Diversions & Digressions | fanfiction by mara

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law

by Mara

Summary: Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.

NOTES: This was going to be short, but it got out of hand. Thanks to Captain
Average once again for the beta and reassurance. The origin of Murphy’s Law described here is
paraphrased from a website created by Andreas Götz,
(http://www.cpuidle.de/murphy.shtml).

//thoughts//

*****************************

Introduction: Everything Goes Wrong All At Once (the Quantized Revision of
Murphy’s Law)

No matter how far human beings travel between the stars, no matter how long they
are away from Earth, there are certain things they cannot leave behind:
bureaucracy, death, and the Imp of the Perverse, AKA Murphy’s Law, AKA Finagle’s
Law and all the corollaries and derivatives thereof.

However, as any good engineer knows, perversity can be evaded for a time through
care, persistence, and triple-checking. Of course, the crew of the Enterprise
was very careful, very persistent, and always quadruple-checked; but this
diligent crew was about learn a few lessons, because you can only avoid entropy
for so long.

And nature *always* sides with the hidden flaw.

****************************

The room wasn’t anything special, one of those generic meeting rooms that
civilizations always seem to develop when they interact with other
civilizations. Neutral colored walls, neutral furniture, neutral art on the
walls.

Of course, what “neutral” means to a different species is another matter. In
this case, the walls were yellow, the furniture was blue with protrusions in
very odd places, and the art made Captain Jonathan Archer’s head ache. But he
was sure that to the species sitting on the other side of the table it was
thoroughly unremarkable.

However, the art wasn’t foremost on his mind at the moment. Jon wasn’t the most
patient man at the best of times, and this was far from the best of times. He
shifted in his chair, which somehow managed to be not *quite* the right shape
for the human body, and tried to ignore the plate of neon green insects the
alien sitting across from him was nibbling from.

“Obviously,” the pale orange alien said, “you have sided with the Trindle.” Its
upper right tentacle twitched and the Captain tried to remember what that meant.

//That’s it,// he thought, //Next time I’m bringing Hoshi, even if she *is*
terrified of slimy tentacled aliens.//

Jon looked at T’Pol, who somehow managed to shrug her confusion without actually
moving a muscle. He took a deep breath, nearly choked from the overwhelming
scent of mint (or some alien facsimile) in the air, reminded himself for the
fiftieth time not to do that, and tried again.

“We’re not on either side of this dispute. That’s why you asked us to mediate,
rather than the Vulcans or any of the other groups active in this sector.”

“Ah, the Vulcans,” the alien said, “we have learned much from them, including
how to use their logic. And that is how we figured out that you are really
working for our enemy.”

Behind him, he could hear Reed and the other security officer shuffling slightly
in place, probably fingering their phase pistols. //I’ve got to calm this
situation down, before it erupts in violence,// he thought.

“What have we done to make you think we are siding with them?” he asked.

The alien made a complicated gesture, and Jon looked at T’Pol again, hoping she
would have some insight. No such luck.

“You came here offering to help us,” the alien said. “And we were suspicious.”

“That’s right,” Jon said, trying to be patient. “Until we explained that as
humans we don’t have any stake in which side wins in your little war.”

“But, you see,” the alien said, “we applied this logic and looked more closely
at events since you arrived in this system.”

“What events?”

The alien consulted its notes. “Since you began ‘helping’ us with these
negotiations, attacks on our people in the disputed regions have increased
12.2%.”

T’Pol lifted an eyebrow and said something in Vulcan the translator rendered as
“Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.” Jon blinked. //Latin? Must remember to talk to
Hoshi about that.//

“And,” the alien continued, “we have heard of Enterprise’s actions at the Vulcan
sanctuary. So, obviously, you are used to siding with the aggressor.”

T’Pol spoke in Vulcan again. This time the translator deigned to use English.
“Guilt by association. Poisoning the well.”

//Has my first officer lost her mind?// he wondered, before biting back an
inappropriate snicker. //Ah, she’s cataloguing the negotiator’s logical
fallacies. Probably capital crimes on Vulcan.//

“So,” the oblivious alien concluded, “we demand that you prove you were not
involved in the attacks on our people.

