Heather F.

Star Trek Universe


Trade Negotiations...Who ever heard of holding them on board a ship? Especially my ship? With this crew? Larabee gazed down at the collection of officers lined beside him. His senior crew. Josiah had once described them as a collection of jigsaw pieces belonging to different puzzles. Watching them squirm now, Chris figured they were nothing more than dressed up circus clowns with attitudes.

Larabee tugged at the stiff uniform collar again. He hated the dress uniforms. There was nothing appealing about them. They were garish, bright and gawd awful uncomfortable. The Captain tossed a disgruntled stare toward his first officer expecting to find a sympathetic if not equally suffering face. Instead Wilmington appeared completely at ease. Buck narrowed his eyes as a lecherous smile twitched under his mustache. He leaned toward his oldest friend and simply whispered, "Women love a man in uniform."

Larabee nearly groaned audibly. Figures Buck would find away to capitalize on any situation. JD twitched and fidgeted in his place in line yanking on the too long cuffs and rubbing his neck against the irritating material.

Vin stood further down on the receiving line nearly foaming at the mouth. He settled his weight from one foot to another wiggling a leg occasionally and then rotating shoulders. Between the ensign and the navigator stood Standish. Chris smiled at the discomfit of the Security Chief. Ezra looked ready to strangle Vin and JD.

Josiah and Nathan stood just this side of Buck. Both men took the duties that befell them the same way they took most things. With quiet servitude....well unless one was to pour whiskey down Counselor Sanchez. Quiet had a tendency of falling by the wayside. The last time Josiah had chased demons to the bottom of a Regillion Whiskey bottle DS9 and a few Romulans took on some heavy damages.

Technically JD and Vin were not required to greet the ensemble of Ambassadors that were to parade through the hangar bay doors any second. Both the ensign and Lieutenant had no reason to suffer the strangulating duties of dress attire because their ranks did not demand their presence.

Larabee,however, did ....Misery enjoyed company and those two sealed their fate the other day when they had laughed at the Senior officers for having to get 'dolled up in their Monkey suits' as Dunne had labeled it. The smiles were easily wiped from their mocking faces when the Captain ordered them to attend.

It would be a good lesson in protocol for both young officers.

Watching Vin wiggle within the constrictive, non yielding, fabric of the ornate dress brought a grin to the Captain's stern face.

The first set of Ambassadors began to board the Maverick. The Ship's officers all straightened themselves slightly, squared shoulders and stared straight ahead. Except JD...he kept trying to peer around Josiah to get a glimpse at the approaching dignitaries. Out of the corner of his eye Chris watched as Standish cuffed the boy on the back of the head to get him to pay attention.

Impressions were everything...or so Ezra constantly reminded them.

With each passing dignitary Chris greeted them in a form that was their custom. To some he executed a slight bow, others he simply nodded, and even others he clasped forearms. Never once did he deviate his eyes. To each and every ambassador he met with eye contact.

This was his ship....he was Lord and master over it. Ambassadors or not they would heed his word as such. With polite greetings and simple eye contact Larabee conveyed his meaning.

Each Ambassador was accompanied by his or her wife or husband, mate or significant others. They too were normally accompanied by a small cache of beings that served as their advisors, security and or confidants.

Larabee could not help but think Security would be a nightmare. A nightmare he was glad to hand over to his Security Chief. It was here the Captain would learn if the gamble paid off. Was Standish worth the risk and the work it took to bring him aboard. A rumored thief, a known conman, and consummate gambler, the man was a risk to take on as senior officer. Black balled by most for his flagrant disregard for authorities, rules and laws that govern most Starfleet personnel. Larabee had merely explained to Admiral Travis as he defended his choice of Security Chiefs....that it took a thief to catch a thief...a conman to see a con....Travis was unhappy but let Larabee's decision stand.

Vin stood beside Standish at the end of the receiving line. He hated the uniform. Despised the way it prevented movement, the clinging snugness of the collar that wrapped itself tightly around his neck. He felt like a preening peacock and about as useful.

With his hair settled somewhat on his shoulders and his ears neatly hidden from view the Vulcan swallowed his grimace and gracefully met the visiting dignitaries.

He would strangle Larabee for this.

The Vulcan put names to faces and planets. He matched allegiances with contra's, remembered the melting panorama of faces that whisked passed him.

What stood out most in his mind was the minute reaction from Standish. The Vulcan kept his face forward greeting the wife of an ambassador but watched as the Security Chief stiffened and turned his head just a bit as new face was introduced.

Vin waited as the Ambassador to Condor IV stood before him. Tanner remembered him from the files Sanchez had given them. JD had labeled the representative of the aqua planet 'Fish Face'. It aptly described the green/blue gilled bipedal that stood before him. Gills sat at the base of its 'neck' and fluttered open and closed with each 'breath'. Its mouth was more of a pedicle which shielded razor sharp tiny teeth. Piranha...teeth Buck had laughed until Nathan had put an end to the foolery.

