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The holographic Romulan starbase destroyed the Bellerophon for the fiftieth time on the display.  Following the review, the records of their performances were open to the class for individual study.  It was not the first time that Randy Duke found himself in one of library's study areas, watching his own performance as captain in detail.  Keeping Dominic's words in mind, he began to understand exactly how pathetic he seemed.  Even he would not dare follow such a captain, but then, he would not have dared to cross the captain like Leanne had.

He envied the confidence she held in her ability.  She took charge right out from under him, and he recalled his thoughts at the moment as being nothing but a great sense of relief.  Not solely relief, he pondered to himself.  There was jealously and annoyance at having been removed without so much as the courtesy or respect of being informed of her actions.  How could he stand for that?  Why did he not do anything to prevent her from taking them into the Neutral Zone?

Randy's eyes checked the chronometer that flickered in the corner of the screen.  The hour was late, but he still had an hour before lights out.  Hoping to catch a free holoroom to study his mission closely, he quickly pushed away from the study desk and walked briskly toward the exit.

Entering into the first available holoroom, he loaded the mission record and studied it.  It was like reliving a memory for him, and the knot in his stomach danced around as he painfully watched his poor performance with all the realism that the record afforded.  He stopped the record, and reset the mission.

"Computer," he called out, "load the Kobayashi Maru simulation for command evaluation purposes."

The computer's voice replied, "Specify team parameters."

"Bellerophon."

"Parameters set."

"Begin program."

"Warning.  Team members are not in attendance."

Randy looked up with a pained expression, "Uhm... can you replace the missing team members with appropriate holographic personnel?"

"Affirmative.  Please specify reference."

"Wait, what do you mean?"

"Historical or fictional reference must be determined to replace the mission team members."

Randy smirked to himself, "Historical."  Why not?  He took the captain's chair and sat down as the computer continued to ask for further parameters.  Which part of history?  Did he have a particular starship in mind?  There was no question in his mind about that.  "Enterprise."

"There have been six starships with the name Enterprise.  Please specify which vessel and time period you wish to select as a historical reference."

He could not help his smile.  "All of them."

"Working."  Figures appeared all around him; every single bridge crew from every Enterprise looked at him and Randy cringed at the scene.  James T. Kirk seemed to be pressed up against Rachel Garrett, Data found himself locked in between Uhura and John Harriman.  It was as though the barriers of time were removed on the bridge and the finest officers in Starfleet found themselves stuck in a type of bridge/sardine can.

"Oh no!" Randy said quickly, closing his eyes.  He took a deep breath before making himself clear.  "Computer, from the crew of each Enterprise, please select the most qualified crewmember for each duty station."    He heard the figures disappear immediately, and then the same sound as the computer brought back the appropriate number of people.  "Begin program," he told the computer, deciding to be surprised.

Captain Hikaru Sulu called from the helm station, "Sir, we're on course for Starbase 375 at warp seven.  We will be passing the main commercial route to Galorndan Core in five minutes."

"Galorndan Core," smiled Commander William T. Riker, seated in the executive officer's position.  "It's a pity we can't stop by and visit.  They have an amazing recreational facility there."

Randy could only nod toward him.  Riker was still serving in Starfleet.  He had seen mission records, but this was the first time he got a really close view of the man.  Despite his being a hologram, he never imagined he would be so personable.  He could only nod toward him as he spoke about Galorndan Core.  "I-I-I've never been," Randy stammered.

Sulu chuckled, "It's not exactly a vacation spot for Starfleet officers, sir."

Riker smirked at Sulu, "I never said I was there for a vacation."

"Arcturus is a far better place to get your face smashed in," said Lieutenant Natasha Yar from tactical.  "Not to mention it's easier on the eyes."

"Captain," called Lieutenant Richard Castillo from the operations station.  "We're receiving a distress call."

Riker replied before Randy could speak, "Audio or visual?"

Castillo looked at his station, "It's audio-only, and it's weak.  I'm trying to boost the gain to maximum."

"On speakers," said Randy, closing his eyes as he did so.

A voice from the speakers spoke through the static, "To any ship... my voice... this is Captain... of the fuel carrier... Maru.  We have hit a... mine and are... -questing assist-..."

"Can you clean that up a little bit more, Lieutenant?" asked Riker.

Shaking his head, "Sorry, Commander.  That's the best I can do."

"If memory serves," said a deep gravelly voice from the science station, "the Kobayashi Maru is a fuel carrier with the capacity to transport three hundred passengers."  Spock looked at Randy with those cold eyes, looking to him to acknowledge his information.

"Orders, sir?" asked Riker.

He chewed at his upper lip in thought.  Time was of the essence, here.  Randy cleared his throat, "Mister C-Castillo, signal them back, tell them we have received their distress call."

"Aye, sir.  Stand by," Castillo entered in the proper commands into the operations station and then began to speak to the air.  "Kobayashi Maru, this is the Federation starship Bellerophon.  Please respond."

The speakers crackled with more static, "-phon!  We hear you!"  But that was all that could be understood.

"Kobayashi Maru," said Castillo once more, "please retransmit.  We're losing your signal."  He continued to try to amplify their weak signal, but it was no use.  "I'm sorry, Captain.  There's more static than transmission."

Yar asked Spock, "Ambassador, can you track that signal down using the ship's lateral array?"

Randy looked at her for a moment.  That was some unusual initiative she demonstrated.  Usually, you had to poke and prod his real bridge crew into carrying out his orders.  "Uh, Mister Sulu, once the origin of the signal is determined, plot a course to intercept, but do not engage."

"Aye, sir," said Sulu's deep baritone.

"I'm unable to determine the transponder of the ship from this distance," noted Spock.  "The signal appears to be coming from within the Neutral Zone, but the carrier signal appears to indicate an ambiguous source transmitter."  He made a supposition that it could be a side effect of the damage from the mine.

Castillo yelped, "Got it!  They're in the Neutral Zone, way off course from the main Galorndan route."

Spock confirmed those findings, while Sulu reported, "At warp nine, we could be there in five minutes."

Riker frowned, "If we enter the Netural Zone, there's a possibility that we could precipitate a conflict."

"But the Romulans aren't supposed to be in the Neutral Zone, either, Commander," commented Yar.

Randy let go of a deep breath he did not realize he was holding in.  The possibilities were endless and his options were not great.  He did the best thing he could think of to do, "Well, what are our options?"  It was a general question to everyone.

Yar was the first to speak, "Captain, five minutes is not that long.  We could be in and out before the Romulans even realize what happened."

"Captain," said Sulu, "I'm not sure if rushing in there is the right thing to do.  We could contact the Romulans and request a joint mission or..."

"That would take too long," Yar said, interrupting him in spite of his rank.  "Time is of the essence."

Riker offered, "I agree with Lieutenant Yar, sir.  We would be justified in aiding a civilian vessel.  They are closer to our border than the Romulans.  We could take it in tow and bring it back in ten minutes."

"Captain, I recommend we launch a probe and determine if the ship really exists," said Spock.

Randy Duke looked around.  Castillo made no suggestion of his own, merely watching the other members of the bridge discuss the problem.  No one else spoke up after Spock, however, and it seemed like the Ambassador provided an option that would not place the ship at too much risk.

"Number One," said Cadet Duke to Riker, quietly enjoying the opportunity to do so, "let's go with the Ambassador's suggestion.  Take us out of warp and ready a probe for launch."

"Aye, sir.  Mister Sulu, all stop.  Ambassador, Tasha, ready a class nine probe for launch," ordered Riker, sitting down in his seat.  "Yellow Alert, sir?"

"Okay," Randy nodded; he was far more interested in seeing what happened than being in command.  The increase in readiness was communicated by the way of the yellow lighting appearing along the bulkhead and on the status indicator above and below the main viewscreen.

The various members of the bridge crew worked in harmony with one another.  Yar readied the forward torpedo tube for a probe launch, while Spock modified the onboard sensor package to his specifications.  Castillo continued to track the origin area and passed sensor information to Spock in real time.  Sulu made the necessary course corrections to bring the forward torpedo launcher to bear on the target coordinates.  Within a minute, the probe was ready for launch.  On the main viewscreen, they watched the small object's onboard micronacelle propelled the tiny object at warp nine toward its destination.

Two minutes later, Richard Castillo reported that the signal from the ship was lost.  "I think maybe their communications equipment is no longer functioning.  The signal was cut off rather abruptly."

Spock reported telemetry from the probe was incoming and being recorded by the ship's computer.  "The probe has entered the target sector, one minute until it reaches the target coordinates."

