« InsideCaulerpa »

Conflict Resolution

03/04/11

  12:00:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 3574 words  
Categories: Nexus

Conflict Resolution

I wasn?t paying attention to my HUD map, or I might have seen Elle sneak up behind me. ?We need to talk.?

 

?I recognize that tone, but you broke up with me years ago, and it?s not the kind of thing you reenact or need to renew. So, I?ll take a guess, and say, ?I already deleted that sex video- just like I promised I would.??

 

?You didn?t, and you?re not a good enough liar to even think you could convince me otherwise. And no intelligent woman ever expects a man to follow through on that kind of promise, anyway. Though I will permanently damage your testicles in such a way they can never be transplanted if you ever show it to anyone other than a girlfriend. I think that?s reasonable.?

 

?Exceedingly so. You want me to make you a copy??

 

?Already have one. But what I meant, is we need to talk about HR. You know they?ve been giving out those performance incentives, right? I mean, we have all our major necessities provided, food, shelter, the basics, and the media archives are free and open to anyone on ship. There aren?t many other entertainments, but the few there are, namely the liquor, he rations as incentives. Well, he?s been overincentivizing the crew, lately, and there?s been a pretty mean uptick in drunken behavior, including violence, harassment and accidents. Here, I?ll send you over our data points, including some lovely colored graphs, because he usually only understands things in graph form.?

 

?So why come to me??

 

?Because HR?s an arrogant ass. He thinks because he?s outside of the chain of command he?s above concerns over the operation of the ship.?

 

?So he?s not respecting your authority, and you want me to put the spurs to him.?

 

She winced. ?Not a mental image I?ll easily get rid of.?

 

?We can always drop you off at Maggie?s afterwards, and you can spend some time on her couch. Wait- I didn?t mean to imply what I just did.?

 

?Not a mental image I imagine you?ll relinquish willingly. Probably just as well. You?ll appreciate our sexvid more if it?s part of a rotation.?

 

We were only a few hundred yards from the bridge, and HR?s office. I pinged him on my HUD map to be sure he was there, not that he was ever anywhere else. His door displayed a message about a counseling session in progress. Technically, I was supposed to digitally knock; but also technically, I didn?t have to. So I barged in, and kept the doors open behind me for SecDiv to co-barge.

 

?Good of you to join us,? he said grudgingly to me. ?But at the moment we don?t need security assistance, and in fact, it would be inappropriate to have SecDiv in here at this time.? He gave a glance to the man and woman sitting opposite his desk, who indeed looked nervous about her presence. SecDiv looked to me, but I wasn?t willing to undercut his authority on that.

 

?We?re here on an unrelated matter,? she argued.

 

?Unless it?s critical we deal with it now, in which case I can?t imagine my involvement being necessary, it?ll have to wait. These two engineers have work that?s not being done. And unless there?s a bar fight the scanners haven?t picked up, your schedule?s wide open.?

 

?This is horseshit,? she started, but he cut her off.

 

?I?m not interested in having a pissing contest with you. Right now it?s an HR mediation. If it?s escalated, then it?s a SecDiv thing. Until then, confidentiality says you stand in the hall until we?re done.? They glared at each other a moment, but she knew, on the technicalities, he would prevail; still, she wanted to stay and fight it out. 

 

?He?s got you by the short and curlies. We?ll make it quick.? I put a hand on her shoulder. She wanted to be pissed at me for not backstopping her, but she understood it, too, and was only a little huffy pulling away from me. ?So what have we got here??

 

?Sexual harassment.? As they both turned their attention to me, he gestured so I knew it was the female engineer harassing the male. 

 

?So we?re clear, is this harassment of the told a dirty limerick, stands a little too close when talking kind, or?

 

?the unwanted advances, made explicitly and repeatedly, kind.?

 

?Super. Then I?m going to make this plain to you. We?re not planet-side, here. We can?t fire you for creating a hostile work environment, because then we?d just be housing a free-loader. But I also won?t allow misbehavior, either, so I can fire you out of an airlock. You need to leave this guy alone.?

 

?It isn?t that simple.?

 

I pulled up their work assignments on my HUD, to be sure they weren?t in the same area on the same shift, and thankfully they weren?t. ?Your options are quite simple. You can walk away, or you can walk into an airlock. You?re not mission-critical and I?m not very particular. So make your decision and live with it. Presuming you want to be reasonable, I?ll set your HUDs to signal when you?re getting close to one another, say, within half a deck- so you can avoid it.?

