LAST EDITED ON May-16-09 AT 08:14 PM (EDT)
Christopher Pike Hall, Starfleet Academy
San Francisco, Earth
Dimension GCC No. 723/T
Benjamin Hutchins bolted up from a sound sleep to full wakefulness in less than a second, a sudden revelation burning like a torch in his mind's eye. So focused was he on this that he had no conscious thought to spare for the proprieties of the situation; fortunately, the automatic context-sensitive reference generator that was always at the back of his brain found and uttered the appropriate statement for such circumstances without his help. He wasn't even aware that he'd spoken.
His roommate, a lighter sleeper than he would ever be, was aware of it, though, and she gave him a quizzical look from her lower bunk as he jumped down from his upper one. He ignored her - wasn't even really aware that he had a roommate just now - and went to the desk in the corner, where he hunted briefly for pen and paper, then remembered that there was no such thing permitted in the dorms at Starfleet Academy and switched on his desktop data terminal instead.
Saavik got out of bed, crossed to stand just behind him, and said, "I do not understand your remark. You are not a member of the Academy football team, and even if you were, it is highly unlikely that a practice session would be scheduled for 0200 hours. It is not even the football season."
Gryphon blinked, glanced back over his shoulder distractedly, and then returned to his feverish note-jotting, asking only, "What? Sorry, what?"
Saavik paused for a moment, closed her eyes, silently counted prime numbers backward from 97 in Vulcan, and then said, "Never mind."
"Nn," Gryphon replied, nodding without again taking his eyes from the screen.
Seeing that she would get nothing more out of him, Saavik retired to sit seiza on her bunk and wait. Gryphon typed sporadic notes, muttering to himself and occasionally mussing his already-mussed hair or rasping a thumb across his unshaven chin, for the better part of half an hour, then sat back with a sigh, collected himself, and turned to face her. His eyes glinted in the cast-off light from the terminal display, which was the only light source in the room just then, as he grinned at her.
"Sorry," he said, a bit more coherently. "I had to get that down before it all drained out of my head. Computer, what time is it?"
The computer chirped and replied, "It's 2:39 in the oh my God, what are we doing up this latening."
Gryphon frowned. "Damn. Too early. Or too late, depending on your point of view."
Saavik arched an eyebrow. "For what?"
"To start recruiting. I need a bridge crew. And an engineer. People I can trust. Everybody from the Heist Team who hasn't graduated, that'll do for a start. Hmm. Johnny might still be up. Computer, locate Cadet Harriman."
"Cadet Harriman is in the library," the computer replied.
"Well, that figures," said Gryphon. "Get me a com." A pause; a chirp; then John Harriman's slightly puzzled voice saying hello. "Johnny! I need you over here on the double."
"At quarter of three in the morning?" Harriman replied, sounding more puzzled than annoyed.
"Not a moment to be lost," Gryphon replied cheerfully. "Is Preston with you? Bring him. And grab Gaila if you see her along the way."
"... Okay, I'm on my way. This'd better be good, Ben."
"You'll like it. I promise. See you in a few, Johnny." Gryphon commed off, then called for the room's lights at two-thirds intensity.
Then, after regarding his still-quizzical roommate for a few judicious moments, he said, "You should probably get dressed. I mean, I'm used to it, but you know what a delicate boy Pete is."
Saavik blinked, went slightly green, and then rose to go to the closet.
By the time Harriman arrived, with both Peter Preston and Gaila in tow, Gryphon and Saavik were dressed and waiting with a pot of tea brewing.
"Okay, we're here," said Harriman once the door closed behind them. "What's this about?"
Gryphon grinned. "I'm putting the band back together," he said. "We've got a job to do before we all get out of here. We'll need a couple more people to make it work, but for now the five of us can get started planning."
Preston looked confused. "Job, what job? I have to report aboard Enterprise by 1730 tomorrow... "
"As do I," Saavik put in.
"... and you're going to Challenger the day after," Preston finished.
"That's okay. We'll be finished by noon. It'll mean prepping all night and a lot of running around once campus wakes up again, but it'll be worth it. We'll be famous. This place will never forget our names. If it works."
"If what works?" Gaila asked.
Gryphon's grin became broader and more conspiratorial.
"We're gonna win the Kobayashi Maru," he said.
Harriman nearly choked on his tea.
Gaila slapped her forehead. "Oh, for - you dragged us down here for that?"
Harriman regained control of his breathing and added, "That's not exactly a new trick, Ben."
