Kestrel - Hunting Grounds by Miranda Fave
Past Featured StorySummary:

The USS Kestrel, an aging Miranda class, serving as part of the Border Service has the thankless task of patrolling some of the murkier corners of the Federation. As the seat of Federation power in a dangerous and wild region of space, the Kestrel acts to paraphrase her firebrand captain, Captain Gregory McGregor, as the rule and the law, the line in the sand, the first and last line of defense for the Federation.

"So we can't be calling in the cavalry at the drop of a hat. We are the cavalry. We stand the line, we duke it out, we shout them down, we clean their windscreens, and we set out the welcome mat. It's not all bad you know."

This is the first story featuring the ramshackle, rough and ready crew of the Kestrel. I'd call them an unorthodox crew but hey isn't every crew unorthodox in their own way!

Led by the acerbic, sarcastic, bombastic, over the top, pain-in-the-ass, coarse and unprofessional Captain Gregory McGregor. Just the type of behaviour to get stuff on the border done! There's no time for Jean-Luc's niceties here!

The Border Dogs might be seen as the ‘poor cousins' of the Fleet and the Miranda might be seen as the ‘Ford pick-up of Starfleet' but the Kestrel in the humble opinion of her Captain shows the Fleeters how to do things the proper way.

 


Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: Cartwright, Molly, Ensemble Cast - USS Kestrel, McGregor, Gregory
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Humor, Mystery
Warnings: Adult Language, Character Death
Challenges: None
Series: Kestrel
Chapters: 55 Completed: No Word count: 149473 Read: 174676 Published: 28 Mar 2009 Updated: 14 Apr 2011
Story Notes:

Three freshly minted ensigns from the Academy unwittingly board the Border Patrol vessel the USS Kestrel, as it finishes repairs and refit at Starbase 49, just as a criminal mind plans to exact revenge on the ship's infamous, very un-PC and bombastic CO, Captain Gregory McGregor.
An attack that propels the ensigns into the fray and into life aboard a border patrol cutter ... and into dangerous 'Hunting Grounds'.

1. 'He's an Hawsehole!' by Miranda Fave

2. 'But It's a Miranda Class!' by Miranda Fave

3. 'Welcome Aboard, My Young Kestrels' by Miranda Fave

4. 'Problems in Engineering' by Miranda Fave

5. Hanging About by Miranda Fave

6. 'Bedding In' by Miranda Fave

7. 'A Message Home' by Miranda Fave

8. 'An Admiring Admiral' by Miranda Fave

9. 'A VIP Event' by Miranda Fave

10. 'A Commanding Presence' by Miranda Fave

11. 'Boarding Party' by Miranda Fave

12. 'Party Crashers' by Miranda Fave

13. 'A Hostile Environment' by Miranda Fave

14. 'Destructive Behaviour' by Miranda Fave

15. 'VIP - MIA' by Miranda Fave

16. 'Controlled Chaos' by Miranda Fave

17. 'Countdown to Oblivion' by Miranda Fave

18. 'Into the Maelstrom' by Miranda Fave

19. 'A Let Down' by Miranda Fave

20. 'Accommodating Commodore' by Miranda Fave

21. 'Taking Stock of the Heart' [A Frontier Girl] by Miranda Fave

22. 'Taking Stock of the Truth' [A Rogue's Confession] by Miranda Fave

23. 'Taking Stock with Expediency' [A Captain's Prerogative] by Miranda Fave

24. 'The Kestrel spreads her wings' by Miranda Fave

25. 'The C.O.B.' by Miranda Fave

26. 'Sleeping With the Enemy' by Miranda Fave

27. 'Dirt Side' by Miranda Fave

28. 'Not to Dwell on Matters' by Miranda Fave

29. 'Second Chances' by Miranda Fave

30. 'By the Cat's Whiskers' by Miranda Fave

31. 'Trekkie Brekkie - the way to start your day' by Miranda Fave

32. 'An Honest Prescription' by Miranda Fave

33. 'A Medical History' by Miranda Fave

34. 'Food for Thought' by Miranda Fave

35. 'Portents Perceived' by Miranda Fave

36. 'A Vulcan Morning to You' by Miranda Fave

37. 'The Rear Admiral' by Miranda Fave

38. 'The Seed of Discord' by Miranda Fave

39. 'A View to Behold' by Miranda Fave

40. 'Below Par' by Miranda Fave

41. 'The Why of Why' by Miranda Fave

42. 'Bing Bong' by Miranda Fave

43. The Captain's Den by Miranda Fave

44. A Den of Thieves by Miranda Fave

45. Past Lives - Bad Memories by Miranda Fave

46. 'Cogs in the Machine' by Miranda Fave

47. 'The Devil's in the Details' by Miranda Fave

48. 'Hook, Line and Sinker' by Miranda Fave

49. Bodily Complications by Miranda Fave

50. 'Diffusing the Situation' by Miranda Fave

51. Into The Dark by Miranda Fave

52. Dissenting Voices by Miranda Fave

53. After Care by Miranda Fave

54. A.A.R. by Miranda Fave

55. Executive Decisions by Miranda Fave

'He's an Hawsehole!' by Miranda Fave

 

‘He's an Hawsehole!'



Starbase 49, the Gan'hoar System
2370


Commander Molly Cartwright, her arms folded, glared at the Commodore's aide. It was a look that had withered many an enlisted, ensign and officer in her time as a Captain. The aide shifted in his seat testament to the effect her look still had. Trying to allay the bristling dark-skinned Commander, he tried to reassure her. "Commodore Georgetown will be able to see you soon. He's just trying to make his way from a reception being held for the Jaguar."

"I see. No doubt eating shrimp cocktails takes priority over meeting me at our prearranged time." Pointedly she added for further effect. "A meeting he asked for."

"I'll just go and contact him, just to make sure he's on his way."

Sternly she returned. "You do that."

Molly ruefully thought, ‘Perhaps if this meeting is finished early enough I can all in on the reception and see old Russell Barnes.'

The aide scuttled off, into the interior of the office, not wishing to make the communication in front of the commander who unsettled him so. In five minutes, the smiling genial, rather rotund, form of Commodore Georgetown ambled into the office, his face flushed from sythenhol and rushing to make his appointment.

"Come in, come in, Commander. Sorry to have kept you waiting." Georgetown seated himself behind his table. Molly found herself in an office festooned with holo-images of Georgetown with renowned Admirals and Captains, and dignitaries from planets across the quadrant. As the commanding officer of the sprawling complex of refit hangars and storage yards, Georgetown met many such people as they passed through his patch. His spreading girth attested to the number of receptions he attended. These receptions were held to welcome back vessels, returning from deep space missions or at the end of their tour of duty, or to launch refitted vessels on their new tour.

However, Cartwright knew the man was the perfect fit for the job. A born bureaucratic diplomat he effortlessly steered the course between meet and greets of various types of Starfleet captains, to juggling the intricate red tape of outfitting vessels and shipping personnel to their new berths. Molly Cartwright did not envy him the task, but it was a task in which he clearly revelled. "Ah now to business Commander."

Curtly she replied, "Please do, I have a ship to return to."

The Commodore settled his rotund frame in behind the desk. He proceeded to absently pat his stomach, after smoothing out the dress tunic. The rumpled and slightly food stained dress uniform, bore signs of yet another elaborate and exotic buffet having filled his gut. "Ah yes of course. It's obviously in respect to the Kestrel that I wanted to talk to you."

He noted her impatient look and continued. "You see we are a large and busy facility and whilst we wish to ensure the speedy progress of all docked at the Starbase, it is not possible to make every vessel a top priority."

"I understand that commodore; I remember all too well my time as a Captain trying to harangue the repair crews to meet the deadlines."

Inwardly, Molly winced, thinking about her former position and the loss thereof.

Georgetown continued nervous and awkward. "Well as to that ... of course it is the prerogative of each ship to try to jostle the repair crews along obviously."

She cut across him to hammer home that point. "Obviously."

"But all within reason ... there's no need to resort to insults, threats or abuse."

Molly Cartwright conceded. "I'll admit that Gardner is a little gruff and quick to raise his voice. But, he's not the only cantankerous engineer in Starfleet. I do know of much worse. Any chief engineer will cause grief to get what they want, when they want, to get their ship shipshape. In fact, Gardner is a teddy bear, he just gets a bit angsty when the ship systems aren't at a 100 percent. "

Georgetown blushed before he said, "Actually I was referring to Captain McGregor. Your Engineer has made a number of rather insulting remarks, but actually, your Captain's behaviour prompted me to speak with you Commander. Behaviour that is not exactly befitting a starship Captain. I don't suppose you could manage to smooth things over between your Captain and my station's personnel? Perhaps take the lead on dealing with any inter-personnel issues. It's just he ..."

"What? Scares them!"

Georgetown waved his hands in feeble protestation at such a claim. "No, no, no. Well, not scare exactly ... but he does unnerve them. Mr Hanover informs me that it makes working on the Kestrel rather difficult. He tossed one technician's tool kit out an airlock because he found his work unsatisfactory! Then he told the technician to go fetch and not to bother coming back!"

The tale he regaled her with was actually a rather watered down version of what had actually happened. Molly had witnessed for herself, McGregor stopping short of throwing the technician out, without the aid of an EVA suit, to chase after the said tool kit. Georgetown however, looking suitably appalled at even his sanitised version of events, expected it to provoke some sort of response from Cartwright. She resolutely remained stoic faced, despite the story causing Georgetown to add, "And talking to others within the fleet I cannot help but feel your Captain has a certain reputation for similar behaviour."

"Commodore Georgetown, I have known Captain McGregor over twenty years. I can honestly say this; it would be best if you hurried along the refitting of the Kestrel."

Georgetown spluttered. "I expected you to be more accommodating than this Commander Cartwright."

"You mean, you expected me to run interference between McGregor and your station teams. No thanks. If they get on with their job, he can complain about little. He simply expects people to do their best. Just why did you expect me to be more accommodating I don't know."

He admitted. "To be honest your husband has told me you were more approachable than Captain McGregor and a reasonable woman to deal with!"

Blithely she retorted. "He didn't find me so reasonable when we were getting divorced."

"Oh! He never said anything about that." Georgetown looked suitably chagrined about his error.

Trying to appease the commodore somewhat, Molly offered a conciliatory word of advice. "Look Commodore, just make sure your people do their job and this should all work out for the best." She got up and headed for the door. At the threshold of the door, Molly stopped and enquired, with a pretence at nonchalance. "When were you speaking to Paul?"

"Two weeks ago, just a few days before the Kestrel berthed." Seeing the Commander's interest, and possibly the slightest hint of worry on her face, Georgetown felt compelled to add, "Captain Dubeque inclinated, that he would be returning to Starbase 49 within a matter of weeks."

"That's only if Paul doesn't spot another money making opportunity." Her voice was neutral but Georgetown believed he read an underlying tension there. Not totally unexpected if they were divorced.

He ventured to say, "Heh, that's space boomers for you. They daren't turn down a money turner."

"Yep, that's what they say."

Smiling up at her from behind his desk he said, "At least Captain Cartwright, I mean Dubeque, is the dependable, honest type. Believe it or not, there are quite a few rogue freighter captains out there."

This served to reveal Molly's withering look again. "I serve on a border cutter. I know all about them." With that, she marched out of the office without further ado. Leaving Georgetown to reflect how combative the Kestrel's senior staff were. ‘What a joy it would be to serve aboard that vessel!'

His aide entered then to tell him there was a communication from Trafalgar Station. "Rear Admiral Faraday returning our call regards ... ahem ... Captain McGregor."

"Put it through Crispin. Ah Rear Admiral Faraday. Good to talk. We really ought to build up a more familiar relationship since both our facilities are the Federation's lynch pins along this border."

Taking no time to exchange pleasantries or professional courtesy the large form of the foreboding and formidable Faraday impatiently stated, "You wanted to talk about McGregor!"

Caught off guard by the brusque manner Georgetown acknowledged the fact. "Yes I did. We've had some interpersonal problems, nothing serious, but I wondered if I could pick your brain on what was the best approach to take with Captain McGregor. I never had the Captain call before in my tenure here so far."

"Lucky you. All you need to know about McGregor is he's a liability."

Laughing the accusation off Georgetown answered it with a joke. "I guess, that's why he's in the Border Service."

Faraday glowered through the viewscreen. As the de facto head of the Border Service for his sector, he took the joke as a barb. "Don't tar the rest of the Border Service with the same brush as McGregor. His attitude is not befitting any officer Fleet or Service! Damned man stirs up a hornet's nest wherever he goes."

"Yes, he is certainly unpredictable!"

Menacingly, Faraday leaned into the viewscreen with a look of contempt for the man he was facing. Georgetown leaned back involuntarily, as if the form of Faraday was going to reach through the viewscreen. In a deep sonorous voice he warned, "McGregor is a deranged and dangerous man. He's impulsive and abrasive and a pain in the ass. Something you'll soon learn. You would be best to keep a careful eye on him. This is obviously a waste of time. I thought you had contacted me because you managed to get something on him. The sooner we can drum him out of the Service the better for all." Georgetown swore he felt the vibrations of the timbre of the man's voice through the viewscreen.

"Surely, he's not as bad as all that! If he were Admiralty would have gotten rid of him by now."

"McGregor must have friends in high places, who have kept him in command for some bizarre reason despite my numerous protests. I warn you, McGregor is a loose cannon."

"Surely, he has to operate within the parameters of a Starfleet Captain."

Faraday leaned in to the screen. His dark baldhead and thickset neck added physical weight to the force of the man's presence, even through the medium of the viewscreen. "McGregor is not the average run of the mill Captain. He lacks any degree of professionalism~"

"Well, I had heard he was a mustang officer. Not too many of them reach the top rank, so there must be something to his methods, he-heh." Georgetown laughed nervously, trying to convince Faraday of McGregor's intentions despite his previous misgivings. He was wishing he had never made contact with the rear admiral.

"He's a hawsehole alright."

"Beg pardon?"

"He came up the hawsehole. An old naval slang for someone who makes it up from the lower ranks, but I think you can gather what I really meant. I've wasted enough time."

The image of Faraday winked out as the man stabbed a button ending the communication. Leaving Georgetown to wonder at just what it was McGregor did to cause such enmity from Faraday. He also wondered, how had McGregor managed to stay the course, if he really was as unprofessional as he appeared to be. What reason did Starfleet have for keeping the rogue captain?

 

* * *

‘Fraught Freight'



Starbase 49, Deck 13, Cargo hold 37-A

Leaning sanguinely against the bulkhead unfazed by the cramped hiding place the man's cool and controlled voice carried across the length of the filled cargo hold. "Patience Vardros."

"Don't lecture me T'Hos. You have us sneak into a highly secure Federation facility, risking our lives and freedom, and instead of acting, you ask us to sit around and wait."

"We shall strike when the iron is hot as the Earth expression goes. If we acted now, we would have to fight our way onboard and my vendetta would not be avenged. I do not intend to fail. I intend to have McGregor on his knees begging for mercy before I slowly slit his throat. And I needn't remind you Vardros, that I have offered to pay you handsomely for this job."

"A handsome wage means nothing, if I'm not alive."

"Then don't get killed. The best way to ensure that is to follow my plan and wait for the right time to strike." His eyes narrowed darkly. "Of course, you might be thinking that you could walk away now and spend the share I've given you so far, but trust me you won't live that way either."

Vardros smiled weakly and said woodenly, "Such a thought had never occurred to me."

"I'm sure, hence my confidence in you and in my plan. We will board the Kestrel and kill all on her decks. I will have my revenge, rest assured."

Vardros saw the clear intent of his employer's eyes. The fact that T'Hos Likk, one of the Federation's most hunted criminals had personally come on the job and had hidden himself within a Federation Starbase and planned to personally lead a boarding party onto the bridge of the Kestrel, attested to his murderous intent. A man like that, was dangerous to cross. A man like that, was likely to succeed and, more importantly for Vardros, was generous in his success. This made the job highly risky but potentially, highly rewarding. Still he asked, "How can you be so sure of success?"

"Because I shall have someone working for us onboard."

* * *

 

End Notes:

All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

'But It's a Miranda Class!' by Miranda Fave

‘But It's A Miranda Class!'


Starbase 49, the Gan'hoar System

"Jex wait up." Noah Cutler came tripping down the gangway behind the ebullient Leoini Jex trailing his and her gear.

Her response, "Come on Cutler, hurry up."

She hurried on down the corridor, leaving her hapless friend to do the donkeywork. Cutler was naive enough to happily do so without much complaint.

He was young looking. Very young looking. He looked more like a Starfleet cadet than a graduated ensign. The dark haired fresh faced Filipino, with soft hazel brown eyes and a frame that was neither short nor tall, neither thin nor full, was rather average in fact. This appearance stemmed more from the posture he held, and his lack of outward confidence.

As Jex rounded each corner, she looked up and down the length and breadth trying to find a viewport. Noah saw her brown tawny hair, tied up in a ponytail, bob up and down as her slender form skipped down the different corridors. The ponytail only served to make Jex appear younger than she was. It also served to highlight her Trill spots, which Noah bargained, was the reason behind the adopted hairstyle today for meeting her new shipmates.

"What's your rush? And what are you looking for? Do you not know the way?"

She stopped and roundly asked him. "Do you want a slap? I'm trying to get a view of the ship." She started to march on.

Glumly, he recalled his first assignment from the Academy. "But it's a Miranda class, meaning no mystery as to what it will look like."

She stopped and rounded on him again. "Is there no romantic voyager soul to you Noah?" And she marched on again.

"But you can find a Miranda in every port just about."

Once more, she stopped and rounded on him. "Actually that's not true. Ever since 23..."

"Oh don't do that again Jex." The ensign had a tendency to quote random facts, or almost facts, as Noah liked to tease her. "They're nothing more than a work horse for the Federation. My granddad told me that the Mirandas are the ford pick up of Starfleet. I mean I didn't expect to get posted to one of the new Intrepids or a Galaxy or a Nebula class; But a refitted Excelsior or, perhaps considering we've been posted to the border patrol, maybe an Akira. But a Miranda!"

"What's wrong with the Miranda? In their heyday, they were a glorious ship. Oh they were seen as the poor cousin of the Constitution just because we didn't have the flagship as one of our own, but that did not mean we were not worthy."

Cutler sighed. "You're doing it again."

With barely a look over her shoulder she replied. "Eh! What?"

"Talking like you was there."

She shrugged her shoulders as if not comprehending his thoughts. "But I was, or should I say, Jex was."

"Ugh! Why is it before I ever met a Trill I thought it would be fascinating to learn of their life stories and gain from their life experiences? Ever since I met you, I can only say that trying to live with one of you is exhausting and bewildering. I can't keep up with the whole is it Leoini speaking, or Jex speaking, or is there a difference or not?"

"You mere humans always find it difficult to comprehend; I guess you have to be a Trill to understand. Anyway, we might not have been a flagship, but, one of our own did give the flagship a bit of a thrashing once upon a time."

"And that's a good thing?"

"Well obviously no, but my point is, if even Kirk's great Enterprise can get a kicking from a Miranda then you ought to have more faith and confidence in the ability of your future steed." She did not wait for his reply but turned another corner and then cried out as she ran to the midway point of the corridor lined with large viewing windows. "Look there it is!"

Jex stood transfixed in front of a massive spaceport window. "The USS Kestrel." Leaning against the window, Leoini pressed against the transparent aluminium as if that would help achieve a better, keener look and took in the sight.

Cutler came to stand beside her, settled the bags on the deck and not as enthusiastically looked out into the hanger holding the Kestrel at bay. She breathed in happily, placed her hands on her hips, and surveyed the ship as if it were hers alone. "A sight to behold. Our first berth and the beckoning of a whole new range of adventures."

"Yeah." Cruising up and down the border, same ole, same ole. The lack of enthusiasm in his grunted affirmation told just how little he meant the agreement. Jex thumped him on the shoulder. "Ow! What was that for?"

"Don't besmirch the Miranda. It was my first ship. Or Jex's should I say. And now I can say mine too - Leoini's - or should I say Leoini Jex." She gave him an impish smile and saw Cutler visibly wince as he tried, once more, to get his head around the concept.

Jex then turned to remember that first berth. The USS Joxter that she, as a he, had served on for the first four years of her, his, career.

Cutler turned his attention more fully to the ship nestled in strong beams of lights. And he suddenly found himself feeling a flutter in his stomach. Ok, so the posting was not a plum assignment, the ship was not a ship of the line, but Jex was right, it was his first posting and he stirred with some excitement and trepidation. Or was it just nerves?

He had heard some wild stories about the Border Service and when he asked about his future commanding officer other officers had simply shook their heads in consolation and mumbled something about his being a ‘pain in the ass', ‘one of a kind, thank God' hell raiser within Starfleet. Cutler had subscribed that to the apparently more laid-back approach of life aboard a border patrol vessel. He wondered now, was he wrong in that estimation - was McGregor a true nightmare?

"Come on then Noah. Time we presented ourselves aboard."

She bounced off remembering her very first tour and the nervous excitement she felt at the pit of her stomach. That sensation was no less true this time round either. Leoini was thrilled with the prospect of excitement and new worlds. Her wildest dreams seemed to all be coming true at once. Not only had she been accepted in the Trill initiate program, she had successfully been conjoined, and then passed her final year at Starfleet Academy after having to defer it in order to undergo the Trill initiate program.

Jex was rambling off facts, she knew from memory, over her shoulder to Noah, who only half-interestedly listened, hearing it for the umpteenth time. Noah was also now finding himself growing nervous about their impending reporting to the Captain and the sight of the vessel through the windows that was to be his home for the next duration.

"... with a length of 243 metres, a beam of 150 metres and a height of 63 metres with eleven marvellous decks of technology and power. The Mirandas were first commissioned in 2270 and production continued until 2285. But of course, since then the class remains in service receiving a huge variety of refits. At this stage it is a proven venerable class and is, as you say, the veritable workhorse of the Federation."

Cutler acknowledged her pause in commentary with a non-committed ‘uh huh'. She continued on, unabated. "With a tonnage of ..." Noah zoned her out as his eyes swept the lines of the curved hull buttressed by two boxes that converged on the upper hull and swept back to the rear with its two large hangar bay doors.

Underneath the fin like nacelles, at present dormant and thus devoid of the glow that normally showed the immense power coursing through the engines, bestriding the rather compact saucer section, gave the vessel a look of confidence and security. Above it all, the torpedo pod sat regal like, a perverse tiara, ready to rain fire down upon any foe,  master over all the ship. Noah listened back in as Jex finished quoting her specifications.

"Of course, I say a standard level Structural Integrity Field, but since the Kestrel was brought into the Border Service I dare say it has had a number of alterations and modifications to its specifications. The Border Service is notorious for that. I guess it is just as specialised for its missions. So best, pay no heed to most of the specs I said. They're probably wrong in this instance."

She whirled round enthusiastically to Cutler, as if these bald facts conveyed the true majesty and wonder of space flight and exploration alone. "Though still, just imagine, despite its age, it can maintain a maximum warp speed of 9.2 for 12 hours! Of course, normal cruise is warp 5 and the maximum cruise is warp 6 but still!"

"Yes Jex, all very interesting."

"Yes it is isn't it? Come on then." She started bounding down the last corridor to the docking ring attached to the berthed ship.

* * *

 

 

'Welcome Aboard, My Young Kestrels' by Miranda Fave

‘Welcome Aboard, My Young Kestrels'



USS Kestrel NCC 31967: Currently docked at Starbase 49, the Gan'hoar System

"Miss Jex, Mr Templar and Mr Cutler, welcome aboard my fine vessel."

The man spread his arms expansively around the breadth of the bridge. Jex would admit to his having rugged good looks but there was no denying the cragged face or the slightly greying hair. The Captain also wore jowls adorned with a healthy growth, not quite a beard but with all the appearance of having not been shaved for several days, but it also appeared to be a permanent fixture always in this state.

With no apparent evidence to support it the three ensigns, stood arrayed in front of him by the turbolift entrance, believed that their commanding officer was of a mean temperament, quite likely moody and prone to an acerbic outburst. His cragged features attested to this fact, owing more to his continence rather than his age, his eyes dark, expressing his foreboding nature.

"Of course it will be a fine vessel if Gardner here, ever manages to pull his thumb out."

Eddie Gardner stooped over an open engineering station scowled at his captain asking himself, yet again, why he had signed up for another stint with his Captain. His demeanour was no less discomfiting. Rather dour and with a heavy petulant lip his thick but trimmed beard swept up to a baldhead. A baldhead that he rubbed briskly in frustration whilst working at the engineering station with engineering tools and parts strewn at his feet.

"I," he paused for an egocentric dramatic effect, "am Captain Gregory McGregor. I know my parents were cruel and I was teased something awful as a child. Thankfully, it didn't affect me in the slightest and I remain a well adjusted, rational being. Mind you, my parents were another story but I dispatched with them some years ago." Pantomime like, he stage whispered one hand raised as if to cover his words, "Made it look like a turbolift accident. I suppose I could have tried something much more reasonable such as ... say ... change my name. So just imagine what I might do to three nobody ensigns who disappoint or step out of line."

Cutler gulped, Jex laughed half-heartedly something telling her the Captain was not entirely joking, while Templar folded his arms in pretence at nonchalance.

Having arrived at the docking ring, Jex and Cutler met Sebastian Templar with duffle bag slung over his shoulder obviously awaiting their arrival. He was tall, fair-haired, and strong with a clearly cold disposition all of which marked him out as atypical security officer material. Jex had been about to introduce herself profusely and thank him for waiting on them when she noted his demeanour with the displeased mood upon his continence as he glanced at the imposing form of an African woman in her fifties stood by the docking entrance.

This woman, her brown dark curls gathered up adding greater height to an already imposing stature, had begun the introductions with a curt and rather formal, "Ensigns Leoini Jex and Noah Cutler? I am Commander Molly Cartwright, ship's Executive Officer. This is Ensign Sebastian Templar. Now that you are all here, might I personally welcome you aboard the USS Kestrel NCC 31967. I wish you all good fortune aboard but I will leave your official welcome aboard to the Captain. This way."

With that, she turned on her heel and walked through the hatchway and the three ensigns had no option but to follow her through onto the decks of the Kestrel led as they were. First, they walked up the small ramp area from the docking hatch that led to the air lock. Being as the Kestrel was docked at the station the environment was equalised so they had a clean sweep through onto the deck.

A notice indicated their arrival on deck 6, which housed crews' quarters and the crews' mess and mess hall. In total, the Miranda class could hold up to 163 dual-occupancy cabins and 89-shared bathrooms to house the 326 Ensigns and NCOs it was able to hold. But the Miranda was easily outfitted and changed to meet any number of mission briefs and parameters and so many of the statistics governing the class were changeable and the Kestrel did not quite enjoy such a high number of crew personnel assigned as it was to the Border Service.

As they progressed along the main gangway, they hardly saw anyone other than two scrutinising security personnel at a small reception room just inward of the hatch monitoring the egress of any crew. Sebastian surveyed them closely sizing them up. They saw a few technicians at the airlock station but they were so involved in their work peering into open panels that they did not notice their passage.

Cutler took in the doors and corridors labelled in Federation Standard print numerating the different rooms. He noted the muted grey carpets and similarly the detail of the bulkheads with some panels popped exposing their innards of spaghetti wiring and blinking lights. Propped against the bulkhead the panel covers lay with tool boxes left beside for the technician to return to no doubt.

Although he was no aficionado like Jex, he smiled as he spied the old-fashioned comm. links located at points in the corridor they walked through. After four years of training in the Academy, assignments, drills, simulations, lectures and a raft of information to take on board he was now actually onboard a starship, or should he say his starship.

Jex swam in a bubble of swirling memories and almost gasped aloud at seeing the old intercom somehow still retained on this vessel. With two previous hosts having served with Starfleet her past life experiences came to the fore but combated fiercely with the enthusiasm and excitement of Leoini stepping onto her first post.

For Sebastian Templar, the emotional roller coaster was no less. Excitement and in trepidation went hand in hand as he considered his position and this new chance to start afresh. This was not his first posting and so he dreaded his career failures and mistakes becoming public knowledge which they soon would for that was life onboard a starship, scuttlebutt gossip that spread faster than warp.

His only other thought in light of his own predicament was why a woman of the Commander's age was still only a commander and not yet achieved a rank of captain. And he considered too why she, like Sebastian himself, was relegated to work in the Border Service

They passed a number of corridors and signposts. Commander Cartwright did not detour though to show the three ensigns these sights but did explain, "The Captain will personally show you around the ship so you'll excuse me if I lead you straight to the bridge. As you can see, we are busy continuing our recertification and repairs. You'll find yourself hard at work soon enough." She turned and gave them all an encouraging smile. "But hey that's why you're here."

Without further ado, she stopped in front of a pair of doors and in a short moment, they opened to reveal the turbolift. With the Commander, the ensigns and their duffel bags it was somewhat of a tight fit. The doors swished closed and Cartwright hid a smirk as all three ensigns looked upwards in the direction the lift ascended, towards the bridge whereupon the Captain presently introduced himself.

"My Captain, that is probably your most welcoming welcome you have ever given new recruits."

McGregor turned to the helm position to a blue-skinned officer web hands raised in greeting to the three and the gills at his neck fanned.

"Why thank you Stanley. I thought I would show them my sunny disposition." He gave the three a garish smile of little sincerity other than secretly enjoying any discomfort they displayed.

Jex just remarked to herself that the helm officer looked little like a ‘Stanley'. She stared at him unwittingly.

Stanley's large black egg like fish eyes blinked slowly, a thin black membrane that slipped over his ovoid eyes, as they returned the invasive stare. He lolled his head slowly to one side returning the inquisitive look.

Jex felt herself measured up in that long piercing look. In her long years as Jex, she had never encountered someone of Stanley's race before. She wasn't even sure what species he was.

"Sorry."

"Don't apologise, revel in the unfamiliar, Lt. Commander Mnu Subreliqui is all that. Is he aquatic, amphibian, transgender, a circus freak? None of these, just one of the wonderful oddities out there in that great big universe and that we might find ourselves accidently tripping over on our travels. Of course, Mnu Subreliqui is a bit tricky to get your tongue around, or maybe I'm just too lazy to, but he doesn't mind. Do you old boy?"

Cutler and Jex looked a little appalled but tried to hide it as best they could. "Fear not my little ones I find the name Stanley a term of endearment."

"I told you the old boy doesn't mind it! Mind you we're not exactly sure he is a boy." With a pretence at bashfulness McGregor again pantomime-like stage whispered, "I didn't like to look. People might think me a bit funny if I did that type of thing. Tell me Ensign Jex would you hold it against me if I said something lewd about your body?" He gave her a restrained leer and with mock gusto raised his eyebrows up and down. Jex replied demurely with a smile and pushing a lock of hair behind her ear.

Shaking his head slowly from side to side, the brooding form of the ship's tactical officer offered what seemed to be a helping hand. "Perhaps you should give them the whole on the edge of the frontier and the rules don't apply speech."

A clear North American accented Federation Standard held a certain degree of scorn, though not necessarily malice in its tone. Noah liked to think he detected a Chicago accent but he could not say so with certainty. His dark features matched his dark mood, he was certainly no ray of sunshine. He wore a thin moustache and his hair was closely cropped to his scalp and he stood feet apart, hands held behind his back and held his chin up, his eyes measuring like a hawk hunting.

Addressing his security chief stood near tactical station situation on the right hand of the bridge's curving wall. "Why thank you Tac. See they really are the best crew in the world. I know, I know, every ship's Captain says that but most of them are idiots so that can't be saying much for the crews of their ships. Me though, I'm a brilliant genius so it really is true and there go a real compliment."

"By the way, that dangerous criminal looking type guy behind the tactical station is the ship's tactical and security officer surprisingly enough. A bit gun ho but whom better to catch a thief - than a thief I say. Sorry I should be fair and honest; I think someone else actually may have used that phrase before me."

Tac crossed his arms in a huff but said nothing other than to let out an exasperated sigh.

"Where was I? Oh yes - the speech! This ... is my chair."

Jex looked to Noah who looked to Templar and even he looked to Noah and Jex in puzzled return. This was not the starting point any of them expected the speech to take. The Captain himself took delight in surprising them so. For others on the bridge this was the old familiar starting point and they rolled their eyes.

"And when I sit here," He sat accordingly. "I am not just in a seat I am a seat."

McGregor turned and looked back smiling delightedly at Cartwright and Tac at the aft of the bridge. "I love this bit; it makes the newbies think I'm crazy."

He voice changed back to his serious heavy tone as he continued, "I am the seat of Federation power not just of this ship but in our region of space. It is our patch. Our patch and we are the Federation's sole representatives. We are the rule and law. We are the line in the sand. I think someone may have used that one on me before too."

"There are deep space missions that have more support more available to them than us. And lest we forget it, the fact is the Admiralty send us to the frontier on our own expecting us to do the job on our own. So we can't be calling in the cavalry at the drop of a hat. We are the cavalry. We stand the line, we duke it out, we shout them down, we clean their windscreens, and we set out the welcome mat. It's not all bad you know.

"But it is a serious business and we have a duty to uphold. The Federation in small ways depends on us. As a border patrol, a law enforcement, a first line of defence, intelligence gathering, immigration control, customs, search and rescue etcetera, etcetera."

"We might not face down an armada of hostile aliens but ... then again you never can tell and technically we are the frontline defence; we will face sneaky little bastards chancing their arm, or tentacle or some type of manipulator, trying to enter illegally the Federation for criminal purposes, possibly terrorist or the like. Mostly petty criminals trying to play space pirates and because we're on the frontier some out there think they can get away with it and we need to make a point of showing them no."

"But being on the frontier away from the pomp and ceremony of the Admiralty extends us a little latitude. Things might not be exactly by the book on this fair vessel." Over his shoulder he hollered, "Have you fixed that yet Chief? Sometimes these guys are a little less than professional. I try to lead by example but there's only so much a man can do." He cocked a leg over the arm of the chair. "By the way never sit in this chair. My golden rule."

"You might want to write that down. And my many other rules. Well to be honest they are not so much rules as guiding principles. No. No, I change my mind. They are rules. They are not to be broken. They are never to be disputed. They are indispensible. They can wait till later."

"You'll pick them up as we go along. Anyway ... where was I? Oh yes!"

Sprawled in his command chair, the Captain continued, "We have a different standard shift of duty hours. We always wear arms in case we need to repel any boarders. Oh how scary and exciting."

At this, he pretended to bit his nails. "Often we double up on our jobs. One of the reasons I selected you from the Academy is because your profiles exemplified the ability to multitask and specialise across the spectrum of ship systems and duties. You might be an engineering specialist Miss Jex but I might ask of you to man the guns. Or girl it. Or worm symbiont it. Whichever term you find to be most politically correct."

"Cutler you, supposedly, are Operational Systems therefore I expect you to know the ship inside and out - and use it to equip me with information whether tactical, scientific, or otherwise. And I might just use that information to kill somebody or save the ship."

"Mr Templar you've specialised in security and I need that specialism to keep my ship and crew safe and safeguard the weakest and most vulnerable of our Federation. But you might have to get your hands mucky and bloody in the line of duty for there are more ways than one to protect others."

"Consider this my cannon fodder. The Common Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), impressed by my latin?, as found on ye old Earth, are diurnal and prefer an "open country" habitat for their hunting ground. Now we on this vessel have the wide-open country of the Federation border to hunt in. When hunting, the kestrel will hover, almost stationary, about ten or twenty metres above the ground searching for prey."

His hand hovered in front of their faces having become the kestrel in their minds. Their eyes locked on its stationary hold whilst their ears were hooked, savouring the hypnotic voice of the Captain.

Suddenly his hand snatched out at them, causing all three to stumble backwards as he barked out with feral energy, "Sighting its prey, the Kestrel makes a short, steep dive toward the target. It is efficient in its killing. It is a dispassionate hunter. But secretly it delights in the hunt diving with its shrill call ‘kee-kee-kee'."

"We too are to be an efficient and dispassionate hunter. Always ready, always waiting; and if you want you can call out a shrill ‘kee-kee-kee' too! Put your Starfleet ideals at the doorstep for ours is a serious business of cutting actions, espionage, merciless dogfights and determined hunts. Welcome aboard my young Kestrels."

The three ensigns blew out softly. The captain was ridiculous in his speech but the force of his words, the dark menace of his eyes, conveyed the very seriousness of what he was about.

Quick as a flash he changed tone, his grin no longer quite as macabre, "Ok then stow your stuff, Molly here will look after your trinkets until you return, and we will have a quick tour, then duty."

Molly Cartwright stepped forwards from the alcove she had stood back in while the Captain had introduced himself and took the respective duffle bags. Stanley smiled and blinked at the three as they filed past him, then the tactical station. As they trooped after, the Captain headed towards the turbolift whistling. "You have the Conn Molly. Gardner have that station fixed by the time I get back."

The three ensigns with certain reluctance entered the turbolift and almost grimaced as the doors slid shut.

Molly stepped up to the centre of the bridge looking back at the closed doors. "God help those kids. Why he does it I never know."

"Correct, it does seem strange Commander that the Captain takes a certain delight in making the new personnel feel ill at ease and on edge. Do you suppose there is a method ..."

"To his madness? No, it is just plain madness or perhaps a degree of malice."

From his security station Caleb ‘Tac' Dexter remarked, "Yeah well, those kids had best learn that this is no comfortable luxury cruise or Academy simulator, the Captain's right to make them feel uneasy."

"Really Caleb, there are other ways." She looked back at the closed turbolift doors and sighed, "Even if it is effective."

Sealing up the panels of the station he had finished repairing, for now at least, until another problem showed up, Gardner groused, "I'd best get to engineering, no doubt when the Captain reaches it he will want me to conduct a tour of the engines whilst simultaneously knocking me for not having everything ready for departure. He won't consider that conducting a tour will be eating into the time I could be getting the ship ready."

"You know him so well Gardner."

He grumbled as he picked up his equipment, "All too well. Sixteen bloody years of effing ..."

* * *

'Problems in Engineering' by Miranda Fave

 

‘Problems in Engineering'



Main Engineering, Deck 4


"Is this what they call an upgrade? Do they seriously think this work warrants recertification? It's not fit for a paddle in a pond."

Eddie Garner grumbled his way out of a Jeffries tube, which to anyone who had worked with him over the last twenty years was an all too familiar sight and sound.

The young lieutenant trailing at his side though was not a past colleague but newly assigned to the ship's crew and therefore bore an expression of chastisement as if every fault of the refit yard crew was his own. The humour in which Eddie Gardner was in, meant he probably did lay every blame with the young lieutenant.

"What are they teaching you children at Starfleet anyway?" Not for the first time, Eddie Gardner mused to himself (and often times he mused quite vocally to others) that the Academy just could not train engineers the way practical real life hands on experience did.

He himself, was a graduate of the school of life, beginning his career in Starfleet as an enlisted and working his way from the literal deck plates up, through the ranks of the non-commissioned officers before crossing over to the dark side to become an ‘actual' officer.

To this day, he still thought of himself as an NCO; those were his proudest achievements earning his rank through hard work and experience not pieces of paper and set exams. If it weren't for his Captain desiring Eddie as one of his trusted hands over the years to be able to hold command of the ship and away parties as was often the case then he would not have contemplated seeking his piece of paper.

Looking at the lieutenant in front of him Eddie shook his head in consideration not quite believing that a lieutenant could look so young and inexperienced. Was it just him growing older? How young did his new ensign who arrived this very day appear to be? She was a young whippersnapper for heaven's sake! Though of course the ancientness of her grey Trill eyes belied the youth of her complexion.

Eddie Gardner looked quickly at the entrance doors he heard part, thinking it to be the Captain conducting his tour with the new ensigns. Two hours as yet and he still had not shown up. Where was he at with them? He's probably in the torpedo bay showing them how to load the photon torpedoes.

The lieutenant for his part saw the measuring look and the shake of the head and felt that surely they were not meeting their chief's expectations. Only a month ago filled with confidence and optimism at receiving his promotion the lowly lieutenant was a dejected and scared former shell of himself.

Over his superior's shoulder, he spied one of the engineers from the starbase (she had actually been the one to enter into the engineering department causing Gardner to look around for the Captain) and saw his route of escape and a means to deflect the chief's scorn from himself.

"Um sir ... Chief Hashap is ... um ... here. To give you the final debrief."

"Is she indeed?" Gardner turned from the pale faced lieutenant and sought out the new target for his wrath. He squared up for a confrontation.

"Yes just over there." The young lieutenant pointed his newly acquired senior officer towards where a medium tawny haired NCO gave a wan smile that looked quite uncomfortable on her face probably use to more sincere smiles than solicitous pretences at overhearing her work being derided.

Gardner barrelled her with a long hard look and barked, "So chief petty officer, this is the report telling me that everything is tickety-boo with the ship." He waved the padd accusingly in front of her face. To her credit, she continued to smile sweetly.

"What kind of ham-fisted operation do you run here? Starbase 49 never enjoyed much of a reputation and now I can see why."

Truthfully he was disappointed at one of his own ilk, an NCO, had let him down. Truthfully too the starbase was not renowned for the calibre of its work but then it was a frontier refit yard, a sort of patch ‘em up and send ‘em on their way sort of place. Exactly the kind of place Starfleet Command believed fitting for the maintenance of an old workhorse such as the Kestrel. With that said such a yard was the lifesaver of many starships and made up the backbone of support, supply and succour for the efforts of the border patrol vessels.

"If you have any issues sir then Commandant Georgetown will happily listen to any and all complaints."

"I'm sure. And are you happy to stand over your work here Ms Hashap?"

"Actually sir I was not part of the refit team; however Lt Hanover was unable to present himself and asked me to fill in."

Gardner gave her a grudging nod uncommitted to believing her or displaying disgust at the cowardice of Hanover to show his face. Though secretly, he felt reassured that it was one of those paper degree engineers at fault for the mess of his engines.

"Well let's have it then. Not that the report is likely to hold any credence. I probably would have been better off not putting the old bird in for a service from what I have seen thus far."

"Together we can go through the report and compare it to your preliminary findings. Once we target areas to be attended to we can make up an agenda and coordinate crews before hand over." She held up a hand and stopped him before he started, "Unfortunately Lt Commander Gardner, Mr Hanover is due to start a new job assignment repairs to the vessel Manhattan."

"I don't suppose he rushed through this job in order to catch such a plum job as a Galaxy class?" Would be just bloody typical of those jumped up types!

"Of course not sir, though it does mean I will be leading the crews working in conjunction with your crew if that would be acceptable."

"Better that than my being hauled in front of the Captain for an altercation with your Mr Hanover."

Quietly aside, though perhaps not deliberately quietly enough, "We all run the risk of doing that."

Eddie grinned fractionally for the briefest second. Those with engines in their blood had fire in their bellies he firmly believed. This Hashap might just have a bit of that fire in her. "I might just be able to work with you Ms Hashap."

She gave a winning and heartfelt smile in reply. "Please, call me Laura."

* * *


Lt Berkley felt relief as he bent over the nearest console to catch a breath. A hand slapped him mildly on the back. Jumping for height he turned around to see it was none other than Becca Swift.

"Is everything ok Berkley?"

Berkley was still getting use to the informal tone taken by the NCO petite and slender brunette in front of him. She was plain and certainly not unattractive. Her athletically toned body attested to her fitness regime, all the better for lugging about equipment and parts through the innards of the ship's Jeffries tubes and conduits.

He imagined that as an old hand of the Kestrel she had a greater standing with its Chief Engineer. He imagined too, the fact that she was an enlisted crewmate added kudos to her standing with the Chief who had a certain disliking or at the very least poor opinion of the Academy trained engineers like himself.

In these musings, he was correct.

"Em ... fine thanks Becca."

"In that case why don't we get along to the warp nacelles and start to check out the primary plasma input conduit." In anticipation, she held a bag of equipment and spare parts. At her foot was a similar bag for Berkley to carry.

Berkley took on board the almost implicit order of her suggestion. It somewhat irked him that he had extensively trained at Starfleet Academy and that he had gone on to prove himself as an ensign to receive his promotion to Lieutenant (junior grade) only to find an enlisted crewmate like Becca order him about.

Becca leaned in conspiratorially to Berkley and in whispered tones informed him, "The way I see it Berkley, the Chief will make it through five or four paragraphs of the report at most when he'll notice the discrepancy in the optimum levels at which the primary plasma input conduit should be operating and the reality as reported."

"When he does, his first call will be for us to make our way pronto, in particular to the port nacelle which is particularly out of alignment. When he does we, by which I mean you, can tell him that we are already on the way to fix the problem."

"Oh." He eyed her suspiciously.

"Don't worry, it's not some trick or trap. I noticed it when Hashap forwarded a copy of the report in advance of her visit. This will certainly win a few brownie points."

He bristled slightly at this. "Becca I'm not trying to win brownie points! Anyway, are you saying I have to win brownie points?"

"Of course you're not trying to win points. But it never hurts to help. It's better that than licking up to him without having done anything to warrant it. From my experience with the Chief on our last tour of duty that is an attribute he finds most annoying and he finds a lot of things annoying but that comes near the top of the list. I know his ways a bit. So it will hurt no-one to keep ahead of his plans."

She hoisted up his bag placing it in his hands. "Come on then."

He took the bag, put it over his shoulder, and followed her as she began to make the way towards the nacelles. "Why are you being so helpful though?"

On his last tour the senior enlisted crewmates had shown antagonism towards the ‘Fleets' because of the bullying behaviour of the ship's chief of engineer towards the enlisteds. In a roundabout form of retribution, they had then contrived to make life difficult for the chief's subordinate ‘Fleet' officers, such as Berkley.

Hence, Berkley's enthusiasm and renewed confidence at having a new berth envisioning much more cordial relations and better teamwork. Such expectations sadly dispelled upon meeting Gardner. He had such high hopes and the gruff engineer had dashed them. Consequently, the friendly good-natured advice of crewmates such as Becca was met with scepticism.

"Look Berkley, Gardner is the way that he is but he is a fine, fine engineer and you'll learn a lot from him. With that said, he is a right royal pain in thee arse! There is no denying that. But we all work along to his expectations and all of us in the engineering department work together fine."

She continued, "I gather you came from the Gloucester where things were less than ideal regards team morale. We Kestrels are an entirely different bunch. Our only attitudes lie with the senior officers such as Gardner and well - well, you met the Captain right?"

Berkley slowly nodded paling as he remembered the meeting.

Exiting a Jeffries tube twenty minutes later into the manual control bay of the port nacelle, Becca felt the Lieutenant had warmed to her and was coming round. He obviously had a few issues from the Gloucester.

As they straightened themselves and prepared for the trek through the crawl spaces towards their destination towards the fore of the nacelle along came the Captain with the new recruits. Becca gave the party a friendly smile and welcome.

Berkley was a whole lot more formal almost tripping over himself when he spied the Captain his voice proceeding. "That my dears, was the port nacelle."

Straightening up the Captain dusted down his hands and then proffered a hand to Jex to help her stand. "And as you will find out the warp drive control reactor is rather vital to our business so it was important for us to gather our bearings about it. Now that completes our tour of the port nacelle. As you can imagine the starboard nacelle is exactly the same except for its being on the other side."

"Ahh some more of my minions doing my bidding. Cutler, Jex and Templar this is ... well he's new too so you can hardly imagine me to know his name yet. Sorry if that makes you think I'm going to forget your names. Of course that wouldn't happen." He looked at them with what passed as an attempt at earnest intentions but he then shrugged the attempt off, "Well perhaps it will."

"Em ... it is Lieutenant Berkley sir."

"Don't tell me, I actually have met you before!" He jerked his head in the direction of the ensigns.

Berkley turned his attention to the ensigns. "Lt Berkley. Second in Engineering."

Jex stepped forward eagerly to shake his hand in greeting. The Captain muttered something to the likes of ‘God bloody help us!' before he launched more volubly, "This is Becca - Becca Swift - a runt from engineering whom we've helped to shape aboard the Kestrel."

"There was the Jonah prior to that too Captain."

"Pawh! A mere paddling about expedition. You hardly learnt anything with the likes of Higgins. It is only under mine tutelage, and Gardner to a lesser degree, that you have garnered the skills and talents you possess today. Obviously I saw something in you to allow you to come aboard and become one of my Kestrels."

The Captain then uncomfortably took in the fact he was surrounded by no less than four new crewmembers that would look upon his remarks as an endorsement of their talents.

That was not the message he wanted to send out. Particularly in light of the fact on this one occasion, it was patently not true. Not that any one else knew it. And the fact that his personnel requests were rebuffed and he was having these ensigns foisted on him for no good reason was something he did not want to think about just now. Else, he would throw all three out of the nearest airlock and celebrate their loss with a tankard of whisky. "Well often that is the case but not always."

Berkley had swelled proudly at the Captain's remarks and then deflated just as suddenly. Cutler echoed those feelings though he felt the Captain's eyes on him particularly at the last of the statement. He gulped. Jex smiled knowingly at the Captain's ploy and caught Becca's hidden smirk. Templar shifted from foot to foot. The movement caught Becca's attention and then she looked at Templar more closely and a look of recognition and disgust passed her face. Before Jex could enquire, the Captain moved the party on.

They passed into the Jeffries tube with the Captain calling back to Becca and Berkley, "Tallyho." To the ensigns following him he called, "This way to Engineering then."

Becca smiled at the procedure and the ensigns filing behind the Captain like ducklings after the mother duck. A niggling thought nagged at her as she looked back at the frame of Templar. She returned to the moment and then to Berkley remarked, "The Captain certainly believes in a thorough tour of the ship."

Berkley nodded, thinking how chafed his knees were by the end of his own tour a month ago when he swore he had traversed every single conduit and intersection of Jeffries tube aboard the ship only to spill out at last in Main Engineering before a run through of ship systems from there and finally being led to his berth.

"Yes it is very thorough." He rubbed his knees in memory.

"It comes from his time as an upper-yardsman." Becca caught the look of confusion on the lieutenant's face. "Sorry old earth nautical term. He started out like the Chief as an enlisted, worked his way up through the different ranks and departments onboard vessels. There's probably no-one who knows this ship as much as he does. Never mind the fact that he has commanded the Kestrel for nigh on twenty years he also served on the Kestrel as an NCO and a junior officer. No surprise then that he's of the firm belief that all crew should be intimately knowledgeable about the ship."

Picking up her gear for the short (though cramped) journey to the node junction they were looking for she remarked, "And wait till he starts drilling the crew!"

* * *

 

Hanging About by Miranda Fave

‘Hanging About'



Deck 6 and 5, Hangar Bay 1

As they crawled out of the conduit on their hands and knees, Noah looked up confused. "Erm ... Captain this isn't the Engineering room."

"Ten out of ten for you Mr Cutler. What gave it away, the lack of a warp core or the number of shuttlecraft sitting around on deck?"

He blushed at the mild rebuke. The Captain stepped into the centre of the hangar bay. He slapped the side of a Marco Palo class scientific shuttle. "As our good ensign Cutler pointed out we find ourselves not in the engineering department but in one of our shuttle hangars."

"Of course, you should have surmised that before we reached our destination if you read the numbers and letters printed to the sides of the conduits and Jeffries we travelled through and realised too that we were on Deck 6 and yet Engineering is on Deck 4 but enough talk about your failings. We will get to the engineering department later."

"It is pretty much the same as any other ship. Funny blue strobing lights giving people fits - what passes for a pretty lame-ass disco really. Don't tell Gardner I said that he's as grumpy as hell when it comes to his engines and basically everything else. Plus he doesn't like disco music - grouchy mentalist that he is. Not the happy go lucky type like myself."

The three ensigns dropped their eye level from the captain's not daring to make eye contact at such an absurdity. In doing so, they each examined the hangar more closely.

It was compact with a large shuttered opening to the rear. Against the sides various compartments held tools, panels to the hangar bay's tractor beam emitters, and on the lower level caged into their own little coops sat six of the ship's twelve work bee utility craft as numerated by the captain as he detailed the various embarked craft the Kestrel.

In total, there were twenty embarked craft. Among these were the work bee utility craft, squat bumblebee yellow stubby things with dexterous elongated arms, utilised by the engineering department to carry out maintenance and services and repairs to the ship. Mostly to the hull but also to areas not so easily accessed from the interior of the ship, from the nacelles to the deflector grids etc. Although the more modern approach was to suit up in EVA suits, the original Miranda design had included these workhorses and they served their purpose well.

In addition the original design of the Miranda class was outfitted with both assault and interceptor vehicles. The four Killer Bee class Assault craft housed on board paled in comparison to the modern Valkyrie fighters and as their name implied the design was derived from the work bee utility craft. It looked as though a work bee had an extended and more powerful engine housing shunted onto its backside with its dextrous arms amputated in favour of two long pointed tapering wings adding a new menace to the innoxious shape of the work bee craft. The midnight blue hulls added to the mean appearance of the craft whose purpose was to act as a defensive shield for the ship.

McGregor now standing beside one of the craft suspended from the ceiling by secure lines that allowed it to be hauled along to its launch point in the hangar, patted one of the menacing wings housing its ordnance.

"They might not look like much but they do have quite a sting to their tail." The Captain went on to explain how they were also often used to help drive off attackers from defenceless ships under attack from rogue Klingons, Orions, Ferengi marauders or Fien pirates and any other number of criminals they often encountered.

Although limited in their range and purposes, they were a useful weapon and tactic and just in defence as they worked well in assaults too, though normally the captain granted they acted more in defence than in the offence; ‘however foolish such a policy was' he had also added.

Sebastian Templar walked up to the craft the Captain stood beside, maintained an appreciative silence, and ran a hand reverently over the wing.

"I see you appreciate my killers Templar. Your record showed you had quite an aptitude with piloting attack craft, hence your inclusion upon my crew. You'll be working under Tac but as your skills also lie with piloting these assault vehicles, you will sometimes co-ordinate with Stanley too. Your record does show though that you never had an opportunity to fly one of these ..."

McGregor turned and stepped through a door where a further number of craft hung suspended from the ceiling. "My Wasps. And a pretty and deadly thing they are too."

For slightly further afield duties there were four other more streamlined craft. The four Wasp class craft had a keener look, speedier looking too as the captain explained they were Interceptors used to chase down escaping enemies, make pursuit or follow enemy craft to their whereabouts and hideouts. These vessels were black, and recently updated with scan deflecting technology to allow them to carry out their espionage roles to greater effect. The fact they were atmospheric flight capable only added to their range and versatility.

Sebastian whistled appreciatively and Jex too looked upon the mean craft with a certain relish. Noah imagined she recollected flying them before or some like memory. He himself quailed at the thought of such a cooped up space in such a precarious position. The vacuum of space was no more than a windshield away!

"Of course Jex and Cutler we will have to rectify your lack of experience in these vehicles - something I'll get Stanley to work on as soon as. I expect all of my crew to be able to do anyone else's job with confidence and skill. Save my own of course. I can't expect too much of you."

"Actually, Jex has flown these before. Some of the very first Wasps actually."

"Oh dear you're doing that Trill thing talking about yourself in the third person. Tsk, Tsk." McGregor paused then to consider, "Per chance I haven't dated you before."

Jex almost blushed and laughed, "No Captain you haven't!"

"Just checking, can never be too careful when it comes to a Trill!" To the two men he said in an aside, "Memories like elephants they do - and that's just women for you - so if you cross a female Trill sheesh! You promise to call and they hold you to it." Then to Jex he remarked, "Now by date I don't exactly mean ..."

Jex cut in before he said something too outrageous. "No Captain, not in any shape or form whatsoever."

Again, in an aside to the blokes McGregor stage whispered. "Didn't think so! I'm pretty unforgettable," he dug an elbow into Noah's ribs in a bantering manner, "if you know what I mean."

Embarrassed Noah meekly replied, "Yes sir."

"What do you mean you know Cutler? Somehow I doubt if I ever," he made matching bunny ears fingers for the quote marks, "‘dated' you Cutler!"

Noah went red but the Captain did not miss a beat and instead stepped out of the room housing the wasps and led the way back to the main hangar. As they made their way along the gangways and then down the ladders, McGregor approached two specially adapted shuttles.

"The ship obviously also has numerous personnel shuttlecraft. Nothing too fancy mind." He wagged a scolding finger and then will false graciousness related, "We are after all the under belly of the fleet and they don't tend to extend us too many favours even though we spare them the grunt of any real work. For the retro look, we have one Galileo class multi-purpose warp shuttle. We have one CHSU class dockport shuttle. Funny looking thing isn't it."

Indeed it was, like some sort of angular insect, a sort of triangularised grasshopper head with its legs chopped off and a rectangular block for a body to Noah's mind. "No need for it to be deployed here with the spacebase amenities allowing for a wide range of vessels to dock and it is rarely used if ever, but you never know when it might be needed to help mate the Kestrel to an alien ship or base. Can't throw it away for Admiralty would be peeved. Can't see though us ever really needing it. But isn't it always the way, you throw something away and the next week it's the very thing you need!"

He went up to one of the specially outfitted shuttles. He gave it a hearty slap as if it were a pet dog. "But this here is a true beauty. This, this is one of our true grunts of the Border Service. A Stallion class shuttle. More robust and all round tough guy of the shuttle world."

"With the type of SAR and boarding missions we perform, we need a craft with real balls. It has to be able to withstand heavy fire, tricky nebulas, attach itself and cut into a hostile craft. The big surprise about it is the fact it isn't a standard design throughout Starfleet, the Fleeters fly such delicate tin cans that seem to run into all manner of difficulties and need rescuing more often than not. Obviously, trusted with the mission to rescue others we need something up to the job. And these are it."

McGregor clapped his hands together as if calling this section of the tour complete. He rubbed them together with relish and anticipation. "Now my dears, it's time we went outside for a breath of fresh air."

Noah blurted out, "Beg your pardon Captain?"

"Not to worry young Cutler. Better out than in." he slapped the ensign roughly on the back. "Oh you didn't mean you'd passed wind you're just puzzled by my statement. I actually thought it was rather obvious. Suit up. There's no better way to appreciate the ship than to tour the hull."

* * *

'Bedding In' by Miranda Fave

‘Bedding In'



Deck 5, USS Kestrel

"So this, my pretty, is your berth. Sorry Mr Templar I was talking to Miss Jex not yourself." Stood side by side at the entrance to her berth, Jex hid a smile from the serious head of Sebastian. The Captain having entered the small cramped insides stood centre two paces from the bed, the screen on the opposite wall, and a small study table with a narrow rectangular window above it. The third wall opened to a tiny en suite.

"Small but luckily private. And the bed will comfortably fit two - atop one another but that would be your own business ensign."

Sebastian looked mortified. Jex for her own part was not so put out after decades of previous lifetimes to reflect upon. Though the Leoini part was still slightly shocked, she relied on the Jex symbiont to temper those reactions.

This she did more readily when the Captain's outrageous comments were directed towards her but not so readily when directed at others. Plus, when the comments were directed at her, both parts secretly thrilled at the greater discomfiture they caused to both Sebastian and Cutler.

"Now Ms Jex I know we left your friend one deck down amongst the rabble of deck six but your newest friend Mr Templar is only going to be next door. That could be handy! Oh now Mr Templar don't gawp! I only jested - unless you're thinking otherwise, you are a bit of a scoundrel."

Templar visibly coloured, though Jex believed it to not be discomfiture this time but Sebastian containing his anger. The Captain appeared oblivious or unconcerned. "This way Templar. Just next door. It is sound proof despite the proximity so not to worry dears. Well I'll leave you two to settle in and get your berths in order. Should take oh all of five minutes."

"Once you're bedded in, ahem no innuendo please, report to the officer's mess in fifteen minutes, bring Mr Cutler along if you must - I mean - will. Molly - that's Commander Cartwright to ye - thought it would be nice to lay on a little soirée to help all the new crewmembers get to know one another and a few of the old hands."

McGregor then bowed and gestured with a rolling wave of his hand as he said, "I bid you farewell." He then stepped forwards to Jex took her hand and kissed it demurely before ruining the effect with a wink. "See you later Freckles."

With that, he walked off and a smiling Jex said to Sebastian, "Do you imagine he is like that all the time?"

He gave a look down the corridor to the retreating Captain. "Let's hope not Ensign."

"Hey I think we can drop the titles, especially in light of the Captain's shall we say informality. Besides, we're the same rank, even if you have a few years on me. What's the deal, you stepping up from enlisted? I don't remember you from the Academy."

Templar grunted. "Something like that. If you'll excuse me."

Shrugging his negative attitude off Jex ploughed on enthusiastically. "Come on, let's get Cutler and make our way to this party the Captain talked about."

Remaining stalwart, he replied none too polite. "I think you fail to appreciate Jex that I am none too interested. I've had my fill of meet and greets to new ships - and parties."

"You've got a fill of an attitude that much is for sure. Fine be it your own way." She marched off without a backward glance at Templar. He was glad in a way. Yet in a way, he would have liked if she had tried to twist his arm too. However, he was better off out of temptations way if truth were told.

* * *


McGregor waltzed into the Kestrel's bar and sat himself on a stool with his customary ease. He tapped the bar counter with the knuckle of his right index finger. Without a word or a pause, the barkeep set a double whiskey in front of the Captain. "Thank ye Gordon."

Proceeding to dry the inside of glasses with a dishcloth the barkeep, Gordon, a tall blond severe looking man quizzed his Captain with a lack of formality that only came of a barman talking to a regular customer. "So how are the new kids on the block settling in?"

"Same ole, same ole, Gordon." He supped his drink and smacked his lips with a gracious sigh. "That hit the spot. The usual mix. One kid so scared and nervous he's ready to wet his pants each time I look at him. One so cocky he's likely to get people killed and going by his past form there's every chance he might do so again - but sssh keep that under your hat."

Gordon after years of service with McGregor caught a slight hesitancy. "And the other?"

McGregor eyed the barkeep suspiciously. "You are always well informed on my crew Gordon."

"As the de facto ship's counsellor I think it my duty to be well informed."

Appalled at the sentiment for his own personal reasons, McGregor's lip curled. "You are not the de facto ship's counsellor!"

Gordon mopped up a ring of liquid formed by a cool glass on the counter as he nonchalantly enquired, knowing the answer full too well, "Have you replaced Dr Healy?"

"No, she might come back after all."

Gordon leaned over the counter and lowered his voice. "Even after you sold her in order to track some Orion pirates?"

With a serious and sincere tone McGregor answered, "An exciting mission I entrusted to her. Something to get her out of her counsellor's office and to see a bit of the real world."

"You didn't exactly inform her of the mission or give her a choice."

"It helped her to play the part much more convincingly. She over reacted that's all."

"She was kidnapped."

"And also rescued. Don't forget that important piece of information."

"Anyway how is the Trill settling in?"

"Same ole, same ole. Trills are kinda freaky really. The freckles, the worm in my stomach and the general whole long life thing ..." Abruptly changing topic, "You're quiet in here today."

"Everybody is at the reception Captain." The use of rank a deliberate attempt by Gordon to recall to the Captain his duties.

McGregor threw the remainder of his drink down his throat. "Ah! I do recall. Well I had best be off then. Molly wants me to mind the shop while she tucks the fledglings in."

* * *

'A Message Home' by Miranda Fave

 

‘A Message Home'



Noah Cutler's quarters, Deck 6

In his quarters, Noah finished signing off. He quickly reviewed the recording feeling despondent and frustrated. As he listened to his words, he could read the truth that lay behind them.

Hi Mom,

I guess I really ought to talk direct to you but to be honest Mom I'm nervous to. I know when I see your face I'll see the doubts you have and the worries you have for me. But truth is ...

Cutler set back on his bunk in front of the screen pausing for thought. He wanted to tell his Mom everything. He wanted nothing more than to speak to her and hear her comforting voice in return. She would probably put on smiles and pretend that she was delighted with his posting and happy for her son to be starting on his grand adventures just as his grandfather had.

It would be a lie and a facade she would out up to keep her son happy. He in turn had to do the same in order to reassure her that all was well.

... there's no need to worry. Captain McGregor is a brave man with a fierce reputation and a well-trained crew who know their business. So there's no need to worry about my safety.

He hoped this reassured her. She might see through it. Would she worry more about what it was he was holding back? Then again, she was use to seeing Noah hide his feelings. All his life he had had to hold back. He had to restrain himself and be careful of his thoughts, his feelings, his actions. Others put this behaviour down to a hesitant cautious nature. Others thought Noah to be a coward.

Others he imagined like his new captain.

The Captain is ...somewhat unorthodox, but I think that is par for the course in Border Service. He's not genial or diplomatic but ... unpredictable in his mood. He's had over twenty years experience serving on the Kestrel though and knows her inside and out.

Noah knew he wasn't a coward per se but he did worry. Worry about his mother. Worry about his first posting. Worry about the fact he was posted to a border cutter. Worry about the secret and the effect of his lineage on others. He worried too about the impression he had made on the Captain when he reported aboard.

So far he came across as an idiotic bumbling nervous ensign who was nothing more than a wet behind the ears Starfleet graduate without a clue about the ‘real world' of life aboard a ship.

The fact that the Captain was a grunt who had made it up through the NCO ranks to become a starship captain and therefore had no outward fondness for ‘academy trained brats' or ‘paper accredited officers' made matters worse.

McGregor had an uncanny ability to look through a person and see the core of their being and measured them to his standards as to whether they were fit to serve aboard his ship. Noah felt that measuring stare was disappointed in what it found. McGregor had judged him and found his new Ops ensign wanting.

I certainly made an impression on the Captain and the other senior officers warmly welcomed me. Of course, Jex is being extremely helpful in helping me get use to life aboard a ship and getting acquainted with the layout of the Miranda class. She served on one in a previous life and is excited about serving aboard another again. You know Jex, always a positive to every situation.

In truth, Jex was an enormous help and a reassuring comfort. A close friend from his last year at the Academy they had found themselves sharing their first berth aboard the Kestrel. She helped Cutler make sense of the strenuous ship's tour provided by the Captain via Jeffries tubes, conduits, airlocks and meanders on the hull in an EVA! Her positive demeanour was infectious but also jarring as he tried to keep up with insincere smiles.

McGregor's unorthodox, but thorough, tour epitomised the command style of this uncouth, unpredictable and acerbic firebrand captain. He had constantly wrong footed the three ensigns he had taken on tour and took great delight in making Noah squirm in his ignorance to questions posed and the undermining, racist and sexist comments he made en route. Cutler was still unsure whether it was all an act or whether their captain really was as unprofessional as he appeared to be.

Jex's response to the Captain was of course to laugh or take it in her stride. But as a joined Trill she had several lifetimes of experience to fall back on and her cool calm confidence was in marked contrast to his blushing and his incoherent babbling or stating the bleeding obvious or bleeding stupid. That was the height of the impression he had made upon McGregor.

There's a lot to take onboard and I'm still trying to remember the names of the key staff personnel, never mind the different NCOs and trying to recall everything the captain told us about the ship's layout and procedures.

Life aboard the Miranda class vessel was going to be very different to what he imagined life on a starship would be. It would be cramped and limited in luxury. The routine would be tedious scanning and patrol broken by knife throat fighting and dangerous search and rescue operations. So much of what he had learned at the Academy was defunct or inapplicable to the circumstances he now found himself serving.

Truth was, he had never expected nor wanted to serve in the Border Service. All this McGregor gleaned when he gave Noah his measuring glare and judged him unfit. The Captain's judgement was no less for Noah not wanting to serve aboard a boarder cutter. He felt the disappointment of the failure to impress his first-ever commanding officer, even one like McGregor. Why could he not have had a posting on a Galaxy, New Orleans or Nebula class! Why had he been shunted off to the side to the poor cousin branch of Starfleet the Border Service?

I'm really looking forward to serving aboard the vessel and it's a great opportunity to learn my craft serving aboard an older vessel and really having to work. And of course, I know I keep saying that, but it is exciting to think that I am following in granddad's steps serving aboard a cutter. A Cutler aboard a Cutter!

He gave a small feeble laugh but thought to himself, ‘I just hope I can cut it'. He had his grandfather's reputation to live up to but that in itself was a concern too. He decided not to dwell on it. So far he was bound not to have sounded too heartfelt in his words and had not served to reassure his mother any.

Anyway Mom, I just want you to know I'm thinking of you and I hope you're ok. Honestly, everything is going fine here and I'll talk proper real soon. It's just I'm busy and have lots going on in my head. This really is the start of my adventures and my chance to ...

Find myself. Be myself. Run from myself.

... see the universe and explore strange new worlds. Just imagine Mom, when we launch I will be out there among the stars. Look up and spot a star and I might very well be flying by it. Kinda cool that.

There was genuine enthusiasm now in his voice and his spirits were raised, however briefly, thinking in this line. He decided to end it on that note. Therefore, he signed off with a simple but warm goodbye. With just a barest hint of melancholy, he signed off:

I love you and I miss you.

 

* * *

'An Admiring Admiral' by Miranda Fave

* * *

‘An Admiring Admiral'



Junior Officers quarters, Deck 5, Ensign Sebastian Templar's quarters

When Jex had turned on her heel and left Sebastian Templar at the entrance to his room, he had taken a reluctant step back across its threshold and the door slid shut in front of his face. He then turned to survey his spartan quarters and with little thought set out some of his personal effects.

These effects amounted to very little. Sebastian was far from ever being or ever having been a sentimental person. There was a holo print of his sister caught up in the arms of his father in his Starfleet uniform while Sebastian stood stoically to the side hiding a frown and jealous petulant look even as his mother was caught in freeze frame stooping to coax and reassure the seven year old that ‘Daddy will play with you soon.'

Of course, Daddy never did. Shipping out the next day Daddy never managed to return, killed in action as the notice stated. And his Mother then had thrown herself into her Starfleet career following her husband's death. It was as if she tried to make up for his promising career being cut short she could somehow make up for his death; but all Sebastian and little Katie wanted was for their Mother to spend her time and even share her grief with them.

This photo was the last captured moment of their normal family life. With Sebastian moody at the attention his younger sister was getting, jealous of the love showered on her by his father but never heaped upon Sebastian. Katie was his father's favourite. There was just no denying it.

Sebastian was probably his Mother's, probably except that she played her role as parent as strictly fair as she could. She knew that she ought not to have a favourite child and so overcompensated in her efforts to be equally fair and so denied Sebastian the love and attention he might otherwise have gotten.

Following his father's death, his mother had retreated into herself and then took solace in her work. She became obsessed and quickly garnered praise for her professionalism and dedication whilst at home her offspring suffered the loss of their father and virtual loss of their mother to work.

Sebastian knew his counsellors, whom he had been forced to attend, had attributed his problems to these difficult background circumstances. He however, was having none of it. He was not going to blame his mistakes on his father's death. If his mother did not excuse him his faults then why should others.

He looked sadly at the photo and considered the point in time. His father was Commander and first officer and had begun to push for promotion as master and commander of his own vessel. At this stage, he was in close competition with his brother to see which brother, Sebastian's father or Sebastian's uncle, would achieve the rank of Captain.

By default, his uncle now an admiral had won that bet. Had Frank Templar not been killed he might well have beaten his elder brother to the centre chair. Instead, his mother had achieved the rank whilst his uncle had advanced as far as the rank of admiral. His sister was a space gypsy travelling from star to star never settling in total retaliation to the structures and confines of government, bureaucracy, organisation that had dominated her life as a girl, which had also stolen her father from her and engulfed her mother.

Sebastian however had tried to embrace Starfleet fully seeking to prove himself. If he could just achieve his utmost in order to prove himself to his dead father's memory and to please his mother. That was his original desire, to find some sort of accomplishment in his life.

But upon joining, he felt stifled and oppressed. He wanted more, he wanted to impress but was impatient to see his moment come and soon he sought escapes - in drugs, in sexual exploits, in dangerous living all of which impinged on his work and led to his court-martialling.

If not for the record of his mother, his long family history in Starfleet annals and his uncle an important Admiral vying for his nephew to be given a second chance he would have been drummed out of Starfleet. Instead, he found himself back on the lowest ladder and working on a cutter in the Border Service, far removed from the ship of the line posting he otherwise could have had.

All these thoughts tumbled through his head as Sebastian awaited the call from said uncle. The voice of one of the ship's communications officers came over the intercom in Sebastian's quarters. "Ensign Templar, I have an incoming private call from Starfleet, San Francisco."

"Put it through to my quarters ... please." He reminded himself of his uncle's reprimands during Sebastian's court martial proceedings about his lack of manners. Not that he normally did so but so in advance of receiving his uncle's call.

"Ah Sebastian! Glad I caught you. Thought you might be in the middle of a welcoming party."

"Eh ... no. The Captain gave us a tour of the ship and it was a rather comprehensive tour at that."

The figure of the Admiral chuckled. "Yes I had heard something about McGregor's ship tours. It seems they do live up the rumours then."

"The Captain is a most ‘impressive' figure. No wonder he's been shunted off to the Border Dogs."

The Admiral leaned forward with a cross countenance. He held up an admonitory finger. "Ah. I do not want to hear such a petulant tone from you Bastian. Do not besmirch the Border Service and count yourself lucky to have gotten a position at all within Starfleet. We might have managed to avoid the worst case scenario of your court martial but the stigma from such a proceeding not only stalls a career it makes getting a berth aboard a vessel very difficult."

"But McGregor, albeit a gruff and rather unorthodox officer, is one of the service's toughest and most experienced officers. You stand toe to toe with McGregor and you come away with a bloody nose. No mean feat considering he's commanded an ageing Miranda with few of the technological perks of the main fleet."


Sebastian folded his arms as if sulking from the lecture. His uncle by now recognised much of his nephew's body language and decided to end his lecture. The lad had endured long months of being questioned, hauled over the same events and statements repeatedly and endured endless lectures and many insults and recriminations.

"Well I won't hold you from your party for too long. I just wanted to see how you were settling into your new berth."

"I wasn't planning on going to the party."

"Oh." His uncle's eyebrows went up. "Why ever not? It seems a trivial matter but it does provide a good platform to meet many of your crewmates and form some tentative relationships and from even tittle-tattle gossip you can figure out who are the most competent and useful people to go to when you need their help or expertise."

Sebastian frowned, disbelieving the degree to which that was true. "Perhaps. But I would rather avoid the fake smiles and the gossip."

"What fake smiles and gossip?"

"About me. Everyone is going to wonder first of all why I'm only an ensign at my age. And if they happen to know the truth then they are going to be judging me."

The Admiral looked at the polished surface of his desk and then looked up to meet Sebastian's eyes. "That's to be expected Bastian. People are going to find out about you sooner or later and even though you've had it up to the ceiling with people judging you, don't forget your actions brought on that judgement. You deserved it. You are to blame for the judgement."

Sebastian reddened with anger. "Thanks a million, Uncle! With you on my side, why I don't need any enemies."

"Don't be mulish Bastian. You know I'm telling the truth. But just because you had fault and have been judged doesn't mean you need to suffer any further judgement. But it is in the nature of people. So take control of it. Get out there first and tell the truth of your past. It might not win you fans but your honesty will impress and tell people that you can be trusted and show you are making amends for your past mistakes."

Mockingly Sebastian chorused, "Hi everybody, I'm Sebastian Templar, did you know that I was the Lieutenant who ..."

The Admiral cut him off. "Don't be so churlish Bastian. Just go out and talk to them. You are going to have to work with them. And go to the party and try to make friends with some of them. You need friends."

Dryly he retorted, "My friends didn't exactly stand by might I remind you Uncle."

"They weren't friends. They were druggies like you! You can't expect them to have stood by you when they couldn't even stand up for themselves."

Sebastian frowned but acknowledged the truth of the statement. "You need friends. Go and meet your fellow crewmates and take things from there Bastian. Take a chance on them. More importantly take a chance on yourself."

Sebastian relented, "Alright I will consider it at least."

"Try to do more than consider it. Oh and Sebastian, the Border Service might be seen by some as the poor cousin of the Fleet but give it a chance. The Service is not the backwater you might think and it offers new opportunities and challenges to someone who needs it, not to mention it protects the Federation. At times our first line of defence and at times the last chance for the Federation. Make the most of it. I didn't go to all the trouble of helping you get off with your charges for you to squander your opportunity."

Sebastian bristled, "Are you trying to make me feel more beholden to you?"

"You know I am not. I did what I did for you. I want you to make me proud but not because I want to be beholden to me. I want you to do well. I want you to be happy. You deserve a break. You deserve some happiness. Don't make yourself pay anymore for your past mistakes. You'll live with that blame probably for the rest of your life but you do need to move on with your life."

"I suppose you might make a point. But I do want to make you proud."

"I already am. But hey if you want to continue to make me proud I won't hold it against you."

They shared a small laugh and then bid each other farewell. Sebastian turned then to reconsider the party invite.

* * *

 

'A VIP Event' by Miranda Fave

‘A VIP Event'



VIP Lounge, Deck 4

After storming off from the grouch that was Sebastian Templar, Jex began to bounce in her step as she neared Cutler's cabin. She knew her unbridled enthusiasm annoyed him but it also tended to help his withdrawn character to come out. She reminded herself again that she was so sugary sweet with him because it was all in a good cause and to help out a friend.

Moments later, Jex was hauling Cutler out of his shared berth quarters. "But Jex I wanted to meet my cabin mate. I don't know who it is it and it's probably bad form not to wait around and introduce yourself."

He looked back considering whether he should have deleted his message.

Jex seemed not to mull over his delaying tactic long as she continued to pull him by the arm, "But whoever it is they are probably going to be here at this meet and greet. Anyway, just check with the computer and you will soon know who it is you're bunking with. I hope he's cute and then I'll have an excuse to sneak a look at him whenever I want."

"Yeah, that was high up on my list of priorities for cabin mates. So long as they keep you entertained!"

She patted his shoulder in mock gratitude, "How very considerate of you Noah."

"What about you?"

"Mmm? Oh no, I don't have a room mate. I have my own private quarters."

"Oh that's lucky."

"Hardly, or should I say there's hardly room to swing a cat. All very basic and low key. Trust me your crewman quarters are the better choice. I can just about sit on the end of my bunk."

"What, are you used to more luxury?"

"I had been. Koedi Jex was a Lt Commander and rated her own private quarters. The fact that her last posting was onboard a Galaxy class only served to give her even greater space and luxury. Even with that, all my previous berths on the quarterdeck have been shared. So I'm more use to sharing than cramped privacy."

"I suppose a Trill has to be use to sharing."

They started to climb the stairwell from deck six to the VIP lounge on deck 4. "Hey you're right! Gees you are funny times Noah. Much more than can be said for my neighbour."

"Who's that?"

"Sebastian, Mr Crack-a-smile, of course. Imagine he didn't want to come to this party! He said something about, ‘I've had my fill of meet and greets to new ships and of parties'. Obviously, some sort of history there. He was rather elusive about giving anything away."

"Not everyone is an open book Jex. Remember you're a Trill so you are used to sharing your life experiences with others."

Jex mocked, "Oh we are getting all profound and knowledgeable about Trills."

"Hardly, the concept still makes my head dizzy."

Musing to herself aloud she said, "I must look up his record and check him out. Don't look at me like that Noah. It is only natural to be curious and only professional to know a bit about whom you work with. Mind you we only learned a little from others on the transport to Starbase 49 about the Captain and it painted a fairly accurate picture of him."

"You think so too?"

"Yeah Noah, he's definitely irascible and unpredictable but he appears very experienced. Think about our tour and his in-depth knowledge of the ship. Trust me when I say you want that in a Captain. I'd love to be like that some day."

Noah stopped his climb up the stairs. She laughed at him. "Not personality wise Noah but you know experienced and commanding." She thought of Deodzi and her most recent previous host Koedi and the authority and command they had worked so hard and long to achieve. Would Leoini achieve such success?

"You're a con-joined Trill, how much more experienced can people get?"

She considered his point as very valid as she already felt she carried a certain natural authority derived from the Jex symbiont.

"Touché Noah. Look here we are."

Upon entering the VIP lounge, Jex smiled exuberantly as she took in the small crowd gathered around circular tables of finger foods and harmless drinks.

She did note that the hall was a rather small affair and it brought home that she was back serving aboard a Miranda. Fond memories though the class of ship held it did remind her of cramped conditions and a yearning for space and the thrill of getting to planet-side in an away team mission.

Looking about they spied a great number of the senior crew from the bridge mixing throughout the informal gathering. Gardner was there but was chomping through the appetisers as if they were his evening meal; which in fact they were, for he was soon about to leave. The engineer's report did not make for pleasant reading and the Captain's reaction even less so. The party was merely a pit stop to refuel and then charge back at the list of lists of jobs to be completed.

His fierce chewing and deportment made the other engineering personnel nervous and on edge as they understood the mood and the extent of the report's findings. They therefore were under no illusions that they would find themselves called back by the Chief to engineering one by one, as the evening wore on.

Holding centre court of the whole proceedings was Cartwright. Checking everyone had a drink and making small talk with passing crewmembers. She held a champagne flute in her hand but drank nothing from it. She was engaged in telling Gardner to slow down before he did himself a disservice or end up with indigestion. He looked up at her as he continued to chew ignominiously and then as if in defiance of her. She decided to ignore his petulance.

Spying Cutler and Jex she started to make her way over to them bidding a yeoman carrying a tray of drinks to follow her.

As she traversed the room, she passed Stanley stood espousing to a science ensign about some interesting fact or other. He turned to see where the Commander was headed, smiling benignly when he saw whom.

"I'm glad our almost guests of honour decided to show up. We were beginning to think the Captain had waylaid you on the way back from Engineering or left you stranded on the hull." She proffered two glasses of champagne and thanked the startlingly beautiful female yeoman who smiled demurely in reply before slinking away.

"Oh the Captain thought to show us another route to auxiliary control via the conduits."

"How very considerate of him."

They laughed politely. "That said take it all onboard. An intimate knowledge of the vessel you serve aboard is vitally important. Not to mention the Captain is a stickler for it. It will also be very useful knowledge in the next coming days as the engineer's report is less than satisfactory."

With that, Gardner with two of his comrades glumly in tow retreated from the mess hall. "Hence the foul mood of our dear engineer - his excuse on this occasion at least. Not to worry you dear." She placed a hand on Jex. "He's a whiz in the engine room if not in the personality stakes. I never said that mind."

She laughed softly, winked and then by turn serious again said to Cutler, "And Mr Cutler you'll find yourself crawling through those Jeffries and conduits over the next coming weeks as we chase down one errant system after the other. The operating systems are one of the Captain's priorities. So that will be our priority, understood?"

Cartwright turned them into the room and pushed them forward. "Let's go meet some people. Where's Templar at?"

They shrugged in unison. "Ah well his loss." She reflected on the reasons for the ensign's absence and inferred much from the jacket she had read on him but mentioned none of this to Jex or Cutler of course.

She steered them towards the mysterious navigation officer. "Stanley our new ensigns. I would also like you two to meet Matt Duffy. Chat to him a bit and you'll find that even the new ensigns eventually find their feet with us." She raised her eyebrows as she added with mock severity, "If they survive."

Cutler laughed nervously. Matt shook his hand then. "Not to worry guys it is a fine ship with a great crew. You'll soon get to grips with the way things work around here. The first thing to learn is that when a party is being held take full advantage of the fact!"

Cartwright raised her glass and merrily added, "I'll drink to that!"

They all raised their glasses in good spirits and mirth. Even as they did, another crewmember from engineering tapped his commbadge in response to a call from Gardner. Gardner hadn't even made it to Engineering himself before starting to call personnel back.

More to herself but not quite quiet enough for them not to overhear Molly said, "Eddie I despair of you at times."

"So Miss Jex how many hosts have you had?"

In matriarchal tones Cartwright scolded, "Stanley!"

"Eh ... oh it is ok Commander Cartwright."

"Why did I say something offensive? I merely enquired..."

"We know what you enquired. It is not exactly good protocol to ask a Trill such a question."

Cutler added without thought, "Besides if you give it long enough they will soon tell you!" He then looked appalled at his slip but Jex happily laughed at his good-natured and in her case at least observant barb.

"Cutler might have a point there. It is always an honour to be accepted into the Trill initiate and often it is a real thrill. As a girl, I, that is Leoini, but always dreamed of being accepted and becoming a host. There hadn't been a host in our family for three generations for one reason or another. So it was an absolute thrill to be accepted especially as I was almost halfway through my training at Starfleet. Everything fell into place at the one time and I guess ever since I have been joined with Jex all I can do is talk about her and her past lives. It truly is life altering and no doubt once I got back to Starfleet Academy all I could do was talk to friends like Noah about it."

"I see. And is it the case with other Trill hosts? I must admit ensign to never meeting a Trill host before."

"Well for what it is worth I have never met anyone from your species!" There was a pregnant pause and a vacant look from Stanley at this statement. Jex continued, "I dare say other hosts have exercised a greater discretion than me but I see myself as an extension of the Jex personality too therefore it seems only reasonable to talk about myself like anyone would. In answer to your question, this is my fourth co-joining Stanley."

"How very exciting. And has Jex served in Starfleet before?"

"Oh yes, twice. Deodzi was the first to as a lieutenant when she was joined, rose to the rank of Commander, and served for twenty-three years. The Jex symbiont found the experience rewarding, especially as one of the first joined Trill in Starfleet, though at the time it was something we tended to keep rather guarded."

"Anyhow, after that experience Jex really enjoyed and got a lot from being a part of Starfleet. It's a great way of experiencing new worlds and people and cultures. As a symbiote, experiencing new things is part of the joy. That's one reason why ‘Jex' chose ‘Leoini' because she was already signed up to Starfleet but was starting out. In fact, Jex's first berth was also a Miranda vessel so history is repeating itself. Mind you it was when the Miranda was the cutting edge of Federation technology."

"And how did Deodzi die?"

"Now that is inappropriate Stanley! Sorry ensign Stanley sometimes does not have the same tact as the rest of us at times. He means no offence he is just naturally inquisitive and quite innocent of malice of any kind."

Stanley did not appear to be embarrassed or annoyed at his own indiscretion but blinked blankly. Jex stared at him for a whole minute with him not responding. When she realised nothing was forthcoming Jex decided to change tact.

This however, prompted Stanley to speak. "I apologise ensign. My manners are not always what they should be. Hardly surprising when one considers my upbringing."

"Your upbringing?"

"As you alluded yourself ensign, you have never seen another of my species before. That is hardly surprising. I am the only one of my kind."

Molly sagely and sympathetically nodded her head. "I'm afraid our Stanley is a one of a kind. No records. No other specimen of his kind ever seen." They all looked at Stanley in a new light. Sympathy held in those looks. Stanley grinned widely at the attention unsure of the correct response. "He was discovered by of all people the Captain, alone on a desolated craft devoid of life or evidence of where it had come from."

"That is correct Commander. The good Captain found me as a small child. I was probably in my teens. I cannot say for sure as I have no memory of my existence before this time."

"Wow brain freeze! And did they ever glean information from the craft they discovered you from?"

"No, alas it was destroyed in the Event."

"Oh right."

Cutler frowned. "The ... Event? What do you mean?"

"The time shift event that threw us both into the future by sixty years."

"Time shift?" Cutler asked disbelievingly.

"Sixty years!" exclaimed Jex.

Ensign Matt Duffy expressed his astonishment at their not knowing. "I'm surprised they didn't fill you in on the details at assignment detail. By means of making duty on an aging Miranda in the back of beyond border patrol shift seem that bit more appealing."

"You mean to tell me Duffy that that was your only reason for appreciating your posting aboard the Kestrel. I am sorry to hear that or should I say you are going to be sorry that I heard that." The small party laughed at the Commander's joke. Matt hoped it was a joke.

"Er ... no actually they just sent us packing without explanation as to our posting. Said something about it being a requested posting."

"I dare say! The Captain, more than any other, hand picks his crew. For whatever reason he finds in your experience, Academy record or personal background an asset he can use aboard the Kestrel. He has an uncanny talent spotting ability."

"Kinda blowing your own trumpet there Duffy."

"Oh sorry Commander I didn't mean ... I mean ... well ..." He petered out unable to explain himself.

"Yeah whatever. Duffy has a point; the Captain often has his reasons for posting you aboard. However, any Captain tends to carefully review the staffing of their ship. Duffy here is a whizz from his Academy days at manipulating the deflector and lateral shields for any number of purposes. He uses his scientific knowledge to great effect making even hardened engineers like Gardner blush at his ability to strengthen communications, sensors and shields."

"Of course Stanley here is a somewhat personal charge of the Captain's ever since he discovered him but he also proved to be an expert linguist and a very shrewd intelligence operative even if he has an amazing lack of tact and inability to read people at times."

