Her name was Lower Fleet Captain Marya Irina Nkmraaou D’Arcangel, and like most of her people, she resembled nothing more or less than a very large, biped-shaped Russian Blue cat. Her ready-room was paneled in synthetic polywood the color of well-stained oak, she kept a decanter of Old Earth brandy on her desk and she always, always, carried an electrolash. And she was unhappy.
“I,” said Captain Nkmraaou, “am unhappy. Most unhappy.”
“Aha,” said the Imperial Fleet Protocol Officer, a human by the name of Gordon D’Anjou. “Well, as you well know, that’s why I’m here.”
“Yes,” said Captain Nkmraaou. “That is why the Fleet assigns you here to the Unwavering Justice. To look into my unhappiness.”
“Most assuredly, Captain.”
“I tell you now,” said Nkmraaou, “you will have both hands full reporting on this crew. A more undisciplined rabble I have not seen. Each crewman, to a one, with book filled with infractions of Fleet protocol.”
“Come now, Captain,” said D’Anjou. “All my sources suggest that you run a very tight ship here.”
“No thanks to crew!”
“And your mission completion rating is triple-platinum,” continued D’Anjou. “One can hardly think that you could have achieved this with a crew brimming with chaotic felons.”
“No,” said Nkmraaou. “Not felons. No Class-A violations. Just… infractions. There is no breakdown of order, but on other hand, most infractions are just serious enough to merit flogging per Fleet Judiciary Database. So this is problem: I am forced to engage in constant flogging.”
“Of course, Captain,” said D’Anjou. “I have prepared a number of documents on the topic, which I have uploaded into your briefing computer, but if you will permit me to summarize, I think most, if not all of your problems with crew discipline can be traced back to–”
“ENOUGH!” shouted Nkmraaou, rising from her ready-room chair, the molecule-thin synthetic leather of her Lower Fleet Captain’s uniform sliding effortlessly across her form. Gordon’s mustached lip quivered. Too much. Too soon.
“You will not interrupt before I am done!” she shouted, her claws clacking against the durable polywood of the desk. “There are other grievances which I would bring to the Fleet, and you will record them now!”
“Assuredly, Captain,” said Gordon, his stylus flickering from its sheath on the datapad into his hand without seeming to travel the space between.
“Very good,” said Nkmraaou. “Point the first. I am unsatisfied with progress here. The Fleet assigned me to Lower Captain position after a glorious term as the communication officer aboard Star of Wonder, which is fitting. Now, though, I have spent seven years as Lower Captain without promotion, while others less capable than I have seen regular career advancement! But one more rank and I would earn the right to wear a proper uniform and everything, not this tight leather jumpsuit! But it is not to be! Seven years have I waited!”
“Noted,” said Gordon. “Anything else?”
“Yes,” said Nkmraaou. “A proper sidearm. I am trained in electrolash at Academy. I ask for training in blaster fire? I am denied. All classes full, they say. Undaunted, I sign up for blaster correspondence courses over HyperWebNet.”
Gordon frowned. “They offer correspondence courses in small arms fire?”
“Is difficult because targets are very far away. But still I persist! Gain equivalent rank of Triple Austere Master! Graduate with top marks, put aboard first formal posting, and what is it I am given? Electrolash, again! I try to requisition firearms from Fleet Quartermaster, they say I am not certified, oop, should have taken classes in Academy!” Captain Nkmraaou gestured vainly. “It is as though Fleet wants me only to have electrolash! I AM CAPTAIN OF MY OWN VESSEL, AND STILL I CANNOT GET PROPER SIDEARM!”
“Also noted,” said Gordon. “Anything else?”
“Heels on boots too high,” said Nkmraaou, sullenly. “Autotailor Units aboard ship are stuck on no less than three inches for all female crew members, which, as you know, is just me. Rest of entire crew is men, have no problems with heels. Somehow settings jammed or something.”
“Very good,” said Gordon.
“Is not very good,” said Nkmraaou. “Is suck.”
“Respectfully, Captain, is that everything?”
“Yes! Now you report! You say you have documents, now you tell me problem!”
Gordon said nothing for a moment. He leaned back in his chair.
“Permission to speak freely, Captain?” he said, after a moment.
“Granted,” said Nkmraaou, icily.
Imperial Fleet Protocol Officer Gordon D’Anjou spoke freely.
Captain Nkmraaou’s ears flattened back. Her tail twitched.
“Now, the one thing I think I can help you with,” finished Gordon, “is the promotional aspect, because while the synthetic leather jumpsuit thing certainly has its… base charms, I would just love to see you in a proper Middle Captain’s uniform, you know, with the epaulets and the–”
“ENOUGH!” shrieked Captain Nkmraaou. “NEVER IN MY LIFE HAVE I BEEN WITNESS TO SUCH DISHONOR!”
Nkmraaou took a moment to steady herself, but when she next spoke, her voice was no less wild.
“COMPUTER!” she cried out. “CONSULT JUDICIARY DATABASE! RECOMMENDATIONS!”
::accessing,:: said the computer, calmly. ::consultation complete,:: it said. ::fleet judiciary computers recommend flogging, thirty lashes, power throughput five.::
“Oh dear,” murmured D’Anjou, his lip quivering again. “This is certainly unexpected.”
Nkmraaou nodded to the computer’s com-port. “Thank you, Computer. Return to standby mode.”
::captain,:: said the computer. ::request permission to remain in active mode and to engage ready-room security cameras.::
Nkmraaou blinked at the com-port.
::for archival purposes,:: said the computer, after a moment’s processing time.
Nkmraaou’s tail twitched again. “VERY WELL!” she cried out. “SHOW THE MEN WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE WHO DISRESPECT ME SO!” Nkmraaou tore the black cylinder of the electrolash from her skin-hugging web-mesh utility belt, and it went active in a flare of sizzling blue light.
“I AM DISCIPLINING YOU NOW!” she cried. “HERE IN MY READY-ROOM!”
The cameras recorded it all.