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Chapter Notes: We begin our story with Captain Grace McAfee spending some leave time with her father, Professor Dennis McAfee. The Captain receives devastating news that will ultimately change the course of her career.

Star Trek: The Lady and the Sword
by TheLoneRedshirt


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 centuries 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 and 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 plus 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 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 cabin-mate seated at the computer terminal, surrounded by a stack of data slates. V'Shaali, 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 extended a middle finger in way of reply. V'Shaali shook her head. “That was 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.”

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

“True, but don’t say that around him. 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. “V'Shaali, 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. V'Shaali gave grace a baleful look.

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

“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 V'Shaali 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 Admiral 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 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 a war games 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 M-5 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.” The Admiral 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 lowered her face into her hands, sobbing deeply.

To be continued


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