"And yourself Commander? If that's not too impertinent."

Jex thought she noticed the Commander hesitate, but it was so quick she could not be sure; nevertheless, she found the commander appeared to evade details as she answered, "I'd served with the Captain before. When he saw I was available once more he offered me the post as his executive officer."

"That doesn't explain how you served with him before."

"He was a lieutenant aboard the Kestrel before I moved on to my next assignment. He must have liked what he saw. Speaking of which on your ship's tour did you like what you saw?"

"Oh yes. As I said I'd served on a Miranda class before so it brought back great memories. From the stairwells to the library to the knocking shop bubbles!"

Molly laughed aloud as Jex realised how frank she had been. "I see your previous time aboard was put to good use! You didn't perchance call the viewing galleries on deck nine the knocking shop bubbles in front of the Captain?"

Blushing slightly Jex demurred, "It may have accidently slipped out at that point in the tour."

"And how pray tell did he react?" Molly enquired teasingly knowing full well how debauched McGregor was.

"Rather ... cheerily. In good humour."

"I'm sure. I'm surprised his eyebrows didn't fall off! Don't encourage him so though ensign. He's a tough, smart and deadly Captain but he's not exactly professional ... or chaste."

"No I had gathered as much. But he definitely knows the ship inside and out! I might have fond memories of the Miranda class but I never got such an up close and personal view of a ship before. It looks very majestic when you're stood on the hull overlooking it all."

Molly nodded her head too in appreciation. "She's a tough bird the Kestrel and a beauty in flight. I take it he showcased his upgraded tractor beams."

"Yes definitely."

"If we get nothing else out of this refit those tractor emitters will be his joy and blessing. They were always a source of pride for him. He likes the idea that for the little vessel we are we could swing a Galaxy class around like a cat by the tail. So upgraded and strengthened he is going to be cock a hoop about them. He's just itching to try them out."

"Yes I think he was going to demonstrate them by grabbing a passing runabout but we managed to dissuade him. Isn't that right Noah?" She turned to her friend who had remained studiously quiet throughout.

But Noah was miles away in thought. Brought to, he blurted out without consideration for the current conversation, "Mnu Subreliqui? Sorry how do you know that to be your name if you have no memory?"

"My, Cutler you have been puzzling over that."

"Sorry it just puzzled me."

"No offence Ensign. It is easily explained. When the Captain discovered me, those were the words I was found to be repeating, ‘Mnu Subreliqui, Mnu Subreliqui' and for want of knowing my name the rescue team decided to call me that. The Captain however, did not necessarily believe it to be my name and so he named me Stanley."

"It does make sense that it may not be my name but rather my stating hunger, coldness or loneliness. I might even have wanted to go the bathroom. So my name, Mnu Subreliqui, might well translate as ‘Can I go to the bathroom?' Alas I will probably never know. "

Jex asked curious, "And so how did you learn to speak Federation Standard?"

"I have amazing linguistic talents. I soon picked up the basics of the language within twenty-nine hours. The Captain tells me the crew was most impressed."

"Such a gift has he that Starfleet was eager to have him use his talents in more applicable sciences when Stanley decided to join Starfleet. But he would have none of it."

"Why not?"

"I owed my life to Captain McGregor. I was bound to him."

"Oh right." Curiosity was getting the better of Cutler so he was compelled to ask. "And what was the Event exactly?"

Excitedly Matt began to answer. "Ah! As to that! ..."

"Gardner to Duffy. Please report to Engineering to offer assistance."

He tapped his badge in response though no choice was implied. "Will be there shortly Chief."

Stanley good humouredly offered, "At least he said please."

Commander Cartwright pointed out though. "Only because Duffy's not technically part of his department."

Duffy left without regaling them with the story and before Jex and Cutler could restart the conversation, he called back over his shoulder. "Hey I thought there was a third of you guys to come."

"Ah yeah he decided to opt out of the party."

To which Stanley answered. "Oh you might find the young gentleman can change his mind." They turned in the direction of the doors Stanley was directed. There entering unsure of himself was Sebastian Templar. Jex exclaimed her surprise causing Sebastian to look in their direction. In response, he frowned slightly. Stanley moved off to the last remnants of engineering personnel not yet called away.

"Not the warmest of welcomes. Leave him be Jex."

Sounding much more sympathetic Jex countered. "Now Cutler I didn't take you to be a meany. He's probably feeling awkward being a newly promoted ensign despite serving in the service before this."

Her various lifetimes had given Jex a certain leeway in the chances she gave other people. She felt she could afford to give them another chance and not go by first impressions alone despite highly toning her dissembling talents in that area.

"How do you know that?"

"When he said he'd been to any number of these things, obviously it meant he had served before on a starship. In just what capacity I don't yet know." Noah gave her a querying look. She also was using the look of recognition on Becca's face as further evidence.

"No need I can tell you all about him." Noah turned to Becca Swift whom they had met following their tour of the warp nacelle. She had seemed friendly at that time but her tone was much less civil now.

"And what I can tell you is that he is bad news. It took me a moment to place him but once I realised who he was I thought to myself ‘Becca give those ensigns a heads up on that sleazy crook. Give them the warning you wish you had been given' So that I am duly doing. Steer clear of him guys. He is bad news."

Becca's look of recognition was becoming apparent. Perhaps she had served with him prior to this. Perhaps on the Jonah? Jex eagerly stepped forward to ask her discreetly the story. Instead, she found Becca moving off towards Templar. A confrontation in the offing. Jex went to follow but found her elbow held by Cutler.

"Leave them to it Jex. It is none of our business." Jex gave Cutler a disappointed look but before she could argue, Stanley came up to them again to reintroduce them to Lt Berkley.

The Lieutenant greeted them profusely. "Yeah it is a nice party." Cutler was replying to a comment he had made when Jex returned her attention to them after having tried to cog what was happening between the ensign and slender NCO.

Becca sauntered up to Sebastian. He with the help of his security training noticed her hostile approach. He folded his arms. She placed a hand on her hip and placed a foot out to her side. "So if it isn't the great and wonderful Sebastian Templar."

"What is it to you?"

"I don't look familiar?"

He gave her a careful but not quite leering look over. "You're not that pretty. Excuse me."

She grabbed him forcibly by the elbow. "You don't walk away from me with a quick line like that!" His security training kicked in automatically and he grabbed her hand roughly causing pain to her. But Becca bit through the pain. "I know all about you and your sordid little past Sebastian. Or should I call you ‘Bastian the Bastard'."

He withdrew his face at the tag name that haunted him these last few years and from the vehemence in her face. "Yeah so I've got a past history. Get over it, I did."

"Wow do you just sweep it under the carpet like that?"

"That's right. It was no big deal. I woke up one morning and decided ‘hey how's about turning my life around' and I haven't looked back since."

"Somehow I find that hard to believe. Most of us have worked hard and earned what we have achieved."

"I've earned my position twice over. I don't know who you are. I don't care how it is you know about me. A quick look up in the LCARS would suffice but you've a bitch attitude so that means it is something personal. Well fuck that! You got a problem with me - it only means one thing - that you've got a problem. Me, I'm content. I'm smiling all the way."

"All the way to your court-martial? All the way down memory lane? Do you remember the lives you claimed? Do you remember my cousin? Or are the faces of those you killed just a blur?" he released his grip on her hand. She thought her words had inflicted a hurt upon him.

"You know, you're lucky that you are so perfect." Becca simply smiled in response. "As to whether I remember the face of your cousin? I guess she wasn't that pretty either." Bastian turned promptly and stalked away from her before she had a chance to retort leaving her mouth agape.

"You're giving him a hard time." Becca came to, startled at the presence of the Captain by her side. "People have pasts. Some try to learn from their past and the mistakes they have made. That guy has made plenty which means he might have learned a lot. You have to forgive a guy his past sometimes. The future is what counts. I should know. If you doubt me Becca ask our resident Trill."

"But Captain."

"No buts. I should have warned you he was coming aboard. It was more than remiss of me. It was cowardly. But that's my fault and it is my prerogative."

"Your prerogative is to hire murderers?"

He gestured a downward waving of his hands to quieten her. "Voice Becca. Don't imagine bandying about terms such as murderer is going to be of any good for the morale of the crew."

"Well what happened to the great McGregor's talent siphoning skills in accepting Templar for a position?"

"He has skills aplenty that will be of use to us. Not to mention his dubious past will serve its purpose too."

"You plan on having him kill some of the crew once we get bored half way through the tour."

"That strikes me as a really good idea!" He coughed to clear his throat and tried a softer tone with the NCO. "Becca normally you know I would riposte with a clever darkly laced comment such as say, ‘That strikes me as a really good idea', however, in deference to your issues with Templar I will forgo the requisite smart arsed comment from my good self."

He gave a stern look to Becca whilst also placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Becca take it from me, if there were some other way but my hands are tied. And rarely are any of us guilt free. The past is past. Trust me on that."

Becca gave him a bewildering look. But McGregor was no more forthcoming. She knew he alluded to some great secret. Many rumours circulated about Gregory McGregor and his appearance in the twenty-fourth century after his disappearance sixty years previously. Before he could move off she said, "Surely then that means the past is not past! Don't expect me to trust him."

"I expect you to do your duty Becca. What I will say is Gardner is looking you back in engineering. Go take ..."

She rolled her eyes with exasperation, "Berkley!"

"... Berkley with you. Oh and we might as well get the Trill to work too. She looks the eager enthusiastic type."

She remained standing in front of him weighing up the present circumstance. She knew she had taken liberty talking to the Captain so and she knew too that it was only because he extended her leeway in light of the circumstance that she got away with it. Becca was one of the very few people McGregor showed any kind of human side to and it secretly pleased her that he had taken her under his wing.

In fact, McGregor had done so ever since he had rescued her from Orion pirates who had virtually destroyed the Jonah and stolen Becca to sell her in one of their slave auctions. Now he was offering her the chance to have him forget the occasion ever happened and show her professional hard working nature once more. She accepted it out of her loyalty to the Captain. It was true that she had learnt more from the Captain and Gardner than she ever could have aboard the Jonah. Therefore, she had no option but to assent. "Yessir."

She departed after retrieving Berkley and an ecstatic Jex. McGregor made his way over to his XO. She was standing beside a bewildered Noah, a lost sheep now his shepherd, Jex, had skipped off to Engineering. "Might I enquire whom you left in charge Captain?"

"Molly we are docked in a space station. It's not as if we are going anywhere."

She drilled a look at him. She worried for a brief second that he had abandoned the bridge entirely. He simply replied, "Monroe kindly looked in on the bridge."

"The doctor?"

With mock indignation he retorted, "Don't be so insulting Commander. Just because Monroe is a doctor doesn't mean she's a complete hack! She has a rank too Molly. I could hardly let the pretty Yeoman Harris have the conn because you would have complained then."

"The doctor was supposed to be here for the party."

He looked around the room exaggeratedly. "It doesn't look like she's missing much. Suppose it doesn't help Gardner is pulling all his engineers out."

"She had only come aboard Captain."

"And what nicer welcome back can she get. Get right back into the saddle after her little break. She was happy to do it."

Molly frowned disapprovingly. "I'll go and relieve her."

"Take Cutler with you. He can take the conn instead, letting you and the doc to come down and party." He turned to Stanley and threw and arm over his shoulders, "Stan, let's get drunk."

He waltzed off with Stanley. Commander Cartwright set her drink down on a tray. "Come on then Cutler. You might as well start working."

"Ok." He gulped.

* * *

 

'A Commanding Presence' by Miranda Fave

‘A Commanding Presence'



The Commander talked little while en route to the bridge. Meaning Cutler could simply follow and take in his surrounds, getting orientated with the ship. As he walked through the corridors, he referred mentally back to the routes shown by the Captain in his tour.

Reaching the bridge, Cartwright entered ahead of Cutler. Sarcastically, as per the regulations when first boarding, she asked permission of the ship's CMO to come aboard. Noah noted the barbed tone to her unusual request. He had the inkling that such protocols were not followed to the tee aboard the Kestrel. He doubted whether the Commander asked simply because the ship was still moored at Spacebase 49. Instead, he reasoned it was because the Commander was making a pointed point, asking permission from the doctor made to hold the conn by the Captain.

Good natured and amiable the reply came. "Permission granted Commander."

This came from a woman in her late forties or early fifties. She had a youthful appearance but her eyes held a serenity and a wisdom quite intangible. With her blonde straw hair brushed straight back, it emphasised the regal profile she cut. Sat ramrod straight in the central chair no one was supposed to sit in, only served to further this impression. Was this just an exemption in the case of the doctor?

"Dr. Judith Monroe, might I introduce Ensign Noah Cutler." Cartwright beckoned Cutler forward. The doctor in turn stepped up towards the young man, smiling pleasantly as she did, to shake his hand.

"Now Judith, with the pleasantries concluded, might I ask of you why it is you allowed the Captain to shoe horn you into holding the bridge?"

"My own fault really, I came on board and thought to introduce myself to the captain the old fashioned Starfleet way."

Molly rolled her eyes knowing the captain would punish the folly of the action. "You mean as per the regulations."

"Exactly, bad habit I suppose. Though in fairness, he did invite me to this shin dig you are supposed to be at."

Hands on her hips Molly countered. "Yes we met him there."

"Well he invited me but I thought, and voiced, that really someone ought to remain on the bridge. To which he replied, since I was volunteering myself I could have the honours. He then waved goodbye with a jolly tally ho."

"Just as I figured."

"We aren't going to let him get away with that though are we? Cutler, you might as well get some bridge command experience. You have the conn Mister Cutler."

"Me? Me!"

"Don't be silly, Cutler. We're docked! Just sit and numb your bum. There's nothing complicated about it." She tried to say it with a little warmth.

The doctor's voice was much more soothing and she achieved better results. "Think of it as one of the quickest career advancements in Starfleet history. Technically, you'll be in command. And as the Commander mentioned, there is nothing to it and it will allow you to familiarise yourself with the bridge systems."

Cartwright hooked Monroe by the elbow and together they wished the ensign luck and farewell before waltzing off. In the turbolift, Molly nudged Judith. "You charmer Judy. Mind you, I always thought you had a thing for the younger male."

In a very Vulcan fashion, Monroe cocked an eyebrow disapprovingly. "Hardly Molly." Molly kept her stare on the doctor. As the door opened onto the VIP deck, her mask of innocence slipped but for a second. "Only on Risa."

"Yeah well you're going to enjoy the medical check of our new security ensign."

"Oh!" Before they entered the lounge, she toyingly asked, knowing the commander could not reply with others in earshot, "You would recommend a full body examination."

Both women smiled mischievously.

* * *


On the bridge, Cutler gulped as the door to the turbolift closed. He was in command and all alone! Oh hell this is going to be bad. I just know it.

He stood on the isolated bridge taking in the soft whirrs and chirps of the different computer systems. He looked to the station that would be his. Then he looked to the command chair and gingerly approached it. He placed a wavering hand on the armrest, when a small voice spoke, startling Cutler causing him to scurry backwards and retract his hand.

"Uh nuh, I wouldn't do that if I were you."

Noah looked over to the corner the voice came from. He was startled once more. She was the most beautiful person he had ever seen or imagined. But more startling, was her attire. It most definitely did not meet Starfleet regulations. She wore skimpy shorts, a tight strap top much too short, and therefore exposing her tanned mid-drift.

Noah stammered for an awkward response. He blushed bright red and tried not to look at the indecently dressed female - in the sense she was indecently dressed for duty. He managed to ask, "Who ... who ... who are you?"

She sidled up to Noah but not with any deliberate attempt to be provocative, even if that was the net result. She appeared to be completely unawares of her hold on him and just how drop dead sexy she was. Which only served to make her even more enticing. She stuck out a hand with a serious expression still painted on her face. "I'm Yeoman Harris."

"Um ... pleased to meet you Yeoman Harris." He took her hand in his own and gave a limp handshake by way of introduction fearing his palms to be sweaty at his nervousness and proximity to him. "I'm Ensign Noah Cutler."

"I know."

"You do?"

"Of course, Commander Cartwright introduced you to Doctor Monroe but a moment ago."

"Oh of course." Cutler inwardly berated himself. Did he really think she somehow had prior knowledge of him? As if!

"That and I had read your record before you came aboard."

His eyes widened in surprise. "You did?"

Levelly she replied. "Yes. I was helping the Captain. I act as his ... his steward."

"Oh." Noah marvelled at the lack of emotion the girl seemed to possess. She appeared confident and self-assured but unwilling to show any kind of emotional response, as if it were a weakness. She was a quandary who managed to both unsettle and beguile Noah.

"I was just finely calibrating some of the stations. Checking to ensure the new systems are compatible with the personal set ups of the bridge personnel. I believe you will primarily be stationed at Ops."

"That's right."

She turned from the Captain's chair and took the few steps over to the station Noah would staff. Harris stood behind the Navigation / Operations station, placing a hand on the back of the chair as if inviting Cutler to seat himself. He did so, easing himself down onto the chair and the station post that would be his responsibility.

He looked around the bridge now devoid of the welcoming party that had received them earlier. It now allowed him to take in the details of the various stations and the bridge's layout. Much had remained the same since its very first construction Noah saw. Looking at the design and many of the components, he saw that the bridge module conformed mostly to the design of a Constitution class phase II refit.

Like the Galaxy and Nebula classes that followed, the Miranda and Constitution class shared many attributes and design parameters; thus making their construction cheaper and allowing new technologies to be bedded into both classes with ease. The bridge modules were also replaceable though Noah noted the Kestrel bridge module had never received a full module replacement but had new systems updated and installed. It appeared the old bird had never registered as a priority for a major refit.

To his immediate left at the shared command console, was a seat for the Helm officer. The station was situated in a shallow well at the centre of the bridge. Around this well, a railing encircled them in a protective embrace, with divides providing access to the other various stations that hugged the curving bridge walls. However, one had to step up from the well to the station as it stood upon a slight raised dais. Behind the helm/operations station, atop a further slightly raised dais, thronelike sat the Captain's chair.


Immediately in front of him was the main view screen, presently dull and lifeless. Harris saw his look at the viewscreen and leaning over him, giving Noah an embarrassing view of her cleavage, she depressed a button on the helm station. Noah then saw the viewscreen ebb into life. In front of them, the viewscreen acted like a window to show the prow of the Kestrel docked to the spaceport. A dull silver of the Starbase's hull filled the remainder of the vision.

"Not much to look at, is it?"

"Em ... I dunno ... I mean what sorry?" Cutler shook his head to clear the vision of her ample bosom from his mind.

She leaned over him again, her breast just ever so slightly brushing his cheek as she pressed another button and the visage in front changed to a rear view from the docking port behind the main bridge. The view showed the roll bar and an expanse of space busy with travel shuttling between the various hangers of Starbase 49.

She smiled sweetly at him, causing further anguish to Cutler, as she stepped away and approached the viewscreen. He watched her move gracefully and catlike along the centre of the bridge. She stopped short of the viewscreen at the station to its right from his view. She pressed a few commands on the board and it lit up. As it did, the transporter pads immediately to the left of the viewscreen lit up. Cutler knew it to be the control station for the bridge transporter. Now a rather defunct station on most ships of the line, but yet another throw back to a by-gone era on this ship.

She sensed what he was thinking and replied to his unspoken thoughts. "Because of the number of SAR operations we conduct and boarding sorties of hostile craft we find it useful to maintain a transporter station for the bridge. The Captain also believes it to be more efficient for when he has to transport somewhere." Conspiratorially she included him in a whisper, "Meaning, he's too lazy to walk to the main transporter room. It's only really designed as a three person transporter but it often suffices."

Harris beckoned Cutler over to her. He stood warily hoping nothing gave away how attracted he was to the yeoman. She didn't watch him approach but rather moved up the bridge to the next station. From his station's seat, it was at his two o'clock and though he was versed with the layout of the bridge, he duly went along with her tour of the bridge stations as she pressed buttons and controls as she explained their purpose.

"Not to worry though, you will receive ample training and exercise on the station from Dexter. Likewise, he will give training not just on the main security station but most importantly on the station just opposite us." They traversed the bridge to the station she spoke of. "This is the main defence and weapons station with the holographic tactical display just beside it."

The attractive female brought the tactical display up for him to see before shutting it down again and then went through some of the main operations of the tactical board showing weapons lock, phaser controls, torpedo launch and shields. She then moved him quickly away over to the next station on the left of the bridge. Nine o'clock to his usual seat.

This she announced, was the main environmental station, a station he as an operations officer would often have to man. Beside the station was an access to a maintenance corridor reflected on the opposite wall too. She went through the system's controls and pointed out some of the areas still causing the Chief difficulties. Noah safe in the systems he knew well and had trained for asked pertinent questions and tried some of the controls himself. Harris indulged him before shutting the system down to standby.

She explained her actions. "Normal practice, when docked at a spaceport and especially since Mr Gardner is trying to conserve power as he goes through the power outputs and energy displacements."

He did not really take notice of the explanation, her voice for some reason hypnotic to him "Oh right."

She took the next steps over to the bridge's Engineering station. This was the station Gardner had been working on earlier but she did not stop overly long at it and instead brought Noah over to the station at the very aft of the bridge. They passed the pocket doors giving access to the turbolift.

As he approached the science station he mentioned. "The Captain didn't introduce the ship's science officer earlier."

"He wouldn't as they are on currently on leave. Dr. Monroe too, was on leave and has only just returned today. We will pick them up en route."

"Oh." He walked away from the science station over towards the station at his position's five o'clock. He recognised it as a communications station. Yet another station he would routinely operate. However, he noted too several changes to the station and enquired about these.

"Commander Cartwright when on duty with the Captain often utilises this station as her Exec station as well as communications. It therefore gives an overview of the vessel, from weapons, shields, engines and warp core, to navigation and operations. She can effectively run the ship single-handedly from there."

Noah smiled, quite impressed by the Commander and it was obvious that she had made her way up the command chain through Operations. Whilst she was the ship's Executive Officer, she was also its head of Operations and so his department head. Cartwright was an imposing woman and she scared him as the Captain did. However, Noah reckoned her to be a stellar officer and obviously very capable and effective. He went to give the station a closer look, intrigued by the modifications. Harris held out an arm blocking him.

"Unfortunately, it is undergoing repairs. It is something of a pet project for the Commander and she is taking personal charge of its repair. No doubt she will have you assisting her in its repair soon enough."

"I guess so. I suppose this last station is damage control."

"Correct. Though it too is under repair."

"Under repair? I thought the Kestrel was simply scheduled for a recertification and repair stop. But there seems to be a lot of repairs required. Why is that?"

"We've had a recent close shave with some Fien pirates. It was pretty dicey. The Fien have a habit of forming personal vendettas against those who cross them. And the Captain makes a habit of crossing them."

Cutler grimaced at this news, and then asked. "Who are Fien pirates? I mean I know all about Orions. But I've never heard of the Fien."

She walked back to the command console in the centre of the bridge and Cutler followed suit. She seated herself in the Operations seat leaving Cutler to settle himself in the Helm seat.

Without meeting his gaze she explained. "The Fien are a rather ruthless faction of pirates quite like the Orions. But there's no love lost between those two, a fact we often exploit to our advantage. The Fien, thanks largely to Orion reprisals, are fairly limited in their scope of operations and mostly operate in an area we regularly patrol. It's called the ‘Wash'. They believe it to be their back yard and conduct any number of highly illegal trade practices within its confines."

"The Wash? Never heard of it."

She merely shrugged at that. "You will come to know it very well. It is the back of beyond, arsehole of the Quadrant with enough spatial anomalies to make you sick. It affects sensors, weapons, communications and warp drive. Oh and impinges upon the effectiveness of the shields."

Glibly he added, "Just for good measure."

"Just for good measure. Just the kind of place suited to conducting all sorts of dangerous and illegal practices. The fact it borders slightly on Klingon territory only further increases the dangers of operating in the region. It is also a hotly contested area of influence between the Orions and Fien."

"I didn't realize the Orions had competitors. I thought they didn't tolerate anyone crossing them or rivals." Cutler frowned and realised his earlier assertion was erroneous. "Actually to be honest, I probably don't know too much about the Orions."

"Most people don't truly." She added a quiet and ominous, "Unless you've had dealings with them."

Noah gathered from her tone not to follow her statement up with any questions. The security station chirped to break the silence that had fallen over the pair. Harris shrugged her shoulders. In unison, the two of them stood and approached the station. Cutler reached it first and with a quizzical look on his face, he stooped over to activate the console and read its findings.

As he took in the readings, his eyebrows knitted in consternation. Over his shoulder, he expressed in a worried voice, "I don't think I like the look of this." Harris quickly grasped his shoulder pulling his attention to the front of the bridge where the whine of the transporter sounded. He looked aghast as an unauthorised transport was occurring on the bridge.

He went to tap his combadge as a small spherical object started to materialise. The object was fully coalesced and suddenly a bright light flared from its epicentre. Noah saw no more than that as the blast floored the ensign sending him into a pit of darkness

* * *

'Boarding Party' by Miranda Fave

* * *

‘Boarding Party'



Security checkpoint, Docking Port 2, Deck 6

Chan Yu scoffed at his mate and security colleague Brad Hanlon. "You wish Brad. Harris might rub up against you, she might give you long leering looks, but she is never going to do anything more than that."

Brad punched Chan jokingly on his shoulder as they stood in the recess just off of the main gangway, that acted as the security office. "Yeah and how do you know that for sure?"

"Because you are not the only one she gives those looks to or the only one she teases. She flashes those eyes and what nots to all the guys. To be honest, I think there might be some truth to the rumour she has some Orion blood in her."

"Yeah right. I'm not the only one with wet dreams about her then if you believe that hogwash."

With a degree of bravado, Brad commented as if to prove his point. "Yeah well she's definitely managed to trick her way in to the Captain's bed."

Chan scornfully met that hypothesis with a derisive look. "That proves nothing. The Captain is no boy scout and if I were a Captain, I'd make Harris my steward too."

"Yeah you wish. Never going to happen, my friend. You'll be an NCO all your life unless you want to pick up a padd and stylus and do the entrance exam for the Academy."

Shrugging his shoulders as if contemplating such a course, Chan replied, "Never know Brad. That'll sicken you proper when as an officer I can order you about."

"Now you really do wish. Like we take anything those jumped up ensigns say to heart. Heh heh, and anyway I doubt you're quite the material to be an officer and a gentleman."

Defensively Chan retorted. "Hey I could do those exams with my eyes closed if I wanted."

"That is not were I think you fall down. More I doubt you can be a gentleman, you dog."

"Me a dog? You're the dog!"

The two NCO security specialists jostled with one another but then quickly came to attention, as they heard the approach of some service personnel from the starbase.

They stood to a casual attention, Chan shouldering his phaser rifle whilst Brad moved forward to follow the routine security procedures. He held a hand out to check the security passes. Three men in coveralls approached. The lead figure reaching into his overall to retrieve his pass, as Brad moved forward with a bored and genial expression plastered to his face. That expression quickly changed to surprise, then horror and finally anger, as he took in the firearm removed from the overalls instead.

The carbine was pointed straight at his face and he reacted by reaching for his firearm. But, the flash of the muzzle erupted in his face and then his face disappeared in bloody miasma of red.

Chan blinked and then baulked, as the blood covered him. His friend's headless body, toppled over to one side. The shock and horror of the scene in such a normalised and mundane setting, paralysed Chan from reacting. He might only have stood stock still for a total of five seconds but it was a fatal delay.

The second of the intruders had quickly stepped up to him and deftly slid a knife into Chan's ribs. With a twist of the knife the last lungful of air was squeezed out of Chan, his weapon dropped from his hands and blood frothed at his lips. The eyes glazed over and then Chan dropped to his knees as the knife came out.

The third figure tapped the hidden communicator implanted in his ear. "This is Vardros. Gangway secure." As he spoke, the other two men dragged the dead NCO bodies and dumped them in a small storage compartment. They then proceeded to strip off the coveralls to reveal the uniforms of security specialists.

Vardros meantime, keyed in commands into the security console and the entrance to the gangway hissed closed and locked. He then walked up to the door's manual controls and exposing the inner controls, he pressed a surge pulse unit into it. The pulse activation caused the controls to overload with a burst of sparks, leaving a burning plastic smell behind. He pulled over one of the neighbouring toolkits and emptied some of the tools onto the floor.

"That should make it look like a technician is working on the problem, if anyone queries it, just blame the ineptitude of the engineering department."

"What if they are from engineering themselves?"

He fixed him with a stare. "Ask them to fix it then, but do not allow them to finish the work." Vardros gave a simple warning. "Do not allow anyone to get onboard. On the signal, feel free to kill any and all you see. You might well spare them the agony that awaits them otherwise. Not before we secure the main systems. I'm on my way to environmental controls. Do not raise any suspicions and do not fail in your task. For as you can see the price of crossing our employer is high."

 

* * *


On the bridge, Cutler moaned as he started to come to and winced as he felt the binds cutting into his wrists and ankles. His eyes, rimmed in red, stung from the flash bang concussive device transported aboard. Sprawled at his feet, lay the unconscious erogenous form of Yeoman Harris.

Obviously, the trio of men prowling about the bridge systems had beamed on afterwards. The quiet of the bridge and the calm exterior of the interlopers signalled to Noah that their entrance had gone unnoticed.

Noah had to get some sort of warning out to the rest of the crew but he could not see how he could trussed up like a turkey for Thanksgiving. Panic threatened to overwhelm him and with the gag in his mouth, he started to hyperventilate. One of the men turned and approached Noah propped under the viewscreen.

"Well, well, looky here. The novice ensign is awake. Not quite the glorious start to your career you imagined I dare say, ensign. I do pity you. You personally have not crossed me but you stepped aboard this vessel and so that makes you culpable."

The man removed the gag from Cutler's mouth, but pushed the muzzle of his carbine into the mouth hard against his teeth in its stead. "Before you think to yell and shout for help, consider this, at the moment you and your pretty friend here are alive. One loud decibel and I will cause you terrible pain. You still can be of service to me and so you can continue to live."

"And as I say, I don't have any personal enmity towards you, so I might allow you to live simply that you can go back to your superiors and tell them of the price repaid on McGregor for the pains he has inflicted upon me. Let it serve as a warning to any other Federation vessels to not tangle with my operations."

Gasping for breath Noah managed to ask. "Who are you? What do you want?"

Spreading his arms in a triumphant stance the man proclaimed as he shut off the micro holographic projector that portrayed him as a human. As the image flickered out, Noah saw before him a fierce and scarred Orion. A brutish towering green menace whose grim expression only heightened by the scar that cut across his missing left eye.

"You can tell them that I am T'Hos Likk. And you can tell them that a Fien never let's go of a grudge and will avenge the murder of their family. McGregor thinks he can kill one of my ilk and get away with it!"

Anger seethed through the brute and losing his self-control, he punched Cutler hard to the side of his skull. Then just as quickly, he returned with a slick smile and slimy charm. "My apologies, I intended that bitch slap for someone else. Terrol! Has Vardros reached the environmental systems yet?"

"He reports that he is almost there."

"Wh ... wh ... what are you doing with the environmental controls?"

"My servant Vardros, is similarly disguised but dressed in a technician's uniform. The plan is quite simple. In his tool kit, he carries a rather small cylinder that he will attach to the air ventilation systems. It will disperse into the air that you breathe a truly horrible toxin that burns you from the inside out, eating each one of your crewmates up through their lungs and blood veins."

"Just a little thing I stole from a Romulan laboratory with the aim of mass-producing and selling to various terrorists cells throughout the Quadrant. Alas, my own scientists could not replicate the formula, so I had to save it for special occasions when I want to cause an enemy a particularly horrible and gruesome death. You mightn't agree, but killing McGregor and his crew counts as just such an occasion."

* * *

'Party Crashers' by Miranda Fave

* * *

 

'Party Crashers'


VIP Lounge, Deck 4

Tossing back the last of a drink before picking up another proffered on a tray by a cheesed off yeoman, McGregor welcomed, "So glad you could make it Monroe."

Approaching McGregor, alongside Cartwright, arms folded, Dr. Judith Monroe replied with a teasing tone. "Oh I wouldn't have missed it for the world Captain."

McGregor shifted his attention from the beautiful CMO to the stern faced Commander. "Not wishing to talk shop, Molly but whom did you leave on the bridge?"

Cartwright mocked. "That sounds awfully like a professional interest Captain."

He returned her mockery with a pretence at being offended. "Wash your mouth out Commander!"

"It does sound very uncharacteristic of you dear Captain." Stanley added with sincerity.

"Thank ye Stanley. Glad to see someone is on my side."

Monroe reassured him, as she lifted a flute of champagne. "Trust me Captain; no one would think that of you. And for your information, we left one of the new ensigns in charge - Cutler I think you said Molly."

McGregor smacked a palm to his forehead. "Heavens forbid! I hope you tied his laces before you left. Though I doubt it'll stop him tripping over himself."

"That's a little harsh."

"He's a little kitten wrapped in a bag about to go for its first and last swimming lesson." For effect, he added a pitiful, "Meow"

"Captain." Molly gave her voice a stern tone as she rebuked the Captain. In correcting him, she hoped to rein him in a little. Sometimes it worked. More often, it did not.

"Oh hush now Molly and have a drink." He beckoned the bored yeoman over with a tray of drinks.

Waving a hand, she deferred. "I've decided I've had enough."

Downing his drink and picking up another tumbler he said, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his uniform, "Since when, you lush!"

"Since I figured, it might be nice to have at least one senior officer not incapacitated by drink."

"Sometimes Molly you are a spoilsport. Well, as long as the figure is only at least one! Means Judy can join me and Stan," Stanley went to interject. "Don't grammar police me Stan! Judy can join me and Stan in a drinking contest. Besides, Gardner is as sober as a judge. Granted he's also as prickly as a hedgehog's bum, but it is a day ending in a ‘y'. And no doubt, Dexter is pumping iron even as we speak. So you might want to reconsider ..."

A transport effect caught McGregor in its hold and he brought his drink up to his shocked faced as he dematerialised.

The bored expression was wiped of the yeoman serving drinks as they profaned, "What the ..."

 

* * *

'A Hostile Environment' by Miranda Fave

‘A Hostile Environment'

 

Main Engineering, Deck 4

 "Damn fools!"

 Jex stepped back from the console thinking the Chief implied her in his condemnation. Gardner gave a quick look at the cowed ensign and resignedly sighed. "I don't mean you Ensign. Just whatever bloody fools decided to tinker with the docking port. I never assigned any teams to do any work there and I explicitly stated I wanted no-one, no-one, to do anything with any power relays! How can I track errant systems if wool-brained idiots start experimenting with the most basic of power points?"

Jex shrugged and offered a warm smile. She actually enjoyed the Chief's idiosyncrasies, which mostly consisted of a foul temper, numerous outbursts and a disparaging opinion of all who worked under him until they completed a job when he rewarded them with a quick pleased smile with a hint of pride before he gave them a further task to work on.

"Don't smirk ensign. It is unbecoming in an engineering officer."

Looking down at her feet, she hid the smile his comment elicited. "Yes sir." She coughed to clear her throat not trusting herself to not laugh aloud. "Do you want me to go to docking port 2 and try to repair the damage caused?"

"And slap silly the blundering idiots who caused the power overload in the coupling!" He slapped down a sonic wrench more in annoyance than anger. "No don't, or rather I'll go with you. Don't want you getting lost on your first day."

Jex nodded her head as if conforming to his wise decision but couldn't help to add impishly, "And you want to give them the tongue lashing yourself."

"Of course!" He gave Jex an appraising look. "You think you have the measure of me ensign?"

"No sir but I do see that you do enjoy doling out the verbal tirades and I like hearing listening in so long as I'm not on the receiving of any."

Gardner curtly nodded at that sentiment. "Make sure it stays that way. Right let's get on our way." He grabbed his tool kit and showed Jex the storage compartment that held spare kits. "You'll stow this somewhere safe. In my engineering department we all look after and have responsibility for our own tool kit."

Jex noted Gardner's name stitched into the side of the kit and saw how some of the others also similarly labelled. Gardner explained as he handed her what was to become her own kit and led the way out of Engineering. "The golden rule is to never touch anyone else's tool kit. You have your standard tools and equipment with all the necessary components and materials to carry out repairs. Obviously, you use any up you get them replenished. Lose any tools and you come to me for the regulatory verbal tirade before you get any replacements."

Gardner set a brisk pace and Jex noted the keen eyes of Gardner as he took any work crews they passed. She noted too the work crews stiffen and become even more alert as Gardner passed. He didn't interfere however, trusting them to get on with their work. Jex imagined he relished making the work crews uncomfortable. She also noted that Gardner did not take the turbolift but instead traversed the corridors in order to see the different repair teams at work and make a mental list to himself.

What neither them noticed was the lone technician stalking the corridor ahead of them on his way towards environmental engineering.

* * *

Vardros made his way past Gardner smiling thankfully that the engineer was caught up in a foul mood as the intelligence from T'Hos predicted was likely. This could have been a blessing or a curse depending on whether the chief engineer deigned to take him under notice. If he had then Vardros did not imagine he could bluff his way out of it too readily.

He turned a corridor and found the inset in the wall that held the rung ladders that gave access to the decks below. He quickly clambered down the rungs towards Deck 7's life support systems and environmental engineering.

* * *

Also headed towards this level were Becca Swift and Lt Berkley as they made their way up from the nacelle via the Jeffries tube that terminated on Deck 7 near to the life support systems.

* * *

Security checkpoint, Docking Port 2, Deck 6

"Here we are ensign. I can smell the charred circuits from down the corridor. And I can smell ... "he paused briefly as he took in the smoking panel beside the door and the worried faces of the security guards at their post, "... I can smell the incompetence of the fool engineer who messed about with these controls."

Jex came to a stop beside Eddie Gardner some distance from the security station. For a moment she wondered why had he stopped then she recognised a familiar smell. She then took in the two security guards, their weapons ready and unholstered. She was about to voice her concerns when Gardner barked.

"What fool ass engineer did this? Do either of you clowns know?" He stormed up to them taking in the surrounds of the entrance and security station even as sparks spat from the controls. "Never mind. I'll get the damned fool myself. Come on ensign. I'll be damned if I'm going to fix the school boy errors of some incompetent hack from the station." He then marched off forcing Jex to follow at his heels.

As they rounded a corner Jex caught up to Gardner and hissed, "Chief there's something suss ..."

"Damned right there is. Well spotted. How did you know?"

"I could smell burned flesh very reminiscent of phaser fire hitting a person. Also the security guards had the wrong footwear."

"Good though I'm disappointed you didn't mention that the relay controls were scorched from the outside, therefore sabotaged, and not from within, implying an actual overload."

"What are they up to? And what do we do?"

He stopped in front of an armoury cabinet and tapped in his security code. "First we arm you. I see you haven't been issued with your personal firearm as yet. McGregor's slipping that's usually part of the tour."

"It is, it was. I left it in my quarters for I was attending the party."

Gardner looked aghast and almost turned livid at the confession. "Rule number two in the Captain's book, never go anywhere without your sidearm. Do you hear?"

She nodded her head disappointed. "Yes."

Chief grabbed a carbine and a hand phaser, which he handed to Jex. Slapping his combadge, he called quietly, "Caleb. This is Gardner. We have a situation."

Dexter's disembodied voice sounded unimpressed. "You're kidding right?"

Gardner turned to Jex and frowned. "What's his prob-"

"Chief!" Jex lunged and toppled Gardner to the deck. A blast of energy exploded the wall they had stood in front of.  Lying on his back Eddie looked back to see one of the ‘security guards' firing at them. With her newly acquired phaser Jex fumbled for a second with the controls and then discharged a high energy beam down the corridor. Her aim was far from true but it deterred their attacker causing him to fall back.

"They're on to us."

The ship went to red alert suddenly and Dexter's voice echoed over the ship intercom. "This is an intruder alert. Intruders have commandeered the bridge and docking gate 2. All crew be on the look out for other-"

The intercom was suddenly cut off. "Looks like we're onto them too. That means they have access to controls from the bridge. Let's try to keep routing them until security get here." Gardner pushed himself up and shouldered his carbine.

* * *

"Damn what does that mean?"

Becca rolled her eyes as she stowed her tool kit in a nearby recess as she pulled out her sidearm. She gave Berkley a meaningful glance that prompted him to do likewise. "It means exactly what it says on the tin Berkley. We have boarders and obviously they are up to no good. Let's make it back to Engineering. We can try to wrest control from the bridge from there. Plus it might be a target for the boarders."

Becca took off down the corridor without glancing back to see if Berkley, her superior officer, was following. For his part all Berkley could do was run after Becca.

Her form sprinting ahead suddenly came to a stop and Berkley queried her action when her ready stance warned him that something was amiss. Her voice reached him before he reached her. "What are you doing here?" Berkley took the last few steps up to her position and slightly labouring for breath he stood back to see what it was that was unfolding. He was sorely tempted to lean up against the wall whose signage indicated environmental control.

"I said, what are you doing here? Who are you?"

The man turned slowly a toolbox in one hand the other raised in surrender or innocence. "I'm from the starbase."

"That explains why I don't know you but it doesn't explain what you are doing here in the midst of a red alert."

He nervously replied, "I was trying to stay out of the way. I'm just an engineer. I don't want to be part of any heroics so I was going to just hide out here."

"Here? Environmental controls?"

He nodded. "Yes. I know sounds crazy but it's where I was supposed to be headed to finish some repairs before the alert. I figured it was the best place for anyone to find me."

"Perhaps. Except, I'm just an engineer and I don't shirk at the thought of a fight and two I finished up in environmental controls two days ago myself. So there's no possible way you are supposed to have been sent here." She levelled the phaser at him.

Berkley blanched at how aggressive Becca was. He raised his voice to be heard over the klaxon. "Perhaps we should confirm his story first Becca before jumping to conclusions."

"We can check out his story after we stun him."

"Becca!"

"Listen to the lieutenant. This is not what you should be doing."

"I've been doing this for a number of years and I know the score. Trust me I'm going to be in a lot less trouble for shooting you than not doing so. Innocent or not."

"I think not." At that Vardros threw his toolbox at Becca. She ducked to avoid but he sprang forward at the same time pulling out a hidden disruptor.

Berkley immediately ran forward even as Becca hollered at him to shoot.

Vardros crashed into Becca causing her phaser to skitter across the deck.  He smashed his fist into her jaw then raised his disruptor at Berkley who received the shot to his chest with wide-eyed shock before crumpling backwards.

* * *

'Destructive Behaviour' by Miranda Fave

‘Destructive Behaviour'

 

USS Kestrel, Main Bridge

With his hands now bound, Cutler looked up at the ringleader of the boarding party. His eyes filled with anger and disappointment with himself, Cutler inadvertently caught the eyes of T'Hos.

T'Hos grinned with feverish delight as both he and Cutler heard Terrol report, "The docking gate has been successfully taken. Vardros reports that he has finished planting the device within the environmental systems."

"Good, good." T'Hos laughed then, as he saw Cutler stewing with anger and self-loathing. "Don't be too harsh on yourself ... ensign. I've plotted my revenge on McGregor for some months now. You sadly, are an acceptable casualty of my revenge. McGregor will pay for killing blood of mine!"

"We are about ready to implement the plan, T'Hos."

"Good, then we need only do one last thing. Get a lock on McGregor. Beam him to the bridge so I can see his face. And he in turn can see mine - the face that brings his death."

Terrol blanched. "You deviate from the plan."

T'Hos snarled. "The plan was for me to exact my revenge on McGregor! I will have that vengeance but I will have McGregor see me wield my vengeance. He will see his crew suffer and die in front of his eyes, before he then will die. He will know the cost of killing my son! I do not deviate. It is the very essence of the plan! Do it. Do it NOW!"

Terrol hesitated for a fraction of a second before he walked past T'Hos ,stood centre in the bridge, and past the unconscious form of the sultry yeoman and frustrated ensign towards the transporter controls near to the viewscreen. He bent over the controls fingering his disruptor as he prepared to beam McGregor to the bridge. "I have a lock on the Captain. He is in the area designated ‘VIP lounge'. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Cutler saw the smile on T'Hos. He knew this madman was only too delighted to interrupt the Captain's socialising. "Perfectly sure Terrol. Proceed."

Over his shoulder Terrol announced to the other henchman at the back of the bridge, "Be sure to reinstate the shields after I complete the transport." Terrol stepped back from the controls as the cascade of blue lights, accompanied by the transporter whine, began to coalesce into the image of Captain Gregory McGregor. Terrol had his weapon trained on the Starfleet captain's emerging form.

Noah Cutler winced as the captain fully formed on the transporter pad. He knew the Captain was going to look less than favourably on Cutler. He knew now that even if they could find a way out of this predicament, he could never redeem himself in the captain's eyes. And McGregor didn't hold him in any great esteem to begin with.

McGregor felt the transporter effect fade as the VIP lounge and the faces of Molly, Judith and Stanley disappeared in front of his eyes to be replaced by his command chair and bridge sullied by the evil T'Hos.

Taking in the sight of T'Hos on his bridge McGregor cocked an eyebrow and then polished off the remainder of his drink. Cutler seeing the cool demeanour of his captain and calm expression marvelled at McGregor's languorous reaction to his newfound situation. The drink's heat scorching his throat caused McGregor to grimace and vocalise a satisfying ‘aaa'.

Referring to the cocked eyebrow, T'Hos by way of welcome said "A very Vulcan-like reaction Captain."

McGregor then rifted.

Through his teeth T'Hos added, "If not so refined."

"Then T'Hos you're gonna love my next Vulcan impersonation." McGregor gave him a two-fingered salute with a smug smile. "Die soon and get fucked. Oops. Never could get that Vulcan salute-wave thing down pat."

"Very droll Captain, very droll." He then lifted his disruptor pistol and pointed it at McGregor's temple. Terrol took this opportunity to head to the aft of the bridge.

McGregor threw a withering look at Cutler. "I told Molly it was a mistake to put you in charge. But I have to say, even I didn't expect you to mess it up so quickly."

"Save the witty retorts McGregor."

Cutler found himself partly wishing the Captain would do so to save him from further embarrassment. He worried he might even well up thinking of the damage he had done to the ship's security. Noah also partly wished McGregor continued because it meant the Captain might have faith they had some way out of this.

Oblivious to the demands made by T'Hos, McGregor continued unabated. "Obviously T'Hos you intend serious harm if you're on my bridge. So I thought it only fair to give the ensign his evaluation now rather than later. P.S. you right royally cocked up." Cutler buried his face by looking at the deck ashamed. This only caused McGregor to roll his eyes.

The ship then went to red alert. Cutler's eyes looked up to the strobing red lights with hope.

Grinning, McGregor announced over the klaxon, "Transporting me was not exactly the smartest move. It tipped my crew off."

"Perhaps but it will make no difference. In a short few moments, you're all going to be dead. I just wanted to see your face and I thought it worth the risk."

"I get that I have a certain rugged sexiness T'Hos, but you really do take your hard-on for me a bit too far. Look seeing as how the kid is fairly incompetent why don't you take him as your sex slave. Heck I'll throw in a holo-image of me that you can pin to the wall as you take him."

T'Hos returned the sarcasm with a matching smile. "I dare say you would Captain. I've heard you're not averse to selling even your own crew."

With alarm, Noah looked up fearful the Captain really was bargaining with him as the booty.

McGregor derisively added, "Trust me you can have the kid for free. I might even pay you!"

Cutler shamefaced just looked at the deck.

"I might just take him as you advise McGregor - after I've seen you and the rest of your cohort writhe in agony."

To Cutler, McGregor intoned in a grave voice, "I must warn you kid he seems to like the whole bondage thing. Oh look you're tied up already. How convenient."

"Always a quip and a smart remark my dear Captain but it's all deflection. Smoke and mirrors to detract from the fact you are an outcast relic of a by-gone age who just doesn't have the smarts for this era. True?"

McGregor stepped forwards and set his glass down on the navigational console. He then walked freely around T'Hos, who wheeled about in turn, keeping his pistol trained at McGregor's head as he countered the charge. "If that's the case how comes you're here looking your revenge? Huh? I guess I struck lucky and got tangled up with a fairly incompetent thug [and not in the way you like it T'Hos you dirty dog!] with pretensions to be an Orion crime-lord. But even your wicked family threw you out and wanted nothing to do with you. And Orions have fairly low dastardly standards."

Aft of the bridge, Terrol kept a careful eye on the MSD display and McGregor's movements. His comrade was communicating with one of the other boarding parties. He didn't look too pleased at the report being relayed.

"I managed to sneak into a secure Federation base, circumvent their security, then board your vessel, your precious Kestrel, and install a deadly neuron-toxin to your environmental systems. I think Captain that I have shown my worth! When words gets out about this, my organisation will fill with eager partners who see I do not fear to take on the Federation! That I am not scared by Starfleet Captains!"

"Hold your tongue there! When word gets out be sure to say ‘Border Service'! I don't want those shirt tuckers to get any credit for my work! Might I add that breaking into Starbase 49 is akin to breaking into ... a paper bag. Your plan might have had merit if you hadn't gone all egotistical and decided to share it with me. Look how much extra time you've given me and my crew to stop your plan."

Smug, T'Hos gloated. "Stop my plan! Captain my plan is near to bear fruition. Terrol tell the captain here the status of the neuron-toxin."

Turning back to the MSD display before reluctantly replying, Terrol informed, "Erm, actually ... we might have a problem."

"Now, now, Terrol. Bad guys 101. Don't admit the plan isn't going to plan or make the bad guy boss look bad in front of the good guy or the twerp of an ensign. Mind you his green skin clashes something awful with that jumpsuit so it is not too hard to make him look stupid!"

"Shut it McGregor!" T'Hos snarled, spittle flying. McGregor stepped back his hands raised as T'Hos went up to Terrol. "What do you mean?"

"We can't raise Vardros. He appears to have encountered a security team or someone." McGregor stepped back to his command chair smiling innocence as T'Hos stalked the bridge towards Terrol.

"Did he manage to install the neuron-toxin?"

"Yes but it hasn't activated."

T'Hos' face broke in a macabre grin. He pulled out a device and addressed McGregor. "Then it doesn't matter. I can remote activate it." He depressed a button on the small palm held device. "In five minutes the neuron-toxin will flood the ship and all will die. Shields are raised and transporters deactivated. No-one can get on or off the Kestrel."

McGregor scoffed. "You think you have this all worked out?" He then plumped himself down on his command chair and drummed the armrests.

Agitated at the ease with which McGregor conducted himself, T'Hos tried not to let it raise his heckles. Instead, he revelled in his plan's success. "I do. Because I have."

McGregor calmly raised his index finger to illustrate a point he was to make. "You forget one important point."

"Oh yes? And what dear captain is that?"

"This is my ship," he placed his hand over his heart and with the other hand gave his chair a hearty slap, "and I'll be damned if I'll allow anyone to kill my crew - save me!"

Cutler frowned too as perplexed by McGregor's apparent bravado as T'Hos was. He also felt himself growing more fearful for some reason. Something in his gut was telling him McGregor might have an ace up his sleeve but one Noah was sure not to like.

"Pardon!"

"Computer: initiate self-destruct two minutes."

Noah's cheeks paled as the colour washed out of them as he blanched at how sangfroid and languid McGregor called out for the computer to destroy them all.

"Heh, heh. You thought I didn't anticipate you or one of your officers talking to your vaunted ship's computer? It's locked out."

"Except this ship is mine and has been for nigh on twenty years." He then looked skywards.

"Self-destruct sequence initiation. Does the First Officer comply?"

 

* * *


From a deck below Molly Cartwright understanding the captain's defiance at being boarded hollered at the ceiling over the incoming phaser fire, "No she bloody well does not!"

* * *


Her ethereal voice resounded in the bridge causing T'Hos to smirk. "She doesn't appreciate you're trying to save her skin - literally. A ballsy move but ineffectual."

"Ah but again you forget - she's my Kestrel - and I call the shots. Computer: I said self-destruct."

"Self-destruct confirmed and engaged. Self-destruct in two minutes." The klaxons blared throughout the ship as the countdown began. "Self destruct in ... one minute, fifty seconds."

* * *

'VIP - MIA' by Miranda Fave

‘VIP MIA'



VIP Lounge, Deck 4

Molly Cartwright's eyes popped out of her head as the visage of the captain disappeared in the transporter beam. Then quickly her decorum returned and into the ceiling she called, "Computer locate Captain McGregor."

"Captain McGregor is on the bridge."

Swirling her glass Judith joked perplexed. "Don't tell me we've pushed Ensign Cutler over the edge already!"

Cocking his head at an angle, Stanley intoned seriously. "Normally it does take much longer for that to occur."

"Something's amiss." She tapped her combadge. "Cartwright to McGregor." There was no response. She slapped the combadge again. "Cartwright to Cutler ... Cartwright to bridge." The three officers exchanged puzzled and anxious glances. Cartwright to Dr. Monroe."

Monroe looked down at her own combadge and frowned at the lack of response. "The combadges aren't working."

"Inter ship communication appears to be malfunctioning or ... is being blocked."

"My chips are on the latter." Molly marched over to the nearest intercom board. The throwback technology had the plus of actually working independently of the combadge system. Nevertheless, trying to contact the bridge she made no contact still. "Seems they're pointedly ignoring our calls. Cartwright to Dexter."

"Dexter. Commander I'm in the auxiliary bridge. I've tried raising RAH but have been unable to raise the Chief. Bridge controls have been cut off, transporters are offline and shields have been raised."

"Well the Captain has just been transported to the bridge. I think it's fair to say someone has taken control of the bridge."

"Wait. I'm getting a hail from Gardner." There was a pause then the red alert alarm wailed. Dexter's voice now rang out throughout the ship.

"This is an intruder alert. Intruders have commandeered the bridge and docking gate 2. All crew be on the look out for other-"

"Come in Dexter ... damn it." Molly pulled out her phaser from her belt. "Ok let's mount up people. Gardner has assailants at the docking gate, the Captain has been ... kidnapped to the bridge so we've some fist-to-cuffs to look forward to."

Commander Cartwright called the revellers of the VIP lounge together and swiftly set out a plan of attack. With the bridge commandeered and the docking gate under attack, Cartwright organised two main forces. One team to help Dexter retake the bridge, the other to reinforce Gardner to subjugate the intruders at the gate. Knowing full too well that other assailants may be out there she organised others into search teams or to their duty stations.

"Stanley you take a team and get down to Engineering and make sure we retain control of engineering at least. Gardner is tied up by the sounds of it so you'll be running engineering. Try and see if you can wrestle control from the bridge."

The yeoman who only a moment ago was serving drinks, worriedly asked the Commander, "Who's going with the team to the docking gate?"

Moving her team towards the doors of the VIP lounge, Molly patted the yeoman on the shoulder in a gesture of friendly camaraderie and reassurance. Molly did not care to hear the slight quiver in the yeoman's voice. "Not to worry Whent, Gardner will be there. Dexter will no doubt be headed to the bridge which leaves you guys with the C.O.B. and so I'm inclined to think you'll be ok."

"Fang?" As the commander moved off, Whent gulped at the prospect of seeing the ship's formidable Chief of the Boat in action but equally fortified at the knowledge.

Cartwright quickly divided the company and they marched out into the corridor where they met other crewmembers rushing to battle stations. The additional personnel were quickly incorporated into the teams or given orders to defend their stations. At the nearest armoury chests, the hand-held phasers were supplemented with phaser rifles and carbines.

Molly took charge of the team running towards the bridge. As she ran from the VIP lounge towards the stair well she shouted back at Monroe. "You best get to sickbay Judy, there's likely to be casualties."

Molly did not observe Monroe's response as she took the steps two at a time. The Commander was already almost at the top level near the bridge when she heard Dexter shout out, "Down Commander!"

Without reasoning why, she implicitly trusted the security officer and threw herself onto the steps. Phaser blasts scorched the bulkhead where she had just been.

Scrambling with her weapon, she fired a lance of phaser fire at her attackers, guarding the level to the bridge. Her shots were ineffective but provided the cover to allow her to move up the stairwell onto the level just below the bridge. Molly and her cohort hunkered down beside Dexter and his security team.

"What's the sit-rep?"

Before Dexter could respond the voice of the computer called out: "Self-destruct sequence initiation. Does the First Officer comply?"

From her position a deck below, Molly Cartwright understanding the captain's defiance at being boarded but not willing to go to such an extreme resort just yet, hollered at the ceiling over the incoming phaser fire, "No she bloody well does not!"

"What's the captain up to?" Dexter and his team started to return the phaser fire. "Do you really think he'd sooner self-destruct the Kestrel rather than allow boarders to take control?"

"I'm afraid he actually would, damned pride, but I won't!"

The computer's voice then called out in opposition to protocol, "Self-destruct confirmed and engaged. Self-destruct in two minutes."

Dexter and Molly exchanged a disbelieving glance. "No way!"

The klaxons blared throughout the ship as the countdown began. "Self destruct in ... one minute, fifty seconds."

Molly was flabbergasted and then decorum returning she barked at the computer, "Abort destruct sequence, code 1-2-3-continuity."

There was a pregnant pause as she awaited the cancellation of the self-destruct. "Self destruct in ... one minute, forty seconds."

"How did he?"

"Because he's had over twenty years to hoodwink the computer into doing whatever he wants it. That's how! Come on we have to get control back and stop the self-destruct."

"And if we can't?"

"I'll trust Stanley to figure something out in Engineering."

* * *


Outside VIP Lounge

As Commander Cartwright disappeared up the stairs, Whent turned to see Lt. Commander Mnu Stanley Subreliqui or Stanley running in the opposite direction leading his small coterie towards engineering. Whent and the others assigned to reinforce the gate stalled for a fraction of second. The team then ran off except for Whent who paused to look at the ship's CMO.

He saw Judith Monroe frowning at the disappearing form of Cartwright. She came to then and started to move off towards sickbay when she spied a hesitant Whent.

Judith was adverse to violence but she had grown accustomed to it being part of life on a border cutter and being a frontier girl had given her much experience of violence in her life. She therefore recognised fear when she saw it.

"Don't you need to be somewhere yeoman?"

"I'm headed to meet with the C.O.B. at the docking gate."

Monroe saw the nervousness of the yeoman but decided to make a jest of the issue. "Be careful Fang doesn't maul you by accident. Now scram!" Whent gulped but turned on his heel then thundered off towards the docking gate to catch up with the others.

Whent nervously ran towards his destination expecting anyone and anything to be around the next corner. He had not expected to see such action berthed to a Starfleet base. He certainly did not expect to hear what the computer then called out. "Self-destruct confirmed and engaged. Self-destruct in two minutes."

 

* * *

'Controlled Chaos' by Miranda Fave

‘Controlled Chaos'



Operations Command Centre, Starbase 49

Commodore Georgetown with his usual beaming smile entered the Operations centre. With coffee mug in hand, he walked the perimeter of the extensive command centre of Starbase 49. He did so without comment or word but he did offer those subordinates who caught his eye an encouraging nod or an approving look.

Georgetown knew that his style of command was to say the least not very commanding. He knew his officers followed his orders but they ran the Starbase with such efficiency and energy that at times he felt he was superfluous and defunct. He knew too his

"Commodore."

Everyone on Ops looked up at the request for attention from the ensign. It was not normal practice for anyone to call on the commodore. Lt. Commander Huryes almost rolled his eyes. The ensign was a twitchy little bird forever nervous and worried about working so near to the Federation frontier. She feared that an invading horde would some day come screaming over the border. Perhaps after the Borg incursion and the devastation wrought at Wolf that was not so implausible as it had once been thought.

Georgetown equally surprised at the call out looked first to Lt. Commander Huryes as if seeking counsel as to what she should do next. "Em ... go ahead ensign. What is it?"

"It's the Kestrel sir." Nervously the ensign bit her lip. She knew this particular ship had caused any number of headaches for the commodore but something seemed out of kilter with the reports she was getting.

Clearly exasperated with dealing with the fractious captain of the Kestrel Georgetown groaned, "What is it now?"

"They're reporting a red alert Commodore."

"Really?"

Lt. Commander Huryes stepped forwards with a genial and sympathetic smile and with a reassuring tone informed both the ensign and the commodore, "Ah ... Captain McGregor likes to keep his crew on his toes so he has pulled unexpected drills like this before. Normal practice usually means captains do not tend to do so whilst at berth but well Captain McGregor is how do we say? - unconventional."

Georgetown agreed with a quiet, "To say the least! That's certainly one word for it."

"Try hailing them anyway. I'd like to try and see if that is one habit we can offload McGregor off."

"Sir shields are raised and all hails are going unanswered. I'm not sure this is a drill ..."

"No doubt that is the intention McGregor is trying to portray for his crew. No doubt too he wants to cause mayhem for us too." Georgetown saw the concerned look on the ensign's face and relenting decided, "Fine, fine, it might be a waste of time Huryes but it gives us fodder to haul McGregor up. Get a security team down to the docking gate and see what the hell that man is up to. Ok?"

Not pleased at having to waste time on McGregor, Huryes gritted her teeth but acquiesced. "Yes sir."

"SIR!"

"What is it now Ensign? Control yourself."

"The Kestrel! It's just started a self-destruct procedure!"

"What? That's preposterous." The Operations centre was suddenly bathed in a red sheen as the alarm screamed.

Huryes hurried over to the ensign's console and saw the ship had indeed activated its self-destruct. Georgetown flapped and puffed, "Surely it's part of McGregor's drill."

Shaking her head, Huryes read out the sensor readings indicating the warp core was beginning to dangerously overload. "Commodore, the Kestrel really is going to self-destruct."

"My God! It's berthed to the main station!"

Huryes then called out, "Start evacuation procedures. Clear the base! All hands: Evacuate. All ships: Emergency depart!"

"Huryes surely not."

The Lt. Commander rounded on the commodore's failure to grasp the gravity of the situation. "Sir when the Kestrel explodes it could take out have the base at least. Any vessels caught up in the blast will be similarly destroyed and their warp cores could explode too! A whole chain reaction of explosions and destruction! Trust me sir, there's every need."

Bedlam descended upon the base and the outlying bases, dry berths, docked and milling vessels Starfleet and other. Personnel scrambled to safety whether escape pods or shuttles. Vessels able to began emergency flights to escape the immediate vicinity.

On the Kestrel herself, bedlam broke out as repelling boarders became a countdown to certain destruction for the crew.

* * *


USS Kestrel, Main Bridge


Noah grimaced and flinched as T'Hos rounded on McGregor, his disruptor gesturing crazily. "It's a bluff!"

Terrol again interrupted. T'Hos whipped his head around to hear Terrol's report and Noah listened in with rapt attention and increasing fear. "Erm ... actually we detect a build-up of energy within the power couplings."

"Damn you McGregor. Stop it!"

Shrugging with a cheery smile, McGregor seated serenely in his command chair replied, "I can't. Bad enough hacking the systems to follow my self-destruct orders never mind getting the computer to recognise a change of opinion. Can't have a flighty CO willing to self-destruct the ship! That would be madness."

"Self destruct in ... one minute, thirty seconds."


"Make it stop now McGregor!"

Noah wanted to implore McGregor to do the same.

"Or what, you will kill me?" He burst into gales of laughter and slapped his thigh. "Sounds like a win-","Self destruct in ... one minute, twenty seconds." "-win situation to me."

Cutler marvelled at McGregor's composure and the fact the captain didn't even miss a beat as the ship's computer counted down towards its inevitable destruction. The fact he burst out into another fit of laughing only gave Cutler and T'Hos further consternation.

"Shut it McGregor."

"Tut tut T'Hos. You are fast denigrating into a snarling snapping little," he paused to think of an appropriate insulting term, which he failed to do, "a snapping little yelping annoying thing. You get the picture."

"This isn't time for your jokes McGregor. I mean to kill you!"

"Yes with a horrible pathogenic virus or other. Correct? Well you can imagine I'd sooner go out another way. Preferably one of my own choice. Hence..." He held out a hand proffering an answer.

An answer the computer duly provided on cue: "Self destruct in ... one minute, ten seconds."

T'Hos pulled a limp Harris up and threatened her with his disruptor. "Fine then Captain. I recognise some of my own merchandise." He caressed the unconscious yeoman's face with the nozzle of his disruptor. "Stop the self-destruct or she dies then."

"Again she dies either way."

"Curse you McGregor!" T'Hos discarded Harris tossing her to the deck. "Terrol contact the ship and arrange for us to be transported. Make sure the shields go back up to stop anyone escaping. I'll leave you to your own devices McGregor." T'Hos turned to the different computer consoles and opened fire on the different systems. Sparks, flames and smoke spewed from the tactical station, then the transporter pad, communications, science and helm as the disruptor blasted into each station. Noah cowered as the sparks cascaded from the console above him.

The bridge filled with the haze of smoke. "Just in case you thought to try and stop your little countdown this will have paid heed to your plan. Seems your plan has backfired." He then picked up Harris again. "But it would be a shame to see a profit wasted. Bye McGregor. What is your earth term? Ah yes. See you in hell McGregor."

"Keep us a seat. Tooddles." McGregor wagged his fingers like a baby goodbye. It only served to anger T'Hos more and he let it show cursing aloud. T'Hos then disappeared in his transporter beam along with Harris and his cronies.

McGregor jumped out of the command seat and ignoring Noah and the countdown, he ran towards to the bridge entrance. He grabbed a concealed phaser to fire on the door controls. The doors opened and McGregor bolted through kicking the remnants of the firing party guarding the bridge in the back and down the stairs.

Scrambling to his feet as McGregor fled the bridge and the computer counted down, "Self destruct in ... forty seconds," Noah took to chase after his captain. As he charged through the two sets of sliding doors towards the docking port, he saw the last of T'Hos' henchmen tumble down the curving stairs to the deck two and the encroaching stomping feet of Commander Cartwright leading Dexter and his security team.

Dexter lunged forward to grasp the felled henchman. A transporter effect started to encapsulate the henchman and the security chief too. Molly gasped for a second but then the effect dissipated having failed to grab a hold. Caleb cursed then kicked the assailant before driving up the stairs to the bridge deck.

Oblivious to Dexter's near snatching, McGregor had passed through the two sliding doors into the small airlock with no care for Cartwright's successful gunfight. Sealing the airlock behind him as he deftly punched in commands at the docking port's control room the Captain proceeded through to the docked travel pad and jumped into the seat of it as the door clamped shut.

Noah hammered on the sealed airlock doors completely shocked at the Captain turning and running. He thought many things of McGregor but he believed the captain was too stubborn to abandon his ship or cowardly run away. And selfishly too, Noah despaired of losing this chance at escape.

The travel pod blasted off tearing away from the doomed Kestrel trailing parts of the docking mechanism as McGregor overrode the safeties in his desperate haste. Noah hollered at the escaping pod disappeared and the computer continued counting down.

Cartwright came up to Noah and barrelled him with a look demanding answers and she hauled him away from the docking port onto the ruined bridge. "Captain McGregor has just fled!"

In a moment of shock, Caleb lapsed in his cool demeanour. "He didn't take us with him?"

"Why did he initiate the self-destruct and how are we supposed to stop it."

"He initiated the self-destruct to stop T'Hos from killing everyone with a virus he implanted into the environmental systems. He said there's no way to stop the self-destruct procedure! We're all going to die and the Captain just ..." he looked back through the open bridge doors to the docking port to illustrate the finish of his sentence.

The klaxons and sirens then kicked up into a final cacophony of noise and volume. "Self destruct in ... Ten"

Molly shook her head vehemently, "There has to be a way to stop it. McGregor wouldn't."

" ... Nine ... "

Caleb Dexter just locked a look at Molly that was part resigned and part contempt for McGregor's choices.

"Eight ... Seven ... Six ... Five ..."

Noah almost sobbed and implored of the heavens, "Please no!"

" Four ... Three ... Two ... One ... Self-destruct."

* * *

 

'Countdown to Oblivion' by Miranda Fave

‘Countdown to Oblivion'


Main Engineering, Deck 4


Although main engineering was located on deck 4, with the turbolifts disabled Stanley and his motley trio had to run the length of the ship from the VIP lounge. The self-destruct had begun before they had even made to Engineering.

When the blue skinned and aloof Stanley charged into engineering, the faces of the NCOs and ensigns lit up at seeing some sort of expectant salvation.

Matt Duffy quickly brought the Helm officer up to speed explaining in answer to Stanley's initial response, "No it's no trickery on the captain's part. The power couplings are dangerously overheating. I don't even know how he tripped the safeties and protocols to do this. This is not one of the standard methods for initiating a self-destruct."

Stanley bent over to view the readings on the console closer with his black orb eyes. "Hmm ... I rather imagine Ensign Duffy that that is precisely the intention of our dear Captain. He obviously circumvented protocol with the expressed intention of creating a non-protocol procedure."

"How do we stop it then?"

Coolly, Stanley answered as if taking a walk in the park studying the figures, "I imagine actually the Captain has designed it so that it cannot be stopped."

"Well I've tried all the standard approaches to stop it but so far no joy. Should we abandon ship?"

"That ... ensign was your first mistake. The self-destruct procedure is not standard therefore the methods to stop it or not likely to be standard either. Can we eject the warp core?"

Duffy shook his head. "No our control functions are limited. Besides ejecting the core won't stop the overload in the power couplings at this stage."

"No. But it will stop us blowing up the Starbase. At least some good might come of this."

"Some good might come of this!? I don't see how ..."

"In my experience with humans they often express sentiments of hope or sacrifice for a greater good in times of stress or dire need. Is this not an appropriate situation in which to express such a sentiment?" Stanley stopped hacking the computer to look up at Duffy and enquire of the proper social protocol.

"I think there are more pressing matters." Stanley shrugged as if accepting the answer reluctantly. Duffy then implored, "Will I get the remainder of the engineering crew to evacuate?"

Stanley looked up and then around at the milling but troubled faces of the engineering crew as if only noticing their presence now. "Oh, I should dare say not. Captain McGregor would be appalled if any of the crew were to abandon their posts in the midst of a crisis. No, no, that would never do." He then returned to the console.

"But it's not a crisis it's a-"

"Self destruct in ... Forty seconds."

"Yes, I do understand but I have every faith we can stop the self-destruct. Certainly, I think we should at least endeavour to try. It's the very least Captain McGregor would expect of us." Duffy found himself shaking his head incredulously at the level-headed almost languid emotions of the helm officer.

"We could try to eject the nacelles remotely if we can. Thereby containing the explosion to the nacelles if we could shield the ship enough."

Duffy called out joyously, "I can try to use the deflector to amplify the shields!"

"Very good Ensign Duffy. I shall endeavour to eject the nacelles."

"Self destruct in ... Twenty seconds."


Duffy's brow beaded with sweat and then with another eureka style call he proclaimed, "I've managed to tap into the deflector!"

"Very good Ensign Duffy. However, I appear to have failed in my efforts to remote eject the nacelles." His voice did not seem to express any great sorrow but his composed features did frown as he looked up into the faces of the engineering crew who had indeed remained at their posts and now realised they had sealed their fate. The klaxons and sirens then kicked up into a final cacophony of noise and volume. "Self destruct in ... Ten"

Stanley stepped back from the controls blinking seemingly unphased only deigning to voice, "Dear oh dear."

" ... Nine ... "

Duffy cried aloud in frustration unable to stop the countdown.

"Eight ... Seven ... Six ... Five ... Four ... Three ... Two ... One ... Self-destruct."

All hell was unleashed.


* * *


Environmental controls, Deck 4

"I think not." At that, Vardros threw his toolbox at Becca. She ducked to avoid but he sprang forward at the same time pulling out a hidden disruptor.

Berkley immediately ran forward even as Becca hollered at him to shoot.

Vardros crashed into Becca causing her phaser to skitter across the deck. He smashed his fist into her jaw then raised his disruptor at Berkley who received the shot to his chest with wide-eyed shock before crumpling backwards. Vardros then returned his attention to the petite NCO.

"Time to sort you out, bitch! And I think I'm going to enjoy this." He looked down on her with hungry lust. Becca though was going to have none of it if she could help it.

The self-destruct alarm then wailed shocking Vardros. He looked up at the ceiling as the computer's voice announced the countdown. It was enough of a distraction. Becca was able to free a leg and kneed him in the groin. Vardros rolled off the NCO in pain but snarling snatched his gun and fired as she rolled over in the opposite direction. The shots were wild and went wide but Becca tripped over as she ducked to avoid.

Vardros picked himself up and aimed true when a security officer suddenly manhandled him to the ground. Becca saw quickly Sebastian Templar had come to her aid. A fact she resented but was thankful for at the same time.

Her relief was short lived though as Vardros in his struggle fired his pistol just short of Templar's face. The shot thankfully did not hit the security ensign but it did blind Templar and caused him to fall back snatching at his face. Vardros held little pity kicking Templar in the stomach and to the deck.

Becca had no idea as to where her own phaser had skittered to so had no other recourse but to ram herself bodily into Vardros before he fired on Sebastian. She managed to wind herself in doing so but successfully dislodged the disruptor from the grip of Vardros.

"You'll pay for that!"

"Not before you." Vardros never even got to look back at Sebastian before the ensign kicked the legs of the boarder out from under him. But he kicked back vehemently landing his boot on Sebastian's chin.

Becca put her phaser to the back of his head. She demanded, "What were you doing?"

Vardros hissed defiantly, "You'll soon see."

She smacked him with a swing from her phaser to the back of his skull. "Answer me."

Bowing over he merely laughed. Putting a hand to his bleeding scalp, he looked at the blood and lips twisted in distain for the NCO told her, "Your interrogation skills are lame petty officer. If I had the time I'd soon show you how to do it properly."

"I'd like to see you try."

She fired the phaser at the deck and then pressed its superhot muzzle to the skin of his throat. "I'll give it my best shot."

"I don't think so." He threw his head back throwing Becca onto her back as he snapped up the phaser and pointed it at her in turn. "Rather I think it is my turn, a pity I don't have the time to make a good sport out of it ..." A transporter beam enveloped him depriving Becca of her answers and Vardros of his sport.

"Self destruct in ... Forty seconds"


Sebastian hauled Becca up to her feet and propelled her along the corridor. "Quick we have to get to an escape pod!"

"No. We can't go without Berkley."

Sebastian looked back and cursed. He kicked himself for doing so but he went back with Becca to lift the prostrate lieutenant. Struggling to bear his weight with their injuries, they sluggishly shuffled down the corridor. They were metres from the hatch to an escape pod when the klaxons and sirens pitched up into a final cacophony of noise and volume.

"Self destruct in ... Ten ... Nine ... Eight ... Seven ... Six ... Five ..."


Sebastian looked over to Becca as if seeking forgiveness in this last moment. Becca tried to ignore his gaze but her eyes met his in the last few seconds of the countdown. " Four ... Three ... Two ... One ... Self-destruct."

Then came the flames surging through the corridor and from up under the deck plates to engulf them.

 

* * *

 

Security control, Docking gate 2, Deck 6

"Stay down!" Eddie Gardner's firm hands were tough, rough and traced with tiny scars after long years working on the inner workings of a Starfleet vessel. Jex found her chin pushed down to the deck by his protective impulse.

Struggling under his grip whilst he fired off a number of shots she shouted aloud, "Chief!" Without a word, he released his hold on the ensign, who got to her knees and aimed her newly acquired phaser down the corridor towards the security station.

The attackers had retreated to the stronghold as soon as the alert was raised. It had afforded Jex and Gardner the opportunity to get out of the line of fire. Eddie's carbine fired off numerous deadly shots that caused the attackers to duck for cover and allowed he and Jex to get in behind a bulkhead.

Over the alert, he shouted as he stood protected by the deck partition frame, "That's better!" That was when the self-destruct sequence began and Gardner cursed forcibly his face reddening. He wasted several rounds from his carbine to vent his anger and frustration. Around the security station, fire erupted and scorching shrapnel littered the floor in front.

"Surely McGregor means it as a feint! I remember once ...." Her memory cut short as the attackers retaliated in fear and anger at the turn of events.

"McGregor doesn't like to bluff. He always does everything for a reason. His reasoning tends to be his own though. Damn! I've got to get to engineering. I might be able to stop it." He blindly fired around the bulkhead as phaser hits smashed into the walls around them. "Ensign, I've no doubt security is on its way."

"Yeah of course Chief." She dropped to her knees again and chanced a few shots down the corridor.

"What I mean is ... damn missed him ...I'm gonna have to leave you to your own devises."

"Chief?"

"Like I said, got to stop whatever McGregor has cooked up. Before he cocks it up."

She squeezed her eyes shut as the deck beside her threw up flames and debris. "What?"

"The damned Captain keeps tinkering with my systems to make the ship do what he wants. He probably thinks he knows what he is doing but he's as like to burn us up as save us."

"And what if he actually intends for the ship to blow up? Perhaps we should evacuate."

"Then we can kiss our chances goodbye. Just keep shooting! Sorry ..." with that Gardner ducked and ran off down the corridor back the way they came to Engineering. Jex dived into the bulkhead as heavy phaser fire enveloped the corridor at his retreat. She squealed as she fired off random shots in retaliation. Jex looked back to see what progress Gardner had made but there was no sign and no sign of any back up.

A blast of directed fire above her head caused her to stumble out into the corridor. Heart racing Leoni fumbled through her memories of her Jex symbiont to garner some survival skills and to master her fears and reactions. The Jex part of her told her to breathe deep, deep up and run like hell for cover.

It seemed like good advice in the circumstances and so Jex rolled onto her hands and feet and pushing herself into a sprint headed for a door opening. But one of the attackers anticipated her move and fired ahead of her. She threw herself out of the way and dodging the shots meant she careened into the bulkhead and tripped over her feet to smash into the deck plates.

Her breath was smacked from her lungs in the fall and her phaser tumbled from her grip. "No!" she scrambled across the deck to her phaser. But one of the attackers, a surly Nausicaan, she now saw that his holo-projector was terminated, cocky and lecherous stalked towards Jex.

Undeterred she rushed forwards for the weapon but his heavy armoured boot stomped on her hand. He then grinded her trapped hand twisting his boot. He gave a guttural laugh as he levied his weapon to her forehead as Jex looked up at her enemy.

Jex saw the muzzle of the disruptor and out of focus the tusks and bloody gums of the Nausicaan's feral grin. Then a flash of something fast moving reflecting light and dark red orange fur. More than that, she heard a terrible growl that sent shivers up her spine and swallowed her up in horrible memories. The memory and sudden movement caused her to flinch and close her eyes.

When she opened them again, the muzzle of the gun and the Nausicaan were gone. Instead, the spray of arterial blood coated the ceiling and wall. Turning her head she saw the Nausicaan lying in a pool of blood and the flash of fur clothed in a Starfleet uniform propel itself over the front of the security station through the miasma of smoke and fire. From the shroud of burning detritus, she heard the growl again and fearsome tearing shredding sounds and the awful screams of the attacker being savagely mauled.

Then the furred figure stood to its impressive height, almost three metres tall. Its claws dripped blood. Its eyes glowered with a fierce hunger. Its features contorted in a mix of anger and disgust. Its features unmistakably Kzinti!

And Jex succumbed to her memories. Memories not of Leoni. Memories of another Jex. Memories of another life. Memories of a family savagely eviscerated. Memories of Kzinti mauling, clawing, tearing flesh, pouring blood, feasting on their prey.

"Are you injured ensign?" Leoni Jex kept her eyes shut and remained on her back unresponsive to the voice of the Kzinti. "Are you injured?" The voice sounded harsher at having to repeat itself. It compelled Jex to open her eyes and look up at the figure behind the security desk. Its eyes bore into hers as if seeking a reason for her refusal to answer. It did not look as if it were use to people not doing as it said or answering its questions.

"Ensign!"

Jex gulped and swallowed her memories and trying to hold back her fear answered in a quivering voice, "I am fine. Just ... just startled." Shakily she got to her feet. As she did she heard the approach of others and instinctively grabbed for her weapon. Secretly glad for having a reason to hold the weapon in the vicinity of the Kzinti.

At this point, Yeoman Whent and team turned into the smouldering corridor expecting a gunfight. They stopped short to see a bloodied Nausican lying prostrate and the blood soaked Kzinti standing proudly over an unidentified pool of blood seeping out from behind the security station.

Seeming to collect itself with heavy laboured breaths the towering Kzinti in its deep and wicked tone commanded, "Secure the prisoner. This one is dead." The Kzinti looked down at whatever remained at his feet. "And check the ensign's vitals."

"I'm fine, just shaky!" She waved the help away and ignored the Kzinti's stare. The remainder of the party divided to the different tasks and securing the general area.

"Mr. Fang ... I mean ..." Colouring at his slip, Whent approached the Kzinti but then taking in the sight to behold at his feet paled and crumpled to the floor.

Unperturbed at this turn of events the Kzinti took Jex by the elbow and growled. "We have little time."

Jex flinched and then turned to the ceiling as the computer's voice counted down.

"There's less than thirty seconds!"

"Come." The Kzinti hauled her along as they ran off down the corridor.

Jex demanded to know of this ... this monster ... this Kzinti. "Where are you taking me?"

"I am taking you nowhere, we have work to do yet."

"But the self-destruct! Who are you?"

"McGregor will not destroy the Kestrel." He sounded supremely confident of that even as the klaxons and sirens kicked up into a final cacophony of noise and volume. "Self destruct in ... Ten ... Nine ... Eight ... Seven ... Six ... Five ..."

He pulled on her tightly as he pushed them faster down the corridor, "We must hurry."

Jex could scarce believe the words as the last few seconds ticked away.

" Four ... Three ... Two ... One ... Self-destruct."

Jex screamed in horror as around her opened up in destructive energy.

* * *

 

'Into the Maelstrom' by Miranda Fave

‘Into the Maelstrom'



Approaching Main Engineering


Eddie Gardner cursed as his twisted ankle caused wicked pain to shoot up his leg. He decided to hell with decorum and hopped the last few steps into Engineering as the computer began its final countdown. He hopped into Main Engineering to see an almost serene yet poignant, in a distracted way, Mnu Stanley Subrelqui look up at a horrified Duffy as the computer intoned:

" Four ... Three ..."

"Frak, too late!"

"Two ... One ... Self-destruct."

A crescendo of noise and whines filled Engineering and every part of the Kestrel and then a maelstrom of surging power erupted throughout the ship ...

The power coursed through the power relays. Normally a power harnessed, siphoned, and controlled now ran rampant and unrestrained. Where normally it replicated cool drinks, it overloaded and spat fiery destruction. Where normally it fabricated parts and vital materials, it erupted in destructive energy. Loosened the energy surged through the ship systems outpouring in volcanic fashion throughout rooms, hangars, labs, bays and corridors. Flames, sparks, and surging electrical bolts crackled out from every console, intercom, light, and panel.

Throughout the ship people cowered as energy consumed the ship vented by the super heated power coils into every system causing a huge overload and the entire ship to then descend into darkness as all power, all light, all life abruptly stopped.

The Kestrel had not self-destructed but it was now a ruined and fire ravaged ship. As the lights died out the flames burned but then the fire suppressant systems engulfed fires and choked the survivors. The suppressant gases pooled to the floor as they extinguished the major conflagrations and quickly dissipating so as not to asphyxiate those trapped in their vicinity.

The firestorm was brief but violent. McGregor had gambled with the lives of his crew and had pulled an ace, but at what cost?

 

* * *

 

As errant embers and sporadic sparks coasted to the deck in the black groans and wails bespoke of everyone's relief at having not succumbed to a fiery death. Flittingly emergency lights ebbed into life and, where it had failed entirely for the ten to twenty seconds, gravity returned at first with a careful whisper of a pull and then a firm steady hold.

Stanley looked over to Eddie quizzically at the ship remaining and having not smashed into a million pieces. Duffy voiced it aloud, "Wha .. what happened?"

Stanley answered Duffy in as best a fashion he could. "It appears Captain McGregor had other plans for the Kestrel."

"Don't tell me you actually believed he was going to blow the ship up Stan? But the damned infernal man has probably fried every isolinear chip and part of the warp coil manifold to do whatever he wanted to do. This is going to take forever to fix. Wait till I get my hands on him wherever he is?"

 

* * *


Main Bridge

Dusting herself off, Molly Cartwright took in the ruined bridge and cursed aloud and to herself. "McGregor must have known all along! Damn that man! He's a damned lunatic."

"Now, now Commander, you know that is not the case. The Captain is no more insane than any other captain is. His only problem lays in he shows it."

"Shows it too often and too much, in my vaunted opinion. Bloody genius too." She rolled her eyes before Noah suddenly intruded.

"The self-destruct didn't work but the virus!"

Molly then recalled what Cutler had asserted as the countdown had diminished. T'Hos' plan to kill everyone on the ship and she wondered was this why McGregor had really fled because he knew his self-destruct wouldn't work? She doubted the captain was that cowardly. When she waved the smoke from her face, it struck what McGregor had done. "By overloading ... everything he nullifies its being spread. Life support is at a minimum and as you can see, the smoke is not clearing so the ventilation systems aren't working. I presume it was part of his plan.

"Nevertheless, I'm taking a team down to environmental systems, Caleb." Molly barked orders to Dexter as she ran from the bridge and down the curving stairs. "And Caleb, find out where the captain went!"

Dexter put out a restraining hand to the ensign as he made to follow. "You stay here kid. We need to try to track down the Captain. Find out where he went and why? And we need to try and work these ruined systems to do it too."

"He might have gone after T'Hos. He took Yeoman Harris before he transported off the bridge."

Dexter raised his eyebrow in response to that.

 

* * *


Travel Pod

McGregor zoomed through the fleeing traffic homing in on the signal from the Kestrel. Harris' combadge allowed him to track her progress through the chaos of escaping vessels as bedlam descended on the spaceport. McGregor cursed his plan, one of his numerous fail-safes if ever he found himself in a tight corner.

He liked to think himself clever for outwitting T'Hos but the circumstances that caused him to fall back on this plan meant the ad hoc evacuation of the facility that had descended into chaos. A chaos he now had to frantically navigate with twisting turns and extreme proximity to the ships fleeing in the belief they had to escape the fireball from a self-destructing Kestrel.

The travel pod was slow but nimble and ideally suited for travelling through a milling spaceport albeit not in this heightened activity of escaping ships. McGregor zeroed in on his prey powering up its warp engines ready to blast its way out of the system. He had no ship based weapons with which to stop them. But he did have a ship!

* * *


"T'Hos!"

He growled in response as he dragged a kicking Harris onto the bridge. "What is it?"

"A travel pod!"

His anger spiked as Harris not yet fully lucid but working on her survival instinct bit his arm. He backhanded her as he shouted angrily in response. "What? Why is everyone so frakking incompetent around here?"

"A travel pod is aiming directly for us." For further confirmation, the helm person pointed T'Hos to the viewscreen. The image increasingly filled with a travel pod on a kamikaze run.

"McGregor!" He threw Harris aside. "Fire at him!"

It was too late. The looming spectre of destruction scythed through space and barrelled into the pirate ship. The deck under T'Hos lurched and was rent apart by destructive energy as the small travel pod crumpled the shields and careened into the hull of the rogue raider in a fireball.

"T'Hos! T'Hos! Quick we have to get to the escape pods."

Wincing at the pain to his head, unaware of the heavily bleeding gash running across it, T'Hos gingerly picked himself up off the deck with Terrol offering assistance. He looked to the gaping hole that had been the viewscreen. "Curse you McGregor. Ha! Ha! It hurts to laugh but at least you're dead."

"We've got an intruder alert."

Terrol snapped. "The ship is wrecked and going nowhere. Every system is smashed and on the blink. I doubt it's an actual intruder alert!" T'Hos grasped Terrol's arm in a moment of terror his eyes wide as the awesome reality struck him.

"No! It's McGregor! That sadistic bastard is coming for me."

"Let's go then!"

"Nooo! I will have him."

Terrol rounded on T'Hos. "The Feddies will be descending upon our position to investigate. It won't take them a minute to peg us for who we are. If we are going to go, we go now. Leave McGregor! At least until another day, when you have the advantage." Terrol's eyes bore into T'Hos as if their look could compel this man bent on revenge.

"Fine. But first ..." he went over to the recovering form of Harris and kicked her savagely. "He'll be coming for his precious play thing. Fine but I intend to give him the same welcome he gave me aboard his ship. Self-destruct and on a silent alarm. Let him waltz in here thinking himself a god."

A brief moment later, Terrol gleefully reported. "Done." Both men started towards the nearest escape pod when they faltered in their steps and then with the next step floated off the deck.

* * *


McGregor blasted the brute with his own side arm and then whirled round as two more skidded into the corridor. He fired off two more quick blasts that smashed into their faces. He ran forwards then slowed down by the EVA suit, but as he tapped into the controls of the auxiliary engineering station, he opted to level the playing field or actually to turn them in his favour. With several commands, the gravitational systems started to power down. Soon his EVA suit would allow him to travel more easily than the pirates.

But he had to dash quickly first as more sentries piled into the area. His cumbersome run was a hobbling trot but then the commands took effect his magnetised boots allowed him to move with more purpose than his pursuers who flailed and careened into one another in mass of legs and arms.

Having directed the travel pod at the raider and set it on automatic, McGregor strapped himself into the EVA opened the back hatch, depressurised and ejected into space, he watched as the travel pod consumed the raider sheathing it in a fiery blanket.

First, he had attached himself by a secure line to the pod so that after the immediate propulsion from pod the line snagged and pulled him in the direction of the raider. He floated, to his perspective, downwards onto the raider and then traversed the hull for an entry near this auxiliary engineering station. An old style raider, McGregor after years of service on the border was well versed with its hideouts and operations.

So, with purpose and a clear route he made his way towards the bridge, knowing T'Hos would have brought Harris there. He only hoped she was still there but McGregor did not often entertain doubts or second guesses. He picked a course and went with it come hail or shine or high waters.

Meeting surprisingly little resistance McGregor queried why but upon entering the bridge, he took in the reality. "Touché T'Hos! They say imitation is the highest form of flattery but I think you're too stupid to think up your own ideas. Harris?"

The yeoman looked down startled to see her Captain stood under her attired in an EVA as she floated in mid air. "Captain?" With alarm, she looked around and flailed her arms and legs. "The self-destruct!"

"I know and there's no way to stop it. Let's go. We've little time." He helped Harris down to her feet. Holding on to McGregor, they fled the bridge and made their way through the adjoining corridors.

"All the escape pods are gone!"

"I know. We just need a door, ah here we are, and a hope." He shuffled forwards to an airlock.

"A hope?"

"Yes that Fang does his bloody job and gets me outta here. I'm afraid my dear this is going to hurt you more than me. But you just got to trust me." He pulled down the release lever. "Take a deep breath and hold it."

Harris looked at him blankly. "Trust you? I don't even know what you plan to do."

"Probably best that way. Take a deep breath and hope." He crossed his padded EVA gloved fingers, then pulled a last lever, opening the sealed hatch. He pulled out the stolen firearm and directed it at the door.

Harris gawked and tried to protest but McGregor clamped a hand over her mouth and scolded her as if a child. "Deep breath! Passengers are required to take note of the emergency exits." With a huge grin through the perplex glass of the helmet he pulled the trigger. The hatch exploded in a huge fiery rent and then a whoosh of air and an almighty kick sent them both tumbling out into the depths of space.

An instant later, the cold of space was replaced by the cold sensation of the transporter effect. As he coalesced on the transporter pad of the shuttle piloted by Jex and the Kzinti ‘Fang', McGregor roared, "Shields!" just before the caustic energy obliterated the raider.

Pretending to dust himself down, McGregor commented glibly, "Never been so glad to see you furball."

The giant furball purred accusingly. "Harris needs medical attention but she should be fine. Did you decide Captain, that since you did not blow up your own ship, you would blow up someone else's?"

"Something likes that Rah. Don't suppose you managed to stop T'Hos?"

"No Captain."

"Gees, I have to do everything myself."

 

* * *

 

'A Let Down' by Miranda Fave

‘A Let Down'



Debriefing room, Starbase 49

Noah Cutler shifted uncomfortably under the close scrutiny of his Captain's face, mere inches from his own. He expected to give an account of what had transpired on the ship but the debriefing had seemed more like an interrogation by the Captain. And if truth were told, Cutler didn't think it much of a stretch to believe that McGregor could resort to torture to get the information he wanted.

McGregor his hands resting on the arms of the steel chair Cutler cowered in, shrinking away from the captain's intimidation, pushed the chair back almost causing Cutler to pass out. Inwardly, McGregor beamed at causing such discomfiture so easily. Outwardly, he looked as if he were ready to murder and McGregor were willing to admit he was near to committing such an act. But he decided messing with the incompetent ensign's head would be much more fun; there was less chance of it resulting in a possible displinary hearing too and no need to hide the evidence. So causing mental distress to Cutler as an act of revenge rather than arranging an accident for buffoon was the option he opted for. Certainly, it was the option that meant less paperwork! And for McGregor that usually sealed the deal.

Just as suddenly as he shoved Cutler's chair back, McGregor stepped back folding his arms. He proceeded then to walk with heavy ponderous steps in a circle around the chair positioned in the centre of the room. Off to one side, Eddie Gardner bit his nails trying to get the dirt out from underneath them as he leaned up against the wall of the room. Resenting being here when he had more important work to be doing, Gardner was also despairing of McGregor's antics.

McGregor hauled another chair from the corner, trailed it noisily across the floor, and positioned it back to front to Noah. He then settled himself in the chair using the chair's back to lean his crossed arms on as he settled down for a chat with Noah face to face. His demeanour shifted from a face of thunder to a more amiable deportment as if he intended to put Noah at ease. The shift in demeanour actually caused panic and fear within Noah thrown yet again off-guard by McGregor.

"Let me tell you a story Cutler, one I believe has a resonance with what has occurred here today. It is the story of a Little Balloon."

The frown on Cutler's face was comical and Gardner had to cover his mouth. "Little balloon?"

McGregor rapped the ensign's knuckles. "Don't interrupt! Yes a little balloon." The Captain stared at Cutler as if to dare the ensign to try to interrupt him again. "The Little Balloon was small and hated to sleep on his own, but Mammy and Daddy Balloon had told him he was a Big Boy Balloon now and had to sleep in his own bed. Well this didn't sit well with the Little Balloon who wanted to get into bed with Mammy and Daddy Balloon. But his Mammy warned him and told the Little Balloon that he was now a Big Balloon and so didn't fit in the bed with Mammy and Daddy Balloon. The Little Balloon skulked away to his own bedroom in a huff, his Mammy's words ringing in his ears.

"Nevertheless, in the middle of the night, the Little Balloon snuck into Mammy and Daddy Balloons' room. He tried to squeeze in between Mammy and Daddy Balloon but sure enough, there wasn't room for him. So being a very bold Little Balloon, he let some air out of Daddy Balloon in order to make some room. Yet it wasn't enough to make room for the Little Balloon. So the Little Balloon being a very naughty Little Balloon let some air out of Mammy Balloon, for he did not dare to let more air out of Daddy Balloon. Still there wasn't enough room for him! So the Little Balloon let some air out of himself. And viola he fitted in between Mammy and Daddy Balloon."

Gardner grouched, "What's the moral? Try, try and try again?"

"No Gardner. If you would but listen to the end of the story." Turning back to an increasingly uncomfortable Cutler, the Captain slipped back into his storyteller voice. "In the morning, Mammy Balloon and Daddy Balloon woke up to find Little Balloon asleep in their bed and realised immediately what he had done. They were very cross and very disappointed. Little Balloon was slightly abashed and mollified by the stern looks of his parents. Mammy Balloon corrected him, ‘You did a very bold and silly thing Little Balloon. You disobeyed what we told you and snuck behind our backs. Not only have you let your Daddy down, you let your Mammy down, but most of all ... you let yourself down.'"

Under his breath Eddie muttered, "Good grief."

"So Mr. Cutler the moral of the story is, you've let us all down and turned out to be some huge disappointment altogether. Get out and go think about how you nearly got us all killed."

Downcast, Noah weakly turned on his foot and proceeded to leave the debriefing room. "You were a bit tough on him."

"Gardner, you know as well as I do that he allowed the death of two of our security team, widespread damage to ship systems and made the Kestrel a bloody laughing stock."

"I hope you didn't chew him out simply because you lost face in the eyes of others. Normally you wouldn't give a fig for the opinion of others."

"You know well that's not why I could toss him out of an airlock! Two of my people were killed."

"Yeah and it was down to T'Hos not the kid." Shifting to fold his arms, Gardner leaned back against the bulkhead again. "Blame T'Hos, or blame yourself for crossing T'Hos, but don't blame the kid for it."

McGregor shrugged his shoulders at this. "Why not? He was on the bridge at the time of the attack."

Gardner grinned smugly, as he pointed out, "And you were busy getting drunk at the time."

"Semantics Gardner, semantics." Eddie just rolled his eyes at McGregor's inability to accept blame for anything.

"I'm just saying, there's others who are more to blame than the kid." He shifted from the wall. "Now if you don't mind Captain, I've a ship to get back to and somehow try and fix."

"You'd better bloody hurry up too!"

"Skipper you fried every ..."

Hopping up off the chair with a gleeful smile, McGregor playfully slapped Gardner's cheeks. "I know what I did Chief - I did plan it that way. Saved all of your lives and yet I've had nothing but complaints from you, Molly and Judy. I mean Judy has nowt to grouch about. Hers was the one section the power dump was not directed!"

Gardner gave the cpatin one of his ‘Well duh!' looks, to which McGregor noticed not. "I think she's reacting to the scores of burns and abrasions in the aftermath. Some of our people were badly hurt in it."

"Oh and I just bet T'Hoss' biological weapony thing would've tickled! Where's the gratitude?" He shook his head forlornly. He almost looked genuine but just as suddenly he rounded on his engineer. "Where's your estimate on time of repairs?"

"At present, I'm not sure as to the state of disrepair! The Kestrel is a hair's breath from being mothballed. It doesn't help that you insist on as many original components pre your stunt as opposed to allowing newer computers and systems."

Horrified and outraged by such a suggestion, McGregor expounded. "The Kestrel is a lady. I will not have her defrocked, Gardner. Understand?"

"Well it's going to be tricky and we're going to need assistance from the Starbase and a push on parts. Don't suppose you can see to that."

A look of distaste crossed the captain's face. "Molly and I are going to visit our blumbering oaf of a commodore now to discuss what happened and where we go from here."

"Well with that attitude ..."

"HE is one one of those who are more to blame. He's going to be getting a piece of my mind. Trust me Gardner, you'll be getting whatever you want."

"Glad to hear it. Not so happy for the commodore. And what about T'Hos?"

 

"We fix the Kestrel, we ship out," his voice dropped to a deathly octave, "we hunt him down."

Gardner scoffed. "As simple as that."

The cold determination sent a shiver up Gardner's spine as McGregor baldly replied with predatory eyes, "As simple as that."

* * *

'Accommodating Commodore' by Miranda Fave

 

‘Accommodating Commodore'



The office of Commodore Georgetown, Starbase 49


Commodore Georgetown was use to not being a figure of authority. At best, he was more of a fatherly figure to the many crew and residents of the Starbase ,and a facilitiator to the visiting ships. Nevertheless, he was use to being treated with a rather lot more decorum.

"Captain McGregor I would like to reiterate that your ‘tactic' for getting rid of your intruders, caused widespread havoc to the installation and caused much damage and injuries, albeit minor."

"My intruders! My intruders?" McGregor slapped a palm on the commodore's desk as he darted to his feet. "My dear commodore, my intruders were hiding out on your installation. Others waltzed onto the gangway of my ship from your installation, dressed in your uniforms, with permits from your security department! If you had been securing your station as per your job I'd not have had my intruders!"

"Obviously, there's fault on both sides."

McGregor grabbed Georgetown by the lapels of his uniform jacket and hauled him to his feet. "Did my enlisted security officers, Chan Yu and Brad Hanlon have blame for it? Maybe I ought to record that in the letters I write to their families on the deaths of their sons. Don't dish out the blame commodore, when your station failed my ship's safety and security. You might as well have come down and pulled the triggers yourself!"

"McGregor!" Molly hauled the captain free of the commodore who, flushed and frightened, flopped down into his chair. His aide sat frozen in his seat, seeing his superior officer being roughly manhandled. McGregor moved slowly away from the desk.

Trying her best to appease all in the room, Molly adopted her best concillatory voice and face. One well practiced after these years with McGregor. "Commodore, the captain is obviously outraged at the deaths of crewmembers and the destruction of the Kestrel's systems. An action precipitated by the captain's last-ditch attempt to save his ship. Obviously, the havoc to the traffic in and around Starbase 49 is regrettable but I for one am glad for the captain's course of action  It stopped a deadly neuro-toxin that would have killed everyone onboard and could probably have contaminated the Starbase too.

"Now the issue remains how T'Hos managed to carry out his attack. That'll require a full investigation by your security department. As to the Kestrel herself, she has suffered heavy damage and her recent overhaul nullified. With your assistance, and patience, we'd like to stream-line the repairs to the Kestrel."

"I'm sorry but the Kestrel is hardly a priority. The ship is antiquated!" McGregor turned around sharply but Molly Cartwright put out a halting hand.

"She is a tried and trusted ship commodore. Your help in rendering the best and speediest assistance would be greatly appreciated. Otherwise, I can only imagine how long we would have to languish about waiting on the ship to be ready for patrol. We're very eager to ship out and hunt down the perpertrator of this heinous attack."

She leaned in to speak softly as if her whisper were an intimate conversation between them only. McGregor faced away as if to hide his smirk. "Can you just imagine, McGregor cooped up on your space station, for what, months on end? I really doubt Starfleet will rush through a replacement vessel for him to command."

Georgetown baulked at the thought of McGregor constantly at his heels, doggedly hounding him about the state of disrepair of his ship. He could easily imagine the captain as a thorn in his side but he could not imagine just  exactly what problems and headaches McGregor would cause. Only that it would probably be highly embarrassing and troubling not just for Georgetown but all of his crews.

"I guess you are quite correct Commander Cartwright. And in light of the sacrifice the Kestrel made to ensure the pathogen did not spread to the starbase either I think it only fair to bump it up the priorities."

Cartwright bowed her head happily towards the commodore. "Thank you sir, I thought you might see it that way."

Georgetown dismissed them both happily. Outside his office, McGregor smirked as the turbolift doors opened. "Molly, I think I could father your children."

As the doors shut, Molly returned drolly, her eyes straight ahead, "You try and I'll slap that beard off of your face."

"Did I mention how much I admire your interpersonal skills Molly?"

* * *

 

'Taking Stock of the Heart' [A Frontier Girl] by Miranda Fave

‘Taking Stock - of the Heart'

[A Frontier Girl]




The next month and a half fell into a routine of duty shifts overhauling the ship systems and repairing the extensive damage caused during the boarding, getting up to speed with the vessel's routine and the captain's standards. Whilst not exacting they were rather obtuse. He wanted things done in a certain way and so done in a certain way they had to be.

Whenever the opportunity came, Jex and Cutler took the chance to escape to one of the recreational facilities or eateries in the various hubs of Spacebase 49. These getaways were welcome with the countdown confirmation of the launch as work on the Kestrel amazingly neared completion and met the criteria of Gardner's expectations. For they knew once the ship was launched it would be a case of them being cooped up on the Miranda. Of course, signing up for a life of space travel both knew being cooped up was part and parcel of the deal.

Of course, Cutler had his own reasons for wanting to escape the Kestrel. Jex knew this all too well and she had tried to talk to Cutler about his sense of guilt concerning the attack; but he resisted her overtures knowing her purpose. No matter what kind words she imparted, she was his friend and felt obliged to tell him it was not his fault when he knew it was.

"Come on Cutler, tomorrow we are set to launch and so this is our last lunch away from the Kestrel for a while. So either you take this opportunity to have some fun or talk about what happened."

Sourly he snapped. "Fine Jex if I'm such a misery guts why don't you do just what you're looking to do and walk away from me. It can't be serving your standing amongst the others on the crew to be hanging out with the ship's pariah."

Angrily Jex protested, "Now you listen here Cutler. I am not the type to cut and run on friendships. So don't ever accuse me of doing so. Even if you were the ship's pariah, I'd stand by you. Let me point out, that you are not. The only one persecuting you is yourself. Everyone else on board knows it was not your fault. If anything, we all had a share of the blame. McGregor himself places most of it the court of the station's security. It was just blind, bad luck you happened to be the one on the bridge at the time of the attack. It could just as easily have had been Dr. Monroe who had the conn when the attack occurred or even the Captain for that matter."

A voice from behind their table politely asked, "Did I hear my name mentioned in vain?"

They turned to see the ship's CMO with a hand on the back of Cutler's chair. She seated herself without an invitation but neither of them resented her intrusion as they had been talking about her. This Jex explained much to Cutler's consternation.

"I think your friend is quite astute Cutler. And you should trust her opinion and more importantly her friendship." She leaned in with one hand propped under her chin. "I could very easily have been the one on that bridge and I thank whoever above I wasn't. I don't know how I would have reacted in that circumstance plus I wouldn't have been there to help out those who were injured in the gunfights."

Cutler just nervously looked away from the table at the far view port through which in the distance the Kestrel could be seen docked at the main station of the starbase.

"Give yourself a little credit ensign. Just know, McGregor isn't going to pat you on the back and applaud you loudly, it's not his style. He thinks his mere presence is an inspiration for his junior officers."

"Maybe so but he thinks I'm a complete and utter waste. It's not that he is disappointed with me he has expectations of me at all. I've been foisted upon him. He didn't choose me for the position."

"I hardly think that ..."

Adamant he returned, "It's true I overheard him talking to Admiralty."

"In that case it is going to be to you to confound him and impress him, which as an eager ensign you'd have to do no matter your berth."

His response was a rather flat and dejected, "I suppose."

Jex eagerly agreed seeing at least some headway had been made. The tone was still poor but he was at least engaging the subject. "No suppose about it. We all have to pull up our socks to get any notice."

"Still I think it might be better to ask for a transfer."

Jex frowned and was going to argue but Monroe added in her wise and placating tones, "That is entirely your choice ensign. However, we ship out tomorrow and you won't be considered for a transfer unless you complete a least one tour of duty. In our case, a patrol route. A couple of months and then you are free to go your own way. Until then you paste a smile on that cute face, work up a sweat on that brow, and prove to the Captain just how wrong he is about you. We all had to do that."

"Ok."

Standing up abruptly, Jex proclaimed, "Thank goodness for that misery guts. Time enough for us to hit the holo-suites. I hear they are doing a group special. Something called ‘Paintballing', whatever that is. So come on. Thanks a million, doctor."

"No problem at all. Good luck ensigns." They moved off.

A friendly voice from behind Monroe called, "There you are!"

She turned and smiled genuinely. Judith shrugged her shoulders as part of her explanation, "Jocum. Sorry I must be late for our dinner. I got caught helping out some of our ensigns."

"How very maternal of you." He seated himself in the vacated chair and looked the premises over with a keen eye. "Not to matter, sure this will do nicely."

"I dare say it will. And when you think about we have tried Franco's before so we ought to try out somewhere new."

"Oh the old ‘We have to eat the in same old places and the same old food for months at a time cooped up on a ship' line." He chuckled sweetly, his eyes  filled with mirth. "I swear you just use that excuse to try out all the expensive restaurants."

She playfully slapped his forearm. "You're spoilt for choice here. There's any number of restaurants, eateries and cafes. So yes, I do want to try them all. Not to mention I like the company." This last she said more seriously but with lots of warmth.

He sidled in closer. "Well you know there's a perfectly good way to fix your dilemma and have more of that company you mention."

"Don't start that debate again. I told you before; I'm a born and bred frontier girl. I belong out there." She pointed out the window to the stars beyond and the milling craft.

"Do I need to inform you that Starbase 49 is part of that frontier?"

"Yes I know but I like doing my job."

"The people here, and all who come to us, need doctors too. The Starbase could do with a seasoned doctor like you. It seems the starbases and space stations are getting ever younger doctors trying to find experience for their CV and then move on to either a CMO posting on a ship or back to Starfleet Medical Research."

"Oh, so I'm an ageing hack who is better off coming home to roost."

"Now you know that is not what I meant. But it would be perfect, we could see more of each other perhaps manage a holiday away together instead of hoping our schedules match up."

"Jocum, you're just sore because I went to Risa and you weren't able to. You run your own business you should be able to get time off whenever you want. What's the point of being your own boss?"

Slightly miffed at her curt reply and the reminder of her holiday without him he sourly answered Judith back. "You know full well it doesn't work that way. Besides you could have stayed here instead of jaunting off to Risa and getting up to all sorts."

Laughingly she retorted to keep the mood light. "I don't be getting up to any debauchery."

"No but if you had stayed we could have."

"It wouldn't have been a holiday then. I had four weeks leave, the ship was in the dockyards and I had to seize the opportunity. I was born on the frontier and I didn't exactly get to see much of the Federation in my youth."

"Well assignment to a border patrol vessel hardly affords you that opportunity either!"

"No but that was my choice. I wanted to practice medicine on the frontier. It's easy for you to think that the frontier is simply a bland comment bantered about living and working here at the Starbase. However, for those living on the frontier planets they are out on a limb, isolated or surrounded by hostile neighbours. On those planets, they have to contend with tough conditions, backward economies and backward technologies, and even more backward and for that matter corrupt governments too. When the Kestrel sails into these places, I can open a surgery and deal with people who don't get any other access to qualified medical care until I return. I can make a difference out there that I couldn't possibly do here."

He laid a protective and reassuring hand on hers. "I know that."

"Well I thought you understood it too. I grew up in those conditions and I know what it is like for those people. I can't walk away from what I see as an obligation. Not to mention the crew needs me. Nor do I want to walk away from it."

Pulling his hand away he said, "Yes but you're not giving us a chance."

Monroe reached out to grasp his retreating hand but failed to catch him in time. Although hurt, she bit back her anger, but aggrieved she pleaded with him in an injured tone. "Jocum don't do this."

"You expect me to be always here ready and waiting for your return. Some one of these days when you make it back to Starbase 49 you will discover me not waiting for your return. I'll have found someone else."

Monroe opted not to pander to his emotional blackmail. "If you do, I'll wish you every happiness but we have a good friendship we don't need to try and force anything more from it."

"Well I am not willing to play that game anymore Judith. You keep running back to the Kestrel and happily wave me goodbye. Are you like a sailor with a beau in every port? Is there someone pining away for you at Trafalgar Station?"

"Of course not!"

"Well what then? Is it Gardner? He's fond of you. Maybe his feelings are reciprocated."

Defensively she rushed out her answer, "Don't be daft, Eddie is a friend and that's that."

Rather disbelieving of her answer especially the haste in which she answered Jocum said in a cruel aside as he refrained from rolling his eyes. "We know he thinks more of it than that."

"Well I don't." She was firm on her answer, bidding no argument on that score.

"So is it McGregor? Is that why you can't commit to me? Because you have feelings for him."

"McGregor! Don't be absurd. He's hardly going to look at me. I'm not under twenty five years of age for goodness sake."

"But that does not mean you don't have feelings for him."

Despairing Monroe threw her hands up in the air. "If you listened to a word I have said you'd know why it is I don't want to be anymore committed than we are. But you don't listen."

"And you don't give us a chance. Fine." He stood, scraping the chair back harshly on the floor. "Goodbye Judith."

"Don't be like that Jocum. Sit down and let's talk about it."

Stopping to turn and address Monroe, Jocum stepped back towards the table and leant on it with ball of his palms. "We've tried and tried talking about it. However, there is no point when you are not open to any other possibilities. You are going to find yourself alone and unable to do the job anymore and then what. I will see you around. Or rather I won't."

He turned on his heel and walked away from the table leaving Monroe unable to formulate a response that would keep him from leaving.

* * *

 

'Taking Stock of the Truth' [A Rogue's Confession] by Miranda Fave

‘Taking Stock of the Truth'

[A Rogue's Confession]



Security control, Docking gate 2, Deck 6


"Permission to come aboard." The cocky grin, the souicant stance and the mocking salute attested to the years of grief Molly Cartwright had received from her ex-husband. Paul Dubeque stood at the threshold of the gangway flanked by the increased security presence. Molly Cartwright sauntered down the ramp with a non-too-amused expression on her face.

"Aren't you pleased to see me babe?"

Crossing her arms defiantly, expressing to Paul that his compliments were wasted. "Maybe you haven't noticed the wrinkles Paul but it's been a long time since anyone called me babe."

He winked and smiled broadly, "But I always thought so."

Lacking the patience for these games she retorted smartly, "What do you want Paul?"

"Cutting to the chase Molly. You've lost none of your edge."

"No but I have lost the marriage certificate so I don't need to do the whole ‘banter' thing. Why don't you cut to the chase?"

"Well do we need to do this here in public on the gangway? Do I get permission to come aboard or not?" He nodded to the security guards trying not to listen in.

Reluctantly she sighed and agreed to his request. "Fine Paul but you'd better not be wasting my time."

With good humour but a heavy dose of sarcasm Paul remarked, "I wonder sometimes Molly why it is we never worked out."

An arched look met this comment as Molly nodded to the security guards who waved Paul through. Without ceremony, the commander turned on her foot trusting Paul to follow and fall into step with her. He did so.

Once ensconced in her executive officer's office Molly poured a drink for herself and a tumbler she slid across the short table to Paul. "You still keep the good stuff."

"A certain cargo captain keeps me stocked."

"Ah I almost forgot," he rummaged in his backpack and pulled out a similar looking bottle. "Do enjoy ... and drink in good company of course." He raised his glass in a faint toast.

She sweetly replied as she stowed the bottle in her bottom drawer, "I'll make an exception in this instance."

"Very witty." He settled himself in her couch. Molly remained behind her desk presenting an officious demeanour but after a moment, she unbuttoned her collar.

She sat her glass down. "What's this about Paul?"

"Can't a man visit his wife? Ahem ... exwife."

"Not when the man has no need. You only come calling when you're in trouble Paul."

He spread his arms proclaiming innocence. "Huh! How very nice. Was there any stage at which you didn't suspect me of some wrongdoing? Did you marry me as some sort of undercover operation for McGregor?"

"I wouldn't put it past the man to try such a stunt but I'd not be the type to follow such a mission. But remember Paul you did give me plenty of reasons over the years to suspect you. What is it? What trouble are you in?"

"I'd like to think that it has been a while since I saw you last. I took advantage of the opportunity of being berthed here at the same time as yourself. It was a pleasant surprise I can tell you. I'd expected the Kestrel to have shipped out a month ago."

"Well T'Hos Likk but an end to an early departure." Molly caught the brief aversion in his eyes at the mention of T'Hos. "What the hell is it Paul? How in the hell are in wrapped up in his business. You do some dodgy things but you tend to only ever skirt the law. Tangling with T'Hos is pushing it and there is no playing 'I didn't know any better' card because his reputation precedes him. So spit it out before I have to pull your tongue out."

"Molly I never did buy your hard ass act."

She slapped the desk hard causing her tumbler to spill over. "Don't play me Paul! I never had cause to mean it with you! But my God if you've gotten tangled up with T'Hos ..." Her words trailed off disbelievingly. "Out with it Paul. I'm growing tired of this whole situation. You. McGregor. T'Hos. Georgetown. Bloody woolly brained men." She righted the tumbler and then massaged her temples.

"Sorry Molls. You're right I've done something dead stupid. I didn't know who it was I working for in the first instance. I only worked it out on the grapevine afterwards when word about the attack fed out onto the frontier."

"McGregor will be happy to know we're the talk of the border! What did you do?"

"I ... I ... I helped give passage to a man and some others from one of the frontier worlds to here. I helped them get security papers. Basically I helped T'Hos and his men to smuggle onboard SB49."

"God you damned cursed fool! When McGregor hears this."

"Why does he have to hear about this?"

"He's meeting with the commodore at this moment to discuss the security findings concerning the attack. Paul you could find yourself arrested for aiding and abetting."

"I didn't know it was T'Hos at the time. I just worked it out afterwards."

"That makes it fine and dandy! You knew it was illegal regardless of whoever it was. It was this kind of stupidity that made me put pay to our marriage. This is just typical. Rash, stupid, greedy, money grabbing opportunistic stupidity!"

"Molls."

She stabbed an accusing finger across the table at Paul seated now uncomfortably on the couch. "Don't even dare. You knew you'd be caught out somewhere in the end. So you decided to fess up - but you fess up to me, knowing that I'd cover your back."

He quietly pleaded, "So will you?"

"Damn you Paul. Haven't I risked enough in my career for you? I'm paying for my mistakes but it seems as if I will forever have to cover for you so that you never have to pay for your mistakes." She stood and paced the small confines of her executive office.

"This is it Paul. I'm not going to cover for you."

"Molly please."

"No, you don't get to beg of me. People on my ship died. We almost all died a horrible, horrible death at that man's hands. In addition, you bought him the golden ticket onto the starbase. McGregor is probably tearing Georgetown another A-hole over the whole debacle. No, you tell me everything now. Any and all information. T'Hos is still out there. And you can bet your sorry, sorry ass that we are going to hunt him down. So now, you get to really fess up. I'll grant you a reprieve of one day before I inform McGregor. So you may run for the hills."

"If you tell him, that's it, Molls, there's no coming back into Federation space. I'll be as good as one of those Orions, Fien or Ferengi that you hunt down."

"Quite frankly Paul, that's the company you belong to! I'm telling McGregor everything. Whatever he chooses to do with it is his decision. But I warn you, tell me everything or I slap you in chains right now myself. If you give us enough information to act on McGregor will be blinded to your ... crimes ... just so he can chase down T'Hos. Therefore, I want all the rumours, all the hidey-holes T'Hos retreats to and where he resupplies. Do you understand?"

He nodded. His face dejected and shamed. "I do."

Molly hid her own shame and disappointment. Instead, she displayed her anger, her face contorted in restrained fury. "Time to spill the beans."

"You realise ... I could be signing my own death warrant if T'Hos ever learns of this."

"You signed mine when you smuggled him aboard the spacebase. In addition, do not worry about T'Hos. We do not intend letting him getting away. So the better your information, the more likely he'll never have to be a concern for you."

* * *

 

'Taking Stock with Expediency' [A Captain's Prerogative] by Miranda Fave

‘Taking Stock - with Expedition' [A Captain's Prerogative]



The office of Commodore Georgetown, Starbase 49


"Of course as is customary, we shall have a farewell party n one of our VIP lounges."

"That is very kind of you Commodore but I'd sooner get the Kestrel out back on patrol where we belong." Georgetown tried, unsuccessfully, to hide his relief. McGregor was keen to press a point. "Too many of the scum out on the border have had a holiday of sorts while we have been holed up here."

Beaming, Georgetown asked expectantly, "Shall you be leaving Starbase 49 soon?"

With what Georgetown found to be surprising enthusiasm, McGregor cheerily replied, "I shall endeavour to do so with expedition."

"Soon then!"

"Yes with expedition. Your Chief Hashap reports that all the repairs have been made and the Kestrel is space worthy once again. More importantly, my chief engineer is of the same opinion. So I'd like to take my leave of Starbase 49 within the next forty-eight hours."

"Well if that is your wish and intention I will do all I can do to ..."

"Expedite matters! Great, because there is actually one other matter, you will recall during the attack my docking shuttle was destroyed."

A little thrown off guard by the turn of the conversation, Georgetown nevertheless pointed out the bald fact. "When you smashed it into the criminal's get away vessel."

"I recall the details clearly Commodore and I are glad you do too, since after all lost said shuttle in the act of trying to save my vessel after the failures of station security."

Georgetown was tempted to lean over and buzz in the security personnel he had standing ready in a nearby corridor. "I hope we are not going to have a repeat of our last meeting Captain."

"I trust not Commodore I merely was stating the facts."

"As you see them."

"How else might I state them? Look Georgetown, you've kindly allowed the repairs to the Kestrel to take priority so all I ask is you extend the courtesies and allow me my replacement."

"Captain, might I point out that not only have I pushed your repairs through, I've also had to source many parts that are now no longer standard among ship of the line, thereby making the task all the more difficult."

"I have exacting standards and I hardly need point out to you that the Kestrel is not considered a ship of the line."

"No but it is a ship serving the border and a vital role in protecting and policing the Federation. As such it ought to be at its most cutting edge."

"Such as being outfitted with a replacement shuttle. Thank you for seeing my need." McGregor beamed smugly.

Somewhere, somehow, Georgetown found a backbone. "Captain I can not and will not replace your shuttle. Now why don't you make good your request to leave my Starbase? This is really too much!"

"Fine, fine. If you're going to be difficult." McGregor stood up darkly and Georgetown's backbone almost disappeared, as he feared McGregor meant physical harm. "I will bid ye farewell then Commodore. Commander Cartwright will contact you with when the Kestrel is ready to depart."

Georgetown surprised at the almost conciliatory tone of the Captain and followed him as he departed the office. In the lobby seated opposite the commodore's aide, McGregor and Georgetown spied Captain Tyler Ramsey of the Galaxy class Manhattan. Seated at the far end of the room, being pointedly ignored by Tyler Ramsey, staring vacantly into space was McGregor's mysterious helm officer Mnu Subrelqui aka Stanley.

"Tyler Ramsey."

"Captain McGregor. I hope that you are satisfied with your repairs, as the Commodore informs me my ship's overhaul is delayed until such time as they are complete." Ramsey stood setting aside the reading materials he was indifferent to.

"Not to worry old chap. Me and the commodore are all finished with. Thank you for being so patient and accommodating captain. It must have been a pain having to wait on little old Kestrel." McGregor clapped Ramsey on the arm as he walked past.

"Come along then Stanley. Oh heaven's I forgot to ask Commodore but perhaps Captain Ramsey can also help answer my request." Georgetown and Ramsey exchanged a glance with one another, part intrigued and part annoyed. "It's just before we depart, Stanley here wondered if you could recommend a good porn shop on the Starbase."

"Captain McGregor!"

Tyler Ramsey gritted his teeth and snarled quietly as passing corridor traffic stopped to listen in on McGregor's quite vocal request. "Get out of here McGregor. We have no recommendations for you."

Still quite vocal, McGregor turned and to Stanley, but honestly directed out into the corridor, "I'm afraid they can't recommend a good porn shop Stan. Maybe I should have asked them to recommend a bad one! Come on we've work to do we can't be standing around talking shop ... s ... porn or otherwise."

McGregor strolled gleefully away from the office with Stanley at his side. After a time Stanley enquired. "Why Captain did you deliberately choose to anger the commodore and cause him embarrassment?"

"I like it, that's why. Such easy sport."

Stanley cocked his head as he mulled over these words. "I do not see how it helps us in any way."

"Trust me Stan. Trust me."

They came to a larger thoroughfare that opened up into a plaza with many eateries and shops selling their wares. McGregor scanned the milling populace and saw the new ensigns, Jex and Cutler, enter a group waiting to enter a public holosuite. Across the way he spied Judith Monroe hang her head forlornly at the retreating form of one of her revolving door beaus. He stopped for a moment and took in Judith's lonely form.

"Do you wish to converse with the doctor?"

McGregor didn't answer immediately. "What? No, no, leave her be she doesn't want to talk to anyone."

"Are you sure Captain? I know even after all these years I find it difficult to read some human emotions but I do think the doctor appears somewhat ..." he paused to consider the correct emotion, "sad, lonely."

"No, she's fine come on. We've to meet Rah."

"Oh. Where?"

McGregor grinned mischievously. "The hangar deck of course."

* * *

 

'The Kestrel spreads her wings' by Miranda Fave

 

‘The Kestrel spreads her wings'



Main Bridge, USS Kestrel


"Captain McGregor." Molly nodded her head politely and relinquished the conn as the captain stepped onto the bridge from the turbolift entrance. Molly took a second take at Stanley moving forwards to take over at helm. If she didn't know better, she would have sworn the blue-skinned helmsman looked flushed. "All personnel aboard and accounted. All stations secured for launch. Starbase operations reports we have clearance across the board."

"Very good Molly." He smiled as Dr. Monroe now stepped onto the bridge from the turbolift entrance with the three new ensigns in tow. "Well, well, well, look at what the doctor brought."

"Judith thought it would be nice for the younglings to be on the bridge for the launch of the ship. A gesture if you will."

The Captain levelled a stern expression at Molly for going along with the doctor's good-natured notion. "No doubt Monroe felt it would do them a world of good and help encourage them."

"No doubt."

"Pity she didn't remember that Mr. Templar has served aboard before - before his disgrace."

Pointedly Molly whispered back, "Many of us have made mistakes. It's how we atone for them that counts."

"Indeed Molly. As for the Trill, this is old hat for her. And Cutler ... well ... I suppose he'll only ever get one shot at this. I'll allow it. Don't normally agree with having visitors on my bridge."

"They're not visitors."

"No." His eyes narrowed. "How was Paul?"

Molly deferred the question by stating, "We need to talk later Captain."

Wrong footed and thinking Molly knew what he had just been up to he tried to placate her. "Oh not to worry Molly, I was merely expatiating matters, cutting the red tape. You know I don't like bureaucracy. It's not theft. Merely an acquisition."

"What are you on about? Or should I say what did you do?"

"The shuttle was a requisition but bureaucracy was delaying its delivery. By acting I was merely carrying out a requisition with expedition."

"Is expedition your word for the day? Now do you care to explain yourself more clearly? For it's obvious I'll be the one making the calls to clear up whatever mess you've made."

"Not now Molly, we've a ship to launch. And we have to do it with expedition! We really do!" McGregor whirled round on his foot and spread his arms expansively in mock greeting.

"So newbies, here ye are back on the bridge. This is it. The moment the Kestrel moves out of its docking bay and begins its tour of duty. It is a momentous occasion, my fledglings. Whence we go and begin our great adventures. A quite formal moment, quite portentous, quite moving really. Ok Stanley, make contact with the Starbase and get this show on the road. Time to go hunting." His thoughts darkened as he envisioned cornering T'Hos.

"Starbase grants permission to depart, Captain."

"Thank ye Stanley. Take us out. You have the bridge Molly."

With that, he walked briskly off the bridge leaving the ensigns standing at the back of the bridge without a word or a look.

Cursing himself just as he said it, Cutler blurted out, "You're just going to leave!"

"My ship, my rules - my boyo." He flashed a predatory smile on the cusp of the turbolift door daring the young man to mention a Starfleet regulation or other. Heard ‘em all before!

"Eh ... yes of course sir ... I just meant ..." Jex elbowed him in a poor attempt to shut him up. No such joy with Cutler. As she well knew, he could put his foot in his mouth more often than a hungry cannibalistic millipede. "I meant it is a thrill for us to be here as the ship is launched on its new mission."

McGregor stepped back. Stanley peeped back from the Helm control systems intrigued by the Captain's apparent submission. The Commander winced for Noah's sake. Tac laughed to himself.

McGregor adopted a lofty tone as he extolled. "Yes this is a truly significant moment in Starfleet history. Records in the future will look back and comment and debate what each officer on the bridge was doing and thinking at the time of the launch. For it had never happened before."

Dropping the fake voice, he continued drolly. "Kid it's not as if I haven't left this very docking ring, standing on this very bridge for the very same mission brief for the hundreeeenth time! You enjoy it for it is a big deal for you but not me. Twenty years I've bled, sweated and other bodily functioned on this ship. I don't need to hear the kiss of the docking rings as they disengage, or the shunt and fall away of the umbilical cords that tied us to the station. Nor do I need to think of the station giving birth to the ship, a ship of dreams and possibilities. If that gets you through the day then away you go. Me, I'm headed for the senior officer's quarters for a celebratory drink. Coming doc?"

Monroe frowned but acquiesced feigning that she was indulging the captain's humour. She gave the viewscreen, the retreating sight of Starbase 49 and the retreating thoughts of Jocum one last glance before catching up with the captain.

Molly came up to the ensigns a moment later when the immediate business of clearing the base and the lines of space traffic was concluded. The viewscreen shifting from viewing the space base and its many outlaying habitats, docking berths and milling vessels to showing an expanse of foreboding and thrilling open space.

"Why don't you three go get settled down and catch a good night's sleep? Tomorrow you report at oh-six-hundred hours at your respective stations. I'll see you two gentlemen on the bridge tomorrow morning and I wish you well Ensign Jex in Engineering. It's a different ball game once we're flying. That's when McGregor starts in earnest and starts teaching you command 101 McGregor style. Till tomorrow then."

She nodded at them and silently they left with a mix of emotions. Before the doors of the turbolift closed, Noah took one last look back at the viewscreen and the wide-open space ahead of them. The Kestrel was space bound, underway and their mission to patrol the border now begun in earnest. Noah felt his stomach churn with anticipation, in trepidation, dread and deeper down a horrible foreboding he did not wish to acknowledge.

 

* * *

'The C.O.B.' by Miranda Fave


‘The C.O.B.'


Jex, Noah and Sebastian stepped off the bridge and ventured towards the curving stairwell off of the first and second decks. As they headed downwards past the senior officer's lounge. The doors to which were swishing close but from within, a piano's keys started up with a light playful touch.

The trio of ensigns stopped on the lobby outside. "I didn't know the Captain could play."

Sebastian scoffed at Jex. "What? You thought to think you knew the Captain inside out after a month and a half?"

"Oh sorry, I forgot Sebastian you're above being intrigued or over awed by your commanding officers after all your experience. Please, I am a conjoined Trill who has served twice with Starfleet, and on numerous vessels. It doesn't get old. Your act of bravado and nonchalance however does."

"Whatever. Besides it might have been the doctor." With that, he turned and walked away.

Cutler managed a small smile. "That might be why he's a security officer, displaying such detective skills."

"Oh that insight makes him a regular Sherlock!"

Cutler suddenly smiled with a gloating preen about himself. "Ha! What happened to the ebullient Jex who could see no fault with anyone not even Mr. Chuckles?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "Oh I guess I'm tired. I dunno; I have a sense of anti-climax following the launch. Come on let's hit the lounge before we turn in."

He frowned to that idea. "Oh Jex do we have to?"

"Come on Noah. It is our first day, how is it Commander Cartwright put it? ‘Flying'. Let's celebrate being out in space. Our first mission." Her mood was contagious and Noah found himself being swayed.

"Well things can only get better. At berth things didn't go too well."

"Ah, ah, no negative thoughts. Come on." She herded him on towards the lounge.

After they had descended to the lower decks, Noah broke his silence. "I suppose that explains the captain's comment on the day of our tour."

"What does?"

He pointed at a door that signified they now stood outside the Chief of the Boat's office. "When we passed on the tour the Captain said it ‘If you step out of line, the punishment is the cat of nine tails.' Of course I stupidly answered ‘That's barbaric!' to which he just laughed and said I was a racist."

Nervously, Jex just tried to laugh the line of conversation off. "Heh! Well we did not know at the time. Heck I did not know until he stood in front of me. Honestly, when I saw a Kzinti in front of me onboard a Border Patrol I just took him to be a raider. Come on let's get to the lounge."

"Gees Jex anyone would think that you were trying to evade the situation. I thought that was supposed to me. Anyway, you worked with him to retrieve the Captain when he went AWOL with the docking shuttle."

"That was all in the line of duty. Let's just say Kzinti make me nervous."

Somewhat astonished at Jex, Noah just looked at the door warily. "That's hardly surprising. He'd make anyone nervous."

"It runs a little deeper than that. Let's just say the Kzinti deserve their reputation."

He turned now to look at Jex with a concerned furrow lining his forehead. Something in her voice bespoke of a secret pain. "Are you alright Jex? What is it?"

"Nothing Noah!" She started to storm off.

"Hey Jex I'm only concerned. Normally you're all sharing is caring and divulging all the gossip."

"I know sorry, it is just ... Jex has had a rather troubled past with the Kzinti. A previous host. Back when the Kzinti were warring with half the powers in the quadrant. Let us just say, I was witness to the bloodshed Kzinti warriors are capable of. And let us leave it at that please Noah."

He nodded. "Of course."

"I hope this doesn't mean there's going to be problems working him ensign?"

Both ensigns turned startled to see Eddie Gardner standing behind them, having overheard everything. Jex hurriedly defended herself. "No, of course not Chief. I just would sooner not dwell on the fact. I worked with him to rescue the captain. I'll work with him again."

"Damn right he's the C.O.B. - the Cat of the Boat. Remember though, that he might be tough but he is fair. As for McGregor, he's the S.O.B. and he seems to relish in the title. Off the two of you go. After all, it isn't the best idea to stand outside a Kzinti male's door thinking bad thoughts about him." Gardner tapped the side of his head by way of further clarification.

The two scarpered away as Gardner knocked on the door. Noah and Jex hung back to listen in as the door opened and Eddie Gardner stepped in to speak to Rah Eyrrs Norr.

The C.O.B. answered the door without a word, as a disgruntled Gardner demanded of him, "Tell me Rah where am I supposed to stow that shuttle? And how did you ever go along with the Captain's harebrained scheme?"

The door closed leaving Noah to enquire of Jex, "What did Gardner mean?" He mimicked tapping his temple as Gardner had done.

"Male Kzinti can sometimes display the ability to read minds. As if they weren't a terrifying enough prospect in a confrontation. Come on I think I need a drink."

When they entered the lounge, it was a buzz with off duty officers, all of whom were feeling more content now the Kestrel was outward bound. It was more natural to be at motion than to be sitting around berthed at a space station. This Noah had gathered over these last few weeks as they repaired and prepped the ship for its launch.

The friendly NCO, Becca, had described it as the ‘Bulldog' mentality of a border dog. They had their patch to defend and patrol and they were all eager, from the lowliest yeoman to the captain himself, to get back to it. The attack by T'Hos had only served to focus them more on their ongoing mission and duty.

Noah initially thought this an absurd mindset, until Becca explained. "It's no different to a fleeter eager to explore strange new worlds and the like. They want to get out there into the great big beyond and explore, whereas we want to defend and police our back garden. Mind you on occasion we do meet strange new life forms before any of the fleeters swoop in acting all self-important!"

Noah spied Becca now throwing back her head in gales of laughter surrounded by a hubbub of merry enlisted crew personnel. Amid the crowd was the alluring figure of Yeoman Harris. The sight of her made Noah pause. A pause quickly caught by Jex whose response was to elbow him in the stomach.

"Oops sorry Noah, I must have tripped over your tongue."

Blushing he tried an attempt to cover up for his ogling. His attempt failed pathetically. "Just get the drinks in Cutler and meet me over there."

"Ok." Meekly he followed his orders and went about getting the drinks in. The barman, the ever pleasant and placid Gordon, greeted him warmly and set up the drinks even as Cutler came up to the bar. "How did you guess?"

"I'm afraid Mr. Cutler you are a creature of habit."

"Isn't Jex?" He indicated the wild exotic looking cocktail Gordon was putting the finishing touches to.

"Oh not at all. She's showing her wisdom. It might look wham bam stuff but an Auzerene Surprise has a lot of kick but it also lines your stomach. Hence your Trill friend is a very shrewd operator."

Almost aghast he exclaimed, "She never told me that!"

"That's the advantage of living over a number of centuries. Mind you for a first drink, it gives a hell of a kick so you have to mind you can keep up with it. Care to change your order then Ensign?" Gordon enquired politely.

Noah considered it thoughtfully for a moment and licking his lips he gave every indication he was indeed going to change his mind. Then he shook his head. "No, I'd best not."

"Very well ensign." Gordon smiled to himself as he passed the drinks over to Noah. ‘I thought you wouldn't.'

As Noah turned carefully around with the drinks, he almost bumped into Becca. "Oh sorry!"

"Heck no! I'm the one who should apologise. I near knocked your drinks out of your hands. I hope you hold onto a sonic wrench tighter than that! I also hope you hold onto any drinks you ever get for me tighter than that." She beamed happily at him, which made Noah blush in response for some reason.

"Wait up and you can help me carry over some more jugs of beer for the gang. Your friend Jex just breezed in as usual and is the centre of all the talking. Kinda a habit with her." Becca gave a heads up to Gordon and he acknowledged the order as he pulled out a number of pitchers to fill with ale.

"Yeah that's Jex for you. She's been like that ever since I've known her. Despite landing into a cadet year fours years after she originally joined Starfleet she just hit the ground rolling."

Becca strummed her fingers on the bar counter as Gordon poured the ale. "What was that about?"

"She had to leave to enter the initiate program before returning to complete the last two years of her training. But it didn't bother her a bit. She's always the centre of the party and always getting me into trouble."

Raising her eyebrows, Becca enquired none too subtly. "You're both good friends then? Is it more than that?"

"What! No! No me and Jex are firmly just firm friends."

Becca punched him playfully on the shoulder. "Careful now one might think you protest too much. No I was only curious. So there's definitely nothing between the two of you."

"No."

A voice from beside them intruded. "Ah great then!"

"Oh leave it out Sven." Becca rolled her eyes at the intrusion.

Pushing his way into their conversation with his strong Scottish accent was an engineering specialist. However, he was not dressed in his uniform but it in an incongruous kilt. The kilt was even more bizarre for the tartan pattern of silver and gold with matching sporran. "Pleased to meet you Ensign. I'm Sven. But everyone calls me Jock. Jock the C..."

"Please Jock there's no need. People are having their supper drinks."

"Ock now Becca. If you'd prefer to wake up to me in bed then ye need onle ask. I'd be glad to comply." He winked mischievously. The wink and smile, added to his blonde spiked hair and stud piercing below his lip, gave him a sleazy sprite look. And so far, he matched that characterisation.

"Bare him little heed Noah. He's harmless but a cocky little turd."

"An' ye were axing me to mind me tongue!"

"I was."

"She's always on ‘bout me tongue. Wee Becca here can bring herself to admit just how much she craves me body. She likes to think herself is morally superior to me. But she just likes te tease a man. She's right tho. I am cocky is right!" He gave a smarmy raise of his eyebrows by way of further insinuation and patted his sporran.

"Jock please!"

"Anytime Becca. Anytime. No need to beg. So this wee lassie of yours is available. I wonder has the old Trill ever had a Scottish man."

"I'm sure it would be an experience she'd be unlikely to forget."

"There ye go again Becca. You're just mad for it. I think I'd best introduce meself to your friend." Off Sven bounded. Energetically so almost as if he was trying to make the kilt expose the secret of what a Scottish man wore underneath his kilt.

"He's a dog and a prig but fairly harmless. Annoying though. Very annoying. A damned good engineer. Which is the only reason he is still here."

Noah watched as Sven made a beeline for Jex. Meantime Becca handed a bowl of crisps to Noah. "Carry these but keep them from Harris. She'll devour them in one go even though she's a skinny minx. I hate the little witch. Come on let's see how Jex handles Jock. We've tried to keep him away from you guys for as long as we could. But he had to come from the basement at some point."

As they approached the ever-widening circle of partygoers, a chorus of hollering and mock indignations went up in response to something lewd from Sven as he patted his sporran. Becca rolled her eyes derisively at what went unheard by herself and Noah. They did however hear Jex's answer as she leaned in with what Noah recognised as her pretend seduction pose he'd seen her play at the Academy.

In her best-feigned Scottish accent, she purred inching closer to the specialist as she did, "Tell me Jock, do you keep your sonic wrench in your sporran or wha?"

"Aye, as a matter of fact I do."

"Ock that's a pity! I thought it was something else."

A gale of laughter greeted the innuendo and Jock coloured angrily for a moment before he realised it was all in good fun. "Aw so the wee girl likes to banter does she. Is alright, I enjoy a challenge."

Filling up empty tankards from the pitchers, Becca peeled, "Is that why you keep trying Jock. I'd best say yes then some day to make you stop."

Nonchalant he shrugged his shoulders, undefeated, "Well that'd work too Becca."

"Oh never mind all that Jock. Raise your glasses folks. Time for a toast. To the Kestrel and her crew, may she enjoy good hunting."

The others, familiar with this old cheer responded loudly and Noah and Jex found themselves swept up with the cheer and raised drinking vessels, "Good hunting!"

From a lonely corner, Sebastian Templar lamely lifted his glass with a scowl and intoned half-heartedly. "Good hunting."

* * *

 

'Sleeping With the Enemy' by Miranda Fave

‘Sleeping with the Enemy'

 


Captain's Quarters, Deck 4

In his quarters, the Captain lay in his cot with a happy head from the drinks he'd had with Monroe and then they were later joined by Eddie and Rah. Eddie was grouchy because of the acquired shuttle and rah was his usual ‘talkative' self. It hadn't however, dented the enthusiasm with which he and the doctor had drowned their drinks. In fact as he considered it, Monroe was aglow all night and very tipsy and giddy. He smiled to himself as he remembered their high-jinx happily.

With a padd in the one hand while the other hand twirled the hair running from his belly button to his crotch he studied pertinent information about shipping lanes, supplies and ship movements in their sector trying to discern patterns and suspicious deviations. He might not be the most professional captain or that keen on paper work but he did like to read all the information he could his hands on to try to predict the movements of their many regular chancers.

A slender arm slipped round his neck and then played with this hair too. "Is that the security report form the Commodore?"

"Ah Yeoman Harris, not at all, that report isn't worth the reading so I didn't bother. I thought you were never going to finish your shower."

"I thought you were going to join me."

"Ah, I got caught up on my reading. But now that you're scrubbed up and nicely dressed," he looked lustily at her form wrapped in a short towel her pert small breasts just bulging over the top her bum cheeks clearly on display sitting atop her legs tucked up under her perched on the end of the captain's cot.

He set his pad down and slipped the hand between her legs. "Yeoman Harris I hate to tell you but you're overdressed for tonight's plans."

She bit her lip teasingly and in anticipation. "Oh. What would you recommend?"

McGregor softly kissed her throat making a path towards the towel. Then with a groan, he barked at his chiming door, "Clear off!"

The door chimed again. Which meant it was important. No one on his staff (well perhaps that fool ensign) would be foolish enough to disturb him in his quarters. Especially his senior officers who knew too well the Captain's favourite pastimes. He rolled off Harris and took a swig from the tumbler of Irish whiskey on his side table.

Opening the door in just his pyjama bottoms, he saw his chief of security who merely arched an eyebrow at his commanding officer's state of dress. He also refrained from looking into the room. "Captain."

"My, my Tac. You've come a knockin' on my door. Not too often, that happens. What is it?"

"The security chief at Starbase 49 contacted me ten minutes ago and filled me in with the details of his investigation into the boarders who attacked the ship."

"That bloody Cutler! When I think of it. Well spit it out Caleb. What's the score? What did he find out?"

He shrugged his shoulders and proffered a padd with the relevant information. "To be truthful Captain the information does not reveal a whole lot. What he did find out raises more questions rather than reaching any conclusions."

"I didn't expect much from the accommodating commodore." Nevertheless, the Captain's brow furrowed intrigued. He took the padd eagerly and scanned its content quickly. As he did, Caleb gave a summary of the findings.

McGregor stepped out of his cabin and stood with Dexter in the corridor obviously to his lack of attire. "So this basically tells us that the security breaches also came from this end. Someone aboard my ship let them sneak onto my decks!"

"That's the sum of it. I've already started my own investigation."

He gave the padd away hastily. "No need, I know who it is."

Caleb look startled. "You do?"

"Yes. They made it damned easy you'll find and better than that made it look like complete incompetence." McGregor stopped to consider his next move. "Tell me Tac, knowing T'Hos Likk as we do, do you imagine he is going to let this lie?"

"No way, Capt. And if he has someone working for him as part of the crew he is going to act again soon. The sooner the better for him as it means less chance of us discovering his mole. So let's get his mole under arrest Captain."

"Not just yet Tac. We're going to let T'Hos think that his plans are going to - well to plan. That way, we catch him out instead. I'm going to enjoy getting my own back on T'Hos."

Dexter crossed his arms warily. "T'Hos is already dangerously upset with you Captain."

McGregor wagged an admonitory finger. "No, no, no. He's dangerously upset, seeking revenge, death and destruction upon all of us. I am merely the figurehead for his vendetta."

"That and the fact you personally slit the throat of his brother."

"Oh forgot about that. And I never did get the money he owed me."

"You owed him for destroying his cargo of tilithium."

"Oh I forgot about that."

Caleb shook his head. "I somehow doubt that. What about our mole? Who do you think it is?"

"Now Tic, in case you didn't realise it, I am the Captain and you are the chief of security. In other words, you really ought to be able to figure it out for yourself. I'm sure you'll work it out. I know I hired you more for your brawn than your brains but you'll figure it sooner or later. When you do just keep the mole under tabs that way we can set the trap on T'Hos."

"How can we be sure he'll use the mole for anything he has planned?"

The Captain leaned up against his doorframe. "T'Hos is a blunt instrument. He'll use every trick available. They'll plan to sabotage ship systems in order to put us at a disadvantage. But we'll know what has been sabotaged and will decipher their plans from that. Also I know when and where he'll have set his trap."

"If you know that then why do we need to go through this whole charade?"

McGregor straightened himself in mock indignation and dramatically exclaimed, "Charade! What charade?"

"I presume you are going to let the mole to have free range around the Kestrel and go through with their sabotage in order to catch them red-handed. So why do we have to follow the mole and allow them to cause possible damage? For one thing Gardner is not going to be none too pleased."

He waved a dismissive hand at Gardner's likely protestations. "He's a teddy bear. Besides, you presume he is not the traitor. We're doing it this way, so I can enjoy beating T'Hos at his own game. I'm going to revel in the fact we're going to ruin his knavish tricks."

McGregor saw Dexter's disapproval at his motivation for such a risky course of action. Seeing that Tac was going to protest, McGregor continued, "Mostly for mine own self-gratification I know, but I do have other valid reasons. We do it in order to confirm the mole's identity and to figure out the how and why of their actions. I don't imagine they're doing it because T'Hos has them in his pocket."

"No? Yet they're willing to put the entire crew in jeopardy."

"No, I think there's something else to it. Which makes it all the more important to approach this delicately."

Caleb Dexter scoffed. Such a tactic was not the normal practice for the Captain in all his time working for him. "Yeah cos you like the softly, softly approach."

"You know me Tac, the model of discretion and subtly."

"Yeah you can be but rarely are Capt."

McGregor leaned in closely to Tac and with a leering grin and a wink bragged, "Now you'll excuse me, I'm giving Yeoman Harris a thorough debriefing." With that, McGregor smiled ducking back into his room leaving Dexter to consider the padd with the information he had already gathered on the attack.

The door slid open again with McGregor popping his end out and exclaiming cheerily, despite the subject, "Oh and Tac not to worry, you have a number of days if not weeks to figure it out for yourself and to formulate our plans."

Dexter cocked an intrigued eyebrow amused by the Captain's nonchalance at the pending attack. "Yeah?"

"Yes! T'Hos will attack us once we arrive at, or possibly once we're in, the Wash."

"You're certain of that?"

"Of course, he's a dangerous under-handed thug who is not worried about winning a fight fairly."

With a droll grin, Dexter returned, "Just like you Capt!"

"Damn right Tac. He's a clever and deadly bastard ... not nearly as handsome though!"

* * *

'Dirt Side' by Miranda Fave

* * *

‘Dirt Side'


3 weeks after leaving port,
Approaching Main transporter complex, Deck 7,



"I don't understand why you are so nervous Cutler. It's a simple drop and survey mission. Albeit in a crooked back alley pirate town on the frontier of the Federation, but a simple matter all the same. Boys oh boy you're so lucky."

Less than earnest he replied, "Tell me about it."

"Come on Noah. Here, tighten your jacket, Gardner tells me Aubrelis tends to get quite chilly."

Noah batted her hands away. "Leave it alone Jex! Thanks. It isn't that. I am nervous but excited but nervous too. If you understand?"

"Boys do I. Come on we best not get you to the transport room late."

Cutler gulped. "Oh no, we're not late are we? The Captain will take lashings out of me if I am."

"No, you're not. Besides, the Captain doesn't go on away missions. Remember regulations ..."

They both looked at each other knowingly. McGregor was unorthodox at best and going on away missions was the least of regulations for any Captain never mind one such as him. Jex soothingly added, "Not to worry, Stanley will be going too and he's really nice. But perhaps we had better run just in case."

A minute later, they ran into the transport room, where they found the Captain, flanked by Cartwright, Tac, Templar and Stanley. The Captain looked over to Cutler. "Nice of you to show up Cutler."

"Um ... um ... sorry Captain McGregor. I thought I was on time."

"You are, I was merely stating how nice it is - was - of you to show up. Gees Cutler you've got to learn to accept a compliment."

"Yes sir."

"Come on then. We can't hang about."

Cutler turned and received a goodbye from Jex and returned a nervous wan smile to her. "You set Cutler?"

"Yes Mr. Gardner, I have my kit, my phaser, my communicator and my warm clothing uniform." He patted each item as he listed it.

"Credits? Thought not. You've got to learn we are on the frontier and money talks here. Therefore, you'll be needing these. Mind you, you owe me - you can put up my chips for this Friday's poker game." Startled by the invite Cutler smiled bemused and then felt sick in his stomach.

Tac rolled his eyes. "Great."

"Now , now, Tac be nice to Mr. Cutler. We want to get on nice and cosy with one another don't we." As he said this last, the Captain tucked in a scarf he was wearing. He snatched up a navy umbrella propped against the wall and strapped it to his back.

The archaic instrument bemused both Cutler and Jex but in retrospect, Jex thought no other invention had replaced the umbrella as a means of stopping the rain. Well apart from planetary weather control systems!

"Captain I really do think it is time we were going. I cannot be late for my contact."

"Ok Stanley. We're going if Cutler is at all ready."

"Sorry."

"Don't apologise to me - it's Stanley who is peeved with you."

Gardner stepped in behind the controls of the transporter once more. "Ok hold on to your seats."

"Really Gardner, do you have to say that every time you transport us down?" Molly said derisively.

Stanley blinked slowly as he studied Gardner. "Please may we go now?"

"Yipes Cutler, you have put Stanley in a bad mood. He won't be knitting you a scarf anytime soon. Ok Eddie, get the show on the road."

Molly Cartwright added for the benefit of the record, "You have command Mr. Gardner."

In a quick flourish of button pushing, the team dissolved in a mist of blue. Eddie dusted his hands and turned to Jex. "Ensign shouldn't we be reporting for our shift in Engineering. Don't be jealous of Cutler. He'll have a lot of fun below on Aubrelis but when we reach Quibilris 9 it'll be our turn to pick up supplies and run errands."

"Cool."

More quietly, Gardner added, "We just need to make it through The Wash first."

* * *


If the Academy had prepared Ensign Noah Cutler for anything about the visiting of strange new worlds, it was to have a clear mindset to expect anything. Knowing that he should be ready for anything and actually being ready were two entirely different things. What really threw him when he re-materialised on the planet below was of course the alien nature of the scene and at the same time the mundane everydayness of it all.

Before him, a bustling street scene with an array of creatures, wares and foods for sale in open front shops and market stalls but all of it shrouded in a dank dark muted light. Noah could only ever imagine the scene to have this muted perpetual dimness - no bright sunny days in this corner of the world. The smell too was unbearable and made him want to gag. The buildings crowded in close to each other, with narrow streets and even narrower darker alleys. Water, he hoped, spilled from the overhanging buildings.

"Watch your step through here kid." Tac whispered his warning in his ear. Noah wondered whether he meant the muddy streets and suspicious substances lying in piles or pools throughout the street, or whether he meant the suspicious persons who populated the street. Suspicious and dangerous looking too thought Noah. He turned to ask Tac but the head of security was moving off with Sebastian Templar.

"Come on Cutler, we're headed in this direction."

"Where are ..."

"Come on I'll tell you when we get a drink and a booth."

As they started to trudge off in a different direction to everyone else, Noah looked about him nervously. Did Commander Cartwright realise they were leaving everyone else? "What about the others?"

"Not to worry Cutler. Duck your head through here and cover your mouth and nose down this street."

In pausing to ask ‘why', Cutler managed to intake a brief noxious indication of just why. He stepped back grabbed some ‘fresher' air then charged on holding his breath for what appeared to be a long alleyway. "So where did everybody else go? I thought standard procedure required an away team to stay together."

"Not necessarily. Certainly not where the Captain is concerned, you may have noticed the captain is not one for protocol. Besides, we have a variety of purposes for visiting this delightful place and it works best to divide into teams." She said no more whilst they traversed the different turns of the next winding alley. It grew darker with each twist until the tacky neon light of a bar ahead was all they had to steer them by. Cartwright made directly towards its entrance.

She gave the bouncer a significant look and thumbing towards Cutler she offered, "He's with me." The bouncer flashed a fang filled lecherous smile at Cutler as he tripped up the steps.

"Didn't think he was your type. Might be my type though." Cutler nervously edged past the bouncer not sure which he should be more afraid of - the fangs or the pointed looks the bouncer gave him.

Inside was gloomier still and the dank, bad smell of the alley outside was replaced with a different dank smell. Cartwright looked around. Her strong profile silhouetted against the spill of orange light from behind the bar. She nodded towards a table in a dim recessed corner. "There's a table over there." As they passed different customers, some avoiding looking at Cartwright, others glaring defiantly at Cutler and one all too interestedly eyed up Cutler, his eyes on stalks bobbing excitedly as its hands rubbed its crotch area too keenly.

"What do you make of it so far Cutler?" She slid into the pew against the wall so allowing her to face the crowd. Cutler thought it better not to see what his ‘fan' was doing and sat in rusty chair facing the commander.

"It's ... it's ... all so ..." he grasped for words to describe it.

"It's all so alien? Welcome to Starfleet kid." She lifted her head to beckon a waitress. "I'll have a tankard of Gyru. Get the lad some Rigellean Ale." As the waitress moved off without a word or noise of assent Cartwright explained the mysterious drink, "It has similar tastes to Romulan ale but not as potent in lesser quantities. The Rigellan ale is the best option for a newbie like you though."

In a moment, their drinks arrived and Cartwright handed over some credits quickly. Cutler took a polite sip as Cartwright brought her own tankard up to drink. She cleansed away the taste in the back of her throat the only reason why she tended to order this drink as it coated her throat so for the duration of her stays. A tankard of Gyru was always her first stop when she visited this vile place.

"So Commander, why did we break away from the others?"

"Caleb and his new gun are off to survey the town. Dexter needs to show Templar the many hide-holes, dens, trouble spots, dead ends, escape routes, and all that. Necessary orientation for their line of work. Templar will find himself running through these streets more often than not in the line of duty."

"I take it Stanley went to meet his contact. But what about the Captain? And why do we have to gather information anyway?"

Molly Cartwright shook her head. The Academy still churned them out so naive that it-defied belief. Despite the ‘Border Dogs' being a branch of the Federation it was looked upon as the poor cousin of Starfleet. People only signed up to the Dogs to advance their career route, put some combat experience on their jacket for they were many albeit small scale altercations in their line of work, or they had no other place to go. Molly knew this best of all. She herself had tried the career advancement route and it had worked; but then dogged by controversy she had no recourse but to return to the border cutters and have her former captain take her in.

With her hands, she beckoned him to lower his voice. "The Captain has to meet with the ‘heads' of this mud rock and discuss any issues they have. Supplies, law enforcement issues and basically making his world a heck of a lot more annoying. The only problem with what they tell him is that they only tell him what suits them. No different from any other world governments in the universe I know, but since this government is less government than most, you take their word even less for granted.

"Therefore, Dexter and Stanley scout out other sources of information. Thereby giving us a fuller more rounded picture, which normally is still murky and unclear but at least not biased towards one set of crooks. Plus with the information we do glean we might have something to act on in the interests of the Federation and what passes for law and order in these parts."

She took a deep sip of her drink. Her eyes followed a shadowy figure sloping through the bar at the other end.

"That's where Stanley's unique skills come in. People trust him invariably. There is something innocent in those eyes that make people reveal what they feel later they ought not to have. Over the years he has cracked some tough nuts and yet he can respect their spheres of influence, he doesn't allow them to compromise themselves thereby keeping his contacts sweet. As you can imagine ensign, they are not the type you would like to piss off. Thus, Stanley has contacts that are more dubious but they are also the more informative. And the information they have is pertaining to this area of space and a little afar that are in our sphere of influence."

Cutter nodded he understood but this really was not like standard away missions. Of all the officers onboard Molly Cartwright seemed the one who stood for protocol the most. How she coped with the barrage of rule bending the Captain took, Cutler did not quite understand.

"So, um, what is our purpose here Commander?"

"Number one, to familiarise you, with this planet. Any one of us could be caught down here looking for a creep, information, or heck even spare parts. So, you have a tour to look forward to. I'll point out some of the trouble spots, hiding places, bars, whore houses, administrative buildings, repair shops, merchants you can trust to trade with and those to trade with for information."

"Ok. Can I ask why we are getting a drink?"

Molly grinned to herself. "Gees kid you really are fresh out of the Academy. Can you really be as fresh as you look? Well I'm thirsty for a start. But it is all part of our mission number two. This is one place to go to get information. Information to track down some one we want badly."

"How do we do that?"

"This place is like a rock. And under a rock, you are as like to find a snake. We use that snake to get us our information. And I Mr. Cutler have found our snake."

He took to turn around to see whom she was talking about but she grasped his hand painfully causing him to wince and look in shock at his commanding officer.

"Don't look Cutler. Snakes do not like to be cornered and gawping at him like a two year old will not calm his nerves any. We play it cool. If he has information, he knows he is of use to us. Since this information is of import to us but will not put him in any danger or bad books he'll come to us looking to sell the information."

"Sell?"

"Yes. We then open up the bargaining process."

"How do we buy the information?"

She looked at Cutler blankly. "You have the credits Gardner gave you?"

"Of course."

"Then we can put down a down payment." She flashed a cheery smile. Cutler was thinking he was going to find himself fleeced before he got off this planet one way or another. "Not to worry ensign. There are many ways in which to bargain. They don't all need credits." Cutler appeared relieved at this possibility. Molly took another careful sip to hide her grin.

She just thought to herself, ‘The kid might prefer to lose his credits. And I really am beginning to hang around the Captain too much! Next I'll be selling the boy to a slaver.'

 

* * *

 

'Not to Dwell on Matters' by Miranda Fave

‘Not to Dwell on Matters'


Aubrelis Dwells, Aubrelis


"So this is the infamous Aubrelis Dwells. It doesn't seem to do its reputation justice. When we were in training for our advanced security some of the officers spoke of this place being a true testing ground for a security officer."

The two security officers walked in tandem eyes constantly scanning their surrounds with every appearance of casualness but really masking their alertness. Tac shook his head at his new crewmember's bravado. It was the type of bravado that got security officers killed.

"One of the reasons the Captain chose you for assignment aboard the Kestrel was because of your evaluations and scoring in those courses. He was under the illusion you understood the criminal element and could work in an environment such as this and see the engrained criminality of the people who live here. I guess he was mistaken ‘cause you speaking like a fool."

"Hey, I was only giving an opinion. My Academy training ..."

"Kid, the Captain didn't hire you for your Academy training."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You've a wealth of experience and knowledge that he wants to call upon." Sebastian stopped in his tracks. "Hey don't get offended. He thinks you the best candidate for the post because of that experience. No need to get personally affronted. Asides from the fact, someone in your position cannot afford to be offended or affronted when their past is thrown in their face. Do the crime and pay the time."

"What like yourself sir?"

Constantly surveying his surrounds Caleb Dexter casually replied, "Hey, no point comparing our records. I did what I did as a kid in order to survive and help my family survive. What was your excuse?" Sebastian ground his teeth. "Yeah didn't think you had one. You sought out your thrill seeking crimes for a high and a buzz."

Templar balled his fists up in anger. "Wishing to speak freely sir, but you don't know enough about my past ..."

"I know enough. All I need to know is whether you can do the job. Your past might be of interest to the Captain but it ain't to me. I'm more concerned with the here and now. Are you still hooked on sex and stimulants? On the other hand, can you focus on your job? Answer in the affirmative to the latter and I am content."

Templar looked at the security officer trying to gauge the sincerity of his words. Was he trying to bluff him or did he not judge him on his past?

Caleb sensed what the look was about. He answered for Sebastian's sake. "I don't approve of your past mistakes Templar. But I'll give you credit for trying to change things around. Far too many cadets signing up to Starfleet are too squeaky clean. They cannot possibly comprehend the dirty underside to most worlds. You have a unique world view, if you will, and it might just serve you to the better. As I said, your past is your past, my past is my past, and as far as I am concerned, none of it is of immediate concern. What matters is here and now." He hefted his phaser rifle and beckoned the ensign to follow him.

"And right now we have trouble ahead."


* * *


"Ok Nestyquan, fess up. You know you want to."

Commander Cartwright belied her age pinning her snake against the back alley wall. He struggled to move but she held him tightly in place. Nestyquan tried to squirm free grabbing her arms with his reptilian claws. Molly Cartwright merely shoved her face up to his her nose mere centimetres from the ridge of tiny horns that traversed the centre of his green scaly face up and back over the top of his head.

"You promised me credits Molly! This isn't fair."

"You promised me ten crates of suspicious materials were to be found on that Ferengi tug last time I saw you. I guess our promises aren't holding up. How about we call it evens once you impart me with the information you know I want. Otherwise, I will bear a grudge and if I should meet your clapped out rusting hulk in space, I will use it as target practice and shoot it apart piece by piece by piece."

"Ok, ok. What is it you want? Then we're evens yes?"

"So long as your information is correct and you know what I want, where's Cassie?"

He paused unwisely to consider. He appealed to Cutler but as queasy as he felt about the modus operendi employed by the Commander the nefarious character of Nestyquan upset him more. So the sooner this was done with, the better. He was obviously a weasel with base selfish interests at all times his guiding principles.

"She's over at Hellem's Wharf."

Molly released him letting him fall to the ground. "You had better be right. How long ago?"

He made as if to run off but she kicked up dirt in his face as if stopping herself from kicking his face. It caused him to reconsider. "Just a few hours ago. I was there completing a few transactions. I saw her. I decided to get out before you guys showed up looking for her."

"Well lucky you didn't get too far away. I would sorely have missed meeting you again. We must have drinks the next time." She nodded towards the other end of the alley giving him permission to scarper. He scrambled on all fours before gaining a stooping run.

"Come on Cutler."

"I thought you said we had to bargain for information."

"We do but as I said there's lot of ways to bargain and pay for information. Trust me you would have found out except we have to act on this information quickly before she moves on someplace else."

She trudged away leaving Cutler to ponder in what ways she meant and who Cassie was. Molly just thought back to the fan Cutler had made in the bar. The pervert feeling himself in growing ecstasy at the sight of Cutler was a rogue trader at the best of times and Molly was sure he would talk to Cutler. However, that could wait until another time.

* * *


"Hey Commander! What you doing here?"

"I'm here for you."

"You are? That's so kind. That's sooo groovy. That's sooo fantastic. Of all the people I say it to, out of all of them, when I say it to you, I mean it the mostest!"

"Is that right? Ensign, take her other arm."

"Are we going? Oh hello. I don't think we've met."

"I'm Ensign Noah Cutler of the USS Kestrel. Careful."

"Careful yourself there Noah. Sorry, Ensign Noah Cutler of the USS Kestrel, of the deep lovely eyes and cutest baby cheeks. Let me see your bum."

"Time for that later Cassie."

Noah blushed. "Mmm, I can't wait. Wait, where are you taking me again?"

"To the ship."

"The ship?"

"Yes Ensign Noah Cutler's USS Kestrel."

"I know that ship!"

"Of course you do dear, you're the science officer."

"I am? I love science. I love Aubrelis. I love alcohol." At this stage, Cutler and Cartwright were dragging Cassie with her head hanging, her feet creating two continuous troughs in the mud. "I love your bum Ensign Noah Cutler. It is really nice."

"Sorry ma'am did you say she was a science officer onboard?"

"No I said she was the Science Officer onboard. This is Lt. Commander T'Vel, second officer of the Kestrel, aka Cassie when planet side on Aubrelis. This is Cartwright; we are at the transport coordinates. We have three to transport let the Captain know." The ship transporter took them.

"I feel all tingly. Wow, mega scenery change. Let's do it again. Hey Eddie! Hey Judy!"

The Lt. Commander reacted exuberantly to Judith Monroe and Eddie Gardner awaiting them in the transporter room. It looked as though Gardner had beamed them up himself despite being in charge of the bridge. "Hey Eddie, cool transport. You are the best. Of all the people I say it to, out of all of them, when I say it to you, I mean it the mostest"

Monroe gently crouched beside the drunken female and pressed a hypo into her thigh. "There, there, daughter. It will all be fine in a bit."

"In a bit? Sure Judy, it is all fine now. Oh, I feel woozy. Judy did you stick me with something? I'm so disappointed." Then she hugged the doctor. "Of all the people I say it to, out of all of them, when I say it to you, I mean it the mostest! Live Long and Prosp ..."

Monroe caught her up in the hug as she passed out and quickly checked her vitals. "She's fine. Just drunk."

"Can you site to site transport her and the doctor to T'Vel's room Chief?"

He headed back behind the controls. "Already programmed in. You ok to go Judith?"

"Yes thanks Eddie." In a moment, the doctor and the Vulcan science officer beamed out of sight to the Lt. Commander's quarters.

Cutler turned in confusion and looked around at the Chief and XO. "What was that all about?"

"She's returning from her leave ensign. But we count on your discretion. Make no mention of this to anyone not even your friend, Ensign Jex. Nor indeed to Lt. Commander T'Vel herself. By tomorrow she will have forgotten it all."

"But, but, but she's Vulcan." He wanted to yell, Vulcans do not get drunk. Ship's second officers do not get drunk. He wanted to but knew that he dare not say those thoughts aloud.

Cartwright looked to the now empty space on the transporter pad. "Yes but damaged too in some ways. Just don't mention it ever. Right go back to your quarters and clean up. Get the muck and smell of Aubrelis off of you."

"Yes ma'am." Still unsure of himself Cutler hesitantly left the transporter room.

A disgusted frown crinkled her forehead. "Damn, I hate that planet."

"Yeah but she only ever goes with you. The rest of us end up in a scuffle with her." Molly chose to not respond to Eddie's comment that had plenty of truth in it.

Stalking towards the door, Molly groused, "I'm away for my own shower before he arrives back."

Gardner joked, "Who the Captain? You two still fighting?"

Yet Molly could find no mirth. She frowned as she thought back to her ‘conversation' with McGregor after they had left Starbase 49 and informed him of Paul's actions. She decided not to dwell on the matter or stand around waiting for the boy. "No, the Captain is merely insufferable. It's the boy. I let Stanley know he was planet side, so he'll be able to track him down to whatever dive he is in."

Gardner watched her go and knew it was not just the mud and smell she was trying to wash off. "I better man the transport for that one too."

 

* * *

 

'Second Chances' by Miranda Fave

‘Second Chances'



Three weeks earlier, outside Captain's quarters


Molly braced herself as she chimed the door. It unnerved her even that she was unnerved. It took a lot to affect her so after such a long time. She had always been a strong and forceful personality hard to shake and even harder to frighten. That was one reason why Starfleet allowed her the XO position on the Kestrel. McGregor's rep was not infamous but it was well known. Therefore, billets to be his First Officer were avoided.

Molly Cartwright was not in a position to be picky at the time of the billet nor was she the likely candidate to be scared by a man she had once before served with. In fact, Molly had been his superior officer before she had moved onto the regular fleet. Sourly, she thought sarcastically of how she had moved on to greater and better things. All of which happened before that day ...

She shook away the memories threatening to steal her resolve. She reminded herself that she was not a person to be easily scared. That she was neither scared by McGregor nor impressed by his tirades. She knew his tricks far too well for his tactics to work. She did however hate what she had done. She had let Paul off scot-free and McGregor would throw that in her face if not physically throw her in a brig.

"Molly!" McGregor stood in front of the door as it slid open, his amorous hands disengaging from a nonplussed Harris. "Come on in! A top of the morning to you."

She wagged a finger sternly, "Don't do your mock Oirish accent." McGregor shrugged and wagged Molly to enter. Passing Harris, he cheerfully slapped her rear.

Molly entered, casting a disapproving glance at Harris now retrieving a work pad from a plush couch. McGregor's apartment was a throw back bachelor pad Spartan in its furnishings and devoid of any personal trinkets or holo-photographs. Of course, Molly did not expect any such paraphernalia after the events, in particular thee Event, in McGregor's life. In more ways than one, he had left his past behind.

The door whispered closed as Harris disappeared for duty. Molly cocked an eyebrow at McGregor. "Now, now Molly, don't begrudge me my simple pleasures. No harm no foul."

"You have far too many simple pleasures and indulge in them far too often for my tastes Captain. A degree of decorum might not go amiss at times. I could have been anyone at the door."

"Eh ... actually I didn't hear the door, Harris was on her way before I reminded her to collect her PADD. Then we got a little distracted. No one is getting hurt, Molly. Don't be such a prude. You don't frown at Monroe's different dalliances."

"Judy doesn't parade her dalliances in front of the crew. She leaves that to her shore leave."

His tone of voice turned more serious. "Speaking of which, I've gotten a call from Quibilris 9. It appears T'Vel has absconded from her holiday apartment. They're not too sure where she headed after."

Molly cursed softly under her breath shaking her head despondently. "Well if she's true to form we'll track her down to her usual haunts. Did they say whether she went off the rails much?"

A concerned tone crept into his voice. "Her last shuttle was booked under Cassie." His emphasis on 'Cassie' implied a significant meaning. Molly winced hearing it even though she was expecting to hear that name.

"Any ideas what sparked it?"

"A Vulcan science team passing through the system stopped off for repairs and several of its crew encountered her on the ground. The Cassie switch happened soon after it appears from the sketchy reports."

"Any drugs involved?"

"No, thank goodness. You worry too much about that. She's never done it before. She indulges in other vices sure enough but sure we all do!"

"You might. But she's a Vulcan. The more she indulges now the more she'll regret later."

McGregor shrugged it off as inconsequential. "Remember later she'll revert back to type and do a Vulcan proud. She'll regret nothing. That's far too emotional."

"T'Vel is living proof that Vulcans have emotions. This release of them is evidence of it. It's about time you get that McGregor. We've lived with this for several years now. You think you'd have a basic understanding of it."

"Molly I don't care for your tone. I've always looked out for T'Vel - for that matter Cassie. I checked in as soon as we departed. I allow her to go off on extended shore leave and I'll happily reroute the patrol to visit the Aubrellis Dwells first. Because you and I both know she's going to be there somewhere."

"We hope."

McGregor tired of the challenge in Molly's voice. He saw too that she was adopting a defensive posture and attacking McGregor as a means of deflection. It was an assessment Molly herself could have denied. "What brings you to my door Molls? I was due for duty in half an hour. What can't wait or be said on the bridge?"

Thoughts of grabbing breakfast from the galley disappeared as McGregor noticed Molly take a deep breath. "I think I'd best take a seat Molls. Ought I grab a drink?" He flopped onto the black leather couch and picked up an empty tumbler from a stowed rack.

Molly considered replying yes to his query. "It's about Paul."

Rolling his eyes McGregor turned from her to pour a splash of brandy into the tumbler. "I hate to break it to you Molly but I'm not exactly a relationship counsellor. Not to mention the fact that I thought your days of chasing after Paul were long gone. You're hardly a spring chicken ye know."

"This is going to be hard enough for me to say without you throwing insults around."

"I apologise, go ahead, I'm all ears." He took a swallow of his drink as she started speaking.

"Before I go on, I want you to know that I know what Paul did was completely out of line. What I've done is also pretty deplorable in only telling you now."

Adjusting his trousers, the captain shifted on the leather couch hardly paying Molly any mind. "Molly he's a cargo hauler. I dare say he's not the first to try to increase his profits margins by running something not quite legal. Gees where do you think me and Eddie get half of our bootleg drinks from?"

"This is a little more serious than that. He didn't of course at the time - but afterwards he figured it out."

"Figured what out? If this is the way you're going to continue your conversation then I would hazard a guess and say that your marriage to Paul collapsed because of communication problems."

"Damn it McGregor. If you keep interrupting with snide remarks, I'll get nowhere. You know fine well what went down with Paul and me. And it certainly wasn't a lack of communication!"

Pushing himself to his feet, McGregor demanded darkly, "Well then spit it out whatever it is. I hate being led on! You're obviously trying to cover his ass and you're anticipating that I'm going to go gunning for Paul when this all done and said. I probably will, but let's spare ourselves the dramatics of beforehand and spit it out Molly!"

"Paul ... Paul gave passage to T'Hos and his men to Starbase 49. They used their aliases and holographic disguises so he couldn't have known any better."

"Couldn't have known any better?" McGregor asked innocently before roaring, "Couldn't have known any better! He smuggles illegal persons onto a Federation station. In what way did he think what he was doing was in any way innocent? It's one thing to carry bootleg but it's another to carry illegal immigrants. It's not a matter of shading, it's not a matter of degrees of illegality, it's a matter of being completely and utterly criminal! Slavers, diseased vagrants, fugitives, spies, terrorists. They fit the bill for those seeking secret passage onto a secure Federation post. Not asylum seekers or refugees. Nowhere and in no way could he have thought himself to be doing a noble thing. Nor could he think his actions were innocent or a simple money making exercise!"

"All this I know and explained to Paul!"

McGregor hurled his tumbler at the bulkhead, narrowly missing Molly as he did. It exploded in shards of glass one grazing Molly's cheek bringing a thin line of blood to the surface as McGregor hollered, "You should have explained it to him in a brig!"

Stalking over to the companel on the bulkhead over his bunk McGregor ducked to activate the controls. Molly wiping the tears of blood from her cut followed after him and spun McGregor around, yanking on his elbow. "What are you doing?"

"What do you think Molly? You've bought Paul some time but I'm turning the Kestrel about and chasing him down. In was working in league with T'Hos. T'Hos who nearly killed everyone aboard our ship! How would Paul live with that eh? Knowing that he delivered the man who killed you to your doorstep."

"You can't do that!"

"I can and I will. Duty asides I owe Paul the same treatment we received from T'Hos."

"No! No! I turn and I turn a blind eye to your deeds far too often for you to not return the favour. I made a mistake. Paul made a mistake. But you can't let him pay for the crimes of T'Hos. You said your very purpose headed out on this patrol is to hunt T'Hos down. You're not one bit damned about Starfleet's orders or our normal border duties. You have one simple aim: to hunt T'Hos down and bring him to justice."

"Justice? I was thinking of killing him honestly."

Molly implored, "Please ... Gregory." His eyes darted angrilly at being addressed so.  Molly quickly dropped that tact. But she pressed still upon McGregor. "Paul shouldn't be made to suffer for being duped by T'Hos. Before I let him go, I got all the information I could from him about T'Hos and the contacts he had for the deal. In doing so, I got a great deal of detail on operations T'Hos runs throughout our sector. Aubrellis, Quibilris 9, the Conterbury Stakes, his drop off points in the Wash and approach vectors for the Banks. All valuable clues to help us track down T'Hos and allow you to ... exact your vengeance."

"In other words Molly, Paul is in deeper than either of us ever thought."

She shook her head, half-hearted, understanding the truth of the words. "No he's not."

"Don't be stupid! Of course he is. Otherwise, explain why, how he knows so much about T'Hos' operations. He can't, unless he meets T'Hos at those drop off points. Doubtless, he has links to T'Hos' organisation and no doubt to other Fien pirates. He might not be a big league player but he is a player."

"Gregory please. Don't go after Paul. Besides, I checked on his progress and he changed his flight plan and has gone fugitive for now. It'll take us weeks to track him down. But we can't put Paul and his crew on the fugitive list. We can't have them run for the rest of their lives. Please don't do that! Please Gregory."

"Don't beg Molly, it doesn't become you. And appealing to me by use of name is never going to work."

She quit the begging tone and tried to appeal to McGregor's own brand of justice. "Then think of all the second chances you give people. You give people second chances because your own second chance was a cruel twist of fate that robbed you of your family."

"Don't psychoanalyse me! You'll remember I sold the last counsellor."

"But it's true. You found Rah in the gutters fleeing the Orion Syndicate and the echelons of the Kzinti Hegemony. You gave him a berth, a home and a chance to become something. A proud warrior with a noble cause."

"His was a flea bitten cat who was a useful bodyguard!"

"You took on Dexter, a kid with a troubled past, a record and a tumultuous time at the Academy and moulded him into a security chief. You saved Eddie from his grief, turned him from a drunken layabout and piss poor enlisted and allowed him to become the engineer he is today. You took Becca from an Orion pirate's slave ship, put her in a uniform, returned her dignity, and gave her an honest career, a new family and a chance. As for T'Vel, no-one who knew her condition would let her set foot on a star ship never mind allow her to have the gamma shift command."

Her remarks discomfitted the normally belligerient McGregor. "Yeah, yeah, Molly. Enough of this already."

