Pairings/Characters: Pike/Spock, Kirk, Barnett
Summary: The Kobayashi Maru hearing. End of Part II.
Notes: Please visit the Master Post for navigation/pairings/summary.
It should not have come as a surprise to him or as a disappointment, and yet he’s undeniably experiencing both.
“Well, there you go,” Pike says, rubbing at his eyes tiredly. “That’s what you get for playing devil’s advocate.” Spock looks at him, and the captain shrugs mildly. “I guess I’m at fault, too. I’ve given him too many liberties. Should have seen it coming.”
Spock stares at the technical transcript of Cadet Kirk’s third Kobayashi Maru, as if hoping it will reveal something different after two hours of scrupulous examination. But it’s still the same unsatisfying truth.
“He cheated.” Pike sighs. “You almost look crestfallen, Spock. What were you expecting?”
“I do not know,” Spock says.
He is appalled with what had happened at first. After realizing that Cadet Kirk had beaten the no-win scenario, a sense of strange, incandescent hope kindles within Spock – a hope that he can neither define nor explain. There is hope that perhaps Kirk’s solution will force the Academy board to finally see the point Spock was making four years ago and has been trying to make ever since. But there is also something else, something less rational, something that he can’t quite grasp, but yearns for desperately.
Before he can even ask himself the proper questions, though, the delicate, fragile feeling dies within him as he realizes that no miracle has happened. There is no wondrous epiphany behind Cadet Kirk’s actions – only the discovery that he considers himself too good to be following the same rules as everyone else. Pretty much, in fact, as Gary Mitchell.
“Well, it’s definitely some out-of-the-box thinking,” Pike says with a sigh.
Spock looks at him. He knows how much Pike has invested in James Kirk, so he can’t really begrudge the captain an attempt to find some kind of silver lining on the gloomy horizon.
“Maybe we deserve this,” Pike muses. “The Academy is supposed to be forging raw talents into steel. We can’t pack our dorms with genius level kids and expect them to restrain their intelligence or ambition just because we’re not fast enough to stay ahead of them.”
“Any talent needs to be disciplined before it can unfold its potential,” Spock remarks calmly.
Pike glances sharply at him. “You know, I think there’s such a thing as too much disciplining,” he says, a strange edge in his voice. “Take you, for instance. You were unhappy with the unfair conditions of the test, too, remember?”
“Unhappy is hardly the correct term—” Spock starts, but Pike isn’t listening.
“What was it you said back then? ‘Ultimately, the lesson we are teaching here is that whether they die stoically, controlling their fear, or panicking, letting their fear control them doesn’t matter, because in either case – they still die.’”
“Correct,” Spock says. “However—”
“But where Kirk protested, even at the risk of being expelled, you held your tongue and obeyed.”
Slowly, Spock straightens up even more in his chair, feeling blood threatening to rush to his cheeks.
“I protested legitimately while the matter was still being discussed,” he says, and it’s an unexpected struggle to keep his voice from shaking. “But after my commanding officer had arrived at a decision, I accepted it, despite my personal misgivings, because this is how the chain of command works. Any other course of action is mutiny or anarchy.”
Pike stares at him in bewilderment. “Spock, I didn’t mean to ruffle your feathers. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said what I said. You’re a Vulcan – your culture is all about discipline. For you, order must leave no room for chaos whatsoever. It wasn’t fair to have asked you to understand Kirk’s way of thinking.”
Spock stands up abruptly, incapable of remaining still, remaining here. He doesn’t look at Pike when he speaks, his voice tense yet even.
“Perhaps you were so engrossed in understanding his way of thinking, Captain, that you failed to notice that I am not a typical representative of my culture. I would be grateful if you refrain from making assumptions about what I can and cannot understand. If you will excuse me.”
Spock turns on his heel, heading for the door to Pike’s office where they have been secluded.
“Spock, wait!” Pike springs to his feet swiftly, moving to intercept. “Please.”
Spock stops, feeling a hand close around his elbow. Reluctantly, he turns to face Pike.
“Spock, I’m sorry,” Pike says quietly, looking Spock squarely in the eye, his whole focus entirely on the Vulcan the way it hasn’t been in weeks. “I don’t know what I said to offend you, but whatever it is, forgive me. Please, don’t walk out on me like that. I’m sorry I hurt you.”
