The Sprite's Spittle
McGregor weaved his way through the corridors of the Sprite's Spittle. He had hauled the vessel over a number of times and had a familiarity with its type. He walked directly to one of the cargo bays leading an inspection team and went straight up to a crate. Alongside him, Judy Monroe asked, "You looking for something in particular McGregor?"
He chortled at the doctor as he cracked the crate open. "Aha! That I am. Last time, Thaddeus had a particular brand of rather illegal whisky. And lo and behold here he has some of it again." He tossed a bottle up out of the crate and snatched it happily. He grabbed the arm of a passing Benzite. The non-com took no umbrage at the interruption to his duties. "Gwort, get this crate back to the Kestrel won't you. In fact, I'm pretty certain that it should be secured somewhere safe. Hmm ... let me think, no I can think of nowhere no more secure than my room so that will have to be it. Don't worry about the paper work. My find, so I'll sort it out. Good lad." He clapped him on the back and sent him on the way.
"I thought we weren't chasing after Thaddeus simply to confiscate whatever illegal liquors he might be carrying. That this wasn't a just a free shopping trip for your private collection." Judy stated to McGregor.
He responded with a preposterous tone that did not convince just as Molly entered the cargo bay, "It isn't! Or as I said, it certainly, isn't the only reason why."
Cartwright ignored the bottle of alcohol the captain still held in his hand as she stood with her hands on her hips and informed him, "McGregor, T'Vel wants us to meet her near the engineering section. She and Thaddeus have something they want to show us."
"Oh! Sounds like it could be interesting." Staring into another opened crate the inspection team were going through, he distractedly rejoiced, "Beltanian fur! Outlawed and oh so warm." He picked up one coat and held it up to Judy. "Just your size Judy too. Impound this crate corpsman. I'll find my size later. Do you want dibs Molly?"
Molly frowned rather than reply. McGregor turned to Judy as he handed the fur coat back to a corpsman. "I'll take that as a no. Come on then Judy."
"Wait, let me inoculate you first." The hypo spray hissed as she deployed the inoculation.
As they started walking again, Molly asked of Judy, "What's the status of Gunny?"
"Mejal tells me he received a bad whack to the head. He has a likely concussion and a need to be observed. I'll check on his treatment when we get back to the Kestrel." Judy's faith in her charges was of the utmost because she chose the best and then trained them further herself. It was why she felt no compulsion to go running off to check on Gunny herself.
Thinking of the short but busty Andorian, McGregor playfully warned, "Mejal is treating him? Huh, tell Mejal to double check Gunny ain't faking it just to get the kiss of life."
Judy rejoined with her own coy barb. "Oh, that's standard training for all medical personnel onboard captain."
Declaring loudly and defensively, McGregor swaggered, "One time Judy! One time."
Molly gave Judy a sideways look, careful lest McGregor noted it. Judy but gave a subtle shrug to any suggestions Molly might have implied. "Denora can't ascertain the exact source of the radiation but is a hundred percent about it not actually being an engineering problem."
"And having scanned some of the crew, I can confirm that they have received several, rather subpar, inoculations to date to protect them. The fact Thaddeus has such a ready supply of inoculations aboard is in itself suggestive."
Molly chewed on the thought as they made their way to engineering. "Would he really use a radiation leak to screen whatever he hoped to hide? It doesn't seem Thaddeus' style."
"Who said Thaddeus had style?"
Again, Judy rejoined, "If I recall correctly, in the briefing you said he did."
McGregor waved off such a suggestion. "Judy, Judy, as if. Ah Yeoman Harris," McGregor's eye lit up at seeing the salacious form of the yeoman, "I have a few personal items to be delivered to my cabin. Be so good as to ensure they get delivered safely."
Harris waited in the corridor and started to fall in step with the trio. "Certainly Captain." She took possession of the bottle he still carried. "Have you an itemised list?"
"Not yet. I haven't finished shopping. Stick with us and see."
Judy interrupted any further asides with Harris. "You think this dampening field is hiding something more exotic then."
