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Friday, May 11, 2012

ARROW by Jeff Wile

I shot an arrow in the air, where it lands, I know not where.

The music playing in the background was one of those retro-avant-garde things popular with the younger people.

There were many people celebrating the end of the year 160 and the start of the new year 161 in the offices of the United Federation of Planets, Diplomatic Affairs Division. For reasons lost to history, Star Fleet referred to this organization as "foggy bottom".

At the center of attention was a young appointee, the assistant deputy head of Klingon affairs. One reason for the enthusiastic party was his impending promotion to be the Deputy Ambassador to the Klingon Empire. He was speaking loudly as the champagne did the talking. "...and those paranoid cowboys over at Star Fleet would believe anything we send them, just so long as it feeds their delusions that the Klingons are likely to invade any minute!"

The response, a thundering roar fueled by Napoleon brandy, encouraged him to continue. Soon, everyone was chiming in and one of the secretaries was typing it all into a file that would be enjoyed again and again over the coming weeks. But as the amounts of intoxicating and mind-altering substances increased prodigiously, logic and consistency retreated at an equal pace. A complete recitation of the dialog is neither needed or necessary to understand the events as they transpired, but each "estimation" of what the Klingons were likely to do was even more absurd, and even more hilarious, than the previous one.

As the party dragged on, several of the staffers assisted the secretary in turning the humorous memo into a full-blown political Threat Assessment. Fueled by good humor, everyone made an effort to out-do their peers in thinking of yet more preposterous theories of what the Klingons were doing, might do, would think about doing, or would do if they thought of it. The latest Klingon five-year plan for increased food production was accepted not as the grandly optimistic lie that it always was, but as a clever understatement of true production. Vague intelligence reports about a new faster drone were extrapolated into hard data that drones capable of warp-six were already in service. Tenuous estimates of the new "fighter shuttle" designs were rewritten as solid reports on small craft able to exceed warp four and smash cruisers with a single volley from half a squadron. The barest hint of a new Klingon "war cruiser" design was presented as a ship with more firepower than a C6 dreadnought. Most ominous of all, the new Treaty of Smarba that had brought the Romulans into the modern military era was expanded to include secret Klingon efforts to buy alliances with the Gorns and Kzintis in exchange for slices of the soon to be conquered United Federation of Planets.

The final act of the last lucid member of the group, as he was falling into unconsciousness, resulted in the transmission of the document to Star Fleet. It could be argued that this transmission was accidental in as much as the direct cause of the offending keystroke was the author's head striking the computer workstation as gravity over came his ability to remain vertical.

Star Fleet, being composed of individuals with more logic (and a better grasp of the intelligence reports) than the diplomats, quickly realized that the "threat assessment" was a joke. While cleverly written and almost plausible in any of its elements, the overall effect was one grand laugh riot. The efforts of individual diplomats to exceed each other in the absurdities of their assessments had produced an effort that had, after three centuries of literary failure, eclipsed that of the Harvard Lampoon's infamous parodies. The other historical event related to the incident was that the Diplomatic Corps had, for the first time ever, actually sent a document that impressed Star Fleet (even if not in the way intended).

Star Fleet was legally obliged by the Federation Charter to respond to any threat assessment sent by the Diplomatic Corps. Any department run by people of normal intelligence and disposition (e.g., Agriculture, Finance, Natural Resources) would have simply laughed at the Threat Assessment and shredded it. But Star Fleet was composed of individuals who had both a wicked sense of humor and a mindset to never allow themselves to be upstaged, bested, or defeated. As Star Fleet is fond of saying, in war you don't get points for coming in second. In Anything.

The challenge of the Diplomatic Corps would have to be met, and not simply met but exceeded in both cleverness and absurdity. Star Fleet was obliged to produce (without the advantage of being intoxicated) a "Response Plan" that was even more absurd, and yet at the same time was even more plausible, than the Threat Assessment. This was a considerable challenge, and time was of the essence. They could not take months to craft a reply; they had at most a day, perhaps even just a few hours. Star Fleet, being comprised of Academy graduates who (for the most part) held engineering degrees, knew that new ship designs and new weapons technologies were a decade away and could not be used as part of the Response Plan. Besides, it would never do to expose actual secret programs (even to the Diplomatic Corps) and doing so would lack both cleverness and the proper amount of absurdity. They considered simply announcing plans to build a thousand new ships, or to activate hundreds of non-existent mothballed ships, but they had to concede among themselves that even the diplomats would know how many ships could be built and how many were in storage. After all, the Diplomatic Corps continually complained about how much money was spent on ships, shipyards, and mothball storage of "unnecessary surplus" ships.

After much discussion, Star Fleet officers hit upon the idea of a massive fleet-wide refit of all classes, including the dreadnought, cruiser, destroyer, scout, and even the lowly transport tug. Noting that all of these classes used the same engines and that a handful of these standard engines were stockpiled for "maintenance float" (a fact the Diplomatic Corps complained of during budget conferences), Star Fleet's response plan was the essence of simplicity, and simplicity is the greatest virtue to which any military plan can aspire. The officers charged with meeting the challenge of crafting an absurd but plausible reply announced that the original designs of those ships allowed all of them to be given an extra engine with a few days at any convenient base. The dreadnought would then have four engines, the cruiser and tug (as well as the blueprint NCL) would have three, and the destroyer and scout would have two. In effect, every ship in the fleet would grow to the next larger size (destroyers into cruisers, cruisers into dreadnoughts, and dreadnoughts into battleships) over a long holiday weekend. To provide a little extra creativity, plans were included to weld two old light cruisers together, bottom to bottom, to produce a ship equal to any dreadnought in the galaxy. Vague references were included about adding missile racks to every ship.

The Response Plan was then forwarded back to the Diplomatic Corps, which (unable to grasp that the military had a sense of humor) assumed it to be accurate. The plan was forwarded to the newly-promoted Deputy Ambassador to Klinshai, who adopted a firm posture with the Klingons, convinced of Star Fleet's power. For the next decade, the Diplomatic Corps conducted their relations with the Klingons based on the theory that Star Fleet could double its combat power in a week should any diplomatic miscalculation result in unintended Klingon aggression.

The Klingons intercepted a copy of the Response Plan and were not entirely sure what to make of it. Some felt it was accurate, while others felt it was disinformation. No Klingon could imagine that a mere joke would be sent using government bandwidth.

The Klingons could not take the risk that the report was real. Billions of credits were poured into high-risk weapons programs such as the stasis field generator, high-speed drones, and the B10 battleship. When the Romulans offered mauler technology for ridiculous prices, the Klingons had no choice but to buy it, even if it meant they could not afford cloaking devices as well.

From Captain's Log #28 (c) Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc.