tagCelebrities & Fan FictionSurefoot 25: Cross Porpoises

Surefoot 25: Cross Porpoises

bySurefoot©

Undisclosed Location, Undisclosed Stardate:

It was a standard, nondescript subspace communications relay somewhere: tiny, uninhabited, uninhabitable. But it did possess the requisite hardware to receive six secure holocommunicator signals, relaying them in miniature to a shoebox-sized matrix for a classified meeting. And though none of the attendants were solid, all remained very substantial figures.

"It was an assassination attempt!" Admiral Tattok declared, his diminutive Roylan stature compared with the other attendees belying the size of his outrage at the subject of the meeting. "An assassination attempt on one of our own, by a ruthless criminal organisation!"

Standing opposite him, the image of Admiral Trenagen folded his hands behind his back and adopted a relaxed posture, as if in direct contrast to his colleague's ire. "Very astute, Tattok. Perhaps you should be running Starfleet Intelligence instead of me?"

"Perhaps he should?" Next to Tattok, Admiral Goldstein, the Academy Superintendent, a portly, pepper-haired human female, glowered at Trenagen. "If your flippant response is any indication of your attitude towards this crime. They tried to kill Captain Hrelle! And not just him, his family! His Chief Medical Officer was murdered! And several of my cadets were wounded during the attack on the Surefoot! My office has been fielding communications from the families of dozens of other cadets currently serving onboard starships, demanding to know if their children are in danger as well!"

"Now, Ruth, there's no need for histrionics-"

"Histrionics?" Tattok snapped. "They almost killed his baby! My own son is good friends with them, he practically sees them as a second family; he was ready to take the Starsong out to find those responsible! And he's not the only one who feels that way!"

On Goldstein's other side, Admiral Salisk, Head of Starfleet Logistics, a gaunt Vulcan male just beginning to grey around his pointed ears, spoke up. "I must concur with my colleagues' sentiment, if not their emotion. Communications traffic within Starfleet networks has increased exponentially since news of the Bel-Zon attack on the Surefoot was released. Captain Hrelle is a popular and respected figure, and many senior officers are demanding to know what our response will be to the incident."

"And that might mean something, if Starfleet was run by the power of mob rule, rather than discipline." Trenagen was a tall, imposing elderly human male of British descent, with snowy, swept-back hair, a broad nose from which his wrinkles seemed to radiate, and a Shakespearean manner in the way he used his baritone voice.

Then the Commander-in-Chief, a round-bellied Tellarite female, spoke up. "But as I understand it, this was not the first attack by the Bel-Zon on Captain Hrelle, was it?"

"That depends on how you look at it, Ma'am."

She creased her snout in irritation. "Do I seem in the mood for riddles, Ian?"

"Not riddles, Ma'am, but semantics. Perhaps my esteemed predecessor would like to explain, as it involved an incident which occurred during his tenure?"

He looked to Admiral William Jason Arrington, a middle-aged human male with receding fair hair and a chagrined expression. "Ma'am, ten years ago the Bel-Zon raided Station Salem One to steal a cache of trilithium resin. They obtained the security codes by attacking the USS Furyk, commanded at the time by Captain Hrelle, and killing his crew, and then attacking Salem One, where Hrelle's wife and several personnel had been killed."

A smile lifted the corners of his thin, colourless lips. "I'm pleased to report that in the intervening years, my office managed to identify the members of the Inner Circle of the Bel-Zon and, with one exception who had been executed by the Nist, bring almost all of them to justice."

"Didn't your office also accuse Captain Hrelle of collusion with the Bel-Zon?" Tattok reminded him archly. "When in fact he was tortured and enslaved by them for years?"

Arrington's smile dropped. "Admittedly, yes. But it was a reasonable assumption, given that his body was not found among the rest of the Furyk's crew-"

"Was it also reasonable that your idiot brother trespassed on my Academy grounds? To conduct a campaign of harassment against Sasha Hrelle, the Hero of Salem Four, just because she was the daughter of someone your family had held a personal grudge against for decades?"

Arrington reddened further. "My brother was suitably admonished for his... zeal. And whatever animosity certain members of my family may or may not have held against Captain Hrelle ended with me, on the day he saved the life of my son Giles during a Nausicaan assault. And this is all irrelevant to the matter at hand." He focused back on the Commander-in-Chief. "What is relevant is that the previous incarnation of the Inner Circle has no known connection to the current one."

