He had seen more cheer in a graveyard.
Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed walked quietly through the corridors of Enterprise, unable to shake the feeling that he was aboard a ghost ship. Before the Vissian incident almost ten days ago, this part of the ship would have been bustling with activity despite the late hour, but now, he didn’t see anyone. It was more troubling than he wanted to admit.
Since Kelby’s demotion and the beginning of his thirty day brig sentence, crew morale had plummeted. Most of the senior enlisted personnel appeared to understand that Commander Hernandez had quite possibly prevented the chief engineer from being court-martialed and ejected from Starfleet, but the junior crewmen seemed to take his punishment as a personal affront since the general consensus (which Malcolm actually agreed with for a change) seemed to be that Kelby had been right to interfere. Overnight, the first officer became persona non grata wherever she went. Already, there were five outstanding transfer requests and, in at least one instance Reed knew about, one of Kelby’s engineers was facing a charge of insubordination.
Which was why Malcolm was now heading toward the enlisted crew lounge on D Deck.
Normally, he wouldn’t even consider setting foot in what was often called ‘lower deck territory,’ but tonight was different. Tonight, he was too worried about the state of the crew to be concerned about propriety or unspoken rules of conduct. Tonight, he was going to do the job that Captain Archer and Commander Hernandez were incapable of doing.
Tonight, he might very well be on the verge of making an enemy of every single enlisted crewman aboard.
Jaime Martinez, one of his senior-most security crewmen was standing watch outside the lounge as Malcolm approached, but to Reed’s surprise, the burly Texan simply gave him a nod and hit the wall annunciator with his fist. The door slid open with a soft hiss and Martinez jerked his head toward it.
“They’re waiting for you, sir,” he said.
“You’re later than we expected,” Petty Officer Rostov announced as Malcolm stepped into the dim lounge. The engineering lead petty officer was sitting at a table and playing cards with four other noncoms. Reed blinked, suddenly feeling like he was walking into a trap the moment he recognized the other crewmembers. There was Chef Killick, and Wu from the science department, and Hassan from flight ops, and even the recently promoted Baird from Hoshi’s linguistics team.
“Had a meeting with Commander Hernandez that ran late,” Reed replied. He pushed down his wariness and approached the table. On instinct, he pulled the rank pips from his uniform and pocketed them, noting the instant nod of approval he received from Rostov. None of them were wearing rank either, so that meant this meeting was entirely unofficial.
“And how is our lovely first officer?” Wu asked wryly. She glowered at her hand and folded.
“Concerned,” Malcolm answered. He grabbed an empty chair and dragged it to the table.
“She’s not the only one,” Rostov muttered before tossing his own cards down. “We’ve got a problem, sir,” he said flatly. “You heard about Wilcox?”
“I was the one who escorted him to the brig,” Reed replied. “He was completely out of line with what he said to the commander.”
“He also wasn’t entirely wrong,” Hassan pointed out. “Since she came aboard, Hernandez hasn’t done a very good job integrating into the command structure.”
“Your pissing contest with her hasn’t helped much,” Rostov added. Malcolm flinched at the well-earned jab before nodding silently. He really hadn’t done a very good job at helping the first officer ease into her position. If he was honest, he’d have to admit that he was harboring some deep-rooted resentment toward her since Starfleet was thinking of giving her a command when she was little more than a pencil pusher. The six months she’d been aboard Enterprise had been the longest she’d been off-world in ten years, and sometimes, she seemed greener than the rawest recruit. And that wasn’t even taking into account his dislike of her because she was there to replace a better officer with a far, far superior bum.
You’re an idiot, Malcolm Reed, he told himself. Trip would have been disgusted with him. He had one real task aboard this ship – to protect the crew – and he’d been letting them all down. Well, no more.
“The captain could do a better job too,” Baird interjected softly. He tossed his own cards onto the table, leaving Killick to reach for the pot – a stack of actual credits. “When he ignores the first officer and turns to you, the crew notices.”
“Where is Archer anyway?” Wu asked as she sipped from a coffee cup. “I never see him except when I’m doing bridge duty.”
“It’s that bloody engine of his dad’s,” Killick growled. “It’s cursed. Took two engineers already, now it’s working on a third.”
“You sound like a Boomer,” Hassan said with a laugh. “What’s next? Gremlins in the EPS manifold? How about Cochrane’s ghost haunting engineering?”
