‘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 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.
* * *
"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."
* * *