What Lies Within

(c) 2001 Jungle Kitty

Star Trek and its characters are the property of Paramount. This not-for-profit piece of fan fiction is not intended to infringe on that ownership. The author's copyright applies only to the creative content and her original characters.

This is a "gen" story but it does fit into my series of stories about the relationship between James Kirk and Suzanne Brandt. The Kirk-Brandt Chronology lists all the stories, both in order of occurrence and order of creation.


What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.

- Oliver Wendell Holmes
 

Tasting the sharp salt of the crashing waves, Kirk scrambled from boulder to boulder until he stood atop the rock that was the last of the giant stepping-stones into the Pacific Ocean. The safety of solid land was behind him, and before him there was nothing but the dark, rolling sea.

He had discovered this place as a first-year midshipman when he had mistakenly boarded an express transport instead of the local and found himself on a non-stop trip to San Francisco's western boundary. Once he was there, the roar of the surf had lured him away from the city streets, down to the beach, and out onto the rocks.

Since then, he had returned many times, eager for each new encounter with the ocean's relentless volatility. Its moods ran from whip-cracking aggressiveness to sparkling tranquility, and no point between the two was foreign to its nature. Both unsettled and unsettling, it was endlessly new, and even when docile, it was nothing like Iowa.

Back in Iowa, the fresh, pungent scent of green would already be on the wane as spring began drooping into summer. In a few weeks, perhaps less, the air would be heavy and thick with the rich, brown smell of things growing. Autumn in its turn would snap with the flavor of dry leaves as crisp winds hurried everyone through the tasks that must be completed before the first snowfall. After that, winter would subdue the land in an icy blitzkrieg, driving everyone into closed-up houses that smelled of sleep. Kirk knew all the colors and textures of his birthplace, and he also knew that were nature to break the pattern as she occasionally did, it would be commented on in every conversation until things righted themselves.

But this place... it couldn't be categorized so easily. No one here said, "The air's funny today, don't you think?" because it could change before the words were spoken. Whoever had named this ocean the Pacific simply hadn't hung around long enough.

And that's what drew him back time after time. Whether he was met by the icy embrace of the fog or the chiseled clarity of an endless vista, something inside him always responded to the wind, the surf, and the invitation to danger they presented.

A wild thing caged for too long.

That's how his mother had described him nearly four years ago when he'd stopped packing long enough to see the sadness underneath her smile. She'd brushed her fingers over his short-cropped hair as if pushing it away from his face.

"Isn't that silly?" she said. "Even with your hair cut short, I have to neaten it."

"Mom..." he started.

"Don't 'Mom' me, Jimmy. It's not easy to watch your baby grow up and leave home, and if I'm a little sentimental right now, you'll just have to put up with it. Because you are my baby." She put her arms around him and hugged him hard and quick. "Even with all your eagerness to get away."

He turned away from her warm brown eyes, a little ashamed that his impatience to move on was so obvious.

"But I wouldn't hold you back, even if I could." She took a deep breath and her next words tumbled out, as if she had to say them before she could think about them. "You're like a wild thing who's been caged for too long. Ever since you came back from Tarsus."

His head came up sharply at that. She hadn't mentioned Tarsus in nearly four years. It had always been up to him to open that door, and he felt an unexpected rush of regret that he had shared so little of that history with her.

"Do you remember what you were like when you came back?" she asked. "How angry and closed off you were? You wouldn't talk to me, you wouldn't even talk to Sam. It was as if you'd locked yourself away, and because I hadn't been there on Tarsus, you wouldn't let me in afterwards. And then your father came home. I don't know what he said to you--that's between the two of you--but whatever it was, it brought you back and I think it put Tarsus and everything else into perspective."

"Yes," he said, his voice barely a whisper.

"You're not just my Jimmy who helps out with the horses and brings home good grades and likes to think I don't know what's going on with all those girls," she said as she went to his closet and got out his winter jacket. Folding it slowly, she carried it to the bed where his suitcase sat open. "I wish you could be him for just a little while longer, but it's time for you to go some place where you can use all the things you have inside yourself--the courage and strength and determination. You were so young and you had to use them in such ugly ways. But those are virtues, Jimmy, not faults. You know that, don't you?"

