Self-Diagnostics by Nerys Ghemor

Say what you want about Sydney Satterwhite--but don't say it about her family!  In her first weeks as captain of the Adirondack, Sydney teaches a young man a lesson about what family really means.

This story was originally intended as an entry to the "Borrowed Toys" contest, and uses IntrepidSovereign's characters.  Thank you to IS for allowing me to write and post this, and thank you for naming the story!

Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: Ensemble Cast - USS Adirondack
Genre: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 4019 Read: 1085 Published: 18 Jul 2010 Updated: 18 Jul 2010

1. Self-Diagnostics by Nerys Ghemor

Self-Diagnostics by Nerys Ghemor

It’s not polite to eavesdrop.  Then again, when you hear your own name, that’s got a pull to it as powerful as Aladdin rubbing the genie’s bottle.  And really, how are you not going to be just a teensy bit curious as to what the crew’s thinking of you, at the beginning of your first command?

Okay, maybe I was a little more than a teensy bit curious.

It started out as pretty standard stuff, really—a couple of ensigns poking through the public version of my service record, sifting through the facts like a couple of old-style paleontologists sifting bits of bone from the rock on a dig.  Which wouldn’t have done any harm ordinarily…sure, they’d inevitably put some of the pieces together in the wrong configuration, but time and experience would disabuse them of most of their errors.  There were a few, though, where one simply couldn’t afford to wait.  The error the second-shift flight controller—Ensign McQuillan—made was one of them.

“You know where that is, right?” he was saying to Ensign Fujikawa.  “Right smack in the middle of redneck country.  I’ve heard they still have Terra Primers in some of the real backwater towns...and what a bunch of superstitious head cases those people are; would you believe some of them still think other species are the spawn of hell?”

Ensign Fujikawa gave a nervous laugh and shook his head; no words emerged, though.  His eyes darted from side to side—seeming to feel, maybe, that there was something wrong with the tone the conversation was taking. 

McQuillan, for his part, was absolutely heedless.  “Bet she was ecstatic to get out of there…I mean, can you imagine having to live in that primitive, misogynistic—”

That did it.  I shot right out of my seat and locked in a direct course for their table.  Almost literally beside myself, I heard myself saying, “I would strongly advise you to belay that right now, mister, because that dog ain’t gonna hunt.”

“Ma’am—Captain—I only meant—”

“Meant what?”  Then, just as McQuillan opened his mouth to answer, I held up a hand.  “No…scratch that.  I neither need nor want to know how you planned to finish that sentence.  What you have said is quite enough.  Apparently it never occurred to you that I might not be running from my roots, that I might be proud of the place and people that gave me life, and I wouldn’t trade them in for anything.  Not my family, not my community, not any of it.”    

I hadn’t managed to get that hot about something in a long time…and there was a time in my life when a remark like McQuillan’s would have been enough for me to let slip the dogs of war.  And now—I was the captain, and I could practically hear Sutek reminding me that as commanding officer, I lacked the luxury to indulge in emotionally-driven decision-making when it came to not just the physical safety but the careers of those who served under my command.  It didn’t matter how badly I wanted to throttle Mr. Tolerance and Sunshine in any number of literal and figurative ways.  No, I needed a much more sophisticated response than that.

First, I needed to buy myself a little time.  This was going to take a little creativity, and I needed to think on it.  “McQuillan—I will see you in my ready room at exactly 0600.”  For a moment, the young man looked like he was going to protest, but wisely shut his mouth.  “Dismissed.

I said nothing to Fujikawa, but met his eyes with a long, searching look that made it clear that next time he ought to listen a bit more carefully to that little voice that had been telling him he might be tying a millstone around his neck by letting those sorts of remarks go without any kind of challenge or objection.

As I stalked back out of the crew lounge, I let out a tiny groan to myself.  I was not looking forward to 0600.  My only consolation was that the second-shift flight controller had to be looking forward to it even less.


