Rear Admiral Fletcher Tully, Chief of Staff, United Federation of Allied Worlds Joint Defense Force Fleet, had a headache. This in itself was nothing new, but today's was particularly aggravating, entirely due to its source.
He glared at the holocomm screen, which was still darkened, a subtle array of blinking lights around the lower bezel indicating his call was going through. The screen flashed into light, resolving into the visual of the bridge of a Kestrel-class ship. A young, light haired Human woman was seated in the command chair.
"Captain." Tully heard the surliness in his voice, decided he couldn't give a fuck. Why oh why did this have to happen, right on the eve of his very well-earned holiday?
"Admiral Tully, sir?" The wide eyed, innocent look of his most troublesome (and also the most resourceful) officer didn't fool him for an instant. "Good to see you, sir. Is there anything the Windstalker can do for you today? Are we getting new orders?"
The old Admiral resisted the urge to sigh, or laugh, or indeed hide his head in his hands. Reminding himself that showing weakness in front of a subordinate was Not Done, he manfully repressed the urge to start screaming at the young captain before him.
He did lean back into his chair, composing his features into what he hoped was a stern frown, and not the crazed look of a man planning multiple counts of homicide. A stray gust of wind, coming from the open window to his rear, reminded him that he should probably have made sure his hair wasn't sticking up from all the pulling it'd just endured before starting the call. Too late, alas— which only served to increase his frustration. The pounding in his head wasn't helping either.
"No, your previous orders still stand. But yes, Captain Church, I believe you, and the fine crew of the Windstalker can indeed offer some assistance to me, in the form of an explanation. Several, actually."
Admiral Tully steepled his fingers together, regarding the woman in the viewscreen with a gimlet eye. "Care to explain why I just received several very angry calls from the Station Governor of Argos IX, concerning the conduct of your ship and its crew last night?" Church's face instantly froze into a mask of solemn innocence, the attentiveness almost demure. "His Excellency was practically screaming at me, demanding you, your helmsman, and basically every last member of your crew, be arrested and court-martialed on an extremely long list of charges."
The Admiral paused, wet his lips and continued, "I found the man a bit hard to understand, given he was all but frothing at the mouth at that time; but I could make out words like "conduct unbecoming Federation officers", "sedition", and "rioting". Needless to say, the Governor's allegations are highly disturbing; particularly since they are aimed at decorated Heroes of the Federation as yourselves."
Church's face remained rigidly immobile, though Tully fancied that the female officer's breathing had quickened just that bit more. "I managed to calm the man down and assured him I'd be looking into things personally. I was sure however that not even you, Church, could possibly run into this much trouble on a milk run like the one I assigned you. So imagine my surprise, when my aides deposited all these damage reports, insurance claims and whatnot on my desk."
Tully lifted an intimidating stack of papers and holodiscs off the side of his desk, and set them down in plain view of the holocomm's pickup. It was quite a show, and the thunk the assorted documents made on the solid wood was satisfyingly weighty.
"Captain Church, kindly explain why these reports even exist, and why I now have a lot of very frantic people running around in Fleet Legal?" The Admiral paused to watch his errant subordinate's face turn white, except for the red blush over her cheeks. "I dislike having Fleet Legal crawling all over my ass, Captain. I especially am not fond of having them yammer in my ear at 3 bloody AM!"
Tully was building up a full head of steam now, the limited rest of the previous night and subsequently worsening stress headache making his temper touchier than usual. "You were given a simple goddamned escort mission, Captain Church. Ferrying orphans between inner sector worlds, something that should by all means have been nice, peaceful, boring work. The textbook definition of a milk run, by any stretch of the imagination. So tell me, Captain, how in the seven black holes of Andromeda did you manage to take a situation like that and see it go absolutely FUBAR?!"
"Admiral Tully, sir, if you'll let me explain, for myself and the crew—"
"Make it good, Church. Make it very good."
"Well. About the Governor— It was Ensign Smith's plant that had him all worked up, sir. Or at least, I think that is the main part of it."