T’Pol said “Burden of proof,” and it sounded like a death sentence.

Jon rubbed his forehead as he tried to figure out where to start.

Lesson #1: Logic is a Systematic Method of Coming to the Wrong Conclusion with
Confidence

*************************************

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed was often accused of being anal-retentive. When
confronted with that, he nearly always replied, “Be certain to include the
hyphen in anal-retentive.” This usually caused his accusers to look at him
strangely and walk away, leaving him alone to do what he loved the best: work on
the weapons systems.

This made him a very good armory officer, because if there is one thing you want
to be certain has been checked, it’s your weapons. Before the Captain’s
diplomatic mission left the Enterprise, Malcolm had checked both phase pistols
personally.

He was glad of this fact as he watched the careful negotiations his Captain had
been working on for two weeks flush down the loo. The Captain was fidgeting in a
way that Malcolm had learned meant he was getting annoyed, T’Pol was muttering
in Vulcan, and the alien was acting…well, alien.

He glanced quickly at the ensign beside him to make sure she was keeping a close
eye on the proceedings, and was pleased to see that she was also prepared for
action.

Malcolm didn’t like the way the aliens were moving. Hoshi had given him the
crash course in Kaledian kinesthetics, but all he could remember was that the
lower tentacles registered happier emotions and the upper tentacles feelings
like anger.

//The almost frantic waving of an upper tentacle can’t *possibly* be good,// he
thought, eyeing his opposite number behind the alien diplomat and trying to
determine which appendage would be used if it were reaching for a weapon. He
tried to keep half his attention on the negotiations and half on the other
guards.

But the threat came, eventually, from neither. Just as the Captain and the chief
negotiator were really starting to argue, the wall right behind the aliens blew
out, knocking everything on that side of the table over onto whatever it was
they sat on.

Captain Archer jumped out of his chair, and Malcolm dragged him down behind the
sturdy table, raising his weapon. The ensign attempted to do the same for T’Pol,
but the Vulcan had already prudently taken cover.

Malcolm stuck his head up in time to see two new aliens came through the hole in
the wall, yelling something at the negotiators.

//At least they’re busy with each other for the moment,// Malcolm thought.

“Let’s get out of here,” the Captain yelled in his ear.

“Agreed,” T’Pol said, and crouching down, the group began making its way toward
the door just a few meters away.

Malcolm pushed the Captain out of the way and ducked as one of the assailants
finally shot at them. He tripped over an overturned chair, barreling into T’Pol.

As they fell over, Malcolm felt another beam hit over his head and splinters of
the wall clattered onto his head and shoulders. He rolled onto his knees and
aimed his pistol at the alien opposite him.

//This’ll teach you to shoot at my crewmates,// he thought as he pulled the
trigger.

Nothing happened.

It was the Captain’s turn to yank him out of the line of fire as Malcolm froze
for a split second in surprise.

“Ensign,” Malcolm yelled at his subordinate, “give me your gun so I can lay down
covering fire.”

The surprised ensign traded phase pistols and Malcolm gestured to the Captain
and T’Pol. “Go.”

He peered over the table and took a shot across, part of him relaxing at the
familiar sound and feel of the weapon firing.

The scene was chaotic, with smoke and debris obscuring the figures on the other
side of the room. Malcolm shot at anyone who appeared to be turning in their
direction.

He ran toward the door as he saw his crewmates disappear through it. A shot
skimmed across his shoulder as he ducked again, and he came up already firing.

Nothing happened.

“Shit!” he yelled as he dove through the door, pursued by several laser beams.

The battered and dirty team met up at their shuttlecraft a few minutes later,
unhappy but alive.

The Captain didn’t look at Malcolm as they lifted the shuttlecraft off the
ground and contacted the Enterprise to prepare to move quickly.

