Title: Strategies
Series: Tales from the Lower Decks
Written for: st_20_fics Table, Prompt #3 - "Checkmate."
Characters: Spock, Kirk, OC Matthew Turner (seen elsewhere such as A Celebration in Infinite Combinations and Insontis)
Warnings/Spoilers: written by me? :P
Series Summary: The adventures of an ordinary Maintenance man aboard the Enterprise, and his observations of the developing trifold powerhouse which is Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.
This Bit Summary: Ensign Turner sits in on a staff meeting, and realizes that even the Federation's prize command chain do not have infinite attention spans.
This Bit Word Count: 3462
A/N: Having abandoned my NaNo temporarily because it had ground to a very painful, very boring halt (and I only do NaNo because I enjoy writing; once I start hating a fic I know it's time to give it a break and plan a little better the second time around), I am beginning this series of ficlets/oneshots for st_20_fics, with the prompt table linked above. They will all be Triumvirate-centric, more so than these introductory ones, so just bear with me while I establish an OC POV and let some initial time pass before moving on to the better ones. I'm just fooling around and having fun here, people, so expect anything from crack to angst and all the universes in-between.

Prompt #3 - Checkmate

I adore Lieutenant-Commander Montgomery Scott, make no mistake. Sometimes I get a bit annoyed with many of the crew, especially Science and Medical, who seem to forget he has the same Starfleet ranking as Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy (1); but Scotty's so easy-going (except when you touch his precioussssss) and well-liked by everyone that that familiarity breeds contempt among many. The man's a genius, in and out of his field, and I've seldom seen a commander who could take the sort of pressure he does on a daily basis and not crack under the stress.

His expertise and ingenuity have saved lives more times than we could count during this five-year mission, and I know the captain relies on his engineering magic just as much as Mr. Spock's figures in a crisis. In the early months of our mission, Scott went down with Altarian flu one week for around five days, and the ship practically fell apart without him to sweet-talk her every night; and heaven help the day he's on the Bridge during a crisis and not deep in the guts of the ship where, direct quote, he belongs, thank ye very much.

Scotty could easily promote to First aboard another ship and then Captain in less than ten years, there's no question; but I don't think he really wants to. He's the type of fellow who would rather take a paycut and continue to do what he loves, than get the best promotion in the world and never be happy with what he's forced to do. The captain's the same way, I think - some people are just born for certain jobs, and both of those men were born for theirs and nothing but theirs. Anything else just seems universally wrong, somehow.

All that to say, I deeply respect the man, I really do.

However, he's without question the most boring speaker in the galaxy.

I say that with all the respect his brilliance deserves. But Scotty can't lecture the common folk to save his life, and it's the one detracting quality in an otherwise sterling personality. His Engineering people, hand-picked and some of them fought over against Mr. Spock himself come crew rotation, understand him perfectly; and Engineering runs like a well-oiled doomsday machine. But slap Scotty into any other context and give him a set of reports to condense and make clear to any other set of personnel, and eyes start glazing over before he's halfway through the first page.

I've noticed the phenomenon many times, but the first time was about eleven months into our first year, the first time I was ever present for an official briefing with the command staff. There's rarely a reason for anyone except the chain of command to ever be present at such briefings, unless the crewman has some sort of specialized knowledge that might be of use, but at this particular meeting Scott required a set of extra hands to run the projector he was using during his monthly departmental report.

The projector was non-affectionately termed among Maintenance, The Dinosaur, mainly because it was a ridiculous-number-of-years-old Ancient Terran model, and apparently Scott had a sentimental attachment to the blasted thing and refused to let it be scrapped and just ask SS&R for a new one. The blasted thing was crankier than a wet cat in January, and very few of us had the patience to tinker with it until we could coax it to work. I happened to be one of those people; apparently my lot in life being to have all sorts of skills that are of no practical use in the major arenas of Starfleet.

But I digress. No one wanted to wrestle with Dinosaur, and so I volunteered to accompany Mr. Scott to the monthly department head meeting, where problems and issues and ideas were thrown out and bounced off the talented command chain we're so fortunate to have. Reportedly, these meetings had sometimes taken as long as seven hours.

And, after an hour and a half of listening to Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy bicker about having to share the equipment in Science Lab Eleven and being shorted three dozen petrie dishes in Experimental Medical Research, I could understand why.

I could also understand why Captain Kirk had a bottle of headache medicine in easy reach on his lavatory counter. The poor man was already rubbing the bridge of his nose as the noise escalated, and drinking far more coffee than I had always been told was healthy. By the time Scott got up two hours later, the last of the bunch, to give the report for Ops, Tactical, and Engineering, the captain was listing slightly to one side, head on one hand and squinting against the lights.

