Consider the Possibilities (cont.7-8)
Aw, hell, this was gonna hurt was the last coherent thought in Vin Tanner's mind.
The remainder of thoughts – mostly disjointed and reflecting serious pain in various parts of his body – was either ouch, hell, or damn it.
When he came to a stop, it took a few minutes for his mind to catch up to his body. The dizziness did not abate easily, nor did the pain.
Aw, hell, he thought again. Once his brain went back into gear, it recognized and identified the problem areas. Which were many, and pretty much encompassed his entire body. Flashes of what happened flickered through his brain. He remembered Chris climbing in the back, fighting to get his seat belt on, giving up…
Now cold. He was cold and felt wet in several places; the places that weren't on fire with pain were cold. This sucked. It was his own stupid fault; he should have been more careful. His eyes closed for a second, reopening them to see blue sky.
Huh? Blue sky? It was night…no, it was day. What the hell? His fight to stay awake gave way to the blessed darkness of unconsciousness.
Vin opened his eyes to see the sun bright and hot in his face. It burned like hell, his skin taut like buffalo skin on a drying rack, telling him he'd been there for a little while. Stupid of him to fall asleep in the sun; he knew better. Anything lying out was fair game for the wild animals, and the sun merciless. He went to roll over, his entire body protesting with agony.
The pain took his breath away, creating tears that evaporated on contact with his flaming cheeks. A wave of cold passed through him, and he could have sworn he saw snow on the ground. That he was lying on snow. He coughed, pain shooting through his chest.
"Aw, hell," the Texan muttered. "This ain't good."
He heard the worry clear and strong in Larabee's yell. "Ain't good at all."
"Damn you, you mangy tracker! Don't you have the sense God gave a flea not to jump in front of a bunch of explosives?" Chris Larabee hit his knees beside Vin, pushing him onto his back.
"Easy there; somethin's broke." He bared his teeth at Chris got him flat on his back. "Quit touchin'."
"Stay flat until Nathan gets over here. NATHAN!"
"I'm here, I'm here. Now Vin, don't move unless I tell you." His strong grip on Vin kept him flat and unmoving.
"I ain't runnin' no mile like this. Jest tell Chris ta get his hands outta my shoulder."
"Sorry." Larabee backed off.
"Josiah!" Nathan yelled. "Get the wagon ready…we're going to have to take him back to town."
"Buck!" Chris yelled. "Gather the kids up…take 'em back in the other wagon. Leave the explosives."
"Who thought it was good ta bring the kids ta watch the show?" Vin moaned.
"Yours," Nathan and Chris answered immediately.
"Hell, ya had ta remind me." Vin groaned again.
"Careful, Kid, unless you want to blow yourself up. Now, I might look nice speaking at your funeral, but reckon Vin's damage is enough." Buck continued his gentle work of transferring the dynamite, fireworks, and barrels of gunpowder from the bed of the wagon to the ground.
JD rolled his eyes. "I can do this."
"You ain't taking me out with you, either." Buck took a couple steps back while he set the materials down, creating a little distance between him and JD. "No offense."
"None taken." The younger man coughed. "Dust everywhere."
"Hell, Kid, we ain't had rain in almost a month. This is the longest dry spell we've had around here in ages, and we need the rain. If we didn't, do you think we'd use some fool idea to explode gunpowder and fireworks in the clouds to force it to rain?"
"If the raindancers had done their jobs," JD started.
"They did. The reservation got rain." Buck sent the now-empty wagon with Josiah to load Vin and the children into, while they stayed with the explosives.
"We didn't," JD mumbled.
Buck looked from one side to the other, ensuring no one else was close. "Because the town won't pay the People what they're asking. Times are hard for all of us; the People need to make a living, too."
"What? I didn't know that."
"Keep it under your hat, because I wasn't supposed to tell you. Just don't want you walking around and agreeing with the ignorant and ugly about why the People won't make rain for us. Now, help me cover this with a tarp. We don't want the sun hitting all these explosives, or there won't be that much left of either of us for a burial."
"Since I'm supposed to go riding with Casey later, I better help you."
Nathan continued checking the tracker's injuries, inspiring some colorful cursing with each examination. "Uh-huh."
