A Matter of Protocol
Location: USS Hera, Deck 4, Main Shuttlecraft Deck
Timeline: 2395, in drydock at Artan Fortress, Kabul system
That ever-popular 24-hour checklist that Lieutenant Commander Rita Paris had generated thirteen decades ago still worked pretty well, at least so far for the countdown to launch. Sure, some things were no longer valid and some new items had been added, but the countdown seemed to be proceeding apace. Which was good, because this would be the first casting off Rita had performed as first officer, and she was determined to get it right.
Which was not being helped by the constant arrivals and welcoming parties she had to do. But fortunately, unlike back in her day, so much of the systems were automated she had been able to work with the ship's computer to set calendar reminders and alarms and checkpoints that much of what was once running all over the starship for her to accomplish she could now manage from a PaDD nearby, which at this stage of the game she always had in hand. Hell, right now the brassy blonde bombshell had two in hand as she strolled out of the flight control office onto the flight deck to greet the incoming shuttle.
As the shuttlecraft's skids touched down, the curvaceous commander hustled across the deck in that long-legged military stride of hers. Adjusting her mod minidress uniform subtly, the anachronistic astronaut drew up short and waited to meet the new hotshot pilot.
There was a brief hiss as the door of the runabout opened on to the deck of the Hera. Standing a few feet back from the door was a rather short, thick young officer. With a nervous glance, she scanned the shuttle bay outside with her eyes, swallowed and made a quick tug on her uniform top to straighten it out.
She stepped forward into the doorway of the shuttle and looked down slightly to meet the gaze of her new First Officer. The nervous new transfer was momentarily taken aback. She had read up on the crew manifest but that only offered up names and ranks, so she was unprepared to be met by an officer wearing a uniform she last remembered seeing in the Smithsonian on an Academy field trip.
"Uh..." She stammered slightly. "Lieutenant Junior Grade Melanie Dox, reporting for duty, ma'am."
The anachronistic astronaut smiled, a somewhat dazzling affair that made her look somewhat like nose art on a WWII bomber, and extended her hand. "Lieutenant? Welcome aboard the Hera. I'm Rita Paris, the first officer." At that, the buxom blonde seemed to pause, as if she were waiting for something.
The new recruit stepped down from the door to the deck of the ship itself to meet her new First Officer. Starship protocol was something that Melanie Dox still struggled with and formalities did not come naturally to her, so she looked across at the outstretched hand as her eyebrows pursed, showing just a slight bit of confusion. As taken off guard as she was by Lieutenant Commander Paris' out-of-time appearance, she was even more unprepared for a greeting as casual as a handshake.
Trying to look as nonchalant as possible, the anxious new crew member quickly wiped her hand against the side of her uniform leg in case she was clammy, then quickly met the welcoming gesture.
During the excruciatingly long 7 days that the runabout took to deliver her from her previous posting at Starbase 17 to the HERA, Melanie had made more than a handful of protocol flubs with the shuttles two pilots and was terrified of making similar mistakes now. Nevertheless, she stood there, shaking the hand of her new First Officer, looking up at the statuesque blonde with a slight smirk at the corner of her mouth and realized that it had been nearly 5 seconds as she was still shaking her hand.
After two pumps, the professional Starfleet handshake she'd been taught since she was a child, Paris smiled then let the younger woman's hand go... or tried to, then let her hand linger till the junior officer figured it out. Gesturing to the pressure doors at the fore of the flight deck, the cheerful commander asked, "So shall we get you onboard, Ms. Dox? We can skip that whole 'permission to come aboard' bit. I guess that's just something they did back in my day, not in the modern Starfleet. So you're a pilot, eh?"
The woman seemed possessed of perennial cheer, which was mildly unsettling.
Before waiting for any response to her question, Rita Paris turned and passed through the doors into the corridors of the Hera. Dox paused momentarily and quickly shuffled to keep pace with the significantly taller first officer. Paris kept close to the right side of the corridor and Dox took it to mean she should be walking at her side. She also remembered that she had a question to answer.
"Um... Yes, yes ma'am. Shuttles, freighters, runabouts. This is my first assignment on a starship, but I'm fully rated on this class and have logged my holodeck simulation time requirements and then some."
