Star Trek Universe
Admiral Travis fought the smile that threatened to spread across his lined face. It was brilliant. Captain Larabee could be one mean, raunchy, SOB if someone threatened his crew. Rules and civility disappeared when his crew fell to harm. The controlled malevolence that radiated from the Captain was nearly tangible.
What Travis found a little frightening, were the six men that would follow their leader to hell and back. They would follow him to the ends of the universe simply because he himself would lead the way.
It was a natural leadership that spawned a fierce loyalty from those who held themselves from their peers. The senior officers of the Maverick were an unruly frightening pack. Most captains avoided signing on any of the six. Each man alone could be abrasive. It was no secret amongst the Admiralty and other StarFleet captains that Larabee had taken hold of a vipers nest. One day he would get bit...They were all waiting for it.
What the others did not know...What the Judge had always suspected...Larabee was an edgy, moody loner who had no use for rules or protocol. He surrounded himself with a crew that could think outside the Box. He simply approached and requested his senior crew. There were no promises of fast track careers...no ideologies portrayed. Hell no...these six men, in all reality, could take or leave Starfleet. The uniform simply gave them direction. It offered them opportunities to peruse things they enjoyed.
To threaten them with excommunication from the legions of Starfleet would be met with indifferent shrugs. Now that Larabee had melded them into a working unit...to dismiss one you dismissed the other six. Even the young JD, whose aspirations were to become a Starship Captain...would give up those boyhood dreams to follow his friends...or better yet family. The men held an allegiance to each other and to their Captain. In turn it was the Captain's loyalty toward Starfleet and its Federation that kept the others in line.
Would Buck Wilmington ever make it to the Captain chair on his own? Probably not ... Wilmington did not hold that kind of ambition. Ask him what he desired...Good whiskey and better women. But, under Chris's command Wilmington could one day make the transition to the Captain's seat if he should desire it. Travis feared that Starfleet would have to thrust that responsibility onto the First Officer. Buck would never seek it on his own.
The Vulcan would have long ago walked away from the constrictions of a military life...in fact he had been considering it until Chris hooked him. Tanner had no concerns about climbing the ladder of promotions.
Josiah floated from planet to planet searching for something that not even he was sure of. Nathan fought for a chance to be recognized but had been over looked and stepped on too many times by those that advanced utilizing his skills. And Standish...hell the man had one foot in the brig before Chris hauled him on board.
To each man Chris simply requested their presence. The other six lined up an followed.
Travis amended his thoughts....Ensign Dunne had begged, pleaded and finally 'stowed' away on a shuttle.....in the pilot seat...proving to Larabee his eagerness and unflinching desire to follow the others. Standish, well he had nowhere else to turn. Chris pulled a man drowning in rumors from the black sea of despair and placed him on the plank. Whether or not Standish walked off the plank into the water or back onto the ship....Larabee left it to him to decide.
It was with these thoughts, that the Admiral listened in fascination to the plan that unraveled from the Captain's mind.
Travis almost feared for Fitzpatrick's life....almost. Orrin Travis chomped at the bit. It was time to bait the hook.
+ + + + + + +
Buck Wilmington lay quietly in the diagnostic bed watching the small cadre of people surrounding Standish. He strained to hear what was transpiring but could only hear JD rustle impatiently over on the next bed.
"What's going on Buck?" Dunne tried to push himself onto his elbows. A wave of dizziness assaulted the young man forcing him to lay back. His pulse rushed his temples with a pounding cadence. His stomach turned.
"Shush JD....I can't hear with ya movin' all around." Buck waved his hand dismissively at the young ensign without turning around. If he had he would have seen the sickly, green, pallor that had captured his young friend's face.
"Jist ride it out JD....ya'll be ok," Vin whispered from the next bed over. He too strained to pick up the conversation but ,like Buck, was distracted by Dunne's impatient movements.
