What was it about the odor of a building that said "school"?
James Kirk would have know he was in an institute of learning by smell alone, even if there hadn't been the standard podium, seating arena, audio/visual controls, and pointer. He just sniffed "school."
Admiral Kirk was early, for the classroom was empty. Admiral, he thought with a snort, taking the short steps down to the podium three at a time. What a joke. Advance to the rear. Before now, he had never thought of promotion as a punishment, but in his case, he knew it was. Almost, almost, he wished they had gone ahead and court-martialed him. At least then, he could have gotten a job on a ship somewhere, still be in space, still be seeing new things.
Instead...instead he was here, waiting for his first class to come in. Admiral James T. Kirk, Assistant Dean of Starfleet Training Command and Special Instructor. Just so much bullshit.
"Damn!" Kirk said aloud, slamming his fist hard on the podium. The screen pointer clattered to the floor. As he bent to retrieve it he heard a startled "Oh!" from somewhere above him in the arena.
He straightened quickly, trying to regain composure, and saw an ensign paused midway down one of the aisles.
She took one more hesitant step and stopped again. "Am I too early, sir?"
Kirk took a deep breath. How could he face them, these young, fresh faces who knew nothing about conflict or politics or infighting? Or mistakes. He was not a teacher, damn it, he was a starship captain. He shook his head, thinking of Bones McCoy. He knew what the doctor would say about his new job. But he'd worry about that later. "No, Mister. Sit where you like."
"Thank you, sir."
As she came down the row, he noticed that she was tall, taller than he was, and carried herself in a way that Kirk had come to know as confident restraint. He didn't see that kind of carriage very often in someone as young as she. He looked at his roll, but there were no holos.
He consulted his list again. "You're in your first quarter, I see."
She drew herself up. "Yes, sir. Two more quarters at Training Command, and I'll be off this ball of dirt and out bashing Klingons. Sir."
Was that what they taught these kids today? That the post-Academy command training they received at S.T.C. was equivalent to Klingon bashing?
"Mister, this is Starfleet Training Command, not the Colonial Marines. And you're not out of here until we say you're out. Remember that!"
Ensign Randolph did not have the good grace to blush or even look sheepish. She narrowed her eyes and Kirk felt as if she were looking right through him to his jealousy of her youth and enthusiasm. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," was all she said.
By this time, other cadets began to come in, and Kirk was grateful for their distracting presence. When the bell rang, the entire complement was present.
He tried to take them in briefly before he began his opening speech. There were twelve of them. A good number, he thought. Large enough for good discussion, even conflict, but small enough for him to really gauge what they might be made of, if they were really command material.
Command...the word that held such power for him was now an empty dream. What did he command? A desk, a classroom.
"Good morning. I'm Admiral James T. Kirk. As you may have heard, I'll be replacing Commodore Carson this term as your instructor of Advanced Tactics and Strategy. This class will not be easy. Basically, there are no right or wrong answers. There are only questions. I don't expect you to sit here and let me simply lecture about what is the right or wrong strategy in a given situation. I want discussion, and I want questions.
"I know you all want to command someday. This may be the last chance you get to question authority before you start working toward those commands for real..."
There was an appreciative chuckle.
"Now, let me call the roll. Barkley? Yes. Dawson? Okay. Faranth? Good..." He continued down the list, receiving the standard responses until he reached Randolph. "Randolph?"
"Why are you really here? Sir."
Kirk's head snapped up. "What, Mister?"
The class definitely felt a drop in the temperature of Kirk's voice, but the ensign did not back down.
"I mean, why did they promote you right out of the front lines? And why did you accept?" There was a brief pause. "You did ask for questions. Sir."
The entire class was now embarrassed, but whether for him, or for their reckless classmate, Kirk could not tell.
"Ensign, I'll answer a question like that only once. If, and that's a big if, you make it to the line, one of the first things you will learn is that the top brass have their own way of thinking. And the second thing is that promotions may only be offered once, and when the time for accepting is past, it will never return."
"Thank you, sir."
Kirk was sweating. He sincerely hoped that the rest of his students were not so perceptive. Or, at least, not so blunt. He reached under the podium and brought out the computer-controlled audio-visual board. He punched a button.
Behind him, overhead, a list of books, papers and articles appeared. "This is your reading list for the term. You'll find it posted in this class' file on the main computer. You'll note that there's quite a bit of 'old stuff' on it. Don't skip it. Believe me, it's every bit as relevant now, in space, as it was here on Earth centuries ago.
