Kobayashi Maru

From Academic Kids

In the Star Trek fictional universe, the Kobayashi Maru is a third-class neutronic fuel carrier-ship which serves as the basis of a graded training exercise in which command division cadets are presented with a no-win scenario as a test of character at Starfleet Academy.

The name is Japanese, and loosely translates as the ship named Kobayashi, with Kobayashi (小林) meaning small forest and being a common family name. Maru (丸) simply is a suffix for Japanese ship names.

The Simulation

The simulation takes place on a replica of a starship bridge, involving both cadets and senior Starfleet officers. Cadets and officers are placed in key positions around the bridge. In the scenario of the 2280s, the cadet receives a distress signal, stating that the Maru has struck a "gravitic mine" in the Organian Neutral Zone and has lost power, hull integrity and life support. Furthermore, there are no other nearby vessels save for the cadet's own ship. The cadet is then faced with a decision:

  • Attempt to rescue the Maru's crew and passengers, which involves violating the Neutral Zone, and potentially provoking the Klingons into hostile action or an all-out war; or
  • Abandoning the Maru, preventing war but leaving the crew and passengers to die. Some cadets choose this option, but doing so almost certainly results in a lower grade.

If the cadet chooses to save the Maru, the scenario progresses quickly. The senior officers notify the cadet that they are in violation of the treaty, which is duly noted in the mission log. As the starship enters the Neutral Zone, the communications officer loses contact with the cripped vessel. As efforts are made to reestablish contact, three Klingon starships appear on an intercept course or decloak nearby. Attempts to contact them are met with radio silence; indeed, the only Klingon response is to open fire. The Klingon weapons inflict far more damage than would their real-life counterparts, and the simulation ends with the understanding that the cadet's ship and crew have been lost. There is no way to 'win' the scenario; its objective is to test the cadet's behavior and thought processes in the face of defeat.

James T. Kirk took the test three times while he was at Starfleet Academy. Prior to his third attempt, Kirk surreptitiously reprogrammed the simulator so that the "Klingons" would react to his presence with fearful admiration. He justified it by arguing that putting cadets in a no-win situation was cheating, and so he had to cheat in return. He received a commendation for original thinking.

In the non-canon Star Trek novel The Kobayashi Maru by Julia Ecklar, it is revealed that:

  • Chekov surrendered and evacuated his crew before setting his ship to self-destruct, much as Kirk would do with the Enterprise in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
  • Sulu realized it was probably a trap and refused to cross the Neutral Zone.
  • Scotty's performance clearly demonstrated that you should never send a pious engineer to do a captain's job (he too cheats, by employing a trick the computer erroneously thinks will work).

By the time of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Federation had reached an alliance with the Klingons, rendering the previous format of the scenario no longer suitable. In his Star Trek: New Frontier novels, Peter David suggested that future versions of the scenario would involve the Romulans. In the Star Trek: Voyager episode Learning Curve, Lieutenant Tuvok placed several former Maquis crewmembers in a similar scenario on the holodeck using a damaged Ferengi starship and Romulan warbird as the opponent in a tactical training scenario.

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