Carol Marcus is born in a good time. Hostilities with the Klingons and Romulans have both petered off into a low grade tension, thanks to treaties signed and neutral zones established years before such basic technologies as inter-ship video communication existed. Even taking into account those restrictions, Federation growth and exploration has never been greater. The possibilities are endless.
Many of her classmates find their gazes drawn up to the stars, to Starfleet and what the Federation has to offer at its furthest edges, but Carol's is drawn down the tube of her microscope, to the possibilities that reside in the small, squirming creatures they all once were, eons ago.
Her parents approve, of course. Why wouldn't they?
Carol Marcus is born in an uncertain time. A massive ship appeared out of nowhere the year she was born and utterly destroyed the USS Kelvin before disappearing into Klingon space. The survivors claim the ship was populated by Romulans - who look eerily like Vulcans, strange how that's never been brought up before. They also say the Kelvin was destroyed crashing into the ship to save those in escape pods, and that there's no way the Romulans could have survived, but people are uneasy.
Advances in technology of all kind are greatly encouraged, particularly starship and planetary defenses. Offensive technologies are encouraged too, but less overtly. The Federation has no military, after all, just a humanitarian and peacekeeping armada.
Carol gives her microscope no more than a passing, if longing, glance. She knows what her father would say.
"You're brilliant, Carol," says her father, a retired admiral content to spend his days playing strategy games and writing Starfleet textbooks about the battles he saw as a young man. "Whatever your field, you'll excel."
"So long as it makes you happy, dear," says her mother, who would know; being a non-commissioned officer never bothered her because she loves maintaining sublight engines that much.
"You're brilliant, Carol," he would say over PADDs filled with mission briefings and new starship specs and other, secret files. Being the head of Starfleet today is a challenge, one that requires a leader with military experience, and one he's risen to where other admirals couldn't. "Whatever your field, you'll excel," he would say, and she doesn't need to hear the hypothetical tone of his voice to know which field needs her brilliance.
And so Carol attends Starfleet, not for a commission but for the cutting-edge labs and interstellar experts teaching her courses. She learns everything there is to know, it feels like, about cells and DNA and the (not nearly as many as you'd expect) variations between them across the galaxy, and when she reaches the end she decides to study the big question that remains a mystery: the spark of life, its origins, and how to jump-start it. Between her hours in the lab and in the classroom, she flirts with a handful of cadets, sleeps with fewer, and from one encounter learns that 99.99% effective doesn't count for much against a man who regularly beats one in a million odds.
She tells the father (who's already got a commission, is already headed for space and away from her) that she doesn't need his help or his limited presence, names the child David, and finishes up her doctorate while she's still breastfeeding.
And so Carol attends Starfleet, not wanting a commission but getting one in the process of her doctorate - an education goes so much faster these days, with the need for officers who know how to use these new, advanced technologies at an unprecedentedly high level. She learns everything there is to know, it feels like, about the physics of a projectile, how it moves in air and space and (if need be) water, to say nothing of how different fuels respond to those environments, and when she reaches the end she doesn't know what more she wants to study. If she wants to study more.
She tries not to pressure David to follow in her footsteps, but can't deny how happy it makes her when his doctorate is in molecular biology, to say nothing of when he joins Project Genesis. Mother and son, turning barren planets habitable one at a time, does have its appeal.
But what she already knows is enough to help Starfleet, to consult with her father on the prototypes he's been working on. He's pleased that she went into a field that's so useful, that she's at the top of the field, and she does enjoy the work. Well, she enjoys being able to help her father. It's a little morbid, sure, father and daughter working together to build a better torpedo, to destroy more efficiently, but she likes it.
And then her project data is taken by the USS Reliant.
And then he gets the latest designs, and suddenly shuts her out.
And things go horribly, irreparably wrong.