12 MAY 05 - Hiya, this story is being entirely reworked to bring it into the NG era. I also worked out some grammatical kinks since I originallywrote this in college. Yes, I did fence and I wasn't too bad.

THE CLASS OF 2364

SUMMER 2364: STARFLEET ACADEMY, GRADUATION MINUS 14 DAYS.

The Cadet Lounge was a place to gather when not studying for the rigorous tests that cadets faced throughout their time at the Academy. It was located on the second floor of the main learning center and provided a number of leisure activities. The lounge was usually the domain of the upper classmen and today was no exception. As classes wound down to final examination day, the lounge became a veritable beehive of activity. Just before lunch, four classmates had gathered to enjoy a lively competition.

One of the four, Midshipman First Class Claire McGregor held the glossy cue ball in her right hand with an evil smile. She and her buddy were up twelve to seven in an intense game of crud at the shuttle lounge. The game was an ongoing tradition among aviators since the time of air-breathing craft back in the 20th century. It was a brutal, yet graceful, form of full-contact billiards. Claire's partner, Josh Goldman, stood at the other end of the green table. Their opponents waited nervously for Claire to serve. Just as she was about to hurl the cue ball down the green toward the awaiting eight ball, a voice rang out, "Attention on deck."

The four midshipmen shot to attention as their Staff Counselor entered the room. Lieutenant Commander Olaf Snurre eyed the rigid cadets. "Hmmm. Playing around, I see? Have you forgotten your finals in three days? Do you think you are ready? Do you think you are ready to graduate and serve Starfleet?"

"Yes sir!" responded the cadets in unison.

"Alright…what is the main armament of a Class Two orbital battery?" barked Lieutenant Commander Snurre.

Cadet Goldman answered, "A Mark Four disrupter and two point defense phasers."

Snurre nodded. "Who is in charge of the search and rescue party?"

Cadet McGregor chimed in, "The Chief Security Officer."

Snurre nodded again with a scowl. "Don't get too cocky. There's a whole other world out there." With that, he turned and stomped out.

It was the duty of the Staff Counselor to follow the cadets and assist them in both personal and professional development. After all, Starfleet had invested an enormous amount of resources into training its cadets. The six foot four, heavily muscled LT CDR Snurre had been assigned to Class 2364 for one year. He was a hard taskmaster and drove the cadets relentlessly. The former Chief of Security for the USS NELSON had a jagged scar down his cheek from a scrape with a Klingon seven years ago. The Klingon came out the worse. Snurre chose not to have the injury repaired and kept the scar as a badge of honor. He liked to call the incident his 'Schlager Duel' after the German sabre duels of the 19th century. His chiseled features and graying blond hair gave him a hard, unyielding appearance. Snurre was also an acknowledged weapons master, and few in the Federation could match him. His few close friends called him "Jarl" after the Viking war chiefs. Despite his granite exterior, he had gone way out on a limb for Claire and she would never forget that.

There was a collective sigh of relief from the cadets as Snurre departed. The lanky Cadet Goldman whispered to Cadet McGregor, "I'll be glad when he's out of my hair." Claire shrugged. Although Snurre could be tough, bordering on abusive, he was a man to be respected. When the tension had cleared, the ever-competitive Claire returned to the billiard table to defeat her foolish challengers.

Not yet 22, Claire was a statuesque brunette who was well known at the Academy as a fierce competitor. She was very physical and excelled at sports and personal combat. Her skill and grace could easily overcome most opponents, even the males. Working out was her way of relieving stress from the intense environment of the Academy and she did so nearly every day. Her strikingly good looks made her the dating target of many a cadet, but she was still on the rebound and had rebuffed many suitors. In fact, many had considered her aloof and she had only a few close friends. Even her many acquaintances would describe her as "hard to get close to." On the lighter side, Claire could be quite a prankster, however. Many at the Academy had fallen prey to her inventiveness. Of course, it always went both ways.

GRADUATION MINUS 11 DAYS - FINALS

Cadet McGregor worked furiously at her terminal. The final examination was long and demanding. She had just finished the four Security Conditions and had skipped Warp Engine Efficiency Factors: This wasn't her best subject. She flipped through the screens until she got to Shuttle Operations. Ahh, something she knew well.

