Chapter 1 Graduation Day

Cadet James Maxwell stood on the grounds of Starfleet Academy. In the distance he could see San Francisco Bay and the famous Golden Gate Bridge. He quietly reflected on the last four years of Starfleet training. His specialty was tactical operations and his dream was to be a MACO. This did not mean he would not be well-versed in the other careers having earned the nick-name "Mr. Extra Credit" by taking as many Engineering and Science extension courses as possible.

His reflection was interrupted by Elisa Flores, his best friend since childhood and fellow tactical officer. He smiled and approached her. "Good morning Elisa." He said.

"Good morning, glad to see you finally awake. You know what today is right?" she asked excitedly.

"How could I forget? You've only been reminding me for the last three months. You get your assignment yet?" Maxwell asked

"I was first in line so yes. By the way Razkii is up ahead, he wanted to thank you for your help on the astrometrics final." She said

"Ok, I'll talk with him. See you later." Maxwell replied

Cadet Maxwell continued up the path and met Cadet Razkii, a Saurian talking with Zarva, a Bolian. Saurians are a reptilian species with wide eyes and red skin. Bolians are blue-skinned aliens with ridges on the head. Razkii recognized him and excused himself from the conversation. "There you are. I wanted to thank you for helping me pass that final and for all the other times you've helped me. I hope Starfleet recognizes everything you've done to help our class. What ship did you get?"

"I haven't received my assignment yet. I'm on my way there now though." Maxwell replied.

He began to walk away when Razkii turned and said "By the way, T'Vrell wanted to talk to you. She should be further up the path."

"Thanks Razkii."

Maxwell walked further up the path and recognized the Vulcan in question. T'Vrell the science officer. He smiled and waved at her. "Hi T'Vrell, Razkii said you wanted to talk to me?" he asked.

"Yes. It was…good of you to encourage me to retake the linguistics final. I was willing to accept my original score but you saw I was not at my best that day. My score increased by 12.7%, well within my standard norms. I now qualify to serve as both a science officer and communication officer."

"Well done T'Vrell."

"Morek is further along the path. He wanted to speak to you." She said, lifting her hand and splitting her fingers in the traditional Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper."

Maxwell returned the salute and continued down the path. Cadet Morek is a Benzite, a blue-skinned alien with a cat-fish-like face. This particular Cadet was another science officer. "There you are! Getting excited yet? Once we finish our training cruise we'll all be full-fledged Ensigns. The buzz is Captain Taggart hasn't named all the senior staff yet. From what I heard the advanced phaser training drill is tripping people up." He said

"Thanks for the info Morek. Excuse me." Said Maxwell.

Maxwell turned to the left to find the building with Lt. Ferra and entered it. The line for final assignments had died down quite a bit. Ferra spotted him as he walked up to the counter. "Good afternoon Cadet. What can I do for you?"

"Is this where I get my training cruise assignment?" Maxwell asked

"Yes. I have the complete list right here. Name?"

"James Maxwell."

"Let's see…interesting. Report to Captain Taggart. He's in the office behind me."

"Is there a problem?" Maxwell asked.

"You're going to have to ask him."

Maxwell nodded and went to the office. He touched the bell and heard the Captain's response. "Come."

Maxwell entered and stood at attention in front of the Captain's desk then reported "Cadet James Maxwell reporting as ordered sir."

"At ease Cadet. I've been following your progress here at the Academy and I must say I'm impressed." Taggart said

"Thank you, sir." Replied Maxwell.

"I was just checking your final scores but I don't see your results for the advanced phaser training program." Said Taggart

"I was under the impression that I had tested out of that simulation sir. My scores in basic were quite high."

"I understand but I still want you to take it. Everyone on my senior staff is required to take that test."

"Did you say 'senior staff' sir?" Maxwell asked.

"I did, as I said I've been following your progress. If you complete the program, I can put you on my bridge. I'll ask my tactical officer to set it up for you."

"May I ask who that is sir?"

"Another fine cadet like yourself. Someone you know quite well I'm told."

"Cadet Flores sir?"

"Indeed. Her scores were nearly as high as yours although she has some blemishes on her record. I'm sure she'll settle into a fine officer someday. Meet Cadet Flores in the quad, she'll set up the simulation for you. I'll see you when you've finished. Dismissed."