He nodded.

"And if they're more deeply ingrained in you because of what happened on Tarsus, then I think going to the stars may be the only challenge big enough for you."

She laid the jacket atop the other clothes in the suitcase, and as she smoothed the rough fabric, he found himself watching her hands, seeing their strength and tenderness as if for the first time.

"San Francisco is colder than you think," she said with a quick smile.

He'd left the next day, thinking he was on his way to the stars at last. Yet now they seemed as remote as they had when his father first taught him the names of those that shone above the Iowa farmland. The past four years of classes had only sharpened his impatience to put Earth behind him and confront whatever lay waiting in the emptiness between the stars.

On several previous visits to this untamed stretch of beach, he had remembered his mother's words and begun to suspect that she was right. Only in space would he find his true self, whoever that was.

But he'd been wrong. His true self had been with him all along, silently awaiting its cue to appear. That moment had come on the day Captain DeMarc had stood before the senior midshipmen and explained the rules of the Kobayashi Maru.

"The scenario is this: During a routine patrol, a Federation starship receives a distress call from the Kobayashi Maru, a merchant ship that has drifted into the Neutral Zone. Your actions as bridge officers will determine what happens after that. Each of you will participate in at least one and no more than three simulations. You will never hold the same position twice, and your performance will be evaluated each time by two instructors and two officers from the regular ranks. I will oversee the exercises, but I will not participate in the evaluations. Should you be assigned to command the mission, you may designate one of your fellow cadets as a bridge officer, provided the designated cadet hasn't already completed three simulations. The other postings will be assigned by computer. You will not discuss your experiences in this exercise with anyone who has yet to complete the assignment."

He paused to scan the ranks of fourth-year cadets, and Kirk felt that DeMarc already knew how each of them would act in turn. "The Kobayashi Maru is a test of character. The answer--if there can be said to be such a thing--lies within yourself."

He remembered sitting up a little straighter when he heard that. He also remembered Suzanne Brandt, seated on his left, doing the same. The two of them had enjoyed a friendly but serious competition since their earliest days at the Academy. Although he felt closer to Gary Mitchell, he respected Brandt for her stubborn refusal to admit defeat, no matter what the circumstances. Outgoing in a way that encouraged people to like her without allowing them to really know her, he had grown to suspect that she harbored a wild thing of her own. How would either of them stand up under the scenario that had never been beaten?

By evening, the assignments had been posted. Mitchell was to be one of the first to sit in the captain's chair, Brandt would follow him several weeks later, and Kirk would be among the last, commanding the mission less than ten days before graduation.

Now, with only two days left before he would take his place in the center seat, he had come to the ocean to think about Captain DeMarc's words and how they applied to what he had seen of others' efforts to rescue the stranded ship.

The answer--if there can be said to be such a thing--lies within yourself.

Carefully balancing himself on the rock's slippery surface, he sat down and asked himself what that answer might be.

He had been at the helm when Mitchell skirted the edge of the Neutral Zone, boosting the transporter range by diverting power from the shields and warp drive. They had rescued four people, but the effort had overtaxed the system. While the transporter was recharging, a Romulan Bird of Prey arrived on the scene, fired on the Kobayashi Maru, and turned on the weakened starship. With no shields and only minimal thruster power for maneuvering, they were destroyed less than four minutes after receiving the initial distress call.

He'd been the first officer when Brandt flew full throttle into the Neutral Zone, threw a tractor beam around the Kobayashi Maru, and pulled it inside her shields. As they fled toward Federation territory with the crippled ship in tow, it had looked as if the ploy might work until Cadet Figueroa reported an impending core breach on the Kobayashi Maru. Brandt snapped out an order to disengage the tractor beam, but the Kobayashi Maru blasted apart before they could cut her loose, and in her death throes, she took her rescuers with her. Four minutes, thirty-seven seconds.

And in less than forty-eight hours, on Monday morning at 1030 hours, Kirk would be in command, trying to hold his own against a simulation that had bested all who had gone before him. Would he and his crew go down in flames? Even Garth of Izar had been defeated when he faced the test, although his record of six minutes, forty-two seconds was still unmatched.