Wilmington peered over his shoulder at JD. "Ahh damn kid, Ya know Nathan told ya to keep both yer shoulders on the bed." Buck rolled over and leaned across the space and placed a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder. "Jist take it easy, breathe through it...that's it...nice an slow." Buck closed his own eyes. His head hurt almost as much as his chest and face. Though the bones were healed and bruises fading....the deep muscle, tissue and bones remembered the pain and would not relinquish the memory so easily. Besides Regenerating pads could only heal so much at once. The body still dictated and controlled much of the healing process. Science and technology sped it along and complimented it. Yet, it was the body's own recuperative powers that dictated the level of healing.
Bottom line...the three men were still in pain, still weak and slept alot.
Down the bank of beds the same held true for the recuperating Security Chief.
Buck opened his eyes again. He noticed JD had dozed off. The poor kid had his brain bounced around in his skull like a rubber ball in a small room.
Wilmington gently rolled back over to try and catch what was happening down the row. The First Officer sighed in disappointment when he noticed Standish was alone once again.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra stared up at the ceiling. A vicious stab of loneliness speared his soul. His heart had settled back against his backbone or so it seemed. His stomach had dropped to his knees and what little spirit he had for the 'job' flittered and vanished with his exhaled breathe.
His eyelids suddenly felt too heavy to move. His body survived on its autonomic functions while the conscious mind wanted to shut down. His heart had raced when Josiah and Nathan had spoken to him. Ezra always had assumed Larabee would do something like this face to face. Instead the formidable captain sent his minions.
Standish closed his eyes and tried to control the sadness that spiraled through him.
He was to go before a review board. Even as Josiah and Nathan spoke to him...Admirals were boarding the ship and congregating in one of the conference rooms. They would be debriefed first, they would be made privy to the events that had flared on board the Maverick.
Then the sacrificial goat would be presented for slaughter.
Ezra felt his heart race again. Felt it hammer wildly against his chest. His throat constricted in familiar rage and frustration. His teeth ground against one another as jaw muscles flexed and twitched. He had screwed up one to many times. With drenching self loathing he berated himself for playing within their rules. Working within the conventional confines established by the accepted doctrine of Right and Wrong. It only hastened his plummeting down fall. He hated himself for trying to be something he would never be, a team player.
Larabee finally realized it. Standish despised himself for even trying to work within the parameters set by foolish, naive persons who did not understand how things truly worked. Had he followed his instincts he could have avoided and masked his tracings. Instead he had performed his duties as expected of a Lt. Commander and as a result brought about his own miserable failure.
Screw them all.
Another review board. It was merely a formality, Captain Larabee was dotting his 'i's and crossing his 't's. Standish had always assumed that the Captain would knock his teeth in and then jettison him out a torpedo tube. He had never thought Larabee would be so formal as to go the regulation route.
Ezra surmised he had Admiral Travis to thank for this little show of civility.
Stupid...how could he be so stupid as to fall for the idiocy of hard work and friendship? So, so, unimaginably foolish. A child's mistake. More than anything he needed to feel the comfort of a deck of cards. He craved them.
Standish let his gaze wander down the row of empty beds to the three that were occupied. He was already segregated from the others. He did it himself long before the Captain and the others saw a need for it. It was the way of things. Just accept it...let the burning, humility of being duped brand the lesson into you. Never...never did you belong amongst them...
JD was nestled comfortably and safely between Vin and Buck.
Ezra wondered what it was like to experience that kind of security. Gainan had given him a taste of it once...so long ago. He had experienced it briefly again here on the Maverick. It was a con...you conned yourself into believing you were something you're not. So naive.
Buck moved and gestured toward him. A friendly smile clearly visible on the mustached man.
Standish simply bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment. What would it be like to be the person everyone enjoyed being around? The First Officer had a smile for everyone, he had a way about him that made a room laugh. People naturally gravitated toward Buck Wilmington and he embraced them all...well the women at least.
Standish refused to make eye contact with the man. Instead the Security Officer's gaze fell to the blanketed legs of Tanner. He thought he had found a friend in the Vulcan...well maybe not a friend but someone else who understood what it was like to watch from the outside, never really venturing in to join the others.
