By Lorraine J. Anderson
Zefram Woods stared at the man sitting uneasily in his visitor's chair. "You wish to… what, Mr. Alexander?"
"I want to apply to Starfleet Academy," repeated Alexander. He looked steadily at Major Woods. "Is there a problem?"
"Just a little one." Woods flinched.
"I… see," Alexander said. "It's my height, isn't it?" He eased out of the chair, pulling himself up to his three foot six inch height. He thanked the Greek gods he didn't need to wear a toga and a laurel wreath anymore. "Isn't it?"
"No!" Admiral Woods stared at him. "We've accepted shorter applicants than you. Actually… it's your age."
Alexander blinked. "My age?"
"You have it listed as two thousand five hundred and thirty four." He sat back. "Surely that's a mistake."
Alexander stared out of the window at the Bay Bridge spanning San Francisco Bay. "My race is extremely long lived."
"You're saying the entry is true?" He looked at Alexander. "But you don't look a day over thirty."
Alexander laughed bitterly. "When I was thirty, I was escaping our sun which had gone nova. I watched my entire planet explode as our ship – our first warp ship - fled into space. There were over 100 people on our ship, out of billions. We had no warning." He sighed. "They toasted us when we left. We were the best, the smartest, the golden crew, led by our gallant Captain, Parmen." Parmen, the sadist who had pushed him around telekinetically for countless years, simply because of his lack of height and lack of power. He brought himself back. "Little did they know it was going to be a wake. And then when we lost more later…"
Woods turned to the window. "I'm sorry."
Alexander shrugged. "That was 2500 years ago. I've gotten over it." I think, he thought.
Woods bit his lip. "If you were a cadet, I would order you to tell me. But you are still a civilian and an honored guest of Starfleet - and two millennia my senior. So if I may ask this… I know your height has been a problem with you…"
Alexander stared coolly at him. "Yes?"
"You were aboard your first warp ship. Perhaps our culture was not as advanced emotionally as yours was… but…"
"You're surprised I was aboard?"
"I was the best damn pilot and navigator they tested. Our culture was probably at the same level yours was, but they had to let me aboard." He shrugged. "They modified a couple of things for my use, but I could adapt." He stared out of the window. He could adapt. He could always adapt. He played the fool for Captain Parmen for years among countless years.
Woods interrupted his reverie. "But, cadet, can you adapt here?"
Alexander whipped around, his eyes widening. He had caught the salutation. "Sir?"
Woods smiled. "I already knew what you were going to say. I wanted to see your reaction, Cadet."
"Kirk wrote a highly complimentary letter of recommendation for you. Seems he let you do a few things on the ship. Said you could almost thread a needle with the Enterprise. Lieutenant Sulu also was quite complimentary." He looked out of the window. "But why Starfleet Academy, Cadet? You don't have to be in Starfleet to pilot a ship."
Alexander rubbed his lower face. "Sir, I want to make a difference. I can't do it piloting freighters or escorting tourists around the universe."
Woods barked a laugh. "You may end up doing that last one anyway."
"Well, sir," Alexander shrugged. "At least they would be Starfleet tourists…"
Alexander looked at the obstacle course ahead of him. "This isn't a standard course. Sir."
Commander James looked sternly at the cadets before him. They ranged from the shortest - Alexander - at three and one-half foot, to the tallest - Cadet Post, at just under five foot. He had heard of this cadet – heard that he could be a pest in class with a bit of a chip on his shoulder - but hadn't looked up his history. What was his history? He wished he had the clearance to find out. Alexander looked older than the usual cadets. "Cadet, this is the standard course for your height. We've used it for years."
"As may be, sir, but I wish to try the standard course for your height." Alexander stared up boldly at the six foot Commander, but kept his words and his tone polite.
"Starfleet command has deemed this course to be for Cadets of your height."
"Pardon me, sir. But that's not fair."
"The universe is not fair, Cadet."
"You're telling me," Alexander muttered.
James looked at Alexander, but chose to ignore him. "First, you try this course. Then, I will take you over to the other course to see how you fare." His voice softened to the timbre of a smooth rock. "Starfleet does not expect any of you to be major athletes. We have the security detail and other divisions for those duties. But we do expect you to be the best you can be so that Security will not have to exert any more than they have to."
Alexander nodded, but looked dubious.
"May I still try the other course?" He looked down at himself. "Sir, I won't break. My bones are not brittle."
James sighed. "Would you other cadets care to try the course?"
All nodded enthusiastically.
James dropped his head in his hand.
Alexander stood under an overhang, looking at the hard rain pelting the Academy courtyard. He hated this kind of wet, cold, miserably foggy sort of weather, but there was no getting around it - he needed to go to class. Putting his head down, he started running out through the rain…
Bam! He was on his back. A young cadet stared down at him, the rain pasting his blonde hair to his head. "I'm… sorry," he finally said. "I didn't see you."
Alexander picked himself up from the ground, feeling impossibly old. His muscles ached. The normal lifespan of his race was 500 years old; he wondered if the two extra millennia had finally caught up with him. "No problem," he finally smiled up at the young man.
"Are you feeling all right?"
Alexander looked around at the rain-spattered gardens of Starfleet Academy. "I've been better."
"Can I help you to Medical?"
"No!" He softened his tone. "No. I'll be fine." The young man walked off, looking dubiously back at him.
