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As Dr. McCoy entered, Kirk dropped the report he was checking onto his desk with a little grunt. "Bones - for this relief, much thanks."
McCoy grinned. "You won't be saying that two days from now when you're desperately trying to get the monthly reports finished - you'll be cursing me black and blue for disturbing you when you'd obviously set your mind to dealing with them."
Kirk shrugged. "Not really. I just needed to clear some space on my desk."
"Well, something made you decide to deal with some of the reports instead of just recycling them onto the floor. Spock been nagging?"
"Bones, you know better than that. Spock never nags."
"No? 'It is illogical, Captain, to neglect work that you know must be done... ' In my book, that's nagging!"
"No, no. A dignified reminder, that's all." He glanced disgustedly over the pile of routine monthly reports, augmented as they were by the annual ones that were also due this month. "I wouldn't mind if these things were actually needed," he added gloomily as he picked up one of the offending annual reports. "Look - 'Number of shuttlecraft allocated' - dammit, this class of Starship rates five shuttlecraft, and if we lose one we report it and it's replaced at the very first opportunity. They don't need this information. It's in the Constitution Class specifications. 'Firepower' - does some idiot at HQ think we've somehow managed to fit an extra phaser - or photon torpedo tube - or that some miraculous new weapon has been presented to us by some primitive race we've helped? Or that - if that happened - we'd decide to announce it in the annual reports instead of at the time? I'll bet nobody ever even looks at these f... foolish reports!"
"Someone has to feed 'em into a computer, Jim," McCoy suggested.
"I doubt it. What's more - I'll prove it!"
McCoy looked at the mischievous expression on his Captain's face. With Kirk in this 'bureaucracy is an idiot' mood, anything could happen, and the Doctor shuddered slightly. For a man as reasonable and sensible as Kirk when there was a serious situation to face, the Captain could be surprisingly idiotic when he was bored by inaction.
"How?" he asked, trying to inject a note of 'don't you think that's rather childish?' into his voice, knowing instantly that he had failed. "Jim - you can't deliberately falsify a return - Starfleet'd have your guts for garters!"
"No, no - not deliberately falsify anything." Kirk chuckled. "Just a little stammer. Not five shuttlecraft - fifty five. Some of the idiots at HQ are so thick that if it's noticed - and I've a bottle of fifty-year-old Saurian brandy that says it won't be - it'll be queried. Symers in Records wouldn't have the guts to assume it was a computer hiccup - if it's brought to his attention, he'll contact us for confirmation that it's a mistake."
The buzzer sounded again, and on Kirk's call, the door slid open to allow the First Officer to enter. McCoy pounced on him with relief.
"Spock - see if you can't talk some sense into Jim. He's come up with a hare-brained notion about proving that nobody at HQ reads routine reports - "
"I am quite sure they do not, Doctor." He glanced at Kirk. "What do you propose to do, Captain?"
Kirk told him, and he nodded thoughtfully. "Simple... but I agree, it would be an effective method of proving the point. Vice-Admiral Symers is not a man to use his initiative in a case like that. Should the 'error' be reported to him - and I am told that he demands that all errors are reported to him - he will check with the source because the book says that he should."
"Do you actually know Symers, Spock?" Kirk asked curiously.
"Not personally, but I do know someone who worked under him for some months, several years ago, before he was assigned to Records. Nobody is asked to work under him for longer than six months; Symers is apparently fully satisfied with the explanation that rotation is necessary for juniors so that they can attain wider experience. In actual fact, if they were under him for longer, their sanity could well be at risk. Symers is a man who could drive even a Vulcan into a nervous breakdown."
McCoy grunted. "Doesn't he even have a permanent secretary?"
"Yes - an elderly and unambitious cousin as... fossilised, I believe would serve as an adequate description... as himself," Spock replied.
McCoy turned his attention back to Kirk. "Jim, you can't possibly do this. Dammit, it's... it's unethical!"
"Proving a theory is hardly unethical, Doctor," Spock told him.
"Spock, if Symers is as dull as all that, he'll enjoy reading all those monotonous reports," McCoy protested.
