Star Trek: Steel-Edged Grace - 1: "Excalibur"

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by TheLoneRedshirt, Mar 18, 2009.

  1. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Star Trek: Steel-Edged Grace
    Episode 1 - "Excalibur"


    Author's Note
    This is a new TOS series centered on the first female C.O. of a Constitution-class starship. Captain Grace McAfee was first runner-up to command the Enterprise, losing out to James T. Kirk. Her consolation prize was command of the USS Ranger, an older light-cruiser which was destroyed by two mysterious vessels in 2266. McAfee is credited with saving her crew and driving off the attackers, but she loses her ship and goes through an inquest (which clears her of blame). In 2268, she is languishing as in instructor of advanced tactics at the Academy, still lobbying for command of a Connie. We begin our story with Captain McAfee spending some leave time with her father, Dr. Dennis McAfee.

    Prologue

    Stardate 4733.6 (12 August 2268)
    Kantal Hills, Rigel VII

    Captain Grace McAfee adjusted the filter mask that covered her nose and mouth as she scanned the surrounding hillside for any signs of Kaylar warriors. Satisfied that they were not being observed by the giant hominids, she turned to watch her father, Dr. Dennis McAfee move with sure-footed ease around the archaeological study site. The elder McAfee was chair of the Department of Xeno-archaeology at the University of Colorado on Earth. Dr. McAfee and ten of his graduate students were conducting a study of one of the ancient town-sites on Rigel VII. Once believed to be the center of culture in the populous Rigel system, the seventh planet had been inexplicably abandoned several millennia earlier, save for the savage Kaylar.

    Captain McAfee had agreed to take some of her accumulated leave time to accompany her father on his trip – ostensibly to enjoy some father-daughter time, but mostly to keep her father out of trouble. Dr. McAfee was a brilliant and experienced archaeologist, but he tended to be cavalier about his personal safety. Grace absently rested her hand on the type II phaser that hung on her waist – an item her father had protested but her own insistence (and stubbornness) had won out. She remembered too well the account of how Chris Pike’s landing party had been attacked by the fierce Kaylar when they had come to close to one of their fortresses.

    Grace smiled as the form of her lanky father hopped and bobbed about different points of the site. He reminded her of some gangly sea-bird hunting its prey in shallow water. The talc-fine dust from the old town site swirled through the air, partially obscuring their visibility and necessitating the use of filter masks. She glanced at the horizon, noting that the lilac-colored sky was beginning to darken towards purple.

    “Dad!” she called out, over the wind. She had to call a second time before her father straightened and turned.

    “What is it?” he called back.

    She pointed to the western sky. “The sun is setting. We need to get back to the ship before dark!”

    Dr. McAfee struck a comical pose as he stared, hands on hips into the darkening sky. By his expression, one might suppose that the star Rigel had personally offended him. Then, he shrugged and a crooked smile broke out on his face.

    “Alright, boys and girls,” he called to his assistants, “the gallant Captain has ordered us back to the Norlin.

    The graduate students did not seem nearly so disappointed to leave as the professor. A few stretched fatigued muscles, stiff from crouching over sensor packages, seismographs and soil collection equipment. They made their way to the Scarab landing craft, brushing dust from their coveralls and shouldering their equipment.

    Captain McAfee gave the surrounding one more visual scan before joining the rest on the landing craft. Moments later, the gold and silver Scarab lifted into the air, gracefully turned on its axis, then rapidly disappeared from view as it headed toward orbit.

    * * *

    The SS Norlin was one of two research vessels owned by the University of Colorado. The ship was a retired Starfleet survey vessel purchased by the University, then refit as a research vessel by a private shipyard. The Norlin could accommodate 20 people in relative comfort while providing laboratory and classroom space. Most of the small vessel’s functions were automated, so the actual crew consist was four, the twelve passengers comprised of Dr. McAfee, his students, and Captain Grace McAfee.

    Grace stepped out of the community head and padded toward her cabin, rubbing a towel over her thick, brown hair. One nice luxury item on the Norlin was having a shower with actual water. Sonic showers were fine, but McAfee always felt cleaner after a nice, long encounter with steaming water. Wrapped in a thick robe, she mused, I certainly don’t look much like a Starfleet captain at the moment.

    Entering the cabin, she saw her Andorian roommate seated at the computer terminal, surrounded by a stack of data slates. Vishaali, her father’s assistant, smiled as Grace entered the room.

    “What are you smiling at?” asked McAfee as she continued to rub her hair vigorously.

    “You look like an Arkelian monk in that robe with the towel around your head.”

    McAfee responded with an extended middle finger. Vishaali shook her head. “That is very un-monklike of you.”

    “I just want to it clear that I am not a monk,” replied McAfee, draping the towel over a chair and grabbing a hair-brush.

    “I will be sure not to repeat that mistake,” relied the Andorian, dryly, as she turned back to the computer.

    “Hey, Vish – why don’t you take a break. You’ve been transcribing reports since we got back on board.”

    “Dr. McAfee needs to collate the data so he can transmit his findings back to the University.”

    “You need to tell Dad that slavery is illegal in the Alpha Quadrant. While you’re at it – ask for a raise. I know the University doesn’t pay enough for you to work for him.”

    Vishaali smiled demurely. “It is rewarding working for your father, Grace. He is an extraordinary man.”

    “Yeah – just don’t tell him that. It’ll go to his head.” Grace ran the brush through her wavy brown hair and stared at the mirror. An attractive woman in her mid 40’s stared back with brown eyes that were bracketed by faint lines and high cheek bones. A pug nose and full lips complemented a squarish face. She did not consider herself beautiful by any means, but at least her face wouldn’t stop a chronometer.

    The cabin door chimed. Grace placed the brush back on the dresser and called, “Come.”

    Dr. Dennis McAfee entered the cabin, still in dusty coveralls – his graying hair mussed and wind-blown. “Vishaali, I was wondering if the transcription was ready?”