"Yes sir." Maxwell said. Then he stood at attention again and executed a perfect about face and walked out of the office. He met Flores in the quad and she led him to the main building. She smiled as he approached. "Hi James. I got the Tactical officer spot, just what I wanted. Where did you end up?" she asked

"Captain Taggart said he wanted me on his senior staff but I have to pass advanced phaser training first. He said to have you set the simulation up." Maxwell replied

"I thought you tested out of that? Oh well. Should be easy enough for you Mr. Never-Miss-A-Shot." She said playfully.

His accuracy with a phaser was well-known throughout his class. He began following her to the console where she would set up the simulation. "Seems most of our class ended up on Captain Taggart's ship." She said

"That should work out quite well." Maxwell replied.

They arrived at the console outside the main building. "Setting up the program now. I hope holodeck 2 in your lucky holodeck." She said as she tapped the console.

"You've run this course right? Anything I should watch out for?" Maxwell asked

"Not really. Pretty basic stuff actually. Shoot things don't die. All set. Phasers are in the lockers near the holodecks. Follow me." She replied

They moved into the building and through a door leading to a series of hallways. The lockers were on the right. Maxwell grabbed a phaser and put it in the holster on his right side. Flores led him to the appropriate holodeck and stood outside. "Good luck." She said

Maxwell entered the holodeck and stood in the center of the room. "Computer begin Advanced Phaser Training Simulation."

The holodeck changed from a yellow grid to a hallway of Klingon design. There was a door right in front of him so he approached it. As he got closer it opened revealing a bridge of some kind. Along with half-a-dozen Klingons. He quickly drew his phaser and began firing. He shot the first Klingon then aimed at the second. He quickly moved through the targets and eliminated them all. When it was over he stood in the center of the room checking for additional targets but finding none. "Holodeck simulation complete." Said the computer.

The holodeck returned to a yellow grid with Elisa Flores and Captain Taggart standing just inside. Taggart smiled as Maxwell approached. "Well done Cadet. You're not going to break the academy record but your score was more than satisfactory." He said

"Thank you Captain. Do you have an assignment for me now?"

"Absolutely. I have a new first officer. Congratulations."

"First Officer, sir?" asked Maxwell surprised

"Yes, you should be proud of your accomplishments here, Cadet. You have a promising career ahead of you in Starfleet."

"Thank you sir. It will be an honor serving with you."

Taggart nodded then left to go to his ship.

Elisa looked at him beaming in pride. "First Officer! Way to go! Just a little jealous I'll admit. At least now you'll get to boss us all around like you've always wanted." She said jokingly. Then she saw the time. "We better get up to the shuttle-bay for the ceremonial send-off toast." She said

"Right, let's go." Replied Maxwell.

They both exited the holodeck and got in a turbolift. The lift took them one level up to the shuttle-bay. He saw the rest of his classmates near the bar. "The senior staff is waiting by the bar. I'm sure everyone is nervous, this being our first real assignment and all. So I'm expecting an inspiring speech out of you. Something heartwarming. Make T'Vrell cry. The mission could just determine the rest of our careers. No pressure." She said

"Gee thanks…" Maxwell replied as he followed her to the bar.

Maxwell joined Flores and the other cadets at the bar. After getting his drink he stood in front of the class. "May I have your attention? We are the senior staff of the U.S.S. Ranger. Every one of us has trained for the task at hand and we're ready. I have the utmost faith in all of you to do your duty. We are the best the Academy has to offer and together, we can do anything. We will go boldly as Starfleet has trained us. We will apply all the lessons learned and we will be the best in the fleet. To the Academy! To the U.S.S. Ranger and her crew."

Maxwell lifted his glass and toasted the class of 2409. "The class of 2409." Repeated the senior staff. Then the computer came over the loudspeaker. "All cadets, please board your shuttles."

Maxwell took one of the pilot seats while Flores took the other seat. The other cadets took seats in the back. "Alright Ms. Flores, take us up." Said Maxwell. "Yes sir." She replied with a big smile.

The shuttle lifted off and a few minutes later they were in orbit. As they passed Earth Spacedock Flores looked out the front viewport. Coming out of the space doors was the U.S.S. Vesta, a Multi-Mission Surveillance Explorer. "The U.S.S. Vesta, first of her class. She's got a crew of seven-hundred and fifty, subsystem targeting and auxiliary pulse cannons." Said Flores

T'Vrell spoke up, "The ship is also equipped with a quantum field focus controller."

"And I can't wait to captain one someday…But here's our ship." She said pointing to a much smaller vessel sitting in a shipyard. "Miranda-class, two-hundred crew, two forward weapon mounts, one aft. Average speed warp five point nothing. She's a tough little ship though, not a bad one to start out on. Looks like we're the last shuttle, we need to get to the bridge quickly."

Flores landed the shuttle without incident and the cadets offloaded. "Alright people, let's get checked in and get to our duty stations."

"Yes sir." They replied.

Maxwell led the group to the duty officer, Lt. Brikkars. She looked up, "Name and position?" she asked.

"Cadet James Maxwell, Acting First Officer."

"I have your record right here sir. Welcome aboard. Captain Taggart is waiting for you on the bridge." She replied

"Thank you." He said then moved to the turbolift.

"Cadet Flores, Acting Tactical Officer."

"Cadet T'Vrell, Acting Science and Communications officer."

"Cadet Zarva, Acting Chief Engineer.

"Cadet Morek, Acting Medical Officer"

"Cadet Ann Porter, Acting Helmsman."

He heard each of them check in and get in the turbolift. "Deck 1, Bridge." He said.

A few seconds later the turbolift opened revealing a spacious bridge…for a Miranda-class. Captain Taggart sat in the center chair. Maxwell led the cadets onto the bridge then they stood in a line at attention. "Captain Taggart, Cadets Maxwell, Flores, T'Vrell, Morek, Zarva and Porter reporting as ordered."

Taggart stood and looked the cadets over. "Stations?" he asked

"Cadet Maxwell, First Officer."

"Cadet Flores, Acting Tactical Officer."

"Cadet T'Vrell, Acting Science and Communications officer."

"Cadet Zarva, Acting Chief Engineer.

"Cadet Morek, Acting Medical Officer"

"Cadet Ann Porter, Acting Helmsman."

"Very good. At ease. Take your stations cadets. Welcome to the bridge…number one." He said with smile to Maxwell.

"Number one?" asked Maxwell.

"Early in my career I served with a man who called his first officer that and I always liked it. As my first officer I expect you to see my orders are carried out and to advise me on the best course of action. But first we need to get out of drydock. Get clearance from control, close the shuttlebay doors and disable tractor moorings." Said Taggart.

"Yes sir. T'Vrell request departure clearance. Flores, close shuttlebay doors, Zarva, clear all moorings." Maxwell fired off the orders in rapid succession. A moment later they reported back in order.

"Sir, Earth Traffic Control has cleared us for departure."

"Shuttlebay doors closed."

"All moorings cleared"

Maxwell turned to the Captain and nodded. "Potter, take us out, one-quarter impulse."

T'Vrell nearly spoke up but Maxwell beat her to the punch. "Sir, regulations specify thrusters only while in Spacedock." He said

Taggart smiled, "Just making sure you're paying attention number one. Potter, thrusters ahead full."

"Aye sir." She replied.

Taggart motioned for Maxwell to sit. Maxwell took the chair to the Captain's right side. He felt the thrusters engage and the ship started to move. A moment later Flores reported. "Cleared from drydock Captain."

"Good. Let's start with something easy, set course for Vulcan." Said Taggart.

"Course plotted and laid in."

"Engage."

The ship jumped to warp on course to Vulcan. The ship was only a few minutes into the journey when T'Vrell spoke up. "Captain we're receiving a distress call from the S.S. Break Even. Audio only."

"Put it through." Replied Taggart.

"This is the S.S. Break Even, our warp core is failing and we are in need of assistance."

"Let them know help is on the way. Potter, change course to intercept, maximum warp."

"Aye sir, ETA three minutes." Replied Potter.

Another Cadet manning the sensor station reported "Sir, I'm not reading anything in the vicinity of the Break Even."

"We've lost communications with the freighter. Some kind of interference." Reported T'Vrell.

"Keep trying. Number one, what's your opinion?"

"A warp core emergency shouldn't affect communications sir. It could be a trap. I advise going to yellow alert."

"Agreed. Make it so. Get down to the transporter room and oversee the rescue effort." Taggart replied.

"Yes sir." Replied Maxwell.

At yellow alert the shields came up but weapons remained powered down. The ship approached the area with caution. Maxwell tapped his combadge while in the turbolift. "R'raak, the Break Even should be in range. Status report." He said

"I'm getting some weird readings. I can't get a solid lock, there may be interference. Trying to compensate. I think I have it. This is a lot different than the training scenarios." He said

A moment later, Maxwell heard disruptor fire over the comm. channel and a gruff Klingon voice announce "This vessel is now the property of Captain Kadek and the I.K.S. Chot!"

Then R'raak's voice came over the intercom, "Intruder alert in the transporter room gahh!"

