2 hours later
Novak walked onto the bridge with the freshly awakened (and more than a little self-conscious security officer) Lt. Petton behind him.
Captain Fawx saw the two enter. No words were exchanged between himself and Novak; his commander knew that the bridge was his. The captain turned to Petton and discreetly motioned to his ready room. He didn’t want to draw attention to her, knowing full well that stares could really damage her psyche.
Despite the captain’s best efforts, Sgt. Garrick, the young but talented pilot of the ship, turned to see who had stepped onto the bridge. When his eyes came across the blonde bombshell that was Petton, he was entranced. He may have been able to guess it was Petton from overhearing comments made by Commander Novak and Captain Fawx but his 22 year old mind overrode any rational thoughts.
Petton hurriedly followed the captain to the ready room, wanting to escape Garrick who seemed to be undressing her with his eyes. Novak caught Garrick’s staring. “Sergeant Garrick, what’s our bearing.”
The doors to the ready room shut and the very weak looking Security Officer sighed. The captain sat down at his desk. “Please, take a seat Lieutenant.”
She sat down in the chair. The seat felt so much bigger than before. It seemingly loomed over her small body. She had wanted to change into a different uniform before meeting with the captain; but all the clothes on the ship had been replaced with revealing mockeries of uniforms thanks to the intruder.
What good to the ship was she? How was she supposed to keep the ship safe if she couldn’t even protect herself? Even worse, how was she going to get this process reversed? Would she ever be able to return to her male body? Doubt, vulnerability, weakness, fear: emotions that she would have never tolerated within herself a few hours ago swirled around uncontrollably.
“How are you holding up?”
She snapped back to reality. Fixing her eyes to the ground, she mulled over what she would answer. “As well as can be expected, sir.”
“That bad, huh?”
The captain sighed in his mind. He had to get Petton’s mind off his own personal problem and focus on the ship. “Lt. Petton, did Commander Novak brief you on our current situation?” The captain had purposefully used Petton’s and Novak’s full titles, trying to remind him of his responsibilities on the ship.
“Yes he did sir.” Her eyes didn’t move from the ground.
The captain stood up and began pacing. “Good. I have Lt. Moden and the Engineering team working on finding the Yrch who’s doing this. Once we find a way to track him, it will be the Security Team’s job to take him down. You going to be able to handle that?”
Her eyes met the captain’s. Anger mixed with fear and surprise; it didn’t take Fawx any effort to see that. He knew what was coming; he could cut her off. But ultimately he decided to let her vent a little. “What?! We’re not going to try and find a way to reverse this?” Petton pointed to her breasts. “This? You don’t care about me be stuck like this?”
The Captain’s eyes grew stern. “Doctor Teffri is working on it! But the problem is most likely well beyond his expertise! There is very little chance he will solve anything. Try and see beyond yourself! Engineering is trying to find a way to track down the cause of this. If we don’t catch him, we ALL may be in the same situation as you. Remember Lieutenant, you were only the first. While you were sleeping he attacked six others! That’s 13% of my crew in the span of about three hours. At this rate, we have about 20 more hours before everyone in the crew is changed- myself included! Twenty hours! That’s it! And we still have no idea how he’s even doing this!”
Petton sat in her seat, not saying a word. She looked back down at the ground, ashamed. The captain sighed and lowered his tone. “My job, first and foremost, is to protect my crew. My concerns are on you and all of my crew. I can only imagine what you’re going through and I’m not much looking forward to it myself.”
Fawx stood up and began to pace about the ready room. “Dr. Teffri isn’t your- our only hope for fixing this. Once we deliver Xaen we will no doubt be heading for a TSF medical facility. From there we will have the help of geneticists and all other kinds of science that we don’t have access to here on the ship. I believe if we are frank with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that a fix for your situation isn’t going to come while we’re still on the ship. So it is then necessary for us to focus on the more pressing issue at hand: how to stop him from transforming anyone else.”
The Captain stood directly in front of his Security Chief. “Lt. Petton, I appointed you my chief of security because I saw your record and knew you could handle that job. I need you to keep doing that job. No one else can do it. So unless, you get killed you still have your duties- understand Lieutenant?”
“AAGH!” The scream came from the bridge.
Instinctually Fawx reached for his side-blaster and darted for the door. “Not again!”
As the door to the bridge parted, a painful groan could be heard rising in pitch. The captain gripped the door frame with his right hand, throwing himself onto the bridge. Garrick slumped against the wall. Something had thrown him against the wall; but he wasn’t the center of attention. The Yrch in the black cloak loomed over a gorgeous young brunette woman. “Novak!”
The Yrch remained there, smirking. Fawx trained his gun on it. Petton stumbled onto the bridge, incapable of running in her heeled boots, just in time to see the captain pull the trigger.
A red beam of focused electromagnetic waves burst from the weapon. The grey-skinned alien made no attempt to dodge. It smiled. The beam passed through his chest.
Fawx smiled- then squinted. No blood was on the ground. The Yrch didn’t collapse to the ground. It just kept smiling at him. “No.”