"Possibly, but he will hardly have the time," Spock pointed out. He glanced at Kirk, a trace of near-mischief in his own eyes. "Captain - why just fifty five? Why not five hundred and fifty five?"
"Even Symers would realise that was an error - wouldn't he?"
As Spock considered the matter, McCoy cut in again. "Jim, you can't!"
"Come, now, Doctor, where is your sense of adventure?" Spock asked.
"Adventure?" McCoy yelped. "Jim's talking about falsifying a return, you're encouraging him, and you - you, a Vulcan! - talk about a sense of adventure?"
"Doctor, it is not logical to require that facts given in the specifications be confirmed each year. It is not logical to give already busy, indeed overworked, personnel what I believe you call 'make work'. It is not logical to use up computer memory repeating facts which have already been recorded. It is logical to attempt to prove, if only to our own satisfaction, that our suspicions are correct, and that nobody does check the data. Once we have that proof, we can attempt to have something done to alter the requirements for routine reports."
"And stick your necks out even further?" McCoy worried. "Some reports are necessary - "
"I don't dispute that, Bones," Kirk agreed. "I'm not quibbling about the necessary returns, but most of the routine ones are just that - repeating what was said last year... and the year before... and the year before... The only thing that changes is the date, but first the Head of Department has to check-and-sign, then I do - with a rocket from HQ if it's late, whatever the reason. Remember the fuss there was a couple of years ago when the Hood's reports didn't arrive?"
"The Enquiry proved that it wasn't Captain Ch'avek's fault - " McCoy began a little defensively.
"It wasn't anybody's fault, but my point is, there didn't need to be an expensive Enquiry in the first place - and there wouldn't have been if HQ didn't demand this repetitious routine every year. That whole incident was proof of how inefficient some of the staff at HQ really is - and how little interdepartmental communication there is. Admiral Fitzgerald knew that the Hood had been caught in that Force 10 ion storm. He knew - and Surgeon-General Tokota knew - that Ch'avek was lying unconscious in sickbay when those reports were due. Fitzgerald knew that Commander Rilke had been killed. He knew that Chief Engineer Buchanan was fully occupied keeping the engines in one piece - why else did Buchanan get his Service Cross? He knew that over half of the crew had been killed or were injured and unfit for duty. He knew that the rest were working two shifts on and one off just to get the ship back to Starbase 8. He knew that apart from Buchanan the ranking officer left alive was the senior helmsman - a lieutenant - who took on the position of acting Captain because Buchanan was fully occupied in engineering. Festenstein had enough to do just keeping the ship together without worrying about routine reports. Did a damn' good job too - that's why he's First Officer on the Kongo now. Yet with all of that, nobody seems to have told Symers - and when the reports didn't arrive, Symers began to howl. And even then nobody told him he was being unreasonable, that there was a good reason why he didn't get that year's waste paper from the Hood. Or perhaps they did and he didn't listen. He never did get it either, and the skies have stayed exactly where they ought to be. Because the information wasn't needed, not by Symers and not by Starfleet. Just by the system. And - frankly - the system didn't miss it."
"However," Spock commented, "it might be wise to take the time to formulate a reasoned argument pointing out how much money could be saved from Starfleet's budget by omitting these unnecessary reports, whether monthly or yearly - or both - once you have proved your point about nobody reading them. The incident with the Hood could be included as additional evidence to support your case."
Kirk nodded, and glanced at McCoy. "I meant to. I'm not just trying to be funny, Bones. I really do think there's a point to prove here."
McCoy didn't look convinced. "It's up to you, of course," he said unhappily. "Remember, though, it's your neck."
"On the contrary, Doctor, Starfleet Command should be grateful if we can show how they can save money - "
"Ha! High Command is more likely to tell us that that isn't our job," McCoy growled.
"You're probably right," Kirk grinned. "Personally, I'll be satisfied to prove my point. A bottle of brandy, Bones - fifty-year-old Saurian. If I'm right, I keep it; if I'm wrong, you get it - "
"And either way you will undoubtedly both drink it," Spock said drily.
Three months later, they drank the brandy. Even Spock accepted a glass.
Kirk opened the bottle - to toast the commendation he received for discovering a method of saving Starfleet money...