Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bark: Incursion - Chapter Nine

2701. – In transit; CFV-B Pallas

It had been another routine, uninteresting day, with no enemy contacts. The only minor stress and excitement of the day was that Sub-Commander Marciano had transferred over from Erebus with only twenty minutes to spare before the fleet was due to jump to κ Orion. He reported to me on the bridge just as we were activating the stardrive engines. I introduced him to Lieutenant Mitchell and sent them off to the ship's research laboratory, where they could use the ship's supercomputers and virtual reality suite to develop new combat tactics and run simulations on their effectiveness. Marciano had boldly promised me something that we could roll out to the fleet by the time we reached κ Orion, in six days time. I certainly couldn't fault the man for confidence in his own ability. 

Once we were in transit between star systems, communication was impossible with Fleet command or between ships in the task force, so we used the time to perform down-time tasks, such as routine maintenance and administration. While in warpspace, the ship also switched to a 12 hour, two watch daily duty schedule, rather than the usual three 8 hour watches normally employed when the ship was at Condition Three. Departments ran with a minimum of staff, so that crewmen only worked for twelve hours in every forty-eight, to allow for extended off-duty periods that really allowed crew members to loosen up and unwind. The only exception to this was for the command staff, who were still expected to be available for duty up to 16 hours per day. In practice though, there was very little for us to do other than routine administrative tasks while the ship was in stardrive transit, so even the senior officers got to relax a bit. I dropped in on Kimi, as we had arranged earlier in the day, to have a chat now that Kat's pregnancy had been confirmed and I knew for sure that she'd be leaving before the end of the patrol. He had welcomed me with a small drinking bulb of Génépi, a green, viscous and bizarre-smelling herbal spirit, which tasted a lot better than I had expected. I accepted a top-up as our conversation switched from polite small-talk to the real business of why I'd wanted to talk to my friend and psychologist.

“Katrina said yesterday that you might be coming to see me, though she didn't say why. I take it you've had some news?" Kimi asked as he filled my glass.
"Yeah. Kat's definitely pregnant. I'm going to need a new XO."
"And how do you feel about that?"
"I don't know. I suppose it's a bigger deal for Kat than it is for me. She's always wanted to have kids, though we never talked about it when Kat and I were on separate ships. It just wasn't practical. Then after everything kicked off on Odysseus and we got divorced, it never seemed likely either. But now? I'm happy for her. She's braver than I am. I don't think I'd be ready for kids."
"Really? Surely you're a man used to responsibilities and carrying out a duty of care."
"I suppose so, but that's just Fleet life. This is different."
"In what way?" Kimi asked, his demeanour open and attentive.

When Kat and I had first started consulting Kimi, as our marriage and professional relationship had begun to disintegrate, Kimi's habit of asking constant questions without offering advice or direction had been maddening. Like most people, I had thought that counselling was about finding solutions, while I had later understood that its true purpose was to help you connect with your feelings and help you find the solutions that you already knew. The constant reflection back of questions was still annoying from time to time, but I had come to value the logic and effectiveness of Kimi's approach. By understanding myself and my own feelings, I had a much better empathy for other people and especially Kat, which was undoubtedly why we were much closer now than we ever had been.

"Okay, let's say that one of my crew has a serious issue. Perhaps they're a problem drinker." I said, raising my glass. I saw Kimi stir in his seat uncomfortably, as I'd intended. "I have a responsibility to them as long as they're on my ship and as long as they're on duty. If they can't carry out their duties properly, their problem becomes my problem. But otherwise, they're a mature adult and you've got to let them take responsibility for themselves."

I took a long pull from my glass before continuing.

"Having children isn't like that. They're dependent upon you for everything, around the clock. I'm just not sure how compatible that is with life in the Fleet."
"It'd be a challenge, but not one that's never been faced before. Your parents were both in the Fleet, weren't they?"
"Bad example. I never saw my Dad. He'd maybe show up for a couple of weeks a year, right up until I went to the Academy. I always resented him for it - his command was always way more important than Mum, me and my sisters. But there's no way Kat would ever let that happen with her kids."
"'Kids?' Plural?"
"Kat's having twins."
"Really? Oh my."
"Yeah. Either they'll be completely inseparable, or they'll be constantly at each other's throats. It's always the way with twins." I smiled. "Anyway, that's Kat's problem, not mine. I've got more immediate things to worry about."
"Such as?"
"Kat's got four, maybe five months, before regs mandate that she has to go on medical leave. I need to find a new XO. And if that wasn't enough of a challenge, they need to be shit-hot and they need to be somewhere in the battlegroup, because that's the only pool of personnel I've got to choose from."
"Do you have anyone in mind?"
"That's what I wanted to ask you about. Whether you had any recommendations."
"Are you thinking about promoting from within, or looking at candidates from another ship?"
"Both. I don't really care as long as they're good."
"Hal Cunningham is next in line, isn't he?"
"Yeah, but..." I pulled a face.
"But what?"
"He's a great Ops chief and a dependable officer, don't get me wrong. But in my book he's a little too meek and mild to be an XO."
"Who else are you considering?"
"From my senior staff? Allyson Mitchell's too young and doesn't have the experience, while Terry Randall's completely lost the frigging plot. I can't even trust him to eat three square meals a day. Weps could do the job, but promoting him over Hal wouldn't go down well with Fleet."
"Any candidates from off the ship worth considering?"
"Sub-Commander Marciano from Erebus would be my first choice. He's smart, competent, ambitious and a cocky bastard. But I can't see Nova letting me steal him."
"No-one else?"
"No-one I've seen who really leaps out as being able to do half as good a job as Kat has done."
"You've been spoiled."
"I have. I really have. Can you create a shortlist for me? You know the kind of people I work with best. No more than six candidates and no-one under the rank of Sub-Commander."
"Leave it with me, Gus. I'll let you know when I have something."
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