DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cheryl Rice and is copyright (c) 1978 by Cheryl Rice. Rated PG. Originally printed in Warped Space # 37.

...And a Star To Steer Her By

Cheryl Rice

(An "Ultimate Computer" vignette

The bridge elevator door whooshed shut in its usual abrupt, efficient fashion. Kirk ordered, "Captain's quarters," and stood, the very picture of human useful/uselessness as the machinery carried out his command.

Damn machine ... why did this have to happen? No, not their fault, they just do what they're told to do. And the way things are going they are gonna be doing everything for us. Must be something ... Damn Wesley, thought he was a friend. Calling me "Dunsel" in front of the crew like that. No friend of mine. It could be him someday. Hell, the way things are going it will be him and all of us. It's wrong. I can't be the only one to see that. But what if I am? Am I just being selfish? I don't enjoy seeing men die.

The Captain's tumbling thoughts broke off abruptly as the elevator car reached its destination. Not so much fighting for control as demanding it of himself, Kirk stepped out and with his usual graceful stride headed for his cabin. The dimly lit, deserted corridor did nothing to lighten his dark mood and he entered his place of retreat with much the air of a hunted animal returning to its lair.

He hit the light switch - turning the illumination up as far as was comfortable. Trying to block out his dark thoughts and darker prospects of the future.

Kirk dropped down, hard, into the chair behind his desk and slammed his right hand on it in frustration. This accomplished nothing more than making a satisfying "thud" and causing his right wrist to ache. But the Captain was not in any mood to find humor in anything ... least of all himself.

All right - now what? I can't stay in here and just sulk. I'm not gonna let that thing and Daystrom win by default. There is a need for leaders. Even Spock says so. Once they find out men won't follow machines, then they'll come back to their senses. Until then I can do all sorts of things if I have to. I can ... let's see...

Unfortunately, Command Training, while excellent preparation for the running of a starship, wasn't much help when one was contemplating an attempt to find alternate employment... For every job Kirk could think of, an M-5 type could fill the bill as a qualified human. Jobs in space involving any great amounts of possible danger, and that was of course all the interesting ones, would seem to be ruled out.

Okay, then I'll think of something else ... something planet-side. Help run a colony. My experience...

Suddenly the anger evaporated and an almost sickening wave of self-pity washed over the man. His "experience" ... the sight of new alien races, the thrill of discovery. The chance to explore, discover. The challenge and the danger. How could he, or people like him, live safe, cozy lives while machinery went out and conquered the galaxy? Something in them would die. They would become less than human.

Appalled by the panorama opening before his eyes, Kirk stood and then began pacing the length of the small room. Jumbled thoughts chased themselves faster and faster. Finally, after what seemed to him like ages - but were in reality only a few minutes, he stopped and walked over to turn down the lights. They were glowing too brightly, hurting his eyes.

After dimming them to a comfortable level, he turned away. But the touch of the wall, the Enterprise herself, had reminded him of a truth he had been forgetting. The battle was not yet over; in fact it really had not begun.

I can't give up so easily. This was just the first part of a test. No one knows if the damn thing will work in the long run. We aren't beat yet!

Kirk went into the bedroom of his quarters and stretched out on the narrow bed. Trying to relax, trying to think. Now he realized he had been wrong to stalk off the bridge as he had done; leaving the field to his mechanical adversary and its only slightly less mechanical creator. He had left to preserve what shreds of dignity the Dunsel business had left to him. So here he was with his dignity, and the M-5 had his ship. It was not a trade he could accept. If he could just get hold of his pride, forget the taunts of Wesley for a while and go be the Captain his ship and crew deserved.

But that's gonna be embarrassing, returning all alone. It would be nice if someone could come here and see how I'm doing ... Spock or anybody. No, I got myself into this mess, I'll get out.

He lay for several minutes, consciously clearing his mind of current problems. Trying to relax.

The Enterprise, she deserves the best. Ships ... other ships. Other men have had trouble with command over the years. The same responsibilities. What was that poem I learned that one time? It was old ... very old. Something about a "tall ship". How did it go? Funny the things you remember ... Let's see - "all I need is a tall ship" ... what's the rest of that line?

Before he could remember, the cabin door opened and McCoy was standing in the doorway with a cloth-covered tray and a sympathetic smile.