 

?Like a restraining order.?

 

?Like that. Only if you ignore the warnings and move closer, his HUD will go red. Yours will send violent jolts of electricity through your pain receptors. If he abuses it, we?ll make it so sometimes it shocks you, sometimes him- so don?t push it. Either of you. This ship isn?t just a conveyance, it?s our home, and our community. We?re neighbors. You don?t have to like your neighbors, and you don?t even have to get along, but you?re at least going to pretend to be pleasant. Because otherwise?

 

?I get shot out of an airlock.?

 

?Exactly. Now if you?d just learned as quickly that he wasn?t interested I wouldn?t have to know your name and face and have this burning desire to kick your tailbone repeatedly. That?s it. You?re free to go- just make sure at the branch in the hall you go off in opposite directions.? 

 

She got up first, slowly. I think she?d realized the fragile balance on the ship, and thought she was safe to exploit it, and now she wasn?t so sure. As they cleared the room HR said, probably loud enough they could hear it, ?You know you?re painfully close to becoming the executive officer whose only Solomon response is ?airlock,? right??

 

?Maybe. But there isn?t a lot of room for nuance, here. If the crew decides they can game the system, we end up with chaos. This ship is, like it or not, a collective endeavor; we only survive if we all keep pulling in the same direction.?

 

?Okay, but what if someone who is mission critical gets uppity??

 

?I?ll indulge you. Say for instance SciDiv decided he was going to lock himself in his cabin masturbating in lieu of working- well, more than he does now, I mean. I?d just tell him he?s mission-critical, but that doesn?t mean his legs are, or his joystick. All we care about is his brain, and maybe his hands so he can keep Frankensteining.?

 

?That sounds both cruel and unusual.?

 

?I prefer to call it thinking outside the box. But make no mistake here: we are farther from our homeworld than any human beings have ever been, with the exception of the Argos. We are all dependent on one another for survival. And nobody gets to fuck with that out of pride.?

 

I keyed my throatmic, ?Elle, you can come back in here.? She did, and she was pissed. By the way her hand kept dancing at her side I could tell she wanted nothing more than to beat him about the temples with her baton.

 

HR ignored her, and accessed some of his memos through his desk. ?I?ve actually been meaning to talk to you,? he started, looking at me. ?I had a meeting with EngDiv a few days ago. Because of crew call-offs and increased resource usage, we?re redlining; if we don?t get both in order, we?re looking at having to cut back on engine power. And that cuts into our timeline.?

 

I sent him over Elle?s charts and graphs. ?That?s funny, because we came here to talk to you about cutting back on performance incentives, which are causing those issues.?

 

He stopped fiddling with his files and looked up. ?I can?t just cut back on the performance incentives. There?ll be a stampede on my office door.?

 

?I don?t mind if, because of your fragile ego, you need to play me off as bad cop in this scenario, but let me make this situation abundantly clear: you can keep giving the hamsters pellets to keep them docile- but right now you?re giving them too many pellets, and they?re getting into severely uncute pellet-driven fist-fights, which lead to less cute productivity deficits, and even farther from cute resource waste because of additional med care. If we were talking about actual hamsters, I?d say we quit this galactic mining thing, tape the hamster fights and retire on our ridiculous viral video profits. But since we?re talking about the crew, I?ve got medical up my ass about the increased workload and resource spike, the Div heads up my ass about missed work. SecDiv shimmied up my ass just this morning- though I suspect that was more recreational than professional in nature.?

 

?Thanks for that,? Elle said.

 

?And now you?re up my ass over the fact that, between lost crew productivity and the added strain on med resources we?re in danger of having to compromise our schedule. My ass is now very crowded, and that makes me uncomfortable.? I narrowed my eyes. ?And when I?m uncomfortable, I have this really nasty habit of making others uncomfortable.?

 

He thought for a moment. ?Just to be clear, are we speaking of being uncomfortable in general, or specifically about you making my ass uncomfortable. Because I?ll probably want to call PsychDiv in here if it?s the latter.?

