There are stranger things in heaven and on Earth, Horatio, then were ever dreamed of in your philosophy.
The words of the immortal poet and playwright of old Earth were probably the farthest thing from the minds of Ensign Scott Riggins and Lieutenant Taryn Spring in the last moments of their lives. The U.S.S. Enterprise had put in at Gamma Eridani IV for shore leave after the harrowing mission to Serenidad, and the two young people's thoughts were devoted to more pleasurable pursuits than the contemplation of death. Riggins was on Cloud Nine. For months, the young security officer had hounded, begged, cajoled, and pleaded with the stunning communications expert, doing everything in his power to convince her of the benefits of spending a long night with him engaged in the pursuit of carnal pleasures. He had a widespread reputation for being something of a spacefaring Casanova--his exploits between the sheets were legendary, not only aboard the Enterprise, but throughout Starfleet as well. A physical fitness buff, Riggins was handsome, powerfully built, and possessed an ego the size of the Great Orion Nebula. His "scorecard" read like an encyclopedia, but he had been frustrated in his attempts to add the comely Lieutenant Spring to his list. Until now, that is.
For herself, Spring was as curious as she was excited about the upcoming encounter. She was a petite, beautiful blonde whose lissome, long-legged figure turned heads all over the Exploration Territory. Her cornflower-blue eyes, pert, turned-up nose, and rosebud lips all combined in an angelic face framed by her magnificent, tawny mane of spun-gold hair. She'd had her eye on the swaggering Riggins for some time, but she wanted him on her own terms, not his. So she played hard to get, knowing this course of action would drive him right up the wall. She turned him down again and again, until she felt the time was right. And now her curiosity would be satisfied first hand. It would be interesting to see how many of those legends were true, and whether those accounts of the size of a certain anatomical feature of his were exaggerated!
They walked together through the gathering darkness, laughing happily. Riggins looked down at her and affectionately squeezed her hand. "You'll love Solon's, Taryn. It's a nice place, really comfortable. They've even got a zero-gee love nest with a Mood Enhancer in it in case you're acrobatically inclined."
"I take it you've been here before," Spring teased him. "Several times, I would imagine!"
Riggins shrugged, a wry grin on his face. "Ah, you know. Seen one pleasure spa, seen 'em all."
"I'll bet!" she chuckled. "I just want to get there soon so we've got plenty of time to exchange pleasantries...among other things. The Enterprise pulls out early tomorrow morning."
"Rest assured, fair maiden, that I will not pull out until the last possible second," Riggins bantered, leering wickedly.
Spring blushed, then laughed softly. "That's what I like about you, Scott. You have a refreshingly filthy mind, and I love it!"
He suddenly pulled her up short; looking at her searchingly. "Seriously, though, Taryn, why did you wait until the last night of shore leave to go with me?"
She smiled, her crystal-blue eyes sparkling. "I couldn't have you thinking I was too anxious, now, could I? Besides, I've got a feeling this won't be the last time we do this!"
He pulled her to him then, kissing her long and hard.
After a moment, Spring pushed away, breathless. "Oh, my!" she gasped. "Oh, no!" She yanked on his arm and tugged him along at a brisk pace down the dark street. "Let's go!" she commanded. "I don't think I can stay cool too much longer!"
"Whoa, wait a second!" He laughed. "Look who's talking about not being too anxious." They came to the mouth of a dark alleyway, and he brought them to a halt again. "Let's go through here; we can cut out about ten minutes this way."
They started into the inky, trash-strewn byway, but Spring balked, standing her ground. "Unh-uh. I don't think so, Scott. It's as black as a dark nebula in there, and something's making the hair on my neck stand up. It's like a premonition like there's something evil back there."
"Oh, come on," he chided her. "I'll admit, it's not the nicest neighborhood, but I've cut through here lots of times. Besides, you're with me...I'll take care of you. Remember, I'm the only man on the Enterprise who's ever broken even with Sulu in martial arts matches!"
She finally relented, and they pressed on, but Spring clung tightly to him. Gradually, their eyes adjusted to the pitch blackness, allowing them to see a little better.
"Not too much farther!" Riggins called out. "Soon we'll be rollin' in the clover!-'
Suddenly, a shape loomed out of the darkness before them. Spring yelped, startled, and Riggins shoved her behind him.
The unexpected apparition looked Human. He was a man about the same size and build as Scott Riggins, dressed in a nondescript blue coverall. It occurred to the security man that this was about the hairiest individual he had ever seen. Thick, coarse brown hair grew in profusion on his head. The ears were vaguely pointed at the tips, suggesting a trace of alien blood, perhaps a tinge of Vulcan/Romulan stock. But his eyes...it had to be a trick of the light! The eyes beneath the bushy brows seemed to burn out of his lean, angular face, as if they were glowing in the dark.
Riggins unconsciously shifted into a defensive crouch. The man made him nervous. He was large and powerful-looking, and something about his posture suggested that he felt he could take the big Enterprise security man without even raising a sweat.
"Look, buddy, I don't know what you want, but don't make me do something you'll regret!" Riggins snapped with more conviction than he felt. "My girl and I just want to get over to Solon's pleasure spa for a little exercise, so just let us pass and I won't have to rough you up!"
"God, Scott, please be careful!" Spring pleaded. "He looks nasty!"
"Don't worry, babe!" The words were hardly out of his mouth when the man suddenly lunged forward in a fluid, graceful feint. The surprised security officer barely had time for a startled gasp before a vicious, flat-handed blow smashed into his Adam's apple. Riggins crashed to the filthy pavement, dying, his windpipe crushed.
"Scott!" Spring shouted. She exploded into action, flying through the air in an athletic drop-kick aimed at their assailant's head. But the man had reflexes like a Canopian fire-cobra. He caught the woman by the ankle in mid-air and flung her against the wall of a nearby building. She slumped to the ground, stunned.
He bent down and removed the woman's wrist communicator, then quickly did the same with Riggins' device. He threw the communicators to the ground and smashed them under the heel of his boot. There was a desperation in his movements now as he stooped and hurriedly stripped off Riggins' uniform. It looked as though it would fit him decently, and it gave him a way off this planet. Local police authorities were exerting more and more pressure to solve a great number of particularly gory murders that had taken place over the past several standard months, and he had no desire to be apprehended. He pulled off his coverall. With any luck, he could slip aboard the Federation starship tonight before the change caught him and stow away. He looked around the alley, suddenly anxious. It was later than he had first thought! He didn't have much time; it was really getting dark.
The alleyway was suddenly bathed in a bright, cold, silver light as Gamma Eridani IV's binary moon system hove into view above the surrounding structures. The man jerked convulsively and cried out as the rays washed over his naked body. He was out of time! He could transform himself at will, at any time, although lately he had been laying low because of all the police activity. But he was helpless before the baleful glow of the full moons, their insistent tidal pull tugging at and distorting his brain. The primal urge was too strong for any of his kind to ignore at this time. He felt the familiar twitching of his facial muscles and the lengthening of his teeth as they became long, sharpened fangs. Quickly, he clumsily folded the Starfleet uniform and secreted it under an empty trash bin as his fingernails grew into steel-hard claws. He would be forced to come back for it after the moons set. The metamorphosis was almost complete; he felt the Human part of his mind being submerged by the beast as thick, bristly animal fur sprouted over his entire body. The thing he had now become drew its black lips back over its fangs, threw back its shaggy head and loosed an unearthly, bloodcurdling howl. Silver threads of saliva drooled from its snarling maw as it menacingly glared about its surroundings. Its bestial mind was driven by only one impulse: the urge...no, the need...to hunt down, to kill and devour its Human prey.
Unfortunately for Spring, she chose this particular moment to swim back to consciousness. She stirred and sat up, perhaps roused by that terrible, keening cry. But the creature had detected her movements. It growled malevolently and advanced on her.
The young woman gasped, then screamed in horror as she got a close look at the thing. It was man-shaped, but walked and looked like an animal. And no man had the feral, glowing red eyes or elongated lupine muzzle of a wolf! The creature was known by many names on many planets, but in the ancient, superstitious folklore of Middle European Earth, it was called by an appellation that struck terror in the hearts of the simple peasants of long ago.
This obscure bit of information would not have interested Lieutenant Taryn Spring in the least at this particular moment, however. She backed into the wall she had been thrown against, cowering in consummate fear. "Oh, m-my God!!" she quavered. "W-what are y-you?!"
The sound of her voice triggered the beast, and it burst into a blur of shaggy brown motion. A great paw whipped downward, ripping her face, breasts and stomach to bloody ribbons. Spring shrieked insanely in her agony as the werewolf swept her up in one huge arm. There was a flash of white in the moonlight as razor-sharp fangs found her unprotected throat. The young woman's screaming eroded into a pitiful, gurgling wail as powerful jaws clamped down with crushing strength. With a savage toss of its great head, the creature tore out her throat in an explosion of blood and raw, mangled meat.
The last sensory impression of Spring's young life was a visual one of an unholy monster gulping and swallowing a chunk of flesh that had once been part of her. Then the blackness of forever seeped in.
But the beast continued to maul its dead prey in a frenzy of blood-lust. Deadly talons slashed and tore until they had ripped away the last scrap of the bloody, sodden uniform and undergarments, raking the soft, tender flesh of the mutilated body until it was reduced to an oozing, shapeless mass. Finally, the werewolf stopped. The beast stood up to its full height, almost ankle-deep in a slowly spreading lake of blood. Gruesome splashes of crimson dripped from its mouth and claws as it defiantly bayed once more at the twin moons, heralding its successful kill.
Then the werewolf settled down to feed.
As the moons crawled slowly toward the zenith, the beast devoured all the soft body parts and steaming, glistening organs. When it finished, it would leave only scattered, bloody bones, teeth, and hair. The creature bolted down great pieces of flesh from the still-twitching corpse. As it did so, the tiny Human spark in its mind rejoiced in the knowledge that soon it would leave this dangerous planet.
But the beast exulted for another reason: Tomorrow, it would roam free in a veritable city in space, free to ravage, destroy, and feed upon the hundreds of helpless, unknowing Humans aboard the great starship.
The werewolf licked its gory muzzle, wondering if the bloody flesh of its new crop of victims would taste as sweet as tonight's kill.
James T. Kirk snapped off the log recorder button on his command array, fuming inwardly. His disposition had soured greatly since the debriefing. It upset him, because he had just spent a very pleasant, relaxing shore-leave with a lovely young lieutenant commander in a secluded bungalow on Gamma Eridani IV.
