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."
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."
* * *
"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."
* * *