The turbolift stopped and Taggart voice responded. "All hands prepare to repel boarders. Number one, you have the codes for an armory nearby. Get to it and arm any officers you can find. Klingons are beaming in all over the ship."

"What about the enemy ship sir?" asked Maxwell.

"We still have weapons; I'll take care of it. Just get those Klingons off my ship!"

"Yes sir!"

Maxwell ran forward and found two officers near the door to the armory. "Cover me while I unlock it." He ordered then quickly punched in the code and the door swished open. The officers followed Maxwell and grabbed rifles. Maxwell grabbed a full auto rifle, it fired a three-round standard burst with a secondary full auto sweep, a good close quarters weapon. The others had split beam rifles. "Let's go." He said

Maxwell led the security team down the hall and encountered two Klingons. He quickly aimed his rifle and fired at one while the officers on either side of him hit the other. Both enemies went down before they could shoot back. Maxwell and his team moved further up the hall and encountered another Klingon but before they could shoot him, disruptor fire from the Klingon ship ruptured the hull and he was sucked out into space. Maxwell and the two officers held on to a nearby bulkhead until the emergency forcefields activated and sealed the breach. The transporter room was to the right. Maxwell and the officers entered quickly and found three Klingons facing the other direction. Maxwell and two officers fired twice, eliminating the warriors in one fell-swoop.

Maxwell crouched near R'raak behind the console. He scanned the cadet, minor disruptor wounds nothing fatal. He helped the cadet up and gave him a phaser pistol. Turning to a third security officer, a male Benzite "Stay here with R'raak, don't let any more Klingons onboard." He ordered

"Yes sir." The Benzite replied

Maxwell headed out the door with the first two officers close behind him. They found another officer firing on two more Klingons further down the corridor. Maxwell saw the EPS conduit they were standing next to and fired at it. The conduit exploded killing the Klingons but blocking the way with flowing green plasma. The third officer ran to a nearby console and quickly shut off the conduit. Green plasma stopped flowing out of the ruptured conduit. "Nice shot sir." She said

Maxwell tapped his combadge. "Captain Taggart, we've repelled the Klingons from the transporter room."

"Very good. We're doing our best to cripple the marauder but I need your help."

"I can improve the ship's weapons." He replied

Maxwell turned to the security officers. "Stay here and keep the corridor clear of Klingons." He then entered the turbolift and took it to the armory.

When the lift stopped he stepped out and immediately opened fire on a pair of Klingons directly ahead. With help from four more officers the Klingons were quickly eliminated. The officers followed Maxwell down the corridor but before they turned a corner Maxwell motioned for them to stop. Carefully, he peaked around the corner then pulled back. "There are six Klingons blocking the way. I'll suppress them you take them out." He ordered.

The officers nodded then took position. Maxwell stepped out from behind the corridor and activated the full auto sweep function of his rifle. For three seconds the corridor filled with pulse phaser fire. The Klingons ducked but two went down for good, the other security officers fired on the remaining enemies downing them as well.

Moving forward, Maxwell found the door to the armory locked, he could also hear weapons fire inside. "We'll have to breach and clear the armory. I'll take point." He said

The officers split up, two on each side of the door while Maxwell stood in front. He used his phaser pistol to blow the door in then rushed inside, the officers quickly following suit. He aimed to the left and found a target firing twice, six phaser pulses raced out and knocked a burly Klingon to the ground. The other officers inside the armory were also fighting an additional six Klingons. Five minutes of intense fighting and the armory was back in Starfleet hands. Maxwell quickly boosted power to the fore and aft Phasers and the torpedo launcher. Captain Taggart soon came over the intercom. "Number one, we've got wounded on the bridge and the Klingons could send a boarding party at any time. I need you back up here."

"On my way Captain." Turning to the security officers he ordered them to remain in the armory in case more Klingons beamed aboard, then he went to a nearby turbolift. He was just stepping onto the bridge when he saw the Captain and another Klingon beam out. Before he could yell out a disruptor blast flashed past him. He quickly turned and fired taking down two Klingons near the back of the bridge, then he turned around and put his rifle butt into the chest of a charging Klingon. The warrior crumpled to the ground, the wind knocked out of him. Maxwell quickly shoot the Klingon and put him down for good. Turning slowly, he found no more targets. He saw Razkii lying on the ground near his console. Maxwell grabbed an emergency medical kit, scanned Razkii with his tricorder and gave him a hypospray.

