy to ID Six-Two-Whiskey-One-Zero-Victor,” Rachel ordered. “Message: Arrived at Io. Peregrine crew and passengers deceased due to sabotage error. Planet viable with minimal work. No other advanced life in system. Signs of interstellar traffic through system. Awaiting further orders. Signature Echo-Five-Three-Two-Two.” Looking at AISHA, she stated, “Repeat that back to me, please.”
“Frequency ID Six-Two-Foxtrot-Nine-Five-Kilo,” AISHA repeated. “Copy message to ID Six-Two-Papa-Three-Eight-Yankee, additional copy to ID Six-Two-Whiskey-One-Zero-Victor. Message: Arrived at Io. Peregrine crew and passengers deceased due to sabotage error. Planet viable with minimal work. No other advanced life in system. Signs of interstellar traffic through system. Awaiting further orders. Signature Echo-Five-Three-Two-Two.”
“Excellent,” Rachel said. “Please send.”
“Message sent, Captain.”
“Thank you, AISHA,” the woman replied as she turned back towards the lift. “Now take me to the observation lounge. I’d like to look out at our new home while I eat.” AISHA reappeared next to her inside the lift and the ride passed in silence. As she exited into the corridor that led to the lounge, she asked, “AISHA, do you know whether or not the crew and passengers suffered before they died?”
“I do not believe so, Captain,” the holograph answered. “Research has shown that the human body and mind cannot feel pain while in stasis.”
“Thank God,” she sighed as she followed the projection down the hallway. “They weren’t supposed to die, you know. Especially not like that.” An involuntary shudder passed through her body.
“Captain, I am incapable of forming opinions regarding ethics and morality,” ASIHA responded. “I cannot judge you for your actions or their results.”
“No. No, I suppose not,” Rachel sighed as they reached the starboard observation lounge. “I’d prefer to be left alone while I eat, AISHA. I will call for you after I have eaten and have you escort me to my cabin. You are dismissed.”
“Yes, Captain,” the holograph replied before disappearing.
“Son of a bitch,” Lieutenant Hoy exclaimed once the pillar of light surrounding Jackson changed back to blue. “The PU are supposed to be our allies!”
“Did you get those subspace IDs and her identification?” the deer asked Captain Driscoll as he stepped out of the light column.
“We did,” the otter woman answered with a grin. “Great job, Commander.”
“It was Mason’s idea,” the Commander said. “I just executed it.”
“Flawlessly,” the springbok pointed out. “She didn’t suspect a thing.”
“Lieutenant, take a team and secure our guest back inside her cell,” Hope ordered. “Jackson, Mason, Governor, you’re with me. Let’s send our friends in the Pacific Union a message.”
“Shouldn’t we press the prisoner for more information before we send a message?” Governor Sensabaugh asked as they fell in line behind the captain.
“There may not be time for that,” Jackson explained. “For all we know whoever she was reaching out to was following us in FTL and could be here any moment.”
“Exactly,” Hope said as they walked towards the lift. “We need to get ahead of this mess and take control of the narrative immediately. With any luck we can wave them off before they arrive.”
“But what are we going to tell them?” the mare asked.
“Personally, I’d suggest saying that the Krys arrived before we did,” Mason answered. “A colonization ship wouldn’t have the resources necessary to take the planet, let alone defend itself against them.”
“That’s a good idea,” Captain Driscoll said as they stepped into the elevator. “Any other suggestions?”
“I’m sure Specialist Callaway has to be a valuable asset for them to assign her to this mission,” the stag responded. “They might tell her to hold her position and await retrieval. If they do, our ruse is shot to hell. We need to make them believe a rescue is either too dangerous or impossible.”
“We could say the Krys attacked the ship and life support is failing,” Helena suggested.
The springbok shook his head. “The Krys would try to take the ship intact rather than destroy it, and The Peregrine isn’t armed heavily enough to put up a fight.”
“So we say the Krys took the ship when it dropped out of FTL,” the otter woman concluded as the lift opened onto the bridge. “What about the status of the crew?”
