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Boardroom, Part One

Posted on May 07, 2020 @ 1:39am by Captain Michael Turlogh Kane

Mission: Dog Days Of Summer


(Continued from "Safe Harbour")


Captain's Log, supplemental - the Phoenix has arrived at Starbase 56 and all the crew is free to get some shore leave. There aren't enough domiciles aboard the Starbase to accommodate everyone, so we will still be living aboard the ship, but I have no doubt most of the crew will find something to occupy their time. As for me, I have been summoned to a meeting with the Starbase's commanding officer, Admiral Stiles. She and I are passing familiar one another...


Location: Starbase 56, border of the Romulan Neutral Zone
Stardate: [2.20]0506.1735
Scene: Admiral's ready room

While he waited for the admiral to return to her office, Michael Turlogh Kane looked at the gunmetal grey hull of the Phoenix through the viewing port as she lay berthed out in space, attached to the stem of the Starbase by a docking umbilical. She was visible here from Admiral Stiles' office, one of two starships that he could see from this spectacular vantage point. The other ship was the USS Claymore-B, a Sabre-class destroyer that was the namesake of another starship destroyed by the Aegis satellites during the Battle of Earth four years ago - Starfleet must have constructed and commissioned a new starship to honour her memory and keep the name going. For a moment, Kane recalled those desperate days - Elandipole, the destruction of Paris, the battle in orbit of Earth - and remembered the dead. It seemed a long time ago.

Earth was so far away from Starbase 56 that Sol could not be seen without a powerful space telescope. Those brighter, closer stars beyond Kane's view of the Claymore were those of the Romulan Star Empire - an alien imperium, sworn enemies of the Federation, with whom peace was only ever a tenuous thing. Kane knew that just as he looked out at the magnificent vista of eternity, that Romulan eyes were looking back at him.

Andrea Stiles' office was luxurious. It looked like she had recently renovated the place - there was a plush new sky-blue carpet under Kane's booted feet, and the interior decor was all some kind of stained and varnished thick-grained Teresian hardwood. Her desk was topped with a new desktop terminal and flanked by three beautifully-upholstered faux-leather armchairs. The replicator built into one wall looked like it was fresh off an assembly line, and the wall behind her desk was one huge viewscreen, wirelessly connected to the Starbase's computer network. Right now, it was set to a screensaver - a series of images that showed each of Starfleet's ten insignias throughout its history - and Kane grudgingly acknowledged to himself that the whole ambience was polished and very professional. This was a room when important decisions were made, decisions that affected entire sectors of space.

He heard the footsteps coming to the door an instant before they whispered open, admitting Admiral Stiles and - to Kane's surprise - Commander Malin-Argo, the Phoenix's chief engineer. The Grazerite was not especially tall, but he was heavily built, with a stocky, intimidating bearing. His horns were covered with a black cloth cowl, and his gold-banded black jumpsuit looked like he had just put it on. Kane realised irritably that he had not changed or showered following the Phoenix's arrival, being anxious to report to Admiral Stiles.

The two of them had clearly been talking about something important. Admiral Stiles - a tall, long-limbed bald black woman somewhere in her late sixties - was smiling and nodding. When she saw him, Stiles smiled and nodded warmly. "Captain Kane!" She extended a hand.

Kane took it, keeping his expression neutral. "Admiral Stiles." He glanced at Malin-Argo, noting that the engineer was holding a PADD in one of his thick, meaty hands. When he saw that Kane had noticed it, Malin-Argo put his hands behind his back, concealing the device, and looked on.

"It's good to see the Phoenix again!" Stiles exclaimed, gesturing out the viewport and moving to her desk. "Sit down, gentlemen! How long has it been, Captain - a few years?"

"Two-and-a-half years, I think," said Kane. "The last time the Phoenix was docked at Starbase 56, we lost several people to the phobophage." The memory pained him - he had had a brief relationship with Ellie Kalani, the Starbase's assistant Ops chief, who had been killed by the malevolent entity. "Since then, we were involved in uncovering the bramatine scandal and dealing with the Klingon incursion on Sherman's Planet last year. And our most recent mission, of course." He shrugged. "Admiral, where is Captain Book? I had assumed I would see him again for some kind of debrief."

Stiles shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Kane was conscious of Malin-Argo sitting near him, soaking up everything.

"Captain Book has already left the Phoenix and reported to me, about an hour ago," said Stiles. "He lodged an official complaint about your conduct in the Beta Thoridor system. He feels that your decision to scuttle the Satet was not only premature, but also needlessly resulted in the loss of a year's worth of valuable intelligence on clandestine Romulan activity in the Triangle." She sighed. "I did try to hold him back, but he insisted on making contact with Admiral Koniki immediately. I'm assume he's off doing that now."

Kane set his jaw. "Admiral, I recorded everything in my logs - "

"Of course, Captain Kane. I'm not suggesting that any disciplinary action will be taken against you. However, I am suggesting that you may be summoned before a Board of Inquiry to account for your actions at some point in the future, should Admiral Koniki decide to convene one."

Kane nodded. "I understand."

