~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
As they made their way down to the lounge, Christensen continued her leadership lesson. It all boiled down to trust -- give your people a reason to trust you and you’ll be able to trust them. And one of the first ways to get them to trust you is to trust them. It seemed like circular logic, yet it made all the sense in the world.
Once at the lounge, which wasn’t overly busy, they found a table far away from the others to have a private conversation yet close enough to avoid looking like they wanted to be alone. Isenberg ordered coffee, black, and she ordered mint tea and crumb cakes. She asked him how Senior Chief Guzman was working out as the Chief of the Boat.
"You mean besides that little chewing he just gave me and my Exec?" Isenberg said ruefully. "In some ways, he reminds me of my father. I suppose that’s a good thing."
“Excellent. I figured he’d make a great CoB. I wasn’t sure they’d ever give him the slot after he locked horns with Renee Norwood.” She wagged a finger at him. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you the Norwoods don’t play the politics game. And don’t ever fall for the lie that they’re all God's gift to the service. Renee screwed up by the numbers and still got the job that should have been Roger’s from the word go. I hate to say it, but the best thing she ever did was get herself killed without taking anyone with her.”
Isenberg’s eyebrows shot up at that. He knew several of the Norwood clan. Who didn’t? He knew that they had a couple bad apples, of course. What family didn’t? By and large, however, most of the Norwood family was highly regarded. Renee, on the other hand, was the blackest of the black sheep. Still, the Norwoods had a reputation to protect and thus tried to keep her problems very quiet. One simply didn’t go around talking about such things in public. Not without risking the famous Norwood wrath.
The waiter brought their drinks over. “The hell of it is,” Christensen continued, “after she got the promotion -- over my objections, I might add -- she told Commodore al-Hafi there was no way she could work for my old Exec -- my highly-deserving, fully-qualified, hand-picked successor. So rather than give her the dirt-side job she was overdue for, they let her be the CoB and exiled Andy to a staff position at HQ. She suggested she ‘might be able to work with’ Lieutenant Commander Mark Wagner. That’s how he got the Magnum
, and we all know how that turned out.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Isenberg sipped his coffee. The investigation into Senior Chief Renee Norwood’s death revealed her illegal activities and co-conspirators resulting in six personnel arrested, including Wagner’s first officer, and five others forced to resign, including Wagner himself. “I missed most of that as I was stationed over on the Romulan border at the time. It sounded pretty ugly, from what I’ve heard.” Isenberg knew Mark Wagner. He was a good officer, just not fit for command. Mark’s only crime was getting promoted one time too many. That, and not being able to see how his senior staff manipulated him. He was simply too trusting, too gullible. Thomas remembered a poker game in which he bluffed Wagner into folding four deuces.
Although not personally implicated, Commodore al-Hafi announcing he was taking an early retirement. One of his last acts was to give Thomas Isenberg command of the Magnum
. His other was to reassign the patrol zones for all thirty-two ships in the Fifty-First Cutter Group. The dust was just now settling down, six weeks after the house cleaning ended. Isenberg wondered how much this new mission would stir back up.
“Ugly doesn’t come close,” she replied. “The kick-backs and bribes were bad enough. Allowing smugglers to cross the border at will was worse. But they were using police forces to drive off competition for the Orion Syndicates and let them get an arm-lock on shipping in this region. Our reputation is shot to Hell -- there isn’t an independent freighter in this sector that trusts us right now.”
Isenberg nodded. The damage was done and would take a long time to repair. He had seen that for himself, like with the Santa Maria
the day before. He’d noticed that civilian vessels, even from highly reputable companies like Smith-&-Jones, were keeping a wide berth away from police boats. He didn’t think anything of it at first, until Lieutenant Xiong mentioned how unusually shy the cargo masters seemed around them. “Well, at least they weren’t dealing zap.”
“There’s no proof they weren’t,” she retorted, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. Hell, Thomas, just last week someone stole over a metric ton of zap from the impound locker at Cygnus Station. It looks like an inside job -- I just haven’t been able to prove it yet. To give the Devil his due, though, they did pull off a nice heist. They had us looking for stolen artwork, which oh by the way, never existed in the first place -- it all looked like a simple insurance scam at first until we noticed the drugs were missing. The paperwork showed it was destroyed.”
Isenberg shrugged. “Any reason to think it wasn’t?”
She gave him a sour look. “Two reasons. Number one, our primary incinerator is down of an overhaul; the one we’re using isn't hot enough to completely burn zap without giving off toxic smoke. And number two, they forged my signature on the forms. I know I didn’t sign it, but now it looks like I’m covering something up.”
