its_not_fair.gif (2317 bytes)

Richard Dyke, Lisa Evans, and Rob Morris
revised by Lisa Evans

April 17th 2252
Starfleet Academy

"This was a great idea." Jim Kirk yawned and stretched until his spine cracked. "Last week was a meat grinder. We needed to get away from campus." He took a deep, cleansing breath of clean mountain air. "You were right, Jan."

"Of course I was," said Janice Lester. She joined him at the edge of the cliff. San Francisco lay spread out before them, sun glittering off the skyscrapers and the silver waves in the Golden Gate. "Mount Tamalpais is exactly what we need."

"‘A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou—’" Without warning he swept her up into his arms and swung her in a circle. "So much for the Kobayashi Maru!"

"Jim! Put me down!" She took an ineffectual swipe at his chest and smacked him on the cheek instead. "Now!"

Kirk grinned and plopped her down underneath a moss covered tree. "I thought you liked it when I did that—" He kissed her on the cheek, then the throat, one hand lightly moving down her chest to the Academy starburst on her left breast. "—took the lead—or have you changed your mind?"

She pushed his hand away from her chest with more strength than was necessary. The back of her neck prickled despite the warm spring sun. "Sorry, Jim. But not today. I’m still pretty wound up."


The bridge around her was littered with the corpses of her crew. Not really dead of course, just like she wasn’t really a captain. And the readouts, signalling that the Kobayashi Maru was nothing more than a plasma ball slowly expanding in the void—

Jim, Gary—they breeze through these tests even when they lose! I can see them laughing at me when they think I can’t see. She stared down at the navigator’s station, where Gary Mitchell twitched in an effort not to move. Bastard. I’m twice the man he is, and I keep my brains in my head, not my pants. Son of a bitch—

The simulator door slid open, and Captain Willis strode through. The fans extracted the smoke from the room until it was possible to breath without choking. Willis stopped at her chair, eyes narrowed against the last acrid wisps.

Lester lifted her head and looked at Captain Willis, her cheeks red with rage. He probably has a girl in every port. Wonder why he came back to the Academy? To teach, or to keep the girls in their place? Stopping the sim in the middle—

"Okay everyone, back to life, and hit the showers." A few of the "dead" groaned as they sat up. Deirdre Holmes coughed, her black hair powdered white with insulation from her shattered communications board. Willis waved her toward the door. "When you’re all looking presentable there’ll be a debriefing at 1600 hours in the April suite. And the bagels and cream cheese are on me!" Twenty years in space hadn’t smoothed away the traces of a New York accent, or a New Yorker’s love of bagels.

As the cadets gratefully made their way out of the the simulator, Lester remained in the command chair. Willis nodded pleasantly. "Time to go, skipper. No need to go down with your ship this time!"

Lester snapped her head up and back. "’Go down?’ Is that some kind of sick joke because I'm a woman?"


"Yeah, I’m with you. The Kobayashi Maru isn’t what I’d call easy." Kirk rolled onto his back and stared up through the green leaves at the dazzling blue of the sky. "How’d you do?"

Lester pulled out a Thermos of hot coffee and poured herself a cup. "Okay, I guess. I lost my crew and I lost the ship, but doesn’t everyone? Finnegan crashed her right into an asteroid and laughed about it!"

"Well, that’s Finnegan," said Kirk. "He was a jerk, but his grades were good enough that he got into the C-school." He made a face. "Y’know, sometimes they way they play favorites really drives me crazy—"


She stood up as Captain Willis retreated a step. "Want me to make an entry on your log next?" Her voice rose enough so that some of the retreating crewmembers glanced back.

Captain Willis’s eyebrows arched as the meaning of her words sank in. "Lester, get that goddamn chip off your shoulder! You should know by now that no one here treats you any differently because you’re a woman. Half the instructors and a third of the cadets are female. Where you ever got that idea— "

"And how many are captains?" It felt so good to let it all out. "How many will become captains? We have twelve Constitution class starships right now. How many will have a woman at the con?"

