A Trekker's tale:
Lieutenant Mary Sue Tells All
In 2264 newly-commissioned Second Lieutenant Mary Sue Tiu and the United Federation Starship Enterprise embarked on what would become the most eventful and celebrated five-year tour of duty in Starfleet history. Unlike several of the Enterprise’s other surviving officers, Tiu went on to an uneventful career with only limited advancement. In 2296, after her retirement from Starfleet (and the death of Admiral James T. Kirk (ret.)) Tiu published her memoir, Five-Year Mission: What Really Happened Aboard Starship Enterprise.
Tiu’s memoir created a storm of controversy with its frank and often unflattering portrayals of Kirk and other officers on the 2260s Enterprise tour. Some have dismissed it as a mendacious act of petty revenge by a frustrated careerist. Others have acknowledged that it raises uncomfortable questions about its subjects’ actions and reputations. The excerpts below give readers a flavor of Tiu’s decidedly mixed opinion regarding the Enterprise’s best-remembered commander.
There’s no question that James T. Kirk was a highly talented officer. On more than one occasion his rapid decisions and actions saved the lives of the Enterprise and everybody aboard it. I and all others who lived to make it home in 2269 owe him our gratitude for that.
And yet, Kirk’s propensity for snap decisions, for ignoring procedure and regulations and “going with his gut,” cost many of our fellow crew members dearly. There was a saying on the lower decks to the effect that of every five decisions the Captain made, four got somebody killed and the fifth saved the entire ship. Hyperbole aside, there was all too much truth to that observation….
One of the most damaging of Kirk’s decisions was his adherence to a policy of sending all away teams, even those going into unknown and potentially hazardous situations, down with minimal weapons and equipment. Even the Marine details tasked with protecting the away teams were limited to their regulation reds and standard-issue side-arms—no armor, no TAFAS <editor’s note: Tactical Fire Augmentation System—heavy portable phaser weapons issued to Starfleet Marine units>, no grenade launchers, not even a sniper with a BSA <Ballistic Shoulder Arm—bolt-action rifles, commonly called “slug-throwers,” issued to Marine sniper specialists> to provide some kind of offensive range.
Kirk’s stated purpose in sending away teams off nearly unarmed was a desire to avoid provoking a hostile response by appearing too ready to look for trouble. At first I lauded his desire to keep paranoia about possible hostilities from become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But again and again situations developed where stronger firepower and better equipment were indeed needed. Again and again lives were lost. Yet Kirk stubbornly refused to reconsider this policy well past the point at which most members of the crew had come to recognize that he was erring on the wrong side.
Eventually he did begin allowing away teams to carry proper defensive equipment. During the latter part of our tour of duty losses declined significantly. Unfortunately morale among our ship’s Marine unit never recovered. And they never forgave Kirk. It’s hard to blame them—the Enterprise's ship-board Marine detachment suffered 80% casualties over that period. By the end the unit was chronically below its authorized strength, and there were few original members left among all the replacements….
One of the more bizarre manifestations of Kirk’s eccentricity occurred during the Romulan Neutral Zone incident. The long duel with a cloaked Romulan vessel told on everybody’s nerves. Kirk decided to break the tension—and, as he put it, “psyche everybody up”—by playing an aud-file of some ancient musical number entitled “We Will Rock You” on the ship’s public address system. We were all encouraged to clap and sing along. At the time I recall being swept along by the enthusiasm and energy generated by that song. With hindsight I’ve never quite been able to decide whether it was an act of psychological brilliance, a sign of incipient nervous breakdown on the part of the Captain himself, or some combination of the two….
The women in Starfleet Academy warned each other about certain officers who were notorious for womanizing. Kirk had an especially, shall we say, lively, reputation. I tried to discount it as gossip, and initially found the Captain professional and courteous in all of our interactions.
Several months into our tour, though, I began noticing little innuendoes, flirtatious remarks, and the like in his conversation toward me. They grew more and more blatant, to the point where anybody could tell that he was coming on to me.
I responded by avoiding any speech or behavior that might in any way be reasonably construed as encouraging such actions. Eventually one of Kirk’s come-ons—in the presence of other officers, no less!—drew a comment from First Officer Spock. In his characteristically understated manner he said: “I believe, Captain, that there is a human proverb to the effect that discretion is the better part of valor.” After that I had no further problems from Kirk, though I continued to worry about it. I still believe that my stance did not help me when evaluation time came around.
I was protected to some extent by my status as an officer. Female enlisted personnel were much more vulnerable to such harassment. There was a lot of disregard of Starfleet’s official policies on sexual harassment and fraternization aboard that ship—and Kirk was by no means the only offender. Even given Starfleet’s longtime unofficial habit of sweeping such things under the rug, I’m amazed that no scandals came out of that tour….
One area in which I, and nearly everybody else aboard ship, stood firmly behind Captain Kirk was in his handling of the transporter unit business. The reader may recall that Enterprise was one of five Starfleet vessels selected to field test the experimental Orbit-to-Surface Matter Transporter, Mark IV. The device sounded so useful in theory. Certainly some of the vid-shows of the day anticipated that it would become a great boon to interstellar exploration.
In practice, of course, neither the Mark IV nor any of the subsequent redesigns tested by Starfleet ever fulfilled its promise. The whole transporter program has long since come to be regarded as an expensive and embarrassing failure. We could see at the time that it wasn’t working. Its use was hopelessly awkward. “Passengers” had to stand completely still for a good fifteen minutes while their bodies were scanned…the procedure could be carried out only when in favorable environmental conditions…it consumed an enormous amount of power…the whole thing broke down regularly.
Worst of all was the endless potential for things to go wrong. Virtually everybody who traveled by transporter more than once or twice had personal stories of close calls when some emergency developed during beam-down and the transporter techs barely managed to avert disaster. We all came to feel that we were taking our lives into our hands every time we “rode” the transporter.
Finally we had an away-team incident in which one of our Marines suffered a fatal air embolism while beaming down. It was a tragic example of how even the tiniest of miscalculations could prove disastrous with the transporter. After that Kirk ordered the transporter shut down and had us rely entirely on shuttles. Starfleet gave him trouble over it and kept trying to order him to use the transporter. He stuck to his guns.
He eventually dealt with the situation in a manner that was pure Kirk. During the famous “Babel Conference” at Coridan, the Andorian ambassador presented Kirk with a diplomatic gift in the form of a lovely bronze statuette made by a noted Andorian sculptor. When we arrived back at Starbase Kirk was of course obliged to pass it on to the authorities.
He announced that he was going to send it via transporter. Before sending it, he had the machine shop melt the thing down to slag. That’s what Starfleet got. Of course they were horrified that an official diplomatic gift and minor alien cultural treasure had been ruined by “transporter malfunction.” The pressure to use the transporter ceased, and everybody on the ship laughed about it for weeks. Even the Marines conceded Kirk a bit of goodwill over that one….
When you say "Today or tomorrow I'll go over here, and take care of business, and accomplish this goal," consider this: You don't really know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is a puff of mist that exists for a moment and then vanishes.