"Ensign Rathan," he addressed the only Vulcan in the class. "I've included several of Surak's treatises on the logic of strategy and negotiations. Perhaps you could lead the discussion on that next time."
"I would be honored, Admiral."
"Fine. I want all of you to come by my office and sign up for a conference to be held within the next three weeks. Instead of keeping it on the computer, there'll be a list of times in my office--Room 807, Administration Building, D-Wing. My comm number is KA-7019. Class dismissed."
Kirk turned back to his roll as the students filtered out of the room. He felt the quiet settle back in, and looked up to find Ensign Randolph staring at him from the top of the arena. She caught his eye, and he read--pity? defiance?-- in her gaze. Before he could call to stop her, she was out of sight.
He sighed. Her attitude needed some serious adjusting. Once he got back to his office, he'd pull up her file and decide how best to discuss this subject with her in her conference.
Karen Stivus was waiting for Randolph when she came out of the classroom. "Con, you'd better watch yourself. It's only the first day, for God's sake!"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't be so dense! If you want to get out of this cursed classroom cavern and into space for real, you've got to keep your mouth shut! I mean, asking the legendary James T. Kirk why he was promoted. You might as well have accused him of lying back there!"
"Lying. I know it. Stiv, we all know about Captain...excuse me, Admiral Kirk. Does no wrong, walks on water and in vacuum. The scourge of the Klingon Empire. And suddenly, boom, he's not out scourging the Krazy K's any more; he's lecturing a bunch of wet-eared trainees--us, and talking about scheduling conferences! My God, he must be dying inside!"
Stivus was silent at her friend's vehemence. Walking rapidly across campus to other classes, they made an interesting duo. Randolph was tall, well-muscled and moved with a striding grace that people always noticed before they paid any attention to her better-than-average looks. Stivus, on the other hand, was small, slight and intense. Her neat brow furrowed as she thought about Randolph's last comment.
"Why do you think he's not happy with his promotion? I mean, he didn't have to accept it."
Randolph laughed, more or a snort. "Stiv, I keep forgetting you weren't raised on Xartheb. The whole planet is run like an army base! In a sense, I've been in the military all my life. My earliest memory is a physical training drill in the desert dawn. Believe me, Kirk got this promotion because he screwed up somewhere. There's been no scandal, and he got all the honors and fancy speeches that go along with an upward career move like that, but I will just bet my big ass that he had a choice to either take that promotion or leave the 'fleet. Why else would they take someone like that off of the line?"
"Why do you say that? Maybe he got tired of it. And why do you even care? I'm thanking my lucky stars that I've got a chance to be taught by the guy. Otherwise, I'd probably never have had a chance to meet him."
"I say it because my gut knows it's true. And I care, because Kirk is one of the best. I'm not talking about hero worship or anything that banal, Stiv. I've studied the records, both the official and some of the ones that I have access to under my 'limited classified' status, and I know what I'm talking about. I went into command training because I wanted to be able to do things like he's done, to accomplish good things for the 'fleet.
"But he's a do-er, and that can get you into trouble. He's never been one to just sit and wait. He did things. And now he's grounded. I just wonder if I'm going to have to change my whole personality in order to do the things I want to do."
Stivus grinned. "Some changes wouldn't be a bad thing!" She ducked cat-like away from the cuff Randolph reached to give her.
"Damn, I know I'm pushy. But so what? I'm not the only one in the class who is, and I do it because I have to. If you don't ask questions and force other, complacent people to ask questions, we wouldn't have the Federation; we'd have an empire like the K's...with everybody scared to live long enough to go back home after a mission because they'll be executed for screwing up!"
They had reached Stivus' next class. She took Randolph's arm. "Okay, Con. Maybe everything you say is true. You do have a way of nosing out these things. All I'm saying is 'be careful.' If it is true, you can bet Kirk doesn't want you blurting it about all over campus--it's his business. And you don't have to end up that way. Maybe you should get with Rathan and get him to give you Vulcan lessons!"
"Oh, hell." She sighed. "Stivus, you're good for me. Always the 'little voice' I need to hear before I go off half-cocked. I'll table it...publicly. But I want to ask him about it at my conference. None of my business--maybe. But we're both part of the 'fleet, and I have a right to know what kind of traps there are for me. And maybe I will talk to Rathan--surprised you, huh?!"
"I gotta go, nut! See ya."
