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Hierarchies of Command

Posted on Sep 07, 2020 @ 7:55am by Captain Michael Turlogh Kane

Mission: Dog Days Of Summer


(Continued from "A Long Time Coming")


Captain's log, supplemental - Security has informed me of Ensign Ryan's arrest and detention. Given that I have a series of meetings scheduled with Admiral Stiles and Doctor Pauli, this is exactly the kind of thing I don't need to happen aboard the ship right now...


Location: USS Phoenix, docked at Starbase
Stardate: [2.20]0906.2355
Scene: Captain's ready room - deck 1, saucer section

Michael Turlogh Kane waited for the connection to Admiral Stiles' office. It would have been an easy thing to meet her in her quarters on the Starbase, but given that their last meeting was antagonistic, it was probably better for both of them to keep each other at a distance.

Amanda Stiles, the commanding officer of Starbase 56 and fourteen sectors of Federation space, was not a friend of the Phoenix, nor of Kane himself. She had, apparently with the acquiescence of the powers-that-be in Starfleet, decided that the Phoenix's career had come to an end, and that its upgrade to HCARS would be in advance of its downgrade back down to a Galaxy-class design. It didn't matter that the Galaxy-classes had ceased being constructed twenty years ago and that the design was now ageing badly when compared to, for example, the Romulan Valdore B-class Warbirds - it only mattered that the political embarrassment of having the quadrant's sole dreadnought was spilling over into the Federation's intergalactic relations. The Phoenix was not an unknown starship - FedCom occasionally did profiles on her, alongside the dilemma of whether an organisation so ostensibly devoted to peace should have ever constructed a deadly weapon of war. Was the Phoenix really a weapon of mass destruction? Now that the Neo-Essentialist Crisis had passed and the universe had returned to normal, Kane guessed that enough Federation administrators had decided to eliminate the dilemma by eliminating the ship, and so Amanda Stiles had been ordered to let it gently run down in preparation for its downgrading. No new promotions, almost no new transfers unless it was off the ship, and only one minor upcoming shakedown cruise left to fulfill. Then the Phoenix's life would come to a quiet end.

So it was not without a sense of annoyance that he saw the holographic image that was being projected up from his desktop wink at him, changing the view from the three-dimensional sky-blue Starfleet delta to a two-dimensional one of the interior of Admiral Stiles' office on the Starbase. The bald black woman's expression was carefully neutral - no smile, no inclination of the head, nothing to indicate familiarity - and she was holding a PADD in her hands, clearly preparing to read from it. At the corner of his screen, an icon appeared to notify him that data was being downloaded from the Starbase, and he knew right away - this smelled like new orders.

Decorum demanded that he acknowledge the superior rank first, even if he disliked the woman. "Admiral Stiles," he said, nodding.

{{Captain Kane,}} she responded. {{I am informed that the HCARS upgrade to the Phoenix is reaching its conclusion. Therefore, I thought it wise to issue you orders for the subsequent shakedown cruise.}}

"I understand." Kane reached out and, somewhat gingerly, manipulated the holographic screen by touching the download icon. A second information panel popped up into thin air - a wall of text that he used his right index finger to quickly scroll downward through. Various passages were highlighted in bright golden font.

{{There is a stellar remnant - a dying white dwarf star - in the Idium system that is undergoing the final part of its life cycle,}} said Stiles. {{I'm not a scientist, but it appears that this event has generated a lot of excitement in the astronomy community. Apparently, the Idium white dwarf star does not have enough mass to explode into a nova, which is the end stage for almost all stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Instead, the Idium star bears all the hallmarks of collapsing into a black dwarf star - a theoretical stellar object that would emit neither heat nor light.}}

Kane nodded, reading along through the text document. "Right. I see that, even though black dwarf stars are theoretically possible, nobody has ever documented one up close."

{{And neither will the Phoenix. The time required for a white dwarf star to degenerate into a black dwarf star must be longer than the current age of the Universe - approximately fourteen billion years or so, rounding up - because there are no black dwarf stars anywhere in existence. The Phoenix's mission is a simple one of data collection - Federation astronomers want to develop their black dwarf theory, you see, and so they have applied for a starship to be sent to the Idium system to run a series of sensor sweeps, detailed scans, and various shipboard experiments. The details as a whole are in the attached file.}}

Kane called up a star chart, and the image appeared in a three-dimensional burst of colour around him. "The Idium system is in the Typhon Expanse. That area of space has only partly been charted, let alone explored."