"You let me become your trusted right hand, your XO! Me! A disgraced captain, a one time border dog, who had managed to claw her way up to become a Captain of a starship in the fleet. And lost it all trying to play God and chance with the Prime Directive and lives. And I lost on both counts!"

McGregor stalked angrilly to the small window to escape her words and find it in him to face Molly without wanting to shake her stupid. But she caught his reflection in the window. "Even now, you take on the new kid, Sebastian, even after his trial and his own mother rejecting him.

"All I ask is that you extend a second chance to Paul. His information allows you to not only go after T'Hos but to take down his organisation too. The Fien pirates are a pit of vipers. Cut down one snake and another quickly replaces it. But with Paul's information we can clear out the viper pit."

McGregor met her daring gaze for a long minute. He reached out to take the data PADD extended by Molly with the information garnered from Paul. "If this information holds up, If, I'll think on it. But my God Molly, Paul is lost to us already. We know now he's in with the Fien. But worse still, when I act on this information they'll know someone talked and it won't take them long to figure it out. Then God help Paul. They'll do worse than I ever would to him."

"All I ask is to give him a chance. What Paul does from here on out, is entirely his own call. I'm done with him. He caused me to lie and ignore my duties as an officer. He allowed T'Hos to try to kill us. Worse, he broke his promise to me. We've been on a long road together over the years but we're done now."

"I'll allow him off. But I'm not giving him the second chance Molly. It's you I'm giving the second chance to. Taking you as my XO was never about extending a second chance to you. I wanted someone tough enough to make the calls."

"I saw it as a second chance!"

McGregor shook his head angrily and bitterly disappointed. "You were that person. But ... this," he wagged the PADD as an accusatory piece of evidence, "this changes that evaluation of you."

"I'm sorry you see it that way. But remember McGregor, that I am seeing Paul in a new light. I'm also seeing others in a new light. Take this harebrained scheme of yours to entrap T'Hos' mole on the ship. Entrap them, even though you won't tell Tac or me the identity of the mole and therefore putting the entire ship in danger. That smacks of recklessness. An egotistical jaunt. You're playing games with the lives of your crew."

"Just giving the mole a second chance, Molly. Would you sooner I bang them up in the brig for consorting with T'Hos. Only cause that smacks of hypocrisy in light of your plea here."

They both stood facing one another trying to reach a compromise. After a long moment it was clear they would find none but could choose to ignore the faults and criticisms of the other. A slight nod of her head indicated to the Captain that Molly had decided on the same course of action.

"Adjust our course for the Aubrellis Dwells. We'll pick up - Cassie - and checks out the leads we have there from Paul on T'Hos."

"Yes Captain."

With that, she turned and left for the bridge. McGregor looked down at the shards of glass and cursed the situation. T'Hos had a lot to pay for.

 

* * *

 

'By the Cat's Whiskers' by Miranda Fave

‘By the Cat's Whiskers'


... Back on Aubrellis Dwells


"I don't approve of your past mistakes Templar. But I'll give you credit for trying to change things around. Far too many cadets signing up to Starfleet are too squeaky clean. They cannot possibly comprehend the dirty underside to most worlds. You have a unique worldview, if you will, and it might just serve you to the better. As I said, your past is your past, my past is my past, and as far as I am concerned, none of it is of immediate concern. What matters is here and now." He hefted his phaser rifle and beckoned the ensign to follow him.

"And right now, we have trouble ahead."

Sebastian looked in the direction the muzzle of the phaser was pointed. A gang of fearsome bandits approached their position with a menacing intent. A hulking Klingon with a pitted face snarled to the mob and they parted to encircle the security officers. Repeatedly slapping a club into his palm, the Klingon's mouth split into a horrid grin anticipating the beating he was going to give.

Caleb bowed his head, not in submission but to hood his eyes in shadow. Sebastian took a defensive stance a short distance behind him, warily keeping an eye on the pack that formed a wall around them. He tried to take in the little details of the situation that might lend him a tactical advantage. At the very least, have the foreknowledge of just what a disadvantage they were at.

Looking up at the surrounding slums, Sebastian saw faces hide from behind grimy windows. At one end of the street opening, they now found themselves surrounded in the slums butted onto the walls of the higher warren of streets that constituted the centre of the Dwells. These pitiful buildings rose to paltry five stories. Two had balconies and these now filled with a sentry each, their weapons trained on them both.

On the lower sides, the buildings were two stories at the most. These buildings were cobbled together from a vast manner of debris forming the first ranks of the grimy slums that clung like dirt under the nails to the hub of the Dwells. The inhabitants of these slums slinked back into the shadows, the grime and smoke. They saw impending violence and knew there would be recriminations however it panned out. On Aubrellis, in these situations, it was best to be able to plead ignorance.

Other figures emerged from the shrouds of darkness though. In total, Sebastian counted a total of twenty-two figures of assorted aliens, with assorted weapons, take up positions. ‘Not good odds.'

The Klingon with the split mouth came further forward, stepping in the pitiful spill of light that fell from the tall slum buildings, in which stood Caleb and Sebastian. "I have a message for you that wants delivering."

Caleb replied in a nonchalant voice, though his body demeanour was anything but nonchalant. Instead, he was coiled and ready to strike. At this stage, Sebastian was still unaware of his chief's tactics or the degrees to which he might be pushed. It meant he was unable to anticipate his possible moves. That uncertainty played on Sebastian's mind. The uncertainty brought unpredictability and chaos into the situation. And for Sebastian, that brought him back to his dark days. With certainty, with knowledge, came strength. With uncertainty came weakness.

"And what message might that be Durmok? It hardly needs all of you?"

The Klingon, Durmok, was unimpressed by the steel in Caleb's voice. "Sometimes actions speak louder than words. T'Hos wanted me to convey in the strongest possible terms to you and your captain that you are not to seek him out."

"And should we decline to follow his advice?"

Durmok bared his yellowed, cracked, razor pointed teeth. "It was made very clear to me to make sure you understood the message perfectly. And the way I see it ... I have my own message to give you."

"Not still bearing a grudge Durmok?"

The tall imposing Klingon rubbed his jaw as he remembered the crow bar Caleb had swung at him with not so long ago on a boarding raid. "Time to settle an old score."

"All of you against us? Hardly seems fair."

Durmok chuckled. "I'm not worried about making things fair. Only about making things hurt. Hurt badly at that."

Suddenly he dashed forwards with the club swinging. Caleb ducked as it passed mere centimetres from his scalp. Sebastian caught the club, pulled on it and then reversed the force pushing it back up into the Klingon's face as he came on with the club. The sight of the Klingon dropping to his knees followed the satisfying crunch of the club smacking into bone.

Sebastian had to spin at that though to deflect a blow from behind. He did so deftly giving his opponent a swift kick to the sternum as he passed by. Around him, he heard Caleb fire off a number of shots and the sounds of falling bodies. Two significantly louder thuds told Sebastian that Dexter had downed the two point men on the balconies first.

This Sebastian took in, as a scrum of thugs crowded round him bringing him to the ground. Brutal kicks and heavy hits from steel poles rained down upon the ensign even as he brought himself up into a protective ball.

A chorus of hollers surrounded him even as the blows to the head impaired his hearing. A vile chanting relish at the beating they were serving up. He had a vague impression of another fight going on off to one side but he knew too that Dexter would soon be faring no better.

Then there was a still silence as the blows stopped and some slight filtered through to his puffed eyelids as the gang parted slightly to look up to the high rooftops. From whence they all had heard the roar of a lion. Disorientated and uninformed of the planet's indigenous animals, Sebastian was at a loss as to what creature made the noise.

Sebastian pushed himself up from the dirt amid the stunned silence as the thugs looked to the rooftops and saw silhouetted in the moonlight, the figure of the Kestrel's Chief of the Boat. With bravado, an injured Dexter called out, "About time Rah!"

But rising himself from the ground, Durmok snarled, "You fools! Finish them off!"

Rah Eyrrs, however, roared yet again and like a banshee in the night came screaming down from the rooftop and citadel of the town centre's walls. With claws bared, Rah smashed into a gathering of brutes, mauling their chests as he did so. With abandon, he tossed one aside like a ragdoll and stalked forwards for more prey.

"Enough already!"

Again, the melee paused. This time for the commanding voice of Captain Gregory McGregor. He now stood on the rooftops preening himself as he pretended to ignore the fight below. He asked solicitously of Rah, "Did you drop the packages off as I asked Mr. Rah?"

Rah reluctantly broke eye contact with the Klingon to narrow his eyes at McGregor before giving a tiny nod of his head. Sebastian trying to regain his senses recalled that Rah had not beamed down with them. So he wondered where Rah had come from.

McGregor's voice rang clear from the rooftop. The figure of Stanley came to stand beside his captain. "Very good Mr. Rah, a ball of wool for you when we get back to the Kestrel. Now excuse me gentlemen, but am I to presume that you are currently in the employ of one T'Hos Likk?"

Durmok spat blood from his mouth. "You could say that McGregor. Since he has put a bounty on your head, dead or even more dead."

"You are as witty as you look lovely Durmok. But I must say, I am complimented that T'Hos would go to such efforts. However, I know you are on his payroll. I know of the work you do here in the Dwells for him Durmok. Now it is I, who has a message I want you to give to T'Hos. Tell T'Hos that not only am I coming after him, I'm bringing down every one of his crooked enterprises."

McGregor removed a small device from his pocket as he tossed one end of Stanley's knitted scarf over his shoulder before using his umbrella to lean on as he displayed the small palm sized device. "Each and every one, from here to the Cardassian borders. The warehouses, which hold the stolen goods." He depressed a button and a sudden roar echoed throughout the night sky as a giant mushroom of fire gushed into the night sky illuminating the skyline behind McGregor, bathing his silhouette with a murderous red.

"Each and every warehouse." He depressed the button again and a series of further explosions rocked the citadel area of the Dwells and in the area surrounding the slums. Debris and rubble rained down from a nearby explosion as the scene rocked with the destructive force. Screams permeated the night air as thick smoke choked out the moonlight and fiery tongues blossomed throughout the Dwells.

"It includes his brothels," he depressed the button again and several loud whooshes, followed by screams and shouts of fire, indicated those brothels, "and his illegally licensed space vessels." Another button was depressed. This time the spaceport, a series of platforms that protruded high into the sky over the citadel, became a scene of devastation as a series of space craft exploded into ruined, burning fragments.

"Tell him, McGregor is coming after him. As for you all ... well by the whisker of a cat you live. But I would imagine that after your failure to protect his interests here tonight, T'Hos is not going to be very pleased with you. Therefore, my advice is to find a new rock to hide under. Scram."

They did so, all except for Durmok. He hollered up McGregor, even as frantic cries and the rush of people to put out or escapes fierce fires resounded throughout the warrens of the Citadel and the scummy paths of the slums. "You expect me to run to T'Hos? Tell you where he is?"

McGregor put the device back into his pocket, before opening his umbrella and then in a stupefying move stepped off the five-storey roof. Then impossibly, his umbrella lifted him under a cushion of air and McGregor seemed to float to the ground.

Sebastian almost fell over, disbelieving his eyes. Durmok too, was suitably impressed and appalled. McGregor with a little panache adjusted the cuffs to his jacket and refixed his scarf before answering almost absently."Hardly Durmok. You ain't pretty but you're not completely suicidal. If you go anywhere near T'Hos, he'll skin you. I do expect you'll contact him, plead your excuses, and then run for the hills. That is if you wish to escape his wrath. To that end, it might be in your best interests that we do find him. That way, when he's out of the picture, you don't need to keep looking over your shoulder."

Stepping up closer to Durmok, McGregor smirked. "Unless you'd sooner turn over on your old boss and take a room with us onboard the Kestrel? We do a fine B&B service in the brig. The only problem is our guests tend to complain about the cat that we keep." McGregor tossed his head in the direction of Rah who picked at his claws, picking out the flesh from under them. "What's it going to be?"

Durmok said nothing but turned away cursing. A bruised and bleeding Caleb slapped Sebastian on the shoulder as he did. The ensign wanted to ask why they were happy to let him walk away freely but did not want to sound like Cutler.

Calen asked breathlessly and a little accusatory, "You never said you had planned this Captain."

"Not so much a plan as a delicious taste of revenge, Tac." McGregor licked his lips. A gesture mimicked by Rah licking his claws and lips too. "Get onto Eddie and tell me to get teams to help put out the fires. Also, get one of the geeks to keep an ear out for the call Durmok is going to make to T'Hos. It might help us to pin point a location. Ah ensign, did you enjoy your first visit to the Dwells?"

Sebastian gathered his best-composed cocky voice that he could try to muster at this stage. "It was ... memorable, captain."

"Good, good, but we had best be going." He held the umbrella up again. "It feels like there's going to be rain."

* * *

 

'Trekkie Brekkie - the way to start your day' by Miranda Fave

‘Trekkie Brekkie - the way to start your day'

 

 

The relentless chiming of his door told Noah exactly who it was at his door. With his mouth frothing with toothpaste he spluttered, "Come in Jex!"

"What's keeping you?"

He moved out of the en suite and traversed the room to pin on his comm. badge before replying to Jex. "I'm ready now aren't I? Let's go get breakfast."

They set off for the mess hall, currently serving up breakfast canteen style. Unusually, because of a clerical mix up in the refitting of rooms, Cutler had the good fortune to have his own replicator. On the frontier, ensigns were far from such luxury as individual quarters equipped with their own replicators. Officers higher ranking perhaps, but even a few of them graced the mess at mealtimes. How and ever, because of his friendship with Jex and her personal tastes, Cutler had had little opportunity to make use of it or indeed, of his common room area he shared with his roommate whom he was still to meet. Apparently he was currently off ship on leave from the little Cutler had learned.

"I love trekkie brekkie. I mean more than other crews we have real chances to get know each other and indeed became familiar with ship wide systems because of the floating rota system operated by the Captain." She said something of the like everyday. Whether she was truly as optimistic as she made out or whether she was trying to convince Cutler of the merits of the canteen breakfast rather than using his replicator he was not yet so sure.

"Yeah. But it takes a little getting used to. I mean I've never much liked the sight of blood but today I have to report to Dr. Monroe for a shift."

"Oh Noah you're such a pessimist. What are you expecting, a flood of casualties just because you have a shift in the med lab?"

Noah actually did secretly fear this very thing would happen. He deemed it wiser not to voice that fear though.

They joined the breakfast queue and gave a number of courteous hellos and good mornings to those they spotted and were quickly getting to know. The ship had a smaller crew contingent but Jex was correct that the floating rota system, whereby in order to allow a day off, a crew member worked a double shift one in their normal post and one in another area of the ship. The area you ended up working depending on whose day off it was.

"So tell us then all about the trip below. I cannot believe you didn't come and find me after you had returned. I was dying to know what had happened and what was it like."

"Well ... it was unexpected." She looked quite unsatisfied as to that answer. "Well it was rather grotty. A real hellhole in many ways. It was wet and mucky and it smelled. Well it was all rather confusing. That place is a warren of cramped streets and bars. And the mission was well ... unorthodox. The away team didn't stick together and it was all, well like I say, quite disconcerting."

A surly, aggrieved voice cut in. "Whine, whine, whine. Is that all you do? I sometimes wonder how it is that Starfleet churns out such feeble inept clueless saps. If you are the future of the Federation, then the Academy should close its doors."

Jex and Noah turned with their so far empty trays to face an unkempt Vulcan teenager, if Noah guessed correctly, looking rather pissed off playing with the food on his plate. "Sorry who are you?"

"Oh the damsel to the rescue." To Noah he turned his contempt. "That is lame mate."

Jex continued to square up to him placing hands on her hips. "Who are you, I asked?"

Disdainfully acknowledging her at last he retorted, "I know you did. My ignoring you implied my wish not to talk to you Freckles."

Although it was rather churlish and a feeble reply at best, Jex found herself saying, "You started it." She fumed inwardly at herself as the Vulcan turned his attention away from her; obviously, her presence was of no import to him. Instead, he malevolently looked to Cutler.

"What's the matter, cutie pie? Cat got your tongue?"

Deciding it was best not to be involved in any manner with him, Cutler opted to give a meagre defence of himself and hoped to coax Jex to move on afterwards. "Look, I never said anything to you."

From behind them, the friendly tone of Becca Swift told them, "Guys, never mind him. He's best left to it."

"What, you want me to yourself Becca?"

"Ronak, leave them alone. They don't need to be hassled by the likes of you."

"You'd imagine they ought to be able to put up with the likes of little old me. I mean they have Fien pirates, badass Klingons and cheating Ferengi to contend with. What's one Vulcan bastard to the mix?"

She placed her palms on his table and leaning into his face, she warned him. "Just leave well enough alone."

"Oh you're scary Bex. I better not mess with you." Becca knew better than to rise to his bait. "What cat got your tongue now? Pathetic."

"Shut it."

All of them turned to the voice of Tac.

"I know a certain cat that would delight in having all of your tongues. So shut it." To the Vulcan he directed, "The Captain wants a word with you."

"Tell him I'm busy."

The eyes of Jex and Cutler almost popped out of their heads in astonishment at his insubordination. The behaviour was not unexpected by the reactions of both Becca and Dexter. Appearing nonplussed, the security chief stepped forwards to be beside Ronak.

"He didn't ask if it suited." With that, Tac hauled the lad up from the table and seat, frog marching him out of the mess to presumably the Captain.

Jex was astonished. "Who was that?"

"The thorn in the ship's side." Becca remarked from the corner of her mouth in a dry, crisp tone.

"Does he serve aboard? I haven't seen him before today. I know Lt. Commander T'Vel only came aboard yesterday, did he too?"

"Yeah something like that." Becca turned to face the two of them. "He doesn't exactly serve aboard. He's more of a regular passenger but officially, he does appear on the manifest as yeoman third class Ronak. Look, get your breakfast and forget all about him." They did so silently but Jex steered Noah towards a quiet corner of the mess hall to sit.

"What do you think his story is?"

"I dunno and I don't think I care to even." Noah considered why it was Jex insisted in coming to the crew's mess hall when they could avail of the officer's mess instead thereby avoiding that particular incident. He hated himself for the apparent snobbery of that particular thought but he knew all too well that he did not like confrontations.

Jex shook her head despairingly. "Where is your curiosity Noah? There's nothing wrong with being a little bit curious you know. I mean that guy and the way he talked to us all is a bit much and I can't imagine the Captain would let someone as unprofessional as that serve aboard."

Noah thought silently of Lt. Commander T'Vel and the predicament in which she was discovered. "I wouldn't be so sure. The Captain lets fly quite a few of Starfleet regulations and protocols."

"He's hardly the first Captain to ever go on away missions." However, she in turn was thinking about the little she had gleaned from Becca about Templar.

"I don't mean that!" However, he could not say what he meant for he had promised Commander Cartwright not to mention anything about yesterday. "I just mean in general the ship is rather relaxed in certain regards. Who is to say that such an attitude doesn't encourage the behaviour of the likes of Ronak?"

"Maybe. Somehow, I doubt it, since it is a border patrol and most such vessels operate differently. Not to mention every ship has its own dynamic. Though it is mega weird for a Vulcan to be so aggressive in manner. I mean Lt. Commander T'Vel surely was nothing like him."

She certainly was not aggressive thought Noah. Nevertheless, he did consider the fact that of the two Vulcans he had met onboard both had seemed uncharacteristically Vulcan. "I didn't really get much of an opportunity to talk to her."

"Oh. Well I'll find out for myself on the bridge. Are you having that egg? Gosh I could really do with some more toast."

Uninterested in what she was saying he lamely remarked, "Yeah?"

"Yeah! Hint, hint."

"Oh. You'd like me to get you some more toast."

"Thanks ever so much Noah. That's really decent of you." He let out an exasperated and resigned sigh. Begrudgingly he got up from the table and returned to the self-service canteen.

 

* * *

 

 

'An Honest Prescription' by Miranda Fave

* * *

An Honest Prescription'

 

Sick Bay, Deck 7

 

Ensign Noah Cutler could not help but be nervous. Serving on the USS Kestrel only two months out of the Academy, he still felt at a loss onboard the Miranda class vessel. In comparison to the confident, and sometimes even crude or abrasive, members of this cohesive and loyal crew, he was quiet and unsure of himself. Even his closest friend, Leoni Jex a friend from the Academy whom he was lucky enough to share this berth with, was a conjoined Trill who could call upon the experiences of two previous hosts who had served within Starfleet.

Despite his training at the Academy, he felt completely underprepared for duty within the Border Service. His posting had been a surprise and a disappointment. He tried hard to hide that fact, because he already incurred the wrath and low opinion of the Captain. His own desire had been to follow his grandfather into Starfleet, but as he imagined it, Starfleet proper, flying through the stars on a mission of exploration, scientific research and diplomacy.

Serving with the Border Service, the poor cousins of Starfleet, did not match his dreams and ambitions. Though after his first two, very rocky, months Cutler admitted reluctantly that the crew was a good one. Things shipboard were more informal and certainly certain persons, such as Captain McGregor and his Kzinti Chief of the Boat, were quite unorthodox in their demeanour as Starfleet officers and in their approach to duties.

Others, such as the indomitable XO Commander Cartwright, Eddie Gardner the grouchy engineer, and the strange almost emotional Vulcan officer he had ‘collected' inebriated from her extensive shore leave, were not so much unorthodox but did cause the ensign to be nervous. The CMO to whom he was reporting to now, however, was a different kettle of fish. She was warm, kind and supportive to the new recruits to the ship. Even going so far as to pull some strings to have them on the bridge for when the ship left space dock, knowing it was an important and proud moment for the ensigns.

Nevertheless, he approached the doors of the ship's Sick Bay with some nervousness. Because of the smaller crew size and the nature of both the Border Service and Captain McGregor's expectations, all crew were expected to help cover in other department areas to accommodate the duty rota. To that end, a fumbling and careless Cutler was reporting to sickbay for a shift duty in the ship's medical bay.

The doors parted to bid him enter and overcoming his hesitancy, the ensign entered the sterile compact environs of the sick bay. As a border patrol vessel, the medical bay was an important facility playing a vital part in the ship's mission brief to render assistance in SAR operations and to offer medical care for injured crew, hurt in the line of duty imposing the rule and law of the Federation on the border.

He took in the stark interior. Clean white panelled walls offered the space an immediate sense of sterile clinical care. He found himself facing a curving wall along which seven empty medical beds fanned out along this curving wall with medical patient status display overhead each. Opposite these on the left hand side, behind a curving desk was a nurse's station. Before this station, an entrance led into an examination room.

Cutler peeked into it. As to be expected, a large diagnostic table surrounded by walls housing equipment shelves and larger freestanding pieces of equipment and a master patient status display. A muted powered down ambience shrouded everything awaiting any possible emergency use. Even as he hovered on the threshold of the door, the lights and medical sensor computers came to life causing Cutler baulk and step backwards.

"Oh there you there!" This came from a woman in her late forties or early fifties. The brightening lights had attracted the attention of the ship's CMO who came out from an adjoining door to the examination room. Behind her, Cutler caught a glimpse of what appeared to be the CMO's office.

Cutler gave a weak welcome in return as he took in the doctor. "Hello Dr. Monroe." She had a youthful appearance but her eyes held a certain serenity and a wisdom quite intangible. Her blonde straw hair brushed straight back fell behind her shoulders. and she cut a regal profile, standing ramrod straight cradling a number of padds under her arm.

Monroe was not scary like the other senior officers. However, the ship's doctor did exude a high degree of professionalism and it seemed only appropriate that she expected the very same from all of her medical staff. So more than anything, Noah was worried about appearing foolish or letting her down in some way. Especially in light of the kindness, Monroe had shown him already.

"You found us then?" He laughed at her presumed joke. The crews' mess hall was only the floor above and he had just finished his breakfast. "You'd be surprised how many first timers don't find the way so easy. Amazing when you consider the sick bay is the one place you would want to know where it is." She rhymed off in a singsong fashion, "Deck 7 on the starboard side."

"The sad news is that there's very little for you to do. Though in actuality ensign, that is very good news. Albeit it does sadly mean little in the way of hands on experience. We just discharged our last patient from last night's encounter. Mr. Sebastian was lucky he didn't end up with a serious concussion but enough of the high jinxes you guys had on Aubrellis. Come on in."

She waved him on into the sick bay. As she did, she returned to the statement about their being little to do at present. "With that said, the unexpected does tend to occur unexpectedly. So first, we will begin with a thorough tour of the equipment and medicines and then we will test you on your basic first aid. At the very least when you do a shift in the Sick Bay you train up on your first aid skills and learn more about emergency medicine. The point is not that you will use it during a shift in medical but on an away mission, on the bridge, in a combat situation. You get the idea I am sure."

"Yes doctor."

She laughed lightly. "Don't be so nervous. You are going to make some mistakes I am sure hence my using this shift as training. Better to make the mistakes now rather than when they'll count."

Gloomily Cutler pronounced, "I think I've made plenty of mistakes that have more than counted already."

"Try not to focus on that. T'Hos Likk has been a long-standing enemy of the Captain's. Par the course as a border patrol Captain. You tend to run in to the same ole faces and end up forming enmities that don't quite occur in your line of work as part of the Fleet. The fact he was seeking revenge for his brother's death means to say he was always going to come after McGregor and the Kestrel. You sadly were caught up in it. But it was the action of T'Hos and his gang of thugs that caused it. He has the blame for what happened."

Monroe placed a reassuring hand on Noah's arm, giving it a slight squeeze of sympathy. Noah nodded in return.

"Anyway, we aren't here for counselling. If you want that ... well your only option might be Gordon's bar seeing as the Captain doesn't exactly approve of counsellors onboard. Come on we have lots to do. We'll start with a tour of sick bay."

He feigned enthusiasm. "OK."

"This," she extended an arm to encompass the room in which they currently stood in, "is the main examination room. Through there," she pointed through the transparent door she had come through, "is my lab and bend your head you can see my office. Returning to this room for the moment though. Major incidents or emergencies tend to be seen in here. Unless of course it's a crisis and the bay is filled. We'll go over the equipment shortly but for now we will press on."

Monroe led the ensign out into the area he entered. "This is the infirmary. Most minor injuries and conditions can be handled here on these beds, whether by me, one of the nurses or med techs." She laid two of the pads down in a rack on the nurses' station. Before leading him on as she explained a little about the medical status display functions and purposes.

A corridor led off from the infirmary. A seal shut transparent door cut this corridor off until Monroe depressed a button allowing access into a sterile passageway. Off it, a number of pocket doors on the right led into the medical storage. There were also lockers containing cryogenic storage units and emergency equipment lockers lining this side of the wall. The other side of the corridor opened into an operating theatre. Again, a large operating table sat centre of the room surrounded by complex monitors and equipment. The passageway also allowed entrance with a key code to the CMO's office before you got the length of the operating room.

Looking through the windows at the office, Cutler noted the interior. Shelves with medical journals and pads adorned one whole wall behind the CMO's wrap around desk. Interspersed were one or two rather small potted ferns, whose leaves spilled over the shelves and books. Surprisingly, a number of old-fashioned photo frames sat atop the desk their backs to the passageway.

"Come on ensign. It's a tour of the sick bay not my personal life. Come this way through to the intensive care unit. It's more or less a mirror image of the infirmary with seven beds but with more specialised equipment and the ability to carry out haz-mat operations and decontaminations and create specialised living environments."

Cutler nodded his head impressed at how an aged vessel like the Kestrel had quite good medical facilities. "Do you have one of those new emergency medical holographic doctors?"

Monroe smiled kindly as she shook her head. "Do you see any holographic projectors?"

Embarrassed at this oversight he blushed red. "Not to worry ensign. You're fresh from the Academy and it's all the talk there no doubt. How and ever, so far they've only been outfitted on the Intrepid class ships. Though Starfleet Medical is suitably impressed enough to roll it out on all new and refitted ships of the line. However, the Kestrel is far down such a priority list. As a border cutter, all the more so. We tend to get the hand me downs from the Fleet."

She walked him through to another examination room that mirrored the one in infirmary and led into the chief nurse's lab and office. As she did, Monroe explained in pleasant tones, "Not to mention the power consumption that an EMH program would take up would sap important power supplies. That would send Eddie over the edge. Plus, the captain would be mightily peeved if steal power he'd want for his shields, phasers or tractor beams. So it'll be a cold day in hell before he gets one in. Besides, with me around Cutler, why would you need a pesky old collection of photons?"

"That's true doctor."

She laid the remaining pads on the chief nurse's office table. "Of course it is Cutler. This office belongs Nurse CH'shan. You'll meet him next time. Today is his day off. Anyway, let's make our way back to the infirmary and refresh your first aid skills and show you how to operate some of these scary looking machines."

* * *

 

One hour later

"And to what do we owe this pleasure?" Her tone indicated clearly to Noah no such pleasure as she ‘greeted' whomever had entered the infirmary.

No response was forthcoming and having finished setting away equipment Dr. Monroe had been training him in the use of, Noah came out into the main infirmary only to see the surly grimace on the face of Ronak. The yeoman gave a withering look towards Noah before pointedly ignoring the doctor.

The doctor though was paying him no mind, instead taking to stride up to him and turned his face to the light where she viewed closer a graze and a bruise to his right temple and a split lip. "No point asking then how you got this? No doubt there is a long line of volunteers."

He slapped her hand away. "Look you don't have to fix it. The Captain only ordered me to report to here. He said nothing about treatment." Noah knew Vulcans did not particularly like physical contact but that seemed an overreaction and Ronak appeared to take delight in causing pain with the slap.

"No but the Captain knows my Hippocratic Oath states otherwise."

She walked to a tray of bio scanners and dermal regenerators then walked back to the Vulcan setting the instruments settings as she did. "Come over Noah. Here's your chance to perform a very simple procedure."

Both Noah and Ronak baulked at the idea. "I don't want to be his guinea pig!"

"It is my infirmary and you will do what I say. Both of you." She thrust the instrument out towards the retreating Noah. He came reluctantly over, checked the settings for himself all the time avoiding eye contact with his first ever patient.

"You've a wonderful bedside manner doctor."

"Cut the smart mouth please Ronak." To Noah she conversationally intoned as if continuing her previous lesson on the use of various medical instruments. "More often than not it is the patient with the bad bedside manner. Keep going Noah."

Ronak in a sweet singsong voice chorused, "Oh you've got such soft hands Ensign Cutler. So delicate and sensitive. I bet you're just the tenderest lover."

Cutler stepped back and lowered the medical instruments. "Ignore him; he just wants to test your reaction."

"Yeah Cutler, just checking out if you're a wannabe bum chum." Ronak gave Cutler a long sneering considered look, licked his upper teeth, and smacked his lips.

Monroe soothingly coaxed Noah to ignore him. It took a considerable effort on Noah's part to do so but his duty demanded it of him. He tuned into the guidance from the doctor and appreciated her supportive approach. All very different to the abrupt ribald manner of the Captain and the crankiness of the Chief. Even Commander Cartwright who was forthright expected those in her charge to hear something once and know what she was about.

"Ok double check the readings, almost done, a final scan then, there you have it." Monroe then turned her attention to the lip and bruised jaw. She gently probed the jawbone with her fingers.

"You do have a medical scanner!"

"Yes and years of experience and expertise that allows me to tell if a jaw is broken without recourse to a medical scanner." She moved his head as if to points of the compass and then satisfied all was well she gave him the all clear before waving another tool over his jaw and lip causing the colour of the bruise to fade somewhat and the lip to heal. "There. All done."

Ronak turned without a word and walked out of the med lab. His behaviour apparently not shocking to Monroe at all who took it in her stride. "Oh don't mind that Cutler. You quickly become very use to Ronak otherwise you would find it very tiring."

"But how can he get away with acting like that?"

"It's a very special situation."

"What like Lt. Commander T'Vel?" He regretted the slip as soon as he spoke and his face froze in shock.

"Mr. Cutler, you've been warned about not mentioning a thing. Perhaps you ought to know a little of the facts first."

"Sorry I didn't mean. But I don't know any of the facts."

"Ok so that much is true." She studied him closely wondering the best course. Should she inform him or let the matter rest only for the ensign to speculate and perhaps cause distress to T'Vel in letting the cat out of the bag. "Let's go into my office and we can discuss it privately."

Across from her desk, Cutler sat anticipating. "Sorry to disappoint you ensign but I'm afraid I cannot just divulge the personal details of Lt. Commander T'Vel. Number one as a patient of mine I am ethically obligated to protect her privacy. Number two ship gossip will eventually catch up with you at some stage and you will soon discover the story behind T'Vel."

"But if the gossips know already then surely you are not breaking any confidence by repeating what they say." Noah then corrected himself. "I'm sorry doctor. It's only because the Lt. Commander's behaviour was so strange in light of her being a Vulcan."

"You make a point. I suppose." She joined her hands and leaned across the table in resignation. "Nevertheless, the privacy of my patients is of paramount importance and it is a lesson you should learn if you are work shifts in my medical bay. I will not idly gossip even about well-known gossip. It is not befitting of my position as a doctor. What I will tell you is that there are circumstances surrounding T'Vel's conduct."

Embarrassed he mumbled his apologies. "No need to fret Mr. Ensign. I did probably indicate that I was going to divulge her history. Sorry as I could and would never do that."

"Oh I guessed as much Doctor. It is just ... well take the Captain and Stanley. Every time someone brings it up in conversation they mention ‘The Event' but never manage to explain what it is or was."

Monroe nodded her head. "I dare say that's annoying. Most people don't mention it too much for fear of the Captain overhearing. We all have our secrets and hidden parts. None of us like to have those things dissected as part of gossip."

He sighed in resignation. "I guess not. Just another frustration."

Joining her hands to form a steeple, Monroe pushed. "What with? Serving aboard the Kestrel? Or the Border Patrol in general ensign?"

He spoke a little defensively. "I don't mean offence doctor. It's just that when I enlisted, I imaged being on a starship exploring the stars."

She pursed her thin lips. "Look Mr. Cutler it might not be your dream job but don't have such a low opinion of the Border Service. Some of us serve it gladly. I actually joined up in order to serve in it."

"You did? Sorry I didn't mean to sound so astonished."

"Simple really. I lived on a border planet these guys were and are a lifeline and protectors. Shall I tell you my history at least? Then perhaps you might appreciate just how important our job is." Her thoughts flashed back to the words she had spoken all those weeks ago to on-off lover Jocum.

Their break-up fight had revolved around her absconding to Risa for some fun and how we couldn't understand why instead of spending the time the Kestrel spent on her refit cooped up on Starbase 49.

"I'm a born and bred frontier girl. I belong out there." She pointed out the window to the stars beyond and the milling craft ...

...  I was born on the frontier and I didn't exactly get to see much of the Federation in my youth ...

...  I wanted to practice medicine on the frontier. It's easy for you to think that the frontier is simply a bland comment bantered about living and working here at the Starbase. However, for those living on the frontier planets they are out on a limb, isolated or surrounded by hostile neighbours. On those planets,  ...  I can open a surgery and deal with people who don't get any other access to qualified medical care until I return. I can make a difference out there that I couldn't possibly do here ...

...   I grew up in those conditions and I know what it is like for those people. I can't walk away from what I see as an obligation. Not to mention the crew needs me. Nor do I want to walk away from it."

Her saddened eyes brightened then, as she looked into Noah's face, despite the memories she would now share. She adjusted herself in her chair as if snuggling down to tell a story by the fireplace.

"The first thing you need to understand ensign is that I am a frontier girl, born and bred. I grew up not far from our current position. Punthoon 5, the fifth moon orbiting a gas giant in the Condores System."

* * *

 

'A Medical History' by Miranda Fave

'A Medical History'



Punthoon Lunar 5, Condores System

The dust devil stormed over the parched plains. Its whipping wind harshly scraping the young girl's face as it passed a small distance away. The sun stood high at its zenith, hammering down the heat that propelled the dust devil and the all encompassing pall over the land as the summer's day reached the midway in its thirty-eight hours.

Little Judy squeezed her eyes shut as the dry gravel peppered her face but she endured the harshness before the wind abated and the pressing heat swamped her small frame. She tilted her head up so the wind embraced her throat and whistled down the neckline and through the light clothing of her garments. Behind her back, in her small hands, she retained a tight grip on the sheer shawl knitted by grandmamma. Her strawberry blonde hair caught in the wind formed its own vortex as it blew wildly around her tanned freckled face.

Through the tightly shut eyelids, the harsh rays of the sun still penetrated piercing her retinas burning the large sun's image into the back of her head. The image would take a time to fade and Judy's father warned her many times of the strength Punthoon's Sun. The great sun Condores! Condores dominated life on Ponthoon, which was not surprising as an agricultural planet, on the rim of Federation space, dependent upon the rays of the sun and the rains from the mountains. It was a planet of extremes.

This phrase Judy learned from her teacher Ms O'Keefe at the small school in the Yunkers region. Because of the vast distance needed to be covered and the busy life of living on a farm, Judy like many others in her class only attended classes sporadically. On occasion, she would board in the limited dormitory built onto the school to house the few teachers and occasional pupil. On other occasions, Ms O'Keefe would come to the farmstead and instruct Judy and other ‘local' children.

During one such stay, the teacher had focused on the geography of Ponthoon. From the topographical features, to the geological history of the planet. Ms O'Keefe had done so as she had taken the children out for a walk in the early hours of the morning before the sun became too unbearable as moisture from the night steamed into the sky. During the day, as Condores climbed ever higher in the sky, the plains of Ponthoon Lunar 5 became a furnace. A furnace in which it would be believed that no living thing could live. But, in the cool of the sinking sun, as dusk shrouded the far horizon in bands of gold ebbing outwards vainly holding back the purple shroud of the cold night. The far mountains became basked in shrouds of fog, a refreshing dew of moisture that breathed life into the inhabitants of Ponthoon Lunar 5. As the night skies rolled in, the fog shrank away as if in retreat as the harsh cold of open skies permeated the ground. Then in the approach of dawn storm clouds rolled in. Clouds shaped like anvils, rode in on the fronts. Dark heavy anvils that rang out with massive thunderclaps as the deluge of the dawn began. Rain that hammered the frozen ground. Pelted the farmstead and Judy's window frames. There was no need for alarm clocks when one lived on Ponthoon Lunar 5.

But farmers eked out a living here. The native species evolved to survive this harsh and unforgiving climate. The pertigee ‘armadillo' burrowed deep into the earth to build its den so as to escape the cold of the night. And each night it would encase itself in its burrow so as to escape the floods of the dawn deluge. In the fresh moist earth after the deluge, in the steaming morning, its snout poked its way upwards out of the soil to sift and feed on the new hooi roots and fuire worms. The hooi roots were the staple of the pertigee ‘armadillo' and it became the staple of the farmers who came to Ponthoon in the first colony ships as their grains and crops struggled to grow in the harsh climate, four seasons in one day as her mother called it. The hooi roots if not dug up by the pertigee grew up to five metres producing potato like stores of food, and wheat like stalks. But all of which grew under the surface.

From above, Ponthoon lunar 5 might not be recognised as an agricultural planet, for there were no vast tracts of crop fields visibly growing. Instead, one had to look to see the freshly dug surfaces of harvested hooi crops, dark lineated fields with no visible growth on the surface but rows upon rows of seeded hooi furrows. From above the planet looked like a scored dust bowl except for the harsh Polar Regions where even the heat of the great Condores could not beat back the snow and ice.

Small towns grew up around the space ports where the harvested found its way out into the stars to feed alien worlds and sustain the simple hard working farmers of Ponthoon Lunar 5. Administrative hubs that allowed for small businesses to prosper to some small degree. Ponthoon Lunar 5 was a back water, a seemingly unimportant moon, one of five orbiting a gas giant in the Condores System. And yet the planet provided vast stores of food to the frontier worlds and neighbouring factions with its vast tracts of crops. There were few populated areas. Yes, Ponthoon Lunar 5 fed the stars and each day fought a duel with its own burning star. It was just another example of the paradox that was Ponthoon Lunar 5.

Grandmamma sourly called Punthoon a ‘bread basket' dust bowl. Judy did not understand the resentment in the voice of her grandmamma. Nor did she understand the science behind what Ms O'Keefe had tried to explain about the climate and geological features of Ponthoon Lunar 5.

But enamoured with her teacher, as any little girl is wont to, Judy strove to understand both the science and the resentment in her grandmamma towards the Federation and the planet of Ponthoon Lunar 5. Judy could only muse that grandmamma missed grandpa. Judy could only assume so because she had never met her grandpa as he died mere months after she herself was born.

Of the Federation, Judy knew little. Ponthoon Lunar 5 did not merit attention so long as it continued to furnish other struggling frontier worlds with its bounty. Stories, wild adventurous stories, of a legendary captain named Kirk had featured in the stories her father told before bedtime were the closest Judy ever came to knowing of the Federation. Some on Ponthoon, like her grandmamma resented the absence of the federation. Others like ‘Red' Joe Gump derided this unknown political entity as a perverse machination to control the minds and souls of its citizens.

Her father and mother though would merely chuckle quietly to one another out of sight of grandmamma when she and ‘Red' Joe argued over the same laborious when intoxicated with hooi root vodka. Grandmamma arguing how the federation could not care to outfit homes with replicators and bestow the advances to its lowly frontier worlds were people had to patch and repair outmoded technology. ‘Red' would retort that that was exactly how the Federation kept tabs on people and how it secretly laced all replicated foods with mind controlling drugs. Father would simply retort to both when they pushed him to voice an opinion that replicators would only put him out of business.

Father though had a secret passion for the stars but felt his talents lay in the simple honest hard work of farming. And yet in the late night hours, as the fog retreated and the cold settled, father would sometimes steal out into the old frigid night to look up at the stars. Sometimes he'd be joined by mother, his devoted wife who'd carry out a warm brew and together they would wrap her family heirloom blanket around them both as they hugged one another tightly in a loving embrace before the cold induced them back to the embers of the hearth fire.

Judy could not quite understand these unstated passions and dreams. She wanted to be a teacher. Just like Ms O'Keefe. And she just had to let everyone else know it. Not just occasionally, but each day and on numerous occasions. Either she would inform the person to whom she was addressing just how exactly Ms O'Keefe would do it. Or state how Ms O'Keefe says ... such and such which was in direct agreement with what the original speaker had stated but which held no validity to Judy because it had not sprung forth from the lips of Ms O'Keefe. So young Judy Monroe, was more certain of anything that she was going to grow up to be a teacher, just like Ms O'Keefe, and teach like Ms O'Keefe on Ponthoon Lunar 5.

That was, until the day Judy discovered the Federation, the day the Federation turned its attention to Ponthoon Lunar 5. Turned its attention all too late ... The day they came. The day death stalked her home.

The day she blinked away the image of Condores and watched the dust devil pass into the distance whereupon looking in the direction of the farmstead she saw the shuttle craft descend from high orbit towards her home.

* * *

 

A flash of excitement ran through Judy. She recognised the shape of the shuttle as being like Sheriff O'Malley's. That could mean that Ms O'Keefe was coming to stay with them! Normally, such a visit would be planned, but again normally, the only reason the sheriff ever had to visit, was to drop the teacher off.

Then fear gripped Judy for an unknown reason. Only after it had seized her heart and chest did she realise the shuttle trailed a dirty smudge in its wake across the sky and an unearthly screaming accompanied its rapid and uncontrolled descent. With a sharp downward trajectory, the shuttle tore through the atmosphere. Judy gripped the hem of her skirt. Clenching the hem tight in her hands as fear bubbled up her body and pee trickled down her leg. Her lips trembled between fear and the wish to cry as she witnessed the shuttle on its death plunge. And it headed down, down, down towards the homestead.

Judy wanted to run screaming; In fear, to warn, to seek comfort. Instead, she found herself frozen to the spot. Paralysed and numb to the ensuing tragedy about to engulf her home, her family, her life.

At the last moment, the sheriff must have managed to pull the crippled vessel up from its death plunge. But it was still too late. The shuttle ploughed through one end of her home. Smashing through the house, leaving it in ruin as the shuttle veered up into the sky only to fail and careen towards the hard packed earth. Its fiery nose gouging into the ground before somersaulting head over heels on itself, each landing a further self-inflicted hammer blow to the shuttle. Pummelled and ruined, it tumbled towards Judy, bearing down on her little figure. Judy could not compel her legs to move and she remained rooted to the spot awaiting her death.

She closed her eyes and accepted her fate with tears streaking down her face as she sobbed for her mother and father. Dirt, rocks and smoke engulfed her face, choking the breath out of her as the last squeals of the shuttle subsided as it screeched to a halt within meters of her position.

Through heavy eyes, clogged with dirt and tears, Judy took in the ruined visage and her proximity to death. Her knees collapsed under her as she dropped heavily to the ground.

Long moments later, she looked up from the dirt, through the smoke and settling dust. Overhead the sun was starting to burn harshly. Judy felt a cold resolve steel her nerves as she stood, not without effort, and purposefully strode through the whipping smoke and past the burning hulk of the shuttle.

Clearing the crash site, she took in the sight of her home. Flames engulfed one half of the homestead and were quickly consuming the remainder. She saw figures staggering from the ruins. And this compelled her to run. Her family were alive! She ran on tripping and stumbling over the trough furrowed by the crashing shuttle.

Coming closer to the house though her feet faltered. Shock then punched her gut as she saw the unmistakable figure of father carrying her mother lifeless in his arms. At his feet, grandmamma pulled on his ripped and charred trousers, harking out for her daughter. Pleading and shrieking for her ‘little doll' to open her eyes.

"DADDY?" A cry of anguish and horror roared through Judy.

Her father's head, looking down forlornly on his loving wife, lifted slowly with grief and puzzlement and when his eyes took in his little Judy, dress torn, face soot covered and tear streaked, Judy saw his heart break as he took in his now motherless daughter. He tried to mouth, "Judy," back in response but he sank to the ground instead. In his arms he continued to cradle his wife as her mother with bleeding legs dragged herself across the burning debris strewn yard towards her daughter.

Judy took in the tableau before she darted forwards shrieking out ‘Mummy' again and again and again. Imploring of the heavens to grant her, her mother back. Her father groped forwards and pulled Judy into him. Together they burying their faces to kiss and plaster her mother, his wife with tears and tender whispers. Judy felt herself suffocating as her world narrowed down to the vision of her mother's serene death mask face.

Behind them, the house burned, churning wild flames and smoke up into the sky.

* * *


Long hours passed. The sun overhead burned furiously but they cradled and rocked one another in dumb grief oblivious. The raging fire continued to burn but had abated and the structure started to collapse in on itself. Another dirt devil churned through the detritus of their life.

Eventually her father stirred. He looked up, all tears cried, to the distant horizon. A niggling question had penetrated through to his conscious mind. Where was help? Why had no-one come? The smoke would be seen for long miles. He got his answer as he took in the smoke filled horizon telling similar fates across the countryside.

This started him into action. Releasing hold of his wife he stood uneasily and staggered to the jeep transport. An archaic combustible type vehicle frowned upon in the core worlds of the Federation but on the frontier, especially sparsely populated, agricultural and such large planets as Puntoon Lunar 5 such were a lifeline. He clicked the radio communication on and clutched up the hand held mouth piece. But he stopped his call for help as the radio screamed with life and horrors of a Nausican attack. Across the planet people were dying and calling out for assistance or trying to offer resistance to the attackers.

A stark warning cut through the chatter, as Clyde Dale a former sheriff, shouted the speakers down. "They're hunting us down and using the radio communications to zero in on your locations. So shut the frak up! I know lots of you are hurting and afraid. But remember our plans. Seek out refuge and keep a low profile. Starfleet has been contacted and have despatched help. Pray to goodness that they get here soon. Stand together and help one another. Be vigilant and seek out refuge. And maintain radio silence unless absolutely necessary."

He cut off and Judy's Dad stumbled backwards as he took in the enormity of the situation. Judy's cries over her mother brought him to again. Racing forward he picked her up and dragged her to the jeep. He hollered at Grandmamma to get to the transit too. Judy protested but he hauled at her and finally buckled her in. He then disappeared into one of the remaining outbuildings, grabbing his hunting weapons and some of the stored goods they grew and bartered for, stocking them into the back of the jeep. He then helped grandmamma into the jeep beside Judy and the two of them cried atop one another's shoulders.

Lastly, he picked up his wife. Kissed her forehead and cold lips. Her body hung limp in his arms as he carried her towards the jeep. He would not leave her here to be possibly desecrated. Then with a shudder, the transit coughed into life and with a rocking motion set off. Behind them, they left the charred ruins of their once peaceful and happy life.

After a time, Grandmamma appeared to care about their fate and asked in a hoarse broken voice, "Where are we going?"

Judy's Dad didn't respond immediately. His eyes remained focused and determined on the road ahead. The rifle sat in the passenger seat with spare ammunition ready to hand. "To the mountains."

"Why? We should be headed to town!"

"All the settlements have been targeted and ravaged by the attackers in the first strike. They'll come to all the homesteads next. Our only choice is to run to the hills and hide within them. We have sanctuaries and caves stocked for emergencies there from our first days of colonising the planet. Anyone else with wit will seek out the safety of the mountains too. That's where Starfleet will rescue us."

Grandmamma spat. "Starfleet? What have they done for us? They let this happen."

"No, the Nausicaans did this."

"Only because the cowardly and weak Federation won't stand up to them! Instead, they allow those monsters to steal into our worlds and hurt us! It matters not to them in their mighty ivy covered consulates. It's us, here on the frontiers who make the Federation and yet they leave us to rot. Where is our help? Where are the glorious Federation?"

"They'll come." He said it so matter of fact that Judy felt the first spike of emotion since she saw her mother dead. A feeling of trust, of hope, Starfleet would come to their rescue.

Grandmamma did not heed him but continued to harass and speak vile towards the Federation. "Too late for my daughter! They didn't protect her. They aren't protecting your daughter."

To which, he retorted, "It's up to us to save ourselves. But they'll come. Yes they'll come."

Judy turned and looked up to the darkening skies, watching and hoping for their saviours.

* * *

The Mountains of Ponthoon Lunar 5

Little Judy woke with a start. The cold biting into her skin brought her to. She pulled a blanket up under her chin. Shivering under her covers, she brought her focus on her surrounds. No longer was she being jarred and jolted by the movement of the jeep. Instead, she found herself huddled in a corner of small cavern. Looking at the entrance, she concluded that she must be in one of the many caves that lined the steep sides of the mountains.

Around her, others lay huddled in semblances of their homes, blankets and clothes used to shelter them from the cold of Ponthoon's nights. The night sky was clear leaving the refugees in the cold of the world's nights. Some lay moaning from injuries received in the attacks.

Little Judy took in the shattered remnants of the colony huddled here. No doubt, other caverns in these and other mountains across the planet, held other survivors. Or so they could only hope. A lone nurse moved among the injured tending what little medicine and care she could among the many injured and sick. A few others tried to assist but with little medical knowledge they were reduced to offering support and issuing rations.

At the entrance, sentries stood watching over the valley below. Hoping to spy any pursuers from the attacks. They stood with weapons ready. These weapons were like her father's simple weapons for use on the farms and to protect from the wilder beasts of the planet. The weapons, and the sentries who bore them, were not suited or expected to fight in such a fashion.

Near to the entrance, she spied her father in a small group of angry men. Drawing the blanket around her shoulders and picking herself up carefully from the floor, so as not to disturb her grandmother lying next to her, Judy padded towards her father. Upon approaching, she could hear clearly the angry voices of the men and the calmer voice of her father.

"Enough of this! My family has been killed and injured. I will not stand here and wait for the Nausicaans to come and hunt the rest of us down." Angry tears filled the man's eyes that stared at Judy's father accusingly. "Won't you be satisfied until they've come here and killed my only boy?" He gestured at the small form of a blonde soot covered waif looking up with scared, sad eyes.

Judy's father looked at the boy and then spied Judy too. His features softened to a meek smile and then he turned to the accusing father. "As have I lost family. My little girl here has no mother. Do you suggest I charge off to battle Nausicaans and leave her with no father too? Leave her here, unprotected, so that they can find her?" Judy blanched and cowered at the prospect. Her father seeing this, ran over to the frightened girl and picked her up. Hugging her tight in his arms, he turned to the other men and forcibly told them and reassured Judy, "I won't do it. I won't leave her alone to go on a suicide run fuelled by revenge that can achieve nothing. You won't even have your revenge Maddox. They'll cut you down before you get anywhere near."

Clutching his rifle, Maddox returned just as forcibly. "They can try but I'll have my revenge."

"And your son can bury two parents come the morning. Not enough losing his sisters is it?" Judy winced, the small waif whimpered, and Judy's father cursed himself at his harsh words. But they seemed to have effect as the man staggered backwards and then stooped to stoop up his little boy. Tears spilled down his cheeks as he hugged, kissed and whispered words of fatherly love to the last of his family.

An elder man however scratched at his head. Dried blood plastering a deep gash over one eye. His ear and clothes were similarly caked in blood. "So what do we do? We might not be wise heading out to attack the Nausicaans head on but we can't just sit here hiding. They'll track us down. I don't want to scaremonger but tis the truth and ye all know it."

"Starfleet will come before that."

"Bah! Starfleet." The old man waved the suggestion off. He staggered over to a rock and seated himself on the makeshift stool. He produced a flask from his deep pocket. Unscrewing the cap he took a greedy gulp of the alcohol within. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he smacked his lips as if he had downed a life saving medicine.

"Starfleet? Starfleet! Huh. They've left us to rot. Would we be prey to attack from Nausicaans if we were Vulcan, Andoria? No. But because we are merely a piddly frontier world. Fodder. That's all we are. Fodder. At the most, we are a breadbasket for the Federation. A mere obstacle should some unfriendly force come tripping across the border. A safety valve. Measly offerings to be had for the picking so the likes of those bastarding Nausicaan don't go interfering with fancier folk from richer more important worlds."

He took another swig of his brew. "For all their talk of a precious society that values one and all, it's a pile of crock." He pointed at himself defiantly. "I should know. I've farmed on this world for decades now. And in all that time, the Federation has never cared a damn about our fates. Where are the promised infrastructure developments? Where are ..?"

"Donald, enough." A scolding woman, leaning on a crutch hobbled forwards. Her right leg packaged in bandaging. "Yes the Federation didn't come through on many of its promises. But we came here to carve out our own world, our own infrastructure. And if it weren't for the medical care the Federation brought to our world, our little boys would never have survived the Altarian Plague outbreak. Nor would many of us who lived back then."

She looked around the cavern and met defiantly the eyes of those who looked upon her. Her voice carried despite her small frame and Donald shrank in on himself, mumbling under his breath. "This is our world. We will make of it what we will. But we are a part of the Federation. And what this young man says is true, the Federation will come. They've never let us down before. They always come through in the end."

"Bah Mary. You always lilted wistfully about the them. The Fleeters are too busy cosying up to new worlds, exploiting their resources and studying nebulas."

Mary lifted her chin and looked down her nose at Donald. "May be. But I'll tell you what. The Dogs will come."

"Ack!" Donald dismissed her beliefs, although not as convincingly this time round.

"Oh my God!" One of the sentries shouted in alarm and the cavern erupted in screams and chaos as five Nausicaans charged the sentry post, gutting the two farmers come failed guards, before unleashing mayhem within.

Without a thought or a glance behind, Judy's father charged out the back passage with the other fleeing colonists with Judy's small frame wrapped around him. She clung for dear life as he pushed and barrelled down the passage with the others. Any thought of standing bravely and holding off the horde dismissed immediately as his primary concern became getting Judy away from the carnage.

Into the night the escaping colonists ran. In different directions and with shouts and calls for family they disappeared into the night. But around them menacing shadows moved and zeroed in on their positions. Hunting the injured, the frail, the weak, the small, the fathers, the mothers, and the innocent. The stalking Nausicaans came and the screams started.

Judy and her father though, ran on. The screams and the figures dragged to the ground were left behind as they broke through the bushes and dove down into the scattered trees that struggled to hang to life at the side of the mountains. But the cover was sparse and the trees mere branches. Slabs of rocks funnelled into broken water riven veins down towards the valley. Judy's father smashed into them, stumbled through the tough, wiry bush that had to be hardy enough to survive the extreme climates of Ponthoon.

The sounds of the bloodshed above and behind them on the mountaintop disappeared. However, in the quiet they could hear crashing in the bush, signs of pursuers hunting them down. So on they had to run, even as the sounds crept closer and closer, hungry snarls accompanying the crashing sounds.

Looking back over her father's shoulder, Judy could make out the looming shapes of the Nausicaans in pursuit through the trees and between the rocks. Her view constantly jarred by the desperate race across the uneven downward sloping terrain. But then a terrifying visage filled her view as a Nausicaan beast bore down on them. He smashed into them and it propelled her father to the ground. Hitting the ground hard they tumbled and tumbled with Judy falling away from her father. With a cry she came to a stop as she slapped into a tree trunk.

The Nausicaans rushed to a stop and grinned a macabre thirsty grin. "Lovely!" This tall brute advanced towards a whimpering Judy. She pulled her knees up tight. Behind the monster, she could see two more advancing on her unconscious father, their knives drawn and brutish teeth already dripping with blood.

Judy whimpered a soft but pleading cry. "No."

"It won't hurt little one ... for too long!" He hoarsely laughed withdrawing a long blade. The look of bloodlust and madness fervent upon his face as he stepped closer to her.

"Ahem." A voice cleared its throat above them. A lone figure stoop atop one of the rock outcrops. He wore a uniform Judy recognised as being vaguely Starfleet. And he stood with a cockish grin illuminated in the moonlight, leaning on an umbrella. "I'm somebody your own size."

The Nausicaan looked up, stooped over Judy, his dagger blade inches from her throat. "Huh, I don't think so." He stood up to his full impressive height.

"No. Maybe not then." The figure admittedly, unperturbed, then inclined his head in the direction behind the Nausicaan. "But I'm pretty sure he is."

"Pathetic human. I'm not like to -ngh!" The Nausicaan fell a dagger driven to the hilt into his skull. Judy looked on wide-eyed with fear and amazement as a huge cat came out from the darkness.

"Fang!" He intoned in a scolding voice. "I was trying to give him a fighting chance."

"There's six more of them." He plucked the dagger out of the skull and looked over to the two frozen Nausicaans lumbering over Judy's father watching the two spectres. "They'll have plenty of fighting chances."

The man atop the rock crop smiled delightedly. "I suppose you're right Fang. Stay tight little miss." He turned then and ran throwing himself off the rocks and into the fray. The large cat, a Kzinti, Judy thought amazed, shot off in a different direction. After a second or two, hollers and sounds of engagement came from that direction.

Looking back towards her father, Judy saw the man with the umbrella stab it one of the Nausicaans whilst firing his phaser at the second. He felled the second Nausicaan and went hand to hand with the first, swathing the umbrella around like a sword and pummelling fist blows into the Nausicaan's face.

Enraged the Nausicaan tossed the umbrella aside, grabbed the man by the lapels and threw him backwards. The man slammed into the rockface. "No good you giving me your angry face. Besides, didn't your mother tell you if you pull a face and the wind changes it'll stay that way. I have to tell you. That isn't a good look you've got there."

The Nausicaan growled in response.

"Tough audience. What did you do? Swallow a dictionary. You're a regular walking lexicon mate." He darted forward and head butted the beast. The unexpected blow causing it to stagger backwards, losing balance almost tripping over the form of Judy's father, the uniformed man darted forwards again to throw the beast to the ground. He pulled a dagger from the leg of the Nausicaan and with a swift vicious flick cut his throat. The beast stilled and the man stood triumphant over his trophy.

The night air quieten again and in a moment a bloody and smiling Kzinti returned to the fold as Judy's father stirred and started calling for Judy. She hurried over to his side and helped him to sit up.

"Take it easy. You're safe now. So is ... Judy." The man reassured Judy's father who frowned in confusion at the turn of events and then grew alarmed at the frightful sight of the Kzinti. "Not to worry. The big cat is with me. He's nothing to feared. Give him a ball of wool and you'll keep him entertained for hours."

The Kzinti glowered and rolled his eyes in despair. This elicited a small laugh from Judy. To see the laughter in his daughter's face after the day of hell brought tears to her father.

"Th ... thank you so much."

The uniformed man pretended to not notice the thanks broken by constant sobs as the father kissed his little girl and held her protectively in his arms. "No bother. All part of the job. Though we do accept tips."

"Thank you so much. The rest of the colony!"

The Kzinti looked back up the mountain keenly, apparently ill at ease remaining here and desiring to get back to the fight. "Our people our helping. The others will be ok."

"What Fang said, everyone will be fine. We beamed in at the right time. A minute later and we'd have missed you and the little girl disappearing into the night and being pursued by these animals."

"Who are you? Where did you come from?"

"The name's McGregor, Chief of the Boats, USS Kestrel. This is my pet, Rah Eyrrs. He likes it if you tickle him behind the ears."

The Kzinti frowned. "We must be going. The captain will be wanting to know our sit-rep."

"He can put it in his pipe. Nevertheless, we best be going. Take care. And never fear little girl. The Border Patrol will always be there." He winked and then disappeared into the night behind the Kzinti. Back to the fight.

Young Judy watched as the man disappeared. She watched and marvelled at the fighting spirit. The swagger and the cool but brutal demeanour. And she looked up at her father and remembered his promise that help would come from the skies above. Marvelled at the certainly of that promise and how it was faithfully kept by these ... heroes.

She looked back at the stars trying to decipher which star above was ship in orbit. A starship dedicated to protecting them. A starship staffed by brave persons, awesome and scary persons capable of such bravery and dedication. A starship serving in the Border Patrol. A starship called Kestrel.

* * *

 

 

'Food for Thought' by Miranda Fave

 

‘Food for Thought'


Office of the Chief Medical Officer

Noah Cutler leaned back in his chair. Judy, Dr. Judith Monroe, smiled ruefully from the other end of her table. Her tale had sufficiently engrossed the young ensign and he blew out an amazed air. "I can hardly believe it."

"Are you calling me a liar, Mr Cutler?"

"No, no." He protested before a sly grin spread across the CMO's face. "Only, you met Captain McGregor when you were a child? Forgive me but that was ..."

Monroe gave a look that brokered no figure be attached to the end of that sentence. She opted instead to finish for him. "More than ten years ago." She gave a little smile at her own humour. "Yes, I was a little girl when I met the captain and as you can easily calculate the ages don't match up. That would be part of the ‘Event' tale nobody seems to get around to telling you. Regardless, the captain and the then crew of the Kestrel came to the rescue of my world."

"And that made you want to become a doctor."

"Yes. In part anyway. One of the things that became painfully obvious in the days that followed the attack was how under resourced the colony had been in medical care. Both in provisions and in expertise. The Kestrel remained in orbit for some days, even weeks until a relief vessel came to offer more long-term assistance. But they rolled up their sleeves with the farmers of the planet and helped to drag away the burned ruins of farmhouses and the debris of the town. They set up temporary health centres across the planet to help the many injured. They also helped to lay the foundations for a new and improved general hospital at the capital town. As well as providing weapon upgrades to planetary defences and scanning abilities."

Cutler's brow furrowed at that last detail. "I didn't think it was in the remit of the Border Patrol Service to offer such services."

"It isn't." She spread her hands unequivocally.

"But then."

"But they bent the rules. When stalwarts like Donald Stewart, and yes even my father, raised their voices about how long the response to the attack had been, the captain of the vessel accepted the charge graciously. Only later did we learn of the fact that the Kestrel had exceeded the specs of her engines, defied safety protocols and effectively ruined her engines to make the charge to the planet's defence."

Noah nodded his head to concur with her points. "You see ensign, despite the risk to themselves, despite the fact had they showed up later than they did and had good cause to excuse themselves, the crew of that ship - this ship - could not accept that. They defied the odds, knowing every minute counted. That's something to be admired is it not?"

Embarrassed he gulped nervously at his lack of pride in his posting. In all honesty, he had seen it as a step down from serving with the Fleet proper. "Yes it is."

"Don't get me wrong. The Fleeters similarly charge to the rescue of many worlds. They do many amazing things. But I think it's a sacred vocation for those who serve a Border patrol vessel. It's their mission, their brief, their charge to be the protectors of the Federation's borders, to safeguard the inhabitants of the frontier worlds. Nothing is more precious or central to our beliefs. Even as a child, I admired that. In the days that followed, and evidence by the work and support the crew provided, I was only more convinced."

Judith went to the replicator and produced a glass of water for herself. She took a delicate sip from the cool water before seating herself and continuing.

"Not that everyone was happy about the help offered. Captain Devlin himself was reluctant to effectively arm a planet but a certain CPO made a very forceful argument. The fact McGregor made it in front of colonists amid the ruined council hall made it all the more compelling." She wagged a finger at Noah. "One thing you'll learn about McGregor is that he has impeccable timing."

"Like showing up to rescue you, with an umbrella in hand."

Judith laughed at the memory. "Ah yes. I remember my father bringing me back up to the mountain refuge after McGregor and Rah had disappeared off. By the time we climbed uphill and reached the refuge, the morning light was beginning to flood the plains and the rains had started to pour. Upon the higher levels of the mountain top we were thankfully excused the worst of the heavy downpours. There we found the remnants forming together to gather our meagre possessions and supplies. Crew from the Kestrel assisting and offering first aid.

"I rushed into my Grandmamma's arms upon seeing her safe. Safe but scolding. Oh and berating all. Most especially, a certain rough cheeked CPO. She was haranguing McGregor something awful. He of course was telling the ‘old bat' to ‘cork it'. She wasn't inclined to listen."

Noah remarked that that mustn't have gone over well with the captain.

"It certainly didn't. However, he told me years later that he respected the old biddy's resolve. That was of course before I introduced him to her again. I don't know which one got the bigger shock after all those years to see the other was alive and kicking. I think the captain's words were, ‘Figures the old battle axe wouldn't die. Who'd have her in heaven or hell?' A comment my Grandmamma overheard and chased him out of the house for, despite an age of a hundred twenty odd."

Noah was trying to imagine an OAP giving chase to McGregor.

"I don't know anyone else who discomfited the captain more than my Grandmamma, save for Mary Stewart. It was she who had to separate the two of them that night. Reminding my Grandmamma that it was McGregor who had beamed right into the fray when the two of them were about to be mauled by a Nausicaan when they had been cornered in the attack. Apparently, Mary had put up a defiant stand walloping the attacking Nausicaans with her umbrella before McGregor materialised to save the day. Actually it was her umbrella that McGregor held in his hand that night. Somehow, in the scrabble with their attackers, McGregor had gained possession of it and wielded it as a sword in his attack back, before chasing off in our direction with it still in hand."

Eyes wide, Noah asked astonished. "Is it the same umbrella then?"

"As remarkable as it seems, yes it is. It travelled with McGregor through time and space. Mary Stewart gave McGregor the umbrella to keep by ways of a thank you." Judith recalled the scene vividly for the surreal setting after the horrors of the night.

"A dainty little thing that is. Very handy. Especially on a rainy day."

She declared proudly, "Not just any rainy day Mr McGregor. That umbrella is for a rainy day on Ponthoon. The deluge of our morning rains can be very forceful, as can the evening winds. For that reason, my Donald got me this especially constructed umbrella." At this, she gave her bruised and bloodied husband a kiss. "Always has been romantic like that. That umbrella mind, is strong enough to withstand any gale force wind."

Donald grumbled under his breath being embarrassed so. All the more damming for being done in front of people, especially the Starfleet crew. Mary gave him an admonishing look when he tried to shake off the Vulcan ensign attending his minor injuries.

McGregor gave Mary a wry grin. "And strong enough to crack over a Nausicaan's head too."

Crossing her arms as she swelled wit pride, Mary concluded yes it was. And she then offered McGregor the umbrella.

"I couldn't possibly."

"Mr McGregor you do not decline a gift, particularly one from a woman my age. And who's to say you cannot accept the gift. Starfleet protocols? Something tells me that you don't toe the line too rigidly on that score, hmmm?"

"I suppose it will come in useful." He held the umbrella up for closer inspection. "And it does rather bring out the colour of my eyes, don't you think Rah?"

Rah gave an uncommitted growl before hefting up some boxes to be transported back to town. The Vulcan attending Donald looked over, in what could only be interpreted as, disapprovingly. Her beautifully smooth and stoic features remained calm as she informed McGregor. "CPO McGregor. An umbrella does not comply with uniform regulations."

"Aye but you'll find Ensign T'Vel if it rains I'll be dry and you'll be wet. Now tell me is it logical or not to throw it away?" He turned and kissed Mary on the cheek; but not before she grabbed a feel of his ass cheek.

"You've got a live on there, Donald."

He roused heatedly, "And you'd be best keeping your hands to yourself you little Federation snot. Mary, enough of that now."

"Donald!" She stilled him with one word before graciously nodding her head at McGregor before turning her attention back to Donald. "Now gather our stuff. We've a world to rebuild."

The Vulcan woman approached Judy's saviour and addressed him coolly. "The regulations pertaining to uniform are not subject to the law of logic Mr McGregor but the dictates of Starfleet."

"Aye, that it is ensign." He stowed the umbrella with a makeshift belt that tied it to his back oblivious to the Vulcan's words. Despite technically outranking the CPO, the Vulcan knew when not to push the matter and headed off to lead an expedition back to town. McGregor stepped up closer to the giant Kzinti. "Remind me Rah, to help the kind Vulcan with her possessions when the time comes for her stint with us to be over. Bloody officers! The buttons and collars never seem to get it into their heads that it's us grunts, the chuffs and puffs especially, who do the real work round here." Rah shouldering a heavy load looked down disapprovingly at the empty-handed McGregor but offered no response. "Why anyone would ever become an officer?" He tutted and made his way off grumbling under his breath.

Noah broke the reverie. "Lt. Commander T'Vel was aboard the Kestrel then, too?"

"As an ensign on her very first tour. That's a different story again; but suffice to say I don't think it was the billet she had been expecting or desired. However, she did return to the Kestrel so that must say something about the ship. I hope what I've told you helps you to better understand the value of your posting here. It might not be glamorous but it is important work. Especially, to those of us who grew up on the border."

Thinking on it, Noah did feel better about the posting and in turn about his own call to the job. With that in mind, he thanked the doctor.

"Good, I'm glad it helped. Now let's go over some of those procedures I was showing you earlier." With that, Monroe stood and expecting Noah to follow, returned to the main sickbay to revise all they had learned. But more important still, Monroe felt she had imparted a just as important lesson within Noah. The value and the respect the Border Patrol deserved.

 

* * *

It was a time later, with Noah stooped over a console watching another medical training video when the doctor came over and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. Startled, Noah jumped before quickly trying to appear nonchalant. Judith Monroe giggled at his attempt.

"Sorry. I had gotten a little involved in the file."

Still smiling the doctor reassured, "No problem. That's good in fact. It's what I want. But I dare say you really did get involved. You're shift ended ten minutes ago."

"Oh!" Noah remarked surprised. "I didn't notice the time go by."

"See." Monroe spread her hands almost imploringly as she mocked herself. "They say a stint in the medical bay is no fun but it is engaging and informative."

He shook his head full-heartedly. "It was indeed."

"Yes but remember too you learned some medicine today. Not just a tale about McGregor." Noah blushed at this but truthfully, it was what Monroe expected him to be thinking of. "Go on. There's hardly any harm in it. Off you go. No doubt your friend Jex will be waiting for you in the mess hall."

"Yeah she will."

Pointing a thumb at the door, Monroe ordered, "Scram. Today is Bountiful Bounty Day." Catching Noah's obvious confused state she elaborated, "I've heard that today is the last of the fresh food supplies. What with taking a detour straight away to Aubrellis at the Captain's behest and it not being so much in the way of delicacies and fresh food to replenish our stocks. So, there'll be a rush for the food lines before we're stuck with replicated food and dried packaged rations."

With a grateful nod, Noah gathered his stuff and offering his thanks to Monroe for the training and all else beside fled to the mess. As Monroe had guessed, the mess was indeed quite busy with hungry crew filling the tables and lines up at the canteen. Noah looked around the milling crowd trying to spot Jex. A waving hand jutting up from the other end over the heads of the other diners grabbed his attention.

He made his way over and set down beside her as she lifted a tray holding the seat for him. Opposite Jex and engaged in conversation was Becca Swift. She too greeted Noah warmly as he set down to a full plate.

"On Becca's advice, I loaded up a plate for you. She said you might be late and explained that there'd be a rush on today."

"Yeah, Dr. Monroe said so. She called it Bountiful Bounty Day."

Raising her tumbler in a mock toast with her mouth full, Becca chorused, "Bountiful Bounty Day. Goodbye real food! Hello replicators."

Others at the table joined in with good humour. Grabbing whatever drink Jex had gotten him, Noah chorused in a little late and behind the others. He looked down at the plate and apart from some eggs was content with what Jex had picked out. Though a lot of the foods were among her favourites and not his.

He offered. "Do you want these eggs Jex?" This resulted in a sudden scramble and lunge at his plate by those nearest.

Jex too slowly answered, "Sure."

Taking advantage, Becca spiked one hard-boiled egg with her fork, "I'll have them!"

"Bags them!" Yelled Jock from the other side of Jex and leaning over her grabbed the other egg.

Becca reprimanded the Trill. "Too slow Jex."

"Better luck next time," said Jock in his thick accent as he cracked the egg.

Noah was about to protest when Jex reached over to Jock's plate, skewered a sausage, and quickly chomped into it. "You were saying?"

"Cheeky beggar!" General laughs and smiles accompanied the shenanigans and the meal passed in pleasant company. Noah sat back and indulged in his hearty meal but keeping quiet. Becca meantime explained that they entered a little drought period until the next scheduled stop to restock on provisions. She explained too the custom aboard was to have a rather big splurge of a meal to give the last of the food supplies a proper send off. A tradition instigated by McGregor when he first took command and held to ever since.

"Twenty years now and going strong."

"Aye best skipper there is but a bloody tyrant too mind." Jock added.

Jex observed, "He's served a long time as CO onboard one vessel. That's not normal usually."

At the other end of the table, a grizzled voice shouted, "That's because he's not normal!" A chorus of laughs attested to that sentiment.

"True Nujinx," Becca, setting down her beaker, agreed with the Primate Xindi engineer assistant. "He's had a long history with this vessel."

Without meaning to, Noah said, "He's not the only one."

Jex turned puzzled to look at her companion. Becca nodded knowingly. "Ah yes. You'll have heard Monroe's story of Punthoon Lunar 5. Great story and all true amazingly."

Now Jex turned to Becca bemused at being out of the loop. The grizzled voice at the other end of the table interjected. "What a story and the doc sure does tell it well."

Annoyed but in good humour, Jex asked, "What story?"

Noah rolled his eyes. Becca however jumped in. "Let me tell you."

The rest of the story unfolded with embellishments from the others, in particular the increasingly vocal Xindi Primate. By the ned, Jex was suitably impressed. Her eyes narrowed as she zeroed in on the same assessment that Noah had come to about McGregor and Rah's apparent longevity.

"I mean I'm the Trill. Surely there shouldn't be too many older than me!" She added impishly.

Jock jested, "You're only as young as ye feel. Wanna feel twenty eight?" He thumbed at his chest with a great big leer on his face. Everyone else at the table groaned.

"Well apart from Nujinx who is practically ancient I dare say you are right. Admittedly, Lt. Commander T'Vel actually does have a good few years on her. She served with McGregor at that time too but had no ‘Event' to account for her youthful looks. That's just good old Vulcan genes for you."

In a very girly voice, Jex trilled. "That's just annoying."

"Tell me about it."

"I guess the Vulcan habit of neither smiling nor frowning helps to keep lines from your face." Becca and the rest of the table gave a weird other knowing look. Noah merely buried his head in his plate. All of which prompted Jex to ask, "What? What did I say?"

"Let's just say our atypical Vulcan science officer is not exactly atypical."

Jex was not convinced. Looking back on the shift on the bridge Jex tried to think of any trait, word or sign gave evidence to the Vulcan being anything other than the stereotypical Vulcan. On reflection though, she could find none. The shift had started jarringly as she entered the bridge.

* * *

 

Bridge

"Good morning Miss Jex."

Jex almost stepped back into the turbolift caught unawares by the jovial welcome of the Captain as she entered the bridge. "Oh good morning Captain."

"Don't mind me; I'm stepping out for a bit of fresh air. Lt. Commander T'Vel, you have the bridge." With that, McGregor stepped into the turbolift and waggled his fingers in a childish manner to Jex as the doors slid shut. The abrupt nature of the Captain momentarily startled Jex into forgetting her place before the presence of an alluring but stoic Vulcan brought her to her senses.

"Sorry Lt. Commander T'Vel. Ensign Leoini Jex, reporting for duty."

"There is no need for apology. You may take your position." With the smaller crew and double shifts that operated on the Kestrel Jex found herself staffing not engineering as to be expected instead discovering Jock to be staffing that position. She took her temporary position at OPS. Jock gave her a mischievous wink when he believed T'Vel could not see them.

Choosing to pretend to ignore Jock, Jex seated herself, received her report from the off going crewmember and then ran her own status of the ship's engines and operational systems to confirm the report and have an up to date picture of the ship's status.

Having completed so, she checked in with main engineering where she talked briefly to the Chief. While Gardner reported brusquely to her, no doubt finding her enthusiasm irritating and intruding on his maintenance of the engines, Jex by now knew he really relished the devotion to duty his engineering crew displayed. With all in order, she reported as much to the commanding officer of the bridge - T'Vel.

With her overview complete, Jex could now afford the time to survey the Lt. Commander. At first glance, she seemed a typical Vulcan. Economical with her words, not embellishing orders with extraneous chat or voicing any compliments or comments on the reports delivered. Logically there was no need to thank anyone for doing his or her job. Which Jex could understand, though she herself was prolific with her compliments and thanks.

With the Vulcan ashen complexion and stark eyebrows, she looked every inch a Vulcan save for her long hair. Rather than be worn in the short and often all too unflattering bowl hair cut, T'Vel wore her long locks pulled back in a bun but allowing her Vulcan ears to be hidden behind loose strands of dark hair. Jex could only imagine that the Vulcan woman allowed it to fall loose and so frame her face.

The woman sat almost immobile in the command chair, or what was referred to as the command chair (in actuality the executive officer's chair) since no one was permitted to sit in the Captain's central chair. Straight back and presumably as straight laced, her stoic demeanour brokered little conversation on the bridge. During her first bridge duty, where Stanley was in command, she was pleasantly surprised to find the bridge a hub of quiet conversation. Her surprise had registered on her face and Stanley had informed her that it was perfectly all right since all was quiet and interaction actually helped the crew to keep alert.

No such motivation, however was provided by the austere T'Vel.

* * *


"She seemed very much your typical Vulcan on the bridge."

"Ah yes but she would. She does a good act of acting very Vulcan. In fact at times she is even more Vulcan than most Vulcans. I guess she tries to over compensate." Becca mopped up some gravy with a hunk of bread.

Jex pressed. "In what way is she not like a Vulcan then?"

"What? Didn't Noah tell you about last night's little excursion?"

Jex turned to Noah with a disapproving face. "You holding out on me Cutler?" turning back to Becca she informed her that Noah was being rather tight lipped on the matter of the away mission.

Becca nodded sagely. "Oh I see. Cartwright threatened you to silence and Monroe spun the Ponthoon tale to press home a message."

Noah bowed his head again trying to hide his blushing face giving away his lie. Jex however, decided to prod the issue further in a teasing fashion. But Noah pleaded ignorance on the matter. His continued silence frustrating Jex. She doubted the sincerity of his denial. "You can tell me whatever it is?"

Noah was unmoved and continued walking towards his quarters. "Look sorry Jex it is just something I can't talk about - or at least not at the moment."

"Don't worry about it Jex. When either Monroe or Cartwright swear you to secrecy it is best to keep your lips sealed. Not to mind, we can tell you the story of T'Vel. Not that I'm a gossip! I wan to make that clear. But we can then tell you all about Ronak too."

"Ronak? What's he got to with anything?"

"Ensign you aren't the brightest are you. Punk ass attitude from a Vulcan kid who shouldn't be seen within twenty miles of a starship never mind serve on one, albeit as a glorified bus boy. Yeoman Ronak, he is nineteen years of age. An emotionally imbalanced Vulcan at that."

Jock interrupted to say, "Cretin more like. Little bastard."

"I can't deny that Jock. Unnecessary to say but he is one very unVulcan like Vulcan; except that there is one other unVulcan like Vulcan among our crew. Join the dots. Ronak is T'Vel's son."

"Oh! But what's with her being unVulcan like? She seemed very much a Vulcan on the bridge." Jex winced saying as much. Her shared memories of past lives she knew that for all their stoic demeanours, each and every Vulcan had their own temperament, traits and characteristics, their different ways of showing those closest to them they cared whilst still retaining their calm Vulcan exterior.

However, she got no answers as a voice rang out loud and clear.

"Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me." En masse, the crowd in the mess hall turned to the door to face the captain. Donned in an EVA suit, helmet tucked under his arm, the captain stood on top of the table nearest the mess hall. At the side of the table watching on were Stanley and Sebastian. Sebastian too was dressed in an EVA suit looking rather discomfited by the spectacle. Tossing the helmet to Stanley, McGregor outstretched his arms to entreat the diners to hear him. "Now I have your attention. I hope you've fed well. But not too much so, for a special buffet is arranged for later in the bar. Mind what you do with the crumbs, as Gordon gets tetchy if you ruin his carpets. Tonight for those of you with no duty shift or able to hold your liquor, "he drew out this last word savouring it on his tongue, "I want you to eat, feast and be merry. For tomorrow, I have something very special planned. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Happy Bountiful Bounty Day. First drinks at the bar are on me!"

A loud chorus of noise and cheers filled the room, followed swiftly by the clattering of trays and plates as food was cleared away and people headed towards the aforementioned bar. McGregor stood atop the table still herding the crowd on, barking out coarse jokes and words of mirth to the passer bys. Sebastian remained at the foot of the table, still looking uncomfortable and appeared to be rooted to the spot.

Looking up with his large black eyes, Stanley remarked politely, "You certainly know how to clear a room Captain."

Grinning to himself, McGregor replied, "People merely need the proper motivation, Stanley."

At this point, Becca, Jock, Jex and Noah approached the exit talking amongst themselves. Noah hung back slightly not as enthused as the others. "Cheer up me lady! There's fun to be had in the bar."

Noah looked up frightened at his singling out by the captain "Erm ... yes sir."

"It hardly demands a ‘yes sir' ensign, but best hop to it and put a smile on that face." Jumping down from the table, McGregor made quite an impact with the heavy EVA suit. It caused Noah to jump back in alarm.

Sebastian rolled his eyes. Noticing this, Becca glowered at Sebastian in turn. "Is something the matter Becca?"

"Just the company you're hanging about with Stanley."

"I assure you Becca, the captain has his faults..."

"I meant him!" She pointed fiercely at Sebastian.

Wagging a finger, McGregor intoned, "I told you already to play nice Becca. Go on with you to the bar and get my drinks in." Reluctantly, Becca with some prompting from Jock moved on, darting daggers back in the direction of Sebastian but holding her tongue. Jex took Noah's elbow to move him on in turn.

"Ah Miss Jex. I've a change of duty for you tomorrow. Stanley." He clicked his fingers and held out a hand. Stanley reached into a duffle bag over his shoulder, setting the captain's helmet on the table. Withdrawing a PADD, Stanley handed it back to the captain, who in turn activated it and handed it to Jex. She read its content eagerly and intrigued.

Mouth agape she looked at the captain to seek confirmation. "But I've never ..."

Snatching the PADD off her, McGregor exclaimed, "Isn't that precisely the point why we are here? To learn new things! Well actually it isn't. That very much gets in the way of things. Your little worm guy in your stomach though wants to experience new things. This is such an opportunity. Besides this is a Border Patrol vessel and this job is par the course. I do ask you not to spill the beans on my little plans for tomorrow though. I like to keep the crew on their toes. Isn't that right Mr. Templar?"

McGregor clapped Sebastian hard on the back. He grudgingly replied, "Yes sir."

"My, my. We are all very serious. Didn't you hear the bit about the free drinks at the bar?" He threw his arms up in despair. "Ah, Nujinx, you'll be more eager for the bar. These kids don't know how to have fun. Life is wasted on the youth! A wise man once said that - it was me."

The two headed off merrily. Jex fell in step with Sebastian curious about the EVA suit. "What's with the suit?"

Looking darkly ahead at the captain, his arm around Nujinx as they headed to the bar, Sebastain coyly and dryly answered,. "The Captain wanted to get some fresh air."

Stanley marched along with Noah, his bare webbed feet slapping on the polished deck floor. "You look nervous ensign."

Noah gulped. "I guess I am. What was in the PADD?"

"Nothing to fret over. I'm sure Miss Jex will find it a most illuminating experience." He placed a hand on Noah's shoulder mimicking the captain. "There's many other things to be ... worried ... abo ..."

Stanley stalled then. Noah stopped to look at the strange blue skinned alien as he stood rooted to the spot. Looking into his eyes Noah saw the black void of Stanley's eyes cloud over in a foggy white as Stanley slumped to the ground.

"Are you alright? Lt. Commander? Mr Subrelqui? Stanley!"

Noah's raised and concerned voice alerted the remaining four in the corridor. They turned back and McGregor rushed forwards to be at Stanley's side.

"Stan? It's ok. It'll be fine." He cradled the blue skinned alien as if he were a baby in his arms, careful and protective. Stanley started to babble and murmur as if in a delirium. McGregor tired to comfort the sickly looking helmsman. "Sshh there now. It'll be fine."

Stanley's eyes reverted back to their obsidian blackness. With them he looked up into McGregor's eyes. Noah stood over them and saw the look he gave. A deep penetrating look. A look that reached beyond. Stanley's voice grew heavy and dark. It carried an ethereal feel to it. A solemnity. A weight. An authority of apocryphal prophecy. "Flames! I see flames. I see death. I see dogs - a pack - hunting down a winged bird - us - surrounded. Death. They come for us! Blood will be let and the price will be high."

"Ssh my friend, ssh now. Rest."

Tired and devoid of energy, Stanley's body slumped into McGregor's arms. "I think I will. I think I'll sleep now captain."

"Good boy. Take it easy. Take it easy." Stanley closed his eyes as McGregor soothed him to sleep. "What are you waiting for Cutler? Get Monroe. Now."


* * *

 

'Portents Perceived' by Miranda Fave

‘Portents Perceived'

Medical Bay

Stanley lay propped up a several large plump pillows, ordered by the captain as soon as Stanley had started to come to after succumbing to fatigue in the corridor outside the mess hall. The captain also tenderly placed one of Stanley's scarves around him as he carefully fussed over the strange being.

Looking on in bewilderment, Jex, Noah and Sebastian shifted uncomfortably as Monroe shooed them back from the bio bed to check some more scans. When McGregor turned angrily at the interruption, Monroe scowled in return brokering no response from the captain. The entire scene confusing the heck out of the ensigns, none of whom expected to see McGregor act so caring and compassionately to one of his crew.

"I am feeling much better now captain." Stanley tried to reassure McGregor, but his double layered eyelids blinked and drooped with weariness, belying the lie.

"Just lie back and take it easy Stan. Monroe will sort you out. There's a good lad."

Stanley complied to close his eyes only to open them again alerted by the medical infirmary doors opening to admit a hurried Cartwright, an almost worried Dexter and the grim but stoic personage of Rah. Their entrance causing the trio of ensigns to step further back.

Cartwright was quick of the mark as she approached the bio bed and squeezed Stanley thin, bony webbed hands. "Is he alright? Did he have a vision?"

Caleb Dexter the chief of security stepped up close to the bio bed looking nervous and worried. His arms trying to find a place to be, he tried to cross them but leaned instead on the bio bed looking at McGregor and not the frail form of Stanley.

Monroe in soothing tones reassured them that Stanley was alright. She also asked them all to back off and give him space. "Be that as it may doc, we need to know if Mnu has a portent of some danger that might be imminent."

"Don't lecture me Caleb. I'm the doctor. And if you're so worried about imminent danger then you ought not to have abandoned the bridge so readily."

"T'Vel remained on the bridge and the Chief was headed there too." McGregor looked up happily at that piece of news. "So what did he say?"

"Nothing yet. We've been more concerned about checking him out to interrogate Stanley." Monroe pursed her lips and bowed her head defiantly. Her demeanour telling Caleb not to push the matter. "Apart from what he initially said, he's said little else. Question Cutler as to what he said and give us a moment before you drill Stanley."