The captain sighed irritatedly. This Klingon thing was quickly making a shambles of the salubrious effects of the past three days. Kral and his men had invaded a sovereign Federation territory when they landed on Serenidad. They had raped and tortured the young Princess Teresa, and had almost killed her husband, Carlos. In addition, Kral's cruiser, the Devastator, had destroyed a Serenidad System Patrol cruiser and the Federation destroyer Ares. To top it off, the landing party had murdered numerous Starfleet personnel and many of the royal palace guards. And the Klingons were getting off scot-free! It was incredible! The ordeal had almost destroyed young Teresa's mind, but Spock, in a totally selfless act, healed the young woman by entering into a mind-meld with her and taking the psychic pain into himself. How much longer could the Federation afford to overlook this Klingon "outlaw policy." Those fuzz-faced demons could get away with murder. If they succeeded in one of their illegal forays into Federation territory, no one would be the wiser. But if they failed, High Command could simply claim that the unfortunate incident was the act of an outlaw, knowing that the Federation would do anything to avoid a war with the Empire. Kirk sighed again. All this agonizing was only raising his blood pressure. He would have to put it out of his mind for now and concentrate on the task at hand.
"Captain Kirk. All shore leave parties except one are now on board." Uhura hesitated, her gaze flickering toward Lieutenant Chekov at the Weapons Control console. "Missing personnel are Ensign Riggins of Security and Lieutenant Spring of Communications."
Kirk swiveled to face her, a frown curling his brow. "Taryn's missing? That's not like her at all, Commander. Riggins I can understand...he's something of a rounder, and there've been several times he's come beaming back aboard just seconds before we'd warp out of orbit. But Taryn's always been an exceptional officer. I hope she's all right."
Chekov cleared his throat. He looked embarrassed. "Scott said they vere going to a place called Solon's pleasure spa for some, uh, 'tummy-bumping' vas the vay he put it."
There was a general reaction of amusement on the bridge. Sulu turned and grinned at his young Russian friend, who now blushed bright red, and DiFalco unsuccessfully attempted to stifle a very unladylike snicker. Spock glanced up from the instruments he was calibrating, raising his eyebrows in a long-suffering 'why me?' look. Even Kirk had to chuckle slightly, and he relaxed a little. At least if Spring was with Riggins, she'd be well-protected. A man would have to be insane to challenge the bear-like strength of the strapping security man. They'd just better get their butts back on board in forty minutes, though, or he'd have no choice but to declare them AWOL.
But Uhura was not amused. She glared at Chekov. "You let Taryn go on shore leave with that...that satyr? She'll be too tired to work for a week!"
Chekov squirmed under her accusing gaze. "Vwhat was I supposed to do? Vwhat my men do with their leisure time is their business. Besides, Taryn is one of your people, not mine," he finished triumphantly.
"All right, people, that's enough!!" Kirk chided grinning. "Let's get back to work. They'll probably show up at the last minute, if I know Riggins!"
But they didn't show up at the last minute.
Pre-launch countdown came and went. Kirk made a final check with Scotty on the operational status of the warp engines. They had taken quite a beating with all the sustained Warp Twelve speed the Enterprise had been pushed to during the Serenidad mission, but the chief engineer proudly reported that everything was in top shape. "Me bairns are purrin' like kittens, Cap'n," he chortled. "They'll take anything ye kin throw at 'em...but they'd appreciate it if ye could lay off the maximum warp mode for a while!"
"Understood, Scotty." Kirk chuckled. "Captain out." He focused his attention on the helm-navigation console directly in front of him. "Chief DiFalco, lay in a course for the Cetus Void. Mister Sulu, take us out on impulse power. Warp Zero point Nine-five until we leave the system, then cruise at Warp Six for the duration."
"Station dock signals clear, sir. They've released us," Uhura reported. She paused, taking a deep breath. "Captain, can't we wait just a few more minutes? Taryn has a spotless service record, and I'd hate to see it spoiled over this."
"Negative, Uhura." Kirk was feeling testy again. He could care less what people did on their shore leaves, but, damn it all, they'd better be back on board and ready to go at departure time! "They knew when we were leaving. Starfleet wants a survey of the Cetus Void region. It's unexplored territory, and they're interested in seeing if there are any class M planets worth our attention. I can't hold up this ship just because a couple of junior officers are too busy rutting their brains out to report back for duty on time! Maybe at your next departmental meetings, you and Lieutenant Chekov can impress the importance of punctuality upon your people."
He immediately regretted saying it. He was on edge over the Klingon situation and having two of his people fail to report back from shore leave had only exacerbated his poor disposition. Personal pique had no place in starship command. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "That was uncalled for. But I still can't hold up the launch, Uhura. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," she said, smiling wearily. "But I'm still worried. Neither one of them answered my page signal, and I can't even locate their communicators." Kirk grinned tightly. "They probably turned them off so they wouldn't be disturbed. I don't think there's a person on board who hasn't done it at one time or another." He looked directly at the lovely communications chief, his eyes crinkling with amusement. "I've done it myself on occasion!"
Uhura looked somewhat flustered. "Yes, sir, uh, I know...uh, I mean, I can imagine!"
"Try to raise them one more time," Kirk suggested. "If you still can't get them, then I'm afraid you'll have to report them AWOL to Starfleet Port Authority. Port Security will have to detain them in the brig until such time as we can swing back this way to pick them up."
"Aye, sir." Uhura turned back to her board, but after several futile attempts to contact the errant crewmembers, she was forced to give up. "I'll alert Security on K-43 to keep an eye out for them," she said quietly, her eyes downcast.
"I'm sorry," Kirk said sincerely. He was vaguely worried that something might have happened to Spring and Riggins, but he tried to brush it aside. He just did not have the time to worry about it right now. All he could do was hope that the burly security man had managed to keep them out of trouble. "Ahead space normal speed, Mister Sulu. Sublight factor Zero point Nine-five."
Spock had stepped down from the science console to stand by the comm. There was a hint of a frown on his lean features. "Most unusual, Captain," the Vulcan murmured. "Despite the fact that he is somewhat rambunctious when he goes on shore leave, Ensign Riggins is still a good, well-trained officer, and as you yourself stated, Lieutenant Spring's record is excellent. It does not seem likely that both of them would forget to at least contact the ship."
Kirk smiled gently. "Mister Spock, being somewhat more familiar with Human sexual behavior than you are, let me assure you that it's just possible that the two of them became so wrapped up in one another that they may have trouble even remembering that there is a ship to contact!"
The first officer's eyebrows canted alarmingly as he pondered Kirk's remark. "Fascinating," was all he could say.
Kirk settled back in the command chair. He concentrated on the forward viewscreen trying to relax, but his stomach rumbled ominously. He was working on a monumental case of indigestion, what with Klingons, missing crewpersons, and God knew what else. If he wasn't careful, he'd end up with an archaic stress ailment which was once called an ulcer.
He would make it a point to look up McCoy first chance he got.
He had come aboard in a large packing case which had been beamed up from Gamma Eridani IV.
It had been fairly simple, really. Once the cavernous cargo deck had quieted down, he had slipped out of the crate and blended into the crowd. Clad in the uniform he had purloined from Riggins, he had walked the corridors of the Enterprise at will, becoming familiar with the layout of the great starship. It was exhilarating; here he was, almost rubbing shoulders with the people who would become victims of the beast inside him! And he was amazed at the number of young, exquisitely healthy females aboard this vessel...for the creature preferred to take humanoid females as prey. It was not a question of males being stronger, or more dangerous, or harder to kill, for no man alive could stand up to the slashing claws and fangs of the werewolf. No, it was much simpler than that. Females were normally less muscular, and, consequently, their flesh was softer, more tender, and sweeter.
In the final analysis, it was simply a matter of taste.
He hurried along now. The blood-lust was rising in him, becoming almost uncontrollable. More than once he had been the recipient of some odd stares when he eyed a soft, pulsing throat a little too hungrily. It would be disastrous to allow the transformation to occur in full view of starship personnel, for when the kill-hunger had been satiated, he would like to return to his Human form and mix with the crew again.
It was a perfect method of hiding from those who would wish to track down the beast.
He had found a section of Level Five that was normally reserved for visiting dignitaries and ambassadors. It was not in use at present. The dark, deserted corridors suited him perfectly, and he quickly stripped off the Starfleet uniform which he hid behind a ventilation duct. Then he relaxed his body and opened his mind, allowing the animal strength and fury to seep into his system.
He felt his flesh crawl as the change began.
Not very far away, Transporter Technician Linda Parkins wearily trudged into her quarters. It had been a long, trying day, and now all she wanted to do was grab a quick shower and head for the mess hall. This was her first deep-space assignment. She was fresh out of the Academy, and she felt very fortunate to be assigned to the most famous and celebrated starship in the fleet. After today, though, she realized she still had an awful lot to learn, but she welcomed the challenge. She had spent most of the day shuttling back and forth between Chief Engineer Scott and Transporter Chief Janice Rand, who supplied her with so much data that she felt like a victim of terminal sensory overload! It was exciting, but Parkins knew it would also be a lot of work. She really didn't mind, though.
The pretty, youthful woman sighed and locked the door behind her. She barely paused long enough to strip off her soiled uniform before stepping into the sonic shower unit. The hot, steamy water seemed as gentle as a caress. She let the spray cascade over her shapely young body as she ran her hands through her silken mass of auburn hair. There was something almost sensuous about the liquid torrent that sluiced over her shoulders and breasts. She relaxed for the first time that day, giving in to the enjoyment of the shower.
She had no idea that bloody death stalked the corridors just outside her door.
The prowling creature paused, sniffing the air. This section of Level Five was almost deserted just now, as most crewmembers had gone to the mess for dinner hour. But its keen senses detected a female behind this sliding door it now stood in front of. The door would not budge at first, but powerful muscles easily forced and destroyed the safety lock. The werewolf stealthily slipped inside and stood in the shadows of the darkened room. Its shaggy fur stood on end, tingling in anticipation of the kill.
The translucent door panel of the shower stall slid aside, and Parkins stepped out. Her naked body was pink and clean and dry. She lay casually across her bunk, a contented smile on her face. The woman picked up a hairbrush from a bedside stand and began to brush in firm, even strokes.
She barely caught the movement out of the corner of her eye.
Something large, dark and furry leaped at her with incredible speed. Impossibly sharp fangs and claws gleamed in the low lighting as the beast's right arm began a deadly, downward arc.
Parkins' mouth dropped open in terror, but before she could scream, she no longer had a throat.
Ensigns Clete Williams and Dan Hart of Starfleet Station K-43's security team stopped for a breather in the shadows of an abandoned building. It was sweltering even in the shade today as Gamma Eridani's blazing red sun climbed toward the meridian. Williams glanced at his chronometer. Another standard hour before a relief guard showed up! He hoped they both wouldn't dehydrate before then!
Hart mopped his sweaty brow and exhaled loudly. "Where in Hell do you think lover boy is, Clete?"
Williams chuckled. He had graduated from the Academy with Riggins, and they had remained close friends through the ensuing years. "If I know Scott, he grabbed that little babe and took her right to Solon's. He stops there every time he gets to Gamma for shore leave. Boy, he really got his ass in the fire this time!"
"Solon's is only about a block away," Hart said. "Why don't we go check it out?"
"Good idea," Williams agreed. "The girl will probably thank us if they've been at it all night. She'll be walking funny for a week!"