Stiles paused a moment. When she replied, her words were laced with the sting of sarcasm. {{Come now, Captain Kane, there is nothing to fear for the only dreadnought in the quadrant. The Idium system is several parsecs off the beaten track - no life signs, just one class J gas giant which is probably the failed binary star in that system. You'll be fine.}}

Kane bristled, but kept his mouth shut. "I'll pass this information to my department heads immediately. As soon as HCARS is fully online, do we have permission to depart?"

Stiles inclined her head. {{Notify Starbase Operations of your intention to set course for Idium, Captain, but yes. This shakedown cruise is estimated to last no more than twelve weeks. You have a certain amount of discretion in your timetable, but you are expected back at this Starbase no later than the first day of next year in order to arrange the Phoenix's downgrading. Do you understand?}} Even here, now, there was a certain amount of triumphalism in her voice.

"I understand," said Kane. "What of my requests for new department heads and an executive officer?"

{{No movement as yet,}} she said, somewhat brusquely. {{I have an idea for your next ex-oh but nothing is finalised. There are no other transfers in the works, but a shakedown cruise shouldn't prove too taxing on your people, should it?}}

"No, sir," said Kane flatly.

{{Fine. Then I'll bid you good day, Captain. The next time I see you will be in a few months from now.}} Stiles said it without humour, and Kane watched her lean forward and touch an unseen control that disconnected her transmission. The holographic screen fizzed out of existence, leaving behind the sourness of the conversation.

Kane checked the chronometer, wondering if he had time for a quick bite to eat before Doctor Pauli's visit. Glumly, he remembered that the Vulgar Tribble kitchen was closed and would not be reopening anytime soon. He almost - almost - silently wished Iphie a speedy journey, if only so that he could have a delicious hand-made bacon sandwich again.


Scene: Captain's ready room, as before

At the appointed hour, the door chimed. The HCARS desktop generator immediately created a holographic head-and-shoulders of the person standing outside, someone that Kane did not recognise, but someone he was expecting.

"Come," he stated, getting to his feet.

The ready room door parted, admitting Doctor Pauli, the Borg cyberneticist who was aboard the Phoenix to work on the upgrading of Kasandra Thytos' sensor network. He was tall and pale, with a somewhat saturnine face, but the most striking thing about him was the various cybernetic prosthetics mounted on his body. At first glance, Kane could see that both his eyes were cybernetic, that his ears had been replaced by what looked like circuit boards, and that there was some kind of neural connection port embedded in his right temple. There was a faint whirring sound when he walked across the floor, and as Kane looked closer, he could see that Pauli's shoulders were thickly proportioned and square-shaped, making him think that the Borg was also carrying some kind of skeletal enhancement under his sky-blue laboratory coat.

So this was a new Borg. Kane knew that the Borg used to be a race of cybernetic zombies, all linked together under one communal mind, and in their day, had posed a perilous threat to all life in the galaxy. Their one ambition had been to assimilate all other organic life to be Borg - to forcibly inject nanites into people in order to subvert the new convert's natural organic body and mind. Nowadays, sixty years later, the Borg were no longer those soulless zombies - freed from their collective mind, each Borg was now a new individual person, free to eschew or embrace cybernetics as they saw fit. With so many new Borg being born from the sexual union of men and women who had been freed from the Collective - Borg like Doctor Pauli himself, whose parents were both Humans that had been assimilated, then freed from the Collective - there were sociologists who wondered whether there could ever truly be a Human Borg, or an Andorian Borg, or a Vulcan Borg. Would this new generation develop a new Borg culture, or would they revert to the cultures of their once-assimilated parents? Only time would tell, and in the meantime, the new Gamma Quadrant Borg Federation, made up of a diaspora of Alpha Quadrant peoples who had decided to form their own political entity that was modelled on the Federation, was one of the most technologically advanced and exciting societies in all the known galaxy.

Kane extended a hand, and the Borg took it. "Doctor Pauli," he said graciously. "Michael Turlogh Kane. I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to schedule a meeting with you."

Pauli waved him away. "Think nothing of it," he said in a rich, deep voice. "You must be busy, what with this computer upgrade and that thing with the alien boy."