Tanner gripped the webbed fingers and nodded a 'hello'. The Ambassador merely nodded back and moved on to meet with the ensigns that were assigned to escorting each dignitary to their quarters. Mary had made up a schedule of meetings and activities for the visitors. She had hoped to keep Chris and his officers as far from the meetings as possible.

The Maverick crew was not known for its benign diplomacy. 'Rude would definitely be an improvement,' when it came to tact.

The face that next presented itself was the one that had garnered some reaction from Standish.

The hackles stood on Vin's neck. The Vulcan's blue eyes bored into the visitor across from him. Two hunters sizing each other up. On an instinctual level predators recognized predators.

There are instance when nature allows prey to turn and become the aggressor. There are times when the defender will be forced to become the attacker...A mother striking out to protect her young...A meek father will destroy a threat before it reaches his den. Those times in nature, though known, are few. Predators in their haste or desperation to make a kill will occasionally push the timid into a corner. When this occurs the predator pays a remarkable price.

There are also times in nature when predators meet on the same trail....The preliminary bearing of teeth, the chomping of jaws and clash of feet slamming the ground begin the deadly dance of dominance....a battle for territory normally ensues....Blood is spilled...the strongest survives.

The Vulcan and the Human escort glared at one another. A flicker of amusement crossed the grey eyes of the envoy. Neither offered a greeting. Both silently growled. Without moving they danced the challenge of predators.

"Mr. Gainan Chaplain..." Standish intervened. It would do no good to play Security chief now. Something was amiss. The rumors of a possible assassin might not be rumors after all. Ezra needed to speak with the Captain.

"This is Mr. Tanner...our Navigator." The thickened accent and stiff under tone pulled Tanner from the fight that had begun to boil in his veins.

Tanner and Chaplain merely nodded. Two tigers eyeing one another searching for a possible weakness, waiting to take on the fight.

Chaplain slid from the room never looking back, confident in his role as alpha.

There in lay the difference with Larabee, Tanner, and Wilmington when compared to Standish.

Tanner, like his counterparts, would engage the vagaries of posturing. They would take on the fight like a Bull in the woods. They would challenge any Alpha that tried to stake claim in their territory. The threesome would aggressively destroy anything that threatened their zone of protection. They were Mother Grizzlies watching over their cubs. Nothing came between them and survived. A perceived threat became fodder for destruction. For the three officers of the bridge their territory ensnared the ship and her crew....more significantly their friends.

Standish however, seemingly ignored a situation. Played with his challenger, mocked it. He would put the bell on the cat....He would act directly only when no other option presented itself. It was known he played dirty. 'Cheat to Win,' when adversity struck, was a motto he adhered too when danger presented itself to his shipmates. He worried Larabee in the very sense that the man could be completely unpredictable as any wild animal when cornered. He would become the wolverine that killed the marauding Grizzly bear.

Unlike the others who took the fight head on....Standish would have no druthers of ambushing an enemy to even the odds or tip the scales in his favor.

Might does not make right....reason does not sway the unreasonable...and unbacked logic will not stand alone against a physical enemy.

There are times when subtly fails, there are times when debates fall short, there are times when fear and ignorance spur the masses.

Vin, Chris and Buck would meet them head a seawall holding back the crashing of waves. They would stand as a united front to hurl back the black forces that threaten the innocent....Standish would merely seek higher ground and wait for his chance to strike.

Chaplain had postured, had performed the unseen, stiff, legged, dance before Tanner....Standish merely watched gauging his quarry.

The Vulcan would have won the battle had it been allowed to flow forth. The gambler had no doubt....but it was his duty to keep violence to a minimum on Chris's ship. Larabee expected no less...and gave no quarter. Tanner was the Captain's friend and confidant. If trouble should befall the Vulcan or the ship then dire consequences would befall the gambler.

Even a wolverine would side step a grizzly if the situation presented itself.

+ + + + + + +

With the last of the representatives on board the senior officers relaxed. They shrugged stiffened shoulders and rubbed sore necks.

"That Chaplain fella's gonna be trouble," Tanner spoke softly. He glared at the closed bay doors.

Standish merely nodded. He turned his chin slightly and gazed up at the navigator, "There is something unsettlingly familiar about him..."

"You know him?" Vin tugged mercilessly at the collar that threatened to choke him. He could feel sweat rolling between his shoulder blades and it was driving him crazy.

"Know him no...but..." Standish fought to find the words to describe the uneasy feeling of association with Chaplain. "It's nothing.." The security chief moved on closing off any further discussion with the Vulcan. He would not start false accusations without proof.