I’d been fuming about it all the way back to the turbolift and all the way to the holodeck to take a hot, steaming, ‘real’ water shower—well, as real as it gets aboard a starship these days.  Not a good sign…barely into my first command and already pining for home comforts.  Well, it was completely understandable—that’s exactly what McQuillan had tried to cut right out from under me with his thoughtless remarks.

That’s not right, I admitted to myself.  The kid hadn’t gone and tried to step in it with his captain.  Heck, he’d actually thought he was commiserating with me.  He’d felt bad for what he’d assumed was an unfortunate background.

The problem was the great big assumption—accent on the first syllable—that he’d made.  It’s true, there was a long time when the soil there was watered by sweat and tears squeezed out of those who didn’t want to be there.  That includes the first of my ancestors to bear the name Satterwhite.  And real peace was a long time coming after that.  It took a lot to get there.  Even after the abuses ended, breaking the cycle of mutual mistrust had taken much longer. 

In that interlude, Satterwhites went up from the old land, and came back to it, this time with deed in hand.  And this time, as my twentieth-century kin took that unloving, unloved place, and poured their hearts and their dreams into it and made it live new life, the sweat that fell upon that earth was like the tangible relic of grace.  They took it and made it their home.  That’s what McQuillan didn’t understand: all the pain was in that place, yes, but so was all the love and all the memories we made there and we’re still making today—and you can’t tell me that pain rules over love in this universe, no matter how much it feels some days like it’s trying.  And try is all it can do.

For those first Satterwhites…that old place was anything but home.

But their later progeny, and their children and their children…

We.  Made.  Home.

Sure—the Third World War came and tried again to take that home away from us, and from lots of others around us.  The cities burned and the chaos came—they don’t call it the Post-Atomic Horror for nothing.  And believe me, the horror came, as every old beast of humanity woke up like one of the nuclear-fueled movie nightmares.  Every kind of ugliness had come back to life, but in the midst of that, those old Satterwhites never forgot the power of that dream.  And they, and others like them, wealthy and humble types both, each with their own mix of dreams, pain, and love, opened their doors to those huddled masses.

Then the Vulcans came.  What had united all of humanity in the end, perhaps, was that its sense of otherness had shifted outward with the first contact…whether this is a cynical or idealistic truth depends very much on who’s telling the story.  And then, as we discovered more about the species inhabiting the space in which we lived, that sense shifted outward even further as we discovered among the peoples they were coming to know an astonishing variety within each world…some of which bore such a striking resemblance to the variations known on Earth, each with their own joys and tragedies and stories to tell that there could no longer be any doubt: all of it had both purpose and beauty.  Some even spoke of it in terms of a miracle, where such things could be spoken of openly.

But some people had clearly forgotten that the seeds of that peace and that dream had been sown before the Vulcans.  All they remembered was what they learned in school, and most of it wasn’t pretty.  Primitive.  Insular.  Backwards.  Angry.  Hurt.  Sad.  That’s all the adjectives they really knew, and those are some pretty heavy tags to hang on a whole lot of people who have come a long way together since then.

What I know is that my ancestors and so many other people’s ancestors back in the Carolinas and all across the South—where fewer bombs fell—were helping to sow those seeds of peace there in that house, as people in our communities answered the call with their very best Southern hospitality, taking in those who were in need.  And it didn’t matter who they were, where they came from.  We built all of that together—Satterwhites and all the other families there.  And it happened in other towns too…and finally, that nuclear fallout the aggressors had thought would break us all broke the cycle instead.

My family.  My community.  My home.

I know my story, and I’m not gonna turn my back on that.

And as that water streamed down on my head and sent those bubbles and suds and everything else down that holographic drain, I understood.  And I had a little revelation.


“Mister McQuillan—at ease.”

Two more oxymoronic words have hardly been spoken.  Everybody knows full well that ‘at ease’ means anything but.  Starfleet isn’t exactly big on formalities, and when you drag them out and dust them off, everyone knows it means something serious.  Then again, you could say he started it, coming in and immediately standing before me at full attention.  

God, it still weirds me out to see people snap to like that for me.  Even as XO it was weird and now it’s doubly so since when I’m standing here in this office, it’s all my show now, no one else above me whose reputation I might imagine commands such respect.  I know this is part of the role.  But that doesn’t stop it from feeling weird.

So I let him relax—physically, anyway…wouldn’t do to have the first time I called sickbay be because I made the kid fall out on me, now would it?

“You already know why you’re here?” 

It wasn’t really a question, but I had this distinct feeling that even if he thought he understood the answer in his head, that he really didn’t in his heart.  That’s the way it is for a lot of us humans now, in the interstellar age.  I think we feel the shortness of our lives compared to some of our neighbors—Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians, to name a few, and it puts us in a perpetual headlong rush…always ahead, always towards what’s new, new, new.  And especially the kind of people who wind up in Starfleet…they never look back.  Some of them even look upon the past with contempt.

That’s always made the Satterwhites odd ducks.  It didn’t used to…not to the extent it does now.  We’re old-school—service is a tradition for us, and one worth following wherever the need is.  We haven’t forgotten where home is, or why it’s important. 

McQuillan gave a spasmodic nod to my question.  “Yes, Captain.  I spoke out of turn, sir.”

I tried not to wince.  I hated being called ‘sir.’  But I had bigger fish to fry at the moment—no sense getting hung up over the (comparatively) small stuff.  I needed all of my control right now…if I was going to get the point across, it wouldn’t be by intimidating the young man to the point where he’d shut himself off out of fear.  I kept my voice low, my tone as level as I could.  “Let me ask you something, Ensign.  Would you have made a crack like that about the world one of the non-human members of the crew came from, or the people they grew up with?”  Whether he would’ve thought it was irrelevant…at this stage in my plan.  Whether he would’ve checked himself—that was.  You can get at the actions by confronting someone, but a person’s thoughts—that has to be done gently because nobody, myself included, likes the thought of another person trying to open up their skull and give their brains a stir.

That pale, pale Irish skin seemed almost transparent before the onrush of blood.  “You’re right.  I wouldn’t have said that.”

“Why not?”

I had a feeling I knew the answer he’d give me—the Academy diversity professors are pretty stringent on this point…and if you don’t pass their course, you don’t graduate.  “Because I don’t know what their world is really like.  Even if I’ve seen it, I don’t have the upbringing, or the mindset.”

“It’s the same way for humans, Mister McQuillan, even amongst ourselves.”  I could’ve turned it into a lecture from there, but there was no need.  Besides…this problem wasn’t going to be solved by getting him to know me or where I came from.  It meant the world to me, yes, but it wasn’t about me…it was about what he needed to learn for himself. 

“I’ve got a project for you.”  Boy, I had to struggle not to add ‘young man’ or ‘son’ to the end of that sentence, because those Academy graduates looked more and more like kids with every new post I took.  “I want you to tell me where you come from.  I want to know where your family came from, what they did from generation to generation, and how all of that brought you here.  I want you to really go digging, Ensign—even better if you can get some interviews.”  Nothing in his records had suggested any estrangements with his family, so I figured I was safe doing that…I would never have asked it otherwise.  “Be thorough.  You’ve got one week to complete it and come back here and give me a full oral report on what you’ve learned.”

Ensign McQuillan looked like a deer caught in the headlights.  His eyes screamed a befuddled What?! though he did his best to keep his face neutral.  “I…ah…will still work my normal shift, Captain?”

“You will, Ensign.”  I wanted him to learn this lesson, yes, it was going to cut into his social life, yes…but I was not about to put an involuntary relief from duty on his record.

Something like relief coursed through him—replaced by a different sort of confusion.  Where do I start?  And why?  If he really did this right, he’d learn soon enough. 

“Yes, sir.”  Like an involuntary tic, I almost winced again.