 

I pulled him out of his seat and hucked him, ass-first, onto the floor. Then I pushed against his chair sideways. Its plastic base groaned until it snapped off where it was attached to the floor. ?There. Now your ass is uncomfortable, and will be for a few days until EngDiv can fix your chair.? I took a moment to send an executive work order prioritizing the fix somewhere below EngDiv scratching his ass. ?And it?ll be even more uncomfortable if you try to sit on the bar sticking out of the floor as if it were a chair- that is some jagged looking tubing. But more importantly, Haley,? I enunciated to make sure the ship?s computer was listening, ?do I have permission to hurl the Human Reptile into the vacuum of space??

 

?The charter specifies that any member of the crew, regardless of rank, can be punished to the captain?s specifications if they present an impediment to meeting the ship?s efficiency goals.?

 

?And this particular jackass on this particular occasion? Does he meet that standard??

 

?The standards are at the captain?s discretion.?

 

?Thank you, Haley. Now you may not be under my direct command, but I can fire you as an idiot-missile at the next moon whose face offends my tender sensibilities. Note that I have very tender sensibilities, and nearly all moons offend them. Are we understanding one another??

 

He thought for a moment, and put out his hand to be helped up, and when I took it said, ?So, you?re still a cockass.?

 

I helped him to his feet. ?Pretty much. But the incentives. You can see where this is causing problems for everybody.?

 

?Yeah. I?ll take care of it.?

 

?You sure? I had a moon already picked out and everything. I was going to call it Shitheadsylvania.?

 

?Pardon, Captain,? Haley began, ?but we have already left a firing solution for Shitheadsylvania. However, we are quickly approaching a firing solution for Doucheburg.?

 

Slightly annoyed, he repeated, ?I?ll take care of it.?

 

SecDiv followed me out of his office. ?You could have humiliated him before he made me look like a jerk in front of the engineers.?

 

?You?re SecDiv. You?re supposed to look like a jerk.? I did feel bad. ?I?ve got a meet with SciDiv, about the new planet. And he has a fun new nickname. Feel like walking along??

 

?Why not?? HR had been right about that. She had even less to do than me. We took our time getting down to SciDiv. There was a lovely view of a fading dwarf on the starboard side.

 

SciDiv had his face in a food box, and when he looked up, still had a noodle in his beard. ?Dr. Pussyface, just the lab rat I wanted to see.?

 

SciDiv glared at me a moment, then saw an opportunity. ?Why do people keep calling me that??

 

I was surprised even he could be so dense. ?Either shave the beard or wash it. Because if it smells like a vagina, and looks like a vagina, well, odds are you have a pussyface.?

 

?Hmm. That explains why the intern try to roofy me. But I switched our coffees. He woke up with enormous breasts.?

 

?That seems like a strange use of your time and talents.?

 

?Then I won?t tell you what happened before he woke up.?

 

?And, so long as it never crosses HR?s desk, you won?t have to. And I won?t have to do terrible things to my own brain to forget what you told me.? 

 

?That sounds like a concord.? He put out his hand for me to shake, and I didn?t. He didn?t take offense, merely sniffed his hand, made a face, and told me, ?Good call. I don?t know what that is, but it?s certainly gamey. Possibly infectious.? He got up and went over to a sanitizing station.

 

SecDiv leaned over to whisper, ?So do we think he?s just lab-grown something vile that?s making him smell like rotting squid anus, or is he just intimate with someone whose hygiene issues complement his own.?

 

?I prefer not to know.?

 

?That?s probably healthy. Psychologically, anyway.?

 

?And the other kind of healthy comes from just not letting him touch me. Or my food. I did let him touch your birthday cake, though.?

 

?That isn?t funny.?

 

?He was the one who spelled it ?birfday? in fudge.?

 

?I?m going to hurt you one of these days.?

 

?Se-

 

?And, no, it won?t be sexually.?

 

?Fiddlesticks.?

 

?Don't be developmentally differentially-abled.?

 

SciDiv came back. He had cleansing foam on his sleeve cuffs and beard. He pulled up an image and it rotated above us on a shared HUD interlink. It was of a humanoid who looked female, wearing a wrap not unlike a sari. She had a slight frame, and exceptionally thin arms. Her face had a flattened nose, rounded chin, but was otherwise very sharp.

 

?We?re still processing the data from the new batch of sensor pods, but we?re getting in all kinds of information about a new species. We?ve seen from the footage capture that this new species has splashes of chromatophores that can control pigment in their skin. They don?t cover the whole body, though, just speckles, like freckles on a redhead. They can change color, and like chameleons they seem to use the change for social signaling. It seems too primitive for complex communication, but they can signal aggression or sexual receptivity. But the really cool thing is that we can?t tell how they are communicating, though it?s obvious they do. Their society is too complex to rely solely on body language and context, so that almost means they have to be communicating telepathically.?