Tanner watched the gambler for a moment as Ezra spoke with Buck and JD.

"What's going on?" Larabee asked. He did not like the expression on Tanner's face. Chris could almost smell the tension in the air.

"I ain't sure jist yet..." Tanner answered. A cold had settled in his bones despite the claustrophobic heat of the hanger bay. He would hold his tongue until he was sure of himself. Trouble was brewing.

"There a problem I should know about?" Chris was not going to be playing any games. He had a ship full of self indulgent aristocrats that were used to their every whim being heeded. He did not need any difficulties real or imagined to suddenly rear up.

"Nahhh..." Tanner pulled his gaze from the gambler and faced the Captain, "Not yet anyway." A smile punctuated his sentence.

Chris groaned.

+ + + + + + +

The envoy studied his quarters. The ambassador had disappeared in hopes of finding a drink.

Chaplain turned to man at his side.

"Sullivan recognized us," Gainan hissed out. The advisor was a lean man. He moved with an effortless grace.

"Sullivan? Where?" The aide answered. The squat man removed particles and instruments from various bags. There were a collection of gadgets and parts strewn about the small ornamental table. The large man sat hunched over the table. Meaty fingers ran quickly over the array of parts knowing them simply by touch.

"The Security Chief...Standish, he's gone back to calling himself Standish," Chaplain responded. He watched his aide manipulate the assortment of pieces and quickly assemble a deviously simple bladed weapon. It amazed Chaplain just how dexterous his counterpart could be for a man of his immense size.

"Maude Standish's little boy?" The aide chuckled as he secured a double blade into the titanium hilt. "Figured that kid would've ended up in some penitentiary or some backwater planet tarred and feathered..."

"Yeah, well he isn't a kid anymore and apparently he's channeling his talents for Captain Larabee." Gainan paced the room with his hands clasped firmly behind his back. He slid in and out of shadows, disappearing for a moment only to reappear again. He left no sound in his wake.

"Well we could always just kill'im," Thomas joked. The big man chuckled and gazed over his shoulder at his 'boss'. The smile faded.

Chaplain turned on his right hand man, "Don't be a fool Murray. We kill a Starfleet officer and they'd hunt us to the ends of the universe." Gainan also did not want the likes of Larabee on his tail. Nor Maude...she in her twisted, macabre, manner could be unpredictable and therefore dangerous as well.

Thomas Murray merely nodded his head, "We could always ruin his rep...disgrace'im so no one listens to a word he says."

Gainan paused in his pacing his brow furrowed, "No...I know people like Larabee, dangerous...but they surround themselves with loyal people...he would dig for an explanation if we were to muddy Standish's reputation." There was a slight pause and soft chuckle. An unpleasant sound in and of itself. The laugh died away.

"Shit Gainan, the kid's rep is probably already tarnished...the little cheat never could stay out of trouble." Murray turned his attention back to his weapons. The tools of their trade kept them alive. They were something he could trust and manipulate.

Chaplain paused, 'and still Larabee signed Standish to his crew.' Loyalty....a damn nuisance of a concept. It had tempted to ruined more than one of his contracted jobs.

"All the more reason to go about this differently. We just need to get him out of the way, maybe take that long haired com officer too," He smiled over at Murray. Thomas laughed outright as the murderous intent in his bosses eyes. Tanner, the navigator, had postured and defied the wrong man.

"We do this quick fulfill our contract and get clear." Chaplain muttered. He resumed his pacing with his head bowed and his eye focused on the floor. A slow smile leached across his features. He had an idea.


Standish and Tanner rounded the bend in the corridor never expecting to come up on a brawl. Both officers ducked as a body flew passed and slammed into the bulkhead to their right.

The security chief was relieved that no starfleet uniforms were involved.

"Best call for back up Ez." Tanner chuckled.

Standish tapped his com badge as he began pulling brawling bodies apart. He honestly despised getting his hands 'dirty'.

Vin entered the fracas with a smile on his face. He loved a challenge.

Vin found himself trying to untangle a quardiped from a feline like individual. Vin crinkled his nose, from the musky smell it must have been a 'Tom'. The Vulcan easily dodged the heavy slow punches thrown by the quardriped and quickly knocked the wind from the blundering giant. The 'Cat' was another matter all together. The feline fought with five natural weapons, hands feet and teeth. It matched the Vulcan's speed, agility and strength. This was no tamed 'putty cat' as Buck called them.

Tanner never deviated his gaze from the vertical yellow irises that bore into him. The Tracker soundlessly blocked, parried and countered with an unnatural silence. The 'Tom' hissed and spat with each strike. Its tail twitched and flicked with every movement. With each parry the cat spat in frustration. The Vulcan merely grinned as sweat beaded his forehead.

