Commander Tunney opened his mouth to order Lieutenant Bell to cut the call, but before he could utter a sound the picture disappeared and a loud dial tone echoed across the bridge.
Commander Tunney muttered something harsh and unprintable under his breath, expressed a deep and dramatic sigh and made a throat-cutting gesture at Lieutenant Bell. The annoying tone disappeared.
Commander Tunney sniffed and rubbed at his jaw thoughtfully, looking back and forth between his most senior staff. His eyes lingered on Lieutenant Commander Varis. He was thinking how incredibly competent they all were, how he was damned lucky to have them and how since they were so spectacularly competent, perhaps they could handle this business while he took some leave on some part of the Federated States of Utopia that was quiet and peaceful...perhaps with Varis.
Alas, he thought.
Heaving himself to his feet, lest he lose consciousness from lack of interest, he stood, hands on hips, and addressed his bridge crew.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, those of you who have been with me for more than a tour will already have some sense of the scale of mess we are about to get into."
Those who had served with the Commander were easily identified with their prematurely sagging shoulders, blank faces and bent postures. Those with less experience, who yet possessed some glimmer of hope that service in the Galactic Forces could possibly be looked on as a positive experience, blinked in confusion.
"The FSU is plainly coming apart at the seams and we all know this." He poked his index finger onto the table in front of him to make a dramatic point. Red lights began to flash quietly while he spoke. Beyond the edge of his peripheral vision, Ensign Vul, who's name he did not yet know, glared at the Commander and canceled the alarms.
"It's an old story," he said, "It really is," and he shook his head sadly. "But we're going to go down there and we're find out what's going on, by God..." He raised his voice to convey confidence and firmness.
"...and we're going to report our findings to Admiral Quince and we're going to do what we're told!
The more experienced half of the bridge crew had not stopped what they were doing when the Commander began speaking. The end of his speech did not interrupt them, either. The newer crew members looked lost. Gradually, one by one, they returned to their games of Tetris.
Commander Tunney sagged. He'd put everything he had into the speech, this time, and he needed to sit down. He gestured at one of the faceless Ensigns at the back of the bridge to bring him a tonic on the rocks and sipped at it thoughtfully.
Lieutenant Commander Varis stood primly by his side, lips pursed.
"Shall I assemble a landing party, Sir?" she asked.
"Yes," Commander Tunney said. "That's the next thing, isn't it?"
"I believe so, Sir," Varis said.
Commander Tunney leaned toward Varis and dropped his voice confidentially. He'd had something to say a moment ago, but now that his face was so near her perfectly curved...whatever it was, he couldn't remember what he'd wanted to say.
A light flashed on Lieutenant Bell's console. He perked up.
"What is it, Bell?" The Commander returned to his drink with a slurp.
"Another ship has entered the sector, Sir."
Commander Tunney furrowed his bushy brow and turned to look directly at Bell, instead of dramatically off into space.
"They'll be joining us in orbit within the hour."
"Damn!" Commander Tunney said. "Who is it this time?"
"It's the Channel 4712 News Cruiser, Sir." Bell punched at the board and an image of the ship displayed on the screen. Everyone on the bridge squinted simultaneously to read the words painted on the side of the ship.
"Biased and Unfair," the Commander read. "Lovely."