McGregor stayed by Stanley's side with Rah stepping closer too, but folding his arm and remaining aloof. His amber eyes meeting McGregor's and wordless they shared some unknown meaning with the look, before returning their attention to Stanley. Molly stepped back and approached Cutler and the others with Caleb. With his hands on his hips he made an intimidating figure in front of Noah.

"What did he say kid?"

Noah shrugged. "It was all a babble. None of it made much sense."

"What did he say? Not your opinion on its worth." Caleb glowered. Molly stepped closer, placing a calming hand on the security officer.

In more soothing tones she asked, "Of what you could make out, what did he say. It might seem fragmented and confusing but Stanley's," she paused to search for the best word, "... visions ... can be very useful and insightful. They have often warned us of trouble. So whatever you can tell will prove helpful in some manner."

Sebastian blurted out, "You mean to say he's had these before?"

"Yes but now is not the time to consider the history of it. Ensign Cutler, what did Stanley say?"

"Well ok then." Noah fumbled trying to recollect as accurately as he could. "He talked of flames. And ... death. He said something about the ship being hunted by a pack of wolves. It didn't make much sense."

"It doesn't always." Molly mused, stroking her chin thoughtfully as she explained. "Sometimes the phrases he speaks are more interpretations of what Stanley has seen. But the nature of the visions means he can not always recollect the specific details or express what he is actually seeing. He doesn't mean actual wolves but an enemy."

"A pack hunting us implies more than one enemy." Caleb concluded.

"T'Hos no doubt, garnering allies in his bid to exact his revenge." McGregor spoke darkly as he reluctantly left Stanley's bedside. Rah remaining, standing over in a silent vigil. "The slimy bastard when I get him."

Molly countered, "Don't be presumptuous Captain. It may not be T'Hos."

"Of course it is Molly. He's so twisted and maddened he's going to try and take us head on. But he's not dumb enough to try such a move alone. He's going to try and get some of his Fien comrades to support him in his plan. Still stupid but not entirely suicidal."

"We had best make preparations for such an assault then Captain." All turned to meet the cool voice of T'Vel stood at the doorway. Her hands clasped behind her back, her demeanour calm and imposing. Her rock solid stance and presence emanated through the room. "An attack on several fronts precipitates our taking precautions and being prepared."

"I won't argue with that T'Vel. Trust me when I say we will be prepared. Starting with tomorrow, isn't that right Miss Jex?" The captain turned and levelled his gaze on the Trill.

"Yes sir." She agreed, tearing her eyes away from T'Vel's haughty presence. In a room filled with the formidable figures and personalities of McGregor, Dexter, Cartwright and Rah, it seemed improbable that any one could enter the room and dominate it so forcibly. But the Trill had to admit that T'Vel, at this moment in time, did just that. Her serenity and agelessness, coupled with her alluring beauty and stance, demanded attention. Jex admitted to herself the Vulcan's mere presence enthralled her. Something suggesting indeed that this was no mere Vulcan.

Building up his bravado again, McGregor declared confidently, "We know when T'Hos will attack and now we know he'll do so in numbers."

Molly rounded on the Captain. "You needn't be so flippant about the matter McGregor. You only can presume that you know what T'Hos is thinking and planning."

With some considerable swagger, McGregor riposted forcibly. "I do declare that I do know. I know how he thinks. Now might I suggest we discuss our preparations and drills before the time?"

Caleb was a little derogatory as he remarked, "Yes you know when he'll attack and you claim to know who his inside man is?"

"I think this conversation is best held among senior officers only." T'Vel announced turning her intense look upon the three ensigns. The three of them had remained tight-lipped, engrossed in the spectacle around them.

"You have a point there Lt. Commander. Excuse us, won't you ensigns?" Molly approached them.

McGregor shouted at their retreating forms. "Don't forget the party in the lounge!"

As he passed T'Vel, Noah also couldn't help but be entranced by her presence. All the more marked by the difference in when he had seen her last, drunk and incapacitated on Aubrellis. "Ensign?"

He gulped. "It's nothing. Sorry to stare." He said, continuing to stare as he walked out the door.

The three ensigns looked on as the doors closed on the tableau of the senior officers waiting to pick up their discussion and all of them watching the ensigns carefully. When the doors closed the three of them felt like exhaling deeply a sigh of relief. Trying to lighten the mood but also stating a bald fact, Jex remarked, "That was fairly intense and bizarre."

Noah could only agree, almost breathlessly. "Yeah."

"It doesn't sound right that's for sure." Sebastian concluded aloud.

* * *

 

As the doors had closed, T'Vel turned with her eyes penetrating and deep. "Whom was Mnu touching when he had the vision?"

Caleb nodded his head as if to point in Noah's direction. "The kid."

T'Vel raised an eyebrow in contemplative thought as she looked back in the direction of the door, as if she could see through it. "Should he be warned?"

Monroe rushed to defensively declare, "Not everything Stanley sees comes to pass. We've managed to avert them before. It means nothing. Cutler will be fine. So long as we are prepared and ready."

Molly wore a more worried face. "Stanley's warning put us all in danger. The ensign alone is not in danger. We all face death and flames." She looked accusingly at McGregor. "All of us together face T'Hos's wrath."

Balling her fists, Monroe stated quietly but with steel in her voice, "All the more reason to be ready then."

"Yeah," Caleb agreed. But he turned to sneer, "but there's still always a price of blood to be paid with Stanley's visions."

* * *

 

"Well are we going to this party or not guys?"

"I appreciate you trying to make light of the situation Jex but I'm a little freaked out by what happened. I'd sooner just call it a day." Noah shirked off her jovial efforts and started back towards his cabin.

Calling after him, she pleaded, "Noah. Come on."

"No seriously Leoni. Bye." With that, he gave a half-hearted wave. With the use of her first name, she knew she had lost any chance of convincing him.

"Leave him be."

Jex turned on Sebastian. "Why should I?"

"Because he needs to learn sooner rather than later to grow a pair and to not run around half-scared most of the time and the rest of the time scared."

"Is that your experienced opinion?"

"For what it is worth, yeah. And if you've all those life times of experience to draw upon then you know better too." He turned in the bulky suit to make for the airlock to rid himself of the attire.

Jex followed. "Why do you say that?"

Sebastian grimaced at being pursued. "Your other hosts are sure to tell you that a newly polished ensign who walks around as nervous and as unsure as him ends up getting himself or others killed."

Jex swatted him hard on the shoulder as he walked away. Her hand hitting the tough EVA suit hard. Immediately, she winced in pain, throwing her hand under her armpit to quash the pain. "Why do you say that?"

He stopped and questioned her harshly. "Don't you know? He's a walking time bomb. He hesitates and he quivers at every new turn of events. We're serving on a Border Patrol vessel not a luxury liner. Maybe he should have signed up to be steward or something."

"That's harsh!"

"It's the truth; unless he toughens up he's going to be washed out in less than a year." He added darkly, "If he survives that long." Sebastian started walking again in cumbersome steps. Jex looked at him appalled.

"You're letting Mnu - Stanley's- vision, scare you now."

"It's not hocus pocus. It's hard facts learned by history. You know it too. You said your past hosts served in Starfleet. Don't they recognise the type? Wet behind the ears ensign who blunders into an accident and gets himself killed."

Jex shook her head angrily. Mostly because she knew his words had a certain truth. "No, no. He's just learning. He never expected to be on border patrol. He just has to get his head around it. What makes you such an expert anyway? You washed out before trying your hand at border patrol duties."

"That's pretty much it."

"Enough of the swagger. Just answer me plain. You protest that Noah is going to get himself killed or others as if you're some kind of authority on good command practice. The model officer. The silver spooned Admiral's boy. So please enlighten me."

He angrily retorted, spittle flying and face red, "Because I killed the likes of him!"

The violence of his words rocked Jex. She staggered backwards even as Sebastian ran a hand through his hair embarrassed and angry at admitting the truth of his past.

"You ...?"

"Cut it out. Becca Swift has badmouthed me to enough people for you to know the ins and out. I'm not going to stand here and try to defend myself."

Something about his frank honesty made the bravado fall away and Jex saw that Sebastian in reality was alone and hurting. She offered softly, "Look if you want to talk about it."

This only served to raise his anger. "No I don't!"

"Fine!" Jex shouted back before calming herself, taking a deep breath in a deliberate attempt to do so. "However, your side deserves to be heard too. I mean for all your talk about Noah, you too are cutting yourself off from the crew. You are hiding yourself away in some sort of self-imposed exile." She added in realisation after his outburst. "I dare say punishing yourself."

In a snarky tone he replied, "Enough of the analysis. Didn't you hear the captain? The captain sold the last ship's counsellor."

"A minute ago you were the one giving me advice about Noah. Dole it out but won't accept it. Huh. Fine. All I will say is that you haven't made much of an effort to get to know other onboard apart from the security team. Maybe you need to realise that you need some friends to fight your corner too." She smirked and then trotted away in the opposite direction.

"Wait." He called after her. Jex stopped surprised and turned to face him again. "Maybe I was wrong. Don't leave the ensign to his own devices. He needs to be cheered up and have company."

"Thanks. That's what I was going to do."

He gave what might have been a shrug but the EVA suit absorbed and masked much of the subtle movement. "Figured as much."

She playfully rejoined with a genuine smile on her face, "Who is doing an analysis now?"

He smirked back before catching himself. To account for himself he added, "Still he needs to toughen up." Then he started once more on his way to the airlock. Jex watched him go for a moment before heading off herself to catch up with Noah.

* * *

Jex caught up with him near to his room. Noah was stood in front of a window port looking out at the passing stars. Lost in thought she broke his reverie. "Sorry. I know you wanted to be left alone but I couldn't just leave you."

"For crying out loud Jex. Can't you let a matter rest?" Jex's face showed how stricken she was by his anger. Immediately his anger dissipated upon seeing her hurt expression. "Sorry Jex. You're right. I'm just a ... dolt."

"A moron, a fool, a prig, a ..."

"I get the idea. Sorry truly." Then by way of apologising, he beckoned to his door ahead. "Are you coming in? We can watch some of those old movies you like so much. I'll even replicate you some popcorn with ... toffee right?"

"I thought you hated the smell of popcorn?"

"Yeah I do but ... a small sacrifice for your company." She elbowed him in the ribs.

"Watch it! And you had better believe it. But I get to choose the movie."

The doors to the quarters opened. Lying up on the sofa lay Noah's elusive room-mate.

"I don't believe it!"

A lip curled in disgust the roommate snarled, "You don't believe it! I bloody well can't bear the thought of it."

His room-mate was none other than Ronak!

* * *

'A Vulcan Morning to You' by Miranda Fave

 

‘A Vulcan Morning to You'

 

Officers' Quarters, Deck 6

Noah awakened rudely to rock music played at full blast in the anteroom to the quarters he shared with Ronak. He groaned as he buried his head under the covers to stifle the noise. He should have expected something like this! In truth, he had expected trouble last night upon finally discovering who his roommate was. However, things had passed relatively quiet last night.

Yes, there had been jibes from Ronak as Noah and Jex had made a hasty retreat from the quarters soon after discovering Ronak ensconced on the sofa. It hardly seemed likely that the troublemaker was going to give them the room so retreat had been the better option.

Although Jex had argued that allowing Ronak to take over the room was only giving him validation to continue behaving as such, her heart was not in her argument. No doubt, she'd have argued and stood up to Ronak herself, but Noah felt she understood that he himself would sooner avoid any confrontations. Therefore, they escaped to the movie-theatre to give Jex her fix of popcorn.

Capitalising on his reluctance to return to quarters and face Ronak too soon, Jex had easily convinced him to join her at the bar for the remainder of the Bountiful Bounty Day party. She prodded Noah with words of advice about how he had to make a greater effort to make friends with others. Duly noting her words, he had made an effort and he was grateful to Jex for the prompt. All in all, they had a great time altogether and Noah had come more acquainted with some others among the crew.

With the result, he ended back in his own quarters late and by that time Ronak was fast asleep. He was now evidently wide-awake. Reluctantly, Noah dragged himself out of bed and decided to grab a bowl of cereal from the replicator and retreat to his room afterwards. If he were quick enough he'd have to have very little contact with Ronak.

So he darted out into the shared living space in his vest and shorts and bed hair. Ronak was of course waiting for his emergence. "Good to see you up and about roomie!" His good humour patently false and smile mocking.

Subdued and hardly meeting his eye, Noah replied lowly. "Morning."

"Pardon? I can't hear you over the music!" Ronak raised his voice, smirking.

"Look I said morning." He then stepped in front of the replicator and ordered his cereal. His grabbed the bowl and jug of milk quickly, almost slopping the milk over the floor as he turned quickly to go back to his own room. Sadly, Ronak had raced to that end of the room and barred his way.

He stopped the music. "Pardon? "

"You heard."

"It's rude to not say hello, roomie. How do you expect us to get along with that kind of attitude?" He grasped Noah's face as if he were a child and scolded, "You're not a morning person are we, roomie woomie."

Noah staggered backwards at the attitude and being accosted so. He was especially surprised at the Vulcan making physical contact with him. And for a brief moment during the contact, Noah had felt an overwhelming sense of anger and bitterness. It gave bite to his next words. "I thought Vulcan's had a superior sense of hearing! You ought to have heard me despite the noise you insisted on making."

"You really aren't a morning person. And yeah, I heard you. Vulcans do have a superior sense of hearing. We are superior after all to humans." He wrinkled his nose then in disgust. "We also have a superior sense of smell too. You think you'd have showered already!"

"I'll shower after my breakfast. Now if you'll excuse me."

Ronak mimicked Noah with a high-pitched girly voice. "Now if you'll excuse me." He dropped his arm and allowed Noah to pass. As he did pass though, Ronak commented in a leering voice, "Nice bum roomie. Bet all the girls like you."

Noah flushed with embarrassment and anger. But bottled his sudden anger and stormed into his room, sealing the door after himself. On the other side, he could hear Ronak chortle.

Fifteen minutes later, showered and dressed for duty, Noah disposed of the bowl and jug with some milk still left in it into the reclamation unit. The items disappeared in a reversal of the replicator process. Ronak then came out of his own room at this stage and directed over a friendly smile that did not meet his eyes. "Ready for work?"

Noah's lip pursed carefully. He considered the dark emotional state that had washed over him and had abated. Though irked again at seeing the Vulcan he wondered about what effect the physical touch had had on himself, colouring his mood so darkly.

In response, Noah was determined one not to be in reach of the Vulcan and not to rise to his bait. So he announced in order to placate the Vulcan, "Yes. I'll be out of your hair shortly."

"Aw, I thought we might get to know each other better before you had to report for duty. Especially as you don't have to report for another two hours yet. Anyone would think you didn't want to hang around."

"Wonder why that would be?" Grabbing a PADD up, Noah though insisted, "I thought that I'd read a bit before duty. Somewhere where I am likely to get some peace."

"Whatever." Ronak shrugged as he leaned against the doorframe of his room. "I could have walked you to your shift otherwise."

"Huh! Somehow I doubt you know one end of the ship from the other." The door chimed then just as Noah was about to reach it.

"Oh is it you wittle fwend! She's hot. Where do her spots go to?"

Noah's features screwed up angrily as he answered the door and not Ronak. It opened to reveal Lt. Commander T'Vel. Quickly the angry face dropped from his countenance and a look of shock replaced. Noah stepped backwards, unwittingly inviting the impressive stoic bearing of the Vulcan into the quarters.

"Thank you Ensign Cutler." With her hands clasped tightly behind her back, she looked over to Ronak who now stood defensively and angrily with his fists balled up. The door shut behind her. In a cool voice, she offered what seemed most solicitous, "It is good to see you well, Ronak."

"Good to see me well? Hah! Somehow, I doubt it mother dearest." Standing on, transfixed and unsure as to what to do, Noah wanted nothing more than to slink away, but Ronak condescendingly drew attention to Noah. "Aren't you going to say hi to Mom roomie?"

This drew a cold penetrating look from T'Vel who scrutinised the ensign levelly. Noah felt like shrinking into a ball. He gulped worried as to what her reaction might be. Obviously, she put on a front of a Vulcan exterior but he had seen otherwise. The science officer seemed to recognise the ensign and his look betrayed his thoughts.

"I assume you have questions you would like to ask ensign."

Ronak clapped his hands, applauding mockingly. "My, my, my mother. Well played. But no point trying to deny anything, the little lamb here saw you in your full glory on the planet below. How do you expect him to reconcile the two conflicting images? Hmm? A drunken and disgraceful party girl, with the prim and proper science officer, and a Vulcan to boot. Go on, explain that!" He folded his arms in triumph, believing himself to have made a point.

T'Vel merely turned her look from Ronak to Noah now backed up against the bulkhead. Stammering he admitted his own confusion by saying, "I had assumed you were ... I mean you are ... I mean ... Are you v'tosh ka'tur? You know, a Vulcan without logic?"

Tilting her head to an even haughtier height, T'Vel, her stature towering over the ensign, looked down the length of her nose at Cutler. He shifted uncomfortably believing he had hit upon a sore point inadvertently. Ronak laughed at his statement. The malice of the laugh, confirming Noah's fears that his question was offensive and brazen, and made Noah want to squirm and run out of sight.

T'Vel arched an eyebrow testily. Her stoic demeanour wavering ever so slightly as she clenched her hands tightly behind her back and pinched her hips, drawing her thin lips into a thinner line. Even still, her face remained beautiful and smooth, almost ageless. With a modicum of composure regained, she opened her mouth to speak but found she needed to lick her lips.

Ronak took the opportunity to gloat. "Well played Cutler. Cut to the bone why don't you? Hee hee."

Pointedly ignoring the braying from Ronak, T'Vel answered coolly. "You are incorrect. I am not v'tosh ka'tur ."

"No? I mean sorry. I didn't mean to pry."

Ronak scolded, wagging a finger. "Now mother, don't lie - you are indeed a Vulcan of emotions - many, many emotions. Of course, you must be v'tosh ka'tur. How else can you explain your behaviour?"

T'Vel smarted from the taunt.  Her face coloured slightly. Her eyes narrowed in Roank's direction. "You are aware of the reasons Ronak." A heavy emphasis on his name carried an accusatory air to it. Fault, at least in part, lay with him Noah concluded. T'Vel turned to Noah, again trying for a calmer voice. "To be v'tosh ka'tur is a choice. However, abhorrent and unVulcan a choice it is. I have made no such choice." Her face contorted almost into an ugly sneer as she pronounced the words.

Ronak railed as he crossed the room. "But you do show emotions! You try to hide it but you show them all the time. Slips here and there and then succumbing to the depravity of your emotions you slink off to find the slums and wickedness of places like Aubrellis and seek comfort with the denizens of those vile hovels. Or do you deny it?" He spat his words angrily at T'Vel.

Coldly she retorted, the force of her words like a slap all the same for the tone they held. "I do not choose to show my emotions. I do not choose to allow my emotions to rule me." In part, she accused and derided Ronak for the obvious manner in which he displayed his emotions. She also seemed to berate herself for what she admitted next. "I fight constantly to control them. I struggle to rein them in. But that struggle fails all too often. That choice was taken from me. All because of ..."

She stopped short and turned to Noah. "It would be for the best ensign if you went about your day. This is a ... private matter."

Sarcastically directing his wrath at his mother, Ronak declared, "Yeah. A real family affair."

Noah flushed and eagerly grabbed his equipment and rushed to leave. T'Vel called after him, "Do not forget your side arm." He stopped at the open door; cursing himself he quickly fled into his room to retrieve his phaser. Strapping it to his belt, he again ran out of the room, never more thankful to escape a room.

* * *

 

'The Rear Admiral' by Miranda Fave

 

‘The Rear Admiral'

 

Captain's quarters, USS Kestrel

The shrill chirping of the comm. made McGregor rollover irritably. A low moan escaped his dry lips as a dull headache lulled at the periphery threatening to ruin his day. Kicking the last vestiges of the bed sheets off of his nude form he stretched and yawned before scratching the hair running to his belly button. His arm snaked out to the empty space in the bunk beside him. ‘Ah Harris. Where have you disappeared to so early this morn?'

The continuing shrill enunciator disallowed him from contemplating his alternative thoughts. He slapped the wall mounted comm. panel crossly. "What is it? I haven't had breakfast yet you know."

The voice of Caleb Dexter rang out over the intercom. "Sorry to disturb you Captain. But we do have Faraday on the blower for you."

McGregor groused, "What does that prick want?"

"He wouldn't divulge any details. But he is pretty pissed. No real change there I suppose. Not when it comes to dealing with yourself."

Hocking up some phlegm, McGregor continued. "Must be my sparkling repartee."

Dexter merely paused for a beat before he answered. "I guess that would be why he's looking to talk to you captain. I'm only the hired help."

"Not much use if you don't screen my calls." He barked back over the open channel. "Fine put his highness on. And Caleb I have a few plans for today. So you know, be ready."

From the bridge, an almost inaudible groan escaped from the reserved tactical officer. His tone was none too pleased as he anticipated whatever McGregor had lined up. "I'll be sure to have my security teams on standby."

A moment later the small viewscreen in McGregor's quarters sprung into life. First with an image announcing an incoming message from Starfleet Command via Starbase Trafalgar on a secure channel before the visage changed to that of the stern and foreboding presence of Rear-Admiral Faraday. His cross forbearance tested at the prospect of calling McGregor is darkened considerably more when he took in the vision of a dishevelled McGregor sitting on his bed in what nature alone provided him. He didn't resort to shouting but instead remarked in a cool voice with a hint of disgust, "McGregor. Put some pants on."

Looking around at the floor around him, McGregor paid little heed to the Rear-Admiral. "Hey, it's my room."

Attempting to impart some seriousness to proceedings with the normally unprofessional McGregor, Faraday pressed home the nature of his business. "This is a secure Starfleet channel."

Smiling in return, McGregor shrugged self-confidently, unperturbed at his state of undress. "Well then, no one dubious should get their hands on any revealing images of me."

"Yes but I can see all too clearly."

"Why thank you," the captain returned in a coy voice feigning a blushing vanity. "But really I'm not that kind of guy. Besides, you outrank me - in some ways that is. I think you know what I mean. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge." He gestured with a nod to his ‘meat and two veg' with a lopsided ‘cocky' grin.

"McGregor," Faraday leaned forwards, the light in his room casting deep hooded shadows over his eyes, "whilst I've for a long time desired to have your ass - it has only ever been to see it skewered atop a very sharp and long pole and have you hung out to dry."

"Ah! So that's not why you are called a rear-admiral. I learn something new everyday. Never did understand that rank. It sounds like some made up position so some washed up hack can put it on gold letters on a little sign to make him feel important behind his polished desk." McGregor beamed delightedly as he zoned in on the title plague to the front of the image seated on Faraday's desk. "Not that I'd imply such in your case Rear-Admiral Faraday."

Faraday refused to take the bait, but the colour in his cheeks was visible despite his dark complexion. "Of course McGregor. Just as I wouldn't remark on how certain hacks find themselves posted to obsolete vessels well away from Admiralty because they are a huge liability." He flashed a feral and toothy grin at McGregor before the smile slipped off his face to be replaced with a pout. "Now put on your damned uniform!"

"As you command." McGregor bowed in mock curtsy. McGregor then stood and turned his back to the viewscreen, exposing his rear and as he picked his way across his bedroom floor, he deliberately picked up errant bras and knickers to purposely further enrage the Rear-Admiral. Scooping over he picked up his uniform trousers but didn't proceed to dress in them until he scratched his ass. The Rear-Admiral just growled lowly.

As he finished putting on his tunic and hopped one-legged into his trousers, McGregor beamed a winning smile back at Faraday. "Doesn't it make you feel better to know Faraday, that I put on my trousers the same way as you a mere mortal?"

"It merely surprises me that you don't fall flat on your drunken face."

Wagging a finger, McGregor corrected, "Aha. Hungover. Not drunken. Now what can I do for you?"

"Well perhaps you can explain the numerous reports and complaints my office has received from Aubrellis. It seems that the planet saw wanton destruction of numerous properties and space vessels. All of which my sources have confirmed belonged to one T'Hos Likk. All of which, I might add, happened when a Federation Border Patrol vessel was in orbit above and several away teams including yourself McGregor, were on the planet surface. Care to explain? I assume you are not conducting some sort of vendetta. The Kestrel is not yours to conduct a private mini-war with T'Hos Likk."

"But my dear Faraday that is exactly what the Kestrel is for. My whim and fancy."

"Perhaps others are content to have you run amok in some pretence at policing your sector of space. But I know for certain McGregor that you are a dangerous man who is going to get the people in his command killed. Now, explain to me exactly what happened on Aubrellis."

"Well  I cannot say for certain Admiral, but it seems that one of T'Hos' competitors has taken umbrage to his latest activities and exacted some retribution in an effort to bring his business to an end. Alas, my crew and I were too late to prevent the destruction and are at this very moment investigating other leads into who perpetrated these heinous acts of destruction."

"Cut the crap McGregor. Your dirty little paws are all over this. I need only to prove it and have you cashiered out of the service."

In an innocent voice, McGregor extolled his virtue. "Well normally, I could only condone your fine sentiments. But it seems you are mistaken. My investigation teams have discovered the numerous explosions were the result of some outdated Andorian explosives used by many a profiteer to carry out such raids. Indeed only three months ago, the Kestrel intercepted a Ferengi Damon who had quite a surplus of such devices. Thankfully we confiscated the lot and following due procedures had them destroyed. Remind me to forward the paper work to your office." McGregor smiled again. A very smug and self-confident grin.

"Humph! Nicely played McGregor. But don't be too cocky. If you decide to take on T'Hos for his attack on your vessel, be prepared for the payback. Don't let your damned pride and ignorance end up killing your crew. But do feel free to go right ahead and get yourself killed by all means. Faraday out."

"Chio." He wiggled his fingers playfully at the Admiral as he cut the channel. "Well I must say, that has cheered me up no end. Quite the way to start the day. Time for some brekkie. I've a long day planned for us. Hee hee."

* * *

 

'The Seed of Discord' by Miranda Fave
Author's Notes:

With thanks to kes7 for reassurances and reading this over and a previous kick up the arse.

* * *

‘The Seed of Discord'

 

Officers' Quarters, Deck 6

Ronak chuckled as the doors closed after the fleeing Noah Cutler. He crossed his arms, smug and triumphant. T'Vel ensured the doors were closed before looking back at Ronak. At her son. Dipping her head slightly, she lost some of her haughty and aloof presence as she stepped closer to him and into the room. However, at a glance it was clear she would not deign to sit on the simple furniture.

T'Vel remained standing rigid commanding the centre of the room while Ronak propped himself up against the far bulkhead, she bearing a stoic expression, he assuming a nonchalant preening grin. The dichotomy of the situation was not lost on either of them.

A long moment passed with neither one saying a word. Their eyes met as each scrutinised the intent of the other in a silent stand off. T'Vel relented, however, with a small sigh. Ronak arched a mocking eyebrow in amusement at her obvious exasperation. "Quite the faux pas, letting your resolve slip so. You became quite emotional in front of my new little friend. And sighing so now. Tut, tut, have you no control?"

"I tire of this Ronak."

"Tire? Surely your discipline of mind and body means you shouldn't show fatigue, especially so early in the morning. Didn't get much rest last night? Or are you still over exerted from your little stay on Aubrellis?"

"You were also on Aubrellis. Yet you did not seek me out." Her look bore down on him but Ronak was unmoved. Instead, he swaggered over to the sofa, passing within an inch of her face before he sat down. T'Vel had to restrain herself from his brushing her arm as he passed. The sudden overwhelming of her emotions this induced an involuntary gasp and a step backwards.

"As much as I enjoy the more open, more experimental and fun you, I do find ‘Cassie' a little over bearing. A guy doesn't like to be out-partied by his mom, after all. Besides, I don't like to advertise my Mom the schizoid."

"That is not an accurate..."

"NO?" He stood suddenly, making T'Vel back pedal quickly. His emotional state would only impair her own too greatly. His hot and angry emotions washed off him, emanating strongly even for a touch telepath such as T'Vel. "Tell me then what would be an accurate, or more acceptable to you, term. I mean here and now you're the very standard of a Starfleet officer. Only you're not! You're not good enough to step aboard a proper Starfleet ship. No scientific explorations for you. No, no, they leave you to fester and rot with this lot. Criminals, lackeys, misfits and malcontents. Oh ... not to mention mentally deranged Vulcans with bastard children."

He started to pace the small confines of the room, stalking it fiercely. "Tell me mother why do you remain here? Why not live out your life with the abandon of your emotions and be Cassie? Why cling to this false facade?"

T'Vel narrowed her eyes and considered him closely. "Do you wish that it were so?"

"No! I only ask, why do you live this lie?"

"My life is not a lie."

Ronak snarled angrily, pitching a mug against the bulkhead, narrowly missing T'Vel. The shattering porcelain sliced her cheek as cold tea splattered the wall. T'Vel did not flinch.

"Every Vulcan lives a life that is a lie," Ronak hissed angrily, "pretending to have no emotions when emotions broil within our souls, hatreds and passions and angers so deep they would scare most Federation species witless. Fires that burn so darkly as to almost scour your very soul. You know it to be true. But you all swan around pretending. With your lofty, haughty moral standards; delivering derision and scorn upon all others for their weaknesses and petty emotional outbursts. Believing yourselves to be so far removed and above it all. Superior and elite, looking down upon the lesser species scrabbling and fighting. Yet secretly you yearn to revel in your emotions. Wish fervently to rage against the world. Curse it and smite the eyes of those who offend. But you cannot accept that. Could not possibly debase yourselves to embrace emotions."

Coolly she retorted, "You forget that you too are a Vulcan."

"I don't live the lie."

"You presume that since you are unable to control your emotions, discipline your mind, that all Vulcans are alike. It is not so. You are mistaken. Vulcans do not pretend to have no emotions. We learn to control our emotions."

"We? Ha! There is no ‘we'. Do not include yourself among their number mother, for you are no Vulcan. You cannot control your emotions unless you count the medical injections you take from Dr. Monroe."

"Your argument is inconsistent. With supposition you claim me to share the lie all Vulcans live, in the next you argue that I am not a Vulcan based on the medicines I use to aid my discipline."

"If you were a proper Vulcan you would have no need for drugs! You are the biggest liar of the lot. You are a failure, Mother. A washed up hack of a Vulcan. A piss poor imitation. And a lousy mother to boot."

"Of that last charge, that much is certainly true." She took a careful step forward. T'Vel wanted to open up to Ronak, and had always wanted to do so, but her mind and heart tended to rebel against her minimal maternal instinct. "I have however, always tried to be a mother to you."

"No you haven't. Guilt makes you keep me around and shame makes you want to drive me away." He stabbed one last damming, vindictive charge against her. "Emotional responses all."

"My difficulties as a mother are not borne of emotion."

"On that we can agree on one salient point. You certainly never bore me any love."

Taking a step forward in protest, T'Vel attempted to argue. "That is not true."

"Aha ... aha ... remember Vulcans never lie. Of course, we have already established that is not true. We know that is not true, don't we?" He circled her like an accused standing trial. "Or do you pretend that Admiralty are aware of your full condition and that if so they are happy and content to allow you to be a step away from command of vessel when you cannot even command your own facilities."

"Captain McGregor knows all too well the extent of my condition."

"Yes but you know that he aids you in keeping your dirty little secret. You're as good as the old mad woman in the attic. Only the captain doesn't have the good sense to keep you locked up in it."

Her hands clasped behind her back wrung each other tight as she fought to contain her growing anger. Presenting a very model image, T'Vel remained stoic in the face of Ronak's charges. "It is unfortunate that you view matters in that way."

"You mean it is unfortunate that I'm pissed at you. Screw you Mom! And if you care so damned much then why don't you keep that bulldog McGregor off me? You secretly like that he uses me as a punching bag." He gestured to the bruises on his face. His eyes filled with bilious anger. For a fraction of a second, T'Vel felt her heart beat faster and her eyes narrow, as she took in her son's hurt.

"That is not true. It is unprofessional of the captain to accost you. However, Ronak, your condition only provokes the Captain in addition to your repeated attempts to rile him. You deliberately seek to make the captain angry."

He shrugged. "It's a hobby."

"Ronak."

"As for my condition mother, I think it is a little rich for you to comment so. It is a genetic fault." He glared at her. "The bi-product of your sweaty foul tussle."

Ronak went sideways as the forceful slap of T'Vel's hand smacked hard into his cheek. So forceful was her slap he knocked his head against the wall and fell to the floor. T'Vel stepped back, her heart racing and breathing ragged. Her nostrils flared as she tried to temper her anger and breathing. She looked down at the offending hand accusatorily, as if she had had no compunction or control over its actions.

From the floor, Ronak peered upwards sneering. He started to chortle at her. "Somebody better warn the captain, the mad woman in the attic is ready to come out to play. Cutting too close to the truth, was I?"

"You know the pertinent details of your conception Ronak. It was foul, it was sweaty, it was not a tussle and it was no instigation of my part." She felt an overwhelming urge to kick the insolent child in his gut but refrained from surrendering to her anger again. Shakily she stepped forward with an outstretched hand. "I am ... sorry ... I slapped you. It is merely that that moment of my life is a very difficult memory."

From the floor, he sneered up at her. "And emotional I bet. Oops, I said the ‘E' word again. Sorry, yeah right. Somehow, I doubt it. As for my conception Mother, I know you tell everyone you played hard to get but go on admit it to me, you really actually did want it."

T'Vel ran forwards inflamed again and grabbed Ronak by the throat, hauling him off his feet and smacking him into the bulkhead. Hissing she seethed through clenched teeth, "How. Dare. You?"

Even though he struggled for breath and his feet flayed uselessly midair, Ronak bore her a grim and macabre smile. His eyes went glassy as he started to asphyxiate and pass out, as T'Vel relentlessly strangled his windpipe. She squeezed the life out of life. She had given him life and now she would take it away from him. His frantic kicks started to ebb as his oxygen depleted. His ashen complexion became a sickly cast of green. T'Vel found herself almost foaming at the mouth relishing in the abandon of control and letting her anger have full reign. She saw not just Ronak's face gasping for breath in front of her but that of his father's. It's heinous visage as he bore down on her, pressing his flesh onto her, his mind violating hers .... T'Vel would not permit it, she would kill him! She would choke the life out of her attacker.

At the last second, just as Ronak's eyes clouded over and closed, T'Vel regained herself. T'Vel saw not her attacker but her son! Appalled and shocked to her core at what she had contemplated, what she had come so close to committing, she released Ronak, dropping him hard to the ground. She stepped back shuddering and collapsed to the ground as her knees buckled. Almost sobbing, she fought for her own breath even as Ronak gulped for air again.

After a time, T'Vel crawled forwards towards Ronak, not trusting to stand on her own two feet. Ronak slowly sat up and edged away from his approaching mother. He rubbed his throat. His voice rasped as he warned, "Stay back, witch."

With her eyes rather than her voice, T'Vel pleaded hoarsely, "Ronak."

He used the doorframe to hoist himself up. "I think our breakfast is finished."

Staggering he walked to the door and slapped the enunciator to open the door and leave it open as he fell out of the room and careened off the bulkheads as he hurriedly raced away from the scene.

T'Vel looked at his retreating form forlornly and then pummelled the floor with her fists. Then she screamed aloud -- a long wailing howl, venting her hurt and frustration. She only stopped when exhaustion made her flop to the floor, panting. She lay there, face down, for a long moment -- eyes open, staring deeply into the carpet.

She absorbed the weave of the fabric, her eyes penetrating ever deeper. She looked at the loop of the weave and discerned the pattern and the loss of pattern at such close proximity. In the pattern and in the colours she sought some order and sought to discover logic.

Logic was her saviour. Logic had saved her from her darkest hours. Logic had brought her back to life. Logic had rescued her from the very depths of a broken and destroyed soul. Logic restored a broken mind. Logic helped her to bear the bastard seed in her womb. Logic helped her to return to Starfleet and don the uniform once more. Logic gave her  a purpose again. Logic was desperately failing her now.

Her emotions were raw and coursed through her soul. Even with Ronak now gone from the room, T'Vel felt her control wavering and waning. She wanted to fall into the pit into which her raging emotions beckoned -- into which the voice called, alluring, reassuring, coaxing and chilling. It was not her voice. It was not the voice of logic. It was not the voice of her altered personality, Cassie, even. No, it was ‘her' voice. ‘She' sensed how vulnerable T'Vel was. ‘She' saw the cracks in the emotional veneer that could allow ‘her' control.

Squeezing her eyes shut T'Vel drew up an image. Her talisman. Her guiding beacon back to logic and to her balance. Tracing an image of Seleya with the Vulcan sun rising behind it. The image that adorned the Vulcan IDIC symbol. The image that T'Vel now called to mind and focused on. It gave her strength. It gave her hope. It called on her to use logic. And that she now tried to demand of herself, to fight and regain her control before T'Vel found herself consumed by the power and mind of ‘that' woman.

T'Vel losing her control, her emotional base shot, fought for logic, and in grasping for logic opted to use her emotions to fight back. She might lose her emotional control but she would not lose control of herself to that ‘woman'. So she embraced her anger and roared in defiance. Eyes wide and glaring T'Vel hollered defiantly, "You. Will. Not. Break. Me!"

T'Vel stood erect and roared into the empty room, "You will not break me!" She turned and faced the empty space behind her. More assured and confident she asserted, "You will not break me!" Approaching the highly polished surface of the lounge coffee table she looked down at her own reflection. For a fraction of a second, she could almost swear she saw the reflection sneer back at her. But T'Vel remained defiant. And once more she asserted as she shook her head, "You will not break me. I am in control. I am. Do you hear me?"

The room fell silent after her shouts -- a pregnant quiet that at any moment, one could expect to be broken a voice from beyond. However, no voice came forth and the voice calling within T'Vel's mind was quelled. For now. T'Vel's heavy breathing became a method of therapy as she expelled her anger and sought her centre again.

After long moments, it started to return. She pulled on her uniform and straightened herself. She was an officer. A scientist. A Border Patrol officer. And not just any Border Patrol officer but second officer of the Starship Kestrel. And more than this, even though it pained her, she was a Mother.

* * *

 

'A View to Behold' by Miranda Fave

‘A View to Behold'

 

Mess Hall, Deck 6

"Captain."

McGregor scoffed two pancakes, syrup and bacon into his gob. He greeted Molly with a hearty and loud, "Morning Molly!" And how is my excellent XO. Care for some eggs? That way, you'd be really egg-cellent!"

Molly stared hard at McGregor. Her straight face a stark contrast to the laughter lines on his, as he resumed chomping on his breakfast. "You know McGregor, you don't exactly have the best sense of humour. Nor do you have the best sense of table manners."

He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his uniform. Speaking with a full mouth he declared, "Wha ye mean?"

"Captain, could it possibly be true that your chat with Admiral Faraday this morning was not conducted as professionally as one might expect of another captain?"

"Rear-Admiral!" He held up an admonishing finger to correct her. "A Rear-Admiral, remember Molly." His emphasis on the rear not lost on Molly who could conclude what had indeed transpired and thus explained the follow up call she had received.

"And what exactly was said during your conversation?"

"Oh, he said something, something, something and wasn't I a sight to behold. I think he had a point." He pointed his fork at Molly to underscore his thought.

She sighed and sat in the canteen bench seat opposite the captain. "Do you ever think captain, that once you finish up such a call that I get a follow up call that actually has to deal with the paper work and formalities of the business you are supposed to conduct with the Rear-Admiral?"

"Of course it does." Molly frowned at that disbelievingly. "Why else do you think I have an XO? Apart form your sparkling company Molly. That and the fact I have someone to play golf with."

She shook her head. "Well you'll be happy to know that things are straightened out with Faraday."

"I sorted them out already!" He shrugged his shoulders, a little affronted.

"Oh don't you worry captain. Your bravado and brushing the Admiral off is perfectly accepted by him, without my weighing in. He's happy enough for you to go all Rambo. So long as it doesn't come back on him. He did his usual song and dance about you being a greater danger to the ship than T'Hos or anything else we should meet. I told him that was hardly news. You've always been our greatest liability."

"I wouldn't say that. There's Gunny. He's a right raving loony. Why on earth I keep him is beyond me."

"In your words, ‘because he is a right raving loony and we need loonies to run this place'. He's just another cog in the stellar crew you have assembled."

McGregor beamed. "Yes, true. He serves a good purpose. By the way, you'll find he and Rah will be cooking up a few things today."

"Yes, that's why I came to you. What exactly have you planned for today?" She leaned in to look McGregor in the eye.

He played innocent as he munched on his breakfast. "Oh just some fun and games. Not to mind Molly. Some milk?"

She pushed the proffered glass away. "No thank you. I get you wanting to keep it secret from the crew. However, you can divulge your plans with me. Or should I say, you are supposed to share your plans with me."

"Ah, but where would the fun be in that for you Molly? Everyone else gets to be surprised. Why not you too?"

She shook her head. "I don't like surprises, so you needn't worry on that front."

He looked around conspiratorially before whispering, "All right then. I'll let you know, but walk with me. Everyone else is trying to listen in on us."

Various persons in the mess hall sat up straight and chairs scraped on the floor as they shifted to not be seen to be eavesdropping. McGregor chuckled and Molly shared it.

"I hope this is something worthwhile."

He nodded his head fervently. "Oh it is. It's going to piss T'Hos off no end."

"I'm not entirely sure that is the approach we should be taking. He's pretty pissed as is." Molly cautioned.

 "Yup! And the more pissed he gets the more mistakes he makes. Don't worry Molls, I've him figured out." He bounded up out of his seat and strode purposefully out of the mess hall waving, a piece of bacon in hand, "Tally ho, breakfasteers!"

They chorused back, "Tally ho, Captain!"

"Don't you just love this crew Molls?" He grinned delightedly as he wolfed down the bacon.

* * *

Starboard Viewing Gallery, Deck 9

Noah had found himself roaming the corridors with time to spare before his shift. He had called on Jex but it seemed she had similarly gotten up early and was not in her room. Noah wondered as to her whereabouts and would have used the computer to discover them, but he felt it was too much like checking up on her and he realised that he already took up so much of her off time. As she had said, he needed to make friends with other people. No doubt, this was some sort of veiled comment that he was taking up too much of her time and she was the one who wanted to make friends and spend time with other people.

If his morning hadn't started off badly enough, this glum thought depressed him greatly. In fact, it near out right angered him. He stalked the crew corridors in a foul mood. His boyish features scowling and giving Noah the air of being petulant. A few crewmembers on the corridor opted to not say hello as he charged past them. Noah found himself feeling angrier at their submissive manner even as he delighted that no one was talking to him.

Once inside the turbolift he stamped his foot in irritation as it took its time getting to deck nine. He did not know why he headed here, but he found himself clenching his fists and needing some space. He charged into the starboard viewing gallery but came to an abrupt stop.

"Good morning Mr Cutler."

Noah stepped back startled at Stanley's friendly welcome. He had not expected to meet anyone in what were affectionately called the ‘knocking bubbles', otherwise known as the viewing galleries. Startled, Noah looked at the alien creature squatted in front of the glass with the expanse of space surrounding him.  At his foot lay a ball of wool, knitting needles and an incomplete scarf.

The surprise Noah displayed came from his being engrossed in his foul mood and his mind clouded with dark thoughts centred on Ronak. Coming here was an attempt to find somewhere to breathe and to clear his thoughts. His thoughts suddenly interrupted, Noah was disturbed at just how intense his anger was. Yes, he had cause to be angry but to feel this pent up about it was unlike him. He was equally disturbed to see that Stanley himself appeared to be in a contemplative mood and he had obviously interrupted him.

"Sorry I didn't mean to intrude ... Stanley. I hadn't thought anyone would be here."

"That is perfectly fine. It is obvious you were expecting no one. I am equally disturbing you."

"No, no. Not at all." He shifted uneasily wondering whether he ought best to make a retreat. "You have been released from the medical bay then?"

Stooping to pick up his set aside knitting, Stanley continued, "Dr. Monroe only kept me for observation and to keep the captain content."

"Uh huh!" Noah wanted to say more but found his throat dry. He felt unsure, no uneasy, around Stanley after his revelation. It worried him no end. Noah feared another ‘vision' and felt a spectre of death almost hung over Stanley. It seemed strange after his initial impressions of the strange alien had been of a quirky oddity. Now Stanley seemed to be a prophet of death.

"It is a view to behold is it not?" Stanley nodded in the direction of the streaming stars at warp. Noah looked out at the visage. Yes, it really was impressive. He nodded his head in agreement. "Sometimes, I hear the stars sing."

Noah's eyes bulged and he blurted, "They sing?"

"Yes." Stanley stated plainly. "I sense them. I feel the ebb and flow of the galaxy." Noah shifted uneasily as a lump formed in his throat. Stanley noticed Noah's discomfiture. "I do not mean to, how is it Captain McGregor puts it? I do not mean to ‘freak you out' Ensign Noah. Merely I wish to inform you that I appear to have extra-sensory abilities. I cannot elaborate any further than because I do not understand it. Nor does the captain."

"Haven't you know, people, Starfleet, or even Dr. Monroe and Lt. Commander T'Vel investigated that? I can't imagine they would pass up such a study. I don't mean you are some sort of science experiment but you know it is somewhat unusual."

"Yes, that is why the captain will not inform Starfleet of my abilities."

"Sorry, the captain can't do that."

"He is the captain." Stanley shrugged as if that was all to say that was all. "He does not want me to become some sort of Earth rodent."

"A guinea pig. I guess not."

"Lt. Commander T'Vel has examined me; however it seems my being the only one of my kind hampers such investigations."

With sad eyes, Noah declared solemnly. "That must be really ... lonely."

"It is."

A long silence passed. Noah sighed deeply, in part relieved that his anger has subsided. He shook his head wondering at where the well of anger had come from. He couldn't fathom it, then he recalled his quarters when Ronak ...

"You may ask."

"Sorry?" Noah confused replied to the unexpected interruption to his train of thoughts. "Ask what?"

"Ask me about my visions. It is normally what occurs when one experience me having a vision for the first time. It is only natural to be curious." Stanley looked at him sincerely. Still Noah was hesitant to ask.

"No thank you. As much as I am curious, to be honest it ... it scares me." He winced revealing that.

Stanley nodded. "That is perhaps the first time anyone has ever said that. Most are curious and believe it must be a gift. However, it is far from a gift." Stanley's eyes became vacant as he stared into nothing, absorbed in his own thoughts. "I see only the pain of things to come, I foresee destruction, I see the shadows and the spectres, I can tell an anguish that awaits a friend, the aches and the traumas of a crewmate, I see the fates of strangers; And I see Death, Death all around, Death come to all."

Stanley almost stumbled back at the dark foreboding words. A chill went up his spine and the cold of space felt like it had leached into the room. Stanley advanced arms open in apology. "I am sorry Ensign. I did not mean to frighten you."

"It's ok. Anyway, I'd best be off. You need your space."

"It is ok." He picked up his things and tidied them into a bundle then set them into a small brown satchel. He removed from the front pocket his favourite multicoloured scarf. "I think rather, that I will go for a walk."

Noah walked a small way with him and as Stanley bid goodbye, tossing his scarf around his neck,  "I will see you, Ensign Cutler."

"Yeah, later Stanley."

Stanley then stepped up to an emergency airlock, punched in some commands, quickly entered, and sealed the door behind him. Noah stopped startled. Looking through the small window, he saw the inner controls switch from green to red as the compartment decompressed and the outer door opened. And Stanley disappeared out the door.

Noah gasped and then roared. "Oh my God! Stanley!"

He slapped his combadge as he ran back to the viewing gallery to spot Stanley's body, "Cutler to McGregor! Stanley's just walked out of the ship!"

"What is it Cutler?" The cry came from behind as McGregor and Cartwright approached from their walk. McGregor rushed up his face frowning.

Noah wagged him frantically into the viewing gallery as he scanned the open space for sight of Stanley. "He just walked out the airlock and tossed himself out into space. One minute he's packing away an unfinished scarf and the next he just goes for a walk outside, with no EVA suit!"

"What!" McGregor rushed up to the window to stand alongside the frantic Noah.

Noah grabbed the captain's arm. "Quick, we have to get a transporter lock on him."

"You say he stepped outside after not getting a scarf finished?"

Cutler, breathing rapidly in panic, stopped confused at the captain's focus. "Yes sir. He's out there somewhere."

"Damn him. He promised me he'd have my scarf finished." McGregor leant over the railing in front of the expansive window and proceeded to knock hard on it. Rapping the window he called, "Stanley! Where's my scarf?"

Molly frowning and unperturbed pointed out in a schoolteacher tone. "He can't hear you Captain. He's outside, you know, in the vacuum of space. I really do wish he wouldn't do that when we are at warp."

"Damn the fool, he might lose my new scarf. Oh, wait a minute. Ensign you never mentioned he had his satchel with him! It's alright, the scarf is safe."

Cutler looked at his two commanding officers not comprehending. Molly tapped him on the shoulder and pointed out to a spot along the hull. There Noah could see the blue figure of Stanley, with satchel over his shoulder and scarf wrapped around him, taking a walk along the hull.

"How? He's not able to breathe ... how? I don't ..."

McGregor gave him a derisive look. "You don't seem to understand a lot of things ensign. I'd best meet Stanley on the bridge." McGregor moved off.

Cutler watched him go and turned to the commander. She patted him on the back as Sebastian Templar came into the gallery to see what the commotion was. Cutler pointed out the window to Sebastian. The security officer merely lifted his chin a little unperturbed at the sight seemingly. "He does that a lot then."

"Only when he has a lot to think about or when he accompanies the captain." Molly provided. To Noah she explained, "Stanley can breathe or not breathe as the case might be out in space. We've timed him up to thirty minutes but don't normally allow him to try it out longer than that."

"But ... but ... but how?"

"There's a great many things we can't fathom about our blue-coloured friend out there. That," she pointed out to Stanley who had turned to look around at the passing stars, "is what we call his party trick and the least of what concerns us about him. See you on the bridge later ensign. You're going to discover that you are about to have a very interesting day. Likewise Mr Templar. It might just be fun." She clapped them both on the back and wandered off.

Noah looked at Templar and then out at Stanley. His look incredulous. He couldn't imagine how it could get any more interesting than seeing this sight.

To Sebastian Noah asked, "You knew about Stanley being able to do - that?"

"Not til yesterday. And trust me, when I say it, it near made me shit my EVA when I did."

The two looked out at Stanley who was now looking back at them. He raised a hand, waving it at the two ensigns. Noah and Sebastian found themselves waving back absently before realising it and becoming embarrassed. Stanley turned throwing his scarf over his shoulder before disappearing over the rim as he continued on his merry way.

* * *

'Below Par' by Miranda Fave

 

* * *

 ‘Below Par’

 

Sebastian and Noah moved away from the window some time after Stanley disappeared over the rim. It was as if they almost expected him to come and pop his head back over the edge. It seemed likely in light of everything. Sebastian set a brisk pace and then realised that Noah was keeping in step with him. He looked at the ensign with a frown. Noah seemed oblivious merely content to be walking alongside Sebastian. What to make of that Templar was not sure. Though he supposed the ensign had gotten quite a shock. He frowned more to himself now as he found himself in the position of taking Noah under his wing. It was not something he contemplated easily.

“Where’s your Trill friend?”

Noah shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Templar cursed inwardly. He didn’t need this kid tagging alongside him. He stopped and talked into the ceiling. “Computer, where is Ensign Leoni Jex?”

Noah balked at this. He had no intention of invading Leoni’s privacy or indeed discovering that she was in the messhall with other friends. His jealousy spiked again and he shook his head of the intense feeling. Surprise replaced it though as the computer replied after a moment, “Ensign Leoni Jex is currently in ship’s flight operation centre, Deck 4.”

“Oh.” Noah registered his surprise.

Templar raised his eyebrows at Noah’s surprise. ‘Where did he think she was anyway?’ “There you go. She must be prepping for a flight or something.” Templar tried to act gun-ho about the matter but it struck him as odd that the ensign would be there. What cause did she have? Then he considered his own summons yesterday...

 

“What am I doing here Captain?” He asked of McGregor as he looked around at his surrounds. The room was pretty much what one expected of an airlock staging room. Essentially the staging area, situated just off the portside Docking Port 3 on Deck 8, was a changing room in which crewmembers donned environmental suits for space walks. Cages lined the wall with various components to EVA suits. Helmets, boots, gloves, different sized suits, some modified for the female form, others to better fit various alien body shapes.

One environmental suit that caught Sebastian’s eye in particular was one surely modified for the Kzinti cat. His assessment not based solely because of its sheer bulk but because it bore an inscribed tattoo on its white skin, which read ‘Fang’ with a gory blood soaked tooth. This suit hung in its own compartment and had extra carrying space for small munitions and placeholds to carry phaser rifles slung over the back. Sebastian nodded approvingly at the modifications. McGregor smirked as he noticed what the ensign was looking at.

“You should see Commander Cartwright’s suit. It comes with an extra arm so she can still bitch slap in space.” Forgetting himself, Templar snorted.”Ah good. You do have a sense of humour. That bodes well. Come on then.”

The Captain waved Templar over to himself. Stomping his right foot hard on the deck, the white boot locked into placed and self-sealed. Sebastian cocked an eyebrow at the captain almost completely adorned in his EV. His Helmet lay beside him on the bench. The Captain’s handle emblazoned upon the prow of the helmet.

“What? Haven’t you seen an environmental suit before? I mean I have worries about the Academy training. It’s gotten soft since the days of instructors such as Nagumo,” Sebastian frowned at the name unknowing, “and goodness knows it is nowhere near the testing of ‘The Kennel’ but I thought at least they still did space walk training.”

“They do captain.” He indicated the sturdy EV suits. “I thought Border Patrol was the poor cousin. But these suits are cutting edge. I don’t think these particular models are on frontline vessels yet.”

Conceited and proud, McGregor puffed his chest out. “They aren’t.”

“So how comes?”

“Well it is rather simple. Sometimes, just sometimes, in their ingenuity Starfleet use us as the guinea pigs. That said, we, the Border Patrol, do have more cause to use EVs as part of our extensive brief. From SAR operations to SAWRHs, we are the ones who use them the mostest. That and it’s our tech guys who have forged the way in the design of EVs. Once upon a time, we left that sort of detail to the Fleeters and you should have seen some of the condom suits they came up with. Trust a Border Dog to do a job right and to make something practical and durable. Say what you will about Archer and his cohorts, but they sure got the utilitarian design of these things down to a tee.”

Sebastian with little knowledge of the EV design lineage took the captain’s word for it and just nodded. He understood too that the Border Dogs did have greater need for practical and tough EV suits. From search and rescue operation into highly dangerous zones or into vessels venting or void of atmosphere, to raiding parties on vessels they pulled over to search for contraband. “SAWRHs?”

“I like to call it, ‘Going for a Sarah’. Search and Wreak Havoc! A boarding party that expects to meet hostile forces in other words. Lots of fun.” His face lit up mischievously at the prospect and he rubbed his hands together. McGregor picked up and then tossed a helmet to Sebastian. “Get suited and booted ensign.”

“Where are we going captain?”

The captain gave him a disappointed look. “Outside obviously.”

“I got that,” he said looking down at the helmet in his hand, “but why?”

“As I said to Ensign Jex, I fancied some fresh air. I’ve decided to bring you along for the walk. It’ll do you good to stretch your legs ensign.”

Sebastian frowned at the complete lack of explanation. He however knew he had no option but to comply with the captain’s orders. Dutifully he started fitting himself into an EV suit. With a bit of a squeeze he fitted himself in the hard shell of the upper torso and checked the systems of the life support unit mounted on the front of the chest. The LSPU lit up and displayed that it was in good working order. Warnings flashed that gloves, boots and helmet were not yet sealed. Mirroring McGregor, Templar stomped his feet into a pair of mag boots and cleared a jet of propellant to check the propulsion unit. The LSPU flashed green on this front as he then fumbled his way into a pair of gloves. Like the boots, they clicked into place and self-sealed. Hefting the helmet over his head, he looked up to McGregor waiting by the airlock with an eager grin. He pulled the helmet down over his head and squirmed his head into the tight space. He crooked his neck as a physical check that the helmet was secure. A further flash of green lights and text confirmed it electronically.

Within the helmet misted up initially before cool oxygenated air sighed within, cycling the air clean again. The small intermittent sounds of his surrounds became muffled and the static feel of an open comm. link hissed quietly by his ear. Two ambient lights glowed into existence to illuminate his face and bring light to within the fish bowl atop his head. After a moment to allow him to adjust, McGregor’s voice crackled over the comm., “Check your comm. channel. We’re green?”

Sebastian nodded and with a thumbs up voiced, “Green. All systems read clear across the board.” He looked down once more at the display on the LSPU to confirm. A few eternal lights came up on the suit on vital areas. Sebastian was ready, or as ready as one could feel about walking out into the expanse of space. Especially given that, they were to do so on their own and with the ship at warp.

“Good!” McGregor clapped him on the back as he pressed buttons to open the inner airlock door. Before stepping through, he handed a bulky long black bag to Templar. He tapped the side of Sebastian’s helmet and a head’s up display flashed in front of him. “Carry this won’t you ensign.”

He took it begrudgingly, as like McGregor, he strapped a phaser to his hip before entering the airlock. The golden rule never go anywhere without a firearm sacrosanct onboard the border patrol vessel. “What’s in this?” Sebastian queried as he hefted the weight over his shoulder.

“Don’t worry it will be weightless once we get out there. Come on.” He waved him into the airlock before closing the lock. He then keyed in a code before inputting the decompression control commands. A moment later a call came from the bridge, or seemingly just from Lt. Commander T’Vel, who at this stage Sebastian had not yet met. McGregor explained over his comm. to the cool voice of the Vulcan, “Just heading for a bit of fresh air T’Vel. I’ll be back in an hour.”

Surprisingly, the Vulcan offered no rebuke. Their activity seemed without need, was potentially dangerous and therefore made no logical sense. Sebastian could only infer that this type of behaviour was just another ‘norm’ for the captain.

The outer lock doors clunked then. A fraction of a second later a sliver of light played through the tiny gap that a moment later widened as the doors parted. The scene opened up onto the outer hull of the ship, its dull grey enchanted by the warping star streaks, the kaleidoscope of stars and the rainbow spectrum through which the Kestrel currently travelled at high warp.

Despite his training at Starfleet Academy, his years onboard several ships before he was busted down to ensign again, Sebastian had never undertaken an EV on the hull of a ship at warp speeds. At the ‘Kennel’ the additional training crew assigned to the Border Patrol received before taking up their posting they had trained in simulations for such a procedure. It was thought it might be expected as par the course of the unexpected emergency duties of a Border Service vessel. Sebastian had never expected though to undertake such a risky procedure in such an everyday circumstance as the whim of a captain wanting to go for a walk. Nor did he expect to be rendered so breathless by the sheer sight of passing stars and truly understand how they were wrapped in a warp bubble hurtling them through space and time at incomprehensible speeds.

McGregor intruded upon his enchantment. “Cat got your tongue ensign? Remember to breath. The EV systems can only pump oxygen into the suit you need to do the breathing bit yourself.”

“Sorry.” Sebastian winced at the word as it passed his lips. He was caught unaware and he expected the captain to berate him for his daydreaming. Unobtrusively his HUD displayed a scrolling status of his EV suit and its connection to the ship. it signalled the open comm. link to McGregor.

“Not to worry. It is rather beautiful after all. Come on. This way then.” McGregor beckoned as he with practiced ease abandoned the safety of the airlock and bounded out onto the hull of the ship. He stepped out onto the surface of the hull by stepping down and out. McGregor now stood seemingly sideways on the side of the Kestrel. To someone relatively inexperienced to such a procedure, the perception was mind jangling. Hefting the bag McGregor had asked him to carry over his shoulder, Sebastian followed the exit procedure employed by the captain. As he stepped out over the rim of the airlock and up onto the side of the ship Sebastian felt a moment of disorientation as he processed his new horizon. He felt further off balance despite the weightlessness of the bag. McGregor was already walking towards the rim for the upper saucer section.

McGregor’s practiced gait, though cumbersome looking, reminded Sebastian of the footage of the Apollo mission astronauts on the lunar surface, sped McGregor across the hull happily and efficiently. Sebastian’s progress was more hesitant as he recalled his training and took a much more careful approach to traversing upon the hull. Especially once he reached the threshold of the rim and stepped over and down onto the saucer section. Once again, he gained a new perception of his horizon and was thrown further off balance. And what a horizon! Sebastian in awe looked out over the forward prow of the Kestrel’s saucer.

Exhaling heavily at the sight his helmet’s faceplate misted up before compensating. The kaleidoscopic effect was even more awesome as he took in the ship ploughing through the stars. McGregor pressed on and Sebastian turned to match his progress across the ship. Passing the docking assembly the captain forged his path towards the arboretum.

After a short time, Sebastian found his own rhythm and walked across the hull with a greater assurance. He stopped watching his feet and followed McGregor with greater ease. The captain himself skipped along merrily stopping at different stages to allow Sebastian to catch up and placing his hands on his hips. Initially Sebastian figured his own slower pace frustrated the captain but he soon realised that McGregor was taking the opportunity to contemplate the sight of the ship in warp. He surveyed the ship like a king standing looking over his domain. All within the ship was in his control and at his whim and fancy. That in itself was enough to make Sebastian feel afraid. They were at the beckon of a madman who liked nothing better than to go strolling out in space.

They began then to traverse the incline of the saucer section towards the dome of the bridge module. Until now, McGregor was content to allow Templar to revel in the spectacle but now started to quiz the ensign. Sebastian found himself having to recall the captain’s unorthodox tour of the ship’s hull on their first day aboard in order to answer many of the questions.

From up ahead, McGregor congratulated Sebastian as he skipped onwards. They approached the upper level of the ship. Here the ship levelled out and as Sebastian looked down the length of the ship’s rear, he watched the stars retreating away as overhead the fierce comportment of the torpedo pod stood sentry over the Kestrel’s frame. Captain and Ensign stood at the foot of the command module. Sebastian took in his surrounds, above them he looked up at docking port 1 and immediately in front of them, the large expansive window that provided the senior officers’ lounge with such an impressive view. To this window McGregor stepped up and looked in. He gave a little skip and dance at what he saw within. His curiosity piqued at what made the captain dance with glee, not to mention to gain a look into the inner sanctum of the senior officers’ lounge, Sebastian ambled over to look in.

Peering in he saw an elegant and old-fashioned study, with an upper balcony lined with library shelves. The furnishing within was dark wood and brown red leather.  Seated within one of the high back leather armchairs he spied Chief of Engineering Eddie Gardner relaxing with a glass of some swill on the table beside him. Likewise an ashtray and a plume of cigar smoke.

“Nosey, nosey. Aha ah. Come along Templar.”

The Captain headed off before stopping again and signalling Sebastian over enthusiastically. As the ensign neared, McGregor pointed downwards. They stood atop the ceiling viewing port of stellar cartography. McGregor stomped on the ‘window’ to gain the attention of the cartographers within. As they looked up, he waved down and shouted futilely, “Tally ho!”

He waved Sebastian onwards. They approached the torpedo pod, which stood directly overhead. McGregor quizzed Templar once again. “Tell me ensign, what are we stood over right now?”

Sebastian notated by rote. “The plasma venting station. It traverses a short power circuit that runs off the horizontal intermix shaft supplying direct power to the warp nacelles.”

“Very good. Almost textbook.“ Finally, they seemed to reach their destination, as McGregor stood rooted to a spot awaiting Sebastian. McGregor was grinning from ear to ear Sebastian noted. He seemed to be completely exhilarated at their little sojourn. He declares as Sebastian sets down the bag, “At last ensign!”

Sebastian surly nature reasserted itself as he responded, “Well I’m here now. What’s this all about?”

McGregor smiled. “That’s what I like about you ensign. Sometimes you forget whom it is you are talking to. We are here...” McGregor spun slowly with his arms up in the air to indicate their surrounds, “to consider your performance and assignment to this crew.”

“What, this is my crew evaluation?”

“Well, you’ve only been with us a short while and soon enough you’ll get to prove your worth. So I’d rather consider this an interview.”

Sebastian frowned. Bad enough that he was busted down to ensign; bad enough that he was left with little option but to work within the Border Service in order to try and make amends for his past. However the prospect that he now had to jump through hoops to even have that opportunity rankled within him, no matter how much he deserved the treatment. Worse still he figured the captain was beyond all that, especially given his chat with his security superior Caleb Dexter on Aubrellis. “Hate to break it to you captain but I’ve already got the job. It can hardly count as an interview.”

“You have a posting onboard ensign. That is all!” McGregor waved a hand dismissively before grinning madly as he countered Sebastian’s charge. “What I choose to do with you however remains to be seen. After all, I could leave you to some rather dirty and menial tasks for the duration of our patrol duty. Or I can decide that what I saw in your records proves to me that I can entrust far more exciting duties and missions for you.”

Folding his arms defensively, Sebastian shrugged. “What does this interview entail?”

McGregor pretended to mull on this by stroking the faceplate of his helmet rather than his bearded chin. “Well, I guess my question would be why did you truly join Starfleet? Not the childhood dreams but the actual ‘why’ of why you finally joined up.”

Stooping down to the black canvas bag, McGregor unzipped it and poked around inside. As he did, he continued to speak. “The real reason of course ensign. By that, I can measure your motivations for joining and your cause for continuing to serve. Basically, aha!” he remarked upon finding what it was he wanted and pulling on it to retrieve it from the bag before continuing, “basically, to see whether you are below par or not?”

McGregor smiled then as stood upright with a golf club in hand. “My trusty five iron! I always hit my best shots with this.”

From out of one of the pockets of the EV suit McGregor pulls out a golf ball and a modified tee. The tee attached itself to the hull magnetically and with care, the Captain placed his golf ball on the tee. “Stand back ensign. I wouldn’t want to hit you in the face with a golf club. Judy’s told me if I injure another ensign that way she’ll break my clubs. And being a frontier girl she means it.”

“Golf! You took me out here so you can practice your swing?”

“Oh my swing doesn’t need practice. It’s perfect!” McGregor stooped over the tee looking acutely bent on his hunches as the bulky suit accented his posture. With a wiggle of his ass, McGregor lined up his shot and swung the club through the vacuum to hit the ball and send it flying. He lifted one leg and raised a hand to the level of his eyes to check the flight of the ball through the ‘air’. Pumping his fist, McGregor exclaimed, “Yes!”

Sebastian coked an eyebrow at the sight. He also questioned the actual success of McGregor’s shot. I’m not sure what it is you were aiming for Captain but I think you missed.”

“Oh trust me. The shot was spot on. A hole in one if I dare say so myself. Hee hee.”

Meantime within the senior officers’ lounge, Eddie Gardner reclining in the leather chair, surrounded by a cloud of cigar smoke, puffed on his cigar happily, as he read the latest FedNet news replicated into the form of an old-fashioned broadsheet newspaper. A dull thunk at the large expansive window that looked out on the rear of the vessel brought him to and he crumpled his paper sitting up alert. “What the ...?”

“So Mr Templar. Ensign. Why?”

Sebastian looked towards the lounge window deciphering the captain’s target. “Why what?”

McGregor lifted his five iron and set it over his shoulder as he turned to face Sebastian. “The why of why you really joined Starfleet.”

* * *

 

'The Why of Why' by Miranda Fave

* * *

‘The Why of Why'

 

"The why of why you really joined Starfleet." The question hung in the air, the vacuum of space rather. A heavy pregnant question filled with a minefield of problematic answers. Sebastian did not rush to answer it. McGregor stood placidly awaiting the answer.

Attempting a degree of bravado Sebastian shrugged. "I dunno, the pay, the frequent air miles, the company."

"Hee, hee." McGregor laughed to placate the ensign wagging a finger as he grinned with mirth. "I do like your sense of humour. However, I have asked you a question and I expect a real answer. You hardly think it is the norm for me to conduct personal chats with the newbies now do you? So, why Mr. Templar, did you join Starfleet?"

Sebastian turned away fractionally to look out upon the vista of the ship's lines and the passing torrent of stars. He cleared his throat and sighed heavily. McGregor watched like a hawk reading the young man's body language. His discomfiture clear. McGregor cared not but pressed, "Why did you join Starfleet? Why did you lose your path once part of Starfleet? Why did you throw it all away when you had supposedly realised your dreams and the dreams of your family?"

The ensign turned quickly at the mention of his family looking at McGregor sharply. McGregor knew he was striking home and continued. "Your family, with its long history of service in Starfleet adorned with decorated admirals and captains throughout the generations on your Mother and Father's side. You're the product of two brass lineages and yet you tossed away a promising career. You Mr Templar had the makings of a fine officer. The temptation was there to become a Starfleet brat expecting and currying favour because of your familial links. But no, you were not content to become a mere Starfleet brat but an out and out vagrant and malcontent who killed others in the course of his duty. If you resented it all, why join at all? Why not run away and become a space age hippie like your sister? If you did in fact seek to become yet another stellar officer in your family histories, why squander and throw your career away on drugs and risky behaviour? Why Mr Templar did you join Starfleet?"

* * *

 

"Sebastian."

His mother's voice is cool and even. He looks up from his sandpit and toys. He knows wearing his good suit he really ought not to be kneeling on the grass or have the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbows. He sees her holding his jacket, awaiting his approach and taking the jacket to wear. He expects her voice to be a little angry at his despoiling of his suit, at the very least for her to be disappointed. Yet she is not.

Once again, it hits him. The realisation that grassy knees and ruffled shirts are the least of her concerns on this day. Her own Starfleet dress uniform is crisp and faultless. Her back is ramrod straight and she holds his jacket out unflinching and solid as she awaits his arms to slip into the sleeves.

He sets down his bulldozer and standing dusts off the sand and any superficial mud or grass. Looking down at his hands, he checks they are clean enough before touching the white of his sleeves. He started pulling them down as he walked across the back lawn towards the house filled with many visitors. However, for all the visitors the atmosphere is hushed and conversations and body language stilted. An air of awkwardness permeates, as does an expectation of waiting for something.

Silently and diligently, he slips into the jacket. His mother turns him round to face her and she bends to one knee even though he is getting taller now, in fact almost as tall as Tom Gantry. As his mother bends to one knee, she is careful though to avoid touching the ground lest she spoil her uniform. She affixes his black jacket buttons. She buttons all of his collar buttons and pulls up his black tie. Then she pulls on the cuffs of his shirtsleeves and buttons them too. Standing she brushes the shoulders of his jacket. It, the jacket and the fussing, is making him squirm until her forefinger cups his small chin. He knew the sign and stands still. He stands with arms at parade rest, unmoveable at his sides. His mother nods fractionally, approvingly. She reaches down and grasps his hand.

"Come. Katie's been asking for you." Her tone is flat. Almost uninterested. He looks up at her and sees that she is a million miles away. Sebastian finds himself shepherded through the crowded kitchen. He sees Aunt Imelda talking about ‘Frankie' as a boy. Her sleeves are deep in a sink of suds. Cups and plates sit glistening in the drying rack. The kitchen table is laden with goods one normally isn't allowed to eat. Various cakes, buns, biscuits await distribution. Trays of sandwiches lie covered in clear wrap to stop the fresh bread going hard. On a counter a large thermos steams. The old warhorse has poured out hundreds of steaming kettles of tea and coffee. The fridge is opened to reveal it jammed with all sorts of goodies too. Desserts such as trifles, cream cakes and various pre-cooked meals stored in Tupperware ready to he reheated in a stove.

Yes, Granddad and Grandma Templar's kitchen is something of a throw back. They have a small replicator stowed in the back of the kitchen. Grandma insists on doing real cooking and Granddad insists he cannot eat the replicated crap, for which he is then admonished for profaning in front of the children.

Their neighbours and friends are either of their ilk or know of their definite tastes and so have duly arrived with food and words of sympathy. Father's friends and colleagues are somewhat bemused by it all Sebastian senses. Some, like Kenner, have visited the Templar home before and know to expect this and come prepared themselves. The friends and colleagues of his Mother are less prepared but are equally perturbed by how withdrawn she has become over these last few days.

Sebastian imagines it will be better when the people all go away. Then they will have the house to family only. By family, he means Mum, Katie, Granddad, Grandma and maybe even Uncle Gareth. The others he just wishes away. The endless chatter. The endless offers of ‘tea or coffee?', ‘would you like a sandwich?', ‘you'll have biscuit surely'. The endless ‘I'm so sorry' with the sad and awkward handshakes to the adults and a keening look at himself and Katie. The look that says ‘poor sods, so young, whatever must they be thinking? Whatever will they do?' and of course the eyes have to quickly avert lest they upset the child. Sebastian knew the truth though. These visitors were less worried about upsetting the children than they were of upsetting themselves.

His Mother placed a hand on his back to steer him round a cluster of people and propel him onwards. Upon reaching the foot of the stairs, his Mother points upwards. Katie must be hiding in her room with her dolls and with Grandma and Granddad fussing over her. Slumping his shoulders and breathing outwards, petulantly he climbs the wooden stairs.

At the top of the stairs, he sees his own open room. Holo-posters of ships and space scenes adorn the walls. A baseball cap lies beside a glove cupping a ball on his rather bare bookshelf. Unseen is his dirtied baseball bat lying under his bed. His face puckers for a second and tears come to his eyes as he thinks about the last time he played with ... he shakes his head and instead crossly considers that it has been a week since he has been allowed to play with bat and ball outside. There have been too many preparations and too many visitors. It would not be right to pitch a few balls at this time and Granddad is too tired and sad to play at the moment. Once everyone is gone perhaps, he thinks to himself.

Turning the corner, he comes to Katie's room. It is gaudy pink and purple. Dolls litter the shelves and line much of the wall skirting. He pushed the door open wider and enters with his Mother close behind. Sure enough, Katie is atop her bed with Granddad and Grandma at either side, cajoling and vainly trying to comfort her. Granddad looks up and sees Sebastian has entered the room. His face lights up and Sebastian feels cheered in that moment but then he says, "Sebastian! Good boy. Talk to your sister Sebastian. Tell her it's important to go."

Sebastian is crestfallen. Once again, it is all about Katie. Once again, she is the centre of attention. He feels his fists curl up into balls. His shoulders rise and his chin juts out angrily. Mother taps him on the nose like a bold pup. This actually only serves to infuriate him further but he knows he has to control his temper and appear to heed her warning. He releases his hands and drops his shoulders. But his eyes simmer with anger. They burn away the tears that almost came unbidden as he thought of his baseball games and pitches he made with his Dad.

"Why should I?"

Grandma looks up horrified and then quickly angry. "Young man! How dare you speak like that? You know very well why. It is an important day. An important duty. It's ... it's ..." she begins to falter as she pulls a hanky from her black sleeve, "it's your father's funeral. Both of you should be there!"

Sebastian suddenly rages, "Why should we?! Dad's not even there!"

He is grabbed at the shoulders by his Mother. "Sebastian! That's not nice to say."

Grandma declares loudly over his Mother, "How dare you Sebastian? Whatever would your father think?"

"He would think it is ridiculous to stuff the house with people we don't even know and to travel across town for a funeral when there's not even a body!"

Katie begins to wail and crumples into a ball with Granddad removing himself from the argument by concentrating on hushing Katie and rubbing her back. "Look at what you've done now."

"I've done nothing. It's you who wanted this wake! These people here in the house and a funeral that doesn't even have a body because Dad was burned alive by those bastarding Cardassians." Sebastian turns and races out of the room as his Mother tires to refrain him. He runs into his bedroom grabs ball and glove and thunders down the stairs and out the front door.

* * *

 

Sebastian flexed his heavily padded gloves and tensed at the question and the memories unbidden. He looked up to catch McGregor's appraising eye through the visors of their helmets. McGregor was no fool. He knew Sebastian's record inside and out. He knew the truth of why he had joined up. Why bother then hiding the ugly truth. "You ask me why I ended up joining Starfleet. When I was a boy I would dream of flying among the stars, escaping the dreariness of home and Earth. I dreamt of captaining vessels and become famed and decorated like the heroes of the Federation and like the portraits of family ancestors on my grandparents' walls. I loved to make model starships. I devoured all the technical details and stats. I played soldiers as if I were an Admiral waging a war to defend the Federation."

McGregor added knowingly, "But all that changed one day. That wasn't why you joined Starfleet."

"Alright then, the truth." McGregor shifted to stand the golf club on the hull and lean on it like a crutch as he leaned forwards to hear Sebastian's answer. The answer would determine what he would make of the ensign. Gritting his teeth, Sebastian darkly informed his captain, "I joined up in order that I could some day kill me some Cardassians. Make them pay! Make them die a horrible fiery death like my father."

McGregor nodded sagely. "And when you joined you discovered Starfleet was going to avoid a war with the Cardassians like a plague and deny you the chance to kill any spoonheads."

"That's about the making of it."

"And denied your thirst for revenge you sought other avenues of satisfaction."

Sebastian snarked. "You a psychologist now?" McGregor's assessment was too close to the mark.

"Hardly. I have a habit of getting rid of the loony doctors." He smiled at his own humour. He placed a hand on Templar's shoulder. "However, I hope you understand there's no room on this ship for a vendetta. I've our quota booked up. But if you want to punish bad guys in the stead of Cardassians. Then you're made for the job."

Emplar shifted releasing himself from McGregor's hold on his shoulder."Just like that. You accept my desire to kill Cardassians and tell me I'm cut out for a career in the Border Service."

"You have a sense of justice. Rough justice. It'll stand you in good stead for what I require. We'll leave the judgement calls on whom we dispense the justice to, up to me." He shrugged as Templar gave an unconfident response to that decision making process. "Or Molls. Whichever? So long as we get to make things go boom from time to time."

Sebastian shook his head at the assessment. McGregor looked over his shoulder though and waved his club in the air as if in greeting. Templar went to look at who it was coming their way but McGregor caught a grip of him and asked, "So, are you going to channel that anger in the direction I ask of you?"

Half-hearted Sebastian responded."Of course." McGregor did not let up his grip. So Templar answered more genuinely this time. "I will."

"Good, good." McGregor patted him on the arm as he released him. "Ah Stanley, I wondered when you'd come and join us."

Templar turned to look for the mysterious alien that was Stanley. He wondered as he did, whether he too like ‘Fang' had required a specialised suit to fit his lanky frame, long ovoid head and webbed feet and hands.  But as he turned, Stanley's bare blue webbed knuckles rapped on his helmet visor. Alarmed by what he saw caused Sebastian to exclaim, "What the ..?" As Sebastian exclaimed he backpedalled in shock. Unaware he caught his foot and tripped over the bag of clubs. He landed softly on the hull, legs and arms sticking up in the air.

Stanley approached in his normal uniform. No EV suit in sight. He bent over the fallen form of Sebastian Templar as McGregor creased himself up laughing. Stanley rapped on the visor of Templar's with his blue bare webbed hand. Stanley's combadge transmitted through the void reading the vibrations from Stanley's vocal processors. "Are you quite alright Mr Templar?"

Sebastian scuffled backwards along the hull retreating from the incongruous sight. "B ... b ... but you ... you've no ..."

Stanley quirked his head sideways at the odd angle he was inclined to do and studied the ensign curiously as if there was something odd about his behaviour and presence rather than his own miraculous space walk.

"Now, now, ensign. Stanley's not the most handsome creature in the world but that's a tad bit of an overreaction. Give him a hand up Stanley. We'd be best getting to the mess in a bit. It is Bountiful Bounty Day after all. Things to do and drink to be had. Not necessarily in that order, might I add. However, I think a little wager on a game of pitch and putt. What say you Mr Templar? A keg on hitting the window again."

"Harassing Eddie again Captain?"

"Golf might be a good walk ruined but wrecking Gardner's head that's a sport!"  He smiled broadly wiggling his eyebrows as he set up another tee shot. He took aim and shouted, "FOUR!"

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

'Bing Bong' by Miranda Fave

 ‘Bing Bong’

 

Noah had baulked when the self-assured Templar inquired of the computer: “Computer, where is Ensign Leoni Jex?” Either Noah had no desire to invade Leoni’s privacy or worse still discover that she was in the mess hall with other friends. He felt weird about his jealous feelings concerning Leoni. She was a social person and made friends easily. She could hardly be expected to sequester herself away in order to protect Noah’s feelings.

It still soothed him to a great degree when the computer replied, “Ensign Leoni Jex is currently in ship’s flight operation centre, Deck 4.” As sudden as his relief was so too was his surprise.

“Oh.” Noah registered his surprise. ‘What the hell is Leoni doing in the pre-op flight centre?’ It was essentially a debriefing area for the Kestrel’s pilots, whether helm, shuttle or one of the Wasps or Interceptors.

Templar responded apparently disinterested. “There you go. She must be prepping for a flight or something.” However, Noah was certain the security officer was trying to cover his own surprise at Jex’s business. But then the confident and sometimes stroppy officer took on a far away look as if lost on a memory.

After a moment, Noah enquired, “Something the matter?”

“Wha? No, not at all. Forget about it.” Sebastian shook him off and started along the corridor away from the viewing ports. Noah with little other to do, and not wanting to return to his quarters with Ronak there, followed Templar like a stray dog.

Templar for his part stopped short as he spied the gullible and fresh ensign tailing him. “Where are you going?” Noah only shrugged in response. This caused Templar to roll his eyes despairingly. ‘Oh brother!’ He shook his head and sauntered off again, this time deigning to ignore the ensign following him like a lost ship. Templar might have wanted nothing better than to chase him off but Leoni’s words to him outside the sick bay the night before still thrummed in his consciousness. Not that Templar was going to heed them. At the very least, he could try to not bark at Cutler and send him scurrying. It was a passive attempt rather than a proactive attempt to reach out to others. While he could understand the Trill’s attempt to be a mediator and to counsel him with her lifetime of wisdom, Templar still felt odd for it and the captain’s own brand of counselling.

Still it was troubling him that both Jex and McGregor had tried to reach out to him within the space of one evening. Worst still in his exchange of angry words with the Trill he had almost spilled out his past deeds. Her insufferable good humour and friendliness grating on what she correctly recognised as an attempt to shield himself from others. This self-imposed exile was meant to protect himself and others. The motivation was not clear nor was it logical. However, it was a strong compulsion within and one Sebastian argued to himself a healthy attitude.

Sebastian figured the one sure-fire way to lose Noah was to find other people who would then take him onboard. So with a little time left before their respective shifts started he headed towards the rec area. It took a while but when they reached it, they found the place was quiet at this early hour in the day. Later, come the evenings, it would fill up more and be the scene of more revelry. Stood next to a pool table Sebastian noted the presence of Becca Swift. ‘Great. Just great. I try to find company and I end up finding the one person on board with cause for a genuine grudge.’

He turned swiftly on his heel but of course collided straight into his shadow. “Oof!” He grabbed Noah before he went down like a sack of potatoes. “Sorry. Where are you headed now? I thought you were going to hang out here?”

Templar merely looked up over towards Becca who had just spotted their arrival and Sebastian’s quick retreat. Her face was one of disgust and triumph at apparently chasing him off with out even a word. Her expression changed when she spotted Noah. Passing her pool cue to Jock, she marched towards the two of them at the doorway.

“You had best be leaving him alone Templar!”

Templar gritted his teeth before sneering at her, “For your information he was the one following me and who bumped into me. So cut out the accusations, Petty Officer Swift.”

“Don’t other bandying ranks around here, Ensign. It doesn’t cut much mustard. Especially, from an officer of your ilk.”

He bunched his fists thinking about angrily retorting at her but he decided to let the matter lie. “Whatever you say. Hang around them Cutler, like the bad smell you are.” With that, he stormed off.

Noah looked from the retreating form of Templar to Becca confused as to what his next course of action ought to be. “Becca, I don’t think it’s fair to treat him like that. He was being kind of decent to me there.”

“Well his kind of decent only gets the likes of you into trouble Noah. Stick with me. Heck Jock might be an ass but he’s fairly inconsequential.”

Jock lowered the cue to respond lamely, “Hey there now.”

“Never mind Jock, let’s set them up again.” She pulled out the triangle after dragging Noah over to the pool table. “Come on, me against the pair of you.”

He handed his cue to Noah and Becca’s back to her. “Nah. I tole ye already, I dinna feel like playin’ any pool.”

“Aw come on Jock.” Becca coaxed turning to Noah looking for support. Noah just shrugged unsure of his position.

“Nah. I dinna feel like it.”

“Why not then?” This came from Nujinx who barged in with a knowing grin. “Oh wait, of course, you probably got back your results today. Don’t tell me! Har! You messed up again.” The Xindi Primate slapped him on the back causing Jock to stagger forwards to bump into the pool table.

“Nujinx! I hardly think it is fair to tease him. Besides, you can always try again, right Noah?”

“Erm ... try for what again?”

“The fool here just tried out for the Academy again. Is this the second or third attempt?” he got no response from Jock who looked down at the felt on the pool table. “Got to learn to quit sometime. Besides, boy you are not really officer material. You’re not bright enough nor pretty enough.” Nujinx turned to leer at Noah before laughing rowdily as he moved off leaving the rec room.

Becca moved in to rub Jock’s back. “Don’t pay heed to Nujinx. Isn’t he normally saying that the officers are merely ballast to keep the ship afloat? No offense Noah.”

“Aye but I’m not doing it to impress Nujinx or for his blessing. I’m doin' it fer me.”

“Just right too. Though I hope you realise it isn’t everything to be an officer. McGregor and Gardner will both tell you that. Therefore, if it does not work out you can still climb the ropes as an NCO. Hell I didn’t think I’d make P.O. at this point but I have by working my butt off and doing some real honest to goodness work. Work that I’ve enjoyed doing.”

“If it’s any consolation, being an officer hasn’t been everything I expected it to be.”

“See!” She did a double take to look at Noah. “Aw, Noah don’t be like that. I cannot well cheer both of you up. Especially as each argument with counter the others. So how about we just play some pool?”

She set the pool balls up before lifting the triangle chalking her cue and tossing it to Jock. “You can break. Anyway, tell the truth Jock, you only want to be an officer because you think it will improve your chances with the ladies!”

“Ack now! That’s not true.” He paused before admitting, “Not entirely.”

Noah chimed in good-heartedly but with a slightly dejected tone, “Well if it’s any consolation, being an officer hasn’t exactly helped me with the ladies either.”

Becca just burst out laughing. Jock joined in which eventually brought a smile to Noah’s face. “Oh Noah you’re sweet. Honest to goodness.”

“Bing bong!” Despite the attempt to sound otherwise, the unmistakable voice of the captain called out over the intercom mimicking the intercoms of an age gone by. The three of them found themselves looking into the ceiling awaiting whatever announcement the captain was going to make. The captain continued with a rather nasally voice, almost as if he were pinching his nose as he spoke. “All senior officers please report to my office!” Something about the way he said ‘my office’ implied it was not in fact his office to which he was directing them.

Jock added knowingly, “Probably going to hold the meeting in the Den.”

“This can’t be good.”

Noah asked of the petty officer, “Why do you say that?” His nervousness was clear.

Becca supplied the answers that did not much ease Noah’s apprehensions. “Well last night’s flight deck crew shift were asked to check all systems on the Stallions. The guys down in the arsenal were also given a drill session. I’d wager the captain is cooking something up.”

Jock nodded adding his conclusion. “I’d wager McGregor’s planning on going on a Sarah!”

Noah of course, could only respond with the expected, “A Sarah?”

In unison, Jock and Becca answered, “Search and wreck havoc.”

* * *

 

“Molly!” Eddie Gardner came floundering up to Cartwright, his features covered in grime and the knees of his trousers scuffed. “Have you seen the Captain?”

“I was but talking to him two minutes ago. We had been on our way to the bridge together before he decided on taking an alternative route. What’s up now Eddie?”

“Blast! I’ve spent the night crawling through Jeffries tubes tracking down whatever infernal modifications he’s made since we’ve left Starbase 49.”

“Modifications?”

“You know the kind that blows up the ship. The kind that is along the lines of computer hacking and system cross wiring. The kind such as hacking protocols like requiring the ship’s executive officer to concur with the self-destruct sequence leading to all sorts of destruction.” Eddie started to rant pacing the breadth of the corridor his hands shaking in frustration and wiping his brow, smearing it with grease. “Never mind, the hours, no the days I put into getting all systems up and working all gone to waste with his tinkering about. Never mind the ... the ... the ... yards and feet of optic cabling and trunking I had to wade through. For days on end wading through ODNs and crawling through Jeffries trying to put the Kestrel back together ... the ... the ... the soot and crap I had to clear out of every flaming nook of the ship after he made it all go up like a, like a, like a Catherine wheel!”

