Consider the Possibilities (cont.13-14)

By: Heidi



Part Thirteen

Ezra turned around immediately and fired the remote at his truck. Experience taught him to keep a canine lead coiled on his belt so he didn't have to go back for one.
As soon as the window lowered on the SUV, a black Labrador bounded out and ran directly to his handler, tail wagging in excitement.  Standish hooked up the lead 
to the harness and started a run toward the now-abandoned vehicle.

"I'm starting a track!"  Officer First Class Ezra Standish bellowed with enough force to make a Marine drill sergeant proud.  He wanted to stop the emergency
 personnel converging on the area from destroying the scent of the suspect.  "Stay clear of the suspect vehicle."

Immediately two firefighters carrying the backboard changed tack, shifted directions to keep clear of the suspect vehicle's driver door.  They did not want to ruin the
canine's chances of following the suspect.  Ezra had Ace acquire the trail, and off they went.  The two of them sprinted after the suspect, catching up to Josiah quickly.

"11-03, FC, I'm with K9-16, we're on the track.  Suspect described as a white male, approximately 18-20, black hair, last seen wearing blue jeans, a blue sweatshirt
 with white writing."

Standish found himself impressed with Sanchez; the older man didn't appear to be winded yet, and he was in the quick-paced pursuit of the suspect instead of with
Nathan, his best friend.  He made a mental note of asking Josiah why the pursuit and not checking on Nathan, but he figured the answer would be along the lines of
Chris was closer to Nathan, and was already on his way there within seconds.  He also knew Sanchez's makeup did not allow an insult like assaulting a police officer
to go unpunished when he could do something about it.

Ace had a solid lock on the track, straining at the harness, impatience showing the handler was not moving as fast as the canine. Ezra gave him a little more lead to
stop the hard tugging on his wrist.  He gave words of encouragement, further commands to continue, and Ace did not disappoint.  It did not take long before he heard 
the sounds of running feet ahead of him.

"11-03, FC, we hear the suspect in front of us," Josiah snapped off into the radio.

"10-4, 11-03.  Your location?"

"Coming out of the woods by Young at Heart Assisted Living," Sanchez continued.

"Police!"  Ezra bellowed.  He felt it was unnecessary because it was obvious who would be chasing this suspect, but the law required suspects absolutely know it was
the police behind them to give them the opportunity to surrender.  They rarely did, yet the district attorney could lose a case for police failing to identify themselves.
The law was tricky like that.  Although he could not see the suspect ahead of him, he heard the man's heavy breathing reminding him of a gasping fish out of water
He exchanged a glance with Josiah, who beamed.

They burst out of the woods onto the asphalt parking lot.  Ahead of them, lit by the glow of the lot lights, their suspect continued to run, but he was struggling for
every step.

"Police!  Stop where you are!"  Ezra yelled.

The man tried to run faster.

"11-03, FC, visual on suspect, front of Young At Heart," Josiah called out on his radio.   He pulled steps ahead of Ezra, pouring on the speed to close the distance.

"If you don't stop, I'll release the canine!"  Standish learned from court if he didn't yell that too, he could lose the case for police brutality.

The response the suspect made was short, two words, and suggested an activity Ezra would rather not do to himself.  He pulled aside Ace, released the harness,
and yelled a command.

Josiah froze like a statue mid-step, not moving until the black barking streak raced past him to the suspect, who could not outrun a Labrador, especially one well-
rested and eager to work.  Sanchez continued on, Ezra beside him, slowing their pace marginally to allow Ace to do his job.

Ezra knew many argued about the demeanor of Labrador retrievers as tracking/patrol dogs, which they felt the breed did not have the viciousness in their nature when
called upon.  There were those rare exceptions working in the field, and those critics did not know Ace. His Lab loved to work, equating it to a form of play. 
Standish spent many hours early in their partnership teaching bringing out the teeth when given a command, and Ace learned it just like he learned the other commands.
The Lab executed each command with all of his heart, and when it came to biting, Ace was a champ.

Like now.  It was almost funny watching the guy's arm come back while he was running, only to be snagged by the mouth of a leaping black Lab, who's sudden 
addition of weight on the suspect's left side threw him off balance mid-step.  He fell sideways, possibly from the tugging sensation on his arm, or from losing his 
equilibrium.  Ace continued to chew on the arm, tearing into the sweatshirt.

"Help!  Get him off!  Police Brutality!"  The suspect cried while trying to roll away from the dog.  Trying to escape the dedicated canine only inspired Ace to find
another spot on the arm to bite.

The suspect swung his free arm in an arc to hit Ace, an action prompting Josiah to intercept the arm centimeters from the Lab's whipping head and pull it straight up.
Ace saw the arm in the air and readied a leap.  "That's attempted assault on a police officer. Officer?"

"Certainly, Officer."  Ezra snapped two commands, which turned the barking, biting, snarling mass of Labrador into a heeled dog having his harness reattached.  Of
course, he let Ace pull against the harness and bark all he wanted to inspire fear.

Josiah went to handcuff the suspect, keeping a restraining grip on the man's right appendage.

"Dude, my arm, it's like shredded.  I like, need an ambulance, man."

"If you hadn't run," Ezra pointed out, "and continued to flee, you would not have been bit."

"What's the commotion?"  A man dressed in a security uniform approached them from the Assisted Living facility.  "Officers?"

Ezra produced a smile.  "We apologize for the disturbance, sir.  This suspect felt he was better served by running away from us and came onto your property.  Do you
feel he's trespassing?"

The security officer, nametag reading Smithson, grinned.  "Yes, sir. He's trespassing.  We have a sign posted 'No Trespassing' as you come out of the woods, and on
each of the light posts."