He thought back to the hours following Mitchell's and Brandt's exams. He'd listened as Mitchell tried to make light of his performance while waiting for his evaluations to be released. He had watched Brandt, tight-lipped and silent, walk out of the simulator. She hadn't returned until well after her results had come in. Knowing his two friends as he did, Kirk wasn't surprised at their responses, but he thought there must be something more to it. This morning in the dining hall, he'd looked from one to the other and decided to draw them out.

"When you took the Kobayashi Maru--"

The rest of his intended question was cut off by a rattle of cutlery as Mitchell jumped to his feet and greeted a passing instructor with an overly hearty "Good morning, sir!"

After the puzzled lieutenant had acknowledged Mitchell and moved on, Brandt reached across Kirk, whipsering as she retrieved the sugar bowl. "You know we can't talk about that. You still have one more round to go."

"I know that, but--"

"Drop it, drop it," Brandt murmured, never lifting her eyes as she added a spoonful of sugar to her tea.

"I'm full," Mitchell announced, picking up his tray.

"Sit down!" Kirk snapped, and Mitchell sank back into his seat. "I was there when you took the test so I'm not going to waste my breath asking you what happened. I want to know how you felt about it afterwards."

A wary look passed between Mitchell and Brandt. Then Brandt went back to industriously stirring her tea as Mitchell's frown was replaced by a lazy smile.

"Relax, kid, it's not that bad."

"Oh, come off it, Mitchell!" Brandt retorted. "It is that bad, Kirk, and I'm sorry to tell you there's no way you can prepare for what it's going to do to you."

"That's what I want to know about--what it did to you. Afterwards, how did you feel?"

Caught in mid-sip, Brandt glowered at Kirk over her cup. When he didn't look away, she set down the cup and her frown softened to an expression he'd never seen before. "Iíll tell you this much. I thought I would feel very differently than I did." Her mouth crooked upward in a bitter smile. "I thought I would win."

Mitchell nodded, his usual flippancy nowhere in evidence. "Me, too. I thought I'd be the one to pull it off."

After that, they sat in silence until Mitchell revived the conversation by sharing the most titillating aspects of his post-graduation plans. Kirk and Brandt joined in, and the impromptu one-upping escalated until each assertion was more unbelievable than its predecessor. The game ended when they were joined by Aubrelia Figueroa, the tall, dark-haired cadet whose name had been mercifully shortened to "Fig" the day she became Brandt's roommate.

"My friends, may I remind you that there's one more poker game before graduation?" she asked, her black eyes sparkling. "I suggest you don't make any plans until you see if I leave with you anything other than your rank."

Her jest had been met with hoots of laughter, but now as the chill from the sea air wound itself around him, Kirk frowned at the memory. In the final "game" of his Academy career, his rank wasn't the only stake on the table.

He thought of Brandt's words and Mitchell's confirmation of them.

I thought I would win.

They knew the scenario had never been beaten, and yet they had surprised themselves with how they felt afterwards.

Perhaps that was the point of the test--to leave you counting your losses, contemplating your failure, and facing yourself under the harshest light possible. But Kirk knew that if he took the test on Monday morning as his friends had, it would only reveal the face of the person he'd been for the past four years. The Jim Kirk who toed every line, hit every mark, met or exceeded every expectation, pushed himself to the point where the toughest instructor told him to take it easy--that wasn't his truest self. That was the part of him that did what it had to in order to achieve a larger goal. For four years, he had reined in the wild thing with the promise that soon he'd be out among the stars where the shortest distance between two points was rarely a straight line, and an unwavering belief in your own instincts could be all that stood between you and a cold, empty death.

Those instincts were hammering at him now, telling him to listen to what he already knew. There was no such thing as an unbeatable scenario; there were only scenarios that hadn't yet been beaten. He had survived Tarsus and saved three others because he believed it could be done. He hadn't been sure that he could do it, but acting as if success was possible had been a factor in their survival. And even if he had failed, he would have died believing that it could have ended differently, if only he'd been older, smarter, stronger, braver.