But the two security officers ran into a dead end at the elegant pleasure spa. No, the clerk said, there had been no Starfleet people checking in last night. Besides, he would have recognized Riggins...he was a regular customer whenever he got in.
"It doesn't make sense!" Williams exclaimed as he and Hart strode back out into the blistering heat. "Solon's is the only pleasure spa on this planet, and Scott lives in those dammed places when he's off-ship! Maybe something happened to 'em on the way." His eyes narrowed as he gazed at a blighted area of empty, derelict buildings and garbage-cluttered alleyways in the middle distance. "Maybe they came through the 'Combat Zone' over there. Scott loves a good fight, and sometimes I think he goes out of his way to find 'em!"
The two men split up when they reached the 'Zone.' Williams poked through the rubble of a condemned, deserted building. There was a knot in his stomach. This place gave him the creeps, and the sooner he could get out of it, the better! He hoped nothing had happened to his old friend.
Suddenly, he heard a commotion outside. He frowned, and stepped back out to see what was going on.
Dan Hart bolted from the entrance of a dark, grimy alley. He had lost his helmet, and his eyes were wild beneath his mop of brown hair. "Clete!" he gasped. "Back in the alley...My God, it's Riggins! He's dead!"
"Dead?" Williams asked, stunned. "What the hell happened to him?"
"Dunno!" Hart was fighting off hysteria. Something had scared him to within an inch of his life. His words tumbled over one another. "He's dead! He's stark naked, and there's a bruise on his throat, and he's dead!!"
Williams' heart sank. No wonder Riggins hadn't beamed back up to the Enterprise. Saddened as he was, though, his curiosity was aroused by his companion's frenzied state. "What in Hell's wrong with you, Danny? You've seen dead men before!"
"Not Riggins! The girl...at least, I think it's the girl! That's what shook me up!" He paused, taking a deep breath. His face was as white as bone; the look in his eyes said that he would be haunted by what he had seen for the rest or his life. He shuddered, trying to calm himself down before he spoke again.
"Jesus Christ, Clete!" he whispered. "The girl...something ate her!!"
The beast loped silently along the corridors of the great starship. It had moved from level to level using access shafts and gangways, and thus far had remained undetected. Its taut, muscular stomach rumbled. It had not fed on the female it had killed earlier. Its blood-lust had been temporarily sated by ripping out her throat and tearing apart her slender young body. The werewolf had left the bloody, mutilated remains lying on the scarlet-soaked bed and gone off in search of new prey. Now, however, the hunger had come, burning like a brand in its gut.
It was time to feed once again.
The creature tested the air for scent. It suddenly growled in surprise as its senses picked up the wonderful, fragrant aroma of living plants and trees. A forest?! A haven of safety and freedom aboard a space-going vessel! There was also a trace of Human scent coming from the same area, but it was just a little too faint yet to determine whether a male or female walked there.
After a few minutes of following its nose, the werewolf padded noiselessly into the starship's herbarium. It was glorious! Brightly-hued plants and flowers from all over the galaxy grew in profusion. There were trees and shrubs of all kinds, and the air was heavy with the moist, earthy smell of growing things.
But the beast's attention was focused on something else altogether.
Its sharp, feral eyes discerned the lithe form of a young woman kneeling by a row of exotic alien flowers in the semi-darkness.
Lieutenant Selena Curtiss took another soil sample. She was hungry, and she wanted to get to supper like everyone else, but she couldn't rush these tests. For some reason, these Arcturian Fire Cacti weren't doing well at all, and it would be a shame to lose them. The young lieutenant took a small cutting from one of the plants and packed it in the glass tube with the sandy earth she had scooped up. There, that was it. She could analyze her samples when she got back to the Exobotany lab...after dinner. She stood up and turned right into the outstretched arms of the werewolf.
Curtiss' arms flailed in helpless terror, but her scream died in her throat before it was fully born. The beast's long ivory fangs sank into the soft flesh of her neck like a knife slicing through butter. It sucked and tore at her ravaged throat while one huge paw opened her stomach. Finally, the woman's frenzied kicking subsided. The wolf creature ripped away her uniform, completely stripping her to get at the tender flesh underneath. Then it shredded the limp, broken body with its claws in a bestial fury.
The beast licked her blood from its lips. There was a fullness in its chest; it wanted to howl, to proclaim its victory over its helpless prey, but some instinct told it no...it would be too dangerous. Instead, it reached down and grabbed one of the dead woman's bloody wrists. There was a copse of trees nearby where it could enjoy its grisly feast in peace.
The werewolf dragged the mangled corpse toward the trees, leaving in its wake a horrible, gory stream of blood and entrails.
The day had been long and uneventful, almost boring. Kirk and Spock had retired to the captain's quarters for an after-dinner game of chess, trying to relax. They would reach the Cetus Void region sometime tomorrow "afternoon," ship's time, and perhaps then things would liven up a bit. But the captain found he was having trouble concentrating on his game. Time and again his attention wandered, and he found himself thinking of the two missing crewmembers.
"Your move, Captain."
"What? Oh, sorry, Spock," Kirk muttered. "I still keep wondering about Riggins and Spring. I've never had anyone go AWOL on me, never! I keep thinking maybe I could have done something to prevent it."
"That is highly unlikely, Jim," Spock said. "It is possible that their absence is due to circumstances beyond their control."
"That's what worries me," Kirk sighed deeply and sat back in his chair. "We still haven't heard from Gamma Eridani Four. I'd have thought K-43 Security would have found them by now, or I'd hope that the two of them at least had enough integrity to turn themselves in."
"Perhaps you should send a message back to the station if you do not hear from them soon," Spock suggested. "At least you could discover if any progress has been made."
"Good idea, Spock." Kirk studied the board a moment, saw an opening, and pounced, triggering a quirked eyebrow from his Vulcan friend. "Checkmate," Kirk said grinning. "I'll give K-43 another half-hour, then I'll call."
As it turned out, he didn't have to wait that long.
Kirk and Spock had just begun a second match when they were interrupted by the buzz of the captain's intercom. He rose from the chess alcove, re-entered his quarters, and activated the wall viewer in his office. The display lit up with the face of Ensign Paula Walston, who manned the communications console on third shift in place of the absent Taryn Spring. "Kirk here."
"Sorry to disturb you, sir, but I have Commodore Claiborne from K-43 on line," the woman reported.
"Put it on visual for me, Ensign," Kirk requested.
The craggy face of the commander of Starfleet Station K-43 swam into focus. "Jim? Mark Claiborne here."
"Commodore! Good to hear from you. Do you have any news about our missing people? Have you found them?"
Claiborne looked suddenly weary. "I'm afraid we have, Jim, and the news isn't good. Both of them are dead. Riggins was killed by an expert blow to his throat. It was the only mark on his body. But Lieutenant Spring..." He closed his eyes, as if trying to blink away a nightmare. "I saw what was left of her. Some thing literally tore her in half and...and ate her."
It was several seconds before Kirk could find his voice. "What...what do you mean 'some thing,' Mark?" The captain's face was taut with horror. "W-what could have done something that gruesome?"
"We don't know," Claiborne replied. "Some kind of large animal, maybe. There've been twenty-seven similar murders on Gamma over the past three standard months. All but four of the victims have been young women. I'm telling you, Jim, whatever it was, it didn't leave enough of the poor kid to put in a bucket. We identified her by cross matching dental records from the computer against the teeth in the victim's skull...or what was left of it."
"My God!" Kirk whispered. "What about Ensign Riggins?"
"That's the funny part," Claiborne said, frowning. '"Like I said, there wasn't a mark on him, save for the bruise on his throat where his windpipe had been smashed. But Jim...he was naked as a jaybird. We couldn't find his uniform anywhere."
"What's that?" Kirk's eyes narrowed. "Is there a chance..."
Claiborne shook his head. "We thought of that, too. We don't see how it's possible for Riggins to have been murdered by the same fiend who butchered Spring. Riggins was killed cleanly, a single blow to the throat. But the girl was simply and wantonly slaughtered. It was obviously two totally different methods of operation. We have no idea yet why either of them were killed."
"Well, thank you for the information, Commodore," Kirk said dully. "I'd appreciate it if you could handle the funeral arrangements, because I have no idea how long we'll be out here. I'll take care of notifying the families."
"Will do, Jim. I'm sorry I had to drop it on you like this."
"That's all right." Kirk wearily rubbed his eyes. "It's just that I can't stomach such a tragic waste. They were just kids!!"
"I'll do everything I can to track down the killers," Claiborne said softly. "Rest assured I'll contact you immediately if we turn up anything. Claiborne out."
Ensign Walston's image came back on. "Would you like me to inform Lieutenant Chekov and Commander Uhura, sir?" the woman asked gently.
"No, no," he muttered. "That's my job. Thank you, Ensign. Kirk out." He turned to Spock, who had come to stand behind him during the transmission. "Did you catch all that, Spock? What do you make of it?"
"Most perplexing, Jim." The Vulcan frowned, clasping his hands behind his back. "Two of our people are murdered within mere meters of one another, but by two completely different methods. I cannot understand why Ensign Riggins was not as brutally mauled as Lieutenant Spring. Or, conversely, why she was not slain as bloodlessly as the ensign. It makes little sense."
"Murder never makes sense, Mister Spock," Kirk grated bitterly. He slowly stood up. "I'm afraid we'll have to postpone our chess match to a later date. I've got a couple of people I have to talk to, and I'm not looking forward to it at all."
"I understand, Captain," his first officer replied. "If I can be of any assistance..."
"Thank you," Kirk murmured, grinning fondly at his friend. "I appreciate that, but I'll take care of it." He watched the tall Vulcan exit through the chess alcove into his own quarters. Then he turned to leave, himself.
It was going to be a long night.
He had not anticipated that the blood-lust would become a problem.
He had taken Human form once again, and now he stood in the shadows of the dark corridor, shrugging into his appropriated uniform. The beast was becoming harder and harder to control; his animal self was in a constant state of excitation due to the ready availability of potential prey. Normally, it would not have concerned him, as he enjoyed the power of the werewolf, and the excitement and gratification of the hunt and the kill. But it could be dangerous here. Granted, there were countless places for the wily creature to hide, but the more it slew, the greater was the risk of being seen while bringing down a victim. It could not be too much longer before someone uncovered the gory remains of one or the other of its previous kills.
And the beast had killed again.
After feeding upon the female it had taken in the herbarium, the werewolf had started back toward this corridor to metamorphose once again into its man-shape. Along the way, it had surprised an unfortunate trio of engineering officers on their way to the mess hall. The woman and her two male companions had fallen to the deadly talons like wheat before a thresher. It had hidden the remains in a maintenance cubicle. The beast would have no need to devour its prey for some time now, but the kill-hunger, the necessity to rend its victims into unrecognizable lumps of raw, bleeding meat was raging out of control.