"Indeed," Trenagen agreed, taking the tiller of the conversation. "It has been one of several factors hindering our obtaining intelligence regarding the current Bel-Zon; there are many individuals and groups out there making false claims of affiliation with them, to capitalise on the notoriety of the name.

Another factor has been the location of the current incarnation of the Bel-Zon: in the Skarosian system near the Cardassian border. It is a hostile non-aligned power, and the Cardassians have been more successful in making diplomatic overtures to them then we have. Vessels that have left their system and been stopped and searched have been found to be smuggling narcotics grown within Skaros' territory, including a particularly heinous version known colloquially as Vraxoin.

Those caught are of course prosecuted, but our resources in the sector are limited and surely cannot catch them all, and an overaggressive approach is feared to have a detrimental effect on Federation diplomatic efforts with the Skarosians.

But perhaps the most significant factor hindering my office's efforts has been... Captain Hrelle himself."

"You'd better be prepared to explain that," Tattok warned darkly.

"Oh, of course I don't mean intentionally," Trenagen clarified mildly, if a little mockingly. "But he does seem to crop up time and again in connection with the Bel-Zon, doesn't he? After he escaped from captivity, SI approached him, attempting to recruit him into our services, as his direct experience with them would have proved invaluable. He refused."

"Unbelievable," Goldstein remarked sarcastically. "It's as if he wanted to leave that terrible part of his past behind him, or something."

"And yet Fate seems to conspire to refuse him this indulgence," Trenagen continued, unabated. "Since then he has been involved in uncovering a trafficking operation of Malurian children, a spy network at the research laboratories on Malbruk II, and a Ferasan diplomatic spy network. All with Bel-Zon connections.

More recently, however, he was assigned by my esteemed colleague Admiral Tattok to an undercover mission to Skaros to obtain military intelligence about Cardassian activities, from an Orion information broker who was a valuable asset to my office. Hrelle then proceeded to murder this broker and destroy his organisation."

"You neglect to mention," Tattok pointed out angrily. "How your 'Valuable Asset' had purchased abducted Federation children to sell on Skaros as part of a sex trafficking operation."

"WHAT?" Goldstein faced Trenagen again, her hands balled into fists. "Did you know about this?"

"Absolutely not."

"But if you did," Tattok asked, "Would it have made a difference to your using him?"

Trenagen's face creased. "When one is fighting devils, one tends not to find angels in their circles." He faced the C-in-C again. "And now in this latest incident, Hrelle had managed to capture the leader of the attackers on his ship, a Captain Kenneth Koulev, and several of his crewmen. The crewmen have been remanded to our custody, but Hrelle contrived to have Koulev extradited to Cait to stand trial. His intelligence could have been invaluable."

The Tellarite's beady eyes narrowed. "I'm certain the Caitian government would grant your office the opportunity to interrogate him, Admiral."

"I'm sure they would, Ma'am... if the Caitian Matriarchy Tribunal who tried Koulev hadn't already ripped him to pieces. Literally."

Tattok grunted. "Such a loss to the Universe."

"It is," Trenagen pointed out. "If what the man had to tell us could prevent future atrocities. It almost makes one question where Captain Hrelle's loyalties lie: with the Federation, or with satisfying his Caitian bloodlust. It's a known fact that his people have a history of violence to the point of savagery."

"As do humans," Salisk noted dryly.

"Enough," the C-in-C cut in, silencing further argument. "I accept that Starfleet Intelligence may have a difficult time gaining intelligence on the Bel-Zon, but I am confident that you will continue to strive towards this goal.

I am more disturbed at the thought of these narcotics being smuggled out of Skaros - and that children are being smuggled in. Admiral Salisk, I want recommendations on my desk by tomorrow on how to double the resources patrolling near Skaros - and if a heightened security makes the diplomats' work with the Skarosians more difficult, then so be it.

I will release an official response condemning the attack on the Surefoot, and ensuring that those yet to be apprehended for the act will soon be. Admiral Tattok, does the crew of the Surefoot require anything further to help them with overcoming their ordeal?"

"Their ship has been repaired, I arranged for a replacement Chief Medical Officer to join them from the USS Nautilus, at least on a temporary basis, and I've arranged for a special Counselor to attend to them."