When Brandt and Mitchell had acknowledged their surprise at being defeated, he'd recognized the echoes of bewilderment in their voices. He had returned to his memories of Tarsus many times, trying to uncover the connections between what had occurred, what had not occurred, and what his role had been in bringing about that ending. He knew that his friends had wrestled with the same questions and would continue to do so as they tried to make sense of something that made no sense at all.

He looked across the darkening blue of the waves and saw the sun hovering just above the horizon, seeming to pull against the end of day. As he waited for the inevitable closing of the gap between sun and sea, he realized that regardless of the outcome, some situations will always return the same result.

If the point of the Kobayashi Maru was to knock you for a loop, he'd already taken that test. And if the point was to reveal your true self... Maybe it was time Starfleet got a look at that.

He turned his back on the ocean and began clambering toward shore, bracing himself to face the future on his own terms.

 


Destiny is not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.

- William Jennings Bryant
 

"Captain, the transporter room reports that the last of the refugees has been beamed aboard," the communications officer said, his voice hoarse with disbelief.

"Very good," Kirk said and turned to the navigator. "Mr. Brandt, plot a course back to Federation space. Mr. Robbins, best speed."

"Aye, sir," they responded as their hands flew over their consoles.

"Any sign of pursuit, Mr. Mitchell?" Kirk turned toward the scanning station.

"None, sir." Mitchell's eyes were wide as he met Kirk's gaze. "Both the warbirds are drifting, and there's no sign of anything else out there."

"Re-entering Federation space now, sir," Brandt reported.

"Log that and--"

The double doors opened, and the cadets sprang to their feet as Captain DeMarc strode into the simulator.

"All right, shut it down," he said.

The boards and screens went dark as the various bridge noises wound down into silence. DeMarc looked at the anxious faces all around him and smiled.

"As you were, people. Kirk, I'm sorry. There's been a malfunction in the program. I'll reschedule you."

"Sir," Kirk said, "I'd like my test to stand."

"I'm sure you would," DeMarc replied dryly, "but I can't allow that. Once the program is fixed, you'll--"

"The program has already been fixed, sir. I fixed it."

DeMarc's geniality disappeared behind a chilly mask. "What are you saying, Mr. Kirk?"

"I'm saying, sir, that I changed the program and I would like my performance today to be evaluated."

Several of the cadets exchanged shocked glances while others looked away, obviously reluctant to witness this new development.

After a long pause, DeMarc said, "I think I can assure you that you will be evaluated. You're confined to quarters until further notice. The rest of you--"

"STOP PLAYBACK."

The images faded, leaving the screen dark except for the glowing numerals showing the elapsed time: eleven minutes, seven seconds.

In the moments before the lights came up, Fig steeled herself to put friendship aside and fulfill her obligations as head of the Honor Council. Kirk had lasted nearly twice as long as Garth of Izar, and to top it off, he had succeeded in the rescue. But he had cheated--his admission was right there on the tape--and now he was going to face the consequences.

Seated at a long table, Fig was flanked by six other cadets who shared this unexpected burden. Looking from side to side, she found it disturbingly easy to read their faces. Anger, confusion, resentment, disappointment, shock...sympathy? Perhaps. Who among them would not have been tempted? At Starfleet Academy, there was no bigger prize than the Kobayashi Maru. But duty and honor must take precedence, and Fig's sympathy was reserved for those now facing a question none dared voice. Which would be worse--expelling one of the most distinguished seniors for cheating, or shirking their duty to the Academy by letting him get away with it?

Knowing it was up to her to set the standard, she turned a hard gaze on each of them until every face at the table displayed the appropriate objectivity.

Four of them were new to such a proceeding, having been hastily recruited to replace those whose participation would have been improper. Fig found herself envying Robbins and Goodell, who had been present during Kirk's test. Not only had they shared in the exhilaration of the successful rescue, they were now spared the ordeal of judging the classmate who had accomplished it.

Travis and Tsang, the two junior members of the Council, had been excused in order to prevent them from acquiring any contaminating knowledge of the Kobayashi Maru. Their relief at this development had been obvious, and Fig had been certain their response had nothing to do with concerns about their future simulator performances. Two years earlier, Kirk had been the orientation adviser to their section, and his diligence in that role had caused Mitchell to joke that he wasnít a farmboy, he was a shepherd. He had continued to be a source of advice and guidance to several of his former charges, Travis and Tsang among them. Although they weren't the only ones feeling betrayed and disappointed by Kirk's actions, Fig was glad that they at least had been excused from the hard duty that now fell to her and the others.

As a result of the reshuffling of the Council, Kirk was indeed facing a jury of his peers. Like him, everyone at the table had completed the Kobayashi Maru, but unlike him, each of them had gone through a de-briefing in which the true nature of the test had been revealed. Fig remembered her own feelings on that day, which had included a small measure of comfort. If the test was truly unbeatable, then there was no shame in losing. But now Kirk had turned all that upside down. Even an illegal victory was some sort of triumph, and there can't be a winner unless there are losers. It had been damn hard not to think of that while viewing the tape. Would she and the others be able to put aside their feelings for Kirk--whether fellowship or resentment--to reach an impartial verdict?

Looking at Kirk sitting alone at a table across from her, she could have pitied him if his aloneness hadn't suited him so well, as if he had always been one apart and had simply concealed it until now.

You picked a hell of a way to get a jump on the rest of us, she thought.

She glanced over to the commandant of cadets and saw that his usually gruff, open countenance now stiff and unreadable. Although she had never heard him say so, she suspected that he and many of the faculty regarded Kirk as some sort of good omen, an exemplary young man who represented all that they wanted Starfleet to be. And now...

She remembered the commandant's words to the Council after the replacements had been sworn in.

"I remind each of you to be steadfast in defending the honor of the Academy and scrupulous in giving a fair hearing to Mr. Kirk. The integrity of this institution depends on both those things."

She pulled herself up straight and vowed that the flag would not touch ground on her watch. She could rage about it later with Mitchell and Brandt. She hoped they had the sense not to wait on the steps for the outcome, because it would probably kill them to turn their backs on Kirk as required.

"Mr. Ealey." She turned to the somber cadet who had been appointed prosecutor. "Do you have anything else to present?"

"No, sir. I feel the tape speaks for itself."

"Do you rest your case?" she prompted gently.

"Oh! Yes, the prosecution rests."

"Thank you, Mr. Ealey. Midshipman First-Class James T. Kirk, you stand before this court accused of violating the Starfleet Academy Code of Honor. The specific charge against you is cheating. Given the gravity of this charge, I urge you to reconsider your decision to waive your right to representation."

Kirk stood. "Thank you, Mr. Figueroa, but I prefer to represent myself in this matter."

"Very well. Do you acknowledge that the tape we've just watched is a valid recording of your performance in the Kobayashi Maru simulation?"

"Yes."

"Do you dispute any portion of the recording?"

"No."

"In the tape, you said that you had 'fixed' the program. Are we to understand that by 'fixed,' you meant 'tampered with'?"

"Yes."

Fig suppressed a sigh of frustration. "Mr. Kirk, if you're going to present a defense, this is the time to do it. Is there any reason why this court should not find you guilty of cheating?"

"Yes, I believe there is. Has the computer program been examined since my test?"

"Dr. Ludovic is checking it at this moment," the commandant interjected.

"I would like the court to hear her comments on what she's found," Kirk said.

After dispatching one of the guards to summon the head of Computer Sciences, Fig folded her hands and studied Kirk, expecting to see the impenetrable composure she'd faced across many a poker table. But careful though his expression was, there was an honesty there that went beyond the bluff of a card game. He wasn't pleading, he wasn't conniving, he was simply waiting, and he appeared quite comfortable to do so, as if he knew the outcome of this as surely as he must have known the outcome of his Kobayashi Maru.

How dare he look so calm when the entire corps of cadets was reeling from the news of his victory and subsequent revelation of how it was achieved? Could he have forgotten the shockwave that had swept through the Academy just last year when Ron Merrick was dropped after his Kobayashi Maru? Whatever Merrick had done or not done during those few minutes in the simulator, it had outweighed the rest of his record. Fig remembered the almost funereal solemnity that had accompanied the whispered condemnation.