"This is an academy, Ms. Lester." Captain Willis made a visible effort to calm himself. "The only captains here are the teachers. I admit there aren’t many women commanding ships right now, but—"


"You’re a fine one to talk about favorites, Jim." The coffee was bitter. She tossed it back toward the path in a sparkling brown arc. "I heard a rumor that you reprogrammed the simulator." And got a commendation when the rest of us would get enough demerits to spend the rest of our lives walking them off—

Kirk threw his hands up and chuckled. "All right, you caught me. Guilty as charged. I snuck in on Tuesday night and reprogrammed it so I’d have a chance. I figure there’s always a chance in the real world, so why not? And they reprogrammed the simulator on Wednesday, so it wasn’t like everyone else saved the day. Lystra actually rammed the Klingons so the Kobayashi Maru could escape!"

Janice Lester gritted her teeth at the mention of Lystra Davis. Tall, slim, graceful Lystra, star of the intramural basketball team. Everything came easy for Lystra. Including bagging Jim. Did she have to have everything? "Yeah. Her little friend Sarah told me." She poured herself another cup of coffee and drank it despite the heat on her tongue. "Y’know, I’ve never understood how you manage it."

"Manage what?"


"But what, sir? Are you keeping all the command spots open for cadets who cheat?" Lester climbed out of the chair, hands clenching and unclenching. "I heard all about Jim Kirk reprogramming the simulation. Why is that all right, but losing a crew isn’t?"

"Later, Lester." Willis pointed at the door. "Hit the showers, Cadet. I’ll expect a more—professional—presentation at the debriefing. Understood?"


"Staying friends with your exes. I swear, I don’t—"

Kirk’s phone rang before she could finish. She finished her coffee while he answered.

"Yes, this is Jim—Auri? Is that you?" His face lit up in an absurd grin. "That’s great! Congratulations! Does Mom know yet?"

"Mom? As in your mother?" Lester hiked herself up against the tree. The bark cut into her spine near her waist. "Who are you talking to?"

Kirk made a shushing motion. "Of course, I’m happy! This’ll be the first baby in the family since Dad died! I couldn’t be happier!"

"Baby? What baby? And why are you so damn happy?" Her heart started pounding like a triphammer in her chest. "Jim. What the hell is going on?"

"Right! Love you, too—"

"Love you! Give me that thing!" Lester lunged forward and grabbed the phone before Kirk could react. "You little bitch! Who the hell do you think you are? Jim’s mine, do you hear me? I don’t care if you’re pregnant with quadruplets, you leave him—"

"Janice! What the hell are you doing?" Kirk finally jerked the phone away. He scrambled to his feet and half-ran across the clearing to finish the call. "Aurelan? Look, I’m sorry. That was my friend Janice—she’s a little upset—"

"A little upset? With you sleeping with anything that moves?" Lester was on her feet as well, clutching at the rough tree bark for support.

"For Christ’s sake, Janice!" Kirk covered the mouthpiece of the phone. "It’s my sister-in-law Aurelan! She’s been trying to get pregnant for almost a year! She was calling to tell me that the treatment finally worked." He shook his head. "Jesus Christ!"

Lester shrank back against the tree as Kirk completed the call. Sister-in-law? She closed her eyes and tried not to react as Kirk signed off and stowed the phone in his pack.

"What the hell was that about?" He grabbed her by the chin and forced her to look at him. "Aurelan’s so mad she’s ready to fly out to San Francisco this afternoon and rescue me! That was inexcusable!"

She turned her head to the side. "I’m sorry—oh, Jim, I’m sorry. I didn’t know." Tears flowed silently down her skin. "There’ve just been so many others—and you’re all I have—"

Without a word he closed his arms around her and let her cry it out on his shoulder. "Jan, what’s wrong? Is it what happened at the debriefing?"