"It might. In fact, I'm sure of it. Gun running perhaps. Not what Thaddeus usually deals in but," his face began to grow more concerned though, "perhaps desperate situations required desperate measures." McGregor stopped at the start of a new corridor and looked to see T'Vel stood with Thaddeus at the opening of some kind of compartment or opening along the length of the corridor wall, one not found on the schematics. "Oh ho, found a new hiding place Thaddeus?"
Thaddeus turned from looking into the compartment to McGregor and blanched visibly. A strange sight to see in a Bolian McGregor thought. T'Vel too turned in their direction. At her side, the wisecracking Submino stood looking very subdued and ashen himself. T'Vel informed in what seemed to be a grave voice, "I believe we have a complication Captain." She then addressed Judy in a solemn tone. "Your assistance is necessary Dr. Monroe."
Monroe darted forward to the opening, from which a rank smell emanated. "My God!" she exclaimed. "Monroe to medical teams, report to my position stat. Sickbay be ready to receive patients." She threw a baleful look at Thaddeus who withered under the glare and stepped back, defeated and horrified with himself.
"What have you done Thaddeus?" McGregor quizzed as he came up to the doorway, a growing knot forming in his stomach. He looked into the compartment and saw them. At his side, Harris dropped the bottle as she stumbled backwards. It smashed on the deck plates but the violence of the impact registered not as they collectively took in the sight and the smell.
Pitiful, near skeletal figures lethargically lay in their own filth, in ragged clothes and ruined bedding. Their faces were pale and dejected their eyes listless and dull. Up to thirty of them were crammed into the tight claustrophobic confines. Piping hot conduits ran through the small space and several of the slaves bore burn marks among the welts and sores they also carried. Most harrowing of all was the broken spirit among them all. They did not even seem to register that they were now rescued.
The shocking sight was broken suddenly by McGregor's hand flashing through the air as he struck the stocky Bolian across the face causing Thaddeus to stagger backwards. In his other hand, his phaser pistol was suddenly stuck under the pirate's chin.
"P... p ... p ... pleaseeee!"
Levelly, T'Vel interjected, "He volunteered their hiding place and he is willing to tell you all Captain."
"That excuses it not!" McGregor snarled as Molly pulled on his pistol arm. He shrugged Molly off and hauled Thaddeus across the deck to the door as medical personnel filled into the tight confines. "Do you see what you have done? You treated these people like caged animals! I'll treat you no better."
Thaddeus could not look upon the sight.
Molly stepped up to Thaddeus' side. "How long have they been in here?"
Judy turned from her ministrations and organisation of the medical relief. Submino wordlessly started working on breaking free the shackles and bonds. "Six weeks! These people could be dead. Another few days and they would have been for sure."
"I was to feed them again tomorrow."
"That makes it all right?" She grabbed a shocked Harris to help her assist the slaves. Wordlessly the Yeoman stumbled into the small space, robotically doing as Monroe bid her. Judy did not even wait herself for whatever contemptible response Thaddeus had to give.
"Those were my orders. Feed them every other day so that they would be fit and healthy to a degree by the time they reached their ... their destination." His used his hands to cover his bowed head protectively. In a truly frightened voice, he implored, "Those were my orders. They have my kin hostage. If I did not deliver these people it would be my family that would be sold as slaves. You've got to believe me!"
"I have got to believe nothing Thaddeus. Only thing I have to do, is make those who orchestrated this pay for their crimes." McGregor's eyes blazed with an intensity that made even Molly back off. Grabbing Thaddeus harshly, McGregor pulled him away from the prison pen of the twenty or so imprisoned slaves. "Time for you to talk Thad. And talk plenty."
A snivelling Thaddeus kept dropping to his knees and impaired McGregor's transport of him. He feared whatever direction the border dog was taking him. "They'll kill me! They'll kill my family or sell them into slavery."
Following behind, Molly called, "You didn't seem to mind too much in the first place to sell someone else's family into slavery." Molly looked back at the pen where T'Vel stood helping to organise the rescue efforts. She wanted to remain to help but feared what McGregor might do.