    Grace crossed her arms and cocked her head. “Look, you old tyrant – give Vish a break, she’s been working non-stop since we got back to the ship. Why don’t you get cleaned up and I’ll meet you in the galley for some supper. Maybe, if you’re lucky, Vish will have your report ready to go.”

    Dennis McAfee raised an eyebrow at his daughter. “And who put you in charge?”

    “You did, remember? That was part of the deal for me coming along – that you would do what I asked you to do.” Grace wore a smug smile.

    Dr. McAfee frowned, “I don’t remember ever . . .”

    “There you go,” continued Grace as she gently pushed her father from the room, “you’re getting forgetful in your old age. Now, shower, food, then, report . . . go, go, go . . .” She made shooing gestures toward her father who retreated reluctantly down the corridor. As the door slid shut, she turned to the Andorian with a triumphant grin. Vishaali just shook her head.

    “It is not respectful, the manner in which you treat your father,” chided Vishaali.

    “It’s a human thing, Vish. He knows I love him. Now seriously, why don’t you take a break?”

    The Andorian looked doubtful and was about to reply when Grace’s terminal chimed. McAfee toggled the reply stud.

    “Captain McAfee – go ahead,” her voice reflexively in command mode.

    “Yes, Grace – Captain Kholdarian here. You have a priority communiqué coming in from Admiral Komack of Starfleet.”

    McAfee’s eyebrows rose in surprise. She turned to Vishaali and spoke apologetically. “Vish, I’m sorry, but I need to take this in private.”

    The Andorian rose and nodded in understanding. “Certainly, Grace. I guess now is a good time to take a break after all.” She smiled and exited the cabin.

    Grace sat before the viewer, all too aware of her disheveled appearance, but one did not leave the sector commander waiting. “Patch it through, please, Captain.”

    The face of the Norlin’s captain disappeared from the viewer to be replaced by the visage of Captain Komack, Sector 9 Commander. She was puzzled to be contacted by her former commander. Her current duty as an instructor at Starfleet Academy had moved her from under Komack’s command, ever since the destruction of the Ranger two years earlier.

    The gray haired Admiral nodded in greeting, giving no mention to McAfee’s appearance. “Captain McAfee, it’s good to see you again. I trust you are well?”

    “Very well, Admiral, and you?”

    “I’ve been better,” he replied, his bushy brows knitting together. “Captain, you’ll be hearing about this on the news-nets in a few days, but I wanted to give you a head’s up. There’s been a royal cluster-frak with an exercise involving the Enterprise and a battle group of Connies. The Excalibur was heavily damaged and the Lexington took some hits as well.” Komack paused, hesitating, “Grace, everyone on Excalibur was killed.”

    For a moment, McAfee couldn’t breathe. She stared blankly at Komack for several moments before recovering her thoughts.

    “Jeff? Captain Harris, I mean . . .?”

    Komack shook his head. “I’m sorry, Grace.”

    McAfee closed her eyes, forcing her emotions to the background for the moment. When she opened them, they were clear and fierce.

    “What happened, Admiral?”

    Enterprise was testing a new computer system in a war-game scenario. The investigation is still on-going, but something went wrong with the computer – it took over and attacked the other four ships with full-power weapons. Captain Kirk was finally able to disable the computer, but the damage was done.”

    “Who was responsible, Admiral?” she asked with preternatural calm.

    Komack’s frown deepened. “It’s too early to say, Captain. But if you are thinking this is Kirk’s fault, I don’t believe that to be the case. He’s on record as being against this experiment – turns out he was right.”

    Grace nodded. “I see. Thank you for letting me know, Admiral.”

    “Better to hear it from a friend than from some buffoon on the holo-net,” he paused, considering his words, “Look, Grace – I know there’s no love lost between you and Kirk . . . especially since he beat you out for command of Enterprise, but from where I sit, it looks like he did everything in his power to try to prevent this tragedy. There will be a formal inquest, of course, but that’s my two credit opinion.”

    McAfee sighed and slumped back in her chair. “Admiral, I don’t hold it against Kirk for getting the Enterprise. I’m over the disappointment.”

    “Even though you think you were the better choice?” he asked with a slight smile.

    “Even though I know I was the better choice,” she replied with a smile of her own. The smile faded quickly. “Do you know of any arrangements for Captain Harris, his funeral, I mean?”

    “His parents were notified this morning. I understand they will return the recovered . . . crew members to their home worlds. It may take a couple of weeks before Harris is returned to Earth. I’ll be sure to let you know.”

    “Thank you, Admiral, I’d appreciate it. I want to be there.

    Komack closed the connection and the viewer went dark. Grace sat numbly in the chair, her gaze unfocused. After a few minutes, her shoulders began to shake and she placed her head on the desk, sobbing deeply.

    * * *
     
  2. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Chapter One

    Stardate 4739.6 (28 August 2268)
    StarfleetAcademySan Francisco, Earth

    Captain McAfee walked briskly across the Academy quad, passing the Tucker Engineering Building and two new dormitories before nearing her destination – the old faculty office building that dated back to the original Presidio.

    A few students nodded in greeting but quickly made way, seeing the flinty look in her eye. Captain McAfee was not in a good mood.

    A cadet carrying a dummy phaser rifle and walking off demerits, paused and offered a rather smart rifle salute. McAfee grunted but continued her resolute march to her office.

    Inside, the old building was considerably darker and cooler than the sunny summer day she left outdoors. Eschewing the turbo-lift, she stepped quickly up the old wooden stairs, her bootfalls echoing in the stairwell as she worked off nervous energy.

    Finally, on the fourth floor, she moved down the carpeted hallway until she came to a tall, wooden door with frosted glass. Adjacent to the door was a sign with the room number and her name. She opened the door, and managed not to slam it once she was inside.

    Her office spoke of an old and rich academic heritage. The paneled walls gleamed and tall bookcases contained eclectic items from numerous worlds. Awards, citations, family holo-pics and even a few real books also vied for space. McAfee’s two diplomas – one from the Academy, the other a Master’s degree in Interstellar Relations from Columbia, adorned a wall near the single tall window.

