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A fresh start and a challenge

Posted on Wednesday May 31st, 2017 @ 7:44am by Captain John Williams & Lieutenant Dylan Nighthorse

Mission: Intermission 1: New Home
Location: USS Jerusalem, Deck 1: Ready Room
Timeline: 24 February 2392, 1000

USS Jerusalem: Deck 1: Ready Room
Monday, 24 February 2392, 1000

Quiet wasn't bad, but as he worked on some of the unending tide of administrative work that came with being the CO of a Starfleet starship, quiet was not what John Williams desired in his ready room.

Hence, there was music playing. Namely, since the CO of the Jerusalem was thinking of times past? Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown" was beginning, just loud enough to be heard inside the Ready Room without being heard outside:

I was eight years old
running with a dime in my hand
to the bus stop to pick up the paper
for my old man

Last step, she thought as she reached for the door chime to one side of the Captain's Ready Room door. After this, intake is complete. She pressed and waited.

The chime stopped the music, so Williams checked to see who was outside and then stood, calling simply, "Enter!" By the look of it, their new Chief Engineer.

Dylan entered, moving with the easy grace that was a byproduct of her training, and came to stand before the Captain's desk. Her expression impassive, she stood before his desk, and reported in accented Federation Standard, "Lieutenant Dylan Nighthorse reporting for duty, Sir."

"At ease, Lieutenant, good to finally meet you instead of relying on secondhand reports," Williams said, extending a hand. Once she'd returned his handshake, he gestured to a chair. "Sit, sit. Want anything? Coffee, tea, water?"

"Thank you, Sir," she said as she found a seat and resisted the automatic urge to tuck one leg underneath her as she did so. The Captain was an unknown; some were easy going, some not so much. Best behavior she reminded herself. At least for now. "I just had a cup of Vulcan Spice Tea with Commander Macclure. I'm good for the moment."

"OK. Before we go on to chat, let's get the paperwork out of the way. Set your PADD to laserlink my console, please, and transmit your travel orders, your assignment orders, and your personnel file - including that encrypted bit that you can't access," Williams instructed. The encrypted part of every officer's file, holding security reports and other stuff you don't want an officer to see about themselves (including, occasionally, very very candid comments from previous commanders), was an endless source of mystery to most junior officers - a mystery Williams had no desire to spoil now. Most of it was mundane and boring. But sometimes it could be, er, interesting.

Once that was done, Williams let the silence sit, his face neutral - ostensibly reading the file for a moment, never mind that he'd already read it.

Dylan settled back in the seat, legs crossed at the ankles, hands resting comfortably in her lap. She felt neither fear nor intimidation, mostly just a sense of waiting for the next move. This is that moment, she thought ... again.

Williams looked at the Engineer and, after another long moment, said simply, "Little young for your department head tour, aren't you?"

"Am I," she asked, her brow wrinkling slightly, as she settled back into the seat, relief sweeping through her body language. "Honestly, I don't pay much attention to age. There were things to do, problems to solve, and well," she said with a slight shrug, "the rest didn't matter much."

"Fair enough. But now you'll have a department of a few hundred people under you. As large as some ships' entire crew complements. Ready for it?" The CO asked.

A hundred possible answers surfaced in her mind. Justifications, explanations, assurances, and at least one plea. She discarded them all in favor of straight forward honesty. "Yes," she said. "I am. " She cocked her head slightly to one side as she considered her new Captain for the first time. "My record is a compilation of dry facts and opinions. They tell a story but perhaps not the complete one. I am ready for this. I can do the job."

