-1She hadn't expected that. A smile maybe, a laugh at best. But Bill was laughing, holding his side and almost crying and that scared her. The last few days had been awful, but she thought that Bill at least had been holding up. She certainly hadn't felt up to dealing with life, and if she hadn't simply grabbed a gun and killed herself the way so many people had, it was mostly for Bill's sake.
The joke had been gallows humor at best, not worthy of a belly laugh. "Bill, are you all right?" She stepped away from the big black wolfish dog and went to Bill's side. She eyed Cottle but Cottle was also struggling not to laugh, which made her wonder.
It hadn't been that funny. "Bill?"
He continued to chuckle. "That's…. oh gods that was funny…that's just frakking priceless," Bill sputtered between laughs. Finally he looked at her, his mirth still obvious. "Before you pet that dog again, I have to warn you... it's not what you think."
She looked at him. "Bill, what are you talking about?" Gods please don't be having a breakdown. Everything was bad enough. If Bill didn't hold together, she didn't know what they would do. The harsh reality, whether she took her medicines or not, was that she was going to be dead in a month. Maybe three, if she was lucky. Bill was going to be alone and that scared her. It scared her more than her own death.
"That's Lt. Gaeta," Bill said, pointing to the black dog. He then laughed uproariously. She looked at Cottle, but he was clearly struggling not to laugh as well.
"Ok…" She looked at the dog, which was playfully nosing at scraps of uniform cloth on the floor. Then she looked back at Bill, who was still laughing. "Bill I know the last few days have been incredibly difficult…But I honestly think Lt. Gaeta might be offended at the idea that you named a dog after him."
In fact, Lt. Gaeta, with his dark, hollowed eyed glares, looked like he might be the next member of the crew to eat a gun. She didn't know the man well, but she suspected naming a dog after him would be the thing that guaranteed that Gaeta took someone with him on his exit to the Elysium Fields. The lieutenant had seemed a little fragile.
"No…." Bill seemed to pull it together. He pointed at the dog. "That's not a dog, it's a wolf. More importantly, that wolf is Lt. Gaeta. He's a werewolf."
The dog woofed and wagged its tail.
"Bill, there's no such thing as werewolves. Those are just stories that the temple priests tell…." Stories that they told children, mostly to scare them into attending temple services.
"Lt. Gaeta, get to it!" Bill snapped his fingers. The dog woofed again and whined. Laura could see why Bill thought it was a wolf. It really was It really was wolfish looking, bigger than even a Caprican Shepherd Dog, and the way its ears were positioned was different than a dog. The fur was black with gray mottling that she knew from the nature shows was a form of protective coloring, with gray tipped ears and just a little white on its paws and chest. Ironically, it had the same almost pretty look Felix Gaeta had. Except that it had all its limbs. Which was an unkind thought, she told herself as she looked at the dog. The poor man had enough problems without Bill taunting him with crazy talk about werewolves.
Bill snapped his fingers again. " Come on, do it! That's an order dammit!" His good cheer seemed to dissolve in an instant.
And suddenly the wolf seemed to grow. She watched in shocked awe as it seemed to morph into a huge man beast, like in the legends. A Child of Pan, her recently dormant religious side gibbered, sent to punish them for their transgressions. It crouched and seemed to growl under its breath. Its yellow eyes glared at her and then at Bill. "You know, sir. This isn't as... easy as it may appear to look."
It was low, and rumbling, much like she had always imagined a werewolf to sound, except that it also sounded like Felix Gaeta. "Oh gods," she said, under her breath. "You're Lt. Gaeta..."
"Yes, Madame President," the werewolf said. It seemed to look embarrassed.
"You're a Child of Pan." A huge Child of Pan, even crouching it seemed to tower over them. It nodded, flicking its ears.
"Yes, sir," Gaeta said.
"Why are you here?" There had to be a reason, she thought suddenly. It knew, it knew she had burned the scroll, that she had lost faith. Or perhaps it was there to judge her for her faith, the visions that she had only partly believed and had capitalized on to haul the fleet to nowhere but disappointment. They were the judges and executioners of the gods, the policemen of humanity. She stood up, stepping in front of Bill. Her fate she could accept, but she would be damned if it took Bill. "Are you here to punish me? Destroy me to show that the gods weren't speaking to me? That its my fault that Earth is a ruin?"
Gaeta gaped at her, whining slightly. "No…. Those are… those are just stories, Madame President… We don't even really believe in the same gods…. It's different…. We believe we're supposed to… keep an eye on things. Like caretakers. We don't act for the gods… Most of those stories are just that…."
It was an odd position to be in, looking up at a massive werewolf who seemed chagrinned at her reaction to him. And his soft, rumbling explanation answered nothing. She drew herself up firmly. "Why are you here, now?"
Because she had a feeling Felix Gaeta hadn't just turned into a werewolf.
"Um… isn't it obvious?" Gaeta asked. He gestured down his furry chest.
Cottle guffawed, as did Bill. Even the third man, Lt. Hosher or Hosteen, she wasn't sure, grinned. "Allow me," Cottle said easily. "How many legs does the big furry thing have?"
"Two…" She nodded, making the connection instantly. "You changed… when the moon was full?"
"The half moon of Aquaria, to be specific," Gaeta said. "You… change during the moon cycle you were born in…."
"Of course," Laura said. "That's perfectly reasonable. And your leg grew back?" Already she could see the problems. She had to assume that Gaeta had been dealing with the fur sprouting for longer than she cared to know. It was a secret. She had to assume some of the stories were real, the Children of Pan were supposedly a secret order. If it was just a matter of not telling people, Gaeta would have kept his mouth shut.
And he had no idea his leg would come back. She had seen the devastation on the man's face, heard the despair in his voice. "You weren't expecting that."
"No… its… rare." Gaeta said.
"And I assume we've ruled out hiding this miracle?" she asked.
"Well, Lt. Gaeta growled when we suggested cutting off his leg,"Cottle said easily, "and sure, having him play stud to Junie, Fluffy, and Riley would amuse the hell out of me, but ultimately… it might piss off the others."
"And I can't afford to lose my tactical officer to the petting zoo." Bill added. He looked at her. "I apparently have twelve members of the crew, and children, who have Lt. Gaeta's problem. I don't plan on executing any of them since this is apparently a genetic disorder."
"The press won't like that," she said. She wasn't so certain she liked it either.
"I don't really care," Bill said. "We'll figure something out. Dr. Cottle, Lt. Hoshi, you two need to return to duty. Lt. Gaeta, we'll need you to stay here."
"I'm sorry," Laura said as Cottle and Hoshi filed out, "Mr. Gaeta… do you… need to be like this?" She didn't want to tick the wolfman in the roof off but he was making her nervous. And her eyes were already watering from the damn fur.
"Oh, right." In what seemed like a blink of an eye, the wolfman devolved into Lt. Gaeta. Still hollow eyed and exhausted looking. Surprisingly clean shaven and… very naked. "Does… anyone have pants? Mine ripped."
As Bill laughed again, Laura merely walked over to the couch and found Bill's robe. "Cover yourself, Mr. Gaeta."
Because she didn't need to see what she had only moments ago been playing with.