‘Taking Stock - of the Heart'
[A Frontier Girl]
The next month and a half fell into a routine of duty shifts overhauling the ship systems and repairing the extensive damage caused during the boarding, getting up to speed with the vessel's routine and the captain's standards. Whilst not exacting they were rather obtuse. He wanted things done in a certain way and so done in a certain way they had to be.
Whenever the opportunity came, Jex and Cutler took the chance to escape to one of the recreational facilities or eateries in the various hubs of Spacebase 49. These getaways were welcome with the countdown confirmation of the launch as work on the Kestrel amazingly neared completion and met the criteria of Gardner's expectations. For they knew once the ship was launched it would be a case of them being cooped up on the Miranda. Of course, signing up for a life of space travel both knew being cooped up was part and parcel of the deal.
Of course, Cutler had his own reasons for wanting to escape the Kestrel. Jex knew this all too well and she had tried to talk to Cutler about his sense of guilt concerning the attack; but he resisted her overtures knowing her purpose. No matter what kind words she imparted, she was his friend and felt obliged to tell him it was not his fault when he knew it was.
"Come on Cutler, tomorrow we are set to launch and so this is our last lunch away from the Kestrel for a while. So either you take this opportunity to have some fun or talk about what happened."
Sourly he snapped. "Fine Jex if I'm such a misery guts why don't you do just what you're looking to do and walk away from me. It can't be serving your standing amongst the others on the crew to be hanging out with the ship's pariah."
Angrily Jex protested, "Now you listen here Cutler. I am not the type to cut and run on friendships. So don't ever accuse me of doing so. Even if you were the ship's pariah, I'd stand by you. Let me point out, that you are not. The only one persecuting you is yourself. Everyone else on board knows it was not your fault. If anything, we all had a share of the blame. McGregor himself places most of it the court of the station's security. It was just blind, bad luck you happened to be the one on the bridge at the time of the attack. It could just as easily have had been Dr. Monroe who had the conn when the attack occurred or even the Captain for that matter."
A voice from behind their table politely asked, "Did I hear my name mentioned in vain?"
They turned to see the ship's CMO with a hand on the back of Cutler's chair. She seated herself without an invitation but neither of them resented her intrusion as they had been talking about her. This Jex explained much to Cutler's consternation.
"I think your friend is quite astute Cutler. And you should trust her opinion and more importantly her friendship." She leaned in with one hand propped under her chin. "I could very easily have been the one on that bridge and I thank whoever above I wasn't. I don't know how I would have reacted in that circumstance plus I wouldn't have been there to help out those who were injured in the gunfights."
Cutler just nervously looked away from the table at the far view port through which in the distance the Kestrel could be seen docked at the main station of the starbase.
"Give yourself a little credit ensign. Just know, McGregor isn't going to pat you on the back and applaud you loudly, it's not his style. He thinks his mere presence is an inspiration for his junior officers."
"Maybe so but he thinks I'm a complete and utter waste. It's not that he is disappointed with me he has expectations of me at all. I've been foisted upon him. He didn't choose me for the position."
"I hardly think that ..."
Adamant he returned, "It's true I overheard him talking to Admiralty."
"In that case it is going to be to you to confound him and impress him, which as an eager ensign you'd have to do no matter your berth."
His response was a rather flat and dejected, "I suppose."
Jex eagerly agreed seeing at least some headway had been made. The tone was still poor but he was at least engaging the subject. "No suppose about it. We all have to pull up our socks to get any notice."
"Still I think it might be better to ask for a transfer."
Jex frowned and was going to argue but Monroe added in her wise and placating tones, "That is entirely your choice ensign. However, we ship out tomorrow and you won't be considered for a transfer unless you complete a least one tour of duty. In our case, a patrol route. A couple of months and then you are free to go your own way. Until then you paste a smile on that cute face, work up a sweat on that brow, and prove to the Captain just how wrong he is about you. We all had to do that."
Standing up abruptly, Jex proclaimed, "Thank goodness for that misery guts. Time enough for us to hit the holo-suites. I hear they are doing a group special. Something called ‘Paintballing', whatever that is. So come on. Thanks a million, doctor."
"No problem at all. Good luck ensigns." They moved off.
A friendly voice from behind Monroe called, "There you are!"
She turned and smiled genuinely. Judith shrugged her shoulders as part of her explanation, "Jocum. Sorry I must be late for our dinner. I got caught helping out some of our ensigns."
"How very maternal of you." He seated himself in the vacated chair and looked the premises over with a keen eye. "Not to matter, sure this will do nicely."
"I dare say it will. And when you think about we have tried Franco's before so we ought to try out somewhere new."
"Oh the old ‘We have to eat the in same old places and the same old food for months at a time cooped up on a ship' line." He chuckled sweetly, his eyes filled with mirth. "I swear you just use that excuse to try out all the expensive restaurants."
