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Superior Manipulations

Posted on Friday September 29th, 2017 @ 5:46pm by Lieutenant Commander Damien Blackford

Mission: Mission 0: Crew Arrival
Location: Stafleet Command, Earth

"They will see you now, Damien," Jenny Richey said, giving him the same, familiar smile she always had for years now. She sat at the aide's desk just to the side of the office doors, working on the schedules of the two officers she had dedicated her career to serving. Unlike many in Starfleet, she was content with such administrative work, only left Earth when her superiors did.

Normally if an ensign such as herself had addressed him so informally they would discover Damien was a stickler for protocol, but she was one of the rare few he would make an exception for. Somehow it seemed silly to insist on such decorum when dealing with the girl he'd grown up with here on Earth who had always been such a part of his family's life that she was like a little sister to him.

"Thanks," he flashed an answering grin in return, but it slid quickly off his face. He hesitated before stepping through those doors, some of his nervousness showing through. "What kind of mood are they in?"

Jenny shook her head and shrugged her shoulders as if to say she wasn't sure, but still she said, "Remember that time when you got caught skipping class in high school? Sorta like that, but...worse."

Damien swallowed hard and his cheeks paled. It was ridiculous to feel this way. He knew he hadn't done anything wrong, hadn't been summoned back to Earth for disciplinary action. As far as he could remember, he hadn't slipped up and made a mistake since the incident Jenny mentioned, half his lifetime ago. Yet standing here, he couldn't help his nerves. The two who waited for him within had a reputation.

Jenny reached across the desk to take one of his hands and give it a quick squeeze, "You'll be alright. And if not, well, remember I owe you a drink."

With a brief nod and pressure against her hand, Damien lifted his chin and squared his shoulders. Then he let out a long breath, adjusted his uniform jacket, and stepped forward. The doors opened on their silent tracks, letting him into the grand office.

Floor to ceiling windows covered the majority of the corner walls, giving a breathtaking view of the grounds of Starfleet Command and San Francisco Bay beyond. Brilliant sunlight poured through the glass, lighting up interior so that the hidden artificial lights weren't even on. The golden light revealed the lush, soft carpet beneath his feet, the works of art from all over Federation space set on their shelves or pedestals, the twinned bookcases flanking the doors that held yellowing copies of actual paper books centuries old. And there, standing before the massive desk, were Admiral and Captain Blackford.

"Lieutenant Blackford, reporting as ordered, sirs," Damien said crisply, coming to a stop inside a respectful distance before his parents. His eyes found a spot beyond the windows behind them, his form snapping to attention that would have made the strictest Academy instructor approve.

For their part, Niclas and Michelle Blackford studied their son for a long, silent moment. While some families might have been laughing and crying, rushing forward to give hugs and pats on the back, chatting joyously to be reunited after not having seen one another for years, things didn't work like that in this unit. That they loved each other none of them doubted, but the Blackford household didn't openly show much affection.

"You're looking well, Lieutenant," his mother said, glancing at him up and down. "Although I still think you need a haircut and a shave."

"Oh, give over, Michelle," replied his father, arms crossed over his chest. "You lost that battle long ago, even if I agree that it looks like there's a Tribble on our son's chin."

Damien didn't respond, and most certainly didn't lift his hand to stroke his goatee or smooth down his hair. Both were allowed by Starfleet regulations, otherwise he would never have them the way they were. Besides, Damien thought he looked rather dashing with his longish hair and goatee. The skin around his eyes tightened slightly however.

"At ease," Admiral Blackford said, waving one of his hands in the air to dismiss with the formality, or at least a small part of it. One never truly relaxed fully in either of their presence.

Damien relaxed slightly and stepped forward to shake both of their hands, and even managed a small smile, "It's good to see you both again, sirs."

"You too, Damien," Captain Blackford replied with an answering grin that showed a hint of pride despite her comments on his appearance. For her, one of Starfleet's most notorious JAG prosecutors, it was a high compliment.

"Well, we've a busy schedule today, so let's get down to business, shall we?" Niclas said, as always quickly getting to the point. "Lieutenant, you are hereby relieved from duty on the USS Sarajevo." Damien's heart skipped a beat. "You will make your way to Roosevelt Station where you will rendezvous with the USS Ark Royal."

"Sir?" Damien's voice was confused, stunned. He'd been with the Sarajevo for the last four years, knew that he'd been doing good work there and had the respect of everyone from his subordinates to his peers to his superiors. A part of him had been hoping to stay there for many more years to come. He loved the Akira Class vessel he'd made his home on, the Flight Control team he'd trained and led for these last years, and had never respected a leader more than he did Captain Kennedy.

"This is it, Damien," his mother said, her smile widening further. It was rare to see her looking so pleased, and somehow it didn't make this any easier even when she added, "You're being promoted. Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander." He stood stiff as she reached up to pin the new pip to his collar.

At last! Damien's chest rose with his swell of pride, and his handsome face lit up with his grin. He'd worked so long and so hard, sacrificed any real semblance of a personal life since the day he entered the Academy, all on his quest to his goal of becoming a commanding officer himself someday. Though it was only a single advancement in rank, there was a distinction that came with lieutenant commander, moving him from the rosters of the junior officers and into a junior commander position. Better yet, he was now maybe only a few more years away from becoming a full commander and, perhaps, earning his own command.

"But...I don't understand," despite his obvious pleasure, Damien was confused. Why would his promotion lead to him being removed from his post? And why to this ship? "The Ark Royal? Wasn't she slated for decommissioning?"

"Not anymore, and trust me when I say we didn't agree with the Admiralty's decision on the matter" the Admiral said, and not happily either. "You'll be serving as the executive officer. We managed to pull strings enough to make sure of that much, at least. She's a fine ship, son, regardless of why she's being made ready for another mission. Congratulations."

"You what?!" Damien's voice had risen to a brief shout, and even Jenny at her desk outside turned to the closed doors for a moment before wincing and picturing her old friend being turned inside out. "I don't need your help with my career. I never have and never will-"

"Watch your tone with us, boy," Niclas snapped fiercely, eyes glittering. "You don't understand, and we taught you better than that." The two men locked eyes for a moment, staring one another down, but as always it was Damien who looked away first.

"Remember my case last year," his mother stepped in, diverting the conversation. "The one with the commander of the Fearless?" Damien nodded sharply; it was hard to forget as not only had he heard about it from his family, it had been on the subspace broadcasts. An Intrepid Class starship destroyed in the Badlands was big news. "Admiral Williams has given him the Ark Royal."

Damien's mind whirled with all the implications of this. As he recalled, Commander Scott Parker had gotten his ship and much of his crew killed in that incident. The court martial had been prosecuted by his mother, one of Starfleet's top JAG officers here at Command, while his father was part of the judging panel of admirals that oversaw the hearings.

It had been their opinion that Parker's bad judgement and leadership had been responsible for the disaster. They had argued for not just his dismissal from Starfleet, but for his arrest and imprisonment as well. In the end, they'd only managed to sway things their way just enough to see Parker docked in rank and reassigned, and Damien knew the event hadn't left either of them satisfied.

"So..." Damien said, carefully modulating his tone to put as much respect in it as he could muster. The words he was about to say out loud were dangerous even if they weren't family, but he couldn't stop himself from speaking once he understood what this was all about. "You've decided to use your own son to, what, spy on him? I'm somehow supposed to be both a ship's first officer and keep an eye on the one you let get off?"

Both of his parents fell deadly silent, and he knew he'd struck a nerve like never before, not even when he'd had brief bouts of rebellion as a teenager. Their silence, their furious stares, were enough to make him take a step back.

"You will report for duty, as ordered, Lieutenant Commander Blackford," the Admiral said at last through gritted teeth. "You will execute your duties to their fullest extent. If you really think you were ready for this kind of promotion, you had better prove it or there will be hell to pay."

Right on top of her husband, Michelle added, "You will also keep a close eye on Commander Parker. If you find that he is unable to fulfill his own responsibilities or puts the ship or crew in needless danger, you will relieve him of command. You will have our support when and if it comes to that. But make sure you cover all the legal points first."

Damien blanched and his shoulders slumped, his teeth ground audibly with frustration. There was nothing he could do about this other than lodge a formal protest, start down a path that would likely see him forced to resign from Starfleet. That was the last thing Damien wanted, and the thought made him feel sick, as did the idea of betraying his parents.

"Understood, sirs," Damien said, defeated.

Then, putting aside the feelings of betrayal and his fury over being manipulated so, he stood up straight, looked them both in the eye for a moment. His path was set, and he knew what he had to do. If he was going to be the ship's executive officer, he would do his job with the same dedication and ambition he had applied to everything else in his life.

"I won't let Starfleet, or the crew of the Ark Royal down."

Most tellingly, he said nothing about loyalty either of his parents, or his new commanding officer, Scott Parker.

Lieutenant Commander Damien Blackford
Executive Officer
USS Ark Royal


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