The senior staff was assembled in the Ready Room as Chakotay began his presentation. “From the data downloaded from the Vaadwaur computer they were attacked by several unknown alien vessels. Shortly after their shields had collapsed they were boarded by an indeterminate number of unknown lifeforms and attacked.”
“From what we’ve seen these creatures may have some ability to mutate other humanoids.” Tuvok replied.
“The creature that attacked Lieutenant Kano?” Janeway asked.
“Yes.” Chakotay replied.
“Status?” Janeway asked.
“It’s behind a Level 10 forcefield in Sickbay, still stunned by the phaser blast.” Chakotay said, “We’ve also got two corpses of the aliens that attacked the Vaadwaur. Ensign Wildman and Crewman Telfer are in Exobiology performing their analysis. They’ll report when they’re complete.”
“Sickbay to Captain Janeway.” The Doctor’s voice sounded.
“Go ahead, Doctor.” Janeway replied, after tapping her comm badge.
“Please report to Sickbay.” the Doctor replied.
“On my way.” Janeway replied as she headed down to Sickbay with Chakotay in tow.
The doors to Sickbay flew open as Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay walked through it. “Report.” Janeway said.
“Our guest began to awaken. When I attempted to sedate him I discovered that abnormal adrenaline levels prevent sedation. To sedate him now would be about as hard as sedating a Hirogen.” The Doctor replied as he stood as a discrete distance from the field where the Vaadwaur-mutate was currently throwing itself at the force field.
Lieutenant Ayala felt uneasy as he watched the Vaadwaur mutant fling itself against the forcefield. This was at least the third such attack and each attack caused the lights in sickbay to flicker as the power grid diverted energy to maintain the forcefield to keep the thing confined. That latest assault caused the black, clawlike arm to stick out beyond the forcefield before the energy barrier forced the creature back inside the contained area.
Janeway stepped forward closer to the forcefield. Ayala instinctively maneuvered for a clear line of sight. If that creature got anywhere near Janeway or miraculously managed to break through the forcefield he’d blast it on sight.
“I’m Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager.” Janeway began, “Can you tell us who did this to you?”
The creature flung itself against the forcefield one more time.
“We aren’t trying to imprison you. We want to help you.” Janeway began.
“I cannot be helped!” the Vaadwaur mutate replied.
“We can’t help you if you won’t tell us what happened to you.” Janeway replied, “We know your ship was attacked by these alien lifeforms.”
“We were hiding from a Hirogen vessel that had attacked our sister ship. We hid inside a nebula when we came under attack. But it wasn’t the Hirogen. It was far worse.” The Mutate replied.
“What are they?” Janeway asked.
“We have no name for these creatures. But when they attacked they disabled our shields and boarded us.” The Mutate replied, “They attacked us. Mutating us somehow...I don’t know how but they did. We started to turn on each other.”
As Janeway was about to reply the Mutate stared straight at the ceiling, screaming as it arched it’s back. It clawed at its forehead, red blood mingled with the inky black fluid. The Mutate’s height decreased dramatically. A glowing heart shaped object floated in the air momentarily before it vanished. All it’s Vaadwaur features vanished as it’s body transformed into a meter high alien, with flesh black as midnight, clawed hands, antennae coming from its forehead and it began to vanish in a shimmering blackness.
It reappeared on the other side of the forcefield and jumped atop Captain Janeway. Janeway staggered back a couple paces before hitting the ground and landing squarely on her back. Ayala was fast on the draw. His phaser was off his hip and in his hand faster than he could think. He fired a blast on a high setting that sent the creature flying backward with a hole burned through its side.
Janeway stood up swiftly and said, “Thank you Mister Ayala.”
As they walked out of Sickbay, Chakotay asked, “Are you alright, Kathryn?”
“I’ll be fine, Chakotay.” Janeway replied, “Doctor, be sure you get in touch with Ensign Wildman, compare your findings with hers.”
“Yes ma’am.” The Doctor replied.
Exobiology Lab, Fifteen Minutes After the Attack:
Samantha Wildman brushed a stray strand of her blonde hair from her forehead. “Telfer, hand me the laser scalpel.” Wildman asked.
Telfer complied and stood back as Samantha performed a standard Y-incision on the creature’s chest.
“This thing shouldn’t be alive.” Wildman noted, “There’s a distinct lack of a heart, only some sort of air-like sack where a lung should be.”
Telfer walked stepped a bit closer peering over Samantha’s shoulder. “Maybe the organ was destroyed by the phaser blast?” Telfer offered.
“No that would have required a more powerful burst.” Wildman replied, as she moved out of the way to give Telfer a better view, “And there’s no evidence of energy damage to adjacent organs the way a high powered blast would.”
“A focused blast then?” Telfer asked.
“I’m still not convinced that the heart was obliterated in it’s entirety.” Samantha replied, “Besides where’s the over penetration consistent with a focused high power phaser blast? The epidermis of this heartless creature doesn’t seem especially tough, I’d say roughly the consistency of moderately tough leather. A focused high power blast would punch all the way through the back of the creature.”
“How does it circulate it’s blood then?” Telfer had asked.
“I’d venture due to the heavily muscular nature of that organ it uses pressure differentials to circulate the fluids through the body.” Samantha said, “And there is evidence of some sort of aneaerobic respiratory process I can’t make heads or tails of.”
“So this thing could survive in a vaccum?” Telfer asked.
“In theory. I’m not certain that it is the case. And at any rate it’s blood, if that’s what this congealed black substance is, appears to have a naturally viscous state.” Wildman replied.
“It’s brain is almost that of a sentient lifeform.” Telfer said, “But the processes that support it would be sufficient for a less advanced lifeform, not an intelligent sentient.”
“There are repto-humanoids out there.” Wildman replied, “The life supporting processes we hypothesize this creature has could plausibly support a reptilian species.”
“It’s possible it’s another type of lifeform entirely.” Telfer replied.
“The Vaadwaur ship’s logs did dictate they were attacked by hostile ships and that these creatures beamed aboard.” Wildman replied, “However it’s possible that these creatures are just bred as foot soldiers.”
“There aren’t really any of the markers that indicate genetic engineering though.” Telfer added.
“The protein structures aren’t consistent with genetic engineering, yes. But we can’t rule it out.” Wildman replied.
“The antennae suggest a hive brain or another means of communication.” Telfer added.
“So based on what we’ve seen we see a creature with standard humanoid intelligence levels. It sounds like a sentient lifeform or maybe a higher order semi-sentient under the thrall of a higher intelligence. A hive mind.” Samantha said.
“Maybe that’s their only method of communication. I mean there’s no evidence of vocal cords.” Telfer added.
“Very good.” Samantha beamed with approval, “Take these to the Captain. I’ll finish up in here.”
“Right away sir.” Telfer replied.
Ready Room, 1600 Hours
: Tal Celes walked into the Ready Room as she gently pushed a stray strand of brown hair from her face. A small smile creased her features when she saw Henry already there, slouched in a chair and reading from a PADD in his left hand. There was a steaming cup of tea near his right hand.
He seemed engrossed in his reading as she crossed the room and slid a chair beside Henry. The sound of the chair scraping across the deck grabbed Henry’s attention.
Henry turned and smiled when he watched Tal slide her slender form into the chair. She turned to face him, her brown eyes shining. Henry always thought Tal’s eyes were her best feature, they were a rich, deep shade of brown like the best quality chocolate.
“What are you reading?” Tal asked.
“Just some old letters from home, back when we had found that Hirogen communication network.” Henry replied.
“Oh.” Tal replied.
“I was just reading an old letter from my brother about my dog.” Henry replied, “I’ve got a picture actually.”
Henry input a couple things into the PADD, “Here.”
Tal leaned over to look at the picture on Henry’s PADD and as she did so Henry felt something soft and warm against his upper left arm. Her breast.
Hmm, he’s wearing that aftershave again. Prophets, I love that smell
. Tal thought.
Tal glanced over Henry’s shoulder and smiled when she saw a trio of pictures of a large gray dog with a white underside and paws. The first was the dog as a young puppy on a grassy knoll, sitting with it’s mouth open. The second was Henry with a somewhat older version of the pup, a juvenile. The third was another picture of the dog with a younger man with an adolescent boy.
“That’s Titus, my dog. I got him about seven years ago.” Henry replied.