“I am neither offended nor hurt, Captain.”
“Liar.” Pike takes Spock’s hand in both of his own and kisses the knuckles gently. “I’m sorry.”
Immediately, Spock feels ashamed of his outburst. “I am the one who should apologize,” he says softly, leaning in and pressing his forehead against Pike’s. “This whole situation is unsettling. I reacted... inappropriately.”
Pike takes Spock’s face in his hands; then, pausing briefly as if to ask permission, he kisses him soundly on the mouth. Spock remains still for a moment, strangely hesitant, then relents, parting his lips and returning the kiss just as gently.
“It feels wrong to fight with you,” Pike whispers as they separate. “Everything I say to you lately is wrong.”
“This is hardly the first difference of opinion we have had,” Spock says quietly.
“This is different.” Pike pulls away slightly to look at him. “I feel like I’m losing you. Like there’s a whole new chapter in your book that I somehow missed. You’re slipping through my fingers like sand, and all I can do is watch.”
Spock doesn’t have an answer to that, so he simply leans against the wall, extending a silent invitation. A moment later, Pike sighs and moves closer again, pressing against him. They remain motionless for a while, holding each other, breathing.
“There’ll be a hearing,” Pike says, even as Spock turns him over and starts massaging his tired shoulders gently. “And most likely a vote.”
“I am not a member of the Academy board,” Spock reminds him, working on the tense muscles.
“I am,” Pike lets out, moaning softly as Spock locates a particularly tight knot. “I’m going to support him, should it come to that. I don’t want you to take it personally.”
“Then I will not,” Spock assures him. He feels a tiny stab of betrayal, but doesn’t allow himself to dwell upon it. After all, it’s hardly logical.
He thinks about the enormous effort he had put into creating the test. It is the most complex program Spock has written to date. Knowing that some of the most qualified and brilliant Command track cadets will attack it with all their formidable determination and intellect year after year, Spock had to think of every tactical scenario, anticipate every move, every combination of maneuvers, every unexpected order, every unorthodox solution, every flight of inspiration and every whim. Each possibility created a fork of dozens of other possibilities, intertwining, juxtaposing, clashing. He had to foresee them all, calculate every eventuality. He had to think of everything, which was impossible, but which he had done.
He had created a perfect Gordian Knot. And like an insolent and arrogant Alexander, impatient to conquer the world, James Kirk had sliced it with a sharp blade in one swift motion.
Spock finds it fortunate that he does not believe in the concept of destiny.
“This session has been called to resolve a troubling matter. James T. Kirk, step forward.”
Spock watches Cadet Kirk walking down the steps briskly, radiating tension. He assumes an at-ease pose behind a lectern, but he looks as ill at ease, as if the weight of several hundred gazes fixed on him is exerting real pressure.
Spock frowns slightly. No apples? He expected Kirk to be as flamboyant and rowdy as he had been at the simulator, telling his crew not to worry about Klingon warbirds. Instead, Kirk’s wearing an air of a man who has been unfairly judged and knows that nothing he says will change that decision. A defiant convict.
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky...*
“...Is there anything you care to say before we begin, sir?” Admiral Barnett’s voice brings Spock out of his poetic reverie.
“Yes. I believe I have the right to face my accuser directly.”
It’s not the first time Spock has heard Kirk’s voice, but this time it’s different. Kirk sounds calm, but it’s graveyard calmness. He is prepared to defend himself but doesn’t believe he can sway the situation with his argument. Rather, he is merely curious, but even his curiosity bears the sheen of defeated tiredness.
Spock is struck by the dichotomy revealed by the man he sees. He can’t recognize the self-assured, devil-may-care rebel from the Kobayashi Maru simulator in this quiet, reserved person who has woken up this morning already knowing he is going to be beaten today. Spock is at a loss of how to explain the appalling difference. If not for his familiarity with Cadet Kirk’s appearance, he could think he was facing two entirely different men.
Spock straightens up automatically and gets to his feet. He ignores Kirk’s gaze as the cadet turns to look at him, but feels it all the same.
“Step forward, please,” Admiral Barnett says. Spock obliges. “This is Commander Spock. He is one of our most distinguished graduates. He’s programmed the Kobayashi Maru exam for the last four years. Commander.”
