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Never Say Never

"Never Say Never"
Scott Coleridge

"Above all else, remember this: you are not James T. Kirk. And that is a good thing."
The instructor's voice reverberated across the lecture hall without aid or amplification, their attitude and poise perfected from years of delivery. Scott felt a small chill run down his spine. He licked his lips, glanced down at the blank PADD where he could have been recording notes. Suddenly aware that he was slouching, he straightened up in his seat. Was it cold in here, or was that just him?
They were only twenty minutes into the three-hour class, "Advanced Command Ethics." Why had Scott taken this course, again? It was an elective, and he wasn’t on the command track. He didn’t need it. Then movement in his peripheral vision reminded him why: Ellis Navarro, a fellow fourth-year cadet.

She was command track. She was also entirely out of Scott’s league.

So, of course, when they had been chatting casually at the end of last year and she had asked if he had signed up for this course, which she would of course be taking, what had he done? Had he smiled ruefully and explained that, no, his full load of engineering and operations-specialist courses left no room in his schedule for a class that had no bearing on his future duties in the fleet?
Of course not. He had nearly choked on his drink and mumbled an enthusiastic affirmative through a mouthful of bubbles. Ellis had laughed, bringing her hand up to cover her mouth, her eyes smiling at him. "Great! We can sit together and share notes."
Scott had rushed back to his dorm to sign in to the Academy scheduling system and reconfigure his entire course load.
"Kirk was an amazing explorer, of course. A very courageous, competent captain. One of the finest products of Starfleet's Golden Age, you might say," the instructor continued, their voice emulating, for a moment, the very cadence that Kirk was famous for in vids of his speeches. "But he was also a menace—to his own crew.
"The average casualty rate on the Enterprise was 0.7 people per mission. That's over ten times the average rate for Starfleet at that time. It's an open secret that when Starfleet redesigned its uniforms near the close of the century, they switched the division colours of security and engineering with those of command and operations in part to shake the so-called 'redshirt curse' that loomed over the fleet's most famous starship.
"But it wasn't a curse. It was a direct result of Captain Kirk's command style."
Scott kept trying to look in Ellis' direction without actually looking. She listened with rapt attention to their instructor, who was themselves a decorated command veteran. Her PADD was already brimming with notes, and the lecture hadn't really even started yet, their instructor still waxing poetic about why they had it out for Kirk.
"These days it's tempting to see only the story we've created about Kirk and not the man himself. He was a visionary and a leader, yes. I don't question his contributions to the Federation, or to the galaxy as a whole—these things are indisputable. Yet his legacy should not be one-sided. The galaxy is not the 'wild West' that it was in Kirk's day—in fact, it wasn't even a 'wild West' in his day, but that was the attitude of the time.
"Kirk was a dashing, daring commander. He took risks. He got lucky. The risks often paid off. But when they didn't, they cost the lives of so many of his crew. Kirk routinely flaunted the protocols and procedures codified in Starfleet Rules of Operations—and he was seldom called on it, often commended for it, because it worked.
"But those rules exist for a reason. And this class exists for a reason. All of you are sitting here because one day, you want to be in that command chair—"
Fat chance of that, Scott thought.
"—and you're all young. Some of you are thinking you'd like to replicate Kirk's feat of making captain by the time you're 30. Some of you can't wait to be in that chair, an entire starship yours to command. Some of you fancy yourselves Kirks in the making."
If I were Kirk, Scott thought, I would at least be a little more successful with Ellis Navarro.
"But I say again: you are not James T. Kirk. Kirk was reckless; Kirk was a hot-head. If you take command of a starship today and you use Captain Kirk as your template for a good commander, you will get a lot of good people killed.
"I am here to save you from that fate. In this course, we will examine, dissect, critique, and codify what it means to be a good commander. In doing so, we will remember that at all times you have a responsibility to safeguard the lives of the people under your command."
Ellis' hand shot up. If the room could have become any quieter, it would have.
The instructor, clearly not anticipating an interruption, stumbled over their next sentence. Then they said, "Yes, Cadet Navarro?"
"Sir, isn't it true, though, that a captain often has to order members of their crew into dangerous, perhaps deadly situations, for the greater good? Isn't it true that a captain has to be willing to sacrifice themselves and their entire ship?"
The entire class was staring in their direction. Scott willed himself to become invisible.
"A proposition!" said the instructor. "I'll entertain comments from the floor. Anyone care to respond to Cadet Navarro?" About ten seconds went by, and no one hazarded a response, so the instructor continued, "Very well, I'll just choose someone—"
Oh no. Please no, Scott thought. Please please please…