"If it wasn't thought you could do the job, you wouldn't be here. BUPERS does not hate me." Or so Williams thought, anyway. "My question is a bit deeper: Usually engineers are renowned for a lack of social skills. When your department is as big as yours is, the softer skills are no longer optional - they're required, really. Are you absolutely sure what you're getting into? Do you understand that your technical knowledge will only partly be what's valued around here - your tactical knowledge, general professional skills, and yes, your skill with people will determine whether this is a successful tour as much as knowing your way around the reactor cores? Because what I see is an officer with great technical skills, but you're really being thrown in at the deep end so far as the whole 'leading a massive number of people' thing goes. What can you say to convince me, right now, that you have those skills and that me and the XO won't be fending off cries of 'Your Chief Engineer's great, but she's got remarkably stunted social skills and that makes the whole being-led-by-her thing painful' or worse? More pointedly, this is where your youth actually comes into play. If I'm blinking that you're young, how do you plan to establish credibility with your Chiefs and your junior officers, despite that fact?"

Williams didn't say that really, nobody had the faintest idea why Starfleet let the ship get so damn big in terms of crew size and, oh yeah, the crew size intimidated him, too. Actually, it kind of terrified him. But it would never do for a CO to admit that. But it still might be something that can be noticed if one is careful.

"Bit of a stereotype but okay." She held herself quiet and still, emotions contained and controlled, as she thought about how to explain. "My grandparents taught me my place within the family and within the tribe. From them, I learned that we are all interdependent, parts of a whole. In martial arts, I learned control and keeping my center. From my Father, I learned the enormous cost of choosing self and greed over the greater good. In my classes, I learned the techniques ... but it really comes down to this, I can listen. And that's an essential skill."

"And it's also, I'm not kidding, something a lot of the more technical types never learn," Williams responded. "Around here, you won't just be a technical expert. You'll have to cross-train, to a degree." He looked at her file for a minute. "OK, you already have officer of the watch certification, so I can assign you to a bridge shift pretty much out of the box. Good." Then, he looked at her. "Truth is, Lieutenant, you're doing a job I was hoping they'd give me an experienced Lieutenant Commander for - it's not going to be easy for you, and for that I do somewhat apologize. On the other hand? This ship is the first production version of a new class. There is no doctrine on how to use this ship, there is no manual for us to consult on the details. Literally, that'll be a task we do alongside everything else, write class-specific doctrine as to the Ascension-class and her systems. It might be exhilarating, or it might be terrifying. But either way, you will have a lot of freedom. Use it well."

He paused then. "Thus endeth the usual stuff. Now, the elephant in the room we've both been avoiding: Your dad, and his being a convicted felon currently incarcerated." Beat. "I'll say it right now: That's his issue. Not yours. Your book is clean in my eyes, regardless of his sins or stupidity or however you choose to describe it. If he tries to get stuff from you that even slightly seems odd, no matter how minor? Tell me, and I'll give you advice on how to handle it personally and professionally, it's kinda why I'm here. Definitely tell me if he asks for anything or does anything that raises even the smallest hint of a security risk or, because prisoners can be weird and vengeful to the most unusual targets, a safety risk in your mind. Other than that, it is not an issue aboard this command. Period. If you need to talk about it, OK, I'm willing to listen, off the record. But so far as 'official Starfleet' knows, it will not become an issue unless you ask me to do something official about something."

And there it is, she thought. The conversation I will always have. Still ...

"Thank you, Sir," she said and her accent thickened slightly, betraying the emotions she couldn't show, as she continued. "I haven't been in the same room with my Father since I was 13 and we stopped communicating regularly before I entered the Academy. He gets in touch occasionally." Her expression turned wintry as she remembered the jist of those brief exchanges. "For a while, he saw my entry into Starfleet as an asset he could exploit. I've made my position clear but he tries. Its in his nature to try." She looked down at her hands for a moment and then looked up again, the moment passed. "If he contacts me, if he wants something, I'll let you know."

"As to the rest, documentation exists though not in a form a less experienced technician could understand. I'll rectify that in my ... spare ... time. You don't know me yet but can I say this? I thrive on challenge and I will work hard." She smiled, a bare lift of one corner of her mouth as she added dryly, "My biggest critics say that I tend to work too hard as difficult as that is to imagine."