“Be back here this same time in one week, and be ready to present.  Dismissed, Ensign.”


“So…”  I leaned back in my chair like an executive from before the Third World War.  “Tell me about yourself.”  Sweetie.

I’d thought about letting him use the computer or the holodeck for his presentation like so many people did these days—but this wasn’t about technological crutches.  This was about tradition, and a lot of the best traditions on Earth got passed down the old-fashioned way, by word-of-mouth.  Ensign McQuillan would have nothing to lean on but his own research and his own heart, and that was just the way it needed to be for this to mean anything.  And if he really followed through on the spirit of the assignment…well, I couldn’t help myself.  I’d done my research that night right after my hot-water holodeck shower, and I knew what his studies should’ve revealed.  I’d known it before I even posed the assignment.

Already McQuillan’s entire way of carrying himself seemed…changed.  Muted, maybe.  I wasn’t sure what that meant yet.  His story would tell the rest—what he included, what he held back.  Or tried to.  He was going to face it one way or the other, that much was sure.

“My name is Aidan McQuillan.  I was born and raised in New York City.”  Defiant.  Proud.  And he had the traces of an accent to back that impression up.  “My mom comes from Manhattan—so does most of the rest of her family.  They weren’t there continuously, of course—most of the ones who tried that got scattered to the winds in World War III...either got out or got blown up when the nukes started flying.  Mom’s family…the Sullivan-McKnights…most of them had fled the city and they settled temporarily in Albany.  It’s a good thing they went upwind of New York and Philly—the ECON blew those cities so bad that they had people dying of cancer all the way to the Jersey Pinelands.  But after the First Contact, when the Vulcans started helping out with the cleanup, they went back to do their part.  There are a lot of engineers in the family to this day thanks to all the work they did.  Like my brother Owen.”

For awhile, Ensign McQuillan expounded upon the exploits of the Sullivan-McKnights, all the way from the 24th century back to the early 20th when their ancestors—mostly Irish though like a lot of Americans, with a good helping of “something else” thrown in for good measure—boarded boats from their native countries and made the dangerous crossing to America, and faced scorn from some upon their arrival.  From there they’d gone on to prove all of that wrong…it was a very familiar story, a very American story that I, just like many from that part of the world, could identify with.  He was proud of it, and rightly so.

His dad’s family—now that was more of an afterthought than anything.  “The McQuillans…well, the most recent ones were colonists who left for Gault in the 2330s.  That was really something—they staked the entire colony on a couple thousand people on just a few ships, and they built that colony out of nothing.”  I leaned forward, hoping to send the ensign a signal of interest…one he blithely ignored.  “Of course, Granddad ended up going into Starfleet, met my grandmother on the Shras, and when they separated from Starfleet they wound up in New York, and that was that.”

I smiled sweetly, feigning ignorance.  “So…the McQuillans…what else did you find out about them?  They didn’t just pop into existence on a ship headed for Gault.  They had to have come from somewhere…”

“Kentucky,” he mumbled.

“Oh?  Where in Kentucky?”

“Happy, Kentucky.  In the Appalachians.”  He squirmed with embarrassment at the name of the place.  Now we were getting to the good stuff…wrestling the facts out of him from this point forward was going to be like wrestling an alligator, but well worth it in the end.

“And when did the family first leave Kentucky?”

“Not until the twenty-third century.  That’s when some of them got out, and went to Gault.”

I nodded in my most matter-of-fact manner.  “‘Got out’…you make that sound like hitting the end of a prison sentence.”  Then I cornered him.  “Is there something wrong with where they were?” 

And don’t feed me the whole spiel on what a terrible little hole they came from, because you know as well as I do that the Vulcans were nothing if not thorough, and if your ancestors decided to stay in the mountains, it’s because they had what they’d decided they needed, whatever their informed decision was, and they damn well wanted to live there, thank you very much.  And before then?  Don’t play that game, honey.