The smile was half-gone from Stiles' face. "To other business, then. Captain, you might be wondering while Commander Malin-Argo is here." She paused. "There is no easy way to say this, so I'll just come out and say it. Commander Malin-Argo has requested a transfer off the Phoenix."

Kane raised an eyebrow. He turned to the Grazerite, who was looking straight ahead at Admiral Stiles' viewscreen, and eyeballed him sidelong. "I was not aware of that, Admiral."

"You are aware of it now, Captain," she said meaningfully. "He made it to me personally a short while ago."

"Did he," Kane said flatly. Part of him was furious with the Grazerite - any transfer request should have been made through Jake, but Malin-Argo and Jake did not have a good history together. Jake himself was a former chief engineer of the Phoenix, and their command styles were diametrically, irreconcilably opposed - Jake was easy-going and informal, whereas Malin-Argo ran the tightest of tight ships, brooking no dissent or interference in his engine room. Despite his irascible nature, the Grazerite enjoyed a stellar reputation within the fleet because he was widely acknowledged to be something of a miracle worker. He had never been anything but a consummate professional around Kane.

"I have been the Phoenix's chief engineer for four years now." Malin-Argo swivelled his bovine head on his thick shoulders and faced Kane. His expression was inscrutable. "My apologies for circumventing protocol, Captain Kane, but I believe Admiral Stiles has more to say to you."

"As I do to you some time following this meeting, Commander," said Kane pointedly. He turned back to Stiles. "Please continue, Admiral."

Stiles held up her hands soothingly. "It has to do with what the Phoenix will be doing next. Captain Kane, have you ever heard of HCARS?"

Kane frowned in confusion for a moment, then he remembered. HCARS was a long-rumoured upgrade to the current existing LCARS computer operating system that was installed everywhere in the Federation. LCARS ran everything - starship and starbase computers, PADDs, tricorders, and every working duty station on the Phoenix. Ellie Kalani had told him all about it last time the Phoenix was docked here - she had seemed excited about it. "Yes - some kind of holographic computer system, correct?"

Malin-Argo produced the PADD he had been concealing and handed it to Kane. "Holographic Computer Access and Retrieval System," he rumbled. "A brand-new hologram-based operating system that is being rolled out across all of Starfleet beginning this summer. It is planned that, by the end of the decade, LCARS will be a thing of the past."

Kane activated the PADD and began scrolling down through it. Something clicked in his head. "You're planning to upgrade the Phoenix to HCARS while she's here?"

Stiles nodded. "Yes. The Phoenix will be among the first starships in the fleet to receive the upgrade. As we speak, it's also being rolled out through Starfleet Security and Medical back on Earth. Starfleet Operations is scheduled to begin its upgrade at the beginning of next year. Next summer, the Neutral Zone fleet. It's all in the PADD."

Kane looked up. "And this has been thoroughly tested? All the kinks ironed out? You wouldn't believe the bugs that crop up in actual live use of these things - like something out of a bad science fiction story."

"Completely," grunted Malin-Argo. He used one huge thumb to scratch the downy amber nap on his right cheek. "The fleet has been using a version of HCARS in its holodecks for several years - now the expanded operating code is ready to be installed as a frontline interactive system. Five years to upgrade the fleet, ten to twenty for it to totally replace LCARS in civilian use all across the Federation."

"My earlier conversation with Malin-Argo was about how best to proceed with the upgrade on the Phoenix," said Stiles. "Commander?"

Malin-Argo got up and moved with heavy footfalls behind Stiles' desk. At his touch, the screen winked, switching from the Starfleet delta to a three-dimension picture of the bridge of the Phoenix. "The current LCARS system requires the placement of static duty stations to be built in to the deckplate of the ship," he huffed. "You can see here that the Phoenix uses the standard Galaxy-class design - an upper dais to the rear housing Tactical, bridge Science and Engineering and other work stations. The dais sweeps down to the command chairs, with Ops and the conn positioned to the fore in front of the main viewer."

Kane watched with interest. The data in the PADD was somewhat technical, but it seemed to have been written with a layman's knowledge of the technology in mind. "Yes."

Malin-Argo touched the screen again, and almost everything disappeared. It was still the bridge of the Phoenix - the same basic structure remained, but those static workstations were all gone. The only things remaining in the new design were the actual seats. The dais that housed Tactical and the other stations had been levelled down to the same inclination as everything else. The three command jumpseats were slightly elevated on a circular platform, and ahead of them sat the Ops and conn seats in their usual places. There was nothing else, no other features except the doors to the ready room and turbolift. The walls were a blank, featureless gunmetal grey.

Kane frowned, taking it all in. The more he looked, the more he saw. There was a Tactical seat, but it had been moved to the right of the command platform, facing forward toward the main viewer. There were several new seats facing the blank rear wall, presumably the bridge Science and Engineering stations, but still nothing else. No work stations, no computer panels, no touch-screens. "I don't get it, Commander. Where are the computers? Are we supposed to verbalise the running of the ship?"