The Yrch parted his jagged teeth. A guttural noise ambled off his thin tongue. “Better luck next time.” He disappeared before Fawx’s eyes.
The bridge stood still for a moment.
“RRRRRG!” Fawx swung his arm to throw his side-blaster. He held himself back enough to not let go, which would have destroyed the weapon. He settled for kicking his chair on the bridge, denting the metal siding a little.
His aim had been dead on. He couldn’t have expected any better a shot. Fawx’s fists clenched tight. But the beam just passed through the Yrch as if he wasn’t there- just phased right through him! And it just smiled at him. Fawx grit his teeth together.
A soft hand gripped Fawx’s shoulder.
He turned around and looked down. Several decades younger and wearing a ridiculous uniform that betrayed her alluring curves, Commander Novak pulled her hand back. Her reproving but enchanting soprano voice brought the Captain back to reality. “Captain, I believe it would be best to get an engineering team up here to scan this place to see why that shot didn’t kill the Yrch.”
Fawx’s eyes were locked with Novak’s: they were the same steady, pragmatic brick red eyes the Captain had trusted for so many years. How Novak remained calm moments after going through what he went through awed the Captain. There was more in her words than just a suggestion to get an engineering team up to the bridge- it was an order to pull himself together, to compose himself. “You’re right Commander.”
The Captain pulled his communicator out. “Lt. Moden- report.”
Moden’s voice cackled over the communicator. “Captain- the Yrch just popped in here two minutes ago and got Airman Williams.”
“Son of a bitch. He popped up here to the bridge right after.”
Silence hung over the communicator for a moment. “Who’d it attack?”
The Captain’s eyes poured over Novak again. Her brown bangs partially shadowed her left eye. Her hair flared out in the back, stopping short of her gentle shoulders, a style Fawx had seen many models use in ads. Her blue uniform was like most of the other modified uniform except that her sleeves flared outward at the wrists, causing them to wisp about any time she moved her arms. “It attacked Com. Novak. Listen- I shot the thing with my side-blaster.”
“What? Did you hit it?”
“Yes and no”
“Yes and no? Captain, I’m really not sure what that means.”
The Captain shook his head. “I hit it directly. I didn’t miss. But- the blast just went through him like he wasn’t there.”
“Wait- like it phased through him?”
“Exactly. He just smiled. I’d be surprised if it even tickled. I need you to get someone to find out why it phased through him and make something to kill him.”
Moden sighed. “So does this now rank above or below figuring out a way to find him?”
The looked up and shook his head. He was piling a lot on his engineering team. “This is a higher priority- put one of your men, no Airman Williams on the tracking problem. He- she will have good motivation to find the guy. The rest of you, figure out how to kill him. Even if we can’t find him… he eventually will appear to get us and when that happens, we can strike. Understand Lieutenant?”
“Excellent. Report to me in an hour about your progress.” The Captain put the communicator down at his side.
He turned to check on Sgt. Garrick who was slowly getting up with Novak nonchalantly helping him. Before he could say something, Moden’s voice piped up over the communicator. “Actually I have something to report right now, Captain.”
He picked up the communicator again. Hope filled his voice. “What’s that?”
“Remember that escape pod that jettisoned at the beginning of all this with the subspace beacon signal?”
The Captain sighed. “Yeah- nearly had forgotten about it. What about it?”
“You ever heard of SONAR?”
The Captain rolled his eyes. Where was Moden heading with this? “The word sounds familiar.”
Moden started spouting physics. “A few centuries ago, naval ships would see what’s in the water by using a pulse of sonic waves under their boat. When those waves bounced off an object, back to their ship, they could get an image of what was down there.”
“Lt. Moden- why are you telling me this?”
“Captain, don’t you see? That escape pod had a subspace beacon in it. It sent a pulse out that is designed to bounce off of subspace disturbances- specifically speaking the subspace disturbance our ultraphotonic drive creates!”
The Captain paced the bridge. “Let me get this straight- that pulse thing is bouncing off our rifts in subspace?”
“Exactly- the pulse normally would just bounce off any subspace rift created by any ship, which would be considerably useless. But- if someone snuck into Engineering and scanned our ultraphotonic drive he’d know the exact frequency of our tears in subspace- meaning they could target our ship and our ship alone. I think someone is tailing us.”
“Well, the fun just keeps on coming.” The captain wanted to kick something but he decided his chair had taken enough damage. “Any reason to believe the Yrch didn’t do this?”
“Not a one sir. He’s the only one that makes sense considering he seems to be able to move about our ship at will.”
The Captain put down the communicator and looked over at Lt. Petton who had listened into the whole conversation. “Make sure our offensive capabilities haven’t been tampered with Petton. My gut tells me that we’re going to need them.” She nervously rubbed her shoulder, eyes cast to the ground. The Captain stomped his foot on the ground. “Dammit Petton, quit that! I don’t care if you have breasts or not- be a man! Don’t let this beat you! The ship- I need you to do what I know you can do! Quit moping and do it! Look at Com. Novak, you see her sulking?”
She pulled her head from the ground. Hers and Novak met glances. Novak nodded, causing her bangs to bounce slightly.
