Measure of A Man
Two years later
This time, he was sure he had it. This time his plan wouldn't fail. He'd tried this damn test twice and failed it twice. This time, the scheme was foolproof. His plan was in place—with a bit of … suggestion and a mid-afternoon romp with a gorgeous emerald-skinned redhead.
Kirk sat in the command chair, while his crew prepped at their stations in the testing module.
He unconsciously raised a hand to his face, taking a breath of that sweet, musky scent that was still on his fingers from about fifteen minutes before. He looked up into the clear glass panel overhead where the testing administrators were and caught a flash of green and red.
This time, he'd win. Failure was not an option.
"Activation of the Kobayashi Maru commencing in five …"
The ambient voice filtered to their room, and everyone snapped to attention, shifting as the lights began to dim around them and the screen before them came alive with a too-convincingly real display of space and stars.
All around, the consoles began to light up and glow as the simulation came alive and his team began working frantically. From behind him a feminine voice, laced with sarcasm, called out.
"The Kobayashi Maru is stranded and it's signaling for assistance."
He swiveled around.
Uhura. Ever since he met her, he'd been chasing her. It was a fruitless pursuit; both of them knew it, but even if she wouldn't admit it, he knew she enjoyed their verbal tussles just as much as he enjoyed finding new ways to annoy her. One day, he'd get that first name …
"They're firing on us sir!"
That was Jameson. He was a tactical major in several of Kirk's classes. Right now he was sitting on the right of the "captain," his eyes glued to several screens in front of him as the simulator shook with the "impact" of missiles being fired from the three Klingon warbirds that had appeared before them on the screen.
Kirk relaxed in his chair, gap-legged.
"Eh, it's okay."
A snort came from his immediate left.
Bones. The doc was scoffing and rolling his eyes.
"Should we…oh I don't know, fire back?"
"Nah. It's fine." He grinned at his friend while casting a glance at his wrist…any minute now….
A little light lit up.
Victory was near. The horse had succeeded at the gates.
Two more hits made the simulator shake a little more.
"Alright, fire now." he said casually.
"Captain, their shields are still up!" Jameson called, his fingers working quickly across his console, his brown face glowing blue from the illuminated screens before him.
Jameson looked back down at his readouts.
"No. They've dropped shields!" he called excitedly.
"Fire photon torpedoes, one each. Don't wanna waste ammo." Kirk replied brandishing an apple from an undisclosed location and polishing it on the front of his suit.
He and his crew watched the monitor as their torpedoes found their targets - each warbird evaporating before their eyes.
The cheers were loud as his fellow cadets congratulated each other, slapping hands and clapping - relishing their victory over the un-winnable situation.
Kirk just smiled, as he took the first bite, savoring the loud crunch.
Failure. It just wasn't an option. Especially when there was a perfectly viable solution.
His celebration was short-lived.
It was bad enough to be dragged before his entire class and hear the charges against him.
It was worse, when he found himself losing a battle of semantics against an unknown assailant who also happened to be some hot-shot favorite son of the Admiralty and the person who created the supposedly un-winnable test.
But it hurt like hell, when Pike wouldn't even look at him.
"Cheating isn't winning," the captain had said, as he turned his back on him and walked away, joining the rest of the mass of bodies moving rapidly out of the hall.
Pike's voice was flat. But the words were so pointed, that Kirk felt lower than he had in years. The one person he'd admired, the one person he respected the most…
"Come on kid, you heard the orders." Bones came up behind him and pushed him forward. He stumbled blindly, still in shock at all that had happened, feeling guilt and shame surge within him.
He had failed Pike once before. He wouldn't – couldn't, do so again. He'd turn this ship around with his bare hands if he had too. But "NO" was not an option.
"Spock, don't do that. Running back to the rest of the fleet for a, a, a confab is a massive waste of time!
"...orders issued by Captain Pike when he left...
" - He also ordered us to go back and get him. Spock, you are captain now! You have to be—"
" I am aware of my responsibilities, Mister...
" Every second we waste, Nero's getting closer to his next target."
" That is correct and why I am instructing you to accept the fact that I alone...
" I will NOT allow us to go backwards!"
They had done it. Nero's ship had disappeared into a gaping, cavernous black hole.
He looked around the bridge at the crew. His crew. They had escaped the impossible. Some had even cheated death.
He should feel proud. Victorious.
But there was nothing to celebrate.
Six billion Vulcans, dead. Because they had been too late.
A mother, leaving a son orphaned and a father a widower.
Brothers, sisters, sons, daughters—slaughtered. An entire fleet, decimated.
There was no time to grieve for the dead.
The distress call had been sent 5 hours ago. With their warp core gone, they would need assistance from Starfleet to come and get them. They had at least 36 hours before help would arrive.
There were no available quarters. The crew had given theirs to the survivors. People piled three and four to a cabin, sometimes more. No one complained.
It should have been loud. Instead, there was silence.
He walked down the hall toward the sickbay. The doors parted at his approach.
Sickbay was eerily silent as well. Every cot and available parcel was filled with a body.
So was the ship's morgue.
His footsteps echoed across the floor, still stained with blood as a lone orderly worked quietly to clean the grisly reminders.
The path he'd chosen took his feet to the far end of the room, where a still figure lay on one of the makeshift cots the staff had speedily assembled.
The captain's eyes were closed, his chest rising and falling in succession with the machine by his side. Each breath corresponding with a beep on the monitor, and a spike on the graph.
You want to be a Starfleet Captain. The first thing you need to know is you won't be able to save everyone. You will lose at times. And at others, in winning, you'll wish you'd lost.
For the first time, he understood what Pike had been trying to say.
They would never be the same.
He'd wanted it for all the wrong reasons. The fame. The glory. The fun. The adventure.
Not anymore. It was his calling. And he finally accepted.
"This assembly calls Captain James T. Kirk…."
The assembly hall was awash in a sea of red. But even at that moment, it was still only half-full. The empty chairs a physical reminder of all that was lost.
Still, there was triumph in the absence. Defiance- they'd been bent, but they had not been broken. Each of them would carry the experience forever. It was a part of them. For some, it was them.
Like it was for him.
From the high podiums in front of the room, Admiral Barnett began to speak.
"Your inspirational valor and supreme dedication to your comrades is in keeping with the highest traditions of service,.."
"- and to reflect utmost credit to yourself, your crew, and the Federation, it is my honor to award you with this commendation…"
Sacrifice, is what George Kirk did to save his family, and his crew…
"By Starfleet Order two-eight four five five …"
Sacrifice is what Pike did to save a world…
From the antechamber, he heard the mechanical whir of a wheel chair grow closer, as his Admiral moved to sit beside him.
"… you are hereby directed to report to Admiral Pike, USS Enterprise, for duty as his relief."
The former Captain, now Admiral, looked up at him, his face somber, but his eyes smiling – there was a mix of ruefulness and friendship there.
Friend. Mentor. Brother. Lover.
"I relieve you, sir."
Pike studied him intently for a long moment, before nodding slowly.
"I am relieved."
What he did, what they had done…
To save a galaxy.
*Author's Note: Thank you to my editor, SpockLikesCats, who sat up with me through late nights and tons of coffee to edit, argue, re-edit, erase, and start again multiple times. A thanks to TeaOli and Aphrodite319 who provided the catalyst for this fic. I Of all of the Star Trek stories I've written, I consider this a personal best. There was a lot of frustration, anger, and energy devoted to this. Thank you to VickyFromGreece, who's encouragement kept a smile on my face. And thank you to the women of WA who told me to keep writing even when all I wanted to do was hit the erase button permanently. Thanks to everyone who has taken, or will take the time to read and review. Every one is greatly appreciated. This is my last Star Trek story for a while.