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Episode Epilogues, Season 1

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Episode Epilogues Chapter 2: "The Corbomite Maneuver"


Kirk and Spock are seated in Kirk's quarters, having a post-mission meeting after Kirk returns from Balok's ship. The captain has a glass of grapefruit juice1, Spock a cup of tea. We join them in mid meeting:

Spock sipped his tea, then set the teacup on the desk. "Jim, may I ask how you created the ruse you used to dissuade Balok from destroying the Enterprise?"

Kirk blinked. "HOW I created it?"

Spock nodded. "Yes. I could not have designed such a stratagem, yet the ability to do so is clearly part of why you are a superlative starship commander. I would like to acquire the skill; would you instruct me?"

Kirk laughed. "I would if I could, Spock, but I have no idea how I come up with these things; they just ... suddenly appear in my mind."

"Perhaps if you trace your thought processes immediately prior to creating the stratagem..."

Kirk shook his head. "No, I won't do that, not even to teach you. It's not that I'm unwilling to share it with you, it's more that I'm afraid of the centipede problem."

Spock tilted his head to one side. "The 'centipede problem,' Jim?"

Kirk chuckled. "There's an old joke to the effect that the way to keep a centipede from being able to walk is to ask him how he coordinates all those legs. Once the centipede starts actually thinking about it, he can't do it anymore, because it only works automatically."

Spock processed this. "I see. And you fear that if you think about the process of creating novel tactics quickly, as the need arises..."

Kirk looked grim. "I'll stop being able to do it."

Spock pressed his index fingers together in front of his lips and looked intently at Kirk. "I have no wish to undermine your ability to create such tactics, and yet if the process could be isolated and taught, all of Starfleet would benefit."

Kirk smiled, then set his glass on the desk. "Human intuition, Spock. I don't think it's teachable."

Spock raised an admonishing brow. "I do not believe that intuition is limited to humans, nor do I believe that it cannot be augmented or refined through a training program, once the process is better understood. Yet I have no desire to impede your ability to ... coordinate your hundred legs."

Kirk chuckled, then raised his hands in front of him, palms up, intending to shrug the topic off, when Spock got an "aha" look on his face. "What is it, Spock?"

Spock spoke slowly and formally, less at ease than he'd been during the rest of the meeting. "Captain, this would be a great imposition, so I will understand if you wish to decline. And yet the potential benefits — to Starfleet in general and to me in particular — are incalculable."

Kirk made a "go on" motion with his hand.

Spock said, "If I were to mind meld with you, I could trace all of the thought processes that led up to your moment of insight, in an attempt to understand and reproduce the process by which you create innovative tactics. I could then remove the memory of my having done so, in order to keep these researches from your awareness so that they would not infringe upon your ability."

Kirk frowned. "But just the fact of your coming to me and asking for a meld would remind me of what you want to know and would make me start to wonder how I do what I do."

Spock shook his head. "With your permission, I would come to your cabin only after you had fallen asleep and meld with you then, so that your conscious mind would be unaware of both my research into your mind's workings and of the fact that the meld had ever taken place."

Kirk scowled and blew out a breath as stared at the floor, thinking about the proposal.

Spock nodded, understanding what he was seeing. "As I said, it would be a great imposition, and I will understand if you wish to decline."

Kirk looked back up again and forced a smile. "And I also understand that if intuitive leaps could be taught, it would revolutionize Academy training and make it a lot easier to find capable starship captains."


Kirk looked consideringly at Spock. "If it were just a human talking me through the process, I wouldn't hold out much hope that a research program could get anywhere. But since you're capable of going inside my mind and tracing all the thoughts that lead up to the moment of insight ... that might actually discover something."

Spock nodded. "Success is not certain, but the probability of it is high enough to be worth the effort. I also realize that it would be a gross invasion of your privacy and that you already give much to Starfleet. I do not wish to imply that you owe this — to Starfleet or to me — but I did not wish to allow the opportunity to pass us by without raising the possibility."

Kirk shook his head. "If it were anybody else, I'd say no, but I trust you." He smiled wryly. "I'm not sure you'll like everything you find in my mind, though. We humans can be a petty, selfish, and unpleasant bunch."

Spock's eyes showed that lightness he used in place of a smile. "Jim, you are the least petty and the least selfish human I have ever known. Nor would I need to probe the depths of your mind in order to accomplish my task. While it is true that melding with you would be a severe breach of your privacy, I would be able to leave most of your mind untouched; I would examine only those thoughts directly preceding the moment of insight."

Kirk smiled. "If anyone else told me that they had the power to rifle through my mind while I was sleeping and look at anything they wanted, I'd never believe them if they said they would limit themselves to a single area." He looked searchingly at Spock. "But you, you have the strong self-control necessary to limit yourself and the stringent ethics that would make sure you used it."