"What?" Larabee said.
"He's got some broken ribs. Probably concussed."
"Coulda told ya that," Vin muttered from the bed. "Wrap me up. We got too much work ta do."
"You're not going anywhere near it," Chris told him. "Nor are we letting one else near it, unless they know what they're doing."
"Chris, I'm fine."
"Like hell you are," Larabee retorted. "You can keep an eye on things here with Nathan."
"I want to be there in case one of the rest of you blows yourselves up."
"I'll stay," Josiah offered.
"I don't need no babysitter."
"Sure you don't, Vin," Nathan said while wrapping up Vin's middle. "You can help Josiah keep an eye on the town. I've been hearing grumbles lately about people going out to the villages to make the People dance for us. Might help if they were…discouraged."
"I can do that," Vin said.
"Figure with you and Josiah here, townspeople will see we're serious about not letting them getting out of hand." Chris stood when Vin did. "Take it easy."
"Watch yer backs," Vin replied. "I ain't the fool playin' with the explosives now." He grinned. "Make sure Buck don't blow his head off."
"It's not his head he's worried about," Josiah rumbled. "Be safe, brothers."
Ezra sighed. Not only did the fools have him in the middle of a field outside of town, surrounded by trees drooping and grass that crackled under his boots, but he was waiting for the return of the others to do something spectacularly stupid.
They were going to use the fireworks to try and force it to rain. If he had tried to sell this idea for money, he could have made a fortune, hand over fist. Why didn't he think of this before? Cursing himself as too much of a fool, he wandered over to Buck and JD. "Can I interest you gentlemen in cards?"
"Ez, I'm setting up this shindig," Buck said. "Once the boys get back, we can have ourselves one hell of a bang-up time."
"Hip hip hooray," Standish muttered. "If the townspeople weren't so tightfisted, we could be at the saloon avoiding raindrops. Heaven forbid we pay our neighbors for a service."
"You're just mad because the town wouldn't listen to the idea from you, but would from Chris," JD said.
"A business arrangement they lacked the sense to see." Ezra smacked dust of his jacket, creating a cloud around him. "We're being strangled in dust, which affects travel and spending. The less spending, the less prosperity for everyone."
"The drier it is, the quicker it burns," Buck said. "Last thing we need is a wildfire."
"Your propensity for stating the obvious comes in handy for you, doesn't it?" Ezra asked, sarcasm heavy in his accented voice.
"Ez, you want to be attached to one of the fireworks when I send it up? Keep it up, and you will be," Buck promised.
Standish cleared his throat. "From the outpouring of dust over yonder, our fearless leader returns."
Vin drank his second shot for the pain. He
would not let Nathan dose him with laudanum, knowing he'd have a hard time
kicking the habit. He figured his body recognized booze and knew how to handle
"'Ey, Josiah. How are the kids?"
"You want to come by the church, show them you're okay? We plan to go on the roofs and watch."
"Reckon I can." Hissing when he turned to quickly, he walked steadily – but not with his normal grace – to the church, glad he did so when he saw the relieved little faces. Relieved faces on the children and the widowed mamas. He started to get the pesky feeling some of the widows were looking to change their status to married. To him. Nope, not anytime soon, especially here, with the bounty hanging over his head.
They herded the children to the rooftops, where many of the adults brought up chairs and assorted other items to sit on while they watched the show. What worried him was the collection of men on the one rooftop talking real soft amongst themselves.
He went down off the roof he was on and began climbing the stairs to the roof access ladder. Before he accessed the roof, the ground shook mightily. His balance, impaired by the whiskey-dulled pain, sent him careening into the wall. He barely managed to keep himself from falling backwards down the staircase. "Aw, hell, they done took themselves out." The Texan picked up his pace, stepping out on the roof in time for the oohs and ahhs of the townspeople when the fireworks exploded.
Focused as he was on checking the ground around the site of the fireworks for a head count, he didn't see the blow aimed at his midsection, driving the breath from his body. He did feel the impact, reawakening dulled pain sensors. Stars danced behind his closed eyelids.
"Move quick, boys, he won't stay down long," the male voice ordered.