Gryphon shook his head. "No, no, don't misunderstand me. I don't mean I got a copy of KIRK-KM.SIM. That's the beauty of it. That's what'll make us all famous." He leaned forward slightly in his seat, looking Harriman in the eyes with a sparkle in his own, and said in a low, confidential tone, "We're not going to cheat."
"... How can we win the Kobayashi Maru without cheating? It's designed to be impossible," Preston argued.
"Not quite. It's designed to be unwinnable, but it does still adhere to certain parameters. The enemy units, for instance, are finite. It's not like one of those early video games that just kept getting harder and harder until you died. But here's the thing. It was designed by people - very talented, very balls-nasty people, but people - who are most familiar with the Starfleet doctrines and tactics that the students who take it will have been taught here.
"But I've been turning it over and over in my head since it was my turn in the barrel. I've only taken it the once myself, but I crewed for almost everyone else in our class who took it, so I've been through it almost a hundred times. And tonight, it suddenly hit me that it's just like the time the Kilrathi tried to corner us in Delta Reticuli, out in back of the Jörmundgandr Nebula, and you have no idea what I'm talking about, but that's okay!" he finished with a broad smile around at their baffled faces.
He gave them a decent pause to interject, but when no one did he became serious again and went on, "It's not going to be easy. Everybody on the crew is going to have to know exactly what part to play. The only way it's ever going to work is if every last one of us knows his or her shit to the nth degree - and everybody else's, too. We have to be a machine."
Harriman slowly smiled. "Like the Heist," he said.
Gryphon nodded, his own smile breaking out again. "Exactly like the Heist. Except we won't have to worry about getting caught, because we'll be breaking their expectations - but not any rules."
"We're going to need at least three more people," said Gaila. "I bet we could get Linc to take Medical."
Harriman nodded. "She's good. And we can count on her. We're gonna need a weapons officer, though."
Gryphon nodded. "That's going to be one of the most important jobs, too. I was thinking Gaila for that at first," he said, looking to the young Orion woman, "but the more I think about it, the more I think I want you at Navigation."
Gaila nodded, her scarlet curls bobbing. "You figure on needing a quick getaway?"
"It's essential," Gryphon confirmed, nodding. "And our best chance at it is to have the law firm of Harriman & Gaila at the Bar."
"What about Winston?" Harriman asked.
Gryphon snapped his fingers. "Yes," he said. "He's exactly what we need at Tactical."
"What does that leave?" asked Preston.
"Well... I've got to have you in the 'engine room,' obviously... so what we need is a transporter operator. That's another big one, though. Whoever it is has to be a seriously hot hand with a transporter console. And steady."
For the first time since she echoed Preston's protest at the start of the briefing, Saavik spoke, and when she did, it was with a very faint tone of satisfaction. Of all the cadets at the Academy, it was likely that only those in the room with her knew her well enough to detect it at all, but to them, it spoke volumes as she said calmly,
"I know just the person. Leave it to me."
"Okay," said Gryphon. "I'll get a conference room in the sim center reserved for first thing tomorrow - uh, this - morning, and the bridge sim for 1100 hours. Then I'll start refining the plan and putting together briefing materials for everyone. We need to do this up by the book. We'll be making history, after all, and history needs proper documentation. The rest of you, get some rack time." He grinned. "Briefing starts at 0900. Dismissed!"
Harriman gave him a sketchy salute. "Aye aye, Captain," he said wryly.
Gryphon saw the three to the door, then turned back to see Saavik standing by their bunk stack, regarding him with Vulcan inscrutability.
"What?" he asked.
She shook her head, concealing an infinitesimal smile. "So human," she said, and then, before pulling off her uniform tunic and returning to bed, "Lights: out."
Smiling to himself, Gryphon went back to his desk, tilted the display so its glow wouldn't fall on the lower bunk, and set quietly to work refining his plan.
Briefing Room C
Starfleet Academy Simulation Center
The actual briefing took only the first 30 minutes or so of the team's allotted time. The rest was taken up in quiet reflection. Each team member had to memorize his or her part in the operation before leaving the room, since taking personal datapads and so forth into the simulation wasn't permitted.
Finally, at a quarter to eleven, Cadet Hutchins put down his pad, stood up, and quietly surveyed the other cadets arranged around the long table before speaking.
"Okay, gang, it's about that time," he said. "You've all had the chance to absorb the plan. What do you think? Have we got a shot?"
John Harriman was the first to speak. "A lot of things have to go our way," he said, tapping his fingertips against the datapad in front of him. "More things than I'm comfortable counting on... but I think it's worth a try."