“He’s adorable.” Tal said as Henry handed her the PADD.
“Even now he’s practically thirty-kilogram lap puppy.” Henry replied, “Hard to believe this breed of dog was the victim of hysteria and near enforced extinction on Earth over three hundred years ago.”
“What breed of dog is he?” Tal asked.
“He’s an American Staffordshire Terrier, or an AmStaff for short.” Henry replied.
“Why did they want this breed extinct?” Tal asked.
“To know that, you have to know the history of the breed.” Henry replied, “It started over six hundred years ago in the British Isles and Ireland when animal fighting was popular. First they’d have stocky, muscular dogs called ‘Bulldogs’ fighting bulls or bears but then in 1830 animal fighting, or ‘baiting’, became illegal. It was a lot easier to have clandestine dogfights but the large bull-dogs were less inclined to fight each other than larger prey. So people started crossbreeding bulldogs and scrappy hunting dogs called ‘terriers’ to combine the strength and athleticism of a bulldog with the gameness of a terrier.”
“So basically it’s like vole fighting? That’s awful. Is that what Titus...”
“Goodness no. There haven’t been dogfights on Earth for centuries.” Henry replied, “Anyway, these Bull-and-Terriers, or Pitbulls were not just dog fighters. As time went on British and Irish settlers to the United States took their dogs with them. As settlers moved into the unsettled American West the Pitbulls and what would eventually become the American Staffordshire Terrier breed went with them. Yes there were dogfights but they were much more likely to be used as all purpose working dogs, herding semi-wild cattle, protecting their families from human and animal predators, and other such things.”
“When did people start wanting them extinct?” Tal asked.
“That was in the late twentieth century.” Henry replied, “A rash of dog attacks combined with longstanding underground dogfights which sadly Pitbulls were favored for because of their gameness, eager to please attitudes, and strength. Combined with an overly hysteria based news system that sensationalized dog attacks and blamed every attack on a Pitbull and thus it’s cousin the AmStaff there was legislation banning these dogs in many parts of Earth.”
“Why blame the dogs? Why not hold the breeders who bred them to fight and the criminals that organized these fights?” Tal replied.
“I was getting there. Anyway it took nearly two hundred years before bully breeds were able to shake their violent image.” Henry replied.
“Bully breeds?” Tal asked.
“So named because they were derived from bulldog stock.” Henry replied.
“It’s such a confusing history.” Tal said, “And there’s an astounding array of dog breeds.”
“That’s the case. They were bred for a myriad of uses.” Henry replied.
“Where’s he staying now?” Tal asked.
“I had him stay with my parents when I got sent on this assignment.” Henry replied, “He’s been staying with them ever since.”
Tal pointed at the third picture, “Who are they?”
“My brothers. The older lad is Michael.” Henry replied as he indicated the tall, thin young man with curly black hair and a black goatee and mustache.
“And they younger lad is David.” Henry replied, indicating a young man about sixteen years old with a mop of black hair atop his head as well as a delicate little nose, “He’s got a lot more of mum’s features than any of us.”
“Handsome boy.” Tal replied.
“How about your family, Tal?“ Henry asked, “I’ve known you for almost six years but I’d never got around to asking you about your family.”
“Well. I was born on Bajor, but barely remember it. I never really knew my parents because I was adopted when I was three.” Tal replied.
“I’m so sorry.” Henry replied putting a comforting arm around her shoulders.
Tal felt her heartrate go up, the way it usually did whenever he touched her. She hoped that the flush in her face and the heat in her ears weren’t too obvious.
“Thank you. But it was so long ago that I was found at my adopted parents’ restaurant on Tanada Bay on Ajilon Prime.” Tal replied, “Anyway. When I was three I was taken off of Bajor one night and taken to Ajilon Prime. I remember someone left me at a restaurant owned by a Bajoran couple that eventually adopted me.”
“Did you hear from them when we got those letters home a couple years ago?” Henry asked.
“Yes. They’re doing well considering the Klingons destroyed their business when they attacked Ajilon Prime.” Tal replied.
“What?” Henry asked, “Oh the Klingon-Federation War four years ago.”