"Not Starfleet material."

After today, those words would constitute praise of the highest order compared to the epithets that would follow the mention of Kirk's name. If he were found guilty. Fig reminded herself not to fall into the error of pre-judging, but after seeing that recording...

She wondered if she had made the right decision in not stepping down. She could have cited her friendship with Kirk, and she was sure there were those who thought she should have. But every time she considered such an action, her stomach knotted up as phrases such as "refusal of duty" and "cowardice under fire" rang in her ears.

God, she moaned inwardly, I thought my Kobayashi Maru was over.

"While we're waiting for Dr. Ludovic," Kirk said, "I'd like to address the issue of motive."

Fig hesitated, thinking of how close Kirk always held his cards and wondering what long shot he was playing this time.

Well, there's only one way to find out, she thought.

"Very well."

"The Kobayashi Maru is unbeatable. I'm sure that doesn't come as a surprise to anyone here because I believe it was revealed to each of you after your final round."

"How did you come by that information?" she asked, praying that he wasn't about to reveal that someone had broken their word by telling him.

"I came to that conclusion after studying the evidence. In the forty-three years that the test has been in use, no one has ever successfully rescued the ship. And if the stories we've all heard have any basis in fact, the circumstances of some of those defeats were highly unusual, if not downright bizarre. Still, I might have continued to believe that the Kobayashi Maru is simply a very tough simulation if I hadn't been present during Brandt's exam and seen what happened with my own eyes. I was the first officer, and you, Mr. Figueroa, were manning the scanners. When you announced an impending core breach on the Maru, you'd been scanning her for over four minutes, true?"

"Yes."

"Even with checking your secondary monitors for other activity, I don't believe that you would have missed earlier indications of a problem with the warp core. But if you had, the autoscanners should have picked it up and sounded the alarm. It struck me that the odds of the instruments malfunctioning at the exact same time that you would misinterpret or fail to see the readings were very slim. However, even if both those things had occurred, the fact remains that a warp core doesn't deteriorate to the crisis point that quickly, not without a direct and extremely lucky hit by full phasers. And no one had fired on the Kobayashi Maru."

Fig felt a cold prickle of gooseflesh as she remembered the silent explosion reaching out from the screen and invading the bridge with a blinding light. Damn the geniuses who programmed the simulation. It was so real, too real.

But that was the point. And learning that it had all been planned that way had so filled her with relief that she'd never wondered why such an important exercise would violate one of the most basic laws of physical reality--cause and effect. Kirk had looked past the smoke and mirrors, and seen what no one else had bothered to look for. She swallowed hard, certain that this new perspective would haunt her for a very long time.

"The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that there was something we weren't being told. So I acted on that intuition." He stepped around to the front of the table, the sharp staccato of his words ringing with conviction. "Shouldn't a commander who knows he's about to enter a volatile situation take steps to reduce the number of unknowns? Isn't it his duty to do everything within his power to ensure the safety of his crew and the success of their mission? Isn't that--"

"Yes, what is it?" Dr. Ludovic demanded as she strode into the room three steps ahead of her escort. "Oh, you!" she exclaimed as she came up on Kirk. "I want to talk to you! That was--"

"Dr. Ludovic!" the commandant interrupted. "Thank you for coming so promptly. This Honor Court has been convened to determine whether or not Mr. Kirk cheated on the Kobayashi Maru. He has stated that he modified the computer program--"

"I'll say he did!" She ran her hand through her short-bobbed hair and pulled a stylus out from behind her ear. Jabbing at the padd she carried in the crook of her arm, she said, "It took me an hour to find the change and when I did, I couldn't believe it! For god's sake, Kirk, if you're going to cheat--"

"Doctor," Kirk said, "that's what I want you to explain to the court. I said I changed the program so that it was possible to win. Would you agree with that?"

"Yes."

"How did I do that?"

"I don't know! Had a few beers too many and thought it would be fun to--"

"No, Doctor, I meant what specifically did I introduce into the program?"