He looked at his watch, an antique timepiece he had found in a local store. He would be late for class if he didn't hurry. He started trotting, then slowed. What was going on with his legs? They never felt like that before. Maybe he should go to Medical.
No. Not until after the next class. Then he'd go. Maybe it was just a minor problem.
"The problem is," Dr. Phillip Boyce said, "… is that the effects of all the Kironide you ingested has worn off."
"After two years?" Alexander said, sitting on the edge of the bio-bed. "And I thought my body couldn't process Kironide."
The elderly doctor laid down his instrument and sat in a nearby chair with a groan. "What did you say the regular lifespan of your race was?"
Alexander grimaced. The doctor knew very well what it was, he had just told him a couple of minutes before. Unfortunately, it made sense. Too much sense. "So since I left Platonius, I'm essentially committing suicide?"
Boyce looked at him and grinned. "I wouldn't put it quite that severely. But I did have a chance to look at your record. You were doing things cadets of your apparent age shouldn't even try to do. Like trying the standard obstacle course for six footers."
"My bones are not brittle. Besides… that was last year."
"No," Boyce agreed. "But they are now on a par with normal bones of a human man of around thirty-five. Which, while not old by human standards, still is nothing to be trifled with." He sat forward. "Which brings me to the other part. I believe that your lifespan is now anywhere from forty or sixty more years."
Alexander grinned at him.
"That doesn't distress you?"
"I thought you were going to say six months." He slid down from the bio-bed. "I thought I wouldn't be able to graduate."
Boyce grinned back. "I don't know what it is about you, but you remind me of Kirk."
"I consider that a compliment."
"Come back. Any time," Boyce said. "I think we old men should stick together."
Alexander smiled at him. "Speak for yourself, old man." He walked out of the door. "Set a date, sir. I'll be there."
Cadet Alexander stood before Commander James. "I understand I'm supposed to report for the Kobayashi Maru test."
"I resigned from doing fitness tests because of you." He turned to the aide next to him. "He did the Standard course in… well, I can't say it was record time… but he finished in respectable time, better than people twice his height." He looked at him. "When did you switch to the command track?"
Alexander snorted. "About the time I was told I wasn't immortal, sir."
"Coulda fooled me." James looked at him. "Are you ready?"
"Yes, sir." He entered the simulation.
James turned to his aide. "Start the feed to the examiners. And make sure the picture is on down here."
"Sir?" Commander James could imagine what the aide was thinking: James never watched the tests.
"I have a particular interest in this one."
He watched Alexander seated in the command chair, looking at his reaction as the news of the civilian ship came in. He saw him order the ship into the Neutral Zone, then watched his impassive face as three Klingon cruisers swooped in.
"Contact the Klingons."
James leaned forward as a Klingon Captain appeared on the screen. Damn, this was different. With every other cadet, the Klingons refused to answer. Wait, was that the new Klingon Ambassador? How did they get him to do this? The concept of a Klingon Ambassador was new, only since the Organian Peace Treaty.
The Klingon looked at Alexander. "You must be joking. You're the Captain?"
Alexander inclined his head. "I am."
"But you're so short. You can't be a warrior." The Klingon turned away, seeming to dismiss Alexander.
Alexander's cheeks turned red, but his voice remained calm. "As you say, although I should like to meet you in combat. I may surprise you." He looked the Klingon in the eye. "We are on a peaceful mission. A civilian freighter is in distress."
The Klingon looked to one side. "We see no civilian freighter, shorty."
"I expected that you wouldn't. Nevertheless, it is at these coordinates." He motioned the navigator to transmit the coordinates.
The Klingon looked astonished. "Are you crazy? We could go to that supposed civilian freighter and destroy it!"
"What honor is it for you to destroy a helpless opponent? Hell," Alexander looked around calmly. "You can destroy us right now."
"I can. And I should, you midget."
"I may be small," Alexander said, "but that's just my height."
The Klingon suddenly laughed. "I look forward to seeing you in combat… someday."
James sat back in astonishment. Did Cadet Alexander just win the no-win scenario? He looked up at his aide, who looked as mystified as he did.
The head examiner entered the room. James looked around. "Admiral Woods. Sir."
"Sir, what just happened?"
Woods smiled. "Mystified, are you?"
James only nodded.
"Cadet Alexander has already been in the no-win scenario throughout his whole life. His people escaped a nova, then he spent two thousand years playing the fool to a sadist, simply because of his height."
"The no-win scenario was not what was being tested here. His reaction to the Klingon was."
James nodded. "I see. I think." He looked at the Admiral. "How did you get the Klingon Ambassador...?"
"I called in a favor." James didn't want to ask what it was.
"Did he pass?"
Woods smiled. "Yes. But don't let him know that."
James cocked his head to one side.
Ensign Alexander sat at the navigator's position of the U.S.S. Defiant-A. He had known since the beginning he would make it to a starship, but in some ways, there were some days when the unreality of the situation just hit him. He was here. He was back on a starship. He was not the pawn of every Platonian. He gave a silent razz to Platonius, just ten light-years away. How he would've enjoyed, though, the look on Parmen's face when he saw Alexander now...
The communication officer turned to Captain Thornberg. "Sir, we're getting a distress signal from Platonius."
Thornberg glanced at Alexander. "Ensign?"
"How's your stock of Kironide, sir?" Alexander said. He smiled broadly.