"Ms. Lester, this was your third attempt at the Kobayashi Maru. Would you please describe your solution to the class?"

Lester smiled and shrugged, almost nonchalant. The rest of the class sat poised in their chairs, waiting.

"I came to the conclusion that the Kobayashi Maru itself was the true obstacle to a successful conclusion to the scenario. Since the Klingons and/or the Orions seem to be using it as bait to lure one of our ships into forbidden territory, it’s clear that there’s no way to rescue the crew. Either they’re working with the enemy, or they’re completely helpless.

"Given that the crew of the Kobayashi Maru is either collaborating or enslaved, they are, in fact, better off dead. So I reasoned that the best solution for both ships was to destroy the Kobayashi Maru before my own ship was attacked. My error was in failing to anticipate the presence of a second enemy ship which fired from behind and destroyed my ship before we could make our escape."

"Hmmm." Willis sat back in his chair. A half-eaten bagel rested on the plate in front of him. "Don’t you think that’s rather a harsh choice, Ms. Lester? The Kobayashi Maru might have been exactly what it appeared."

"Starship captains make harsh choices," said Lester. She popped a mini-bagel into her mouth and chewed, smiling all the while.

"You do realize that deliberately blowing up the Kobayashi Maru isn’t among the usual solutions to the test? The classic solutions are what? Class?"

Deirdre Holmes raised her hand, quiet but confidant.


"The Lester Manuever, sir, followed by Garth’s Conundrum, Sakai’s Withdrawal, and Ching Yuke’s Sacrifice."

Captain Willis nodded, then gestured toward Jim Kirk and Gary Mitchell, brought in as observers. "Gentlemen, you’ve both taken the test. Do you agree with Ms. Lester, or Ms. Holmes?"

Gary looked stricken. Kirk answered for both of them. "I’d have to say I don’t agree with Ms. Lester’s solution. There’s always an alternative. Blowing up a Federation ship isn’t one that I would have chosen."

Lester squeezed his right hand under the table. Captain Willis had moved on to another cadet’s solution and had began to question a stiff-backed Vulcan firstie.

"Don’t worry about it, Jim. I’ll be fine. Daddy taught me everything I need to know about getting by—"


She had stopped crying at last, face buried in Kirk’s shoulder. "I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing—"

Kirk carefully guided her back to the forest floor and pulled out a tissue. "I’ll make it right with Aurelan. I know it’s rough. Everyone thought your father was a hero."

"They sure did. Paul Lester, hero of Axanar." Lester blew her nose. "Too bad I wasn’t a boy. Then maybe he would have been proud of me. Maybe he would have let me alone—"


"Be a good girl, Janice! Be good for Daddy!" He crooned her name as she tried to wriggle out of his grasp. "Good little girls do whatever their Daddy tells them—"


Kirk waited until she was calm. "I wish he were alive. Then I could tell him exactly what I think of him."

He spoke quietly, but it was enough. Lester threw her arms around his neck. "Oh, Jim! Sometimes you’re all that keeps me sane!"

Bad little girl! Bad Janice! Do what Daddy says!

"I know, sweetheart. I know." Kirk’s hands were gentle as they swept her hair from her face. Lester laced her fingers through his and kissed him, long and thoroughly. "Hey. I thought you were too wound up."

"Maybe. But you know what they say—" She lowered her lashes and blew gently across his knuckles.

"Oh, what’s that?" Kirk was already reaching for the fastening of her tunic. He wiped away the last trace of tears.

"It’s the best way to blow off some steam."

She laughed, low and throaty, and after a moment he joined in. Soon there was no need for speech, only the sounds of wind and water and rustling leaves. By the time they made their way back the mountain to San Francisco it was almost time for the Spring Dance. Neither thought to check the Command School rankings. That could wait until tomorrow.

To: Commandant of Cadets
From: J. Willis, Cpt., Chief Tactical Instructor
Date: Stardate 1231.2

Re: Kobayashi Maru Results

As requested, below is the ranking of the cadets who took the Kobayashi Maru simulation. Please note that certain highly ranked cadets in the science tracks (most notably Spock ch’Sarek of Vulcan, Donald O’Sullivan of Cymru Newydd, and Genevieve Remillard of Nouveau Quebec) declined the test on the grounds that they were not interested in Command School.

Two further notes:

Cadet James T. Kirk is hereby recommended for a commendation. His reprogramming of the simulation highlighted several errors in the coding that could have led to serious injury to cadets and instructors. Cadet Kirk has unusually developed leadership skills for a third year cadet, and should be watched closely for command potential.

I have attached a recording of Cadet Janice Lester’s performance during the simulation, as well as her outburst at the conclusion of the test and comments during the debriefing. In my opinion, her behavior indicates a serious problem with taking direction. She also displays certain paranoid tendencies that could prove disastrous should they remain untreated, confirmed by her most recent psychological profile (also attached).

It is my recommendation that Cadet Lester should be dropped from the command track and urged in the strongest possible terms to seek counseling. I further recommend that she be placed on probation despite strong grades, as her paranoia and unwillingness to take direction bring into question her suitability for a military career.

The rest of the Command School candidates are ranked as follows:

Al-Khatib, J.
Anderson, P.
Banerjee, V.P.
Bar-David, E.
Dall, J.
Davis, L.
Guererro, F.
Holmes, D.
Kirk, J.
Kelly-Romero, S.
Madison, S.
Mattias, R.
Mitchell, G.
Narvik, X’H
N’Khosa, L.....

"It’s not fair." Lystra Davis ran her hand back over her newly cut hair. She had decided to splurge for the Spring Cadet Dance and now regretted the expense. A cowlick she had forgotten about sprouted at her part line and had resisted what seemed like half a tube of slicker. The fog blowing across campus from the Golden Gate didn’t help.

"What isn’t fair? That rotten haircut?" Sarah Madison shook her head and tsked gently. "I told you to wait until tomorrow when Chief Adar was on duty. You knew Vaughn would give you a bowl cut after all that time on Vulcan—"

"Of course not! Don’t be an ass," said Davis. She blew out a breath and gave up on smoothing down the cowlick. If anyone asked, she was copying the latest style from Ganymede. "I’m talking about the Command School choices. It’s not fair."

"Now, now." Madison stopped in the middle of the path and turned to face her roommate. "You knew Wonder Boy Kirk was going to make it. Ditto Mitchell and Guererro. You and I were on the bubble, and so was Holmes, but we all made it, and we’ve got over a year before we actually ship out—"

Davis pulled her aside onto the soft spring grass as an Andorian couple swept past toward the student center. "Keep your voice down! And no, I wasn’t surprised about Jim, or Gary, or even Deirdre." She glanced around to make sure they were alone. "I meant Jan. She didn’t make it."

Madison’s eyes widened. "Jan? You mean Janice Lester? No way! She’s right at the top of the class, just behind Wonder Boy—"

Davis shook her head. "I checked the posted list twice. She’s not there. And no one seems to know why."

"Oh, boy. She’s going to blow a warp coil when she hears this." Madison stopped as a tall Andorian walked past. He nodded absently to them, seemingly unaware of the cold mist rising from the grass. Madison nodded back.

"I hear she already did during the simulation. Deirdre was white as a sheet at dinner last night. Said something about Janice snapping at Captain Willis at the end of the sim, and then smarting off during the debrief."

"Dee’s always white as a sheet. You know what those Erinese—"

"This was different." Davis spoke a bit more loudly than she had intended. Madison wrinkled her brow. "Dee wouldn’t give any details. Something really nasty must have happened."

Both cadets were silent. Madison finally said, "That’s too bad. If anyone has the brains for Command School, it’s Jan. And she’s had her heart set on it ever since Plebe Summer. Poor kid."