From down the corridor Eddie Gardner came accompanied by Caleb Dexter and Nurse Mejal as they led a number of medical corpsmen to the scene. The engineer and security chief looked on at the scene without any comment. Mejal's blue antennae twitched upwards in shock and horror at the sight. Her bio-electric senses overwhelmed by the number of penned in persons. She took but only a brief moment before she steeled herself and flipped open her medical kit. "There, there. It's ok. We are going to take care of you."
The slaves ranged in species. There were mostly lower caste Orions, and even a few frontier humans. Frightened and mistrustful they even flinched and retracted from the tender help offered. Eddie turned his shocked attention to the sight of Judy and her medical personnel starting to administer help and prep the slaves for transport to sickbay. "My God! Here let me help Judy." Monroe hardly registered that it was Eddie offering her a hand.
Being dragged on his knees, the fat Bolian implored, "Please McGregor. They'll kill me! Please!"
McGregor looked down on him distastefully. "What makes you think for a second I won't?"
Molly warned McGregor as he dragged Thaddeus up the corridor. The Captain paid her little heed, which only served to frighten Thaddeus further. "Where are you taking me?"
Caleb pointedly ignored the sight of the slaves and nodded in the direction of the captain. He asked of T'Vel, "What's McGregor doing?"
"He is endeavouring to find the truth about Thaddeus' dealings with T'Hos."
"T'Hos? Sure it was T'Hos who tipped us off."
T'Vel took a moment before responding. "Apparently not. Apparently McGregor was ... what is the poker term you employ? ‘Playing his cards close to his chest'. T'Vel to Ney. Prepare for site to site transport on Dr. Monroe's mark." T'Vel ignored the squeals from Thaddeus as McGregor persisted in dragging the Bolian freight captain away from the scene. Instead she focused on the medical assistance being offered and noted that transporter tags were being attached to the victims. "Are you ready for transport doctor?"
"Take us in two batches." Judy instructed. T'Vel understood that Monroe would go with the first batch and wanted a small space between the two beam ins to prevent the medical bay from being overwhelmed at once. Judy nodded her head. "Ready."
Judy and half of the group in front of them disappeared with the first transporter wave. It caused a frightened stir among the rest of the slaves. Mejal and the others tried their best to reassure them. "It will be ok. We are taking you next." Mejal looked up at T'Vel after a small moment and nodded that it was time enough.
T'Vel began to instruct Ney on the bridge again. "Wait." The Andorian suddenly demanded. Mejal stepped forward handing a hypo spray to Harris and a medical tricorder. "Make sure that all of the Stallion boarding party members get their inoculation. We can't spare any of our people. Go ahead."
A dumbfounded Harris offered no response as T'Vel instructed for the last mass transportation to begin. The medical team and the rescued slaves dissolved into transporter mist. As they disappeared the detritus of their living hell was all that remained and painted a horrid tale in and of itself. The faeces, the smell, the spoiled air. Eddie Gardner and Yeoman Harris both stood amid the vestiges of the carnage and broken shackles looking shaken and broken. Dexter exclaimed a heavy sigh on the corridor and moved off in the direction of McGregor and his confrontation.
"Wait." T'Vel grabbed his arm. "I believe the captain wants to speak to Thaddeus alone."
Eddie and Harris turned to look at the strange tense situation between T'Vel and Dexter. "Yeah, well you might be content as second officer to sit around like a second fiddle. But I am the chief of security, and I'd sooner be in the loop as to what is going on." He pulled his arm free of her grip and stabbed a finger in the direction of where the slaves had been stowed away. "Perhaps then we would be prepared for what we are getting into."
"I do not believe the captain knew about the slaves."
"But he knew this ship was operating some sort of mission for T'Hos." Dexter turned and looked down the corridor. A number of security personnel had gathered ready to secure the site and gather evidence. "No wonder they put up a resistance in engineering. Had we known that, we would have been better prepared."
