"Well, Gentlemen, I believe that concludes this meeting of the Death Star Project Change Advisory Board." Captain Verkl made it clear that he was emphasizing his importance by specifying the full name of the committee. Everyone else simply referred to it as the DSPCAB- the cryptic acronym was buried under sixteen levels of Imperial Navy secrecy. Anyone violating that secrecy could count on a short conversation with the Grand Moff. Very short, because they'd be on the wrong side of an airlock. Still, sound conducted in a vacuum, so they'd have about fifteen seconds during which they could present their side of the case to Grand Moff Tarkin.
Even so, while those threats might have loomed, Verkl's own importance loomed greater. He lifted his gavel over the polished black table, and prepared to end the meeting. Before he could bring it home, a voice interrupted. "Captain, there's something more on the agenda." Lieutenant Silven, the representative from the Death Star Main Cannon Operations Council, was barely audible behind the black helmet that all of the weapons officers wore.
The impertinence of the lieutenant to read from the agenda, coupled with the fact that Verkl couldn't see if his venomous look had any effect on the lieutenant, made Verkl angrier than was rational for his position. Decades of military training kept his composure from snapping, but it was a few moments before he was able to trust himself to speak. Instead, he looked over his shoulder at his protocol droid. "Is that correct?"
The protocol droid answered in its insufferably feminine voice, "Why, yes it is, sir. I mentioned this a few minutes ago, but you told me, and I quote, 'Shut your bantha trap and let me run the meeting, otherwise you will be melted down for scrap.'"
Verkl quirked an eyebrow at the droid. The venomous look remained on his face.
"Understood, sir. I shall report to the foundry immediately and request that I be melted down." The droid turned on heel and exited stiffly.
"It's impossible to find good droids these days," Verkl said. His voice carried the tone of a man who was making a joke and expecting that people would laugh- and the officers seated around the table obliged him. Verkl sighed and checked his chronometer. "We only have ten minutes before the Storm Trooper Dance and Drill Team comes in to set up for their rehearsal. Who's in charge of this item on the agenda? PFC Jenkins? PFC?"
"Aye-aye, sir!" The sound came from near the door, and Verkl saw that it was a youthful private. PFC Jenkins had been standing at attention for the past four hours, but now that he was recognized, he snapped a quick palms-forward salute, and dropped into an parade-rest position. "Private First Class Jenkins, Ventilation Design and Management Council, Western Hemisphere, Equatorial Region. Sirs!"
Each word that erupted from the private's mouth carried the boot-camp bravado and overall enthusiasm that set Verkl's teeth on edge. Why, the older captain wondered, couldn't everyone have developed his jaded cynicism? It certainly made people easier to deal with- none of this 'Sir, yes, sir!' garbage. Too much goddamn energy in these young conscripts, that was really what the problem was. Verkl couldn't keep up. Coffee didn't exist in this galaxy, and he wasn't about to tramp off someplace far, far away to get a caffeine buzz.
"Tone it down, Jenkins. We're not that formal here." An insincere smile punctuated that sentence. "You've got five minutes. What's your Request For Change?" Once again, despite the customs of these meetings, Verkl was using the full name for something, not the jargonized acronym. In this instance, it had a two-fold purpose. For one, it gave Jenkins the illusion that he was actually on the inside of their little group, disguising the fact that he was actually chum in the water for an old shark. It also took longer to say, eating into Jenkins' time.
"Well, sir," Jenkins continued, fresh-faced and idealistic. "Two years ago, I was reviewing the plans for Thermal Exhaust Port X35-B1-2554. It's currently designed as a shaft that proceeds directly down into the reactor core-"
Lieutenant Commander Utosi cut him off with a gesture. Her red hair was piled up on the back of her head in an impossibly precise bun. Close examination would undoubtedly show the Fibonacci sequence in its spiral. This private was sitting here, lecturing his superiors, and she was having none of it. "Private, is this your presentation? You don't even have a PowerPoint™ Slideshow? Or a handout?" A murmuring assent rose through the assembled staff. Obviously, nothing could be done without some sort of visual aid.
