I skip a chapter, but I wanted to get to this point. I wanted to get it a little more angstsy. I also want to throw in some Aikido for kicks. I'm going to fast forward after to a funky time/dimension piece that will be freaky.


USS NAPOLEON – 2366.07.20.

Claire's outstanding performance had placed her as the prime candidate for selection to the Space Conflict School (SCS). Although she was extremely pleased, she did not speak of it very often. Things were going very well with Mario and she kept in regular touch with her family. USS PROMETHEUS had returned from deep space exploration and she had received a message from Josh. He was glad to hear from her and how she had progressed in her career. He seemed a little mixed about the news of Claire's new relationship.

In the next two months, the Battle Group had again engaged Orion raiders. However, this time it was on Starfleet terms. The raiders were battered and fled before the onslaught of the group. Claire accounted for five victories, bringing her total to eleven. Celebrating in the lounge, Captain Wallace approached Claire, "Lieutenant, you've been waiting to hear this. You've been selected to attend the SCS." It was a joyous moment: one also fraught with trepidation. Claire knew well that the washout rate for the school was near thirty three percent.

"You will have six months to prepare," commented the Squadron CO. Commander Hood revealed that she was an honor graduate of the SCS, having ranked in the top five percent.

"Don't worry. I'll get you ready," she said.

Preparation for the school was exhaustive. Claire studied tactics manuals on the Klingons, Romulans, Orion, and Gorn. She analyzed intelligence documents on weapons, sensors, scanners, shields, and armor. Mario was extremely patient while Claire obsessed over passing. Butter advised, "The six-month school encompasses twelve to fourteen hour days, six days a week. Flight and fleet operations, as well as ground tactics are covered. Three failures during the course of the school constitutes a washout." Claire could not let that happen.

The newly promoted Senior Chief Petty Officer Tror gave Claire valuable instruction on fighter systems and maintenance, while Marine Master Sergeant Randy Martin gave her guidance in small unit tactics. Claire continued to train daily. At one point, Mario had to force Claire to take a break. Reluctantly, she accompanied him to the lounge. He was concerned about Claire's single-minded intensity. There were times when she could be distant when focused on a task. Claire admitted obsessing over this and let her guard down. It was time to start planning their trip to Earth.


As promised, Claire, Mario, and Molly returned to Earth for the Holidays. The clan had gathered at Grandma's home for the traditional dinner. The house on Hanover Street, near Marye's Heights, had stood for many centuries, albeit with numerous renovations. The red brick and mortar structure had endured shot from Colonial Militia seeking to remove British loyalists and cannon fire from Ambrose Burnside's Union Army of the Potomac seeking to invade Fredericksburg in December, 1862. Stonewall Jackson was reported to have stayed there.

Claire also invited Chubb to attend and Little Joe had brought a guest with him: a woman he was interning with named Kelly Omori. They seemed pretty serious. Grandma had cooked up a fabulous turkey and stuffing dinner. Relatives from around the world had gathered for the famous feast. During dinner, Chubb sampled each dish twice and gave them all his seal of approval. Molly particularly liked the cranberries and stuffing. She had a preference for things soft and mushy, as chewing wasn't her race's strong suit.

During the evening, Grandma MacGregor brought out a photo album. "Claire," she said, "you must see this. She opened up the book to a frayed black and white photograph of a family. In the photo was a young man, dressed in a gray uniform with a sabre. A young woman stood next to him. She was dressed in a frilly hoop skirt with a tiny hat and parasol. Claire was immediately struck with the fact that she and the woman could have been twins. Grandma revealed that the man was Matthew John MacGregor, a cavalryman in the 4th Virginia, Black Horse Brigade, Fitzhugh Lee's Division, under JEB Stuart of the Army of Northern Virginia. The woman was Mary Elizabeth MacGregor, his sister. She was only seventeen when the Yankees attacked Fredericksburg. She had fired muskets at the Yankees from her bedroom window, while her mother reloaded. She survived the war and eventually married Cyrus Dunmore of Richmond.

The next week, the group returned with Claire's parents to Hamamatsu to stay for a couple of weeks. On the first night there, they fired up the hot tub, known as a furo. Molly was a little sensitive to extremely hot water, so they kept the temperature fairly moderate. Basking in the warm water, they talked into the night.

