Real Steel

Admiral Martlette put down the padd he was holding and stood up, gruff words coming from his mouth. "Walters, another student to counsel?" He wondered what he done wrong to end up here. There were many things he had done wrong, but there were many more he had done right. He sighed at the administrative jungle he was immersed in. And here was another petty detail to deal with!

"Janus, you knew we were coming," Walters answered. "And please let the poor boy get out of his hard-wired attention, would you?"

Commander Martlette laughed. "At ease, cadet! Now, Walters, just what do you need me for this afternoon? I've got visit from the Vulcan ambassador shortly about a prospective student and I have to prepare for that meeting. Let's make this short."

Walters smiled. "What say we all sit down?" and without an answer swept Scott to a conference table. "Here, Mr. Scott. Please sit." He waved the Admiral over. "Come on, Janus. And take that glare off your face. You look like you did at Mizar!"

"You may remember, George," began the admiral, who started to grin. "That we were out numbered two-to-one. My concerns and my look way back then were well founded." He crossed to the table and sat.

Scott blanched as he belatedly remembered Starfleet's clash with a Klingon battle force in the Mizar-Alcor system fifteen years ago. Admiral Marlette was there? Scott gulped, as the cold grey eyes of Janus Martlette skewered him to his chair. This was the man who knocked out two Klingon battlewagons with a crippled cruiser? Oh my God! Scotty braced himself for an ugly encounter.

Admiral Martlette picked up his padd and stared at the quaking cadet. "But let us not discuss history. Ancient history at that. A little matter you wanted to discuss, George?"

"Yes Janus. It seems that Mr. Scott here has a bit of problem."

Martlette looked at his padd. "I see you were on the USS Grizzly during her action out at Rubicon?"

Scott answered meekly. "Yes, sir."

"Seems like Lt. Cmdr. Larson thought highly of you." He read some more. "Do you know that he wrote a commendation for you, cadet?"

Scott started. "No, sir, I dinna." He flashed on a memory of a happy Larson and Chief Engineer Clarke in a crowded and stuffy office aboard the Grizzly.

"And do you also know that your brilliant improvisation on her engines has been thoroughly evaluated by the top warp people at the Starfleet Yards at Utopia Planitia on Mars?"

"No, sir," the cadet began shakily. "I dinna know that sir. If I may ask, what did they think about it? Sir?"

Martlette looked at the cadet, the young and ashen face just now starting to show some sign of color. "Yes, Mr. Scott it is about the engineering, isn't it? Always?" He looked at Walters. "What do you think George? Shall we spill the beans?"

Walters answered. "Of course Janus, if you think so."

Janus pushed his chair away from the table, stood and walked to the window. He stood there for a few moments and then turned. "Mr. Scott, it seems like you have created a little problem, or two, for us at Starfleet."

Scott braced himself for what was coming. Sorry, mum, I tried.

"Son, I got a report from Porter about that little away team exercise you were on. Do you know that you were supposed to fail?"

Scott was rattled, as his ears told him something he'd not expected. "What do you mean, sir?"

Martlette shook his head, but smiled. "Those old beacons we give the teams are not supposed to work. They always have dead power cells and they are obsolete. Just surplus distress beacons. But you, it seemed, got it to work." He smiled some more. "Son, do you know that we had ships from as far away as Epsilon Eridani respond to your working beacon you set up on that mountain? We had to scramble a team up there to shut it off. First time that's happened."

"Not supposed to work, sir?" Scott paused. "And I…"

George Walters laughed. "Yes, Scotty you fixed it!"

Scott felt trapped between the Commander and Dr. Walters but he relaxed as he saw they were both smiling. "Sorry, sir."

"No apologies needed, Mr. Scott. Just interesting to be in that chair over there," and he pointed towards his ornate desk" when these things happen. And, by they way, the heads of both Field Techniques and Distress Beacon Engineering want a word with you. They'd really like to understand how you pulled it off, and so quickly too."