Being level with Kirk now, Spock can feel the tension as a palpable, tangible substance, spreading its spell over him as well. He compensates by softening his voice, as if talking to a frightened sehlat. He also finds it easier to address the board, for some reason, rather than look at Kirk directly.
“Cadet Kirk, you somehow managed to install and activate a subroutine to the programming code, thereby changing the conditions of the test.”
He didn’t even hide it, Spock reflects. He meant for us to know exactly what he did.
Kirk looks down for a moment, and utters, with barely a hint of his usual cocky attitude, “Your point being?”
Spock notes the pronounced lack of any official title in Kirk’s response, which clearly is designed to emphasize the cadet’s disrespect toward his accuser. He’s making it personal, and that, Spock knows, is a last resort. This is puzzling to Spock. He feels for a moment as if he had missed the whole event and arrived closer to the end of it. Which, quite clearly, is absurd.
Admiral Barnett must notice Kirk’s lack of respect for protocol as well, because he beats Spock to an answer.
“In academic vernacular, you cheated.”
Kirk stiffens visibly at the harsh response, and the air suddenly fills with dispersed electrical charges.
“Let me ask you something I think we all know the answer to,” he responds, looking down again. “The test itself is a cheat, isn’t it? I mean, you programmed it to be unwinnable.”
“Your argument precludes a possibility of a no-win scenario.”
“I don’t believe in no-win scenarios.”
Spock wants to smack him. Wants to tell him that no one gets to tease death. Not even a human should be this arrogant. He steels himself forcibly.
“Then not only did you violate the rules, you also failed to understand a principle lesson.”
“Please, enlighten me.”
Spock has to struggle to stop himself from reacting to the continuous lack of open respect. It occurs to him that if Pike was in his place, Kirk would never allow himself to behave like this. Spock lets his voice flow downward, relaxing his expression. If Kirk insists on acting like a spoiled child, Spock would oblige him and treat him as such.
“You of all people should know, Cadet Kirk: A captain cannot cheat death.”
Kirk pauses before allowing a verbal reaction, staring down yet again. “I of all people?” he more states than asks, voice quiet, and somehow it’s clear that he already knows where Spock is headed. But Spock is on the roll now.
“Your father, Lieutenant George Kirk, assumed command of his vessel before being killed in action, did he not?”
“I don’t think you liked the fact that I beat your test,” Kirk says, looking up, lashing out with a decidedly personal remark at his opponent.
It’s a sign of weakness, and normally Spock isn’t the one who goes for a literal rather than virtual kill on the gladiators’ arena of verbal sparring. But he can’t stop his blade now, because Kirk’s childish stubbornness rubs him the wrong way, and Kirk. Just. Doesn’t. Understand.
“Furthermore, you have failed to divine the purpose of the test.”
“Enlighten me again.”
“The purpose is to experience fear,” Spock says, and hears his voice ring clearly in the silent hall. “Fear in the face of certain death. To accept that fear and maintain control of oneself and one’s crew.” He softens his speech almost despite himself, seeing the look on Kirk’s face. “This is a quality expected in every Starfleet captain.”
Spock knows he sounds condescending, but he can’t help it. Someone needs to give Kirk a slap on the wrist so that his unfounded optimism and cynicism don’t get him killed on his first deep space mission. Spock’s blood boils with indignation because Kirk scorns death yet he has never faced it. His father’s sacrifice – the only reason for Kirk to be even standing here now – has taught this supercilious young man nothing at all.
You haven’t earned the right to laugh at death, Spock wants to tell him. Who do you think you are to challenge death and be certain you shall prevail whatever the circumstances? Boasting you have no fear? You haven’t earned that right.
But before he can find more appropriate words for it, before Kirk has another chance to prove his case, a messenger approaches Admiral Barnett, and Spock feels instantly that something has gone very, very wrong with all of them.
As soon as the admiral has received the message, he looks up at his audience, eyes wide and mouth set grimly. “We received a distress call from Vulcan.”
Spock’s heart stops, and at this moment, he knows, with a totally unfathomable, almost uncanny certainty, that his life is never going to be the same again.
End of Part II
*From: The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde