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Log of the Month for June, 2024

Behold a Pale Horse, Pt. 8: Test Balloon
Posted on June 13th, 2024 by Scott Ammora

1st Lieutenant Damien Hill, Security

“Marine Captain Damien Hill, Chief Security Officer, USS Atlantis.” Damien said out loud as he sat behind Captain Ammora’s desk. Yes, there was Bennett’s self-assessment on the top of the pile. The lieutenant may take forever to get things done, but he was on time at least. Bummer, though, the diagnostic report was still missing. That’s an overdue demarcation.

“Oh, this is just getting ridiculous.”

Damien heard the sound from the other room that followed a grunt of audible pain. Oh, Bennett. Just then, Miguel Yzerra and Kory Kohanan entered the office, chatting as they went. “Hey Mig, thanks for popping by so fast. Oh, hey Koko.” He met eyes with Kohanan briefly. He wasn’t aware that he was tagging along with Miguel, but he figured it was fine. If Miguel was cool with him, so was Damien.

From Damien’s point of view, and a lot of people’s points of view, Kory Kohanan was your typical blend-into-the-crowd Starfleet officer. He wasn’t poster child, he was in the dead middle on all stats and records of training, and he looked like the prototype for creating a neutral character in a holodeck program. Koko was bland.

“Damien,” Kory nodded.

Kory also was by the book. Not to a fault. He wasn’t an overachiever, or a procrastinator like Bennett. He just did what was asked of him, with medium efficiency, and in the most average amount of time it would take anyone. Vanilla. Koko was vanilla. Meaning, in Damien’s eyes, he was plumb picked for an Ammora follower.

“I need to get promoted to Marine Captain, and fast.”

“You already said you’ve got it in your next evaluation.”

Damien shook his head, “I can’t wait that long.”

Miguel looked intrigued, but also aware of Damien’s line of thought, “Is this the Ammora thing again?”

There was a drawback to having a ‘brother’ with you onboard: they knew everything, saw everything, and commented on everything. “Yes. I realized he’s only acting Chief. If I can get promoted to Marine Captain before Harper makes it permanent, then I can submit for consideration. My skills are better than his, I have the seniority onboard, and I’m already grabbing his workload.”

Kory laughed, “That’s because he’s off ship.”

“No, I took lead on the first planet’s team assignments. He coasted thanks to me.” Damien was embellishing that argument because Scott had asked him if he wanted to take it on. It wasn’t an order, but a request. Damien graciously fulfilled that request and passed with flying colors. That would be a point in Damien’s column.

“I guess.” Koko shrugged.

Miguel had his head rested on his hand, thinking. “You could ask for a promotion review.”

Damien returned his focus to Miguel, “Come again?”

“Yeah, a girl in science did it. She had tested to skip Ensign for a Lieutenant JG commission, but failed. Once she was established onboard and had some good work under her belt, she asked for a performance review with a promotion clause.” Miguel stepped over to the console and opened up a data file. “There’s a process. But, if you make your case, and your superior officer signs off, you can get promoted.”

Smiling, Damien internally celebrated, “Excellent. And since Ammora is a Marine Captain, my review would go to Harper. I can handle Harper.”

“Stay on Ammora’s good side and you could get him to give you a recommendation.”

Koko chimed in, “But wouldn’t that force you into a transfer since you’re the same rank?”

Miguel waved it off, “He’s acting chief. Harper could promote and give it to Damien. She should give it to Damien. If not only for the fact that everyone likes him more than Ammora.”

Ears perking, Damien sat down in the chair, grinning with satisfaction of the statement. “Yes, that is true, but that’s not really going to help me in this particular venture.”

“I don’t know, Dame,” Miguel said, “Subordinate opinions are weighed sometimes when it’s a neck and neck race for a position. My dad got bumped from a position increase when he was on the Breckenridge because the other officers got along better with the other guy. It was either that or the broken nose my dad gave the guy during a brawl in the mess hall a week before the reviews.”

Damien suddenly got serious, “I mean, I have tonight’s party where I will have access to a throng of Junior Officers, not just security, to gauge reaction to Scott’s leadership abilities. Or, who he is as a person. I would prefer this to be merit-based, but I’ll take some personal ammunition.” He put his feet up on Scott’s desk and leaned back in the chair.

“What are you going to do? You can’t just bluntly ask people ‘Hey, do you like Captain Ammora?’” Koko asked, borderline incredulously.

“No, I’d do it smoother than that, dumbass. It’s a start.”

“Yeah, think of it as a morale test balloon.” Miguel reassured him.

Koko furthered his inquiry: “Where do you go from there?”

Damien pointed to the doorway as he had seen a shadow appear and stop just beyond the reaches of his view. They were being listened to and he knew exactly who it was. Time to disperse the group. “I don’t know,” Damien said to Koko. “Come on in, Bennett.”

Bennett entered cautiously, hugging the back wall. Damien had called it, Bennett being Bennett. The guy ‘slunk’ everywhere he went. He didn’t move with purpose or with speed, he lollygagged. It was rhythmically goofy. Damien always could count on Bennett to be thorough in his duties, but punctuality wasn’t his forte. “Hey guys, how’s it going?”

