Stardate 4741.4 (2 September 2268)
Starfleet Academy, San 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 cubes, when an Asian female cadet stood. “Captain McAfee, I have a question, sir.”
“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, yours is a good question 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 ours.” 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 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.”
As the cadet exited the lecture hall, a familiar figure came in. Lt. Simon Collins, 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. Collins, 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-cubess into Collin'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 behind 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. “Commander, I didn’t make an appointment. The Admiral contacted my office ordering 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 uniform 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 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. The Chief of Naval Operations was not as frail as he appeared.
They entered a spacious office with a high ceiling 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 bay. 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 highest ranking admiral in Starfleet had summoned her regarding 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 Tellarites 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 more serious.
“In the past two years, we 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 philosophy 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 Tellarites 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 CNO. 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.
To be continued
Chapter Notes: Grace McAfee is summoned to appear before Admiral Nogura.