Ensign Rusty: The Next Generation
Our recent discussion of Ensign Rusty and the strange fate of 23rd century sanitation officers has led me to ponder some of the other oddities of the Star Trek job front. Ponder with me, readers.
Waiters OF THE FUTURE. Particularly by the TNG era, we are led to understand that at least within the heart of the Federation, it's a post-scarcity utopian society. Humanity's basic needs are met, everyone enjoys vigorous good health and lives to be 120, everyone has evolved past basic material greed, and we are each free to chart our own destiny, follow our bliss, etc. So why is this jackass serving drinks? I would guess that 90% of our readers immediately recognize Ben, the friendly Ten-Forward waiter from the TNG episode "Lower Decks." Understand that on a starship, you are never more than 100 feet from a thing on the wall that can instantly make any sort of food or beverage you want, and all you have to do is ask. There is no need for an additional sentient life form to act as middleman --- taking your order, walking it over to the replicator, placing the order, walking it to your table. Ben does not do this for the money, because there is no money. A hologram could do the job. The only answer is that in the future, some people realize that they genuinely enjoy being space-waiters. Maybe it's something you do for a year or two just for the life experience, and the chance to see the galaxy . . . but maybe some people find fulfillment in this life of service.
Science Officer (TNG Era). There was a bit of reshuffling of job assignments between TOS and TNG . . . we lost the communications officer (i.e., receptionist) and navigator (i.e., guy who sits next to guy who flies the ship), and that can be chalked up to technological advances. But Science Officer used to be an extremely important gig, back in the days of Spock, and you'd think that on a ship like the Enterprise-D, it would still be a full-time gig to coordinate the activities of at least 100-200 Starfleet and civilian scientists, doing all manner of scientific science. But if there's a Chief Science Officer on that ship, we never heard about it. I have seen some non-canon suggestions that this was one of Data's assignments, along with Operations Manager / Second Officer / Cat Herder, and I've also read that they just decided Data didn't look good in Science Officer blue. We know that the Stellar Sciences department is headed up by a Lt. Commander (at least at one point), so presumably there are some other similarly high-ranking science types on board, but not once did any of them sit in on a senior staff meeting . . . I guess the robot had it covered. Pretty insulting, though, if you're the head of astrophysics, and there's some crazy rift in space-time, and no one from the bridge ever calls because it's cool, the robot will handle it. I like to think that the lack of oversight means that there was some obscure subdepartment --- Mycology or some such --- that was just two guys who reported to no one, and realized that no one was ever going to need their input on anything, and just went to their lab and drank all day.
Operations Manager. Speaking of Data . . . if you watch him and Harry Kim, you can piece together that "Operations Manager" is a bridge position that handles a variety of duties: "rerouting power," a little communications, a little sensors stuff . . . general technobabble. What I've been wondering is if this is really a "Department Head" position like Chief Engineer, Chief of Security, etc. It didn't seem to be a supervisory role, notwithstanding the "manager." It would make sense to have someone supervise the more computery stuff, while Engineering concentrated on the ship as a whole and the engines. But instead of the giving the robot more work, they had the blind guy do everything. This is why Geordi never had a girlfriend. I always enjoyed the "Data in command" bits, and the hints that Data was, in his own way, an ambitious being, or at least that he expected to be treated like a high-ranking officer and not just a useful tool. Giving Data some "direct reports" and watching him struggle with leadership/management would've made for some interesting viewing.
Security Chief (TOS Era). Why did Kirk lose all those redshirts? Lack of leadership. I think there may have been a couple of passing references to someone being "Chief of Security" on TOS, but this presumably important job was only one small step above Ensign Rusty in terms of screen time. My sense is that this has become a favorite gig for Mary Sue characters in fan fiction . . . in fact, as a youngster, I read a pretty cool Trek novel called "The Entropy Effect" which focused on a wonderfully Mary Sueish new security chief, Lt. Com. Mandala Flynn, who had an elaborate backstory and made sweet interstellar love to Sulu, with many a paragraph devoted to his lithe, compact body and his Fu Manchu mustache. Yeah, Sulu grew a 'stache, and I think this is where he was first named Hikuru, and he got promoted at the end. Anyway, I guess they eventually decided this would give Chekov something to do.
Guy Who Milks the Schplict. We are not big Voyager fans on this blog. We're not angry, just disappointed. Back in my college days, I gave it a shot, and thrilled as Neelix almost doomed them all by making his own cheese, which infected the biogel packs, and then we used science, etc. It was just a throwaway line that he used milk from the schplict, but we immediately realized the implication: somebody's got to milk the schpict. "Milking the schplict" became a wonderful euphemism for us, representing all manner of private bodily functions, as well as indicating that the speaker was going to undertake an undesirable task. I imagine the schplict was some sort of horrible lactating caterpillar-lizard that made a disturbing moan when milked.