"I know. This is just going to kill her," said Davis. Lester had aimed straight for Command School the moment she set foot on campus and had never faltered. Lesters had conned ships since the days of the great carriers of the 21st century. Janice Lester was the only child of a captain who had seemed destined for HQ until his ship disappeared near Axanar ten years ago. For her not to make Command School would be a crushing disappointment not only to her but to her whole family. "Is she going to be at the dance?"

"Don’t know. I’d go, just to show them I was still alive. But Jan—"

"Hey, Lystra! Sarah!" Janice Lester suddenly appeared on the path. She was in a flowing gown of printed chiffon tonight, the thin silk glowing under the pathlights. Jim Kirk, in full dress gray, hung back a few feet. "What are you doing under that tree? Come on, the dance is starting!"

Davis stiffened as Lester Lester tucked a small arm through her elbow and pulled her back toward the gravel path. Kirk shooed Madison after them. Lester was much too happy—could she possibly not know about Command School? "We were just talking—"

"About your hair, I’m sure." Lester smiled up at her. It was disconcerting to realize just how short Lester was. Kirk looked like a giant next to her. "If you had to get it cut, you should have gone into San Fran. Those Starfleet barbers are just butchers - "

Davis was unable to shake Lester until after they were in the ballroom. The Spring Dance was in full swing, couples swirling about the dance floor, non-dancers at the buffet tables or in the seating area. The lights flickered from red to violet to blue to silver, and a hologram of shooting stars masked the plain drop ceiling. One civilian had worn a flowing pirate shirt and high boots that turned transparent whenever the lights turned blue or violet. Deirdre Holmes, standing next to him with a pained look on her face, was nearly the same red as the spotlights.

Madison joined Davis at the buffet, made a face at the Pirate King and snagged a cup of punch from the nearest waiter. "Holmes should have known better than bring someone dressed like that. Notice how the Commandant’s wife is staring at them? She’s going to get—"

"- a talking to. And then she’s going to go all Vulcan on us and spend all her time in the library until Long Leave. I know, I know." Davis drained her own punch in a single swallow and grimaced at the sickly sweet taste. "At least she’s in C-School. I hate to think—"

"Are you still thinking about Janice? She’ll be fine. Look at the way she’s dressed." Madison sipped her own punch and stuck out her tongue. "This tastes just like that miserable excuse for sweet ‘n sour chicken they served last week. Think they used the same base?"

"Sarah, are you even listening? Janice and Jim spent the day hiking on Mount Tamalpais! She doesn’t—"

"She’s an adult, Lys’. I’ll bet she stopped by the caf for dinner and knows all about it. Now would you please cut it out and enjoy the dance? Maybe you can even talk that Vulcan into dancing." Madison grinned and batted her eyes at the sole Vulcan in their class. He swallowed a touch too hard and cut straight across the room, almost colliding with Janice Lester and Jim Kirk as they waltzed smoothly past. Madison giggled. "See? She’s having a good time. Lighten up for once."

Davis was about to point out that they had been there all of ten minutes and had no idea what Lester would be like in an hour when the music died away and the lights faded to a normal yellow-white. The Commandant stepped onto the ballroom stage and raised his hands for silence.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlebeings, cadets and honored guests. I trust everyone is having a good time." The Commandant had started as a drill sergeant in the Marines and prided himself on never needing a mini-mike. "On behalf of the entire Academy community, I’d like to welcome you to the Starfleet Academy Spring Cadet Dance."

Applause filled the room, polite patters from the faculty, enthusiastic claps from the students. The Pirate King let out a yee-ha! that shook the rafters.

The Commandant waited for the roar to subside. "As you know, the class rankings and special school choices for our third class cadets were posted today. I’d like to take a moment to honor those students who were selected for our most difficult, yet rewarding, major: Command School. If they would kindly come forward when their names are called—"

Davis went cold inside. Of all the ways to find out! Madison had to elbow her in the ribs when her own name was called, and even Holmes the Ice-Maiden gave her a puzzled look. Jim Kirk was oblivious, of course, as he bounded forward and took his place among the C-School.