A review board. His eyes stung and he directed his gaze toward the ceiling blinking a few rapid times.
With a sigh Standish pushed himself into a sitting position. With legs dangling over the side of the bed and head bent the gambler fought to get his equilibrium. When the gyrations of his inner ear slowed to an uneven but manageable speed he slid to his feet. It was time to face his judgment.
Nathan Jackson strode into the room with a heavy heart. Josiah had gone to search out the Captain. To say the counselor was angry was a gross understatement. Jackson would have like to have joined his older friend but he had duties and responsibilities to his patients.
Jackson gazed up and saw one of his charges trying to gain his feet. The doctor quickly crossed the distance and started to berate the man. Nathan suddenly stopped. Instead of defiance and a willing fight brewing....he found a defeated, resigned expression. Never in the few short months that he had known the gambler had Nathan ever seen him look so tired and utterly defeated.
"You aren't ready to be on your feet yet Ezra." His tone softened because he knew his words were wasted. Standish needed what little reserves he had too fight the sharks that wanted use him as chum.
"You cannot expect me to face my judgment dressed like this?" Please Dr. Jackson allow me the dignity to face my accusers with some pride. A satiric, dimpled smile struggled to his face.
Nathan paused, Gawd Ezra you don't have to face them alone...let me or Josiah go with you.., "No, of course not...just take it..."
Ezra cut him off with a thankful half laugh, "Of course doctor." The Security Chief shuffled passed the doctor down the corridor and passed the three injured men. Men whose safety was his responsibility. Gawd he was such a screw up.
"'Ey Ez? Where ya off to?" Buck wiggled onto his elbows. Something was wrong...terribly wrong. The explosive argument that he and Vin had expected to erupt between Nathan and Ezra had not occurred. There was no spectacular eruption of witty remarks or quick verbal take downs.
"Duty calls." Standish grinned at them bending the rim of an imaginary hat on his brow. He wished them silent farewells. Ezra quickly left the room praying he hid the wrenching that twisted his guts.
Buck and Vin exchanged worried glances over the sleeping form of Dunne.
"Ey Nathan?" Buck called out. He waited patiently for Jackson to acknowledge him but the Doctor merely stood by the diagnostic bed Standish had just occupied, with his back to them.
"Ey Nathan!" Wilmington yelled out. Anger laced his voice, a tinge of authority singed the words.
Jackson turned and faced the two conscious men. The doctor took a deep breathe gaining his composure. He plodded down the row trying to square his shoulders, trying to keep the weight of what was about to happen to one of his friends from dragging him down.
It was too much. Despite his best efforts the Doctor found himself rolling under the heavy loss of one of their own. Standish always knew he would be sacrificed if things went awry. They had tried to deflect and unobtrusively dissolve those fears. It would seem the young gambler knew the way of it. How could Ezra even smile...act like he had been invited to a luncheon? How does he manage to just brush these things off like dust on his sleeve?
"What's up with Ezra?" Buck tried to joke and lighten the mood, "how come he gits to waltz out of here when just this morning you were packing him like a sardine on ice?"
Nathan raised his gaze from the foot of the bed to Wilmington and then Tanner. He closed his eyes for a second and thought about what he should say and decided on the truth. Buck did indeed carry the weight of Second in Command....and better yet a concerned friend.
"A panel of Admirals have come on board....They have requested Ezra's presence after reviewing the what happened in the shuttle bay."
There was a heavy silence. Vin cocked his head slightly to the side as if he did not quite believe what he had heard.
Buck's mouth dropped open a few millimeters and then snapped shut.
Anger flashed in both their faces. As if on cue both scrambled to get out of bed.
"Like hell..." Buck nearly shouted. No one was going to flush Standish to those bureaucratic idiots.
Vin never said a word but simply slid to his feet. He would not leave a friend to dangle from the hangman's noose.