 

?So they?ll know at a glance about the impure thoughts you?re having looking at their women.? It was mostly a joke, but he did seem to be leering at the image.

 

?They are remarkably humanoid, aren?t they? I mean, I could completely buy that being a human woman in some neat facial prosthetics. Though, not to c block you, the breast-looking things seem to be where their females store their ova. They can be lowered or raised near the body, presumably to keep the eggs at a constant temperature, like the cremasteric muscle in balls. So they?re more like chesticles than the boobs we know and love. Present company excluded.?

 

?I can?t like boobs?? SecDiv asked with faux innocence.

 

?No, I just meant that?

 

?If the end of that sentence is you just don?t love mine, you shouldn?t finish it.? She was like a cat playing with a mouse before eating it (or maybe just taking out one of its eyes for fun).

 

?Your boobs are very nice,? he said, as if it was the worst thing he had ever been forced to say, then quieter, ?please don?t kick me in the kidneys. I pee blood when kicked in the kidneys. And I like my blood to be not in my urine.?

 

At first she pretended not to understand. ?Oh, that?s right. You got a little rowdy at the bar one night. I forgot that was you. Though in all fairness, you did break my nose.? I smiled, finally vindicated. I was pretty certain that hadn?t been me- and that I?d fractured my knuckle on somebody else?s face (my certainty had only been slightly lessened by the fact that I did have a drink or two before my ride-along).

 

?Oh god. I always knew I would die with filthy-smelling hands.?

 

?You?re fine. I don?t hold grudges. But do it again, and I won?t just stomp your kidneys; I?ll have your kidneys surgically removed. I have tools, you know. And the captain likes the look of me naked. I?m sure I could get him to okay it.?

 

?Probably just by saying the word ?naked? sensually,? I added helpfully.

 

?Naked,? she whispered in his ear. He lowered his datapad to cover his pelvis.

 

?I?m not sure it?s professional of you to be giving my section head a fear boner,? I said.

 

?I don?t know what you mean by that,? she replied, and walked out of the room.

 

?So,? I asked him, ?colorful alien cleavage??

?Yes, but like I said, they?re basically nads dangling off a woman?s chest.?

 

?Maybe I?ve been in space too long, but that doesn?t bother me in the slightest.? I left. I pinged Elle?s HUD, and thought about trying to catch up with her, but there was something I needed to do. Without her.

 

I?d been avoiding the conversation for more than a week, now. The SecDet hadn?t found anything specifically linking Perkins to Brian?s death. But he was certain she was hiding what she knew. I sent a notification through the door. I could see on my HUD that she was in, but I didn?t want to make a habit of being the captain who barges into women?s rooms unannounced (at least not until I was codgerly and could pretend it was an accident). She didn?t open the door, but unlocked it.

 

?Sasha??

 

?Captain,? she said, without really looking up at me.

 

?You should stand up for this.? She stared at me, horrified, which hadn?t been my intention, then quickly got to her feet. ?I just wanted to tell you in person that I?ve terminated the investigation into Baker?s death. You?re being fully reinstated and you?re cleared for duty again. And I want you to know something, maybe a couple somethings. First, nobody?s coming after you for Brian?s death. The investigation, it was never about looking for someone to blame. It was about closure. For the crew, for me, and for you. And I want you to get that closure.?

 

?I don?t need to talk to the docs.?

 

?That may be true. But I wanted to show you something.?

 

I sent her the document, and she opened it on her eyescreen. ?It?s blank.?

 

?Check the permissions,? I told her. She did. ?Only you and PsychDiv will have access to that file. It?s walled off from me, HR, and the ship. Short of physically tearing the drive the information?s on out of the servers we could never get to it. This isn?t an attempt at entrapment.?

 

?I?m going to tell you something, and I?d appreciate if you could keep it to yourself. Brian was my cousin, and I don?t blame you in the least for what happened. You showed him a kindness; he betrayed your trust by using that information to hurt himself. I?m sure he regretted that. But what happened, had everything to do with him. You should talk to PsychDiv, or at least someone else you can trust.? I turned to leave, but something stopped me; I think I knew she had something to say.

 

?I miss him,? she said. 

 

?Me, too.?

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