Vin tried to swing, push against the arms grabbing him tight around the middle, to no avail. They dragged him into the stairwell and tossed him down the steps. The last thing he heard was an admonishment…
"Teach you for helpin' the Injuns tell us we had to pay. When this is done, boys, we're gonna hide him good, then go get us some rainmakin' Injuns."
Chris and Ezra rolled on the ground in a tight embrace, accompanied by blows on the Southerner. Nathan joined in the beating, smacking Ezra with his coat repeatedly.
"It's out!" Chris yelled, stopping the attack. "Get the jacket off Ezra."
"I am so humiliated," Standish said.
"You know better than to get to close to Buck when he's blowing things up." Nathan helped his friend remove the heavily charred jacket. "Let's see if it got the skin."
"I was warmed, not burned," Ezra replied, nudging the healer away.
"Uh-huh. That's why your shirt's sticking to your back."
"I refuse to undress out here."
"Ezra," Chris warned.
"When we get back to town, Mr. Larabee."
"You fools notice you set the grass on fire!" Buck yelled from where he was firing off another round of explosives. "Get it out, or we'll set the town off."
"Oh, boy," Chris muttered. The three men beat and stomped on the flames.
Fire would not bow to their commands; it began to spread through the dry, parched ground, heading quickly for Buck, his still impressive collection of explosives and fireworks, and the other direction toward the town. Smoke billowed around them, given off from the fire and the explosives continuing to fire around them.
Belatedly remembering the water barrels they brought with them, the trio poured it on the flames, also attempting to stop the trail of fire from reaching Buck and his explosives. It neared the stash, coming within a couple hundred feet, with a worried Wilmington moving explosives further away.
What the hell happened? Who decided to use his head for a snare drum, and did he put the moron into more pain before he passed out? Buck groaned when he tried to open his eyes. When did such a simple movement hurt so much? What happened?
"This one's coming around," a strange voice yelled, the words vibrating in Wilmington's brain, the volume loud enough to vibrate his already scrambled brain.
Dumb ass, he thought of himself. "Never betray waking up until you know your circumstances" had been drilled into his head repeatedly. Some days during training, he thought the SEALs tattooed it on the inside of his eyelids. So, what did he do? Yup, groan. Out loud, proving the training had flown from his memory. Yup, he just waved the red flag in the bull's face. At the very least, it was a rookie mistake, and he was far from being a rookie. Getting too old for this business?
A cold chill shot through his system, reawakening his pain centers. They protested to their control center, promptly informing him he was in a world of agony in more ways than one. He grit his teeth to prevent the series of curses to come out; no need to let them know he was hurt any more than they already figured out.
"Sir? You've been hurt in a car accident. Don't try to move," the voice ordered, thankfully with less volume and less strident to his ears.
Car accident? Hell! Just what he needed, but it sure explained the throbbing all over his body. Maybe he didn't need to worry about getting older and slower; knowing the aching came from a wreck relieved that concern. No, wait…wasn't memory loss one of the signs of aging? He had been thinking he'd tied one on and wound up in a fight. At least that usually was the scenario when he felt this bad before. He didn't think it was related to a case…was it? He could have been abducted; wouldn't be the first time for that, either. Hell! He'd take the accident claim at face value; that explained why he was folded like a pretzel, parts of him under seats and others…well…he knew his thighs spread wide when he wanted them to, but not that wide. Not intentionally at least, or without considerable stretching beforehand.
He gasped. His boys…were they…? Although the muscles burned along the inside of his legs up to the juncture, he was not too uncomfortable; meaning his boys probably got a little strained, but were okay. He didn't feel the need to cry or curl up in a ball, not that he could, but he didn't want to; nor did he want to throw up because of getting hit in his privates. He'd been hit there unintentionally before and remembered how bad that felt; he puked for five minutes straight after his body remembered how to breathe again. This didn't feel like that did, a small consolation.
"Almost got you out," the voice said.
Male, comforting yet serious in tone, more focused on him the patient versus anything else around him, actions and words telling Buck he was under the care of a professional. He felt something close around his neck. He reached one hand up to dislodge it. Felt like he was choking in addition to everything else. That horrible-tasting lump of something in his throat threatened to come out forcefully on its own, and he really did not want to puke.
Firm pressure held his hand down. "Leave it be, sir. Please. We don't want your neck jostled when we free you. I know it's uncomfortable, but it's in your best interest."
Yup, a real professional, explaining what was happening so Buck didn't panic on him. He sure wanted to panic; he didn't like this feeling of being tied down and wanting to hurl. That is, tied down unless he was in the pursuit of more pleasurable activities with a consenting female companion, in much more pleasant surroundings. He tried to move his other arm to see if he could, encountering the underside of one of the seats. Hell.
"On my count. One, two, three."
Pain traveled throughout his body when they lifted and straightened him out from whatever vehicle and positions he previously occupied. Sensation returned to certain parts of his anatomy, with sharp flares of pain bursting in multiple explosions. He couldn't hold back the yell, or stay conscious, embracing the darkness.
A bright light speared his left eye.
"Pupil slow, but reactive."
The white glowing dot continued its unsympathetic evaluation of his right eye. Someone forced his eyelid open and held it wide open while drilling the poor organ with spearing light.
He swung at the light, his hands grabbed immediately by softer, less calloused fingers.
"Mr. Wilmington, please remain still so the doctor can examine you," a sweet-sounding voice requested.
Yeah, he could do that – now that the damn light disappeared. The sounds and smells began to make sense to his foggy memory. He was in a hospital and dimly remembered something said about an accident. It made sense then that he would be in an emergency room, and he sure didn't want to give them the idea he was uncooperative. He'd heard stories of guys who acted up in the ER or during treatment getting unneeded catheters. No sir, no catheters for him; especially if the painful – hell, excruciating throbbing around his boys meant the area was bruised or injured. No need to add further insult.
"Take him to X-ray. Full body and a CT. From the sounds of it, he bounced around, and I don't want to take any chances on missing a hairline fracture. Special attention on his hips and pelvic area."
Buck recognized the voice – Doctor Noventum, one of the best ER docs he knew, and he knew plenty. He let himself relax as much as the pain allowed, barely feeling the gurney moving to X-ray. They left him momentarily in the patient waiting area, his nurse trying to get the technician's attention. A television blared from the corner, mounted near the ceiling.
Looking for any distraction from the steady chorus of offended body parts loudly shouting off-key in their singular language of pain, he stared at the television. At least he liked what was playing; many a boring hour on surveillance passed by daydreaming what it would be like to live in that world.
"Mr. Wilmington?" A mature woman – nurse, he corrected – leaned over him enough to get his attention. "Since we'll have to move you a bit to get some x-rays, Dr. Noventum ordered morphine to take the edge off. I'm putting it into your IV line."
"Thanks," he croaked. Damn, his voice sounded like he swallowed glass, and his throat pretty much felt the same. He didn't want to hurl anymore, thankful for that small favor.
"You should feel some relief quickly," she said, his attention turned back to her.
"Many thanks," he forced out.
She gave his hand a comforting squeeze, stepping out of his line of sight.
"Oooooo…." He murmured when the morphine turned down the pain volume. If druggies felt anything like this when they got high, he could almost understand why they got addicted. It wasn't a magic-take-the-pain-away shot, more of a cessation of pain. Drowsy now, he let himself stare at the television without thinking, not caring the ceiling light reflected into his blue eyes.
"Fire phasers!" Commander Buck Wilmington shot to his feet while barking orders. "Red Alert! Arm photon torpedos!" He stared at the viewscreen to watch the movement of their enemy. They were…not there. "On screen!"
"Belay those orders," a calm voice commanded from beside him. "Commander, we will reschedule the surprise drill we discussed another time, if you don't mind."
Buck wheeled to stare into eyes of his oldest friend Chris Larabee. He saw the warning covering the worry in those orbs, the strong warning not to say another word. Risking a glance to either side, he saw no one was in battle mode, nor did they give any indication anything hostile was out there. He felt a flush forming on his cheeks.
"Yes, sir," the first officer answered. Appreciation filled him for Chris covering the glaring idiocy he just performed in front of the crew.
"My ready room; we'll discuss when I would like to see the drill." Larabee stood, tugging his uniform jacket down, topping off the maneuver with a glare at the crewmembers on the bridge. "Yes, people, there will be surprise drills again." The silent warning was enough to turn attention back to their tasks as the captain motioned for Buck to precede him.
