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"Enemy cruisers dead ahead!"
"How many, Lieutenant Broxon?"
"Four, Captain. Four."
"Communications, advise them of our situation."
"Aye. Captain Piper, they refuse to receive. Subspace hailing frequencies on reverse scramb -- "
"Two more ships, ma'am, bearing point-zero-zero-five and point-zero-fifty. Entering spherical envelope...Captain, they're firing!"
I already knew it was too late. The critical tactical error resulted in my being hurled backward into my command chair -- not a place I felt worthy of. Only my better-than-average height kept me from sprawling onto the deck. Staggering up, I barked out the first order I could think of. "Fire at will! Helm, evasive action!"
Illya Galina turned to look at me, his faced limned with panic beneath a cap of sweat-caked blond hair. "Helm doesn't respond. Direct...direct hit in -- "
Our main viewscreen glittered with a new blast. A thought later, impact came, taking out the entire port side of the bridge and six bridge personnel with it. My hands shook as I dived forward to the mangled helm, running my fingers over deadened switches, desperate to find even one that would tell me my ship was still with me. The screen dimmed again as the blast dissipated, leaving only the crackling vista of Romulan starships maneuvering for the kill. "Dispatch mayday! Divert helm to auxiliary control."
"Aye -- ma'am, auxiliary cont -- " Communications Officer Page choked, and it was the first time I realized there was smoke billowing from the upper space sensor platform. He recovered and gasped, "Auxiliary cannot connect. Can't override damage to main circuitry."
"Engineering! Damage report." I managed to brush my hair out of my face and vowed it would be the last time I went without a haircut before a voyage. Something within me didn't allow the thought to penetrate that this might be my last voyage. It very well might be, but they were not taking my ship.
The intercom crackled with the comfortingly deep voice of Chief Engineer Silayna. "Impulse drive down. One warp drive nacelle severely damaged, but marginally operable. Shields fading. Forward shields gone entirely. Took two direct hits to main engine room and we're trying to -- "
"Do I have phasers?"
" -- disengage primary pow -- " The transmission snapped and died.
"Silayna! Brian, I need phasers!" I grasped at controls that were hot and sparking, vaulting over the fallen bodies of my bridge crew, and with a stab of horror came the realization that I was alone, alone on the bridge of a starship. My crew was dead or dying. My ship was much the same. I hurdled the forms of people I needed badly now, begging and cajoling the instruments to resurrect themselves enough to save the ship. None would. Even if the main computer was still working, most of the connections had been severed, rendering useless any order I might think of. I shoved Illya's body away, hammering at the subspace frequency override. "Mayday! Mayday! This is Captain Piper, Federation Starship Liberty. We are surrounded by Romulan vessels. Engaging self-destruct mode; repeat, engaging self-destruct -- "
My voice jammed in my throat. As I had bumped the empty chair at the navigational console, I felt the bulge of a communicator at my hip. Evidently I had forgotten to turn it over to the clerk after the last landing party excursion. Funny...that wasn't like me. I didn't like anything that marred my freedom of movement. Pausing only a moment, feeling the smoke sting my eyes when I failed to blink, I caught at the communicator until it fell into my hands and desperately tuned it to computer override, thanking providence that I had bothered to study the nuances of direct tie-in. It was a radical, almost terroristic procedure, frowned upon to a point where hardly anyone knew about it. My own awareness came only from a latent addiction to the short stories of Nal Eiili of Proxima II, which were a series of computer crime mysteries for teenagers. Certainly I had no idea whether such a fictional marriage between auxiliary computer and hand communicator would actually work, and certainly I was going to die trying it.
"Computer! Override tie-in, command authorization code T-Rescue. Emergency!" I waited. There was a muted percussion of clicks beneath the demolished library console. "Implement override. Emergency." My voice cracked.
Another blast took out the defense subsystems monitor. Beyond the mangled station I could see the wing of a Romulan bird of prey gliding past our starboard. I was thrown to my side on the upper walkway, but I managed to keep hold of the communicator and some of my wits. Smoke blinded me now and I was choking. There was no response from the computer. My ploy was failing. Still, possibly to stave off the inevitability of mental collapse, I continued to gasp the override directive. "Code T-Rescue, command authorization, emer -- "
Damn! At least something was going to happen. "Computer, link auxiliary warp drive controls. Critical adversity catalog number eight-eight-one, tape deck C-one-A. Evasive action. Implement!"
"Working. Sensors indicate enemy vessels at all vector points."
"Acknowledged. Do we have phasers?"
"Affirmative. One-half potency on secondary batteries."
"Bleed off impulse power batteries and divert to phasers. Pinpoint nearest enemy vessel's engineering section, aim, and fire!" Ridiculous. Yelling at the computer wasn't going to help. "Implement evasive action one-four-zero degrees declination plane." I felt the commands shudder through the crippled equipment, jumping damaged connections, inventing frequencies, shortcutting schematics that were popping on and off the last three viewing screens still providing information. Shredded circuitry was knitting wherever it could find power, threading together and tapping other computers to draw power back to Liberty.