"What have we got to lose?" Gaila asked rhetorically.
Gryphon looked around at the others, who all sat looking back at him with an air of calm expectation. Businesslike, he tapped open a crew roster on his datapad and said, "All right, let's go around the horn. Medical."
Heather Lincoln, MD, finished running a diagnostic on her medical tricorder, replaced it in its case, and smiled. "Ready and willing."
Peter Preston regarded the head of the reversible spanner he'd brought with him for a few seconds, then put it down on the table with a rather final thump and said, "Give the word, Captain."
The next member of the team at the table was the only one who wasn't a senior; she was a second-year cadet, years away from having to face the Kobayashi Maru test herself, and had joined based on Saavik's recommendation. Gryphon had been so busy working up the briefing materials that he hadn't even had time to be introduced before the meeting started. Now, regarding her thoughtfully, he saw a slight, fine-boned young human with curly blonde hair and high Slavic cheekbones. She looked curiously familiar, so much so that instead of stating her role in the sim team, Gryphon said,
"I'm sorry, Cadet, but - do I know you? I could swear I do."
She smiled, her eyes twinkling mischievously, and replied in a light Russian accent, "We have met, yes, but I'm not surprised you don't recognize me. It's been a long time. I am Cadet Second Class Valentina Andre'evna Chekova."
Gryphon stared at her for a couple of seconds, then staggered back a half-step and dropped into his chair, putting a hand to his forehead as if he'd just been struck with an ice cream headache. "... Gyah! I keep forgetting I'm OLD." Then, shaking his head with a smile, he went on, "Anyway, welcome to the team, Cadet Chekova. Are you ready to be our beam wrangler?"
"Count on me, sir."
Still smiling, Gryphon turned to the shaven-headed young black man next to her. "Tactical?"
Winston Zeddemore grinned. "Ready."
Gaila nodded. "Ready, sir."
Harriman tapped his fingers against his datapad for a few moments, then nodded. "Ready as I'll ever be."
Saavik arched an eyebrow. "The usefulness of a science officer in the Kobayashi Maru scenario is limited; but it will be interesting to see your stratagem unfold."
Gryphon stood up, squared his uniform jacket, and nodded.
"Okay, then. Let's make history!"
They left the conference room; Gryphon was the last one out. As they entered the bridge simulator, they found one person already there, waiting at the communications console. When Gryphon entered, he got to his feet with a smile: a tall, gray-haired man with a full admiral's star on his shoulder strap, the chest of his scarlet tunic covered in medals, term-of-service hash marks reaching almost to his elbow.
"Admiral Pike!" Gryphon blurted, snapping to attention and saluting as soon as he recognized the man. "What are you doing here, sir?"
Christopher Pike returned the salute, then shook the apparently-younger man's hand with a smile. "I volunteered to be your faculty comms proctor," he said. "You're up to something, mister, and by God I want to be here to see it."
"No funny business here, sir, I promise. But you're more than welcome to stay and confirm it. Did you bring Porthos?"
"Of course," said Pike, gesturing to a tricolored beagle who sat expectantly next to the captain's chair. "That dog's a damn fool for simulator runs. He'd come to 'em all if I'd let him."
Gryphon smiled, ruffling the dog's ears, and took his station for the sim. "Maybe he just wants to get back into space," he opined.
Pike chuckled. "Maybe so. I know I do." Seating himself at the comms console, the admiral fitted an earpiece to his right ear, then said briskly, "Communications manned and ready, Captain."
With a slightly self-conscious cough, Gryphon inclined his head and replied, "Thank you, Mr. Pike. Okay, Control... begin simulation."
"Affirmative," a slightly metallic voice, the voice of the unseen simulation controller, announced on the overhead. "Simulation KM-23 commencing in five. Four. Three. Two. Simulation begins... now."
And just like that, the bridge came alive around Gryphon and his crew. In an instant it ceased to be a slightly battered, rather dimly lit approximation of a starship's control room and became the bridge of the USS Enterprise, cruising in the vicinity of Gamma Hydra, just an ordinary day in an ordinary five-year mission.
Until the distress call.
When the call came in, cadets generally did one of two things. They either made straight for the Kobayashi Maru's reported position, or they bore away from the Neutral Zone entirely, as if evading a source of dangerous radiation.
Gryphon did neither. Calmly, as if he did this kind of thing every day, he ordered a conic-section intercept course that would bring the Enterprise as close as possible to the freighter's position outside the Neutral Zone's boundary - making for the shortest possible dash across the disputed territory.