Spock inclined his head gravely, agreeing with his captain without speaking so as not to derail this train of thought.

Kirk picked up his glass and swirled the grapefruit juice as he thought about the situation. Was he willing to allow this? How many other captains had his ability to pull inspired tactics out of thin air? How many of those captains had Vulcan crew members who were capable of melding in the first place? Of those few captains who did have Vulcan crew members, how many of them were as close to those crew members as he was to Spock? He and Spock were quite probably the only team in Starfleet that was even capable of researching this question as it needed to be researched.

Kirk's face hardened and took on the look of Kirkian resolve that Spock knew so well.2 "All right, I consent. But I reserve the right to withdraw this consent at any time, if I think this is undermining my ability in any way."

Spock inclined his head. "Agreed." He paused and looked at his captain, who appeared resolved but uneasy. "Would you also like me to remove the memory of this conversation, so that my having asked this question will not impinge on your ability to create novel tactics?"

Kirk looked startled. "You can do that? You can take memories right out of my mind and make me forget things?"

Spock looked grave. "It is not something I would do lightly, nor would I necessarily be able to remove a memory if your mind fought to retain it. Given your apparent discomfort with this conversation, however, I thought that your mind would be likely to relinquish this memory willingly."

Kirk smiled. "So I'm not a mental push-over."

Spock looked at Kirk with unconcealed amusement. "Jim, you are well aware that you are not 'a push-over' of any sort. Your mind is an unusually dynamic one, and I believe that I can remove this memory only because you wish it."

Kirk nodded. "Leave the memory of my agreeing to melds for some sort of important research project, so if I wake up and find you melding with me, I'll remember that you have my consent to do so."

Spock stiffened and looked down. "I will leave that much of the memory, but ethics compel me to point out that once a meld has begun, you will only awaken if I wish it."

Kirk smirked. "And you think knowing that will spook me so much that I'll cancel the whole project."

Spock looked back up. "Yes."

Kirk shook his head and deliberately spoke lightly. "I won't change my mind ... but I may call on you the next time I have insomnia."

Spock relaxed slightly and picked up his tea cup once more. "As always, Jim, I stand ready to assist you by any means within my power."

Kirk looked at Spock consideringly. "Even after a year of working together, I'm still getting a sense of just how broad that power might be. But knowing that all of it is at my disposal ... that means a lot to me, Spock."

Spock gave Kirk an eye-smile and slowly sipped his tea.


Author's Notes:

1. The "tranya" that Kirk, McCoy, Bailey, and Balok drank in this episode was actually grapefruit juice, and poor Clint Howard (the child actor portraying Balok) did not like it. So Kirk's drinking grapefruit juice here is an in-joke for those who read books and articles about the making of the episodes.

2. As I explained (much more extensively) in the author's note for Chapter 1, there are reasons why I'm assuming that the first year of the series is the second year of the mission at the earliest. So although Kirk and Spock have only been in two episodes that we've seen, they've been working together for more than a year at this point and have already formed a friendship that's important to them both (as witness Kirk's comment about Spock's giving him "emotional security" in the current episode).

3. I think "The Corbomite Maneuver" is a crucial early episode, because it shines so much light on the character of Kirk. Why is a man this young the captain already? And why is he in charge when Spock knows more about everything?

Two main reasons: 1) Kirk never gives up. Spock analyzes the situation, realizes that the other ship has many times their power, and assumes that their fate is in Balok's hands. Kirk is still looking for a way to win two minutes before they're scheduled to be blown up. (Spock learns from this and will be more persistent in the future.) 2) Kirk can pull inspired tactics out of thin air, such as creating this corbomite malarkey.

There are lots of other reasons why Kirk's a great captain, of course, but these two reasons are on display in this episode, and they're excellent reasons why Kirk — young as he is — is a worthy captain for the Enterprise.

While Spock is my favorite character, I do appreciate the heck out of Kirk, and the Enterprise is usually much better off with Spock's intellect harnessed to Kirk's will than they would be the other way around.

4. I've actually written TWO chapters for this episode. I wrote a different one first — a completely different chapter that hinges on a different point of the episode — decided it had Spock sharing too much too soon, then wrote this one. But then it occurred to me that some folks might enjoy a chapter where Spock shares too much too soon ... and I thought I might know where to find them. :-) So if you'd like to see the Spock-oversharing chapter, you can find it at the K/S Archive.  (If you decide to read them both, I'd love to hear which you liked better.)

5. I'm a licensed psychologist in real life, and I've been both a therapist and a researcher at different times in my career. If you suspect that I wish I could conduct the research that Spock is conducting here, you are right. :-) Delving inside Kirk's mind and figuring out how he does what he does? How fascinating would that be!

6. If you think that part of me is looking ahead to "Requiem for Methuselah," you are right. :-) (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry; it'll become clear when we get there.)

