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.”
“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.
* * *