Claire also took the opportunity to continue her aikido training. She had trained very hard during her time away through interactive simulations and partners. During her time back home, she would test for her nidan rank. She returned to the dojo of Yamada Sensei, a wood and paper structure in a bamboo forest. Modern lighting lined the path to the dojo, guiding Claire. Claire left her sandals facing outward at the door and then stepped in. She bowed toward the picture of O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido, hanging on the wall. The class was gathering and Yamada Sensei sat, seiza style at the head of the class. Claire bowed before Sensei, performing aisatsu, or asking permission to join the class. Sensei nodded without expression. She would be tested.

The class began and Sensei called out a series of exercises in Japanese. Claire spoke fluently and responded by partnering with a senior student to begin. Without being obvious, Sensei watched Claire, noting she had gained in skill. It was time to see what she had learned.

"MacGregor-kun," he called.

Claire bowed, "Onegaishimasu," she shouted, asking permission to be instructed.

She ran and knelt before Sensei, then rose and took a position of readiness. Sensei issued a command and Claire launched an attack. Sensei gracefully intercepted her wrist and inverted it. Claire went head over heals into the tatami mat. THUD! Using her free hand, Claire slapped the mat to break her fall. Still, the wooden floor covered in tatami was pretty hard. She blinked a couple of times. This hurt a heck of a lot more than the interactive simulation. Claire scrambled back up.

Sensei shouted another command and she again attacked. This time, Claire was able to seize Sensei's gi by the lapel. However, Sensei expertly took Claire's little finger and pried her hand off. Taking her hand, he maneuvered her into a sankyo hold, and then drove her into the ground; face first, with an urawaza move. Claire again reflexively slapped the mat with her free hand to keep her head from hitting first. Lying on her stomach, she could feel Sensei moving her arm straight up, behind her back. There was no escape. Twisting her arm into an unnatural position, Sensei slowly let his weight settle. The young student was very flexible and only the very best could pin her and get her to tap out. However, the weight of experience was against her and as she gritted her teeth, she tapped the mat with her free hand. Sensei released her. She quickly rose, facing him again. This time he nodded at her and motioned to her to sit. Another student would take his turn at being instructed.

When the class was over, Claire knew it was time to gather and enjoy conversation. She and another student went to the kitchen to retrieve snacks and sake. Claire returned and, with palms up and a bow, offered Sensei a cup and biscuits. After everyone had been served, Sensei raised his cup, as did everyone else. Claire had missed this nightly ritual. After three cups of sake, Claire felt very hot. Soon, she was laughing and singing badly with the other students.

Claire applied to take the nidan test and was accepted. The test was scheduled a day before her departure. Sempai Morita loaned Claire a cutting sword to practice. Traveling deep into the bamboo forest, Claire meditated in front of a waterfall. She drew the sword and examined the blade. The wavy hamon line marked the beginning of the cutting surface. Claire took a bamboo ladle and poured water over the blade, cleansing it. The water ran off into the pool, dripping like blood. Claire walked to a grove of bamboo trees and delivered a series of precise cuts, each one slicing through the trunk of a tree. Her focus was perfect for each cut and she then returned the blade to its scabbard.

As anticipated, Claire performed flawlessly on her examination. Announcing the results, Sensei held a black belt out to Claire, who knelt in acceptance. The belt was covered in gold embroidered characters, giving her name and rank. "Arigato gozaimasu!" Claire called, thanking him. Sempai Morita then ran back into Sensei's office. He returned with a long object wrapped in a silk bag. Bowing, he offered it to Sensei. Sensei slowly unwrapped the bag and pulled forth a katana, the long sword of the samurai. It was hand-forged by master craftsmen as a favor to the dojo and Sensei rewarded his best students, as did the daimyo of ancient Japan. With the point of the weapon up and the blade facing Sensei, he offered the katana to Claire. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes as she accepted. Backing away, she bowed, holding up the weapon parallel to the floor. No words were necessary: her gratitude was understood. Again in silence, she departed the dojo. It was a tradition here not to say goodbye, for it meant that she would surely return and Sensei would be there to greet her.

