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Rob Morris

November 27th 2294

San Francisco Starfleet Academy
Command Training Simulator

If the room in front of him still echoed with the thunder of his tantrum of fifteen years ago, he would not have been surprised at all, physics aside. It had been a gift to a troubled young man coming off a hellish year, and like many young men, he would not appreciate the cost of the gift until much later.

"Cadet Kirk, stand down!"

"No! You’re telling me there was no way to win? What, is this Academy nothing but one big prankster circuit?"

"Peter, you’re not in the command track. You lose nothing as a result of this. For that, you should be thankful."

"Everything that could go wrong did go wrong! What the hell am I supposed to learn from that?"

"It shows how you handle defeat."

"Defeat?! My life is one long string of defeats. I already know defeat better than most people know their birthdays. I mean, couldn’t someone have just nudged the computers so that victory was at least a possibility?"

"Um, er, that’s, uh, not allowed," came Admiral James T. Kirk’s voice.

In the present, Lieutenant Peter Kirk was glad that he had not found out then and there why his uncle was hemming and hawing. The rest of that day went badly enough, as his behavior caused him to be the only non-command track cadet in all of Academy history to be disciplined for a tantrum thrown after failing the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Later research revealed the last person to throw such a tantrum : Janice Lester. Serving time years later in Tantalus Penal Colony, Peter Kirk finally began to appreciate both the gift and the irony involved.

He needed no psychiatrist, nor teams of them, to be reminded to let the past be the past. He sat in the center seat. "Begin training simulation."

The seats were now all filled with cadets he did not know, but who, judging from furtive glances at their ‘captain,’ knew full well who he was. No tantrums, Mister Kirk. If I fly apart at the seams this time, I’ll shame all of them. No matter what the computer hands me, I will ride it out.

He was one of about a hundred officers from different disciplines chosen to offer their recommendations as Starfleet retired an old friend. The career of James Kirk was at an end, but the legend had never stopped growing (and likely never would, mused his nephew). An unexpected side-effect of this had been minor leaks, people talking, though always in supposed confidence, about subjects that they were never supposed to speak of. Subjects like the nature of the Kobayashi Maru. A small handful of cadets in recent years—very small, but still troubling—had come in knowing this secret. The knowledge was out, and with a trickle pre-destined to become a flood, it was time to start thinking of a new command-track scenario, maybe several of them.

And guess who got in the door precisely because of his meltdown? Don’t blow this one, Petey.

"Steady as she goes, Captain," said the young woman at the helm.

"Steady as she goes, Mister." Now, he wondered, which path would the computer chart? The location of the namesake target, he hoped, would tell it all.

"Captain, we’re recieving a distress call from a freighter ship, registered as the Kobayashi Maru. Its engines have failed at...sir, that position is just outside the Romulan Neutral Zone," reported the cadet from Communications.

Firmly in our space? I’m thinking not. "Helmsman? Do the Romulans dispute the border in that region of space?"

The helmsman nodded without turning her head. "They tend to do so all over the border, Captain. But, yes, this one is a particularly contested sector."

The idea that cadets, strangers at that, were manning various bridge stations was a trifle unsettling.

"Captain, scans detect no ships, cloaked or otherwise, anywhere in this immediate vicinity."

Well, I didn’t detect that Dianas would change my whole life, either. That meant nothing, and neither does this. "Comm, acknowledge the hail and confirm that we will render needed assistance. Also, are we the only Starfleet ship in this region of space?"

"Message sent, sir. And...no, we are not the only ship. Three others are within this area, but they would take at least twenty minutes to arrive at the freighter’s position."

False hope, thought Kirk. The computer’s way of making someone think of holding out until help arrived. Quite clever, if one thought about it. But Peter Kirk saw the way to ram that false hope back down the computer’s throat.

"I doubt the freighter has that much time. Comm, call for them anyway. Let them know that we will defend the freighter at least until they can arrive, should the need arise. In the meantime, I want shields and weapons in a state of full readiness, to be up and running at the first hint of trouble."

"Captain, that could be seen as provocative," came the decidedly feminine voice from the cadet at Navigation.

"I’m aware of that, Mister. But if our very rescue attempt is apt to be claimed as a border incident, then I’d rather be alive to explain it all. On my authority, start charging those systems."

In fact, Peter Kirk knew quite well that neither he nor his "crew" would make it out of this alive. In an odd way, it was a kind of comfort. "Helm, inform me of the distance between us and the freighter incrementally after we reach direct hailing range. Be prepared to stop on a dime. Be extremely mindful of the border. Keep extra distance from it. If they’re out there, let’s not give them an excuse."

But excuse or no, "they" would most certainly attack. It was another kind of comfort, a surety all but the most paralyzed or hesitant users of this scenario would find.

"Captain, they are now five hundred thousand kilometers away."

"All stop, Mister."

"Answering all stop, sir."

The navigator turned her chair in Kirk’s direction. "Sir, are we still going to render aid? Because our tractor beam has no chance of reaching them from here. I know I could get us in and out before the Romulans detected us."

Peter said words he had waited most of his life to use. "Not to worry, people. I have a plan. Helm, arm a photon torpedo. Lower its yield to one-tenth, and set it to go off one hundred thousand meters between the freighter’s position and the border. By this I mean, the legal border, not the disputed one claimed by the Romulans."

He felt almost foolish over-explaining, but he couldn’t allow for any vagueness to have his orders go wrong.

"Aye, sir. Torpedo so armed."

"Fire."

The torpedo was away, and exploded where directed. The dead in the water Kobayashi Maru began to move forward from the momentum.

The navigator spoke again. "That got them moving, sir. But it didn’t reveal any cloaked Romulan ships."

"Nor did I expect it to, Ensign. Not with that low a yield. How soon until they are in tractor beam range?"

"Should be about one minute now, sir—No! Romulan ships decloaking—three of them! Moving between us and the freighter."

"Raise shields. Charge all weapons banks. Comm, make sure they hear me."

"Frequencies open," said the cadet at that station.

"This is Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. Romulan vessels, you are in violation of treaty, and interfering with our lawful efforts to provide aid to a vessel of Federation registry. I strongly advise you return to your side of the border."

The response was predictable.

"Enterprise, it is you who are in violation of treaty. This region of space is claimed by the Romulan Star Empire. You have committed an act of war and will be punished for it."

Like they were ever going to turn tail quietly. "Helm, Navigation, protect the freighter and keep us alive. Comm, inform the other Starfleet ships that we are under attack."

"They’re acknowledging, sir. But they say by the time they arrive, any real battle will probably be settled."

Which is why, Peter thought, the Romulans aren’t bothering to jam us. Plus, they’d probably enjoy an audience for when they finish us off. Such a thing seemed not very far off at all, as the simulator rocked.

"Comm, send the following encoded message to the other ships immediately. Then, when they’re within three minutes of our position, be prepared to re-broadcast it, minus scrambling."

The comm officer did as she was told, after he recorded his message. The rocking kept on, and harder still with each pass.

The helmsman’s voice now sounded worried. "Shields can’t take much more of this, sir. I doubt we can either withdraw or survive until the other ships arrive."

"Do your best, Helm. Full evasive until we can’t. We tripped their trap, and now we have to pay, but mark my words, so will they. Science, how close are the other ships?"

"Now just a little over three minutes away, Captain."

The savage pounding kept on. Kirk knew the three minutes was not real, and never had been. False hope from the relative nearness of the other ships, as he predicted.

"Science, how is the freighter doing?"

"Surprisingly well, Captain. Despite coasting on the momentum from the torpedo, they seem to be in a relatively straight line."

"Are they within range of our tractor beams?"

"Yes, sir, but in our view of our current plight..."

"Helm, grab hold of it, then maneuver it clear of this battlefield in the direction of the other Starfleet ships."