Miguel asked, somewhat sharply: “What’s going on, Bennett? What are you doing here so late?”

“Reports.” No surprise.

“Overdue reports?” Miguel turned and looked at Kohanan, both of whom smiled.

“Oh, Bennett.” Koko shook his head. Damien was about to point out that Kory was one to talk, Mr. Burnt Sienna himself, but he let it go.

“Not overdue, they’ll be in by deadline.” Damien knew they would be, minus the one he knew he was about to turn in, but he’d cover that in a minute.

Damien swiveled back and forth in the chair, his feet on the middle of the desk. “Fellas, I’ll catch up with you guys at the party. I’ll think a little bit more. Don’t have too much fun without me.”

Damien suddenly found his feet on the floor, Koko’s hand moving fast to knock them from the desk’s surface. What was up with that? Damien could pick up on the fact that Kory wasn’t exactly gung-ho on his plan, or even his predicament, but that seemed a bit much obvious. It did put a very specific thought in his head that there would be Ammora sympathizers out there, but he was attempting not to go down that path yet. It wasn’t ‘them versus us’… yet.

“Oh, don’t worry, Damien, we all know that the fun doesn’t start until you show up. What will we ever do without your presence?” He put his hands up to his head in mock frustration as he backed out the door, Miguel in tow.

Anthony stretched out his arm to offer his report. “Here’s the personnel inventory reports that are due. Sorry they’re right on deadline, I don’t know where my head was today.”

He let his eyes linger on the security officer. Lower rank, about the same seniority, but not the same set of talent. If Anthony were promoted to 1st Lieutenant, which was a long shot, Damien would still hold second in command, no doubt. “Thanks, Bennett. Just so you know, the physical assessment was on time, this one was late, but I’ll back date it because they haven’t gotten to it yet.”

“Uh, thanks? What brings you in? No party?” Anthony seemed less than impressed by Damien’s offer.

“I forgot I had this on my task list,” Damien said, grabbing a PADD on the desk. “I skipped out a little early to get ready for the party and realized I needed to make sure all the physical assessments were accounted for. I guess you can say that you and I have something in common today.”

Damien could feel Anthony’s posture stiffen, “Today.”

That was a curt response. He surveyed Anthony up and down and then averted his eyes to the table. It was the first time he realized that Anthony had a towel on his neck. The sight of blood made Damien remember the trenches, the Xovul, and he remembered Bennett’s assistance. He was a good man, albeit somewhat hard to peg. Changing the subject, Damien moved on. “But with these two from you, I’m set and headed out for the evening. You’re bleeding.”

“Yeah, I’ll hit Sickbay before I go home.”

Perhaps Miguel was right, morale was important to his overall goal. Pondering a moment, Damien took a shot in the dark and laughed. “Just use your dermal regenerator in your medkit. Saves the trip, saves the medical record.” It was true. He had done it countless times and no one had been any the wiser.

Perking an eyebrow, Anthony looked at Damien inquisitively. “That’s outside regulations, Damien, you know that. Besides, you have to log that for your diagnostic report. Which, I just turned in. So, I don’t want to add anything else to the report, so I’ll just go to Sickbay.”

Misfire. Reload. “Suit yourself. Headed to the party?”

“If I ever get the phaser compression rifle calibration completed. Shouldn’t take too long, but, you know, with the bleeding and all.” Damien saw an insincere smile appear on Anthony’s lips. “But, yes.”

Damien flashed his own insincere smile back. If he wanted to go toe-to-toe, Damien was game. He folded his arms across his chest and pressed on, “I’m telling you, use your dermal regenerator, make a note in the log of a forgotten entry, I’ll sign off. Put a tag on your rifle that is marked to be repaired, I’ll sign off on it. I’ll ‘fix’ it, and then you’ll be set for next week.”

“I appreciate that, Damien, but I think that Captain Ammora would prefer me to stick to procedure.”

Ammora? Please. Damien was insulted. That anger that he was channeling towards his rank and position problem was diverted directly at Bennett. “I’m not Ammora.”

The pause that followed was deafening. Damien’s face started to hurt as the elongated and forced expression started to test his facial muscles. Anthony stood stoically and responded, “No. You are not.”

That did not go how he had expected it to. Another point for Ammora. Damien went back to the computer, punched in a couple of entries, and signed off. He relaxed his grin and moved around the desk, nonchalantly disengaging from the conversation. “I can handle Ammora. But it’s up to you. No harm, no foul. I’ll see you at the party.”

“Uh, yeah, I’ll swing by after the rifle and I stop bleeding.”

“Good, see ya.” Damien moved by him, and exited the office, a trail of bubbling disdain left behind for both Anthony and Ammora.

He was done with work. Now it was time to play.

Miguel had a good idea to talk with others about their impressions of the acting Chief Security Officer. Kory was right in that he had to be delicate in how to handle that conversation. The Security officers would be easy; just drop a random comment about something Ammora wanted done and they would be off to the races. Everyone had an opinion of their own respective department leads, regardless of the area of expertise. It was a Starfleet unwritten rule. You had to have an opinion.