That night, snuggled up to Mario and Pooh, Claire dreamt of the Tengu, legendary creatures who were master swordsmen. They danced and laughed and played near a river. The morning came all too soon and the group packed to leave. During breakfast, Claire learned that Dad was planning to open his own company in a year or so. Claire gave a hug to her family before departing to the spaceport. Soon, they were headed back to duty.

The next three months were focused on intense training. Claire and Mario still made time to be together, however. As her school date drew closer, Claire realized that she was finally over Andrew. She and Mario talked of a future together and life after Starfleet. He mentioned children on occasion, but this made Claire uncomfortable. She was never a "kid" person. Mario, always patient, could wait. He had always wanted a big family. Claire said her collection of bears would suffice. They were "Low Maintenance." Despite this difference of opinion, Claire felt this was it.


It was a week prior to Claire's departure and today; she would fly her last active mission before departing. Captain Wallace wished her good luck and Commander Hood gave her a few words of advice. Mario, as the XO, approached her and stated, "As the XO of the squadron, all I have to say is…will you marry me?" He then presented her with a diamond ring. Claire blinked a couple of times and the room fell silent. She stared at the ring for several seconds, until Mario kneeled before her.

She then leapt into his arms, "Yes, of course!" she shouted. The cheers rang throughout the room.

That night, Claire had to share the good news. She called home, and her parents were overjoyed. Little Joe expressed his exuberance as well and Chubb would arrange the catering. Claire was nearly speechless for the rest of the night.

The week passed all too quickly and Claire waited to the last minute to pack. "I'll visit once a month until graduation," Mario promised. After all, the course was being held at the Third Fleet Academy on Enya. Their last night there was a memorable one and Claire found it difficult to depart in the morning. On the shuttle ride out, Claire positively glowed and could not stop examining every facet of her ring.


Claire was awoken by the intercom announcing their arrival on Enya. She swished her mouth with water and grabbed her items. Upon exiting the shuttle with other students, she was awed by the giant trees of the impregnable forest dubbed Mirkwood to honor a great novel written long ago. A trolley stood by to take them to the campus. The group quietly boarded the trolley and rode to the Main Administrative Building. There, the young woman received her quarters and went there to sleep. She loved flying, but hated being a passenger: it always wore her out.

Classes began immediately the following day. Claire called Mario to let him know how she was doing. "We have fifteen other individuals here, from Lieutenants Junior Grade to Lieutenant Commanders. They're from all races of the Federation, but they are supposed to be the best each ship has to offer." Admiral Gordon Chang welcomed the students to the Space Conflict School and introduced Captain Kelly Rosen and Commander Vasily Petrov as the School Administrators. Claire recognized Petrov as the one who tested her during her pilot board. He also noticed her and gave her a smile. Copious study materials were handed out, along with the demanding flight schedule. This was no cakewalk.

When the day was done, Claire met her suite mate, Lieutenant Anita Chavez, of the USS MACARTHUR. "So, who do think is the best?" asked Anita while they were grooming in the bathroom.

With youthful bravado, Claire answered, "I'd like to think it's me."

Anita smirked, "We'll see."

The faculty mercilessly threw the students into demanding and complex scenarios. "This is an expert level course. You must bring the necessary skills with you or you cannot hope to survive," they said continuously. Claire thrived on the pressure and immediately established herself as one of the best. Unfortunately, at the end of week two, LT JG Lopas Frar of Andoria was eliminated. Week three saw LT Harold Popodopoulis leave and week four claimed LT Berkar Kav of Tellar. That left 13 students by the end of the first month.


Mario had come for his visit. Claire squealed with delight as her fiancé stepped out of the shuttle. She like the way that sounded. Surrounded by trees, the forest also amazed Mario, and Claire instructed that she would take him to all the best spots on the planet. She told him how difficult the missions were and that the academics were demanding. Fortunately, there was not much science. They flew mostly 4v4 to 8v8 scenarios, pressing the student's tactics to the limit. Commander Petrov was a hard taskmaster. He cut no one any slack. By the same token, if you flew well, he told you so.

Over the next two days, Claire took Mario on some fabulous exploratory hikes. Claire also showed him the giant spider sculptures that she was building to honor the name of the Mirkwood Forest, but more importantly, to scare joggers. The weekend went far too quickly and Claire bid Mario farewell for another month.