Claire glanced quickly around the room at the perspiring cadets. Josh was a bright guy: he wouldn't have any problems. Parkas Shar, a tough Andorian, disliked social science. They would meet again in the upcoming fencing final. Claire had defeated the heavily favored Shar for the captaincy of the female fencing cadet team at the beginning of their third year and Shar was itching for an upset. Claire pondered the upcoming match briefly before returning to work: navigational deflectors, yuck.

Four agonizing hours later, Cadet McGregor signed off from her terminal and let out a noticeable sigh of relief. She was tense and nervous about her performance on the final. Although she was smart, she was never one of the top academic performers. That honor went to cadets like S'ran of Vulcan and Mtyrre of Epsilon Indii. Half the class still remained, sweating it out until the proctor instructed the cadets to turn off their terminals. By then, Claire had hit the gym for a hard run. She knew she had passed, but how well she did was the question.

GRADUATION MINUS 9 DAYS – ACADEMY GYMNASIUM

The ring of steel sang throughout the gymnasium. The Academy Open Fencing Tournament was about to begin. Claire had just registered and moved to her corner with her team. Shar was already suited up in the snug white outfit, and was performing warm-up exercises. Her mask was specially designed to enclose her antennae. The blue-skinned Shar smirked at Claire; her day was here. Andorians were a proud, warrior race, and living in Claire's shadow for two years made her determined to triumph today. Both cadets would be competing in the sabre event, their specialty.

Claire brought out her weapons and tested them. The sabers were electrified to score touches by the fencers for scoring purposes. She then tied her raven hair back into a ponytail with a squeegee band, donned her plastron and jacket and began warming up with a teammate. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Snurre enter the gym with a fencing bag. Her blood ran cold. Sure enough, he registered and tested his mask and sabre. He then went to change in the locker room. Stepping off of the piste, Claire removed her mask and shot a glance to Shar. She too, had seen Snurre. This would be a different tournament then they thought.

Shar was called to the strip by the director. She stood five foot eleven, two inches taller than Claire, and was powerfully built. The Andorian was a master with the Sabre and Epee, but was deadly with any bladed weapon. As with most Andorians, Shar was slender and had the characteristic blue skin and antennae. Her silver eyes were always intense, reflecting her personality. Claire watched Shar devour her first two opponents, 5-2 and 5-1. She was on a roll. Claire's turn to fence would be next as the director summoned her to the strip for her bout.

The first round pool was a breeze and Claire easily advanced to the next round. The seeding tree showed that Shar and Snurre had also advanced. For all, the next two rounds were increasingly difficult as the superior fencers advanced, leaving the amateurs behind. It was now time for the quarterfinals.

Claire had drawn Tino Rialto, the dashing cadet from Rome. He was fast and at six foot three, had a wicked reach. Claire fenced him aggressively, closing the distance and nullifying his long reach. Rialto fell 10-7 in a swift match. As expected, Shar and Snurre advanced as well. Now was the moment of truth; Snurre had drawn Octavio Klinen, a stocky Cygnan, while Claire was pitted against Shar.

Claire sipped a bit of StarAide tm and sopped up perspiration from her face. She knew Shar was chomping at the bit for this opportunity. Maybe that was the key to victory; play a defensive game. The tuxedoed director gave the one-minute call; the game was afoot.

Shar stepped onto the piste carrying her custom made mask. Her duralloy sabre gleamed in the overhead lights. Claire followed suit. She could feel the sweat beading in her doeskin glove. The director called, "Salut," and the opponents raised their weapons above their heads, brought them to their faces, and then swept them to the ground. The black mesh masks were donned and the engarde position taken. "Etês vous prêt?" called the director in French. Nods were given.

"Allez!"

Shar immediately assumed the offense and bounded down the strip. A quick feint to the head with an attack to the flank put her up 1-0. "Attaque… touché!" called the director as Claire shook her head, upset at falling for the feint.

She thought to herself, Forget about it. The only important touch is the next one.

The fencers returned to their engarde lines. Upon the cue, Shar leapt out at Claire using a fleche. Claire picked up Shar's blade with a circular parry and smacked Shar across the belly with a cut. "Attaque… parry… riposte…touché!" Claire was on the board 1-1. The fight was on.

A gritty battle ensued with Shar maintaining the edge, 10-9. If Shar scored the next touch, the bout would be over. The Andorian continued her aggressive tactics, but Claire had matched her. The two returned to their engarde lines. On the cue, Claire took the offensive. Momentarily startled, Shar searched for Claire's blade, but missed. The point of Claire's sabre landed on Shar's throat. The scoring machine chimed.

"Touche!" called the director.

At 10-10, the next touch would decide all. Claire's glove was soaked and she called for a time out to change gloves. Breathing heavily, she took another sip of StarAide. Back under control, Claire returned to the strip. Shar had removed her mask during the time out and as Claire returned, the two were trapped in a battle of wills. After an indeterminate amount of time locked in an intense stare, Claire broke off and raised her sabre to her lips. Shar smiled and returned the salute. Masks were donned again and the director cried, "Prêt…allez!"

Shar charged ahead. A quick head attack was met with a parry. Claire rotated her blade and sought Shar's head in return. This, in turn was parried and Shar brought the tip of her weapon around for a belly cut.

SMACK.

Claire winced as the blade struck her thigh. Too low, the touch was invalid in sabre. The fencers returned to engarde. Claire breathed deeply.

"Prêt…allez!"

This time, Claire leapt forward establishing the attack. Shar parried and set up a feint. Claire read the riposte and parried. She extended her point at Shar's face. Her opponent beat the blade aside and turned the edge of her blade at Claire's cheek.

Using her powerful legs, Claire leapt back out of Shar's reach. As Shar's blade cut through air, Claire brought the edge of her sabre down on Shar's hand.

Smack!

"Attaque…Countre-attaque…touché!" yelled the director, raising his hand at Claire. The bout was over. Shar and Claire threw off their masks. With tears in her eyes, the Andorian grasped Claire's hand and then gave her a hug. The two smiled momentarily before Shar turned away without a word and left the strip. Claire had made the finals.

The winded Claire received two minutes rest before facing Snurre. Although his uniform was pristine white, his blade showed uncounted nicks and dents from other duels. The undaunted midshipman stepped up and offered a salute to her counselor. Snurre nodded and returned the salute. Then he covered his scarred face with his mask.

Unfortunately, the finals were anticlimactic as Snurre dominated the bout. A quick 9-0 score ensued. The Jarl was masterful. He wore Claire down with relentless attacks until she made a mistake. If she attacked, he kept out of reach. His guard was impenetrable.

The young woman took a deep breath and returned to engarde position after the last touch. On the cue, Snurre made several probing attacks. Claire danced back and forth, awaiting the inevitable. Suddenly, Snurre pounced. Claire reacted to Snurre's extended arm and cut upward at his wrist. Smack! She then stepped back and parried his weapon with her bellegarde. She had scored a touch.

The Jarl raised his mask, eyes wide. He gave a smirk and a nod and then returned to the engarde line. Claire grinned inside her mask. Nothing mattered now; she had scored a point against the master.

GRADUATION MINUS 9 DAYS

Josh sat on a bench in the garden as Claire passed by. "Hey Cee, I hear you scored one on the old man."

She grinned sheepishly. "It felt good. I'm going to beat him one day."

He brushed his blond hair back with his hand and nodded. "I have no doubt that you will. You're as stubborn as a mule. I can see him at one hundred and twenty years old and you at a hundred, with you chasing him down in a wheelchair."

Claire had a good laugh and gave Josh a friendly shove on the head. "You think you're so funny, huh?" she pouted.

Midshipman First Class Goldman had been a close friend of Claire's for three years, having met her in Survival Training I during their second year. Josh had been struggling to find food during the forest exercise and Claire had taught him how to find edible moss and berries. She had also saved his life during the Spring Survival Exercise when he almost drowned during the swimming portion.

Josh repaid the favor in spades during the academic classes. While Claire mastered the history, strategy, and operations courses, she struggled through physical science. This was Josh's specialty. Together, they had many friends, although most were Josh's friends. Among them was Ensign Chubb, a mixed Tellerite who looked like a teddy bear. Chubb had graduated last year and was posted to the USS SARATOGA along with other friends.

Josh had developed strong feelings for Claire and was disappointed when she began dating Midshipman Andrew Ruiz. Josh was of average height and slender of build. His physical skills were modest, but he never failed for lack of effort: perhaps only in this one case.