T'Vel's tone brokered no sympathy. "It was a SARAH. Your team should have been prepared for any and all eventualities. You should not have been complacent."
"Don't you damn well tell me about being complacent. I'm far from complacent!"
"Let's cut it out you two." Eddie tried to intervene. Harris seemed startled out of her shocked state by the argument.
Molly at the other end of the corridor came thundering down it even though reluctant to leave Thaddeus to the mercies of McGregor. But the appearance of Rah at the captain's side had appeased her somewhat. "That's enough. You are both senior officers and you had better start acting like it. There's still an inspection to complete, a major crime incident to report, and you two have your after action reports to begin compiling too. Neither of you have the time for this."
Dexter railed at Molly now. "He shouldn't have been holding back on us. It's bad enough he is playing games with the boarding parties but withholding vital information is just reckless."
Eddie, wishing he had remained in engineering instead of being waylaid here, tried vainly to hush the situation with his hands up. "People. People."
Molly was not to be silenced though. "You don't need to lecture me Dexter. In fact, it isn't your position to do so." Cartwright hauled him in with her tone. "McGregor has his reasons for keeping stump about certain things. As the chief of security I'm sure you can appreciate his precautions."
He argued back. "As the chief of security I should be informed."
"I'm first officer and I didn't know!"
A silence fell over the group. The lower ranked personnel tried to hang back inconspicuously from the fraught scene. Even Submino kept his smart mouth shut.
Harris suddenly aware that she was holding a hypo spray and a medical tricorder darted forwards between the four high ranking officers. "Dr. Mejal said I had to inoculate all boarding party members!" She pronounced it loudly and it was clear the yeoman was unsettled.
Molly noted the yeoman's shaken state and understood it was nothing to do with her witnessing a row between the senior officers. Rather the sight of the slaves was a horrendous reminder of where the Kestrel had once rescued her from. Molly wanted to wince for the yeoman and whatever inner turmoil she had to be feeling. She was a rather closed book to all onboard save McGregor. McGregor was the yeoman's saviour and ever since her guardian and only comfort in the world. "Best to listen to the yeoman."
Harris took the hypo and pressed it against Dexter's arm. He didn't seem to flinch or register the hypo's administration. Harris turned then to T'Vel. The Vulcan looked down on the hypo abhorrently. She took a backward step. "I do not require medication. My Vulcan physiology has a greater ... resistance."
"Mejal said I had to inoculate everyone who was part of the boarding parties."
Caleb scornfully remarked, "Well if McGregor is going to keep things to himself, Harris can keep the medication to herself."
"Knock it on the head Dexter! T'Vel, no-one is going to be doing any self-diagnosis today." Molly locked looks with the Vulcan. Their previous run-in in sickbay replaying in the Commander's head.
Firmly T'Vel denied the request. "I insist on returning to the ship in that case."
Dexter grabbed the hypo. "Damn it to hell. Take the inoculation!" T'Vel opened her mouth to protest but Deter acted swiftly, grabbing her arm and then depressed the hypo.
T'Vel blanched at his action with visible horror and anger writ large on her face. She struck out forcibly. Dexter toppled sideways from the violent blow. Gardner managed to catch Dexter as he fell. The hypo clattered along the deck plates. Molly rushed forwards unsure of her purpose but stopped at T'Vel's side in order to comfort the obviously distressed Vulcan. Cartwright found herself calling out, "Caleb!"
Getting back to his feet swiftly and enraged he turned on the Vulcan. "You're a rancid and deranged nutcase! I should have you on charges."
Forgotten at the end of the corridor, McGregor glared angrily in their direction. "Take him to the brig Fang." Thaddeus had no chance to protest as McGregor stormed down the corridor, where Molly now stepped away from T'Vel and pushed Dexter back.
Stabbing a finger into Dexter's chest, Molly ranted, "You'll do no such thing though Mister Dexter as you may find yourself up on charges!"
"Me?!" Dexter asked incredulous.
"You forcibly applied a hypo over a ... patient's expressed desire." Molly stabbed accusingly uncaring of the witnessing lower ranks. "Let's not consider what charges could be laid at your feet."