Dr. McCoy appeared to be ignoring everyone else in favor of doing paperwork, while Lieutenant Sulu was intently working on what looked suspiciously from my angle to be a speed-Sudoku puzzle. Lieutenant Uhura, I noted curiously, was the only one giving Scotty her full attention - and rather…shall we say, all-encompassing, that attention was. (2)

As our Mr. Spock would say, fascinating.

I fired up the projector, re-connecting a few loose wires as Scott introduced his report, eager to show his captain the improvement we'd made recently in those departments' efficiency. I saw the captain firmly pull his attention back to the present, straightening up and giving his CE an encouraging nod, before I turned my attention back to Dinosaur. She was rudely spitting sparks at me, which I waved away before giving her a firm thump to the outer casing near the relay circuits.

Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock half-turned to stare at me, and I shrugged, gesturing toward the picture which had successfully flickered into life on the opposite wall.

Mr. Spock's eyebrow was unconsciously mirrored on his left by his captain, and I hid a smirk in my sleeve - I'd never noticed which of them had picked up the habit from the other.

"To begin with, gentlemen," Scott announced, using a laser pointer to indicate the stats at the bottom of the graph, "Tactical has been working t'improve manual reaction time to fire phaser and torpedo relays. During recent battle simulations, courtesy of the Programming department, we identified four key factors in improving that reaction time, wi' a goal of 3% increase, start to finish."

By this point, Dr. McCoy was yawning, and Captain Kirk was obviously endeavoring not to do the same.

"First of all - laddie, kin ye see to tha'?" I sighed and scooted beneath the Dinosaur to see why the graph had just decided to play itself upside down. "First of all, gentlemen - an' Ms. Uhura - I dinna believe our cadets are receivin' the proper amount of training for manual controls." Ah, there it was - a loose wire in the visual relay circuitry. I tightened the screws holding the bypass wires and then looked up, seeing that the visual had righted itself.

"Of the two dozen lads I tested," Scott was continuing, "only fourteen of them had an Acceptable efficiency rating in manual controls. All others, Cap'n, were slightly Below Acceptable, and there were none reaching an Exceeds Expectations rating."

At this, Kirk's head lifted, and he exchanged a look with his First. "That's much too low a rating," he mused, frowning. "And it's probably what cost us lives down there during that skirmish with the Romulans."

"Indeed, Captain," Spock confirmed, exchanging a glance with Scott.

"Mr. Spock suggested as much to me, sir, after we lost poor Tomlinson," Scotty said quietly. I looked down for a moment, because you don't just get over the pain of losing a good friend like that in a matter of eight weeks. "'Twas his suggestion we see if everyone was competent under manual control conditions, and we dinna believe everyone is. Steps are bein' taken to rectify this at once, sir, involving nightly training sessions in a two-hour rotation."

"Excellent work, both of you," Kirk murmured, scribbling a note on his padd. "Proceed, Scotty."

Scott beamed at the commendation, because to be honest he rarely gets the thanks he deserves for what he does, and thus buoyed by the praise he did indeed proceed - for over an hour, and that was just for Tactical. By that point, even Mr. Spock appeared to be sporadically working on something on his padd, typing a word or two occasionally and then returning his attention to Scotty's report. Captain Kirk had apparently decided that writing notes would keep him from falling asleep, as Sulu was currently doing, and was also typing, looking up occasionally to let Scott know he was still listening.

Bless him, Scotty didn't appear to notice, just nattered on and on and on - and on, and on, and on, until even I was hoping Dinosaur would blow a fuse and set my trousers afire just so that I had an excuse to leave. But then I noticed something a bit odd.

The captain and Mr. Spock were, indeed, typing a bit and then looking back up, at fairly regular intervals.

However, they never did so in sync; it was as if when one looked up, the other looked down, and vice-versa.

This sounds like a load of malarkey to most, probably, but when you've lived aboard this ship for long, anytime you see KirkenSpock doing anything out of sync, it's something to take note of for the novelty alone.

Besides, I plead not having lunch, and being forced to listen to our superiors air their grievances against Command and each other and any unfortunate bystander for the past five hours.

It was none of my business what the COs do during their own staff meetings, however, and I knew better than to even speculate. Knowing that it would be a good twenty minutes before Scotty needed his next slide, I then hacked into the briefing room's wireless intranet signal and pulled up the ship's local chat room, idly wondering if anyone I knew was as bored as I at the moment and wanted to talk.

