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Executive Orders

 

 

Executive Officer's Office, Deck 3

 

Molly Cartwright sat behind the hard wood of her table shifting padds and consulting her console. When she sat behind the impressive desk, she could imagine doing literal paper work upon its polished veneer. The desk gave a sense of authority and stewardship to the room. That sense of stewardship seemed to escape Molly the instant the door chimed and Ensign Noah Cutler announced himself on the other side.

Molly's stomach lurched for a moment but she tamped down the sensations. The door chimed once more given the delay in her responding. ‘Catch a grip Molly,' she chided herself before hurrying to bid Noah to enter.

Despite it being her delay, Noah still felt compelled to apologise. "Sorry Commander. I came to present my After Action Report."

Molly braced herself on the ornate, well-worn, trim of the desk. "Of course Ensign. Very good. Set it here with the others." She indicated the stack on her desk from the other bridge personnel during the recent mission and another collection from the various heads of departments, save that of T'Vel's.

Noah did so and stepped back to stand to attention. Molly stopped herself from shaking her head disparagingly. Instead, she said kindly, "You may be at ease Ensign. This may be your first time in my office, but you needn't fear I'm not the Academy commandant and I don't bite, unless I have cause to do so."

She noted Noah's eyes roam the interior of the office as if trying to decipher the meaning to a riddle. Cartwright recalled doing the same when she first saw a senior officer's quarters or office. She supposed senior officers were something like an enigma to be solved or worked out by the junior officers. The quicker one fathomed what made a senior officer tick the sooner would get to stay on their good side. Smirking, Molly called him on it. "Like what you see?"

"Huh! Sorry. I didn't mean to be nosey."

"It's only natural to be curious. There's not much to nosey at. I do keep the office rather Spartan." Noah noted the lack of personal effects, which stood in contrast to the office of Dr. Monroe. Molly did not wish to get into that so lying, said to Noah, "It gives me greater cause to escape the office for the comfort of my own quarters."

"Well with the desk there's not much room for anything else," Cutler said.  He immediately blushed, obviously thinking he had said something inappropriate, but Molly smiled.

"You may have a point Noah. It certainly dominates the room. It's something of a bygone age. Dare I say it is antiquated and eccentric in this day and age? A bit like McGregor really. Eccentric and surprising antiquated. However, it was a present from McGregor when I first took up my post as his XO. I could hardly refuse." She patted the strong side of the table affectionately.

"He has his quirks and foibles and that's putting it mildly but he can show surprising acts of kindness at times." Molly could not help the small smile that crept into her expression as she recalled the gift from McGregor upon her taking up the post as his first officer.

It seemed strange to think of this small act of kindness on his part amid the greater act of kindness rescuing her from a career behind a desk within Admiralty. McGregor's words to her rang in her head in the moment. ‘The only desk you will need ever fly Molly, if you accept my proposal.'

"So a desk is what convinced you to become his XO?" Cutler asked a little disbelievingly.

Molly was momentarily stuck for a response as she recalled that moment in her life. The churning memories brought into stark relief with Noah's presence before her. She shook her head clear of the memories. "Hardly. The desk was actually a surprise. As for deciding to become McGregor's XO, my choices at the time were rather limited."

Limited though they were at the time, Molly had still mulled the decision over strongly. Despite the stagnation and the resignation she would have felt serving in a minor capacity within the echelons of Admiralty, Molly had considered it a possibility to reinvent her career, especially given that she would never be able to move forwards in her command career again.

She would never again hold a command of her own, the inquiry had put paid to that. As much as it vindicated Molly, the inquiry equally dammed her and her career. She explained for Noah's benefit, who was more than a little in the dark about the Commander's past command. "But limited choices or not, McGregor offered me this chance to serve with him on the Kestrel."

Taking the posting aboard the Kestrel seemed more like a backward step to Molly. It was a vessel she had served upon years before when she was starting out and eager to make her way up the command ladder. More than that, she would no longer serve as master and commander but as McGregor's right hand.

McGregor though had convinced her otherwise; had convinced Molly that she could make a difference out on the borderlands. Convinced her that they had a purpose as noble and as important as seeking out new life and new civilisations. In fact, he had convinced her that their mission was one that was much more vital. The gift of the desk had served to convince Molly that McGregor wanted her as his right hand that she was to be no lackey, that it was not a gift of pity offering her the post. McGregor had form taking on pity cases but it seemed never out of pity itself. Instead, he believed somewhere that the person had a function, a duty, a potential to fulfil aboard the Kestrel. Always, it was about serving the Kestrel.

Molly sought to divert the course of the conversation. She was beginning to feel a stirring compulsion to spill the truth to Noah. "Talking about serving the Kestrel, the matter of your A.A.R.. How did things go from your perspective?"

Noah stammered. "It's all in my report Commander."

"I'm sure that it is Cutler. I merely wanted to give you the chance to give your impressions of the mission and everything else that ensued. Think of it as your informal A.A.R. to me."

The thought of doing so seemed to discomfit the ensign. Again, Molly resisted the urge to shake her head at Noah. "Whatever you say is only between you and me. As impressions I only want to get an insight into how things played out that a formal report can miss out."

Noah gulped nervously. "I'm not sure what else I can say outside of my report."

"How might you have handled it?"

"Me? I think it would be above my position to give such opinions Commander Cartwright. I'm only an ensign. Captain McGregor has a lot of experience with these types of scenarios."

"True. Experience is important." She waved a hand over the padds arranged on her desk. "In these various reports, I have different departmental staff of different ranks and positions offering up their insights in their reports. If their opinions did not matter, I would not have as much paper work to handle. That might be a blessing in itself; however, my experience and learning curve, and that of McGregor's, would be lesser for it."

Noah frowned in response to that.

Molly explained, "Given your specialist training with Ops it is a near certainty that your report is going to be pitched from that particular perspective.  That can be limiting for your understanding, however, as an objective viewpoint for others to consider, McGregor and myself chiefly, it can offer a valuable input. The challenge of command is to sift through differing opinions and choose the course to take."

"Sounds difficult."

Her throat became tickly and dry, catching her words as she started to speak. "It isn't easy. But it's a lot easier having choices to choose from than ..." her voice trailed away as she looked at him carefully and yet looked through the ensign too. Molly shook herself from the loss of concentration and began again. "It's a lot easier having choices to choose from than having no choice at all. From having to make the only choice you can, even if it is the wrong one or the one that ..." Again, her train of thought faltered.

This time, rather than wait for the commander to pick it up again, Noah intruded. "I'm still not sure what value I can bring to the discussion Commander. I'm, well frankly, I think I'm in the wrong place. I never wanted to serve in the Border Patrol Service. Not because I think I am too good for it. Nor is it because I think serving in the Fleet is more important. My Grandfather was actually an NCO who served in the Service."

Molly's face blanched at his words, though Noah did not notice it. "This I know."

"Of course, you would have read my record." Noah stumbled on his words and seemed a little too worried at the mention of his record.

"Actually," she tried to start to say but Noah rushed on with his own thoughts.

"I never expected a posting to the Border Service. I think I would have been better suited to a position on a ship in the Fleet, better suited to the missions they carry out."

Molly's expression was one of trying to maintain a calm demeanour but her face belied a confusion of reactions to Noah's words. Her face flushed with a mix of surprise at Noah's forthrightness and frowned with what might have been disappointment. "Really?" And underneath it all, was deeply troubled.

"Sorry." Noah almost quivered and felt shocked at how brutally honest he was being. He took a deep breath and then in a massive rush blurted, "I don't mean to say that the Kestrel or her mission is not important. Honestly, I think the reverse. But I don't think I fit the Kestrel. I think I am an inappropriate fit to be in the line of business of apprehending criminals. You asked about my impressions and how I felt at the onset of the mission, I was buzzed. I was nervous. I was excited and I was completely scared. Then, everything started happening. And all of my training at the Academy went out the window. I was acting on instinct. By luck and by chance I realised about the subspace sandbar. With the grappling hooks I was petrified I was going to pull either ship apart! Then when the Captain ordered the rat-trap it was some kind of blind panic and race to shut all power down."

Molly just accepted the outburst when Noah might have sworn she would take strips off him. "Good."

"Good?"

"It's good that you are being so frank Ensign. It's good that you weren't relying on your Academy training that instinct kicked in. That's what your training at the Academy was for. It is why they train you monstrously. That's why you will be drilled throughout your career. So that the training becomes second nature, that you act on instinct, because your instinct will buy you more time and will tap your brain for its knowledge and skills so that you don't respond by rote.

"At some point you are going to have to realise just how important the mission of the Kestrel and the Border Service is. You are beginning to understand that yes our missions can be rougher and sometimes tougher than those of the Fleet. But we don't just apprehend criminals. You saw today just how vital those missions can be. We rescued people from a lifetime of slavery. We made a difference. We did it as a crew. All cogs in the machine."

"I still don't think my place is here. The Captain would most likely prefer to have someone of his own choosing serving aboard."

"His own choosing?"

"I heard him after the attack at Starbase 49 stating when he didn't think I could hear something about how he hadn't chosen me."

"You're right!"

Noah looked startled at the blunt admission from Cartwright. "I am." Somewhere within him, Noah must have rather hoped he had been mistaken about what he had overheard.

"Yes, you're right; McGregor did not choose you to serve aboard. I did."

"You did?!"