    She unfastened the collar of her uncomfortable dress uniform tunic and settled into the large, leather chair behind the old oak desk that was centered in the room. She paused a moment, absently frowning, then opened the bottom right-hand drawer – revealing a bottle containing a glowing blue liquid. She retrieved the bottle and a glass from the drawer and stared at for a moment. With a sigh, she placed the glass and the bottle back in the drawer and closed it.

    Leaning back in the chair, she relished the cool leather against her neck. The funeral for Captain Jeff Harris had ended a little over half an hour ago in the Academy Chapel. Two admirals, a family minister, and Jeff’s brother had all spoken over the flag-draped casket. Grace had sat immediately behind Jeff’s parents and watched his mother weep soundlessly throughout the service. McAfee didn’t remember much of the eulogies, just a few random words about duty, honor, sacrifice . . . Blah, blah, blah.

    She vaguely remembered seeing Commodore Robert Wesley and a few other Constitution*-class commanders, including Jim Kirk. She had left as soon as the service was over, in no mood for conversation.

    A knock on her door caused her to frown in irritation. “My office hours are posted by the door, mister – read. them. and. go.”

    To her astonishment, the door began to open. She sat upright in her chair, prepared to verbally flail the hide from the offending cadet.

    But, to her greater surprise, it was not a cadet with a death-wish that intruded, but a fellow captain, namely, Captain James T. Kirk.

    Kirk wore an apologetic look on his face. “Captain McAfee? I’m sorry to intrude . . . I was hoping I could speak with you just a moment.”

    More curious than angry, Grace stood up and gestured to one of the wing-back chairs facing her desk. “Please. Have a seat.”

    Kirk moved into her office, looking vaguely uncomfortable – whether from the dress uniform or something else, she couldn’t tell.

    Grace didn’t like feeling off-balance, so she decided to take the initiative. “I was going to have some coffee – like some?”

    Kirk smiled as he settled into the chair. “Yes, coffee would be fine.”

    McAfee moved to the beverage servitor in the bookcase. “Cream? Sugar?” she asked.

    “Black is fine, thanks.”

    She added some sugar and a bit of cream to her coffee before carrying a cup to Kirk, who nodded in appreciation. She retook her place behind her desk, taking a sip and regarding her younger colleague. This wasn’t the brash, cocky young Starship captain renowned as a lady’s man throughout the quadrant. The man sitting before her looked tired and haggard. In spite of herself, McAfee felt a twinge of sympathy for Kirk.

    He took a sip of his coffee and placed the cup on a side table. Leaning forward, he pursed his lips – seeking a way to begin. Grace sipped her coffee in silence, allowing him to gather his thoughts.

    “Captain McAfee,” he began at last, “I know that you and Captain Harris were . . . close. And . . . I am the one responsible for his death. For that, I am profoundly sorry.”

    Grace placed her cup on the desk. “Captain, my understanding is that the whole thing was a terrible accident. You eventually shut down the M-5 computer, probably preventing more deaths.” She paused, frowning. “Pardon me for saying so, but isn’t this a conversation you should be having with Jeff’s parents?”

    Kirk nodded. “I already have.”

    “Oh,” said McAfee, abashed, “Well, that was decent of you. But I still don’t see why you felt the need to come here – Jeff and I haven’t been a couple in over five years.”

    Kirk gazed at her with unnerving intensity. “That may be. But you can’t tell me he didn’t matter to you – there was still a connection, wasn’t there?”

    Part of McAfee wanted to tell Kirk to get out, to tell him it was none of his god-damned business, but she merely nodded. “Yes,” she said, finally. “Yes there was.”

    He nodded. “Captain, I . . .”

    She held up a hand. “Look, Kirk. Can we knock off the ‘Captain’ stuff? Just call me Grace and I’ll call you Jim. It doesn’t mean we’re going steady or anything like that.”

    Kirk chuckled and he seemed to relax a bit. “Thanks. Being back here – at the Academy, well, it brought back memories of standing at attention before Captain Ashrood’s desk. I feel a little like a plebe again, walking through these halls.” He sobered. “Grace – I know technically I didn’t kill Jeff and the 412 others who died on Excalibur, but I was in command when my ship attacked.” He paused, “M-5 was in control, but it was still my ship and my responsibility. Do you understand?”

    Grace thought back to those awful hours on the Ranger when her ship was dying – their attackers still unknown – and her fear that her crew might perish. Thankfully, none of them did – but it had been a very near thing. If the Potempkin had not arrived when it did . . .

    “Yes, I think I do understand.” She regarded him, seeing him in a different light. He might be cocky, even reckless at times. But Jim Kirk cared. He cared deeply for his friends, his colleagues, and yes, even his rivals.

    Kirk nodded. “I thought you might. I had to let you know . . . that I am sorry.” He shook his head. “I’ll never forget standing on the bridge, seeing my ship fire a full phaser salvo at Excalibur, and I . . . couldn’t . . . stop it.” The anguish in his voice was real.

    “Jim . . . I honestly don’t blame you for what happened. But if you need forgiveness, well . . . I forgive you.”

    Kirk let out a breath and smiled. “Thank you.”

    She smirked. “But you’re not getting off the hook for that ‘handsome woman’ crack you made at the New Year’s party on Starbase 13 two years ago.”

    His face reddened. “First . . . I had a little too much to drink that night. Second . . . I didn’t know you could hear me.”

    “I didn’t. But word got to me.” She smiled at his discomfiture. “Sorry about the ‘pretty little man’ crack.”

    He laughed, now at ease for the first time since entering her office. “I’ve been called worse.”

    “I can believe that,” she said. She fixed him with a gaze. “Truce?”

    Kirk nodded. “Truce. Friends?”

    “We’ll see. I’m still ticked that you got the Enterprise instead of me. It’s galling that in the 23rd century, there’s still a good ‘ol boys club and they all command Connies!”

    Kirk wore a knowing grin. “Perhaps. But things change, Grace.”

    She frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean? What have you heard, Kirk?”

    But the commander of the Enterprise merely stood, ignoring her question. “Thanks for the coffee, Grace. . . and for understanding.” He pulled his communicator from his hip and flipped open the grid.