I stared down at the padd in amusement, but no real surprise, to find that apparently the captain and Mr. Spock were the only ones in the chat room doing anything except lurking, snarking back and forth at each other, and apparently oblivious to the other random names who weren't chatting but just present.

Right smack in the middle of a department head meeting.

I hastily logged out and then back in as my alternate name, before I showed up as TurnerMatt on their screens. They didn't appear to have a problem with the two other crewmen who were I suppose lurking about the chat room, but I still hoped they had no idea who GalacticHoover was. And if they didn't - I had the same blackmail on them that they'd have on me, so... (2)

[KirkJ] Bishop to Queen's Level One.

[Spock] Pawn takes bishop.

They were seriously playing Tri-D chess during a departmental staff meeting.

In their heads.

Was everyone on this ship brilliant except for me?

[KirkJ] Knight takes pawn.

[Spock] Queen to King's Level Two. Mate in six.

[KirkJ] I officially hate you.

[Spock] That is not a valid move, sir.

I stifled a snicker, and only just realized Scott was about to call for his next diagram, this time for Engineering. Hastily I flicked the schematics up onto the wall, and watched to make sure Dinosaur decided to behave herself, before glancing back down at the padd.

[Spock] Stalling will gain you no new alternatives.

[KirkJ] Stalling will enable me to wrap my head around what Scotty's saying about the improvements to the warp engines. I may have minored in Engineering at the Academy, but not all of us have eidetic recall.

[Spock] Apparently, sir, nor do all of us have the ability to successfully strategize.

This time it wasn't me who snorted, but when I looked incredulously over at Dr. McCoy he was only fiercely scrawling his signature across what were probably medical requisitions, occasionally grumbling to himself under his breath.

[KirkJ] How about…Rook to King's Level Five.

[Spock is typing]

[Spock is typing]

[KirkJ] Had you convinced I was giving up, didn't I? ;)

[Spock] You are a most unusual human.

[KirkJ] Why thank you, Mr. Spock.

[KirkJ] I do believe someone was saying something about stalling, Commander.

[Spock] I am not stalling, Captain.

[KirkJ] Suuuure. What are you doing, then?

[Spock] Waiting for you to acknowledge that Mr. Scott just asked you a question, sir.

I heard a sort of startled yelp and looked up to see Scotty staring at his captain a bit strangely.

"My apologies, Mr. Scott…would you repeat that for me? I didn't quite catch all of the details," Kirk asked blandly, looking intently at his Chief Engineer as if he had no other thought in the world but what Scotty was telling him.

Scott looked suspiciously between his two COs, but backtracked to repeat his statistics regarding fuel output and plasma ventilation, a reduction of which that would save us much time, manpower, and energy during the remainder of our mission. It was really a laudable accomplishment, and I hoped that despite their inattention Kirk and Spock were actually listening to the hugeness of Scotty's plans.

I shouldn't have worried. Kirk apparently was able to multitask, and was able to readily rattle off a string of questions of his own back at his Chief Engineer, who then launched into an excited explanation of how the reduction would enable us to turn that energy elsewhere within the ship, possibly to requisition, thereby expanding our possible requisition orders.

When Kirk had paid strict attention to Scotty for a good five or ten minutes, he glanced surreptitiously back down to the datapadd in front of him. Sneaking a peek at Scott to make sure he was paying me no mind, I followed suit.

[Spock] King to King's Level Seven.

[KirkJ] Rook to King's Level Five.

[Spock] Knight takes Rook.

[KirkJ] King to King's Level Six.

[Spock] A retreat, Captain?

[KirkJ] A tactical strategy, Mr. Spock.

[Spock] Indeed?

[KirkJ] How is it that you can convey sarcasm through an impersonal chat box, Mr. Spock?

By this point, Scotty was giving his superiors the Evil Eye, clearly suspecting they were not paying as much attention as they appeared to be - and as much as the poor guy rightfully deserved, boring though his lecture skills might be. I tried to look as innocent as possible, fiddling studiously with Dinosaur's controls, as he shot me a pointed look and told me to put the next slide up, a schematic of Engineering's console placement and the power couplings behind each.

"If ye've no further questions, Cap'n?"

Kirk just smiled innocently and motioned for him to continue. Scotty then launched into a detailed explanation of power fluctuations and controlled output methods that was a load of utter nonsense to anyone with even remedial Engineering expertise, all the while warning me with a glare not to let on that it was so much rubbish. He went on for a good sixty seconds like that, eyes continually narrowing on Mr. Spock and the captain's oblivious heads, and I felt it prudent (and only fair) to at least fire a warning shot across their bow before the torpedoes started detonating.