“Sir,” Malcolm finally said, clearing his throat, “I want to apologize for my
failure. Apparently my check on the phase pistols missed something and I-”

“Quit apologizing, Lieutenant,” the Captain said. “I know you did your best, and
I’m not blaming you. These pistols are still pretty new, something was bound to
go wrong eventually. Let’s just get the hell out of here. It’s really been one
of those days.”

Lesson #2: A Failure Will Not Appear Until a Unit Has Passed Final Inspection

**************************************

By the time the away team was back on board, Ensign Hoshi Sato was already
buried deep in the bowels of the Universal Translator.

“Is there something wrong?” she heard the Captain’s tired voice ask from over
her head. “The last thing we need is another glitch.”

“No need for alarm, sir,” she said, “I just wanted to run another check on the
translator to be certain it wasn’t at fault.” She pulled herself up into her
chair and looked at the Captain leaning against her console. “I’ve had
engineering take a look at the hardware, and I wanted to check the algorithms on
the software upgrade Starfleet sent.”

He looked confused for a moment before his expression cleared. “I really don’t
think the problems we had on the planet were caused by a mistranslation.”

“I know, sir, but I want to be sure about this upgrade since I didn’t work on
it. Something bothers me.”

“Well, I’ve never been one to discount a hunch, so keep working,” he said,
sighing. “Meanwhile, since we seem to be well on our way out of the system, I’m
going to head to my quarters for a few minutes before I begin my report to
Starfleet.”

Hoshi noticed his dirty clothes. //He didn’t even take the time to clean up
before coming to the bridge.// “Everything is under control here,” she said.
“I’m just running a few tests on the translator.”

Just then, a babble of sounds burst from the computer speakers all around them.
Everyone looked at Hoshi and her eyes widened as she recognized the sounds. //I
heard Nausicaan, Klingon, Italian, and Russian in there,// she thought.

“What’s that?” the Captain asked, but the noise picked up as soon as he started
speaking. He stopped, and the sound stopped. He raised his eyebrows at Hoshi.

She quickly tapped a few keys to shut off the translator. The computer beeped
smugly at her. She tapped a few more keys and frowned.

“Ensign?” the Captain began, but the babble began again. “Shut it off,” he
ground out through the noise.

“I’m trying,” she said, almost unable to hear herself under what now sounded
like two Germans, an Andorian, and five Vulcans repeating what she said.

The door to the bridge burst open and two crewmembers started to say, “Hoshi,
what’s going-”

“Quiet!” the Captain yelled over the noise of simultaneous translation of their
words into Portugese, Xyrillian, and a language even Hoshi couldn’t determine in
this mess. The crewmembers stopped dead in their tracks, mouths shut so tight
she was surprised they didn’t explode.

Just then, every board on the bridge lit up with messages from all over the
ship. Hoshi didn’t need to look at them to guess that this same phenomenon was
occurring elsewhere.

The Captain looked like he wanted to bang his head against the bulkhead, but he
settled for grabbing the nearest datapadd and scribbling on it.

“Can you stop it?” he wrote as she looked over his shoulder.

She nodded firmly, unwilling to voice her uncertainty about what had *happened*.
//I’ve got to stop it,// she thought, //or I’ll be lynched.//

She tried several more times to shut the translator off from her station, and
frowned as the computer rejected all her attempts to stop the program.

“What-” Travis started to say, stopping when everyone glared at him.

The bridge door opened again, and Hoshi ignored the advent of several other
crewmembers trying not to speak. She dived back under her console, looking for a
physical cause for the computer’s recalcitrance.

Finding nothing, she sent written messages off to various computer and
engineering crew to get their help.

Within a few minutes, T’Pol stood at her station, a Lieutenant from the software
department had taken over the auxiliary science station, and the three of them
were furiously tapping away.

It was T’Pol who finally shut the runaway translator down, an hour later.

“It is done,” she said. Everyone on the bridge looked up in fear, but there was
blessed silence.

The silence erupted into cheers and the Captain emerged from his ready room all
smiles.

He toggled a switch to make an announcement to the whole ship. “Enterprise, I’m
pleased to say you may now resume your regular conversations.”

