We went to an unannounced yellow alert, eager not to tip off Wainwright that we were onto him. A security team was assembled to which Luke and I were assigned. Eight of us left Engineering led by Commander Jarrod and with phasers and phaser rifles set to stun we arrived outside Wainwright's quarters, took up our positions and waited.
Commander Jarrod rang the door-chime. There was no answer. She studied the tricorder readings to confirm that the humanoid was still there. He hadn't moved. Jarrod glanced at me and Luke.
"He won't answer the door," said Luke. "He's renown for it."
It was like lighting the touchpaper! Jarrod's face twisted with rage as she hammered on the door furiously.
"Wainwright!" she bellowed. "Open this bloody door now!"
Still no answer.
She stepped back from the door and sneered a nod at the Chief of Security. Within seconds, the door was open and we leapt through with phasers and rifles poised. A waft of artificially sweetened air hit us and then we saw. The sight before us was jaw dropping.
The walls were lined with cages; a quick count revealed thirty on the far wall alone—and each cage was filled with rodents: rats, mice, Cardassian voles and vermin from across the galaxy. Nothing cute and cuddly like a hamster, just vermin.
Stood in the middle of the room was Wainwright. He had a look of panic on his face as he leapt in front of the cages.
"Don't hurt them!" he screamed. "They're harmless!"
A sharp pain shot up my leg. I looked and saw an enormous rat sinking its teeth into my shin and it wasn't letting go! I screamed. A phaser shot rang out. It squealed and I felt the flesh being ripped from my shin as the rat was torn from my leg and thrown across the room, dead. Blood began to pour from the open wound and suddenly even more rodents began to appear from everywhere. They ran, squealing and squeaking frantically, and phasers fired wildly at them. They climbed the walls, the bed, the furniture. They tried to get out of the open door but they couldn't. As they reached the threshold, an invisible field barred their way. They hit it and squealed and somersaulted back into the room. The place was veritably alive with them. Masses and masses of rats and mice of all shapes and sizes stampeding around the room... and phasers firing blindly at them. Wainwright was screaming hysterically and dived towards a desk in the corner. I saw what he was after, he had a forcefield generator there. It was why the rats couldn't get out of the door. He was going to save his pets by letting the field down... then they'd be all over the ship. I aimed my phaser and fired. The beam of light hit him squarely in the back and he fell unconscious to the floor. With his silence, the hubbub began to die.
As order returned to the room, the rodents still ran around, but an eerie calmness began to settle.
"Holy mackerel!" said Jarrod as she stared at the infestation.
"There must be hundreds here!" exclaimed Luke.
Jarrod looked at me as I sat on the floor clutching my shin, blood running freely through my fingers.
"Terran, get to Sick Bay and get that seen to."
"Yes sir," I said stumbling to my feet.
"As for this lot," she said. "Luke, get some crates up here. I want this lot boxed up and ready to..." she didn't finish her sentence. Jarrod wasn't sure what she was going to do with them.
Doctor Franks patched up my wound quite quickly.
Doctor Franks patched up my wound quite quickly.
"It'll scar," he said, but I knew it would. The rat had taken a surprisingly large chunk out of my leg, but I didn't care. I've never been one for the catwalk and I was just grateful that the pain had stopped. It was sore though.
He was just about to release me when Jarrod came in. I started to stand.
"No Terran. You don't need to get up."
"Thank you sir," I said.
"Don't thank me yet, Crewman. I haven't finished with you yet. You know you should have reported your suspicions earlier, much earlier."
"Permission to speak freely, sir?" I asked.
She looked at me sceptically.
"Okay, but I advise you not to be too free with your words."
"With all due respect sir, but crewmen have been complaining about noises in those shafts for the best part of a year and every time someone has said something, we've been fobbed off."
"I don't think that's true Crewman."
"But it is. Luke had said something a while ago and was made to feel stupid. He was told it was just the deck plates moving and that he was making a fuss. I had, more or less, the same response."
Jarrod looked at me coldly.
"I admit, sir, that we perhaps could have handled it better, but we didn't feel we could say anymore without being ridiculed."
Jarrod's response was minimal.
"I'll take that into consideration," she finally said. "In the meantime, you are confined to your quarters for the next twenty-four hours."
Yes sir," I said humbly. "What about Wainwright?"
"Yes sir. Is he going to be okay?"
"Physically, yes. Mentally... who knows?" Jarrod perched on the bio-bed opposite. "He's always been a little bit solitary but now... well, he's certainly in need of medical care. We think he probably started with just one rodent, then another and then another. Soon it got out of control. He didn't have enough cages to contain them so they were running wild about his quarters. He's covered in bites you know.
"He installed the forcefield to stop them escaping through the door, but not the vents. They've only just started to invade those and that's what was causing the problems we've been experiencing. We just have to make sure we've got them all rounded up."
"And then what will happen to them?"
"Not my problem. We've arranged to rendezvous with a team of zoologists at the nearest space station and then it's up to them. Luke thinks he's seen a number of Tigiean rats in there."
"Tigiean rats? Never heard of them."
"No, neither have I but they are extinct on Tigiea and, if that's what they are, it might be an opportunity to reintroduce them."
"Yes, it does sound odd, but apparently they play a very significant part in the pollination of cereal crops. Don't ask me how. It's not my field and I don't aim to make it mine. Either way, the zoologists want to take a closer look so we're keeping the whole lot alive and handing them over." Jarrod smiled. "As for Wainwright, he's under surveillance and will be handed over to a medical team when we dock. And as for you, you're restricted to quarters for twenty-four hours and then you and Brightman are on rodent patrol."
"Rodent patrol?" I repeated.
"Yes. Someone's got to clean up the mess in Wainwright's quarters and someone's got to feed and clean the little varmints until we hand them over."
"Enjoy," said Jarrod and smiled smugly at me before leaving the room.
As I made my way back to my quarters, I bumped into Luke. He looked drawn.
"You okay?" I asked.
"For someone who's been shovelling rat shit for the last hour. Trust me, Jenny, I think you got off lightly with the rat bite."
I laughed at that and then I had a thought. It obviously showed on my face and Luke asked me, "What's up, Jen?"
"Well... I know we've secured the rodents but..."
"I don't think that's my Beast."
Luke stopped and looked at me.
"What makes you say that?"
"I know I didn't get a very good look at it, but from what I did see, it wasn't a rodent. I think that maybe it was feeding off the rodents, but it wasn't a rodent."
Luke's face fell in despair.
"Oh Jenny," he sighed. "Are you sure? I mean, are you really, really sure?"
"I'm pretty sure."
"So what are you going to do? Are you going to talk to Jarrod?"
"Tomorrow, maybe, but not tonight. I want to sleep on it; think it through. You could be right and it could just be my imagination so I'd like to be sure. After all, I think I've caused enough fuss already."
Luke patted me on the shoulder.
"I think that's wise," and then we said goodnight.