The next morning, Kirk found Spock already eating breakfast when he showed up in the mess, as usual. Kirk got himself a tray and went to join him. As he approached, set down his tray, and sat, he noticed that Spock's tray contained only a glass of fruit juice and an ascetic's portion of some vegetable matter, as usual. "Good morning, Spock."
"Captain," Spock acknowledged.
Usually he answered, "Good morning, Captain."
Kirk took a bite of his eggs. Spock appeared to be in a snit about something. Well, he had as much as said last night that he didn't like how Kirk had handled the Vaal situation yesterday. "Gamma Trianguli VI still bothering you?"
Spock seemed surprised that Kirk had been able to tell, but didn't comment so. "Yes, sir. I am still troubled. And it shall take more than a supposedly humorous correlation between Vulcan features and those of mythological Earth demons to quell my reservations."
"Spock, I didn't do anything wrong," Kirk said, waving one hand while he picked up bacon with the other. "Vaal attacked my ship. There's nothing in the Prime Directive that obviates any Starfleet ship's right to self-defense. If it had been just going after the few of us on the planet, who actually were intruding on the people, it might've been different.
"But what I did was no less self-defense than if a Klingon ship directed an unprovoked attack against the Enterprise. When the people of Gamma Trianguli VI chose to let that computer make their decisions for them, they chose to accept the consequences of its decisions - including, whether they meant to or not, the consequences of its picking a fight and losing."
"Certainly that is true," admitted Spock. "Given the precedents in our log and other starships', the odds that Starfleet and the Federation Council will uphold your actions on those grounds are approximately 726 to 1."
Kirk nodded. Spock's issue wasn't concern over trouble he was afraid Kirk had made for himself or the crew. Then his issue had to be from the other perspective in the matter. Kirk finished his own juice and said, "I also believe that the natives are better off without Vaal."
"Obviously," said Spock. "It was apparent nearly from the moment we met them. Yourself and Dr. McCoy."
"And you think that the destruction of Vaal is a violation of the spirit of the Prime Directive, even if not of the letter."
"I would not choose as they have, any more than you would," said Spock, leaning forward in earnestness. "But neither would I make their choice for them."
"And that's what you think I've done." Finishing his eggs, Kirk forebore pointing out again that the people of Gamma Trianguli VI had made their bed and were sleeping in it. Because Spock had a point. "You're absolutely right. Imposing our ideals on conquered enemies is not what the Federation's about. But what should we do about it? What can we do?"
Spock leaned back in his seat again. "That question, Captain," he said, "is what is troubling me."
"It is?" said Kirk. "The answer seems obvious to me."
"You're going to what?" McCoy exclaimed.
As usual, McCoy had not yet shown up for breakfast when Kirk and Spock had been ready to go on duty. Kirk had taken advantage of the first lull in the shift to visit sickbay.
"I'm going to ask the natives whether they'd like us to try to reactivate Vaal," said Kirk.
"What for?" McCoy exploded.
"To find out," said Kirk innocently.
"You're serious," said McCoy.
"Spock has a point," Kirk said. "It's not our place to impose our values on them."
McCoy restrained himself. He only raised one finger. "Lest we forget," the good doctor said, "we didn't set out to impose our values on them, nor was imposing our values on them the intended goal of what we ended up doing. That damn computer was out to kill us and to destroy the Enterprise! If we revive it, why won't it continue where it left off?"
"We'll worry about that," said Kirk, "if they say yes."
"Yes," said Akuta.
"Oh," said McCoy, "joy."
Kirk was taken aback by the abruptness of Akuta's response. "You're welcome to think about it awhile," he started.
"Kirk," Akuta interrupted, "we have thought of nothing else all night. Not one of the People of Vaal has failed this past night to say aloud, 'Oh, if we only had Vaal back.'" The People of Vaal who had gathered to meet Kirk and McCoy milled about in agreement.
"Well," said Kirk. "We'll see what we can do."
"We may have a problem," Kirk said to Spock as he and McCoy entered the Enterprise bridge. "We may actually have to reactivate Vaal."
"We're under no real obligation, are we?" McCoy said. "I mean, you only said we'd try. Even apart from the question of its animosity toward us, we don't even know how."
"The natives have requested its reactivation?" Spock asked, moving from the command chair to its right.
"They practically begged," Kirk said ruefully, sitting in the command chair.
"What else could go wrong today?" McCoy growled, moving up to Kirk's left.
"The Federation Council Prime Directive Committee's ruling on our actions of yesterday arrived while you were on the planet," Spock said.
"Are you answering my question?" McCoy asked.
"The action taken against the computer entity Vaal has been sanctioned under the self-defense provisions of the Prime Directive."
"Well, we expected that," said Kirk. "That's all right then."
"There is, however," Spock continued, "more."
"What 'more'?" McCoy wanted to know.
"We are directed to ask the natives whether they wish Vaal reactivated. If they do, we are ordered to reactivate it."
"All I ever wanted was to play the saxophone," McCoy said.
Kirk sighed. "We've got some expert xenoprogramming to do on Vaal."
"I suppose I had better beam down," Spock said.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy stepped into the dragon's-mouth-shaped carved stone entrance to the cave in which Vaal was housed. None of them had been inside before. There was a great stone basin in the back wall of the cave that was the mouth of a tunnel that disappeared into the mountain. This was where the unstable mineral Vaal used for fuel was deposited once the natives had gathered it.
Spock activated his tricorder and walked along the walls, scanning them. He stopped in one back corner. "There is an access panel," he said. "I am reading a latch ..." His fingers brished lightly across the rock at a height just above his head, then came to rest. "... here." He depressed something with his finger and there was an audible click. The panel was hinged at the bottom and swung downwards at its release. When McCoy had protoplased the bruise Spock set to work at the terminal revealed behind the panel, while Kirk and McCoy looked on.
"We think we've come so far," said Kirk suddenly.
"Pardon?" said McCoy.
"We think we're so objective, so enlightened in our dealings with younger species," said Kirk. "We still have blind spots."
"Human beings have blind spots," McCoy conceded. "But we learn. We get better."
"Maybe in a hundred years," said Kirk, "we'll be better at this."
"Captain," called Spock.
"Yes? What is it?"
"I have found an icon-based help index. This should not take long."
When Kirk had Spock trip Vaal's gong control, the natives reacted just as he expected - they rushed into the cave laden with fuel mineral. They found Kirk standing in front of the basin with Spock and McCoy flanking him.
"Have you reawakened Vaal?" Akuta asked. Only he seemed to have any doubt. Of course, he was the one with Vaal's comm set hardwired into his ear canal.
"No," said Kirk.
The natives settled into that uneasy silence children get when the teacher departs from the lesson plan.
Spock pointed to the access terminal, and at a large green button near the bottom. "Press this button, and Vaal will be reactivated. On a half hour time delay," he added at McCoy's sharp look.
"Then press it," Akuta demanded. There were annoyed murmurs among the crowd.
"No," said Kirk.
"You said you would do this," Akuta objected. The annoyed murmurs became angry grumbles.
"If I was wrong to turn Vaal off for you," Kirk said, "then I'm wrong to turn it back on. You must do it."
"You must choose for yourself whether to live idyllically as Vaal's slaves," said Spock.
"Or to live your own lives and your own joys - and your own pains, sicknesses and deaths," said McCoy.
"It's not my choice to make," said Kirk. "It's not even your ancestors'. It's yours." He took out his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise. Three to beam up, now. Warp out as soon as we're aboard."
"I suppose we'll never know what they chose," McCoy said as the three trooped onto the bridge and converged on the command chair as usual, Kirk of course sitting there.
"Maybe not," said Kirk. "Starfleet's put the world under a class five quarantine - no contact until or unless contacted first."
"Well, Spock," McCoy said, "are you satisfied?"
"My personal satisfaction was never the issue," said Spock. "However ..."
"In forcing the People of Vaal to make their own choice, have we perhaps imposed on them our own doctrine of free choice?"
"I can't win," said Kirk.
[There's a T*R*E*K
version of this story too.
And a TNG sequel.]
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