Starfleet gave her an out when they accepted her petition for acceptance to the Academy Command Division, Pilot Track. Senior helmsman aboard a heavy cruiser is generally no higher than fifth in command: any more and the bureaucracy begins worrying about psychological burnout.
"Just fly the thing," her advisor tells her. "Let your captain worry about the rest."
She could spend her life "just flying," with little worry and no regret. One tells herself she could, and knows that the intersection of possible and desirable doesn't extend to this choice.
She signs up for the center seat on the Kobayashi.
They hold the simulation at the end of spring session final exams, her second year at the Academy. Her entire bridge is physically exhausted, mentally drained. They are not, to borrow a Terran colloquialism, at the top of their game.
To be completely honest, neither is she. If One's fellow cadets sometimes accuse her of being part computer, she would appreciate a few extra minutes to reboot.
The San Francisco morning is its ritual fog gray. One's comms officer (incidentally her first year roommate) holds a steaming, oversized thermos between her pale blue hands.
"Please tell me that isn't decaffeinated."
No-one passes the Kobayashi Maru.
She knows her people, each of them: sought them out and learned them after their assignment, despite not having been permitted to choose them. They know her. They know she has what their instructors describe as a "clipped" leadership style.
That One expects the best of all possible outcomes. That she believes they are capable of achieving said outcome.
The leadership sims and tabletops are the same, all with truncated timelines which kill any semblance of realism. Treat the game as a game if you want to win.
They aren't going in today to win.
Zal sets the game scenario, antennae twitching, as her fingers skim the comms console.
This year, the Kobayashi is a diplomatic vessel.
One thanks Zal, then turns toward her tactical officer and her engineer. "The ship is already a loss. This is about damage control."
She orders shields down; transporters working at full efficacy; she does not relieve her helmsman herself, when he moves too slowly for the evasives she needs.
They beam Kobayashi crew aboard in order of security clearance, losing, in the same breath, five-hundred lives and the battle.
She will sacrifice one ship to save the Federation.
One's bridge crew goes out afterward, before the final writeups are finished, to get fabulously drunk. They see the ninety live saved moreso than they see the many lives lost.
She collects a sparkling pile of keys early that evening, listening to how they failed better than anyone has failed in the past twenty years. One's science officer tells her that she "pulled a fuckin' Kirk, man!" and she rolls her eyes at the comparison.
They wouldn't think so highly of her, perhaps, if it were their family -- husbands, wives -- or their friends left behind, not pixels on a screen.