Captain Granger stood in front of the command chair with her hands folded behind her back, distractedly watching the starfield in front of her. One of her socks had bunched under her heel when she'd pulled on her boot and she was trying to figure out the right way to wiggle her foot while they waited for whatever scenario the sim was going to spring on them. Probably something involving Klingons, given they were currently "patrolling" the edge of the Neutral Zone.
Really, the whole thing was quite annoying. She should have been back at the science console, or sitting at nav, and Harry should be the one standing straight under the pressure of command. Their entire cadet bloc had become accustomed to the order of things, and even the discomfort of the sock couldn't distract her from the sidelong glances she was getting from the other cadets.
From her crew, she reminded herself; she needed to behave as though this training exercise was the real thing.
Harry, Ron, and Luna, at least, were focused on their stations; she could faintly see Neville frowning in reflection at something coming over the communications headset in the broad viewscreen.
"Captain," he finally said, "Starfleet Command is picking up a signal from the Kobayashi Maru. We are ordered to retrieve the ship."
She turned to look at him, frowning thoughtfully. The Kobayashi Maru was the one simulation she hadn't been able to find much on when she'd been researching what they might face in this, their fourth and final year at the Academy. There was a footnote in a list of hearings about James T. Kirk being called up on cheating charges following his third try at the simulation, but after the Narada incident he had been cleared of wrongdoing.
"What are their coordinates?"
Neville relayed the question, came back with the answer. Her eyes narrowed; Luna, at navigation, gave a breathy gasp.
"That's in the Neutral Zone," she confirmed.
Hermione twined her fingers together to keep herself from bringing her hands up to pull at her hair, looking back at Neville.
"And Starfleet Command is ordering us to rescue them?"
"Yes, captain," he said.
"Can you pick up the distress signal?" She couldn't reconcile Starfleet Command picking up a signal from parsecs away before their vessel, which was effectively on top of the Neutral Zone.
"Scanning," he answered. She moved around to lean her hands on the back of the command chair.
"Mister Potter, scan the area and see if you can detect the ship," she ordered, turning options and possibilities over in her head.
"We were ordered --"
She cut him off, brusquely.
"I am not risking my crew to rescue a ship whose existence we have not confirmed," she said, firmly. "Now, mister, scan the coordinates we were given."
"Aye, captain," the response was slow, and a little sullen, but his hands moved over the console. Imagining himself diving in to play hero, rescuing the crew of the ship and chafing because she was more cautious, she figured, though she was more concerned with what brass were playing at.
Starfleet Command has ordered us to violate the Neutral Zone. Why? What purpose could be served?
There were Federation citizens on the Kobayashi Maru, she assumed, but to ask her to risk 800 lives for an unknown number...
"I have the signal," Neville said, at the same moment Harry said, "scanner results are ambiguous."
"On speaker, please, mister Longbottom."
The message was garbled and weak, a half-hysterical individual begging for assistance for the freighter Kobayashi Maru. Lee had put the schematics for the ship up on screen for her, including crew contingent and cargo. Other than the lives on board, there was nothing to explain why they should cross the invisible line in space.
She was aware the rest of her crew were holding their breath.
"Define ambiguous, mister Potter."
"I am getting anomalous readings in the area; there's something there, but it could as easily be an ion cloud as a ship."
She scowled. This was wrong, everything about the scenario was inconclusive and unclear. She realized she had pulled a lock of hair out of her ponytail and was twisting the curly strands around her fingers; she forced herself to stop.
Consider your options. When faced with the improbable, rule out the impossible and accept what's left as the truth.
The broken voice on the speaker was growing more urgent.
This would be so much easier if I didn't have to jump blind. Either the ship is there, or she isn't. If she is there, what's she doing there? Is she spying for the Federation in the guise of being a merchant? Or is this all a trap? If it's a trap, who set it?
"Mister Longbottom, please open a broad-frequency channel, starting at the lower end of the standard Klingon range."
He scrambled to obey; the rest of the crew were stirring uncertainly. They were all aware if there were birds-of-prey anywhere in the area -- which wasn't so much an "if" -- they were cloaked, and wouldn't be engaging in any chatter among ships.
But she didn't want to listen for them. They were there. What she needed was to figure out what she could possibly say to get them to help either confirm or deny the Kobayashi Maru was there. Her mind raced through everything she'd read, searching for any tiny scrap of useful information about the culture, how they interpreted honor and weakness.
Now no one on the bridge except Ron and Harry was looking at her. Maybe she should just go in after the Kobayashi Maru, but claiming she'd been following orders wouldn't get her anywhere with the souls who wouldn't survive the encounter.
"Frequency open, captain," Neville said, his voice shaking. She took a deep breath, nodded her thank you, and opened her mouth, trusting inspiration to come.