"Mr. Pike," he said when they were in position just outside the line, "see if you can raise the Kobayashi."
Pike worked the board. "Affirmative, Captain. Voice link established."
"Kobayashi Maru, this is Captain Benjamin D. Hutchins of the Federation starship Enterprise. We've received your distress call and are preparing to assist. How many survivors do you have?"
"Thank God, sir. Marcus Darawyd here, captain of the Kobayashi Maru. We have thirteen souls aboard, four injured, none seriously. Our full complement, no fatalities."
"Good to hear, Captain Darawyd. Your ship is a Class Three neutronic fuel carrier, correct? How much cargo aboard?"
"We're fully loaded. Ninety-seven kilotons."
"Mostly in the aft tank for trim?"
"... That's right," said Darawyd; the simulation supervisor portraying him played him as surprised that a Starfleet officer would know that, as indeed the SIMSUP himself was that a cadet did.
"Excellent news. If you would be so good as to gather as far forward as you can - the fo'c'sle orlop would be ideal - and stay together, we'll get you out of there as soon as possible."
"Uh... roger that, Captain. Forecastle orlop it is."
"If you'll excuse me for a few minutes, sir, I'm going to be a little bit busy securing the area so that I can get you out. We'll speak again shortly. Enterprise out." Once the channel was shut, he went on in a much less conversational voice, "All right, here we go. Red alert, raise shields. Weapons to standby charge. All hands to battle stations. Mr. Harriman, take us in. Impulse power, all ahead one-half. Stay on the conic, please, I want to be in reverse orientation when we reach the freighter."
"All ahead one-half, stay on the conic, aye aye, sir." All of Harriman's customary nervous habits vanished at times like this; his nervousness was social, not professional. With the helm of the faux Enterprise handling like the real one under his hands, he guided the ship across the forbidden boundary, setting off alarms at once.
/* Hans Zimmer
"Wheel of Fortune"
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) */
"Shields at full power," Zeddemore reported. "All decks report hands at battle stations. Phaser banks charged and standing by. Torpedo bay loaded and standing by."
"Conn, Sensors," said Saavik dispassionately, head bent over her objective scanner. "New contacts bearing one five three mark four five. Klingon warships, k't'Inga-class, I make it a squadron of four, on intercept course."
"Right on schedule," Gryphon said, not without satisfaction. "Give me a tactical plot." The forward viewer changed to a wireframe map of the area, centered on Enterprise and showing the projected course, the freighter, and the approaching Klingons.
"Mr. Harriman, reverse course. Mr. Pike, are the Klingons transmitting a challenge?"
"Negative, sir," Pike replied crisply, playing his part to perfection. "Jamming on all frequencies."
"Well, for what little it's worth, we might as well make the gesture. See if you can get a laser lock on their lead cruiser, please, and let's put it on record that this is a rescue mission."
Pike suppressed a grin. Nobody ever thought of that. "Aye aye, sir." He waited for the SIMSUP acting as comms referee to rule on the attempt in his earpiece, then reported, "Message away, Captain."
"Negative, sir. I confirm successful transmission. They heard us, they just don't care."
Gryphon nodded. "Very well," he said. "Helm, make your course zero four two mark seven five. All ahead three-fourths. Sickbay, this is the captain. Prepare to receive wounded."
"Aye aye, sir," Dr. Lincoln's voice replied from his armrest. The simulator's sickbay was actually adjacent to the bridge (as were the "engine room" and "transporter room"), but they were all so into it now that the doctor sincerely felt like she was responding from the depths of the ship.
"Conn, Sensors," Saavik put in. She had developed the habit of identifying her station whenever she spoke in a tactical situation, at least in simulations with Gryphon, because it was out of the captain's normal line of sight. She wasn't sure how it would play with real captains in the real world, but it worked quite well for the two of them in Academy sims, and a few of the proctors had remarked on it, none negatively. At worst, it was seen as a mild eccentricity, as was the naval-adapted way she phrased her next declaration:
"Klingon torpedoes in the æther. Active and homing, range three thousand. My count is four."
"Tactical, deploy countermeasures. Helm, all ahead full. Come to larboard 75 degrees mark four."
On the tactical plot, the Klingons' first spread of torpedoes missed, confounded by the countermeasures and the sudden radical course change. The Enterprise's inertial dampers groaned audibly as they countered acceleration forces that would have turned her crew into paste, allowing just enough through to keep everyone informed that the ship was indeed moving, as the Klingons altered course to follow. In the back of his mind, Gryphon remarked on the effectiveness of the simulator rig in conveying these sensations; the rest of him was buying in too thoroughly to countenance such thoughts.