"Yes. I pushed McGregor to have you appointed. I went over his head in fact and called in a few favours."

Noah shook his head completely amazed and confused. "I ... I ... I don't understand."

"I had you appointed because ..." Molly stopped short and dropped her eyes to the table. ‘Because I wanted to make amends for causing the death of your grandfather!' Noah was left hanging on her finishing the sentence. She looked up again and met Noah's eyes once again before once more continuing, this time her tone had changed. "I pushed to have you appointed because I saw your Academy record and the instructor reviews. I had a background in Ops before I moved on to the command track. I know about the intricacies of the job and know it takes a deft hand. It takes a special kind of officer to do it. Just as it takes a certain kind of officer to be a good security or tactical officer, just as it takes a certain kind of officer to be a good engineer. You are an exemplary operations officer Noah. Today was the proof of that. How you read the subspace sandbar situation alone is testament to your skills. The fact that you responded to not just that emergency but to the rat-trap situation is further proof. Given the lack of time and the lack of information you had that should have been a hatchet job that you performed. But you did not. It's time you realise that you can do the job. That you are good at the job and that we are damned lucky to have you aboard Ensign."

"Maybe or maybe I just got lucky. I am grateful for the words Commander but I still want to move on from the Kestrel when this patrol is completed." Noah breathed a heavy sigh of relief at admitting that aloud. It seemed as though he had shed a burden he had only now become aware of.

Molly seemed to take umbrage at his decision. She stood as if challenging Cutler and crossly pressed, "Your grandfather served in the Service. I would have thought you might have wanted to emulate his career."

Noah surprisingly defended his position strongly in his quiet tones. "My grandfather died because he served in the Border Service. Respectfully Commander," he added for propriety as Molly sank into her seat open mouthed as if punched in the gut. Noah fearing he had offended pushed on with his defence, "My mother knows that and now fears that I might also die on tour. If I were in the Fleet I think she would rest easier."

How wrong she would be!' Instead, Molly found a voice and replied, more than a little distracted. "Of course. It was my mistake then. I am sorry. I just had ... I had wanted ... I ..."

"I'm sorry Commander. I didn't mean to offend. I am grateful that you saw the potential in me and chose me." He shrugged as tears threatened to come to his eyes. "However, I have to make the right decision for me."

Molly seemed to collect herself. Her voice warbled as she tried to answer Noah. "Of course, I'll, I'll do what I can to help facilitate a transfer as soon as possible." ‘How could I have been so wrong? So stupid to think this would work?'

"Thank you. I'm sorry Commander."

"No. No, not at all. It's me that's sorry." Under her breath, as she shook her head silently, she said, "So very sorry."

They stayed there frozen in their awkward tableau, Molly deflated in her seat staring at the surface of the desk she gripped tightly and Noah uncomfortably standing before it, for a long moment before Molly cleared her throat and looked up at him. "You may go then Ensign."

He went towards the door and then stopped to say curiously, "Commander, there was one thing. I did reference it in the report but Lt. Ney was reluctant to discuss it when I brought it to her attention."

Molly wanted an end to the meeting as quickly as she could now. She was cursing her idiotic decision and thought processes that made her seek Noah's appointment to the Kestrel. "Go on."

"When we did the shut down ahead of the rat-trap, there was an odd reading from the senior officers' lounge."

"Oh. That would be the forcefield around Kes in the senior officers' lounge." Molly voiced knowingly. For the benefit of his puzzled expression she explained, "The bust of a kestrel McGregor keeps in the lounge. He keeps it protected with a forcefield. It uses an independent power source that would have powered down too."

"Oh. Ok. Why?"

"You want to know why he has a bust of a kestrel?"

"No, why is it behind a forcefield?"

"Mr. Cutler that is a good question." The door chimed and in came McGregor himself. Noah obviously decided to not chase up the question of the mysterious bust. Molly was only too happy to give him his escape. "You're dismissed Ensign."

"Thank you Commander." Noah neared bowed at her and then to McGregor before he departed. "Captain."

"Cutler. Oh Ensign." McGregor stopped Noah in his flight. Noah looked suitably stricken at being called back by the captain. McGregor though surprised him with a simple and quiet, "Good job today. You looked after the Kestrel."

The red of Cutler's face was almost scarlet as he bowed and raced away giving his thanks to McGregor.

"You might have made the right choice there after all Molly. He did real good today."

Molly however was lost in thought as if trying to look through the closing doors of her office at the retreating Cutler.

McGregor made his way into the office and looked upon the desk with the plethora of padds. "Getting through it Molly?"

Cartwright looked up at her captain with hooded eyes and a pursed mouth. To wit expression, he responded. "What? You've always enjoyed the paper work end of things Molly. That's why I allow you to handle it. That and my atrocious grammar."