"Aye, sir...Hey! They tried to break away as we did that."

"Of course they did. A disabled ship tries to break away from its rescuer. Right. Comm, are you ready?"

"Ready, Captain."

"Good. Now resend our earlier message—but let the Romulans hear what we have to say as well, this time."

The cadet did as asked, as lights dimmed and panels sparked. The message played, so that both crew and enemy could hear it plainly.

"To all assisting Starfleet ships: It is our belief that the Kobayashi Maru is actually a Romulan spy ship, meant to serve as bait, to draw in Federation ships. Advise you seize it, and keep it at a distance until you can safely board and analyze it, to prevent future ships from being trapped as we have been. Our survival right now is of less importance than securing that ship, on the assumption that our theory is correct, as well as for humanitarian reasons, if we are wrong. Enterprise, signing off."

A seeming miracle followed. The navigator was almost shouting. "Captain? They’ve broken off the attack! The Romulan ships are all pursuing the freighter. You were right! It must be a spy ship, and they don’t want it analyzed. Still, a three-on-three battle is iffy, and with their cloaking ability, I just don’t know."

Peter asked a question. "Helm, do we have anything left in the way of weapons?"

"Not a whole lot, Captain."

"Well, whatever we’ve got, aim it at the Romulans."

Panels sputtered and sparked further, but the phasers and torpedoes that would fire were sent—and then the helm chair flopped backward, throwing the cadet to the floor, indicating the death of its occupant. Peter acknowledged the superior efforts of this young woman with a glance towards her ‘corpse.’ The ‘late’ cadet nodded positively in response.

"Science, what’s happening?"

"Sir, our ships have arrived and have taken out two Romulan ships entirely. The third is retreating, unable to cloak. The freighter took a torpedo shot—I think its really disabled this time. Sir, we did it!"

Despite the loss of a crewman, Kirk smiled and stood up. "Yes! We did it—"

Every panel burst apart. Every chair fell back, including his own. Cadets were splayed across the deck haphazardly. Smoke and crackling electricity filled the room. The lights went out entirely, and did not go back on.

In the dark, a dead man named Captain Peter Kirk said one word rather lightly. "Damn."

The young male cadet at Sciences spoke up. His voice reflected a mix of admiration and near-miss disappointment. "I really thought you had it. Six months of this—it’s the closest I’ve come or seen."

A familiar voice came from the simulator doors as they opened. "Well, to be fair, it’s not called the ‘you-might-just-win-this-one’ scenario. Cadets, reporting to the debriefing room."

Amid other admiring murmurs about their ‘captain’s’ methodology and whispers about the very famous visitor, the ‘dead’ cadets all departed. Peter Kirk yielded his simulated captaincy to the only real Captain Kirk he would know in the 23rd Century. "Too much damage?"

Captain James T. Kirk nodded. "You held on very well. But while they’re plenty tough, trust me, you can ask too much of a starship. Aren’t you going to ask me what I’m doing here?"

Peter blinked. "You knew I’d do this, so you had someone on staff here inform you when I did this–or something to that effect."

James Kirk smiled, confirming his nephew’s hypothesis. "Did you really think you were going to pull it off?"

"I...had that thought. I thought maybe, just maybe, if I turned any false hope the computer held up on its head, I might force the computer to logically yield up our success. But as a realistic option? No. Except for that nanosecond after ‘sir, we did it’, I knew this scenario would never change. So I made two basic plans, with the one you saw being based on the Kobayashi Maru being a Judas-fish."

James Kirk shrugged. "You were right. It was this time. A consequence of your approach in that simulated world is some severe damage to Romulan intelligence gathering capabilities. But how could you have guessed?"