"We will add that charge to his list of transgressions.  May I have a statement from someone representing the property to that effect?"  He uttered another command,
and Ace sat beside him, still growling low in his throat at the suspect.

"Absolutely.  Retired Phoenix PD, Thomas Smithson."

"Nice to meet you, sir," Ezra said.  "I am Officer Standish, this is Officer Sanchez, and Ace of Spades from the Four Corners Police Department."

"My arm hurts," the suspect complained.

Josiah keyed up his radio, burying any expression.   "11-03, FC. Suspect in custody in the parking lot of Young At Heart.  Need an ambulance for a dog bite, and
someone to transport us and the suspect."

"10-4. Once 11-02 clears the accident scene, I'll send him your way."

"10-4. 11-03, 11-01 or 2, what's the status of 11-04?"  Josiah asked.

Chris answered almost immediately.  "11-04, stand by, starting aviation."

"Received," Josiah answered.

"Where's my ambulance?" the suspect moaned.

"Did he hurt one of your officers?" Smithson asked.

"Yes.  Hit and run with bailout," Josiah explained.  "Foot pursuit ending here."

"You," Smithson started, pointing a stiff finger at the suspect, "better shut the hell up about your ambulance and pray to whatever deity you hold dear that officer isn't
seriously hurt."

"Ain't my fault, man."

The two officers and the retired police officer exchanged a long-suffering look.

"Officer down!"  Chris yelled into the radio.   He leapt over the small ditch located on the side of the road where Nathan landed in a non-moving heap.

"Officer down," Casey repeated.  "Starting ambulance."

"One on site, FC," Chris corrected, seeing the ambulance crew at a full sprint along with two firefighters with the backboard running toward Nathan.

"11-02, 11-01.  Nature of officer down?  Suspect information?"  Buck called in the radio, the sound of his siren and engine nearly drowning out his voice.

"11-03, hit and run bailout," Josiah advised into the radio as he turned to follow Ezra.  "11-03, FC, I'm with K9-16, we're on the track.  Suspect described as a white
male, approximately 18-20, black hair, last seen wearing blue jeans, a blue sweatshirt with white writing."

Chris heard it all in the back of his head while he kneeled beside Nathan's head.  The paramedics immediately put a collar around his neck while the firefighters put the
backboard down on the ground beside him.  He could see Nathan was unconscious, his neck and shoulder at an odd angle, and he'd bet there were internal injuries.
Cars versus people never went well, unless the person was drunk. Nathan was not drunk, which meant he took a solid blow from the car. Who knew what it did 
internally to him?

"Aviation," the tall paramedic requested while running his hands over Nathan's body.  "Approximately 35 year old male, suspected fractured clavicle, head injury with
loss of consciousness, diminished breath sounds on the left side."

None of this sounded good to Chris.  He watched the crew work as a well-orchestrated team, passing equipment back and forth with very little communication
between them.   Chris moved back to give them more room as they intubated Nathan, and one of the firefighters moved to his head to work the bag, as another 
continued to rattle off vitals.  One of the paramedics started an IV while the other cut Nathan's shirt away, passing Chris the remains.  He swallowed hard; there was
blood all over it, Nathan's blood, one of his men.

"Sergeant!" the paramedic snapped.

He came out of his morbid reverie with the shirt at the tone of voice.

"We're taking off the gunbelt.  Will you take custody?"

Chris nodded.  "The vest?"

"Not gonna happen.  There might be some compression injuries from where the car hit him, and for all we know, the vest is keeping a lid on the bleeding.  It's not 
coming off until we know for sure."

His radio chattered throughout the assessment, placing Nathan on the backboard, and handing over Jackson's gunbelt.  The badge he had on the shirt, so securing 
those items was done.

"11-03, FC.  Suspect in custody in the parking lot of Young At Heart.  Need an ambulance for a dog bite, and someone to transport us and the suspect."

"Good," the firefighter working the oxygen bag announced.  "Got the bastard."

"We're committed here," the senior paramedic announced.  "Alert someone else for the dog bite.  What's my helicopter ETA?"

"Fire dispatch gave ten minutes.  We got the LZ secured."

A flash went off, breaking up the night, startling the crew.
"What the hell?"  The other firefighter shot to his feet and took a menacing step forward, shouting at the man in front of him without really looking.  "You gimme that 
camera or you get an axe up your crack."

"Have to document the scene," Buck said calmly, continuing to take pictures.  He stepped closer, allowing them to see his uniform.

The firefighter backed down.  "Sorry, man.  We've been focused on him.  Figured you were press." 

"Nah, I'm too good-looking for them.  How's Nate?"  Buck snapped a distance shot from behind them, capturing Nathan's position and the distance to the cars.  He
dropped a cone at Nathan's head, and a second one at Nathan's feet.  "Positions marked, Chris."

"Good.  I'll…"

"Go to the hospital when you're relieved.  I already had the ladies call Raphael and Rafe to come out early," Buck finished.  "Nina will do the reconstruction, Rafe will
take her b&e at the Quick Food, I'll talk to Junior's parents pulling up, and then will go pick up Josiah, Ezra, Ace and their…suspect."  Buck changed his last phrasing
to prevent getting caught saying something inappropriate in a court setting with all the fire/EMS witnesses around.  "Lemme go deal with the parents."  Wilmington
trotted off, pulling out his supervisor set of vehicle keys for the patrol cars on his shift.  He needed to let Junior out of the back of Josiah's and secure Nathan's vehicle.