"Oh, I see what you're getting at." Pointing the stylus in Kirk's direction, she addressed the Honor Council. "This young man made a change so subtle that it's practically undetectable. Normally, the program is invincible. No matter what you do, the computer will block you. If you manage to disable one Romulan ship, another shows up. You may discover that you've been drawn into a trap. The Kobayashi Maru may be rigged to destroy everything within a couple of parsecs. There could be a mutiny in Engineering, a failure in life support systems, or any number of unexpected disasters. The whole point is--you lose."

"So what did Mr. Kirk do to change that?" Fig leaned forward and noticed that everyone else at the table had assumed the same anxious posture.

"He changed the odds, which up until then were zero. He introduced an infinitesimally small chance that the Kobayashi Maru could be rescued. Statistically, it's insignificant. But it does exist." The admiration under her rueful tone was unmistakable. "A very neat trick."

"Doctor," Kirk said. "In your opinion, did I cheat?"

She stared at Kirk for a long moment. "You tell me. Did you?"

"No."

Ludovic chuckled. "I didn't think so either."

"Will someone please explain why that isn't cheating?" Fig asked with more than a hint of impatience.

Kirk and Dr. Ludovic exchanged glances.

"It's your gambit," she said. "You tell 'em."

Kirk took a moment, and later Fig would wonder if he had paused in order to collect himself or to simply give more weight to what he was about to say.

"Commandant. Members of the Honor Council. It wasn't cheating because I didn't hard-code a solution into the program, just the possibility of one. The odds I set were as close to impossible as I could make them. I admit to changing the conditions of the test, but I didn't know the answer. I had no foreknowledge of what it would take to win. I just knew that it could be done."

Rubbing her face, Fig looked up and down the table and saw six dumbfounded classmates. She glanced over at the commandant, who cocked his head enigmatically.

"Kirk," she said, surprised at how tired she sounded, "why did you do that? Is winning that important to you?"

"I admit I don't like to lose..." A familiar half-smile told her that she was about to see the last card turned up. "...but that's not why I changed the program." The smile faded, and the earnest resolve in his voice filled the room. "I believe the Kobayashi Maru is flawed. It tests for the wrong thing or it tests for the right thing in the wrong way. Put simply, it's unrealistic. You can look at any battle in history and pick out the mistakes the losing commander made. But if he'd made different decisions, he could have been the victor. It's never as cut and dried as the preordained conclusion of the Kobayashi Maru would have us believe. I wanted to be tested in a way that reflects reality. I could have lost, and the odds were that I would. But there was a chance to beat the odds, just as I believe there would be in any situation. When Captain DeMarc explained the test to us, he said 'The answer lies within yourself.' You've seen my answer, and it's the only one possible for me. There is no such thing as a no-win scenario. I'm willing to stake my future in Starfleet on that, and if this court allows me to continue to pursue that future, I will stake my life on it."

 


My heroes have always been cowboys.

- Willie Nelson
 

From his office window, the head of the Academy had a full view of the commons, the surrounding buildings, and the arboretum that separated the Academy from Starfleet Headquarters. Admiral Parrish's pleasure in that was tempered by his suspicion that the beauty of the scenery was intended to compensate for the more tedious aspects of his position. But that evening, he wasn't reflecting on tedium or beauty. His thoughts were preoccupied by the controversial events of the day and the cadet at the center of them.

As if on cue, Kirk stepped out of the shadows and onto the lawn, where he received a spirited welcome from Mitchell and Brandt. The three moved with an energy that went well beyond youthful exuberance, and Parrish saw Kirk gesturing emphatically as he spoke. As he tried to imagine what the future held for that surprising young man, he saw four members of the Honor Council burst out of the union building and run to join Kirk and his friends. He had the feeling that he was watching a legend in the making, and he didn't quite know how he felt about that.

Turning away from the window, he saw his visitor pouring out two glasses of whiskey. He'd often heard it said that Garth of Izar was too handsome for his own good, and noting the thick mane of wavy hair and the profile a vid star would envy, the stocky, balding Parrish couldn't help agreeing. But he knew his old friend was also the toughest of the hardy breed that was expanding the boundaries of the known galaxy with astonishing speed and determination. He decided he was glad that Garth had been here to watch the drama unfold.