“If we say the crew survived, it’s possible the PU would launch a rescue mission. I know the planets they were assigned in the lottery weren’t as nice as Io-2d, but they were also closer to Earth,” the governor explained. “It’s possible that they established a successful colony and have had over a century to build an armada. They could attempt a recovery mission and with the intention of absorbing us into their ranks.”
“No, I think we should stick with our prisoner’s original message, that the sabotage failed and all crew and passengers died in cryo,” Hope countered. “But then the Krys captured the ship upon exiting FTL and she woke up planetside. They would no doubt detect her transmission and track her down before she could escape.”
“Sounds brilliant,” Jackson replied as he took his post on the bridge while the others gathered around him. He keyed in the subspace frequencies they’d obtained earlier from their captive, then spoke aloud as he typed the new message. “Avoid Io. Heavy Krys activity in system. Peregrine captured. All crew and passengers died in cryo. Likely due to sabotage error. Transmitting likely to alert enemy to position. Capture probable. It has been an honor to serve. Signature Echo-Five-Three-Two-Two.” He looked up at the others and asked, “How does that sound?”
“How about ‘Heavy Krys presence?’” Mason asked. “Specialist Callaway’s original message seemed like she prefers to use as few words as possible in her reports.”
“Good catch,” Hope said. “Make the change and send it. Now, what do we tell the rest of the Atlantic Collective?”
“What do you mean?” Helena asked. “We tell them the truth.”
“Are you sure? I honestly don’t feel completely comfortable with inviting a bunch of humans to come share our home with us,” Mason interjected. “Just think back to what humanity did to all the animals back on Earth. Hell, think of what they did to the Earth, and I mean long before the Krys came along.”
“Right,” Jackson agreed. “The fact of the matter is that we aren’t human anymore. What does that mean in terms of us being a part of the Atlantic Collaborative?”
“I propose we send another fake message and attempt to gauge whether or not The Gyrfalcon and The Merlin were successful in their missions,” the otter woman stated. “It may be possible that they found homes and established colonies already, or that their ships were destroyed. If that’s the case, then they don’t need to know that we made it. If they’re still wandering the stars, then we tell them the truth and invite them to join us.”
“I know the AC is expecting to hear from us soon, but we’re still a democracy,” Helena said. “I say we gather up everyone who’s been revived so far. We explain our options and take a vote. While we’re at it, we can decide what to do with Special Agent Callaway.”
Two hundred and ninety revived crewmen and civilian engineers sat gathered in the mess hall, while twenty-four more crewmen and women watched from the bridge and the three security officers assigned to guard the prisoner listened over the comms. Jackson stood at the front of the room with Captain Driscoll, Chief Yount, Chief Thorisdottir, and Lieutenant Hoy, watching on as Governor Sensabaugh addressed the crowd.
“Thank you all for coming,” the mare began. “I know some of you are just coming out of stasis and haven’t yet been briefed as to the current state of affairs. No doubt you feel some confusion, which is understandable. So for those who aren’t up to speed just yet, here’s what we know so far. I’ll start with the good news first. We reached Io-2d safely. We do not detect any civilizations in the system, and travel through the system appears to be infrequent. All of our scans indicate that Io-2d can sustain human life with minimal terraforming, and we anticipate that we should be able to send down a landing party soon to do some reconnaissance and exploring.”
Helena paused to let everyone process what she’d said so far, allowing a quiet murmur to spread through the room while people exchanged comments between themselves. After a minute or so, she held up her right arm and the crowd quieted down. “Now, for the bad news. Obviously, something happened to us during our time in cryogenic stasis. Our AI was hacked shortly after we left Earth and our cryo pods sabotaged. Apparently the goal of our attackers was to use the stasis tubes to alter our DNA and turn us into livestock, then swoop in and claim 2d as their own, with a substantial supply of fresh meat ready and waiting.”
This caused another outburst from the room, but they didn’t calm down when she raised her arm, so Hope let out a shrill whistle and shouted, “I expect better discipline from my crew! Settle down and let the governor speak, or I’ll have security put you in a cell!” The crowd calmed down immediately, and Governor Sensabaugh continued.
“We don’t know why, but rather than transform into farm animals, it seems we all changed into half-human hybrids of our favorite animals. Unfortunately, the forty-seven who transformed into insects, arachnids, mollusks, or crustaceans perished during the process. Others of us metamorphosed into half-aquatic hybrids and are still in stasis, Security Chief Thibault among them. In his absence, Assistant Chief Lieutenant Hoy is in charge of security. She led a mixed team of Security, Medical, and Engineering to collect the deceased and locate the party responsible for this act of espionage. She attempted to contact her superiors with a mission report, but we were able to intercept the message and edit it to suit our purposes. We have this individual in custody, a Special Operative from the Pacific Union, and in a bit we are going to take a vote to decide her fate. We’re also going to take a vote on what these changes mean for us regarding our place within the Atlantic Collaborative. Are there any questions?”
Nearly four dozen arms shot up around the room. Helena picked out an older polar bear in a green uniform near the front-center and said, “You there, Engineer…?”
The white-furred man stood up and introduced himself. “Engineer George Woodbourne, Ma’am. Is there any way to reverse these transformations?”
Chief Thorisdottir stepped forward to answer the question. “Hi, George. AISHA has run several simulations with inconclusive results. At best, it would take nearly one hundred fifty Earth years to undo. The worst case scenario is death.”
“Thank you, Chief,” the ursine man said as he sat back down.
The governor next called on a panther hybrid wearing a blue uniform, marking him as a member of the Security team. “Yes, Mister Owens?”
Security Officer Owens rose up to his feet and spoke with a slight Welsh accent. “Thank you, Governor. I noticed earlier you said that 2d could sustain human life with minimal terraforming. That’s all well and good, but we aren’t humans anymore. How will these changes affect our ability to adapt to a new world?”
This time it was Chief Yount who handled the question, stating, “The civil engineers are gathering data about the planet’s ecosystem now. Meanwhile, we’ve gathered DNA samples from most of you when you woke up from stasis, and AISHA is running several simulations including your adaptability to the climate on 2d, as well as your genetic compatibility with other hybrid species for procreation.”
“That’s good to know,” the panther said with a nod before taking his seat. “Thanks, Doc.”
A Corgi woman in the yellow uniform of Communications caught the mare’s attention next. “You there, Comms Officer…?”
“Smythe, Ma’am. Alita Smythe,” the woman replied. “I was wondering why the Pacific Union would sabotage an Atlantic Collaborative ship, considering we were allies before leaving Earth?” A low murmur of agreement spread through the crowd, but quieted quickly as Jackson stepped forth to answer.
“While we don’t know for certain yet, we suspect that PU leadership had very little faith in their odds for success,” the stag explained. “The Peregrine was assigned to the world with the best calculated viability, while the Pacific Union only got one planet in the top ten and three in the bottom ten.”
“Thank you, Sir, that makes a lot of sense,” Alita said before sitting back down.
“Excuse me for interrupting, but I have a communication from an Admiral Pelletier of New Montreal,” a male sloth said on the viewscreen from the bridge. “It’s for Special Agent Callaway.”
“Put it through to the captain’s datapad, James,” Jackson said. He glanced at Hope, who gave him a quick nod before disappearing into the kitchen. He stepped back and let Helena continue the town hall meeting.
“Okay, who’s next? You there,” the governor said, pointing to a man that looked like mix of lion and tiger. “What’s your name?”
“Keller, ma’am,” the liger replied as he stood. “Corporal Adam Keller, Engineering.”
“All right, Corporal,” Helena commented. “What’s your question?”
“I was just wondering, if we’re all half-animals now, what will that mean as far as our consumption of animal meat?” the liger asked. “The nutrient packs are going to run out eventually, and I can only speak for myself, but I have no plans on going vegan.”
“I’m glad you asked,” Chief Yount responded as he addressed the crowd. “We were going to discuss that here shortly, but this seems like as good a time as any. Yes, the replicators will run out sooner or later, which is why so many people are still in cryo. Those of us who are now carnivorous hybrids will no doubt crave meat, and might have trouble controlling their urges to feed on a vegan or vegetarian diet. On the other hand, being half-animal hybrids ourselves now only further complicates the centuries old dilemma whether slaughtering animals for food is ethical. It’s one of the issues we plan on voting on at the end of this meeting.”
“I’m just saying, I don’t think I can give up bacon,” the liger retorted, causing several chuckles to break out around the room.