"Hang in there, Nathan," Buck prayed, wincing when they moved his friend onto the backboard.  The crew carefully picked it up, walking with tiny steps to the waiting
ambulance, where they loaded the injured officer.

Chris watched them leave for the short trip to the landing zone, the sounds of the helicopter reaching his ears.  His mind did mental calculations on how far Nathan
was thrown, and paced it off to the accident site.  A quick inspection of the two vehicles showed Nathan's car needed serious help, if it wasn't totaled.  He glanced
up at the raised voices.

"11-01, 11-03, units still okay?" he asked.

"K9-16, 11-01, we're okay.  Ambulance is just pulling up to check our suspect."

"10-4, when 11-02 finishes with the parents he's en route to you. Will that be sufficient?" 

"10-4," Ezra answered.

Chris watched Buck's conversation with the parents of the juvenile who was part of the beginning of this mess.  After the initial fear he saw on their faces as they ran
up to the scene and claimed their wayward son, they were now paying rapt attention as they listened to Buck's story, while the boy hung his head and tried stepping 
away from them.  He saw them shaking their heads in disbelief, followed by anger.  He had to look away when Buck turned completely around to check on the
accident scene and glance up in the sky; he didn't want to see the father give the juvenile a good, solid hit either.  If you don't see it or hear it, it didn't happen when it 
came to parents disciplining teenagers in front of the police after a mess like this.  He'd done his own version of stargazing before, too, just like Buck did now.  It only
took short minutes before the parents were shaking Buck's hand and putting Junior in the back of their car. Hopefully, the fear of this night would keep him turned
form the path he had been headed for.

"11-03, 11-01."

Josiah's voice through the radio broke into his musings.  "11-01," he answered.

"Ambo's taking our suspect to the hospital.  I'll ride along if you can secure my vehicle."

"10-4," Chris answered.

"11-02, K9-16, I'm en route with your truck for you and your partner."


He watched Buck drive away in Ezra's truck, sufficiently far enough from the scene to not be part of it.  The sergeant in him did not have to ask whether Buck took
pictures; there wasn't any question he did, photographing every part of the scene for the investigation and recreation.  As the taillights of the truck pulled away, the
lights of an arriving patrol car flashed at him.

His radio squawked.  "11-08's on location."

"11-08, 10-4," Dispatch answered.

Corporal Nina Caswell exited her vehicle, took one look at the scene, and closed her eyes, her lips moving in prayer.

He joined her at her car.  "Amen," he said with her.  "It's bad."

"How bad is Nathan?" she asked.

"Lost consciousness.  They're worried about compression injuries because of the way the car hit him."

"Well, Sergeant, I officially take possession of the scene.  You are cleared to respond to the hospital."

The formality was something he drilled in her head during their days in the Nevada Highway Patrol, and it kept them on a professional level, not allowing their emotions
to overwhelm their responsibilities and duties.  "Received, Corporal.  I don't know the status on the tow for the original vehicle, and you'll need tows for the other
scene.  Corporal Wilmington marked OFC Jackson's positions with cones for you, the head was further from the scene than the feet."

"Understood.  Now get to the hospital."  She gave him a small shove on his shoulder to start him in that direction.

"How did you get here so quick?"  It just struck him not that much actual time passed between the accident, Nathan leaving, and Nina's arrival; it only felt like hours.

"Rafe.  He threw on his uniform and came out.  Said he could get cleaned up later, especially since he'll be on that b&e for hours. And you are still here why?"

Chris reached up to his lapel.  "11-01, 11-02.  My car clear to leave?"

"Yeah, tell 11-08 I have multiple angles & shots."

"Received," he answered.  It didn't surprise him to see she was taking her own pictures; it was her reconstruction, and this insured the scene could be reproduced in a
courtroom to the exact specifications.  "How long?"

"Gimme a minute.  I bet he didn't mark."  She yanked a piece of chalk out of the bag at her feet, sketching around his tires and photographing his car placement
several times.  "Go."

Chris left her in charge of the scene, heading for the hospital.  He passed Sergeant Raphael Cordova de Martinez, stopping in the roadway to lower his window.

"How bad?"  Raphael asked.

"Unconscious, maybe a broken clavicle, some compression injuries."

"Suspect in custody?"


"Say why yet?"

"He's getting treatment.  Ace bit him."

"Take Ace for treatment; he might become ill from chewing scum," Raphael joked.

"I'll let Ezra mother him."
"Which he does so well.  I am calling the OT hounds on the other shifts.  See if I can get coverage until daylight.  Senor Josiah will be at the hospital most of the night,
so will you, Nina will be here for hours, Rafe has the B and E, and Buck will be run ragged. Doesn't leave much for calls, does it?"

"Not the way tonight's been going."  Chris sighed.  "Thanks."

"Speak of me well," Raphael said.  He gave a mock-salute, driving forward.

Nathan woke disoriented.  He felt no pain, but the smell immediately told him he was in the hospital.

"Easy," a familiar voice warned him.

"Chhrisss?" he managed to say with his throat completely dry.  Each syllable hurt.

"Yeah, try not to move.  You'll regret it if you do."

"What?"  He remembered snow; a car accident…the rest was too fuzzy.

"You were in a car accident," Chris told him.

Disregarding the suggestion, Nathan attempted to sit up.  He felt a strong hand pushing him down.  Since he felt tired and twinges of pain already, he allowed himself
to ease back into the bed.  "How bad?"

"The pain meds must be working if you're asking."

He tried to turn his head to face Chris, pain immediately warning him not to do that.  His face twisted into a grimace.

"Stay still.  Wasn't thinking."