    “Kirk to Enterprise.

    Enterprise, Spock here.”

    “One to beam up, Mr. Spock.” He flipped the communicator shut. This time, his grin was very cocky. “See you around the galaxy, Grace.”

    “Dammit, Jim Kirk – what have you heard?

    But Captain James T. Kirk disappeared in a kaleidoscope of transporter effect and could no longer answer.

    * * *
     
  3. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Premium Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    A great opening. Someone has to break the glass ceiling sometime...

    BTW, thanks for beginning this--reading this has created a few cracks of sunlight in this dark writer's funk I've been suffering the past few weeks!
     
  4. BrotherBenny

    BrotherBenny Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    BrotherBenny
    So she gets the Excalibur once it's been refitted, good for her

    Cheeky Kirk

    :D
     
  5. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
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    This ought to be very interesting.

    I have to say, I have wanted to know for a long time how a supposedly "tolerant" society would put women in those awful skimpy uniforms and treat them as second-class officers, when we were supposed to have gotten over that even before the third World War. I'd love to see a study of how things degenerated to that point between ENT and TOS, and how a woman climbs the career ladder in that sort of degraded environment.

    Good luck, and you've got me hooked! :)
     
  6. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Our good Captain McAfee will be sharing her opinion of the mini-skirts in a forth-coming installment. In case you're wondering, Grace does NOT wear the mini-skirt. As a Captain and soon-to-be C.O. of a starship, she has certain leeway in her choice of uniforms.

    My take on the blatant sexism of the TOS era is that the Andorians and Telarites are still male-dominated, even in the 23rd century. Thus, to avoid offending their sensibilities (and keep the Federation/Starfleet together), the Humans and Vulcans went too far in accomodating this sexism. By the 24th century, that had pretty much been settled. At least, that's my story - and I'm sticking to it! :lol:
     
  7. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Phenomenal stuff, TLR! In short order I've found myself liking Grace's character and her outlook on the universe. It's time for her to step up and take the lead aboard a Connie. :bolian:

    Her meeting with Kirk, though brief, was very poignant. I'd always wondered how he weathered the storm after that incident.
     
  8. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Awesome start to a great new series. The Grace/Kirk segment in particular was very well done and a terrific glimpse at what kind of character McAfee is going to be. Not quite another Kirk, that's for sure.

    I always though that one of the most unfortunate decisions in TOS was the line that women couldn't command starships. That was one time Star Trek failed to be forward looking. If I remember correctly it took until The Voyage Home to correct that unfortunate mistake.

    Mini-skirts can easily be explained as a fashion fad which after all are kind of cyclical. They do make another short-lived appearance in the 24th century.

    And on a related note: What do you mean she's not wearing the mini-skirt?!? :lol:
     
  9. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
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    ^ C'mon, man... she's not Shelby! :lol:
     
  10. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Well, TLR is off and running with a fascinating new character...of course, you realize we are going to expect regular updates to the tale! You can't start something this good and only get to it once in a while. So say we all! (Whoops, wrong show.):lol:
     
  11. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Here and now.
    (Author's Note: To clarify, Captain McAfee has opted to wear the black pants / gold tunic combination instead of the mini-skirt. Tsk, tsk for thinking otherwise. :lol: )


    Chapter Two

    Stardate 4741.4 (2 September 2268)
    StarfleetAcademySan Francisco, Earth

    Tuesday afternoon at 1250 hours, Captain McAfee silently observed her advanced tactics students work through their first exam of the semester. The only sound was the occasional cough and the tap of styli on data slates. She sipped her luke-warm coffee and checked her chronometer before standing from her seat behind the lecturn.

    “Time,” she called. “Please sign your work before downloading your answers, or you will receive a failing grade on the exam. Don’t forget – this Friday we make our first visit to the Kobayashi Maru simulator, so do – not – be - late!” She glanced significantly at a tall, fair-skinned young man on the front row who tried to appear inconspicuous. “Also, read chapter three regarding Garth of Izar before class tomorrow. Any questions?”

    Most of the cadets were gathering their slates and data solids, when an Asian female cadet stood. “Captain McAfee, I have a question.”

    “Cadet Shinkala, go ahead.”

    The young woman glanced nervously at a few of her fellow cadets who in turn nodded encouragingly. “Well, sir, we, that is, I was wondering why Captain Kirk did not initiate the self-destruct sequence on the Enterprise, rather than allow his ship to fire on the other vessels. If he had done so, he might have saved the lives of those on the Excalibur.

    McAfee took a sip of her coffee. “Is that your opinion, Cadet Shinkala?” she asked evenly.

    To her credit, the young cadet maintained eye-contact with McAfee. She gave a curt nod. “Yes sir, it is.”

    “I see.” Grace walked behind the podium and leaned forward on her arms. “Did you come up with this on your own, or was this a ‘group project?’” she asked, not unkindly. Shinkala again glanced at her fellow cadets who now seemed greatly interested in the trees outside the large windows.

    McAfee smiled. “Never mind, Cadet. I commend you for having the courage to ask the question. And let me assure all of you,” she said, her voice rising in volume, “that was an option that Captain Kirk considered.”

    She turned her attention back to Cadet Shinkala. “Cadet, your question is reasonable and deserves an answer. But I need to give all of you a word of warning. If – at some point in the distant future – God help us – the admiralty should see fit to bestow on any of you command of a starship, rest assured that every major command decision you make will be scrutinized, challenged and second-guessed by people hundreds of light-years away that have no clue what you’re facing. That is called accountability, which is a good thing in an open free society such as the Federation.” She paused, turning her head to make eye-contact with each of the gathered cadets.

    “There is a danger, however, that fear of that scrutiny can make you timid, hesitant – a deadly trait in combat or any situation where a split second decision means the difference between life and death – for you and for your crewmates.”