They were evenly matched.

The tides changed when running foot steps were heard coming down the corridor. Someone called his name. Vin swiveled his eyes toward the sound and never saw the blow that connected with the side of his head.

One minute Tanner was standing and the next his head was snapped around and he flying across the corridor only to slam into the far wall and slide bonelessly to the deck.

Ezra cringed having caught the acrobatic display from the corner of his eye. That had to have hurt....'Better Vin than me' ran through his mind. A sharp pain erupted at the base of his neck. It was enough to redirect his attention back to parties before him. Damn Cordisans would fight anyone and anything just for the laughs. With a quick jab and an obscure knee the Cordisan crumbled to the deck. His partner slowly backed away his hands raised in a submissive manner.

The standing Cordisan was staring over the shoulder of the Security chief. Ezra heard his people charging to the scene. Someone must have called Med Lab and the captain because both Nathan and Larabee were swimming through the sea of red shirts.

"What happened?" Larabee sidled up next to Standish. Ezra merely rubbed at his neck It stung somewhat.

"Not really sure what just happened here," Ezra responded, "Mr. Tanner and myself stumbled upon this little debacle."

"You alright?" Chris asked. The captain surveyed the damage in the hall. Vin and Ezra had found themselves a heck of a brawl. Four bodies lay on the ground unmoving not counting Vin. Security was rounding up the standing members and shuffling them toward the brig. This was not the way to start negotiations for trade treaties.

With no answer forth coming Larabee turned back and faced the gambler, "You ok?"

Standish rubbed at his neck for a moment and then finally answered, "Yes fine, but it would appear as if Mr. Tanner has not faired as well." Ezra watched Larabee trying to discern the direction the man's ire. The Captain was predictable only in his unpredictablness.

"He take on the Abyssinian?"

"Yes," Standish sighed. The Abyssinians were a feline race. Beautiful to behold and observe. Highly intelligent but a bit temperamental.

"Figures," Chris answered shaking his head. Leave it to Tanner to take on one of the best known and graceful fighters in the universe.

"Get to the bottom of this mess and then I want a full report on what happened in the hanger bay this morning." The captain met the security man's slightly surprised look. "Don't even try and deny it Ezra...Something happened that has Vin itching for a fight....and you just waiting for an opportunity to do something underhanded."

"You wound me sir," Ezra responded with a satiric smirk trying to hide his dismay that the Captain could have read him so easily.

"It's because I'm getting to know you,' Chris turned his back on the gambler and headed over to where Nathan was speaking loudly to Tanner.

Ezra watched them for a bit, rubbed at his neck one last time and headed toward his office. He had a report to make.

Chris knelt beside Nathan. "He doing ok?"

"Yeah just got his bell rung is all," Jackson answered. The doctor turned his attention back to his patient who was struggling to sit up, "now jist hold on Vin." He layed a restraining hand on the Lieutenant's shoulder and forced him back down, "You ain't ready to be up movin' around just yet."

Tanner layed back down on the deck his eyes opened wide and blinking slowly, "Damn that hurt..." his unequal gaze landed on Chris and then Nathan, "ahh shit...not again."

Larabee laughed. He stood up patting Nathan on the shoulder, "Good luck." With that he headed up to the bridge.

Chris cursed he had just lost another credit to Buck and JD. It was not even one standard day and Vin already fell into a fight.

Damn Ezra and his betting pools.

+ + + + + + +

"What cha doin' Ez?" Tanner and Wilmington burst into Standish's work area. If the gambler was surprised he hid it well. Instead the dark head was bent studiously over a console. He mumbled occasionally to himself and tapped a few more commands into the computer.

"Mr. Tanner I would have thought that Dr. Jackson would have had you under lock and key," Standish replied pinching the bridge of his nose against the growing headache that threatened to consume him. He kept his eyes glued to the read out before him.

"Nathan said I was fit," Vin answered quietly. Standish finally pulled his eyes from the computer with raised eyebrows. There was definitely more to the story than that little snippet.

"That's a polite way of putting it.." Buck chuckled. The big man hit Standish with a conspiratorial wink, "Nathan damn near threw him out on his little pointed ears." Wilmington prodded Vin's shoulder and added, "earned me another credit from JD too...didn't even last an hour in Sick bay."

Standish bit back a chuckle and shook his head. Anyone made mention of Vin's 'pointy little ears' would have been eating deck flooring by now. Mr. Wilmington had a way of bringing out the fun in everyone.

Ezra stared back at his data pad. The last few hours had been somewhat fruitful. He had gained some information, though it sparked warning bells, nothing seemed blatantly adverse. All he had to do was make sense of what he uncovered, piece it together into something coherent and then present it to the Captain.

