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Three Strikes...

Posted on Tue Sep 21st, 2021 @ 8:38pm by Fleet Admiral Sturnack & Rear Admiral Joshua Whitford & Commander Marlena Glenn & Captain Jocelyn Blake

Mission: Episode 2: 18th and Constitution
Location: Communications Wing - Starfleet Command
Timeline: Mission Day 7 at 1200

The litter of PADDs covering Jocelyn’s desk all, essentially, bore the same information. It had been only a little more than 24 hours since FNN had released their piece attacking Starfleet’s approach to the bombing of the embassy.

And using my own words to do it, she found herself thinking, grimly. Harris Zhao’s piece swirled in her head, all but memorized by now.

A headache was building behind her eyes, and she quickly drew her fingers up to the bridge of her nose, rubbing between her eyes--her fingers causing her glasses, plain black rims today, to bob up and down with the movement of her fingers.

She and Jordan had spent much of the day prior evaluating the media climate, looking for evidence of how long this thing would last before something else would replace it. Frustratingly they hadn’t been able to pinpoint a clear end, nor an ally they could call on to help them turn the eyes and ears of readers in a different direction.

The Chalvana System’s crisis, despite her best efforts, remained a footnote. Something that made her both furious and extremely sad in turns. If anyone deserved the attention of the collective interstellar readers and watchers it was a system facing a manufactured crisis and working against time to save and secure as many as possible.

They had spent the morning in the same mode, scanning PADDs for updates to the news coverage, evaluating trends and responses using local sources to identify the response rate of those responding to FNN’s piece. If anything, it had grown legs since the day prior, and the theory--no matter how incorrect--was now being posited across several news outlets, the majority in reputable standing.

Never, in the history of her time in a media role, had she wished for something to be covered by The Galactic Dredge and yet here she was craving a questionable outlet to point to so that she could begin to turn the tide of the conversation.

The only positive through the whole thing had been the silence of Rear Admiral Whitford. After the news had hit she had been fully expecting a thorough tongue lashing from the acting CinC. He had been clear that responsibility fell to her on this and the article had diverged heavily from what she had told him to expect. Yet, she hadn’t heard a thing from him. Perhaps he was truly agreeing to wait out the storm until this, too, passed. She could, at least, hope.

If wishes were horses, though...

Blake's communicator chittered. "Glenn to Blake. Listen, there isn't much time. You know who is on his way down there. He's not at all happy and...Joce, I think today might be the day. I'm so sorry. I'm doing everything I can from my end." It was the voice of Commander Marlena Glenn, the CinC's Aide-de-Camp, who'd been assisting Whitford while he was standing in for Fleet Admiral Sturnack.

Jocelyn's stomach dropped at the other woman's words. She didn't know what doing all she could meant and she wasn't sure she would get a chance to find out.

"Where is she?" seethed a voice from outside of Blake's office, cutting short Marlena's communique. A low reply came from the aide stationed outside. "Yeah, I don't care what she's currently doing. I'm going in," said the voice, nasally and commanding all at the same time.

The door burst open and in strode Rear Admiral Joshua Whitford. "I told you this would happen. Told you this would be the response. You can't count on the press to be level headed and factual about these things. They're vultures, Blake. And they're circling above right now, waiting to peck at your dead corpse. And you know what?" Whitford sneered. "I'm going to feed you to them. You're fucking fired. Don't worry about your things. We'll pack them up for you. I want you out of here. Now. In fact..."

Jocelyn had been stone-faced on Whitford's entrance into her office, but as he spoke she felt as though the entire floor had dropped out from under her. Blood rushed to her cheeks as embarrassment and anger played across her face before she spoke.

"Sir, there..."

He didn't even hear her.

Whitford poked his head out of the small office, not waiting for Blake to speak. "Hey, both of you," he gestured to the two Starfleet Security agents protecting the Communications Bullpen. "Come here. You see this woman?" he ducked back inside, pointing to Jocelyn. "She no longer works here. See that she runs, not walks, out of this building."

The two security officers exchanged confused looks but they'd received an order from the Top Brass. All they could do was follow it. "Captain? If you'll come with us, please," one of the men said. The other gestured towards the exit from the Bullpen beyond. "We'll escort you off premises, ma'am," he nodded.

Fuming now, Jocelyn stepped back into her office picking up a photo frame of her parents and the coffee tumbler Sturnack had given her. Somehow she doubted Whitford would give particular care to her belongings.

Her mouth pressed into a thin angry line she glared at the man who had so unceremoniously decided to ask for and then ignore her advice, using it instead to remove her from her position. Fury made her back straight as she walked, chin tipped up and shoulders back. He could fire her, but she wouldn't give him the benefit of seeing her react.