Hoshi rested her face in her hands, heaved a sigh of relief, and prepared to
apologize, maybe even grovel a bit.

The Captain forestalled her words. “Don’t apologize,” he said with a tired grin.
“Just get a report on my desk with an explanation.”

Hoshi nodded vigorously.

The Captain turned to T’Pol. “You have the bridge. *I* am finally going to my
quarters to take a shower.”

He made it exactly halfway to the door before the ship lurched and he careened
into a bulkhead.

Hoshi grabbed hold of her chair, T’Pol picked herself up from the floor, and
Travis muttered to himself as he checked his board.

The Captain, looking tremendously put-upon, jabbed the intercom with a tad more
force than necessary. “Engineering, what the hell is going on down there?”

Hoshi heard the Chief Engineer’s voice rise above a background of alarms and
voices. “I’m not sure, Cap’n…hell, Lieutenant, if you don’t stop that alarm,
I’m gonna come down there and rip the goddamn plugs out myself.”

“Trip?” The Captain asked with exaggerated patience. “What’s happening?”

“Keep your pants on, we’re working on it.”

Lesson #3: To Err is Human, but to Really Foul Things Up Requires a Computer

*************************************

Commander Charles “Trip” Tucker prided himself on his easy-going manner, his
ready smile, and never becoming too attached to anyone or anything.

There are, however, always exceptions, and Trip *was* a damn good engineer. So,
he was taking this latest affront to his engines mighty personally.

The graphs on the padd swam in front of his eyes as Trip rubbed at the effects
of a sleepless night. It was seven hours after the ship had lurched, and he was
no closer to fixing the problem. The best they could do was keep things from
deteriorating.

He was crouched down in front of an access panel, comparing what his notes said
he should be seeing to what was actually happening. “Damn it, the levels are
rising,” he called out to various feet, knees, and asses sticking out from under
important pieces of equipment.

The head of one of his assistants popped out to stare at him incredulously. She
tried to tuck her dark hair back into its holder with filthy hands as she said,
“But that’s impossible, sir. We’re bleeding fluid out as fast as we can.”

Trip dropped the padd on the deck and ran his left hand through his hair as he
punched up more information with his right. “My granddaddy used to say ‘Anything
is possible, except skiin’ through a revolving door.’ And the levels are rising,
Ensign, so I suggest you get back to what you’re doin’.”

When he looked back up, her head was gone, but he could hear her muttered
imprecations from where he sat.

Nobody was looking at him, so he let himself slump back against the bulkhead
behind him. //What the hell is causing this build-up?// he asked himself.

//*Logic* says,// and Trip felt a grin forming even through his exhaustion,
//that these levels should never have risen in the first place. ‘Course, that
logic is based on testing done in the lab, and fuckin’ zip experience in deep
space. Do they think we’re beta testing for fun out here?//

He stared at the graphs. He stared at the panel. He dragged his sorry butt
around to take a look at what everyone else was doing.

He was just starting to wonder about the beneficial effect of throwing himself
out an airlock when it hit him.

Actually, two things hit him: the factor he’d been missing for seven hours, and
then the railing above him when he stood up too fast.

“Damn it!” he said, feeling the top of his head for a bump.

“Sir?” one of the engineers asked.

“I’m fine, but our gravitational systems aren’t.”

“Sir?” the same tech asked again, giving him a funny look. “The gravity is
Earth-normal. In here at least.”

“Don’t look at me like that, that’s the problem, the effects of the ship’s
varied gravity fields on the fluids in this system. Those bastards never tested
it on a real, moving ship.”

Lesson #4: Everything That Goes Up Must Come Down

*************************************

Epilogue: All’s Well That Ends

Twenty-four hours later, the Enterprise looked rather like the aftermath of a
battle. On the up side, the engines were finally working within their normal
parameters, the translator was back on-line, and the Captain had finally gotten
a shower and some sleep.