    McAfee moved off the stage to stand closer to the cadets. She folded her arms and continued. “Back to your original question, Cadet Shinkala. It is no secret that Captain Jeff Harris, CO of the Excalibur was my dear friend. I mourn his death – it hurts, very deeply. But I’ve been able to view the official record of the events, an advantage you have not had, and I am convinced that Captain Kirk took every step possible to prevent what occurred. In fact, he did consider the self-destruct option. The M-5 computer precluded that possibility. Kirk was finally able to convince the computer that its actions were wrong, forcing an auto-shutdown. By doing so, he managed to save over 400 lives – that of his own crew.”

    She paused again, taking in the young faces. She wondered how many would have to make the call that would cost the lives of some to save the lives of many.

    “One more thing – I would suggest you spend less time listening to the opinion generating jack-asses on the news-nets and more time on your studies. It might help you gain a greater sense of perspective. Cadet – thank you for a thoughtful question – you’ll gain some bonus points for that.” She glanced again at her chronometer. “Class, dismissed!”

    The relieved cadets made their way out of the lecture hall as Captain McAfee gathered a stack of data solids. She noticed Cadet Shinkala approaching.

    “Yes, cadet? Was there something else?”

    “Sir – I apologize if I was out of line with the question.”

    McAfee smiled and placed a hand on the cadet’s shoulder. “No apology necessary, Cadet. At least you had the courage to voice what others in here were wondering. But think through what you hear on the news-nets, okay? A lot of it is uninformed B.S.”

    Shinkala smiled. “Yes sir, I will.”

    “Good. Dismissed.”

    As the cadet exited the lecture hall, a familiar figure came in. Lt. Simon Clark, McAfee’s administrative assistant, hurried up to her – his cheeks flushed. Obviously, the Lieutenant was in a hurry.”

    “Simon, slow down – you’re setting a bad example for the cadets,” admonished McAfee.

    “Sorry sir,” said Lt. Clark, catching his breath, “but you received a call from Admiral Nogura’s office at Fleet Command. The Admiral expresses his complements and desires the Captain to meet him in his office at 1400 hours today.”

    McAfee looked surprised. “Nogura? Wonder what he wants?”

    “Sir, I can’t say – the Admiral’s aide just said to be there.”

    Grace smirked. “And I sure don’t want to keep the Admiral waiting.” She shoved the slate and data-solids into Lt. Clark’s arms. “Simon, you’ll have to handle my Situational Analysis class. Run this presentation – no, the orange cube, that’s it – thankfully, most of the class are plebes so they’re probably too intimidated to ask a question you can’t handle. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

    “Yes sir, I’m on it. Anything else?”

    “If I don’t come back, pack up my stuff and ship it to my Dad in Colorado.”

    * * *

    Thirty minutes later, Captain McAfee stood impatiently in the ante-room of Fleet Admiral Heihachiro Nogura’s office at Starfleet Command. An attractive Commander in a red mini-skirt guarded the Admiral’s inner sanctum from a large, oval desk centered in the waiting room. Commander Fournier was polite, efficient and totally tight-lipped concerning the reason behind McAfee’s summons.

    “Commander, it would help if I knew how long this will take – I have a full slate of classes this afternoon.”

    Fournier smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry, Captain, but the Admiral has a very full schedule today and he’s working you in as it is.”

    McAfee mentally counted to ten. “But Commander, I didn’t make an appointment – the Admiral contacted my office for me to be here this afternoon.”

    “Then I’m sure the Admiral had good reason for doing so. He will be with you momentarily.”

    McAfee resisted the urge to grab the Commander by the collar of her miniskirt and shake her. Instead, she walked to the window to take in the view of San Francisco bay and the Golden Gate monument.

    She sensed, rather than heard someone approach her from behind. Turning, she faced a gray-haired Asian man who wore a warm smile. Dark eyes crinkled happily on the old man’s face.

    Fleet Admiral Nogura reached his hand out in greeting, the gold braid on his tunic reaching nearly to his elbow. “Captain McAfee, it is so good of you to come on such short notice. I do apologize for taking you away from your students, but I have a matter of some importance to discuss. Please, won’t you join me in my office?”

    McAfee reciprocated with a smile and took the Admiral’s hand which was warm and dry, his skin almost parchment thin. His grip, however, was very firm – this man was not as frail as he appeared.

    The two officers entered a spacious office with tall ceilings and a magnificent view. Nogura led McAfee to a seating area by the transparent aluminum windows. Two sea gulls wheeled by, the thick windows muffling their squawking. A silver tea service was centered on the table and the Admiral poured tea into two china cups.

    “I hope you like tea – it is about all I drink these days. Would you care for cream? Sugar? Lemon?”

    McAfee accepted the tea with a bit of cream and sugar and took the proffered chair. Nogura also sat, crossing his legs and staring out at the magnificent view.

    “You know,” he began, “the main reason I came out of retirement was this window. I love to sit here and look out at San Francisco. It’s the best part of my job.”

    Not quite sure how to respond to this thread of conversation, Grace merely smiled and said, “Yes sir.”

    Nogura took another sip of tea. Still staring out at the seagulls, he remarked, “I understand you do not like the new uniforms for females.”

    McAfee blinked. The Commander in Chief of Starfleet had summoned her because of her fashion opinion? “Um, that’s correct sir.”

    The old man nodded. “Understandable. The miniskirts were not the best choice, in my opinion. Still, we in Starfleet must deal with many considerations – some tactical, some political, some cultural. If you ever get to sit in this office, you’ll see.”

    Grace was completely confused. “Yes sir.”

    “We had to accommodate the sensibilities of the Andorians and the Telarites to keep them in the fold. Not an easy task, I must say. Still, decisions were made, things were done, and here we are.”

    Grace blinked. “Where is that sir?”

    Nogura turned and chuckled. “Where indeed, Captain.” He turned his chair to better face her, his expression becoming more serious. “In the past two years, we have lost two Constitution-class starships, the Intrepid and the Defiant, and now a third, the Excalibur is in space-dock with serious damage. That is one-quarter of our heavy cruiser force out of commission. A bad situation, wouldn’t you agree?”

    “Yes sir, I would.”