The man trembled violently. The werewolf did not wish to be contained, and he fought against the raging animal fury that struggled to burst out at any second. He felt trapped. It was necessary to keep a low profile for a while. The scheduled mealtime would soon be over, and the corridors of the starship would once again buzz with activity. But he was not sure how long he could restrain the creature within. Even now, he could feel an occasional involuntary facial spasm as his lips twitched into a snarl.
He strode hastily out into a branching corridor. It was a desperate move. He would take a turbolift and try to get below decks where there would be less chance of discovery should he relinquish control to the monster.
He was so preoccupied that he ran into the young woman, almost knocking her flat.
Lieutenant Tina Heinriede of Astrosciences was returning to her quarters from dinner. He had not heard her light footfall as she came down the corridor.
Now she turned to glare at him as she recovered her balance.
"Why don't you..." she began, but stopped short when she saw the look on his face. His eyes were red, like two glowing coals! It couldn't be! He moaned in what sounded like anguish, roughly pushing past her and bolting back into the darkened diplomatic quarters area.
Heinriede hurried on her way, badly shaken by the encounter. She had never seen the crewman before. And he was so strange! The young woman shuddered as she remembered the wild snarl on his face. She had better report this to security... but after she was safely back in her quarters.
Suddenly her blood froze as she heard a quiet, sinister sound behind her. It was totally out of place on a starship, the almost noiseless, ticking sound of footpads and claws scraping the floor. She quickened her pace, then broke into a run when she heard a low growl.
She slipped and fell, and the beast had her.
She found she could not scream, even though this creature was the most horrifying apparition she had ever seen, even though the pain inflicted by its raking claws was excruciating. She lay on her back on the floor, watching in a sort of nightmarish fascination for as long as she lived, watching as blood and chunks of torn flesh and great scraps of her uniform flew in all directions.
As the huge, shaggy head lunged for her throat, Heinriede realized with a start that the misshapen thing she had seen bouncing off a wall was one of her mangled, severed arms.
It was the last thing she ever saw.
It was always quiet on Level Five during mess. It gave a man time to think. And as he usually did on these uneventful turns around the ship, Ensign Dave Bowers was thinking that maybe he wasn't exactly cut out for this type of work.
Not that Security was a bad job. It was just that he didn't really consider himself to be a physical type. He had been thinking about asking for a transfer to Engineering. He had a bit of background in that field, and he wouldn't mind going back for intensive training to get into a new field. But he had held up on the request. He liked Lieutenant Chekov, and the Russian security chief had lost several good men during the recent Klingon ploy on Serenidad. He didn't want to leave his superior short.
Things were easing up now, though. They had taken on several replacements on Gamma Eridani IV. They'd be sufficiently trained in about another week and then Bowers wouldn't feel so guilty about asking for a transfer. He was looking forward to that day eagerly.
The young security man rounded a corner into a branch corridor and stopped up short, frowning. He walked down the hall a little way.
He suddenly became very nauseous.
There were splashes of scarlet on the floor here that looked suspiciously like blood. A lot of it. Their origin point seemed to be a cabin two doors down. The pneumo-door to the quarters stood slightly open, which was odd. Bowers cautiously drew his phaser. He approached the room, pausing only long enough to glance at the nameplate on the wall. It read, Linda C. Parkins, Transporter Technician, First Class.
The door had been forced. There were no jimmy marks on it to indicate that a tool had been used, however. It appeared to have been done by strength alone. Bowers shuddered involuntarily. Twenty men couldn't have done this! He tried to calm his queasy stomach. He didn't want to go in there because he was almost sure of what he would find. But he had to.
Even the bravest man in the galaxy would have been unprepared for what Bowers found in that darkened room.
Bowers had seen Linda Parkins several times in the corridors since she had signed on for duty. It was hard to believe that this mangled, bloody thing on the gore-soaked bed had once been a beautiful young woman. Whoever had done this to her had slashed and mutilated literally every square inch of her flesh. Her throat was gone; there was blood everywhere, splashed on the walls, the floor, even the ceiling. She lay in a great pool of it. Bowers' mind reeled crazily at his grisly discovery. He wanted to scream, but could not. It seemed to him that there was more blood and gore in this room than one Human body could possibly hold. His stomach turned over and over, but somehow he controlled it.
After a while, Bowers forced his shaky legs to move. He shambled over to her bureau and rummaged through the drawers until he found a clean bedsheet. He wanted to cover her up, to afford what was left of her what little dignity he could. He accidentally bumped into the dead woman's shoulder as he put the sheet over her, and he lunged back in horror.
So much flesh had been torn from her throat that when he touched her, her head fell from her shoulders. It thumped to the floor and rolled over once or twice, coming to rest with its torn, bleeding face turned upward.
And Bowers lost it altogether then. He went to his knees, vomiting violently, his tortured stomach heaving brutally even long after there was nothing else to bring up.
Somehow, he finally managed to crawl over to the wall 'com unit and turn in the intruder alert call.
Leonard McCoy shuffled wearily into his office and slumped into a lounger, heedless of the bloodstained operating gown he wore. There were many horrible ways to die; he had seen most of them in his extensive travels throughout the galaxy. But this gore-spattered butchery was too much even for him. His sickbay had been transformed into a temporary morgue. The bloody Human remains spread on the autopsy tables looked like the contents of a slaughterhouse scrap pile. He glanced up at his three visitors, his red-rimmed eyes standing out in his pale face. Kirk, Spock, and Doctor Chapel had been there all night, ever since the first 'intruder alert' signal had been called in. Spock looked as impassive as ever, and Christine Chapel, while her face was white and pinched with horror, seemed to be holding up all right. But there was a haunted expression of anguish in Jim Kirk's eyes. McCoy knew how the captain felt: he suffered the death of each crewmember as a father suffered the death of a child.
Right now, he had plenty to suffer about.
"I need a drink," McCoy rasped raggedly. "Anyone care to join me?"
The Vulcan and Chapel declined, but Kirk nodded assent to the offer. McCoy poured each of them a glass of their favorite Saurian brandy. He put the bottle back in his medicine cabinet, then sank back in his chair once again, wearily closing his eyes.
"There's no way I'll be able to identify the one they found in the herbarium," he said quietly. "There wasn't enough left. We'll just have to wait and see who turns up missing and isn't accounted for...provided there's no one else missing right now that we don't know about."
"Bones," Kirk asked in a small voice. "What is this thing? What kind of a monster could do all this?"
"I have no idea, Jim," McCoy responded tightly. "All I can tell you is that whatever it is, it's got fangs and claws and has thick, coarse brown fur. And it's an extremely vicious carnivore."
"Brown fur?" Kirk queried, his head snapping up attentively.
"Yes. I found hair under the fingernails of the five victims who weren't..."
McCoy fumbled for words. "Who weren't consumed," he finally finished, shuddering. "Of course, I couldn't find anything even remotely resembling hands on the sixth victim."
Spock had sat silently, resting his chin on tented fingertips. Now he spoke up, carefully and thoughtfully choosing his words. "Jim...Doctor McCoy...does anything about these murders strike you as being somewhat odd? Think for a moment about the role of the predator in nature. Why does it kill?"
"To survive, of course," Kirk said after a moment. "It kills to eat, and it eats to live."
"Precisely," the Vulcan replied. "Yet this creature has devoured only one of its kills. The remaining five were wantonly, viciously butchered, as though the creature enjoyed killing. Does this not suggest to you some sort of malevolent intelligence? Only a few species in the galaxy kill for sport, or for the sheer joy of killing. Of course, I am primarily referring to the species Homo sapiens sol, Homo sagittarii and their related branches scattered on various planets. In nature, predators kill only for survival."
"Spock, are you trying to tell me this...this beast is a humanoid?" McCoy bristled.
"Perhaps, Doctor," the science officer answered, unruffled. "You recall the so-called 'salt vampire' of M-113. This creature possessed sapient intelligence, and it slew at will." Spock paused momentarily as something occurred to him. "Fascinating. Doctors, Captain, suppose that like the M-113 creature, our intruder is a 'shape-changer.' Suppose it can assume Human form. It might help to explain how it managed to come aboard undetected, and how it has so successfully eluded our security details thus far."
"But, Mister Spock, if this thing has the cunning of an animal, it could hide almost anywhere on a ship the size of the Enterprise," Doctor Chapel pointed out. "It could go below decks and lose itself for weeks on end."
"Wait a minute, though!" Kirk exclaimed, sitting bolt upright. "The uniform! When they found Riggins' body on Gamma Eridani Four, his uniform was missing! Maybe this thing saw a way to get off-planet. Mark Claiborne said that a number of people had been killed by some kind of ravening animal. In all likelihood, the same creature that's now aboard the Enterprise. It killed Riggins for his uniform, and then...then its beast form got poor Taryn."
"Which would make the creature doubly dangerous," Spock intoned somberly. "If it can assume the guise of a Human or humanoid, it can mix in with the crew when not in animal form."
"Good God!" McCoy exclaimed, the horror of the situation dawning on him. "How are we ever going to find it?"
"I know how we're going to start," Kirk said grimly. He went to McCoy's desk and flipped on the vidicom terminal. "Lieutenant Chekov, call Sickbay immediately," he said into the 'send' grid. "Lieutenant Chekov, call Sickbay."
The Russian's round, youthful face appeared on the screen seconds later. He looked somewhat haggard. The news of Riggins' death had hit him hard, but he seemed to be shaking it off satisfactorily. He had taken it better than poor Uhura, though, Kirk reflected. The communications chief had lost her two best people in the space of three standard months--first, Lieutenant Kris Jansen over Delta-Vega, and now Taryn Spring. That was an awful lot for anyone to bear up under.
"Lieutenant Chekov here, sir," the security chief reported.
"Lieutenant, I want you to round up all the replacements we took on at Gamma Eridani Four. While you're at it, round up any crewmember who looks at all unfamiliar to you. I want all of these people detained in the brig. It might ruffle a few feathers, but there's a chance that one of these people is our intruder," Kirk finished.
"But, sir, I don't know all of our regular crew on sight. What if I take in someone who isn't a replacement?" the Russian asked.
"Run their I.D. card through the computer scan," Kirk returned. "If they're regular crew, apologize, and let them go. I can't worry about people's feelings right now. There's a killer on board."
"Aye, sir," Chekov acknowledged. "I'll get on it right away. Chekov out."
"One moment, Lieutenant. Bear in mind that the killer might not be a crewmember at all," Kirk cautioned. "It might be someone..." He had almost said 'some thing'; no use upsetting anyone else until he had more data. "...someone dressed in a stolen uniform. And it's my guess that it'll be a security ensign's uniform."
"Riggins' uniform?" Chekov asked quietly.
"It's possible, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir," the young Russian finished. "I vwill look carefully. Chekov out."
The security chief's image flickered out, and Kirk began to pace restlessly. "I don't know what else we can do right now. We'll just have to hope we can bring this thing down before it strikes again."