"A plant?" Tully was baffled. Space threw up lots of weird and wonderful things, but a plant, no matter how unusual or exotic its origins, was hardly something to get a reasonable sentient so angry they lost all coherency.
"Yes, sir. The Ensign found a sample of this plant on an uninhabited planet we mapped a few months back; been working on it ever since— he thought it was a new species. When this round of shore leave came up, Robert took a potted cutting of the plant to the station with him, in the interests of getting it further analysed and cross-referenced."
Space have mercy, but he could see where this was headed. "Ensign Smith's specialty is Navigation and Astrophysics, minoring in Engineering, correct? Why was he permitted to handle potentially dangerous xenobotanic specimens?"
Church visibly bristled. "Sir, Ensign Smith engages in studies and cultivation of xenoflora as a hobby. He is also perfectly qualified to handle that sort of thing, Admiral. In fact he only just completed the requirements for his doctorate in xenobotany 4 months ago. I've questioned him, as has the head of the Xenobotany and Xenobiology Labs on Argos IX. We're both satisfied the Ensign did indeed observe all the usual bio-hazard precautions, given his working experience with the species."
"So do tell me how and why a bunch of alien greenery came to have an influential Governor baying for your blood, captain. I'm sure the story will be simply fascinating." Tully hoped the look he shot the insufferable young fool was sufficiently withering, but no, Church was still gamely meeting his stare.
"Ah, uhm— We found out after last night's events, that the plant is in fact capable of a limited form of sentience. It had sufficient control of motion in its tendrils to allow it to escape confinement— Smith is writing a third paper on that— and its pollen is a pretty powerful aphrodisiac when aerosolized in self-defence. I'm afraid that the Governor's wife had first hand experience of its… effects while she was on a special tour of the labs. Fortunately the plant is, uh… Very friendly? I promise, sir, the situation is all under control now! Madam Scialopoulos was quite disappointed when we declined her request to keep a sample. The Governor didn't seem to appreciate the demonstration though." Church scratched at an ear, then dropped her hand in haste as Tully's frown grew deeper.
"A goddamn sentient plant didn't crash land a fucking military shuttlecraft on top of the station's legislative hub, Captain!"
"Ah, no, that was Genry and Vrachen's doing, sir— but it was for a good cause and it really wasn't intentional at all! They were trying to buy time with a distraction for the rest of us to get the kids— meaning our kids, that is— and their escaped slave child friend away from the slavers they'd been hiding from and back to Windstalker. It wasn't Lieutenant Sanska's fault the slavers were shooting at them!" Church's hands waved around wildly, making Tully's eyes cross as the Captain emphasized how this new tale of disaster was not the fault of her crew.
"Slavers? What slavers? This is only getting worse. Just what the hell were the kids doing that brought them into that kind of danger? The kids you were supposed to look after, I remind you." Tully stood up, leaning on his hands, which were firmly planted on his desk. The natural wood was warm and comforting beneath his palms; it also forced Church to have to tilt her head backwards at a sharp angle to keep him in view, a petty revenge for the burning he'd felt in his stomach all day: hot damn if he didn't feel better for it. "I should charge you and your merry band of idiots with gross negligence and dereliction of duty right now, and let Federation Child Welfare Services have at you for child endangerment, like they've been banging my door down to tell me to!"
The Captain's face flushed red. "Sir, this is what occurred, as far as I've come to understand: Some of the kids were let off the ship to stay for 72 hours on the station itself, at the same time as my crew were on shore leave. They were supervised by their Welfare-appointed guardian whilst on station, and anything they got up to during that time was mostly beyond our knowledge. From what I understand, four of them encountered a runaway Engi child slave, aged 20 standard years. They subsequently helped the escapee hide from pursuit by concealing the Engi child's presence in their station quarters. Hell, my officers weren't informed until the slavers were hot on their tails, thinking we'd got what they considered their property in our hands, sir. And yes, shots were fired, but the kids and their plus one were never anywhere near a firefight! We damn well wouldn't have let it happen!"