    “On top of that, the next order of Constitution-class ships – the Bonhomme Richard subclass, has been delayed as we shift production from the San Francisco Fleet Yards to Utopia Plantia and Andor. It will be at least three years before the first of these ships is complete. Add in the public relations disaster of the Federation-class fiasco and the disaster with the M-5 computer and Starfleet’s popularity is at an all-time low with the public.”

    “Sir, begging your pardon, but I don’t understand what this has to do with me?”

    The Admiral smiled. “My apologies, Captain. But please allow an old man to explain things in his own way. I promise I will get to the point soon.”

    “Yes sir.” She glanced at a chronometer on the table and sighed inwardly. So much for making her final class of the day. Poor Simon.

    “Are you familiar with the principles of fung shui, Captain?”

    “Uh, no sir, I can’t say that I am.”

    “Balance and harmony. They can be applied simply, as to decorating an office such as this,” he gestured around, “or to interstellar politics. The difference is merely scale.”

    Grace nodded, grasping the idea. “Okay, I think I’m following you now.”

    Nogura looked pleased. “As I stated before, the Federation has made numerous accommodations to the Andorians and Telarites since the founding days. Unfortunately, these accommodations tended to tacitly endorse sexism within Starfleet. You yourself, have quite forcefully made the case that no female has served as commander of a heavy cruiser.”

    McAfee swallowed. “Sir, I did not wish to cause you any problems.”

    A white eyebrow shot up on the old man’s forehead. “Do not apologize for your opinion, Captain,” he said sternly. “Your point was well taken. That is the main reason I have summoned you today.”

    Her eyes widened. “Sir?”

    “I intend to return a semblance of balance and harmony to Starfleet as the new C in C. Unfortunately, I am too late to address the uniform issue – that will have to wait a few years – but I can do something about our unbalanced command structure.” He retrieved his cup and took a sip of tea and stared back out the window. “Some in the admiralty advised that we scrap Excalibur due to her extensive damage. I believe that to be a mistake and have convinced the Federation Council that it is more cost-effective to repair her than wait three years for the next new heavy cruiser to be completed. Excalibur will need a new Captain and crew. I am offering you the position of commanding officer.” He replaced the delicate cup on its saucer and placed it on the table. Turning to her, he smiled.

    “Of course, if you wish some time to consider . . .” he began.

    “When do I start, sir?” she interrupted, a wide grin on her face.

    * * *
     
  12. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2007
    Location:
    Between the candle and the flame
    Well played, sir, well played.

    And a good explanation for the minis. Well, there is no good explanation but your reasoning is ... logical.
     
  13. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Cool.

    I like the background stories your filling in here along the way. TOS is a rather underdeveloped era and it's nice to have it filled out a bit more.

    This will have countless places it can go and I'm looking forward to meet the new crew and the new ship.

    Naturally I also expect familar faces from the Lady Lex to show up here sooner or later. Perhaps even some Border Dogs? We'll see.
     
  14. Nerys Ghemor

    Nerys Ghemor Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Location:
    Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
    I'm very glad to see a story that really acknowledges the sexism and doesn't try to gussy it up as if it were somehow acceptable, like I've seen some people do. I think the idea of PC run amok is a fantastic idea.

    (It also fits my own image about how Earth society is, though I approach it from a rather cynical perspective: bending over backwards for everybody else, but not giving a damn about what that does to people back home.)

    I really hope that by breaking the glass ceiling, she'll be able to pave the way for a lot of the other idiocy of the era to be eliminated.

    I have to imagine, though, that Kirk's womanizing conduct is NOT going to go over well with her--in addition to the incident that's already happened. It seems to me Kirk revels in the opportunity to sexually harass and so on. At least with Grace in command we know that kind of crap will be punished!
     
  15. mirandafave

    mirandafave Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2008
    This is a clever start to a new series. No big bangs and interstellar threat. Instead we get a character driven introduction that gives a lot of realism and grounding to TOS wihtout the need to reboot [sic] plus gives us a rounded and to me compelling charcter in Captain McAfee.

    The story has a nice pace to it and you've created a neat atmosphere. Now the question arises as to whom McAfee will choose as her crew and what troubles she might yet meet in smashing the glass ceiling.
     
  16. Dnoth

    Dnoth Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2006
    Location:
    In the illusion, but not of it.
    It's already been said, but I like that you are at least making an effort to explain the sexism in TOS...and it is plausable.

    I also am really enjoying the wider view of this era. It makes sense that Starfleet's PR isn't the best at this time, but I never thought of it until now.

    Great job!
     
  17. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Chapter Three

    Stardate 4741.6 (2 September 2268)
    StarfleetAcademySan Francisco, Earth

    The sun was beginning to set over the bay when Captain McAfee finally returned to the faculty building. She headed straight for Lt. Clark’s office which was adjacent to her own. Her ebullient mood was tempered by a small degree of guilt over abandoning her assistant. She entered Clark’s office to find her assistant calmy working at his computer, a partially finished sandwich on his desk.

    “Simon – I do apologize for leaving you in a lurch. How did it go this afternoon?”

    Lt. Clark smiled. “No problems at all, Captain. When I realized you might not make it back for the final class, I checked the computer to see if any of the faculty had taught the Basic Tactics course. Turned out that Commander Gunthorpe used to teach it all the time, plus – he was available. I gave him a call and he was very happy to fill in, said he owed you a favor or two.”

    A smile of relief spread across McAfee’s face. “Great work, Simon! I can always count on you to get my back.”

    Lt. Clark smiled in return, obviously pleased with the compliment. “Happy to be of service, Captain. May I ask how your meeting with Admiral Nogura went? No problems, I trust?”

    Grace settled into the chair opposite Lt. Clark’s desk. “You may ask, and no – definitely no problems.” She paused, still wearing a goofy grin.

    Clark raised his eyebrows and made a ‘go-on’ gesture with his hands. “And? . . .” he pressed.

    “You are looking at the new commanding officer of the Excalibur!”

    Clark’s grin widened, he stood and extended his hand. “Outstanding! Congratulations, Sir! – this is long overdue.”