Josh continued, "You know, the postings are listed at the Learning Center board. I got physical science officer for the Prometheus." Claire's heart skipped a beat. She had requested the Endeavor, a Nebula-Class Cruiser. This was her dream. Without another word to Josh, she raced to the Learning Center.

The line was long as cadets crowded in to see their postings. Each cadet's post was coded so that only he or she would know their next duty station. Initially excited, Claire spotted Andrew Ruiz in the crowd. They had had an intense two-year romance until Andrew left her for a Tellerite. Claire was crushed that she was dumped for a fat, furry thing named Bombo Jar. She blushed beet red as their eyes met. He quickly turned away. It would be a cold day in Hades before she could forgive him. If it was one thing Claire was known for it was that she could hold a grudge.

At the front of the line, Claire found her code. It couldn't be right: Starbase 259 – Admin Officer. Claire read it again to be sure. After four years of hard work, she was going to be stuck counting stembolts in some cargo bay. Trouble had been brewing again with the Cardassian Empire and everyone wanted a part of it. In shock and dismay, she wandered out of the crowd.

GRADUATION MINUS 1 DAY

Claire sat despondent in her quarters. Over and over, she ran her fingers through her silky raven hair. Most of her classmates had received choice assignments. Shar was posted as a tactical officer aboard the USS VALIANT. Andrew was posted as an engineer aboard the USS EXETER. Even Bombo Jar received an Intell Officer slot aboard the USS LEXINGTON. All Claire could think about was sitting around while her compatriots made history. Her gray eyes misted up. This was so unfair, she thought. After all, her parents put so much faith in her.

GRADUATION DAY

Downtrodden, but still proud, Claire dressed in her finest uniform. The cadets had gathered on the parade ground, while the faculty and staff mingled. When the time came, the cadets marched ceremoniously onto the grounds and the Superintendent gave his congratulatory speech. The austere moment was met with the news that limited hostilities had broken out between the United Federation of Planets and the Cardassian Empire. The young midshipman bowed her head knowing she would be on the sidelines. As the ceremony continued, there was talk of honor and service. Josh supportively grasped Claire lightly on the arm. She smiled without looking at him. Finally, the Superintendent awarded the deserving cadets with their ensign's pips.

Upon conclusion of the ceremony, farewells were said among the former cadets. Many newly commissioned ensigns had orders to depart immediately for duty. The fact that Claire had a week to sit around before departing made her feel unneeded. She slowly wandered off of the parade grounds to start packing her belongings.

At the entrance to the dorm, Josh nearly ran into Claire as he barreled through the door. He stopped. "Hey, sorry about your assignment, Cee. Tough break. If anyone can move on to bigger and better things, it's you. Hang in there." He embraced her warmly for a moment and then stepped back. "I gotta go, Cee. My shuttle leaves in twenty minutes." They gazed into each other's eyes briefly. She nodded silently and he turned away. Then, he sprinted down to the shuttle port and then looked back. It seemed like he wanted to say something. After some hesitation, he waved and then vanished into the building. She watched until he disappeared inside the shuttle port.

Shar was next. The blue Andorian shook Claire's hand firmly. "You and I will meet again. It is our fate." Claire didn't understand what Shar meant, but smiled wanly. Then, Shar too was gone. Twenty minutes later, Claire watched through her dorm window as a silver shuttle vaulted for the sky.

GRADUATION DAY PLUS 7

At 1700 hrs, Claire and the few remaining "losers" made their way to the shuttle port. Bags in hand, she sat alone on a bench, lost in thought. Reports had been coming in regarding the conflict. The Federation battlecruiser USS BISMARCK had been stolen by unknown forces and the Cathedral Star Base had been destroyed. A massive hunt was underway to recover or destroy the battlecruiser. Claire sighed and checked the time. Her shuttle was still a half hour away.

With her head in her hands, Claire gazed at the ground. Suddenly, a pair of boots appeared before her. Looking up, she saw LT CDR Snurre. Confused, Claire furrowed her brow, but stood up to meet him. Holding his battered sabre, blade down, he offered her the grip. The ensign made no move. Snurre nodded. "Take it Ensign McGregor. I know you are unhappy with your assignment, but accept your situation as a test of character. I challenge you to succeed. I look forward to the next time we cross blades." Claire accepted the sabre. Releasing the blade, the Jarl left as suddenly as he had arrived.