“As your physician, I have to advise you to limit how much of it you eat,” Tristan warned before adding, “but I completely understand what you mean.”
Just then, Captain Driscoll emerged from the kitchen. Looking at Jackson first, then Sara, she said, “We’ll be right back with our stowaway. She should be here for the rest of this meeting.”
“Owens, you’re with us,” the bat woman said to her acting assistant as they headed out the door.
As the quartet neared the starboard observation lounge, the two security officers guarding the door, the elkhound and suffolk punch horse that were standing guard gave a salute. “At ease, Madden, Bonadell,” Sara said with a dismissive wave. “How’s our guest?”
“She’s been raising hell off and on for the past hour or so,” the elkhound, Bonadell, answered. “She’s being quiet for now, but I expect she’ll be starting up again in another couple of minutes.”
“I’m sure she will,” Hope said, holding out her hand. “Give me and Commander Cordero your tasers. We’re going inside for a little chat.” The two sentries handed over their AC-64 Loki tasers, while Lieutenant Hoy and Lieutenant JG Owens drew their own tasers from their holsters. Looking at the horse man standing guard, she ordered, “Open the door, Madden.”
Special Agent Rachel Callaway was sitting inside on the floor with her back to the wall, but quickly sprang to her feet when the door opened. “What the hell is go-” she started to ask in a demanding tone of voice, but she stopped short when she saw the otter, deer, bat, and panther walk inside with tasers pointed in her direction.
“Rachel Callaway,” the otter woman said, “I’m Captain Hope Driscoll of the ACS Peregrine. This is my first officer, Commander Jackson Cordero, acting Chief of Security Sara Hoy, and acting Assistant Chief of Security David Owens.”
“Captain,” the human woman replied, “I recognize your voice. Your AI convinced me that you were dead. All of you. I know you probably won’t believe this, but I’m relieved to see that isn’t the case.”
“That was a ruse on my part,” Jackson commented. “AISHA is a horrible liar, but she has a puppet function that allows a user to control her speech and actions.”
“We overheard your message to the Orca,” Hope explained. “We made certain edits to make sure the Pacific Union wouldn’t be coming, and sent it off using your authentication codes. We just received a response that I think you should hear. Please, sit with us.” Jackson followed the captain’s lead and casually took a seat at the closest table, while their captive hesitantly sat across from them.
“So, what did the message say?”
“First, I’ll tell you what our edited version of your status report said,” the deer answered as he retrieved it on his datapad. “Avoid Io. Heavy Krys activity in system. Peregrine captured. All crew and passengers died in cryo. Likely due to sabotage error. Transmitting likely to alert enemy to position. Capture probable. It has been an honor to serve. Signature Echo-Five-Three-Two-Two.”
“Clearly you exaggerated about the deaths,” the woman stated.
“To an extent,” Jackson responded, “As you can see, we turned into half-human hybrids of our favorite animals. However, everyone that turned into arachnids or anything else with an exoskeleton died in the process. We showed you pictures of them.”
“I see,” Agent Callaway stated. “And what was the reply?”
Reading from her own datapad, Hope replied, “Special Agent Callaway; I am truly saddened by the fate of the Peregrine. We do not condone your actions, but we do forgive you. The crew of the ACS Merlin established a new human colony on Keppler-186f, now known as New Montreal. The ACS Gyrfalcon joined later after failing to find a habitable planet. Unfortunately, the Pacific Union Ship Bottlenose also entered Krys-controlled space and was captured. The PUS Orca and PUS Narwhal were both unsuccessful in their missions and were invited to join New Montreal. The Atlantic Collaborative and Pacific Union no longer exist, at least not on Keppler-186f. Due to the merger, we are able to confirm your orders from Captain Usman and recognize you as a citizen of New Montreal, and will honor your sacrifice with a military funeral. Thank you for your service. Sincerely, Admiral Emmanuel Fletcher. Signature Alpha-Four-One-Seven-Nine.”
“That was Captain Usman’s authentication number,” Special Agent Callaway remarked.
“Sounds like your one of us now,” Jackson replied.
“The question is, what do we do with you?” Hope asked.
End Ch. 4