Determining the Equant

by Domenika Marzione

Chris Pike was under no illusion that getting Jim Kirk on to a shuttle headed for the Academy was going to end up being the easy part.

There'd been a slight element of chance, of course - Kirk (JimKirk in his head, since 'Kirk' had never needed so much as a clarifying 'George') really was contrary enough to spite anyone who had the temerity to tell him what was best for him, even if it was true. But Chris hadn't considered it a real danger; he'd been in the recruiting gig long enough to see the pattern in Kirk's record, to see the exemplary test scores and high-difficulty coursework up against the low-paying and low-intensity post-school employment history. When these kinds of candidates showed up in the career office looking for something to commit to that was worth their time and energy, Chris knew what to say, knew which buttons to push. These were the recruits who would end up flourishing, the ones who just needed to be given a direction and they would do the rest. James Tiberius Kirk was of that species, but he hadn't come looking for Starfleet to give him direction or even a last chance. And so Starfleet, in the person of Chris Pike, cadet-wrangler and recruiting XO, came looking for him.

But there was a big difference between getting and keeping.

"What have you done here, Captain Pike?" was the most polite version of the question Chris got asked when he brought the shuttle full of cadets and recruits home. "Starfleet Academy is not in the habit of accepting strays."

Kirk had not taken any of the entrance exams, he did not have an application on file, he was missing some required pre-Academy coursework (but not nearly as much as the average guy off of the street), and he did not have recommendations from teachers, mentors, or his local political representative. He had not completed the pre-enrollment academic assignments given to incoming cadets, did not have the required personal gear, nor did he have either a room assignment or measurements on file for the storekeepers to issue him uniforms.

He did, however, have two things that would be of interest to the Commandant and the Academy Board. The first would damn him; the second would save him if Chris played his cards right.

"He has a criminal record," Admiral Dalacai announced sourly. "Destruction of property. Speeding. A history of fisticuffs, public drunkenness, and anti-social activities that are all expulsion-worthy offenses here at the Academy."

"We've granted moral waivers for worse, sir," Pike replied.

"For the service at large, yes," Admiral Parren agreed. "Not for the Academy."

"Actually, ma'am, we have," Pike corrected with a slight smile, the kind that expressed embarrassment for having to do so even if he wasn't actually so. "There have been, in the history of the Academy, twenty-three convicted felons who've completed their studies and been granted commissions. Fifteen of them made it as far as captain and six retired as admirals."

Kirk did not have any felony convictions, but Chris was sure that that was not because he hadn't committed any.

"Five years ago, this institution sought out James Kirk," Chris began before any of the admirals could come up with a new reason for why Kirk's police incident record was still cause for exclusion. "We came to him not because he is George Kirk's son, but instead because those charged with bringing the best and the brightest to these hallowed halls considered him to be someone worth pursuing. Out of a pool of millions, his academic accomplishments and his character were deemed exemplary and it was thought that he would make a fine Starfleet officer. With all due respect, sirs and madams, I do not believe that anything has changed in the last five years to justify rescinding that offer. James Kirk may be slow in accepting, but I still believe that he will rank among our best and brightest if we just give him the chance."

To Kirk, he was somewhat more straightforward.

"You've got a shitload of work ahead of you and three people's reputation riding on whether you succeed," he told Kirk, who'd been left to sit in one of the lounges while the Academy Board met, made to feel about as welcome as a fart in a shuttle cockpit. "Yours, your father's, and mine. I'm not sure how many of those you care about, but I've got a vested interest in all three. Don't fuck it up."

Kirk blinked at him, then smiled as the realization hit that he'd be allowed to stay. He looked like he was about to say something cocky and Chris frowned - cockiness had its place, here and in the fleet, but just this once, Chris wanted something more solid from Kirk as a means of conveying his understanding of the situation and the stakes.

"I'm done letting people down, sir," Kirk said seriously, then frowned wryly. "Well, except for one person, but he's damned sure I'll never amount to anything, so I think that'll be all right."

Chris had read Kirk's file; he had a pretty good idea of who that person was, but Kirk was right - he no longer mattered. Nor did George Kirk. Nor, ultimately, did Chris. This was all on Jim, to become the man he was capable of being. Everything else was just there.

"Go sign away your life for the next four years," Chris told him, gesturing toward the administration building.

"Three," Kirk reminded him, a flash of fire in his eyes that Chris hadn't seen earlier. "I'll only need three."