Verkl couldn't help but chuckle at the poor private's misfortune. Much to the captain's charign, Lieutenant Silven pointed at the blackboard on the forward wall. "Perhaps you had best draw us a diagram. Visual aids work better with this group," he said warmly.
Jenkins walked over to the blackboard, a sheet of black acrylic, which could be written on with day-glow dry erase markers only; nothing else showed against its black surface. A whiteboard might have been more practical, but when designing the main meeting room, form was prized over function. High-ranking officers would sit in the room for hours on end, and you couldn't have a sheet of glaring white messing up the smooth black and grey motif that dominated the Death Star Planning Offices. Unfortunately, some joker had walked off with the bright green day-glow marker, and all that remained was a black marker. There was an uncomfortable moment as Jenkins tried to write on the blackboard with the black marker, but once again, Silven helped the poor rube along and supplied his own blackboard marker. Jenkins drew a large circle on the board, with a line that went straight to the center, and a circle at the center.
"In the equatorial trench, there's this exhaust port- it goes straight down to the reactor. I found it when I was doing the security analysis. But it's pretty simple to fix-"
"Oh, oh," Utosi straightened her razor sharp uniform. "We don't just go making changes willy-nilly here, Private. Why does this need to be fixed? It seems like a pretty straightforward way to exhaust a reactor." A murmur of assent followed this statement.
Jenkins blinked. He was an engineer. The reason it needed to be fixed was as plain as the nose on his face. He had never dealt with upper management, and found himself momentarily at a loss. "Well... you- see, the port is ray-shielded, right? And... uh-" As the young man stammered, Utosi grinned like a guiltless feline. Verkl shared that smile with her. "A small one-man snub fighter could come right down the trench- I mean, it's like a welcome mat- and drop a proton torpedo right down the exhaust vent and straight into the reactor. Boom." He looked at the assembled crowd, and noticed no one seemed to think that was the end of his argument. "Or... well- somebody could outfit a fleet of cheap missles with Class D or even F droid brains- they could fire a thousand missles from a capital ship, and if even one of them found their target, they could destroy the entire battle station!"
A chuckle echoed in the room. It was impossible to tell whom it came from, it was stifled that quickly. Perhaps it was even Silven, or Commander Cody Number X755542, the representative from the Storm Trooper Barracks Oversight Bureau; they both had those helmets on. Verkl gave the table an insincere chiding glance, and then said to Jekins, "Pardon my companions- but missles? Guided by computer brains and used to target a very small exhaust port? The very idea is preposterous." He shook his head and clucked his tongue, and in his mind, that ended the meeting. For a moment, he longed for the old days, when one could send an army of droids armed with saws and drills to attack snub fighters, and no one ever thought of attaching explosives to them.
"But," Silven said, "a straight line vent? I think I remember reading in our documentation that this wasn't in line with industry standard best practices."
Verkl made a mental note to have Silven killed. Just when he had all but dispatched Jenkins, Silven stepped in with that damn scoop-shaped black helmet and buoyed the private up. 'Industry Standard Best Practices' meant that they had to hear this damn fool idea out, if only so that they could document their rejection. If they didn't, their ISO 9000 certification was at risk.
"Uh- right!" Jenkins said, grabbing onto Silven's offer like a Jawa grabs spare parts. "Every other thermal exhaust port uses 'industry standard best practices.'" The words came clumsily from his mouth. "Manager" was a language foreign to this poor engineer. "Just before the opening, we insert a zig-zag." He erased part of the line that represented the vent previously, and filled the gap with a Z shape. "See, if someone were to fire a torpedo or a missle down the thermal exhaust port, when it hits this elbow- the curve is too tight. It impacts harmlessly against the side. Worst case scenario, it collapses this exhaust port- but there are plenty of those, and even if they were all attacked, repair crews could clear them before it became a problem." Once he had gotten into the engineering details, his confidence peaked, and at the conclusion of this monologue, he looked at the management staff with a large smile on his face.
Utosi exchanged a glance with Commander Cody Number X755542, and then with Verkl. "If this is industry standard best practice, and it's been used on every other exhaust port, why are you even here?" she demanded of Jenkins. "It seems to me that this should be below the LIC for the VDMCWHER- so I repeat, why are you here?"