“Hmmm, maybe it’s just my Machiavellian mind working overtime,” he said thoughtfully, “but you said you had a run-in with Renee Norwood. Perhaps some of her cohorts are still on the loose and are trying to get even with you, Ma'am.”
“You think? I'm sure of it!” Christensen exclaimed. “I don’t think we got the ring-leader. There’s no way one Senior Chief, even one with the political connections of a Norwood, could have set this up. And I believe there's more to this than just the Cartels taking over all shipping in this region.”
Isenberg thought about all the political data he had assimilated over the past month, including the tidbits Zychowski briefed him on last night that he’d picked up while undercover. Trade was the lifeblood of the Federation. Control the cargo flow and you’d someday control the government. And yet, that seemed too ambitious, even for the Orion Syndicate. But not for the Klingons. With war looming and much of Star Fleet's military shipping still handled by civilian freight companies, the Klingons were a logical suspect. On the other hand, it also seemed out of character for the Klingons; they tended to fight you head-on without a lot of subterfuge. This level of intrigue was something one would expect from the Romulans.
There was another possibility. The very thought of it made Isenberg shudder. “You know, my first guess would be to say the Klingons are involved, but here’s an odd thought: what if it’s opposition politics in the Federation Assembly? The elections are coming up in about eight months. By making the President look weak on the whole Orion Enclave issue, they might be able to pick up a bunch of seats if not the presidency itself.”
Commander Christensen had just taken a bite of crumb cake and almost choked on it. After taking a sip of tea to clear her throat, she said, “That’s a bit too Machiavellian, don’t you think, Thomas? My money's still on the Klingons. Although this whole Renee Norwood affair has resurrected the suggestion that Star Fleet annex the Police Force. It’ll never happen, of course, but in some ways it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Do you know what our biggest problem is, Commander?” He gave a thoughtful look then shook his head ‘no’. “We don’t have a pyramid.”
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
“A pyramid. Our rank structure is very linear. When you came up through the ranks, you started as a weapons officer, then moved up to intelligence, operations next, and then exec officer before becoming a ship’s captain, right?” He shook his head ‘no’. She gave him a puzzled look, “No? Did you come up from the back of the boat?” she asked, meaning that he was an engineer first.
“No, I was Star Fleet,” he explained, “before I had a break in service. I just made the lieutenant-commander selection list when I was accused of something I didn’t do. I was given a choice of court marshal and five years in jail, or to resign my commission. I didn’t have the proof at the time of my innocence. So, I got out and went back to school to finish my law degree. It took two years and a ton of money, but a private investigator that I hired found the evidence I needed. I testified against the person who set me up, and then sued Star Fleet to let me back in. They had no way of keeping me out, but they said I lost my promotion slot and half my seniority. The police force gave me a better offer; I got my gold-leaf,” meaning the insignia of a Lt. Commander, “and an assignment as the opeations officer on the Sir Patrick Hasting
.” The Sir Pat
was a police flagship, a true jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none ship based on the Burke
-class frigate design. “I had that job for about six months, and then two months ago, word came down they needed officers to fill a dozen command slots on cutters. I threw my hat in the ring for an exec job, and somehow got tagged to be the captain instead.”
Christensen sighed at that. A good number of police force officers came from Star Fleet. There didn’t seem to be much middle ground; either they were among the best, the ones who wanted a challenging career, or among the worst, the ones Star Fleet didn’t mind letting go. Isenberg seemed like one of the former, thankfully. “Well, as I was saying, we don’t have a good base of junior officers to build into good senior officers. We end up filling the ranks by commissioning enlisted on an accelerated promotion track, or we have to take Star Fleet’s leftovers. No offense intended.”
“None taken,” he assured her. “Star Fleet has the opposite problem. They have too many junior officers, so they eat their young. They drive young ensigns and lieutenants to the breaking point. A lot of good people get out, so too many narcissists make it to the mid-tier ranks. Can you image a ship full of people like your new exec, Pierre Faucheux? At least they weed out the incompetent ones.”
The Commander gave him a dirty look. “It’s not nice to talk about another ship’s crew. But ... you’re right. I don’t like him. The question is, can I work with him?” Her communicator chirped. She took the call and learned that her luggage had been transferred to the Gendarme. “Well, I’d better go make sure they didn’t break anything. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Thomas. Why don’t you go finish that conversation with Senior Chief Guzman?”
They shook hands and parted ways. Isenberg walked back to the transporter room, lost in thought. And boy did he have a lot to think about.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~