Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chain Of Command

Gaming anything military-related is tricky. You have to balance the needs of verisimilitude and realism against the needs of good gaming. For example, in the real world, an officer gets to boss around his enlisted men pretty ruthlessly. In gaming, in one PC starts micromanaging the other PCs, the fun comes to a quick end. So, as players, you have to allow for a lot more flexibility and autonomy than would be allowed in reality. There are times, however, when pulling rank is completely justified.

In the Star Trek game I played in on Monday, just such a situation came up. I was in charge of a Sydney-Class shuttlecraft, with a Prime Team of 4 other PCs. Rather than tell this story all over again, I'm just going to just post here the campaign log I wrote elsewhere:

Personal Log
Lt Commander Baarrgot recording
Stardate 36883.2

While en route to Starbase 72 for a training course, the San Francisco received a distress call from a non-commissioned vessel that had been reported missing prior to Stardate 29000.0. Sensor sweeps revealed that the source of the call was relatively nearby, but no visuals could be made of it. We eventually determined that the missing ship was in orbit of a planetoid with unusual properties.

It's a rogue planetoid, with a very low albedo, which makes it extremely difficult to detect visually. On further observation, it would appear that planetoid has some form of cloaking or jamming technology as well. Significant sensor interference and innaccuracy was noted the closer our proximity to the planetoid. The "dark area" of reduced sensor capacity was roughly the size of Jupiter, though the planetoid's mass better matched that of mercury, implying the planet might be hollow or our sensors might be reading the gravity well incorrectly. Scans showed that whatever damaged this vessel was not linked to either the calamity that affected Ranald's World (as long-chain carbon molecules remained in the vessel) nor was it likely to be linked to the gravitic anomaly currently being monitored by the USS Resolute (as neither energy distortions nor the planet's calculated drift pointed in that direction).

The lost vessel was found in orbit of the planetoid, some 8 light-years away from where it had gone missing. After preliminary sensor sweeps determined it to present no immediate dangers, I dispatched the remainder of the Prime Team to board it. I remained on the San Francisco and ran additional sensor probes of the ship and the planetoid. The vessel had depressurized areas, and had clearly been abandoned. There were no lifeforms aboard, but three escape pods had been launched. Personal effects of the missing crewmen were gathered so that they could be returned to the families, and we downloaded the ship's log.

As it turns out, the distress beacon we'd picked up originated from one of those escape pods, which had crash-landed on the surface of the planetoid. As the sensor interference increased the difficulty of establishing a transporter lock, and the planet's gravity was quite light, we decided to land the San Francisco nearby and approach the escape pod on foot.

Unfortunately, there were no survivors of the disaster, at least none at this location. Lt JG Edmundson, Lt JG Fimpgeld, and a Star Fleet Ensign all perished in the impact. Lt Schultz survived the crash, but perished due to suit failure not long thereafter. States of decomposition were consistent with the crash happening very shortly after the vessel's dissapearance. Thus far we have seen no signs of the 15 scientists of the Cochrane Institute who are among the missing, nor the other two escape pods in which they presumably fled.

Lt Schultz died just outside a locked hatch on the planet, created by unknown aliens, and his PADD indicated that he was attempting a logarithmic solution to the security system. It's a quite sad tale, he was very near deciphering the lock, and had he survived a few more minutes, he may have been able to get inside. Atmosphere remains still perilously thin inside the hatch, but given the technological construction, it's possible he may have been able to locate life support controls or replenish his suit.

Extrapolating from his efforts, we were able to decode the lock on the hatch. About that time, we experienced a seismic disturbance on the surface of the planet. Additional scans taken at this time were inconclusive. We were unable to determine the cause of the quake, nor the limits of the tunnels beneath us. The possibility that the planet might be hollow and artificial could not be ignored, as that would be one fitting interpretation of the anomalies of it's mass and size. If so, the seismic activity might be some machinery within coming on-line, or even possibly the planetoid adjusting it's course. I was, however, unable to share these thoughts with my fellow officers because of the events that occurred immediately thereafter.

Within seconds of penetrating our hatch, we encountered an alien probe or maintenance robot, which appeared to originate from deeper within the facility. We attempted to make contact. Following Star Fleet protocols, I engaged the universal translator, and identified myself and my affiliation with Star Fleet. The robot scanned us, then turned and headed deeper into the facility without giving indication that it understood us. Having no other leads to additional possible survivors of the crash, we decided to follow it.

As we traveled, we passed another locked hatch. A tricorder scan revealed numerous energy signatures beyond that hatch, so we opened it. The chamber beyond contained hundreds more probes like that one. Again we attempted to establish contact. They gave no indications of understanding, but instead began to power up additional robotic probes, and transmit between themselves. Petty Officer Kim, a talented linguist, was able to decipher a portion of their code. She relayed that the probes were formulating an attack plan.

Subsection: Disciplinary Action in regards to Dr Ahwere

We concluded we were in imminent peril that could not be averted by pure diplomacy, and began acting appropriately. We fled back through the nearest hatch, which the Master Chief sealed by using a phaser to weld it shut. We quickly surmised that this wouldn't contain the probes for long, they were already attempting to break it open.

