Obsidian Command

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Another Day Wiser

Posted on 09 Aug 2022 @ 7:28pm by Commander Calliope Zahn & Ensign Marcello Wiser
Edited on on 17 Sep 2022 @ 9:23am

Mission: M3 - Into the Deep
Location: Holodeck, Pathfinder
Timeline: MD05 ~1600
1509 words - 3 OF Standard Post Measure


For the eighth time in under two hours, the Pathfinder's bridge was on fire.

Wiser watched through the billows of smoke as everyone not already dying abandoned ship, running for the escape pods. The Alarms flashed and klaxons blared, but these noises had become part of the expected nature of the scene now. Eventually they cut out as all power failed and the deadness of the choking, smoke filled air was all that remained. As the bridge emptied of personnel besides the carnage of simulated dead crewmembers, Wiser lowered himself back into the Captain's chair, witnessing the crack in the forward bulkhead split the viewscreen and then peel outward yanked by the hungry vacuum of space, the field of stars beyond punctuated by the trailing debris of most of the Theseus scattered before the listing momentum of the Pathfinder.

Commander Calliope Zahn entered the simulation through the wall, as if she herself was the hologram in the scene as opposed to the reverse. “Computer, end scenario. Reset.”

The embattled bridge of the Pathfinder once more was replaced by the out-of-the-box, spit and polish pleasantly lit scene, the holodeck reclaiming the dead bodies in a twinkling, and the plasma fires receding into the bulkheads from which they came, while the other Ensigns who had fled under orders to evacuate re-entered from the exit doors where the computer had previously been simulating their escape. Their eyes adjusted to the change in lighting.

Emboldened after a couple of hours of back to back hellscape, Ensign Wiser stood from his chair. “Permission to speak freely, Commander.”

Now, Calliope thought, they were going to get somewhere. “Granted, by all means.”

“It’s just more Kobayashi Maru spin-offs. They did this at the academy.”

“But not with you in the Big Chair. You were tested as the pilot. The heat for the decisions went to another cadet.”

“Our simulation crew got scored together,” Wiser said, defensively.

“But,” Calliope insisted, “you could tell yourself that failing wasn’t your fault.”

“It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t his either!”

“Then whose fault was it?”

“It was the test! The tests are all designed to be unbeatable short of a Kirk rewiring. Every time we get ahead in the scenario, something else critical fails inexplicably, or the enemy defies physics!”

“What about this final run?” Calliope folded her arms, unphased by the irate response of young Mr. Wiser. “You defied orders. That’s not something I expected from you, Ensign.”

“Well, we tried it seven times according to orders first, warping out of system when Captain Callum commanded it. And in every one of those scenarios, Theseus lost all hands and we were caught up to and forced to abandon ship. So. I thought we could try drawing some fire so the Theseus had a chance to finish separation and make a proper attack.”

“It almost worked.” Calliope said, baiting him with a near compliment.

“It did work!” Wiser insisted.

“The enemy ship was disabled and took out two-thirds of the Theseus in her wake. One of the Theseus sections survived, and many of the Pathfinder’s crew would be recoverable from the escape pods,” Calliope summarized the outcome.

“In an unwinnable scenario, I call that a win. Ma’am.” Wiser straightened his back, proud of himself, or at least making an effort to be.

“If this were a real scenario,” Calliope said gravely, “you'd have to answer an inquiry board.”

“Inquiry board? I went down with the ship!”

“So you did. Completely unnecessarily I might add. Why didn’t you evacuate after you gave the order to abandon ship? Is it because you would rather die than face inquiry over your decision to disobey a direct order?”

Wiser looked shaken, and Calliope understood that conflict between pride and shame, reserved play-it-safe career keeping versus going out on a limb and saving real lives. She also understood the anxiety of impossible choices and having to select between the lesser of various evils on a poison platter. It had been important to her to replay the simulation and find at what point Ensign Marcello Wiser would break out of his good-boy routine. Finally Wiser answered her, still defending his decision. “I had more information than Captain Callum did in the simulation.”

“Oh did you? Because you replayed the scenario, you learned from the other attempts. But when it’s real, there’s no do-overs, Mr. Wiser. There is just the outcome and the consequences. You don’t get to die over and over and replay the scene. All of you,” she looked around at the wearied and exasperated ensigns, collecting themselves around the restored bridge after a long afternoon of drills, “All of you *mortals* have an assignment. This evening you must each compose your final message to your loved ones and upload it to the computer to be processed into the ship’s key log."

Zletze, forming his back at attention, interrupted. “Commander Zahn?”

“Yes, Mr. Zletze?” She prompted the Flaxian pilot to ask his question.

“When will we receive our performance scores, ma’am?”

Calliope slapped the flat face of a standard review padd into Wiser’s chest and stared him down. “When the commander of your watch completes them.”

Wiser gulped, knowing that meant he would have to be the one to judge his peers, with all of the responsibility and unpopularity that came with. He put a hand over the back of the padd, and awkwardly over the Commander's fingers for a moment before she retracted her hand. “Aye, Commander.”

“I’ll see you all, same time tomorrow.” Zahn ordered.

“There’s more?” Ensign Wonai gasped as the holodeck doors closed behind Commander Zahn. She was still shaken from some of the graphic death she had seen. It was only a computer simulation, she knew. And yet the reality that the Pathfinder’s corridors might be filled with plasma smoke and dead bodies made it difficult for her to imagine coming back to work at all. She had always left such concerns to security personnel. It took everything she had to keep herself composed now.

“Are you serious?” The Ferengi Ops ensign flapped both of his arms in emphasis. “We have to write death notes? Is she going to review our grammar too?” Ensign Jup hated creative writing assignments. "I hate creative writing assignments! And my family disavowed me when I joined Starfleet! They'll probably all drink to me dying out here!"

“Do you think she has her ‘honey-I’m-dead’ message cued up for Commander Quinn? Bet she's not in uniform in that recording.” Max Tilmer couldn’t help himself. Commander Quinn was rubbing Max's nose in the dumbest little things on his engineering shift, verbally dressing him down with scathing sarcasm at every turn, and then Max had to endure ‘Mrs. Quinn’ putting him through this wringer right after! “I heard she’s always out being reckless. What right does she have, talking about you defying orders? Have you heard the stories about Zahn?”

“Which ones?” The Bolian chuffed. Sabba kinda liked Zahn and all of the tall tales about her just intrigued the tactical ensign all the more. They were so outlandish that she didn’t think anyone really believed them. The real puzzle was in trying to ascertain what the seed of truth was in each that had gotten them started. “The ones where she’s working clandestine Ops on the side with a twin sister? Or is it a clone? How many clones? Or where she’s blackmailing Admirals? The one where she runs AI boxing tournaments? Or the ones where she’s running an underground in fleet supply stolen tech and drugs? Or my personal favorite, that she's covering for Commander Quinn being an evil cross-over from the Mirror Universe.”

"I'm pretty sure that last one is verifiable," Max muttered.

“Shut up, all of you!” Wiser snapped, the mantle of responsibility settling heavily over him. “Record your final words and button your lips about Commander Zahn. I don’t want to hear another disrespectful word out of any of you! Is that clear?”

Max raised an eyebrow, thinking that probably it was the Commander’s lingering pheromones getting to Marcello Wiser. It was obvious Cello had been trying to impress her from the get go, months ago. Everyone was thinking it, but no one dared to say it now. Max exchanged looks with Zletze and knew they both suspected Wiser had the hots for a married senior officer. That promised to go down badly and both of them planned to have a front row seat to watch Cello crash and burn spectacularly.

Worryingly, Wiser’s hand scrubbed his chin. “You’re all dismissed,” he snapped.

They were all too happy to leave Cello on the holodeck, and when he found himself alone, he staggered from the command chair over to the Conn, to find solace where he belonged.

 

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