Midnight blue eyes flicked to the viewscreen – he never tired of looking at it – to see the white light of the stars zooming past during warp speed. This didn't feel right, it felt – wrong. Alien to him. Why was he here? Catching sight of Counselor Josiah Sanchez's worried expression, he hurried into what he thought was the Captain's ready room to get away from the stares of the crew.
He was so confused. Flashes of snow, lights on the ceiling, staring at a television, pain, all tumbled through his brain. The feeling and memory of overall sharp stabbing pain encompassed the most of his thoughts. It was enough that he felt disoriented like he shouldn't be here, wherever here was, confusing him even more. What was real, and what was fake, and what the hell was going on? Long fingers rubbed his temples, hoping to massage his brain into making sense of things for him.
"Buck." His friend's voice held equal parts concern and care, their privacy assured with the soft closing of the ready room doors. "You want to talk?"
"Don't patronize me," he snapped, turning to face Chris. "It's all running together with new images I don't understand. I'm sorry."
"I blame myself," Chris replied. "I let you doze off for a couple minutes. Not surprising your nightmares grabbed hold that fast."
"Typical Larabee. I fall asleep – asleep on duty, Chris – and you take responsibility. You need to relieve me." He paced, short steps, going nowhere but in a short circle. Why was he so confused, so angry?
Chris intercepted him, putting both hands on his shoulders. "No, I won't relieve you. Figured you needed duty more than sitting in your cabin."
"I do," Buck replied. He was sure of that; staring at his cabin walls would make him insane. Chris was trying to make things easier, keep him from losing his mind. "Thanks."
Larabee let go. "We can't let you sit beside me doing nothing, either. The crew needs to know you're back in control; you've got to perform your duties like a good Starfleet officer, no matter the cost, like it doesn't tear you in half to even put on the uniform. You have to show this was only a momentarily lapse, and if you're sitting beside me right now, you might doze and it will happen again."
"Much obliged. Regs say you should relieve me." As first officer of the USS Maverick, it was his duty to remind his captain about the proper course of action, even if he personally didn't want to say it.
"Like hell I will," the captain replied. "Sending you to see Josiah now might give the impression I don't trust your judgment."
"I've done talked about it enough." He let a hard edge enter his tone. "No more."
Chris nodded acceptance. "Understood."
Thing was, Buck knew, Chris did understand. Losing Sarah and Adam put the blond into Starfleet counseling, with well-meaning people. Only problem was they tried to help by trying to fit him into a standard mold. By their methods, the man was hardly left alone. They forced Larabee to listen to how others expected him to feel and act, never giving him a chance to heal on his own, his way, the way that worked best for Chris Larabee. Once the Captain made them realize the error, he was slowly able to find some peace for himself. Buck knew how hard it had been; having been there for his friend, and he knew Chris would be there for him. He just hoped his road to healing wasn't as long or as hard.
"Have to say it's a might soon for you to be back on full duty. You nearly died down there." The captain sighed. "You're still not sleeping, either."
"You won't be able to, least for awhile. Trick is making everyone think you're fine. You've got me to judge you, and right now, you're not cutting it."
"I am fine."
"I saw the bodies too, Buck." Green eyes met blue eyes. "On the viewscreen, not up close like you and the away team. Affects a man."
Buck swallowed. The horror they found in North Pass, main city of the Magellan Colony, appeared unwanted and unwelcome in his mind. Bodies sprawled where they fell, stripped of everything of use or value, including bones and organs. People everyone on the Maverick knew from their frequent patrols, shore leaves, and re-supply missions gone, dead, and tossed away used.
Leading the away team, Buck found himself torn in half. His emotional side begged to find those responsible and shred them with his bare hands. Duty demanded he order scans of everything, leaving the dead temporarily where they lie, to gather evidence and prove guilt. Through the massive amount of senseless death and destruction, he managed to calm and professional, leading his people through the investigation, as they would expect of their commanding officers. He held it together, that is, until they found Hildy's lifeless form.
She fought, evident from the multiple disrupter blasts to her body. They left her organs behind because of the massive damage, an insult in itself. Hildy's remains protected one of the entrances to the labyrinths. They didn't know if anyone made it to the underground labyrinths beneath the capitol, so he ordered someone to check.
He lost his composure staring down at sweet Hildy, dropping to his knees to grieve. His team left him alone, giving him privacy for a few minutes. His emotions barely came under control when his communicator sounded – Maverick was under attack, with a good number of surface fighters heading their way. Appeared the raiders never left, hiding in the dark side of one of the Colony's moons, now looking for more goods out of the new arrivals, staring a new chapter of hell for the away team.
"Shake it off, Buck," Chris ordered, gripping Buck's arms firmly to bring him back to the present. "We're after them."
"I…I don't want to miss it."
"You won't," his friend promised. "There's two hours until the end of your shift. How about you check with the senior staff, see if they've learned anything new? When you're done, give me a briefing. Get something from Nathan and sleep until tomorrow."
"Keep me on my feet and moving the last two, huh?"
"Whatever works." Larabee sighed, letting go of Wilmington's arms for the second time.
He felt the need to lighten the mood, show Chris he understood without words. "I can still outdo you, Captain. Even half out of it, I can still kick your butt in the holodeck. Care for a match later?"
"I can still stuff you in an airlock," Chris replied, a smirk coming to his face. "Besides, wouldn't want to embarrass you by beating you in two seconds."
"Nah. Who would run interference for you if you tried, and somehow figured out how to jettison me?" He grinned. "Who would take the starch and bark out of your basic orders?"
Larabee chuckled. "Just keep yourself straight; don't worry about me. I don't want to argue with my Chief Medical Officer about you. Again."
"I'm fit, I'm fit," Buck replied. He made a dismissing motion with his hand. "Nathan's got enough to worry about without me."
"Keep it that way. I hate when Nathan pulls medical rank on me."
"Fair enough. By your leave?"
"Update me before you go off shift."
Buck left the ready room, catching the Navigator's eye. "With me, Mr. Tanner."
With a smooth grace,the Vulcan left his position and joined Buck in the turbolift.
"Ya all right?"
"I will be," Buck replied. Sometimes the drawl coming from a full-blooded Vulcan threw him off, especially when he was tired. It usually took a second for him to remember Vin was raised by humans. Unfamiliar and uncomfortable with his heritage, and often made insecure by others' reactions to him, there were times the usually competent young Vulcan seemed vulnerable, causing Buck to be more protective of the junior officer.
"Reckon we coulda fired a few practice shots. Drill coulda helped."
"Or the first officer could stay conscious and not wake up screaming like his nightmare's real," he countered. "Appreciate the words, Vin." Buck waited for the small nod of acknowledgement. "How long before the crew knows?"
"It wouldn't surprise me if there's not already a bettin' pool on when the surprise drill will be takin' place," Vin stated.
"Using that Vulcan logic?" Buck asked.
Vin smile, "No, I know Ezra."
"Great," Buck snorted. "I'm sure to be the laughing stock around here for awhile."
They exited the turbolift, walking to what the crew affectionately called the Saloon, known as Ten Forward on other ships.
"Captain's surprise drill comment covered for most people, 'sides most didn't notice ya were out cold," Vin tried to reassure the commander, obviously concerned about his emotional state. It was no secret around the ship what the commander had been through, and that he had pushed himself to get back on duty. Even if it was too soon for his friend to come back, yet Vin respected the man's choices.
"At least there was that," Buck sighed as he continued to lead the way down the corridor.
As they entered the saloon they immediately spotted the small group of crewmembers gathered around a table in the back. Wilmington frowned at the Vulcan, who only raised a pointed eyebrow in response. The two made their way toward the table, and the crew members seeing their presence quickly found other places to be, places where the first officer and navigation officer were not.
"Commander," a smooth voice greeted. "Lieutenant Tanner. May I ask when the next drill will be, or should I be preparing for invisible enemies?"
"Wouldn't that be an unfair advantage?" Buck motioned toward the pad in front of the security chief.
Standish managed to look slightly flustered that his activities were transparent and suspicious. "I assure you we were only discussing strategies to be prepared for any eventuality."