"—Cadet Coleridge."
Of course.
Scott looked from the instructor to Ellis. Both had expectant looks on their faces. Ellis seemed confident he would back her up. He wanted to. But to be honest, he had no idea how to respond. He didn't want to command; he wasn't built for command. The idea of having the lives of hundreds of people on his shoulders terrified him. He just wanted to fix things, to make those sleek and beautiful starships run as good and pure as he possibly could, all while seeing the most wondrous sights the stars could offer. Wasn't that enough?
"I would say that Cadet Navarro is correct, that captains have to be prepared for the worst case scenario. But that's a last resort. And part of our duty as commanding officers is to manage a situation in such a way as to avoid that last resort whenever possible. The way I understand it, sir, you're not saying we need to minimize all risk, or nursemaid our crew. You're saying we need to recognize that our crew have unquantifiable intrinsic value, and as such, should be managed with care."
That's what he would have said, in hindsight, hours after this class was over and he was sitting in bed reliving the entire experience in excruciating detail.
"I think sometimes … captains make … hard choices. And, uh, sometimes captains will lose people, sure. But, um, we shouldn't, uh, go in guns blazing, right? Sir?"
To say that the instructor was unimpressed with such a response would have been a generous assessment. They did their best not to betray any such emotions, but the flat affect in their voice as they replied was enough. "Perhaps, cadet, you'd care to re-read this week's assigned chapters, and compose for me a 1000-word essay on the responsibilities of a commanding officer."
"Very good, sir," Scott replied.
He almost didn't look at Ellis. But he did, and what he saw was worse than the remedial essay he'd just been assigned. It wasn't anger or dismay … it was a look of such pure, unvarnished disappointment. As if he had let her down, not by failing to come to her aid, but by failing to provide any kind of intelligent response. It was the I thought you'd be ready for this look.
Scott just gave her an apologetic smile, then he fixed his gaze on his PADD and didn’t look up for the rest of the lecture. The instructor went on to present several case studies from the Enterprise's original five-year mission, explaining that in the next class, they would be breaking into working groups to analyze and critique the studies from various angles. Scott tried to pay attention, but something told him that Ellis wasn't going to be looking for him to be in her group next week….
In the end, he passed the course, just barely. The instructor's comment on the final report was along the lines of, "Should perhaps rethink command aspirations." Which was fair. Nothing about the experience had changed Scott's mind. When was he ever going to need this knowledge, anyway? His first posting was going to be as a grunt engineer somewhere, and his last posting would probably be, if he was lucky, maybe as chief engineer on a support vessel. But probably as the leader of a maintenance crew on a starbase, or maybe the engineer on a remote listening post.
The idea that he, Scott Coleridge, would one day sit in the command chair of a starship, with people reporting to him, on some kind of mission into the unknown … it was ludicrous. It was almost as crazy as his idea that he had a shot with Ellis Navarro.
So when she had showed up at his dorm that night, while he was still up obsessing over his abject freeze-up, maybe that should have set alarm bells ringing in whichever part of the cortex is responsible for warning of ironic twists of fate.
When she explained that she had initially been planning to offer to tutor him, but that this was actually just a clever ruse to get her in the door, and that really she just wanted to ask him out, because she thought he was kind of cute, and she didn't care too much that he wasn't great at command stuff … perhaps Scott should have known, at that moment, that his life was not going to be straightforward and quiet and predictable.
When they dated for the rest of the year, splitting up only after their first posts put them at opposite ends of Federation space, maybe Scott should have paid more attention. Improbable, nigh-on impossible things were already happening to him, and would continue to happen after his postings to Endeavor and Aegis. When would he learn to never say never?

"We're approaching p-Kappa 198, Captain Coleridge," Ensign Jackson said.
The bridge of Aegean hummed with activity. It was different from the buzz in the Aegis CnC, more constrained in its chatter. Tightly focused. Fewer donuts. Scott sat in the captain's chair, one hand tapping a command into the panel next to him, the other holding a cup of coffee. He acknowledged a few reports that needed his eye, left the rest for Commander Lawliet.
"Very good, Mr. Jackson. Once we're in range, drop us out of warp at the edge of the system. Let's get a nice, careful look before we get any closer." He sipped his coffee and looked around. Alpha shift had just come on duty, scheduled to coincide with their arrival.
His crew. His mission.
"Ellis Navarro," Scott said under his breath, shaking his head. Never say never.
Jackson turned back, a quizzical look on his face. "I didn't quite catch that, sir."
"Nothing," Scott said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs. "As you were."

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