"If you get bridge duty that will be a treat for you, if we drop to impulse on your shift," the pretty pilot explained. "We've got a rather thrilling control interface. I'll let Ensign Gonadie introduce you to it. She designed it, after all." The long-legged lieutenant had been slowly increasing her pace, and was now moving at a military march down the corridor.
"So what's your passion, Miz Dox? What drove you out this far into the universe to go farther from here?"
Darting her eyes from the floor to the panels along the wall, Melanie struggled for an answer. She was reserved about giving up personal information and wasn't expecting anything approaching small talk so quickly. "Being out here IS my passion, ma'am. I'm..." She paused, feeling like her response was a test she had no idea how to pass. "I'm not... Comfortable if I'm not moving. Living on a planet is just too confining to me."
Without being able to read the Hera's first officer, Dox decided to be as honest as she could without opening up too far. After all, she knew she didn't want to be miserable the entire time she was serving on the ship and starting off even a professional relationship trying to duck questions wasn't the best policy.
"Vagabond, eh? Well, there's a lot to be said for going lots of places. It makes you cultured and well traveled, and adaptable to new circumstances. Bit of an explorer myself," Paris nodded to the junior officer with a close-mouthed smile. "I wanted to go and see what was out there. See the wonders of the universe and witness thermodynamic miracles." It was evident from her tone that the friendly first officer seemed earnest and forthright. Somehow that 2257 recruitment poster look of hers made it work in an oddly old-school Starfleet way.
"So what's your hobby, Lieutenant Junior Grade?" Paris took a sharp turn to starboard and watched to see if the shorter-legged officer would keep up.
Speeding up slightly to match Paris' pace, Dox huffed slightly before responding with the least committal answer she could think of under the circumstances. "N... Nothing really. Starfleet doesn't really leave too much time for hobbies."
"Mmm. They say if all you are is the job, then the job is all you'll ever be. But what do they know, right? Who are 'they', anyway? Well, you must have a million questions about your new assignment. I can practically feel the excitement you're radiating, Miz Dox. So ask away, what would you like to know about your new assignment?" The surprisingly speedy senior office took a pivot turn to the left, clearly expecting her companion to keep pace.
"Yes, ma'am. I'm excited to get to work." Dox replied, determined to keep pace as they walked. "Although I'm even more excited to find out what all that work is going to be. The transfer order was a little vague on specifics."
"Waaaaahhhll, you're a pilot, right?" Paris pulled away a bit ahead to make certain she caught the introverted officer's eye."So usually in that line of work, unless it has changed significantly in the past hundred years or so, involves guiding onesself between points A and B, with replots along the way when someone comes up with a reason to stop or change course or what have you." Paris took another turn, this time to port and she slowed the pace a bit. "I mean, that's the job pretty much as I understand it? Plot a course then execute it?"
With the conversation shifting back to work, Dox relaxed a little bit. Piloting was a subject she was confident about and she found herself responding more naturally without really having to think about it. "Absolutely, ma'am. Point A, point Z and any points in between."
"That's good. That's very good, in fact," the cheerful commander commented. "Now, what would you say is the most important quality in a pilot, Miz Dox? A steady hand, coordination, reflexes, experience, daring, caution? I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the subject, as it seems to be your passion."
"A little bit of everything, really, I think." Dox was answering quickly now, her nerves replaced by her confidence in her job. "But honestly, I think the most important thing is being able to adjust and react to anything that comes up without hesitating or panicking."
"Cool head under pressure," The lieutenant commander commented as she turned to the fore. "Very important, and it's easy to see why that would come to mind. That's the virtue of a pilot that is completely self-reliant, is it not? The command can't keep you calm and ready, the controls only respond to your input. So that's the one thing that you and only you control in the equation. That about sum it up for you, Lieutenant?"
That gave Melanie pause, as she took a moment to think about an answer that didn't come off as egotistical. After all, the majority of her time in Starfleet was in piloting shuttles and runabouts, often by herself. "Well, to a degree, but it's also about being able to respond to a order as quickly and efficiently as a crisis and not get stuck in your own head."
"Most certainly important, I would have to agree," Paris replied as they began to pass the pressure doors of the flight deck again. "Personally I'm a fan of navigation. Back in my day, when permission to come aboard was a thing, we would keep track of where we were, and where we were going. Because it was often important. Hell, if we weren't careful the officer sent to check us in might just walk us in a circle while we talked just to see if we'd notice. But that was back in my day, when pilots and navigators were two separate posts."