    Grace shook her aide’s hand warmly. “Thanks, Simon – I appreciate it!” She sighed, “There’s a lot I have to do before assuming command in a month, then up to nine months of refit for the ship. Let’s get together at 0800 and start making lists.”

    “Aye sir,” he paused, his face becoming more somber. “I must say, I will miss working for you. It’s been a privilege serving as your aide these past two years.”

    Grace rested her cheek on her fist and regarded the young officer from her chair. “Simon, how long has it been since you’ve served on a ship?”

    Lt. Clark raised his eyebrows and rubbed his chin. “Well, to be honest – about ten years. I served on the Baton Rouge straight out of the academy as logistics officer. After that, I served a similar role on Starbase 12 before coming to the Academy.”

    McAfee nodded. “Sounds like you’re due some ship time again Simon. How would you like to be my Yeoman on the Excalibur?”

    Simon blinked. “Really? Are you sure, ma’am? There are bound to be a lot of officers with more experience . . .”

    Grace waved him off. “Drop the modesty, mister. You’re the best damn aide I’ve ever had. You anticipate what I need and exemplify the word, “efficiency.” Hell, you know how disorganized I can be . . . I really need you, Simon. How ‘bout it?”

    The smile returned to Lt. Simon Clark’s face. “Just say the word, sir.”

    * * *
    Stardate 4755.2 (5 October 2268)
    Workbee A-922, Earth Orbit

    “Captain McAfee, I must warn you, she’s still a mess. We’ve made progress but the old girl took some nasty hits from Enterprise, bloody damn M-5!” Commander Trevor Phillips, Earth Spacedock Engineering Manager, added his editorial opinion in his distinct Yorkshire accent. The tall man with brown hair and a neat moustache, guided the workbee expertly past open-frame spacedocks servicing vessels of various classes. Captain McAfee and Lt. Clark stood by, watching other smallcraft and workpods flitting around like Junebugs. Simon winced as their workbee seemed to be on a collision course with a Deuterium tanker, only to have Commander Phillips send the small pod into a stomach-clenching dive under the lumbering vessel before straightening out on the other side.

    “Heavy traffic this morning,” commented McAfee dryly, with a sidelong wink at Lt. Clark.

    “Really? Hadn’t noticed,” replied Phillips. He gestured to starboard. “The Lady Lex is about to launch – we fixed her up better than new in just six weeks!” he said, with obvious pride.

    McAfee and Clark stared out the viewport at the gleaming starship, bathed in light from her spacedock berth. The USS Lexington was an impressive sight – her hull once again a gleaming white, her plating pristine. The massive starship seemed to be straining to leap once more into the void.

    “Good Lord, it’s huge!” whispered Lt. Clark with genuine awe.

    “They always look bigger on the outside, lad,” replied Phillips, “but yes, she is a fair sight, I’ll give ye that.” The engineer couldn’t hide his obvious affection for the ship.

    Captain McAfee thought back to the dinner she had shared with Commodore Wesley and Captain Voorhees the other night. She had been pleasantly surprised by the warm reception she had received from her new colleagues. As they were about to depart, Wesley had given her a word of advice – “Trust your instincts, Captain. The rulebook was written by desk-bound pad-pushers. And be sure to take good care of your ship and crew – they’re the most important things in your life for the next five years.”

    Grace had pondered the advice from the legendary starship commander. Robert Wesley was very different from James Kirk, yet, there were definite similarities – qualities that enabled them to command a starship. She hoped she had the same stuff.

    Her reverie was broken by Commander Phillips. “Here we are. Like I said, a sorry mess – but I promise ye, she’ll be the best Connie in the fleet when I’m done with her!”

    For the very first time, Captain McAfee gazed at her new command and she had to reluctantly agree – Excalibur was indeed, a sorry sight.

    “My God,” Grace breathed, taking in the devastation.

    “Don’t blame God,” reproached Phillips, “’twas that devilish M-5 computer that did this. It knew exactly where to hit her – used Enterprise’s phasers at full power, punching through her hull like it was wet paper. The poor blighters never knew what hit ‘em.” He gestured to the primary hull, the forward third having been mostly cut away.

    “The first salvo likely depressurized most of the primary hull – the power surge overwhelmed the back-up systems, causing a cascade failure of the integrity field and emergency bulkheads. Add to that the energy that was crackled through her – the one’s that didn’t die of asphyxiation burned to death.”

    McAfee had seen holo-pics of the damage, but they didn’t convey the utter savagery that had been bestowed on the starship. In all honesty, she now understood why the admiralty had wanted to scrap her.

    Excalibur was a pitiful shadow of her former self. Much of her hull-plating was gone, as were her warp nacelles and pylons. Teams of space-suited engineers crawled over structural members, removing damaged components as workpods with tractor beams lugged materials around. The view reminded her of flies swarming over a dead carcass.

    “Commander, when will she be ready?”

    Phillips pursed his lips in thought. “Well now, seeing as how we’re still taking things apart, I’d say nine to ten months, minimum.”

    “I see,” said McAfee. She continued to gaze at the mangled ship for several moments as Phillips maneuvered the workbee around, allowing them to observe the ship from all angles. She spoke again, maintaining her gaze out the viewport.

    “I suppose you can do just about anything with all of this equipment – the tractor gantries, spacedock facilities and all.”

    Phillips snorted. “Most certainly. We could build a starship from scratch, given the opportunity.”

    “A lot easier than serving as a shipboard engineer, though. I mean, on a ship, you don’t have all of the support facilities, no orbital factories, no nice-cushy starbase. Seems like it takes more . . . I don’t know, ingenuity, to serve as a chief engineer on a starship.”

    The Commander’s neck was growing nearly as red as his shirt. “I’ve done time as a chief engineer, Captain. I’m no bloody greenhorn.”

    “No – definitely not, Mr. Phillips. I’ve read your personnel file. Seems you were transferred to your current billet against your will.”

    He turned his head sharply to face McAfee. “Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but what the hell are you playing at?”