Jackson heard rather than saw Larabee change sides on the bed, leaning forward to allow him to see his face.  He read both sympathy and understanding in the face,
plus he sensed Chris felt he was going to be okay.

"Four busted ribs, a broken clavicle, a mild cervical sprain, minor concussion, and bruised and swollen pelvic area, including, um, yeah."  Chris left off there.  "You 
lost consciousness for a couple minutes, probably from the pain."

"Meds…working," he reaffirmed.  If that was supposed to hurt, he couldn't feel it.  Now he understood the sympathy.  "Rain?"

"I had Josiah take her home to get some of your things to make you more comfortable.  Bad shift in the ER tonight before you came in, been with you ever since.  I 
thought she needed to get out of this place for a little bit."

Nathan started to nod, felt a warning twinge of pain, and settled for a long blink.  When he opened his eyes, he stared hard at Chris.  His throat really bothered him
about talking now.  Since Larabee was the acknowledged master of unspoken communication, maybe the master would understand the request for information about
what happened to end up here.

"Yeah, I know you want to know.  Dr. Miller told us you'd probably have forgotten since you woke up last time.  You weren't making any sense then, talking about 
snow and the ATF."

He was awake before?  Huh?  ATF?  What was going on?

"You worried Rain until Dr. Miller explained this amount of pain and the heavy dosage of painkillers caused you to talk out of your mind. We just enjoyed the ride
after that."  Chris smirked.  "Who's JD?"

"I…" he started, cutting off.

"Rain said you'd been reading some kind of fictional novel series about ATF Agents, really getting into it.  We guessed JD was a character in there, because Buck
found the book in your car when he emptied it."

That explanation worked for him, but still didn't answer the rest of the night's events.  He narrowed his eyes at Chris.

Larabee sighed.  "You sure?"

He tightened his lips to go with the narrowed eyes.

"Don't give me that face.  I'm still your sergeant."

Nathan cleared his throat, causing momentary pain.

Chris chuckled.  "Even without your voice you're yelling.  Okay, the guy that hit you and your car was drunk.  BAC point two zero.  Ran because he was underage
and it was his father's car he wasn't supposed to have.  Ezra, Ace, and Josiah caught him; Ace bit him.  We charged him for everything Josiah and Ezra could think of,
which was an impressive list.  Nina spent the night and half the day reconstructing two accidents, determining the guy that hit you was well over the posted speed limit.
You did great getting out of his way.  Might not think it now, but Nina calculated your impressive reaction time."

The look he gave Chris expressed his opinion of his reaction time.

"You're not dead and going to recover.  That's good in my book."

He saw Chris's point, but his eyelids felt heavy.  Before he could apologize, he felt himself going to sleep.

Nathan woke disoriented.  He felt no pain, but the smell immediately told him he was in the hospital.  He immediately tried to turn his head to look for Chris or Rain.

"Don't move," a voice warned him.  "You might hurt yourself."

He tried to focus his eyes on the figure.

"Good.  I'm Dr. Miller, and you were in a car accident.  You've been in and out of consciousness for the past hour or so.  Try to answer a couple of questions, okay,"
the doctor instructed as he flicked a penlight in front of Nathan's eyes as he began to ask his questions.  "Name?"

His throat felt raw.  "Nathan Jackson."

"Date of birth?"

He rattled it off.


That rolled off his tongue too.
"Well done.  Angie, let him have a sip of water.  I'm sure his throat is raw from all the talking he was doing earlier."

"Talking?"  He stared at the doctor.

"You were telling us about your job as a police officer in Four Corners, Agent Jackson.  Since Assistant Director Travis wasn't familiar with it, we thought you were
having delusions, until he said you were reading a book about this fictional police force based off what you thought was your life."

After sipping the water, the liquid cooling his throat, he said, "Oh, yeah.  There's these writers who created a whole world and it featured seven men like my team."

"Yes.  The Assistant Director dropped it off for you.  Don't talk; you'll wear yourself out.  Just rest for now, and we'll talk in a bit."  He smiled, exiting the room with
the nurse.

Nathan looked around his hospital room, finding the book on the table.  FOUR CORNERS POLICE DEPARTMENT was emblazoned on the cover, below it the 
words AFTERMATH.  He studied the artwork on the cover, a representation of the patch for the department, and it was wrong. The designs were wrong.  It should 

He stopped his train of thought.  Why did he know how the patch should be?  What was going on?

Part Fourteen

He dreamed of battles, dying or dead people he knew, and his body thrown across the field into a colony wall.

"Intruder Alert, Intruder Alert!"  The computer's voice bellowed, waking Buck from his rest.  His head felt full of cotton balls, as if he went for a bender with Romulan Ale and no food for a week.  He tasted soured whiskey in his mouth, with just a smidgen of bile burning up his throat.  Nausea started to rise, creating the means for the bile to escape.

"Red Alert, Intruder Alert!  All hands to battle stations!" 

His mind recognized the announcement as important, something he should be on the bridge for, not lying in his bunk.  He tried to roll off the bed and stand up in a fluid motion.  However, the only thing fluid was his body; the muscles were not obeying his commands.  One moment he was trying to stand, the next he kissed the carpet.  It was comfortable here…

"First Officer to the Bridge!"

That's me, he thought, managing to push himself into a sitting position.  It took a moment before the room stopped spinning.  When it did, he stood up, bracing off the mattress edge for support.  To his left he found his uniform, throwing it on with practiced ease.  The ship rocked from phaser fire and torpedoes, hampering his efforts and destroying his equilibrium. 

Leaning against the bed to keep his feet, he slapped his communicator on his chest.  "Wilmington, Bridge, on my way."