"What do I owe the pleasure of this visit gentlemen?" Ezra answered tiredly. He had a lot of work to do and....damn headache. He had to get this stuff put together for the...captain...He had been working on it all afternoon....

"Just stopping buy see what you were up to," Vin answered, "haven't seen ya all day, jist wanted to make sure you were all in one piece." Since the debacle on Deck 6 no one had seen Standish.

Ezra snapped his head up before he could catch himself. Had he been at this all day? Gawd his eyes hurt.

"And to remind you that the briefing started about five minutes ago," Buck added enjoying the discomfort and shock on Standish's face.

"Shit," Ezra muttered out standing up. The world suddenly tilted out of control and he grabbed the edge of the desk for support.

"Whoa there pard' ya alright?" Buck asked side passing Vin and reaching for Standish.

"Yes, yes, just stood up to fast." Ezra shook off the First Officer's hand and gathered his things.

"Why you two? It does not take two to summon me, wouldn't it have been easier to just relay the message via intership communications?" Standish quickly redirected the conversation. The headache climbed a few pounding notches.

"Yeah, but Chris is in a right foul mood," Buck answered again, "with some of the ambassadors advisors in the brig you can imagine the ear full he's getting right now...lets just say we needed an excuse to leave. Besides your comm. is off"'Buck laughed as Standish closed his eyes. Chris could get down right frightening when ignored, "Yup figured we better come get ya and save the Captain the walk."

Standish groaned audibly and allowed his two shipmates to guide him out the door and toward the 'Ready Room'.

+ + + + + + +

Vin stared passed the Security Chief's shoulder out at the stars. Larabee was still fuming silently over the fiasco this morning. His short barbed speech was not pointed at the Security Chief alone. The captain distributed his brief but vehement discourse to the six men before him. JD appeared properly chastised though the kid had no part in the fight. Josiah seemed amused by the incident and Buck could practically taste more credits coming his way. Tanner settled his eyes on the gambler. Standish sat slouched his head resting in his hands. The man looked terrible. Must be some headache.

"Well Commander?..." Chris's icy tone leveled itself at the security chief.

Vin watched slightly confused when the gambler refused to acknowledge his captain.

Buck swiveled his eyes and kicked Standish under the table.

"Ow...What?" The irritated, accented, voice yelped.

"Your report on this morning?" The captain replied.

"Report?....Ahh yes." Ezra sat up a little straighter. Flashes of lights danced at the corner of his vision. His head pounded with a fierce intensity he had never known before. Damn his teeth even hurt.

"Well it was rumored there maybe an attempted assassination." The pain pulsed up his neck. It wrapped a tight grip around the back of his head and shot hot spears of blinding pain behind his eyes. The lights of the 'Ready Room' seemed to blaze right through his pupils. He carefully lowered his head back down onto his hand. The exertion of using neck muscles took to much effort.

The occupants around the table stared at the security man shocked at his statement and appearance.

Chris caught Nathan's eye. The Doctor simply shook his head. He had know idea what was wrong. Standish's plain statement however stopped any inquiries.


"I believe I stated...." Ezra mumbled out tiredly.

"I heard what you said....can you confirm it?" Larabee searched his other officers hoping they had some insight as to what the Chief was talking about. They all shrugged or shook their heads.

Ezra paused. Gawd his head hurt. He squeezed his eyes shut and pushed the palms of his hands into his temples in an attempt to relieve the piercing pain.

"Laddis," He gritted out. Oh gawd this hurt. Vertigo waved through him.

"Laddis? Is that the target or the contractor?" Chris asked.

"Oh Gawd my head," Ezra mumbled. He doubled over pushing his chair back from the table. The back of the chair hit the windows. Standish started to tumble out of his seat.

"Buck grab him," Chris ordered unnecessarily. The First Officer already had a grip on the smaller man and was easing him down on the floor. Josiah rolled his chair out of the way and sidled up next to Buck to give Nathan room to work. The doctor had been on his feet before Standish retreated from the table.

"What the hell is going on Nathan?" Larabee barked.

Jackson ignored the captain and ran his diagnostic scan over the unconscious Security Chief.

"Damn....Anyone know how long he's been feelin' ill?" The medic stared at the faces surrounding him and then turned back to his patient.

"I 'aven't seen him since the ambassadors came on board," JD answered.

"Said he had a headache when Vin and I went to get him for the meeting," Buck added. The First officer squatted at the Security man's head.

Nathan looked over at Vin, "You feelin' ok?"

Vin furrowed his brow in quiry but simply answered, "Yeah."

"Nathan's what's going on?" Chris asked again.

Standish began to moan and slowly bicycle his legs. He weakly tried to raise a hand to his forehead.

