Regulation Generation — a short story by Kurt Gailey
The Commander gave a seethingly contemptuous look at the Second Class PO behind the supply counter. He picked up the pen that dangled innocently from its silver-beaded chain, and he imagined burying it in the PO’s skull.
The Commander reminded himself who he was and how he should act—especially in situations such as this.
“Give me the paperwork,” the Commander commanded, correcting his posture, standing taller and feeling much larger than he was. While he watched the supply PO shuffle through a flight of files, he mumbled, “This is ridiculous. I should be able to just get what I want. My work shouldn’t be hindered with this rigmarole. Highest ranking officer on this skiff and I can’t even get a…”
“Here you are, sir,” said the PO as he slid the papers through the slot in his caged area. He added, “Don’t forget to press hard so the info will go through to the carbons, sir.”
The Commander paused, holding the sheets of paper against the short plank jutting from the slot in the supply cage. The pen, gripped too tight in his fingers, hovered over the paper. His expression was that which would make babies cry. His tough old hands shook almost imperceptibly with the mental struggle affecting his head.
He wanted very badly to put the PO in a strangle hold.
Again he reminded himself of his own position, and calmed down enough to say: “I know how to use carbon paper Petty Officer, uh, Gordon.”
“Of course you do, sir,” Gordon agreed, and added, “You were probably around when it was invented.”
The Petty Officer watched as the Commander’s lips curled into a snarl that would have graced a bulldog’s face conspicuously well.
Through his clenched teeth the Commander spoke, slowly, angrily, “By that you mean what?”
“By that, sir,” Gordon stalled for time to think, “I meeean…that you’ve had a long, distinguished career, sir.”
“Right.” The Commander decided to take a different tack with his thoughts. “You know Petty Officer Gordon, we are currently in need of a full-time bilge-rat.”
“That would require a separate requisition, sir.”
“What!?” The pen on the chain skipped across the page, leaving a long, black, angry line. The pen dropped, and the chain smacked against the chain-link cage. The Commander weaved his fingers through the chain-link and shook the cage.
“Are you taunting me!?” he screamed.
Gordon backed up against the metal drawers immediately behind him and spoke rapidly. “Not at all sir. Just following orders. Regulation seven-ought-one five-ought-two states that all personnel transfers will be treated as requisitions and all regulations per requisitions apply. Which means you’d need to sign some papers before sending me to the bilges, sir.”
“What are you,” the Commander growled, “an autistic lawyer?”
“No sir,” Gordon stated, “just a Supply Officer.”
“I mean, do you have all the regulations memorized, or what?”
“Of course,” Gordon said proudly. “Regulation two states clearly that all personnel should be familiar with the regulations manuals. And, after all sir, I have the easiest access to all the manuals, since they are stored here.”
The Commander released his grip on the chain-link cage, slid his hand along the pen-chain until he reached the pen. He picked up the pen, began writing again and said, very seriously, “If this cage wasn’t here, I’d presently be about kicking your butt up around your ears, Pee Oh Gordon.”
“Physically impossible, sir,” Gordon stated logically.
No change of expression crossed the Commander’s face as he continued to write. He spoke slowly, maintaining a superficial calm. “Somehow Gordon, I knew you were going to say that. You know what I’d really like to do?” He lifted the pen and pointed the chain end at the Petty Officer. “I’d really like to kick the butt of the guy who wrote this requisition regulation. I mean, what is this PRR1GEN3?”
“You really don’t know, sir?” Gordon was puzzled.
Some of the old anger resurfaced. The Commander’s eyebrows tilted toward each other in the center. His eyes creased on the sides.
Gordon took his cue. “Sir, the 1 means this is the first time this particular regulation has been worded the way it is, while the GEN3 means that this is the third generation of the same regulation, even though the wording may have changed. As for the first letters, I bet you could guess what those stand for.”
“Yes, well,” the Commander cleared his throat, “it surprises me that someone in command, some time ago, could so thoroughly defeat the armed forces like this.”
Done filling out the paperwork, the Commander shoved it through the slot. Gordon reached for it warily, making sure not to place any part of himself within reach of the volatile man on the other side of the barrier. He grabbed the paperwork but then found that the Commander would not let go.
The Commander would not let go because he had come to a sudden realization. He decided to exploit the lucidity. “Gordon,” he asked with a smirk, “could you tell me, to your best recollection, who exactly made this ridiculous regulation?”
“Yes sir,” Gordon smiled knowingly, “it was put into effect by one Commander Stewart and co-signed by one Ensign Andrews.”
The smirk dropped from the Commander’s face, as simultaneously the paperwork slipped from his fingers.
Gordon accepted the papers graciously, and with a flip of the finger he seemed to test the paper’s crispness. While reading and checking the paperwork for completeness, he offered quietly, “You were an Ensign once, weren’t you?” Finding the paperwork sufficiently complete, he looked up and asked, “Commander Andrews?”
“Yes,” the Commander admitted, “perhaps a foolish one.”
“Perhaps, sir,” Gordon said, with a bit more courtesy. He turned around, reached in a drawer, pulled an object from it, and turned back around, all with a twist of the heels that some might call an ‘about-face.’
“And here sir, is your black, plastic, spring-action, military issue, ball-point pen…as requisitioned.”