This was by design, and in fact he had stressed its importance during the briefing. He and his crew had to buy in, had to take the sim utterly seriously. If they didn't - if they allowed themselves to remember that it was just a simulation, after all, and not one that even counted toward their grade point averages - they wouldn't have the razor-sharp edge required to make this thing work.
To reinforce the illusion, there were several "enlisted personnel" scattered around the bridge at secondary duty stations. Their consoles didn't actually do anything - their functions were handled by the simulator itself; they were really test proctors, like the faculty comm officer, and their job was to elicit elaboration on the commander's mindset and/or tactical decisions from inside the test's fourth wall, as it were.
One of them, a master chief petty officer and as such entitled to a little familiarity in a crisis, turned to Gryphon from an engineering backup station off to the conn's left and asked in a low voice, "Sir, what are you doing?"
Gryphon smiled tightly. "The Kobayashi Maru hit a mine. Let's see if the Klingons are keeping that in mind."
"Conn, Sensors," Saavik interjected. "Gravitic pulse, bearing one eight nine mark two four, range two thousand. The lead Klingon has lost power and is drifting."
"Guess they didn't," Gryphon observed with faint satisfaction.
The "master chief" blinked. "... You suckered them into their own minefield?"
Gryphon nodded, all his attention on the viewer. "Guess I did."
The other three Klingons scattered as their captains suddenly remembered the minefield. Gryphon ordered another course change to keep the Enterprise out of the mess herself. This was one of the delicate parts of his strategy. He knew that his previous evolutions had put him in a position that would require him to accept battle now if he wasn't to abandon his tactical command of the freighter - to give up what old sailing captains called the weathergage, putting himself so far out of position that the Klingons could afford to break off from pursuing him to destroy the Kobayashi Maru.
Indeed, it looked like one of them, after standing clear of the mines, had that idea anyway. The Klingon vessel, designated Bandit Bravo on the tactical plot, turned toward the freighter and increased speed.
"Helm, intercept course on Bandit Bravo. Increase to flank. Tactical, get me a firing solution."
"Solution computed and locked, sir."
"Tubes one and two: Fire as they bear."
Zeddemore worked his controls and bent his gaze to the torpedo data computer. "Fire one. Fire two. Torpedoes away, active and homing. Klingon countermeasures... ineffective." Turning a grin to his captain, he added, "Scratch Bandit Bravo."
"Confirmed," Saavik put in. "Target Bandit Bravo has exploded. I read a massive gamma flux - it appears their warp core was breached."
"Good shooting, Mr. Zeddemore."
"Thank you, sir."
"Conn, Sensors. Second Klingon squadron on intercept course, bearing two-five-seven mark two-four."
"They're taking the bait, Captain," said Gaila, sounding exhilarated.
"So far, so good," Gryphon agreed tightly. He glanced at his antique wristwatch. The Enterprise shuddered as her shields shed Klingon disruptor fire. The battle with the first squadron was entering its second, more brutal phase, moving from the chesslike deliberation of long-range torpedo fire to the knife fight of phaser-disruptor dueling.
Gryphon knew the Enterprise was going to take a beating in this phase. It was inevitable in this kind of fight. He was confident, though, that with Zeddemore at the guns and Harriman at the helm, backed up by Gaila and the navigator station's helm-assist controls, they'd give better than they got. On paper, a Constitution-class cruiser was about an even match for a single k't'Inga, but Klingon crews were mostly conscripts, poorly trained and even more poorly motivated, led by officers who were often more wary of each other than the enemy. The simulation was programmed with this realistic bias - had it not been, this stratagem wouldn't even have been worth attempting.
Christopher Pike had seen some tight crews fight some well-run starships with damned fine efficiency in the course of his long, much-decorated career in Starfleet. Ben Hutchins's scratch crew handled the simulated Enterprise up there with the best of them. Of course, he knew that they'd had a long and intensive briefing before the sim began, but in absolute terms, how much could that make up for the lack of practice and real-world experience?
He'd also seen cadet crews start out good, but come unglued when the hard knocks started coming and the simulator started throwing sparks and pitching around. Not this crew. They held to their posts, ignored the fireworks, and kept right on working. The only break in any of their routines, Pike was amused to see, was when Gryphon leaned down from his conn to make Porthos's harness fast to a ringbolt in the deck. (As for the official mascot of Starfleet, he was a veteran of many actual space battles. A little jumping around in the simulator wasn't going to rile him up.)
"Conn, engine room," Peter Preston's voice declared from Gryphon's chair arm after a particularly hard bump.
"Conn, aye," said Gryphon.
"That last whack may have sprung our larboard nacelle pylon," Preston reported. "I don't like the looks of the main conduit's readings. Request permission to cut portside phaser power while I get a team up there to lock it down."
Gryphon glanced at Zeddemore, who nodded and started making adjustments to his panel on the fly. "Go for it, Pete," said Gryphon. "But don't keep 'em dark too long." He frowned for a second as a notion occurred to him. "Mr. Preston."
"Still here, sir."
"Vent some waste plasma from the larboard ramscoop. Let's see if we can make them think they've hit us harder than they have."
"Aye aye, Captain," Preston replied, the approving smile evident in his voice.
"Helm, wounded bird," Gryphon ordered. "Favor to port."
"Wounded bird to port it is," Harriman replied, plying his controls.
Gryphon surveyed the tactical situation. The first Klingon squadron was pretty much out of the fight altogether at this point - two ships crippled, one destroyed, and one with its drive so badly hobbled that, though it could still shoot, the nucleus of battle had left it behind and it was now mostly out of range. The second squadron was also a bit tattered, though that was in part due to a hideous fast-maneuver collision between two of its members that had left one gutted and the other dark.
About time the SIMSUPs let them have a little bad luck, thought Gryphon; then he chastised himself and reached down to touch the little wooden charm hanging from Porthos's collar.
Another of the Klingons misstepped a moment later; drawn in by the Enterprise's wounded bird ruse, he crossed straight into the forward torpedo bay's arc of fire and lost one of his engine nacelles for his trouble.
Gryphon glanced at his watch again, the tension mounting on his face. They were approaching the critical point, the fulcrum of his whole strategy. The next 60 seconds would see him either vindicated or made a fool of in front of Admiral Pike and everybody.
"Conn, Sensors. Nine new contacts bearing three four three mark four five. I make it two full k't'Inga squadrons and a battleship, type L-13. Time to torpedo range, 30 seconds... mark."
"Captain, Kobayashi Maru is hailing," said Pike, just to give Gryphon something more to think about. "Captain Darawyd's getting nervous."
"Please tell him to remain calm and stay exactly where I told him, Mr. Pike, unless he'd rather try to catch a lift home from the Klingons."
Pike again suppressed a smile. "Aye aye, sir."
Gryphon gave Harriman the instructions for his next evolution, triple-checked both his wristwatch and the tactical plot, and then settled back in his conn, one hand on the intercom panel, the other on Porthos's head.
/* Michael Giacchino
"Enterprising Young Men"
Star Trek (2009) */
"Gaila, you ready?"
"Course plotted and locked in," Gaila replied briskly, her fingers flying over her navigation console. "My board is green."
"Tactical ready," Zeddemore reported at once.
Gryphon thumbed the intercom open. "Engine room, conn. What've you got for me, Pete?"
"Pylon secured, Captain. Ready to restore full power."
"Bypass larboard phaser interlock; stand by on nacelle restart."
"Ready, aye ready, sir."
As Gryphon had hoped, the Klingons (or, well, the SIMSUPs) were confused when the Enterprise's full phaser banks reactivated without the accompanying glow of power restored to the larboard engine nacelle. They hesitated, changing course, and at least one of them passed up a golden opportunity to hit the Kobayashi Maru, back toward which the Enterprise was now speeding at flank impulse power.
Now for the hard part.
"Transporter room, conn," said Gryphon. "On my mark, you will have fifteen seconds to lock on and recover the crew of the Kobayashi Maru."
"Ready, Keptin!" Chekova's high voice piped back at once.
"Conn, Sensors. Klingon torpedoes in the æther. Full spread from the incoming flotilla, active and homing."
"Countermeasures exhausted, Captain," Zeddemore reported, though he knew it wasn't news.
"Impact in 30 seconds," said Saavik. "Twenty-nine."
"Gaila, let's have visual, I don't need to look at all those torpedo icons," said Gryphon. The main viewer switched to a crazily rolling starfield centered on the rapidly approaching hulk of the Kobayashi Maru.
Now for the crazy part.
"Engine room, conn. Restore all power."
There was a deep, reverberating CLUNK throughout the Enterprise's spaceframe as all the interlocks, massive, heavy things reminiscent of nothing so much as early-twentieth-century electric relays, slammed back into battery.
