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Gunboat Diplomacy

Posted on Jul 21, 2020 @ 7:02am by Captain Michael Turlogh Kane

Mission: Dog Days Of Summer


(Continued from "The Other Side of Fame")


Captain's log, supplemental - following my meeting with Captain Sparnak of the Consul, I have been summoned to Admiral Stiles' office.


Location: Starbase 56
Stardate: [2.20]0720.2300
Scene: Admiral Stiles' office

Michael Turlogh Kane was ushered in to Admiral Stiles' office with something akin to aplomb, which instantly made him suspicious. The bald black woman was smiling from ear to ear, clearly pleased about something, and she moved to her desk with the air of a woman who was about to deliver some very good news.

He 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 Consul, an Emissary-class light cruiser that was commanded by Sparnak, his embittered Academy classmate.

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 Consul 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 renovated the place within the past few months - 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.

"I must say, Captain Kane, that Ambassador Sardak spoke very highly of you and your crew." Amanda Stiles was at the replicator, calling up two glasses of synthehol. She placed one of them at the edge of her desk, and sank down into her armchair. "Gave quite a bit of insight into the collective character of your senior staff, all learned from close observation during the bad days of the Neo-Essentialist Crisis. Seems so far ago now, doesn't it?"

Kane pretended to sip the synthehol, but didn't swallow any of it. "It does." He wondered when she was going to get to the point. The last time he had been in this office was to give Stiles an ultimatum of sorts - he had asked her to look in to the rumours that the Phoenix senior staff was being slowly-but-surely broken up, their careers being stymied because of their status as public figures. Kane didn't really believe all that hype - after all, nobody had ever stopped him on any street on Earth looking for an autograph - but by asking her to look in to the matter, he had deftly maneuvered her into a situation whereby a lack of action on her part would seem quite suspicious.

"Sardak is a powerful ally to have," Stiles continued, raising her glass to him. "Salut."

"I'll keep that in mind," said Kane neutrally. Sardak was just as controversial as the crew of the Phoenix was - his decision to engineer the stripping of Earth's permanent status on the Federation Council still rankled many Human Starfleet officers who, while not Neo-Essentialists, felt that the most numerous spoecies in the Federation deserved a permanent place at the top table.

"Same old Captain Kane," Stiles chuckled. "Give nothing away until you've heard what the opposite side has to say. You'd make a fine politician."

"I didn't think we were on opposite sides, Admiral."

For a moment, a shadow flashed across Stiles' dark eyes, but then she smiled, and her expression was sunshine again. "We're not. I'd like you to think of me as an ally too. So much so that I've gone to considerable lengths to look into that little problem you mentioned the last time you were in this office."

Kane sat forward in his seat. Finally, the reason for his summons was being made clear. There were rumours on the ship that the core of officers who had fought and defeated Richard Edgerton were being singled out for special attention - the Phoenix itself had been operational for six years now, and every time she needed a new department head, Starfleet brought in an outsider rather than promote from within the existing crew complement. James Barton had disappeared into thin air. Jake Crichton had been the ExO for four years and now once been offered his own command. Kassandra Thytos should have had her Colonel's leaf and be in command of a Marine battalion by now, and Eve Dalziel was ready to become someone's First Officer. The junior officer rumour mill suggested that the appointment of Malin-Argo as Chief Engineer, Sidney Bartlett as Chief Medical Officer, and Karrington Crow as Chief Science Officer - all three of them distinguished Starfleet veterans - was to keep a lid on the promotion chances of any mid-ranking oficer aboard the ship. He couldn't figure out why, and frankly he thought there was probably an element of hyperbole in the rumour, but it had seemed like a good idea at the time to bring it up. Now, it seemed was about to get an answer.

Stiles noted his interest, the smile still on her face. She lazily reached out a hand and activated her desktop terminal, referring to the details on the screen. "I reached out to some contacts in Operations. They assured me that there had been a mix of incompetence, oversight, and a lack of initiative. Three of your officers - Jacob Crichton, Eve Dalziel, and Kassandra Thytos - have each been offered a new assignment and a promotion."

Kane caught himself, made sure to keep his expression neutral. This was a breakthrough, although the phrase 'new assignment' tugged at his heartstrings. If Jake, Kass, and Eve were all about to leave the ship, then three of the Neo-Essentialist Crisis veterans would be dispersed at a stroke. Was that what Starfleet intended? His thoughts were awhirl - he found himself immediately chiding his own insecurities for bringing it up. As Malin-Argo had recently reminded him, there was no way that everyone was going to finish their careers aboard the Phoenix, and he supposed that that made sense.

Admiral Stiles was still smiling. "And they're not the only ones, Captain Kane - or should I say, Commodore Kane."

The word hit Kane like a slap on his ears. "I'm being promoted?" he said slowly.

Stiles nodded, like she was indulging a child. "Yes. And reassigned, too. You've been appointed the new Deputy Head of Starfleet Training Command. The message is waiting in your inbox. Congratulations."

"The Academy?" Kane frowned. "You're moving me to the Academy?"

Stiles nodded again. "Yes, Captain. Training Command supervises the holodeck simulations that all Academy Cadets go through, including the Kobayashi Maru. In fact, I understand that one of your first assignments will be tweaking that very same test, but overall you've been selected because of your up-to-date interactions with peoples like the Romulans and the Klingons - our Cadets need your knowledge. They're talking about opening ACT again, and you'll be part of that conversation." She winked at him. "It's a perfect assignment for an officer on the upward path. I have no doubt that within a couple of years you'll make Admiral."