Chris had another year of recruiting duty before he could look forward to getting back on board a ship; for shore duty, recruiting on Earth was not the worst job in the galaxy. After almost half of his life in the service, mostly in space and almost entirely in places foreign in one way or another, it was nice to be home. Getting to see people and places he hadn't in too long was a pleasure that felt like an indulgence, as was the fact that he didn't need fifteen memos from Protocol before he spoke to anyone or fifteen shots and a couple of lectures from Medical before he ate anything.

(He sent an email to Boyce to that effect, getting back a long diatribe on how Earth was still full of things that could kill him and there'd been a very good reason a certain First Officer had never let Chris too far out of her sight during planetary visits -- and it hadn't been the other folks. Phil had thoughtfully included four different examples of various occasions when Chris had inconvenienced his crew -- and especially Phil -- but only three of which Chris remembered because he'd been rendered unconscious early on in the fourth.)

When the list of postings came down, he was as shocked as anyone to find himself appointed the first captain of the Enterprise. Perhaps more shocked than anyone, since he was not deaf to the grumbling of his colleagues. It was an honor, no doubt -- would be an honor, since for the time being he was merely the guy who had to get tangled up in red tape and sign off on all of the paperwork. The beautiful, beautiful Enterprise, future flagship of the fleet, was currently not much more than a shell. She hadn't even been completely skinned yet, although some of her systems were already installed. Chris took trips out to the yard as often as he could; the dockworkers all knew him by face and gave him good-natured grief for his attentions so early on in the process. The foreman for the metalworkers, a stout guy named Winston, chided him for coming by to 'court his lady before she's properly ready to receive him.'

(He used his entire luggage allowance on every visit to bring treats for the dockmen; the best way to make sure his ship was handled with care and respect was to show the same to those doing the handling.)

When he wasn't looking up obscure codes for requisition forms he had to file in triplicate, he was trying to get a bead on who'd be available to fill out his staff. He wasn't sure whether or not to ask Boyce -- Phil could get out of where he was if he wanted, he'd been there long enough, but Chris didn't think he wanted to. He'd probably do it if Chris asked, but only because it was Chris asking. Which was why he decided not to -- at least not until after he'd already been assigned a CMO and the transfer was unlikely, since Boyce would be deeply offended if Chris didn't ask at all.

Other requests were far more straightforward. The invitation to guest-lecture at the Academy was one of those invitations you weren't supposed to refuse and Chris, more aware of his career-qua-career since he'd been gifted with the Enterprise than at any point before, dutifully accepted. It was a six-week mini-course within the Leadership curriculum for those cadets on the command track and Chris was given leeway in terms of choosing lecture topics. He went with what he knew, which ended up as six weeks of 'Grand Strategy and the Non-State Actor: Past Actions and Future Problems.'

Before the first lecture, he was surprised to see Jim Kirk in the audience, which was mostly comprised of Cadets First Class and the odd Seconds.

"I need four mini-course electives," Kirk explained with a shrug when Chris gave him a look. It was perfect Starfleet logic that had put Kirk on the command track -- by virtue of his irregular arrival, he was unqualified for anything else, so the natural solution was to put him on a path to be in charge of everything. "My roommate told me to take the first one that looked interesting."

It was less awkward than Chris had anticipated when the time came to discuss the fate of the Kelvin with George Kirk's son sitting there taking notes. Jim Kirk in lecture always looked like he wasn't paying close attention, but Chris knew better and didn't miss the way Kirk looked up from his notes more than usual even as he studiously ignored his classmates' surreptitious glances. Which was perhaps the only reason Chris didn't react with surprise when Kirk raised his hand to ask a question that required an answer that took up ten minutes and sparked a rather spirited debate among the students.

Kirk waited for him after they finally ended the session, but it was only to ask him about one of the readings -- why he had assigned Tarrefor's essay on the Pakled raiders instead of something more obviously related to the rest of that week's assignments, which had been heavy on the Romulans and then a few Starfleet documents. He accepted Chris's answer thoughtfully and, up close, Chris could see what three semesters of the Academy had wrought. Kirk hadn't lost the cockiness, not completely, but he'd lost the sharpest of his edges, the burrs on his surface that made sure he caught on everything in the least comfortable way possible for all involved. The Academy thought it was supposed to break its cadets down and then rebuild them in a way best suited to the service, but the rebuilding could take a long time and, in a lot of cases, produced something that was never quite as useful or as interesting as what had been before. Chris could see the changes in Kirk, but he couldn't see the fracture marks.

