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."
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."
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.
* * *