"What the HELL is going on here?" All turned to McGregor as he barrelled into the spat. "We have discovered slaves onboard. Slaves! And you are at each other's throats. Damn it, this is why we are here. This is why we do this job." He exchanged long looks with each of them. Reluctantly they all sensed it was the best thing to back down. It was not ever that McGregor played it the stern role of commanding officer.
"I have a senior chief petty officer lying injured from the assault on his way to the Kestrel sickbay which is now filled with slaves. My chief of the boat is confining a criminal to the brig. I look around and I see my XO, my chief of security and second officer standing in the corridor chewing each other's heads off. So I have to ask myself," and at this his ire grew louder, "what the hell are they doing? Meantime the operation to take and secure an enemy bridge and engineering section appears by the minute to be all the more redundant when I see the two team leaders not securing those sections. This ship is supposed to be locked down. What kind of half-assed operation is being conducted here?"
"Petty Officer Chomsky is in command of the remaining team on the bridge. She is ..."
"I don't want flaming excuses Vel. I want this ship secured." He looked from T'Vel to Dexter. Both stood silent as he berated them. The onlookers tried to slink back but had nowhere to go. McGregor's badge chirped. He snarled but was thankful for the intrusion. "What is it?"
"Captain, it is Ensign Jex. I'm currently onboard Stallion One. We were still gathering sensor readings and detected a strange spike of energy in engineering. We don't know what it is."
"Fine."He turned to Dexter and pointedly and scathingly instructed, "As my chief of security you can go check it out. Take Submino with you seeing as how you lost Gunny in the Op."
Dexter's face grimaced as the unvoiced charged was lashed at him. He took a moment before, dutifully replying. "Aye Captain." Dexter turned and stalked off at a quick trot with Submino falling in beside him.
Watching them go McGregor growled at the sight of Gardner. "Eddie make yourself bloody useful and get back down there yourself. You're the engineer - so go engineer."
"It was where I was before..." Eddie was about to offer a protest but instead puffed out his bearded cheeks in resignation. "Never mind, I'd sooner be there than here." Whether he meant at the site of the slaves' imprisonment or beside McGregor in his foul mood was not made clear. He stomped off muttering under his breath, "... bleedin' ... damned ... all the things I have to ..."
Arms folded, Molly declared, "My you're pissy."
"In case you all have realised it yet Molly, this is serious, we've rescued thirty odd slaves and T'Hos is playing it for real! You're damned right I'm pissed. And not the good kind of pissed, three sheets to the wind kind of pissed. Just royally pissed off. I haven't got time for petty squabbles. Anyway, Eddie works better when he's in a grouch." McGregor mood was darkly as he turned away from Molly. Her mood was dark too but she was clearly restraining letting off a volley in return at McGregor. He near careened into Harris as he did though. Her presence hit him with sudden realisation. "Harris!"
He fumbled for words, knowing the anguish she must have felt at seeing the slaves. "Harris. You, you had best be getting back to the Kestrel. Go on, now." He didn't even bother to give any kind of excuse for the instruction. Nor did she look it. Instead, she took off handing the medical tricorder over to Molly. As she departed he watched her go. Concern seemed writ over his face. He then turned to T'Vel and took in her seemingly shaken demeanour. Again, sympathy seemed to wash over his features as he took in the Vulcan. "You may as well take off back to the ship too Vel. Molly you can take to the bridge."
T'Vel said nothing but wringed her hands before setting off. Again, McGregor watched as she retreated. To Molly he said, "I trust Chomsky will have everything in order. But I want some brass there in case anything goes wrong." He turned to those few standing around awkwardly. "You lot! Get to work. Secure this and shut that damn dampening field off Whent and Jock. This side show is over."
Molly asked of him. "Where will you be?"
"I want to turn the screws on Thaddeus but I want to verify what that energy spike was first." The itch between his toes was not gone yet and he had a feeling that he should have brought his umbrella for he felt it was still to rain crap.