"Sir, you gave us the mission, and I couldna fail, sir. It seems to me that our phasers, communicators, and all field gear should be rigged to use the same power cells, it would only make sense so they could swap units…" he trailed off. "Sorry, sir."

The Admiral turned his eyes down to his data again. "And I see here that you came up with a rather unique solution to the Kobayashi Maru test, when you were in Command School. Even though it wasn't quite, er, shall we say legal?"

"Yes sir." There was nothing else to say about the escapade two years ago that made him finally realize that he was cut out for Engineering, not Command. The cadet looked at both Dr. Walters and the Admiral and took a deep breath. He felt like he was jumping off a high cliff, but he let the words come out. "Sirs, I just want to say that my time here in Engineering School has been enjoyable and fruitful, or so I thought. If you want me to resign, just give me the papers, and I'll go."

The Admiral left out a guffaw. "Resign? Are you mad?" He looked at the wounded young man in front of him. "No, Mr. Scott, you may not resign! If I let the likes of cadets such as you leave, it would be me who would be gone from this office!" He rose and walked to the wide window overlooking the campus. "Come over here, son." Scotty rose and joined the Admiral just as Martlette began to speak. "Cadet what do you see out there?"

Suspecting this was a trick question, Scott replied "Sir, I see the campus. That's the Engineering Quadrangle there, the Life Science building next to it, and I can see a corner of the Command Center."

"Alright, so you see buildings. But that's not what this Academy is about. Not really," the Admiral said. He turned to face the young man. "Buildings, classrooms, laboratories, and dorms. Shells of ferrocrete, durabrick, and glass. But that's not all." Then he walked away from the window and began to pace back and forth.

Dr. Walters spoke up. "Scotty, you'd better listen very closely to the next few sentences. It may make all the difference in years to come."

Admiral Martlette nodded his head. "Yes, Dr. Walters is correct, Mr. Scott. But back to this school and the matter at hand. When Starfleet started this Academy, they knew they'd have to train and teach all new techniques of star flight. How to run engines, pilot new ships, how to manage a crew in distant and dangerous surroundings, and learn how to talk to new races that we'd never met before. Do you see, Scott?"

"Aye, Admiral, I do," said Scotty.

The Admiral continued his pacing. "But this school, well, on Mars at Utopia Planitia we're building ships; new and refit ones. Repairing the damages that the Universe and our enemies, are wont to inflict upon us. But those hulls of duranium and steel, those are mere containers of controls and engines. Those aren't the ships. No, not at all."

Scott was puzzled. "Sir, I don't understand."

"No, of course not. I haven't let you in on the biggest secret in Starfleet, if not the whole Federation. The secret is this. Every one of those ships is useless."

"Useless?" Scott exploded. "Admiral, they're bonny ships, and they'll sail like the wind. How can you say that they're useless?"

The Admiral stopped his pacing and turned a jolly face to Dr. Walters. "You're right, George. I think he does love the machinery too much." He turned to the cadet, whose young face was twisted into a disbelieving frown. "Mr. Scott, this is the shipyard. This school; this Academy. This is where we train the crews that will drive those ships into the dark; out into the vastness. Here is where we grind and weld, bend and break. Here is where the real steel is forged, not up on Mars. For without the flesh and blood, those mighty ships are just hulks. Useless and empty. Don't you see?"

Scotty's face broke into a knowing smile. "Aye, Admiral, I think I do."

The Admiral turned back to his pacing and with head down he continued his monologue. "Here, Mr. Scott. Right here in San Francisco. Here is where we find out who will break and fail, and who will withstand everything that we throw at them. Here is where we throw out impossible equations, most of which cannot be answered without original thinking. Improbable conditions of testing, simulation, and field exercises. And occasionally, Starfleet gets surprised, by those such as you." He stopped and smiled at the cadet. "Such as by a cadet fires up a defunct distress beacon, with practically his bare hands."