7. I have a chronic illness that leaves me non-functional more days than not. I will try to update regularly, and I will try to respond to any comments I receive. Unfortunately, my good intentions are frequently thwarted by my poor health.

8. Thanks for reading!

9. Someday I have to write one of these with fewer bullet points in the author's notes. :-)

10. See below for the episode summary, for those who need/want it:

Episode summary:


The Enterprise encounters a rotating cube in space. It doesn't respond to hails, it moves to block them when they try to get away from it, and it eventually begins to emit radiation that will kill everyone aboard if it continues. Since they can't get away, Kirk orders the cube destroyed, and the Enterprise continues on her way.

A short time later, a large ship approaches the Enterprise and seizes her with a tractor beam. Balok, the captain of the large ship — the Fesarius — says that the Enterprise is trespassing and will be destroyed because they destroyed the cube, which he calls a "warning buoy." Kirk tries to explain that they destroyed the buoy in self-defense, but Balok interrupts and says that they have ten minutes to make peace with any deities they believe in before he destroys them. The Fesarius is much more powerful than the Enterprise, and they can neither fight nor run.

Kirk asks Spock for an analysis, and Spock says, "In chess, when one is outmatched, the game is over. Checkmate." The navigator, Lieutenant Bailey, panics and starts ranting at everyone and is relieved of duty. McCoy tells Kirk he's pushed Bailey too far too fast and asks to put "fatigue" as the reason that Bailey was relieved of duty, not "panicked and went nuts." Kirk refuses, and McCoy threatens to put his qualms about Kirk's pushing Bailey in his medical log, saying that's no bluff. Kirk says, "Any time you can bluff ME, Doctor," then pauses for a second, struck. Then he says (in a line that I think is the heart of this episode), "Not chess, Mr. Spock — POKER."

Kirk calls Balok on the Fesarius and tells him that all Earth ships have a substance called "corbomite" as part of their makeup, and this stuff returns destructive energy to its source, so any time an Earth ship is attacked, corbomite makes the energy of that attack destroy the attacker instead. (Of course, no such substance actually exists; Kirk is making all this up, trying to bluff his way out of being destroyed.)

Balok says that the destruction of the Enterprise has been delayed and that she will be towed to a facility were the people aboard her will be disembarked before the ship itself is destroyed. A tiny portion of the Fesarius detaches itself from the huge ship and begins to tow the Enterprise. By using every available scrap of power, the Enterprise manages to break away from the small ship, which appears to have been disabled by the strain. Uhura catches a distress signal from the tiny ship to the larger one, saying that engines and life support are both out. The signal is faint, and it looks as if the larger ship couldn't have heard the distress signal.

Kirk decides to board the small ship and rescue the people aboard her, taking McCoy and Bailey with him. Once there, they discover that the entire thing was a test, and Balok is actually a sweet little fellow who's merely lonely. Kirk leaves Bailey with Balok as a liaison to the newly discovered civilization, and Balok tells Kirk that the two of them are much alike.

Character moments

This is McCoy's first episode, and Kirk calls him "Doctor" and "Doc;" he doesn't call him "Bones" even once. Red alert is called while Kirk is undergoing a physical in Sickbay, and the alert is silent there, presumably so as not to wake any sick patients. McCoy sees the red alert flashing and doesn't tell Kirk. When Kirk calls him on it, we get the first of McCoy's "I'm a doctor, not a ___" lines when he says, "What am I, a doctor or a moon shuttle conductor?"

Bailey gets overexcited while Spock is in command, leading them to eventually have this exchange:
BAILEY: Raising my voice back there doesn't mean I was scared or couldn't do my job. It means I happen to have a human thing called an adrenaline gland.
SPOCK: It does sound most inconvenient, however. Have you considered having it removed?
BAILEY: Very funny.
SULU: You try to cross brains with Spock, he'll cut you to pieces every time.

Spock says that Balock reminds him of his father, to which Scotty replies, "Then may heaven have helped your mother." Spock says, "Quite the contrary. She considered herself a very fortunate Earth woman."

At one point, Kirk asks Spock to think aloud about whether or not they should continue to explore after encountering the cube. Spock does so, then realizes that Kirk has already decided to continue to explore. He asks why Kirk asks for his input when he's already made up his mind, and Kirk replies, "It gives me emotional security."

When Kirk is with McCoy in his quarters, Yeoman Rand brings him his lunch, and McCoy jokes with Kirk about the temptations involved in his having a female yeoman.  Kirk says, "I've already got a female to worry about. Her name's the Enterprise."

World-building notes

The Enterprise is called an "Earth" ship — the "United Earth Ship Enterprise" — and neither Starfleet nor the Federation is mentioned. Indeed, the only Federation mentioned in this episode is the one BALOK belongs to.

Spock's mother is called an "Earth woman;" they are not yet using "human" to contrast with "Vulcan."