McCoy's intercom buzzed. "Message for Captain Kirk," Ensign Paula Walston's voice said.
Kirk activated the com unit again. The woman's dark, pretty face crackled into focus on the screen. "Go ahead, Ensign."
"A Priority One message from Admiral Nogura at Starfleet Command," the communications officer reported, her voice tinged with awe and respect.
Kirk started. Heihachiro Nogura himself! The message must be extremely important. Getting a call from Nogura was tantamount to opening a direct line to God! The captain suddenly found himself feeling inexplicably nervous. "Put it on visual, Ensign," Kirk said, clearing his throat.
He found himself facing the strong, dignified visage of the Oriental admiral. Nogura's vibrant voice filled McCoy's office. "Jim, I got back to you as quickly as I could. I have been in contact with Commodore Claiborne on Gamma Eridani Four. It seems your intruder is an escaped prisoner from Lyndrax Three."
Kirk and McCoy shot startled glances at each other, and Spock's eyebrows lifted in what was for him an expression of astonishment. "Fascinating!" the Vulcan breathed. "Lyndrax is a closed system. Its inhabitants refuse to have any contact with other galactic intelligences, and space travel to and from its planets is forbidden under penalty of death. The reason for this isolation is a mystery."
"You're right, Commander," Nogura continued. "A law enforcement officer from Lyndrax Three, an Enforcer Trevlek, has been given special dispensation by the Lyndraxian High Council to leave the system and pursue this man, whose name is Luka."
"A man, Admiral?" Kirk asked incredulously.
Nogura's expression became grave. "As I'm sure you've guessed by now, Captain Kirk, this is no ordinary man. He has left a trail of blood and death across six star systems, always managing to stay one jump ahead of Officer Trevlek. Trevlek arrived on Gamma Eridani Four just hours after you left with this Luka stowed away on board. It's the closest he's ever come to apprehending him."
"Heihachiro," Kirk asked slowly. "What is he? I mean, what else is he?"
The admiral sighed deeply, "I'd rather not say, Jim. Trevlek is on his way to rendezvous with the Enterprise. There are two reasons why I'd rather let him explain it to you. One is that I'm having a hard time believing what he told me myself. The second is that the information is technically classified. If it leaked out, it could cause a shipwide panic."
"Admiral, six of my people have been horribly murdered!" Kirk exploded. "Counting the two on Gamma, that makes eight! If this keeps up, I'm going to have a panic on my hands no matter what!"
"I'm sorry, Jim. That is my final decision," Nogura said sternly. "Your orders have been amended. The Cetus Void probe is cancelled until further notice. You are to come about to course 182 mark 3 and proceed at Warp Twelve to rendezvous with the Federation destroyer, U.S.S. Hektor. Peacemaker Trevlek will be beamed aboard at that time. He is equipped to handle this Luka; he will deal with him, and will have a much better chance of success than your security people will." He paused, a troubled frown creasing his brow. "Jim, I can't emphasize enough how dangerous this escapee is. You must defend yourselves against him as best you can. Restrict movement on the ship only to that which is necessary for normal duty functions. Do not expose yourselves to unnecessary danger. Do not, repeat, do not, seek him out. Regrettably, he will come to you again, and again still; it is his nature. He cannot help but kill. I sincerely hope that Trevlek arrives before too many more of your people fall to this fiend."
"You mean we're supposed to sit here and let this thing pick us off one by one?!" McCoy ranted. "You make it sound as if it's a certainty that we can't stop it!!"
"Believe me, Doctor," Nogura began. "If you knew what I know..."
"I wish I did know what you know, Admiral!" Kirk cut in, raging. "You're asking us to crawl into our holes like frightened sheep and pray the bogeyman doesn't get us!"
"I'm not asking you to do anything, Captain; I'm ordering you!" Nogura said coldly. "Trevlek will handle this affair, and that's final! Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," Kirk returned tightly.
The admiral's expression softened. "Jim, I know what you're going through, believe me. But you've got to trust me when I tell you to wait for Trevlek. He's your only hope. And Jim..." Nogura paused, then heaved a deep sigh. "If by some chance Trevlek fails to destroy Luka, you must carry out Starfleet Order 2005! That beast must not reach another inhabited system!"
"You want us to blow up the Enterprise, and you won't tell us why?" McCoy raged.
"Please, Doctor, any questions you and the rest of the command crew have will be answered shortly, when Trevlek arrives," Nogura said patiently. "Jim, I've got to sign off now. I wish I could do more than wish you good luck, but...good luck!"
The transmission faded, and Kirk slumped dazedly back into his chair.
"How do you like that?" McCoy asked incredulously.
"I don't," Kirk grated. "But it seems as though I have no choice! Spock, the primary bridge crew is due to go on duty in another twenty minutes. We might as well head up there now. And I hope to Hell this Trevlek character shows up soon!"
He turned to McCoy and Chapel as he and the Vulcan headed for Sickbay's exit. "Hang with it, Bones. I hope your business slacks off."
The two physicians watched them leave, and McCoy grinned wryly at his colleague. "Well, Christine, all I can say is, amen to that!"
It was almost time for her shift to start, and she wondered how she would get through this day. Uhura removed the cold packs from her eyes and glanced at her reflection in the mirror. They were still swollen. The cold had helped somewhat, but it was hard to easily counteract a hard night of crying.
She still couldn't believe that Spring was dead. She was just a kid, a pretty little thing, so full of life. Uhura had come to know and like her young assistant very well in the short time she had known her. She had moved right in to take over the second communications officer position after Lieutenant Kris Jansen's tragic death. Needless to say, Spring had become an immense help to Uhura in the weeks that followed.
And now she was gone. Terribly, irrevocably gone, the victim of a senseless, incredibly bloody murder. No, slaughter would be the more precise term. The young woman had been looking forward to her shore leave, little realizing the horrible fate that would befall her.
Uhura checked her wall chronometer, dabbing at her teary eyes. Captain Kirk had been very understanding. He had told her she could skip her shift today, but she had declined. He had comforted her as best he could, then had wisely left her to come to grips with her grief in private. But it would be a long time before she would be able to accept this obscene loss.
The lovely Bantu woman took a deep breath, then left her quarters for the bridge. She would skip breakfast this morning, as she understandably had no appetite. She headed dazedly down the corridor toward the turbolift. She was lost in the muddle of her own somber thoughts.
When she finally sensed the lurking presence stalking the hallway in her wake, it was almost too late.
Uhura whirled around just as the werewolf sprang at her. The adrenalin surge of sheer terror saved her life. Without conscious thought, she dropped to the floor on her back. Her legs shot out and caught the beast in the stomach, propelling it against a bulkhead. The creature growled and shook its head violently, trying to clear it as Uhura scrambled to her feet and ran desperately for the turbolift access. The communications chief had gained several precious seconds; she did not know if they would be enough.
She plunged into the turbolift and locked the door behind her just as the beast thudded heavily against it. The lycanthrope howled in frustration, venting its fury at being cheated of its prey. It began to pound its clenched paws against the doors, trying to smash them down with pure animal strength.
Uhura cowered in the far corner of the car, drawing short, terrified sobs of breath. The pounding continued. She gasped as she watched the durasteel frame begin to buckle.
Suddenly, a fist-sized hole imploded inward. A furry, heavily-muscled arm thrust through the jagged opening, its outstretched, taloned paw groping blindly for its victim. The arm withdrew; the beast could now work on the breach until it had torn away enough of the door to enter the turbolift.
Somehow, Uhura forced her paralyzed vocal cords to work. "Bridge!" she screamed raggedly into the pickup. "BRIDGE!!!"
The turbolift shot upward toward the bridge. Uhura's trembling knees gave out. She could hear the maniacal keening of the man-shaped horror receding in the distance several decks below her as the car rapidly glided to its destination. After what seemed like an eternity, the doors parted, and she tumbled onto the bridge, almost hysterical with terror. Uhura was only vaguely aware that she was screaming and that Captain Kirk was shaking her by the shoulders.
"Uhura!! Calm down! It's all right; you're safe now!"
"Oh m-my G-G-God, Captain!" she sobbed. "It...it was horrible!! Some k-kind of a large, furry creature! I'm not s-sure if it w-was an animal, or a...a man! It was shaped like a man, but, oh God, that face!" She closed her eyes, shuddering. "Captain, it had the face of a...a wolf! It sprang at me and...and..." She was on the verge of collapse again. He ushered her to her chair at the communications console which Ensign Walston quickly vacated.
"Just rest easy, Commander," he said gently. "It's all over now. Spock, get McCoy up here on the double! Lieutenant Chekov, I want a security squad to Level Five immediately! Get out the heavy artillery; I want them armed with phaser rifles!"
Uhura seemed to be regaining her composure. She smiled shakily at Kirk, "I'll be all right, sir. I'm just a little shook up."
Kirk grinned at her. "That's quite understandable, Commander. If that had happened to me, I think I would've been more than 'just a little shook up!'"
She sobered suddenly. "Captain...did...did that thing kill Taryn?"
He nodded sadly. "I'm afraid so."
The lovely Bantu woman looked as though she was about to become physically ill. "Oh, my God!" she whispered. "What an obscene way to die!!"
"Captain," Spock cut in. "Doctor McCoy is on his way; he will be here momentarily."
"Good. Uhura, McCoy'll give you a sedative and check you over. Then, if you like, you can return to your quarters and forget about it for today. I'll have a security team escort you back."
"Oh no, sir!" Uhura exclaimed. "If it's all the same with you, I'm not budging from this console until this whole thing is over with!"
Kirk grinned at her. He was about to say something when Chekov spoke up from the security/weapons control console. "Kyptin Kirk! Security team on Level Five can find no trace of the creature! It has disappeared."
"It's there somewhere!" Kirk said emphatically. "C'mon, Spock. You and I are going down. No telling what that thing's up to!"
The captain and Spock hurried to the turbolift, hut Uhura rose from her chair to intercept them. "Captain, Mister Spock, please be careful!" she pleaded. "I was just lucky to get away. Whatever it is, it's a natural-born killer!"
"We'll keep that in mind, Commander," Kirk promised as he and the Vulcan entered the car. "You just take it easy now."
But as the turbolift dropped toward the fifth level, the captain wondered if being careful and lucky would be enough.
He wondered if he ought to try praying.
It all happened so quickly that none of them really knew what was going on until it was too late.
They were being very cautious. Ensign Pete Miller deployed his squad of nine security officers down the deserted corridors of Level Five, their high-powered phaser rifles at the ready. All they knew was that they were hunting some sort of large, vicious animal, and that they had been instructed by Lieutenant Chekov to use extreme caution; the beast had already slain eight of their fellow crewmembers.
Suddenly, the corridor rang with the horrifying sounds of death and mayhem. They heard a fearsome, feral growling, followed instantly by the piteous shrieks of an unfortunate who had just looked upon the face of doom. The screams segued into a ghastly gurgling noise. Then there was silence.
But only for a moment.
