Posted on December 28th, 2017 by Alexis Wright
by Alexis Wright, with Kathryn Harper
The sand beneath Alexis’s blanket still radiated some of the day’s warmth, despite the fact that the suns had long since dipped beneath the horizon. The constant sound of waves crashing against the shore provided the sole accompaniment to her inspection of the foreign constellations that stretched across the Risian night sky. Long, peaceful moments passed before the jarring sound of Kate pointedly clearing her throat prompted Lexy guiltily back to the question she’d been blatantly avoiding. Sighing, she turned her head to the right toward Kate lying next to her on the moonlit beach. “To be honest, taking the test isn’t really something I’d planned to do, but T’Kirr talked me into it. She sponsored me, in fact.”
“Oh?” Kate’s brows rose with interest. “The Commodore would not have suggested that you take the test unless she thought you capable, of course.”
Lexy sighed again, turning back to point her eyes skyward. “She said that it would be good for my career, but that’s not terribly important to me. She didn’t really get my attention until she suggested that I should do it to better support you. I promised them that I would, you know. So, when she brought it up… there wasn’t much choice in the matter. I didn’t mind, though,” she quickly added, “If it helps me support you, then I’ll do it. It was like that.”
They laid there wordlessly until it became clear that Lexy would add nothing further, and Kate ventured another question. “The test is different for everyone… what was it like for you? Or would you rather not say?”
Knowing that this would inevitably come up did not serve to make Lexy feel any more prepared to talk about it, but she knew that she needed to get it off of her chest. “It…” she said, then paused, unsure where to begin. “I didn’t know much about the test going in, only that it would test my leadership abilities. I didn’t really think I had any of those, though, so I was fully prepared to fail a test for the first time in my life.” Lexy rose to a sitting position, gazing out toward the surf; she grabbed a fistful of sand and watched it run out through the hole created by the imperfect seal of her pinky finger. The strong breeze blew the sand onto her clothes, and she clenched her fist to stop the flow. Without looking up, she said, “Computer, reduce wind intensity by eighty percent.”
Once the breeze died away, she allowed the flow to resume and the sand to stream down to form a small pile before her, just beyond the edge of her blanket, idly adding more handfuls to it as she spoke. “The ship I was commanding was carrying a diplomatic delegation, which included my brother Bryan, to some relatively routine…” She stopped abruptly, again clenching her fist to halt the flow of sand, her gaze focused on something that wasn’t there. The flow of both words and sand resumed a moment later with a shake of her head. “No. The details aren’t important. What matters is that I was presented with a seemingly simple decision between two options, one of which was clearly supported by all of the information available to me. But even though I made what was objectively the ‘right’ choice, things began to go wrong. I was presented with an opportunity to choose again, and I reviewed my options with the new information in mind, but came to the same conclusion. And again, the situation grew worse. When the opportunity to change my mind came up a third time, I realized that this must be their test… in other words, would I trust some fabled gut instinct instead of the data in order to get out of a bad situation?”
The neat pile of sand in front of Lexy grew as she continued her rhythmic pattern of taking a handful and then carefully allowing it to stream down from her balled fist. The mechanical motion, combined with the irregular cadence of the pounding surf, provided a somewhat hypnotic accompaniment to the words that seemed calm on the surface, but poured from her lips with an undercurrent of tension. “I decided, in that moment, that I was going to fail their fucking test.” The expletive was rare from her mouth, and she spat it percussively. “That I would show them that it was more important to me to stick to my principles… to follow the conclusions that I draw from the data rather than trusting my so-called gut when making that kind of decision.” Lexy’s body slowly began to betray her growing agitation; the quaver in her voice and tremble in her hands were subtle, but present. “They offered me the choice repeatedly, Kate, thrusting me into a position where I was forced to decide between being objectively right and being potentially more safe. It was easy at first, when the consequences were merely inconvenient, but it was hard when I knew making that decision again would mean that someone would get hurt. That someone important to me would probably die. That continuing along the path upon which the data had led me would mean that my choice would lead to the destruction of the ship, the death of every single person aboard, my own death, a diplomatic incident that could easily lead the Federation into war. When the choices became agonizing, I put as much time into analyzing and reviewing the data as I dared, frantically searching for an objective reason to change my decision. But there was never any reason, Kate. The choice was always clear.”
