There is a corollary to the Universal Law of Red Tape, and that is: any attempt at increasing efficiency will automatically, inexplicably, and irreversibly increase complexity, ultimately making things far less efficient than they were previously. As a result, when those whose jobs are driven by Red Tape unleash such innovations, it is often such a shock to the system that those upon whom the optimization is laid are too overwhelmed to fully grasp what has just happened. Without full cognizance of the new rules’ ramifications, the recipients of such orders carry them out fully with no dissent. This is why no Official Business Items ever occur at Commander or Lieutenant gatherings; in the event of a captain being incapacitated by the Red Tape Optimization Effect, there still must be people high enough in the chain of command who are functional enough to continue running the ship.
Admiral Mike Nezbomb, armed with both Efficiency Optimization and a flair for the dramatic, sustained the pregnant pause for a barely-tolerable, near-record length of time before continuing. His recently-acquired genial demeanor belied the cruelty he knew very well he was inflicting on his audience (and their subordinates).
“Now we all know that hard copies are a pain, but after careful study and review, we all had to concede that they’re reliable. I mean, take, for example, the crew of the U.S.S. Trepidatious. The entire crew hasn’t checked their email in over 5 seasons because of the email virus they got from a Bajoran hacker, who to this day, is still anonymous. With hard copies, you don’t have that problem. So, in the interest of making things easier, quicker, and safer, we decided that this is the best interdepartmental solution for all your communication needs. We realize, of course, that the storage, distribution, production, and processing of this communication medium will have to be worked out on an ship-by-ship basis, but we are confident in all of you that you’ll be able to figure out something.”
The Bermuda shorts were a ruse. Ye Olde Nezbomb is back.
The group of Starship Captains all sat in shock, eyes focused on the antiquated torture device that Admiral Nezbomb was still holding up. They barely had time to process what he had said before he dropped the second bomb on them.
“Anyways… starting now, all grievance-airing, suggestion-making, and so on, are to be done this way. Specific regulation formats are being sent to your ships as we speak. We were initially hesitant to go back to this method of communication, but the results of our battery of Focus Group tests have assured us of its tenability. As a result, we are including, as part of this new mandate, a required quarterly all-crew review of current and past issues. We’re going to kick off this initiative by requiring all ships to hold their first review within a week.”
“Party’s over, Jimi,” Captain “Golden” Arches whispered to Clerk.
“What party?” Clerk sarcastically whispered back.
In shock, pulse racing, and mildly depressed, Clerk made his way back to the Secondprize that afternoon, wondering how in the galaxy he was going to deal with this. Papyrophobia aside, this meant all-crew meetings. Now it wasn’t that Clerk hated his crew — far from it — it’s just that he is never comfortable in meetings that involved more people than he had digits. Plus, he’d always felt that dealing with incoming communiqués from crewmembers was his yeoman’s job, which is why he assigned her to check his email in the first place. However, since Janet Rind held the firm belief that a captain should always check his own email… well, that explains why Clerk’s inbox has 121,417 unread messages.
There was nothing he could do about it, of course, which meant that he had to turn his thoughts to more practical matters, such as where all this paper was going to come from.
He grabbed his communicator. “Clerk to Bridge.”
Lt. Whatsisname answered. “Yes, sir?”
“Get Commander Klaa’ck and meet me here in my quarters.”
“Is it Canasta Night again already?”
“No, this is business-related, I’m afraid.”
“Aye, sir. We’re on our way.”
Minutes later, Clerk’s two right-hand men — er, humanoids — were sitting at the Captain’s table, listening to the soothing sound of bees buzzing in the background.
“I’m sure you all know about the new regulation enacted at today’s Brunch,” he began.
“Yes, sir,” said Whatsisname. “We’ve got the formats all entered into the computer, and Jed Jenkins is currently overseeing the installation of paper-dispensing kiosks all over the ship.”
“Good,” the Captain said with a sigh. “Well, then there’s just one question I have right now… where are we going to get this paper? I was under the impression we were running rather low on the stuff.”
“Fleet Command isn’t going to provide it?” asked Klaa’ck.
“No, they said we were supposed to handle it ourselves. It’s every ship for itself. Do you know offhand what we’ve got, or how much, or where it would be?”
“Let me check.”
Klaa’ck pulled out his tricorder and launched the “Supply Levels” app. Clerk and Whatsisname waited in expectation as the First Officer tapped and tapped at the screen, looking through the various categories and listings. Then he frowned.
“What is it?”
“Captain, I’m afraid I have bad news. It would appear that there are no known stocks of paper anywhere on board, according to the ship’s databanks.”
“Well, that’s gonna make things terribly inconvenient.”