Nathan grabbed Buck before the giant man toppled toward the floor.
The Vulcan's knees buckled. With a hoarse cry of defiance Vin collapsed to the floor unconscious.
Nathan watched helplessly as the partially healed knife wound oozed.
Wilmington's face drained of color. He dragged a struggling Jackson to the floor with him.
Ezra sat quietly in his darkened quarters. He kept the lights off. The gambler did not want to see his reflection. He did not wished to see his face as he dressed in his uniform, for what he perceived to be the last time. He did not want to bare witness to the likeness of defeat. A cold deadness enveloped him inside. It was almost easier to sit and ignore the order to appear before the board. With some serious consideration, he desired to hide under the protection of his old teacher. Even if that security wrought a pain all its own...at least it had some comforting familiar boundaries. Chaplain would use him as he had in the past...but Gainan had never tried to convince him otherwise. Ezra was simply a tool to him...something to use as an ends to a means...Gainan had never promised anything more. He had value as long as he was useful...there was no harm in that...Maude had been teaching him the same lesson all his life. No harm no foul...just the way of things.
StarFleet had interrupted and promised more, offered a young man living in another's shadow a chance to step out from behind the darkness. It promised an open ideology, it held lofty ideals....but in the end Starfleet was made of individuals....the same individuals that used tools, needed advancement...stepping stones and excuses. It was made of parts that created an imperfect whole. If you fit their ideologies. if you followed their rules of thought then you belonged.
Standish survived as he had been taught. Gambling and scheming. Starfleet was not quite sure what to do with an unrepentant conman...until Larabee breezed through and snatched him away. It was with an almost audible sigh that the most trying and troublesome officers in Starfleet were sequestered under one command...under the command of one of their more unpredictable Captains.
Starfleet had watched and waited.....waiting for the explosion that would be the Maverick...instead after a few months the misfit, beguiling group had begun to blaze a name for themselves amongst their peers. Ezra felt proud to be apart of it.
In the end...Larabee belonged to the whole. Though a loose cannon himself, apparently Chris was not above offering sacrifices to appease his puppeteers. Ezra had always hoped Larabee would spare him the humiliation of a formal disciplinary action. Standish had always hoped for a quiet dismissal. Probably violent on a personal level because Larabee spoke with his fists more times than not...but still Ezra had hoped for better or maybe shoddier treatment....but not this...not a Review Board.
Standish had always been alone, always chosen to be alone, well not always but early on he had learned about the evolution of friendship.
Friendships could start slow, or quick, they would burn with brilliance for a bit and then fizzle and dim out. In the end one was only left with the cold ambers of nothing. A painful void would be left in its wake.
It was the evolution of things. They began, flourished and died out. Careers, friendships, games, battles...anything...everything. They all followed the same pattern. The turbulent, painful, times lay in the transitional periods. The time when strangers struggled to find a common ground. The time when friendships flourished seemed to be a plateau, an area of mutual benefit. The decline of the relationship was again tiring and woeful.
Just like life, just like a game or even the passage of a day. It was the way of the universe. The evolution of things. Birth, life and death. The times in between hurt. They burned and ached and cried for comfort. With the close of all things came a comfortable numbness...a simple resignation that all things must come to a conclusion.
Ezra stared out at the stars. The stars he had never seen from under the bright lights of saloons and casinos. He gazed at the trillion of stars whose existence had been shielded from him until he fled planets clinging to the skirts of his mother. He had never appreciated them until he left the comfortable security of his way of life.
Even stars evolved...coming into existence with brilliance and fizzling out with a rapture of color.
Almost like his career....almost like his tentative friendships on board....well without the dancing rays of color, of course.
Standish pushed himself slowly to his feet. He wobbled for a bit, closed his eyes against the dizziness and then headed out the doors. It was with a hollow resignation that he faced his 'firing squad'.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah Sanchez burst into Larabee's ready room like a man gone mad. In two long strides the giant counselor tore the Captain from his seat and slammed him into a wall.