"Aye, Admiral. That I did. Just a bit of improvisation," but now Scott was beaming too.

"Or, also reprograms fifty-year old warp engines to meet their original design intent and neutralizes a deadly enemy force in the process." Martlette put his hand on the cadet's shoulder. "Son, I envy you. For the things that you will do…"

Walters interrupted. "What the Admiral is saying Mr. Scott, is that we need the likes of you. All our training and teaching won't matter a whit if under difficult circumstances a crew should fail. For all your brashness, Starfleet needs you, and your fellows. For it may just be that boldness that you will need when the chips are down." Walters came towards the window as he said this.

The cadet felt embarrassed now. "Sirs, uh, I was only doing my duty."

"And did it very well, too. Mr. Scott, Walters tells me that you've been off your feed a bit. A bit unsteady around your friends and explosive as well. But still pulling through. Now what's that about?" The Admiral knew very well what was wrong, but he needed the kid to say it aloud.

Scott gulped and felt his face grow hot. "Sir, those people on the pirate vessel…"

"Go on, son."

Scott clenched his teeth, but the words were forced out. "Sir, I, uh… blew them … to pieces." He felt a hot tear rush down his face.

Admiral Martlette looked at the kid. He remembered the first time he'd had to fire a phaser in anger, and it had cost a man his miserable life. The face of that wretched Tellerite thief flashed in his mind, just as it did each night, when the shadows were long. "I understand son. Believe me, I do." The remembered flash of the phaser fire lit up the thief's armful of rations, stolen from their encampment on Beta Vela II. He took a deep breath. "Scott, don't you think that we all," and he cleared his throat, "have things that we regret? Things that we cannot change. Things that we had to do. Because it was our duty!"

Scott rubbed his face, trying to keep focus on the Admiral's craggy, yet now kindly face. "Aye, aye, Admiral. I understand."

"You saved your ship, Scotty. Remember that. No matter what. Remember that you and you alone, saved the Grizzly and her crew from those scum. Who, I might add, would have had no qualms about killing the lot of you."

"Aye, Admiral. I understand, I suppose."

"And it won't be the last time, either, that you have to do things that are very hard, and that you will regret. Be they taking action against an enemy or ordering men into a dangerous situation. Even those times that some of your shipmates will not come back. Especially the latter. Do you understand, Mr. Scott?"

"Aye aye, Admiral." Scott felt a slight sense of relief settle onto his shoulders.

Martlette turned to Walters. "Anything else, George?"

"No, Janus, I think you've set the right tone. Thank you."

"Thank you for giving a chance to help and I hope I have." He turned his attention to the cadet. "Mr. Scott, any other questions?"

"No, sir. And thank you sir, for the attention." Scott blew out a breath.

The Admiral let the iron commander look creep back onto his face. "Dismissed, cadet! You too, Walters! Now I have real work to do!"

After Scott and Walters left and the doors closed, he slowly walked to the table and retrieved his padd. He crossed to his desk and sat for a few moments, savoring the moment. It had been far more satisfying than most days in this office. His one real regret about the port his career had brought him to. A few ghosts of commands past paraded through his mind, but he banished them to the fringes of his mind. Back to work now, Janus.

He turned to his padd and brought up the briefing file for his meeting with Vulcan Ambassador T'Prin. This looked like a thorny problem. He read some more, flipping to the data file attached. A thin Vulcan face stared at him from the padd. His parents were Sarek of Vulcan and Amanda Grayson of Earth. Now who was this Vulcan named Spock and why did he want to join Starfleet?


Author's note: I wrote this in 2007 as a sequel to 'Rubicon Crossing' where I explored Scotty's early days at Starfleet.

Fun to look back on my somewhat heavy handed approach to dialog at that time, but it must have 'worked' in some way as my airline pilot friend, who is also an aerospace engineer and USAF retired F-4 pilot, read this he was trying to figure out the voltages and currents of that blasted beacon!

I hoped you enjoyed this yarn.

Ad astra, robspace54