The last of a handful of sand trickled out of her fist and she opened her hand, blankly regarding her palm before angrily plunging it into the tidy mound she had created, scattering it haphazardly in every direction, erasing its existence in a matter of seconds. This unusual emotional act of destruction and disorder left her feeling cold and hollow, and she hugged her knees to her chest, resting her chin between between them as she stared off at the distant horizon, trying to ignore her awareness of Kate’s concerned eyes silently watching her. When she continued, her voice was quiet. “I wish I could say that I made what I knew to be the right choice with defiance and certainty, every time, to the bitter end… but that’s not what happened. Once the consequences got serious, the struggle was less between me and the test and more between me and my own self-doubt. It shook me, deeply, to see a choice I’d made get people killed. Get Bryan killed. I asked others aboard the ship for input, practically begging for someone to give me a reason to revise my choice, but they all deferred to me… as they were programmed to do. It’s not until then that it really sunk in for me what it would mean to be in command, to have that kind of power in my hands alone, and I was so incredibly glad that I would fail this test, that I would never be asked to make such a decision. Frankly, I actually wasn’t certain that I could even continue to make it during the test, despite my knowledge that it wasn’t even real. When I realized that my next decision would finally result in the destruction of the ship, I was actually relieved. As soon as my death was imminent, the tortured screech of twisting metal drowning out the panicked cries of my friends and colleagues barely visible through the choking smoke filling the bridge vanished, and I suddenly found myself alone in an empty holodeck with an empty voice telling me that the test simulation was complete and advising me to take a moment to collect myself before emerging. I stayed in that empty room for what felt a long time, Kate, huddled much like I am now and trying to put myself back together again. It even occurred to me that this might be part of the test as well, seeing how quickly I could recover, but I didn’t care… I was pretty sure I’d already failed. I wanted to fail.
“Ultimately, I decided that I should recapture some of the defiance that I’d had initially; it had been very difficult, but I’d shown them how committed I was to trusting data above all else. I wanted to gloat in their faces, when they saw me defiant in the face of failure because my principles were more important to me than whatever they wanted to turn me into.” The bitterness in Lexy’s voice was almost palpable, and she paused to compose herself before proceeding. “So, that’s the state of mind I was in when I went out there to receive my glorious failing grade.” She laughed, a harsh and humorless sound. “But my fragile smile of triumph died the moment I saw them, Kate. I don’t even remember everything they said to me, their congratulations and words of praise for my success. Success!” She laughed again, surreptitiously raising a hand to swipe away tears. “They called that a success. I was wrong, Kate. The test wasn’t what I thought it was at all. No, they were impressed that I never second-guessed myself, and said that I’d demonstrated that I have what it takes to be in command. My stomach dropped; I felt sick. Getting myself and everyone else killed because I was too damn stubborn to abandon my own stupid principles is what passes for success?” Swallowing hard past the lump in her throat, she fought to keep it together long enough to finish her thoughts. “I was so shocked that I couldn’t say a word. I couldn’t even tell them that I didn’t want to pass their stupid test. I just stood there limply while my hand was shaken and tried to nod in the right places until they sent me on my way, a newly-minted command officer.” Her vision blurred and she dropped her head, giving in to something that wasn’t exactly sadness, but rather the sheer overwhelming emotion that she was not equipped to hold at bay any longer.
Kate watched as Lexy buried her face in her arms and quietly shook, the soft sounds drowned out by the wind and the waves. Kate tried to speak, but was stopped short by a firm gesture. With hesitant uncertainty, she finally offered Lexy a brief but comforting touch before retreating to remain quietly present nearby in accordance with the troubled woman’s apparent wishes. Time passed in silence, apart from the wind and the waves, and the stars slid some distance across the great dome of the sky before Lexy lifted her head again to speak again.