"What the hell are you doin'?" The deep voice grated like thunder down a canyon.
Larabee glared at his older friend. This was developing into an annoying habit.
"You're hanging him out to dry." Sanchez raised Chris a few inches from the floor.
Travis remained in his chair enjoying the dynamics of the Captain's choice officers. This was a new command technique.
When Josiah started lifting the Captain from the deck, Travis realized it was time to intervene.
"Chris you didn't explain this to your officers?" Orrin had no intentions of getting any where near the two men. He stayed comfortably seated.
"Tell us what?"
"Put me down Josiah." It was a quiet request masking a murderous rage.
Sanchez recognized the tone and with very little fear relinquished the younger man. There was more to this story than revealed.
In a few minutes, Admiral Travis quickly informed the simmering counselor of the plan.
In the end the Sanchez simply asked, "Anyone think to tell Ezra?"
"Not yet." Chris headed back toward his seat. His officers were a bit on edge, "I'll git a hold of him right before...make sure he's clear on what's going on."
Larabee raised his eyebrows a small smile quirked at the corners of his mouth, "You threatening me Counselor?"
Sanchez's baritone chuckle rumbled across the room, "Maybe."
+ + + + + + +
Chris Larabee bit back his anger. Of all the stupid, idiotic, unpredictable, sophomoric, Son of a Bitchin' dumb ass moves he's pulled in his life....the gawdamn man who is late for everything...shows up not only on time but early.
The Captain fumed. Travis stared down at his hands trying to muffle his laughter. He laid a restraining hand on the Captain. Larabee looked ready to leap out of his seat and strangle his security officer.
Lieutenant Commander Ezra P. Standish stood before the Board dressed impeccably in his uniform. The only hint of his illness were the dark shadows under his lackluster eyes and redden hue to his cheeks.
Ironically the gambler had already been in the room waiting on his Judges. It was as if he wished for this to hurry up and end.
Travis felt a little guilty for stringing the poor man along. The gambler had at first appeared beaten and resigned to his fate.
When some of the members of the Admiralty started filing in the resignation did a slow burn toward anger. When Fitzpatrick took his seat in the center, Travis noticed the fight glow in the green eyes.
The gambler would go down fighting. Travis hid his smile. The conman was pulling a con without even realizing it.
The Admiral shifted his gaze to the Captain and wondered if the man was going to blow a blood vessel. Larabee had tried to get Standish's attention discreetly. Orrin had to keep the Captain from jumping up and hauling the younger man outside the room.
The gambler never allowed his gaze to shift toward his captain. He never once let his eyes settle on the man he had once silently vowed to follow to Hell and back.
With a clenched jaw and grim determination, Ezra had no intentions of letting Larabee know just how damn much this hurt. They wanted to skin him alive...so be it. Larabee wanted to pin this whole fiasco on him...fine...it was not undeserved...but Ezra would be damned if he would go down alone. Misery needed company.
They were going to gut him and leave him for the vultures....it had happened before..by people whom he had thought better friends....Standish had been down this rode and survived. This time however, the Carrions would have something more than just his guts to pick through.
Fitzpatrick was a fatty prize waiting for slaughter.
With a resolve that would do his mother proud, Ezra stood before the Admirals and his Judas and prepared for battle.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah stormed down toward the brig.
+ + + + + + +
Buck, Vin and JD harassed argued and fought with Nathan. In Sick Bay The Chief Medical Officer held rank. The trio pleaded and defended Standish's case. Jackson listened intently and agreed with them all. In the end, he simply slid off. There was nothing he could do. He was just as trapped as they were.
The doctor sat in his small office and stared at diagnostics that his minds eye refused to read.
A sad but resolved smile flickered when he gazed out his office window.
Buck, JD and Vin...leaning on one another shuffled, limped and pushed and pulled one another out of med lab. Each was so intent on one another...so concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other...that none of them were aware that they were being watched.
