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Posted on Friday, 22 July 2022 - 6:29pm by Lieutenant JG Charles McCullen & Chief Warrant Officer William Griffin

Mission: Operation: My Unfair Lady
Location: Pilot's briefing room, shuttle bay
Timeline: A few hours after departure

Lieutenant Junior Grade Charles James McCullen of Starfleet was a pilot, a tinkerer and a mechanic of old machines, a musician of sorts, and a lover. He was good at all of those things, some would say he was very good at some of those things. What Charles McCullen was not, had never been, and would never become, was a natural leader.

What he did have, however, was two decades of examples to follow, plenty of Starfleet training, and the ability to absolutely and entirely fake it. All of which he was relying on to get through the next twenty minutes.

He was stood at a presentation lectern next to a large display screen showing the Cardassian sector, in front of two rows of eight seats filled with twelve people. They were his people, the flight operations team of the USS Standing Bear-A. The team consisted of two helmspersons, two shuttle pilots, one shuttlebay chief and his two operations specialists, and one maintenance chief and his four techs. The group ranged in ages from the shuttlebay chief, a big bear of a chief warrant officer in his late fifties called Bill Griffin, down to the youngest, the fresh-faced 19-year-old crewman T'Chell, junior maintenance tech.

Charlie was channelling his father, Captain James McCullen Sr. A charismatic leader of men, an unstoppable force of personality and presence, a man with a stick up his ass so long and sharp you could kill a targ with it. He rapped sharply on the lectern, bringing the gentle murmur in the room to a halt.
"Good morning," he began, taking a moment to scan the room and make eye contact with each person, "my name is Lieutenant McCullen and I'm the new chief of flight operations. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to attend, especially those of you who are off duty. Let me start off by acknowledging that many of you have been together for some time and that you have established routines and methods of working. I've no intention of interfering with that, as long as they meet my, and Starfleet's, expectations. To that end, Chief Warrant Officer Griffin," He nodded to the shuttlebay operations chief, "you will be taking up the post of assistant department head."

It wasn't uncommon for senior enlisted personnel to take up leadership positions, and to Charlie, it made sense that the two wings of the flight operations department, helm control and shuttlebay operations, worked together as equals. Too often, he had found, the shuttlebay personnel got forgotten, and ended up bitter, often rightly accusing helm officers of hogging all the glory. Griffin raised an eyebrow, the slightest hint of a smile flirting with his lips. "Yes sir," the big man agreed, his voice deep and full of grit, "Seen as there's only three of ya'll console-jockeys an' two shuttle drivers, an' there's eight of us workin' the shuttle bay, I reckon that's fair, sir."

"I, uh... reckon, so, Mr. Griffin," Charlie replied, somewhat set-aback by the shuttlebay chief's candour and, if he cared to admit it, intimidated as all hell by the older, considerably larger man. Griffin had twenty-plus years of experience on Charlie, a solid food-and-a-half and weighed, he estimated, about four Charlie McCullens. "Uh... can you give us a status update on the shuttlebay please, Mister Griffin?"

Griffin stood, and with surprising dexterity manoeuvred his way through the chairs to the front of the room to stand next to Charlie, who noted with no small amount of incredulity that he would actually fit under the big man's muscled arm. He resisted the urge to stand on his tip-toes. Griffin tapped the map, bringing up an inventory screen. "We got two Type-17 shuttles, they're heavy-duty cargo shuttles capable of atmospheric entry, tough - but slow. We got one New Atlantic-class runabout an' a full set of modules for her, she's got interchangeable parts, handy-but a lot of maintenance." From the floor, there was a grunt of agreement from the maintenance chief, Griffin continued, "both the shuttles an' the runabout are ready in all respects. The runabout is fitted out in scout configuration at the moment, it'll take..." He raised an eyebrow at the maintenance chief, who interjected "six hours." Griffin continued, "four hours to switch equipment. All shuttlebay equipment is in working order, good to go in all respects, sir."

"Thank you, Mister Griffin." Charlie cut in, his own voice sounding ridiculously soft and light in his ears, compared to Griffin's deep bass. He ignored his own brain, focusing on the next part. "Chief Blythe," he addressed the maintenance man, "if Mister Griffin says four hours, I'll expect it done in four hours. If that's not enough time you need to speak up now."

Blythe sighed, raising one hand to rub at his temple, "four hours is fine, sir. We'll just have to go hard at it."

"Pilots," Charlie addressed his brethren, "we'll all be cross-training on The Standing Bear's helm, the Type-17s and the runabout. I also want all of us to spend at least one shift a week with the shuttlebay crew and the maintenance teams. If we get stuck out there I want all of us to be able to do at least basic maintenance, and I want us all to be able to get stuck in if there's an emergency, no matter where it occurs. Mister Griffin, I know you've got plenty of training experience, so I'll leave you in charge of that. Spare no one, myself included. For any of you shuttlebay people that want more advanced pilot training than basic Starfleet flight training, I will make time in my schedule for holodeck lessons."

There was some detectable bristling from the pilots, notably the two helmspersons, the only other commissioned officers in the team, conversely, there was some visible consternation from the deck crew. The atmosphere, which had been casually professional, that half-neutral, mostly friendly vibe that happened when professionals were together, turned abruptly awkward, or maybe Charlie was just imagining it. It threw him out of character, as a pilot he had always been excited to learn how his craft worked, to get stuck into its guts and tinker with it.

"We're a small team, on a small ship," Charlie tried to explain, "there's no space for... for posturing, we're all here working towards the same goal, and there's not enough of us. Each one of us has gotta..." he caught his vocabulary slipping into the casual and pulled it back, "has got to be ready... to be able to do any job in the department, at least at a basic level, 'cause when the, uh... when the chips are down, we'll only have each other. Officer, or enlisted, or warrant, it doesn't matter a damn when we're in the trenches."

Charlie felt a gentle tap in the small of his back and he looked upwards and to the right to catch an almost invisible nod of approval from Griffin, the man had what could almost be described as a smirk on his face. "I'll draw up a training schedule like the lieutenant said, one shift outta four, operational needs permitting, you'll be in a different role. If'n you've got any complaints, feel free to bring them to me at your convenience." The big man crossed his arms, each one about as thick as Charlie's thigh, "an' I'll consider them."

~Jesus Christ, it worked.~ Charlie tried to keep the deer-in-headlights look off his face, wondering just what in the hell he'd gotten himself into and thanking every deity that would listen for Griffin. As soon as he'd seen the man's profile, he knew he'd be an invaluable asset and he wondered at such a senior enlisted man's presence on such a small ship."I won't keep you for any longer than necessary," Charlie told the assembled people, "I'll schedule another briefing when there's more information about our mission. Dismissed for now." Charlie put his hand on Griffin's arm, it seemed comically small, "mister Griffin, could you hang on for a minute, please?"

The rest of the flight control team filed out of the room and the door slid shut. Griffin took a step back, his facial features unchanged. "Sir?"

"Thank you, Mister Griffin, for the backup." Charlie answered, "I'm, uh... pretty green, and thankful that you're here. Let it be known that you have free reign, when we're in private, to, uh... let me know if I'm uh..."

"Screwing things up, sir?" Griffin grinned, it looked painful, "noted, sir. But I think you did pretty good, in a half-ass McCullen-ish kinda way. You're no good with people, huh, sir?"

"Hopeless," Charlie confirmed, and then it dawned on him what Griffin had said... McCullen-ish? His eyes narrowed and Griffin's grin widened just a little. "Mom or dad?"

"Brother, sir." The deck boss grumbled, "I owed Ji... ahem, Captain McCullen a favour an' I was lookin' to get back into the field anyway, he figured I could watch out for his little brother at the same time an' I wasn't opposed to the idea. If you're set against it, I will put in for a transfer, sir."

Charlie should have been angry, he should have been spitting furious at his brother for thinking he needed some kind of mentor, and for manipulating Starfleet duty assignments in his favour. It was exactly the kind of family influence he had resisted his entire career. But if he was honest with himself, he was grateful for Griffin's presence, and, he suspected, he was going to need him. He pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head slowly, realising too late that this, too, was a McCullen-ish trait and forcing himself to stop. Griffin chuckled, a sound roughly similar to a volcano's bowel movement.

"No, Mister Griffin, that won't be necessary. But since you are here, I might as well make use of you. I meant what I said about cross-training, and when that's done I want to look into... uh," ~our people~, his people, his team. It made him want to scream and laugh at the same time "our people doing some cross-training with Operations and Engineering personnel, I'm aware many of the deck crew come from operations and engineering backgrounds anyway, yourself included."

"Yes sir," Griffin responded, he didn't seem surprised, or if he was he was hiding it expertly. Charlie supposed a chief warrant officer had probably seen everything. "If you don't mind me saying so, sir, it's a very McCullen-ish approach, sir. You're similar"

"If you're about to say I'm like my father, or my brother, don't." Charlie shook his head, slightly surprised at the vehemence with which he had delivered that sentence, "I'm me, Charlie McCullen, not them, not just another McCullen. I plot my own course, Mister Griffin."

"Yes sir," Griffin replied, his face remained impassive, senior noncoms were, after all, masters of stoicism, but his tone had the slightest air of if-you-say-so. Charlie chose to ignore it.

"Let me know when you've got the training schedule worked out, I'll be on the bridge." He told Griffin, "dismissed."

"Yes sir," the deck boss grumbled his reply, and then he was gone.

Charlie stood alone in the room, and finally, let his body unclench, sagging forwards onto the lectern and letting out a long, ragged breath. His hands were trembling with anxiety and he had to squeeze his eyes shut, focusing on just breathing, to stave off the edges of the panic attack that was threatening to overtake him. It was always like this, he could always perform when he had to, when the need arose he always had been able to rise to meet the need, but afterwards, when every microjoule of social energy had been stripped from him, he was always left a mess. Meetings, staff parties, and social gatherings all had the same effect to a greater or lesser degree.

It took the helmsman a few minutes to pull himself together, squeeze the panic back into the mental forcefield it resided in within his brain, and find enough chutzpah to slip back behind the mask of mild amusement that he habitually hid behind and make his way back to the bridge for his next shift.


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