"As mentioned earlier, HCARS is a hologram-based operating system," said Malin-Argo. "A series of holographic emitters will project workstations into the immediate area around each seat. Each operator will be in the midst of a virtual space, able to work in three-hundred-and-sixty degrees using seats that swivel in a full circle. The holograms respond to the movements of the operator's hands and fingers in the same manner as a touch-screen would."

"So where are the emitters?" asked Kane.

Malin-Argo touched the screen again. On the floor around each seat, there appeared a circle of glowing white light, almost as if each seat was sitting atop a transporter pad. More glowing white lights were built into the walls and ceiling of the bridge. "Here. Each bridge officer has a self-contained HCARS node built in to the floor around them. When they first access the system, they create a profile and customise their system set-up. Whenever the operator changes, the new profile and customisation is automatically loaded with less than a half-second's delay." The picture on the viewscreen changed to an animation - it showed virtual officers occupying the seats, and semi-transparent holographic workstations appearing in the air around them. The virtual officers were seemingly reaching into thin air, manipulating the holographic controls, which were changing colours and displays based on what they were doing.

"It's the way of the future," smiled Stiles.

Kane held up a hand. "How are the holograms integrated into the main computer? If the Phoenix gets into combat, I don't need my conn officer losing control of the ship because a hologram goes on the blink."

"In the same way as LCARS is wirelessly connected to various computer nodes around the ship, so too will HCARS be," explained Malin-Argo. "The system has been tested in both simulated and live - although controlled - combat situations. In all cases, HCARS has the same strengths and weaknesses as a physical, static workstation. There is also the potential for less combat casualties from flying debris or exploded tritanium."

Kane looked down at the PADD again, looking for something to complain about, but couldn't find anything. He did think that the lighting seemed strange, like there was a lot of lens flare going on, but kept quiet about it. It seemed to be the way these days - that more technology was leading to more blinking coloured lights around the place - but if the system was as good as Starfleet thought it was, then who was he to stand in its way? Besides, the decision had been made long before he had stepped into this office - Stiles and Malin-Argo were just kindly informing him of it. "I don't have any further questions at the moment. When can we expect this upgrade to begin?"

Stiles and Malin-Argo shared a look before she turned her brown eyes back on him. "Captain, I have had one-quarter of this Starbase's entire Engineering department - over four hundred engineers - on standby since you were detected crossing the border some days ago. All we need is you to give the word."

Malin-Argo stepped forward to stand behind Stiles' seat. The symbolism was telling. "This will be my last project as the Phoenix's chief engineer," the Grazerite said. "I fully expect that, following the upgrade to HCARS and subsequent shakedown cruise, I will be transferred to Starfleet Engineering with a promotion in hand."

Andrea Stiles held up her hand. "Commander Malin-Argo's transfer request is on file with Starfleet. It will take many weeks before a final decision is made. Officially speaking, that is."

Kane inclined his head. He could read between the lines. Malin-Argo's engineering genius had not gone unnoticed by the higher echelons in the fleet - hell, his assignment before the Phoenix was at Starfleet Engineering. He was a previous winner of the Cochrane medal, and Kane knew that he was ambitious. It made sense that, after four years aboard the flagship, Malin-Argo was now seeking a captain's rank and a higher management position.

But this meeting was not about Malin-Argo's ambition. It was about HCARS. "Very well," he said, standing up. "Commander, you may return to the Phoenix and begin the upgrade - be sure to inform the crew and give them a little time to prepare for the work to begin. Send me daily reports until the project is completed."

The Grazerite glanced down at Stiles, nodded once, and walked to the door of the office with heavy, thumping footfalls. Kane stayed where he was. At the door, Malin-Argo paused. "You are not accompanying me, Captain Kane?"

Kane shook his head. "I have more to discuss with Admiral Stiles. I'll find you later."

Malin-Argo paused a moment before turning away. The doors opened and closed behind him, but his footfalls were audible for several seconds as he trudged away. Kane let the silence play out, sitting down opposite Admiral Stiles again.

They sat in silence for some moments before Stiles broke it. "So, Captain, you have something else to say?"


NRPG: Malin-Argo is on his way to the Phoenix to oversee the hundreds of engineers who will be coming aboard the ship to upgrade the computer system. During the ship's "daytime", your character can expect to be iritated by the noise of machinery and construction, as well as cramped corridors because of all the extra people moving around. Maybe they will want to react to HCARS, or maybe they'll want to get off the ship while all the work is going on.

You might remember that HCARS was first introduced back in 2432 (2017) as a rumoured fleet-wide OS upgrade. Part of the FRPG's 25-year legacy has been to develop the Star Trek universe canon and project it forward into one possible future, and then tell stories about that future. This fleet-wide upgrade - while ultimately cosmetic - keeps the universe moving forward. Most importantly, with the arrival of HCARS, it means that everyone on the bridge finally gets seat-belts!

Kane's conversation with Admiral Stiles will continue in my next post. He is not available for interaction, unless one of you writes an emergency situation needing his/Admiral Stiles' attention :)

Jerome McKee
the Soul of Captain Michael Turlogh Kane
Commanding Officer

"He speaks an infinite deal of nothing!"
- Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice



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