Kane raised his eyebrows, wondering just how far word had spread. "Quite," he said, indicating for Pauli to sit. "Something to refresh you?"

"Water is fine," said Pauli. As Kane replicated two glasses, the Borg looked around. "Many starship captains like to put their own stamp on their ready rooms. If you don't mind me saying so, Captain Kane, this room is somewhat spartan."

Kane passed him a glass and sat down. "I suppose that's true. I'm not given to open displays of feeling."

Pauli raised a mischievous eyebrow, and his cybernetic eyes whirred as the artificial pupils dilated. "Really? Any particular reason for that?"

Kane shrugged. "Years of experience."

Pauli chuckled. "I think I understand. Well, Captain, you'll be glad to hear that I also have years of experience - a couple decades of it, in fact - as a cyberneticist. Your marine commander could not be in better hands than mine and those of my team from the Daystrom Institute."

Kane nodded, remembering that Pauli was a visiting scholar at the Institute and had brought several of his students aboard with him. All of them seemed painfully young, or, Kane thought bleakly, it was he who was getting old. "What will the procedure involve?"

"Procedures," corrected Pauli, not unkindly. "An entire suite of cybernetic implants will replace Major Thytos' current outdated network. This involves careful neurological work as well as software writing. As a whole, we will remove all of her existing sensor network and replace it with a newer, more stable, sensory package."

"Outdated?" said Kane.

"Yes," Pauli nodded. "By several decades, I'm afraid, but that only means that Major Thytos is about to enter a whole new world of sensation that she has not previously had access to. For example, we are working on a software package that will allow her sensor network to wirelessly connect and interact with HCARS, feeding the holographic data directly into her brain, from where it will be disseminated to her senses - sight and sound - as applicable. An observer would see Major Thytos manipulate thin air with her hands, but in reality she would be interacting with HCARS controls that only she can see. Furthermore, we are nowadays able to incorporate much more data into the Major's current software package - so much so that we are planning to integrate a visual processor component to her software that may, over time actually re-train her brain to allow her to see in three dimensions and colour. In her next upgrade, I hope to be in a position to allow complete neural control over the HCARS system, but that technology will require some years of development and experimentation."

Kane was impressed. "Amazing. I had no idea that cybernetics was so advanced."

"It is in the Federation," said Pauli. "I mean the Borg Federation, of course, not the United Federation of Planets. We have learned many lessons from our time in the Collective, and now the Daystrom Institute is benefiting from our knowledge."

Despite the self-centred nature of his words, Pauli did not come off as arrogant. Rather, Kane thought, he seemed genuinely excited and confident that he could make a difference to Kass' life. "I understand that you are working with Doctors Jos and Keiku?"

"Mostly Doctor Jos, given his specialisation," nodded Pauli, "but Doctor Keiku's assistance as a general practitioner will be useful too. Most of my team, myself included, are so specialised as to be almost useless beyond our own fields." He chuckled again.

"I understand that you are famous in that field," said Kane, taking a sip of water. He found himself rather liking the Borg.

Pauli shrugged. "I don't think about that too much. I want to advance cybernetics because it is my life's work, yes, and it turns out that I'm quite good at what I do, but in some ways I stand on the shoulders of other giants in the field. Your android Byte is an incredible work of art, for example. Bruce Maddox will go down in history for what he achieved."

"Byte's his own person," said Kane. He caught himself a moment later - again, unbidden, he had anthropomorphised and referred to the android by a gender. "Feel free to speak to him if you see him around."

"I'll do that," said Pauli. He drained the last of his water. "My team and I will be aboard the Phoenix for several more weeks yet, but the rumour mill says that the ship will depart on a shakedown cruise soon. If we are still aboard when that happens, I will send for a transport from Starbase 56 when we have concluded our operations here."

"That sounds good." The conversation had come to a natural end, and both men got back to their feet. Kane shook Pauli's hand again. "It's been a pleasure meeting you, Doctor Pauli. No doubt I'll see you around the ship from time to time. I look forward to speaking with you again."

"And I you, Captain." Pauli bowed at the neck and, like he was in a royal court, walked backward before turning around and leaving. When he was gone, the silence surged softly backwards.

Kane found himself pleased, but quickly got downbeat when he realised what his next meeting was about. Sighing, he decided that he had time for a light salad for lunch before having to deal with it.