Molly merely demurred his rant with a seemingly dismissive, “Hmmm, I hadn’t realised he had started up his old tricks so soon.”

“Huh, we weren’t out of space dock a day before he tried inputting that very one again!”

“Well at least you discovered it.”

“That’s my worry. He expected me to go looking. The fact I found it means to say he has probably a dozen and one other such protocols and programmes hidden with the ship’s systems. I don’t know about you, but that scares the hell outta me.”

“Can’t you just track him on the ship’s sensors?”

Eddie folded his arms. “Computer: locate Captain McGregor.”

Captain McGregor is not on the ship.

“What? But he was here ...”

“Precisely, he came up with that trick on the second day when he figured I was using the internal sensors to track his movements. Still haven’t figured out how he has circumvented that. And when I confronted him with it he merely retorted that it was a security upgrade in light of Thos’ little stunt.”

Molly wanted to curse at her captain’s ingenuity. “I can try talking to him.”

Eddie felt like creasing up laughing with the frustration. “What would be the point? I pointed out to him the harm he could be causing. I pointed out how his meddling with my systems created the overload at Starbase 49. You know what his answer was. No point crying over burnt ashes! I tell you, he’s a madman. Then when I come down after my night’s work, I find that he has been assigning my crews all sorts of new assignments. No doubt planning a Sarah so he can get his rocks off! A danger to the ship! Squirreling about within the ship up to all sorts! Which way did he go?”

“He disappeared up...” she directed Eddie to the juncture McGregor had indeed disappeared into and upon the telling, Eddie chased off in that direction. Molly knew there was no point trying to mollify Gardner. She knew that the engineer needed to vent his frustration and in some perverse way enjoyed the game of cat and mouse with McGregor. If only ever so slightly. She also figured there was no point telling Gardner that McGregor was likely to call a staff meeting soon.

Walking on Molly decided to drop by sickbay. Judy would not be as quite in the loop as to the ship’s machinations so Molly figured she would give the doctor a heads up to whatever McGregor’s plan were like to be. If Judy had a heads up, then she would be placated as to any possible dangers they might be facing.

Entering sickbay she found Judy stood over a rather pinched looking T’Vel perched rather uncomfortably on the end of a bio bed. “What’s the matter?”

T’Vel bid her a solicitous welcome. “Morning Commander Cartwright.” This warned Molly something was up. Judy wore a disapproving frown. Apart form them sickbay was empty.

“I said, what is the matter?”

T’Vel took a short breath before replying coolly, “Doctor patient confidentiality precludes Dr. Monroe from discussing the matter.”

 “Don’t give me that doctor patient relationship crap.”

Monroe stepped back, dropping her hands to her side. Her tone was unimpressed and unusually cold. “I must confess to not being overly enthused about it myself Commander.” This raised Molly’s concern further. It was not like Monroe to use Molly’s rank. T’Vel turned to the doctor coolly appraising her demeanour. Judy told her sternly, “You flaunted my warnings and medical advice as a doctor and now you are playing that card.”

“I assure you, I do not play cards.”

Molly interjected a little too harshly. “You have a lousy bluff that’s for sure, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Spill it.” Silence fell upon the room and seemed to drag out longer than it should have. “Look, I came in here to give Judy the heads up about McGregor’s plans for today. He’s playing it close to his chest, or so he thinks, but he is planning a Sarah. Therefore, I need to know now if you are fit for whatever duties he is likely to give you T’Vel.”

T’Vel arched an eyebrow fiercely. She sighed heavily. Looking up at Judy, she remained silent but her features softened a mere fraction if one knew what to look for. Judy took it for permission to tell. “T’Vel had a run in with Ronak. I had warned her to stay away from him for a time until her system adjusted to the drugs again. She however, chose to ignore my medical advice and it resulted in ... well it resulted in a little heated moment between the two.”

Molly picked up enough to know that Judy was holding enough back about whatever had transpired. She did not bother to probe further. Not when it came to Ronak. How she wished they could have left him on that festering rock of Aubrellis. “And how is she now?”

Judy said, “I was adjusting her medication before you came in.”

“However, it will not be necessary.” T’Vel appeared bothered at being talked about in the third person.

Molly darkly turned it, “We’ll let the doctor decide that T’Vel.”

“I will need to be in fully cognisant and I cannot allow any altercation to my medical that might impair my abilities. I am the patient and I do have rights.”

“Rights? I’ve a duty to ensure the safety of any crew who’ll take direction from you T’Vel. Juiced up on medication might be better than running afoul of your emotional balance. You needed time to establish your equilibrium and you tossed that out the airlock by confronting Ronak!”

“I did not confront him. I merely sought to converse with my son.”

“Son! Don’t give me that! First off, you know how being in close proximity to him can be dangerous to you. That was reckless and stupid. As to his being a son to you! Well, he was content to allow you to run about Aubrellis without control. He happily drank it up and whored it about down there whilst you were at your most vulnerable. He is no son!”

“It is a biological fact.” T’Vel stood. Her presence demanded that Judy and even Molly stood back to give her space. “I still had some semblance of control and I do not need Ronak to interject on my behalf.”

“Well maybe he could step in on Cassie’s behalf.” Her words seemed to strike like a slap across the face. The tone cracked the room like a lightning bolt.

Judy warned, “Molly!”

T’Vel stepped forward, her demeanour growing mean. “I hardly think it is appropriate to...”

“No! I don’t think it is appropriate for Cassie to be in command of any away mission!”

“I have faithfully served this ship without ever compromising it or the safety of any away party I have been a part of.”

“That is not exactly true now is it T’Vel?”

T’Vel looked shocked and appalled at what Cartwright was referring. She answered coldly, her voice sounding distant. “That was beyond my control.”

“Be that as it may, it happened and all because your emotional balance was off kilter and we didn’t know to intervene. As bad as Cassie might be, we all know that there could be worse. We all know because there has been!”

“Bing bong! All senior officers please report to my office!”

Judy broke the dangerous silence between the two women. “Well whatever McGregor has cooked up we’re going to find out now. How’s about we settle this matter amicably? I will give T’Vel a boost to her medication. However, it will only be a slight increase in your dosage. That way you remain fully in control and unimpaired – neither drugs nor your emotional imbalance will interfere with your thinking. Though I will suggest T’Vel that you take some time before hand to meditate.”

Neither Molly nor T’Vel said a word. “Are we agreed?”

“It is a most agreeable solution.”

“Fine. I’ll be the senior officer’s lounge. I’ll see you both there.” Molly turned and walked away.

* * *

 

 

 

The Captain's Den by Miranda Fave

 

The Captain's Den


Bridge, USS Kestrel

 

"I'm ... baaaaaaaaaack!"

"You're late." Came the droll reply from Caleb Dexter as he turned to the parting doors where McGregor was announcing himself jazz hands shimmering with wild eyes and a crazy grin plastered across his face. Dexter recognised the crazed excited look McGregor had. A look said he had something in the pipeline and like a kid in a sweetshop, McGregor could hardly contain himself with anticipation.

"Hardly late Tac. After all, I got here just when I wanted." He slapped down into his command chair, with one leg cocked over the armrest. He then patted his belly as if satisfied after a dinner. "You went and ruined my entrance Dexter. Ah! Not as grand as yours Stanley!" McGregor jumped up as the doors opened again to announce Stanley from his impromptu space walk. "Had a nice walk?"

Stanley bobbed his head as McGregor approached him. "I did thank you Captain."

"Good, good."

"As I was saying, you are late Captain."

"My ship my boyo, which means to say ... I'm not late, I'm on time. Not to mention I got here before Stanley and I went for a detour." McGregor smirked to himself thinking of Gardner crawling through the Jeffries tubes in pursuit trying to figure out whatever ‘modifications' McGregor had made. The fact that on this occasion he actually hadn't made any modifications or uploaded any programs made McGregor laugh to himself at Gardner's pointless chase. "Hee, hee. Anyway, I plan to make up for it! Fun is afoot. Plans are in action and I've a score to settle. And Stanley you have my scarf to finish but hey you can knit during the briefing."

Stanley blinked in response to that. "What briefing Captain?"

"Why this one ... open a ship wide comm. there please." He said to Berkley at the Ops console.

McGregor pinched the bridge of his nose to achieve a nasal tannoy voice. "Bing bong! All senior officers please report to my office!" McGregor spun on his foot and turned to walk off the bridge again but stopped suddenly and declared into the air, "And oh someone bring carrot cake!"

"Erm."

"What Lieutenant?"

"I ended the comm. link Captain before your request. Shall I open it again?"

"No, that would only make me seem preposterous. Why even impulsive. Ok, do it. No don't. No do. No don't."

Dexter stood with his arms folded with a cross expression on his face. "Aren't you?"

"I don't want to be seen that way though. Right then, Berkley go get me some from the canteen."

Halfway out of his chair, Berkley stopped to say, "You could always replicate some."

"What! I don't want any of that recycled rubbish." Berkley blanched at irking McGregor.

"Actually, studies have clearly stated that there is no perceptible difference between real food and replicated."

"It doesn't change the fact that it is literally recycled rubbish, Stanley. I want real carrot cake from the galley, made with carrots and ... and well, cake."

Trying to get McGregor's attention with increasing volume and increasing agitation, Dexter tried talking over him. "Captain - captain - CAPTAIN!"

Eventually breaking from his carrot cake conversation, McGregor sternly asked of Dexter, "What is it?"

"The meeting." He pushed.

McGregor clicked his fingers. "Oh yes! Let's. The senior officers' lounge then." He declared gleefully rubbing his hands together. "I could do with a drink. Berkley forget the carrot cake, you have the conn. - just don't do anything. Stay on course, maintain speed, I'll update from The Den."

With a hop and a skip, arm around Stanley the captain made his way to the door whistling merrily. Dexter reluctantly following behind tried to ask, "So what's the plan Captain?"

"Muh ha ha ha!" He shook his head laughing as he cantered down the curving staircase towards the lounge. "Now, now Tac, that's for The Den ... Molly would be peeved if you guys knew before her."

Dexter snorted. "You mean Rah doesn't know already?"

McGregor breezed through the doors and headed straight to the bar counter. "Fang doesn't count. He has fur!"

* * *

 

Senior Officers' Lounge, ‘The Den', Deck Three

McGregor and Stanley entered the lounge at a brisk pace with McGregor's arm around Stanley's shoulders. Dexter followed quickly behind giving the room a cursory survey, as was the security officer in him. Nothing was amiss as to be expected. Inside the lounge, dark polished wood and leather created a rather austere masculine environment a world away from the muted greys and bland inoffensive colourings of Starfleet's corridors and workstations. It was a welcome escape for a senior officer like Dexter to get away from subordinates and to do so in grand surrounds and a small touch of luxury.

The room was two storeys high with an upper balcony housing a small private library and a number of leather armchairs. Thus seated, one had a magnificent view from the large window looking aft of the ship just under docking port one looking back at the torpedo pod.

Furnishing the room was a large dark oval table that dominated one end and acted as McGregor's conference table on occasion and every Friday night as the poker table for Dexter, Gardner, Monroe and Gunny. The table had a dark wood finish but the centre flipped to become a sophisticated tactical display too. A luxury item no one was quite sure how McGregor had acquired as it was far from Starfleet standard and further from the Border Patrol's tighter pool of resources. That said, the entire Den was far from frugal in its setting and finishings.

There were several dark red leather settees seated under the curving window with a viewscreen mounted on the wall. Dexter and Gardner frequently used the video screen to watch the numerous sports they liked to bet on. At this end, tucked under the balcony and curving metal staircase was a baby grand piano, perfectly placed for the spill over of mirth from the curving heavy wooden counter surrounding optics and ledges with bottles against a mirrored wall. The bar was not as large as Gordon's for the general ship but served adequately for the needs of the senior officers in private.

A finishing touch to the counter was the gunmetal bust of a perching kestrel about to take flight after its quarry. The bust sometimes caught the light spilling through the large curving windows and seemed to change in hue to a metallic blue. The eyes of the bust were beady and intense as if an actual kestrel somehow had been caught in a moment before covered in the strange metal alloy of the bust. Lastly, the bar had one of the fewer personal replicator stations on the ship. This meant senior staff could rustle up a bite to eat without having to go to the mess and be surrounded by the rest of the crew.

It was to this bar McGregor steered himself and Stanley as he proclaimed upon his entrance, "By and by Stanley, where is my new scarf? You said you would have it finished in time before our run on Xesix Prime." McGregor stole in behind the counter giving the kestrel a fond pat on its head as he passed. "I think the midnight blue wool will help to bring out the colour of eyes. Don't you think Dexter?"

Dismissively, Dexter dryly remarked, "I wouldn't be an expert on such matters."

"What's to know about scarves Tac? Really! I'm disappointed."

Dexter raised his middle finger in response to that with the response eliciting a laugh from McGregor. "Now, now Tac, not in front of the ladies, or Molly for that matter. Where are the ladies?" He asked leaning on the bust looking behind Molly at the closing door.

"They'll be along shortly. I left them in sickbay."

"Oh, girl talk - do dish!" He deigned not to await any answer but bopped down under the counter to clink at glasses and bottles.

Molly gave him the same fed up expression Dexter had given. It did not stop Dexter wondering about the sickbay reference. T'Vel was a constant security concern as far as he was concerned. He turned his focus back on McGregor now with glasses in hand. "A water no doubt Stanley."

"Thanking you kindly, Captain."

McGregor seemed unimpressed with the choice of drink as he poured out a glass for Stanley. "Can I get either of you something stronger than Stanley?"

Dexter frowned in response. "No thanks."

Molly crossed her arms. "You've just had breakfast."

McGregor looked up surprised from the shot of whiskey he had finished pouring himself. "Good ..." he interrupted himself to raise the tumbler to his lips and sink it in one before clinking the empty tumbler against Stanley's glass, "point. Cheers Stanley. I should have a port to ease my digestion."

"Captain."

"What? I'm kidding." Quietly aside to Stanley he adlibbed, "She's a spoilsport. T'Vel must have put her in a foul mood."

At that, Eddie Gardner came into the lounge with a frustrated frown on his craggy face and rubbing his knees. He sauntered up to the counter and plopped down on the stool next to Stanley. Stanley turned and looked down at the offending knees of the chief engineer, "Are your knees sore?"

McGregor beamed a mischievous look in Eddie's direction awaiting the reply. "Well they would be Stanley what with crawling through miles of Jeffries tubes all on a stupid wild goose hunt." He angrily grabbed the glass McGregor sat out in front of him. McGregor then slid a silver cased lighter across the counter to Eddie too. "This doesn't make up for it."

McGregor sat up a wooden box and slid it across the counter. "Just in. Call me old fashioned but they're Cuban."

Eddie looked up through his thick bushy eyebrows. He gave a reluctant and only momentary smirk as he pulled the box towards himself and opened it up taking in the aroma of the box and the cigars within. He sucked on his inner cheek and scratched at his beard before replying, "But it's a start."

"Good boy Eddie."

Stanley blinked and raised his glass to Gardner. "Cheers," he said smiling in the mad wide smile he had.

"What's this all about Captain?" Dextor asked.

McGregor held up a halting finger. He tapped his combadge, "McGregor to the bridge ... adjust course bearing by 0041 degrees, and maintain speed."

Molly asked stepping closer to the counter but not coming up to it. "Why the change in course?"

"All will be revealed. First, say hello to Judy and T'Vel." The doors parted to usher in the two of them.

"Good morning Captain. A bit early Eddie isn't it?" Judy Monroe said eyeing up his half-filled glass as she approached the bar. Eddie looked down at the evidence and then looked to McGregor who had cleared his own glass away.

"Greetings." T'Vel stood near to the door, her hands clasped behind her back and her eyes not looking in Molly's direction.

"Morning Vel. I trust it sees you good. Now, to business, we can't waste time on chit chat." T'Vel raised her eyebrow in obvious disapproval at McGregor's name but she moved towards the table and seated herself in the middle seat. McGregor took the head chair. Molly walked around the table carefully examining T'Vel as she remained focused on the captain before she took the opposite chair to McGregor. Judy sat to one side of T'Vel with McGregor then to her immediate left. On T'Vel's other side, Dexter slid in feeling the impression that he was a buffer between the two women. On the other side, Stanley sat next to McGregor facing Judy as Eddie came with his drink and lit cigar puffing to stand behind McGregor.

Molly looked up to Eddie. "Not taking a seat?"

Leaning against the wooden rail running along the bulkhead, he held the cigar up as if producing evidence as he blew a circle of cigar smoke in the direction behind him. "You all only complain about my smoking when I do."

"And with good reason Eddie."

He doffed his cigar in the direction of Judy. "See what I mean."

Elbows on the table, T'Vel steepled her hands and rested her chin on them. "It is in Dr. Monroe's professional capacity to raise the medical arguments about smoking."

Molly forced herself not to scowl at T'Vel once again spouting medical reasoning given her own behaviour. Gardner took a puff on his cigar before declaring in response, "I'll sit over here." He cantered back to the bar and propped himself on one of the stools.

McGregor launched onwards. "Now, as I was saying, plans are afoot. That you have all gathered by now. When we were on Aubrellis, Fang managed to procure some interesting information, coincidently just before certain establishments caught fire."

T'Vel interrupted with an expected comment. "The probability of such a coincidence is -"

McGregor cut her off, "Considerably greater when it's Fang doing the calling. Nevertheless, the information has been collated and sifted through by me and Starfleet - pah - Intelligence. The information reveals the cargoes and routes of numerous dubious operators ..." A noise distracted him beside him. Click, clack, click, clack. "Do you need to knit so loudly Stanley?"

Stanley looked up unaware of his surrounds. "Hmmm ... sorry Captain? Your scarf is coming along nicely might I say." Stanley draped the uncompleted blue scarf over McGregor's shoulder. "You are quite correct in your assessment Captain; it does bring out the colour of your eyes."

"Why thank you Stanley. Continue ... but try to do it quieter."

"I shall endeavour to do so."

"Hey Eddie!"

Gardner looked aghast and confused all at the one time. He held out the cigar between his fingers in shock at McGregor seemingly correcting him for smoking. "Wha? Can't a guy smoke. I'm over here out of the way."

"Yeah but watch Kes! You near knocked her over."

Gardner gave the bust a look. "Hardly likely, that thing is a ton weight. And if it fell over it wouldn't break. It'd be more like to break my foot."

McGregor started vocally ‘shooing' Gardner away from the bust. "Shoo, shoo. You're leaning against it."

"Damn it! I'll move over to this stool. Are you happy now? I won't touch your flaming bust."

"Hee, hee. I bet you say that to all the girls Eddie."

Dexter interjected. "Are we intending on wasting all day or what?"

"My, you got out of bed on the wrong side this morning."

"I had the night shift."

"Psst! You're in space; it's always dark outside! Although, it is rather unfortunate for you Dexter considering what I have planned for today. As I was saying before Stanley, Eddie and Dexter interrupted me, the various sources I have to hand have been put to good use. I have selected a target, a name we all know and love, our dear ole ‘Thaddeus' Norwi."

From the bar counter and his new stool, Gardner chewed on his cigar. "Huh, Thaddeus, it has been a while. I thought he might have turned over a new leaf."

Judy remarked sadly, "His kind never does."

"No, they do not. Though personally, I always liked Thaddeus, he always had good taste."

"It is illogical to like a career criminal simply because you deem him to have good taste."

Eddie flicked the ash on his uniform. "It would be because McGregor liked confiscating his contraband alcohol."

"Hee, hee, like I say, he always had good taste."

The doctor turned to give McGregor an imploring look. "Please tell me we aren't chasing after Thaddeus simply to confiscate whatever illegal liquors he might be carrying."

"Judy! As if I would." No one around the table said anything to that. "And no, that's not the reason why I'm tracking Thaddeus down. Certainly, it isn't the only reason why."

"Can we get to the point?"

"Dexter! And the point is we are going to raid and board Thaddeus' ship. But first, let's have a little status report." He pressed a button and the centre of the conference table flipped over to reveal the tactical display. McGregor pulled up a live schematic of the Kestrel herself with a running display of information about the ship's power output and usage alongside incoming sensor readings. The Captain tabbed main engineering and the schematic zoomed in on it giving a more detailed analysis as well as the current crewmembers working there. "Eddie?"

"As if you don't bloody know already, everything is fine and dandy. I still haven't got the engines to the optimum. Our little escapade at Starbase 49 well and truly knocked things back to basics and whilst I've tweaked the engines yet, the bird isn't sailing like she was."

"I'm sure that you'll get her there in time Eddie."

"Yeah but my question is what was the purpose of the work assignments last night? What's that about?"

"In due course Eddie, in due course. Tac? Any duty reports?"

"Nope. All was quiet. We received an open comm. update from the buoy tender Bad Axe update to Star Command. They report a series of attacks on comm. buoys near the Wantu system but they have been fully repaired. Cutters are advised to keep an eye out for any rogue transits that may have taken advantage of the blind or purposefully did so."

Gardner chimed in. "Of that I have no doubt! Criminals act quicker on sensor net failures that Starfleet does!"

"Yeah well, we can keep an eye out for them then."

McGregor mused aloud for no-one's particular benefit. "Intelligence doesn't think it might be the work of these Maquis? Hmmm ... I wonder. Go ahead Dexter."

"Other than sending an info dump of hardcore verification data from the comm. buoys not much else. Other than they detected a subspace boundary in sector ..."

"Yadda, yadda, yadda. Moving on? Judy, anything pertinent on your end?"

"Nothing to declare captain."

McGregor caught the look from Molly to Monroe and the fact both of them steadfastly did not look in the direction of T'Vel. It explained the sickbay meeting between the three of them. It also explained why Molly was being so unusually quiet. "Nothing to add Molly?"

"If you can't be bothered with the status report, skip to the plan."

"Oh wait." McGregor leaned forward to read the tactical display focusing on the ship's current bearing. Tapping his comm. badge, he instructed the conn to adjust the course by a minute fraction again. "Ah yes, the plan!" He tapped in a few commands and the cut through schematic of the Kestrel switched to that of an Orion raider with its own macabre painted insignia on the hull. It was recognizable to all as the ship captained by Thaddeus. "As you can imagine, once Thaddeus catches a whiff of us chasing after him, he is going to hightail it away. So we are going to run him down. Once we do ..." he pressed a tab on the interactive display and the scene changed to a tactical overlay showing Thaddeus ship the Nightwing being approached by two Star Stallions, "we launch and take control of the vessel allowing us to conduct a thorough inspection."

Molly's crossed arms were a sign that she was unimpressed. Her tone even more so. "As simple as that."

"As simple as that, Molls. Simple is best." He preened from the opposite end of the table.

Molly pulled her best ‘bumblebee' face as she scowled across the table. "Why I oughta knock that smile off your face. But I'd say it would be easier to slap off the stubble! You are going to play hard and fast with the lives of those Stallion crews and that's the height of the plan you are supplying us with."

"I'm hardly done yet Molly. As you can see," he spread a hand over the tactical simulation, "two Stallions with two boarding teams will take the ship. Stallion One, led by me will take the bridge. Stallion Two led by Dexter will seize engineering and voila! Hey presto, Bob's your uncle, arrivederci."

Molly Cartwright pushed her chair back to stand and leaned over the table resting on the knuckles of her fists. "The hell it is McGregor. You can't be so flippant about it. You are putting lives on the line no matter how well trained and prepared that they are. Instead of your cavalier attitude spell out the specifics."

He shrugged indifferently. "I'm going with the Stallions Molly. I'm hardly going to embark on a half-assed plan."

"The problem is McGregor I think you would. If you want to play at this as if it is a game then I'm going to insist that you don't go on the SARAH."

Suddenly pulled up short at such a demand McGregor was horrified. "Molly."He expressed in a hurt tone. "I love search and wreak havoc ops." Dexter stifled a laugh behind his hand.

"No, if you want this mission to have the go ahead, then you remain behind on the Kestrel."

A long moment passed between them with the rest of the senior staff save Stanley still absorbed in his knitting keeping stump. "Fine! I don't care anyway." Eddie snorted.

In her imperious voice, T'Vel asked, "Who shall lead the Stallion One team?"

"Why you of course T'Vel, you are second officer and Molly will want to stay onboard to check I keep to the plan."

Molly narrowed her eyes as McGregor tried to play her. She chose not to rise to his bait. She gave Judy one last questioning glance and the doctor in turn only gave a fractional inclination of her head that she felt T'Vel was fit for such a duty. "Fine." She took her seat again. "And you are correct; I will stay to keep you honest to the plan. Once you dish what the plan is."

"Like I say Molly, simple is best."

Stanley reached out with his knitting. "Do you like this stitching here captain? I think a little detail adds so much more to the effect."

"Very nice Stan. Lovely it is." McGregor said without even looking in Stanley's direction maintaining his locked gaze with Molly. He leaned back in his chair and grinned wolfishly. "Though that said Molly, the devil is in the details."

* * *

 

 

A Den of Thieves by Miranda Fave

 

A Den of Thieves

 

Senior Officers' Lounge

As the rest of the senior staff filed out to prepare for the assigned tasks, McGregor held back knowing his XO had something left to say. "You don't look too happy Molly."

Remaining seated at the conference table opposite to McGregor, she said nothing with the two of them staring one another down. "You should know Molly that I'm rather good at staring contests."

Molly eventually responded dully, "No, I'm not particularly thrilled."

"The mission troubles you?"

She rapped the table with her knuckles. "What galls me is just how casual you are about it all. I've not known you to be so flippant when it comes to putting lives on the line."

"It's hardly a major Op Molly. One simple little ship to board, that's all."

"One simple little ship that so far we have no idea as to where it is." She spread her hands as if seeking an answer as to where it might be found.

Dexter's voice came through. "Bridge to McGregor. Sensors have detected a ship on the periphery of our sensor range. Shall we adjust heading?"

McGregor clicked the wall mounted comm. system and called into the speaker. "No. Keep on this heading for the present moment. I'll update shortly."

Molly narrowed her eyes as she shook her head. "You knew that was going to happen. You just set me up to ask right before the sensors would pick it up." He shrugged and grinned. In reference to his know how she asked, "Care to explain?"

Effecting a magnanimous tone McGregor actually came off as boasting. "Oh that, yes I've just discovered the position of Thaddeus' ship. However, I don't want Thaddeus to know. I'm not going to tip my hand just yet. Let's let Thaddeus think he has gotten away."

"Bridge to McGregor, detected ship has changed course and is no longer on our sensors."

"Very good, maintain course."Molly arched her eyebrow by way of questioning McGregor. "I sat up all night doing my math Molly. I read the traffic reports, the constabulary logs, comm. chatter as well as reviewing the navigational buoy logs. All very boring, but a little whisky and a little Yeoman Harris to help me with my calculations, my geometric triangles and tantric positions - oops - I mean triangulations and calculations."

"Ok. However, why then the lack of chasing him down? Why aren't we chasing him down? Why aren't you changing course?"

"I will and I shall." He examines a PADD. "Just not yet. I don't want to spook Thaddeus. I want to keep him on this general heading."McGregor sensed Molly's patience was running thin. "All part of my grand plan."

It did little to mollify her. Getting testy with the lack of answers, Molly retorted, "A grand plan that is vague about certain details."

He scoffed. "Hardly vague."

Molly exclaimed just tempering her anger. "Really! So how are we going to catch and board Thaddeus' ship?"

"It's a simple matter of running up to him and a few rat traps to punch out his lights. And I provided plenty of details on the SARAH itself."

"Those are details are details I don't care much for. Ensign Jex as pilot for one of the Stallions for example is a detail I do not overly care for. You do recall that she is in actuality an engineer." Molly stabbed the table with her forefinger.

"Ah yes, but the slug was a pilot."

Molly rolled her eyes. With McGregor she wondered whether they would ever come down. "The slug - the trill symbiont - may have been a pilot in a previous life but it wasn't the slug that graduated from Starfleet Academy. It was the host, Deodzi who graduated as a pilot, before she was joined."

McGregor pulled an incredulous face. "Of course the slug didn't graduate from the Academy. It would have had no hands to hold the scroll." Bending his elbows, he tucked his arms in towards his body and mocked flailing futilely with his hands miming a short reaching slug.

After long years of working with McGregor, Molly knew to turn his little jokes against him to score a point. "It wouldn't have had hands to pilot a ship either."

Her response made him rub his beard, which was as close as he would come to conceding the point, other than to say, "A good point."

Molly folded her arms smugly as sticking it to her captain. "Another good point is the fact that some of the information you have used here has been kindly provided by T'Hos."

He leaned back in his chair with his hands behind his head. "And corroborated by intelligence reports, comm. and navigation buoy records, and various other sources."

"Still, all this information provided by T'Hos is a little convenient."

"Hardly convenient Molly, I sat up all night doing the math, remember."

"T'Hos is smart enough to leave a golden breadcrumb trail for you to follow and have you work it out enough to make you think that you are outsmarting him. All so that you walk into his trap."

"Indeed it could be a trap - but a good one. One with the right bait to lure me in. And yes it is a golden breadcrumb trail but you know what Molly, when tracking shit you follow the smell. Bridge, adjust heading to ..." McGregor instructed the bridge and awaited confirmation. Looking back up through the large window, he noted the change in warp speed and direction. With a tilt of his head, the captain appeared to sense the change of the Kestrel's course through the feel of the deck plates alone. Turning to Cartwright, he spread his hands as if to say viola. "See, I'm full of details."

"Yes and then putting T'Vel in charge of one of the teams."

"Ah that's your fault! I wanted to go remember. Don't you trust T'Vel?"

"I get the distinct impression that you planned that all along. It also strikes me McGregor, that you are the one with trust issues. You won't tell me what is going on. Starfleet was all too happy to dump me here to act as your watchdog sometimes your guide dog but I'm not a lapdog. If you won't trust me, I'm of no use to you. I give you leeway on lots of things McGregor but only because I can usually trust that you are doing the right thing. And I can recognise the times when I know I can't trust you to reign it in. But if you can't trust me then there's no point my serving as your XO."

"Molly! I wouldn't have any other! You're the only one that ever lasted. Don't worry about T'Vel. Judy says she is fine and dandy; not to mention that Rah is on the team with her. Personally, I would be more worried about Rah. I do fear he might choke on a fur ball. I must speak to Judy actually about getting Rah groomed. I wonder should I get him neutered too when I'm at it."

"McGregor."

"Ock Molly, trust me, I do trust you. I'm just choosing to leave your hands clean of this whole affair."

"What! Why?"

"Pfft! Do you think I'd trust information found from T'Hos that seems to highlight many of his competitors' operations and yet revealing very little of his own? Do you think I'd trust it based on official records and Starfleet Intelligence alone? I made use of the information provided by Paul."

Cartwright looked up shocked at the mention of her ex-husband. "What's Paul got to do with this?"

"Nothing at all, other than providing us with useful corroborating evidence that verified much of what T'Hos gave away. Of course, T'Hos gave the information away freely to his own ends. He wants to send us on a wild goose chase - only it ain't so wild or goosey. Instead, it is an all too tempting target. That takes us away from hunting T'Hos down."

"So Paul's information confirmed what T'Hos had."

"It took a little homework, but yup it substantiated the claims the dossier gathered from T'Hos' illegal operations on Aubrellis."

"Why so secretive?"

"I didn't want to name names. I don't want Starfleet to arrest Paul. Worse still, I don't want T'Hos to learn we know of his operations from Paul. Otherwise, Paul will end up a deader. He may yet Molly."

Molly did not want to acknowledge that reality. "Why?"

McGregor leaned forward and the play of light on his face hooded his eyes in shadow as his tone turned dark. "He's a bastard. A charming good-hearted bastard with a great taste in liquor but whilst still a bastard he is your ex-husband bastard. Are we done? Satisfied?"

She shook her head. "I am far from satisfied."

His tone suddenly lightened as he jested. "Normally, I would make a crude comment about your sex life Molly, but I shan't this time."

"You better not. Or your tantric triangle will be missing a vital side. And I get that you are still keeping something from me."

"Oh I like to keep you on your toes Molly. It would get boring if I didn't spring a few surprises along the way."

"Such as doing this to protect Paul?!"

Wagging a finger, he sternly corrected Molly's misconception. "No Molly. I'm protecting you."

"I thought ..."

He cut her off brusquely. "McGregor to bridge, adjust course to..." Again, he relayed his instructions to the bridge and awaited their confirmation. He turned his attention back to Molly. He became a little more sober as he laid his palms on the table and pushed himself up to standing. "I'm not doing anything to protect Paul only you Molls. You've paid the price with Admiralty before and I'll not let him ruin your career. Nor will I allow him to get away with facilitating T'Hos' entry to Starbase 49. That ended with two of my people dead. Trust me; I ain't flippant about people's lives Molly. You know that. Paul will get his. But I'll be the one to mete out my own brand of justice. No one else."

* * *

 

The lair of T'Hos Likk

The Nausicaan screwed up his nose and gave the man across from him a disapproving sneer. "T'Hos why have you called us here?"

Leaning back in his expansive chair T'Hos plucked at the luxurious fabrics. He considered the fine setting of his little abode. Some would consider it vulgar and tasteless. However, to him, it suited his station as a king among petty thieves and squabbling pirates. He was a criminal mastermind. The leading figure in a crime syndicate primed to replace the audacious Orion Syndicate. Yes, that was his grand vision. The vision he wanted to create and share with his family. All seemed within his grasp until the fateful day he crossed the path of a certain Starfleet officer. The pit of his dark soul growled and twisted with venom for that accursed man.

Slopping down his mug of wine, T'Hos reached over and with a broken and dirty nail skewered a cockroach scuttling across the table between the lavish gold plated tableware adorned with rich foods. He plucked the squirming cockroach up between index and fore finger bringing it to his eye level and turning his narrowed eyes to consider its plight.

"Well? What's the matter T'Hos? Do even you, find your banquet too rich to stomach? Har!" The Nausicaan scooped up a handful of food and scoffed it heartily. Food and wine dribbled down his chin as open mouthed he laughed gregariously.

T'Hos opted to ignore his manners and insult. Instead, he squeezed the cockroach between his fingers as with a degree of finality and with a mouthful of hate he pronounced, "In one word? McGregor."

He looked up to catch the expressions of those seated on the plush fittings of his ‘throne room' floor. The Bers Brothers were long time business associates and rivals. By dent of their greed, they had come to ally themselves with T'Hos in his vision to create a new criminal power to rival the Orions.  Bers W'Asdi was the elder Nausicaan brother but where he had the brawn and might of the family, he did not have the brains or ambition. Instead, he allowed his decisions to be schooled by his younger and more cunning siblings. As such, Bers W'Asdi's immediate reaction was to scoff at T'Hos.

"Pah!" The Nausicaan wiped his gaping mouth and chin with his sleeve. "Your vendetta with the Border Dog is none of our concern." He smiled greedily and to T'Hos' mind, far too dangerously at that. "If he hurts your business, why it is only to our advantage."

However, T'Hos did not focus his attention on W'Asdi. Instead, he focused on gauging the responses of the other brothers here. Bers Deros was the more vocal and seemingly the one who made the decisions. His response was cool too. "I agree with my brother. McGregor is a thorn in our sides but so too is any number of Federation captains. You forget T'Hos we are not a committee or a talking house. We are persons with business interests, sometimes mutual, sometimes..." this new speaker extended a hand and weighed it like a scale of sorts, "not."

Undeterred, T'Hos posited, "And in getting rid of McGregor our interests our mutual." He kept his eyes on the silent Bers Huoth who merely slinked back on the velvets as he watched the proceedings with keen eyes even as he ran a hand along the length of the scantily dressed Orion girl draped over him.

Deros pressed his argument. "You have a personal vendetta against McGregor because he killed your kin. Taking on a starship captain deliberately is not something that interests me. As it is, your attack on the Kestrel at Starbase 49 has only brought greater attention to our operations. The Border Patrol have increased their stop and search operations. If anything you owe us compensation for the losses we have endured."

"Now, now Deros. Let's try to rise above petty concerns. Compensation? ... Imagine if we can rid ourselves of McGregor just how much more profitable business will be."

"We can't deny that." But Deros, looking over at his partner and brother carefully, as he gorged himself on more of the finery laid on for them, was not to be easily convinced. A subtle nod from Huoth made Deros continue in this vein. "However, the same could be said of any Border Patrol captain or ship. Do you suggest we take them all on? Wage a war with the Federation? Huh. We are ‘entrepreneurs' not warlords. We aren't the Klingon Empire or the Cardassian Union. They took on the Federation and yet failed. Yet you ask us to go up against them!"

"I don't ask that. Merely that we tackle a single thorn in all our sides. Since McGregor's lucky escape, he has escalated his operations and singlehandedly bringing our operations down around our ears. My network on Aubrellis has taken me years to build up and he has destroyed it in a day."

"Yes, your operations. And because of you bringing it upon yourself. You won't win our pity or our sympathy because of your recklessness. Nor will you win our vote for a harebrained scheme to take on McGregor."

T'Hos smiled and countered, "And what if I tell you that already McGregor is falling for my bait, has already fallen into my trap?"

Deros leaned in greedily. "How so?"

"At this very moment he thinks he has a great scheme in operation. Little does he realise I have my own operations in play. A little misinformation can go a long way."

"Misinformation? Is that all?"

"It will be enough to distract McGregor until we can ensnare him in our trap and be rid of him once and for all."

Deros snorted. "It hardly sounds fool proof."

"You forget I still have someone working on the inside. And just when McGregor least needs it, they will play their hand and render the dog useless. I will have McGregor on his knees before me, begging to save his crew and his pathetic life. And then, I will take great pleasure in taking both."

* * *

 

Past Lives - Bad Memories by Miranda Fave

 

Past Lives and Bad Memories

 

Flight Operation Centre, Deck 4

Leoni Jex stared down at the PADD for what must have been the umpteenth time in fifteen minutes. She could study the details no further or be more prepared for the Captain's plan of action. However, she knew she could always feel more prepared than she did.

"Damn it." She cursed aloud at herself. She tossed the PADD onto the situation table in front of her. Slumping into her seat, she just sat brooding. Her leg jittered almost as if she were nervous. It was not nerves however. It was instead a trait Deodzi often displayed when she would grow impatient and frustrated. Clamping a hand on her thigh, Leoni was brought up at suddenly realising she had picked up this trait.

With several lifetimes of habits and traits dumped into her body upon the joining with the Jex symbiont, Leoni had a hard time trying to adjust. Many of the adjustments that were hardest to comprehend were the little changes such as the tiny habits she would now inherit and display. She spent her first week joined eating her locks of hair that fell across her face, a habit she picked up from Niesa who would do so when she fretted about her children's health and safety. From Deodzi she had also picked up a rather coarse tongue and found herself using expletives as adjectives and adverbs and even nouns when she was speaking. This stemmed from Deodzi's years working with front line troops and patrols during the Cardassian War. Of course, such adjustments were to be expected and her own family understood and excused some of her out of character behaviour at that time. Still, it make it difficult to look her Grandmother in the face after declaring the scarf and mittens she had made for Leoni were the effing best ever, that Nan herself was an effing rockstar and the scarf would keep the nipples of an Orion dancer warm!

She let a small smile play across her face remembering that scene and the horrified looks of her family as they looked on. Leoni herself took a moment even to register what was so out of line. When she had, she was mortified and apologetic. However, even the prime and proper domestic goddess that was Neisa had chuckled at it. Leoni shook her head in wonderment at it all. In small moments such as now, she would find herself marvelling at what she had become. She was different now. Not only different in terms of habits she had picked up but different in how she thought and perceived things. She was different in how her scope of seeing the world around her was seen through entirely new eyes. The different eyes of different people. Her world was not blinkered by seeing it as Leoni herself. She saw beyond such a narrow field of vision and could discern what Neisa would have felt and what Deodzi might have done.

It was still such an odd sensation. From finding herself whistling tunes, she had never heard before, to developing an insatiable appetite for blueberry muffins. Neisa would sing often to her children, they found her voice soothing and comforting to fall over asleep listening to. Deodzi called blueberry muffins the only civilised contribution humans ever made to the universe!

It was a momentary sense of mirth that quickly passed. Leoni now leaned forwards on the tactical display table as it played out the scenario as she envisioned it. And how McGregor was calling it. She rubbed her temples as tried to focus her mind on the challenge at hand. Leoni had scored average to well in her shuttle training. She had never wanted to helm any kind of starship before. Merely she had grown up helping her grandfather as he tinkered with engines of skiffs and the odd shuttle that came his way. Progressing arthritis had paid heed to his exertions so as she grew up Jex had become more involved in the repairs of the one-man repair shop. No wonder then, that she grew to love engines. It was the magic of discovering what lay underneath the surface, holding together old and broken down engines and making them powerful and thrum with life once again.

She shook her head, shaking off the memories of her grandfather and his passing away. He would have loved that his little Leoni was now a Starfleet engineer, a dream he had once aspired to before family life changed his dreams in another direction. She smiled thinking that he would also have loved the fact that her assignment was to a battered, old and weathered Miranda class vessel instead of some fancy top of the line ship.

Though of course, she now remembered a time when the Miranda was a top of the line vessel, or as near to when he had joined Starfleet. Jeodzi had bounded aboard their first posting ready and eager to take the helm. "Grrr ..." She suddenly vented in frustration. She wanted to access those skill sets now. The skill sets in which McGregor had placed his faith believing that her previous incarnation as a pilot would carry through to her life now. In part it did, her skill and proficiency with navigational controls vastly improved upon her being joined. Like so many aspects of her life, she found she had new memories and knowledge of skills Leoni never had before.

However, she had never expected to be call upon such knowledge primarily in order to complete a mission. However, that was what McGregor was demanding of her. Not demanding, asking of her. It was a crazy assed move on his part. It was crazier still for her to consider even going through with it. Yet here she was after spending all night in the Sims practicing the plan of action and finding the touch coming back to her naturally. She now found herself daring to undertake the mission. But she now found that her memories were fading as the time approached and her nerves grew.

"Bing bong! All senior officers please report to my office!"

 "You let your anger dictate you."

Startled, Leoni looked up to see the imposing figure of Rah Eyrrs Norr stood over her. The Kzinti's amber eyes drilling into hers with an intensity she found unnerving. She had heard the rumours that some Kzinti males had the ability to read minds. No one had confirmed or denied that their Chief of the Boat could do so. But the look he gave now, gave Leoni pause to wonder that it might well be the case as his penetrating look seemed to pierce her mind. After all, she had seen firsthand that many of the tales that circulated around the Kzinti were in point of fact true.

"I thought all the senior officers were called to a meeting."

"They are." A moment passed. "I am not an officer."

Jex shrugged. "As good as."

Again, the towering Kzinti took a long moment before replying. "Better."

"Huh! I bet you wouldn't say that to the captain's face."

"I do. Often. He agrees."

Jex stepped back as if measuring Rah Eyrrs up, in doing so finding a formidable opponent with no visible weakness or point of attack. "Not much for sentences are you?"

 Rah simply bared his teeth in a macabre smile. "No."

"I suppose the captain does not keep your kind for company."

He did not move a whisker in response to her tone. "No."

Smartly and boldly she retorted, "Or conversation."

Rah's ears furled forwards as he countered with a frightening grin baring fangs. "My kind talks through actions."

Jex felt her heartbeat race uncontrollably with such a visceral reminder of her past stood right in front of her. With wide eyes and her breath escaping her she just managed to whisper, "And pleasant conversation it makes."

His head rearing back as his nostrils flared inhaling the scent in the air. His whiskers twitched. "You allow fear to dictate you."

"Fear," she shrugged, "or common sense, either way, I think it wise."

He actually nodded his head approvingly. "You do not fear the way others do."

Jex could hardly hear him over the rapid rate of her heart or the screams echoing in her head. "Because I don't need to base my fears on myths or historical records like the others. I don't base my fears on what you are capable of. I've seen what your kind has done."

"Kzin are formidable opponents."

"Bloodthirsty, animalistic, brutal, savage, are words more apt to describe what you do." She looked at his claws as he worked his hands. The sharp tapering claws could cleave through flesh like a hot knife through butter. Ripping and shredding and dissecting their opponents even as they fell. Formidable was not the word to describe their savagery.

Rah bowed his head fractionally as if agreeing with her thoughts; this caused Jex to gulp fearing that he could read her mind. The Kzinti were a truly frightening spectre. To have one loom over you was to be under their power and spell. It was no wonder that many people thought they could read minds and control the minds of others. Such was their sheer dominating presence that one would do what they bid. Anything at all to end the fear, the chill through the body as a walking stalking death stood before you.

"Then you are aware of what I can do." She nodded. He waited a moment before continuing. "Understand then why McGregor makes use of me."

Again, Jex nodded imagining that Rah was but a tool for McGregor, a weapon to be wielded. More than that, he was an animal to be unleashed and let loose on McGregor's enemies. Though her voice wanted to fail her, she said in a trembling fearful voice, "I know what to expect to see on the mission." He nodded but his amber eyes bore into hers. "And I can cope with it, if that is what you are concerned with." He gave no commitment to what he was concerned with. Instead, he stood there immovable and looming. "Know this, I will work with your kind, with you, I don't need to like it, but I will do my job and I will not be frightened by your presence."

Rah smiled, it almost seemed genuine, before turning away and leaving the room. Her breath came back to her. Jex felt her heart rate slow somewhat even though adrenaline still raced through her body. Her gut churned still as memories, horrible memories flooded her head. But she did not allow herself to dwell on them. She would not allow herself to relive those horrors of centuries past. She slumped back down into her chair placing her shaking hands flat on the table in some vain hope to still them. Closing her eyes she allowed the fear to ebb away, it meant she had to allow herself to feel the fear, to embrace it somewhat and even be tainted by the memories it dredged up.

... the smells ... the sounds ... the chill of the night air ... the dampness of the mist that shrouded around her ... the mossy peaty smell of the soil she lay face down on ... the bitter taste on her tongue of blood ... the scent of fear and piss and blood in the air ... the sounds of howling and wailing ... the terrible cries that echoed in the night sky ... oh the blood curdling cries ... the calls of Kzinti to other Kzinti as they hunted in the forests ... the snapping of twigs as the Kzinti neared, crashing through the forest  hunting them down ... eviscerating them ... shredding and dissecting ... devouring on the flesh ... savouring the blood ... sating their tastes ...

Tears spilled from her as these memories threatened to overwhelm her. With the palms of her hands, she wiped them away. She sucked in a greedy breath and controlled her breathing. The memories clawed at her mind but she resisted their pull. She was Jex but she was also Leoni Jex. She had survived that. She had lived, lost, learned in the time since then. She had mothered children, steered careers and forged new lives since that time. It would not defeat her fortitude. She was Jex, she was Leoni, she was Jex Leoni.

A long moment passed before she shook her head and then pressed the reset on the simulation. "Let's run this through one more time." She pressed the button to set it in motion, her mind focusing on the choices and calibrations she would have to make. "I can do this."

* * *

 

Rah stalked off towards the main hanger bay itself ducking through the seal hatch doors such was his height. From the upper gangway, he looked down on the quiet hanger deck. The two Stallion craft to be used in the assault by the boarding party were presently sitting isolated and quiet. Though in truth, the Stallions were always ready for an immediate launch in case of an emergency. A flight and rescue crew was always ‘standing‘ready in the adjoining room. A new shift was due to begin in less than fifteen minutes. The normal procedure for said crew would be to run tests and checks on the Stallions and the stowed equipment as a matter of fact regardless that the previous shift would already have ensured everything was as it should be. Then the crew would drill an emergency launch and record their response time. If it did not meet their target, they reset the drill parameters and began again. Then the crew would either retire to the flight operations room to run through procedures or to assess past missions. These mission recording would be from their own, another teams on the ship or from another Border Patrol vessel. McGregor was keen that the crews would learn from the practices and experiences of other crews. It was a strangely logical practice instilled by McGregor. The ships traded logs and video feeds with one another as different crews had different experiences and specialist training.

This practice was of course in addition to any official debriefings after an actual launch or mission. Depending on the nature of said mission, senior officers would sit in with the post analysis debriefings and contribute to the success or failures of the missions. The Captain himself was always in attendance at such debriefings always looking for a way to refine and improve tactics and approaches and gain insight into novel ideas that might have work instead. It often led to very open and frank debate as various persons argued one option or approach over another. Something McGregor encouraged so that everyone would be better informed for the next time. Even past mistakes were valuable learning exercises.

For now, Rah took in the silence of the moment before McGregor's orders would start filtering through the system. Even as he held his briefing with the senior staff, Rah knew that time-coded orders would start launching in the next five minutes to pertinent departments ahead of the operation, which would be, by McGregor's reckoning, in a number of hours.

Behind him, the access through to the flight operation centre was to be seen through the open hatchway. In the immediate room behind him was the hanger deck's control room to one side with the larger space belonging to the stowage and repair area for the Kestrel's compliment of Wasp and Killer Bee fighters.

The tall muscular well honed figure of Senior Petty Officer Mila Chomsky strode towards him. Her heavy footsteps pounding on the metal grating of the catwalk as she approached. It was of course part of the soldier in her. Breach and Assault missions such as the one ahead of them were par the course for Chomsky and she could stalk with a light foot when she needed. However, in approaching the Chief of the Boat, Mila tended to announce her presence ahead of reaching him. She knew his capabilities when surprised or attacked and preferred not to risk any instinctive reaction.

Clasping her hands behind her back to stand at parade ease at Rah's side, the Ukrainian stopped to inform Rah. "I've Alpha Team getting organised as ve speak Boss. I figured the little ‘bing bong' announcement meant the captain had something cooking."

Rah turned to give her an appraising look and there was a hint of amused pride at her prompt deduction. He nodded his head in a satisfactory acknowledgement. He pulled out a PADD and extended it to the SPO. "Here is the recipe." Her own head bobbed as she reached for it and looked down to examine its contents. Her short dirty choirboy bob cut fell over her face as she did so.

It was her turn now to nod in a satisfactory manner as she took in the details of the mission. Scrolling down the PADD she took in the details of the captain's plan and various contingencies. "The Skipper has been busy. It could be fun. She is the pilot?" She nodded her head back through the open hatchway to where Jex could just be seen scrutinising the plan of attack in the operations centre.

Rah did not look back. Instead in his gruff voiced affirmed it. "Yes."

"She looks," Mila shrugged, "a little frazzled." Rah looked up to give Mila a dark look. "If you don't mind me saying. You have not been scaring the ensigns again on the Skipper's orders?"

"No."

"That is good."

"Just a ... past life."

"Hers, or yours?"

Again, Rah's amber eyes narrowed and gave a glimpse of the predator he was. A low growl reverberated from deep within.

Mila held her hands up in mock surrender. "Forget I said anything then."

"Hers."

Mila stuck out her bottom lip as she mulled on the complex lives of a joined Trill. "I cannot say having a parasite living in my gut would make me anything but queasy. Why now though?" She barrelled a look back at Rah knowing that something more significant must have happened.

"Memories. Bad memories."

"Oh?"

"From the Kzin Wars."

"Oh!" Mila looked through at the waif of a girl and wondered how it was that such a delicate slender figure could have survived the atrocities of that era. Then she shook her head to remind herself that it was the host inside and not the girl on the outside that had survived. It was hard to separate though in Mila's head. "It was a long time ago though. A past life. Before you Boss. Try to remember, those are not your sins to bear."

He darkly growled, "I know that." He bore his teeth showing the long sabre fangs. "My sins are my own."

"And you have tried to make amends for them. Do not take on the bad memories of another era for you to settle."

"I have enough to make amends for?"

She shrugged. "Only you and God above can tell that for sure. Regardless, I will as always pray for you, your soul and your safety of course too."

"You may pray." He looked down at his paws as his claws slowly extracted and then retracted. "And I will do what I do best. I will slay."

* * *

 

 

 

'Cogs in the Machine' by Miranda Fave

 

Cogs in the Machine

 

 

Main Hangar, Deck 5

"Chief! I have piloted before." Ensign Leoni Jex implored to Eddie Gardner.  "I was a pretty ok pilot even before I was joined. Working in my granddad's workshop, I would use every excuse I could to fly, correction to test fly, the shuttles, zoomers and pods that he had to repair. At the Academy, I got good scores and after my Joining, those scores jumped higher still. Deodzi was an ace pilot."

Eddie scratched his beard angrily. "Still, you're one of my officers and McGregor has no call co-opting you as a pilot just for his own kicks and curiosity. And even if you have good scores you won't have flown the Star Stallions before." He gave the two intimidating black hulled vessels an ominous and yet respectful look. "They're brutes! They've a helluva kick and can be damned wild, loose and aggressively mean. Just why do you think they're called Stallions?"

Jex laughed a little nervously, "I thought it was because the name was pretty." Her own fears were starting to quell as Deodzi's memories had come back to the fore and sitting behind the controls beside the Andorian Keren as they went through one more pre-flight checklist she had begun to feel comfortable and even familiar with helm controls as she once had with Deodzi. Gardner's own worries and bristling mood was also somehow strangely comforting too. Her joke though failed to impress the chief engineer. "I'll be fine Chief. Now sign off on the all clear."

Grumbling he pressed his thumb as an identifier on the PADD and they used a stylus to sign his name. His signature attached he puffed out his cheeks in an exclamation. "Bloody paperwork."

"I'll be fine too Chief."

"You'd better Poulter," Eddie declared grabbing the PADD off him and repeating the thumb verification and signature. "You still owe me fifty credits from the last poker game! And you'd better not scrape it this time. Don't let this noob show you up Chris."

Chris Poulter turned with Jex and laughed off Gardner's jibes. "Honest, I never scratched it, it was only a tiny bump and the Orion raider was trying to get away when it happened."

Strolling away with him laughing, Jex said, "Yeah right. And the fifty credits?"

"Ah well, that's a different story. Good flying Ensign." He waved as he headed towards Stallion Two and his team.

Jex waved him off as she went back to her Stallion and team and wished him the same. She did not notice Gardner giving her a concerned look as she went. "Humph! I'm going back to my engines." He started walking towards the exit and passed Rah and T'Vel and spoke their names by way of address.

"Trying to scrape enough credits together for tomorrow night's poker game Gardner?" Caleb Dexter replied suited up in his armour suit. The deep black mesh sheathed armour was thick but made up of loose plates to allow a greater degree of flexibility despite the sacrifice to over all protection. He approached from behind Stallion Two, his carbine in his hand at his side. "Too bad. I must have cleaned you out bad last week."

Eddie waved him off. "To hell with you Tac. And tell Gunny not to even start. We'll see tomorrow night. And warn Nujinx he had better not blow up the engines of that scow you're boarding. I'll be the one to cop it in the neck if he does."

 

* * *

 

S.P.O. Mila Chomsky slapped the power pack into her backup carbine before thumbing through the controls and settings. Satisfied, she secured it and stashed it atop her backpack sitting on the bench along the bulkhead of the Hangar Deck. Standing up, she patted her phaser sidearm as was a customary habit and of course a standard part of the uniform aboard a border cutter. She hooked her thumbs into the space between the under arm of her armour vest and hoisted it into a more comfortable position.

With a purposeful stride, she approached Stallion One. Her hand ran the length of its hull as she connected with the dark menacing machine. The Stallions were a brute machine. They were much more muscular than the standard Starfleet shuttle or even the newer runabouts; whilst they were still smaller than the Danube class the spartan interior meant they could carry up to thirty personnel. The Star Stallions were meaty vessels that carried twin micro-torpedo launchers housed in the roll bar and with the powerhouse engines also allowed them to be equipped with tractor beams. Their engines were more powerful but the trade off was that they were limited to Warp 4 and more suited to shorter journeys, designed for quick sprints that better suited their purpose and mission as rescue craft and assault vehicles. Their hulls were thick and more heavily armoured, relying not on shields alone as their destinations all too often involved harsh conditions that had already crippled other vehicle shields. That said, the powerhouse engines were there to allow the Stallions to produce a strong shield with a higher endurance than most shuttles.

She hunkered down to the prostrate form of an engineer at the Stallion's prow. "Is she ship shape and ready?"

Her Ukrainian accent a telltale to Becca Swift engrossed in her diagnostics. "That she is S.P.O., ready and raring."

"And her pilot?" Becca looked up in the direction that Chomsky nodded to herself where Ensign Jex stood presenting the status report to Eddie Gardner awaiting his clearance and approval of the vessel.

"I think she might be a bit nervous but she's been preparing and night and morning."

"Yes, McGregor seems to have given our little Trill friend a heads up. He must be making a project out of her."

"I guess so." Becca said in a noncommittal tone. She knew herself that the captain had made a project out of Becca herself after rescuing her from Orion pirates. "Must be lucky to have lifetimes of experience to call upon."

"Lucky? I'm not so sure about." Mila looked about for Rah when she said this. "Though it certainly would be useful. Good work Becca. Sorry you are not coming vit us on this one petty officer."

Becca sat up and set some of her tools into her cloth tool kit. "Oh capturing a target bridge after a breach and assault. The usual SARAH affair! It sounds boring." She joked.

"I'm sure it is going to be a walk in the park Becca."

"I'm sure it will." Becca's eye then caught sight of the approaching Sebastian Templar and her jovial nature slipped away to be replaced with a cold hostility. "Besides, I wouldn't be sure of the company."

"Oh Submino is a bit of a loudmouth but hardly bad company." Chomsky's joking retort faded, as she understood the tone in Becca's voice and the look of her disapproving frown. "Now isn't the time for a scene petty officer." She gave Becca a dismissive nod.

Getting to her foot, Becca returned it with a crisp and slightly bitter nod of her own. "Understood S.P.O. Chomsky." With that, she ducked away from Sebastian's presence.

"Ensign Templar, have you familiarised yourself with our equipment?" Chomsky looked down at the carbine strapped around his armour suit as an indication of the equipment she most referred to. She understood the rather protracted career path of the ensign and how he had specialised in security and tactical but was nevertheless more Fleet trained. The carbines used by the Border Service were much shorter than a Starfleet phaser rifle, packing a blunt wallop all the same but the more compact design making it ideally suited to the tight quarters the cutter crews found themselves in. The carbines had a hefty kick to them, especially when set to the ‘grenade' level whereupon it could discharge an explosive blast at a bulkhead.

He gave a rather unaffected air. "It was a matter of course, Chomsky."

"That's Senior Petty Officer Chomsky." She pointedly said. "Ensign. And whilst it might be a matter of course, I would be remiss in my duties to allow you on this mission without requisite experience with the carbine and the other arsenal and equipment we utilise. So be it a matter of course or not, I'd sooner know that you did in fact treat it as such."

He gave a long moment before replying. It no doubt rankled with the ensign to have a non-commissioned officer essentially pulling him up short. However, he had to appreciate she had not done in front of others and whilst technically outranked by the ensign, her expertise status and operational superiority in the mission ahead gave her the leeway to speak so. He mulled his response over.

"I did. The carbine is a brute but a beauty to behold."

"Good to know." She then mellowed her tone to mollify the ensign slightly. And it is. It's a hell of a report when you first use it. But you be glad for the kick when in a bind. The puffs and cuffs are going to arrive in short order. Why don't you get the crewmen together? They'll be directly under your control when we board. Just an FYI, Timmian is a lazy beggar but a crack shot, still make sure he has stowed his gear properly. Don't listen to any nonsense about entering his Denobulan hibernation cycle! There'll be no such problems with Keren but he should be in the cockpit going through the checklist with Ensign Jex."

Templar took a moment to take in her ‘orders'. After a small hesitation, he nodded his head accepting her orders as good advice and taking no umbrage at the S.P.O. dishing out the orders to him. Taking heed of her advice, he ducked past Chomsky to check on the lazy Denobulan.

Mila turned then to go back to her own equipment pile to where she found some of the rest of the team doing their final checks. "Ok Submino, you got the charges?"

The Bolian petty officer (third class) looked up at the bawler. "Any louder Chomsky and you'll set the charges off prematurely!"

A drawl to the side of them interjected, "From what I hear, it is Jock here we have to worry about going off prematurely!"

Submino looked over at the drawling Texan and then looked to an embarrassed Sven. "Har! The question I have for you Buchanan is how do you know?"

Buchanan shrugged casually. "Well sir ‘e, that's what the dissatisfied ladies who come my way tell me."

"If they go from Jock to you Buchanan, they ain't just dissatisfied; they're deaf, dumb and blind and severely disillusioned." This come back managed to put a smile back on the blushing Jock.

"Jude, Submino! Knock off the coarse talk in front of the Pips." Mila called with Jex (the ‘Pips') now beside her. "Get squared away onboard. Excuse them ensign, they may be pig ignorant but they know how to knock heads together."

Jex smiled in return to the S.P.O. and watched the men file past her into the Stallion to stow their gear. "Oh, I've heard much worse, hell from my own lips, Deodzi was a profuse curser."

"Sounds like she was fun."

"She was. Oh boys she was." A mischievous memory stole a smile across Jex's face as she thought about Deodzi.

Chomsky smiled at the ensign and figured there might be something to her yet. "Checks clear?"

"Yes. We are ready."

"Good, then S.P.O. Chomsky we can have our final run through then." The two women turned to face the imposing figure of T'Vel. The Vulcan somehow looking more dignified and aloof than one could imagine an armour suit would lend. It certainly added to the intimidating stature of the women.

"Of course, Lt. Commander, I'll gather the team." Chomsky moved off to check the team had stowed their gear and to gather them for the final debriefing. Jex went with her to grab her own PADD.

"T'Vel. I mean Lt. Commander; it's good to see you. I hadn't the opportunity to give you your book back. I didn't bring it as I rather assumed a SARAH wouldn't be the best place to give back a loaned book."

"Not quite an astute observation but nevertheless an accurate one, petty officer Cain."

"Perhaps I can return it to your quarters later."

"That would be ... most satisfactory ... Dashiel."

The petty officer (first class) started to walk towards the congregating team but stopped to turn back to the Vulcan. "I was thinking that perhaps you'd be interested in tackling another Earth classic, War and Peace."

T'Vel raised an intrigued eyebrow. "I have heard of it. It should provide an illuminating window into the human psyche. In trade, I would offer the treatise by T'Pol recounting her experiences with the crew of the NX Enterprise. It is more of a Vulcan sociology essay than a voyeuristic account but it still makes for interesting reading."

"I look forward to it. I'm sure that it will similarly be an illuminating window into the Vulcan psyche and the Vulcan view of the human mindset."

"Indeed." T'Vel curtly nodded her head as Dashiel approached the mission team taking up a place beside Mila Chomsky. With her acute hearing, T'Vel managed to pick up the crossly whispered question from Chomsky to Dashiel.

"Still sharing books with her Dashiel?"

He looked guiltily for but a brief second. Then somewhat contritely but with an air of innocence he stated, "It's only books Mila."

She gave no vocal response but gave a cool response a Vulcan would have been proud of as she turned towards Rah and the assembled team. "Everyone fall in." Rah inclined his head fractionally indicating for Mila to proceed and from her leg pocket she pulled out a silicone gel like roll out map. It flapped out onto the deck of the shuttle bay as the members of Team One arrayed themselves around. The roll out map an MSD interactive display illustrated the interior schematic of the target ship Thaddeus travelled onboard. The interactive display was a ready to hand tactical and sensor readout that when tied in with the Kestrel's sensors and those of the Star Stallion gave a real time heads up for the assault team. For now, conjecture and plans of action scrolled across its flexible and durable surface.

"One last time, here's the plan. Phase one ..."

* * *

 

Senior Officers' Lounge

McGregor took a last swallow of his whiskey tumbler before setting it back into the sink. "Ah. Computer, secure lounge."

With a roll of metal, an automatic shutter descended upon the library shelves encasing the books in a metal mesh cage of protection. Similar shutters came down over the optics and small glass cabinets. The lights dimmed and a low emergency lighting illuminated the room in a soft light that gave the luxurious surrounds a calming atmosphere of rest and quiet belying the action in the offing. Amid this low light, a bubble of sparkling blue hummed into life as a protective shield formed around the bust of the kestrel sitting atop the bar.

The computer reported, "Room secured."

Molly gave the shielded bust and McGregor a pursed frown. "I still think the forcefield for that is a little overkill McGregor."

"Molly! Heaven forefends." He nearly stroked the bust. "There, there, Kes, Mommy Molly doesn't mean it. Anyway, Molls, it is its own power source and you really don't want my Kes to ever break. That would make me rather mad." He rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Let's get to it."

The two departed the lounge as yeomen Harris and Ronak approached the lounge to secure the larger furnishings ahead of the action. McGregor and Molly both darting dark looks at the Vulcan who suppressed a curling sneer himself. Harris as usual walked by with a strut to shame an Orion slave. McGregor giving a salacious wink to Harris as the yeoman passed by.

Cartwright walked onto the bridge throwing what seemed to be an odd look at the Captain. At the tactical station looking ever alert, and while even engrossed on the tactical read outs of her station was ready to pounce on any visitor to the bridge lest they be a threat, was the ship's second senior security officer. The lean, chiselled ebony lieutenant [junior grade] who had dominated the bridge until the entrance of her captain and XO relaxed somewhat at their arrival. Her crisp clear French accent cut across the bridge as she relinquished the conn. to McGregor.

"Gladly Contessa. And I'll take whatever else you are offering." He approached the tactical station and leaned forwards to kiss the back of the hand of the tall ebony smooth skinned woman at it. "Magnificent as always, Contessa."

McGregor's charm did not terribly impress the lieutenant but she offered him a slight demure smile by way of thanks. Her posture was rigid but poised and elegantly graceful in the flowing moves she took. Molly knew just how gracefully and covertly the woman could move upon her enemies. And for all of her grace, there was no doubting that Contessa was a woman not to be crossed.

He turned to the science station and called out. "Denora! Has Stanley the ole fox asked you on a date yet?" In contrast to the human at tactical, was the officer staffing the science station in the absence of T'Vel. Lieutenant Denora was an Avian and her physical stature towered over that of everyone else on the bridge but her much more passive demeanour lessened that presence. Her dove grey feathers and golden beak a soothing appearance to the otherwise fierce size, dangerous talons and potentially deadly serrated beak. However, Denora herself was but an inquisitive and genteel scientist who at times seemed too gentle and kind for the rougher and readier kind of work a border patrol vessel pulled.

Her shrill squawking reply was mortified. "Captain! No!"

Turning to Stanley, he wagged an admonishing finger. "Tut, tut Stan! I thought you were a true gent. Trust me Denora. He has the hots for you. I'll fix you up on a blind dinner date with one another after this."

In confusion, Stanley blinked at the captain and then the Avian. "I do not see why we should be blind in order to eat."

It was hard to tell with her feathered face, but Molly swore the ruffle and way in which Denora pulled in her wings and talon claws indicated she was flushing at how forward McGregor was being. She but positively beamed though when Stanley continued, "Though dinner with Lieutenant Denora itself would be a most welcome activity."

"Ah, there you go then! All sorted. Now, to business Denora. Tell me what do your sensors show ..."

Molly turned her attention away and to Noah Cutler as she approached the Ops station. She bid him a curt hello through a simple address of his rank, "Ensign."

"Commander." She pursed her lips at the hint of nervousness in his voice. No doubt, a similar sense of nervousness and anticipation filled many of the crew ahead of the captain's plans. The kid had a huge self-esteem complex. Molly wanted to shake him and have him understand just how capable he was of his job. The ensign was a bridge officer. He operated a vitally important and complex station. He not only assumed bridge duties here, but also directed other Ops personnel throughout the ship. His Academy record proved his ability for the job now was the time for him to prove it to himself and to stand up and do the job.

"No need to be nervous Cutler. You have trained for this and are skilled in the task before you." ‘Unlike your friend,' she frowned to herself. Whether Noah himself imagined that she was in part alluding to Leoni about to pilot a Star Stallion in the upcoming operation she doubted. She hoped though he took some confidence from the fact she had confidence in him. "Ok, let's run through this."

She focused her attention on the display board, tapping controls and reaching back around to look at the damage control systems. "The first thing you have to be aware of in a tactical situation is that time is precious. Normally, you are coordinating with the team in operational control. But given the time pressure issue you are going to have much more direct control over the distribution of ship power and resources. That said, you have a team down below who can be delegated and made to prioritise according to your requests. Likewise, here on the bridge, you will have a damage control officer who takes up their position when the ship goes to alert."

"That said, you are still the circus manager. You have to keep a lot of balls in the air and bring certain things to the commanding officer's attention that merit it. But this is where your training kicks in and experience teaches you, you have to decide what merits the C.O.'s attention and what does not. The things that do not, you take the decision and sort them. Remember again your team in Ops control, that's what they are for."

"It is not exactly straight forward is it?"

"No Cutler it isn't. In Ops, we are the balancing act. Engineering has to come up with the power, fix what's broken, and deliver that power. But it is up to you to prioritise where the power has to go. That means balancing it between sudden power curves from the warp engines to meet the demands of the helm or security firing phasers. Sometimes it is a carefully orchestrated choreographic synchronised dance that no one ever knows or appreciates because the person is to ensure a safe and even flow of operations. But in a pinch you'll be the one expected to facilitate the miracles. But before you get a big head, we are but cogs in the machine, each one of us, each department is dependent upon the other. That said, I like to think Ops acts as the grease for the gears."

As Cartwright went through the duties of the Ops station at red alert in order to calm Noah, she sensed how appreciative he was of the Commander's assistance. Even if it made him look less than capable in the eyes of the captain, who seemed to be studiously ignoring his XO, the ensign was glad for the reassurance that helped his find his focus and remember that he could do this job.

McGregor's focus was elsewhere as he circled the bridge casually checking the status of the ship, its crew and mulling his plans over in his head. Molly had seen him in this more subdued mode before. As per usual before heading a potential firefight, McGregor would stroll around the bridge visiting each station collating up-to-the-minute information on the ship and its systems. The bravado and outrageous remarks were forgotten as he assimilated the information into his head with a perfect clarity.  Despite his many detractors, Molly knew he cared for the lives under his charge and he amassed information from all over the ship to better inform himself. When he spoke in the meeting with the senior officers about sitting up and reading the relay information, he did not lie or over state the fact. In truth, Molly doubted there was a captain with as intimate a knowledge of their ship or the region of space in which they travelled. Of course, this was an attribute he hardly admitted aloud, which considering how much he liked talking himself up was strange. Modest he was not. However, his ability to soak up such vital information and use it to his advantage was a strength he had and one she herself envied. Not that she'd ever admit it aloud to him!

Keeping a careful eye to Noah Cutler, she watched McGregor too. With a certain fascination, she could see his mind working behind his eyes. She could see the unfolding plans playing out in his head with the flash of his eyes as he scored a victory or a loss at some stratagem or other. She recognised it as the predatory streak in him that he shared with the likes of Rah, the dark hunter mentality that would keep on hunting down its prey, would never let go of the bit between his teeth, that might not know when to stop. Then would come that secret smile of his. The smile that would play at the corner of his mouth and tug his craggy face. The smile that would creep into his eyes and they would flash with a demented glee. That wolfish grin of his, when he would preen to himself, when he delighted in besting an enemy, and when he harboured whatever dark thoughts he kept. When it came, Molly sometimes felt herself shudder for she feared just what lengths he would go to. There was much to marvel about the man known and cursed as the captain of the Kestrel. There was much to be feared too.

"Captaine. All tactical and security stations report ready for action."

The smile on McGregor's face widened. "All set then."

"Oui."

"No thanks, I've just been, captain's log and all that."

Noah covered his mouth surprised at the captain. He also struggled to stifle his own laugh. Cartwright gave Noah a withering disappointed look at his distraction whilst the alluring French woman exclaimed, "Merde! Captaine!"

"Hee, hee." He laughed rubbing his hands together before jumping into his command chair. Spinning in the chair his smile was almost maniacal. "Time for fun. Stanley?"

Molly found the blank blink of Stanley unnerving as he responded, "The helm is ready."

"Good, good. Contessa ready phasers."

The towering woman nodded slightly as she responded, "Aye captaine."

"Ops? Looking forward to the action Cutler?"

The ensign wanted to faint under the scrutiny but composed himself and gave a stoic reply. "Operations ready captain." He refused to gulp and show his nervousness.

McGregor moved on acting as if offended at Noah's lack of further response. "Denora, sensors?"

The Avian's feathers ruffled in a telltale sign of agitation or excitement. Her response a sharp shrill voice with clicks underneath as she dutifully replied, "Sensors fully functional. Target still on the periphery of sensor range."

"McGregor to Engineering, Eddie what's the score?"

Gardner's rather fed up voice came over the comm. tickling McGregor's mood. "Aye, whatever, just get on with whatever you plan to do and leave me to my engines."

"Open a comm. to the Stallions. Stallion Leader One, ready?"

The cool aloof voice of T'Vel responded clearly. "Ready captain." Molly wondered how poised the Vulcan really was.

"Stallion Leader Two, ready?"

Dexter's cynical response, which came across with the eye roll near virtually audible in his tone. "Ready." Molly could appreciate the cynicism.

"Now, now, Dexter, sound a little bit more excited about it. There's fun to be had." McGregor twiddled with the controls on the armrest of his chair to open a ship wide comm. and so addressed the ship. "This is the Captain ..."

He spun the seat and faced the viewscreen as he gripped the armrests and leaned forward on the edge of the command chair. He sat like a general atop his steed on the field of battle. Ready. Waiting. Baiting. Hungry. The inexperienced ensign at Molly's side leaned forward to listen raptly without intention to the captain's words. A sense a quiet fell over the entire ship. An expectant collective breath awaiting rallying words to battle. Words of courage and bravery and bold moves. Words to raise the blood. All always, Molly knew better when it came to McGregor. A wry smile played across McGregor's face. "Anyone for a game of ping pong?"

* * *

 

'The Devil's in the Details' by Miranda Fave

 

‘The Devil is in the Details'

 

Bridge of Orion cargo raider, The Sprite's Spittle

"I shall be in my cabin Borvoo." The Bloian licked his lips greedily as he wiggled in his chair outfitted to accommodate his larger frame. Thaddeus Norwi's sheer bodily mass dominated the bridge, as did the air of violence and thuggish nature that surrounded the Bolian. The petty criminal was a thug and a gangster who had deplored the sterile environment of the Federation and the hypocrisy that laced Bolian society with its classes. It seemed one of the many contradictory shams that peppered the Federation. Growing up on a Bolian colony at the frontier of Federation space, he had learned many ugly truths about life. And about the nature of the Federation and its guardians in Starfleet. So much so that without much thought he had turned to a life of crime, working his way up to becoming a starship captain. He had his own mini empire to control. A ship to command. Riches to spend and luxuries to indulge in.

Smugly he smiled to himself. "Hmm ... perhaps I might sample something from our cargo."

Borvoo turned to look at the man seriously. His antennae worried atop of his Reptilian head. He was a runt of a Reptilian cast out by his colony family for being a weak specimen. The Xindi had had no other recourse in life but try a life at profiteering. Whilst it was not a glamorous lifestyle, it afforded him protection, shelter and a means to survive. Years he had scurried at the hand of the criminal known simply as Thaddeus. He had continued in the petty criminal's employ because he knew how to source specialised items and saw potential pitfalls in business deals.

His reptilian voice was strangled as he cried, "I do not think our ‘customer' would appreciate that captain." He bobbed his head deferentially even as he pressed the argument. "Their instructions implicitly stated that the cargo was to be untouched and unspoiled."

Thaddeus patted his rotund belly thoughtfully. The smile fading from his greasy face as the warning was made clear. "I do not appreciate being bullied by them ... especially not by him. This is my ship and if it is stowed upon my vessel then it is my property until I hand it over to a paying customer. At present, that cargo is but ballast, not to mention extra mouths to feed."

A worried Borvoo implored, "But think of the risks offending him would be!" He wrangled his bony hands.

"Think of the risks I am taking carrying them!" Thaddeus railed as he stormed out of his seat breathlessly. He sighed heavily getting his breath back. His face was flushed with the sudden exertion and the anger he felt at the situation. "If border patrol were to pick me up ... it would be the end, of everything! They have pressured me into this! I am not a slave trader. I deplore it as a business. Too many risks and too many overheads."

"Yes, but we have no other option."

Thaddeus moved as if to strike the gangly Xindi Reptilian. "I know that you idiot. Otherwise, I would never have agreed. Let us hope your dampening field will mask our ... guests lest we are ever scanned."

From the helm another of his many Bolian subordinates called out sudenly. "Thaddeus, our long range sensors have detected a Federation transponder signal. It is a Starfleet signal."

Quickly, Borvoo alighted to the navigation station and checked the sensors himself. Thaddeus walked slowly over towards his chair. Nervously Thaddeus glided his hand over the polished armrests as he awaited the report from Borvoo. "It is a Starfleet vessel."

"That is fine. There is no need to worry. We are only on the periphery of their sensor range. We can quickly duck out of their sensor range and disappear." The Bolian, Twer, at the navigation station said. Even as he did, Thaddeus was shaking his head.

"No. No sudden moves." Thaddeus eased himself into his seat. "Make a careful and gentle course correction. Nothing to make them suspicious. We may make it yet."

Subtly the ship changed direction. Thaddeus allowed himself a brief smile but his stomach grumbled with nerves. They had not been expecting any Starfleet activity in the region. The Bad Axe buoy tender was their only concern and they had been able to bypass it with a pre-ordained flight plan. There was a chance it was a Starfleet vessel responding to a political situation or other and ferrying diplomats or some like scenario. Yes, that would be what it was. The ship itself had not reacted to their presence.

"The ship has changed course."

"Show me!" Thaddeus checked his screen. The Starfleet vessel barely registered on their sensors but it had in fact deviated in its course. Only slightly but enough to bring the Spittle back into their sensor range and allow curiosity to get the better of the crew. "Make another course change. Again, make it slight. Ever so slight."

A moment passed before Twer announced, "The vessel has made a wide course trajectory. It is allowing us to again show on their sensors."

"Hells!" There was a chance the ship was being piloted by a deft pilot who preferred to energy conserve and make warp corrections at a minute scale. "Make another correction further away from them but make it look like a natural change. Have they increased speed?"

The Xindi Reptilian squeaked, "Not yet Thaddeus. However, when we got more into their sensor range we detected ... we detected a double transponder signal." The bridge went quiet. It meant only one thing. It was a border patrol vessel.

"Check that the dampening field is working! Communications scramble the comm. system so it appears we have a communication problem if they do pursue us. We can use it as an excuse." Thaddeus seized on some cause for hope. "Could it be the Bad Axe making a return? Perhaps they have to make a sudden repair to a malfunctioning buoy."

The reptilian shook his head. "No. The profile does not match. The profile registers as a Federation Miranda class."

"Miranda class?"

"Ship has made another correction. Deities. They are hunting us down like dogs!"

Thaddeus belted Twer with a powerful swing of his arm. The puny Bolian fell to the floor. "Silence. Borvoo. Make the necessary course corrections. It does not mean anything!" But he could not stop the panic sleeping into his voice. A border patrol vessel that was a Miranda class and was showing an uncanny predatory skill could be any number of border patrol ships but the fear was that it was but one ship, one man in particular.

"Thaddeus. Sensors confirm. It's ... it's the Kestrel!"

Thaddeus slumped into his chair. "McGregor."

* * *

 

Hanger Deck

C.P.O. Mila Chomsky rolled the silicone-like mat out with a snap to reveal an interactive touch screen computer. The affectionately called statmat gave a portable, flexible, easily carried and stowed sensor display to be used in hostile situations. It enlarged tricorder readings, accessed ship sensors to provide a real time MSD, display a map or ship schematics, or any number of tactical displays.

All heads within the huddle of the team comprising Stallion One looked down at it intently. Her tone was serious and brokered the attention of all those assembled. "One last time, here's the plan. Phase one is the chase." She crouched to tap the scrolling display and immediately it switched to give a real time situation report on the current position of the Kestrel and that of ‘The Sprite's Spittle' Orion cargo ship they were targeting. The distance between the two was considerable still with Thaddeus' ship on the periphery of ship sensors.

"This is the part of the plan McGregor is keeping tight lipped about. We do not know how he intends to run it this time. But for the sake of our first-timers let's go through the basics." Sebastian Templar bristled at this somewhat. He for one had a career that had stalled and gone wrong. He was no mere ensign fresh from the Academy. Even Leoni Jex could not be discounted because of her Trill symbiont life experiences. Chomsky caught the slight straightening of his back. Her eyes looked up, hooded and dark. She gave a dismissive smirk to the ensign. "You might have some experience, that I will credit you both, however, this is a Border Dog operation. More than that, this is one run by McGregor. When we have a target, we hunt them down. Hunt them down like dogs. Border Dogs."

She tapped the display mat and it threw up a possible scenario. "Possibility one for the run in will be a straight-forward chase them down and then double smack the target with the Mark 22 rat trap torpedoes. As you will both be aware, the rat trap generates a powerful EMP to disable the target's shields, engines and defences. It is a standard tactic for the Border Patrol and McGregor does like to make judicious use of it. In the event of using of this tactic, be aware that there can be residual effects from the Mark 22s that will impair communications and sensor readings. In such a case, ensign," Mila looked deeply at Jex as she said that, "use and trust your eyeballs on approach. Inside when we take control be aware there will be blown out computer and power points, there'll be smoke, no lights, no power, so those of us without the ability to see in the dark will have to go in with night-vision but expect the rat traps to play havoc with them." Templar nodded at that point, unconsciously patting his night vision goggles clipped to his black hard suit.

"Option two is a little more combative. It depends on how much Thaddeus tries to resist. In such a case, we bring out the big guns. Photon torpedoes and phasers hits. McGregor hates to squander his torpedoes so it'll be a phaser barrage. We may launch as soon as engines are down. In which case expect to get between the broadsides ensign. I'd hate to have to file a friendly fire report, especially if I'm the one in the tin can. The Star Stallions are tough but let's not chance our arm."

She tapped the statmat again and it showed a simulation of a Star Stallion smacking hard to make contact with the cargo freighter. "It will also mean we make a hard contact, docking at speed and harshly. It'll be a bumpy landing seemingly without much finesse but we'll be depending on you ensign to not smear us against the hull of the Sprite's Spittle."

Jex interjected with an attempt at levity. "No pressure then."

A chorus from both Mila and T'Vel smacked down her attempt at levity. "No." The awkwardness for Jex did not quite match the awkward moment between T'Vel and Chomsky, as it seemed both were almost startled to have expressed a similar view.

"Obviously in the case of weapons bombardment, expect damage to the ship internally and be ready to secure ship systems. Expect too for the possibility that the Stallion will be targeted in weapons fire. Expect to take evasive measures, everyone else expect a bumpy ride but strap in and say your prayers."

Submino harped aloud to demonstrate a casual indifference to the proceedings. "I don't see McGregor going for that option. He likes to save his torpedoes and he wouldn't want Thaddeus to get a big head thinking he had to be gunned down by the Kestrel."

"Be that as it may Petty Officer," her use of rank used as a whip crack to get him back in line, the Bolian shrugged but kept tight-lipped, corrected, "it is still an option available to the Skipper. However, he is as like to use an old favourite and catch and snatch." She explained to the ensigns as the statmat provided an illustrative demonstration, "In a catch and snatch scenario, we chase the target down, and then when in range use the Kestrel's tractor arrays, or the grapplers, to snare the ship and bring it to a stop."

A low rumble reverberated through the group. "There is one more possibility." All eyes turned to Rah. He towered over the Stallion One team standing back from their huddle. His dark amber eyes narrowed into predatory slits as he took each member of the boarding party under intense scrutiny. "None of the above."

* * *

 

Bridge, USS Kestrel

"Ok Cutler, remember in the chase down you might have need to toggle between shields and weapons. Bear in mind too that McGregor likes to catch and snatch." Molly Cartwright explained how the specially modified tractor beams aboard border cutters were an invaluable asset to any border cutter's business and how the Kestrel's nuanced tractor arrays were a particular source of pride for the captain.

Cartwright stepped down from the Ops station entrusting Noah Cutler to do his business. She had to show faith in his abilities for him to begin to believe in himself. Molly took in McGregor's keen look at the viewscreen. One small corner of it showed the visual display of the path in front of them but the rest of the display was dominated by a tactical readout showing the space-time coordinates of the Kestrel and The Sprite's Spittle. Thaddeus' ship was no garbage scow but not nearly as spritely as its moniker implied. Nevertheless, the old coot was a wily frontier trader who regularly flaunted many of the by-laws. Therefore, he knew many tricks of the trade and he knew too McGregor's reputation for chasing down pirates. He had been on the receiving end of a Kestrel hunt all too often and had had cargo confiscated or destroyed numerous times, been fined and even imprisoned on occasion. He was a small time dealer but McGregor had a hard-on to get the pirate this time for some reason.

The display that dominated the bridge relayed the two ships' speed and direction, and Molly noticed how McGregor appeared to be holding back and not chasing the target down at full speed. Instead, he approached and crept up on Thaddeus at abrupt angles, which only allowed the trader to deviate his course ever so slightly. His approach piqued Molly's interest. "Playing cat and mouse Captain?"

He looked over to his right to where Molly stood. He grinned mischievously. "Hee hee. The devil is in the details Molly. In the details." He then turned to Stanley and focusing on the tactical readout called out a new set of coordinates. Once again, it was a subtle movement that a few minutes later caused Thaddeus to change direction again. Molly turned her attention to the read out to try to decipher what it was he was up to. She stepped closer to the viewscreen her eyes squinting to take in the smaller text on the screen. "You ought to get your eyes checked Molly." McGregor remarked from behind in his command chair before giving a new heading again to Stanley.

She gave him a wicked look before leaning on the railing of the pit to peer closer at the data displayed. She saw that in addition to the real time sensor readings pertinent data uploaded from the buoy tender Bad Axe was also displayed. The Commander tried to recall what had been said in the briefing about the buoy tender. Dexter had started to give a report on it before McGregor had cut him short.

"Other than sending an info dump of hardcore verification data from the comm. buoys not much else. Other than they detected a subspace boundary in sector ..."

"Yadda, yadda, yadda ..."

McGregor had shut down any commentary about the tender's sensor readings. The kind of minutiae McGregor usually revelled in. It was the kind of attention to detail that had allowed him to nail down precisely the whereabouts of Thaddeus. Yet in private, he admitted to pouring over the information from the tender and buoys.

"I sat up all night doing my math Molly. I read the traffic reports, the constabulary logs, comm. chatter as well as reviewing the navigational buoy logs..."

When she had challenged him about chasing down Thaddeus he had retorted, "I will and I shall. Just not yet. I don't want to spook Thaddeus. I want to keep him on this general heading. All part of my grand plan."

Molly turned to give McGregor an appraising look. He smiled in return, as she comprehended his plan. "You wily fox McGregor." Palms up he offered a humble gesture from his command chair. Then contradicted the gesture when he smiled that irritating smug smile he so often gave.

"Stanley, push it to Warp 7. I want you to bear right down on Thaddeus. Be ready for further instructions."

With his plan now known to her, Molly raced back to Ops to stand by Cutler. If McGregor timed this wrong, his plan would backfire and leave them stranded and vulnerable.

Onscreen the data showed the Kestrel now cutting the distance with The Sprite's Spittle drastically. In response, the ship increased its speed to flee the cutter but it was useless now. The Miranda class bore down on the cargo hauler in good time. Weapons were primed. The Stallions warned to be ready to launch. The crew readied to brace themselves. The target now loomed in the corner displaying the visual onscreen.

From his throne of command, McGregor harked back to Noah in a jovial manner. "This Cutler is the moment when you might want to cry out like the kestrel in its hunting call. Kee, kee, kee! Hee hee." Turning a little more serious he instructed, "Hail them. Tell Thaddeus to stand down and prepare to be boarded. Oh! Add the small print about our procedures, protocols and the authority of the Border Patrol Service. Oh and tell him, I'm just looking for an excuse to open fire on him."

"No response. It appears they are having a communication problem." McGregor gave that a scornful look. But Noah who did not notice it added of his own accord, "However they are sending out a false reading and the communications centre detected a number of calls on the pirate comm. networks from the ship."

McGregor gave an appreciative bow of his head to this information. To Molly at Noah's side he noted, "The kid sees the big picture and the little details. Good."

It took a moment for the remark to register with Noah who looked up from his console, surprised, blushing suddenly and a little overawed at the attention. But before Noah fully assimilated the compliment McGregor asked for a status update from the bridge stations.