"Ezra?....Ezra?..." Nathan called loudly, "jest lie still....Ezra can you tell me what's wrong?"

Standish merely moved his legs and attempted to curl into a ball. Josiah held his shoulder's pinned to the deck, "Easy Brother."

+ + + + + + +

Chris watched as a medical team carried his Security Chief away on a stretcher. He had an assassin on board and the one person who might be able to finger him or her....was out cold.

"Nathan?" The captain laid a quiet restraining hand on the Chief Medical Doctor.

"I don't know Chris...he has a hell of a fever, disoriented, severe headache..." Jackson paused and shook his head, "I just don' know yet."

"Sounds almost like Cortez Fever," JD remarked from where he sat on the Ready Room table with his feet resting on a swivel chair.

Jackson was about to discount the young man's observation but paused. Cortez Fever or one of the very many names it was known by, was a sickness that effected first time space travelers. It was found that a person or most humanoids came down with a debilitating fever after a few months in space. It was the scourge of many early adventurers. In early times it could be fatal. Now it was more or less a nuisance. It left its victim sick, weak, and basically useless for a few days even after the sickness passed. It was such a problem for graduating cadets that StarFleet actively immunized all its cadets. Even so, one developed an immunity to the sickness after spending any amount of time in space.

It would appear unlikely that a veteran planet hopper like their security Chief would come down with such an illness. Except the presentation and course seemed to fit. Rapid incubation, severe headache, high fever. The malaise, full body aches and pains would come later. Disorientation and delirium sometimes followed on the heels of the fever.

Jackson merely nodded his head and stared at Chris, "JD could be right." With that the Doctor headed down to sick bay.


Chris turned back at the remaining members of his team. "Ok does anyone know what Ezra was talking about?"

Silence met his question. Larabee swore under his breath. He would wring Standish's neck. This was not the time to be cagey and with hold information.

JD picked up the data pad Standish had brought in with him. The ensign hit a few commands and furrowed his brow. He hit a few more commands and twisted his mouth in confusion.

"What is it JD?" Buck asked peering over the young man's shoulder. "Hit the translator," he offered. Wilmington reached over the ensign's shoulder and keyed for a translation.

"Already did...can't translate it," Dunne replied biting back the urge to nudge his big friend from over his shoulder.

"Josiah can you read this?" Buck asked snatching the small instrument from JD.

The counselor stared at it and then raised his eyebrows, "Nope."

"I betcha it has something to do with that Chaplain fella," Vin finally spoke up. The young Vulcan leaned against the windows with his arms crossed.

The others looked over at him waiting for him to continue.

"Ez thought he knew him from somewhere...couldn't place it though." Vin pushed himself away from the view glass, "I can tell ya this though, Ez didn't like'im...not one bit."

Silence fell over the room. Three sets of eyes landed on the Vulcan. The soft spoken words carried a tome of doom.

"What was your read Vin?" Josiah asked quietly. Tanner was a being of very few words. He chose them carefully, arranged them diligently and used them sparingly. When the Vulcan chose to voice his opinion, the others quickly learned to listen.

"He's here to kill somebody," Tanner softly answered out.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stood next to the diagnostic bed. Cortez Fever? How could that be? Standish had been traveling the stars since he was a kid. It was no secret that his mother kept them on the move with in the small cluster of planets that made up the Vegas Colonies. He should have come down with this along time ago....or at least developed an immunity.

From the slight movement and occasional moan it would appear that the man curled under the mountain of blankets had never fought this illness before.

Larabee watched the gambler for a moment and then turned to Jackson, "I really need to talk to him."

Jackson merely nodded acknowledging the Captains presence but refused to lift his gaze from his readout.

"Well I'll be dam..." The doctor caught himself and stared up at the Captain, "its variant...a mutant strain...deviated just enough so his body doesn't recognize it."

"How'd that happen?"

"I'm guessing by the hypospray signature at the base of his neck...someone gave it to him." Jackson answered. He turned his attention back to his patient. The gambler had managed to kick off a few of the blankets. Nathan simply put them back.

Chris smiled despite himself. Jackson familiarized himself with the little idiosyncrasies the bridge crew had when sick. His unique bedside manner made him invaluable. In the age of medical technological advances, Jackson still believed that a simple touched conveyed much needed healing to his patients.

Vin did not like being confined or surrounded by alot of people. As a result, when he did have to visit Sickbay for serious injuries or illness Vin always managed to land in a secluded diagnostic bed.

JD needed Buck...though the ensign never consciously admitted it...he had in a fit of fevered nightmares. Wilmington was always allowed in sickbay if Ensign Dunne fell into the care of doctors.

Standish found security and comfort that could only be wrought with a blanket. Jackson had observed this when they met for their gambling nights. When the saloon was under reconstruction they had played in Standish's quarters. The extra wool blankets at the foot of his bed apparently were a dead give away.

