Part of USS Phoenix: Destiny Interrupted

Chapter 2 – Administrative Red Tape

U.S.S. Phoenix main engineering
Aug. 24, 2288 around 0621 (stardate 8791.807)
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After Jack’s departure, presumably to bail out the Phoenix’s helmsman and navigator, Ned packed up his attache with hardcopy blueprints, and beamed over to the starship, where he made his way quickly to the ship’s engine room.

Dr. Madeline Babish, Commodore Seymour Babish’s wife and a member of the Advance Starship Design Bureau engineering team, was there, as were several members of the yard engineering staff. He smiled politely at Madeline, and she nodded in acknowledgement. He placed his case on the tabletop master systems display and began running power flow simulations.

One of his datapads beeped, indicating an incoming message. He tapped a command into the device and read, frowning as he did. When he was finished, he grunted uncomfortably.

“This is ridiculous!” Ned Hennessy slammed his palms down on the table. “T’Orell is on administrative hold. Your husband is behind this.”

Lieutenant T’Orell had been assigned as the Phoenix chief engineer about two months ago. Currently, she was teaching and doing research at Starfleet Academy, valuable research that she was going to bring to the Phoenix.

Nearby Madeline, ignorant of Ned’s remark, frowned at a readout on a diagnostic scanner. “We’re getting a low-flow power reading on EPS relay zero-one-one-six.”

“Thank you for your sympathy, Madeline.” Ned snorted as he joined her at the console and scrutinized the scanner readout. “That’s really under nominal, isn’t it?”

“Looks like a faulty relay,” Madeline replied.

“Might just be a bad sensor.”

“Relay,” Madeline repeated.

Ned beckoned to a technician, a Bolian in a white engineering jumpsuit. “Mero, run a diagnostic on EPS relay zero-one-one-six. Check the flow sensor.” He gave Madeline a wry smile.

The Bolian nodded wordlessly, grabbed a toolkit and was soon gone.

Ned glanced around the engineering deck and leaned close to Madeline.

“That perfume is driving me nuts,” he whispered.

Madeline’s lips curled up into a slight smile. “I know.” She reached across the console, allowing her hand to lightly brush against his.

Their love affair began purely by accident. The two met when the commodore appointed Madeline to Project Phoenix six months ago, and Ned figured it was one time in the history of bureaucracy that nepotism worked to anyone’s advantage. Madeline was an exceptional engineer and a whiz with diagnosing power generation problems. Their first conversation started with Ned marveling at how an engineer of her talent had “escaped incarceration in Starfleet.” She laughed. Ned never had been able to make anyone laugh like that, but with her it had become a game. They started making excuses to work together more, in a group at first and eventually one-on-one. Much later, after the flirtation was kindled into full blown passion, Ned mused to her that an outside observer might have watched the pair of them and known that the resulting romance was inevitable.

It was a puzzle to him, though, that Madeline, intelligent, capable and beautiful, had ever fallen in love with a dour, ineffectual man like Seymour Babish, with whom Ned had butted heads months before Madeline had even arrived at Meridian Station. He and Jack Conrad had engaged in prolonged arguments with the commodore over funding, resource allocation, refit timetables. The Phoenix being without a chief engineer until twenty-four hours prior to departure was just the latest in a parade of debacles that had occurred on Seymour Babish’s watch over Project Phoenix.

Ned allowed a barely perceptible smile to play across his lips. “Dinner at my place tonight?”

“I can’t,” she said. “Seymour has been acting strange lately.”

Ned’s smile turned to a frown. He withdrew his hand.

“Don’t be that way,” she started to move her hand back toward his, but the sight of a crewman passing the two of them stopped her mid-motion. When the crewman was gone, she spoke again. “He’s heading out to a conference on Cestus III next week. We’ll have seventy-two hours together. Just you and me.”

“Madeline, don’t take this the wrong way, but the biggest favor your husband can do for me is assign a chief engineer to this tub ASAP.” He turned his head toward her and smiled. “Then we can figure out what to do with each other for seventy-two hours.”

The mechanical sound of heavy doors opening interrupted their conversation. The pair turned abruptly toward it.

Commodore Seymour Babish, tall, gaunt and dressed immaculately in his Starfleet uniform, stepped into the Phoenix’s main engineering bay. He stopped short of Ned and Madeline, an insincere smile played upon his patrician features. He folded his arms behind his back. If he noticed the pair of them moving slightly further apart, he did not let on.