The main viewscreen was patched into the live feed from the probe by Riker's order.  Stars streaked by as though the ship were at warp, and then slowed down when a large field came into view.  It looked like a bunch of asteroids from a distance, but then a small cloud of silver and gray material filled the lower half of the screen.

"Initial analysis of the debris pattern indicates that the ship was destroyed by a warp core breach," reported Spock, keeping his eyes focused on the science display before him.  "I am also reading the blast pattern of a gravitic mine nearby.  The drift rate would support their reasoning."

Riker sighed, looking at Randy, "It's not your fault, Captain.  You acted in the best interests of the ship."

"Computer, freeze program."  Riker's visage reflected his command.  He turned around and it seemed as though each one had a different expression on their face.  Sulu was sympathetic, but he looked as though he agreed with Riker.  Spock's stony features remained unchanged.  Yar appeared to be frustrated, and Castillo kept his eyes on his station.  Randy stood from the center seat and heaved a heavy sigh toward it.  "Uhm, let's save this program under my personal directory and clear the holoroom for use by someone else.  Exit."

The computer's audible acknowledgement came in a series of words and noises, "Program saved to the personal directory of Randolph Duke.  The program's parameters have been named Duke-seven for future reference."

Checking the chronometer, he ran to his bunkroom realizing that he had only a few minutes before the imposed curfew on the cadets.  While his legs moved, his mind began to form an idea of how to handle the problem presented before him.

Unlike the bridge crew he had just interacted with, his was inexperienced.  They had not yet learned how to work together as a team, or better yet, a true understanding of their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Even though the computer generated bridge crew had never served together, they came to rely on skills they knew each one had.  Natasha Yar knew to rely on Spock to access the lateral sensor array for information.  William T. Riker responded to information supplied by the bridge crew within his authority.  He handled the bridge crew on behalf of the captain, and executed Randy's orders without question.  Once he made his decision, that was it, he realized.  The duty of everyone on board was to follow the decision of the captain.

Leanne would never act in such a fashion, he thought to himself as he ran through the door to his shared room and ignored the jibes of his bunkmates.  He found her to be overbearing and condescending toward him.  He knew she carried almost no respect for him whatsoever, and that was a dangerous element to exist within the chain of command.  As he lay down on his bunk and closed his eyes, he reasoned with himself that Commander Riker would have never spoken to Captain Picard in such a fashion, nor would any first officer aboard any starship in Starfleet.  Not if they valued their career.  The difference appeared to be a lack of commitment to the idea of actually being on the bridge of a starship.  He understood a little better about that, now.

Where had his lack of confidence gone, he wondered as the lights turned out within the bunkroom.  He felt self-conscious of his actions and words at the beginning of the simulation, but then his confidence seemed to appear as time went on and he felt comfortable in working with those officers.  Randy wondered about that.  Buried in thought, he kept asking himself where the line was that he crossed from stammering to self-assured.  His approach to command was the reflection of his peers.  The caliber of officer he was forced to work with.

Dominic Leone took his team and built a group that worked well together.  Did that happen by chance?  Perhaps, but it was more likely that Leone merely cultivated each cadet to be the best they can be.  He inspired them to work together.  That was leadership; that was how commanders built their loyalty.  Loyalty not only to them, but also to each other.  Throughout history, it was not simply that officers on a bridge crew would remain at their assignments for more than a tour of duty solely based on the commanding officer.  It was the other people they had to work with.  That was why captains like Kirk and Picard held onto the majority of their bridge crew.  They inspired teamwork.

Randy made his decision.


"Uh, I want to thank you all for, uh, coming down here today on your time off," said Randy, the next day.  He stood on the simulated bridge of the Bellerophon, looking at each cadet as they stood nearby him.  Not a single person met his eyes as he looked at him.  "I want to give the scenario one more try, with your permission.  I have been trying my best to study and prepare..."

Leanne sighed heavily, "So what?  This isn't about studying.  Anyone can study their brains out, but it doesn't change the fact that you're not a good captain."

"Not yet," Randy smiled.

"Not ever," Leanne retorted.

Zito smirked at the exchanged, sharing an amused glance with the helm cadet.

Randy tried to put a smile on his face, but he failed.  Leanne seemed like such a bully to him, always trying to make sure that he felt as useless as possible.  Not today, not if he could help it.  "M-My ability to command effectively..."