Connor Randolph checked the time and took off at a lope across the quad. She had barely enough time to make her least-favorite class, Astrophysics 783H--Non-Einsteinian Universes. She couldn't afford to miss it, because if she didn't hit the eighty-fifth percentile, she'd be knocked out of taking Navigation 842L--Maneuvering Through Worm Warps--and she was dying to take that class! So, she'd hit the ninetieth percentile...just hide and watch! James Kirk temporarily off her mind, Randolph slid into her assigned seat with seconds to spare.
Kirk couldn't get used to his office. On the Enterprise, his office had been a small alcove off one side of his quarters. With a little practice, he could easily roll out of bed and into a chair in one easy motion. Very cozy, very efficient.
This place was a hangar deck by comparison. Not that big, perhaps, by ground standards, maybe five meters by six, but still--a huge desk (Room for all those papers I'll be pushing, he thought bitterly), two comfortable chairs facing the desk, a credenza behind, and a separate work station for the library/computer/comm terminal. Of course, there was the standard BellComm terminal within easy reach of his desk.
He keyed it. And hesitated. Why should I bother? he thought. I'll find out what I need to know from her when she has her conference. But still, something about that young ensign had stung him. So he called up her school code and scanned the terminal. He punched in the "printout" command.
Randolph, Connor Amelia. First quarter, Starfleet Training Command.
Her Starfleet Academy marks are high.
Motivation: high. Intelligence: high.
No surprise there, he thought. With Academy screening procedures, only nine hundred freshmen were admitted each year, and rigorous advancement standards held that fifty people were either dropped, or held back, each year. The graduating senior class was always seven hundred. Or, on occasion, less.
Major: Command. Minor: Security/Intelligence.
Damn it, that was where she got the noseys.
Decision: high. Physical Training and hand-to-hand: excellent.
Not surprising given her size, he noted.
Given to impulsive outbursts...
...due to 'honesty' and desire to 'know the truth.' Frequently questions orders, though she has not been labeled 'insubordinate.' Takes on 'causes.' Example: insisting that one meal period be given over entirely to meals containing no flesh products, so that non-meat eating students might eat without being 'offended.' Request denied. Follow-up vehement. Issue ended in demerits for inciting a disruption in the Academy cafeteria.
Kirk shook his head. A food fight...
Potential: extremely high, given personality modification.
This kid is a ball of antimatter! But why had she been so interested in him? What was it to her if James Kirk or Don Carson taught her Advanced Tactics and Strategy? It bothered him. He didn't want some kid bringing up his painful past. That subject was not open for public, or even private, discussion. He'd have to set her straight.
He read the rest of her bio.
Raised on planet Barnard Six.
Xartheb. Well, that explains a lot. The planet was a sixth-generation colony, peopled with descendants from Neptune Colony Four. It had started the way a number of colonies had in the mid-twenty-first century. People were conscripted by that colony's leaders. The planet was a harsh world; the air was breathable, the soil tillable, but just barely. Lots of minerals. Militaristic, technologically oriented society. Lots of discipline, lots of drills. Lots of volunteers for Starfleet, though not as many for command training. A tough people.
She had what it took, he was sure. But she had to temper her enthusiasm, had to learn that channels were necessary, and why. He caught himself. Who, just who does she remind you of, James T.?
Voices came back from the past.
"Rome wasn't built in a day, Jim. Be patient!"
"Calm down! We'll get the results; it just takes time!"
"Mister, you are not to question a direct order again if you ever want to see the inside of a starship!"
"You did what to the Kobayashi Maru programming?!!"
How had he made it through? If the 'me' of then were one of these students now, I'd probably recommend court-martial out of hand. He shook his head and tucked the printout into a file folder.
A soft tap on the open door brought his head up. Speak, or think, of the devil, he said to himself.
Randolph stood in the doorway, coming close to filling it.
She seemed much more hesitant now than she had earlier. "I--was on my way to the gym, and since I had to go by the building I took a chance you'd still be here, sir. I wanted to schedule that conference, if it's convenient."
"That's fine, Ensign. You're the first to schedule, so take your pick of the times." He motioned her to one of the chairs, and she walked over and sat lightly. He wondered if Xartheb had higher gravity than Earth.
She looked over the proffered sign-up sheet. "The tenth is good. Will you really want an hour?"
"At the least. I need to know the mettle of my students. It takes a lot more than classroom time."
"That makes sense. Fourteen hundred is ideal. I'll be on time. Thank you, sir."
"I look forward to it, Ensign. Ensign..."
"If you don't mind my asking--what sport is that outfit for?"
She was wearing a white suit that resembled a traditional karate ghi in cut, but was tighter and more form fitting, with the tunic fastened in the back. It would be difficult to get a good grip on that, he thought. Tough to execute a flip.
She grinned. "Home world slang. I'm from Xartheb. It's kind of a blend of formal martial arts and down and dirty hand-to-hand. It's passed down through families, and each generation adds a twist here and there. So no one teaches it or executes it like anyone else. My roommate wanted to learn, so I said sure. Um--would you like to come and observe?"
The last question was asked in a rather hesitant tone, and Kirk wondered if he really ought to plead more work and refuse. But he was intrigued. And besides, he'd gotten out of his exercise habit since his recovery and promotion. Maybe he'd see something he'd like to try.
"Thank you, Ensign. I do have some paperwork to clear up, though. Can I meet you there?"
"Sure! We'll be in Room 27, Phys-Ed Complex, Second Level, West. Sir."
She was gone. Kirk wondered if she ever walked anywhere or if the stride was her natural gait.
It was almost an hour later when he showed up at the gym, and he was afraid that they might already be gone. But Room 27's door was open, and he went in and sat quietly in one of the metal chairs alongside the wall.
Randolph and her roommate were the only ones in the room. They sat back-to-back in the center, each in lotus with their eyes closed. Even from a distance, Kirk could see the intense concentration of the two women, and he watched them closely, waiting to see what would happen next.
If nothing else, they were a study in contrasts. Randolph sat, breathing deeply, her short hair plastered to her face and neck with sweat; the two women were not just playing around. The other woman (Kirk recognized her from the Tactics class, but could not recall her name) had pulled her long hair back and wrapped it tightly around her head, affording no advantage to an opponent. Her head touched just between Randolph's shoulder blades as they sat meditating, and Kirk found himself hoping that Randolph would go easy on her. The native of Xartheb was so big.
Suddenly, with no cue that Kirk could determine, the two cadets let out unearthly shrieks in unison and sprang from the mat. Randolph spun and grabbed for Roommate, but she was too fast. She slipped away from the bigger woman and took up a defensive stance that looked strangely like an at-ease position.
She'll never be able to defend out of that, he thought.
But he was wrong. Randolph rushed her, evidently trying to throw her off guard by mere presence, but the roommate held her ground. Until the last instant, that is, when she practically threw herself on the ground under Randolph's feet and grabbed for her ankles.
In a move that won Kirk's admiration, Randolph managed to slide her bare feet out of her opponent's grip and using the top of one foot, rolled Roommate over on her back and prepared to descend with both knees to the chest.
It's over now, he thought, but again, the little one's speed held its own against greater size and strength.
Kirk watched as they went on and on, each almost taking the other only to be foiled by moves that Kirk wasn't sure really existed in hand-to-hand or the martial arts. He found himself almost in awe of Randolph, watching her muscles bunch and roll under her fighting outfit. Off in one corner of his mind, he didn't think he would ever find such a woman romantically attractive, but he had a healthy appreciation of her pure physicality. The thought creased his mind that anyone who wanted a horizontal session with Ensign Randolph better check his blood pressure and pulse regularly.
Then, as suddenly as the heat had begun, it was over. The two women rushed each other; Roommate grabbed Randolph's shoulders, and Randolph heaved her over her head. The woman hit the mat in a neat tuck and roll, and was on her feet instantly. They faced each other, bowed, then returned to the sitting position they had been in when Kirk entered the room. Kirk couldn't keep the applause to himself.
Immediately, the two cadets were at attention.
"At ease, at ease! That was some exhibition. How long have you been taking lessons from Ensign Randolph, Ensign--?"
"Stivus, sir. Six months, sir. Six days a week for two hours."
"And you still have time to study? I'm impressed."
"The physical activity helps keep my mind alert, sir."
Kirk smiled. "You must have one of the most alert minds in your class, Ensign. Randolph, where did you learn this?"
"I told you, sir--Xartheb. A family wouldn't let a little one out of the crib without learning the basics. And they build on it from there. It's an on-going process."
"I see." He glanced at his wrist chrono. "Well, Ensigns, thank you for allowing me to observe. I'm sure you'll be eminently prepared for class tomorrow. I'll see you then." He smiled and left the two cadets to worry about that remark.
In spite of itself, time passed. Kirk found himself settling in as a teacher with better grace than he had ever imagined. He enjoyed the enthusiasm that had made him nervous at first. It was a pleasure to see young people who still had ideas and ideals rather than "tired old space dogs" as Mister Scott referred to himself too often for Kirk's tastes.
The Tactics class was his favorite of the three he taught as an assistant dean. The students in the Advanced Tactics class were a mix of forceful and reserved, thinkers and those who would rather act than think. It made for interesting discussions. Ensign Randolph was often in the middle of such "discussions," invariably defending the virtues of attack and conquer over more diplomatic methods of contact.
"Admiral, don't you think that if Soo Chi had attacked the Orion contingent at once, instead of waiting for reinforcements, that Quadrant Seventeen would have been ours a lot sooner?"
"He was badly outnumbered, Ensign. At that time, there were just the beginnings of talks between the two civilizations. If he had attacked, he might--and I stress might--have secured that quadrant, but he would have lost forever the chance to negotiate successfully with the Orioni Worldlords. Remember, they only give you one chance. And they don't allow for ignorance of their customs. Chi did the right thing by waiting. If he hadn't, the Orions wouldn't have formed the neutral Barrier Alliance. In fact, they would probably have allied themselves with other galactic superpowers."
Randolph was not satisfied. "Negotiating with the Orions is one thing, but what about the Klingons?"
Kirk did not want to talk about Klingons, especially in class, and most especially with Ensign Randolph. But he couldn't change the subject; it was by far the most popular one in the class, doubtless because of his first-hand experience with the species.
"What about them?" he asked carefully.
"Well, sir. You've had dealings with them. You know talking won't do any good with them. It's only force, and more force that they understand."
Kirk sighed. These were the times that he longed to be back on the Enterprise fighting Klingons instead of talking about them. "Ensign--all of you--must understand one thing about the Klingons. If you don't remember anything else, remember this. What you are accustomed to as a "standard" Klingon was, when I was commissioned, only an experiment. These Kh'myr Klingons are products of genetic engineering at its best...or worst, if you prefer. They are less Klingon and more machine. They are reared in creche, schooled in groups, and from birth learn nothing but fighting and killing. It's their only skill and their only pleasure..." Kirk trailed off, seeing again the striped, bloody form of Paul Westlake as he was butchered alive by that Klingon bitch. If he could ever go back, by God, he'd make damned sure they'd...He shook his head to clear the rotten image.
"The Klingons who developed these brutes are not so unlike us." He held up his hand at the murmur of protest. "It's true. They fight hard, and fight to win, but is that so strange? Read the specs on the Klingon Homeworld, on the planets in the Empire, and you'll see--it's amazing that any kind of advanced civilization could have risen from such barren places."
"You sound as if you admire them, sir." That was Moreki, an Andorian whose outpost home had been laid waste three times by the Kh'myr before Starfleet had established a command base in the quadrant.
"I admire their tenacity; I admire their strength. I don't admire their desire to develop a living weapon to destroy or enslave the rest of the lifeforms in this galaxy. But--they're paying for it. Soon there won't been any of the old Klingons around to protest what the Kh'myr are doing."
"Why is that?" It was Stivus, looking up from furiously taking notes for the first time since class started.
"The Kh'myr are killing them off. The weapon has turned on its creator. Not the first time in history that's happened."
"And what are we to do when they've run out of cousins to kill?" Randolph again.
Damn it, thought Kirk, no wonder I think she knows all about that mess at Serenidad--she's too smart.
"Learn, Mister," he answered. "Learn all you can about them. And do it with an open mind. They're genetically engineered to be superior, but they're still biological, humanoid organisms. Then, when the time comes, you can fight them without getting yourself killed.
"That's all for today. Next time, I want to discuss A Book of Five Rings as it relates to modern strategy. Be ready to participate. Dismissed."
The class headed for the door, with Randolph lagging behind.
At least she's learned to wait for the others to leave, he thought.
When the room was empty except for the two of them, she turned.
Kirk anticipated her. "Not today, Ensign. Frankly, you're too nosy. As a commanding officer, I made decisions and no one was allowed to question them. You'd better get used to not questioning sometimes if you want to fit in on a starship."
Randolph's face closed.
Kirk wondered if he'd hit some kind of nerve.
"Actually, sir. I only wanted to ask you if you'd like to spar sometime. You said you might like to learn."
Kirk softened. "Why, yes, Ensign. I'd like that very much. Why don't we meet at 1900? You use your technique, and I'll use Starfleet standard plus a few tricks I've learned along the way, and we can both fill in the weak spots."
"Aye, sir. See you at 1900."
He watched her leave, perversely looking forward to putting her in her place that evening. Maybe he'd make her a deal--she'd quite being so nosy and he'd let her live. Whistling, Kirk went to get some lunch.