“I thought you were in the drydock drafting room, my dear,” he said to Madeline. “I wish you’d told me you were coming over to the Phoenix; I’d have gladly accompanied you in order to-” his gaze shifted toward Hennessy “-lend a hand.”

“Doctor Hennessy needed my assistance troubleshooting some problems with the EPS distribution network.” The answer came out at a near rapid clip. Ned’s head remained focused straight ahead, but his eyes darted back and forth between Madeline and Seymour. He felt a drop of sweat trickle down the back of his neck and silently willed his body to cool off.

“We’ve gotten most of the irregularities straightened out and she should be purring like a kitten now,” Ned said, casting a glance at Madeline. “Thank you, Doctor Babish.”

The commodore gave the remark a dismissive nod. “Indeed, my dear.” The commodore smiled at his wife.

“Commodore, I understand you’ve placed a hold on Lieutenant T’Orell’s transfer.” Ned was grateful for the opportunity to shift the subject. “May I ask why?”

“Administrative red tape,” Commodore Babish replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’ll get it all sorted out with Jack when I see him later today. He reached over and clapped Ned hard on the shoulder, nearly knocking him over. “Nothing for you to concern yourself with, Ned. Come along, Madeline,” he beckoned his wife to join him. As the two of them walked toward the door to the corridor, Babish glanced over his shoulder at Ned. “We mustn’t distract Doctor Hennessy from his work.”

As the commodore and Madeline stepped through the door leading to the corridor, she caught Ned’s eye, an apologetic expression on her face. The doors slid shut with a massive clank. Ned stood with his fists clenched, fuming for what felt like an eternity.

Unlike Hennessy and Conrad, Babish had never served on deep space exploratory assignments. He had been a competent yard engineer who, early in his career, gleefully took a promotion to a desk job as a drydock administrator at Starbase 11. It was a running joke between Hennessy and Conrad to speculate about how Seymour Babish was vaulted into such an important position within the Advanced Starship Design Bureau. Jack’s opinion was that the man knew where the bodies were buried in the wake of the U.S.S. Excelsior’s failed transwarp drive trials. ASDB endured what many Starfleet engineers considered to be little scrutiny in light of the massive failure of “The Great Experiment.” Shortly after the end of investigative hearings into the calamity, Babish, a mid-level theoretical propulsion engineer on the project, was promoted to captain and made test flight director of the bureau.

As little as Ned respected Babish, he placed the blame on the bureaucracy itself, saying that Babish embodied the “Peter Principle” at work, the notion that a person could be promoted many levels above their own competence.

“Doctor Hennessy?”

Ned turned to see one of the civilian engineers approaching him with a datapad to sign. He grabbed the stylus abruptly, scrawled out his signature and shoved the datapad back into the engineer’s hands, returning to the task of readying the Phoenix for her launch.

Seymour and Madeline stepped off the transporter platform on Meridian Station.

“Lunch, my dear?” he asked as they headed into the corridor outside the transporter room.

“Oh. No, thank you,” she answered hesitantly. “I had an early lunch on the Phoenix.”

“With Ned?” Seymour barely turned his head toward her as he narrowed his eyes.

“Doctor Hennessy was there. So were Wolowitz, Sokae and Ensign Zarrus.”

Seymour merely responded with a “hmmm” as they continued through the station corridors.

“He’s a rather gifted engineer, isn’t he?” Seymour finally asked.

“Who?” Madeline asked, though she was fairly certain to whom Seymour was referring.

“Ned,” Seymour answered. “Doctor Hennessy.

“Yes, I suppose.” Madeline’s gaze was shifting everywhere, an intercom unit on the bulkhead, a deck directory sign, the carpeting on the deck, anywhere but the man walking next to her. “He’s made some valuable contributions to the team.” And he’s shown me more love and warmth than I’ve felt in a long time.

“Indeed, he has.” Seymour said, nodding. “It’s a shame he can’t be more involved in Project Phoenix after she launches. Such a waste. Don’t you agree, dear?”

Madeline stopped in the corridor and turned toward Seymour. “What are you saying, Seymour?”

“Oh, nothing.” He resumed his pace, letting her catch up to him. “Just thinking out loud.”