The boarding of the ship was just as difficult as predicted. When they got to the other ship, Hroljarus was shocked by what he saw. "He's developed some interesting tastes." he murmured. "Now all we have to do is find out who is Fellnaro."
It proved to be no easy task. If Fellnaro had not tampered with the ship, all they would have had to do was go to the Holographic Simulator. Instead, the whole ship was a HoloSim. Aponaphelma pulled out a datascreen, and checked it. "Well, here's the bridge," he said, pointing to a space several decks above them. "It shouldn't be difficult to find him from there."
The difficult part was getting to the bridge. Fellnaro had created quite a large "crew," and the creations were extending invitations for all they were worth. The four officers were finding it increasingly difficult to ignore them.
Hroljarus and Hrala kept close to each other, supporting each other's resolve. Aponaphelma kept his wife and children firmly in mind, while Ryramorl remembered his fiancee. Finally, after several hours, they made it to the bridge.
There, in the centre of all the fantasy he had created, sat Captain Fellnaro. For the looks of things, he hadn't worn clothing, much less his uniform, in a long time. Hroljarus looked at the captain, if Fellnaro could still be called a captain, with pity.
"Time to go home, sir," he said.
Fellnaro looked at him scornfully. "I'm not going home. Home's boring. Here I can have some fun." He leered at the simulations around him.
Hroljarus shook his head. "You're wrong. I'm taking you home, and if I must, I'll use force."
Fellnaro sneered, then tackled Hroljarus. But Hroljarus had spent the last few months under the stern tutelage of Aponaphelma, and Fellnaro was no match. But Fellnaro called to the creations to help him. Hroljarus was swarmed under, as the simulations began stripping him of his uniform.
Ryramorl promptly dove for the controls.
He fiddled with the overrides, then suddenly, there were only five people on the ship.
Felnaro looked around, and gave a long, loud wail of absolute despair
Hroljarus looked at himself ruefully. His uniform had almost been ripped to shreds, and he found himself nearly naked.
Hrala's eyebrows raised in appreciation at how fit the older wolf was, but said nothing. "Come on," she said crisply, all business. "Let's get this Casanova in the brig, where we can keep an eye on him." Hroljarus slaved the ship's computer to his ship's, and the five beamed back aboard the Exceldor A.
The trip back to the Home System was sober. Hroljarus sat in his cabin, reading, when he heard a chime at the door. "Come in." It was Hrala.
Hroljarus was simply wearing a pair of sweatpants; barefoot and bare-chested. Hrala smiled when she saw him. "Anyone ever tell you you're quite a handsome wolf?"
"You seem to say that quite a bit," smiled Hroljarus. "Has anyone ever told you you're very beautiful?"
Hrala laughed. "You seem to say that quite a bit." They nuzzled each other.
Hroljarus sighed. "Is this just a social call or did you want to talk about something?"
Hrala nodded. "It's Fellnaro. I think something snapped when Ryramorl shut down the HoloSim. He's responding to only what he sees, and what he sees has nothing to do with the real world. He's not a captain any longer, I'm afraid, because a captain must have some semblance of sanity."
Hroljarus nodded. "Syral was smart to listen to Ryramorl. The High Command may be a bureaucracy, but they're not THAT stupid."
Hrala then left him, after giving him a quick nuzzle. Hroljarus smiled as he saw her go.
Warned by the experiences aboard the original Exceldor, the crew set strict limits on their time in the HoloSim, and not one really cared to go beyond them.
Since they were no longer looking for the Exceldor, they could go more or less full tilt, and the trip back took about a third the time out.
Suddenly, Ryramorl announced the arrival of hyena pirates. Instead of being scared, he was laughing fit to burst. "It's the same nuts that boarded us last time!" he chuckled. "The captain has screwed up the courage to take you on in hand-to-hand combat."
Hroljarus's smile was positively vicious. "I think watching that fight between Aponaphelma and Adran will come in handy." he growled.
Aponaphelma looked at him in surprise, then answered with a grin just a vicious as Hroljarus's. Ryramorl contacted the Hyena's, and Hroljarus faced the captain. "Greetings. I hoped you would show up."
The hyena captain hissed in fury. "I wouldn't have if I were you. I tend to fight dirty," he sneered.
"So do I," growled Hroljarus. "Come on over, and let's see who can fight dirtier." The captain vanished from the screen, and rematerialized to drop onto Hroljarus.
Ryramorl quickly locked down the bridge, and panes of unbreakable plastic slid down to protect the controls.
Hroljarus saw this, and when the panes were in place he heaved the hyena onto a console, and started to smash the squirming pirate in the face. The hyena rolled out of his grip, and grabbed Hroljarus by his headfur. Hroljarus was yanked off of his feet. The hyena threw the captain to the floor, face down. He grabbed Hroljarus,s arm and started to twist it. Hroljarus yowled and squirmed, but couldn't break out. The hyena put his free hand on the floor to get a better balance. Unfortunately for him, he placed it too near Hroljarus's muzzle. Hroljarus struck, and bit into the pirate's wrist, his teeth sinking to the bone. Now it was the hyena's turn to scream, and the grip released.
The pain-maddened Hroljarus attacked the hyena, pinning him to the floor, and retaliating for all he was worth. Suddenly, the pirate bucked Hroljarus off, and went for Hrala. He seized her from behind, a small knife at her throat. "Surrender, or your bedmate gets killed." It was his last mistake.
Hyena females are submissive and gentle, never objecting to what happens to them. Wolf females are exactly the opposite. Hrala flipped him over her shoulder, while Hroljarus grabbed him by the throat. Hroljarus forgot the fact that he was an admiral, both wolves forgot that they were sentient. The hyena pirate's senseless attack on Hrala had crossed a line that should have remained unsullied, and that was his doom. A few hideous moments later, the hyena lay slain on the deck. Hrala and Hroljarus spent their fury beating the corpse to a pulp, then leaned back, exhausted, coming to their senses.
"You fight well," was all Hroljarus said.