As Claire settled into a routine, she learned to relax a little. She was ranked number four, with Anita ranked third. Lieutenant Commander Thomas Jones was second with Lieutenant Commander Soval top gun so far. I'm a little irked that a Vulcan is leading the way, but it motivates me to press harder," Claire told Mario. Claire's academics lagged a bit behind her flying. She would have to ace both areas to be top gun.

At the end of the next month, Claire called back to Mario. "We lost Henry Adams. Our class is now down to twelve." As anticipated, their next two weeks would be geared toward ground operations. They would be introduced to small unit and marine tactics. Claire felt confident in her physical skills.


Mario returned for his monthly visit. This time Claire took him to the great lake on Enya to do some diving. The water was magnificent and after a weekend of diving and lounging, they were spent. Claire later told him, "My spiders have worked out well. One jogger has already passed out."

Mario warned, "One day someone is going to play one on you."

Claire laughed cockily, "I'll be ready." Unfortunately, she would be grossly unprepared for the great cosmic joke yet to be played on her.

Mario again said his goodbyes and Claire returned to class. Lieutenant Colonel Oren Jacobs and Master Sergeant Horace Greer ran the ground operations class. This section was grueling, with full gear hikes and obstacle courses. Claire excelled here, gaining two points in standing. As a result, she moved to second in the competition. Lieutenant Commander Jones also took over first standing.

The next two weeks resumed the flying schedule. This time, Lieutenant George Ferguson fell from the ranks. However, they were coming down the home stretch. Claire now anxiously awaited Mario's arrival. This time, he brought her a giant Pooh. They sat in the forest and talked of the future. Mario said, "I'm willing to wait for children. After all, we have the rest of their lives to build a family."

Claire thought about it. "Maybe it won't be so bad after all. We'll talk more after graduation."


The next three months had progressed well. "No more students were lost and I've held on to second place so far," Claire told Mario. Graduation was quickly approaching and her last chance for top gun would soon be here. She also looked forward to Mario joining her for the festivities.

The final week of the course encompassed the entirety of fleet actions. Although everyone had been in the groove, no one was immune to being washed out, even at this late stage. The pressure was still on. The fleet exercises were quite different from the previous training. "These scenarios will require visualizing the big picture," advised Commander Petrov.

The exercise was demanding and long. Although Claire performed extremely well, she could not overcome LT CDR Jones. His expertise was phenomenal and Claire offered him a sincere congratulations. He had won the SCS Trophy. She would receive honor graduate status, however, and her name would be inscribed in the halls of honor at the Academy. The night prior to graduation, Claire sat back and felt proud of what she had accomplished. One could be happy with second place.

Mario arrived for the graduation and it was a joyous moment. He feigned a little jealousy, having always wanted to attend this school. Claire soothed his wounded pride that evening with a massage. She was ready to go home, she informed Mario, but she wanted to stop off on Earth for a week. Mario would have to return to duty, but they would meet back aboard the NAPOLEON.


The graduation was everything Claire imagined. Commander Petrov awarded the certificates and the coveted gold patch of the SCS graduates. Admiral Chang awarded the SCS Trophy to LT CDR Thomas. The dark-skinned Thomas was a model of quiet professionalism, never bragging and always humble. An added bonus for Claire was that she was promoted to Lieutenant.

Commander Petrov found Claire after the ceremony. He had also instructed Mario back at flight school. Shaking their hands, he told Claire, "I always knew that there was something about you when you took that test." Claire thanked him and they parted ways. Claire would soon take a shuttle to Earth. Meanwhile, Mario would return to the squadron.


Claire had come to visit Grandma MacGregor after having competed in the All Starfleet Martial Arts Tournament. She had placed second in the female category, having lost in the finals to the Vulcan T'lar. At the awards ceremony, Claire quipped that she seemed to always be the bridesmaid and never the bride.

At the warm Fredericksburg home, Grandma MacGregor talked as she baked cookies. Claire was always such an attentive listener. Her favorite granddaughter had been kind enough to visit and drive her around to visit friends. Claire always enjoyed time with Grandma and never tired of hearing stories and looking at pictures. Again, she was drawn to the photo of Mary Elizabeth MacGregor taken in the summer of 1862. Who was this woman, she wondered. Claire read that Mary was engaged before the war, but her fiancé, Ian Andrews, was killed on September 17, 1862 at Sharpsburg, also known as the Battle of Antietam. However, she eventually married and had a family after the war, even caring for her brother's sons. She had even taught at a university, which was unusual for a woman of the time. Mary was known as a crusader for equal and civil rights and had the pleasure of voting before she died in 1927. Claire couldn't get over the resemblance this woman had with her. That night, she had a strange dream.