"Spare time. Gee, wish I had some of that," Williams noted with a grin. "And yeah, when I was in the Academy I had instructors ordering me to take breaks. Then they made a fighter pilot...and I still managed to freak out the docs with the hours I pulled. I'm better now..." Beat. "Or at least that's what I let the docs believe. So yeah, been there. Now, enough of me asking questions. Do you have any questions for me?"

"Well, the biggest ones that come to mind are how long are we going to be here at the Starbase and any word on where we're headed?"

"Til 1 March, max. Where to next? Vieques III for a massive training exercise known as Lion Passant. We are, as it were, the star attraction," Williams replied. "It'll be our final exam before they clear us for deployments, so figure they'll throw everything they can think of at us that isn't explicitly illegal."

She nodded thoughtfully as she remembered just how tricky her Academy instructors could be. "I'll go over the shakedown reports and make sure that everything is ready, Sir. Is there anything in that particular area of space that could present a problem for the ship?"

"Not navigationally, no. Pretty much the only threats should be from our opposing forces and, on the planet itself, the wildlife - some idiot released Terran Gray Wolves there a few years ago, and you can imagine what they've done to the local ecology," Williams offered.

"Odd, isn't it? That someone would introduce wolves into the ecology of a world on the border of the Romulan Neutral Zone. Ecologically foolish," Dylan said and then added, "and yet brave at the same time."

"Brave? Sounds like an odd word to use. For the record, there's actually a bounty set out by the Federation Science Council on those wolves. Something like 1000 credits per wolf, with a bonus if you can get an entire pack. They've done...fascinating and terrifying damage to the local wildlife, even the apex predators. The hope is that once we clear out the wolves, which are currently numerous enough that just beaming them off the planet isn't an option, the ecosystem will recover and return to normal," Williams noted. "Anyhow, this is noted to you because one of the projects, aside from normal operational tasks, combat tasks, and wartime tasks training, that we're slated to conduct during the exercise is conducting a simulated colony-site building exercise. Everything from siting and design through to construction - the only things command are providing, last I checked, are sites to choose from for the colony and the usual colony-construction equipment. Otherwise it's all on us. Once we're done, the Bureau of Colonization Affairs will take a look and, in conjunction with Starfleet Command, decide both if we've met objective and whether or not to use the planet for a settlement of some kind. They might decide not to do it, but if they do give us the tasking, Engineering and Ops will take the lead."

"I meant only that, however wrong-headed they were, someone actually came all the way out to the border of the neutral zone to introduce a colony of wolves. Its part of how I think, I guess. Trying to see the individual behind the actions." She let the thought go, though she would return to it later in private reflection, just as she held back the sudden wave of sadness at the thought of killing off the wolves, and turned to the upcoming exercise. "Will colony building be a normal part of our duties?"

"I have no idea, to be honest. This ship is so big, and so unusual for Starfleet, they're kind of not sure what to do with us. Our wartime roles are obvious. Our peacetime roles...Not really so obvious," Williams noted.

"Interesting," she said thoughtfully. "I would have thought this would have been all worked out in the planning stages. But still, that just means interesting challenges await."

"Yeah, that was my initial thought too - why hadn't they worked it out 10 years ago when the class was still in the design phase? Well, as the project manager put it to me before commissioning, ship design in Starfleet is 'a constant battle between bureaucratic factions, all armed to the teeth and ready to strike on a hair trigger'," Williams replied. "But yeah, for us the 'it's so big...Now what the hell do we do with it?' just means more adventures, until they figure out a consistent strategy for us. What's sad is that they didn't go particularly modular, so this class has bare-minimum science and research facilities. It does its warship thing really well, though, and we'll probably figure out ways to use even the Air Wing for scientific work."

A soft, barely perceptible beep comes from Williams's console, then. It produces a frown, as if Williams knows what it means and hates what it means. "Oh...That beep usually never means anything good. Namely, Starfleet Intelligence just sent me something for urgent reading. I apologize for cutting us short, but I should probably get to reading that; So, if there's no more questions, Lieutenant, you're dismissed. Welcome aboard, and welcome to the heights of life on the senior staff."

 

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