He staggered to the sink using the walls for support and steering, brushing his teeth quickly to get rid of the whiskey smell.  Long strides brought him almost upright into the turbolift, dark blue eyes searching for the intruders.  All he saw were empty corridors; everyone should be at their posts instead of wandering throughout the ship.

"Bridge," he told the turbolift.

It did not move. 

"Computer, Bridge."

The machinery did not even acknowledge his presence.  Seconds passed with him standing like a cadet waiting for an order in the lift before an important memory tunneled upward through the crap clogging his brain.  Ezra had instituted a policy when he first came aboard that whenever there was an Intruder Alert, turbolifts would not work without express authorization.

"Computer, Bridge, Commander Wilmington, authorization Lothario, Omega Theta."

The lift moved. 

"I hate you, Ezra," he mumbled, still not fond of his authorization code, something unique to each person.  The lift opened, allowing him on the bridge. 

"FIRE!"  Captain Larabee bellowed. 

The viewscreen showed a solid hit on a raider's nacelle, followed by a spectacular explosion.

"Shield modifications holding at eighty-eight percent," Standish reported.  "Security has four boarding parties in custody; two of our teams are pinned down, reinforcements on their way.  Three other boarding parties loose and working their way to the ship's stores."

"Twelve raider ships left, sir," Ensign Dunne reported.

"Ezra, you found the sweet spot on the last one.  Keep going," Larabee ordered.  "Fire phasers at will, prepare torpedoes on my mark."

Wilmington slid into his seat, hanging on when one of the raiders made a strafing run along their length.  Maverick rocked, and his status board showed a significant hull breach.  The forcefield and safety procedures kept the damage confined to the one area.  He could only pray that it kept their casualties down, too.

"Shields still holding at eighty-eight percent," Standish snapped.  "Firing phasers."

Twin beams of light shot out from beneath the ship, pinpointed on two of the smaller raiders attempting to swarm the Maverick to prevent movement.   

"Direct hits, they are falling back," Ezra called out.

"Bridge to Engineering, where's my warp drive?"

"Another fifteen minutes, sir," the Chief Engineer replied.  "But the damage to the hull won't allow for warp drive.  We need to…"

The Captain cut in, "You have ten.  Five if you want to impress me.  Bridge out." 

"Casualty reports coming in," Josiah reported.  "Ten wounded, sensor blinds are holding in affected areas."

Buck listened to the reports called out around him while studying his terminal.  It appeared the raiders expected them to follow the deliberately left warp trail into a trap, where fifteen additional ships awaited their arrival for the second battle with the starship.  Three were destroyed almost immediately, but they had punched a hole into the ship using a specially designed vessel with a long ram-type device in front. 

"Wait for it," Chris counseled.  "Keep our wounded side away from them."

Wilmington watched the raiders maneuver into position for another attack, one of the ships with the sharp ram device lining up with the ship on a direct course.  It took him all of two seconds to figure out the course was with the bridge.  "Captain," he started.

"I see it, Buck," Chris replied, "and I'm counting on it."

"Two keep trying fer our broken wing," Vin announced.  "Reckon it would be nice to shoot them before they get to it, Ezra."

"JD, fire phasers!  Take a shot where you can; Ezra, I want you focused on the forward assault with torpedoes."

Buck almost smirked at the lack of rank and protocol in the heat of battle.  They'd been together too long, through too much, to use rank when they weren't being watched.  The junior officers enjoyed being called by their first names; it let them think the officers cared about them, and if someone had a problem with it, Captain Larabee usually had a private discussion with them to allay their concerns.  Almost without fail, every complainer fell in line with the captain's thinking; those who did not found berths on other ships quickly and quietly.

"Firing phasers," JD announced.  "Minimal damage, but it veered off."

"Keep it up," Chris ordered.

"Aye, aye sir!"  Beams of light came from beneath the Maverick, pummeling two of the raiders.  One fell back, while the other began leaking plasma from the nacelles.  JD fired directly into the plasma to ignite it, taking out both raiders in fireballs, and pushing others back.  The ship rocked from the backwash of the dual explosions.

"JD, good shooting.  Next time make sure we don't get caught in it," Wilmington praised and cautioned simultaneously.

"Shields at eighty-five percent," Standish reported, "and dropping.  Stabilizing at eighty-two percent.  Might I add those heathens are uncomfortably close to the bridge?" 

"FIRE!"  Chris bellowed from his command chair.  "Full complement, photon torpedoes."

Ezra's fingers flew over his console, a slight smile on his face. 

Buck could not help but watch the viewscreen, the streaks of destructive power aimed directly for the raider intent on ramming them.  They exploded in a series of detonations, the flash forcing almost everyone on the bridge to look away from the brightness. 

"So much for their point man," Chris said just loud enough for Buck to hear. 

Wilmington barely repressed a chuckle when Ezra snapped, "Sir, one raider boarding party broke through a perimeter.  Emergency medical beamouts in the section.  I've sealed off the section with emergency bulkheads."

"Request permission –" Buck started.

"Granted," Captain Larabee finished for Buck.  "Take Ezra with you; he'll want to make sure they don't get anything valuable this time."

"They won't," Security Chief Ezra Standish stated with both confidence and promise in his voice.  He waited until his relief assumed his position and joined Buck in the turbolift.  It opened near the affected area, the exposed circuits flashing as power still flowed through them.  Quite a number of panels were black, and the emergency lighting created strange shadows. 

"This way," Standish pointed, consulting his tricorder.  "Standish to Jenson, we're coming to you.  I'd prefer not to be shot."  His phaser was in his hand, leading the way around the corridors.