She was looking at the photo and suddenly there was a flash and a loud "poof". Claire blinked and saw a photographer with an archaic camera. He was holding a flash and was wearing a quaint outfit. She rubbed her eyes and saw men, women, and children standing about, dressed similarly. She was even dressed in a frilly hoop skirt. Her hands were covered in lace gloves and she was carrying a parasol. Without thinking, she said, "Well, Ah declare! Ah just hate those newfangled flashes." Claire stopped, noting her decidedly Virginian accent.

A man with a thick beard replied, "Come now, little Mary. You are a sensitive one. How are you ever going to get along with young Ian?"

Mary huffed, "Oh, Papa, don't be so cruel."

The vision faded and a new one appeared. Claire was at the window of Grandma's house carrying a musket. It was winter and the air was bitter cold. Men in blue were crossing the Rappahanock into Fredericksburg and others were advancing up the slope toward the house near Marye's Heights. The men in blue wore heavy greatcoats and carried a green flag with the symbol of a golden harp and the words 'Faugh A Ballagh', which Claire read as 'Clear the Way'. Green springs of boxwood were affixed to their blue kepis and they bent forward as is if walking into a storm. Bullets and shot occasionally passed through the house. Again, without thinking, she raised the musket and fired. A brown-haired man wearing a slouch hat fell. "Take that, you yellow-belly Yankee swine! That's for Ian," she yelled. An older woman handed her a loaded musket. To their right, men in gray stood from behind a stone wall and unleashed a storm of shot and shell. The men in blue reeled, but pressed on. Another volley was unleashed, but still the bluecoats advanced. Claire fired again, striking a man in the chest. Thirty yards from the wall, the bluecoats were stopped. Claire heard the men in gray cheer their enemy's bravery and the vision again faded.

This time, Claire was sitting with the same woman near the entrance to their house. A man in a dusty gray uniform rode up quickly. Dismounting, he removed his feathered cap and bowed deeply. He then removed a letter from his pouch and walked up the steps to the home.

The woman shrieked, "No, not Matthew, too. Not my baby boy!"

The man gently handed the letter to the woman, "Ma'am, Ah regret to inform you that your son, Matthew, was killed at Gettysburg. General Stuart himself commented on Matthew's bravery," he stated.

Suddenly, Claire woke up, covered in perspiration. Something was terribly wrong. Claire rushed downstairs and activated the communications panel over Grandma's sink. The screen showed a bleary-eyed Commander Hood. "Omigod, Claire," she said, "We were going to call you."

Claire choked, "What is it! Is anything wrong?"

Rachel raised her hand, "Claire, you need to sit down."

Claire interrupted, "No! Tell me. Where's Mario? Let me talk to him."

Rachel shook her head, "Claire, I'm sorry… Just stay where you are. We're going to send a shuttle for you."

Claire blinked slowly, "No, this is a joke, right? Let me talk to Mario!"

"Oh, God, Claire. He's gone. I'm so sorry," Rachel said gently.

Claire sank to the floor. She could distantly hear Commander Hood calling her until the line went dead. An hour later, Grandma found Claire still sitting at the base of the sink, curled up in the fetal position. It took another hour for her to find out what had happened.

By noon, Grandma had driven Claire to the shuttle port. Claire hopped a shuttle, ignoring Commander Hood's instructions. Three long days later, Claire returned to the NAPOLEON. The silence was deathly as Claire ran to CDR Hood's office. She barged into the office and dropped her bags. Rachel stood and approached Claire. They embraced and Claire was racked by sobs. She collapsed on the floor and they sat together in silence for some time. Rachel hummed softly to Claire until Claire asked, "How did it happen?"

Rachel replied, "It was an ambush by the Orions. He held them off while we regrouped. He was the bravest of the brave."