The security squad had been momentarily frozen by the horrifying sounds. They began to race down the long corridor toward the source of the disturbance.
And then they froze in their tracks once again as a blood-chilling howl floated through the air like the keening of a lost soul. Miller repressed a shudder, and he felt the hair of the nape of his neck standing on end. "Jesus Christ!" he exclaimed. "That sounds like the Devil himself! Let's go!!"
They bounded down the hallway, rounded a corner, and came face-to-face with a monster from Hell.
Miller did not have time to get a good look at the creature before it charged. He had a fleeting impression of a naked, mangled thing which once might have been a young woman. It hung, limp and bloody, clutched in sharp, recurved claws. A river of scarlet trailed back in through the open door of a cabin where Miller saw, out of the corner of his eye, an open ventilation grid in the far wall. So that was how the beast had tried to hide!
He had no more time for speculation. The wolf-thing threw aside its mutilated prey. Suddenly it was among them, slashing and tearing with fangs and claws. There was no time even to draw a bead on the whirling, howling creature, and within seconds, the corridor was littered with the dead and dying. Miller slammed the force dial setting on the rifle to 'disrupt' and fired at point-blank range.
The deadly beam had about as much effect as a throw pillow.
The glaring blue stream of energy passed through the creature's body and tore a jagged smoking hole in the wall behind it. The creature was not even stunned. And Miller never got a second chance to fire.
Kirk and Spock heard the luckless team leader's dying screams as they raced to the scene of the carnage. They came to an abrupt halt, and Kirk's stomach heaved at what he saw.
Lying amid a welter of blood were the bodies of ten men and one woman in various stages of dismemberment. The snarling, slavering beast whirled to face the newcomers. It bellowed with rage, and started forward.
Then it stopped.
The creature took one or two more uncertain steps. It stopped again and began to retreat, growling uncertainly. The alien with the pointed ears radiated an aura of strength. He would be a formidable opponent, and the beast had already risked too much by slaughtering all these helmeted Humans. Kirk and Spock raised their phasers and fired, but, just as before, the energy weapons had no effect. The werewolf howled insanely at them, clawing the air. Then it turned, scooped up the mauled corpse of its female victim, and disappeared down the corridor with uncanny speed.
Neither the captain nor the Vulcan spoke for several minutes. They stood numbly amid the bloodshed, and even the normally unflappable Spock seemed shaken by the horror and butchery.
"S-Spock, did you see its face? Good God!!" Kirk was ashen-faced; his hand trembled slightly as he lowered his phaser.
"I would say, Captain, that God had very little to do with this," the Vulcan commented drily. "The creature easily slaughtered ten well-trained security operatives. I believe that we are fortunate to be alive."
"Yes," Kirk muttered. "Too bad these men weren't." The captain's face contorted in anguish. His crew would be depending upon him to destroy this menace. But how could he? Ten men with phaser rifles had been unable to bring the beast down. In fact, the creature seemed impervious to a full-force phaser attack. If that couldn't stop it, what could?
Spock knew what was going through his friend's mind. "Jim," he said gently. "You yourself saw that our weapons had no effect on the creature; there was no way the security squad could have stopped it either. You cannot blame yourself for what has happened."
"Nineteen of my crew are dead, Spock," Kirk rasped brokenly. "Nineteen!! I'm the captain of this ship; I'm responsible for everything that has happened, and I've failed miserably. I've failed to prevent these senseless murders, and I've failed to stop the creature. But I'm not going to fail anymore! No one else is going to die!" He strode purposefully to a wall 'com unit and flipped the switch to 'intraship address' mode. "This is the captain speaking. All off-duty personnel are to report to the rec hall immediately, and will remain there until further notice. I repeat, all off-duty personnel are to report to the rec hall immediately. Captain out."
"Safety in numbers, Captain?" Spock queried.
"Only indirectly, Spock," Kirk answered. "Until now, this beast has taken its prey in secluded areas, and there has usually been only one victim, the only exception being the three engineering officers. It's quite capable of bringing down as many people as it wants. However, it seems to want to avoid drawing attention to itself as much as possible. I don't think it wanted a confrontation with all these security guards. It was driven to attack by the instinctive animal fear of losing its prey. I'm gambling that it won't try anything where there is such a large concentration of people, and maybe we can keep a lid on things until Trevlek arrives. And I just hope he can do something with this beast!" He punched a button on the 'com unit again. "Kirk to Bridge."
"Uhura here," came the filtered acknowledgment.
"Uhura?!" Kirk exclaimed. "Are you sure you feel up to it?"
"Yes, sir," she answered firmly. "I need to keep busy right now."
"Good! Is Doctor McCoy still there?"
"Yes, sir, I'll put him on right away." There was a brief pause, then the crusty physician come on line. "What is it, Jim? Are you and Spock all right?"
"We're fine, Bones, but there's a security team down here that wasn't so lucky. They ran into the creature, and..." Kirk paused soberly. "They're all dead."
"God, no!" McCoy murmured in horror. "How many?"
"Ten. Eleven altogether, counting a woman that the thing pulled out of her quarters." Kirk glanced at the nameplate next to the open cabin door. "An Ensign Susan Baker from Astronavigation. I never got to meet her, Bones. She'd been on the ship a while, and I try to make it a point to meet all my people personally. I never got around to see her." He paused, reflecting somberly. "Now I never will..."
"Can't anything stop that monster?"
"Bones, Spock and I shot it at point-blank range with our phasers on disrupt. It seemed as though the beams passed right through the thing without doing any damage." Kirk shook his head dazedly. "I don't know what we'll need to bring it down."
"Did you get a good look at it, Jim?" McCoy queried. "What did it look like?"
Kirk glanced at his first officer for support. The captain looked almost embarrassed; it was several seconds before he spoke. "Don't laugh, Bones," Kirk pleaded. "This thing matches the classic description of a mythical creature from the superstitious folklore of middle Europe."
"Like a werewolf."
The chief medical officer guffawed loudly. "A werewolf?! Next thing you'll be telling me is there're vampires below decks!"
"Doctor McCoy," Spock cut in. "You would not be laughing if you had seen the creature yourself. However incredible it may seem, this beast does match the description Captain Kirk referred to. And besides, no matter what it looks like, it has murdered nineteen people."
"Sorry," McCoy muttered, chastised. "It just seems so unbelievable."
"Well, never mind that for now," Kirk interrupted. "Bones, get down here with a medical team on the double. And bring some body bags with you. Unfortunately, your morgue is going to be busy again. Have Lieutenant Chekov dispatch another ten-man security squad to this area for your protection. I think you'll be all right in the meantime, though."
"Ten men couldn't handle this monster before. What makes you so sure we'll be safe?" McCoy asked suspiciously.
Kirk glanced over at Ensign Susan Baker's empty, bloodstained cabin. He shivered as he thought of what was even now probably happening to what was left of the poor woman. "I've got a feeling our werewolf is going to be busy for a while, Bones," he finished bitterly.
"I'll be down right away, Jim. McCoy out."
Kirk switched off the wall unit. He looked around the gore-spattered corridor, regarding the mangled remains of his crack security team one last time. Rage and horror and sorrow seared through his mind with the speed of lightning. He felt so helpless. He had been unable to do a thing for them. All he could do now was hope that Trevlek would be able to end the beast's reign of terror.
He turned to his Vulcan friend. "C'mon, Spock," he choked. "Let's get back to the bridge before I lose my breakfast."
Their visitor cut an imposing figure as he addressed the assemblage of Starfleet officers in the briefing room. Se'lon Trevlek was tall and muscular. He possessed the powerful, broad-shouldered, trim-waisted build of a weight lifter. The lawman was dressed in a comfortable black coverall devoid of insignia or ornamentation. It made him look like an Angel of Death. He wore a strange-looking pistol holstered low on his right hip. The man radiated strength, but Kirk decided there was also something vaguely sinister about him. His hair was thick and black and curly. It was close-cropped, just brushing the tips of his pointed ears on the sides. His eyes burned intensely like twin red stars under his bushy brows. When he smiled, he displayed fine, even rows of too-white, too-sharp teeth. The captain noted with a shudder that the pointed canines were extra long. And he was afraid he knew why.
Trevlek regarded the expectant faces now watching him from the long table. Kirk and Spock sat at one end. They were flanked at the left by McCoy and Chekov, and by Uhura and Scotty on the right.
The peace officer cleared his throat and began to speak. "You have been unable to defeat this creature in your midst," he began without preamble. "This is understandable; you do not know what you've been dealing with." He began to pace around the table. "Luka is a man with two faces. He has a beast within him, a beast whose only purpose is to kill and devoid humanoid prey. But Luka is even more dangerous. For you see, he is a killer even in his humanoid form. He has no conscience, no compunctions about killing whatsoever."
"Cap'n Kirk said he thought this beastie looked like a werewolf," Scotty challenged. He glanced at Kirk. "No disrespect intended, sir, but it sounds like a bunch o' poppycock to me."
Trevlek flashed his toothy grin. "Your captain is quite accurate, Commander Scott. We do not call the creature that on our planet, but it is the same applied to the beast in the ancient folklore of your home world. Certain chemical changes take place in the body of the unfortunate who is afflicted with the curse of, uh, I believe you call it 'lycanthropy.' The transformation can be controlled at will, except at the time of the full moon. Then the change rages out of control." He surveyed the ring of skeptical faces, "Really, my friends, there is nothing supernatural about it."
"You expect us to believe this?" Scott asked. "How is is that you know so much about this werewolf?"
Trevlek smiled sardonically. "Because, Mister Scott, I, too, am a werewolf!"
Chekov had his phaser out instantly.
"Belay that, Lieutenant," Kirk snapped. He turned his attention to the Lyndraxian. "Would you mind enlightening us, Mister?"
"Very well, Captain Kirk." He looked out past them, and his eyes misted over, as though he were seeing something very far away and very long ago. "It is a story steeped in antiquity. We are an ancient and advanced race. We have had starflight capability for eons, and thousands of years ago, our starships visited your planet Earth. They landed in an area that was once called Romania." He closed his eyes. "They intended only to observe, but something went wrong. Radiation from your sun affected the bodies of the crewmembers in a ghastly fashion. It triggered a vestigial gland that is an analog of the pineal gland in your Human physiology. The gland began to work overtime; it caused the physical and mental changes associated with lycanthropy."
"Yes," McCoy said. "It makes some sense. Endocrine imbalance. It can cause mental disorders, even unusual hirsuteness in Humans. But, God, never anything like this horror!"
Trevlek nodded. "The imbalance causes an atavism. You see, you Terrans are descended from a creature that was a link between man and anthropoid ape. On our world, the link is between humanoid and an extinct organism called a diren." He glanced up. "The diren was a wolf-like carnivore. At any rate, the space travelers from our planet ran amok among the peasants of old Earth, slaying at will." He averted his eyes. "Thus was born a bloody legend."