But from the scene in the mess hall, you wouldn’t have known it. Everywhere you
looked bodies slumped dispiritedly in their chairs, picking mindlessly at their
food. Except, of course, for Sub-Commander T’Pol, who raised an eyebrow as she
neatly ate her salad, perfect posture intact.

“I do not understand,” she said, after a few minutes of watching her mumbling
and groaning tablemates, “why the morale of the ship has been so badly affected
by a few incidents.”

Trip lifted his head from his carrot cake long enough to grin weakly. “Well,
Murphy’s Law has caught up with us, but, sure as the sun don’t shine on the same
dog’s tail all the time, we’ll get through this and be back to our normal
sparkly selves soon enough.”

T’Pol sensibly ignored the earthy human metaphor. “I am not familiar with this
Murphy. Is he a human philosopher?”

There were a few stifled snickers around the table, and Trip said, “No, you
wouldn’t have heard of him, would ya? I guess you could call him a philosopher,
of sorts. I’ve always thought of him as more of a prophet.”

Hoshi looked up from her soup at that. “Actually, he was an engineer.”

“Really?” Trip looked a little more awake.

“Uh-huh.” Hoshi closed her eyes and tapped her fingers on the table. “As I
recall the story, his name was Edsel T. Murphy, Jr., and he was an engineer back
in the mid-twentieth century, working on experiments in human acceleration
tolerance.”

Malcolm smiled. “Lots of potential there for disaster.”

“Yep,” Hoshi said. “Apparently one experiment involved a long series of wires
glued to a person’s body. There were two possible ways they could be glued, and
somebody carefully attached each and every one the wrong way. So, Murphy came up
with the original form of Murphy’s Law: If there are two or more ways to do
something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will
do it.”

“Ain’t *that* the truth,” Trip said, rolling his head back and forth to stretch
his neck.

“Then, it mutated into ‘If anything can go wrong, it will,'” Hoshi continued.

“At the worst possible time,” Malcolm said.

“And even if nothing can possibly go wrong, it will anyway,” Travis said.

T’Pol looked at them. “You are not serious, are you?”

“‘Course we are,” Trip said. “Nothin’ is more serious than when one of Murphy’s
Laws hits ya where ya live. For instance, there’s always Murphy’s Constant:
Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value.”

“If several things that could have gone wrong, have *not* gone wrong, it would
have been ultimately beneficial for them to have gone wrong,” Travis said,
cutting his steak into smaller and smaller pieces.

Hoshi grinned. “Everything takes longer than you think.”

“Ah, and what about Hanlon’s Razor?” Malcolm said. When everyone shook their
heads, he said, “You know, ‘Never attribute to malice what can be adequately
explained by stupidity.'”

Travis actually giggled, then covered his mouth. The others grinned at him.
Smiles spread in concentric circles from their table, as word of their
conversation was passed along.

T’Pol shook her head. “You cannot possibly believe that these rules are true.
They are merely juvenile human attempts to understand the universe.”

“No, T’Pol,” Trip said, “you’re missin’ the point. They’re a sophisticated
understanding of chaos theory, quantum mechanics and a whole bunch of other
stuff, just put so the average person can understand them. Besides, they make us
immature humans feel better.”

“And you can’t tell me,” Hoshi said, “that you haven’t noticed the rash of
mishaps that have been plaguing us. Dr. Phlox’s burnt hand?”

Travis nodded. “A clear case of the First Law of Laboratory Work: Hot glass
looks exactly like cold glass.”

“And what about your own experimental problems recently?” Hoshi added.

T’Pol said, “I fail to see what the unusual results of my tests of this system’s
sun have to do with this human engineer who lived two hundred years ago.”

Trip tsked at her. “One of Murphy’s Laws clearly states that ‘If an experiment
works, something has gone wrong.'”

“That is ridiculous, to say the least.”

“No,” Trip said, “just very human. In any case, things have been pretty quiet,
so maybe-”

THWIP! The strange noise echoed through the air and the mess hall suddenly
switched to emergency power.

In the silence that followed, Trip’s voice came through clearly. “Well, damn.
Guess I spoke too soon.”

–end–

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