Scene: Captain's ready room, as before

When disciplining a member of the crew, Kane had long ago learned to use psychology as a weapon in his arsenal. Strictly speaking, it should be enough to pull rank on the offender, but a dressing down from one's commanding officer without an understanding of why it was happening could often leave unresolved feelings of anger in the target, consequently impacting their work and relationships. Worst case scenario - the berated officer felt victimised and less enthusiastic in their vocation. As he moved the guest armchair from the front of his desk to one wall, leaving the floor in front of his desk bare, he went over the situation in his head one more time.

Lynette Ryan had stormed off duty, gotten drunk in the Vulgar Tribble, and thrown a punch at Malin-Argo when the Chief Engineer arrived to order her back to work. Starfleet regulations were clear as crystal in situations like this - physical violence was absolutely not tolerated in the service, and if Lynette had even half a brain, then she was surely expecting a tonne of bricks to come down on her.

Except for the mitigating circumstances. Malin-Argo was a superb engineer, but he was not a people person. The Grazerite was demanding, overbearing, and arrogant, and insisted upon absolute perfection from his department members at all times. To be fair, these were not standards that Malin-Argo could not personally meet - thanks to his species' biology, he was capable of regularly working twenty-hour days - but even so, his drive for perfection had led him into conflict with almost every other senior officer on the ship at some point or other. The line Malin-Argo walked was a fine one, but he was enough to never once cross it into insubordination - instead, over forty years' experience in Starfleet was enough to cause anyone he disagreed with to eventually acquiesce to Malin-Argo's point of view.

Kane had thought about how best to discipline Lynette in these circumstances. It was possible that the young woman had simply snapped following three years of constant nagging, or it was possible that she had been having a stressful day and that the proverbial dam had simply burst. Either way, it might have been understandable and could be explained, but it could most definitely not be excused.

At the top of the hour, Lynette came to the ready room. Rather than stand at his desk, Kane crossed the floor and opened the door in front of her. "Ensign Ryan."

Lynette was taken aback at his immediate presence. "Captain, I'm reporting as ordered."

"I know that." Kane gestured for her to enter and directed her to the empty space in front of his desk. "Stand there, Ensign."

Lynette did as she was told.

Kane sat on the edge of his desk in front of her, and threw a nod toward his HCARS terminal. "You punched Commander Malin-Argo in the Vulgar Tribble yesterday. Security has provided me with a report and internal sensor confirmation of the incident. You are guilty of physical violence towards a senior officer and must suffer the consequences for your actions. Before I explain what is going to happen, I want to give you the opportunity to explain why you did what you did, with the understanding that you may speak freely in answer to this one question only."

He could see that Lynette was conflicted. He was speaking as if this was a formal hearing, requiring her to stand to attention before him, yet was displaying a relaxed body posture, hands down by his sides, trying to elicit a natural reaction from her. The subliminal message was "I'm a friend, talk to me" although the friend thing wasn't exactly true.

Nevertheless, it worked. Lynette stopped looking at the wall and looked at his face. "Why did I punch Malin-Argo? Speaking freely, sir, he has made my life hell ever since I came aboard. Always on my back giving me the sh - the worst jobs, way below what I'm capable of. He wouldn't even give me the opportunity to show what I'm capable of." Her hands came into play, as Lynette moved them to punctuate her words. "You know what he's like, sir. If he had just loosened up we would have got along better. But as for why I actually did it - well, that was because Commander Malin-Argo once again declined to put me on the HCARS project, instead ordering me to restrict myself to plasma control maintenance. Whether it was from loss of judgment because of the alcohol, I don't know, but I have just about had enough of it."

When Lynette finished speaking, Kane let the silence stretch out for a few seconds in case she wanted to say more, but she didn't. Lynette looked like she had offloaded a lot of frustration by venting all that to him, and her shoulders were hunched downward, her breathing deeper than normal.

Kane mentally filed it all away for later. Not even Malin-Argo could ignore a sock in the mouth, and if he was half the professional he projected he was, then he should be interested in modifying his interpersonal relationship with Lynette so that it wouldn't happen again. Kane made up his mind to see the Chief Engineer later and explain all this to him, in terms much more formal than he was using to speak to Lynette.