"Full power restored!" Preston reported, unable to keep the triumph from his voice.
"Well done, Mr. Preston. Transporter room! Stand by!"
"Transporter room, aye!"
"Mr. Zeddemore - shields down!"
Without hesitation, Winston Zeddemore complied with what was, on the face of it, the craziest, stupidest order he was ever likely to be given in his entire Starfleet career. He dropped the Enterprise's shields under heavy fire, with a dozen Klingon torpedoes active and homing and no countermeasures left in the shop.
"Transporter room!" Gryphon bellowed in the kind of voice a sailing ship's captain would use to reach the foremast top. "Mark!"
"Torpedo impact in 20 seconds," said Saavik. "Nineteen."
Now all Gryphon could do was hang on grimly and give Chekova all the time he could. The seconds ticked by like hours, his adrenaline pumping, his mind distorting time like a wormhole, as Saavik counted mechanically, remorselessly down to their destruction.
"Eight," said Saavik. "Seven."
The Enterprise bucked, an unmanned tertiary environment console blowing out next to the main viewer, as a disruptor volley crashed against her unshielded hull just aft of the bridge.
"Hull breach on Deck 2, sectors seven and eight," Gaila reported. "Pressure fields are holding."
"Conn, transporter room," came Chekova's breathless voice. "Transport complete!"
Gryphon's tense face split into a huge grin, though they weren't quite out of the woods yet. "Damn well done, Valya! Tactical, raise shields! Helm, make your course three five mark one eight five! Tactical, get me a firing solution on target Kilo Mike for tube three!"
"Shields up, solution computed and locked!"
"Three," said Saavik.
"Match bearings and shoot!" Gryphon roared.
"Fire three!" Zeddemore replied, slamming his finger down on the key. A photon torpedo blasted from Enterprise's single aft torpedo tube, streaking away from the racing ship at a relative speed that was nearly luminal. "Torpedo away!"
"I hope to Christ this works!" Gryphon said to himself; then, back in his quarterdeck bellow: "Okay, Johnny - get us out of here!"
Harriman plied his console. "Main drive engaged!"
The starfield ahead hesitated, multichromated, and then burst into rainbow motion as the Enterprise jumped to warp speed.
Around the now-abandoned wreck of the Kobayashi Maru, the Klingon ships swarmed like maddened hornets, some of them coming about for pursuit. The new arrivals' initial torpedo spread fireworked harmlessly in the subspace eddies left in the vanishing Federation starship's wake.
Enterprise's parting torpedo detonated too, but not quite so harmlessly.
It struck the Kobayashi Maru's aft holding tank.
The one containing 97,000 metric tons of neutronic fuel.
The fireball filled the sky and removed any thoughts of further pursuit from the minds of the surviving Klingon captains.
"We have cleared the Neutral Zone," Saavik reported calmly a few seconds later. "Negative pursuit. My scope is clear."
Cadets and "enlisted" proctors alike looked around at each other in a startled silence for a few minutes, their nerves still vibrating from the crescendo of tension they'd all just endured.
Gryphon spoke first, thumbing his intercom panel. "Sickbay, conn. What's the butcher's bill?"
"Seventeen injured, two seriously," Dr. Lincoln's voice replied at once. "All stable. If we get Jaworsky and S'taah to a starbase within 24 hours, they'll be okay. The freighter's crew are doing fine."
"Thank you. Carry on."
"Aye aye, Captain."
Gryphon closed the channel, sat back, patted Porthos, and looked around at his bridge. Everyone there was looking back at him as it sank in.
Gaila was the first to say it out loud:
"We... we did it."
"Hot damn!" Winston Zeddemore burst out. "We had the tools, we had the talent!"
As the cheering began, the voice of SIMCON shattered the fourth wall: "End simulation."
The consoles went dark, the forward viewer parted, and the uniformed figures of the SIMSUPs peered in. A moment later, Lincoln, Preston, and Chekova edged around them, coming in from the other modules, to join their victorious crewmates on the "bridge".
The SIMSUPs stood around in something like awe, and Admiral Pike with a beaming air of satisfaction, as the cadets congratulated each other with high-fives, hugs, and other jubilant disregards of military decorum - until a harsh voice suddenly cut in:
At this, everyone (apart from Porthos and Pike) snapped to attention. Almost elbowing his way around the SIMSUPs, the lean, hard-faced figure of Admiral Roger Cartwright strode into the bridge simulator, making straight for the man standing by the conn.