"Samuel Kelly-Romero." A big, freckled boy blushed as he joined the group by the stage. "Sarah Madison. Ryanpo Mattias. Gary Mitchell. X’kal Loran of El-Aurian. Leon N’Khosa—"

A flutter of conversation had began on the dance floor. Davis turned toward the noise.

"Chulan Sukarnoputri. J.A. Tetreault—"

"What? Why didn’t they call my name?"

"—Patrick Tomas. Tomogawa Hiroyuki—"

"What the hell is going on? He flunked Astrometrics, and he’s in C-School, and I’m not?"

"Una of Clan Randall—"

"Just a minute! What about me?"

Oh, shit. Davis shut her eyes. Madison made a small noise as she realized her roommate had been right about Lester not seeing the list. Shitshitshitshit—

Lester had shoved her way across the dance floor and the C-Scool cadets and had grabbed the edge of the stage. She stared directly up at the Commandant, her face too pale under its festive make up. "Sir! Permission to speak, sir!"

The Commandant looked down at her as if he had never seen her before. She was trembling slightly, her gown rustling in the sudden quiet. "Miss Lester. I understand your disappointment, but the school results were posted outside the mess hall and uploaded to student computers this morning. If you wish to discuss the results—"

"Discuss? What do you mean, ‘discuss’?" Lester’s voice was thick with rage. "There’s nothing to discuss!" She waved at the C-School cadets. "What the hell is going on here? Half those—those little fools won’t even graduate, and they’re in C-School? I’m better than any of them! My grades—"

"Miss Lester, we can discuss this in my office tomorrow in private! This is neither the time nor the place—"

"Oh, that’s right! Make it a private discussion so no one will know why the top female student in the class isn’t good enough! Sweep it under the rug!" Lester hiked up her dress and scrambled onto the stage before anyone could stop her. "Mitchell blows off half his classes and Holmes spends all her time in the library—"

"I do not—" began Holmes.

"SHUT UP, YOU LITTLE BITCH!" Holmes recoiled as if she’d been butt-ended by a lirpa. Lester whirled on the Commandant. "What’s wrong, sir? Afraid a female will graduate first for a change? Maybe get a ship before the boys? I know all about what you said when you were on the Kongo about poor Captain Terfel—"

"Miss Lester! That is enough!" The Commandant had gone scarlet. "You’re on report! My office tomorrow morning, 08:00! Do you understand?"

The only sound in the great room was Lester, breathing as hard as if she’d just run a 10K in the rain. "Oh, I understand," she said at last. Her voice was a cold, vicious rasp. "I understand everything."

No one moved or spoke. Davis tried to swallow and failed. Jan, do you know what you’ve done?

The flowing silk wrapped itself around Janice Lester’s legs as she turned to go. She stopped to straighten the yardage and looked over her shoulder at the Commandant. "I suppose you want to debrief me." Something soft and lacy fluttered appeared in her hand. "Well, you’re too late. I’ve already been thoroughly debriefed. Sir."

And without another word, she very deliberately dropped the scrap of silk at the Commandant’s feet and walked off the stage.

Madison gasped. "Lys? Was that her—"

Jim Kirk stood rigid below the stage, then sprinted after Janice Lester. The Commandant and the Superintendent were talking rapidly, phrases surfacing through the stunned babble of the crowd. The Commandant’s ADC had picked up the panties and was holding them at arm’s length as if contaminated.

"Yeah. It was."

- personality disorder, the psych tests were right—

- discharge—

- a damn shame, but she can’t get away with this—

Madison had seemed to shrink. "You were right. She didn’t know, did she? Maybe we should have told her outside." She paused. "What’s going to happen to her now?"