The Kestrel was now within close weapons and tractor range. The Sprite's Spittle looked as though it wanted to stab phasers back at them. "Weapons are ready."

"Shields prepared for incoming fire. Tractor beams ready at your command." Noah added to the status update.

"Good boy Cutler. Good." McGregor gave a further appreciative smile at the ensign's eager but capable form. "Mind you, Thaddeus knows better than to open fire on a border cutter. Especially mine! He knows better, though just not enough to not resist in any way. But no one claimed he was smart." McGregor activated a ship wide comm. from the armrest and called, "All hands brace yourselves."

Noah looked up at the viewscreen and the bridge to gain a sense of what was about to happen. Would the captain ask for a barrage of phaser fire, the tractor beams for a catch and snatch move? No. Instead, he barked out at Stanley, "Stan! All stop! Engineering, warp field offline; Ops reroute power to the SIF. Now."

The Kestrel strained to an abrupt stop just when it was atop The Sprite's Spittle. The bridge crew held on to their stations as the ship's SIF lagged a moment behind the sudden manoeuvres of the helm. In truth, its power was diverted to keeping the ship together and not turning the crew to mush. The apparent lag a fall out from priority of providing a comfortable ride to a safe one. The Sprite's Spittle itself now sped on to escape only to come to a much more violent and sudden stop.

"Ship is at an all stop."

"The Sprite's Spittle is also at a fullstop. It appears the vessel has become grounded on a subspace sandbar."

"Launch the Stallions." He allowed himself a small chuckle as he turned to look back at Molly who was patting Noah on the back. The ensign had promptly helped to ensure the flow of power to the SIF emergency override. The ship's computer automatically kicked in to ensure the safety of the crew. However, Noah's deft and swift power management assisted the power flow, allowing for no dangerous power surges or outages as well as providing a smoother transition form high warp to a complete stop. Also upon registering the subspace boundary, he had started taking steps to protect the ship's control systems. "Like I said, the devil is in the details. Hee, hee."

* * *

Stallion One

"The flying isn't the hard part. It's the landing!" The words from Deodzi to her worried boyfriend of the time Hakron, came unbidden to Leoni's mind. The words could not have been more untimely or perhaps actually most fitting in the instance they formed.

"Hang tough." She called from the cockpit, as the hull of the Sprite's Spittle loomed large in her window. Her fingers alighted across the controls as she spirited the Stallion towards the target. After launching at speed, she powered the impulse engines down as they reached the perimeter of the subspace sandbar. Whilst they could theoretically move impulse engines within the subspace boundary siding on error to accomplish the mission goal she used the Stallion's impetus to traverse the distance to the Sprites' Spittle using the propulsion to steer and propel the vessel to her designated landing spot. With a hollow rumble and a screech of scraping metal, the Stallion ground to a halt atop an airlock hatch. The crew were jostled by the landing but it was nothing out of the ordinary for the seasoned border dogs. They jumped to their feet as Jex called, "Systems cleared, contact made and good seal."

At the now open airlock, Jude Buchannan tapped at a bulkier version of a tricorder. "Hatch power systems are powered down. I'm unable to hack and override." As he finished his sentence to both T'Vel and Chomsky, he stowed his hackjack tricorder to his leg side and stepped clear.

Chomsky snapped her fingers pointing them in the direction of the hatch. "Submino, light it up."

"Delighted to." His laser welder flared with a small roar as he punctuated his declaration and stepped up to the dull green hatch of the cargo hauler.

* * *

Adjunct corridor, The Sprite's Spittle

An angry crackle of fire inched its way around the perimeter of the door clamps. The fiery centre met its molten origin and the cascade of sparks winked out. All was still and quiet within the darkened corridor. Warning amber lights flashed continuously and trials of smoke stirred in the air. Then a loud dull popping sound and the smouldering cookie cutter outline in the bulkhead was forcibly propelled with a clanging crash. Smoke and light bloomed into the darkened corridor but just as suddenly obscured by the racing figures jumping lithely through the hole, weapons trained and points taken to secure the area.

Three tactical drones zoomed ahead of them, twirring with their mechanical humming bird sound as they raced forwards and pirouetted in the air scanning for any possible dangers before returning to check on the boarding team. The middle drone stopped its flight right in front of an unflinching imperious figure who stood centre in the team, with her carbine raised and tricorder in hand. "Kestrel, this is Stallion One, Leader One. Breach secured." Lt. Commander T'Vel paused before she commanded simply, "Proceed."

T'Vel's eyes met only those of the Kestrel's Kzinti chief of the boat at point. Rah Eyrrs acknowledged her order with the slightest of nods and a twitch of his whiskers. His amber eyes flashed golden in the strobing lights before he turned and loped down the corridor. Fanning out behind him the rest of the team followed on his heels with their weapons sweeping the length and breadth of the corridor with Ensign Sebastian Templar taking the rear.

* * *

Aboard the Star Stallion, Ensign Leoni Jex allowed herself a small sigh of relief. Her piloting mission had been a straightforward race over to the Sprite's Spittle. However, she did not allow her guard to slip; her job was not yet over. She pivoted in her pilot chair to the station at her side to better access the comm. channels and sensor readings she now had cause to monitor during the boarding party. Leoni looked to Keren seated at the bank of consoles with various visual displays of the boarding team as they started progressing through the corridors towards the bridge of the Sprite's Spittle. The Andorian's antennae curled forwards in concentration as he remotely controlled the drones that flew with the team. One display remained static other than to pan the corridor outside the breached airlock.

"Perimeter drone locked in place." He informed the Trill. She flashed a smile at his playing it by the book to a senior officer. Leoni focused on the sensor readings she was reading from the Kestrel as it kept a tightly trained eye on the boarding party and the persons onboard. Lt. Denora's team on the ship fed the information directly to the Star Stallion and the team's tricorders and statmat.

"Halt!" Keren declared. Onscreen Jex could see the team react immediately to the direction. It was a sign of implicit trust and of the constant and hard training that they did so without question. "Drone 2 is detecting a plasma leak in the corridor ahead."

Jex noticed the austere figure of the Vulcan science officer exchange a glance between Rah and CPO Chomsky before she commanded over the open link, "Find us the next shortest route to the bridge ensign."

"Wait! Perhaps there isn't a need. Keren, rotate the drone and zoom in on that section there." She directed the Andorian by pointing to the screens in front of him. "There! That valve needs to be shut off and the plasma redirected by opening the adjacent conduit."

Jex's fingers danced over her console as she pulled up the image and highlighted the sections she referred to before sending the image to the statmat.

* * *

Looking over the statmat Submino and the Denobulan Timmian were studying, CPO Mil Chomsky asked, "What about the plasma already within the corridor?"

"Spark it and it will flashover."

"Do it." Rah's rumble directed Timmian to step forward and follow the ensign's directions. Within thirty seconds, he did as bid and stepped back.

Rah gave a nod to Subimno. The Bolian reached behind his back and withdrew a flashbang. Smiling he tossed the flashbang down the affected corridor. "Fire in the hole!"

A whoosh of blooming energy burst through the corridor. The boarding team hunkered down as the energy consumed itself in its orgy of fire. The wind whistled over their heads buffeting them with a brief gale of air before stillness returned and the corridor loomed black with burnt soot coating it.

The drones approached it warily before Keren gave the all clear over the comm. and as he did, Rah proceeded onwards with the team in tow.

Sebastian Templar knew the delay had only been seconds but those were vital seconds in a boarding party. The team raced towards the bridge expecting possible resistance at every turn and entrance. The cargo hauler's corridors angled inwards near to the ceiling of the corridor, which were nowhere near as wide as those on a Starfleet vessel were. It only furthered the sense of claustrophobia the darkened, tight confines of the ship offered. He now truly appreciated the shortened length of the carbine's barrel as well as appreciating the greater heft and bulk of it. It lent a certain security to have something heavy and durable in his hands going into a possibly dangerous situation.

He stormed down the corridor keeping close to Timmian as they formed the rear guard. His heart raced, in part fear of what might happen and in the exhilarating rush of charging into a hostile scenario, gunned up and ready to put up a fight and put down any resistance. His night vision cupped eyes darted forwards and backwards, left and right as they followed the point of the carbine. The corridor's length flashed past as they careened towards the bridge centre. A blur of piping conduits and the cacophony of thundering feet on the deck plates accompanied his rush onwards.

Ahead there was a tense pause from the group as Leoni Jex called from the Stallion. "We have three contacts waiting at the corridor junction up ahead."

Silently, Chomsky turned and gave several crisp hand gestures to the team, directing them to what they should do. The whiskers of Rah Eyrrs twitched as he flared his nostrils. "There are four." His keen hearing and acute sense of smell deciphered from the odour, breathing and whispered plans to ambush the boarding party their number and location.

He stepped forwards. The Kzinti's height filled the corridor. He seemed as if he were primed to launch himself at prey as he bared his fangs. His eyes gleamed and he rolled his shoulders. Chomsky gave a wary look towards T'Vel who pointedly did not look at the non-com. Instead, she looked directly at the Kzinti and inclined her head.

Mila whispered at the Vulcan's side, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"I do."

Rah strode forward nimbly making no sound, then as he approached the junction he raced suddenly faster. He barrelled into the open space. He leapt to the ceiling. His claws hooked into the grated ceiling plating. A phaser shot hit the decking where he would have been. But even as the shot hit the ground he lithely swung himself around. His boots crashed into the body of one of the would-be attackers. His claw reached out, grabbed the opposite ambusher, and with no effort tossed them at a third. The two of them crashed into a heap. Before they crashed to the floor, Rah was on the fourth.

The Nausicaan's shot went wide as Rah's powerful arm barged into their body smashing them into the bulkhead. A phaser rifle clattered to the floor. The Nausicaan grinned with its gaping mouth as though it preferred to tackle the Kzinti with bare hands. But Rah offered no pause. Instead, in a whirl Rah twisted the Nausicaan round to slam again into the bulkhead. The Nausicaan kicked back but snarling in defiance Rah tore at the legs with his talons and up ended the Nausicaan. Then he grabbed the Nausicaan by his locks and hauling him to his feet and flinging him against the opposite bulkhead. With a swipe of his claw he scored the Nausicaan's chest and then fisted his open palm into the brute's ugly face. The Nausicaan crumpled to the floor.

The first attacker rose stupidly fumbling with his weapon but in a flash Rah's claw clasped the human's throat. The man's feet kicked futilely in midair as Rah picked him up off the floor hoisting him so his head hit the grated ceiling and then slamming him down onto the deck.

T'Vel turned away from Chomsky. "Rah is a most efficient weapon." Striding forwards to the fallen attackers, she pointed her carbine and blasted each with a stun blast. "Proceed."

The team started again to race towards the bridge. A door opened and a hulking Bolian stepped out with a dark intent on his face. He raised a steel bar and swung it wildly at the passing figure of Timmian. The Denobulan's head was already turning as he registered the movement, his arm coming up protectively by instinct. Templar launched himself forwards, snatching his weapon in reverse jutting the butt of the carbine into the face of the Bolian hard. The carbine smashed into the attacker's face and the Bolian stumbled backwards into the room whence he came.

Timmian drolled at the prostrate figure, "That's no way to say hello." He then flashed a Denobulan wide and grateful smile to Sebastian before he started racing on again.

Sebastian looked down the corridor at the running figure of the Vulcan. He turned to look at the fallen Bolian, shrugged and then depressed his stun setting. "If it's good enough for a Vulcan." He had learnt something about the Vulcan and the Border Dog methods by her cold stunning of the attackers. With a last look at the Bolian, Sebastian followed swiftly behind the others.

The remainder of the team stood now outside the doublewide doors to the bridge. Power was now beginning to restore to the ship systems. Hunched at the bridge door controls, Jude Buchanan studied his hack-jack tricorder ready to initiate the override. Chomsky and T'Vel stood with the statmat as it displayed a scan of the interior of the bridge as they assigned targets to the team. Within ten dots blinked, some rushing about as others stood at their stations trying to retrieve control of their ship.

T'Vel looked back at the later arrival of Templar and Timmian. Sebastian nodded to confirm that everything was ok. Under her scrutiny, he felt ten inches tall under the Vulcan's stare. Turning her attention to Chomsky, who was rolling away the statmat away, T'Vel asserted her authority over the non-com, "Ready?"

"Ready."

All eyes of the team, save the amber set, trained themselves on the Vulcan science officer. She stood still and serene. Rah stood in the shadows bristling with a fierce energy, eager and impatient to force his way onto the bridge but awaited the Vulcan's order. She raised an eyebrow. "Proceed."

A beep and Buchanan opened the doors. Dashiel dropped to one knee and rolled two stun grenades into the room. There was a piercing light from the flash bangs and a high-pitched noise filled the bridge. A second's moment to allow the stuns to abate and then Rah was first through. He bounded through in a burst and raced to the other end of the bridge, his target the ship's tactical station. Timmian and Templar were next through sweeping the bridge with their weapons and sidestepping to allow the others to bypass them as they secured the door. The two of them fired stun level bolts at the ceiling to bring the room to attention and control. Even as they did, Rah had felled the security officer. Just as quickly, T'Vel was suddenly at the side of the hulking figure of Thaddeus. He sat disorientated and slobbering in his central chair. The second officer's carbine casually pointed at his head with her outstretched arm.

"Captain McGregor asked you to surrender the ship."

He stammered, "I ... I ... I ... I s ... s ... sur ... ssurrender!"

"You are mistaken." T'Vel coolly intoned standing over him. "It is no longer your decision to surrender your vessel. We," she cocked her head to the side as she raised her eyebrow, "have captured it."

* * *

 

'Hook, Line and Sinker' by Miranda Fave

 

‘Hook, Line and Sinker'

 

Bridge, USS Kestrel

From the bridge of Orion cargo raider, The Sprite's Spittle, the cool level voice of Lt. Commander T'Vel informed the captain of what she saw relayed via the drones hovering around the now captured bridge. "Kestrel this is Leader One, bridge is secured."

McGregor's wolfish grin was infectious across the bridge. Noah allowed himself a small whoop and then blushed crimson at his display. "Sorry."

"Not at all ensign, but your celebration is a little early. I myself love it when a plan comes together. But," he turned his attention to the viewscreen as he restlessly drummed his fingers on the armrest, "it hasn't come together yet. Status update on Stallion Two?" He turned his attention back to T'Vel on the screen. "Vel be a dear and tell Thaddeus to look forwards to a visit from me. Access their computer memory, I want to know where they have been and where they were going and begin compiling an inventory for us to compare in the inspection."

Arching a disapproving eyebrow at being addressed as Vel, she responded coolly, "Understood Captain, Mr Buchanan is already retrieving the pertinent information. He will transmit it forthwith."

McGregor now focused on the sensor feed focusing on the engineering compartment. Reading his mind, Contessa Ney brought the engineering section they were securing up on the viewscreen as the main window. The resolution of the tactical display was less detailed as likewise were the video feeds from the drones deployed by the Stallion Two team. Two of which now no longer gave any feedback at all. Ney explained the engine core was possibly scrambling sensors. "Some sort of radiation leak. Leader Two has failed to make contact upon entering the engineering compartment."

"Hmmm .... I wonder. It shouldn't be interfering so. Check it out Denora. Cutler, prepare tractor beams to tow the Sprite out of that sandbar. Have the grapplers on standby. Contessa raise Dexter."

The comm. suddenly crackled with the voice of Caleb ‘Tac' Dexter. "This is Leader Two. I have a man down but engineering is secured. Require engineering assistance." Dexter sounded a little breathless and there was an edge to his voice that he was controlling.

"Very good Tac. Help is on the way. The Kestrel is securing the ship and assistance is en route." McGregor turned to Denora. "Any notion about that interference?"

Her shrill voice replied, "Not as yet Captain, however, I do not believe it to be an engineering problem. Their systems read fine and in line with having encountered a subspace barrier."

"Hmm ... that's what I figured." More to himself he mused, "A crude but effective dampening field."

Molly stepped up to McGregor. "Why would Thaddeus employ such a field? He doesn't normally operate at anything so high scale as to try such a dangerous ploy."

McGregor drummed his fingers as he tried to decipher it from looking at the sensor readings on the viewscreen alone. Thaddeus was a petty criminal. A middle man for bigger fish and he was going to be extremely useful to McGregor as a squealer. He wanted Thaddeus for the information he could give him about T'Hos and his network. But the feeling McGregor was getting between his toes was that there was something more going on here. What had Thaddeus gotten himself caught up in? "That I don't know ... yet. T'Vel send a team across to Dexter's position. Investigate that radiation field."

"I shall attend to it personally Captain."

"Good. But bring Rah with you. I don't have a good vibe about it." McGregor got to his feet swiftly and crossed towards the turbolift door asking Denora as he went past, "Does the radiation pose any dangers?"

Denora's earnest eyes sought out McGregor. "After prolonged contact it may do. However, an inoculation from Dr. Monroe may be effective to prevent any damaging effects."

McGregor nodded at Molly. "Get Judy to organise herself and a team to inoculate the Stallion Teams and the inspection parties. Let's haul the Sprite in and take a closer look at her, shall we?"

"Wait!" She stepped up to be in McGregor's confidence. "Are you sure about going aboard? As I've said all along, this could be a trap on T'Hos' part."

"Nah! Not at all." She looked at him part confused part raging he was taking it so blithely. "Thaddeus' ship wasn't part of the planted intel from T'Hos. I got it all from Paul's records. He noted how T'Hos has been putting pressure on those traders who are more legit, trying to get them to do his dirty business, using threats, bribes and a lot else besides to get them to do his bidding."

"What? Paul ..."

McGregor whispered, "Paul allowed himself to be blackmailed and bribed into things the idiot that he is. But his information indicated that T'Hos had paid a visit to one of Thaddeus' dealerships. With a little more probing and sifting through the red herrings T'Hos planted to throw me off course, I figured out that T'Hos had put the screws on Thaddeus. Equally stupid but also equally with a taste for fine illegal liquor like Paul."

Molly slapped him across the arm. "Why didn't you say so all along? I've been pissed with you for going through with this! Had you just said this wasn't reliant on information from T'Hos I'd have been a lot happier going into this."

"Molly slapping a commanding officer is not becoming." Smiling he patted her shoulder. "Anyway, Molly dear, I had to keep it secret where my information came from. I didn't want to tip off T'Hos' inside man or woman or transgendered species."

"But..." she never got to finish as they were interrupted.

From Ops Noah's voice quivered nervously. With the immediate tactical alert at an end, the tractor beam operation now came under his department. "Captain the subspace sandback will make a tractor lock a little more difficult."

"Ah but not so difficult as to be impossible Cutler." He admonished cheerfully. Molly gave a warning look to McGregor. She didn't appreciate anything that would dent the ensign's newfound confidence. "Not to worry Cutler. In fact, we may as well take the opportunity to hone our skills. Let's deploy the grapplers!" He rubbed his hands eagerly and stepped back down into the central pit with an enthusiastic spring to his step.

At Ops, Noah Cutler's face paled and he gulped audibly. Contessa Ney got business like at her station once again. "Selecting target areas." The display on screen lit up a schematic of the Sprite's Spittle's hull profile with a series of red points. These were the targeting points for the old-fashioned grappling lines. Along the saucer section of the Kestrel the grappling hooks began their deployment. Like whaling torpedoes the grapplers swivelled and turned to find their target with a sharp metallic hook at its tip.

Molly stepped back to be alongside Cutler. Quietly she spoke into his ear as he prepared his department, narrating as he went about his steps. She was impressed to see that he had a firm understanding of the protocols involved regardless. "Ok. So when we use the grapplers we don't use the energy of the tractor beams. However, given that there is always the possibility of strong resistance we need to have the SIF prepared, allow for thrusters and impulse engines to be used at a moment's notice and shields too. And whilst we normally use the grapplers in a situation where we can't use the tractor beams have them on standby just in case anything should go awry."

Both Noah and Contessa declared in unison, "Ready Captain."

Swivelling in his chair, McGregor swung round then to the viewscreen. "Good. Let's fish. Fire grapplers!" There was a shunt and the visual on screen showed the hooks streak across and ensnare the Sprite's Spittle. The superstructure of the Kestrel seemed to momentarily strain and groan as the lines went taut with a secure catch.

"Grappling lines secured."

"Oh goody. We caught us a big fish." McGregor hit a triumphant fist into his palm. Then stretching his legs out in front of him and miming holding a fishing rod and reel, he ordered gleefully, "Reel ‘em in."

 

* * *

 

The Sprite's Spittle

The dull heavy ringing thud of the grappling hooks impacting on its hull resounded throughout the ship. Sitting sweating in his chair, the Sprite's captain looked apprehensively at the ceiling of his bridge. It was almost as if he expected McGregor to be pounding his way through the hull after the declared promise that he was coming to see him. T'Vel did not deign to notice the sounds. Instead, she looked at the boarding party and ordered, "Brace yourselves."

Thaddeus leapt on the order to the Starfleet crew as a sign to panic and letting out a high-pitched squeal grabbed the armrests of his chair desperately. Standing at the doorway, T'Vel braced herself in its frame and guarding it, Sebastian Templar unaware of the why did likewise. Then understanding dawned as the slack of the grappling hooks was taken up and went taut. The ship creaked and groaned initially as the strain of the lines pulled the ship to a stationary stop. The personnel onboard felt themselves sway forwards only slightly. Sebastian was about to voice the lack of cause to brace themselves but thereafter there was shuddering shunt as the grappling hooks started to be hauled in.

The ship resisted initially. There was a forceful repulse of the pull and a powerful jolt rocked the ship. Those less prepared than the boarding party spilled onto the deck as the ship lurched backwards and they forwards. The shuddering lessened but was a constant as the Kestrel pulled the ship out of the subspace anomaly and into its talons.

This thought however, gave Thaddeus no cause to be relieved as his reactivated viewscreen showed the Kestrel looming larger and showed that McGregor was ever closer. "You ... you ... have to protect me. I had no choice! You have to make McGregor understand. I had no choice! You have to have mercy."

From the doorway, seemingly unperturbed by the shuddering of the ship, T'Vel intoned imperiously, "That is a matter for Captain McGregor. The matter of mercy is not a decision for me as second officer."

"But McGregor won't understand."

"I am Vulcan. Mercy is an emotional response I do not feel nor do I understand."

"Pleaseee!" He squealed over the groans and shuddering of the vessel as it was reined in.

"Making pleas to a Vulcan? You may as well make pleas to deaf ears." Submino harped across the bridge for the benefit of Thaddeus as T'Vel turned away from looking at him. "Pointed deaf ears."

Slinked casually at the helm station, Mila Chomsky offered a lifeline to Thaddeus. "McGregor is going to make you talk, one way or ..." she paused as the ship rocked considerably heavier for a moment, "another. The best option is to just talk. Tell him what he wants to know and fess about whatever it is you want to declare."

A paling Thaddeus looked from Mila to T'Vel. His look was imploring. "Is that true?"

"I cannot make any guarantees." T'Vel gave Mila what seemed to be a pointed look before she looked upon the frightened shaking Thaddeus. "However, it is logical that should you co-operate, Captain McGregor will have less need to employ ‘strategies' to discern the information he wants."

"Ok! Ok. I will tell you everything."

Borvoo rattled several expletives in his native Xindi reptilian. The harsh clicks were indicative enough of his mood without any translation. Dashiel Cain however just pointed his carbine at the Reptilian and it succeeded in shutting him up.

Reclined across the helm casually despite the shuddering, Mila chorused, "Here comes McGregor." She looked from the viewscreen to smile at Dashiel's tactic and then pointed her carbine at Thaddeus in an ever so casual waving motion. "Everything?"

In the viewscreen the Kestrel now loomed larger and larger alongside the Sprite's Spittle starboard and began manoeuvring itself closer still, starting to extend its umbilical docking port. The Kestrel was docking to the Sprite's Spittle and in a moment, its inspection teams would pour through the docking ring and begin trawling through every inch and crack of the vessel in search of any contraband or anything illegal or suspicious. Thaddeus fervently declared, "Everything!"

T'Vel stood tall, letting go of the doorframe and swung her carbine into its holster. "That." At T'Vel's pronouncement, the shuddering stopped and the vessel came to a rest. Distant sounds were of the umbilical dock making contact and sealing to the exterior of the ship. A slight final rumble accompanied the contact and all went still and quiet. "Is a most logical decision."

* * *

 

Bodily Complications by Miranda Fave

 

‘Bodily Complications'

 

 

The Sprite's Spittle

McGregor weaved his way through the corridors of the Sprite's Spittle. He had hauled the vessel over a number of times and had a familiarity with its type. He walked directly to one of the cargo bays leading an inspection team and went straight up to a crate. Alongside him, Judy Monroe asked, "You looking for something in particular McGregor?"

He chortled at the doctor as he cracked the crate open. "Aha! That I am. Last time, Thaddeus had a particular brand of rather illegal whisky. And lo and behold here he has some of it again." He tossed a bottle up out of the crate and snatched it happily. He grabbed the arm of a passing Benzite. The non-com took no umbrage at the interruption to his duties. "Gwort, get this crate back to the Kestrel won't you. In fact, I'm pretty certain that it should be secured somewhere safe. Hmm ... let me think, no I can think of nowhere no more secure than my room so that will have to be it. Don't worry about the paper work. My find, so I'll sort it out. Good lad." He clapped him on the back and sent him on the way.

"I thought we weren't chasing after Thaddeus simply to confiscate whatever illegal liquors he might be carrying. That this wasn't a just a free shopping trip for your private collection." Judy stated to McGregor.

He responded with a preposterous tone that did not convince just as Molly entered the cargo bay, "It isn't! Or as I said, it certainly, isn't the only reason why."

Cartwright ignored the bottle of alcohol the captain still held in his hand as she stood with her hands on her hips and informed him, "McGregor, T'Vel wants us to meet her near the engineering section. She and Thaddeus have something they want to show us."

"Oh! Sounds like it could be interesting." Staring into another opened crate the inspection team were going through, he distractedly rejoiced, "Beltanian fur! Outlawed and oh so warm." He picked up one coat and held it up to Judy. "Just your size Judy too. Impound this crate corpsman. I'll find my size later. Do you want dibs Molly?"

Molly frowned rather than reply. McGregor turned to Judy as he handed the fur coat back to a corpsman. "I'll take that as a no. Come on then Judy."

"Wait, let me inoculate you first." The hypo spray hissed as she deployed the inoculation.

As they started walking again, Molly asked of Judy, "What's the status of Gunny?"

"Mejal tells me he received a bad whack to the head. He has a likely concussion and a need to be observed. I'll check on his treatment when we get back to the Kestrel." Judy's faith in her charges was of the utmost because she chose the best and then trained them further herself. It was why she felt no compulsion to go running off to check on Gunny herself.

Thinking of the short but busty Andorian, McGregor playfully warned, "Mejal is treating him? Huh, tell Mejal to double check Gunny ain't faking it just to get the kiss of life."

Judy rejoined with her own coy barb. "Oh, that's standard training for all medical personnel onboard captain."

Declaring loudly and defensively, McGregor swaggered, "One time Judy! One time."

Molly gave Judy a sideways look, careful lest McGregor noted it. Judy but gave a subtle shrug to any suggestions Molly might have implied. "Denora can't ascertain the exact source of the radiation but is a hundred percent about it not actually being an engineering problem."

"And having scanned some of the crew, I can confirm that they have received several, rather subpar, inoculations to date to protect them. The fact Thaddeus has such a ready supply of inoculations aboard is in itself suggestive."

Molly chewed on the thought as they made their way to engineering. "Would he really use a radiation leak to screen whatever he hoped to hide? It doesn't seem Thaddeus' style."

"Who said Thaddeus had style?"

Again, Judy rejoined, "If I recall correctly, in the briefing you said he did."

McGregor waved off such a suggestion. "Judy, Judy, as if. Ah Yeoman Harris," McGregor's eye lit up at seeing the salacious form of the yeoman, "I have a few personal items to be delivered to my cabin. Be so good as to ensure they get delivered safely."

Harris waited in the corridor and started to fall in step with the trio. "Certainly Captain." She took possession of the bottle he still carried. "Have you an itemised list?"

"Not yet. I haven't finished shopping. Stick with us and see."

Judy interrupted any further asides with Harris. "You think this dampening field is hiding something more exotic then."

"It might. In fact, I'm sure of it. Gun running perhaps. Not what Thaddeus usually deals in but," his face began to grow more concerned though, "perhaps desperate situations required desperate measures." McGregor stopped at the start of a new corridor and looked to see T'Vel stood with Thaddeus at the opening of some kind of compartment or opening along the length of the corridor wall, one not found on the schematics. "Oh ho, found a new hiding place Thaddeus?"

Thaddeus turned from looking into the compartment to McGregor and blanched visibly. A strange sight to see in a Bolian McGregor thought. T'Vel too turned in their direction. At her side, the wisecracking Submino stood looking very subdued and ashen himself. T'Vel informed in what seemed to be a grave voice, "I believe we have a complication Captain." She then addressed Judy in a solemn tone. "Your assistance is necessary Dr. Monroe."

Monroe darted forward to the opening, from which a rank smell emanated. "My God!" she exclaimed. "Monroe to medical teams, report to my position stat. Sickbay be ready to receive patients." She threw a baleful look at Thaddeus who withered under the glare and stepped back, defeated and horrified with himself.

"What have you done Thaddeus?" McGregor quizzed as he came up to the doorway, a growing knot forming in his stomach. He looked into the compartment and saw them. At his side, Harris dropped the bottle as she stumbled backwards. It smashed on the deck plates but the violence of the impact registered not as they collectively took in the sight and the smell.

Pitiful, near skeletal figures lethargically lay in their own filth, in ragged clothes and ruined bedding. Their faces were pale and dejected their eyes listless and dull. Up to thirty of them were crammed into the tight claustrophobic confines. Piping hot conduits ran through the small space and several of the slaves bore burn marks among the welts and sores they also carried. Most harrowing of all was the broken spirit among them all. They did not even seem to register that they were now rescued.

The shocking sight was broken suddenly by McGregor's hand flashing through the air as he struck the stocky Bolian across the face causing Thaddeus to stagger backwards. In his other hand, his phaser pistol was suddenly stuck under the pirate's chin.

"P... p ... p ... pleaseeee!"

Levelly, T'Vel interjected, "He volunteered their hiding place and he is willing to tell you all Captain."

"That excuses it not!" McGregor snarled as Molly pulled on his pistol arm. He shrugged Molly off and hauled Thaddeus across the deck to the door as medical personnel filled into the tight confines. "Do you see what you have done? You treated these people like caged animals! I'll treat you no better."

Thaddeus could not look upon the sight.

Molly stepped up to Thaddeus' side. "How long have they been in here?"

"Six weeks."

Judy turned from her ministrations and organisation of the medical relief. Submino wordlessly started working on breaking free the shackles and bonds. "Six weeks! These people could be dead. Another few days and they would have been for sure."

"I was to feed them again tomorrow."

"That makes it all right?" She grabbed a shocked Harris to help her assist the slaves. Wordlessly the Yeoman stumbled into the small space, robotically doing as Monroe bid her. Judy did not even wait herself for whatever contemptible response Thaddeus had to give.

"Those were my orders. Feed them every other day so that they would be fit and healthy to a degree by the time they reached their ... their destination." His used his hands to cover his bowed head protectively. In a truly frightened voice, he implored, "Those were my orders. They have my kin hostage. If I did not deliver these people it would be my family that would be sold as slaves. You've got to believe me!"

"I have got to believe nothing Thaddeus. Only thing I have to do, is make those who orchestrated this pay for their crimes." McGregor's eyes blazed with an intensity that made even Molly back off. Grabbing Thaddeus harshly, McGregor pulled him away from the prison pen of the twenty or so imprisoned slaves. "Time for you to talk Thad. And talk plenty."

A snivelling Thaddeus kept dropping to his knees and impaired McGregor's transport of him. He feared whatever direction the border dog was taking him. "They'll kill me! They'll kill my family or sell them into slavery."

Following behind, Molly called, "You didn't seem to mind too much in the first place to sell someone else's family into slavery." Molly looked back at the pen where T'Vel stood helping to organise the rescue efforts. She wanted to remain to help but feared what McGregor might do.

From down the corridor Eddie Gardner came accompanied by Caleb Dexter and Nurse Mejal as they led a number of medical corpsmen to the scene. The engineer and security chief looked on at the scene without any comment. Mejal's blue antennae twitched upwards in shock and horror at the sight. Her bio-electric senses overwhelmed by the number of penned in persons. She took but only a brief moment before she steeled herself and flipped open her medical kit. "There, there. It's ok. We are going to take care of you."

The slaves ranged in species. There were mostly lower caste Orions, and even a few frontier humans. Frightened and mistrustful they even flinched and retracted from the tender help offered. Eddie turned his shocked attention to the sight of Judy and her medical personnel starting to administer help and prep the slaves for transport to sickbay. "My God! Here let me help Judy." Monroe hardly registered that it was Eddie offering her a hand.

Being dragged on his knees, the fat Bolian implored, "Please McGregor. They'll kill me! Please!"

McGregor looked down on him distastefully. "What makes you think for a second I won't?"

Molly warned McGregor as he dragged Thaddeus up the corridor. The Captain paid her little heed, which only served to frighten Thaddeus further. "Where are you taking me?"

Caleb pointedly ignored the sight of the slaves and nodded in the direction of the captain. He asked of T'Vel, "What's McGregor doing?"

"He is endeavouring to find the truth about Thaddeus' dealings with T'Hos."

"T'Hos? Sure it was T'Hos who tipped us off."

T'Vel took a moment before responding. "Apparently not. Apparently McGregor was ... what is the poker term you employ? ‘Playing his cards close to his chest'. T'Vel to Ney. Prepare for site to site transport on Dr. Monroe's mark." T'Vel ignored the squeals from Thaddeus as McGregor persisted in dragging the Bolian freight captain away from the scene. Instead she focused on the medical assistance being offered and noted that transporter tags were being attached to the victims. "Are you ready for transport doctor?"

"Take us in two batches." Judy instructed. T'Vel understood that Monroe would go with the first batch and wanted a small space between the two beam ins to prevent the medical bay from being overwhelmed at once. Judy nodded her head. "Ready."

Judy and half of the group in front of them disappeared with the first transporter wave. It caused a frightened stir among the rest of the slaves. Mejal and the others tried their best to reassure them. "It will be ok. We are taking you next." Mejal looked up at T'Vel after a small moment and nodded that it was time enough.

T'Vel began to instruct Ney on the bridge again. "Wait." The Andorian suddenly demanded. Mejal stepped forward handing a hypo spray to Harris and a medical tricorder. "Make sure that all of the Stallion boarding party members get their inoculation. We can't spare any of our people. Go ahead."

A dumbfounded Harris offered no response as T'Vel instructed for the last mass transportation to begin. The medical team and the rescued slaves dissolved into transporter mist. As they disappeared the detritus of their living hell was all that remained and painted a horrid tale in and of itself. The faeces, the smell, the spoiled air. Eddie Gardner and Yeoman Harris both stood amid the vestiges of the carnage and broken shackles looking shaken and broken. Dexter exclaimed a heavy sigh on the corridor and moved off in the direction of McGregor and his confrontation.

"Wait." T'Vel grabbed his arm. "I believe the captain wants to speak to Thaddeus alone."

Eddie and Harris turned to look at the strange tense situation between T'Vel and Dexter. "Yeah, well you might be content as second officer to sit around like a second fiddle. But I am the chief of security, and I'd sooner be in the loop as to what is going on." He pulled his arm free of her grip and stabbed a finger in the direction of where the slaves had been stowed away. "Perhaps then we would be prepared for what we are getting into."

"I do not believe the captain knew about the slaves."

"But he knew this ship was operating some sort of mission for T'Hos." Dexter turned and looked down the corridor. A number of security personnel had gathered ready to secure the site and gather evidence. "No wonder they put up a resistance in engineering. Had we known that, we would have been better prepared."

T'Vel's tone brokered no sympathy. "It was a SARAH. Your team should have been prepared for any and all eventualities. You should not have been complacent."

"Don't you damn well tell me about being complacent. I'm far from complacent!"

"Let's cut it out you two." Eddie tried to intervene. Harris seemed startled out of her shocked state by the argument.

Molly at the other end of the corridor came thundering down it even though reluctant to leave Thaddeus to the mercies of McGregor. But the appearance of Rah at the captain's side had appeased her somewhat. "That's enough. You are both senior officers and you had better start acting like it. There's still an inspection to complete, a major crime incident to report, and you two have your after action reports to begin compiling too. Neither of you have the time for this."

Dexter railed at Molly now. "He shouldn't have been holding back on us. It's bad enough he is playing games with the boarding parties but withholding vital information is just reckless."

Eddie, wishing he had remained in engineering instead of being waylaid here, tried vainly to hush the situation with his hands up. "People. People."

Molly was not to be silenced though. "You don't need to lecture me Dexter. In fact, it isn't your position to do so." Cartwright hauled him in with her tone. "McGregor has his reasons for keeping stump about certain things. As the chief of security I'm sure you can appreciate his precautions."

He argued back. "As the chief of security I should be informed."

"I'm first officer and I didn't know!"

A silence fell over the group. The lower ranked personnel tried to hang back inconspicuously from the fraught scene. Even Submino kept his smart mouth shut.

Harris suddenly aware that she was holding a hypo spray and a medical tricorder darted forwards between the four high ranking officers. "Dr. Mejal said I had to inoculate all boarding party members!" She pronounced it loudly and it was clear the yeoman was unsettled.

Molly noted the yeoman's shaken state and understood it was nothing to do with her witnessing a row between the senior officers. Rather the sight of the slaves was a horrendous reminder of where the Kestrel had once rescued her from. Molly wanted to wince for the yeoman and whatever inner turmoil she had to be feeling. She was a rather closed book to all onboard save McGregor. McGregor was the yeoman's saviour and ever since her guardian and only comfort in the world. "Best to listen to the yeoman."

Harris took the hypo and pressed it against Dexter's arm. He didn't seem to flinch or register the hypo's administration. Harris turned then to T'Vel. The Vulcan looked down on the hypo abhorrently. She took a backward step. "I do not require medication. My Vulcan physiology has a greater ... resistance."

"Mejal said I had to inoculate everyone who was part of the boarding parties."

Caleb scornfully remarked, "Well if McGregor is going to keep things to himself, Harris can keep the medication to herself."

"Knock it on the head Dexter! T'Vel, no-one is going to be doing any self-diagnosis today." Molly locked looks with the Vulcan. Their previous run-in in sickbay replaying in the Commander's head.

Firmly T'Vel denied the request. "I insist on returning to the ship in that case."

Dexter grabbed the hypo. "Damn it to hell. Take the inoculation!" T'Vel opened her mouth to protest but Deter acted swiftly, grabbing her arm and then depressed the hypo.

T'Vel blanched at his action with visible horror and anger writ large on her face. She struck out forcibly. Dexter toppled sideways from the violent blow. Gardner managed to catch Dexter as he fell. The hypo clattered along the deck plates.  Molly rushed forwards unsure of her purpose but stopped at T'Vel's side in order to comfort the obviously distressed Vulcan. Cartwright found herself calling out, "Caleb!"

Getting back to his feet swiftly and enraged he turned on the Vulcan. "You're a rancid and deranged nutcase! I should have you on charges."

Forgotten at the end of the corridor, McGregor glared angrily in their direction. "Take him to the brig Fang." Thaddeus had no chance to protest as McGregor stormed down the corridor, where Molly now stepped away from T'Vel and pushed Dexter back.

Stabbing a finger into Dexter's chest, Molly ranted, "You'll do no such thing though Mister Dexter as you may find yourself up on charges!"

"Me?!" Dexter asked incredulous.

"You forcibly applied a hypo over a ... patient's expressed desire." Molly stabbed accusingly uncaring of the witnessing lower ranks. "Let's not consider what charges could be laid at your feet."

"What the HELL is going on here?" All turned to McGregor as he barrelled into the spat. "We have discovered slaves onboard. Slaves! And you are at each other's throats. Damn it, this is why we are here. This is why we do this job." He exchanged long looks with each of them. Reluctantly they all sensed it was the best thing to back down. It was not ever that McGregor played it the stern role of commanding officer.

"I have a senior chief petty officer lying injured from the assault on his way to the Kestrel sickbay which is now filled with slaves. My chief of the boat is confining a criminal to the brig. I look around and I see my XO, my chief of security and second officer standing in the corridor chewing each other's heads off. So I have to ask myself," and at this his ire grew louder, "what the hell are they doing? Meantime the operation to take and secure an enemy bridge and engineering section appears by the minute to be all the more redundant when I see the two team leaders not securing those sections. This ship is supposed to be locked down. What kind of half-assed operation is being conducted here?"

"Petty Officer Chomsky is in command of the remaining team on the bridge. She is ..."

"I don't want flaming excuses Vel. I want this ship secured." He looked from T'Vel to Dexter. Both stood silent as he berated them. The onlookers tried to slink back but had nowhere to go. McGregor's badge chirped. He snarled but was thankful for the intrusion. "What is it?"

"Captain, it is Ensign Jex. I'm currently onboard Stallion One. We were still gathering sensor readings and detected a strange spike of energy in engineering. We don't know what it is."

"Fine."He turned to Dexter and pointedly and scathingly instructed, "As my chief of security you can go check it out. Take Submino with you seeing as how you lost Gunny in the Op."

Dexter's face grimaced as the unvoiced charged was lashed at him. He took a moment before, dutifully replying. "Aye Captain." Dexter turned and stalked off at a quick trot with Submino falling in beside him.

Watching them go McGregor growled at the sight of Gardner. "Eddie make yourself bloody useful and get back down there yourself. You're the engineer - so go engineer."

"It was where I was before..." Eddie was about to offer a protest but instead puffed out his bearded cheeks in resignation. "Never mind, I'd sooner be there than here." Whether he meant at the site of the slaves' imprisonment or beside McGregor in his foul mood was not made clear. He stomped off muttering under his breath, "... bleedin' ... damned ... all the things I have to ..."

Arms folded, Molly declared, "My you're pissy."

"In case you all have realised it yet Molly, this is serious, we've rescued thirty odd slaves and T'Hos is playing it for real! You're damned right I'm pissed. And not the good kind of pissed, three sheets to the wind kind of pissed. Just royally pissed off. I haven't got time for petty squabbles. Anyway, Eddie works better when he's in a grouch." McGregor mood was darkly as he turned away from Molly. Her mood was dark too but she was clearly restraining letting off a volley in return at McGregor. He near careened into Harris as he did though. Her presence hit him with sudden realisation. "Harris!"

He fumbled for words, knowing the anguish she must have felt at seeing the slaves. "Harris. You, you had best be getting back to the Kestrel. Go on, now." He didn't even bother to give any kind of excuse for the instruction. Nor did she look it. Instead, she took off handing the medical tricorder over to Molly. As she departed he watched her go. Concern seemed writ over his face. He then turned to T'Vel and took in her seemingly shaken demeanour. Again, sympathy seemed to wash over his features as he took in the Vulcan. "You may as well take off back to the ship too Vel. Molly you can take to the bridge."

T'Vel said nothing but wringed her hands before setting off. Again, McGregor watched as she retreated. To Molly he said, "I trust Chomsky will have everything in order. But I want some brass there in case anything goes wrong." He turned to those few standing around awkwardly. "You lot! Get to work. Secure this and shut that damn dampening field off Whent and Jock. This side show is over."

Molly asked of him. "Where will you be?"

"I want to turn the screws on Thaddeus but I want to verify what that energy spike was first." The itch between his toes was not gone yet and he had a feeling that he should have brought his umbrella for he felt it was still to rain crap.

"You didn't imagine Thaddeus was caught up in this kind of thing did you?"

"No. No, I had not figured he's be up to the shit this much." He exhaled deeply. "Which means T'Hos is stepping up his organisation big time. He really thinks that he can take on the Syndicate and the Orion clans."

"What will we do?"

He paused to consider that. "It depends on what Thaddeus knows. If he was transporting those slaves somewhere directly, then we are going in and going in hard."

"What about hunting T'Hos down?"

It pained him to say it so but he could only do one thing. "He'll just have to wait."

"Then go turn the screws on Thaddeus. We have the ship and will continue to secure it."

He considered that and it felt the right thing to do but he stopped to ask Cartwright, "What the hell was that all about back there?"

"Your senior officers are bickering because you don't trust them. And they don't trust each other. The way you are playing things with hunting down T'Hos is starting to have its effect. You can't play the mad unorthodox captain and expect it not to have some sort of payback among the crew."

He groused at her. "I'm sensing a lecture, Molly."

She walked after him as he sought to escape her lecture. "That's what it is. Rather than sense it perhaps you'd consider listening to it."

Stopping in his tracks he exclaimed aloud, "So what? You want me to not hunt T'Hos down? After seeing what he is making honest criminal people do you want me to step back and let him?"

She stepped towards him as she spoke. "McGregor don't get all holier than thou with me about your ‘mission'. You've a vendetta against T'Hos. You have good cause to want to chase him down but let's not pretend ..." her foot kicked something and it slid across the deck. She looked down surprised and suddenly realised it was the hypo spray.

McGregor stooped to pick it up. "What is ...?"

"It's the inoculation hypo Harris ... it fell when ..." a dawning realisation was coming on Molly. "The inoculation!"

"What about it?"

"It was to counter the effects of radiation in the body." A horrified Molly looked in the direction T'Vel had departed. "T'Vel!"

* * *

"Fuck me blue!"

A dry retort was quick off Caleb Dexter's tongue. "You ain't my type Submino. And in case you hadn't noted it, you are Bolian."

"Hey! You ain't my type either."

"Once you go black my man."

"Yeah whatever," Submino said unconvinced. "When you go blue nothing else will do."

Eddie Gardner's voice groused from within the inner working of the engines. "Get a room you two. What's up Submino? The rest of us are doing a job or two you know. Like you should be."

"Ah, don't be jealous Chief. I onlys wanted to know is that Gunny's medallion?"

"What? Yeah sure. He must have lost it when he fell." Dexter informed Submino distractedly. He continued scanning. Likewise around the engineering room the other members of the team and the supplementary from the inspection team were scanning the engineering section thoroughly.

Submino stooped over to pick the medallion up.

He was at Eddie's ankles as he did so. Gardner threw a frustrated look at the Bolian as if his presence was impairing his repairs. "Stupid hog."

"Hey Eddie! That ain't nice to say about Gunny. Even if he is a Tellarite! Har!"

"I meant this stupid engine."

Dexter tried to scoff. "Are you sure you don't mean Gunny? He beat you at poker and you bear grudges."

"Ha!" Eddie moaned more than laughed. He tossed a sonic wrench into his cloth tool bag. As he wriggled himself out from under the main plasma conduit branch off from the core. Dusting down his hands as he sat on his knees, he said, "We'll see tomorrow night."

Submino stooped again as he offered a hand to Gardner in getting up. "Chief you should play cards with us."

"He only wants your credits Eddie. Save ‘em for me." Dexter's tricorder chirped as he waved it in the direction of Eddie and Submino. He stepped forward to investigate and pinpoint the source.

But the Bolian's eye caught it first as he leaned over. In catching sight of what they were searching for, Submino lost his grasp of Eddie who fell back on his ass. "Fuck!"

Dexter whistled out his breath as he took in what had been discovered by Submino. The Bolian's eyes bulged as he took in the secretly placed bomb. "Fuck me blue big time." He then took in what the explosive was attached to. The main plasma conduit! "Fuck me to the power of ten."

 

* * *

'Diffusing the Situation' by Miranda Fave

 

‘Diffusing the Situation'

 

Stallion One

Jex was leaning back in her chair feeling a little contented with how things had panned out.  The bridge was secured and so too was engineering now. For her now was a case of sitting post until the search of the vessel was complete, even with the Kestrel docked to the vessel.

The small smile on her face was noted by the young and dashing looking Andorian at the computer consoles. "You did good."

Leoni blushed at being caught being smug with herself and at the compliment. Sitting alone in the Star Stallion with the hunky Andorian her mind wandered to thoughts she actually hadn't had for some time. Or more precisely, thoughts of her own that she hadn't had since she had been joined. Jex had a certain taste for the smart argumentative type, whilst Deodzi's eye for beefy hunks had almost landed her in trouble in her last year at the Academy. The sexual desires of the symbiont and past hosts had not exactly figured into Leoni's mind about what she would gain from the Joining!

"Thank you Keren." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Her ponytail bopped as she cowed her head and tried to stop herself coyly at the muscular but finely honed body of the Andorian. She had to keep her mind focused and on task. "I have to say it was a bit of a thrill but at the same time I didn't have that difficult a flight."

He generously offered a compliment. "Do not knock yourself. You navigated a subspace sandbar using momentum alone and thrusters."

"Well thank you again then." She cleared her throat and tried to clear her mind. "Cut it out Jex!"

"Eh?"

"Sorry." She found herself blushing and embarrassed at speaking aloud. Inside, Jex was laughing whilst Leoni was cringing. "I was talking to myself I suppose."

His antennae twitched in bemusement and in confusion. "Uh huh. Life as a joined Trill sure must be confusing at times when talking to yourself is actually talking to another person."

"Yeah. Well it is and well it isn't. I guess it is hard to explain." She shrugged in a coy playful manner. "I know I've tried to explain it to Noah a couple of times and I gather from the blank look on his face that I haven't succeeded in doing that but confusing him further."

"Ha! It must be difficult for him to understand, especially as your boyfriend."

She nearly choked. "My boyfriend! Noah! Noah?"

"Oh right. I must have picked it up wrong."

"Nooooo. No offence meant but Noah? He's more like, like, like a kid brother. He's a friend. Nothing more than that. A really good friend. But a friend and that's that. What made you say that?"

"Nothing. I didn't mean to presume anything."

"Now go on tell." He pointedly tried to ignore her look but his eyes lingered on the rank of her collar. She noted that however and ordered him, "Forget the pips."

"Sorry. Ok then. My bad, I guess I just saw you hanging out with him so much and well I didn't quite get it. The being a boyfriend or being just a friend thing between the two of you."

"Why not? Sure Noah is sweet and funny in his own quiet way. He's gentle and caring and sometimes that means you want to shake him because he ends up worrying too much about things but he can't be knocked for caring too much."

Keren flashed a knowing smile. "Are you sure there isn't something more between the two of you?"

"What! Excuse me! Just because I can see the good qualities in him doesn't mean anything. For your information, Noah helped come to terms with being joined. When I came back to the Academy, I found it harder than I thought I would to reconcile who I was before and who I am now after Joining. He befriended me when I was struggling with that. Despite his own insecurities, he helped me to find a path between being Leoni and being Jex. He helped without knowing that he did. And he helped by becoming my friend."

"I suppose." He seemed a little unconvinced by the vocal protest.

In Leoni's mind, she could hear a whisper from Niesa that perhaps she did protest too much and that she didn't see what was right in front of her. Leoni bit her tongue from trying to silence her aloud. Meantime, Jex chuckled knowing that Noah was the honest to next-door type that Niesa liked and indeed had married and bore several children to. Deodzi cared not to comment on the matter. Her preferences were already made known. ‘Contain yourself Leoni, Deodzi, Jex, whichever one us wants to run our hand up his leg!' She cleared her throat again.

"I guess I reckoned the way the two of you spent so much time together that you were some kind of item."

"You reckoned?" She felt like flushing bright crimson. She channelled Deodzi's bravado to control her deportment. Leadingly she boldly asked, "So what you were checking us out?"

"Eh? No, no. It was something Mejal noted in the mess one day."

"Oh Mejal. Is she ... your ...?" She left of the trailing question.

"What? Oh no." His skin flushed a deeper blue. By way of explanation, he provided the information, "Mejal is Shen. I am Chan."

"Oh right. That means she is your wife?"

"No. That is not what it means."

"So she isn't your wife, she's your girlfriend."

"No. It is our sex genders."

"Oh. Sorry. I sound completely ignorant and stupid. Just a friend of mine one time was married to his Shen, so I mistakenly assumed..."

"No, no, we are not married. Not exactly. We are in a marriage bond. That is. We are part of a marriage bond together but we ourselves are not married to one another. She's just a very, very close friend. Merely that together we can make a baby with the cooperation of two others of course. Well for the two others who are married. As they say on Andoria, It takes four to make a baby."

"Ah! I think I see. Ok I don't see at all. Talk about family planning! As long as I've lived I never could get my head around the four sexes thing. I rather imagined some sort of big blue foursome orgy."

He laughed at the notion but didn't think the present was the time to explain Andorian reproductive functions. "Hey, don't knock it till you've tried it!"

"Hey, who says I haven't." He gave her a questioning look to which she only offered a mischievous wink and smile. In her thoughts, she knew that smile belonged to Deodzi.

"Hmm ... what is that?" He peered closer to his screen. The antennae on his head worried forwards as if they strained to better perceive what the screen showed.

"What is it?"

"A spike of energy in engineering." He punched up the sensor readings on screen to show her. "I got a momentary spike on the sensors coming from within main engineering. It isn't there now though."

She tried to get a better refinement of the readings to no avail. "Check in with Denora. The Kestrel's sensors may have picked up more. I'll contact the captain."

"Aye."

"Captain, it is Ensign Jex. I'm currently onboard Stallion One. We were still gathering sensor readings and detected a strange spike of energy in engineering. We don't know what it is."

"Fine."McGregor was limited in any further response but from the open comm. She heard him order Dexter to investigate with Submino. Jex toggled the comm. links and brought up the chief of security's and the Bolian's to listen in on their progress. She noted the tension in all of the voices that she overheard.

"It makes my antennae quiver when the top brass are angry at one another. It means one of us skids is going to pay for something that is not our fault and has nothing to do with us."

"You've a bad notion of the officers. Do you think all of us bad?"

"Not bad. Just more trouble than you are worth."

"Hey! Am I counted among that?"

He took a moment before he replied. "Oh I think you could be trouble. But maybe you might be wor ... uh oh ..."

"Did you detect another reading?"

"No. Something more troubling. Lt. Commander T'Vel's bio-feed has went dead."

Leoni asked shocked, "Dead?"

"Yeah." He studied the read outs quizzically. "Sorry, I mean to say we aren't receiving any information from it. It's as though she has detached it."

"Why would she do that?"

He shrugged. "One of my grandmothers once said that you can expect a Vulcan to be logical but you can't expect any of them to make any sense."

"Ensign Jex to Lt. Commander T'Vel. I repeat Jex to T'Vel. Stallion One Leader come in."

Keren offered by way of assistance. "Let me check there isn't some sort of failure in the system." He started running a systems diagnosis as Jex tried different channels to contact the second officer. "Systems check out. There's no issue with the hardware."

"So whatever the problem it lies with the Lt. Commander."

"That's my reckoning."

"McGregor to Stallion One, have you a reading on T'Vel?"

A surprised Leoni answered McGregor. She couldn't fathom how he knew something was up with the Vulcan. But she knew it caused her greater concern to the fact the couldn't decipher any system failure. "Negative, we're just after hailing the Lt. Commander to no avail. Her bio-readings have dropped off the system. We thought it might be some kind of malfunction."

No response came from McGregor. "What the heck?" Now Leoni was truly worried. Something was up. "Let's get a manual location on Lt. Commander T'Vel."

The Andorian could only but share her anxiety. He however showed a calm exterior as he bent over his computer console again. "I am screening for Vulcan life signs."

The small wait seemed an eternal agony. The longer they took to track the errant Vulcan down the more uneasy the Trill felt. In her gut, she knew it. Jex had lived too many lives not to recognise the signs of foreboding danger. "Any joy?"

"Yes." He did a double take at the screen with his head jerking backwards in surprise. "She's ... she's just outside." He turned to look at the open airlock with Jex.

"Lt. Commander!" Jex got to her feet as T'Vel entered through the hatch of the Stallion. She tried to explain her emotional reaction of relief and surprise to the placid Vulcan. "We were just trying to raise you on the ..." Jex trailed off as she noted the pointed carbine in the Vulcan's hand and T'Vel closing the hatch door. "What's going on Lt. Commander?"

* * *

 

The Sprite's Spittle

"What are you saying Molly?"

"The inoculation. It could have an adverse effect on her medication." She started after T'Vel hitting her combadge on the run. "Cartwright to T'Vel." There was no response.  She pressed again, now worried. Her repeated calls went unanswered. Cartwright to T'Vel."

"McGregor to Stallion One, have you a reading on T'Vel?"

The concerned voice of Ensign Jex came over the comm. to the captain. "Negative, we're just after hailing the Lt. Commander to no avail. Her bio-readings have dropped off the system. We thought it might be some kind of malfunction."

McGregor did not bother to sign off from Jex but started to race faster after his XO. McGregor pressed his badge again and contacted the bridge as he chased after Molly. "Contessa, I need a location on Lt. Commander T'Vel."

Ney's response was curious. "Captaine?"

His reply was terse. In the situation, he hated having to explain himself. "She was on her way back to the ship. I want an exact location."

"She should be right in front of you."

McGregor and Molly looked down at the specialised black armour plated strap on combadge lying on the deck in front of them. Molly scooped it up by the straps that normally tied around a person's arm. "Get us a reading of T'Vel herself."

"Checking now." A long moment passed the radiation no doubt confounding sensors a little. Ney did not bother to suggest as much sensing that McGregor was not looking for excuses but answers alone.

"Dexter to McGregor and bridge."

"Not now Tac."

"I'm afraid it can't wait Captain, we have got ourselves a situation here in engineering."

McGregor puffed out a heavy sigh. He really didn't want to explain to "We already have a situation Caleb."

"Yeah well we got us a bomb." His words struck both McGregor and Cartwright. The two of them stopped in their tracks as Caleb added for effect, "And it's attached to the warp core."

"A bomb?"

"Yes Commander a bomb."

McGregor bit back a comment. He looked to Molly before replying. She nodded and started on her way in the opposite direction to McGregor who started back to engineering. "Evacuate the area. Get the Kestrel to remove to a safe distance. I'm on my way."

He started jogging harder towards engineering. "We can't do that or the bomb will go off."

"What do Eddie or Submino make of it?"

"I've got Submino with me and he is our best explosives expert and to quote he doesn't even want to sneeze in front of it. Gardner is ... is still processing it." McGregor could make out Eddie cursing in the background.

"I'm looking for options. Have them for me when I get there."

Ney chimed in from the bridge. "I've located Lt. Commander T'Vel on Stallion One."

A puffing Cartwright could be heard over the comm. as she changed direction towards the Stallion. "I'm on it McGregor."

What McGregor did not see was that Molly had unclipped her hand phaser as she did. But his response indicated he trusted she would do what might have to be done. "Sort it Molly. I'm nearly in engineering."

McGregor bounded into the room. "Can we lock onto it and transport it away?" As he careened into cramped and dirty engineering section, McGregor took in the security and engineering team from the Kestrel hanging back whilst a wary Caleb Dexter stood in front of a crouched and very still Submino.

The answer came from a harried sounding Submino. "Negative. It's booby trapped."

Dexter added further information. "It also detects plasma so when we tried to re-direct the plasma it primed itself. Hence Eddie's irritability."

"In other words, it's got a lot of redundancies built in. Hee, hee, you said booby Submino." Eddie Gardner was pacing the stretch behind them, rubbing his forehead frantically. "Eddie?"

He shrugged exasperated. "I'm thinking, I'm thinking." Eddie rapped his baldhead with his knuckles before rubbing it briskly in frustration with his hand.

"Think of something good." He approached the Bolian crouched before the bomb giving Dexter a wary glance to the side as he crouched beside Submino. McGregor studied the cigar shaped silver-tubed device. It seemed so small as to be of no threat at all. One could pick it up and put it into their pocket. "Well ‘ole Blue, what say you?"

The wisecracking Bolian whispered in response. "I think captain I'd like a transfer. When I say I don't wanna sneeze in front of it I don't wanna actually literally sneeze. Or fart. And I had beans for tea."

McGregor took the hint and whispered back, "You mean to say, it only took attaching a bomb to a warp core to stop you from farting Submino. I bet the lower decks wished we had thought of that sooner. Options?"

He shook his blue head. "It's a miniature device. There's not much to it at all but that makes it delicate. Its yield is not particularly big but the mix is potent." He looked up at the warp core.

"More potent than your passing gas?"

"Silent but deadly captain."

Dexter exclaimed, "Can we focus on the bomb at hand?"

"Lighten up Tac, we're having just having a blast." McGregor turned serious then as discussed options with Submino.  "What if we eject the core and remove the possibility of any matter anti-matter explosion?"

Eddie interjected. "We can't do that! It won't solve the explosion problem. The engineering section will still go up. But mostly and worstly, any abrupt movement will make the motion sensors activate the bomb, so even the ejection system would set it off. That's why we can't have the Kestrel undock. We can't chance it."

The comlink between the captain and his first officer now chirped again. "Commander Cartwright, this is Keren ... ugh!"

McGregor looked up alarmed and clapped his combadge swiftly. "Molly?"

"I'm on it. You sort the bomb." McGregor could not help thinking to himself that he had more than one explosive situation on his hands. He stood up and rubbed his chin. He signalled to Dexter to not even query.

"How's it powered?"

Submino supplied the answer. "It has its own power source but it could run for months so we can't wait it out. There's also nothing to say the thing isn't on a timer either and counting down as we speak."

Gardner scratched his beard frustrated. "And we can't circumvent the power supply in case we trigger it."

"But we could zap it itself with an EMP! Short circuit the bomb." He clicked his fingers. "Contessa! I need you to prep a rat trap stat!"

"What is the target captain?"

"We are. That is, the Sprite is."

Eddie stormed, "Are you mad? You'll fry every circuit on the Sprite and the Kestrel! Again."

"Not if we shut everything down first. Prep it Contessa. Eddie can you shut everything down aboard the ship."

"It'll be a hatchet job! But yes."

"Do it." McGregor started running to the door. "Get your slobs on the Kestrel to do likewise."

"Dang. That means leaving it to Berkley."

"Just get it done and done fast Eddie," he declared from the door.

To his retreating back Submino asked, "What's up Captain? Don't you think the plan will work? Running out on us like this."

Caleb demanded of him, "Where are you going?"

 "To defuse another situation. Contessa get a lock and ready to fire on Eddie's mark!" He ran out of the engineering section slapping his combadge. "Molly? Come in. What's the situation?"

"Damn it McGregor!" Dexter cursed and then ran after his captain.

Submino remarked candidly, "Is everyone fleeing a sinking ship or what?" Neither of them was about to rejoin his comment with a smart answer. Submino turned to the grouchy engineer.  Eddie's lined faced was further creased with serious worry as he began hacking power systems. The Bolian's four stomachs felt uneasy at seeing such apprehension. "Is this going to work Chief?"

"I'll be damned if I know. We can only hope." Eddie didn't even bother to look at him going but continued accessing the computer system his team had just gotten up and going again. "We haven't time for this. Submino, start hacking. But be damned careful."

"I am. For starters, I'm holding it in."

Eddie started frantically talking to the crew in engineering on the Kestrel and speaking to Cutler at Ops on the bridge, even as he worked hand in hand with Submino. "Timing is going to be everything people. We can't power down too soon over here lest we trigger the device but we can't afford anything over loading in the EM pulse. And I didn't spend ages getting the Kestrel back up to scratch only for us to shoot ourselves in the foot with the rat trap. So Berkley and Cutler time the power down just right on your end. Take no chances. Once Ney has the rat trap fired, power down."

Ney's voiced crackled over an open comm. link. "Rat-trap ready Captain."

Eddie clapped his combadge. "Eddie here. Shut down in progress."

A moment later, "Rat trap firing."

The ship suddenly rocked. Eddie lurched and toppled atop of Sumino. The two of them cared not for the compromising position but looked at the bomb horrified. All went pale as the device lit up angrily with red lights but mercifully did not explode.

Eddie cursed. "What the hell was that?"

The voice of Contessa Ney echoed in the stunned horrified engineering. "Rat trap fired. Following projectile path. On course. Impact in fifteen. Kestrel systems powering down in ..."

"Ok the need to fart has passed," he drolly informed with Eddie still atop of him. He continued, grimacing as he said, "cos I think I near shit myself."

* * *

 

Stallion One

"We were just trying to raise you on the ... what's going on Lt. Commander?"

Leoni knew that upon being joined she would find there would be certain trade offs for becoming a host. However, part of the benefit of several lifetimes of experience would surely be the ability to remain calm in a dangerous situation. She had imagined that the symbiont would help her keep a level head and coolly aware of what to do. As she took in the sight of Lt. Commander T'Vel closing the hatch door with a degree of finality and with her carbine rifle hoisted and pointed at them, Leoni only knew that she faced deadly peril.

The Vulcan turned from the hatch and her cold eyes met the Trill's. As did the point of her raised carbine. If the sight of the Vulcan with a carbine was not in itself threatening, the sneer her normally impassive face bore was a give away sign that there was something seriously disturbed happening. Whilst T'Vel's eyes seemed deadened in some way, in another, it seemed as though the eyes were alive with some sort of crazed wild abandon. The sneer and the eyes bore a look of pure malice and contempt.

Keren fidgeted nervously in his seat as Jex asked again, "Lt. Commander?"

The carbine swung at Keren. "Desist." Keren raised his hands away from his weapons knowing that should he try anything she would shoot. The Vulcan almost seemed to smile as he accepted her control of the situation. "Launch this vessel."

Leoni's mind was still trying to play catch up with what was happening, even as the worldlier Jex fully grasped the danger of the situation. "Excuse me. Why?"

"This is Commander Cartwright to Stallion One. Come in Stallion One."

Keren barely moved to answer the call. "Do not answer it." The carbine was raised a fraction as warning not to answer the commander's call. "Do as I say."

Jex tried to clarify the situation. "Lt. Commander T'Vel. I don't understand why you are doing this."

Her voice was laced with arrogance and a clearly contemptuous tone. "It is most logical. I am taking this vessel. Comply."

"I can't do that." Jex now moved herself in front of the cockpit controls by way of demonstration.

"You will. Otherwise logic dictates that you will die."

"Cartwright to Stallion One!"

Keren knew the deadly tone in T'Vel's voice and grabbed at the communication controls and his weapon at the same time. "Commander Cartwright, this is Keren ..."

He only managed to get his phaser out of its holster before her carbine fired and Keren was flung back in his chair and over the console before collapsing to the floor motionless. The Vulcan's eyes widened with some sort ecstatic satisfaction from the act of violence.

"Agh." Jex raced forward to the prone Andorian but the Vulcan pressed the carbine's point to her head. T'Vel applied heavy pressure and bent Jex's head back with the force she exerted. Resolutely she stepped forwards forcing Jex backwards, guiding the Trill back to her seat. Her breath caught in her throat as she took in the still body of Keren and the brutality of T'Vel. She forced herself not to cry. She called on her reserves of experience from the Jex symbiont to help keep her comportment. "Why? What are you doing?"

"As to the why, I was explicit - no contact." She hissed. "The Andorian defied me. Now learn your lesson well. Undock this vessel."

The Vulcan roughly manhandled the ensign to face the flight controls of the Stallion. "Lt. Commander T'Vel. I don't understand why you are doing this."

"Comply or die." She jutted the carbine to the base of Jex's neck. Jex horrified looked aghast out the cockpit window with the gun to the back of her head.

"I can't - I won't do that."

T'Vel grabbed her chin in her long thin but powerful hand. "Then you will die." Her eyes seemed alight with hatred and fury. From her throat, she hissed out evilly, "All will die."

Leoni Jex sat transfixed and shocked at the enraged murderous looking Vulcan. "But ... but ... Lt. Commander T'Vel..."

The sneer disfigured the beauty of the Vulcan. She leaned in close to the Trill who flinched away. T'Vel stroked the tawny hair of Jex and caressed her ear as she lowered her lips to the ear. The spite in the voice was rabid with hate and loathing. "I am not T'Vel!"

* * *

 

The Sprite's Spittle

McGregor was getting no response from Molly or the Stallion as he ran frantically. "Ney!"

"Rat-trap ready Captain."

"Not that!"

His answer was interrupted by his chief engineer's voice over the comm. in response to the bridge. "Eddie here. Shut down in progress." The ships lights darkened to emergency lighting as power systems across the ship started to go off.

"Rat-trap firing."

"Wait. Can you get a lock on T'Vel?"

"Complete shutdown in ten seconds."

The ship rocked! He was too late. McGregor pitched sideways as he ran. He careened off the bulkheads but kept his momentum going forwards. Stallion One had escaped.

"Rat trap fired. Following projectile path. On course. Impact in fifteen. Kestrel systems powering down in ..." the link went dead as the system went down.

To the heavens he ranted, "Damn it Berkley!" He leapt through the airlock to where Stallion Two had made its breach. "Coulter!"

The youthful ensign answered, "It is Stallion One departing."

"I know it's Stallion One departing!"      

Caleb followed on his heels just before the hatch sealed closed. He crashed into the opposite bulkhead. Through ragged winded breaths he demanded, "You knew?"

"That's why I'm on Stallion Two." Leaping into the cockpit seat beside Coulter, McGregor declared, "Go after Stallion One."

Coulter looked at McGregor apologetically. "I can't. Shut down is initiated."

They stared out the window as the Stallion plunged into darkness. The view afforded them to see the bigger picture. The length of the Kestrel plunged likewise into lifeless darkness as the Sprite began powering down too. Among the stars, the retreating form of Stallion One was seen making good its escape. One twinkling star however traced a line across the vista, arching round and bearing down upon the Orion ship. The rat trap torpedo sped towards its target.

From over his shoulder, Dexter lectured McGregor. "You better pray this works McGregor. For if that triggers the bomb we have no means of protecting or saving our lives."

Coulter started his estimated countdown. "Impact in five, four."

McGregor responded confidently. "It'll work."

"Three."

Dexter replied, "It had best do."

"Two, one."

* * *

 

 

Into The Dark by Miranda Fave
Author's Notes:

Readers be warned that this chapter includes scenes which some may find disturbing.

 

Into the Dark

 

T'Vel put her hand on the bulkhead to steady herself. The deck seemed to loom up towards her, the bulkheads close in and surround her. Her focus slipped in and out. She took a steadying breath and stepped onwards, her feet almost tripping her up. T'Vel shook her head in a vain effort to clear it.

It had hit her as soon as the hypo spray had injected its contents into her bloodstream. A sudden panic had gripped T'Vel. She knew what could happen. She needed to flee. She needed to run. She needed Monroe. She needed McGregor to recognise the danger but she could not bring herself to admit it aloud. Given leave, she tried to walk calmly away. Walk, when she wanted to run. The mere pretence might be enough to stall her flux in her emotions. She had to keep balance. She had to control the emotions. She was Vulcan. She could not permit the emotions.

She recalled her grandmother and those stern words that held paradoxically so much love and so much to excuse herself. As a child, she had been driven to show mental control over her body and her emotions. ‘A Vulcan feels emotions child, do not fear emotions but learn instead to control them. You control your emotions; your emotions do not control you.'

As a disciple of Vulcan discipline, she had been trained and taught well, and even her grandmother with her exacting standards and punishing expectations approved of her worth and discipline. All before it had been snatched away. All before her world and her mind had been smashed open, violated, desecrated, taken from her. All before ...

* * *

Before ...

 

USS Seleeh, Science vessel,

Oberth class

Location: Region of space known as ‘The Wash'

 

The cant of the deck wavered and pitched, the relentless forces on the ship causing it to yaw in the onslaught of the maelstrom. T'Vel knew that her disorientation, immense confusion and the overwhelming of her bodily systems equally attributed to the sensation. Regardless, T'Vel pitched forwards into a bulkhead, slapping into it hard.

T'Vel wiped blood from a gash to her temple. She stood in shock staring down at the green of her hand. The blood on her brow smeared with the sweat beaded on her brow. She felt warm, closeted and constricted. She unhitched the collar of her uniform, yanking clumsily on the zip of the uniform jacket to try to give room to breathe. She needed to breathe desperately, to have air, to have space; she was trapped and losing control. She wanted to run.

She stumbled forward, tripping over her feet; they did not want to respond to how she willed them to walk. As a need, she had to use her hands and grope along the corridor. She pitched from one side to another, careening along the corridor. The way ahead was draped in dark, save for the strobing emergency lights that blurred and blinded her vision. She tried to blink away the sweat, the blood and the confusion. But it was all in vain. Her disorientation grew steadily worse.

Her heart was racing wildly, galloping madly like a wild stallion. It would not slow down, but rushed faster and faster, the beat unbearably fast building towards a fatal crescendo.

Her breathing was ragged and hard won. The stifling air that should have been so reminiscent of Vulcan was instead deadening and bore down upon her, choking her lungs.

Her mind was ... wandering ... it could not maintain focus ... it drifted ... like her vision it was blurred and blinded ... like her breath it struggled for air, struggled to work ... like her heartbeat, was raging and uncontrollable ... wild and racing to all abandon ...  losing focus ... She was losing focus ... losing control ... losing herself ... a tsunami of emotions threatening to overwhelm, engulf, drown and obliterate her control, her mind, her being ...

She fell to the deck, her knees cut and bloody, the palms of her hand torn and puckered. She struggled to get back to her feet. By lurching and groping along the bulkhead for support, she hauled herself along. Again, she tried to wipe the sweat off her brow with the back of her hand. Her hair matted to clammy skin. The sweat was a second skin smothering her flesh, caging her in her own filth and dirt. Her breathing was growing even more laboured and haggard. Each breath felt as though she were drowning, as if she were trying to breathe thousands of leagues under water, with no air to gulp and sate burning lungs on, and felt like an unbearable mighty weight and pressure pressing down upon her.

A noise! A sudden crash of something hard and metallic striking the ground resounds in the darkened empty corridor. She spun around. Staggering backwards, she ended up slumped against the bulkhead. Propped against it with her head, she turned and pressed her cheek against the cool of the cutting metal of the piped lined corridor.

She looked about wide-eyed and fearful. Disorientated. She was lost. This was not the Kestrel. She did not know these corridors. The surroundings were new and unfamiliar.

She tried to recollect her thoughts. The Seleeh was an Oberth class. She tried to recall the number of decks, the number of cabins, its warp capabilities, the sensor suite it had available for her studies into the effects of ‘The Wash'. These facts she tried to recall in order to latch onto something concrete. To try and find firm footing within her mind. She needed firmness in order to decipher what had happened. But her mind was broken. Her memories muddled and fractured.

She knew only that she awoke in her sealed lab in a state of disarray, some malady having befallen the ship and crew. Of what, she could not discern. She knew only that she too had been affected in some way. And it horrified her to think to what it extent it might reach. She had passed signs of violence in the corridors, smashed computer screens and trails of blood. She feared the same violence would erupt within her with the loss of her precarious control.

But the truly frightening was the unfamiliar. When she awoke, she thought she was still on the Kestrel, the border vessel she had served with for a time as a means of studying the anomaly known as ‘The Wash'. She had a lingering vision of seeing the coarse, uncouth non-com she worked with during her time on the Kestrel, returned as if he had never aged a day. She shook her head. She didn't know what to trust. The man known as McGregor disappeared within the Wash over twenty years ago. Yet something about the vision seemed real, a wisp of truth ...

Her mind seemed so fragile. It frightened her further. The loss of the known and the loss of her control shaking T'Vel's precarious stability that continued to slip from her fingertips. Mere tendrils ... wisps of control ... she could sense it wane ... her discipline, her control, while a torrent of emotions surged over her defences.

The unknown brought fear and a debilitating crush to mental discipline and focus. It threatened to shatter it.

She groped at her open neck, pulling out a silver chain, on it a pendant, her IDIC pin. The image of Mount Seleya crowned in the morning sunrise of Vulcan's sun, Nevasa. The image a visual aid upon which to focus, so T'Vel grasped the pin and grasped upon the image as a talisman seeking a focus, to find her centre, her clam, her control, her being. She grasped it and held fast to it in the raging storm of emotions and loss of control.

I have to keep control. I need to keep moving. I have to get to sickbay. I have to remain focused. Remain in control ... control my emotions ... keep my mind centred on a goal ... force focus into the tempest of my warring mind. Keep control. Get to sickbay.

She clutched the IDIC pin on its chain tightly in her hand. She gripped it fervently as if it were a lifeline, a totem. It is something physical to hold onto as her mind struggled to grasp something firm and immovable, unyielding, steadfast, to find focus, a centre.

‘A Vulcan feels emotions child, do not fear emotions but learn instead to control them. You control your emotions; your emotions do not control you.' These words beckoned like a mantra. She tried to hold tight to them and to the fleeting grip on the situation. To waver would only permit herself to lose control.

‘A Vulcan feels emotions child, do not fear emotions but learn instead to control them. You control your emotions; your emotions do not control you.' She repeated the words as a mantra. These words T'Vel's grandmother recited often, schooling and scolding the younger T'Vel. Sometimes they were in rebuke, sometimes they were voiced with an understanding compassion. Always intoned seriously, with gravitas, and always for her betterment. Always teaching T'Vel the importance of recognising emotions do run in her heart. That she was Vulcan; but as a Vulcan, she did feel. "Learn to school your emotions as all Vulcans must."

Sickbay. Get to sickbay. She starts repeating it. She sensed the loss of focus and needed the mantra to keep on track. She had to reach sickbay to find a means to help herself. Get to sickbay. You control your emotions; your emotions do not control you.

She staggered forwards on shaky legs. Sickbay lay only a few more doors down the corridor. She needed to reach it.

The doors parted only some.

Feeling almost defeated she hammered lamely on the doors as if in pathetic pity they might open for her. You control your emotions; your emotions do not control you. She clenched the IDIC tighter until it almost drew blood. She called on some reserve hidden and deep. She stuck her fingers into the gap between the doors to gain a purchase and pulled. She pulled with what a human might call a herculean effort to prize the doors apart. But she is Vulcan. Her physical strength is more than many humanoid species. As a Vulcan, she could detach the physical strain from any mental pain. She could push herself to do more than she ought able to do. At any other time. At any other time, with her Vulcan strength it would have cost little to do so. But without the control to ignore the strain upon her body, she struggled mightily with the task, and sagged. But the doors started to hesitantly part, jerking along their runs as she forced them aside.

With her hands on the doorframe, she leaned forward and allowed herself a scream of triumph and defiance. She lurched forwards into the darkened sickbay. Tripping on something solid and fleshy, she toppled forwards. She hits the deck hard. Involuntarily, she allows a small scream and cry of pain to escape her lips.

There was a sudden movement within the dark confines of the sickbay. Her heart leapt. A sudden uncontrollable rush of adrenaline coursed through her body. She recognised the emotion seconds later as fear. She retreated on scarred hands and scraped knees, into a small ball.

She no sooner did than she heard her internal voice chiding, ‘You control your emotions; your emotions do not control you.'

Trembling and afraid, T'Vel fumbled along the body she tripped over pulled out a hand phaser at the side. Plucking it up and pointing it in the direction of the noise she demanded with a wavering, scared voice, "Wh ... wh... who is there?" Again, internally T'Vel chided herself for displaying such vulnerability and such emotional distress. She needed to exert greater control over her failing mental discipline.

"It is me, Dr. Hulx." The Denobulan approached from the dark warily. He held a lowered phaser at his side but his finger remained fixed over the trigger. He looked bewildered and afraid. She could relate. He did not seem however to be affected by whatever had befallen the crew. "How are you ... all the others ...?"

"I do not know." She looks up at him wide eyed with fear. "However, my control is ... slipping. I fear ... I fear that I do not have much longer. I came here ... I need to stop it ... to regain control." She looked at him pleadingly. He approached cagily; his indecision mirrored his wavering trigger finger. "Please, what is happening?

He mades his decision to trust her, slipping his phaser into his medical coat. "I cannot ascertain for sure. But it is clear that the Vulcanoid crew members have been affected by a compound aboard the ship."

"Vulcans account for eighty-nine percent of the crew." She relished in the fact. Grasping at numbers and something definite and measurable was a soothing calm to the gamut of confusion and emotions.

"I know. I fear the situation is lost!"

"Can ... you do anything?" She called out imploring, "Anything?"

He took her arm and lifted her to her feet. "I was trying to work on an antidote. That was before ..." He nodded in the direction of the prone lifeless figure over which she had tripped.

"Dr. Mepek!" The alarm at seeing the chief medical officer dead struck fear into the core of T'Vel. "She is dead."

"Yes. I had to ... I had to defend myself."

They locked eyes with one another, her eyes holding a questioning fear. Will he kill her next? Is he mad in a different guise? He in turn saw how she flinched and retreated in fear from his touch. He wondered at how perilously she held onto her control.

To the Vulcan his touch was discomfiting. At any time for a touch telepathic Vulcan, the touch of another was unbearable but now when her emotional control was in such tumult it was especially so. With the onslaught of so many other emotional distresses to her mind and body, however, she found she could cut it out, ignore the base emotions of the Denobulan, paling as they did to the stronger screaming emotions within her. However, through the touch she was overcome by his fear and the fact that he told the truth.

The doctor shook his head sadly. "I have been unable to come up with an antidote. I think that I have something that can help to counter the effects. It will prove effective to a small degree. It could help give you some semblance of control. But I do not know the side effects it could have or how much protection it can offer."

"We must try. I must ... I need it."

He withdrew his proffered hand with the hypo, uncertain. "It could be as damaging to you."

"Nothing can be as damaging as what I am enduring." Her voice was thick and hoarse as she implored of him, "Give it to me!"

Reluctantly he depressed the hypo to her neck. She gulped upon the medication as if it were a narcotic drug. She still felt the rage within. It was now more like a fire suddenly extinguished. Embers burned still and threatened to reignite if she were not careful. She closed her eyes and savoured the momentary control. It seemed like an eternity since she had quiet within her soul. She basked in the quiet, solitude of thoughts that now seemed more orderly. Yet she knew that it was a lie and a pretence to herself that the peace was but a passing reprieve and a dull pale imitation of her normal reserve of control and mental discipline. Yet she lapped up even this poor peace of mind. It was better than naught and better than the crippling loss of her emotional control.

She opened her eyes, finding herself on her knees in the relief and the delirium of the drug's effect. Grasping the Denobulan's arm gratefully she held it tightly and greedily. "We need to replicate the drug and introduce it to the environmental systems."

"It will not work like that. Our only hope is to escape this region of space and the maladies affecting upon the crew."

As if responding to his words, the ship suddenly pitched sideways, yawing round uncontrollably as outside forces battered its hull. Instruments and equipment clattered to the ground as T'Vel and Hulx careened into one another toppling into the corner as the room's contents crashed and rained down upon them.

"We have little time remaining. I must get to the bridge. I will need your assistance."

His fear and nervousness was plain to see but he steeled himself for the ordeal outside the doors. He looked around for his weapon and T'Vel nodded approvingly, a phaser already in hand. "These are extra supplies of the medication. We may need to top up your system along the way."

She looked at him intently, summoning her mental acuity and logical thinking prowess to the situation. "We can also use it upon any others we meet."

Hulx looked down at the floor sadly. "I fear they may be too far gone for it to be effective." She nodded resignedly. But they had to try.

* * *

 

The corridors were largely empty. They came across several dead figures. Necks broken. Throats slashed. Bodies stabbed. Heads bludgeoned. The violence was brutal. Indiscriminate. Rage filled. The dead victims that were Vulcan showed signs of being in the grip of violent madness. The contorted faces of rage were frozen in macabre rictus mortus. And as they progressed nearer to the bridge the violence and number of dead bodies increased.

The ship continued to pull and skew within the tempest of the outside conditions. Several more times they found themselves thrown to the deck or harshly against the bulkheads. The length of the ship groaned and creaked under the relentless storm.

The sensations were familiar to her. She had spent the last number of decades charting and examining the Wash with little success of understanding it. Her research had ended fruitless; she had been unable to convince either Starfleet or the Vulcan Science Academy to continue pursuing it. Until! Until ... until ...? Her mind could not grasp at the memory. The image of the man called McGregor summoned to her mind again. Him and a Kzinti. And another ...

T'Vel struggled as she tried to make sense of her jumbled memories. But as the ship flailed within the ion storm she knew the sensation at least from memory. "We are sinking deeper within the Wash." She stopped and massaged her temple. She took a small moment before beginning to pick her way through the dead in the corridor, the emptied contents of lockers and the debris of ruined computer panels and exposed panels. Her tricorder warbled as she held it ahead of their path. She swept the way ahead, seeking for any movement or life sign, in her other hand T'Vel propped the phaser under the tricorder.

"Do you need another injection?"

"Not ... not yet. We have to conserve our supplies. The ship's systems appear badly damaged. It may take some time to repair them. I will have need for the medication then. We must keep moving." She took a deep breath to steel herself before walking on.

They came at last to the bridge. The doors were stuck midway open but they managed to squeeze through the opening. Inside the lights flickered and the consoles ebbed with fluctuating power. The viewscreen mirrored the state of many smashed computer stations. T'Vel quickly identified the station for environmental controls. She steered Hulx towards it but it was destroyed.

"Take me to the Ops station." She hoarsely commanded, pointing the way.

Hulx carefully guided her towards it. They both were trying to conserve her strength and the medication. However, he saw how quickly she was failing. "Not before I give you this." Injecting the hypospray against her protests, he brokered no argument. T'Vel belied her protests, sighing in satisfaction with the release of the drug. "Quickly!" He had to shout in order to bring the Vulcan to from her short found delirium. "I do not know much about starship controls but I understand that our systems are close to failure."

"I will ... attempt to rectify the situation. Try ... calling for emergency help on the comm. system." It took long labouring moments but she established the shields again protecting the ship better from the storms outside. She began to work on the navigational controls. It tasked her to do so. Her concentration was growing poorer.

Hulx started, his face puffing up defensively as a noise in the corridor outside alarmed him. Her reactions were slower and dulled, she noted abstractly. The drugs, or what had affected the crew at large, had made her very vulnerable when she needed to be alert. She pointed her phaser in the direction of the door and armed it, ready to fire. Her tricorder fell to the floor. She needed to lean on the computer console for support and could not get out of the seat. Her mind screamed at her to run.

The doctor looked to her for direction, this even though he knew her to be compromised. He did not have the experience she had. But her experience failed her now as did her aim as her phaser wavered in the air. Her body betrayed her.

The noise continued to get closer. Something was moving towards the open door. In all probability, it was most likely one of the Vulcan crewmembers driven mad and violent. T'Vel knew that she ought to act to stop them entering the bridge but fear and indecision incapacitate her.

"I think I can hear more than one." Hulx said, in a distressed whisper.

There was a voice. It called out from the gloom from the outside corridor. It was clearly deranged. It clearly was seeking them out. As were the others with it. "All will die!" The Vulcan voice called out again. It sent a chill up her spine. Her outstretched hand trembled. The shuffling figures made their way closer to the door. Closer. Closer. "All will die!" Closer.

They pounced! Charging through the door like a rabid pack. T'Vel and Hulx both discharged their weapons. They fell one, then two figures. However, their shots were wild and poorly aimed. The weapon fire created a maelstrom of violence around the door. Sparks. Smoke. Burning detritus blooming outward as the demented figures raced through it and descended upon them.

Hulx went down quickly. His neck snapped as his face was scratched and pulled on. The two remaining Vulcans turned their attention on T'Vel who kicked and snapped the neck of her first attacker. Her phaser lay on the deck smashed.

She launched herself from the chair and towards the door. They grabbed her and hauled her down to the deck. She kicked and screamed defiantly. Her heel crushed the eye socket of one attacker. She pressed the advantage home and continued to pulverise his face. He slumped to the deck unconscious. Likely dead. The other figure grappled along the deck, hauling himself over the body of the other to grab at her. She squirmed away furiously. He snatched at her ankle! She kicked him in the face and he released his hold. He hissed, "All will die! By the words of T'Kas, all will die!"

"T'Kas?!" Why was he speaking about the Vulcan High Priestess in such terms?

Despite her fear and puzzlement, T'Vel battered the would-be snatcher with a broken shard of metal, battering him until he lay still. She scrambled away to the corner near to the door.  Her fear was overwhelming. She could not find her medication and she was too afraid to stumble back over the attackers' bodies. But she knew she could not remain here. Her fear however, rooted her to the spot, paralysing her as she tried to fight the fear and fight for control.

She squeezed her eyes shut tight. Her grandmother's lecture sounded in her head.

"Fear. It is one of the most powerful emotions." The grey haired woman stands over T'Vel imperiously.

"I struggle with it but I will do better."

A thin eyebrow arches at the answer. "Why do you struggle to overcome your emotions?"

"There is no logic in emotions."