"... does not exist," Leanne interrupted him, accenting each word loudly to drive her point home.

"That's enough," Randy said, his tone angry.  "You stand there and point fingers at the problem, but you do nothing to resolve it.  If you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem, Leanne."

She was shocked at his sudden outburst, mouth open and unable to say anything to that.  It was the first time she had ever known him to get angry at anyone.

Zito and the other cadets looked between the both of them, unsure of how to act or react in this case.

Randy ignored her, and continued, "As I was saying before I was interrupted by my first officer, the problem that exists here is a lack of teamwork.  Before we can follow orders and before you can give them, the most important aspect to working a bridge that I've come to understand is that we have to rely on each other as peers, first.  Trust in each other the ability to carry out our duties and not betray that trust by usurping the authority right out from under them."  He stopped, to look at their reactions.

Leanne did not stop from looking anywhere but at him, but Zito and the other cadet appeared to regard him a little differently.

Taking a deep breath, he continued, "Zito, I know you're good at what you do.  Your experiences at tactical are going to come in handy, but you're part of this team.  We have to compliment each other, not conflict with each other."

Zito nodded in response, "I see that.  But how do we get to a point where we work as a team?"

"I don't know," Randy said honestly.

Leanne blew air at her bangs, "Well, gee, Fearless Leader..."

"You're relieved."

She blinked, "What?"

"You heard me.  You are relieved of your duties as first officer, effective immediately," replied Randy, with a tone so calm that it shocked him.  "I'll tell Commander del Toro to have you reassigned."

Leanne tried to hold up her hands, "Whoa, wait a minute.  If you do that..." She did not need to say anything further.  Her grade in the class would be forfeit, as part of a disciplinary action.  She would have to retake the course and probably would not graduate until the end of the fall or spring semester of the following year.

He nodded, "Exactly.  You are unwilling to work with the team; you're unwilling to ensure that we succeed.  You need to be somewhere else."

"Wait!" Leanne nearly screeched, her voice in a panic.  "Wait a minute, you have to give me another chance."

Randy smiled; he had her where he wanted her.  "All right.  Give me another chance, then."

She looked at the other cadets, who now appeared to move their support behind Randy.  They had forgotten that despite his demeanor he maintained the authority as captain to have them removed.  Of course, had he removed Leanne, he would take a hit on his personal grade for the course, but not as large of a black mark as Leanne would.  Given her attitude, remarks, and actions, it was almost a certainty that the instructor would side with Randy over the debate.

The decision to give him another chance at being her captain took two seconds and it was based entirely upon survival.  "Fine."

Randy declared victory with a clap of his hands, "That's great.  You're reinstated, then.  I'd like to begin today, by trying this one more time.  But this time, we're going to try it a little differently."  He grinned widely, "Let me tell how much I learned last night, by just sitting in the center seat with experienced starship officers.  Computer, load program Duke-seven and run the program."


Chapter End Notes:

And now, a word from the author...

After I wrote Agamemnon, I wanted to do a Starfleet Academy story.  Within the theme of The Quarterdeck Breed, which was a short-story exercise to explore command styles within the Star Trek setting, I went from a veteran officer to one with little experience.  A cadet seemed more likely than using an ensign or junior grade lieutenant.  Plus, the use of Dominic Leone (Krystine's son from Star Trek: Full Speed Ahead) was too good to pass up for me.

Randy Duke's namesake is the character Randolph Duke from the movie Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd. I needed a character name and it was on in the background while I was writing it.  His character sketch, however, was borrowed from my personal experiences in high school as the newest member of the school's marching band.  I was so completely out of my depth, I would never forget that complete loss of self-confidence and wondering if I had made a mistake in joining in the first place.  I was given the option of moving out of the band, but in the end, I chose to remain and I will never regret making that decision.

In this story, we see Randy having to look for his confidence as well.  His forte is research, which might have made him an excellent science officer, but his instructors could see the potential for leadership underneath that timid exterior.  As military academies have a way of doing so, they tend to rip apart the subject and rebuild them as they need him or her to be, and Starfleet Academy would be no different (I figured).

Bellerophon is quite probably the most memorable story in this series (according to FanFiction.net, at least).

Thanks for reading, and if you can, leave a comment.  Stay tuned for Constitution.

-- MDg


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