Kane placed his synthehol glass back on her desk. It had lost its taste. "I'd be more valuable as a front-line naval officer."

"Maybe," she smiled. "But them's the breaks."

"Who'll get the Phoenix?"

"Oh, I don't know," she said. "I assume Starfleet will - "

"Admiral Stiles," said Kane firmly, "who will be assuming command of the Phoenix?"

She stared at him silently, the smile on her mouth slowly inverting.

"Ship captains don't get transferred without a replacement ready to relieve them," said Kane. His voice had a hard edge to it, but he was determined to make his point. "Nobody in Starfleet would countenance transferring me elsewhere without a replacement signed, sealed, and waiting to be delivered. Who is it?"

Stiles pushed her own glass away. The mood in the room had darkened significantly. "Captain Kane, why can't you just accept your orders?" She sighed, and looked him dead in the eye. "Very well. There *is* no replacement. It has been decided that Project Phoenix is at an end. When HCARS is installed, her last voyage will be back to Utopia Planitia, there to be refitted."

Kane listened with mounting anger.

"All her weapons systems will be uninstalled, her ablative armour removed, and she will be converted back to a sedate, functional, vintage Galaxy-class starship, which will then be attached to the Diplomatic Corps for use as an ambassadorial ship." Stiles put her elbows up on the table. "Do you see the picture?"

Kane shook his head. "But why?"

"Because the Phoenix is the only one of its kind, Captain Kane," Stiles said pointedly. "Starfleet has never built anything like her before. She is a warship of unmitigated destructive potential, and her simple existence hampers the Federation's ability to make peaceful overtures to unfriendly foreign powers. It is not the way of the United Federation of Planets to conduct gunboat diplomacy with the quadrant's only dreadnought casting a threatening shadow over our every effort."

"Gunboat diplomacy!" exclaimed Kane. "With all due respect, Admiral, that is ridiculous! Do you think that the Romulans are not, at this very moment, attempting to construct something to match the Phoenix? Decommissioning her ties one hand behind Starfleet's back!"

"Higher authorities disagree," Stiles said, emphasising the first two words. "And you are treading dangerously close to insubordination. "The Phoenix is a mythic ship. She's too famous. And so are you and your people."

Kane got to his feet, struggling to control his growing anger. "Ah, now we're getting down to it."

"Don't you see?" said Stiles calmly. "You and your crew have had an outsized bearing on Federation politics in the past half-decade, almost unprecedented in Starfleet's history. Your recent little escapade in Alcyonus was just one example - making a deal with the Romulans while scuttling the Satet forced the Federation into accepting whatever outcome *you* decided would happen. The powers-that-be have determined that there is to be no more of it. Promotions and reassignments - if your politically-sensitive crew is dispersed through the fleet, then the united command staff is broken up, and nobody will have to deal with the ramifications of your collective decisions." Stiles' words were dripping acid now. "Take the promotion. Take the reassignment. I meant what I said - in a couple of years you'll be an Admiral. It's been - "

"Decided," Kane finished for her. "What about Jake Crichton and Eve Dalziel and Kassandra Thytos?"

Stiles shrugged. "All three will graciously accept, because they don't know the big picture."

"What stops me from - "

"If you do, I'll make their promotions mandatory, and I'll ruin all their careers."

Kane stared at her. Her eyes were hard as adamantine, and there was steel in her voice. With a sinking feeling, he realised that all this had been decided long before the Phoenix docked at Starbase 56. Amanda Stiles was only the face of whatever invisible bean-counting bureaucrats had made this decision, and the wheel had come full circle. He knew that there was nothing he could do. "I won't tell them. But they still might refuse."

She inclined her head. "I know you won't. And if anyone refuses, it makes no difference. In a couple of months' time, it will be made again, but this time it will not be an offer."

Kane's lips were dry. He struggled to retain some kind of dignity. "How long does the Phoenix have?"

"Six months, maybe. The HCARS upgrade and a short shakedown cruise to make sure the system is fully operational. Of course, by then you'll likely be the last of the rebels remaining on board. Those who remain - well, orders are orders."

"I see." Kane put his hands behind his back. "I formally decline your offer of promotion, Admiral Stiles."

Stiles stood up. "Then, Captain Kane, you are hereby requested and required to report to Starfleet Academy on stardate two-point-two-one, there to assume the rank of Commodore, and the responsibilities of Deputy Head of Starfleet Training Command. Do you understand your orders?"

"Perfectly, sir."

"Very good." Stiles inclined her head to the door. "You're dismissed, Captain Kane."

Kane stood to attention for a moment, then turned on his heel and marched out the door. His whole world had turned upside down in the space of a few short minutes, and he needed time to clear his head and analyse what had happened. It had been perfectly set up, but telling anyone on the Phoenix what had been planned for her was out of the question - at least, for right now - but the thought of it still made his blood boil. He needed to think.


NRPG: If Kane is in a crankier-than-usual mood when your characters meet him, this is likely why. 2436 signals the end of our run as a unit, and the clock is now ticking.

Jerome McKee
the Soul of Captain Michael Turlogh Kane
Commanding Officer

"He speaks an infinite deal of nothing!"
- Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Act 1, Scene 1.117



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