"Aye, sir." 

"Where's your phaser?"  Ezra asked Buck.

Wilmington was reminded of his first landing party where he forgot to get a phaser from ship's armory before reporting to the transporter room.  He couldn't believe he had done it again.

Ezra heaved a huge sigh.  "Here."  He handed Buck his own phaser.

"What about you?"

"Always carry a spare."  Standish unbuttoned his jacket to remove the one hidden at his waist in what appeared to be a roll of flesh beneath the uniform.

Buck shook his head.  "I thought you were getting heavy in the middle.  Of course I was too polite to ask and figured you were too vain to admit it.  Didn't want to tease you and end up with my replicator broken again because the security chief gained some weight."

"Bite your tongue, sir," Standish retorted.  "Can you remember how to cover the corner while we advance?"  He paused, adding a sarcastic, "Sir."

"Double stake me or nothing in our next game that I bag more raiders than you."

"I never wager; that would be illegal and against the rules of conduct, outside the confines of a poker table."

"Down!"  Buck saw something that felt off, and he dragged Ezra to the ground.  A phaser shot hit the still-functional panel over their heads, sending sparks everywhere. 

"Standish to Jenson, what's your status?"  Giving Buck's shoulder a squeeze in thanks, the security chief also pushed the first officer back out of the line of fire.

"One got by me, Chief."

The two men shared an eye roll. 

"Me and Rivers are holding three down.  I'd really appreciate some reinforcement."

"I've got this one."  Buck leaned over Ezra and fired.  He heard a muffled groan. 

"One does not show up the security chief with his own weapon," Ezra dryly commented.

The first officer grinned.  "Let's go teach these whelps a lesson."  He charged down the corridor, stopping long enough to punch the raider he knocked unconscious further into oblivion.  They came up on Jenson and Rivers, adding their firepower to the two men, quickly quelling their opponents. 

"Quiggs to the Chief.  They're on the move.  He'la'pp hit them with a transponder.  Looks like toward the shuttle bays."

"Computer," Wilmington bellowed.  "Initiate voice recognition program Seven-Alpha.  Authorization Wilmington, Lothario." 

"Voice recognition program Seven-Alpha acknowledged," the computer replied.

"Standish to all personnel.  Seven-Alpha in place.  All personnel secure themselves."  Ezra listed off all the affected areas where the raiders could pass in their charge to the shuttlebay to prevent any accidental casualties.  

"Computer," Wilmington started again.  "Secure all transporters.  Site-to-site emergency medical transports only.  Authorization Wilmington Bravo Delta Five Five Eight."

"Computer," Standish immediately followed, "Initiate Program Homesteader Fences, authority Standish, Riverboat Gambler, Authorization Delta One One One Eight Eight."

"Program initiated," the computer answered.

Buck gave him a strange look while they jogged down the corridor toward the next group of security personnel working on containing the raiders in this section.  "Dead man's hand?"

"It applies," Standish retorted. 

Phaser burns scorched the walls of Maverick, with the smell of burned and singed materials thickening the air.

"What's Homesteader Fences?"  Wilmington asked.

Standish ignored him for a moment while they caught up with Perkings standing at a corner waiting for them.  "Status?" 

 "The two down the hall got caught in the fences, sir.  Lorgi's watching them."

"Good job."

"Quiggs to the Chief.  We've got them pinned down, but they're trying to cut through the walls to get free."

"On our way," Standish replied.  "Perkings, stay with Lorgi.  I'm not certain the battle's over outside."

"Yes, sir.  They won't get by us, and they won't escape." 

"Good man.  Coming, Sir?"

Wilmington had to jog to keep up with Standish, who slipped into a Jeffries tube instead of a turbolift to get to the deck containing the shuttlebay.  They continued through the ship in a series of tubes, Ezra calling out codes the entire time, force fields raising and lowering during their travels.  Due to their speed, he got twisted around in the last tube, and ended up going down it feet first instead of head first.  His boot rammed into Ezra's head when Standish stopped unexpectedly, not branching off into the next tube or exiting into the corridor.  "Sorry.  Why are we stopped?"  He looked down the length of his body at Standish realigning himself onto all fours at the juncture. 

"Don't you read the padds I provide you about recent security upgrades?"  Ezra snapped.

"Usually," Buck replied.  He didn't want to think about how many padds he signed recently without reading because he trusted his senior officers. 

Ezra looked up at him with a wary expression, the face of a man who knows what needs to be said, but does not want to be the messenger.  "Permission to speak freely?"

Uh-oh.  When his friend didn't speak his mind and asked permission, he knew something formal was in the works.  It had to be important because they were supposed to be repelling boarders, not having a conversation in the Jeffries tube.  "Not the best time, but go ahead." 

"You need to relocate your brains from your posterior back to your cranium.  Understanding only goes so far, sir, especially with the safety of this ship on the line."  Ezra glared up at him.  "You're putting everyone at risk with your actions lately."

"What?"  His eyes narrowed at the security chief.  He rotated his body to look down at Ezra without stomping him in the face with his boot, the tight confines of this tube not allowing him to turn around properly.  "I'll admit I'm not on top of my game, but I'm not that bad."

Green eyes met his steadily.  "Yes, you are.  I tested you yesterday to see if you were reading the padds given to you, and you signed off on giving me access to your accounts and a year off with pay."

"You what?  Ezra, I trusted you."  The taste of betrayal was bitter in his mouth.

"My point exactly.  We're covering for you, Buck.  All senior officers are, and the worst part is we are hiding it from our captain and the chief medical officer.  You have not made a sound decision, much less any decision, unless it's made for you since you came back."