Jim Kirk was nervous as he waited for Randolph to show up. He'd deliberately arrived early so he could spend enough time warming up. It never ceased to amaze him how much longer it took for his muscles to loosen as he got older. They say old age is in the mind, Jim-boy, but tell that to the old gluteus maximus! He remembered the first time he had ever sparred with someone of higher rank. Would Randolph be nervous, too? Somehow, he doubted it.
He was practicing shoulder rolls and back falls when she came in. She wore the same outfit she had worn before, except that it was a different color--bright red. Well, no one could say she wasn't a visible target.
Kirk continued his warm-up, surreptitiously watching the young ensign as he did. She seemed relaxed as she bent and stretched, making a few falls now and then. She approached him in a few minutes. "Ready?"
He paused. "Shall we start the way you and Ensign Stivus did when I saw you in here?"
"If you want to, sir. Although that's a technique usually used with beginners to help them sense the presence of an opponent."
They squared off opposite one another and made the ritual bow that signified the beginning of battle. Kirk took a forward stance and moved slightly to one side. Randolph stood easily, knees bent, bare toes curled as if to grip the floor. Why doesn't she move? Kirk wondered. Her eyes were half-closed and he couldn't tell is she were even watching him or not.
All at once, Kirk lunged in with a side kick to Randolph's face. Barely moving her head sideways, she swung her arm up from her side, blocked his kick and twisted his ankle so hard that he landed in a heap. He was on his feet before his butt barely had time to hit the mat, and back in position. So that was how she wanted it. Fine, he thought. That's how she's going to get it.
The match wore on. There were no observers in the room, but if there had been, they would have seen not only a battle of skills in hand-to-hand combat, but also a battle of wills between two individuals who did not know what it was to give in.
They grappled, they circled, they feinted in and out. Falls and pins were equal, and both were coming close to losing their tempers, which they knew could be fatal. Finally, Kirk rushed toward Randolph, slapping his bare feet loudly on the floor. For an instant, she looked down at them, and he had her. He forced her arm behind her back, one of the most difficult holds to break, and fought her to the floor. As he pressed her face closer to the mat, she kicked out suddenly with both feet, flipping him off of her back. His feet slipped, and before he could recover, she had him by the neck. Even as he lost consciousness, he felt amazement at experiencing a Vulcan neck-pinch from any one but Mister Spock.
He came to slowly. He was leaning against a wall; his head hurt. He tried to lift his hand to feel his head and discovered that it weighed three standard tons.
Randolph's voice came to him dimly. "Don't move just yet, sir. Wait just a few more minutes."
"Umm." It was about the best he could do. He managed to get his eyes open.
Randolph was sitting in front of him, legs crossed, looking like someone had licked the stripes off her candy. "I'm sorry, sir. I almost never use that pinch. But I hate having my arm pinned behind me--my older brother used to do it for fun, and I guess I just lost my temper."
"Don't worry, Ensign. Whatever gets you through the war is what you should use."
She looked at him for a long time before she spoke again. "Is that why you got promoted?"
"You just don't give up, do you, Mister?" He sighed.
"I'm sorry, sir. I don't mean to pry, really. But if I'm going to command a ship like the Enterprise one day, I need to know what lies ahead of me."
He dismissed the vision of the starship, her hull breached by gaping holes, from his mind. "Don't you think you're just a little premature on that worry, Ensign?"
"I like to 'be prepared' for anything, sir."
"I'm sure that's admirable, but I will tell you one more time: I was offered a promotion, and I took it. The rest is none of your business and if you don't want me to make your life a living hell in class and out, you will stop asking questions to which you are unauthorized to hear the answers. The situation does not affect you in the least."
"Aye, sir. I just never figured you'd give up space so easily."
He could only stare at her. Easily? He wanted to scream at her. What did she know--fresh-faced brat? What did she know of watching men hacked to death and being ordered to do nothing? What could she know of a friend lost on a planet swarming with Kh'myr bastards and of a young woman, that you thought of as almost a daughter, about to have a baby by one of them? What did she know about pain and fear and death and politics--the dirtiest word of all? But he couldn't say those things to her, precisely because she didn't know.
He struggled to his feet, waving away her offer to help. "Thank you for the workout, Ensign. I'll see you in class tomorrow."
The end of the term approached too slowly for Kirk. The rigors of academia and administration were beginning to tell on him, and he wished that he were back in space, fighting Klingons, mapping stars, fighting off space amoebas-- anything, just to be doing something.
He couldn't sleep. He took to taking long walks around the campus, conversing with various security personnel at odd hours of the night.
It was the end of another such aimless night, and he was strolling by the Records Complex--a high security building. Passing one of the side doors, he noticed that one of the doors just inside was ajar. He motioned to the guard, who approached him.
"Hello, Admiral. Out for a late walk again?"
"Yes, Tom. Helps me think. Look, that door there, doesn't that lead to the Main Records Accessing Center? Has it been open long?"
"What the--Admiral, it was shut just a few minutes ago, I swear. I never heard anyone--"
"Never mind. You call the security chief. I'm going to investigate."
The guard opened his mouth to protest, but the thought of telling Admiral James T. Kirk that he might be going into a dangerous situation suddenly struck him as too ludicrous, so he just concentrated on remembering the Chief's comm-code. Kirk disappeared around the corner.
The lights were dim, and Kirk's eyes took a few minutes to adjust. While he waited, he listened intently. The soft hum of equipment whispered all around him, but if he listened carefully, he could just make out the soft tap-tapping of computer keys. Someone was after information, not an incriminating act in itself, but, in the dark and after hours, it could only mean someone was up to no good.
He crept forward in the direction of the sound. It stopped, and Kirk paused to get his bearings. Now that his eyes had adjusted, he could discern a soft glow in one corner of the room. Crouching low to stay hidden behind partitions, he crept up on the spy. The keys flew again, drawing up facts out of the main banks of Starfleet.
Kirk hoped whoever it was was only pulling information up for personal use, and had not broken the security system to feed facts out to another system. If the file had not been copied, he only had to erase the data and turn the culprit in. So thinking, he positioned himself behind the intruder, gathered his legs under him, and sprang forward, grabbing the arms and locking them in a hold, all in one, smooth motion.
He whirled the chair around to read the riot act, and stared into the stricken face of Ensign Randolph. In shock, he loosened his grip on her, but she made no effort to press the advantage. Her face was flaming with embarrassment, fear, and something like pity. He flung her arms down by her sides.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded.
She didn't answer for a moment. "I wanted to know, sir."
"Know what for God's sake? What is so important to you that you'd sacrifice your entire future in Starfleet for it? Because that is what you've done, you know."
Instead of answering, Ensign Randolph nodded her head in the direction of the screen. Glancing down, Kirk read the hard, cold facts that had resulted in his "promotion" to Starfleet Training Command.
Paul Westlake's bloody death, the resistance fighters' battles, McCoy's capture and escape, and the hopeless fight with the Klingon ships. It all rushed back to him with a sickening force that he was determined not to show. How dare she? Once and for all, he finally understood the "need to know" rule. She did not need to know this. Not yet. Not at her stage of training and not when he was her teacher.
"Kirk, what in Hell's going on here?" The Commandant of Starfleet Academy was annoyed, his voice filled the low-ceilinged room.
Without a glance at Randolph, Kirk reached past her and blanked the screen. He yanked the ensign to her feet and waited for the commandant. "Admiral Barstow, I was taking a walk about campus when I saw a door open behind Tom here. I asked him if he were aware of it, and he indicated that only moments before he had checked the door. I ordered him to alert the Security Chief--"
"Which he did, and he roused me out of bed! Is it that serious?"
"I think that's for the commandant to decide, sir. Anyway, I proceeded in here and found this ensign accessing the high-clearance banks--"
"What information?" barked the commandant.
Randolph seemed to shrivel under his gaze.
"I didn't have time for more than a quick scan, sir," Kirk lied, "but I believe she was requesting information on recent 'fleet campaigns."
"Ensign, you realize those files are to be closed to all but top security clearances, and then only on a 'need-to-know' basis, don't you?"
"Yes, sir." Randolph's voice was soft, but firm.
"And what clearance do you have?"
"Two-B, limited, sir."
"You understand that going above your security clearance is a court-martial offense, as is accessing 'need-to-know' materials without approval?"
"I do, sir."
The commandant sighed. "Guard, take her into custody. I'll request an inquiry board to meet tomorrow with a court-martial to follow promptly."
Kirk straightened at the word 'court-martial.' "Admiral, I--"
"I know she's one of your students, Jim. I just hope for your sake that you didn't put her up to this stunt. Don't worry," he added, softening a bit, "you'll be able to give evidence in her behalf, if you wish." He shot Randolph a hard glance. "If there is any."
The commandant turned and stalked out, followed by the guard with Ensign Randolph in security cuffs, in tow.
Kirk turned off the computer screen and the lights in the room, and closed the door behind him. He headed back to his apartment, knowing there would be no sleep for him tonight.
