“You’re the top three candidates,” said the Empress Hoshi Sato, looking the three of them up and down, a gleam in her sloe eyes. “Reed’s dead and I need someone to run Tactical. You’ll be promoted without having to off anyone. But I expect you to get up to speed quickly. This is a new ship and you need to be able to figure it out yesterday.”
“Yes, Empress,” said one of the candidates, Chip Masterson.
“So I’ve devised a little test. We’re going to be heading past one of the moons in the Andorian System in about an hour. The three of you have until then to figure out the targeting array. Travis here will let you back onto the Bridge one at a time. Then we’ll give you each coordinates. You fire at and destroy whatever I tell you to destroy.”
“If more than one of you destroys your target,” Travis Mayweather added, “we’ll split the job and you can do shift work.”
“Travis!” Hoshi was a tad exasperated. “I am working!”
He skulked away as she continued. “If more than one of you succeeds, the job will be split.”
“And if none of us succeeds?” asked the second candidate, Aidan MacKenzie.
“You can have fun in the agony booth,” she said, “You got any questions?” she asked the third candidate, who had been silent so far.
Major Doug Hayes didn’t have questions because you just didn’t question the Empress, and you didn’t look gift horses like this one in the mouth, even though he hadn’t volunteered to be considered for the Tactical job. He knew that Reed could have lived – Doctor Phlox had said there was a fifty-fifty shot after the old Tactical Officer had been mauled by a Gorn. But Phlox had been found to be a saboteur and was killed not too long afterwards, replaced by a haughty fellow with a face that was mostly nose – Cyril Morgan. And the persistent rumor was that Morgan had taken some sort of compensation for tipping the scale and offing Reed.
And now there was an opening.
Doug had no love lost for Reed, even though the two of them had worked together. They had cooperated relatively well – a rarity on the ISS Enterprise and then on the Defiant – but that was mainly because of their differing tastes in women. Reed had chased both human and alien tail – it hadn’t mattered one whit to him – so long as the female in question was blonde. Shelby Pike, and then Jennifer Crossman, had been Doug’s targets, and neither one was blonde. And so he and Reed had, at least on the surface, gotten along, and Reed had taught him targeting on the older system.
It was an imperative that, if you wanted to get ahead, that you would eventually off your superior officer. That is, if you had any ambitions whatsoever. And Doug had had plenty, but he had become relatively comfortable as the MACOs’ CO. He hadn’t gone after Reed’s position as it offered him few benefits and more risks in a life that, almost no matter what Doug did, was destined to be short, brutal and nasty.
It was not a safe situation – the only person who was safe, most likely, was the lowest of the crewmen – probably Delacroix, who was most likely underage and rather short. He was a little Napoleon with an attitude. A guy like that could be dangerous, and getting to the top meant dealing with more and more disgruntled guys like Del. But Doug had found a way to keep Delacroix in line, by giving him just enough to do to keep him interested and little enough to keep him from getting trained in any sort of a meaningful manner.
But now it was Doug’s turn to figure something out. Doug would have to act quickly and not let his mind wander, and he’d have to make it look effortless, but it was not easy. Ignorance was never to be admitted. Hesitation was never to be tolerated. Failure was never an option. He sat in his quarters, staring into space a bit, and barely noticing as a clock display on his computer cycled past the time to the date – February thirteenth of 2155. This was not the first time he had been forced into faking things before he was truly ready. He couldn’t help thinking of how things had been, way back when.
“He’s too young, Jeremiah.”
“No, he’s not. He’s huge for his age. A month or two won’t matter.”
“It will. And it’s three months,” Lena Hayes said, “he’ll be afraid.”
Jeremiah Hayes glared at his wife for a moment. “You know as well as I do that that’s one of the Five Signs of Weakness.”
“Those rules don’t apply to children under the age of seven, and they don’t apply in a family,” she said, “You know this.”
“It doesn’t matter. I already sent the application to the Triton Day School, and he’s already been accepted.”
“You mean you falsified his records. He won’t be seven until December third.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jeremiah repeated, “Get him packed. He leaves in a week.”
What they did not see was their son, Doug, standing in a nearby doorway and listening in, clutching a stuffed toy velociraptor. He stood there and quietly cried as the clock in the hallway showed the time – twenty-one hundred hours – and the date – August twentieth, 2109.
