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Hunter Matheson

The Water Cooler Maneuver and the Waiting Game

The Water Cooler Maneuver and the Waiting Game

 Kal looked at Gaither. Gaither looked at Kal, shrugged, and cracked his back. First and second string helm were in pre-engagement mode, sitting and waiting.

 They were a perfect match. Had the same skill set. Gaither wasn't SWCC, but it didn’t take years in the teams to be good at helm, just a good feel for the ship, treating her with respect, understanding her good points and her bad, what she responded to and why she kicked your butt every so often. You had to have confidence in your ability, and most of all you had to have the water cooler maneuver down pat.

 Yeah, the water cooler maneuver’s your best friend. Long time ago—before replicators, recyclers, and hydration units—workers gathered around a water cooler during break and caught up on the latest gossip about anything from the grumpy new boss to the length of the secretary’s skirt—how much it revealed, or how much it didn’t reveal and you wished it did. Aboard ship, it's called skuttlebutt, but skuttlebutt maneuver didn’t have the same ring to it, so they changed it to water cooler maneuver.

 Anyway, the idea is to listen to skuttlebutt. These days it takes place just about anywhere—on the bridge when everyone is bored, in passageways when you catch part of a conversation, in the gym during a break, and in the mess halls and lounge. It’s idle chatter, but idle chatter that could save your life and the lives of the crew. ‘Course, there’s always the other stuff, like how the new ensign works it when she walks by or how her uniform is way too tight, but that’s pretty much beside the point here, so I’ll move on.

 That’s how Matheson and Gaither heard about the Swain Maneuver. Yeah, the Swain Maneuver, not the Picard Maneuver, which is a pretty standard maneuver for helm. They call it the Swain Maneuver on Excalibur, and it’s not quite the same. The first time M & G heard that twist it was a real head-scratcher, so they stopped, they listened, they asked a few questions, and… they eventually figured out why.

 The Picard Maneuver came about when Picard, then CO on Stargazer, called for a few seconds’ burst of warp to get around an attacking ship. Thing is, the hostile was in open space, and there was plenty of room. You see where I’m going with this?

 Well, during one pretty boring bridge watch, M & G started thinking. Thinking turned to talking, and that turned to taking a good look at their present circumstances. Excalibur was in orbital dock around Camelot Station, waiting for the head shed to get things straightened out, supplies to be loaded, and the convoy to form up so they could move through the wormhole for the last time. But they had one little glitch in the crosshairs. The Jem’Hadar had a subspace weapon that they wanted to set off in the wormhole. Nice. How they would deal with that was a big question, so they started tossing around what could possibly happen. The Jemmies could stay and wait by the wormhole, sure. But their most probable strategy would be to attack the station before the convoy even started out. If the Jemmies attacked the station….

 Whoa! Wait... wait...! Hold on!

 Nah, Skipper wouldn’t do that, would he? That’s crazy insane, man. There’s how much wiggle room between the station and an attacking ship? Well, how close can an attacker come? The answer is pretty damn close! Yeah, Excal's helm needed a solid strategy. They needed to know to the nanosecond and to Planck distance the threshold for that maneuver so when the skipper says “Can you do that?” they could either tell him aye or something he really doesn’t wanna hear. Everything had to be perfect, because it was going to take a hell of a collaboration to pull it off. And they had to override some of helm’s safety protocols so the ship didn’t balk when they needed her the most.

 Well, wouldn’t you know, the skipper came through (not that they wanted him to) and they were ready. ‘Course the rest of the crew wasn’t exactly ready, and neither was the IDS, so I guess you could say they gave the doc job security that day. But it worked. Barely. Their hands shook for a while, and they couldn’t wait for the next port of call and a cold one, but they did it, hoping it wouldn’t happen again for a very long time.

 Not long after that little test of skill, they were where this story began, in pre-engagement mode. That’s something you don’t pick up around the water cooler. You learn it from sitting long watches at helm when there’s not much going on but you have to stay alert in case something does go on, so you're alert but you're not alert, if you know what I mean. And you learn it in the gym with a kickass opponent who’s been slammin’ you to the mat so much lately you realize you gotta change strategy or you won't have any places left for bruises and your body's gonna turn to jelly. You get tired of the slams, the titters, and the jeers—not to mention the training officer’s disgusted head-shakes—and you finally understand what the FTO means by hanging loose and watching. You learn to wait, to watch, and to let your opponent make his move first. And damn, you do that and get him so confused that you get that first chokeslam, and it. is. sweet! But I’m getting off the subject again, so back to the point.

 A convoy defense force of Federation, Romulan, Klingon, Bajoran, and Al-Ucard ships— with one lonely Scorpiad who’s after one engineer’s skin in the mix— are holding position outside the Gamma Quadrant terminus of the wormhole, protecting it from hostiles who just happen to have a subspace weapon they want to test in the wormhole. The hostiles are playing mind games. They just sit and stare. You sit here, they sit there, and their backup is on approach, so it doesn’t look good. It’s unnerving. All you want to do is charge, and that’s exactly what they want you to do, so you sit tight and play it cool.

 Matheson looks at Gather. Gaither looks at Matheson. They’re not grinning, but they know the game. They have the presets, and by watching the steady configuration of the hostile forces and the variable configuration of the friendlies, they adjust, keeping in mind that they're working in a 360° battlefield with a spherical dynamic and the rest of the convoy will be playing ball while Excal plays goalie at the wormhole. Then the game begins.

Edited by Hunter Matheson
make it readable

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