“I haven’t been able to talk to you about any of this,” she began, her tone matter-of-fact, “because essentially what I’m saying is that I think anyone who wants to have command-level responsibility has something wrong with them, not to mention that I think the concept of a ‘gut’ that one should trust is silly. I would be insulted, if I were you. But I also know that neither of these things make me think less of you, and I don’t know if you can understand. I never wanted this responsibility, Kate. I think there would have to be something wrong with me to want it, and the concept of me trusting my gut is silly. But you’re not me, and these things work for you, and that’s okay. Do you see? It’s just that we’re different. I love Kate Harper, even the parts of her that make no sense to me. And I don’t want this responsibility, but I’ll accept it to support the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, even if I’m going to have to do a lot of thinking to figure out whether I’m even worthy of it in the first place. I passed the test, and what’s done is done. So… we’ll just move forward from here.”
Kate spoke softly from her position reclined on her beach blanket, her eyes pointed toward the stars. “You said you did not know much about the test; would it comfort you to know that it is designed to put you in one of the worst situations you could possibly face in command?”
Her brow furrowing slightly in surprise, Lexy looked back at Kate over her shoulder. “Really?”
“Really,” Kate confirmed, tipping her chin down to meet Lexy’s eyes, dark and unreadable in the dim moonlight. “If you think about it, it makes sense. They test you at your worst, with the understanding that if you succeed, most of the other decisions you must make while in command will be comparatively simple.”
After a moment’s thought, Lexy sighed and released her legs, shifting to recline similarly on her own blanket. “That makes sense, logically. I say that I would have to be crazy to want the responsibility, and I still think that’s true, but I know logically that the responsibility isn’t always such a heavy burden.” She glanced over at Kate, wondering briefly about the differences between them and admiring the strength that she knew she didn’t possess, before returning her gaze to the heavens. “Don’t worry. I’m not saying that I hate it or won’t do it. I’m just saying that I have some thinking to do about it.”
Rolling to her left and propping herself up on an elbow to face Lexy, Kate smiled. “Of course. Thinking is what you scientists do, is it not? Take your time. But I think you should be proud of yourself.”
Again, Lexy couldn’t help but turn to look at her with a slightly furrowed brow. “What, because I passed the test?” The incredulity in her tone was unmistakable.
“No,” Kate laughed, shaking her head. “I mean you should still be proud of yourself for sticking to your principles. They are an important part of what Starfleet stands for. Your approach may be somewhat different than mine, but the principles are the same. You have seen me make decisions based on my principles, have you not?”
Lexy studied her, considering her words. This conversation had certainly gone in a direction she hadn’t anticipated, but she wasn’t particularly surprised, as similar conversations had done the same in the past — it was, in fact, a large part of why she sought them out. Turning her thoughts to the events of the past months and years, she found herself drawn to Kate’s perspective in the decisions to not fire upon the Romulan refugees, to disobey orders and steal the ship, and a variety of other decisions Kate had made as a matter of principle and that Lexy had heartily agreed with, both at the time and through the lens of hindsight. In her mind, she held these emerging realizations up against the negative experience she’d had with the test, but found it beyond her ability to reconcile at that moment. “You… make a compelling point, but again, I’ll need to think about it.” She turned her eyes back to the sky and stifled a yawn; the movement of the heavens meant that this simulation had been running for some time, and it was getting quite late. “I’m too tired to think about it much more right now, I’m afraid.”
Stretching, Kate made understanding noises and rubbed her eyes, then gave Lexy a look that was discernibly affectionate, despite the dim light. “You say that coming here helps you to relax. Hopefully that has been accomplished?”
Lexy had already noted the fading of the stars, as the sky was just beginning to lighten with the streaks of the approaching dawn. “Yes,” she said, nodding, “I do love this simulation. It always helps me think, as well… but it’s not the same as the real thing. I think I’m ready to go now,” she added with a glance toward Kate, who seemed to be pleased enough by the positive change in Lexy’s state of mind to respond with a smile and a nod of apparent agreement. With one last look around the comforting setting, she took a deep breath and said, “Computer, end program.”
Taking a moment to collect herself, Lexy blinked to readjust her eyes to the blank walls before finally rising to her feet. “Thanks for the talk,” she said with a faint smile, and then walked out of the empty holodeck. Alone.