The more intricate part of the task would be getting non-security officers to spill the beans. The ship wasn’t that big, Ammora’s footprint had been left shortly after his arrival, and his promotion had been met with mixed reactions from the Junior Officers. Some saw it as hope that if someone like Ammora could advance in rank and stature, so could they. The other side, Damien’s side, saw it as awarded prematurely and hastily.

His objective was simple: request performance review for promotion to Marine Captain. That much was clear to him. It was all in the request and substance of the evaluation that he needed weaponry. His skills would speak for themselves. He needed something more. Recommendations from superior officers like Ammora and colleague’s character references would help too. Harper would see no reason not to promote him early.

It was the position that he needed the morale testimonies for. Once Marine Captain, he was sure it would trigger an automatic review of the Security Chief’s position. Scott did have time under his belt already doing the role, but that is where the morale argument could be made. He’d have a good start on it tonight. He just had to diversify his interactions into the other departments.

“Deck 10,” he said, entering the turbolift.

“Medical to Lieutenant Hill.”

He tapped his badge, “Hill, here.”

“Hey Damien, it’s Celeste. I just wanted to say thank you for getting the report in. I would say it was ‘timely’, but I’m sure you were feeling the pressure.”

Celeste Davenport. Sigh. “The Hot Girl From Medical”, the boys in security called her. One would roll the dice and hope to get their physical done by her. Damien stammered out a response, thinking about her. “Uh, yeah, you know, Bennett. It’s all good, though, because, uh, it’s what the job is. What needs done gets done, right? Glad you, ummm, got it. Yeah.”

What the hell was that?!

“I’ve got one hour until I’m done. This puts me on time, I appreciate it.”

He beamed with pride that she was pleased with him. It was completed in the normal process of doing his job, but he thought the act of sending thanks was old-fashioned and refreshing. She was a class act. “Anytime, of course, sure. You, uh, going to the party?”

“I think so, probably pop in for a hot minute.”

“Maybe we can grab a drink?” Damien knew that Celeste worked in medical and that Ammora had been taking nursing education courses to compliment his field medic training. She would probably have a good opinion on the type of guy Ammora was outside of security work.

“Yeah, maybe we’ll bump into each other. Thanks again, Davenport out.”

Bump into each other? That wasn’t the type of response that Damien got when he was talking to women, but he digressed, if he ran into her he’d slip Captain Ammora into the conversation. Wait, why would he digress? This Ammora thing was getting out of hand. Pretty girl, kind of blew him off, and he was worried about information on Scott?

The long walk down the hallway from the lift to the entrance of the lounge was a long one. However, in Damien’s head, he heard fanfare and trumpets as he slowly approached the party. He could hear a little bit of bass thumping against the walls and vibrating down the corridor. That was an indication of a good time ahead. All he needed now was the red carpet and the arm candy. The arm candy he’d find for his exit.

Welcoming him as he moved into the lounge were a group of crewman attempting to get into the party. The ghetto of the party. He grabbed a drink from the station near the door and sipped it lightly. He perused the room with a quick once over and mapped his path.

These parties were multi-layered. They were a breeding ground for romances. One would hear all about the hook ups in the morning at breakfast. Parties were a modern age gossip mill, everyone had something to say about someone. He’d use that to his advantage. Mostly because these events were a luxurious spa of relaxation; they loosened tongues. They were a social fix. He’d do more talking tonight than he had the whole week. It was all good for his plan.

However, it was also a pit of despair. Sadness at everything from personal grudges and professional struggles came out here. It was an information treasure trove. The good and the bad would be readily passed from group to group, slowly getting twisted as it went. It was a tangled web that the Junior Officers would weave tonight. Structured chaos never to be repeated in exactness ever again.

It was in that ball of twine, that jumbled disarray of socialization, the ambiguity of discourse tainted by opinion and perceived fact, that the ship was held together. Damien was one simple piece. A strong piece, an anchor piece. Every now and then someone plucked a string. His had been plucked. Now he was vibrating and yearned for action and, at the same time, calm. Damien found the whole thing annoyingly poetic. He liked thinking of himself as its writer.

Damien moved through the outer edge of crewman, parting them easily. Move, for the love of God. The Poet Laureate had arrived.

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  • Kathryn Harper Kathryn Harper says:

    “I can handle Harper.”

    Hoo boy.

    The Poet Laureate has crossed the line from cold, calculating confidence into arrogant over-confidence, and this log shows it well. The reversal of perspectives on earlier events continues to be an effective tool. I particularly liked Koko knocking Damien’s feet off the desk, and look forward to seeing where this all ends up!

  •  Emilaina Acacia says:

    As an introvert I’ve never been more excited for a party than this one, we’ve certainly set the stage for it well! I also appreciated the other perspective of the conversation in Scott’s office. I like that some people like each other and some people don’t, you do so well with making this group of people feel real. Excited for more!

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