At this point, it was clear that I had three obligations.
  • Firstly, the safety of my crew was of immediate importance. I had to get them out of danger.
  • Secondly, this being a first-contact situation, I felt I should endeavor to continue to pursue diplomatic channels. Recent experience, in relation to the Brotherhood of Night, had reinforced my conviction that calmly stoic heroism is a way of impressing upon an alien race the nobility and virtues of the Federation.
  • And lastly, as a man of science, I was deeply intrigued by what we might learn from observation and interaction of these robotic entities, and their underground complex.

Given those obligations and the tense situation, I ordered the rest of the Prime Team to flee to the ship, while I would remain behind. At the very least, if hostilities could not be avoided, I would be able to buy some time for my crewmates to effect their escape. The possibility of resolving the conflict peacefully was utmost on my mind, but should the probes be only capable of assault (not friendly contact), I was prepared to set a phaser on overload and collapse the tunnel. Naturally, I would, if at all possible, do so in a way that allowed my own escape. Time was of the essence, however, and I could not spare the precious moments to explain to my crew what I intended to do. I quickly ordered their retreat, and stated I would cover it.

Their reaction was unparalleled. At first, the insistence they could not abandon me was heartwarming, a great display of loyalty. However, I'd already done the risk assessment. We were outnumbered by at least 50 to 1, and facing unknown technology, and I could not in good conscience request, nor even allow, them to make a stand. The more who remained behind, the more we would be emboldened to action to protect our comrades, and thus the greater the chance of diplomatic catastrophe. This I felt I must avert, so I repeated my command for retreat, more forcefully, and followed with the assertion "that is an order".

At this point, not only were my orders again refused, but Dr Ahwere had the audacity to threaten to use her medical authority to relieve me of command. Again I ordered, again she said threatened. All the while, the robotic probes continued to work at cutting open the hatch. The lead time I had hoped to buy for my crew's escape had been squandered by this insubordination.

Seeing now that I had no other option, I again ordered the retreat, and this time indicated I would be retreating as well. I set my phaser on overload, and placed it at a point that I felt would collapse the tunnel behind us without risk of trapping us in the tunnels. We fled to the surface, the phaser detonated, and we headed back to the San Francisco.

When we arrived at our Sydney-Class vessel, it was swarming with additional robotic probes, who were in the process of disassembling our only means of escape. Feeling that hostile contact was unavoidable, we engaged them with phasers. The probes were handily and quickly dispatched, but the fact that they were relatively easily handled here does not in any way undermine my assessment of the threat they posed earlier (in greater numbers and within their own warren).

Having now a moment to reflect on the situation, I can ask myself the difficult questions. Was their any justification to Dr Ahwere's actions? From my admittedly biased viewpoint, there were not. My actions strike me as logical, and totally fitting within my established personality. Neither were my actions suicidal, as my intent was to stall for time and attempt diplomacy, then seal off pursuit if need be. I will, of course, voluntarily submit myself for a level 1 psychological review when we return to the fleet or starbase, as any sane officer would do when those under his command question his sanity.

From Ahwere's perspective, perhaps my motives and intents were perhaps obtuse. Seeing as how the timeline of events was so truncated that I had not been able to share my own theories and observations about the planet, I cannot rule out the possibility that Dr Ahwere might also have been operating from assumptions or conclusions that had not been shared with the team.

That said, even if she had come to some secret conclusion concerning my mental health, she had not laid the groundwork necessary to invoke the medical clause for relieving an officer of their command. She had made no prior mention of any observations of abnormal behavior on my part. I was not under any stress that could be deemed to be exceptional or outside that of normal mission parameters in any hostile first contact scenario. There was no indication of alien mind control or influence. Similar selfless actions as I was attempting are a long-standing Star Fleet tradition, embodied numerous times by such luminaries as Admiral's Archer and Kirk. Disagreeing with an order does not predicate nor justify disobeying it, except in cases where the order is immoral and unjust. There are protocols that must be followed to contest an order, and Dr Ahwere made a mockery of said protocols.

She even went to far as to claim that I could not stay behind because I was the captain of the vessel. This is a ludicrous and spurious claim. The San Francisco is not officially a Star Ship; A Sydney-class vessel is categorized as a shuttlecraft. The San Francisco has no colors and commission to transfer to me, and even if she did they would not transfer to me when Commander Westmoreland sets foot elsewhere. I am not her captain, I merely had the bridge. Also of relevance is the fact that I have only seniority, not rank, over Lt Cmmdr Corazon, who was also present. Had something unforeseen rendered me hors de combat, there would still be a command-ranked officer available, and that command-ranked officer is not Dr Ahwere.

At the moment, marooned on a unknown world, and facing hostile robotics of unknown origin and capacity, I have no choice but to keep Dr Ahwere on the duty roster. I have no brig to confine her to, and a noticeable shortage of staff. However, it will be my recommendation to Commander Westmoreland and to Fleet Command that a reprimand and demotion be entered into her permanent record. Her action not only constitute a gross dereliction of duty, they also jeopardized the safety of her comrades and directly contributed to the extent of the damages inflicted upon the San Francisco. I dare say they were but two hairs shy of Mutiny, and one hair shy of Incitation to Mutiny. They do not reflect well upon herself, Prime Team or Star Fleet.

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