With a sharp nod to the two bemused security officers she turned and followed them on what felt like the longest walk down the hall. Finally they reached the entrance standing to either side of the doors as she exited.

People were staring now as she clutched her frame and her tumbler to her chest. And so she moved as quickly as possible, eyes locked to the ground ahead of her, through the lobby and out the door, nearly hitting a run as she spilled out into the pathway beyond.

Angry tears were spilling down her face by then, clouding her vision and making her clench her teeth in an effort to keep from sobbing.

She should have known he would do this.

She should have known.

A quiet whirring approached from the right. "Captain Blake," came a calm voice from the same direction. It was Fleet Admiral Sturnack, who'd spent the better part of the last week recuperating in the hospital. The embassy bombing had left him impaled in multiple places and partially severed his spine. Which perhaps explained why the Vulcan wasn't on his feet, as one would expect of a returning dignitary. No, the Admiral was hover-chair bound, moving forward thanks to the anti-grav lift in his chair, controlled by the lever he was manipulating with his right hand.

"Captain Glenn informed me of Admiral Whitford's intent to fire you. I assume," the Vulcan said coolly, regarding Jocelyn's state, "that he has already enacted such plans?" The question was, of course, rhetorical. "I apologize that I was unable to arrive sooner. The medical staff was...not disposed towards my early release. And yet, I felt it necessary to arrive as quickly as possible." Which probably explained why he was in a hover-chair instead of walking, which Sturnack's doctors had promised he'd be able to do by the end of his stay.

Jocelyn whirled at the sound of Sturnack's voice her eyes widening and her stomach twisting. No no no no no. She did not want him to see this. Not after he had put so much faith in her to do this job. Not after... she shoved the image of the man trapped beneath the rubble that had been haunting her for the last week from her mind.

"Sir," she said, her voice choked, a small sob following. "I'm so sorry. I did what I thought was right, but... Admiral Whitford did not agree."

She wrapped her arms around her torso, tucking tumbler and picture frame under her arms on each side. " I'm sorry. You should not have left Starfleet Medical early because of me. It's already done."

"When you are the Commander-in-Chief," Sturnack began, neutral as always, "there are no plans made that cannot be unmade. Follow me, Captain," the Vulcan ordered, whirring his chair towards the entrance. Placing his palm on the outer reader, the door swung open, allowing both himself and Blake ingress into the building. He did not care that people were rising to their feet as they passed. Sturnack did not care that people were outright staring at the vision of himself in a hover chair. He simply kept moving forward until -- bypassing a mouth-agape Officer Bob -- he'd entered the accessible-sized turbolift in the lobby.

Once Jocelyn entered and the doors closed in front of them -- giving them privacy -- Sturnack looked up at the woman at his side. "You should understand that I am not riding to your rescue. Because, in fact," the Vulcan arched an eyebrow, "no rescue should be necessary. I am not intending to remove your agency or sabotage your ability to fight your own battles. I left word that you were not to be harassed. And now," he almost sounded annoyed, "I've heard such orders were not carried out. Regardless of what you may or may not have done," Sturnack reached up to manually activate the lift controls, "I hope you understand why I am doing this." He wanted Jocelyn to understand that this wasn't chivalry or coming to the need of a damsel in distress. This was a course correction against Whitford that should not have needed to be made.

She had followed along behind him like a ghost, white faced and eyes red-rimmed. He may not have cared about the spectacle, but she couldn't help a flush of embarrassment creeping up the back of her neck. As the stepped into the lift Whitford's words of dismissal echoed through her head, stiffening her spine once more and shooting anger through her gut.

Sturnack's voice drove her back down to reality, the neutrality of it shifting as he spoke--notes of irritation standing out starkly. She was suddenly very aware of the two of them in that moment, anger and embarrassment, and relief...

She nodded her understanding, not entirely trusting herself yet to speak as the turbolift shifted into motion. Deciding a moment later that was not enough she added, "Thank you, sir."

The Fleet Admiral merely nodded, continuing to face forward as the lift shot upward, opening its doors on one of the uppermost floors of the complex. Sturnack operated the controls of his chair, driving the small hovercraft out into the hubbub beyond. As the Vulcan led the way, faces turned and could not help but stare. The CinC believed logic dictated their responses, which no doubt included questions like Is he back then? What's with the chair? Will he be OK? etc. He offered no answers as his chair whirred past various desks and then through the bullpen itself. It wasn't long before Sturnack had arrived in the reception area of his office.