Petton saluted Captain Fawx. “Aye sir.” She turned to the door and marched off the bridge.
The Captain new her composure was forced, but he had confidence in Lt. Petton’s sense of professionalism. Novak turned her eyes to the Captain and gave him a concerned look. He shrugged off the look. “She’ll be fine.”
Sgt Garrick was on his feet now and dusting off his gray uniform. He couldn’t remove his eyes from Com. Novak’s backside. Several thoughts went through his head about the senior officer that he guiltily entertained. She turned around and caught him staring. His face went as red as his hair. “Don’t you have a ship to be flying?”
He rushed back to the pilot’s chair. “I most certainly do sir- ma’am- err-”
She rolled her eye. “Just pilot the ship.”
Moden piped up over the Captain’s communicator. “Uh- Captain- one more thing.”
Fawx groaned. “Yes Lieutenant?”
“Um- there is something that IS strange about the whole pulse thing.”
“And what is that?”
“Well, someone on a ship could just send out a subspace pulse from their ship and track us. The downside would be that if they were doing that, when the got close to us, we could triangulate their position. That’s why I think they opted to just analyze our subspace frequency, mount a subspace beacon to one of our escape pods, and use the remote beacon to track us. Gives them more stealth.”
“Okay- so our followers wanted to remain more stealthy. What’s so odd about that?”
Moden’s voice grew more reserved. “Well sir, I’m getting a reading that there are TWO subspace pulses bouncing off our ship. Whoever the Yrch is working for wouldn’t be using another subspace beacon. It would be a complete waste of resources.”
“What are you suggesting Moden?”
“I think we have TWO ships trying to find us. And I don’t think they know about each other.”
Fawx rubbed his temples. “Moden- inform Lt. Petton of this. Put your engineering team on notice that everyone is running double shifts until we’re out of this sector. I’m not going to take anything for granted.”
The Captain collapsed in his chair. “Sgt. Garrick. Disengage the ultraphotonic drive and just use conventional thrusters for the next 90 minutes and alter our course by 30 degrees after doing so.”
Garrick turned around, really confused. “Uh, sir- why?”
“Because both of those can’t use their conventional long range scanners to track us and are tracking our subspace rifts. I figure that if we create no subspace rifts and alter our course, we might be able to get them to overshoot us a little bit and put some distance between us and both of them.”
Garrick shook his head. “I’d feel more comfortable with just trying to outrun’em but aye aye sir.”
Novak sauntered past Garrick. “Your Captain didn’t ask for your opinion, Sergeant. You’re young and need to learn to do what your senior officers ask, especially in a time of crisis. Understand?”
Garrick blushed, probably more from the thoughts he had entertained about Commander Novak earlier. “Yes Commander.”
Novak sat down in her own chair next to the Captain. She sighed. “We’re in a real fix this time Bennis.”
Fawx nodded, staring at the ceiling. “Two ships searching for us in a place where we can’t request any backup while transporting a deadly assassin and our crew is one by one being transformed into young, sexy women. Yeah, this is definitely the second worse moment of my career- might be the worst when it’s all said and done.” He turned his face to her. “How are you holding up? You certainly got the worst of this last exchange.”
She waived him off. “I’ll be fine. In a way, I’m a little less stressed now.”
Fawx sat up. “How could you be less stressed now? You were robbed of your manhood!”
She smiled. “Everyone on the ship is wondering it Bennis. ‘Am I the next one?’ Worried that around the next corner there the Yrch will be in his black robes ready to pounce and take your Y chromosome from you. I no longer have that fear. The tension is gone. I can focus on my job again.”
The Captain leaned back in his chair. “Huh.” He hadn’t thought about it himself. He had said it to his crew but he hadn’t paused to think on how vulnerable he was! Just a few moments ago, when he was trying to shoot it, the Yrch could have gotten him as well. He looked over at Novak and her curves and realized that could have been him. A shiver went down his spine.
“Novak, why do you think they are transforming us? I think it obvious the Yrch is working with one of these ships. It’s obvious they are tracking us and have something intended.”
She sighed. “I thought about that myself. I’ve thought of a few things. Women are physically weaker. This new body of mine has quite a different center of gravity as my old one. Including my newly heeled boots it makes me much less agile. We’re now easier to overpower if one was to board and overtake the ship.”
The captain shook his head. “If they just wanted to overtake the ship the Yrch could just kill us off one by one. It would be easier to take over a ship with no crew on it.”
“That’s true sir- which must mean they have some reason to keep us alive.”
The Captain stared out into the immensity of space. “Alive- and in the bodies of incredibly young, defenseless, healthy, and sexy women. How many uses can you think of for a group of 53 young, defenseless, healthy, and sexy women?”
It was Novak’s turn to shiver. “Only a few sir.”
One last sigh passed the Captain’s lips. He pushed off his knees and stood up out of his chair. “Well, break over. We’ve got work to do.”
At first, when I got to about the time right after Novak helping Garrick up I was getting ready to end the chapter and decided the chapter was too short. Now I’m worried it was too long. I guess my writing is never good enough for myself. Oh well.