She playfully slapped his forearm. "You're spoilt for choice here. There's any number of restaurants, eateries and cafes. So yes, I do want to try them all. Not to mention I like the company." This last she said more seriously but with lots of warmth.
He sidled in closer. "Well you know there's a perfectly good way to fix your dilemma and have more of that company you mention."
"Don't start that debate again. I told you before; I'm a born and bred frontier girl. I belong out there." She pointed out the window to the stars beyond and the milling craft.
"Do I need to inform you that Starbase 49 is part of that frontier?"
"Yes I know but I like doing my job."
"The people here, and all who come to us, need doctors too. The Starbase could do with a seasoned doctor like you. It seems the starbases and space stations are getting ever younger doctors trying to find experience for their CV and then move on to either a CMO posting on a ship or back to Starfleet Medical Research."
"Oh, so I'm an ageing hack who is better off coming home to roost."
"Now you know that is not what I meant. But it would be perfect, we could see more of each other perhaps manage a holiday away together instead of hoping our schedules match up."
"Jocum, you're just sore because I went to Risa and you weren't able to. You run your own business you should be able to get time off whenever you want. What's the point of being your own boss?"
Slightly miffed at her curt reply and the reminder of her holiday without him he sourly answered Judith back. "You know full well it doesn't work that way. Besides you could have stayed here instead of jaunting off to Risa and getting up to all sorts."
Laughingly she retorted to keep the mood light. "I don't be getting up to any debauchery."
"No but if you had stayed we could have."
"It wouldn't have been a holiday then. I had four weeks leave, the ship was in the dockyards and I had to seize the opportunity. I was born on the frontier and I didn't exactly get to see much of the Federation in my youth."
"Well assignment to a border patrol vessel hardly affords you that opportunity either!"
"No but that was my choice. I wanted to practice medicine on the frontier. It's easy for you to think that the frontier is simply a bland comment bantered about living and working here at the Starbase. However, for those living on the frontier planets they are out on a limb, isolated or surrounded by hostile neighbours. On those planets, they have to contend with tough conditions, backward economies and backward technologies, and even more backward and for that matter corrupt governments too. When the Kestrel sails into these places, I can open a surgery and deal with people who don't get any other access to qualified medical care until I return. I can make a difference out there that I couldn't possibly do here."
He laid a protective and reassuring hand on hers. "I know that."
"Well I thought you understood it too. I grew up in those conditions and I know what it is like for those people. I can't walk away from what I see as an obligation. Not to mention the crew needs me. Nor do I want to walk away from it."
Pulling his hand away he said, "Yes but you're not giving us a chance."
Monroe reached out to grasp his retreating hand but failed to catch him in time. Although hurt, she bit back her anger, but aggrieved she pleaded with him in an injured tone. "Jocum don't do this."
"You expect me to be always here ready and waiting for your return. Some one of these days when you make it back to Starbase 49 you will discover me not waiting for your return. I'll have found someone else."
Monroe opted not to pander to his emotional blackmail. "If you do, I'll wish you every happiness but we have a good friendship we don't need to try and force anything more from it."
"Well I am not willing to play that game anymore Judith. You keep running back to the Kestrel and happily wave me goodbye. Are you like a sailor with a beau in every port? Is there someone pining away for you at Trafalgar Station?"
"Of course not!"
"Well what then? Is it Gardner? He's fond of you. Maybe his feelings are reciprocated."
Defensively she rushed out her answer, "Don't be daft, Eddie is a friend and that's that."
Rather disbelieving of her answer especially the haste in which she answered Jocum said in a cruel aside as he refrained from rolling his eyes. "We know he thinks more of it than that."
"Well I don't." She was firm on her answer, bidding no argument on that score.
"So is it McGregor? Is that why you can't commit to me? Because you have feelings for him."
"McGregor! Don't be absurd. He's hardly going to look at me. I'm not under twenty five years of age for goodness sake."
"But that does not mean you don't have feelings for him."
Despairing Monroe threw her hands up in the air. "If you listened to a word I have said you'd know why it is I don't want to be anymore committed than we are. But you don't listen."
"And you don't give us a chance. Fine." He stood, scraping the chair back harshly on the floor. "Goodbye Judith."
"Don't be like that Jocum. Sit down and let's talk about it."
Stopping to turn and address Monroe, Jocum stepped back towards the table and leant on it with ball of his palms. "We've tried and tried talking about it. However, there is no point when you are not open to any other possibilities. You are going to find yourself alone and unable to do the job anymore and then what. I will see you around. Or rather I won't."
He turned on his heel and walked away from the table leaving Monroe unable to formulate a response that would keep him from leaving.
* * *