In this next episode of Author’s Commentary, I’ll be discussing the impetus and execution of the second part of The Quarterdeck Breed, “Bellerophon.” Reading the story prior to reading the commentary is strongly advised, otherwise you might be lost amongst the referential material.
Academy stories in the fanfic realm are far and few between at times. Or, they’re executed poorly, which is just as bad as there being very little. A majority of Trek writers seem to be rather taken with the screen events of being on a starship or a starbase rather than trying their hand at writing stories about their characters going through the trials of actually becoming the stellar officer they become later on in their lives. The questions forming in my mind were “How do they become that confident? When does it become second nature to be that leader?”
While in TQB, my intention was to write more about an Academy story and I wanted to drop back to a time when a character is learning to become a leader and pushing the envelope of their experiences and philosophy on leadership. With Agamemnon, I’d explored the fish out of water, in the second piece of the exploration I wanted to look at how an officer might earn that level of confidence in understanding what it means to be a leader.
Some of us may not have had the innate nature to be a leader; some of us may have had to study hard and keep their noses to the grindstone in order to become a good leader. Clearly, Randy Duke’s character was in the latter from the beginning of the story. The adversity he faced in having a fellow midshipman (cadet) yank the rug out from under him in the middle of his holographic simulation was a good starting point to work with.
Who’s the Boss?
Although a lot of the TQB stories ended up being simple character sketches (“Agamemnon,” “Dallas,” “Exeter”) some are simplistic protag-antag character stories (“Bellerophon,” “Gallant”). Meaning that there was a specific point/task/adversity to overcome in order to leave it at a point where the reader could nod and be satisfied that all is right with the world. In this case, I think in the beginning of the story we’re all left with the question of who is actually in charge?
Midshipman Leanne Norrah appears to be the one in charge during the simulation because her frustration has mounted and enough is enough. No more dithering for her. She stands up and takes command because it’s just a holodeck program and their grade is in the balance. For a time, those around her seem to respond to the sudden shift; the new breeze of confidence and brashness for which they were seemingly parched. Of course, as the reader may or may not feel sorry for Randy Duke in that instance, Leanne’s actions have consequences in the later lecture and review where they go through each success and failure in order to dissect and understand.
Randy was appointed in command, but he felt that the appointment was a horrible mistake. His entire crew agreed. But by the end of the story, after doing some studying in the holodeck on his own without having to “perform” for his classmates, you could see or at least hope for a similar warm reception to his understanding how things should work on a starship.
In the amount of time I chose to tell the story, I think that’s it’s important to note that I simplified things incredibly. Life at a military academy is not this cut and dry and there is a lot of nuance that I removed for the sake of the narrative. Would Randy have been so quick to adapt after a simple brief session in the holodeck? Probably not. But for the sake of development and given that I intended for these to be short stories and not a novella or a novel, I simplified that aspect in order to allow one scene to be a placeholder for the intended months of training and understanding of leadership in Starfleet.
The single scene of Randy in the holodeck was my representation of what a student would have to do in order to improve themselves. Using the tools that we’d all been introduced to in Star Trek: The Next Generation, I thought that the holodeck or holoroom would be an invaluable tool in not just evaluation of midshipmen but also their training. A fully-customizable environment would be a huge help in my line of work as a corporate instructor. Surely there are enough resources on an Academy campus to allow for student-use; perhaps in a dedicated facility where their ASB cards grant them entry outside of class hours. Perhaps they’re hotly contested, just as “lab time” was when I was going through college for computer use to write emails or to type up your term papers (talk about pressure to get it done). Of course, now we have our own portable computers, but I felt that portable holodecks were probably not feasible (yet).
In short, I kind of mixed in my understanding of the average military student’s life mixed in with my own personal experiences studying at college.
At the time that I wrote this story, I had just begun my life as a corporate trainer. The concept of professional development was kind of new to me, but writing Commander del Toro held a fascination for me because this was how I envisioned I might be in my role. Of course, fantasy and reality do not mix and this type of teaching isn’t really well-received in the corporate environment. However, I had decades of experience due to my mother being a public school teacher and when I had time or when our annual vacations did not mix, I would end up auditing her classes when I was much younger. Especially for winter and spring breaks, since I went to school in one district (where we lived) and she worked in another district (on the other side of the city), I would end up going to school with my mom every day of those non-overlap days. But don’t pity me… I learned a lot, and I was essentially a teacher’s aide. It gave me a greater appreciation for what public school teachers do for a living. You might even say that del Toro was a representation of how my mother conducted her classes.
Although the Academy could be viewed as a public institution, it’s not really. Not just anyone can attend. You have to be appointed by a legislator or you have to be the child of a Medal of Honor winner. So, each Federation Councillor gets a set number of appointments and each one has a method for application and consideration. Some use them as political tools, others are far more democratic about their process. I would think that both Dominic and Randy had to compete heavily for their appointments. And actually, in Full Speed Ahead, we will see how Dominic had to fight to get in, but that comes later in the sixth/seventh seasons.
The Academy, for all intents and purposes, is a professional trade school. It’s just that the trade you’re learning is more complex than a two-year trade school could offer. We’re not learning how to fix air conditioners at Starfleet Academy, we’re shaping the future of Starfleet. Each instructor bears the burden of not simply educating, but also determining who has what it takes to be in Starfleet from whichever school/college they work within. del Toro has her own agenda, too. It’s her responsibility to find out who has the strength to carry out the tough duty as a starship captain.
In the end, I’m pleased with how Bellerophon turned out because it gave me the opportunity kind of follow this line of thinking with characters. This experience has helped me to develop other characters in order to tell a better story or provide depth. I like to read stories that not just get me from point A to point B; I need a fleshed out world in which to invest myself in. I hope that when you read this story, you felt that this universe had more moving parts to it than the one ship or the one starbase that we usually see.