"No inside information, Ezra," Buck also refused to show any of his internal confusion. "And there aren't any invisible enemies but there are some damn nasty real ones out there I want found. I want a status report," Buck ordered.
"Security reports ready, willing, and anticipating prisoners. All future hostile boardings will be unsuccessful. We will not be disgraced again."
"Have no doubt," Buck said, confidence in the man before him coming through in the tone. He remembered seeing reports about the boarding. The raiders' torpedoes chewed through Maverick's shielding quickly, creating large holes in specific areas of the ship. They took advantage of those holes in the shielding to beam aboard, stealing almost two weeks' worth of foodstuffs, badly injuring a number of crewmembers. Ezra and his people forced them to beam back, but the damage was done.
Wilmington knew Standish took it personally, planning to change procedures from what the security chief called "The Travesty," preventing it from happening again. Buck cleared his throat. "What new modifications have you made?"
"Other than forcing a shield modification over our chief engineer's rather vocal and strenuous objections? Creating a secondary shield matrix to assist in protecting our weak spots?" Standish quirked an eyebrow, satisfied smirk on his face.
"A battle well fought," Buck complimented, knowing it finally came down to a pro/con "discussion" in front of the captain lasting almost three hours. He respected Chris for letting both sides come together, initially on opposite sides, wearing them down until they compromised to his satisfaction. Ezra was not mentioning what he gave up in the compromise, but apparently his ego did not suffer greatly with those losses. "And what else have you been up to I should know about?"
"You are barely a day out of sickbay, Commander, yet you know most of what I am doing," Standish teased.
"Humor me. I need to brief the captain in an hour or so. You know he doesn't read the padds until he's in his cabin."
"Because he don't want us ta hear him spout off when he don't agree with somethin' on 'em, and wants time ta get his temper under control 'fore he talks ta us about what's in 'em," Vin interjected. "Keeps him from blowin' up in front of the crew. Man needs ta learn a bit more control when it comes ta the paperwork."
"Our captain handles commanding well; administrative work, however, requires all of his patience. I appreciate he recognizes the weakness," Ezra said, "Yet the oral briefings seem a waste of time."
Buck gave Ezra a look, his gaze encompassing the crewmembers within about ten feet of them.
"They did not hear me, Commander," Standish calmly replied. "I know not to say anything to degrade the captain in the presence of those unable to keep their mouths closed. I will, however, humor you and him, by giving you a current list of activities. Pay attention." Green eyes twinkled at midnight blue. "Weaponry now available at critical junctures; requalifying all active duty crew; evacuation drills if necessary; orders to wear body armor to all security personnel; two person security teams stationed near all critical supplies. Did you get all that, or shall I repeat?"
"Keep going," Buck said, mentally listing everything Ezra said he had done and planned to do.
"Holodeck boarding simulations; a faster, more precise Intruder Alert," the security officer paused for effect, "And my personal favorite: sensor-proof hiding places for civilians and children."
Buck stared and frowned, wondering how he accomplished that feat.
Vin spoke up, "He had me lookin' fer people and I couldn't find 'em. Just shortened dimensions on some of the rooms, replicated new walls, changed the computer's specifications to match."
"Very clever. Good work." Buck counted on Ezra to come up with ideas like this, ones no one would think up unless they had some experience dealing with what Standish called "the unsavory elements" of the galaxy.
"I have a demonstration for our esteemed Captain in four hours. If you'll excuse me, I wish to prepare for any eventuality."
"Sure." Buck waved his permission.
Ezra left, giving them a quick two-finger gesture in the general area of his forehead.
"Whatcha need from me?" asked Vin.
"We're still struggling to follow their trail, aren't we?"
Tanner looked away for a second. "Most times, we're right on 'em, a day or so behind. Sometimes, we lose their signature, have ta come back and find it again."
"I have an idea. What about using the dust?"
"Aw, hell," Vin muttered, the oath incongruous with the Vulcan stereotype. "It does have a distinct metallurgy, with the traces of – "
Buck raised a hand, cutting him off. "Spare me the techno babble; my head hurts too much to understand right now. Can we follow them using the dust?"
"Yes, sir. If we could adjourn ta the Astrometrics Lab, Ensign Dunne and I could begin a new track, correlating it with the warp signatures."