When Claire had regained her strength, she wandered in a daze to Mario's quarters. She ran into Caveman, who gave her a silent embrace. He too, was dumbstruck. He accompanied her to Mario's quarters, where some technicians were bagging his personal effects. Claire went berserk, drawing her phaser. Caveman had to hold her back until Commander Hood arrived. The Commander politely asked the technicians to leave, which they did. Claire sat on Mario's bed, "Please leave me alone for awhile," she asked. Although worried, they left.

After two days, Claire emerged. Seeing a security officer outside, she ordered, "No one goes in there but me." The look on her face convinced the security officer to comply. The following day, Claire returned to duty, but still refused to allow anyone into Mario's quarters. Although everyone offered condolences, she held them all at arms length. Even Molly couldn't get through.

Over the next two months, Claire's flying was excessively aggressive, even suicidal. She scored four kills against the Orions, even destroying an obviously disabled ship. It was time for CDR Hood to talk to her. Rachel was amazingly gentle. Always motherly toward Claire, she advised her to take time away from the squadron. They would always be here for her and she could always return. Rachel had also set up an appointment for Claire with the ship's counselor, Doctor Norman. Claire searched deep within herself to argue with Rachel, but found nothing. Rachel was right. Claire nodded quietly.

Claire's appointment was difficult. She was determined to destroy the entire Orion Syndicate herself and her anger became her driving force. Doctor Norman advised, "Claire, I've talked with Commander Hood. We think you need some time away. I have a friend aboard the USS PHOENIX, who told me there's an opening for a chief helmsman. I think that would be right up your alley. What do you think?"

Claire felt utterly defeated, "Yeah, whatever. When do I leave?"

Doctor Norman replied, "You have to want it Claire. I think it would be a good opportunity. I know you've always wanted to pilot a starship: Now's your chance. I'd like to refer you to Lieutenant Dudley, the counselor of the PHOENIX. She's very good."

Claire managed a weak smile, "Ok, I'd like that."

Claire returned to Mario's quarters, which had been untouched by anyone except her for two months. She slowly bagged all of his belongings. The entire squadron turned up to help. Claire thanked them and had items sent to the PHOENIX. She was Mario's only family and his things would go with her.

Susan took Claire's hand and began a song to honor Mario, "The minstrel boy to the war is gone, in the ranks of death you will find him; His father's sword he hath girded on, and his wild harp slung behind him…" The squadron joined in, but all Claire could do was squeeze Susan's hand tightly.

Then, one by one, they said goodbye. Molly made a strange squeaking noise, a sound of despair among her people. Even the ever-optimistic SCPO Tror was in tears. Claire returned to Earth one more time before transferring to the PHOENIX. Her family was heartbroken, but supportive. Mom sat with Claire on many nights and advised her to allow herself to grieve. Mom also said, "If it gets to be too painful, don't be afraid to use you Vulcan side. It does help." No mention was made of Joe's engagement.

Finally, Claire caught the shuttle to the PHOENIX. She checked in with security to activate her clearance. Robotically, she completed her in processing. A final note on her PADD indicated an appointment with Lieutenant Dudley. With a shrug, she wandered the halls until she found the Counselor's Office.


"Come in Lieutenant MacGregor," invited LT Dudley. Claire nodded and stood near a chair. LT Dudley invited her to sit, which Claire did, plopping into the chair. She sighed. "Why don't you call me Gwen," said Lieutenant Dudley, "Can I call you Claire?" Claire shrugged. Gwen had read the notes from Doctor Norman: this one was going to be tough. Their hour consisted of Gwen asking questions and Claire shrugging or giving monosyllabic grunts. Finally, Gwen asked, "What do you want?"

Claire replied bluntly, "To destroy the Orion Syndicate." Well, at least that was a full sentence.

"Is that all?" asked Claire.

Gwen nodded. Claire stood and left. The counselor sighed and shook her head. A minute later, Captain Talon Steele entered, "So do we have a problem child?" she asked.

Gwen pursed her lips, "I can't reveal any specifics, but she does have a lot of baggage. All I can say is that her fiancé was killed by Orion pirates. Her fitness reports are excellent and she's highly recommended."

Captain Steele pressed for more, "But can I rely on her and can she drive my ship?" she asked.

Gwen shrugged, "I don't know on the first and definitely yes on the second. All I know is that we should give her a chance."

The Captain nodded, "That's good enough for me," she stated and then departed.