“We’re doing what we can to contain this on our end,” Rostov declared, shooting Petty Officer Hassan an exasperated look, “but we need leadership at the upper levels too.” He leaned forward. “Hernandez needs to step up and act like an officer instead of moping around like she just shot somebody’s dog.” At Malcolm’s questioning glance, Rostov continued. “You expected me to be angry at her for demoting Kelby,” he guessed.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Reed admitted. “He is your boss, after all.”
“My boss died almost nine months ago with the subcommander,” the engineering LPO retorted. “I like Kelby,” he added, “and I don’t think he was entirely wrong helping out the cogenitor the way he did, but he ignored a direct order to not get involved. Frankly, he’s damned lucky that Starfleet accepted the first officer’s decision and didn’t court-martial him instead.” Malcolm nodded in agreement.
“I’ll talk to Commander Hernandez,” he said, already dreading that conversation. They barely tolerated each other in the best of situations – she fancied herself a diplomat, and his profession existed solely to save the day when negotiation inevitably failed – but him telling her how to act as an officer? That was a recipe for disaster if ever he heard of one. It was a good thing he had several black belts.
“You also need to speak to the captain,” Rostov said. The other four petty officers nodded.
“He needs to stop hiding in his ready room,” Wu added. “I think most of the crew understands that he feels guilty about losing Tucker, T’Pol, and Cutler, but beating himself up over isn’t going to bring any of them back.”
“Space is dangerous, sir,” Hassan remarked. “We all knew the risks when we signed up.”
Malcolm glanced away, not entirely sure how he should respond to that. Part of him wholeheartedly agreed with them – Archer’s willingness to get his hands dirty and work alongside every member of his crew, no matter what their rank or station, had been a significant reason he had been an effective commanding officer. There was an openness to him that was quite appealing, and it truly seemed as if he would listen to anyone’s problems. At the same time, though, it had led to an overly casual command structure, which had very likely been fully half of the reason Trip and the subcommander argued so often. Since Archer allowed Tucker to speak his mind (even if the captain then ignored him), the chief engineer had presumed that freedom of expression applied to everyone. To Malcolm, who had grown up with harsh discipline, Archer’s previous leadership style seemed too lax, too unprofessional, too sloppy.
Who knew that he’d grow to miss it?
Now that he thought about it, Malcolm wondered why he had failed to notice the clear symptoms of post-traumatic stress in the captain. The man was slowly but surely isolating himself from any sort of effective support structure, all the while swimming in misplaced guilt over having issued the orders that sent Trip and T’Pol and then later Crewman Cutler to their deaths. No wonder Doctor Phlox was constantly pestering the captain and this certainly explained Archer’s frequent visits to sickbay. Reed made a mental note to drop by the medical bay after this meeting for a chat with the Denobulan. If anyone could offer him advice about how to help the captain, it was Phlox.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said cautiously.
“And tell Soval to stop drinking all the damned chamomile,” Killick interjected. “He’s worse than T’Pol ever was.”
“That’s because she was usually distracted by Tucker,” Wu stated with a grin. “We used to know what kind of day it was going to be by how early those two started arguing.”
“She sure liked her pecan pie, though,” Killick said fondly, the words causing all of them – including Malcolm – to give him surprised looks. “What?” he demanded. “Tucker must have gotten her hooked on it. She kept it under wraps, but I don’t think she went to bed once without having a slice in the four or five months before …” He trailed off.
“Trip, you sly dog you,” Rostov said with a broadening grin. Sensing that he had outstayed his welcome, even if this encounter hadn’t turned out the way he expected it to, Malcolm rose to his feet.
“We should do this again,” he said as he stood. “Entirely off the record, of course.” He fervently hoped that they would agree to have these sorts of informal gatherings fairly regularly. With Archer turning into the sort of distant captain who would have been at home alongside Nelson at Trafalgar, and Hernandez still struggling to gain acceptance, and Reed himself dealing with his social incompetence, there really needed to be a way to bridge the gap between officer and enlisted that would allow the command crew to be aware of any morale problems. If Trip had been here …
“Of course,” Rostov replied after a moment. He gave his fellow petty officers a quick glance before glancing up at Reed. “How’s Wednesdays sound? Say … twenty-two hundred?”
“I’ll see you then,” Malcolm answered before turning away. Now, all he had to do was figure out a diplomatic way to tell both Captain Archer and Commander Hernandez how to do their jobs. He grimaced.
Nope. No pressure at all.