"I'm sure." Molly snapped. She was both shaken by her meeting with Noah and irked by McGregor's flippant attitude. "What's the deal McGregor?"

"Ugh. I was rather hoping to avoid round two Molls."

Resting her elbows on the table and joining her hands in a steeple, Molly stared sternly at McGregor. "Oh I think we know just whom you've been going rounds with McGregor. That's a whole other issue for another time."

"He deserved it."

Rubbing the bridge of her nose, Molly was exasperated. "McGregor."

"Molly."

She did not care for his coy attitude. "I said THAT can wait for another time. In fact, I don't particularly give a damn about your behaviour or Caleb's. So long as it doesn't affect the rest of us. I'm more concerned with that that might affect the rest of us." She leaned back in her chair and tried to rein in or at least draw in her anger. Anger directed at herself but that she was happy to vent at McGregor too. "Care to explain why it is that I'm after catching Rah aboard the Sprite's Spittle?"

"That damned cat likes to hunt for mice!" He noted no change in her scowl. "No?"

"I'm serious." Her hands widened to encompass the work upon the table. "You can see what I have to handle. There's been enough that's gone on. So just be straight. What are you planning now? No fudging it, just the plain truth."

"Were you straight with Cutler there now?"

Molly slapped a palm down on the desk. The sharp crack resounded in the office. "Don't even go there McGregor! What the hell are you up to?" She angrily demanded.

McGregor flopped down into the leather seat opposite her. "Ok. He's planting explosives."

Her eyes rolled to heaven with a look of ‘why did I ask?' and despair. "Explosives! Pray, why?"

"To explode of course." McGregor joined his hands in his lap as he lay out in the seat.

"Yes, now would be a good time to be glib with me McGregor. I'm two steps short of transferring myself over with the patients when their transport arrives. So just bloody level with me."

"I want to haul Thaddeus in for further questioning. However, his family is in danger. So, we're going to fake his death as well as putting an end to his petty criminal ways."

She rejoined, sarcastically. "Makes perfect sense."

"When the cutter arrives to take on the rescued slaves, they'll also take on a further consignment of ‘patients' who'll receive their medical care in the brig."

"You're transferring the prisoners over under cover?"

Eagerly he informed Molly, "Yes. Before the cutter arrives we will explode the Sprite and put in place a cover story of rescuing the slaves but destroying Thaddeus' ship in the process."

"McGregor, despite the mocking tone of the A.A.R.s we really aren't pirates."

"I beg to differ. We are like pirates. I board a ship by force. I loot their cargo. Essentially, I get on someone's boat and don't leave until they give me the booty. Hee, hee."

Molly was unimpressed with the humour. "You're playing fast and loose with the rules here in order to fabricate a cover story that your mole is going to know anyway."

"Yes. But it buys time for us and it buys time for Thaddeus' family. Failing that, I take out Thaddeus' operation. That in itself is a score. Thaddeus is a petty criminal sure but today we saw that he upped his game. Look Molly, today the Border Patrol was involved in a massive joint effort to destabilise and bring down T'Hos Likk's network. In order to continue to do so, it would be useful to have T'Hos presume that I have not figured out his other enterprises."

"It doesn't change the fact this mole is going to know anyway."

"Yes but his mole and T'Hos don't know that I know!"

"Oh bother, McGregor. Really? That's flaming childish."

"I rather think it is an astute outflanking move."

"No it's god dammed childish. You are forever turning things into a chaotic mess."

"I am but a slave to the second law of thermodynamics. The universe demands that I move towards disorder."

Molly's tone was biting. "Let's leave the science to the currently unconscious possessed Vulcan in the sick bay."

"It stalls T'Hos for a time and besides we now have a destination for where Thaddeus was delivering the slaves."

This did pique Molly's interest, enough to mollify her tone somewhat. "Where?"

"Lsypien Alpha."

Molly's lip curled in distaste. "That hellhole?"

"It's where Thaddeus was supposed to make the trade."

Leaning forward over the table, Molly queried, "You really think T'Hos would conduct business there?"

"He hardly cares about the wellbeing of the planet's inhabitants."

"That I get. But it is Orion Syndicate territory. He'd hardly dare doing business in their backyard." She added for McGregor's benefit though he needed it not. "And it's not in Federation space either. What's to say this isn't a trap?"

"We were going to have to off the prairie during our patrol. I'm simply moving it up the timetable."

"And continuing to avoid entering the Wash, McGregor."

"That will come in time Molly. And then ... well then we'll know all about it." He clapped his hands to together and broke the spell of his suddenly serious tone. With mock gusto he proclaimed, "So for now we play it dumb. For now we play it fast and loose with the rules."

"Why should today be any different to any other day?"

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