"Enforcer Trevlek," Spock intoned. "All this took place long ago on a planet thousands of lightyears away. How is it that this creature exists here and now?"
"Somehow, a number of those space travelers managed to return home to Lyndrax. Of course, as soon as they landed, they began to infect the inhabitants, until everyone was affected. Millions died before our scientists perfected a cranial implant which could control the change. And since the 'curse' is a genetic one, newborn infants ever after have been implanted at birth in the hope that they will never undergo the horror."
"But the implant is not always successful, is it?" Chekov asked. "Otherwise, someone like this Luka would not exist."
"Sadly true, Lieutenant," Trevlek affirmed. "In the case of Luka, the inherent, violent, psychopathic tendencies of his Human self counteract the implant. Sometimes the device just does not 'take,' say, if the surface of the brain is strangely convoluted. These misfits spend their entire lives in institutions. Occasionally, one of them escapes to wreak havoc among our people. Luka was one of these; he commandeered a system scout ship to leave our planet. He forced the crew to take him to Epsilon Crucis Four, where his trail of blood began. He killed the crew of the scoutship, then he ran free on the planet as a wolf in a fold of sheep. After that, he hopped from system to system, stowing away on space vessels." He paused, his eyes glowing more brightly than ever. "Space travel in and out of our system is forbidden. We have the scoutships to see that this law is upheld. I've been trailing him for some time, and now I've got him!"
"Officer Trevlek," Uhura said, repressing a shudder. "You said that you, too, were a werewolf?"
Trevlek chuckled. "Somewhat melodramatic on my part, Commander. Let's say I can be a werewolf if the need arises."
"If the need arises!" Kirk exploded. "Why would you ever need to become one of those bloodthirsty creatures?"
"Captain Kirk, it is my job to track down and destroy these so-called werewolves," Trevlek returned evenly. "If I ever had to engage in hand-to-hand combat with one of them, I would need the superhuman strength of the beast, or I would surely be destroyed." He held up his left arm and pointed to a copper bracelet encircling his wrist. "The circuitry in this ornament sends an impulse to my brain implant, shutting it down for fifteen of your standard minutes, thus allowing me to transform myself also. Fortunately, I have never had to use it. I'm a good shot with this." He patted the strange-looking pistol strapped to his gun belt.
"I'm afraid to ask," Scotty began. "What does it shoot?"
"Just simple cartridges, Commander," Trevlek explained. "The expanding gases released by a small explosion propel the small projectile tip to its target. The missile is molded from an element you call silver."
"Silver bullets!" the Scotsman snorted. "We canna cut the beastie down with phasers, and ye're going to blast him with silver bullets?! Our phaser beams went right through the beast! Won't your bullets do the same?"
"Yes, they will," Trevlek confirmed. "But there's a difference. You see, the glandular imbalance causes a sort of plasticity in the cellular makeup of the body. When something hits the body like an ordinary bullet, or your phaser beams, the cells literally move aside. The missiles pass through the body without causing damage. The plasticity allows the body to reshape itself into the wolf-form, you see."
"But what does the silver have to do with it?" Scotty asked. "You said the bullet would pass through the body."
"The silver in the bullets is poisonous to the beast. It's a chemical reaction brought on by the glandular imbalance. Death is almost instantaneous."
"Fascinating." Spock sat forward, leaning over the table. "The superstitions and supernatural reduced to basic chemistry."
"And it's no more than that, Mister Spock," Trevlek said. "But this werewolf is perhaps the deadliest creature in the galaxy. It is all but immortal in its beast form, particularly if one chooses to disbelieve in its existence. Which, I might add, is easy to do if one chooses to ascribe its existence to the supernatural."
"Then, despite its savagery, it's just an animal," McCoy murmured. "An animal that's deathly allergic to silver."
"Quite true, Doctor."
The intercom buzzed suddenly, and Kirk answered it. "Kirk here."
"Sulu here, Captain," the Oriental commander exclaimed. "Lieutenant Xon has traced the Lyndraxian's reading. He's heading for the rec hall!"
"Acknowledged, Sulu! We'll get down there right away! Dispatch a security team to the area on the double! Kirk out." The captain whirled to face Trevlek. "Enforcer, it looks like it's time for you to go to work! Spock, Chekov, with me. Everyone else get back to the bridge. Uhura, we'll leave our communicators open so you can monitor what's going on down there. You'll have the conn, Scotty." He stopped the Highlander as the crewmembers began to file out of the briefing room. "Scotty," Kirk murmured in a low voice. "If we can't stop this thing, execute Starfleet Order 2005, per Nogura's order. We can't risk this beast getting to an inhabited planet."
"I understand, Cap'n," the Scotsman muttered. He clapped his captain on the shoulder as he left. "Good luck, Jim."
Kirk and Spock headed briskly for the turbolift, with Chekov and Trevlek in tow. The ride seemed to take forever. Finally, the doors parted, and the quartet rushed down the corridor toward the huge recreation hall.
The security team was already in place. There was no sign of Luka. "He hasn't shown yet, sir," one of the guards said to Chekov.
"Stand ready," the young Russian commanded. "Bridge sensors indicate he's on his way."
Trevlek suddenly stiffened. He stared off into the distance and his hand dropped to his pistol. "He's very close," the law officer whispered. "And he's in Human form just now."
"Phasers on disrupt...for whatever good it'll do!" Kirk snapped.
He appeared from around a corner then, and froze as he saw the unexpected opposition. Kirk caught a fleeting impression of a dark, muscular form attired in a Starfleet ensign's uniform.
He also sensed ineffable, total evil.
Trevlek's weapon was out in a flash. "Don't make another move, Luka," he hissed. "I've finally caught up with you, and you won't escape this time!"
"My compliments on your tenacity, Trevlek," the quarry snarled. "So you've finally delivered yourself to me! Many's the time I've dreamed of tearing out the throat of an enforcer!"
"Your affliction has you confused, Luka. It is you who will die. But I will not tear out your throat. I will not mutilate and maim, as you did your innocent victims. And I will not enjoy killing you, the way you enjoy carrying out your bloody deeds." Sadness creased the lawman's features. "It's necessary, Luka. I will be humane. A quick bullet through the brain."
Luka's shoulders sagged. "Just be sure you don't miss. I should have known you'd catch me sooner or later."
Kirk stepped in. Despite the fact that this was an evil beast who had murdered nineteen of his crew, the thought of seeing him killed outright was repugnant to the captain. "Trevlek," he began. "Do you have to cut him down?"
Trevlek glanced at the captain for an instant.
It was his undoing.
Luka was on him like a cat, closing the distance between them with phenomenal speed. He grappled savagely with the peace officer, trying to wrest the pistol from his grasp. The gun went off with a muffled pop, but the shot went wild, ricocheting off a bulkhead. Luka smashed his adversary's hand against a wall. Trevlek cried out in pain, and his weapon slid from his nerveless fingers.
Chekov and his security team stood by helplessly. They couldn't risk hitting Trevlek. And their phasers would have done little good anyway.
Luka was quickly winning the unequal struggle. He bent one of Trevlek's arms up behind his back, while his free hand knotted in the unfortunate lawman's hair, yanking his head back and exposing his throat. Thick dark fur sprouted on Luka's cheeks and fingers. His face became a terrifying feral mask of writhing change.
"You see, Trevlek?" he growled, his voice harsh and guttural, and not quite Human. "You have delivered yourself to me!"
And then, before the horrified eyes of the Enterprise party, Luka's transformation into the beast became complete. Kirk watched, sickened, as his best hope for deliverance from the creature dissolved in a gruesome spray of crimson. Luka had immobilized Trevlek's left arm, so that he could not get to the bracelet that would allow him to metamorphose himself also.
He never had a chance.
The beast tossed aside the bedraggled corpse, whirling to face Kirk and his men. It snarled, and began to stalk them menacingly. Kirk was about to order a hasty retreat to the turbolift when, without warning, two of the security men opened fire on the werewolf.
"No!!" Chekov screamed angrily. "Don't provoke it!"
But it was too late. The creature swept a guard up in each sinewy arm. Kirk tried to shut the errant security officers' death screams out of his ears. Suddenly, he glimpsed a blur of movement out of the corner of his eye.
Chekov threw himself in a headlong dive toward Trevlek's fallen pistol.
"Chekov, don't be a fool!" Kirk shouted frantically.
But the young Russian had committed himself. He came up with the weapon just as the werewolf leaped upon him. A furry, muscled arm slashed across the lieutenant's stomach. Chekov's shriek of agony and the report of the pistol rang simultaneously. The bullet hit the beast's shoulder. It reeled back, howling in pain. Slapping away the gun, it staggered back from the moaning Chekov.
The wound was not mortal, but the shock of agony took its toll. The coarse animal hair began to recede and disappear, and within seconds, Luka once again stood in the corridor, dressed in the tattered rags of Scott Riggins' stolen uniform. Blood dripped from his creased shoulder as he stumbled down the hallway toward a place of refuge.
A grief-stricken Kirk rushed to Chekov's side. The security chief was unconscious now. Blood trickled from his mouth, and the stomach wound looked ghastly. "Get Doctor McCoy down here fast!" Kirk was almost screaming into his wrist communicator. "Chekov's been badly injured!"
"He's already on his way, Captain!" Uhura reported agitatedly. "He left as soon as Enforcer Trevlek was..."
"Good! I'll call you back as soon as I know anything! Kirk out!"
The turbolift doors parted, and McCoy bolted toward them, breaking out his medikit as he ran. Wordlessly, he knelt by the fallen Russian's side and went to work with an anabolic protoplaser.
"How is he, Bones?" Guilt was written all over Kirk's face. If he hadn't distracted Trevlek, the enforcer would still be alive. He would have destroyed Luka, and then the security men wouldn't have died, and Chekov wouldn't have been hurt. "Will he be all right?"
"Shut up, Jim!" McCoy hissed. "I need to concentrate! I'll have time for chit-chat later!"
Finally, McCoy finished. He looked up at the anxious faces of Kirk, Spock, and the remaining security guards. "He'll be all right. He's lost a lot of blood, but I got to him just in time."
Kirk stood up abruptly. "All right, then," he snapped, turning to the security team. "Help Doctor McCoy get him to Sickbay. Spock, get back to the bridge and take command. I'll leave my communicator open again so you can trace me. As before, if I don't make it, you blow this ship to holy hell!" He scooped up Trevlek's pistol and strode resolutely down the corridor, following a trail of crimson droplets on the floor.
"What the hell does he think he's doing?!" McCoy exploded.
But Spock wasn't listening. He had already caught up to his departing commander. "Captain," he said urgently. "It is madness to track the beast by yourself. It is wounded now, and even more dangerous than before."
"If I hadn't interfered before, Trevlek would have killed it!" Kirk spat furiously. "I wouldn't have to be chasing it now! This is my responsibility, Spock!"
"Captain, if you persist in this behavior, I will be forced to file a section 567," Spock intoned gravely.