Razkii stood and nodded in thanks. He looked around but there appeared to be no other casualties. "James!" he heard Elisa call him from the back of the bridge. He ran to her and found her crouched by T'Vrell's side. "She's hurt bad James. I don't know if she'll make it." She said

Maxwell pulled out his tricorder again and scanned the downed Vulcan. Although he was not a doctor as a Starfleet officer he received basic first aid training along with additional combat medical training since becoming a tactical officer. The tricorder recommended a hypospray to relieve the pain. It would stabilize her until a medical team arrived. "She should be fine." He tapped his combadge "Medical assistance to the bridge." He called.

"On our way sir." Replied a medic.

"Incoming message from the Klingons." Reported Elisa

Maxwell made his way to the center of the bridge and stood in front of the Captain's chair. "On screen." He replied

"This is Captain Kadek of the I.K.S. Chot. You may have forced my boarding parties off your decks, but our ship remains cloaked. You have no hope of finding us…or defeating us. Your choice is simple. Surrender or we will kill your captain and then destroy your ship!" The one-eyed Klingon demanded.

"I will not surrender this ship." Maxwell replied

"Perhaps your Captain will change your mind."

"Captain?"

On the viewscreen Kadek turned to Taggart and said "Order your crew to surrender Captain, or I will blow them out of the sky. It's your choice Captain, do you want these…children to die?"

"Very well. Number one…you are now the Captain of the ship. Your orders…" Taggart glared at the Klingon then continued "Your order are to lock on to my combadge and fire!"

"peHegh tohzah!" yelled Kadek then he quickly drew a dagger and stabbed Taggart.

The Federation officer fell to the floor mortally wounded. "Make….me…proud." were Captain Taggart's last words.

Maxwell heard Elisa gasp behind him. "We have a target lock." She reported

Maxwell stroked his chin, deep in thought then made his decision. "Fire."

A single torpedo streaked out and closed on the cloaked ship. Guided by Taggart's still active combadge the torpedo struck the bridge disabling weapons and shields. "Flores, target life support, cloak and engines. I want them completely disabled." Maxwell ordered.

A series of torpedoes and phaser bursts struck the Klingon battleship. It was an impressive display of firepower…for a Miranda-class ship. In moments the Klingon ship was completely disabled and leaking atmosphere. "Nice shooting Elisa. Now send out a distress signal. We can't take on that many prisoners. What about the Break Even?"

"Signal away sir. Starfleet is responding. A ship is on the way. There's no sign of the ship. Only debris from where the signal originated from."

"The distress call was fake then. How bad are we hurt?"

"I'm getting multiple casualties reports and sickbay is full. All systems have some damage; life support is stable though. There's a ship dropping out of warp. It's one of ours. The U.S.S. Renown." She replied

"On screen." Maxwell replied

"This is Captain Vo'Lok of the U.S.S. Renown. Do you require assistance?" the Captain of the other vessel asked.

"Yes sir. We were ambushed by Klingon marauders but their ship is completely disabled. You should be able to board-"

"Sir, the Klingon ship's warp core is going critical!" Flores yelled.

"Helm, full reverse!"

The ship backed away quickly, in seconds though the Klingon ship had exploded.

"What happened?" asked Maxwell

"Looks like it was a self-destruct sequence sir. Why would they do that?" Flores asked.

"Death before dishonor Ensign. Klingons would rather die than be captured." Maxwell replied

"Your knowledge of Klingon culture is impressive Ensign. Where is Captain Taggart?" Vo'Lok asked.

"Thank you, sir. Captain Taggart was captured by the Klingons and later killed."

"That is unfortunate. It also means you are acting Captain. I am granting you a field promotion to the rank of Lieutenant. This will give your proper authority over your crew until we reach Earth. The Renown will escort you back to Earth Spacedock, but first we must inform the U.S.S. Khitomer that… One moment. My communications officer informs me that we are unable to contact the Khitomer. We will proceed to their coordinates to determine if they require assistance and your ship will accompany us. Do you need repair teams or medical assistance?" asked Vo'Lok.

"Yes sir. We have damage across the ship and our sickbay is over capacity."

"Very well, we will beam engineering and medical teams to your ship shortly. Vo'Lok out."

"Flores, prepare to receive engineering and medical teams. Once they're aboard follow the Renown to the Khitomer's last known location."

"Aye Captain." She said

Maxwell flinched at the name. Captain, he was already Captain after graduating from the Academy not twenty-four hours ago. He turned and looked at the Captain's chair. Such an ordinary thing holding so much power…

He took a deep breath and sat in the chair.