"If you are really interested, go download Nordarak's article on the Kobheerians," Chris told him. "See if he can't convince you."

"I will," Kirk answered. "Thank you, sir."

Chris nodded and Kirk took it as the dismissal it was, turning to go. He stopped by the doorway, though. "And thank you for not, you know, turning the Kelvin into a big romantic story."

Chris chuffed a laugh that nothing to do with amusement. "Your father and Captain Robau were doing their jobs, Cadet Kirk. There was nothing romantic about it."

"No," Kirk agreed. "There wasn't. Good afternoon, sir."

Chris spent the rest of the day getting the Kobayashi Maru simulation explained to him by its current designer, Lieutenant Commander Spock. He'd heard about it and could see the genius of it -- from a purely logical standpoint. From the standpoint of someone who has actually been in command, he was a little less impressed.

"I don't think it's an accurate means of assessment," Chris told Spock, who possibly seemed surprised (by Vulcan standards) that he wasn't being offered praise for his ingenious design. "It's fake and everyone knows it's fake. The choices I make in there--" he pointed to the simulation room "-- would not necessarily be the ones I'd make were I to truly feel the weight of hundreds of lives on my shoulders. Which is not something I think can be simulated in a staged scenario such as this."

It was an argument older than Starfleet. There were two schools of thought on simulation training -- either it prepared you by forcing you to consider what would otherwise be beyond normal consideration, be it capture by enemy forces or deciding who dies so that others may live or whatever else it might be, or it didn't because you went into the exercise knowing that it was all fake and the consequences were nil no matter how convincing things were at the moment.

"I am aware of the debate, Captain," Spock replied mildly. "And I agree that a scenario such as this one, where the particulars are well-known and there is time to 'study' as it were, is not conducive to assessing certain elements of leadership that are crucial to a commander's success. But that does not mean that it is incapable of measuring any elements. I believe we have adjusted the metrics accordingly."

Chris didn't think so, didn't think it was possible to come up with anything that would work when you knew your graders were sitting a few feet away, but he gained nothing by continuing the argument and so he just nodded.

"Your essays on the Kelvin were most useful in the development of this iteration of the exam," Spock said as he gestured for Chris to precede him out into the hallway.

"I noticed a certain similarity," Chris replied. "To the historical events, not to my handling of them."

"Both would be true, sir," Spock said. "Which perhaps makes it of note that Cadet Kirk has expressed interest in taking the test."

Chris stopped and looked at Spock, who had raised one eyebrow slightly. Chris wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with this information, although Spock had not shared it casually or without purpose.

"I'll be curious to see how he does," Chris said.

"He will fail," Spock assured. "But how he does so may perhaps be illuminating."

Months later, Chris was at a conference on small fleet tactics when he got an email from Spock with a copy of Kirk's performance review for his Kobayashi Maru test. Kirk had failed, as Spock had predicted, but in a fashion that his grading board had deemed productive and, indeed, promising. They also thought he was having Daddy Issues, although they obviously phrased it differently. Chris wasn't sure that Jim Kirk resigning himself to his father's fate was anything promising or productive.

Chris had been living on board the Enterprise for three weeks by the time the order to head to Vulcan arrived. The ship was mostly crewed -- all of the enlisted were aboard, a few of the officers -- but he'd still had to accept a bunch of suddenly-commissioned cadets because the rest of his staff was somewhere in the Laurentian system finishing up their tours on their current assignments. This was not the time to be running a training cruise and this was not the ship to be running it with -- several of Enterprise's systems were new to the fleet and not included in any of the training courses. But you made do with what you had and so Chris did.

(Even after not finding out until it was too late that he had to use a cadet as a helmsman because McKenna had been quarantined with lungworm. He didn't mind the prepubescent navigator -- the trip to Vulcan could've been laid in by a toddler -- but if he'd known about McKenna, he'd have at least scoured the Bachelor Officer's Barracks for someone who'd helmed a heavy cruiser before.)

If there was any irony in accepting Spock, whom he'd previously dismissed as ignorant of the true nature of command, as his First Officer, Chris would appreciate it later. For the time being, having a Vulcan on board would be a boon.

Having the stowaway Jim Kirk on board would be a boon, too, although that didn't turn ironic until later on.

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15 August, 2009