"And I'll back him up every step!" McCoy raged. "Dereliction of duty!"
"On what grounds, gentlemen?" Kirk asked tightly, his face red with anger.
"Erratic behavior patterns, as evidenced by your exposing yourself to unnecessary danger," Spock offered.
Kirk sighed wearily. His features softened, and he smiled wanly. "Ganging up on me, eh?" he queried. "Okay, Spock, would you feel better if you went along with me?"
"That would be most satisfactory, Captain. Having me along will greatly improve your chances."
"I'm overwhelmed by your humility, Mister Spock!" Kirk cracked, grinning. "Shall we go?"
The two officers strode purposefully down the corridor, leaving an astonished, open-mouthed Leonard McCoy in their wake. "You're both crazy," he ranted. "Don't expect me to patch you up if you get into something you can't handle! I'm going on record as being totally opposed to this!"
"It's got to be done, Bones!" Kirk called over his shoulder. "The thing's got to be stopped one way or the other, and if we can't do it, then this ship'll have to be blown into atoms!"
"Great!" the physician exclaimed. "Either way, it does you and Spock a hell of a lot of good!"
But they were out of earshot by then. McCoy grumbled to himself, then turned back to where Chekov lay unconscious. A medical team had arrived by then with a stretcher for the security chief, and body bags for Trevlek and the security officers.
"All right, let's hop to it!" he snapped. "Let's load 'em up and head for Sickbay! I've had enough of this wolfman to last me two lifetimes!"
The men dispatched their tasks quickly and efficiently, and within minutes, they were all bundling onto the turbolift. As the doors snapped shut, McCoy took one last look down the corridor Kirk and Spock had taken.
"Crazy!" he muttered. "They're crazy!"
The shock had worn off sufficiently for the transformation to take him again. Luka had become the beast once more.
It crouched in the shadows, maddened with pain and white-hot fury. If it were possible, the werewolf was even more deadly than before. The wound had driven away the last vestiges of any fear it might have had for the humans. In its place was the all-consuming desire to rend its tormentors with fangs and claws, to kill them, not just because of the blood-lust, but because of revenge.
The creature sensed pursuit. Let them come! They would die horribly, as had all the others. Then they would not even be safe in the great hall, packed together like frightened sheep! The werewolf would slay them one by one, until there were no more. And then...
Its bestial mind could not fathom what would take place after that, after all the prey was gone. The creature shook its head, confused, and it loosed a low, savage growl. Its arm hurt where the bullet had creased it, and a bilious green crust of infection from the poisonous silver had formed over the dried blood of the wound. They would pay for that! It could smell them now. The werewolf tensed, flexing its muscles. It would not be long now! It could hear their voices.
"I wonder if we should have carved crosses on the tips of the bullets," Kirk joked, trying to ease his nervousness.
The Vulcan frowned. "What purpose would that serve, Captain? It would seem that such markings would distort the trajectory of the projectiles."
"Never mind, Spock!" Kirk exclaimed, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. "It was just a thought."
"Captain! Wait!" Spock held out a restraining hand. "The creature is very close by; I can hear it breathing."
As if sensing it had been discovered, the werewolf burst from the concealment of the shadows. It howled maniacally, arms with outstretched talons held high. But it paused when it saw Trevlek's weapon in the captain's hand. Kirk pulled the trigger and...
He frantically pressed it again and again, with the same result."Jesus! It's jammed!" he shouted, horrified. "It must have been damaged when the thing knocked it from Chekov's hand!"
"I suggest we make a hasty retreat, Jim," Spock said in a low voice.
But the werewolf had anticipated their move. When it saw that the pistol was ineffective, it sprang forward with blinding speed, its muzzle twisted into a fiendish, gleeful grin.
It had not anticipated Spock's Vulcan strength this time, however.
The first officer stood calmly, and, at the last possible split-second, chopped a flat-handed blow against the beast's festering gunshot wound.
A howl of agony and rage resounded in the hallway. The werewolf turned away clutching at its wounded arm. Spock nimbly leaped on its back. The Vulcan locked his legs around the muscular furry body and attempted a nerve pinch, clamping a hand on each side of the creature's neck. The beast screamed frantically. It flailed its arms, vainly trying to grab at its tormentor. The alien was almost as powerful as the werewolf.
But almost was not good enough.
The beast finally threw Spock off its back with one last, awesome surge of strength, like a bronco bucking its rider. The Vulcan sailed through the air to slam against a bulkhead. He fell to the floor, face down and unconscious.
Kirk meanwhile, had been desperately working at the pistol's unfamiliar firing mechanism. When he saw what had happened, he frantically slapped the weapon back together and aimed it. It was now or never.
The werewolf shook its head, trying to clear it of the numbing effects of its wounds and Spock's neck pinch. It began to stalk the helpless Vulcan with deadly intent.
"Luka! Over here!!"
The beast whirled on Kirk, snarling. When it saw the gun, it looked as though it were about to burst out laughing.
The expression turned to one of agonized surprise a millisecond later when the weapon went off, and a silver bullet sailed through its body.
Kirk raised the pistol again. The faces of Taryn Spring, Scott Riggins, and all the other victims of this fiendish monster flashed through his brain. In a cold fury, he tapped the trigger again and again, until the chamber was empty.
The werewolf just stood there, swaying unsteadily. The beast began to tremble; it was leaking blood like a punctured garden hose where the bullets had perforated its body. A glazed expression clouded its glowing red eyes. It staggered then toppled heavily to the floor.
But it was Luka's body that convulsed in the final, agonized throes.
The transformation had deserted him in death.
Kirk exhaled a heavy sigh of relief. He stepped over the bullet-ridden corpse to where Spock was now sitting up, rubbing the back of his head. "You all right?"
"I believe so, Captain," the Vulcan said shakily. "I have what you so quaintly refer to as a headache, but other than that, I'm fine." He glanced at Luka's contorted body. "I take it you managed to effect repairs on Enforcer Trevlek's weapon."
"And not a second too soon." Kirk tossed away the battered pistol. It clattered to the floor, landing next to the corpse. He heard a commotion behind him, and turned to see McCoy and a three-man medical team racing toward them.
"Jim! Spock! Are you all right?"
"Obviously, Doctor," Spock returned, getting to his feet. "After all, we have, as they say, lived to tell the tale."
"I should have known!" McCoy retorted. "If that thing had gotten a taste of that green blood of yours, he would've spit you out like a hot potato!" The chief medical officer spun on Kirk, and his expression became serious. "And what about you, Jim? Are you all right?"
Kirk didn't answer. He stared down at Luka's face, frozen for eternity in a grinning, fiendish rictus of death, his hate-filled gaze staring fixedly back at the captain. He shuddered. Twenty-one of his people had died under the blood-lusting claws of the beast, and some small part of him had died with them. It would be a long time before that ache would go away, if ever.
"I'm fine now, Doctor," he mumbled. "Just fine!" Kirk turned to the medical team, gesturing toward the recumbent corpse. "Get that thing off this ship, right now!" he commanded sternly.
Then, without another word, he strode toward the turbolift.
Spock frowned, and started to go after him, but McCoy held him up. "Let him go, Spock," the physician whispered. "He's got his own way of working these things out. When he needs us, he'll let us know."
The two men watched their captain until the turbolift car swallowed him up.
"All right, Lieutenant Chekov, I think it's time we got you out of here and put you back to work," Leonard McCoy chided. "You've been laying on your butt for a week and a half now, and you don't even have a little bitty scar left." He sat at his desk collating a stack of lab report cassettes.
"Believe me, Doctor, nothing vould please me more," the young Russian said fervently. "This place is not exactly the Leningrad Clinic, you know!"
"I'm glad you're so impressed with our accommodations, Lieutenant!" Doctor Chapel remarked. She programed the control console of the med scan table for one last reading, checked it, and then stored it in the computer bank. "All finished. You can go now, Mister Chekov; you're in A-1 condition."
"Thank God!" Chekov exclaimed. He jumped down from the table. "I am getting stiff as a board from all this rest!"
The double-pocket Sickbay doors slid open. Kirk strode briskly into the room, followed by Spock.
"It's about time you were getting back to duty," the captain said coldly. "I can't afford having a highly-trained officer lolling around in bed because he made a bone-headed play and almost got himself killed."
McCoy frowned as he watched Chekov stiffen under the unaccustomed reprimand. He had been worried about Kirk. For days he had been extremely cold and distant. He spoke on the bridge only when it was absolutely necessary to duty functions, and that was all. Off-duty, he kept to himself. He stayed in his cabin, having his meals brought to him. He only came out again when it was time to go to work.
"Don't you think you're being a little rough on him, Jim?" McCoy asked.
Kirk whirled on him. "I'll thank you to stay out of this, Doctor!" he barked sharply. "This is a command problem, and it doesn't concern you!"
He spun back on the hapless Chekov. "You're lucky I don't put you up for a court-martial, Mister! You had no business jumping at that creature! When your shift ends today, you'll report to my quarters! I'm going to blister your ears, Lieutenant, and then when I'm finished with that..." His face broke into a huge grin. "I'm going to put your name in for a commendation!"
Chekov's jaw dropped in astonishment. "S-sir?" he stammered.
"That was a very brave thing you did, Lieutenant," Kirk murmured. "In the future, however, please have a little more concern for your personal safety before you pull any heroics!" The captain chuckled, slapping the young Russian affectionately on the shoulder. "Now get the hell out of here before I change my mind!"
"Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!" Chekov exclaimed, bolting for the door.
The captain faced a wide-eyed McCoy. He winked mischievously at the physician. "What the hell was that all about?" the doctor demanded.
"Really had you going there, didn't I, Bones?" Kirk grinned at his befuddled friend. Then his face became serious. "I decided it was time to snap out of my blue mood. Life goes on, and I was sitting there swimming in guilt. I was blaming myself for everything that happened."
"As usual!" McCoy snorted.
"Besides," Kirk continued, smiling again. "I just don't think I was cut out to be a hermit! It was time to come out of my cave."
"A most logical choice, Captain," Spock commented wryly.
"Well, welcome back, Jim! " McCoy said, beaming.
"Thanks, Bones," Kirk said softly. He turned to his first officer. "The store's pretty quiet right now, Mister Spock. I believe you and I had a chess game interrupted a while back. Care to finish it up?"
"That, Captain, would be a refreshing break from routine."
Kirk motioned to the door. "Shall we?"
As they left, McCoy shook his head wonderingly, turning to face a smiling Christine Chapel. "You know, Chris, starship command puts one hell of a strain on a man, even someone as strong as Jim Kirk. And he's had more than his share of agony over the years. I guess I worry about him too much. But there are a lot of men, even starship commanders, who would have been burn-outs long before now if they'd been through what he has. I keep waiting for the one that's going to break him down, put him over the edge. When something like this happens, I always wonder if he's going to make it back."
He glanced at the doors the captain and Spock had just exited through, and grinned broadly. "Well, I guess I don't have to wonder anymore!"
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