"You didn't imagine Thaddeus was caught up in this kind of thing did you?"
"No. No, I had not figured he's be up to the shit this much." He exhaled deeply. "Which means T'Hos is stepping up his organisation big time. He really thinks that he can take on the Syndicate and the Orion clans."
"What will we do?"
He paused to consider that. "It depends on what Thaddeus knows. If he was transporting those slaves somewhere directly, then we are going in and going in hard."
"What about hunting T'Hos down?"
It pained him to say it so but he could only do one thing. "He'll just have to wait."
"Then go turn the screws on Thaddeus. We have the ship and will continue to secure it."
He considered that and it felt the right thing to do but he stopped to ask Cartwright, "What the hell was that all about back there?"
"Your senior officers are bickering because you don't trust them. And they don't trust each other. The way you are playing things with hunting down T'Hos is starting to have its effect. You can't play the mad unorthodox captain and expect it not to have some sort of payback among the crew."
He groused at her. "I'm sensing a lecture, Molly."
She walked after him as he sought to escape her lecture. "That's what it is. Rather than sense it perhaps you'd consider listening to it."
Stopping in his tracks he exclaimed aloud, "So what? You want me to not hunt T'Hos down? After seeing what he is making honest criminal people do you want me to step back and let him?"
She stepped towards him as she spoke. "McGregor don't get all holier than thou with me about your ‘mission'. You've a vendetta against T'Hos. You have good cause to want to chase him down but let's not pretend ..." her foot kicked something and it slid across the deck. She looked down surprised and suddenly realised it was the hypo spray.
McGregor stooped to pick it up. "What is ...?"
"It's the inoculation hypo Harris ... it fell when ..." a dawning realisation was coming on Molly. "The inoculation!"
"What about it?"
"It was to counter the effects of radiation in the body." A horrified Molly looked in the direction T'Vel had departed. "T'Vel!"
* * *
"Fuck me blue!"
A dry retort was quick off Caleb Dexter's tongue. "You ain't my type Submino. And in case you hadn't noted it, you are Bolian."
"Hey! You ain't my type either."
"Once you go black my man."
"Yeah whatever," Submino said unconvinced. "When you go blue nothing else will do."
Eddie Gardner's voice groused from within the inner working of the engines. "Get a room you two. What's up Submino? The rest of us are doing a job or two you know. Like you should be."
"Ah, don't be jealous Chief. I onlys wanted to know is that Gunny's medallion?"
"What? Yeah sure. He must have lost it when he fell." Dexter informed Submino distractedly. He continued scanning. Likewise around the engineering room the other members of the team and the supplementary from the inspection team were scanning the engineering section thoroughly.
Submino stooped over to pick the medallion up.
He was at Eddie's ankles as he did so. Gardner threw a frustrated look at the Bolian as if his presence was impairing his repairs. "Stupid hog."
"Hey Eddie! That ain't nice to say about Gunny. Even if he is a Tellarite! Har!"
"I meant this stupid engine."
Dexter tried to scoff. "Are you sure you don't mean Gunny? He beat you at poker and you bear grudges."
"Ha!" Eddie moaned more than laughed. He tossed a sonic wrench into his cloth tool bag. As he wriggled himself out from under the main plasma conduit branch off from the core. Dusting down his hands as he sat on his knees, he said, "We'll see tomorrow night."
Submino stooped again as he offered a hand to Gardner in getting up. "Chief you should play cards with us."
"He only wants your credits Eddie. Save ‘em for me." Dexter's tricorder chirped as he waved it in the direction of Eddie and Submino. He stepped forward to investigate and pinpoint the source.
But the Bolian's eye caught it first as he leaned over. In catching sight of what they were searching for, Submino lost his grasp of Eddie who fell back on his ass. "Fuck!"
Dexter whistled out his breath as he took in what had been discovered by Submino. The Bolian's eyes bulged as he took in the secretly placed bomb. "Fuck me blue big time." He then took in what the explosive was attached to. The main plasma conduit! "Fuck me to the power of ten."
* * *