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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."

* * *



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