Part of USS Dvorak (Archive): Storm in a Teacup and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

Storm in a Teacup

USS Nestus, Briefing Room
January 2400
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Standing at parade rest, Security Chief Kellin Rayco was overcome with a feeling like déjà vu.  The face-off between Science Chief Yuulik and Captain Taes reminded him of when his younger sisters would get into fights.  Kellin was nominally considered to be the peacemaker then and now, but he had long ago learned when to hold his tongue.  In this instance, he recognised it wasn’t his place to say anything.  All he could do was listen and, figuratively, use his broad back to hold up the bulkhead.

Kellin spotted paradoxical changes in Taes’ body language simultaneously.  Her shoulders slumped in a defeated manner, and yet she sat taller at the briefing room’s desk.  Her hands crossed in her lap, while her chin jut out before she spoke.  “I must have looked at the wrong templates during our mission planning,” Taes said in an authoritarian timbre.  “Either we were talking about two different sets of templates without realizing it, or I made a typo when I sent you the final templates.   It was a fateful miscommunication.  Nestus is my command.  This is my responsibility.”

Sootrah Yuulik closed her eyes briefly and then she cracked her knuckles.  She re-set her posture and then she asked, “What do we do now, Captain?”

Taes offered a brisk nod and she said, “Tomorrow morning, I’d like to read your proposal for an audit methodology, along with go/no-go criteria.  No more guessing and gossip.  We’ll assess the data we’ve collected together.  I’ll decide if we can proceed or if we start the study again from the beginning.  I trust you’ll be thorough.  Lieutenant Yuulik, you’re dismissed.”

Yuulik snatched up her cup and downed her tea in a single glug.  After draining the cup, she bowed her head to Taes in a formal presentation of a nod.  Without saying anything more, Yuulik turned on her heel and stalked out of the captain’s briefing room.

Seated behind her desk, Taes slowly swiveled her chair, turning her back on Kellin.  Her movement was quiet and composed.  All Kellin could hear from her end of the briefing room were the LCARS telltale chirps from Taes scrolling through a menu screen.

Taking one tentative step closer to her desk, Kellin said, “We all make mistakes, Captain.  Yuulik may not be familiar with that concept, but Starfleet will understand…”  When Taes still didn’t say anything, didn’t look at him, Kellin could feel that gnawing pit in his stomach growing.  He could only imagine the regret Taes felt, between the mistakes she’d made, the jeopardy to the study itself, and her friction with Yuulik.  The three of them were meant to be the senior staff of this little ship of science nerds, and a day had hardly passed without secrets or outbursts.

“I hate to see you this way, Captain,” Kellin said, all sympathy.  Taes didn’t reply to that either; rather, she tapped a command into the LCARS panel behind her desk.  Kellin had a worrisome second thought, and he said, “Oh!  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want to make you feel bad for making me uncomfortable.  That’s on me.  That’s my older brother baggage.  I can just… be here, if you want.  I’m a good listener.  Use me as a receptacle.”

In a whizz of light, two glasses materialized in Taes’ replicator alcove.  She rose from her chair and she handed a glass to Kellin.  The tumbler was mostly filled with a deep amber synthehol, an ice cube and an orange peel.  Offering him the drink, Taes retorted, “Is that your line on Risa then?”

That did the trick.  Kellin barked out a laugh at the Captain’s unexpected wisecrack.  Trying to answer through his bleating, most of the words came out garbled.  “No, the Risians, they–” Kellin said; “What do they call me?  It translates to something like… dummy thick?”

Taes raised an eyebrow at that and she raised her glass to him.  “We can toast to that,” Taes said through a knowing smirk.  “Can’t toast the mission, but I’ll toast to that.”

After they both sipped at their drinks, Taes rounded her desk and she started to pace across the briefing room.  Kellin tried to cheerlead for Taes again, with a “Captain–“, but Taes looked away and she raised her hand to him in a gesture that asked him to wait.

“Humility.  Humiliation,” Taes said, starting in her Academy professor timbre.  “It burns in the chest like no other bodily sensation.”  There was a kind of ecstasy rippling through her words.  Taes moved across the briefing room, moved to stand directly across the room from Kellin.  After bracing her back against the bulkhead, she said, “It’s good for me, Kellin.”

“Only Yuulik would see this as humiliation, Captain,” Kellin said encouragingly.  “This was a simple mistake.”

Like a mantra, Taes said, “This is where I find myself.”  Her knees went soft and she slid down the bulkhead until she was sitting on the floor.  She loosened the flap on the front of her uniform tunic, as if it had been constricting her breathing.  “I lay no judgement on myself,” Taes said, “but I do recognize my mistakes.  I should have made the crew feel more important to me.  I should have listened more aggressively.”