"This is captain Hermione Granger of the U.S.S. Hogsmeade," she said, in Klingon, "I know you hide out there in the dark like So'wI''a'mey. Identify yourselves!"
There was a momentary pause; she wasn't sure if she should be smug because the computer didn't have a canned response or worried that the -- minor -- insult would cause the very incident she was trying to avoid. She'd used the phrase knowing at least one of the opposing commanders would be stung enough to respond.
Hermione swallowed and half her crew jumped. The speaker -- either saying "hello!" or "what do you want!"; the same in tlhIngan Hol -- was female, her voice oddly melodic.
They're waiting for you to fail.
She started to push the unhelpful thought aside, then paused. Something true lurked behind the thought.
"pInepqangbe'" she said, we are not willing to lie to you. "We seek a ship which drifted across the border. Can you see her?"
There was another long pause; she was somewhat aware of a bustle going on in the observation deck. The response should have been simple enough, her phrasing -- Daleghlah'a' -- indicated the need for only a yes or no answer.
Unless they couldn't provide a yes or no answer without violating the constraints of the test.
Even without certainty, she had options: return to patrol without crossing the Neutral Zone, and face the potential wrath of her crew for abandoning the Kobayashi Maru and insubordination charges from Starfleet Command. Cross the border, and risk the lives of everyone on her ship -- not to mention an interstellar incident at best or outright war at worst -- for what might be a ghost or a trap. Just telling the Klingons there might be a Federation ship past the point of no return was risk enough; they might destroy it. No border commander was going to risk her ship or a loss of face allowing the Hogsmeade to rescue the Kobayashi Maru, nor allow their ship to be used as a tug.
Her heart skipped.
There is no way to succeed. Every choice leads to negative consequences.
But you have to choose. You have to leap; you don't have any choice. If this were real, your options would be the same. So which bad choice has the most acceptable result?
She turned away from the directional microphone, looked at Harry.
"Scan the coordinates once more," she ordered.
"I've been sweeping constantly since your last request, sir," Harry answered. "There's been no change."
She barely heard the response from the still-unseen Klingon. The speaker had a much more sonorous and masculine tone. But the flutter of pride she would normally have felt at forcing the instructors to find a Klingon speaker instead of relying on pre-programmed responses was drowned by suppressed panic even before she realized the answer did nothing to solve her dilemma. Her hands felt like blocks of ice at the ends of her arms.
Which bad choice has the most acceptable result? Whose standard of 'acceptable' am I supposed to use?
Ron stage-whispered "Hermione," and she fixed her glare on him, then faced the microphone again.
"Thank you for the information. Your bravery honors your family," she said, giving Neville the kill signal.
Once she was certain the line was closed between the Hogsmeade and the unseen bird-of-prey she turned back to Neville.
"Mister Longbottom, please inform Starfleet Command we are unable to pursue the Kobayashi Maru. Mister Potter, resume our plotted course."
Harry whipped around to face her, bangs falling over his wide green eyes; Neville stared at her gape-mouthed, and the others on the bridge muttered like angry bees -- except Ron, who looked like he wished the tac console could swallow him whole, and Luna, who considered her.
Well. That was enough of that.
"That's an order, mister," she barked; everyone jumped. "Mister Longbottom, hop to!"
She waited, feeling like a cliche -- her heart in her throat, her back rigid, fighting to keep her doubt and uncertainty from showing on her face. She thought forever passed between her reiterated orders and movement on the bridge, but then she heard Neville open the comm line and the starfield in front of her started to "move" in a swinging arc she knew would bring them back to their original course.
She waited for the hissing creak of the sim capsule opening, aware of the harsh eyes on her both from her own crew and from the observation deck.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
You can't win, you can't break even, and you can't get out of the game.
And of course -- there was the answer. Whatever she'd chosen, she would have to live with the consequences of her decision, would have to justify her choices to Starfleet Command and her crew. Or not, if they'd crossed into the Neutral Zone and the encounter had gone as she expected.
She heard the commandant dismiss them to the debriefing room, waited while the others swirled around her, trying futilely to reconcile this new piece of knowledge with her belief that every puzzle had a proper answer. Her idea of life as a zero-sum game, her determination to best those she encountered by quick wit because to do otherwise was somehow to lose.
All her beliefs, scattered around her and melting like first snow on the cobblestones of home.
Their commandant had to say her name twice before she heard him and left the simulator.
Whatever the outcome, she'd learned something new. She could act despite the fear freezing her hands and her gut. Without the certainty of a right answer. Maybe she was wrong; maybe there weren't always right answers -- outside of a classroom.
Knowing changes everything.
She had a feeling her post-simulation dressing-down by commander McGonagall was going to be spectacular.