"That's not true!" he barked in his defense. 

"You entered an armed conflict without a weapon."

He could not argue that charge; Ezra was right.  His phaser was up on the bridge with the security officer he blew past on his way to his seat, and ignored when he got permission to attack the raiders.   

"Now, because I like to consider you more than a superior officer and a sound tactical fighter, I am taking you into the middle of an armed conflict.  You know what these raiders do to the living that oppose them, and what they do to the dead.  I must know right now you are up for this, that you will not get me or any of my people killed saving you from your own stupidity."

Buck felt drenched in cold water, with the sense of awakening from a numb, emotion-free state to the sharp pain of sensation returning.  Had he been so enveloped in a state of deadness dwelling on his pain that he let his job slip away from him?  Was he so far gone he didn't even realize those around him were picking up his slack and doing his work for him?  What about in his off-hours?  Was that why they didn't spend as much time with him?  They were covering for him professionally; they didn't want to continue babysitting him during their off time.  Or was it him that was pulling away from them? 

"Buck?  I know these words are harsh, but too much depends on our actions to allow me to become sentimental.  Are you up for this?"  His friend altered his tone to be less superior-subordinate to be more friend to friend.

He allowed himself a few seconds of thought before he answered.  Ezra risked much to confront Buck this way; sometimes the best kind of friend was the one that came to you and told you what an idiot you were being, no matter the consequences.  His friendship with the security chief required he really consider the question posed to him, and give an honest answer.  Was he back among the living where he could function without being a drawback to those around him?  Yes, he decided, he had come out of the fog and saw the universe as it really was again.  "I am now.  I –"

"Can talk about this later," Ezra dismissed the topic.  "Homesteader fences puts all the force fields and decompression bulkheads into place without the conditions required by the specifications and manuals.  Effectively –"

"Like the homesteaders fencing out the cattle from their former grazing fields and putting the squeeze on the ranchers, like our Old West holoprogram.  Only way around it is either turbolifts or through the tubes.  The corridors will be empty of people and mostly impassable.  Brilliant, Ezra."

"The codes for raising and lowering fields are voice-recognition with a password.  I issued codes to my security personnel and the senior officers.  Your passwords are scoundrel and lothario, accompanied by your first or last name."  Ezra dropped down out of the tube onto the deck with a graceful roll, phaser in one hand, tricorder in the other, the perfect picture of a prepared security officer.

Wilmington rolled out after him, covering the opposite side.  Standish picked a good spot – on his left a force field, and his right a decompression bulkhead.  He could hear the phaser fire to his left, meaning a battle was underway.

"Standish to Quiggs, status?"

"We're, uh, busy, sir.  Managed to stop them from cutting the walls through charges, but now they're trying the floor."

"Pity," Ezra said in reply.  "Activate Hot Feet."

"Yes, sir."

"Going back to our passwords, you use your first name and the first password I gave you if you are taken hostage.  That will create a silent alarm when you address the computer, and it will fill your area with sedatives routed from a central source, combined with a phaser grenade transported in to insure everyone in the affected area is rendered unconscious, not just the hostage.  The correct password is your last name and the second password I gave you."

"And Hot Feet?"

"The sections of flooring are supercharged to emit shocks on a random basis."

"Ouch.  You know you can be downright nasty, right?"  He shuddered, thinking on how painful it would be to receive the shocks from the flooring.  No wonder he called it Hot Feet – jumping up and down to get away from the floor.

"I defend what's mine," Ezra replied in a cold voice. 

"Why not knock 'em out?"

"Because they have some type of air filtration system included in their underclothing.  Gases are not effective; I tried those before you arrived on the bridge."

"Oh."  He remembered the sedative and the whiskey not allowing him to wake up easily, and did not remember seeing anything in the quick overviews about the gases not being effective.  Of course, he was more concentrated on the battle outside versus the one inside, and probably didn't see it, like he hadn't seen many things of late.

"Tanner to Standish."

"Standish," Ezra answered.

"We have a plan.  If you can herd them into one area, we can neutralize their weapons, but it will take out ours also."

The ship rocked hard to one side, only Buck's quick grab of Ezra prevented him from falling into one of the force fields. 

"You expect me to get my hands dirty?"  He sighed, even though a slight smile played on his lips.  "If I must."

"You must, head for the shuttlebay, that's sound enough to take some damage, and make sure Buck's there with you," Larabee's voice came through Ezra's communicator.  "He needs to pound something unconscious."

"I heard that," Buck said.  "Might help if the floor wasn't tilting on odd angles every five minutes."  He didn't like to think about the bruises he collected bouncing around the Jeffries tubes like a hoverball whacked for maximum effect.

"We're busy."  Larabee closed the connection on his end.

Maverick rolled the other direction, both men banging into the decompression bulkhead.

"If my head wasn't clear before, that sure helped out," Buck muttered.  "Wilmington to all security personnel.  Start her-"

Ezra slapped a hand over Buck's mouth, cutting him off.  "Standish to all personnel.  Check your tricorders for orders."  He tapped a few keys in his own tricorder once he removed his hand from Buck's mouth.  "No verbal orders, sir.  If they hear it or intercept it, we –"

"-are given them the advantage," Buck finished.  "That will be the last time.  After this, I'm reading all those padds, and your access to my accounts is revoked."

"How do you know I haven't emptied your accounts already?"  Standish smirked.  "Are you ready, SIR?"  he emphasized, the teasing a pleasant return to normal life. 

"Oh, hell yeah, Ezra.  And we're not done."