Taes stretched out her legs and she took another sip from her tumbler.  “We rushed the mission planning, obviously.  It sounds morbid, but we couldn’t waste the opportunity the Century Storm presented.  We moved too quickly to prepare an anthropological study of this complexity.”  Appearing lost for words momentarily, Taes waved her hand through the air like she could shake the right words out.  “Even assuming my oversight with the interview questions was not caused by haste, the real mistake could have been avoided if I’d known the crew better.  If I’d listened to the science team more, listened for how deeply they understood the purpose of the mission.  I might have caught the mistake sooner.

“The crew followed orders they didn’t believe in.  That’s the sin,” Taes said.  Her recitations, thus far, had sounded removed to Kellin.  If anything, Taes sounded like she was delivering a lecture.  But there came a shift in her energy.  Her throat, and her voice, were tightened by the guilt.  These words, she squeezed them out: “They would have spoken up sooner if they’d understood the mission’s purpose in their bones.  The crew didn’t trust I would listen.”

Kellin crouched down to the deck too.  He stretched his legs out in front of him, as he said, “The crew will understand.  Starfleet will understand too.”

“They’re not the ones I answer to.  I owe my loyalty to the survivors,” Taes said darkly.  Her eyes had become wet, look at Kellin with deeper intensity.  “I’m disgusted at the thought of the distress we’ve caused them.  This is the worst day of their entire lives.  We should be caring for them, and  we probed at them.  We asked them to open their hearts to us.  We can’t have done all that and then discard the data.  I can’t allow it.  I won’t betray them like that.”

Taes tilted her head back in a way that looked like she was about to retch.  That moment quickly passed and Taes finished off her drink instead.  She explained, “Anthropologists in a disaster area is an ethical mine-field to begin with.  The opportunities for learning are gargantuan.  The insights we gather could revolutionize a more survivor-centric approach to evacuations of this scale.”

Through a brittle laugh, Taes admitted, “I keep telling myself that, even thought I believe we should be giving them time to grieve.  What we’re doing is ghoulish.  It’s grave-digging.  When the Starfleet crew came for me, when they rescued me from Nivoch…”  The moment, the literal moment Taes mentioned her home world, she turned her head away.  She covered her face with both her hands and she sucked in a startled gasp at her own words.

Stiffling a gasp of his own, Kellin’s eyes widened and his mouth hung agape.  In the months he’d served with Commander Taes on Starbase 72, and Nestus, he never heard her so much as say the word Nivoch.  In all the mission briefings about rescuing survivors from a decimated colony world, Taes had never drawn comparisons to her own adolescence, trapped on a colony with limited technology and food.  Members of the crew had asked Kellin about Taes’ experience, and he’d been able to shut them down honestly.  He didn’t know anything except for the abbreviated notations in Taes’ service jacket.  Leaning forward, Kellin reached his hands out and he clasped his knees.  He wondered if this was the moment?  Would this be the moment she described the inhumane living conditions the Starfleet rescue crew had found her in?  Was she about to confess the desperate things she’d done to survive?

“My nickname at the academy was spongey,” Kellin said softly.  “As big as I am, I’m soft and I listen aggressively.  I can soak it up, but if you squeeze me, I’ll forget every word,” he promised.  Self-deprecatingly, he added, “I don’t think I know half the words in your vocabulary anyway…”

With her face still in her hands and her voice hardening, Taes said, “The Starfleet officers didn’t ask me any questions.  There were no anthropologists or counselors hovering around me, watching me, lying to me that I’ll be okay.”  Taes took a breath and it appeared to calm her.  “They gave me soup.  They let me take a bath.  They promised me this was all real.”

Taes dropped her hands into her lap and she made eye-contact with Kellin again.  Taes said, “That was my favourite day.”

Comments

  • One of the delightful things about a mission with lower stakes is that characters can really screw up - lose, even - and it doesn't have to kill them and end the whole story. I've really enjoyed the twists and turns of how human error, miscommunication, mismanagement, and mistakes in teamwork in a myriad of subtle ways has pushed this mission a bit off the rails. Taes may be in charge and formally responsible - the buck has to stop somewhere - but it's engaging to see how others have played a role in this tapestry of a mishap. Will the data be relevant and useful? Will an ethics committee throw a tantrum about this eventually? What will Taes learn from the experience? - though she is made thoroughly interesting as a commander who's screwed up a bit. I don't know the answers, but I do know that Kellin still has my heart.

    March 15, 2022
  • And here we got a third side to Taes! The humor and the-- I was going to say 'sincerity' but I don't get the feeling she was insincere at all in her captain's logs? Perhaps that they just reflected more her ideal than her reality? But we end with Kellin giving her a soft place to land (Kellin who is giving me vibes of someone who could be a sineater in a different life) and we cut through the ideals and the gossip and we get to hear her voice her own reality and this time I'm not knocked flat, because that last line doesn't hit TOO hard. Just hard enough for me to feel it!

    May 28, 2023