“Dad insisted Mom take her holiday early and visit her family on Bajor. He was injured in an attack but survived and when he went to see the restaurant, he found a majority of it had been destroyed. Apparently the Klingons had been using it as a barracks. They broke several of our mapa wood tables into kindling to roast meat on.” Tal replied.
“Were the able to rebuild?” Henry replied.
“I think so. When I received my last letter from home they said that they were talking to our insurance agent to rebuild.” Tal replied.
“That’s good to hear.” Henry replied.
“So any idea what this is all about?” Tal asked him.
“Something about an away mission.” Henry replied, “So I’ve heard anyway.”
“Oh no.” Tal replied.
“No worries. Your last away mission may not have been all that great, but this one might not be too difficult.” Henry replied, “I’ve got every confidence in you.”
Tal smiled, “Thank you.”
Henry smiled back and felt that warmth in his body, the way he always felt whenever Tal smiled at him. It was then that William Telfer walked into the room.
Tom Paris walked into the room just then before taking the seat across from Henry. He leaned back in his chair casually as William Telfer walked into the room.
“If it isn’t the man of the hour.” Tom replied.
“What are you talking about?” Tal replied before remembering that she was on duty and added a belated, “Sir.”
Tom smiled nonchalantly, “Well, our good friend Mr. Telfer presented Exobiology’s findings from those strange alien corpses discovered on the Vaadwaur ship. Captain Janeway was rather impressed with Exobiology’s findings, especially the work of Ensign Wildman and Crewman Telfer.”
Billy sat down across from Tal with a shy smile on his face.
A few minutes later Petty Officer Third Class Kenneth Dalby walked into the room. His sleeves were rolled up. “What’s this about? My work crew’s on the Flyer and we’re shorthanded right now.”
“Something to do with an away mission.” Tom replied.
The door opened again and Captain Janeway with Seven of Nine in tow walked into the room. “I suppose you’re wondering why exactly you’re here. Well, you’re here because of the spatial rift discovered by Astrometrics. The gravimetric eddies around the anomaly are too dangerous for Voyager to venture close to. We’ve decided to send the Delta Flyer ahead to monitor the anomaly.”
“Voyager will remain on the outskirts of the anomaly, 3 million kilometers distant.” Seven replied, pointing to a display.
The sound of several chairs shifting so that the away team members could get a better look at the display could be heard.
“We will send the Delta Flyer ahead to gather readings from the anomaly. The Flyer’s greater maneuverability would be an asset in those gravimetric eddies.” Seven replied.
“What about the shields? Shouldn’t there be changes to the shield modulation due to all those fluctations?” Dalby asked.
“I’ve had Lieutenant Torres modify the shields on a rotating band modulation, similar to settings used against the Borg, but adapted for gravimetric distortions. Similar modifications will be performed on the Delta Flyer.” Captain Janeway replied.
“Because of those gravimetric distortions and eddies I want our best pilot on the Flyer. Ensign Paris, you qualify for that in all respects.” Janeway continued, “You have overall mission command.”
“Thank you ma’am, I’ll keep us riding the rapids safely.” Tom replied.
“Crewman Celes, I want you constantly scanning and transmitting your findings back to Voyager. I want you to confirm the presence of alien ships.” Janeway added.
“Yes ma’am.” Celes replied.
“The possibility that the aliens might be hostile exists. Especially if they are of that unknown species that attacked the Vaadwaur fighter we came upon earlier.” Janeway replied, “Crewman Telfer, that’s where you come in. If we make first contact I want you to ascertain anything you can about that species.”
“I’ll do my best, ma’am.” Telfer replied.
“I know you will.” Janeway said before turning towards Henry, “Lieutenant Kano, we are facing potentially hostile aliens, I want you on tactical for the Flyer and to treat any injuries if they do occur.”
“Aye ma’am.” Henry replied.
“Petty Officer Dalby, I want you on the Flyer to handle damage control and the new shield modifications.” Janeway replied.
“Yes ma’am.” Dalby replied with a nod.
“You know your posts, study the mission particulars and get some rest. You leave at 1300 hours, tomorrow. Dismissed.” Janeway replied.
The away team filed out of the Ready Room.
To Be Continued: Up next the Away Team prepares for its mission and departs to carry out its task. But all is not what it seems...