Maybe they knew and just didn't care...That was closer the truth, Jackson mused. Nathan waved his people away from the trio. He would let them go. There was no stopping any of them when their minds were made up....and put three minds together...Well that was just plain frightening.
The two officers and one small but determined ensign disappeared out of med lab.
With a resigned sigh the Chief medical officer climbed to his feet and followed the tangled supporting mass that plowed slowly toward the conference room. A twisted knot of water Moccasins heaving down stream....Jackson shook his head at the image. Those three were trouble.
+ + + + + + +
Chris's admiration for Standish's control of language and speech grew. The gambler answered and deflected questions like a seasoned professional. Larabee nearly laughed out loud when battle hardened admirals were put on the defensive. Chris watched with pride as his officer slowly but surly swung the course of this inquisition to point at another in the room.
With subtle help from Travis, Standish soon found his footing and swayed the officers in the room to peer into the relationship between the Darcinites, the Condor IV government and the little known familiar tie that ran between a certain admiral and the current Emperor of Darcine. With a little prodding and few well placed questions, Admiral Travis offered openings that no other officer could hope to press.
With his current research backed by the work done by Larabee and Travis, Ezra slowly and methodically laid down the evidence that linked Admiral James Fitzpatrick to Chaplain and Laddis. Standish silently acknowledged that the Captain and Travis did wish to find the true rot behind these events. Though he would get burned in the end Ezra felt some redemption that the two men he respected at least found some credence in his work.
At first the connection being established between contractor, Assassin and target remained hazy. It was offered as just a flavoring or a whiff of something greater to come. The senior most officers of Starfleet caught the scent. They did not know what it was they were being directed toward but they knew something lurked up ahead.
With the skill of huntsmen working in tandem, Travis and Larabee asked questions of the officer standing smartly before them with hands clasped behind his back. They directed the course and let the hounds run.
The Admirals soon found the scent and began pelting out questions. Voices raised and competed with one another...advisors were called in and research...legitimate research began to be compiled before the Admiralty.
Fitzpatrick began to panic. Ties long buried but never completely erased were slowly revealed.
Ezra never once looked to his right. He never once let his gaze swing toward his captain. A smile, hell no, a damn full blown laughter of relief nearly washed through him.
This was a ruse...a con...those sons of bitches were pulling a con on Fitzpatrick. Oh his mother would be proud.
He was wearing off on them. All this time he thought they were changing him...making him fit into their mold....while it was they who were accommodating him.
The evolution of things....they were changing...all of them. Somewhere along the way his dirty, black book, underhanded, double dealings were wearing off on them. Pretty soon he would have Nathan Jackson dealing from the bottom of the deck.....well maybe not that...but still.*
In the end, two standard hours had passed. Rear Admiral Shaunessy climbed to his feet. He had seen more than a life time of battles. He had fought Romulans, negotiated with Klingons, slid behind the lines of Cardasians. He had survived heinous acts and witnessed brutality beyond description. With great regret but seething disgust he now fetted out rot in his beloved Federation. The Admiral directed his revulsion at Fitzpatrick.
Standish wobbled on his feet. His legs and back ached. His shoulders burned. Shifting greys and flashes of lights danced at the edges of his vision. He was hot and cold all at once.
In short, he felt lousy.
Chris watched with growing alarm as his Security Chief became increasingly pale. He began to push back from the table when he noticed the gambler begin to weave ever so slowly in place.
Shaunessy had begun to address the room. Larabee tuned him out.
Standish tried to concentrate on what the Admiral was saying but an intense ringing filled his ears....almost like 'white' noise.
Fitzpatrick saw his career jettison out of control. He realized his freedom was at stake. Worse yet he would be handed over to his estranged brother.....The Emperor. The punishment of assassination was death. At least he would take that fool Chaplain with him.
Fitzpatrick narrowed his gaze on the lowly Lt. Commander before him. He had nothing left to lose. With a growl of rage Fitzpatrick sprung from his chair over the table at the man standing before him.
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