Part of him wanted to smile. When Vin's mind wrapped around an idea challenging his intellect, he let his primary focal point be the idea, leaving just enough brainpower to navigate him where he wanted to go. Most of what was left was training and protocols pounded in the cadet's heads at Starfleet Academy.
"Let's go," Buck said, rising first. With a quick wave of thanks to Inez for seemingly knowing to leave them alone, the pair strolled in silence to the lab.
"Ensign," Vin said the second he entered.
JD Dunne jumped half a foot out of his chair, snapping to attention.
Tanner's voice changed, a smile dancing on the edges of the lips. "JD, it's me. Quit leapin' like it's a cadet review."
"Yes, sir, but if I could point out, sir, you outrank me, as does Commander Wilmington, sir. I was taught to respect those senior to me, sir."
Bless the Academy for the respect, Buck thought, seeing Vin straighten a bit, his confidence growing with the ensign's remark. Vin was a senior officer, and sometimes he needed to be reminded others looked up to him.
"Commander Wilmington believes the colony's dust might assist in our search," the lieutenant said.
"Dust? The metallic flakes stuck to everything on board? Oh, wait. Doesn't it have – "
"I'll leave you two," Buck interjected, realizing again his head hurt too much to decipher the science now. He ambled in the direction of sickbay, smiling and chatting with crewmembers, as of nothing was wrong, and his internal turmoil was indeed over with for appearances' sake. Entering Dr. Nathan Jackson's domain filled him with nervousness, which he hid with a hearty grin. Jackson may be a friend, but it was his decision as a doctor if he stayed on duty, something Buck desperately wanted.
"Come here," Nathan snapped in greeting, a medical tricorder already scanning.
"I'm here for a crew update," Buck replied, making sure the patients heard him.
"They're recovering. Three still on light duty, including Ensign Materson."
Wilmington bobbed his head in acknowledgement. Materson accompanied him on the away team, suffering a severe disrupter blast protecting Buck from hostile raider fire. They stepped into Nathan's office.
"You're still not sleeping," the doctor accused.
"Not really," Buck admitted. The scanner told the truth; why prevaricate? "Chris sent me down for something to help. End of shift."
"Come back when you're ready. Or call me, I'll come to your cabin."
"Doc." The first officer shook his head.
"One of my staff, or better yet – I should administer the hypospray."
Buck stared in his doctor's eyes.
Nathan sighed. "I'll send Josiah to do it. Nobody will ask questions if he's at your cabin."
"Thought he was moving in for awhile," the first officer replied. "Thanks."
"You have forty-five minutes before the end of shift. Go get ready. Fair warning: I'm watching you. No more surprise drills on the bridge, okay?"
Wilmington sighed; he knew news traveled fast. It was becoming a sure bet he would never live that incident down. Giving a crisp nod, Buck left.
"Come." Buck straightened on his bed, making the effort to get up. It hurt too much; his head was not going to give him equilibrium anytime soon. Making due, he stretched his legs out in front of him on the bed, his back leaning against the bulkhead beneath the viewport for support.
"Cocktail hour," Josiah's voice boomed. He held up a cloth-wrapped package. "Whiskey or hypo?"
"You have to ask?" He watched while Josiah used the nightstand to open the whiskey, pouring two healthy glasses. Scooting over, he made room for the counselor to get comfortable at the foot of the bed, their friendship so long it didn't matter where they were, just that they were together. No ceremonies involved.
Except one – Josiah made a toast. "To North Pass, may they find their rest, both living and dead."
Buck echoed the sentiment. The whiskey burned – real stuff, not the fake – making him grateful.
"You want to talk about today before I pump you full of sedative?" Sanchez asked, his own glass empty.
They drank in silence. Josiah rose from the bedside chair. "You get some sleep. Best cure right now."
"Appreciate the visit." He tipped his head to the side to allow Josiah access. The hypospray hissed once.
"Let's not make a habit of calling drills the captain doesn't know about, or taking shots at nothing." Sanchez left on those words.
"I won't," Buck promised to the empty room. The hypo and the whiskey worked fast to put him to sleep.
He woke in hell.