"I'll want a full and detailed accounting from you and the Lt. Commander of the entire incident, including all the events leading up to that firefight, understand? So what happened to the slavers?"
"Sir, the scummy— ahem, hostiles— fired on us, just after we performed an emergency undocking from the station. Given they were firing shots indiscriminately, endangering the station as well as other spacecraft in the shipping lanes, I gave the order to get clear and return fire where possible. Lt. Commander Beethoven was eventually able to hack their ship's systems and disabled their weapons, fast-light and sublight engines before tractoring them in place. Station security patrols took the ship in hand shortly after. The slavers on board were arrested and their cargo holds searched, where they found more kidnapped children who were to be sold on elsewhere. The crew of the slaver ship are now currently facing charges under Federal and Argosian law."
"Good work on your crewman's part there, Captain. My commendations to the Lt. Commander's skill. It also seems that this is the only fortunate outcome of this farce, however; and Captain, let me state that the rest of these incident reports are highly uncomplimentary of your crew's performance." Church swallowed, hard, and looked rather resigned.
"Let's see: Your ship's Chief Medical Officer was arrested, and actually spent a night in Argo's jail for 'inciting the local whores to riot'— " Tully choked, spluttering at the text of the report. It was several moments and a gulp of fortified tea before he could continue. "My God, Captain, do you actually allow your officers to openly seek out the services of prostitutes? That is not something I can tolerate, as such conduct brings the Fleet into disrepute. Unless there is a good reason behind this, though I cannot see what it might be, I will have to officially censure you and Dr. Tertullian. And speaking of disrepute and the bringing thereof, I had a very interesting conversation over lunch with General Kastav, of our Marine Corps. He very kindly informed me an hour ago that he intends to file an official complaint against your Sgt. Kazaak and Lt. Sanska for aiding and abetting a squad of his marines on Argos in "drunk and disorderly behaviour".
Captain Church was flushing redder and redder, her embarrassment very obvious. "Dr. Tertullian's a Zoltan, sir, you know what they're like about sentient rights and equality! He was merely advocating that the sex workers on board the station consider banding together, and helping them get some collective bargaining going; you know, for better working conditions and rights and so on, Admiral. Surely that isn't—" She stopped as Tully held up a hand.
"Jean, enough. Just— give me that report. Sooner rather than later, all right? And one of the things that report had better include, is your whereabouts at the time of this… fiasco." The Admiral finally let himself sigh visibly, as his subordinate officer cringed and babbled apologies. "I'll try and get Fleet Legal to smooth things over with the Argosians. Hopefully we can get that persona non grata ruling on you and your crew revoked." He terminated the feed, cutting off the— yes, that was definitely a squawk— coming from Jean Church's mouth. Small victories; that was his life now. By space, he should've run for it when President Okoye had requested his appointment three decades before.
Another chime on the telescreen indicated an incoming call. Tully bit back a groan as he saw the indicator on the caller ID: the Argosian Governor was back again, with god knows what demands this time.
Giving himself a quick 5-second breather, the Admiral set his jaw before flipping the switch to take the call— and promptly lost it laughing, offending the indignant Governor even further.
Down the hall, General Turzil wondered what had his Human counterpart making sounds like an— what was that Earth animal? Ah yes, a hyena— dying. Giving into his natural curiosity (the major weakness of any Engi), he did some surreptitious rerouting of the feed monitoring the Admiral's offices to his own console.
Turzil would readily admit he did not understand human behaviour as well as he wished. Human humour in particular was mostly illogical, incomprehensible and often ill-timed, as on this occasion.
What, exactly, could be so funny about the viewscreen image of a nude human male screaming insults, that the normally dignified Admiral Tully should be guffawing, red faced and tearing up? Turzil felt the stirrings of concern, because in the 3.512343 minutes he had been observing the feed, the Admiral had yet to cease his mirth. One might almost be forced to conclude that the Admiral was having a hysterical breakdown.
Perhaps he should get his friend Captain Church to explain. After all, the Human woman had been the one to request that rather odd bit of holocomm coding that could result in some spectacular optical effects…