[GalacticHoover has entered the conversation]

[GalacticHoover] Not to interrupt, Captain, but Mr. Scott just rattled off a paragraph's worth of total rubbish, to which you just nodded and told him he was brilliant. I think he's on to you, sir.

"Wait, what?" Kirk's hasty exclamation came a bit too late to sound genuine, and Scotty just folded his arms, glaring at his captain and tsk-ing in the back of his throat.

"Sir, dare I assume ye've not been quite listenin' to my reports, an' dragging your Vulcan along for the ride? Hmm?"

"Well, Scotty, you see - um." The captain cleared his throat uneasily, casting a glance at Spock, who only looked more bored than before, if possible, and clearly not about to so much as lend his captain a shovel with which to dig his way out of the hole he'd made. "It's like this -"

"Way to go, kid," McCoy drawled from across the table, sarcastically toasting me with his coffee cup. "That was gonna be the most entertainment I've seen today, and y'had to go and spoil it."

I blinked, staring down at the remaining names in the chat room. Right, and so apparently GAonmyMind was Dr. McCoy's alternate login name, since it was the only one left lurking online, silently stalking the chat room.

McCoy's ill-timed testiness only served to turn Scott's attention onto me, and I expected to be thrown under the spacehopper for warning the captain of the impending Unstoppable Storm in the person of a rather cheesed off Chief Engineer.

Fortunately for all of us, the lady of the hour chose that exact moment to begin smoking alarmingly, shooting sparks out the back of the projector as she apparently decided to eat Scotty's last slide as a mid-afternoon snack. The combination of smoke and bits of flaming celluloid forced me to scramble back from the old girl, upending my chair in the process and successfully derailing the conversation.

Unfortunately, the smoke also activated the ship's internal sprinkler system, drenching all of us within a matter of seconds.

"Perhaps you would be better served to send a memorandum to us all, Mr. Scott," Captain Kirk said sheepishly after the chorus of shrieks and startled yelps had subsided and the room's heating and dehumidifying vents had kicked in. He cast a rueful look at Dinosaur, and then flicked an amused glance up at me. "You've trained your equipment - and its handlers - well, if that's any consolation, Scotty."

Lieutenant Uhura gave every male in the room except Scotty a scathing look and stalked out with a swish of damp skirt, looking far too fierce even dripping wet for anyone to think of saying anything to her.

"Dismissed," Kirk muttered redundantly, slumping in his chair rather like a forlorn child.

Lieutenant Sulu lost no time in scooting out of the briefing room, obviously of the opinion that a little damp was certainly an equitable trade for being cut loose early from a staff meeting, while McCoy paused long enough to say something in an undertone to Scott that effectually calmed him down quite a bit, even getting a wry grin before the doctor slapped him briefly on the shoulder and left.

Mr. Spock, bless his heart, apparently was taking Vulcan loyalty to the bitter extreme, because he looked rather like a wet cat, pathetically cold and miserable, but refused to leave his captain to the mercy of Scott's righteous indignation.

"Mr. Scott, I'm sorry," Kirk finally said, with evident sincerity. "I won't even bother trying to come up with an excuse. If I come down to Engineering after beta shift tonight, will you show me what you were working on?"

One of the best things about Scotty is that he does know better than anyone else when to laugh at himself, and he can't hold a grudge to save his life. "Oh, aye, sir," he answered, grinning through a wet fringe at the captain's sheepish expression. "Ah know I kin get a bit carried away, sir. Showin' is easier than tellin', isn't it."

"Much," was the emphatic agreement. "Your expertise is far more appreciated than we let on sometimes, Scotty."

"I' had better be," Scott retorted sagely, wringing water out of his tunic. "Oh, just leave the old girl, Mr. Turner - she'll have t'be completely overhauled after gettin' a drenching like that."

I backed away with grateful alacrity from the cranky old thing's suspicious rattling, and followed my superior out the sliding door.

Behind me, chairs rattled as the captain and Mr. Spock stood and prepared to leave, their voices carrying through the opening.

"Checkmate, by the way, Captain."

"Oh, shut up, Spock."

(1) At the beginning of the series, Spock had not yet been promoted to the rank of full Commander; you can see by the braid on his uniform sleeves, that at some point in the series he eventually was granted that full rank. However, at this point in time, he's still a Lieutenant-Commander just like McCoy and Scotty.

(2) Scotty/Uhura is actually canon, according to ST:V (though admittedly there's little in the actual series itself to support that), and it's the only pairing I usually even nod at.

(3) Remember that Turner is British by nationality, and a hoover is the Britishism for a vacuum cleaner. :)