He stood up off the desk and moved to the window, feeling Lynette's eyes watch him. The vast bulk of the Starbase hung in space, dominating the view, and Kane idly watched the dozens of engineers and operations staff moving through the umbilical tunnel that connected the Phoenix to the vast structure. He put his hands behind his back. "I've heard everything you've said, Ensign. I'll speak to Commander Malin-Argo about this incident myself. In the meantime, I want to ask you - do you want to continue to serve aboard the Phoenix?"

Kane was not looking at the umbilical any longer. He watched Lynette's reflection in the transparisteel of the viewing port. Her body language had changed from worry to antagonism - she was leaning forward toward him, her face twisted into a mask of irritation.

"Of course I do," she said.

"Good." Kane kept his back to her. "You're going to apologise to Malin-Argo. You can do it in front of the rest of Engineering, or you can do it in private here in front of me, but either way, you're going to apologise for attacking him. As well as that - "

"No," stated Lynette, shaking her head. "I'm not doing that. Why would you make me do that after what I've just told you?"

Kane turned around and faced her. "One, because it's polite. Two, because you have a problem with authority. This resis - "

"I don't have the problem," said Lynette, "he has the problem."

"Ensign Ryan, do not interrupt me when I am speaking!" snapped Kane. He crossed the floor and stood before her, the tone of his voice rising. "This resistance to an authority figure manifests in the impulsive and sometimes reckless behaviour repeatedly noted in your psychological profile. I cannot fathom any situation where you selfishly felt that you could just walk off the job! Not only did you let yourself down, but you also let down every other officer and crewman in Engineering who could have used your assistance yesterday, whether it was on plasma control maintenance or HCARS or anything else!" He held up a finger, both as an admonishment and as a warning. "You're not the only person frustrated by Commander Malin-Argo's style of command, but nobody - I repeat, nobody - has ever simply walked off the job like you did yesterday. You're supposed to be one of the assistant chiefs - what sort of an example do you think you set for the three hundred-odd enlisted Engineering crew who are talking about you today? Do you think that they can rely on you to be there for them whenever it gets tough from now on? Perhaps they now feel that they too can just walk off the job if they feel their duty shifts aren't going in a way they're happy with?"

He circled her slowly. "Starfleet is a service, Ensign Ryan. It has clearly defined hierarchies of command. You have rights, yes, but Commander Malin-Argo is not infringing upon them by utilising your skills in a way that you disagree with! If this happens in the future, the correct way of dealing with it is through the ship's ExO, or me directly - it does not mean that you up and leave and get drunk in the bloody pub!"

He came round in front of her and lowered the tone of his voice. "You will apologise to Malin-Argo in a manner that I have outlined. Also, you are confined to your quarters for the next thirty days - that means you are not free to move around the ship, and that you must either be at work or in your quarters at all times."

Lynette said nothing, knowing that there was more to come.

"Furthermore, a formal reprimand will appear on your permanent record, with comments outlining my very great disappointment in you, alongside my hopes that you will embrace a new sense of professionalism in your work, and that you will ultimately realise your own very high potential. Lastly, I will report this incident to Counselor Dalziel with a recommendation that she lead you through a course of anger management. Do you understand these things I have said to you?"

Lynette seemed mollifed, but seemed like she had more to say. "Captain, may I speak?"

Kane shook his head firmly. "No, Ensign," he stated. "I am the captain of this ship, issuing you a set of orders, not soliciting your opinion. I ask you again - do you understand what I have said to you?"

For the first time since she entered the room, Lynette nodded. "Yes, Captain."

"Good." He couldn't read her mind, but Kane wondered if she was taking on board everything that he had said to her. "You are dismissed, Ensign."

Lynette turned and left the room without another word. When the door closed behind her, Kane let out a long exhalation, trying to centre himself. As he crossed the floor to retrieve the guest armchair, he reminded himself that he would make sure that Malin-Argo didn't escape respnsibility for Lynette's moment of weakness.

It had been a long day already.


NRPG: We'll be leaving the Starbase soon for the Idium system. Any last business aboard should be handled in your next post.

In the meantime, remember that the Vulgar Tribble is Iphie-less. The space will be open, but there isn't a chef to cook a menu, so Calvin and Hobbes will be serving the delicacies of the replicator!

If you need more information on what a black dwarf star is (or, more accurately, might be), then I covered some more sciencey material in the last scene of a post entitled "Boardroom, Part Two".

Thanks to Alix and Phillip, who helped with clarifying some factoids and diaglogue involving their characters!

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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