Peter allowed himself a moment of self-amazement. This was so fundamentally different than his last attempt, he wondered briefly if one or the other was just a dream. "I guessed, based on the freighter’s position to the border. It seemed remarkable that a truly disabled ship that close to the Neutral Zone was safely outside anything but the disputed border. I had a lot of prank attempts go like that, back at the Academy. It just stank of ‘Hey, come on in. It’s perfectly safe here.’ I also doubted the Romulans would move a true disabled ship and then cloak. Cloak use leaves a trail, and even if that’s not much help in battle, it’s of great use in avoiding one."

"So you finally beat it."

Peter shook his head. "Jim, my ship blew up. All I really did was use some older approaches to the test—even including a touch of Janice Lester’s, believe it or not—and banked it all against the certainty of my demise."

James Kirk put a hand on his nephew’s right shoulder. "One might even go so far as to say that you took a hopeless situation and turned it into a fighting chance. No, you didn’t beat the scenario. That’s truly impossible, nowadays, and anyone who did would be expelled for cheating, because my method was never allowed again. No, Peter. What you beat was the scenario’s hold on you. You came back to face down a place of humiliation and disappointment, and I’m proud of you for it. You made a mistake back then in asking to do this, and I made one in allowing it. But you not only took your do-over, you came up with one of the best solutions I can recall. If they don’t retire this test outright, your solution should be in the textbooks, because it was a damned good one, and showed solid, creative thinking."

Peter closed his eyes. "I had to make it up to you and to myself. Even before Dianas, I wasted ten years wallowing in a miasma of self-hatred, self-pity, and self-obsession. Jim, I haven’t told Calita, but I’m staying in Starfleet. If I’m to have a career, I have to do things that erase that ten-year gap."

James Kirk folded his arms. "Like hell you do. First off, not everything that happened in those ten years was entirely your fault. As often as you failed yourself, Peter, as many people failed you, including myself. You’ve stopped blaming yourself for all the deaths we’ve suffered, but you still hold onto that?"

"But am I not the only one who can do anything about all that? Isn’t blaming others just an excuse?"

"When that’s all you use it as, yes. But in realizing the responsibility of others, you take with you one of the most important lessons of this scenario: Some things are just plainly beyond our ability to control. In this instance, you kept your cool, and exploited fully those things that were under your control. I’m proud of you, Peter. I even envy you. When I was your age, my actions had decided the entire course of my life. No one’s going to cry for the man who made Captain and then Admiral so damned early, but it locked me in as surely as a fused helm console. But you have your whole life ahead of you—oops—just as I have a dress rehearsal for the new Enterprise’s launch ahead of me. Gotta go. Pavel will fret like a mother hen if I’m late."

January 19th 2294

Riverside, Iowa

Peter Kirk sighed as he untangled himself from the blanket. Cousin Teddy Kirk checked in on him. "At least this dream wasn’t one of your howlers, Petey. You used to worry us all, back in the day. Jim again?"

"Yeah, Ted. My last real conversation with him. It was almost like a holovid replay of the whole scene."

"A man can’t control his dreams, Petey. But to the extent you can, I’d forget this one. Sounds to me like you just can’t win. Before you turn back in, maybe you should check your starmail. Bound to be something in there to put something else on your mind."

Peter mused over how after the Kobayashi Maru, he and Jim had talked at length over dinner; they had laughed a lot, and Jim Kirk had gone into detail about what was Peter’s fault, what was the indifference and malfeasance of others, and what was just life. Peter had spoken at length about his idea for one replacement scenario for the Kobayashi Maru, involving making a potential command officer realize that a fellow officer had to be sent to their death to save others. His uncle seemed to like it, told him how it reflected his maturity about what awaits us all in the end.

Astonished, he saw that one of the messages was from the U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC–1701–B, more specifically from its captain. "Please report immediately upon receipt...as First Assistant Science Officer..."

Soon, he would be heading out, and spend the day two weeks hence that he thought he would be moping over his cancelled wedding plans in transit to his new home. His time aboard the Enterprise-A had been a checkered one. With his life ahead of him, and with the memory of his uncle and hero always with him, Peter Kirk had high hopes that the Enterprise-B could be his latest do-over.


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