"What do you make of it, Garth?" he asked.

"Well, Hank," the captain drawled as he handed a glass to the admiral, "he's certainly put you in an awkward position."

"That he has."

Parrish sat down at his desk, Garth took the chair opposite, and both men settled in to sip their whiskey.

"Some might say the Honor Council saw a way out of punishing a friend and they took it," Parrish said.

"Is that how you see it?"

"No, not really. If Kirk didn't actually know the answer--and Dr. Ludovic says he couldn't have because there isn't one--then technically, it's not cheating. And as you well know, there are no wrong answers in the Kobayashi Maru because it isn't really a test. It's a way of revealing character, and I think we learned a lot about Kirk's today. Whether that's good or bad..."

"Well, either way, I'm glad the Wyoming is getting a new transporter system so I could be here to see it." Chuckling softly, Garth stretched his long legs out, digging his boot heels into the thick carpet. "I wouldn't have missed being one of that young man's reviewers for a week's leave on Argelius."

"So what am I going to do about it?"

Garth shrugged. "You could do the same thing the brass did to me after the Axanar incident."

"Give him a medal?"

"Why not? They decided the Federation was better off with Axanar as an ally than an enemy, so they decorated me for disobeying orders."

"But they also felt that they were better off with you at the helm of a starship than in the brig. And after today, I'm not so sure Starfleet wouldn't be better off without Kirk."

"Well, there's no doubt in my mind. We need people like him." Garth set his glass on the desk, and Parrish started at the emphatic clack of glass against wood. "Hank, you've been earthbound too long. You've forgotten what it's like out there. You don't survive if you aren't determined to. If I could hand-pick my crew, I'd want every one of them to believe we can do the impossible and be as willing as Kirk to put everything on the line to do it."

"Does that mean you want him?"

"No, I'm not the one to mentor him. We're too much alike. I'd end up encouraging the things he needs to soft-pedal."

"So what do I do with him? Even if we commend him for, ah, original thinking, yes, that's what we'll call it, who's going to want to command him? He thinks he's ready for his own command and he hasn't even graduated yet."

"I'm sure he's not the first to be guilty of youthful hubris. Remember how we were?" Garth went to the window and looked out at the jubilant group of cadets. After a moment, he said, "You know who would be the perfect commander for Kirk? Garrovick. I think he's just the man to make sure our young maverick understands where heroism ends and recklessness begins."

"Garrovick," Parrish repeated thoughtfully. "Yes, that might work."

"Good." Garth turned from the window to find the admiral pouring out two more shots. "No, no more for me. I have to get going. I didn't plan on spending my entire day at the Academy."

"Aren't you going to fill out Kirk's evaluation?"

"I did it during the Honor Court." He laughed at the surprise on Parrish's face. "I know what I saw in the simulator, Hank. I'm glad the court didn't screw up."

"I'm looking forward to reading your comments."

"I think you'll enjoy them. My recommendation about the Farragut is at the end."

"You're always two steps ahead, aren't you?"

"Only two?" Garth's voice rose peevishly. "You cut me to the quick."

Parrish put his hand on Garth's shoulder as they walked to the door.

"You know, I just realized that your record still hasn't been broken. Kirk changed the program. He didn't take the same test that you did."

Garth turned to him slowly and raised a sagacious eyebrow. "Didn't he?"

He left without waiting for a reply.

Parrish returned to his whiskey, and after a moment's hesitation, poured it back into the bottle. He went to the window and saw Garth stepping onto the commons, his stride even brisker than usual. The admiral waited, anticipating the worshipful uproar that the appearance of the hero of Axanar would cause among the cadets. But for once, they were too caught up in their own clamor to notice anyone else.

Returning to his desk, Parrish sat down and began reading the evaluations of Kirk's performance. Soon the repeated iterations of "extraordinary" and "remarkable" blurred before his eyes and he found himself thinking of Garth's parting remark. Setting the papers aside, he wrapped one broad hand around the other, rested his chin against them, and for the first time in many years, he pondered the complexities of the Kobayashi Maru.

 

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