"She’s out. You know that as well as I do," said Davis. "The best woman in the class, and she’s out. God."

"Oh, Lord. What a mess." Madison set her punch cup down on the edge of the stage. The ADC was nodding as the Commandant snapped out instructions.

- conduct unbecoming, completely unacceptable—

- procedures, her family—

- I don’t give a rat’s ass, get her off campus!

The music began again, a pounding Argelian dance tune that drowned out the horrified babble. Two or three couples began dancing as if they could erase the memory of what had just happened.

Madison lightly touched Davis on the arm. "I don’t know about you, but I’m going back to the room. I don’t feel like partying much anymore."

"Yeah." Davis took a deep breath and tried to flatten the cowlick. "Let’s go home. Or at least for a walk. I need to clear my head."

Neither spoke until they were halfway across campus. Then Madison broke the silence. "You know, you were right."

"About what?"

It was a very long time before Madison answered. The campus was almost invisible in the fog from the Golden Gate, lights glowing dimly through the cold, cold mist.

"It’s not fair."

Their feet crunched on the gravel as they walked toward their dorm. Davis finally spoke. "No. It’s not. And there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it."

"I wonder—if she apologized—"

Davis stopped. She shook her head. "Yelling is one thing. Throwing your underwear at the Commandant is another. She’s out, Sarah."

"I guess you’re right." Madison held out her hand toward the dorm lock. It glowed as her hand print registered and the door swung open to admit them. "But it still isn’t fair. With her brains—"

"No. It isn’t." Davis waited until the door had closed behind Madison before starting for the lift. "I’m going to bed."

Madison nodded. "I think I’ll be in the vid room for a while. Catch up on the news, that sort of thing. I’ll try to be quiet when I come up."

"Right. Good night, Sarah."

"Night, Lystra."

The lift doors swooshed open. Davis stepped through and tried not to think of Janice Lester, out in the fog. Maybe the brass was right and she was wrong for C-School. You couldn’t be a captain if you pitched a fit every time you didn’t get your way. But still—

It’s not fair. It’s just not fair—


The spaceport was nearly deserted so early in the morning. Janice stood in a queue waiting for civilian transport off Earth. Two years of her life translated into a duffle bag crammed with her civvies and a few data solids, her old backpack half-falling off one shoulder, and three sandwiches she had swiped from the recyclers in her room before her pass code was disabled. The evening gown had been stuffed in the closet. Let Dee find it when she cleaned up this morning. Whey-faced little Erinese bitch—

He tricked me. That old bastard, he tricked me. If Jim or Gary or even Finnegan had done it, Willis wouldn’t have batted an eye. But let a woman sacrifice her crew—


Lester shuddered as the ticket clerk’s voice jolted her back into herself. "What? The itinerary says Mars. Can’t you read?"

The clerk stared at her and curled his lip as if about to say something. Lester pulled herself parade-ground straight and glared back. "Mars. A one-way. To Olympus Mons." Or do you need me to spell it out in words of one syllable, you under-educated—

"One ticket for Olympus Mons, miss," the clerk said. He lifted his eyes from her itinerary and showed just enough teeth to smile. "Have a nice flight."

"Thank you." Lester took the ticket, pivoted on her heel, and headed for her gate. One day I’ll be a starship captain. And it won’t be a lousy freighter, or some clunky relic of the Romulan War. It’ll be the best ship in the Fleet. I’ll show them. All of them.

Her stomach rumbled as she tossed the duffle onto the "checked baggage" pile. She found a comfortable seat and pulled a sandwich out of her backpack. Other passengers began trickling into the waiting area as she wolfed down the cold meat and bread. Who knows—maybe this is the best opportunity of my life. Maybe I’ll find someone or something out there that will make them give me a ship. It’s a big universe out there—all I have to do is keep looking—

She smiled, a real smile this time. Who needed Starfleet? It’s a big universe out there. And one day it’ll all be mine!

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