Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Kent Moore has won our Short Story writing contest on the theme of Unlocking the Mind with "The Corbomite Maneuver".
Kent Moore is a Senior Strategist for Physician Payment at the American Academy of Family Physicians, where he also serves as a contributing editor to one of its journals, FPM. He's also written for Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities. An earlier short story, "Rooted and Grounded in Love," won the Open Category of the Johnson County Library's Many in One writing contest and is available on the library website.
The Corbomite Maneuver
Mike sipped his latte and peered into his dad’s room at Pinecrest, a private mental health facility where the pungent mix of urine and bleach conveyed anything but pines. He set his phone to vibrate before entering, in case his office called. He had a full day of meetings ahead.
His dad sat in a stuffed leather chair beside the bed. Floral curtains, landscape prints on the wall, and laminate flooring resembling hardwood gave the room a mock sense of hominess.
A TV atop the dresser projected an episode of the original Star Trek. Mike preferred The Next Generation version, but despite Netflix and cable, all Dad watched was the original series. As usual, he wore black slacks below a t-shirt that sported a crude, hand-drawn Starfleet emblem. Every time Mike replaced Dad’s homemade “uniform” with a new, unadorned t-shirt, Dad added the emblem. Mike had to admit the outfit looked more comfortable than his own suit and tie.
Mike rapped on the open door. “Anybody home?”
Dad paused the TV and looked toward the doorway. “Spock! Come in. What brings you to sick bay?” The raspy voice testified to his age and history of smoking. After a few halting tries to stand, he settled for a handshake. Dad’s grip at 80 remained as firm as Mike’s at 50. If only Dad’s grip on reality was the same.
A table near Dad’s chair held breakfast leftovers, including an untouched blueberry scone, which Mike found delicious, having been too rushed to eat at home. “What’re you watching?” Mike asked. He already knew, but the question was a safe start to their weekly conversation.
“Archival footage of our adventures. You remember when I bluffed our escape by claiming the Enterprise contained a substance called ‘corbomite’ that would destroy any attacker? As if corbomite even existed.” Dad laughed.
Mike had fond memories of watching Star Trek with Dad back in the days before it became an inescapable delusion. He guessed Dad saw himself as a 1960’s version of William Shatner rather than the bald, liver-spotted man with the sagging skin others saw. Then again, Mike reflected, how often had he imagined himself as svelte Captain Picard rather than the chunky, middle-aged executive he really was?
“How’re you doing?” Mike asked.
“Never better. Ready to tackle the Klingons if they try anything.”
“What’s the doctor say?”
“Bah. Bones says he still wants to observe me for another day. But tomorrow….”
Mike nodded. Always tomorrow. “Linda and Maggie send their love.”
Dad gave a mischievous smile and rubbed his palms together. “Are those the two we picked up on Rigel Seven? You tell them I’ll happily give them a personal tour of the Enterprise when Bones clears me.”
“No, Dad. Linda’s your daughter-in-law. Maggie’s your granddaughter in college.” Maggie’s Harvard tuition, as well as Mike’s Range Rover in the parking lot, were the costly status symbols expected in his exclusive Kansas City suburb.
Dad frowned. “Spock, are you okay? It’s me, Jim, your captain. Your dad’s on Vulcan, and neither of us has been married or had kids, let alone grandkids.”
Mike sighed, and his shoulders slumped. No spark of recognition. Ever hopeful and always disappointed, he moved to restore the conversation to one Dad could track. “Merely a test, Captain, at Dr. McCoy’s request. As noted, my father is away…on Vulcan.” He tried to remember if Spock ever expressed missing his father. “Tell me, Captain, do you remember what you did before…life on the Enterprise?”
Dad looked at the scene frozen on the TV screen. “Seems as if I’ve always been searching and saving the universe. Before Enterprise was Starfleet Academy. I’m afraid the Federation has owned me my entire adult life.” Mike imagined it would continue to own him, or at least his mind, for the rest of his life.
Mike’s phone vibrated. The office. They couldn’t manage for an hour without him. Maybe Captain James T. Kirk wasn’t the only one who was “owned.” Still, Mike couldn’t complain. He was on the firm’s partnership track, the same track Dad had been on when he’d suffered his mental collapse and been committed to Pinecrest.
“Everything okay? I don’t care what Bones says, if the Klingons ….”
Mike gave Dad’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “No, Captain. Simply a reminder I’ve business elsewhere. Nothing that requires your attention, but I’ll give you a full report the next time.”
Mike sighed again and stood to leave. He searched Dad’s eyes for any sign he saw someone besides a pointy-eared science officer. Perceiving none, Mike raised his right hand in Vulcan fashion and said, “Live long and prosper.”
Dad responded in kind, a stray tear running down his cheek. Mike paused to see if others followed, to see if he had finally cracked the invisible barrier of the delusion that separated him from the man he once knew and who once knew him. When none appeared, Mike left.
Back in his Range Rover, Mike gazed at the facility’s windows. He could see Dad facing the TV. Linda said Dad’s mind was unhinged, but Mike thought “unlocked” was a better word. While Mike spent his days in a pressure-packed rat race while struggling to maintain his social status, Dad spent his eating three square meals, sleeping to his heart’s content, and watching his favorite TV program, free of the pressures that pushed him into Pinecrest. Who was the crazy one? Then again, maybe Dad had pulled a corbomite maneuver of his own, a creative bluff to escape the gilded cage known as reality that still trapped Mike.
He pressed the start button on the futuristic dashboard. As the engine thrummed to life, Mike could almost hear Geordi La Forge telling him the warp drive was ready to take him anywhere he wished to go. A wistful smile crossed his lips. “Make it so,” Mike said, then slipped the gears into drive and added, “Engage.”