A week later, and they still had not told him directly. The three of them sat at the breakfast table. Lena got up to go to the next room, unable to bear their last breakfast together. Jeremiah seized the opportunity to speak with his son. “Doug,” Jeremiah said, “you are going to go to school now, on Triton.”
“Will you and Mommy come with me?”
“No, we will stay here on Ganymede. A Mister Brocklehurst will take you. You are going to have to grow up now, and be a lot more independent.”
It was breakfast time, and stuffed velociraptors were banished from the table. Doug began to cry.
“You will not show weakness,” Jeremiah said sternly.
Lena rushed in. “He doesn’t understand!”
“He will learn.”
“Want, want ‘raptor!” Doug called out, between sobs.
“No!” Jeremiah fairly well thundered. “You have to put aside childish things now!”
“I’ll go get him,” Lena said, and left to look.
“You must put that aside,” Jeremiah said, “Now listen to me, Douglas. Let’s go over the first thing they are going to ask you. Do you know what that is?”
“The, the Five Signs of Weakness?”
“Yes, that’s right. Now tell me what they are.”
“I will,” Doug hesitated a little, remembering what he had recently been taught, “I will never show fuh, physical weakness.”
“Right,” Jeremiah said, “now do you know what that means?”
“I can’t tell anyone if I’m sick or I’m tired or I’m hungry or I’m hurt.”
“Or thirsty or not strong enough to do something. You just do what you have to do. You don’t know the meaning of the word can’t. What’s the next sign?”
“I will, uh, never show weakness in trade.”
“Correct. What does that mean?” Jeremiah asked his son.
“I will always get my pay, whether it’s in, um, in money, or in credit, or in food or lodging or weapons, or, uh, in girls. Uh, Daddy, what does that part mean?”
“You’ll learn that. What else does it mean?”
“It means, uh, if I do something for someone; that I always expect more than what I put in, and I make sure that they d-deliver. And if they do something for me, I give back less than what I got.”
“Very good. What’s the third sign?”
“I will never, um, I will never show weakness in, um; I will never show mental weakness.”
“What does that mean, Doug?”
“It means I never act stupid and I never admit I don’t know something and I make sure I learn what I need to know faster than anyone else.”
“Anything else?” Jeremiah prompted.
"Uh, I also keep my eyes and ears open. I make sure I learn things even if no one actually tells them to me.”
“What’s the fourth sign?”
“Um, I will never show weakness in my dealings with others.”
“I will obey my superior officers until it comes time to take their place. I will never ask for permission or forgiveness. I will never show or admit fear. I will never apologize, I will never be polite unless it’s to a superior and I will never, uh …”
Lena came back in. “I can’t find it. He can’t leave without his raptor.”
“We’ve been over this,” Jeremiah said, “He can’t take it with him. It’ll only make things worse.”
“He needs comfort. He has never been that far away from us, or for that long. Let him have his toy.”
“No,” Jeremiah was insistent, “he will be beaten up for it. Don’t you understand?” His eyes were wild and a little red, “They will tear him apart if they think they can get any sort of an advantage. Do you not get that?”
“He’s only six years old.” She glanced at her husband, realizing in that moment that he had, most likely, tossed the toy in the disposer. She backed down, knowing that she could not win that argument.
Jeremiah Hayes sighed. “It’s better this way. Doug, tell your mother the rest of the Fourth Sign of Weakness, about what it means.”
Doug bit his lower lip. “I, Mommy, it means, uh, that I, uh, that I will never say to anyone that I love them.”
The three of them stood there in silence. Lena finally said, “When you have a family of your own, you won’t have to follow that rule when it’s just you and your family together. You know I love you, baby.” She made as if to hug him but Jeremiah held her back.
“Tell me the fifth and final sign of weakness, Doug.”
“I, I don’t know.”
“It’s about justice,” Jeremiah prompted.
Doug thought for a moment, “Yeah. I, uh, I will never show weakness when it comes to justice.”
“And what does that mean?” Lena asked this time.
“It, it means I will never admit to wrongdoing. I will never confess. I will never give up information. I will never show or feel guilt. I will be able to withstand any torture. I will take what is mine and, and a lot of things will be mine when I am older.”
“Very good, baby.”
Doug remained in his tiny Major’s quarters but there was little to do to prepare, other than to get psyched up for the task to come. There were no instructions and no schematics. Those were victims of the Empress’s impatience. When they had taken over the Defiant, there had been records of their counterparts, for the Defiant was from a different universe. And the Empress had not liked how her counterpart’s life had turned out, so she had ordered that all counterpart records be wiped. But the coding was done sloppily, and there had been cascade deletions throughout the database. It was like Swiss cheese. There were no sensor logs from before, there was no information on how to fix the replicators or any of the defective sensors, and even the recipe for chicken noodle soup was gone, lost forever, as were countless useful pieces of information, including how to run the Tactical station. Doug’s job at the time had been to round up the people responsible, and turn them over to the Empress and Mayweather to do with them as they wished. Doug would not have tortured them, but that was not his call. To his mind, there was no need, as the confessions had already been secured. But he could not deny the Empress and her boy toy First Officer. He would not show any weakness in justice.
He was called to the Bridge later than the other two. He realized that as soon as he saw MacKenzie and Masterson nervously standing near the back of the Bridge and being eyed by Security. The Empress stared at him as he approached the Tactical station and its targeting computer. Doug had used the targeting computer on the old NX-01 – the Enterprise – but that was a different class of ship, and it had been constructed from stolen Vulcan schematics. This one, though, was from another universe, and it was from a good century-plus later than their time. It was certainly not the same.
But just how different could it be?
He pumped himself up for the task ahead. I will not show mental weakness. I will not show weakness in my dealings with others. These were words to live by, and to get through the next few minutes with.
He glanced around, seeing a place to punch in coordinates and another spot where there were buttons and a joy stick. Another spot had a dial. The other controls, what were they for? The joy stick was, maybe, for finesse. Perhaps the coordinates would not be granular enough, when it came to aiming? The buttons had no labels to them – they were anybody’s guess. The dial was for, er, something. And then something clicked in his head and one word sounded, clear as a bell, in his skull – compensation. Not money, but to allow for the ship’s speed, pitch, yaw and anything else that could interfere with targeting.
“Ready for coordinates,” he said, although he was anything but.
Travis said, “One mark seven five three point one mark zero five nine.”
Doug punched in the coordinates and hit the joystick. It did nothing to the coordinates so it wasn’t for aiming. It was for, what was it for?
Aha! He had an epiphany. It was for aiming the photon torpedoes.
He turned the stick to get the torpedoes aimed right at the target. “Ready to fire,” he said.
The Empress commanded, “Fire!”
He hit the most worn-down button, silently praying that it was the right one. A torpedo launched. It hit the target – the top of the cone of a volcano – and sheared it right off.
He was finally able to look up and noticed his hands were dripping with sweat. He shoved them into his pockets, onto twin handkerchiefs he kept for just that purpose. There would be no betrayal of his nervousness and fear. I will show no physical weakness. “Do you want the volcano to be completely destroyed? I could fire again.”
“No, that’s fine for now,” she said, “You’re the only one who hit anything.” She looked behind her, peeved, “Delacroix, bring MacKenzie and Masterson to the booth.”
“Uh, Empress?” Doug asked.
“Yes, Lieutenant Commander Hayes?”
No one had ever called him that before. He had apparently gotten the job.
He’d be sure to get his pay, and more than adequate rations. He would make sure to get larger quarters, too, and then Jenn Crossman would surely want to move in with him permanently. He would not show any weakness in trade.
“We will need nighttime coverage and possibly second shift coverage as well. Tactical, as you know, is a vital position. I could, if it would be all right with you, Mac could do night shift and Masterson could take second shift.” This could work, he figured. Two subordinates would mean that they would fight each other first before going after him. The chances of them cooperating to oust him were close to zero. Mac could handle late nights so that Doug could sleep – he was no spring chicken any more, and couldn’t work as many late nights as he used to. That would help, that he would not have to show a sign of physical weakness. As for Masterson, he had more finesse and would be better able to deal with potentially troublesome guys like Delacroix. I will show no weakness in my dealings with others.
The two other men glanced over anxiously. Dealings with others – Hayes would surely want something in return for such an opportunity, and for saving either or both of them from possibly dying in the agony booth at Mayweather’s overly eager hands.
I will never show physical weakness. I will never show weakness in trade. I will not show mental weakness. I will not show weakness in my dealings with others. I will never show weakness when it comes to justice.
“That’s a creative idea. We’ll do it as you suggested,” Hoshi said, “You really are the best choice. You never seem to show any weakness.”