"Sir!" Marlena stood suddenly, barely hiding the smile on her face. "Welcome back! Are you..." she struggled for the right word but finally decided on "ready?" She referred, of course, to the storm his sudden appearance would no doubt create with Whitford in the office beyond.

"I am," the Vulcan replied placidly, whirring forward again. The doors to his office whisked open, revealing the Rear Admiral sitting at the Commander-in-Chief's desk. "Greetings, Rear Admiral," Sturnack said calmly, coming to a stop halfway on approach to his desk.

Whitford had been about to complain to Marlena over the intercom; something about giving a heads up before allowing people to come in. But when the Rear Admiral realized the interloper was Sturnack himself, his blood grew viscous as it chilled. "A-Admiral," he began in a stutter, standing up from the desk. "I hadn't realized you'd been discharged, sir. W-welcome back," he said, gesturing at the chair he'd just vacated.

"Fleet Admiral," Sturnack corrected the man. Technically, "Admiral" was used rather informally for anyone who'd achieved a rank amongst the Admiralty, regardless of official title. But Sturnack, it seemed, was not one for informality at the moment. "Thank you for the welcome," he said neutrally, letting the comment hang in the air as Blake and Marlena both followed him into the office. "I have been informed of your actions this afternoon with regards to Captain Blake," the Vulcan said, his face the most placid of lakes. "Captain Blake will not be leaving our service today. I believe you set her a rather impossible task with the hopes that she would fail, as anyone in her position no doubt would, given the situation."

Whitford suddenly went from cowed to incensed. "She deserves to be let go," he bit past his goatee, spittle flying. "Since even before her first day, she's been nothing but an albatross hanging around our necks. And here we are, days past the explosion, and the sheer tonnage of baggage she comes with is still hampering us. Do you really want Captain Cu--offee," he changed his wording midstream given who he was talking to, "over here playing ball at our expense?" Whitford said, pointing harshly at Blake.

"Oooh. Captain Coffee. I like that," Marlena positively beamed. "Can I be 'Commander Creamer?'" she asked, not bothering to hide her smirk.

Jocelyn stood next to Marlena and, despite her best efforts to remain calm and collected, flinched as Whitford launched into his diatribe. It was the flinch of someone expecting to be hit, who knows the blow is coming and can't stop it. So when he stumbled over the unnecessarily ugly name calling he clearly had in mind, it was a bit like whiplash to hear him stammer out something entirely benign. She let out one, almost panicked, laugh before clamping her lips shut--aware of how immensely unprofessional that was and yet unable to really help herself. The adrenaline of the experience was starting to wane and she felt hands shaking.

An utterly inappropriate thought ran across through her mind and she counted her luck that Whitford was still going toe-to-toe with Sturnack, because she wasn't sure it wouldn't have come flying out of her mouth otherwise.

"Commander..." Sturnack warned quietly, indicating that Marlena had breached the line of professionalism. He did not, however, address the laugh that had come from Blake.

"Apologies, Fleet Admiral," the woman said in reply. "Won't happen again, sir."

The Vulcan simply nodded in response before turning his attention back to Whitford. "You have served Starfleet well over the past three decades, Rear Admiral. My predecessor spoke very highly of you, despite my personal...concerns," he chose the word with the utmost care, "with your leadership style. However," Sturnack continued, "it has become apparent to me that my initial concerns may have proven correct."

"Are you firing me?" Whitford asked in disbelief, his anger ebbing and giving way to embarrassment and fear. "I promise, sir, I was just trying to look out for this administration. I play ball hard, I realize," he gulped, some degree of cowing mixed into his tone, "but it's always done with the intent to elevate this administration."

"Were that so, Rear Admiral," Sturnack replied languidly from his hover-chair, "you would have set your sights on working with Captain Blake rather than against her. 'Now is the time for unity.' You once said these words to me. And yet, your actions speak very differently. However," he drew himself stiffer, "I will not be firing you today, Rear Admiral. There is important work yet for you to do and a replacement needed with immediacy often bears bad fruit. However...Marlena," he turned to his aide-de-camp, "what is the human aphorism for making all potential paths available to me?"

"Keeping your options open, sir," Marlena nodded back, still half-smirking.

"Yes," Sturnack confirmed, turning back to Whitford. "I will be keeping my options open for the time being. Until then, I believe you owe the Captain an apology. We will wait until you are ready to give it." Steepling his fingers out front, the Vulcan placidly regarded Whitford with expectation.