Jenkins was prepared for this one, at least. "You're right- redesigns of the thermal port system in our region is below the level of independent change for the Ventilation Design and Management Council, Western Hemisphere, Equitorial Region." Coming from Jenkins, the lack of acronyms didn't convey the same sense of importance as it did from Verkl. It simply made him sound like a moron with bantha-poodoo between his toes. "But, there's only one way to angle this zig-zag without disrupting critical components of the infrastructure. Unfortunately, that means removing a washroom- er, a head- from the plans. That falls under the purview of Death Star Municipal Systems, Plumbing, Waterworks and Assorted Utilies Planning Division, to which the VDMCWHER has no direct liason. The DSMSPWAUPD operates under the direct purview of Systems Integration, and SyEye has its own Change Advisory Board. SyEye's board operates under Six Sigma and completely outside of our ISO 9000 environment- without proper support, we can't directly interact with SyEye. But SyEye is a subsection of Mission Operations and Capital Disbursments, but MOCaD oversees all fleet-based capital improvements. They specifically tasked the Death Star Oversight Committee to organize and coordinate all of the work-units that need to be accomplished for the construction of the Death Star. The DSOC duplicates all of the processes that occur in the management of the overall Death Star Project, but they only operate as shadow units. The actual work and decision making power resides at lower levels, and in this case, the DSOC referred my team back to the DSPCAB." The long chain of management-ese that Jenkins was able to push through in a single vomitous lump was the product of six years of concerted effort to manuver through a collection of "Best Practices" red-tape. You didn't construct a battle-station the size of a small moon without a great deal of bureaucratic overhead. After he finished the explanation, he took a few deep breaths and tried to regain some of his wind.
Silven made a noise behind his helmet that expressed his shock. "Frankly, I'm aghast. The safety of this fully armed and operational battlestation is compromised by a washroom? I move that we get rid of the washroom."
"Actually," Jenkins interrupted, "we wouldn't even need to get rid of it. Just cut it down to normal size."
At those words, Verkl knew his work was done and that this meeting would be over in mere moments.
But something had caught Utosi's attention. "'Normal size,' Private? Is this washroom unusually large?"
"Well, yes, sir. It has the same square-footage as a standard washroom, but only half the number of stalls. We could keep the number of stalls, and just shrink the washroom."
"In that case, I move that we abandon this line of inquiry, file a deviation report with the ISO compliance board, and log this as a known error in our incident management system," Utosi snapped. Silven raised his helmet to protest, but her point managed to slip through even his thick helmet. A washroom with stalls that had twice as much space could mean only one thing: it was a head reserved for officers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could compromise the comfort of an officer. An uncomfortable officer was a less effective officer, a less effective officer was a security risk greater than any stupid thermal exhaust port. At least, that was the case if you asked an officer for his opinion.
Jenkins reacted as if his hand was cut off when Silven seconded Utosi's motion. A quick vote later, and the last nail was in the coffin. The thermal exhaust port would remain unchanged. The clattering of armor at the door was perfectly timed. A group of Storm Troopers carrying banners, batons, and folding mats was at the door, and they had every intention of practicing, whether or not this meeting was over. "All right, all right," Verkl cried over the noise, "we'll end the meeting here. Everyone- next week we'll be considering the RFC for an officers-only swimming pool in Quadrant Fifteen, so I know everyone wants to be here for that. Oh, and Private Jenkins, can you stay a moment?"
Jenkins' undereducated mind assumed that meant Verkl was going to give him a second chance- perhaps the ability to find another solution, or tips for improving his RFC so that he could get his change passed through. But once Verkl had the private in the corridor, Verkl put the finishing touches on this sordid affair. "Private- a private? That means you're one of the engineers that we have operating out of the Imperial Army, yes? Ground forces?"
Verkl smiled like a slit throat. The DSPCAB was a small and highly secret organization- and it was certainly not something that a private on loan from a different military division was supposed to know about. It was clearly stated in the security procedures that any non-navy personnel with lower than Crimson clearance could know about the DSPCAB. Jenkins most certainly didn't have that. "Well, Private, while you're here, there's this small problem I've been having with a local airlock. If you wouldn't mind?"
There were at least some parts of this job that were rewarding.