*

FROM: STARFLEET MEDICAL HQ

TO: USS SUREFOOT-A, NCC 72111

STARDATE: 54547.36

MESSAGE: You are directed to rendezvous with the Starfleet science vessel USS Kanaloa, NCC 69431 at your earliest convenience, where the following personnel currently on Medical Leave will attend a Mandatory Group Counseling Session with the Kanaloa's Chief Counselor, Doctor Hwii''!!''li'!'iei:

Captain Esek Hrelle, Commanding Officer

Commander T'Varik, Executive Officer

Lieutenant Commander Kami Hrelle, Chief Counselor

Lieutenant C'Rash, Chief Security Officer

Ensign Sasha Hrelle, Command Specialist

Cadet Jonas Ostrow, Engineering Specialist

Cadet Eydiir Daughter-of-Kaas, Medical Specialist

Cadet Neraxis Nemm, Security Specialist

Cadet Meow Rrori, Flight Ops Specialist

Cadet Kitirik Abyss Zuinthinem Emijiz, Science Specialist

The Group Counseling Session will require between 2-6 hours, although additional time will be alloted if required, and will take place in one of the Kanaloa's onboard Holopools. Immersion in water will be required; swimsuits are optional. The Session will also involve telepathic activity; all attendees will be required to authorise the consent forms attached.

It is also recommended a bucket of fish is brought. The fish can be replicated or natural, the particular breeds at the attendees' own discretion, as long as the fish are neither sentient nor contain any harmful toxins.

*

"USS Surefoot-A, Counselor's Log, Stardate 54596.7, Counselor Kami Hrelle recording: In the days since the attack from the Vlathi, as the enormity of what happened, of what we did and what was done to us sinks in and our brains begin processing it, the expected after-effects of trauma have been noticeable: bursts of anger and anxiety, disrupted sleep patterns and sex drive, nightmares, evidence of guilt and flashbacks, and a detached attitude with regard to the rest of the crew.

The type and intensity of the after-effects among those affected varies, of course. Of the others, Captain Hrelle, and Cadets Eydiir Daughter-of-Kaas and Jonas Ostrow seem to be more resilient; ironically, their past traumas, and the consequent psychological counseling I have given them in the past, has prepared them for managing this current crisis.

Naturally, I have managed to suffer no problems; my experience and expertise in the field has allowed me to successfully accept what happened and put it behind me. Sadly, however, bureaucracy demands that I remain off-duty until I am officially cleared with everyone else. But I am looking forward to seeing the Delphine Counselor at work. Group Harmonics is a- a-"

Kami stopped, her elevated pointed ears twitching as she realised she hadn't heard Misha in the next room with his big sister Sasha in a long time. She rose from the bed and entered. "Hey, everything okay in-"

They were missing.

Her heart raced and her tail twitched as she raised her voice. "Computer: where's Misha and Sasha Hrelle?"

"Misha and Sasha Hrelle are in Sickbay."

Kami flung her recording PADD to the nearest wall as she raced out, ignoring the cracking sound the instrument made as it struck and shattered.

*

Deck 2 Mid - Sickbay Suite, CMO's Office:

Sasha Hrelle sat behind the desk and looked around at the various items the new doctor had added to the room since his arrival: a potted plant of some dazzling desert flowers, a ticking analog clock on the wall, a watercolour painting of a rugged desert terrain with a herd of some quadrupeds wandering along it, certificates, photos... and a wooden hatstand holding a dark leathery longcoat and a large, oatmeal-coloured Stetson hat with a dark hatband perched on top. "So... you're into cowboys, are ya, Doctor?"

"Call me Doc. And we're all cowboys on Coldwater, little lady." Ezekiel Masterson was a tanned, broad-shouldered, rugged-looking human male in his late twenties, with truculent cornfield-blonde hair, sky-blue eyes, and a bright smile and broad chin sporting stubble. "Bet ya never heard of it, huh?"

Sasha watched with amusement the very interested reactions from the medical staff in the main part of Sickbay as they looked in and saw him making faces at her little brother Misha, currently sitting in his carrier chair on the man's desk. "I'm afraid not, Doc. Where is it, Texas? Arizona?"

"The fourth planet in the Tagus II system. And when my grandparents helped found the colony a hundred years ago, they wanted to recreate the American Frontier as much as possible. So on Coldwater, everyone learns how to ride a horse, rope a bronco, navigate the stars under our sky, identify the plants to eat and avoid... and to dance."

Sasha grinned. "Dance?"

Masterson looked up at her and winked. "A cowboy that can't show a lady a good time on the dance floor ain't fit for nothing."

She smiled. She had decided to give Kami a break and take Misha for a walk around the ship, when she heard the talk from the medical staff about the newly-arrived CMO, and decided to drop in for an introduction. And the man proved as handsome and charming as she had heard. "So, where's your six-shooters?"

"Don't have none, Miss."

"Oh? How can you be a cowboy without guns?" she teased.

"There are many kinds of cowboy, little lady; put a gun in my hand and I'm liable to shoot myself in the foot, even if it was a phaser. Anyways, I prefer saving lives to taking them."

She watched him continue to pass the sensor wand over the infant, checking the readings appearing on the tricorder in his other hand. "You sure you know how to use those? You're not gonna treat people with rusty saws and snake venom, are you?"

He never looked up from his perusal of the readings, appearing fascinated by Misha's biosigns. "Don't let the accent and accoutrements fool you, Ensign: I still graduated from Starfleet Medical Academy, and served my time onboard the Pasteur, the Excalibur, the Nautilus-"

"Impressive. I hope this doesn't feel like a step down for you."

Masterson looked at her again, smiling. "On those other ships, I was part of a herd of doctors, ignored despite my looks and charm. Here, I get to be the Big Chief. Assuming that ornery Klingon hombre Kline doesn't backshoot me, and your Daddy lets me stay, of course."

"I'm sure-" She was distracted by the glimpse of someone in red passing by the window

(the blood of the Vlathi she was fighting was thick on her clothes her hands it filled her nostrils choking her she killed it she killed it)

Masterson stopped examining Misha until her attention returned. Then he assured her, "They'll pass."

"Pardon?" she blinked.

"The flashbacks. They'll pass. I read the accounts of what happened to y'all." The Western charm was momentarily reduced, in favour of a more direct, sincere and sympathetic approach.

"I-" She felt herself blush. In the days since the attack, since she almost died fighting the Vlathi in the Arboretum before she killed it, she knew she'd been returning to what had happened to her, time and again. "Sorry."

"Don't be." He set down the instruments and walked around to his hatstand. "Besides, I know what you really want to do." He lifted up the Stetson. "You want to try on my hat."

He fitted it down on her head.

It was big enough to drop over her forehead and eyes and stop at her nose.

Misha giggled at the sight of his sister.

Sasha pushed the front of the hat up and glared with mock vexation at the infant, affecting an exaggerated Western twang. "Y'all watch yourself over there, ya little tenderloin."

"That's 'tenderfoot'," Masterson corrected her. "Unless you're gonna eat him?"

"Not today." She took off the hat and rose to return it to its rightful place. "Um... he's okay, isn't he? He's been through a lot since- well, come to think of it, since before he was born."

The doctor returned to face Misha, tickling him under his chin. "Well, I never worked on a Caitian before, but I have to say he is the cutest, healthiest little critter this side of Pollux." He drew back the finger before Misha could clamp onto it with his teeth. "There is one more test I can perform on him, though." He reached for a familiar-shaped case, opening it and extracting a cherry-red wooden acoustic guitar with an elaborate sparkling constellation pattern on the body beneath the bridge.

"You play?" Sasha asked, too late feeling foolish for asking.

He slipped the beaded guitar strap over his head. "It keeps the fingers nimble; handy when you're a Sawbones." He plucked a few strings and adjusted the tuners at the head, noticing Misha's sudden intense interest in the sounds. "Now, a good cowboy has a thousand songs under his belt, but the trouble with cowboy songs is that they're all about heartbreak and divorce and loneliness. Not appropriate for little critters... Let's see if I can remember what my Pa used to play for me..."

Then he smiled and began strumming a lively tune. "There's a duck in my hands that goes Quack Quack Quack / There's a duck in my hands that goes Quack Quack Quack / But if I squeeze too tight it goes-" Then he blew three loud raspberries, making Misha giggle with utter delight. "So don't squeeze the duck too tight!"

He looked up to see Sasha giggling as well, making him note, "I see I've got a sophisticated audience here on the Surefoot. Let's see how the second chorus goes down..." He began strumming again. "There's a tribble in my hands that goes Purr Purr Purr-"

"GET AWAY FROM HIM!"

Masterson stopped playing and stepped back at the sight of Kami, storming into Sickbay and straight to his office, claws and teeth bared as she stepped between the doctor and the cub.

"Kami!" Sasha bolted to her feet, alarmed at the fury in the other woman's voice and stance. "What's wrong?"

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