Buck needed a good looking female doctor or nurse with a sense of humor and constant smile. Someone with a tender touch and a big heart. Someone with the sensitivity of a mother but the wit of a lover.

Chris was not sure what Nathan had pinned for the captain but every time Larabee opened his eyes in med lab...Vin was sitting with him.

And Josiah? The big man just needed one of the others.

"Chris he isn't going to be much least not until he beats this thing," Nathan responded.

"Can't you give him anything? Get'im back so...." Chris paused when Jackson held up his hands.

"I've given him everything I can." The helplessness in Nathan's voiced told Larabee not to push.

With one last glanced at Standish he left Med lab.

+ + + + + + +

With JD's help, Vin retraced Ezra's steps through the computer. It was not the kind of tracking he was used to...not the kind he had learned to survive on a planet by himself. With JD's guidance and familiarity, Tanner was learning how to pick up a 'computer foot print'. Though neither Dunne or himself were experts..together they were proficient enough to follow Standish's convoluted paths.

Together the two young men sat bowed head to head over twin consuls. Tanner watched with admiration as JD manipulated the computer down paths and venues the computer was not suppose to be capable. It was with some pride Vin was able to assist the younger man. JD knew what avenues to take but it was Vin who recognized the signs of a passage. Instead of a bent twig or a print scrapping the path, or even a scuff mark on a rock...Tanner was able to discern slight peaks and valleys in energy readings, able to mark a simple pause or a slight variation in the trail Standish had taken just a few hours earlier.

Together the two crew members began to uncover the path Standish had taken and subsequently covered.

+ + + + + + +

Buck cursed silently again. Chris had dumped the security details onto him. This was not what Wilmington wanted...not now not with some assassin on board. Wilmington stared at the schedule Standish had made up. This was near impossible. He had people stationed everywhere. Some were dressed blatantly in the red uniform of designated security personnel while others reported to duty in 'civilian clothes' or as engineers or any other designated field that Standish had felt needed watching. Even Mary Travis had an attached security detail. Buck silently wondered if the feisty Protocol Officer knew of it.

Probably not...there had been no shouting matches in the ready room between the Captain and Mz. Travis. When she discovered her shadows then things would hit the preverbal fan. Poor Chris. Wilmington silently wondered if Ezra was setting the captain up for the barrage. Probably. It was a good idea to have someone watching out for Mary but it still stunk of revenge.

Wilmington sighed. They were suppose to be rendezvousing with Admiral Travis tomorrow. Buck paused when he read the security details ensnared in that seemingly benign boarding. The security force present suddenly doubled. Instead of just three security men Ezra had changed it to six with the additional three posing as something other than Security.

Something tipped his hand? Did Standish know that the Admiral was a target or did this rumor have him hedging his bets?

Buck made note of the change and continued to read through the schedule cursing softly every so often.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan gazed up feeling a presence in the doorway.

"Josiah," He smiled in greeting.

"How is our Brother fairing?" Sanchez asked slipping into the room. Standish, as if in response, wrestled weakly with the blankets muttering quietly to himself.

"Fever's up," Jackson remarked running over the readouts of his other patients. The doctor looked up when the counselor had remained silent.

"You mind if I sit with him awhile?" Josiah asked. He held the data pad that JD and Buck had found in the ready room. The computer still refused or was unable to translate it.

"No go ahead....he's gonna be in and out for the most part," Jackson remarked before he headed further down the bank of diagnostic beds.

Sanchez merely nodded. The large man dragged a chair next to the bed and sat down. He reached out and touched the pale forehead feeling the dry heat of a high fever. Standish responded simply by moving away from the touch and muttering something unintelligible.

"What are you hiding Ezra? Why crypt your notes from us?" Sanchez fixed the blankets before settling back down in the chair, "give me a hint Brother."

+ + + + + + +

Chris stared at the faces of his officers. Vin and JD seemed distracted. Buck looked particularly harried. Nathan kept reading his hand held diagnostic readouts...they uploaded information directly from sick bay. Josiah leaned back in his chair with a puzzled expression on his features.

"Ok what have you found out?" Larabee asked expecting and hoping to hear a prattle of voices trying to out speak one another. Instead he was met with silence. It hung heavily in the air as sounds of restless fidgeting filled the void. No one met anyone else's gaze.

JD tried to disappear into the back of his chair. Vin shrugged in his noncommittal fashion. Buck sighed shook his head before pounding it repeatedly off the glazed table top.

Nathan met the Captain's inquiry with raised eyebrows and Josiah seemed not to hear him.

"Don't everyone speak at once." Chris muttered out. Things did not have to be this difficult. Larabee's gaze drifted over to the earlier models of the 'Maverick' and wondered if the other Captains had such trying times. With a mental shake of his head the Captain turned his thoughts outward.