“Okay,” he mumbled, exasperated and humiliated all at once.  “You’ve got me.  I come from a bunch of hillbillies.  I shouldn’t have made those comments.”

Ohhhh, no you don’t, I thought.  I’m not gonna let you get away that easy.  “Well, if your comments about my ancestors are bothering you now…how about what you just said about your own?  What was it you were saying about people where I come from?  Backwater, superstitious Terra Primers?  Is that how you feel about yourself?  You may have been raised in New York, son, but you’ve got another heritage too, and if you think the only way it’s shaped you is in some sort of reaction against it…then it’s time for me to tell you a story.

“I’m going to tell you about the people who live in those mountains, where they come from, because I’ve studied all parts of the South, not just the ones where my family lives.  Those people were the ultimate pioneers.  Those people were really going where no European had gone before, and where they couldn’t be reached easily by the outside world, until the rest of the world caught up with them.  They were proud, traditional, and independent…they had music and art, a whole lot of faith, and some of the most beautiful territory in America to go with it.  Did they make their mistakes?  Oh, yes.  Did they have their challenges and did they have to struggle to carve out their place in the world?  Definitely.  Nobody’s minimizing that…they went through a lot over the years, and some of it was painful.

“But let me ask you something,” I said, but my mouth was going like a monorail of monologue and not about to stop.  “Why are you proud of what your Kentucky ancestors did when they settled Gault and ‘built it out of nothing,’ but ashamed of what they did when they settled in Appalachia and lived there?  Weren’t they acting out of that same spirit?  Didn’t one generation influence the other to do something great?  And what about all the stranded travelers the people of the mountains took in, during World War III?  You don’t think they had nothing to give, do you?  And even if they didn’t have a lot, why should that matter to you?  Your Manhattan ancestors may have depended on the generosity of people like them up in New York state—people who still remembered how to take care of themselves and were willing to share that with others.

“It’s good to be proud of New York.  That’s part of you…that’s shaped you.  But so have the mountains.  You’ve got a family to be proud of there, too.  Don’t turn your back on yourself, Aidan McQuillan.”

Poor boy…he was a bright shade of red—he fought within himself for a word and couldn’t seem to find one.  Great, Sydney…you break it, you buy it!  I wasn’t a counselor…heck, I wasn’t even a medical doctor like Vannah.  Had I gone one bridge too far?

“Please pull up a chair,” I said in a tone that made it clear this request bordered on a command.  He didn’t need to be standing there anymore, not with everything tumbling around in his mind and heart.

Finally he locked eyes with me.  “I’ve been such an idiot, Captain.”

“I don’t think you have,” I replied at length.  “I think maybe you just didn’t have all the right information.”  I paused, still maintaining a façade of sternness.  “There is something you might still be able to do.”

“What’s that?”

“I think you still have a great grandmother McQuillen alive on Gault.  What is she…100?  110?”

McQuillan nodded, his head bobbing up and down like a lure down on the old catfish pond.  “112, to be exact.”  And there was a little pride again, and justifiably so.

Finally my entire body relaxed and I allowed myself a real smile. “Don’t you think her parents would’ve told her stories about home back on Earth?  I bet you would just make her year if you called her up and asked her to tell you some.  That’s not an order, but let me tell you, sugar, it’s a damn good suggestion.”

Ensign McQuillan looked up from his folded hands and met my eyes.  “I think I will, Captain.”

“That’s good,” I said.  “You’re free to go.  Oh…and don’t forget to tell me how it goes!”

At last the young man found a smile again within himself, as he stood.  “Is that an order, Captain?”

“No…”  I gave a sly Cheshire-Cat grin.  “But it certainly won’t hurt you any, if you know what I mean.”

“Will do, ma’am.”

“Very good!” I tossed his way as he slipped gratefully out the door.  There was no way to know until it happened, of course…but now that the big ‘confrontation’ was over, I have to tell you, it felt good to know that maybe I gave a young man half of his self back.

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