Willow Puckett pulled her truck to the side of the road just north of Fessenden, North Dakota. Her long auburn hair danced in the light breeze as she hopped out to check the bike on the trailer behind her. Grumbling about cheap stow straps she dutifully tightened them and gave the bike, an old worn Honda Shadow, an affectionate slap.
She turned back to the truck, her nostrils wide, taking in every scent on the light breeze. The faint smell of prairie dogs and elk drifted over her nose and she felt the Wolf within stir. The Wolf wanted to run and hunt the prey it smelled so tantalizingly close. She had several hours more of driving so Willow's human side tightened down on Wolf. The next full moon was less than two weeks away and she could hold it together until then. Come the full moon she would let Wolf take over and run freely over open plains, but for now, she was traveling to a new home.
She opened the door and jumped lightly from the side rail onto the seat. Inside her, the Wolf whined and she could feel the ghost of claws and fur trying to push out as she turned the key. She took a deep breath and exerted the control she'd learned through over a decade as a lycanthrope and two years of being a military officer. Satisfied that she could hold it together for a little while longer she drove on, unaware that at her destination three men were discussing her future.
"Well, that wraps up pre-deployment prep for another month, gents. Let's move on to the last issue." Colonel Michael Ames looked across the table at his subordinates. Colonel Greg Kraft, his Operations Group commander, sat across the table from him and Lieutenant Colonel Ron Stahl, the commander of the Wing's bomber squadron, sat on his left. Both men were in their late thirties, hair only beginning to grey from long hours spent keeping half of the nation's B-52 fleet trained and ready.
Colonel Ames took a deep breath and looked around the room. His office was the center of power for Minot Air Force Base, any major decision made went through this office. He could normally entrust his subordinates with decisions, but there were days when he felt the need to delicately guide them in their choices.
"The last issue at hand is our newest copilot." Col Ames's voice was calm, neutral.
"The last class graduated this week, correct?" Col Kraft asked and Lt Col Stahl nodded. An air of tension drifted into the room and Col Ames suspected both men knew where he was going.
"That's correct. Are either of you aware of the ... nature of the copilot being sent to us?" Col Kraft nodded but Lt Col Stahl's expression was politely curious. Col Ames drew a manila folder from his file rack and slid it to Lt Col Stahl. "That's First Lieutenant Will Puckett." Lt Col Stahl opened it to read the short bio.
"Lycanthrope?" Stahl asked.
"Werewolf, so your pretty standard variety." Col Ames answered briskly.
"Does he have a paw-pal yet?" Stahl's brain worked quickly through the list of people in his squadron qualified to pair with a lycanthrope.
"'Paw-pal?' I assume you mean Lycanthrope Liaison?" When Stahl nodded absently, Col Ames chuckled. "I guess I missed that bit of slang. No, Lt Puckett doesn't have a 'paw-pal' yet. Trained B-52 aviators with lycanthrope training are hard to come by." Kraft snorted but Ames continued. "I've got a good double handful of other personnel in the wing with the training. However, I was hoping you could fill in the gaps in my memory with the list of personnel in your squadron who can fill the role."
Stahl was aware that Ames probably already knew the answer but told him anyway. "Sir, I've only got two men with the training. Lt Jason Adams finished his training this spring and is an ideal candidate. If I remember correctly Capt Jamison Grove also maintains a currency for it but it's been a few years since he completed training."
"Capt Grove did the training to pair with his younger brother correct?"
"Yes sir. His brother died in a car crash shortly after too." He paused. "I would recommend Lt Adams for this. Similar rank and Adams is a pilot as well."
Col Ames steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them. "Lt Adams is married, is he not?"
"Yes sir, just had a child a few months back as well."
"We'll have to take him off our list of options then."
Stahl gave him a blank look, so Ames tapped the bio again. Stahl flipped the page to find a picture of a young woman with dark auburn hair in service dress smiling for the camera. "Will is short for Willow. Lt Puckett is female. I will not allow a female lycanthrope to be paired with a married Lycanthrope Liaison."
It was Col Kraft's turn to look confused. "Why not sir?"
"These 'paw-pals' are always male because they are physically and mentally tough enough to restrain a Changed lycanthrope," he explained. "They are generally bound to their pair on a deep emotional level. Male-male pairs become very close friends, almost brothers. Male-female pairs inevitably end up as deeply attached sexual partners, so they must be picked carefully. You can see why I cannot allow a female lycanthrope to be paired with a married Lycanthrope Liaison." Kraft nodded.
"It will have to be Capt Grove then. I hate to ask it of him though, after what he's been through."
"I know Ron, it's a tough spot. However, if things don't work out we can probably send someone she likes to training. It's about a six week course so that's the longest you'd have to deal with it."
"Deployment is only three months away. We're going to have to figure it out fast!"
"That's why you're the best, Ron. I know you'll make it work," he smiled at both men. "Well gents, I think that wraps things up for this week. If there's anything that comes up, call. Otherwise, I'll see you next week." He slid Lt Puckett's bio to Stahl. Both men stood, shook hands with Col Ames, and left the room.
Stahl and Kraft walked briskly down the hall and out the door. As soon as the door shut behind them, Kraft turned to Stahl.
"Capt Grove puts on Major in a month doesn't he?"
"Yes." Stahl's face was expressionless.
"That's a pile of crap. Then you'll have a Major and a first lieutenant paired. They're going to have to be discreet."
"You talk like their pairing like that is a foregone conclusion." Stahl reached his car but paused when he saw Kraft's face.
"I know you haven't had to deal with lycanthropes before but trust me, it's a foregone conclusion. That bonding will be almost as strong as you and your wife. It's hard to shake that."
"Just don't be surprised by things she does. There's a beast inside her, constantly trying to get out. She'll fight it every day and sometimes the beast wins." He shook his head. "Look, I'm not the superstitious type, but there's something a little off about those kids."
"Anything specific I should look out for?" Stahl asked, trying to keep his tone neutral.
"Well, she's a wolf variety so she'll be more energetic that most people. More apt to want to touch and smell everything and everyone she meets. Lupine behavior tendencies work well in the military though. She'll strive to make the squadron feel like a pack. Make her see you, as the Alpha and she'll fall in line easy enough. How long has Voss been your executive officer?"
"Just shy of a year now," he answered quietly as his brain worked through Colonel Kraft's comments. Stahl suspected that Kraft didn't like having lycanthropes in the military but DoD policy tied his hands.
"Maybe consider picking her up as the next exec. She'll be the most fiercely loyal exec you'll ever see and it'll keep the girl under your watchful eye."
Stahl gave a thoughtful nod of his head. "Yes, sir." He nodded to Col Kraft, hopped into his car, and headed to his building.