It wasn't what Whitford wanted to say. Not by a long shot. But with Sturnack here, reclaiming his authority, there was little the Rear Admiral could do beyond follow the order. That didn't mean he had to like it. Nor did it mean he might not find other ways to push his own agenda. But for now, he would cow. "Captain Blake," he said, his voice level, "I have been unprofessional in my dogging of you and have spoken rather unkindly. Please accept my apology." It sounded heartfelt but -- as a political bulldog -- Whitford was used to sounding one way while thinking another. And sure enough, he was thinking plenty about his own next steps.

Jocelyn stood, back straight, staring off to some unfixed point just beyond the Rear Admiral's shoulder. She couldn't look him in the eye, but she'd be damned if she would look away either. So she fixed a point near him and stared, chin high, as he delivered his apology. She knew she was meant to trust the sincerity in his voice, but she also knew that there was no universe in which Rear Admiral Joshua Whitford felt an ounce of regret for his actions towards her. Regret, perhaps, for being called out--for being caught in the act--but for the way he had treated her? No. There would be no true regret there.

When he finished she gave him one, small nod, eyes darting quickly to his face before returning to the unfixed distance behind him. "Thank you," she said, her voice cold--no amount of thanks found in the emotion of her voice even as her words delivered the appropriate response.

"Well then," Whitford nodded, his eyes sliding away from Blake to Sturnack, "I imagine you'll be wanting your office back? Tried to keep it tidy and neat for you, sir," the Rear Admiral offered a roguish smile that was also not-at-all sincere. The grin on his face was completely dissonant from the coldness in his eyes. "I'll let you get back to your homecoming, Admiral. At some point, we should touch base on a few things that have been happening since we talked yesterday. Marlena, can you..."

"Yes," Glenn nodded, "I'll coordinate your schedule with the CinC's. We'll get you both together as soon as the Admiral is settled back in." The woman still looked mildly amused, no doubt enjoying Whitford's position, but she maintained a respectful tone in her reply.

"Was there anything else before I go, sir?" Whitford asked, picture-perfect in his posture and tone.

"Dismissed, Rear Admiral," Sturnack said, offering the barest of waves towards the door.

Once Whitford had collected a few PADDs and other items, the man had gone, leaving Sturnack, Glenn, and Blake alone in the office. It was the Vulcan who eventually broke the silence left in Whitford's wake.

"I suppose," Sturnack steepled his fingers, "if you are Captain Coffee," he intoned to Blake, "and you are Commander Creamer," he said to Glenn, "then I must be Fleet Admiral Almond Milk. Together, I do believe we make quite the latte?" The fact that he even attempted a joke was, perhaps, a sign that he'd spent an inordinate amount of time with humans. Even so, the intent was clear: he was trying to lighten the mood. Sturnack sagged back into his hover chair then, no longer needing to present a show of strength.

Jocelyn's eyes widened at Sturnack's comment. It was an awfully close echo to the utterly inappropriate thought she has shoved to the back of her head when Whitford first trotted out the moniker. At first, as the joke landed, it took her a moment to process, but then she couldn't help herself. All of the tension and emotion and frustration had to find some way out and it did so with a completely unprofessional girlish giggle. The giggle turned to a full laugh and the laugh to something much deeper until tears streamed down her face. She held a hand over her mouth lightly as though she could somehow stem the tide of slightly hysterical emotional laughter, finally, catching her breath managing. "I am so sorry. That... just... I suppose there is nothing quite like a good latte."

And then she cracked up all over again.

"We should let the Admiral get settled back in," Marlena said once the laughter faded, her smile kind. She knew that Blake needed that particular release but she could also see that Sturnack was ill-at-ease with a response. As she so often had in the past, Marlena decided to be the go-between catalyst when it came to emotional outbursts from others.

As she moved to gently take Blake by the elbow -- to slowly lead her from the room -- Marlena couldn't help but stop herself, though. Was that...the beginnings of a smile on Sturnack's face? No, it couldn't be. Trick of the light and the moment, she thought to herself, seeing now that no smile was -- in fact -- in place. But she could have sworn...for just a millisecond...that the corners of the Admiral's lips had been just barely upturned.

"Good day to you both," Sturnack nodded then, moving his hover chair towards his desk, intent on getting back to work now that he was in the office. "What's next?" he asked.

=/\= A joint-post by... =/\=

Captain Jocelyn Blake
Press Secretary
Starfleet Command


Commander Marlena Glenn (NPC - Sturnack)
Aide-de-Camp to the CinC
Starfleet Command


Rear Admiral Joshua Whitford (NPC - Sturnack)
Deputy Commander-in-Chief
Starfleet Command


Fleet Admiral Sturnack
Starfleet Command


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