He felt alive.  Buck stood in the middle of melee faced by opponents on all sides, some armed with daggers, and fought for all he was worth.  It didn't matter what or where he hit, as long as each hit ended with a satisfying crunch of bone on his opponent.  How dare they come aboard his ship and attack his people, his friends; they needed to pay for that.  The faces of the colonists and people they lost flashed through his mind, lending strength to his punches.

Nothing touched him, reached him emotionally or physically.  Not the pain of the hits he took, or the slashes of the daggers on his arms; he was might and vengeance and right combined, and he used every ounce of it to drive the demons from him.  The rocking of the ship from the battle outside the shuttlebay doors only gave him momentum.  Bodies slowly piled around him, and when no one came to him, he hunted opponents.

He only stopped when no raider remained on his feet.  Even then, he helped expedite moving the injured, conscious ones none-too-gently to the brig.  Buck reached down to pick one up and saw a flash of red.  A knife!  He leapt sideways, swinging his foot into a hard kick and sent the homemade bloody blade across the room.  His fist followed into the man's face, hearing the crunch of bone on bone, and a feeling the snap in his hand. 

It stung, but he ignored it.  He continued on with his duties, ignoring the strange looks the crew gave him.  There was too much to do to stop for a bloody knuckle. 

"COMMANDER!" a voice bellowed from behind him. 

He'd been ignoring the pleas of the medical personnel to get checked out for the past hour or so; too much to do; he also stopped answering to his rank or name.  If they wanted him, they had to get in front of him. 

His captain did.  "Want to tell me why I have to chase you across the bay to get your attention?"

"Hey, Chris."  At the folded arm cold, I-am-not-amused glare, he amended his greeting.  "Captain, sir.  We've got things about cleaned up here."

"Good.  Get your butt to sickbay."

"For what?  I got a couple bumps and bruises.  Maybe dinged my hand.  I can still work."

"Perhaps you haven't notice the lines of dagger cuts up and down your arms.  Or the fact you're leaving trails of blood behind you wherever you go.  Or maybe you neglected to see your right hand is twisted and swollen in what the Chief Medical Officer called 'a manner not compatible with normal hand function.'  What about the blood dripping from the back of your head?  Shall I continue with the rest of the list, like your shoulder bent at an unnatural angle?"  He pointed to Buck's left shoulder.

"Huh.  Felt a little stiff."  Buck tried to roll it, winced, and stopped.  "Okay, I twisted it.  Where's Ezra?"

"Waiting for you to fall over," Standish replied from behind him.  "Unless, of course, you will save me the injury report and go to sickbay peacefully?"

Chris interjected, "The med tech assures me it's either a dislocated shoulder, or she's leaning toward a broken clavicle, since you don't seem to be favoring it, nor crying with pain."

"Couple dings.  Nothing to worry about, Chris, Ez.  I'll get checked out when I'm done."  He kept his voice low where others could not hear him address the captain by his first name.

"And if I make it an order?"  Hard green eyes bored into his blue ones.

"Captain," he started, seeing the unrelenting stare, "I can't show weakness.  Not now, when I finally have my head on straight.  To go to sickbay means I can't handle the fighting.  That I got beat up again, and this time they'll think I won't be any good in a fight after this."  Buck ignored the fact that now that he stood still for more than two seconds, he mentally fought to ignore the warning signs and signals his battered body sent him.

"That's how you see it?  Your pride's more important than your health?"

"No, but I'm fine."  Buck blinked, trying to hold his friend's hard stare, and fight off the feeling of weakness that crept over him with alarming speed.

"I see a man who's probably dying from injuries he's not acknowledging."

"I'm not that bad.  Sure, I took a couple punches, but seriously, Chris, I can handle it.  It's not like I have an internal bl- bleee- bleeding or anything."  He wobbled on his feet, his balance escaping his control for a moment.

Chris looked hard at him, seeing what Buck refused to acknowledge.

Buck never saw the punch coming.  Next thing he knew, he was in sickbay, then he passed out again.

When he woke again, he heard Chris apologize from a distance, but telling him he had been seriously injured nearly died from the blood loss.  Instead of answering, he went back to sleep not to hear the censure in his friend's voice.

Buck woke again in sickbay, but this one was different.  It smelled.  It was cluttered and wires everywhere, there were no clean lines, no silent flashing monitors above his head.  There was a box on a pole that made an incessant beeping sound, and he actually had a needle stuck in his hand!  What kind of hospital was this?  He couldn't feel the faint but steady and comforting thrum of the warp engines.  Was he on a colony somewhere?  Planetside?  What happened to him?

There was an archaic 2D monitor screen on the wall above his feet, and it was running some type of boring, flat video of the Enterprise-D.  He liked the Enterprise-D, but preferred the Maverick.  Since he didn't feel like getting anyone's attention, or talking to anyone, he stared at the monitor until he fell asleep again.

Consciousness returned with a voice.  "We now return to the Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon."

Marathon?  What kind of video was he watching?  He forced his eyes open and looked at the television.  Star Trek, oh yeah.  Good show.  Images flashed through his brain of himself on the bridge and in the shuttlebay, in a battle.  At least it seemed as if he was present, he wondered what happened.  What was real, and what wasn't?  Star Trek is a television show, he told himself, not real.  He looked around his room and saw a red knife on the stand.  It was just like the one that was thrown at him in the fight!  Struggling to rise, a sharp pain entered his head and he leaned back against the cushions.  When the wave of dizziness passed, he felt more awake and alert.  He looked over at the red knife.  His Swiss army knife.  It couldn't have been anything else, right?


 TBC                                                                                                                                                                             Index