Other computers...a distant signal flickered in my mind. Other...
I shook off the temptation to think, feeling in my veins the pulsing blood of my remaining crew belowdecks, separated from me, their life force joining with mine in a surge of survival instinct. They were not taking my ship.
"You're not taking this ship!" I shouted at the fizzing shape of another Romulan vessel as it veered in and fired. The blast shook the bridge. I could feel the entire primary hull of Liberty shifting away from the engineering hull, feel the nacelles cutting loose, the shields finally falling as the last of the power was tapped by my loyal computer as it struggled to implement my last order.
My last order.
The very last.
The hull shuddered under me and myriad voices began to penetrate the bulkheads.
Suddenly everything stopped. Everything. The noises all went away -- the hum of machinery and computer circuits ceased. Only the voices remained.
"What the hell -- " someone said, like a ghost calling from another dimension.
I closed my eyes. The voices began to solidify behind the walls. "Overload! Access lights, go to emergency power. Goddamn insane cadet!"
"Auxiliary power, where's the juice?"
"Whole main simulator's down."
"That's not possible."
"It's a junction overload. She made the system try to fight itself."
"Harrison, what's taking so long? Oh -- 'scuse me, Captain."
"Tech crew, report to simulator A on the double."
"Where's Lieutenant Selok? Maybe he can talk to it."
The universe began to subdivide. Slowly I remembered: I was no different from anybody else. They'd done it to me, just as I'd heard they would. Not only had I failed, but I'd destroyed the simulator in the process. I had never heard of that happening before. So why did it have to happen to me?
Voices buzzed. They were talking about me. I heard my name spinning like a dervish through the corridor.
"All right. That's enough. Quite enough."
There was a whirling sensation that nearly threw me flat. The hum of ventilators rose. The smoke began to clear. I lay on my side, blinking into a maze of lights and humanoid shapes. I felt violated.
"Quite enough, Mister Piper. Please relax."
Swallowing was an effort, but I did manage to get to my feet from my kneeling position on the upper deck before Commander Josephson approached me. Behind him, foggy forms of Star Fleet upper-echelon personnel stood soberly watching me. To my left, Illya Galina was crawling out from beneath part of his control panel, staring at me with something that might have been astonishment. Outside the simulation chamber, technicians were scrambling to disengage the simulation computer from all the other computers in the immediate area. Only then did I realize what I had done.
"Rather a unique display, Lieutenant," the Commander grumbled, his black eyes and swarthy complexion obscured by the clearing smoke. He stopped in his advance to let two "dead" members of the bridge crew rise and step aside. There were coughs and sneezes all around, and a general feeling of discomfort. "Tell me...at which point did you decide there was no Kobayashi Maru?"
I cleared my throat and packed back my hair in a gesture that was too feminine, suddenly aware that my nonregulation backcombs had failed to keep the layered, honey-brown strands out of my face. "It had to be a trap. There was no other possibility."
"At which point."
"When the second contingent of enemy vessels appeared, sir. At that point it became clear there were too many of them for a simple border patrol. So many ships would not have allowed a distress call to penetrate the neutral zone."
"Your estimation of your performance?" Josephson repressed the quirkish grin he was known for.
"I raised shields too late. I failed to order weapons armed upon entry into the neutral zone. I also should have dispatched a communiqué to Star Fleet Command that I was about to breach the Organian accord by attempting rescue of Kobayashi Maru. By failing to do so, I prevented any possibility of Liberty's being rescued if it was indeed a trap."
He had a habit of tilting his head to favor his nearly deaf left ear. "All true. Final score?"
"Grade B midrange." I winced at giving myself such a high score. New shame engulfed me.
He raised his head, looking out into the main training depot beyond the shattered walls of the simulation chamber. "Are those systems clearing yet?"
"Getting there, Commander," a technician called. "It's a mess."
Josephson turned to me. "You caused quite a hullabaloo with the base computers."
I remained silent. There was nothing I could say.
"Lieutenant," he began slowly, "do you realize you have just come closer than any command-line cadet to actually checkmating the no-win scenario?"
Not knowing if it was a reprimand or a compliment, I gulped, "No, sir."
"Report to debriefing at two hundred hours. And Lieutenant...your assignment has just been changed. You won't be reporting to the Magellan."
"Sir?" I had turned away, but this stopped me. Not report to Captain Flynn? The sweat that had collected on my forehead seeped into the furrows of a confused expression. Had I done so badly that they would prevent my serving on a Galaxy-class ship? "Commander?"
He hadn't intended to tell me, yet it seemed he was itching to. I couldn't imagine Commander Josephson capable of petty arrogance, but all it took was this small prodding to make him turn back to me. "I've had a direct request, just now. You're to report to Docking Bay 12 at eight hundred thirty hours. You've been assigned to Captain Kirk."
I stared at him, my eyes stinging. This time, there was no smoke.
Copyright © 1986 by Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.