As the anachronistic astronaut finished her diatribe, they were standing just inside the pressure doors of the Hera side of the flight deck, the shuttle that had brought her in still parked on the pad. The tall and toothsome throwback officer pivoted in front of the woman on whom she had a full head of height, and smiled. "These days, you modern pilots, you can do it all, pilot and navigate. Or so I'm told."
"Now that we've achieved a certain circularity, Miz Dox, what do you say we try that again?" Lieutenant Commander Paris parked her PaDD on her hip and gazed expectantly at the new onboarding officer.
Pausing for a moment to look at the runabout on the flight deck again, Melanie Dox felt her stomach tighten up with embarrassment. "Yes, ma'am."
"So how does the line go, according to protocol, Lieutenant Junior Grade Dox?" The curvaceous commander leaned down into Melanie's personal space, her face a few inches from that of the petite pilot.
Swallowing her wounded pride, Melanie Dox ran her mind back to the moment she was standing in the door of the runabout. "Lieutenant Junior Grade Melanie Dox, reporting for duty, ma'am..." adding the step she missed previously in her nervousness: "Permission to come aboard."
The first officer stood back to her full height again and smiled. When she spoke, she spoke softly. "Permission granted, Lieutenant. Welcome to the Hera. I'm Lieutenant Commander Paris, the flight control chief and first officer." The antique Starfleet officer extended her hand for a handshake. Her demeanor was friendly and her eyes were not unkind.
Melanie Dox rapidly shot her memory back to the awkward and too long handshake and worked out what she hoped was the correct resolution, with a quick and simple handshake before returning to full attention. "Thank you, ma'am."
"Well, it looks like we're off on the right foot, doesn't it?" the perennially cheerful officer began to stride across the deck, turning to head to the fore of the starship. "It's not a solitary job, not on the bridge. Engineering is giving you thrust. Science is scanning ahead to give you the data to plot your course. The Captain has her own strategies, and she may well call them- she's a fair starship pilot herself. The long and short is, out here, on this boat, it's a team effort, Miz Dox. We succeed by working together, coordinating our efforts to accomplish goals. Seldom is it just you and the universe."
"On the other hand, I understand that time alone is more refreshing for introverts. If you like, I could see about ensuring you serve exclusively shuttle duty, so that you can be more of a solo operator. No need to ever risk creating emotional bonds with those around you, thus risking no loss should they be removed from your life." Apparently casual therapy discussions were business as usual for the fairly odd first officer, as they arrived at the turbolift and she pressed the up button.
That last comment hit the nervous junior officer especially hard, and Melanie realized that her new First Officer had clearly read up on her personnel file and background and that her efforts to keep her feelings to herself weren't going to be particularly effective on this ship. Closing her eyes for a moment to re-center herself, Dox decided to answer as honestly as she could but remembered to stick to protocol.
"Permission to speak freely, ma'am."
As the lift arrived, two crewmen exited and as Paris stepped on, she ensured that Dox had followed her, then she addressed the ceiling. "Computer, please hold this lift. Suspend all scanning and monitoring until further notice. Authorization Paris, Rita LTCDR 8675309." The computer chirruped and replied =^= Affirmative. =^=
The tall senior officer leaned her back against the wall of the lift and raised her eyebrows slightly, the ghost of a smile playing at the corners of her lips. "It's just you and me here. You may speak freely without fear of repercussion or reprisal, nor are you on any sort of official record, Miss Dox. Please proceed," the eclectic executive expressed expansively, clutching her PaDD before her surprisingly flat tummy.
"I'm assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that you are familiar with more than just my Starfleet service record but my personal history... My FAMILY history as well. Or maybe you're just extremely good at reading people. Regardless, it's relevant to how I feel about this assignment." Dox kept her gaze low but didn't pause to wait for any confirmation or response from her First Officer. "I was raised on a smuggling ship. My parents were smugglers and it's where I learned to fly and where I learned how to hate that life. So when my parents were finally caught, as much as I still love them, I was glad. I was free from the path they had set for me. It was Starfleet that did that for me."
The now visibly emotional pilot took another deep breath, re-adjusted her uniform top and continued. "When I applied to Starfleet Academy it was about more than just getting back into space and off of Earth. It was about wanting to be a part of that thing that could have destroyed my life but didn't. Starfleet could have denied my application, but didn't. Starfleet could have cut me off from my parents completely, but I still talk to them every few months whenever I can. Starfleet took away a life living afraid every day of the chaos I was a part of and offered me a structure and a purpose beyond myself and I am very appreciative of that. I am. But you're also right. I don't let people get close and I've stuck to jobs on shuttles and remote starbases because it was safer emotionally. I've been scared."
Shifting her gaze up to meet the eyes of the first officer for the first time in the turbolift, Melanie continued. "I didn't join Starfleet to be scared. To hide. To play it safe. I joined to be a part of something I didn't even know existed growing up and I'm through being scared. I'm happy to serve in whatever capacity you feel I'm best suited for, ma'am. But it is... It's my desire for whatever that service is to be... A part of something."
Melanie felt a twinge of anger at herself as she felt her eyes begin to water. She fought back the urge to cry and composed herself. "I don't... I don't want to be alone anymore."
While it could have been an act, or an elaborate hoax, that wasn't how it looked to Paris, whose mind just didn't work that way. Instead, that same honesty that made her an earnest and passionate speaker also made it pretty evident when someone else was being honest with her as well. Stepping closer, the emotional executive officer extended her arms and silently offered a hug to the emotionally embattled starship pilot.
Letting out a nervous chuckle, Melanie leaned slowly into the hug, wincing her face tightly to keep herself from just falling apart emotionally. After a brief moment, she put her short arms around Rita's back about halfway. "I have no idea if there's a Starfleet protocol for hugs." Sniffing slightly, she stepped away again. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I... Thank you."
"It's okay, Dox. We've all been there," Paris admitted, releasing the smaller woman from her prodigious bosom. Fishing in her top, she somehow managed to produce a clean and dry hankie which she fluffed to full size, then handed to the junior officer. "Here you go... take your moment. No one saw it, no one knows and your secret dies with me."
"You will be a part of something on the Hera, Miss Dox. That I can promise you. Your contributions will be recognized and appreciated, and you will get out of this assignment what you put into it. I'm your first officer, and I'm your section chief as well. So your problems are my problems, understand? There is no 'not wanting to bother the chief' or 'the Commander doesn't have time for that'. We're a crew here, and we take care of our own." Paris smiled wryly at the newly assigned officer who had no idea what she was in for. "Roger Wilco?"
Lightly patting her eyes dry and wiping her nose, Dox straightened herself back up and brushed a loose curl that escaped her bun during the hug back into place. "Understood, ma'am."
"There we are, ship-shape again," Paris smiled, hoping it got through as kind. "Computer, please resume recording and scanning, and resume turbolift operation. Deck 2, thank you." It took no time at all for the turbolift to arrive and the pair of pilots stepped out onto Deck 2, a small round hub directly below the bridge.
"These are the junior officer's quarters- in most cases, junior officers I suspect might be needed on the bridge in a hurry. Learn where the access ladders and Jeffries tubes are located, Miss Dox. Might just save your life someday." Flipping the PaDD she'd been carrying over to the redhead. "Here's your welcome aboard package, including your quarters assignment, maps of the Hera, limited computer access and some appointments to keep. You need to check into the command in order to have full access, so that means a meeting with the first officer, a meeting with the captain, a physical and a session with the ship's counselor. Once everyone signs off, you'll be checked into the command, and be granted full access for active duty."
"Thus we arrive at your quarters, Miss Dox," the statuesque starship siren pointed to the LCD nameplate next to the door which read 'LTJG DOX, M'. "You've got time to onboard- take your time, settle in and start taking your meetings and getting a feel for the ship. Once you're ready for duty, we'll take a little spin in the simulators and see how good you are, and we'll see where you might fit in on the Hera. Any questions for me, Miss Dox?"
The awkward, half smile that had been displayed earlier was replaced by a tight-lipped, but genuine one. Dox looked briefly at the PaDD then responded. "I'm sure I will have a million of them, ma'am. But for now, I believe I'm..." She lightly patted the base of the PaDD. "Thank you, I'm good. I'll get right on this."
"In your own time will be fine," the commander waved as she strode away. "Welcome to the Hera. Welcome to the stars, Lieutenant Junior Grade Dox."