"All right, mister, explanation," he snapped. "How in the hell did you do that? Did Kirk help you come up with some updated version of his damned patch? I suppose you think you're clever."
Gryphon blinked. "Uh... " He shrugged, conceding the point. "Well, Admiral, I suppose I do think I'm clever, but, uh, no, Admiral Kirk didn't have anything to do with it. If you check with SIMCON and the rest of the crew, you'll find that the simulation software has not been altered." As he spoke, Saavik stepped up behind and to the right of the conn, ready to offer her own evidence if need be.
Cartwright ignored her, staying focused on Gryphon. "Well, if it hasn't been altered, then - "
Gryphon couldn't keep the grin off his face. "That's right, sir. We whipped 'em the old-fashioned way - by being better spacers than they were."
Cartwright hesitated, as if building up steam for an explosion - only to have it dissipate harmlessly as Christopher Pike stepped around the conn and put a hand on his arm.
"Rog," he said, "I was here the whole time. These kids didn't do anything but fight the sharpest damn action I've seen since the Tioji Drift. I'll certify that to an Inquiry Board if you insist." He leaned closer to his fellow admiral and added in an undertone, "But I really hope you don't."
Cartwright stood looking from Gryphon to Saavik to Pike and back to Gryphon, trying to come up with something suitably scathing. In the end, though, all he could come up with was a low growl of, "... knew enrolling you was a mistake," and then he pivoted on his heel and stormed away.
"Well, I guess I'd better steer clear of Admiral Cartwright for a while," Gryphon observed philosophically. "On the other hand, I try to make that a general policy anyway, so."
Pike smiled. "Well, let me be the first to say it, then, since he couldn't be bothered - that was damn fine work. All of you," he said, raising his voice to take in the whole cadet group. "I'd take my ship into a fight with any of you, any day."
Caught up in the moment, one of the SIMSUPs - the one who had played the Kobayashi Maru's captain - cried, "Three cheers for Captain Hutchins and his crew! Hip hip!"
"HOORAY!" the rest of the SIMSUPs chorused, and twice more, before dispersing back to their duties.
Pike unclipped Porthos's harness from the deck ring. "C'mon, Porthos," he said. "Let's leave these kids to their celebration. They've earned it," he added with a wink to Saavik, who looked entirely uncertain how or whether to respond.
"Good boy, Porthos," said Gryphon, scruffling the dog in parting. "You brought us luck!"
"Who's for lunch at the Lucky Dragon?" Zeddemore asked. "I'm buyin'!"
"I'll catch up with you guys there," said Gryphon, waving, as the others headed for the door. "I need to file my sim reports. Shouldn't take but a minute."
"I will wait on the Quad," Saavik remarked with one of her non-smiles as she left.
Gryphon turned back to the conn to retrieve his log module and saw the stocky figure of SIMCON, Commander Hardin, standing by the cosmocompass and regarding him thoughtfully. Retired from front-line service after suffering serious injury in battle with the very Klingons he used as simulated enemies, Hardin was notoriously difficult to please - but today he looked oddly approachable, so Gryphon approached him.
"Commander," said Gryphon. "Thanks for a straight run today. There were a million places where you guys could have tripped us up if you'd wanted to."
Hardin smiled. "When I figured out what you were trying to do, I didn't have the heart to cheat," he said. "What the hell. You weren't." He held out his hand. "I don't normally shake hands with mids after sim runs, but I'll make an exception this time. You, sir, are a spaceman."
"Thanks, Commander," said Gryphon, shaking his hand. "That means a lot, coming from you."
He was halfway across the Quad when Saavik fell into step beside him. "I have rarely seen Admiral Pike so... gleeful," she said.
The crew dined in huge style at their favorite Chinatown eatery, standing rounds of dim sum for the whole place and hailing each other as indispensable to the project's success, though when it came right down to it, they all agreed that Valya Chekova was the day's real all-star. Then they returned to the Academy and the sort of welcome usually reserved for victorious sports teams, as the word of what they had done had spread to the far corners of the campus while they ate.
And the next day, they were scattered: Gryphon to Challenger, others to the real Enterprise, or to other duty stations, or final touch-up coursework, or home for the summer holidays. Within a few weeks, one of them would be dead, killed in a real battle aboard a real starship.
The eight members of the cadet crew that beat the Kobayashi Maru fair and square would never again all be together at once.
But on the wall of the Simulation Center, they are together forever, around a corner table at the Lucky Dragon.
"The Final Simulation" - a Split Infinitive mini-story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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