    “Just this, Mr. Phillips. I need a chief engineer. You have served as a chief engineer . . . at least until you told Captain Fesaan to, and I quote, “Sod-off you blue-skinned idiot.”

    Phillips’ jaw muscles twitched, but he did not immediately respond. Finally, he muttered, “Bloody fool nearly got the lot of us killed . . .”

    Grace nodded, still looking at the work underway on Excalibur. “So it would seem. At least, the board of inquiry agreed with that assessment. But somehow, a very capable engineer got lost in the shuffle, to languish in a repair facility.”

    “I’m doing alright,” he said, stiffly. “It’s important and rewarding work.”

    “I’ve no doubt it is,” replied McAfee, evenly. “But let me ask you, Commander – do you want to spend the rest of your life as a mechanic in a glorified repair shop, or would you like to take another shot as chief engineer on a starship?”

    Phillips remained quiet for several minutes, as did McAfee and Clark. They continued to orbit the damaged ship, when the Commander finally spoke.

    “Can I pick my own engineering team?”

    Grace glanced at Clark with a smile, then looked at Phillips. “I have no problem with that, as long as it’s understood I have final say.”

    The Commander nodded, as he deftly guided the workbee between the spacedock’s framework. “And I don’t need some tight-assed first officer looking over my shoulder. I have my ways about calibrating engines – they may not be regulation, but they by-God work!”

    Grace glanced at the braid on his arms. “Well, you are a full commander. I think we can allow you to run engineering without supervision – so long as you understand that my word is by-God law.”

    Phillips turned again, staring at McAfee. The Captain held his gaze with equal intensity. They maintained their stare-down to the point where Lt. Clark’s eyes were beginning to water. Finally, the Commander broke eye-contact and stared out the viewport.

    “She’ll be ready in six months, Captain. You have my word on it as Chief Engineer.”

    “I’ll hold you to that, Mr. Phillips,” replied McAfee as she also looked out the viewport.

    * * *

    Stardate 4757.7 (7 October 2268)
    Starbase One, Earth Orbit
    Temporary Office – C.O. USS Excalibur

    “What about Pyotor Bruscalion?”

    Lt. Clark shook his head. “He just received his promotion to Captain.”

    “Damn. Any word on Commander Cho?”

    “He took a medical discharge. Apparently he never recovered from that case of Denebian Fever.”

    With a sigh, Captain McAfee tossed the data slate on the desk of her temporary office and leaned back in her chair. “How hard can it be to find a first officer?” she wondered aloud.

    Lt. Clark wore a sympathetic smile. “Just bad timing I guess, what with the new promotion list just coming out and several prospects retiring. I’m sure you’ll find the right candidate soon.”

    “Too bad you’re not ten years older,” she groused.

    “Captain, I haven’t even been through command school yet, I don’t think I’m qualified.”

    “Hell, Simon – I know that. I just need someone I can trust – like I trust you.” She stretched and stifled a yawn. “Let’s take a break, we’ve been at this for hours.”

    “Yes sir. Look at the bright side, at least you have your Chief Engineer and Chief Medical Officer – that should count for something!”

    “True, true,” She was still pleased with herself for landing Commander Phillips, despite his acerbic personality. Then, as a bonus, she was able to acquire the services of her friend and former CMO on the Ranger, Dr. Kim Moon Chang, who was currently on assignment at the hospital on Starbase 15. Kim had been very pleased to accept the billet on the Excalibur.

    “Can I bring you anything, Sir?”

    “No, Simon, but thanks anyway. Take the rest of the evening off – catch a holo-flic or something. I’ll grab something in the officer’s mess in a little while.”

    “Yes sir, goodnight Captain.”

    “Goodnight, Simon.” McAfee stared at the stacks of data-slates containing personnel files on dozens of Starfleet officers.

    “How hard can it be to find a decent first officer?” she repeated to herself. She considered moving on to the other senior slots: science officer, security, tactical, etc. but she really wanted to involve her exec in the process.

    She reached for her coffee cup, finding it empty. Grimacing, she considered a refill, but the acid churning in her stomach made her put aside that consideration. Too much caffeine and too little food were a poor combination.

    Glancing out the viewport of her office, she could make out the framework of several spacedocks. Unfortunately, Excalibur’s dock was too far distant to see, hidden beyond the curve of the Earth. She had thus far resisted daily commandeering a workbee to check the progress of repairs. No point scaring off Commander Phillips. She would limit her visits to once per week – at least for now.

    The buzz of the door enunciator caused her to turn back from the viewport. She supposed that Lt. Clark had forgotten something.

    “Come!” she called, stacking the slates and tossing the coffee cup in the ‘cycler.

    To her surprise, her guest was not Lt. Clark, but a tall, dark-haired man wearing a red tunic and commander’s stripes. She could not help notice he was extremely handsome, with chiseled features, broad shoulders and an engaging smile. This made her think of James Kirk and she immediately went to yellow alert.

    “Captain McAfee?” inquired the tall officer. McAfee thought she detected a faint accent – Mediterranean, perhaps.

    “That’s right. And you are? . . .”

    “Espinoza, Commander Raul Espinoza, sir. I understand you are seeking a first officer for the Excalibur?”

    Her brow furrowed. “That’s right. What does that have to do with you?”

    “Captain, I’m here to apply for the position – I’m your man.”

    * * *
     
  18. DavidFalkayn

    DavidFalkayn Commodore Premium Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2003
    I'm enjoying the intro. As to be expected in a LoneRedshirt Production, you're assembling quite the cast of characters here. Phillips looks like the sort that will test Grace's patience, but he'll deliver when it counts. Although I can see growing conflicts between Clark and Espinoza over access to Grace in time...

    This is turning into quite the story.
     
  19. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2007
    Location:
    Between the candle and the flame
    Utterly delightful.
     
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Her first strike of genius was to recruit Commander Phillips. Not only is she getting a great engineer, she also managed to shave off some serious repair time.

    And now, an extremely handsome first officer. That could turn out to be interesting in the long run. You gotta admire this guys self-confidence.

    Great stuff. For reals.