"Nathan?" Larabee started with the most level headed of the group, figuring he would at least get a straight answer.

"Ezra's sick," Jackson returned with dead seriousness. The Doctor needed to be back down in med lab not up here answering nonsensical questions.

Larabee shut his eyes. Well thank you for stating the obvious Dr. Jackson. Should have left you in Sickbay.

"I'm glad you've established that," Larabee deadpanned and turned his attention to Josiah.

The counselor would recognize the need to get the ball rolling, "Josiah?"

"I agree with Nathan....Our Brother is very sick," Sanchez nodded in deferment to Jackson. "Very sick indeed."

Chris bit the inside of his cheek.

"Buck?" Larabee turned his attention to his first officer who had finally ceased banging his forehead off the edge of the table and now sat slouched in his chair. He had left a slight oily imprint on the glossy finish.

" I honestly think we should space the whole lott of them or at least toss'em in the brig," The First Officer confessed. Wilmington sat up. A pleading for understanding captured his face, "do you know how many requests and complaints I have gotten in just the last few hours?...I mean piddly stuff..."

Chris closed his eyes. Buck was on a roll and gathering steam.

" The ambassador for the Abyinsinians wants charges brought up on Vin, The Kondos lll delegates think its to cold....Why they're contacting security I have no idea.....The Fish face ambassador does not want anyone in the saloon when he goes there for a drink....The Parchins and the Darchins started a fight in the mess area which moved down two decks through three corridors ended in the saloon. Inez, bless her soul, subdued them with a phaser rifle.."

Buck held up a hand stalling Chris's question, " I have no idea where she got it...or where she hides it...but she's got no one piss with the lady on your down time."

"That include you Buck?" JD snickered out...It was unfortunate to see someone else having a hard go of it. It was nice to know he and Vin were not alone.

"I'm sure your handling it just find anything else?"

Buck sighed and answered, "Yeah, for some reason Ezra doubled security on Admiral Travis. He's got three people in 'civies' and another three in uniform." Buck sounded weary, "I don't know why the change and neither do his people."

Chris silently swore. When was his security chief going to learn to trust people.


The two young officers exchanged glances. Vin nodded to JD indicating the ensign should speak.

"Well we back tracked what he was working on...and came up with....nothin'...well at least nothin' we can see as being real important." Dunne stammered somewhat. "There isn't anything to indicate who he thought was a target or who's the assassin."

Vin shifted uneasily in his seat.


"It is somehow connected to Chaplain. Maybe by a different name, but Ezra picked up a trail somewhere and was following it. We didn't find anythin' point'n to the Admiral but Ez was followin' the Admiral's movements pretty closely." Tanner leaned forward somewhat resting his forearms on the table, "and Ez doubled back into some old boarding schools located in the Colonies where he grew up."

"You think he know's Chaplain from his school days?" Chris asked leaning forward as well.

"I ain't sure....but Ez don't like'im and I got the feelin' Chaplain and he knew each other...and now Ez is down and can't tell us a thing...To much of a coincidence for me." Vin leaned back crossing his arms. He had nothing left to say.

The occupants of the room remained quiet for a moment.

"Ok Vin I want you and JD to keep with what your doin'." He switched his gaze to Buck, "Sounds like you got everything under control so just stick with it." Larabee ignored the shocked expression on his first officer. The captain knew Buck could handle just about anything thrown his way....and if the First Officer felt compelled to 'space' somebody well..damn it that somebody probably deserved it.

"Nathan I need to speak with Ezra." Chris shook his head stalling any comments from the Doctor, "I don't care how you do it...just do it."

"And Josiah." Larabee closed his eyes, it was times like these he wished he were in the middle of a fire fight, "try and do something constructive."

The large preacher merely smiled not taking offense to the slight remark. "I am brother, I am...but the Lord does love riddles....and he unloaded a whopper of one on us." He tapped the cryptic data board on the table for emphasis. Sanchez paused for a moment and the light smile disappeared from his face, "I fear Brother Vin might be right 'bout this Chaplain fella....if he's who Ezra and Vin think he is...then the devil's serpent has entered our midst."

The others stared at the Counselor for a moment and then pushed back from the table. The meeting was over.

Chris grabbed Vin before he headed out with JD, "If this guy could get to Ezra so easily watch yerself....and JD."

Vin merely nodded and followed to catch up with the ensign.

Buck headed for the door. "And Buck..." The captain waited for the tall first officer to turn and face him. "If you need back up...just call Inez," Larabee chuckled.

"Sure thing pard'," Buck replied before disappearing down the corridor. Chris frowned he was only kidding....Wilmington seemed serious.


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