The proceedings went quickly, the verdict a sure thing--Ensign Randolph was found guilty of breaking security clearance, entering a secured building, accessing classified information with intent to use, and dishonorably discharged from Starfleet Training Command, with strict orders never to set foot on the campus or any other 'fleet command base again. Her description and vitals would be displayed openly in all security installations for the next seven years to discourage her, if she decided on revenge.
Kirk had not been called to testify, nor had he requested it. This was not a high official with years of experience and a well-established record to defend. Randolph was only an ensign, a graduate student, one who had used her high potential to destroy her career before it even had the chance of beginning. If she couldn't handle the regs in training, better to weed her out now, before she became privy to even greater secrets.
Kirk told himself that over and over as he paced in front of the detention suite where Randolph was being held pending her release into the real world. The actual sentence, six months in confinement, was light. Her real punishment was being forced to give up the dream.
At last, a guard came out and motioned to him. "I can give you ten minutes, Admiral. I shouldn't, but I'll stay out here so you can talk. But, please, no longer than that."
"I understand. And thanks."
Randolph sat at a small dining table in one corner of the room. But for the fact that there were no windows and only the one door, Kirk might have been in an efficiency apartment. She looked up and smiled briefly.
"It's not so bad, Admiral Kirk. A little better than my quarters back home on Xartheb, actually."
"Will you go back there?"
Randolph rose from the chair with a surge of barely controlled nervous energy. Kirk was reminded again of her sheer physical power. Unconsciously, he stayed close to the door. She shook her head once, sharply.
"One thing I did get out of your class, Kirk, was an appreciation of my own history. Or, rather, my world's history. Xartheb is a lot like ancient Sparta. I could go back as a graduate, or I could go back in glory, or I could go back in a body bag. Anything else is unacceptable. They wouldn't have me, and I wouldn't ask."
"I see. What do you plan to do then?"
"Why do you care?"
"Because I care. You went against some serious regs and it cost you. I've thought about what you did for days, now, and I believe I understand why you did it, or why you thought you had to do it. That doesn't take anything away from the fact that you are Academy-trained, you are smart, you are a hell of a fighter, and you want to save the galaxy from the Klingon menace. I don't see you settling down to a job as an administrative assistant in a hydroponics conglomerate!"
She chuckled. "You are right about that! I haven't given it a lot of thought. My first goal is simply to get this time behind me without going crazy. They only let me work out once a week! And they won't even give me a partner!" She paced the floor a couple more times, like a caged tiger. Kirk waited.
"San Francisco's a big space port. I did complete my four years of training at the Academy--I blew it as a grad student. It shouldn't be too difficult at all. I'll find a ship. They'll take me on."
"Whatever. You said it yourself, Kirk, I'm a hell of a fighter, and I've got training. I can keep discipline as long as it makes sense. Keeping a lot of secrets and yanking a hell of a starship captain out of the line doesn't make any sense. I'm better off without the 'fleet; I can see that now."
"Mercenaries." It was not a question.
"None of your damned business, Kirk!"
"Just like my promotion was none of yours?"
"Touch. Look, I'll manage. That's the first thing they teach us on Xartheb-- manage. Explore your options and make a choice. One option just closed; I'll have to make a few others come open, that's all."
"Randolph, if anyone can do it, you can."
She grinned at him, an expression that was at once grim and ruthless. "I still aim to get me a few Klingons."
"Well, God help the Klingons, then!"
There was a sharp rap at the door. Time to go.
"Look, Randolph, I shouldn't say this, but if you get in over your head, and you've got no where else to go--try me. I can't promise to do a whole lot, but you don't get to where I am and not have a few contacts."
She looked genuinely touched. "Thanks, Admiral, I mean that. But you won't hear from me. I can take care of myself." She struck out a hand. "Get out of here, now, or they'll lock you in with me!"
The door closed softly behind Kirk as he headed out of the detention building and back to his office. He had a class today, but he decided he'd cancel it. It was too soon to face students, too soon to start lying again.
I have to get out of here, he thought, with a feeling in his chest like he was breathing the last air out of a plastic bag. Randolph is right; I have to get my ship back before I go nuts. He continued walking, not altering his pace.
He didn't know how he'd do it, but by God, he knew enough about 'fleet politics, and how they worked. He'd make them work for him for a change. Somehow, I'll get my ship, I'll get back in space, and who knows, maybe I will run into Connor Randolph one day.
His pace quickened as he headed for the main classroom building. He would teach that class today. Maybe he could even tell a "war story" or two. He began to whistle.
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