"Is fear not logical? Does it not rightly urge us to flee when we face danger? Does it not compel us to seek protection and safety? Fear is logical my child. But to be held hostage by fear is not logical, only debilitating. However, to feel fear is to know when to use caution and when to flee. Your emotions do not control you. You control your emotions."

T'Vel knew that her discipline was shattered. She could recall the lessons of her grandmother but she could not regain her control. But she could feel. Could feel fear. Could feel fear and knew that she ought to escape. Ought to flee to safety. Ought to run. She drew in the fear.

The last attacker stirred. He was not dead and was now slowly coming to. T'Vel stared at him but did not move. Did not run. She knew that at any moment he would suddenly throw himself at her and attack. But the fear she fought coiled in her gut and clamped the joints in her limbs.

She had to remember her lessons. Your emotions do not control you. You control your emotions. But she could not maintain the control But she could try to summon strength from the emotional onslaught. She could use the logic of fear to defend herself. She embraced the cold, quivering, unsettling, disturbing emotion. She saw the logic in its call.

She got to her feet shakily. She stared at the awakening attacker the entire time. He was coming to more and more. Her window of escape was getting shorter. She had to flee now! Run! Now! Now! She screamed to herself. She started to run. She ran in fear. She ran to safety. She ran.

* * *

"Why do you run?" The voice seems imperious and aloof, but T'Vel sensed her Grandmother's testing was also curious.

"Physical activity is important. A healthy body helps to ensure a healthy mind."

"But why do you run?"

"Running improves cardiovascular and respiratory health as well as reducing ..."

"I understand the benefits of running. Why do you choose to run?"

"It benefits the whole body."

Her grandmother stands over her, from the gallery to her study, and studies her granddaughter in turn. "Why do you run? There are any number of physical exercises that have similar benefits. You choose to run."

"I find it meditative."

"Indeed. Why is that? You run in the desert. You test your physical stamina and your mental prowess. Why do you push yourself so?"

T'Vel clasped her hands behind her back and stood straight as she looked up at her grandmother. "I seek to push myself so that I might improve my discipline of mind and body."

"So you run from your emotions."

* * *

 

She tripped through the corridors, the sounds of scuffling feet following her. Her senses, compromised by the overwhelming emotions and loss of discipline and fear, pushed her relentlessly onward so she doesn't stop to gather her bearings. T'Vel gasped as she came to the crawl way between the Oberth's saucer section and engineering hull. The step on transporter pad was damaged, which meant this was a dead end. Unless ... to escape her pursuers she had no other option but to squeeze into the crawl way and descend below through the thin precarious struts that joined the two.

Gripping the sides of the slanting stairwell T'Vel peered down into the dark abysses. Sounds from behind made her flinch and look backwards fearfully. She had no other option. She must face the dark pit. She took a steadying breath and stopped the tears that spilled down her face.

T'Vel took one rung at a time, slowly descending. The crawl space was narrow, the lights broken and the air choked with smoke. Still she continued on, slipping on the rungs, her hands slick with sweat and her smeared blood. She grew more and more woozy with the blood loss and it became another ordeal to try to overcome.

She suddenly slipped. She dropped in the stairwell, screaming out as she fell. Her leg caught in a rung and twisted up behind her as she continued to fall. There was a sickening crunch as it broke and T'Vel became snared and trapped in the well. She screamed out wildly. Her tears fell with abandon as she called out in pain.

Other cries answered hers. From above movement and sounds came. They followed her screams down into this pit. Whoever it was was coming after her. She had to fight against the pain. She had to twist her leg, sickeningly wrenching the broken bone so that she can free herself. It cost her dearly to do so. She screamed again.

She fell out of the stairwell. Her broken leg meant she could not stand so T'Vel crawled away from the stairs. She sensed the others looming closer. She crawled on frantically. Her fear being the only thing calling on her, keeping her mind alert. It was now a matter of survival and escape. But her ankles were suddenly snatched!

She turned round horrified and the maddened eyes of the Vulcan attacker from the bridge met hers. His face was smashed and bloodied and twisted in fury. He hauled on her ankles, pulling T'Vel to him across the floor. Her fingers clawed for a purchase to resist. His strength overpowered hers, wrenching her into his grasp.

Once again, T'Vel kicked out, smashing her boot into his face repeatedly. He laughed at her. His hands crawled up her legs, her broken leg screamed in agony. T'Vel gritted her teeth and jutted her knee into his chin. He reared up letting her go.

She scrambled away frantically. He roared. He pursued calling out, "ALL WILL DIE!"

He tramped down on her ankles, smashing the bone. She screamed out in agony. He dropped to his knees, falling atop of her. His knees crashed into her stomach and lungs, winding her and stabbing her body with pain. He leered down, his hand reaching down for her. T'Vel screamed, vainly batting him off but her strength has failed her as this Vulcan picked her up and tossed her against the bulkhead. Her body slammed into the wall and collapsed to the floor.

The Vulcan came up to her. His hands reached out again. T'Vel tried to raise herself and try to run away, but her arms were too weak and buckled under her. His hands reached out forming the meld position. He threw T'Vel onto her back and leered down upon her body.

He hissed, "Her katra needs a vessel. T'Kas will live on ... in you. All others must die!"

She shrank back, trying to escape his clutches but his hands descended. He grabbed her by the throat, his other hand loomed round, inching closer to her temple. The fingers splayed out. She shook her head frantically but the hand at her throat caught her tighter and tightened its grip on her chin making resistance futile. "No! I won't let you do this! No!"

"You cannot stop it. T'Kas resides in me. But she soon her katra will reside with thee. She will be reborn."

"NOOO!"

She felt his power; his strength and his mind overwhelm hers.  She screamed. He bore down upon her. His heinous face loomed over her, his vile breath on her face, heavy and rank. Trampling over her protests, forcing himself on her and into her mind.

His splayed fingers attached to the side of her face in a vice like grip. But their contact was nothing to the contact of his mind breaking through her barriers to make with her. "Yessssssss! My mind to your mind ..."

"Why?" she implored painfully, her body and soul exposed, torn asunder.

He pulled her down, even as he pushed deeper into her mind, "I told you." She kicked with her legs, she bit with her teeth, she clawed with her nails. But he bore down like a rabid dog. Into her ear he hissed, "ALL MUST DIE"

"My mind to your mind, your mind to mind, my mind to your mind."

T'Vel fought the violation of mind and body but he pushed through her defences brutally. She could not fight him off. She could not even run away...

On his collar, she caught the glint of light on a metal pin. He wore an IDIC pin. She transfixed her eyes and soul upon it. He assaulted her and with no course to escape, she tried to escape into her mind, fixating upon the symbol of Mount Seleya.

The voice of his mind in her mind was chilling, galling, and an aberration and then ... there is another presence, another voice!

Her voice. The voice of T'Kas! The mind of T'Kas. And T'Kas laughed within T'Vel's skull. She laughed with wild ecstasy and abandon. T'Kas had found a vessel worthy of her mind. T'Vel whimpered at the assault, it was no violation of the mind. T'Kas intended to steal hers.

T'Vel screamed in horror and T'Kas laughed ... "You cannot run from me!"

* * *

Dissenting Voices by Miranda Fave

 

Dissenting Voices

 

 

The rat trap torpedo sped through space, looping back on its trajectory and zeroing in on its target. The Sprite's Spittle sat immobile and darkened as the hasty power down from Gardner took effect. The Kestrel berthed alongside was similarly darkened and powered down. And to all intents and purposes was similarly exposed and extremely vulnerable.

The rat trap struck home. The explosion bloomed wildly and instantly. The cold white light of the explosion was blinding as it enveloped the Sprite's Spittle and Kestrel, washing over their hulls, crackling with a fierce angry energy, crashing upon them like the thunderous wave breaking on rocks. The shock wave smashed into the ships, jolting them heavily, flinging the occupants inside about.

The electrical energy coursed over the hull of the ships, sweeping across in a torrent, seeking out any other power signatures. Any power signatures were quickly and greedily ate up the EM pulse, eradicating them.

In the engineering compartment of the Sprite's Spittle the electronic device of the bomb crackled with energy surges as the pulse attacked its power source, the interior of the department lit up by the violent release of the electrical storm. To those trapped within, it seemed as if they were caught in a lightning storm trapped in a bottle and if they failed to flee they lay prostrate on the deck plates. The deafening roar of the crackling energy coursed through the compartment.

What seemed an eternity, eventuality passed. The storm abated and the silence and darkness that replaced the fury of the storm seemed so complete and yet so fragile, the scene awaiting to be disturbed and the bodies within reanimated with life as they continued to lie still and lifeless... until a broad and bulky Bolian stirred.

"Chief?"

Gardner groused and bitched as he pushed Submino in his heavy black armour gear off the top of him. "Yeah?"

"What's that earth expression again, that I think aptly fits this moment?"

Gardner looked up at the short-circuited bomb device and the darkened interior of the Sprite's Spittle engine room. Then he turned back to the Bolian who only moments ago had been lying atop of him in a rather compromising position. "I haven't the faintest clue what you mean. Ack!" He protested as he sat himself up and puffed out his bearded cheeks in a sigh of relief. It whistled out of him and sounded very much like he was giving thanks for being alive.

"Yeah." Submino rubbed his bald blue head as he sat up, for a moment wondrous about the still being alive part. He looked to the chief and tried to recall it. "I think it went something like ... fuck a duck!"

Gardner rubbed his beard and began patting down his own uniform. He furrowed his wrinkled brow and looked at Submino, trying not to think of the compromising position and the expression in the same thought. "Yeah. I guess all things considered," he fumbled in his engineering jacket to pull out a cigar, and proceeded to light it up, puffing on it happily before continuing, "that might be pretty damn apt."

* * *

 

Stallion Two

 

"Ouch." McGregor rubbed the back of his neck as he picked himself up off the floor of Stallion Two. "So, that's what the other end of one of those feels like."

"You think it will make you reconsider using the rat-traps in future Cap?" asked Poulter, who unlike the captain had been strapped into the cockpit seat.

"Heck no. Not when I know it works so good. Ugh. ‘Zeus', get systems back up and going as quick as," McGregor stated to Zuzentine, the Kobheerian seated at the monitoring station of the Stallion. To Poulter he said, "Chris, as soon as we have power chase after Stallion One. I'll man the weapons station."

Poulter's eyes bulged in shock and then he quickly assimilated the captain's orders. "Erm ... yes sir."

Dexter moaned lightly as he raised himself off the floor. "You do realise that this is your entire fault?" He gave McGregor a scolding look.

Pastiche style, McGregor returned, throwing a look at Chris Poulter and the Zeus at the controls. "Caleb don't question me in front of the juniors."

"Damn it to hell McGregor. We've near been blown to hell and your most pressing need is to chase after that deranged Vulcan. You permit her to be a constant threat to the security and safety of everyone onboard the Kestrel."

"My pressing concern was to stop the Kestrel being blown up. Viola!"

Dexter corrected, "Voila, I think you mean."

"No, I played a small violin and then I did that." McGregor mimed playing a tiny violin and then snapped his fingers. "Now onto the next pressing concern, that being T'Vel in the other Stallion. And for the record, I trust T'Vel more implicitly than just about anyone."

"How can you say that when she has cleared off with hostages? She's no longer in control of her own faculties?"

McGregor pointed at himself adamantly. "Because she owes me! And because she was not the one who planted the bomb in engineering."

"And how the hell do you figure that?"

McGregor shrugged it off as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Rah was on her team."

Dexter angrily chewed his lip. "I meant how do you figure she owes you? Simply because you allow her to run about the ship when she ought to be cashiered out of the service." Poulter and Zeus kept their heads down trying to get the systems up and going trying to ignore the heated words. "It is officers like her who give the Border Service a bad name."

"T'Vel could beat two hells out of any Fleeter, Dexter." To Zuzentine he barked, "Time to re-initialisation Zeus?"

Chris Poulter eagerly interjected, "It should be less than a minute Captain."

The more serious and precise Zuzentine objected to the estimate. "It will take a little longer Captain. Only a little. But I won't have systems restored in less than a minute with such little pre-warning." The Kobheerian's features brokered no argument from Chris.

McGregor knew the NCO to a grafter and skilled technician, if a little too straight laced for McGregor's own tastes. Though apparently the young and brash NCO wanted to earn his pips and follow his captain up the hawsehole. "Keep at it then." Spying Dexter's thunderous face, Chris put his head back down while Zuzentine stuck his head into an open panel, working on its inner mechanisms.

Not to be derailed, Dexter persisted darkly, "Her violent streak is not going to be a trait in our or her favour at this present moment."

McGregor did not bother to answer that, instead he impatiently slapped a brace support of the Stallion cockpit. "Come on, come on."

"I could never understand why it is that you allowed her to remain onboard. You are trying to tell me it is because you trust her more than anyone?"

"Not more than anyone. More than most." McGregor shrugged. He offered nothing more conclusive. "More than others."

By default, it seemed the captain accused Dexter. "Not me?"

He threw a barbed joke at Dexter. "You were a crook once upon a time."

"That's why you hired me. Or so you said."

McGregor stared out the Stallions window, trying to follow the track of the other vessel. He saw the tell tale flash of it going to warp. He winced seeing them escape. "I only mean that someone onboard is working for T'Hos and I know for certain it isn't T'Vel and that it never could be."

Caleb's features grew darker. "She is a pretty compelling suspect. Heck, she can even use the insanity defence if she ever gets caught out."

"She isn't insane!"

"Yeah she's bat shit crazy McGregor. You can't dispute that."

"She isn't insane."

Dexter stabbed an angry finger out the cockpit window in the direction of the fleeing Stallion. "Tell that to the ensign on that stolen Stallion. I bet she would differ in her opinion."

McGregor grabbed Dexter at the lip of his armour suit's neckline. "Tac, I've already said it, she isn't insane."

The security chief pulled loose of McGregor's grip, yanking his captain's hands away. "Yeah, we don't have to worry about T'Vel at all."

"We don't!" He turned and faced forwards again. To himself, he said, "We need to worry about T'Kas. And pray T'Vel is still in there."

Dexter was not in the mood for any cryptic murmurings. This day had been long in coming, but it had been coming. "Why then?"

McGregor climbed into the chair in readiness to arm the weapons station. "Why what?"

"Why ever have you allowed her on the Kestrel?"

"She served on the Kestrel before I was ever an officer. Before I was her captain. Or hers." The former her McGregor referred to the Kestrel itself.

"That is no reason."

The Stallion filled with the whine of returning power, the consoles glowed with electronic life and McGregor sat up as if charged with a similar charge.  Zuzentine declared, "Power is returning."

Poulter engaging the flight controls, added, "Laying in a pursuit course." The Stallion took off and bulleted after T'Vel. "I've got a lock on their heading."

"Hit it. Warp 4 and whatever else you can chuck at the engines." McGregor added as an afterthought, focused on the initial pursuit. "I owed her."

"Now you owe her." Dexter got into a seat and tried the comm. console to raise the Kestrel and apprise. "Which is it?"

"Both. But you are correct it is my fault. It would never have happened if it hadn't been for me ... returning."

"Returning?"

The moment of silence stretched as the Stallion banks sharply in pursuit. Dexter looked intently at McGregor who deliberately ignored him. He appeared to not want to hear Dexter's question.

Piqued by the turn of the discussion Zuzentine, his Kobheerian features more wrinkled by his frown, ventured, "You mean to do with the Event?"

McGregor hooked round to look at Dexter darkly. ‘Bad enough talking about this without involving the junior officers and non-coms' his look said. To Dexter, he baldly stated, "We haven't the time for this Tac."

"Make the time before we catch up with them. Cos otherwise," his tone turned menacing as he hefted his phaser, "I'm popping that Vulcan in the head."

McGregor's eyes grew baleful. But he relented. "If it hadn't been for me and Rah returning, with Stanley, she would never have had cause to be on the Seleeh. She would never have been attacked, injured ... damaged."

"Sod's law should be no reason for keeping a deranged lunatic onboard."

"It wasn't Sod's Law. Get that through your head! When we returned, it was always going to be T'Vel who was going to be called upon to investigate. T'Vel was the scientist who had done all of the work on the Wash. No one else ever bothered to study it. In any other region of space, it would garner the interest of a hundred different scientists for its anomalies. Instead, it is in a stinking backwater region of space of no importance. All Starfleet ever cared about the Wash was the fact it acts as a convenient barrier along troubling borders."

The captain studied his instruments as he continued. "But she knew about as much as anyone could fathom. Wanted to know more and when the chance to do so was denied, she chose to transfer to the Border Service, chose an assignment on a cutter travelling within the Wash. She came to the Kestrel before..."

"Before?"

"Before I was its captain. Before I was an officer. Before we, Rah and I, disappeared into it." He nodded out the window, in the direction of the Wash, as if a part of his brain was a compass with a fixed bearing on the tumultuous region of space.

Dexter finished the story for him. "And came out the other end, decades later, with a blue gilled friend in tow."

"Exactly. On top of being the only scientist with knowledge of the region she had also known Rah and me. She could verify who we were and verify the science behind our disappearance and return.  So it was always going to be her. It wasn't serendipity or plain bad luck. She lost everything she was, her science career, her betrothal, her emotional discipline and her mind. For all of us," he spoke bitterly, sadly, "it was the wrong place, the wrong time." McGregor stopped again. The pause was heavy and pregnant, filling the Stallion with its presence, prompting Poulter to dare a sideways glance at his captain.

Dexter snorted with derision. He exclaimed, "Damn, I didn't think I would ever hear a sob story from you McGregor. If that's your reason for putting up with her, I can tell you it sucks."

The captain stood and turned on Caleb. "How about loyalty as a reason?"

"Loyalty?"

"Yeah, loyalty Dexter. It's about being something more than yourself. Being part of something else. Part of a crew. Part of a mission. A shared duty to uphold. The Kestrel is a crew. We save lives together. We protect borders. We draw the line. We stand and defend! We command them to ‘stand down and prepare to be boarded'. We are the last hope of civilisation, a call in the wild for law and order for those on the edge, living on the frontier. We call out, ‘Hold on, we're coming; coming to help.' That is who we are! We don't back down. We don't give up on one another. We don't turn our backs. We don't pop each other in the head. Loyalty!"

"Nice speech."

"Shut up." He took his seat again. "Poulter! Bring us in hard and fast. We're going to strafe the port side, take out shields and the engines. A bash and catch!"

Poulter paled at the prospect of making a hard, fast contact with the other Stallion. "Ok."

"Loyalty? Huh. You say that, and then in the next breath get ready to open fire on them."

"That's my job."

Then Poulter interrupted them. "Wait! They've dropped out of warp. But..."

McGregor looked at the sensor read out. Looking over his shoulder, so did Dexter. Zuzentine, normally a reserved technician, exclaimed as he studied his monitors, "What's happening now to the Stallion?"

Poulter answered the obvious. "It's ... out of control."

Dexter added, "It ain't the only thing out of control."

 

* * *

 

Stallion One

 

"I am not T'Vel."

Leoni frowned at the Vulcan, deeply troubled at her fierce angry demeanour. "Lt. Commander T'Vel?"

The Vulcan sneered, "I am not T'Vel!" The Vulcan's speech seemed almost a hiss.

The situation seemed so surreal, Leoni had to look upon the fallen figure of Keren to begin to believe this was really happening. The Trill struggled to process these events as she took in the still Andorian even as her past lives told her this was very real, very dangerous. "I don't understand."

"You need not understand. You need only to unclamp the locks and fly this vessel away." The Vulcan's eyes bulged manically as she commanded, "Now!"

A sound filled the interior. A transport beam started materialising within. It coalesced into the form of Commander Molly Cartwright with her phaser raised.

The Commander's face was a mix of concern and anger. "Stop T'Vel."

But the Vulcan moved swiftly and grabbed the arm of the commander wrenching it back painfully causing Molly to drop the phaser. Before Jex could capitalise on the movement T'Vel stuck her carbine into the side of Cartwright. "Do as I say or the Commander is dead."

Jex turned and started the de-docking procedures. Molly protested, "Don't do it Ensign. Ow!" Molly winced visibly as her arm was twisted high up behind.

"She will do it." T'Vel hissed into the commander's ear but locked eyes on the ensign.

Keeping her eyes on T'Vel and her hostage, Leoni lowered herself into the pilot seat. She looked from the crazed Vulcan's face to the pained and defeated Cartwright who tried to shake her head, trying to convince Leoni to not follow through the orders. But Leoni recognised the eyes of a killer. She knew that if she defied T'Vel the Vulcan would not hesitate to kill Commander Cartwright. Leoni knew too that the T'Vel might kill them even if she complied. She could only but hope for time and an opportunity to make sense of the madness. Jex offered a silent, helpless and apologetic shrug to Cartwright as she pulled her knees in under the piloting console and started the engines up.

The Stallion rumbled with the abrupt take off. Molly tried to take the moment of off balance to tackle the Vulcan. The struggle was brief as the Vulcan's strength subdued Molly easily but brutally. T'Vel's hand struck the Commander forcibly sending Molly against the bulkhead before she grabbed Molly's hair roughly in her hand. "I will kill you if you do not comply Cartwright."

The Stallion suddenly pitched as a blinding light and a momentary flicker of power in the Stallion made it seem as if it dropped out of the sky.

T'Vel threatened, "Try no more tricks."

Leoni called out frantic as she consulted her console. "It wasn't me! It was an EM pulse."

T'Vel paid the answer no heed. "Take us to warp."

"Wait!" Leoni exclaimed in panic from her pilot seat. "We need to outrun the effects of the rat-trap first." The Vulcan woman glared at her but took it at face value that the Trill spoke the truth.

The moment allowed Jex to steal her nerves and find her calm. Leoni allowed herself to lean on the symbiont, its mettle, its experiences and memories to bulwark herself. The Trill host was buoyed by the reassurance and the strength she could draw from the symbiont. Now she had to try and think of a means of escape or a means to stop the Lt. Commander.

The Vulcan meantime shoved Molly against the side, pushing her down into one of the seats. Using the straps she tore from the adjacent seat T'Vel tied the commander down and into it. Molly protested the whole while. "T'Vel you can't do this. Captain McGregor will not allow it. You will not get away with it. You can't do this. Listen to me T'Vel. McGregor will come after you. He'll stop you. Where do you think you can escape to? T'Vel! T'Vel, listen to my voice."

T'Vel swung her arm to slap Molly's face hard. Very hard. Blood pooled at the corner of Molly's mouth from the strike. The Commander blinked away stars and her eyes rolled in her head as she reeled from the blow. The Vulcan stood over Molly coldly.

"I will not repeat myself again. I. Am. Not. T'Vel." She grabbed Molly's hair, her tight bun now in disarray. Molly winced from the pain that seemed tenfold from the blow. "T'Vel is lost to you. I am T'Kas."

Jex blurted out, "Who?"

"No one! Just the mad ramblings of..."

T'Vel, now calling herself T'Kas, grasped Molly's mouth, squeezing it shut, clamping down. "I am no mad rambling. This you know Commander." She changed her voice to a cloying, slickly taunt. "Molly." She pushed Molly's head back sharply, slapping it hard against the neck brace. She turned to face the Trill. "I am the High Priestess T'Kas. My katra has lain trapped within this pathetic and fragile mind. I am now free. Free of the one you call T'Vel. Free and ..." she levelled the carbine towards the Trill, "the one in control."

T'Vel, T'Kas, then looked upon her hands, twitching her fingers, flexing the muscles of the hands and arms, testing them, probing her control over the body she now possessed fully. A smile spread on her face as a mad look gleamed in her eyes. She flashed a dangerous look at the ensign.

Leoni flinched under the scrutiny. It served to make the madness and smile grow.

Restrained in the seat, Molly goaded T'Kas. "If that mind is so weak and pathetic, then how come she has managed to contain you? How come the fragile T'Vel has managed to lock you up, keep you boxed in? You, the mighty High Priestess T'Kas!"

"You mock? Or do you seek to taunt me? A truly pathetic attempt to bait me, Molly." She sauntered up to the Commander, her body moved almost seductively. Her mouth came close to Molly's as her fingers stroked the Commander's face. "I am above such petty tactics. I am so much more than the one you knew as T'Vel. She did not contain me. She used her precious vials of medicine to suppress me. Without them, she is unable to stop me."

The console chirped a warning. Leoni's eyes went wide as she took in the pursuit of another Stallion. The Vulcan's head whipped round at the alarm and started forwards. Panicking, Jex had to think of a way to stall and distract the Vulcan. She decided to feed into the comments from Cartwright. "Who is T'Kas?"

"I am T'Kas. A High Priestess of Vulcan, you ignorant fool. The commander and the captain seek to protect T'Vel by keeping the truth about me secret. It matters not anymore. I am T'Kas and I am free."

"Huh. You call yourself a High Priestess and yet you are no Vulcan." Molly spat a glob of blood and spittle onto the deck.

T'Vel sneered as she looked back at Molly. "More baiting Commander?"

Molly pushed against her restraints, as she leaned forwards to rile the Vulcan. "You claim to be a High Priestess, a true adept, yet you cannot control your emotions. You show no discipline. T'Vel is a hundred times the Vulcan you are."

Angrily snapping, T'Vel raced forwards and hit Molly with the back of her hand. "You think me weak? I am not constrained by the petty teachings of Surak. My research revealed to me the true might and ability of the Vulcan mind. Our true potential when not tied and bound by strictures. My disciples understood my call. They understood my calling to make the Vulcan character even greater than the shackled people we have become."

Leoni shook her head. "This makes no sense!"

"It makes no sense Ensign because this woman is a deranged lunatic. A shadow of a Vulcan. A perversion of a Vulcan. She is a maddened witch, send mad by the effects of the Wash, so demented even her ‘disciples' turned on her, cutting her down." Molly turned from soeaking to Jex to address T'Vel directly. She spat venomously, "They sliced your belly open and spilled out your putrid guts."

T'Vel grabbed Molly by the throat, starting to choke the life out of her. T'Vel screamed with her spittle flecking Molly's reddening face. "DO. NOT. SPEAK. OF. IT."

"No!" Jex rushed forward, slapping the controls of the Stallion into a mad spin as the Stallion dropped out of warp. The Trill charged at the off balanced Vulcan hitting into her hard. Only for Leoni's amour did her charge have enough of an impact to dislodge the grip of T'Vel from around Molly's throat. They fell back in the Stallion as it pirouetted through space.

They scrabbled on the deck but T'Vel's Vulcan strength quickly started to assert itself over Jex's struggles. "You fail to understand. You will die. All who will oppose me will die. All will die!"

"Lt. Commander T'Vel! Please! I know you are in there." Jex pleaded. Molly pushed against her restraints as she watched the two of them wrestle in the wildly careening Stallion. "Listen to me. This T'Kas is ... but .... one ... voice. Your's ... is ... the voice. You ... can ... control it. You can."

T'Vel stopped wrestling, pressing down on Jex's limbs. Her eyes bore into Leoni's. "You foolish girl. You think to reach T'Vel. She is dead. I am in control."

"No!" Jex fought back as hard as she could, wriggling from under her hold. "I understand how difficult it can be T'Vel. Not in the same way but in a way. I am Leoni. I am Jex. I am Deodzi. I am all of the others. All of their voices, all of their minds, I can hear in my head. But it is MY mind. MY mind, not theirs. MY life. Not theirs."

The Vulcan seethed with rage. She slapped Jex harshly. "Shut up! You cannot understand. This mind and this body are mine."

Jex used the slap to free herself further and kicked the Vulcan in the chest. It served to push the Vulcan loose but she was immediately on top of her again. But Jex kicked out again. Her foot contacting with the Vulcan's chin. She reared up and fell back heavily as the ship dipped and spiralled. Rolling on to her side, Jex grabbed a seat to steady herself. Then hauling herself by the straps onto her feet, Jex launched herself at T'Vel before she could recover.

Tripping on the body of Keren, they both tumbled over, rolling towards the cockpit. Jex threw her elbow back, smashing it into the Vulcan's nose. T'Vel's head snapped back and she fell backwards. Jex got to her feet and brought the Stallion to a stop. Throwing herself atop of T'Vel, Jex grabbed a chain from around her neck by accident, losing her grip and falling away from the Vulcan. The chain pulled at T'Vel's neck before breaking.

The Vulcan roared and rolled atop of Jex. She clamped her hands down on the Trill's wrist, bracing them against the deck. The chain in Jex's grip glimmered in the light catching the Vulcan's eye. T'Vel stopped suddenly. A voice broke through, that sounded desperate and broken, but more recognisably that of T'Vel's. "Seleya!" Her voice seemed to grasp on the word and the mad facade seemed to slip for a second.

But the mad witch returned quickly. "You will die!"

"Please! T'Vel. You can control her. You are in control T'Vel."

"You are wrong." T'Vel now grabbed Jex and started choking her.

The Trill squeaked out, "T'Vel..."

Molly vainly pushed and pulled at the restraints. She implored, "T'Vel, think of Ronak. Think of your son. Think of him. He is of you. Not this mad woman. Think of him T'Vel. Think of Vulcan. Think of ShiKahr! Think of your home T'Vel."

"You are wrong!" Her baleful eyes caught sight of the IDIC held on the chain in Jex's hand. Her features seemed conflicted, twisting from a heinous anger to a despairing struggle. "You are wrong." She let go off Jex. The Trill coughed for breath. T'Vel twisted from sitting astride the Trill and met Molly's eyes. "You ... are ... wrong. Kestrel." She struggled to get the words out, the struggle plain on her face. Pain etched the lines on her face. Perspiration beaded her knotted brow. "Kestrel is my home."

Molly smiled.

A transporter whine filled the room. T'Vel's features turned ugly once more, as the forms of McGregor, Zeus and Dexter surrounding her, their weapons trained upon her.

Molly ignored their appearance but appealed to the Vulcan. "T'Vel! Think of your home. Think of Kestrel. Think of Ronak there. Don't let her win."

The madness came back to her eyes as T'Vel declared, "You are too late. I will not be suppressed. I will not go away. I am free. You cannot stop me."

McGregor addressed her with a tight voice simply saying, "Vel."

T'Vel stood centre in the Stallion. "I am T'Kas."

Zeus declared using his carbine to underscore his command, "You are ordered to stand down."

T'Vel cast him a withering scornful look. "You dare to command me."

"Vel." Her head whipped round from Zeus to McGregor, her eyes widening in recognition of the man and in venomous hatred.

"McGregor! You know I speak the truth. All will die."

"Not today Vel. Not today."

"I am T'Kas! You cannot stop me." She charged at McGregor roaring murderously, "All will dieeee!"

Without a hesitation, Dexter fired four consecutive bursts from his carbine until he felled the Vulcan. He stepped up to her fallen body and over it said, "Live long and prosper, bitch."

 

* * *

 

 

After Care by Miranda Fave

 

After Care

 

 

Main Engineering, USS Kestrel

 

"Gardner?"

The chief turned round from looking upon the pulsating beating heart of the Kestrel to see the rather grumpy face of McGregor. "Captain? You look like crap."

"Why thank ye, Eddie. Cheers me up no end. What way is she?" McGregor looked up forlornly at the warp core and patted the intermix reaction chamber. It might have seemed as if he were soothing the ship or petting a favourite pet, or as Eddie guessed, apologising to the ole bird for hitting it with a rat-trap.

Gardner let out a wearied sigh and scratched his beard. "Well I've gotten her back up and running. I know it meant abandoning the Sprite to that hack Berkley but I didn't trust anyone else with starting the Kestrel back up. She's tinkering fine. The start up was a bit tricky but I gotta hand it to the kid at Ops, he shut things down swiftly but he didn't do too much of a hatchet job. I'll consider letting Cutler play that hand of poker after all. Had he screwed the engines up ..." Handing a padd to McGregor for inspection, he filled the captain in on the ship's status.

"And the Sprite?"

Despite the hack comment, Gardner confidently replied, "Berkley has it in hand. I can spare him a few people now I'm done here."

"No. Don't bother. Just secure its systems and environmental controls. We have a cutter en route to meet with us to pick up the refugees and take the crew into custody. I want to be able to take it under tow." He put his hands on his hips as he planted his feet to ground himself. "Honestly, I want to eject their core and leave Thaddeus to rot in the cold of space. But Molly says otherwise."

"Yeah?"

McGregor gave him a hard look but Eddie answered with his own hangdog expression. "Yeah. And a whole lot other besides. But Thaddeus' hand was forced in the matter. He eventually relented to tell us that T'Hos is the operator behind it all."

"What'll that mean for Thaddeus?"

"Oh please Eddie, don't tell me you are going to plead his case. With those sad eyes you make a lousy lawyer." Gardner shrugged to that. "We'll see what more information Rah can ‘scare' from him. If it proves useful it might be enough to get him a more lenient sentence."

"T'Hos will have him killed."

"T'Hos will kill him for getting captured in the first place!" More softly he added, "I got on to a few friends, they're sending people to check his family out."

Concern laced Gardner's gravelly voice. "I thought he said they had his family under duress."

"He did." McGregor met Gardner's eyes and the accusing look he held there. "What do you want of me Gardner? It's not as though Thaddeus isn't a proven liar."

Eddie chewed his inner cheek, seeking an answer that might convince his captain. He shrugged. "Just, it's his family, is all I'm saying."

Under his breath, McGregor complained. "Damn you to hell Eddie. You don't think having Molly and Judy as my conscience is enough?"

Shrugging, Eddie demurred giving any eloquent response. "It's family."

They locked eyes, staring deep into the soul of the other. The connotations of family ran deep for both men. For McGregor the family he never had and for Eddie the family he screwed up and lost.

McGregor sighed deeply. "I've a couple of hours yet. I'll think of something. I've got contacts out and Faraday has to check in on the bigger picture."

Eddie looked about, lest anyone were listening, before leaning in to ask, "How did things go down?"

"Honestly, I don't know yet. I haven't had the time. And I wanted to keep communications silence in order to keep a lid on Thaddeus' capture. But we served up the competitors to T'Hos and the operations of T'Hos' organisation to Faraday and Echo Station. The strikes, searches and hauls were coordinated on a mass scale; we even brought in some Fleet to assist. We'll have made a whole heap of arrests and made a significant dent in the criminal underworld organisation in this sector." He continued more to himself, "Maybe enough to make a lasting change and difference."

"Not bad for a day's work."

"It ain't over yet. I might have something for you to do later." Eddie was intrigued as he saw McGregor was thinking things up. McGregor, however, gave him no pause to ask as he probed of the engineer, "The bomb?"

Walking into his office, Eddie patted a reinforced security silver box. "Neutralised. We removed it from the Sprite. The power cell is dead and it's been rendered safe. I've it in this for safe keeping." McGregor snapped open the box and stared down at the small cylindrical device. Eddie continued as the captain looked down on the seemingly innocuous cigar sized object. "I was waiting for Mila or Rah to come collect this." McGregor picked it up, looking at it thoughtfully. "Captain?"

"Huh? Nothing." He shook his head and set the device back in its secure place. "Just looking. No evidence on it as to who planted it?"

Eddie pouted. "Submino ran some spectral scans, nadda turned up."

"Just as I expected."

Gardner's voice grew grim and quiet, even in the privacy of his disarrayed office with strewn padds, tools, smaller spare parts, and pieces of computer console circuitry. "You think someone from within did this?" A surprised look crossed McGregor's face. "What? Did you think the rest of us don't talk among ourselves? That we don't wonder what the hell is going on too?"

McGregor shook his head sadly. "Eddie."

"I ain't asking you to reveal anything. Just try to trust us. Trust me. Trust Molly." He shrugged again, signalling he was moving off the topic. His new choice of topic was no less awkward. "What went down on the Stallion?"

McGregor looked through his eyebrows at Gardner before reluctantly responding. "Vel's in sickbay, sedated - heavily sedated. Monroe's pushed for time with the refugees but that's the best thing for her apparently. Time will let her blood chemistry rebalance. The hypo for the radiation counter acted her meds and T'Kas reared her ugly head."

"We got lucky then."

"That we did. Your ensign, the slug, she did good. Molly was singing her praises. She helped to put a stop to T'Kas. If it hadn't been for her, things could have been pretty ugly."

"Yeah. She's a great engineer."

McGregor caught the intended barb. "She handled herself in the Op too. Rah gave a good report on her actions. So don't lecture me Eddie."

"I wouldn't presume to."

"Good, cos I've had Molly in one ear and more than enough from Caleb."

Gardner shrugged. "You can't expect anything less of him, considering the last time."

McGregor's mood was dark. "I don't expect anything of him, except to do his duty and to show a bit of damned loyalty."

"You two had a spat?"

McGregor frowned. He absently rubbed the knuckles of his right hand. "You're not going to get all marriage counsellor on me Eddie are you?"

"Huh. I think me acting as a marriage counsellor would be a little rich. But take it from me, don't let things fester between you two. Facing down T'Hos you are going to need your head of security."

"Who said anything about facing down T'Hos?"

Eddie met his eyes with a ‘who are you kidding' look. "I know you by now McGregor. Well, as best one can know someone like you. But with whatever schemes or plans you got swirling around in that cracked head of yours, remember you'll need the rest of us to carry it off. Like you said, loyalty, but just remember it cuts both ways."

Scowling, McGregor gave out. "You know you are right royal pain in my ass Gardner?"

This brought a smirk to Eddie's sour countenance. "You gotta give me credit for consistency."

* * *

 

Medical Bay, USS Kestrel

 

"Will he be ok doctor?" Monroe didn't look up at Jex as she studied the bruises on the Trill's torso and felt for any cracked ribs.

The doctor of course knew that she referred to the Andorian laying on his bio-bed being carefully monitored by CH'shan. The Rigellean nurse was being very attentive to the patient. Meanwhile, Keren's Shen, Mejal, tried to refrain from assisting after Judy had told her to back off.

The Rigellean chief nurse turned to survey the main examination room keeping a close eye on all the personnel and patients. A calm busy air within the medical bay replaced the hectic chaos of the earlier emergency. The calm had been restored thanks to the authoritative airs of Monroe and CH'shan.

Monroe soothingly explained to Jex, "As I said to Mejal, and I'm saying again to you, Keren will be fine. Given a little time. The armour suit protected him from the brunt of the blast."

"I guess." Jex couldn't help but think of their easy, carefree banter before he was gunned down by T'Vel. It seemed like so long ago now. Had that really been the same Leoni that had found herself inadvertently flirting with, inadvertently being attracted to the Andorian?

"You can pull down your tunic. You're clean." Monroe took off the latex gloves and tossed them in the bio waste bin. "Sorry ensign it took so long to get to you."

Jex looked around at the filled medical bay with the thirty odd rescued slaves on drips and under medical surveillance. "That's perfectly fine. You had your hands full here." She gave a glance over at the bio-bed where T'Vel lay sedated and under the watchful eyes of a two man security guard.

Judy noticed direction of the concerned look. "Don't worry about the Lt. Commander. She'll be fine too, given a little time." Judy went on to add, "I know it must have been distressing and it must be difficult to understand what happened, but T'Vel will be fine ... and she is a good person."

The kindness and the concern in the doctor's voice was clear to hear for Jex. She felt compelled to show a degree of compassion in return. "I can understand some."

Judy looked up surprised at the response. "You can?"

"I'm a joined Trill. I've had lifetimes of experience and so the memories of many lives. I've seen lots of things - in this universe and in the lives of others. I balance all that knowledge in my head, within the symbiont, it's a weird jumbling swirling thing to try and put into words for a non-joined Trill. But I can understand how ... voices can ..."

"T'Kas is no voice." Molly declared by their side suddenly.

Judy suddenly stiffened defensively. "Molly? You're back?"

"Checking in." She looked over at T'Vel's sleeping form cagily. "I've to head back to the bridge. Got an update for the Captain?"

"Mejal?" Monroe got the attention of the distracted medic who flushed a deeper blue. "Would you get the update for the Commander?"

Molly ploughed on speaking to Jex. "T'Kas is no voice. She is the katra of a wicked woman who tried to possess T'Vel's mind years ago."

Judy warned in her own quiet manner. "Molly. That's privileged information."

Molly's retort was pointed. "It isn't privileged information when you've been held to gunpoint by said woman, Judy. I think the ensign is well aware that all is not right. Perhaps it might be best if we stopped trying to keep it a secret. If everyone had been in the know, then T'Vel would not have been treated with the hypo by Harris."

"Let's not do the blame game Molly." Judy remained calm but delivered her words clearly. "I am the Chief Medical Officer. If that's the case, then I'm at fault for not directing Harris so."

Molly rejoined quickly without thought, "Well perhaps ..." she caught herself in time and changed tone, "no ... you had your hands full."

Nevertheless, the biting tone and near accusation had cut at Judy. "That I'm fully aware of Commander Cartwright." She snapped the padd from Mejal and sharply pushed it into the hands of Molly. "Here's your update."

Molly went to apologise but Judy didn't have the time or the inclination for it. "The rescued slaves that have been treated are being housed in temporary accommodation. A number will need to remain here for careful observation. Gunny and Keren are also being kept for further observation and treatment. Ensign Jex is being released, you Commander have been given a clear bill of health and I am keeping Lt. Commander T'Vel sedated until further notice. You can get back to the bridge now. I've things to attend to down here. You're free to go too Ensign. Get some food and get some rest." Judy stalked off to check the vitals of one of the rescued slaves at that and confer with her trusted right hand, CH'shan.

Jex slipped down off the bio-bed, refraining from wincing from the bruises. Monroe did not like to dish out medical cure alls for minor ailments it seemed but liked for the crew to endure a little pain and simple pain relief measures.

Molly was looking between Judy and T'Vel, the concern etched on her face. "You're excused Ensign. You may as well get out of this place." The two of them fell into step with one another as they walked out of the medical bay.

They both marched in silence. Molly's silence carried an angered air and Jex walked on silently, unsure of what to say. Finally, she ventured as they neared parting ways. "Commander? About Lt. Commander T'Vel."

Molly stopped in her tracks. "It's a long story Ensign."

"I get that. I only wanted to say, I dunno, I guess, well it must be ... it must be hard for her and it must be hard for her friends too, especially, when none can quite understand what she is going through, what she is battling."

"Ensign ... Leoni, I appreciate that you can have some degree of understanding but..."

Leoni rushed to interrupt, emboldened in the moment. "Well I can. And I know how much I appreciated the friends who stuck by me after I was Joined. I don't imagine that I changed much after joining with Jex but I guess it is only natural that I would change some, that I would be different. So ... well I had friends who stopped being my friends afterwards. They couldn't understand it and they couldn't accept it. Maybe they just didn't like the changes in me. But the few that stayed friendly with me, I value their friendship for that. And for those, like Noah, who befriended me afterwards, who accepted who I am, even though they don't quite understand what it is that I am."

Molly pulled her famous bumblebee chewing face. "You get that you're an ensign and I'm a commander and that this pep talk is all screwy."

"I do. And I blame the hundreds year old symbiont in me for being so brazen about it." Her Trill spots seemed more prominent as she blushed in embarrassment.

Molly's face fell from the scowl into a reluctant thin smile. "Blaming it on the slug is a handy get out of jail free card." Jex shrugged innocently. Molly reluctantly continued, "I suppose it has to come with some wisdom. I get what you are saying. It's all a little raw and a painful reminder of things past. But it'll be fine. Thanks for the sage advice."

Jex needled in return, "The ‘slug' is happy to help."

"Blame McGregor for the word slip." Jex's mouth opened in an understanding ‘O' shape. "I gotta get back to the bridge. You'll have a debriefing about the SARAH later today. And then no doubt when everyone has settled down, I'm sure there'll be a bit of a hoopla as per usual. So get some food and rest as Monroe prescribed. You'll need it. You'll only think the bruises hurt till the headache tomorrow. And Ensign ... Leoni, it would be remiss of me to not say thank you for everything you did today. You probably saved both our lives and helped to bring back T'Vel too."

Leoni blushed again. "Thank you."

Molly nodded her head in dismissal and headed for the stairs. She stopped and called back, "Oh. If, no when, the party starts later tonight, be sure to take your friend Noah for some well deserved drinks. He did good today. No, he damned bloody great."

"I will."

"Be sure to. We have to be thankful for our friends after all." They answered one another with a smile and headed in opposite directions.

* * *

 

Security Operations Centre, Deck 7

 

"Bonjour." Contessa Ney entered the security operations centre and made her friendly but reserved greetings to her superior officer. Her nose wrinkled as she saw the injury Caleb Dexter sported. "Lt. Commander Dexter?"

Tac looked up at Contessa. As he did so, he set the ice pack that was to his eye onto the computer console. The purple welt was dark and swelled. "Lieutenant."

"I do not recall the drone feeds showing you receiving such an injury. Do you wish to tell how you came by it?"

"No. I don't particularly Ney." He added acidly though immediately regretting his tone. "I don't need to explain anything to you as your superior officer."

"That is true. Though you could have Dr. Monroe look at that and she would have it fixed with the wave of a wand."

"Yeah. She could. But she won't." Contessa's facial response to that statement was clearly intrigued. "Let's just say, McGregor couched it in no uncertain terms that she was not to treat me."

She took her seat opposite him at the hexagonal bank of security computers that dominated the security complex. Here was the hub of the ship's security feeds and sensors internally and externally. The room was also central to the large security complex housed on the port side of deck seven. From here, there was ready access to auxiliary control forward on the same deck. But adjoining the centre was the armoury and brig as well as Caleb Tac Dexter's security chief offices. Offices he chose not to sit in and hide his injury.

Contessa knew that Dexter was sporting his injury for a reason. "I would doubt that would stop the doctor, however loyal she might be the captain."

"This is why he went on to explain to her just why he gave me this black eye. Knowing full well Monroe would only but agree with his reaction to my stopping T'Vel. Never mind. McGregor can play his little games." Caleb waved his hand dismissively. "I'm done with him. I've done my time and have enough experience under my belt to get me a better post elsewhere. If I stay with the Border Service I might even be able to score me a command of my own."

Contessa's eyes widened in surprise at the statement. "You intend to leave the Kestrel after this tour?"

"Don't look so shocked Contessa." Caleb leaned forward, resting his elbows on the computer console. "You opted to serve in the Dogs in order to advance your command career. You think the rest of us didn't know. You think the rest of us don't have the same ambitions. I certainly don't want to be under McGregor's thumb any longer."

"It is true. I chose to serve in the Border Patrol Service to help advance my command prospects. It has to be said, life on a border patrol vessel does offer a security officer much more experience. I always rather thought you had ambitions sir, however, I thought that with having grown up on a border planet you were invested in serving the border."

"I am ... invested. But it strikes me as folly to expect the mainstream culture of Starfleet to change if officers of my ilk continue to serve only in the Border Patrol. There are many misconceptions about the type of officers who serve in the Dogs. Prejudices even. And I intend to change them."

"I did not realise that you thought like that."

"Let's be truthful Contessa. Neither of us has shared much personnel information with one another in our time working together. It has been what, two years that that we have worked together? Yet we are hardly fast friends."

Contessa took stock of what he was saying and nodded in agreement. "This is true. It is my fault. I purposely put a distance between us after our ... initial meeting."

"It wasn't just you Contessa. Relationships between officers are frowned upon for good reason, especially, when the subordinate works directly under you. It was a one-time thing, a one off mistake if you will. We both acted professionally afterwards and made it a professional working relationship. We didn't let it interfere with the business we had at hand."

"No but still, there was no reason why we could not have tried to become friends."

"Water under the bridge now. Or soon will be."

She added sadly and sympathetically, "That is unfortunate."

The sentiment seemed to irk Dexter. Blasé, he remarked, "Look at it this way, my moving on will do your promotion and command track ambitions wonders. Whether McGregor puts much stock in my opinion or not, I will be recommending you as my replacement and indicating that I believe you should be promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander."

"I am deeply honoured by that Lt. Commander. Nevertheless, I would ask that you consider fully your decision. Captain McGregor should not have struck you. It is not befitting a commanding officer."

Dexter shrugged and allowed McGregor the punch. "It shows that he cares. He's a bastard. A cunning, vindictive bastard for sure but he cares a damn for his people. I'll give him that."

Contessa narrowed her eyes as she studied Dexter. "So why do you chose to leave?"

"Because he doesn't trust me. I'm not much of a security chief if the captain doesn't trust me."

She cocked her head. "Is that why you called me here?"

"Yes." He inputted commands and data from the recent Op came up on the computer console in front of her. "I want you to study the data from Stallion Two's SARAH. In particular, I want to know how that bomb got to be on the Sprite."

Contessa took in the scrolling data and attached footage before looking at Dexter. "I thought you would conduct the review."

"I am."

She asked levelly, "Then why are you asking me to do the same?"

"Because McGregor does not trust me. Whatever answers I come up with are going to be viewed as suspect. So an independent set of eyes is required. Besides, when I'm gone, this job and such dirty business will all be your responsibility."

* * *

 

 Armoury, Deck 7

 

McGregor knocked on the frame of the open door. "Mila."

Absorbed in her own thoughts, Mila Chomsky looked up a little surprised to see McGregor and a little put out that she had been surprised by his sudden appearance. She had obviously gotten far too caught up in her prayers of thanks to notice her surroundings.  "Captain?" She looked down at the box he carried under his arm and now held out to her.

He set the box on the table and slid it across to her. "I want this evidence secured and locked away."

She stood and looked down upon the box. "This the bomb?"

"Yep." She went to open the seal but McGregor laid a hand over hers to stop her doing so. "I want it secured and locked away." He looked at her meaningfully.

She nodded her head. Her stature was such that she towered over the captain but her body language brokered no argument. "Of course Captain."

"I have something else I want to ask of you."

Chomsky lifted her eyebrows intrigued. McGregor was serious when usually after a successful SARAH he was in full party mode. The discovery of the slaves of course had dampened everyone's willingness to celebrate the outcome. "Yes?"

"You'll be conducting the debriefing of the SARAH later?"

"At 18:00 hours. Ensign Jex will have been discharged and had some rest and I presume Rah will be finished his ... ‘interview' with Thaddeus at that point." McGregor confirmed that with a subtle nod. "So yes, we'll do our usual After Action Report of the Op and how it went down."

"Good."

"I know the complications with the slaves and T'Vel notwithstanding, but the SARAH itself was a success. The noobs particularly performed well in my opinion. Ensign Jex turned out to be quite the pilot. And Ensign Templar was a pro, slick, smooth, quick, reactive. " The C.P.O. gave a moment of consideration before adding, seemingly reluctantly, "And for the record, Lt. Commander T'Vel ran a tight operation ... up until things went south."

"I know." He looked about to ensure no one was overhearing. "You'll be going through the data and footage yourself before hand?"

She clipped off her answer without a moment's hesitation. "Always." To do anything else seemed to be an aberration to consider.

"Good. I want you to also look at SARAH 2."

"Won't Lt. Commander Dexter be doing that?"

"I'm sure he might. He has his hands full at the moment though. But ... Gunny went down on his watch. Gunny's a mad S.O.B. but he a dammed fine experienced S.O.B. so it strikes me as odd that he could be taken out so easily. That bomb was also planted in engineering. I want you to see if you can figure out if it was planted before or after the SARAH."

The full repercussions of her investigation were beginning to dawn on Mila and she took it all in wordlessly. After a moment of absorbing the fact she nodded. "Of course Skipper."

"I knew I could rely on you Chomsky. Hate to put you in this position but it requires a deft handling and a good pair of eyes. I'd ask Rah but he's otherwise engaged at the present."

"That and the fact you think he would eviscerate anyone you suspected."

"Don't worry," McGregor's voice and face grew deathly serious, "when the time comes, I'll let him off the leash."

* * *

A.A.R. by Miranda Fave

 

A.A.R.

 

 

Junior officers' quarters, Deck 3, USS Kestrel

 

"A.A.R.?" Leoni Jex leaned against the frame of her doorway in what was actually something habitual of Deodzi, not that the Trill was conscious of this as she queried the caller to her quarters, Sebastian Templar.

Templar turned the padd over and explained to Jex, "After Action Report. No matter the Op or the outcome, the Captain always has a thorough debriefing." Chomsky had only after summoned and explained it to him. Sebastian recalled the captain's tour and how McGregor had made mention of it when conducting the tour through the hanger deck and past the various adjoining debriefing rooms.

"I get that," Leoni rolled her eyes at Sebastian in a good-natured way. She zipped up her uniform jacket before departing her quarters. Templar averted his eyes as suddenly drawn to her breasts by the zipping action. Leoni however, was oblivious to his unconscious wandering eye. They started to walk down the corridor towards their destination. "I'm just surprised at the acronym. After going for a SARAH, I'd supposed there would be a catchier title on it."

Templar drolly remarked, "Well if you can think of one, you can be sure to bring it up at the debriefing."

"Hmm, I'll have to get thinking on it. Ha!" She seemed to take it up as a challenge and Sebastian could only smirk. Jex's smile and laugh was infectious and Sebastian found himself sharing in the smile before he caught himself doing so. Leoni was thankfully continuing. "I'm glad it's over though. It was not fun but certainly exciting. Until ... well ... well until. I suppose all things considered, it turned out a whole lot better than it could have."

"That it did." The various complications went unsaid by the two of them, though both of them felt a degree of smug satisfaction at partaking in such an eventful SARAH.

Leoni offered her opinion to Sebastian. "From the drone monitors, I saw you performed great. Real wham, bam, thank you mam."

"Eh, yeah." Both realised at the same time how awkward the comment was and laughed together. "You know what they say about boarding parties and women, treat them mean and keep them keen."

Still chuckling Jex said, "Somehow, I don't think Rah mentioned that in the pre-mission brief."

"He didn't say much at all. I guess for him, actions speak louder than words."

"When it comes to the Kzinti that is their way." Jex's voice dipped a little as she drifted in her thoughts. Templar gave her a puzzled and concerned look. Said expression prompted Leoni to say, "Oh don't mind that, that's a past lifetime talking. And anyway, when it comes to doing the talking he has Chief Petty Officer Chomsky to do it all for him."

"Yeah. She's one ball breaker, that's for sure."

"That she is! I was pretty certain she was going to throw me off the mission when she heard I was piloting. I doubt she allows for any fools or mistakes."

"No. I seriously doubt it." Templar again smirked. He looked keenly at her twinkling eyes and the excitement that filled them as she talked of flying the Stallion. He wondered whether if the excitement was more on Leoni's part or the memories of past hosts. Either way, Sebastian breathed happily at her ebullient reaction to the mission. In response to her kind assessment, he felt like providing an equal assessment of Jex/ Sebastian doubted that his own opinion carried much weight with the Trill, which caused his small smile to turn downwards to a frown for a fraction of a second. So he said jovially, "She didn't say much, but I think Chomsky was impressed by your handling of the Stallion."

"Oh man!" Jex exclaimed full of herself bouncing around to face Templar. Walking backwards as she enthusiastically declared to Templar, "It was a brute to fly. Really rough and strong and forceful, but I gotta say, it was a lot of fun to fly."

Sebastian felt a little bemused about how conversational and light he was being with the Trill. He guessed she had a way of making a person feel at ease. "I'll have to be sure to clock in some hours flying them. Although I'd heard the captain was planning on some Wasp and Killer Bee training."

A flurry of excitement and familiarity at the mention of the assault vehicles washed over Leoni from the memories of Deodzi. She stopped him by putting her hands out, laying them on his chest to keep Sebastian still. "Where did you hear that?"

Templar was stuck between wanting to breathe out in a nervous sigh and a silly compulsion to swell his toned, muscled chest. "In the mess. Everyone was speculating about the slaves, Thaddeus, and McGregor's next move. What will McGregor do next? Where are we headed? What drills is he going to run first? And how soon after the party will he hold them?" The sense of accomplishment and the adrenaline from the Op had meant Sebastian had entered the mess more eagerly and friendly. Along with the others from the SARAH, he had gone over the particulars of the mission, as well as the mass of speculations about what had happened to Jex's Stallion and the situation with T'Vel. The discourse had been as hearty as the eating of the food, with jibing and backslapping all round between the two SARAH teams.

Intrigued, Jex enquired enthusiastically, "Party?"

Sebastian started walking again with Jex happily skipping alongside. "Apparently, there's always a party after a SARAH. Heck, the mess was in such a buzz despite news of the slaves tempering it that it felt almost like a party already. I'd wager there's going to be a hell of a knees up by tonight, especially once the rescued slaves are collected. Only, I don't bet anymore."

"Oh."She passed on that titbit which Sebastian was thankful for. "What do people think McGregor is going to do with Thaddeus?"

"Most seemed to expect McGregor to throw Thaddeus out of an air lock. Most assume that the incident aboard Stallion One has altered his plans."

"I bet." Sebastian saw Jex wince at her choice of words and surreptitiously scan his face for any reaction. He opted to hold a poker face and pretend to not show any reaction to her innocent mistake. "Rumours abound no doubt."

"That they do." Sebastian gave her a careful look sideways when he was thought she was not looking.

"You think I'm going to tell."

"No." He added firmly and gruffly. "Honestly, I don't care much for rumours." The levity with which he said the words implied clearly his own experience with the rumour mill. The rumours and black marks had followed him around for long enough after his disgrace. "I was only going to say that most of the rumours did mention that you saved the day on that Stallion. After seeing you in action during the SARAH itself, I'm inclined to believe it."

"Huh!" Leoni felt a little embarrassed and flushed at the remark. "I'd swear that was a compliment from the usually grumpy and stoic Sebastian Templar."

Sebastian immediately stiffened at that. Immediately Leoni regretted her words and grasped his arm apologetically. He looked down at her contact, surprised.

Jex was apologetic. "I'm sorry. That was foolish of me to say. I guess, and I know it's wrong in light of the slaves and T'Vel and the bomb in engineering, but I'm just a little buzzed from the general success of the mission."

Templar broke his frown into a reluctant smile. "Yeah. I've been pretty pumped since it too. And yeah, I dare say I have been more than grumpy since I first joined. I haven't exactly gone out of my way to make friends with people on the Kestrel. I guess it took something like this to build a sense of comradeship."

"Well, if you don't mind me saying, it's about time you got down off that self-imposed mountain."

He shook his head at the Trill with a ridiculous smile plastered to his face. "Self-imposed mountain? That makes no sense."

"I must have the expression mixed up."

"Or totally wrong," he jibed prodding her with his elbow.

"Ok, maybe that. But you get what I mean. I know you've baggage coming to the Kestrel but..."

His good humour quickly evaporated. "But what? I should view the ship as a new start. A chance to start all over. Make a new beginning and try to make amends."

Jex's tone however was filled with understanding. "I guess all of that. I guess you've heard all of those before. I was just going to say, everyone comes with their own baggage. The thing with baggage is that at some point you have to unpack and unload yourself of it." The conversation stopped for a moment between the two of them. Jex ventured to break the silent spell. "But what you said was really good too. I wish I had thought of it to say. Nice that you are thinking along those lines for yourself."

"You are beginning to sound like an agony aunt."

She shrugged. "Don't blame me, blame Niesa."

"Huh?"

Rather than get into Niesa's mothering and coddling ways, Jex opted for the simpler, "Blame it on the slug."

Sebastian threw her a querulous look. "Hmph. I suppose. Look, I'm not one for all this ... sharing and caring crap."

"Oh. Did you go to the McGregor School of Counselling?"

"The one that throws counsellors off the ship?"

"Technically he did not throw her off but sold her off."

"Yeah. But ... thanks for not being, you know, biased about me on the account of rumours. And for giving me a chance."

"Hey. We are all ensigns in this together. You, Noah and I need to look out for one another. McGregor and co. are crazy! We're the only sane ones aboard." She threw her arm over his shoulders in mock camaraderie.

Sebastian flushed at the close proximity and laughed it off as well as the arm. "Says the one blaming what she says on the slug."

Leoni shrugged her shoulders. "A good point."

Sebastian looked at her askance. "What's with the smile?"

"I just realised how handy a get out clause that is. Seems Commander Cartwright was right. Come on. We're here."

 As they entered the briefing room, Jude Buchanan flashed Leoni a winning smile and indicated the open seat beside him. "Here's the hero of the hour by all rumoured accounts."

Submino declared loudly, spilling the crumbs of a pastry as he exclaimed to the room. "Hey, I had my hands on the bomb. One false move and everyone could have been blown up. Where's my hero worship?"

"According to Nujinx you had a case of brown pants." There was a chorus of whoops and laughter from the team members to Jude Buchanan's remark. "That automatically disqualifies you for hero worship Ole Blue. Or should that be Ole Brown?"

Offended, Submino hollered back with his mouth full, spitting crumbs down the front of his uniform. "Hey! There's no need to be disgusting."

Cain Dashiel to one side of the room shook his head. "Heaven forefend Submino."

Lounging languorously in a chair with his feet up on the briefing table and his eyes half closed, Timmian asked, "Can we get this over with? We're wasting partying time."

"You sure you don't need to hibernate Timmian?" The Denobulan smirked but did not deign to open his eyes to the comment from Buchanan.

"Timmian has a point." Chomsky announced clearly. "Let's get this A.A.R. started and over and done with."

Leoni made a face that did not go unnoticed by the others. Buchanan called her on it. "What's up Spots? Do you have an issue with participating in an A.A.R. or do you want to simply bask in the hero worship?"

Taking her seat, across from Jude, Jex responded in a similar light tone, "Not at all. I understand the reasoning. It's just...  well the name is a little lame. It's just that A.A.R. sounds a little too normal for the Kestrel."

Submino corrected Jex. "That's cos you ain't saying it right."

Taking a seat beside Jex, Sebastian saw how she folded her hands on the table and frowned. He too was puzzled at the answer from Submino. Jex was the one to ask out straight though, "Saying it right? How else can you say it?"

Submino leaned in with Jude, Timmian, Dashiel and the others as they crooned together, "Why do we do A.A.R.s? Because, ‘Aarrgh! We aren't pirates!!'" They broke down into laughter.

"Oh groan. That's just so bad."Leoni shook her head almost disapprovingly while Sebastian found himself stifling a snort.

Mila shook her head too. "You shouldn't have gotten them started Ensign."

* * *

 

Later ...

"Ok. Time to party. It's been fun Boss." Timmian bolted out of the briefing room at the conclusion to the review.

Dashiel Cain called after the Denobulan, "Don't let us hold you up any Timmian."

"I swear, the only time he runs is when there's a party or his ass is on fire." Sebastian Templar gave a puzzled look to Buchanan's remark. "Oh that's a whole other story. Which I'll tell you both on the way to Gordon's." He threw his arms around the two ensigns steering them towards the door.

Dashiel laughed at the look on Jex and Templar's faces at the arm around each of their shoulders as Buchanan ingratiated himself into their company. "Now you see why at the Academy they warned as officers you shouldn't fraternise with the NCOs. A deplorable lot we are."

Submino finishing off the last of the pastries spewed more crumbs as he exclaimed, "Hey speak for yourself!"

"Yeah, you are all about the decorum Submino."

Submino brushed down the front of his uniform. "Come on then you Pips. We'll show you how to really have a good time."

"How comes this feels like it could be a bad idea?"

Cain said to Jex, "Oh that it most definitely is, Ensign. But after taking part in a SARAH you have no option. It says it in the rules."

Jex raised an eyebrow warily at them. Sebastian concurred. "What rules?"

From the front of the briefing room, Mila Chomsky informed, "They are unwritten and subject to change. Just like McGregor's oft quoted rules of command. But you do have to go and celebrate the SARAH."

Sebastian asked at the door, "Are you coming C.P.O.?"

"I'll be along shortly. Go enjoy yourselves. You both did good today. And that was an informative After Action Report too. Thanks for the input. Including Niesa's input."

Jex laughed at the interjection from Niesa. "Well blueberry muffins might cut down on the crumbs."

Submino again declared, "I likes pastries! The flakes are the best part. Right. Let's get to Gordon's."

Buchanan asked them as he led them down the corridor, "What did you make of your first A.A.R.?"

In unison, Jex and Templar declared, "Aarrrgh! We're not pirates!"

Back in the briefing room, Chomsky shook her head smiling at the call, to which Submino added his voice. Mila said to no-one in particular, "They're fitting right in."

It left just Dashiel and Mila behind. "That was a productive A.A.R.. And the ensigns do make a good addition to the team."

"That they do. So far at least." She cleared away her padds into a carry case and looked up at Dashiel. "You headed to Gordon's now? Or do you want to get some food first?"

"Actually, I swapped security shifts with Duwent. He was eager to be a part of the celebrations."

Chomsky got a little pointed. "What happened to the unwritten rules about celebrating a SARAH?"

He tried a casual tone. "There'll be other SARAHs. And well, he didn't exactly want to do a shift in sickbay. I thought I'd help him out."

"This is nothing to do with helping him out. This is to do with you and her."

He did not like the tone Mila leant to the ‘her' in her statement. It amounted to a charge and a slur. Dashiel defended T'Vel and his decision. "T'Vel was hurt. She ..." He stopped, not knowing how to talk about T'Vel's condition. "She's going to wake up feeling bad and even a bit afraid. It would be nice for her to see a friendly face when she comes round."

She dropped the case with the padds onto the table. Chomsky looked up and met Dashiel's eyes. "And that friendly face has to be yours?"

"Well Ronak sure as hell isn't going to show his face. The Captain will probably keep his distance. By all accounts, Cartwright is stewing over it. And Tac shot her four times. I guess she's running low on friendly faces."

Chomsky rejoined bitterly, "Maybe there's a reason for that."

He stepped forwards protesting. "She can't help it. It wasn't her fault."

"No. But perhaps we should do something to help it from ever happening again."

"Mila!" Dashiel threw out his arms entreating for some sort of understanding. "I'm just friends with T'Vel. Why do you have to get like this?"

She leaned her palms on the briefing table and despaired of having this argument. "Because I know you Dashiel. You are getting all mixed up in her personal affairs. It isn't your place. And you are only going to end up getting hurt in the end."

"You know what Mila; I'm tired explaining myself away to you. More than that, I'm tired of this stupid jealousy or whatever it is. And considering that you pray to a God that promotes forgiveness, tolerance and understanding, I thought you might actually abide by some of those teachings. I'm due on duty soon. See you later."

He stormed off leaving Mila furious. ‘l7;ll6;l2;l3;l0;l5;k2;m0;l0;!' Mila started for the door to chase after Dashiel when she found her way barred by the arrival of Lieutenant Ney.

"Excusez-moi, Chief Chomsky, I do not mean to interrupt but I have something serious I wish to check with you."

Mila tried to be deferential but it was not an attitude that easily came to her when under pressure. "Can it wait Lieutenant?"

There were few on the crew who matched the fair-skinned Chomsky for height and stature. The dark-skinned and lustrous Contessa Ney was one of the few. "I do not think it would be wise to do so. Lt. Commander Dexter tasked me with examining the data from the Stallion Two team."

Mila's surprise was evident. "Really? Captain McGregor asked me to investigate it also."

"It seems there are a number of deeply troubling security concerns surrounding it."

"I haven't been able to make any definitive conclusions about it but I was able to confirm that the bomb had not been there before the team entered the Sprite's engineering."

"Then the bomb was planted during the breach, which would appear to firm suspicions that someone from the Kestrel planted it. Further to this, I scanned the armour suit worn by Gunny and found a startling result." Mila did not outwardly react to this but awaited the security deputy to continue. "He was shot with a Border Patrol issue carbine."

"So we do have a traitor."

"It seems increasingly so."

"Why have you not informed Lt. Commander Dexter?"

Contessa was surprised that Mila had deduced this. "You presume correctly. I have not informed him because as of yet I have found no evidence to prove he is not the traitor. You were a part of the other SARAH party and so you have an alibi that allows me to trust you with this information."

"And Captain McGregor?"

To this question, Ney was a little less comfortable in answering. "There is nothing that does not prove he is not the traitor."

"That's logical enough but logic doesn't exactly curry favour with me at this moment in time. McGregor is McGregor. He's not the traitor! He's the target!"

"I can only base my conclusions on evidence. No evidence proves him not to be."

"He wasn't in the engineering compartment when Gunny was shot. How's that?"

"The shot may have been friendly fire. My investigation is not complete. I can confirm he was hit with a carbine but not the how or why as yet. There is though at present enough troubling aspects to amount to cause."

"Before you get caught up on cause and evidence, what evidence is there that you are not the traitor?" Contessa stiffened at the accusation. "I only ask as a means to illustrate the need to be careful in this territory. Causing distrust and suspicion among the crew is giving an advantage to T'Hos."

The French woman had to agree with this statement. "I wanted to ask you however about a past security concern. Several years ago, there was an incident aboard before my posting to the Kestrel. It went unreported in the official channels but suffice to say reading between the lines, the fact that a number of crewmembers were hospitalised in an unaccounted manner."

Unhappily, Mila informed Contessa, "T'Vel has had incidents in the past."

"I do not refer to them."

"Then what? Oh!" Mila sat back to lean against the briefing room conference table as it dawned on her. "Harris."

"Yes, I am referring to the incident involving Yeoman Harris. It was shortly after she enlisted to the crew. This was after her rescue from slavery. What I can deduce is that Harris attacked the Captain and others in the mess in what appears to have been some sort of psychotic break."

Mila recalled it and shifted uncomfortably. "Yes. What of it?"

"Harris is still working onboard. Yet she attempted to kill the captain of this vessel."

Mila could not help getting a little defensive. "It's the Skipper's boat, it's his rules and it's his crew. If he wants to keep on the crew manifest those who have tried or want to kill him, then it's his choice. As long as it isn't the chef."

"I do not understand why the Captain or anyone within the senior staff would be happy to continue allowing Harris to serve aboard. By rights she should have served time for the attack."

"That's because Dr. Monroe was able to decipher that Harris had in fact been the victim of brain washing techniques. Her rescue had been part of a plant. McGregor had been making inroads into T'Hos' operations and T'Hos decided to strike back."

Chomsky's revelation troubled Ney. This information was something of a game changer. "Brainwashing?"

"As much as we were able to discern, T'Hos managed to use Tal Shiar brainwashing techniques to turn Harris into an assassin of sorts. The attempt was bungled and Harris ‘de-programmed' of the brainwashing."

"Then if T'Hos has the ability to brainwash we may have a greater threat on our hands. Our traitor may not know they are a traitor. And more than a traitor," Ney intoned gravely, "they may be an unwitting martyr for T'Hos."

* * *

 

 

Executive Decisions by Miranda Fave

 

Executive Orders

 

 

Executive Officer's Office, Deck 3

 

Molly Cartwright sat behind the hard wood of her table shifting padds and consulting her console. When she sat behind the impressive desk, she could imagine doing literal paper work upon its polished veneer. The desk gave a sense of authority and stewardship to the room. That sense of stewardship seemed to escape Molly the instant the door chimed and Ensign Noah Cutler announced himself on the other side.

Molly's stomach lurched for a moment but she tamped down the sensations. The door chimed once more given the delay in her responding. ‘Catch a grip Molly,' she chided herself before hurrying to bid Noah to enter.

Despite it being her delay, Noah still felt compelled to apologise. "Sorry Commander. I came to present my After Action Report."

Molly braced herself on the ornate, well-worn, trim of the desk. "Of course Ensign. Very good. Set it here with the others." She indicated the stack on her desk from the other bridge personnel during the recent mission and another collection from the various heads of departments, save that of T'Vel's.

Noah did so and stepped back to stand to attention. Molly stopped herself from shaking her head disparagingly. Instead, she said kindly, "You may be at ease Ensign. This may be your first time in my office, but you needn't fear I'm not the Academy commandant and I don't bite, unless I have cause to do so."

She noted Noah's eyes roam the interior of the office as if trying to decipher the meaning to a riddle. Cartwright recalled doing the same when she first saw a senior officer's quarters or office. She supposed senior officers were something like an enigma to be solved or worked out by the junior officers. The quicker one fathomed what made a senior officer tick the sooner would get to stay on their good side. Smirking, Molly called him on it. "Like what you see?"

"Huh! Sorry. I didn't mean to be nosey."

"It's only natural to be curious. There's not much to nosey at. I do keep the office rather Spartan." Noah noted the lack of personal effects, which stood in contrast to the office of Dr. Monroe. Molly did not wish to get into that so lying, said to Noah, "It gives me greater cause to escape the office for the comfort of my own quarters."

"Well with the desk there's not much room for anything else," Cutler said.  He immediately blushed, obviously thinking he had said something inappropriate, but Molly smiled.

"You may have a point Noah. It certainly dominates the room. It's something of a bygone age. Dare I say it is antiquated and eccentric in this day and age? A bit like McGregor really. Eccentric and surprising antiquated. However, it was a present from McGregor when I first took up my post as his XO. I could hardly refuse." She patted the strong side of the table affectionately.

"He has his quirks and foibles and that's putting it mildly but he can show surprising acts of kindness at times." Molly could not help the small smile that crept into her expression as she recalled the gift from McGregor upon her taking up the post as his first officer.

It seemed strange to think of this small act of kindness on his part amid the greater act of kindness rescuing her from a career behind a desk within Admiralty. McGregor's words to her rang in her head in the moment. ‘The only desk you will need ever fly Molly, if you accept my proposal.'

"So a desk is what convinced you to become his XO?" Cutler asked a little disbelievingly.

Molly was momentarily stuck for a response as she recalled that moment in her life. The churning memories brought into stark relief with Noah's presence before her. She shook her head clear of the memories. "Hardly. The desk was actually a surprise. As for deciding to become McGregor's XO, my choices at the time were rather limited."

Limited though they were at the time, Molly had still mulled the decision over strongly. Despite the stagnation and the resignation she would have felt serving in a minor capacity within the echelons of Admiralty, Molly had considered it a possibility to reinvent her career, especially given that she would never be able to move forwards in her command career again.

She would never again hold a command of her own, the inquiry had put paid to that. As much as it vindicated Molly, the inquiry equally dammed her and her career. She explained for Noah's benefit, who was more than a little in the dark about the Commander's past command. "But limited choices or not, McGregor offered me this chance to serve with him on the Kestrel."

Taking the posting aboard the Kestrel seemed more like a backward step to Molly. It was a vessel she had served upon years before when she was starting out and eager to make her way up the command ladder. More than that, she would no longer serve as master and commander but as McGregor's right hand.

McGregor though had convinced her otherwise; had convinced Molly that she could make a difference out on the borderlands. Convinced her that they had a purpose as noble and as important as seeking out new life and new civilisations. In fact, he had convinced her that their mission was one that was much more vital. The gift of the desk had served to convince Molly that McGregor wanted her as his right hand that she was to be no lackey, that it was not a gift of pity offering her the post. McGregor had form taking on pity cases but it seemed never out of pity itself. Instead, he believed somewhere that the person had a function, a duty, a potential to fulfil aboard the Kestrel. Always, it was about serving the Kestrel.

Molly sought to divert the course of the conversation. She was beginning to feel a stirring compulsion to spill the truth to Noah. "Talking about serving the Kestrel, the matter of your A.A.R.. How did things go from your perspective?"

Noah stammered. "It's all in my report Commander."

"I'm sure that it is Cutler. I merely wanted to give you the chance to give your impressions of the mission and everything else that ensued. Think of it as your informal A.A.R. to me."

The thought of doing so seemed to discomfit the ensign. Again, Molly resisted the urge to shake her head at Noah. "Whatever you say is only between you and me. As impressions I only want to get an insight into how things played out that a formal report can miss out."

Noah gulped nervously. "I'm not sure what else I can say outside of my report."

"How might you have handled it?"

"Me? I think it would be above my position to give such opinions Commander Cartwright. I'm only an ensign. Captain McGregor has a lot of experience with these types of scenarios."

"True. Experience is important." She waved a hand over the padds arranged on her desk. "In these various reports, I have different departmental staff of different ranks and positions offering up their insights in their reports. If their opinions did not matter, I would not have as much paper work to handle. That might be a blessing in itself; however, my experience and learning curve, and that of McGregor's, would be lesser for it."

Noah frowned in response to that.

Molly explained, "Given your specialist training with Ops it is a near certainty that your report is going to be pitched from that particular perspective.  That can be limiting for your understanding, however, as an objective viewpoint for others to consider, McGregor and myself chiefly, it can offer a valuable input. The challenge of command is to sift through differing opinions and choose the course to take."

"Sounds difficult."

Her throat became tickly and dry, catching her words as she started to speak. "It isn't easy. But it's a lot easier having choices to choose from than ..." her voice trailed away as she looked at him carefully and yet looked through the ensign too. Molly shook herself from the loss of concentration and began again. "It's a lot easier having choices to choose from than having no choice at all. From having to make the only choice you can, even if it is the wrong one or the one that ..." Again, her train of thought faltered.

This time, rather than wait for the commander to pick it up again, Noah intruded. "I'm still not sure what value I can bring to the discussion Commander. I'm, well frankly, I think I'm in the wrong place. I never wanted to serve in the Border Patrol Service. Not because I think I am too good for it. Nor is it because I think serving in the Fleet is more important. My Grandfather was actually an NCO who served in the Service."

Molly's face blanched at his words, though Noah did not notice it. "This I know."

"Of course, you would have read my record." Noah stumbled on his words and seemed a little too worried at the mention of his record.

"Actually," she tried to start to say but Noah rushed on with his own thoughts.

"I never expected a posting to the Border Service. I think I would have been better suited to a position on a ship in the Fleet, better suited to the missions they carry out."

Molly's expression was one of trying to maintain a calm demeanour but her face belied a confusion of reactions to Noah's words. Her face flushed with a mix of surprise at Noah's forthrightness and frowned with what might have been disappointment. "Really?" And underneath it all, was deeply troubled.

"Sorry." Noah almost quivered and felt shocked at how brutally honest he was being. He took a deep breath and then in a massive rush blurted, "I don't mean to say that the Kestrel or her mission is not important. Honestly, I think the reverse. But I don't think I fit the Kestrel. I think I am an inappropriate fit to be in the line of business of apprehending criminals. You asked about my impressions and how I felt at the onset of the mission, I was buzzed. I was nervous. I was excited and I was completely scared. Then, everything started happening. And all of my training at the Academy went out the window. I was acting on instinct. By luck and by chance I realised about the subspace sandbar. With the grappling hooks I was petrified I was going to pull either ship apart! Then when the Captain ordered the rat-trap it was some kind of blind panic and race to shut all power down."

Molly just accepted the outburst when Noah might have sworn she would take strips off him. "Good."

"Good?"

"It's good that you are being so frank Ensign. It's good that you weren't relying on your Academy training that instinct kicked in. That's what your training at the Academy was for. It is why they train you monstrously. That's why you will be drilled throughout your career. So that the training becomes second nature, that you act on instinct, because your instinct will buy you more time and will tap your brain for its knowledge and skills so that you don't respond by rote.

"At some point you are going to have to realise just how important the mission of the Kestrel and the Border Service is. You are beginning to understand that yes our missions can be rougher and sometimes tougher than those of the Fleet. But we don't just apprehend criminals. You saw today just how vital those missions can be. We rescued people from a lifetime of slavery. We made a difference. We did it as a crew. All cogs in the machine."

"I still don't think my place is here. The Captain would most likely prefer to have someone of his own choosing serving aboard."

"His own choosing?"

"I heard him after the attack at Starbase 49 stating when he didn't think I could hear something about how he hadn't chosen me."

"You're right!"

Noah looked startled at the blunt admission from Cartwright. "I am." Somewhere within him, Noah must have rather hoped he had been mistaken about what he had overheard.

"Yes, you're right; McGregor did not choose you to serve aboard. I did."

"You did?!"

"Yes. I pushed McGregor to have you appointed. I went over his head in fact and called in a few favours."

Noah shook his head completely amazed and confused. "I ... I ... I don't understand."

"I had you appointed because ..." Molly stopped short and dropped her eyes to the table. ‘Because I wanted to make amends for causing the death of your grandfather!' Noah was left hanging on her finishing the sentence. She looked up again and met Noah's eyes once again before once more continuing, this time her tone had changed. "I pushed to have you appointed because I saw your Academy record and the instructor reviews. I had a background in Ops before I moved on to the command track. I know about the intricacies of the job and know it takes a deft hand. It takes a special kind of officer to do it. Just as it takes a certain kind of officer to be a good security or tactical officer, just as it takes a certain kind of officer to be a good engineer. You are an exemplary operations officer Noah. Today was the proof of that. How you read the subspace sandbar situation alone is testament to your skills. The fact that you responded to not just that emergency but to the rat-trap situation is further proof. Given the lack of time and the lack of information you had that should have been a hatchet job that you performed. But you did not. It's time you realise that you can do the job. That you are good at the job and that we are damned lucky to have you aboard Ensign."

"Maybe or maybe I just got lucky. I am grateful for the words Commander but I still want to move on from the Kestrel when this patrol is completed." Noah breathed a heavy sigh of relief at admitting that aloud. It seemed as though he had shed a burden he had only now become aware of.

Molly seemed to take umbrage at his decision. She stood as if challenging Cutler and crossly pressed, "Your grandfather served in the Service. I would have thought you might have wanted to emulate his career."

Noah surprisingly defended his position strongly in his quiet tones. "My grandfather died because he served in the Border Service. Respectfully Commander," he added for propriety as Molly sank into her seat open mouthed as if punched in the gut. Noah fearing he had offended pushed on with his defence, "My mother knows that and now fears that I might also die on tour. If I were in the Fleet I think she would rest easier."

How wrong she would be!' Instead, Molly found a voice and replied, more than a little distracted. "Of course. It was my mistake then. I am sorry. I just had ... I had wanted ... I ..."

"I'm sorry Commander. I didn't mean to offend. I am grateful that you saw the potential in me and chose me." He shrugged as tears threatened to come to his eyes. "However, I have to make the right decision for me."

Molly seemed to collect herself. Her voice warbled as she tried to answer Noah. "Of course, I'll, I'll do what I can to help facilitate a transfer as soon as possible." ‘How could I have been so wrong? So stupid to think this would work?'

"Thank you. I'm sorry Commander."

"No. No, not at all. It's me that's sorry." Under her breath, as she shook her head silently, she said, "So very sorry."

They stayed there frozen in their awkward tableau, Molly deflated in her seat staring at the surface of the desk she gripped tightly and Noah uncomfortably standing before it, for a long moment before Molly cleared her throat and looked up at him. "You may go then Ensign."

He went towards the door and then stopped to say curiously, "Commander, there was one thing. I did reference it in the report but Lt. Ney was reluctant to discuss it when I brought it to her attention."

Molly wanted an end to the meeting as quickly as she could now. She was cursing her idiotic decision and thought processes that made her seek Noah's appointment to the Kestrel. "Go on."

"When we did the shut down ahead of the rat-trap, there was an odd reading from the senior officers' lounge."

"Oh. That would be the forcefield around Kes in the senior officers' lounge." Molly voiced knowingly. For the benefit of his puzzled expression she explained, "The bust of a kestrel McGregor keeps in the lounge. He keeps it protected with a forcefield. It uses an independent power source that would have powered down too."

"Oh. Ok. Why?"

"You want to know why he has a bust of a kestrel?"

"No, why is it behind a forcefield?"

"Mr. Cutler that is a good question." The door chimed and in came McGregor himself. Noah obviously decided to not chase up the question of the mysterious bust. Molly was only too happy to give him his escape. "You're dismissed Ensign."

"Thank you Commander." Noah neared bowed at her and then to McGregor before he departed. "Captain."

"Cutler. Oh Ensign." McGregor stopped Noah in his flight. Noah looked suitably stricken at being called back by the captain. McGregor though surprised him with a simple and quiet, "Good job today. You looked after the Kestrel."

The red of Cutler's face was almost scarlet as he bowed and raced away giving his thanks to McGregor.

"You might have made the right choice there after all Molly. He did real good today."

Molly however was lost in thought as if trying to look through the closing doors of her office at the retreating Cutler.

McGregor made his way into the office and looked upon the desk with the plethora of padds. "Getting through it Molly?"

Cartwright looked up at her captain with hooded eyes and a pursed mouth. To wit expression, he responded. "What? You've always enjoyed the paper work end of things Molly. That's why I allow you to handle it. That and my atrocious grammar."

"I'm sure." Molly snapped. She was both shaken by her meeting with Noah and irked by McGregor's flippant attitude. "What's the deal McGregor?"

"Ugh. I was rather hoping to avoid round two Molls."

Resting her elbows on the table and joining her hands in a steeple, Molly stared sternly at McGregor. "Oh I think we know just whom you've been going rounds with McGregor. That's a whole other issue for another time."

"He deserved it."

Rubbing the bridge of her nose, Molly was exasperated. "McGregor."

"Molly."

She did not care for his coy attitude. "I said THAT can wait for another time. In fact, I don't particularly give a damn about your behaviour or Caleb's. So long as it doesn't affect the rest of us. I'm more concerned with that that might affect the rest of us." She leaned back in her chair and tried to rein in or at least draw in her anger. Anger directed at herself but that she was happy to vent at McGregor too. "Care to explain why it is that I'm after catching Rah aboard the Sprite's Spittle?"

"That damned cat likes to hunt for mice!" He noted no change in her scowl. "No?"

"I'm serious." Her hands widened to encompass the work upon the table. "You can see what I have to handle. There's been enough that's gone on. So just be straight. What are you planning now? No fudging it, just the plain truth."

"Were you straight with Cutler there now?"

Molly slapped a palm down on the desk. The sharp crack resounded in the office. "Don't even go there McGregor! What the hell are you up to?" She angrily demanded.

McGregor flopped down into the leather seat opposite her. "Ok. He's planting explosives."

Her eyes rolled to heaven with a look of ‘why did I ask?' and despair. "Explosives! Pray, why?"

"To explode of course." McGregor joined his hands in his lap as he lay out in the seat.

"Yes, now would be a good time to be glib with me McGregor. I'm two steps short of transferring myself over with the patients when their transport arrives. So just bloody level with me."

"I want to haul Thaddeus in for further questioning. However, his family is in danger. So, we're going to fake his death as well as putting an end to his petty criminal ways."

She rejoined, sarcastically. "Makes perfect sense."

"When the cutter arrives to take on the rescued slaves, they'll also take on a further consignment of ‘patients' who'll receive their medical care in the brig."

"You're transferring the prisoners over under cover?"

Eagerly he informed Molly, "Yes. Before the cutter arrives we will explode the Sprite and put in place a cover story of rescuing the slaves but destroying Thaddeus' ship in the process."

"McGregor, despite the mocking tone of the A.A.R.s we really aren't pirates."

"I beg to differ. We are like pirates. I board a ship by force. I loot their cargo. Essentially, I get on someone's boat and don't leave until they give me the booty. Hee, hee."

Molly was unimpressed with the humour. "You're playing fast and loose with the rules here in order to fabricate a cover story that your mole is going to know anyway."

"Yes. But it buys time for us and it buys time for Thaddeus' family. Failing that, I take out Thaddeus' operation. That in itself is a score. Thaddeus is a petty criminal sure but today we saw that he upped his game. Look Molly, today the Border Patrol was involved in a massive joint effort to destabilise and bring down T'Hos Likk's network. In order to continue to do so, it would be useful to have T'Hos presume that I have not figured out his other enterprises."

"It doesn't change the fact this mole is going to know anyway."

"Yes but his mole and T'Hos don't know that I know!"

"Oh bother, McGregor. Really? That's flaming childish."

"I rather think it is an astute outflanking move."

"No it's god dammed childish. You are forever turning things into a chaotic mess."

"I am but a slave to the second law of thermodynamics. The universe demands that I move towards disorder."

Molly's tone was biting. "Let's leave the science to the currently unconscious possessed Vulcan in the sick bay."

"It stalls T'Hos for a time and besides we now have a destination for where Thaddeus was delivering the slaves."

This did pique Molly's interest, enough to mollify her tone somewhat. "Where?"

"Lsypien Alpha."

Molly's lip curled in distaste. "That hellhole?"

"It's where Thaddeus was supposed to make the trade."

Leaning forward over the table, Molly queried, "You really think T'Hos would conduct business there?"

"He hardly cares about the wellbeing of the planet's inhabitants."

"That I get. But it is Orion Syndicate territory. He'd hardly dare doing business in their backyard." She added for McGregor's benefit though he needed it not. "And it's not in Federation space either. What's to say this isn't a trap?"

"We were going to have to off the prairie during our patrol. I'm simply moving it up the timetable."

"And continuing to avoid entering the Wash, McGregor."

"That will come in time Molly. And then ... well then we'll know all about it." He clapped his hands to together and broke the spell of his suddenly serious tone. With mock gusto he proclaimed, "So for now we play it dumb. For now we play it fast and loose with the rules."

"Why should today be any different to any other day?"

* * *

 

 

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