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The Captain’s Table – D’bryn Zoë
Posted on February 17th, 2021 by Kathryn Harper and D'bryn Zoë

by D’bryn Zoë and Kathryn Harper

Gentle waves made their way onto white sands as the morning chased the night beyond the oceanic horizon, while a pleasant sea breeze carried the scent of salt. The holographic beach was quite familiar to its lone occupant, as it was the location of most of Captain Kathryn Harper’s morning runs. Clad in her usual running attire of a green racerback sports bra and matching shorts, she stretched, leaning deep into a lunge over white trainers, which were actually unusual for this particular setting. Normally, Harper ran barefoot in the sand, but this morning she was expecting a guest, so she had dialed back the difficulty by making the sand feel like running on firm ground. When the holodeck arch appeared to signal her guest’s arrival, Kate stood and smiled expectantly toward the doors.

Zoë stepped through wearing dark gray versions of the sweatpants they handed out in basic, plus a matching T-shirt made out of a fabric the computer said would ‘wick sweat’, because that was apparently important. Her running shoes had been replicated in a ‘broken-in’ state. She had to hope this would ameliorate the discomfort of this sudden return to high-impact cardio she was about to do. Also, she was starving, and as much as she looked forward to getting to know her new captain, she couldn’t wait to finally have breakfast.

“Morning, Captain,” Zoë said, reaching back and grabbing her foot for a quad stretch. Quad stretches help, right? I remember doing quad stretches. 

“Good morning, Ensign!” came Kate’s sunny, obviously-a-morning-person reply. “And thank you for accepting my invitation. I try to do something like this with everyone aboard, just so we can get to know each other better.” Harper returned to her stretches and watched the ensign, attempting to gauge her proficiency before they set off.

“And thanks for the invite, ma’am.” Zoë tried not to make it obvious that she was mirroring Captain Harper’s stretches. “I have to admit: I haven’t done a whole lot of running since basic. I’ll do my best, though.”

“No worries! We can set whatever pace you are comfortable with, and I modified the program to make the sand feel like you are running on firm ground, so that will make it easier on you as well.” Noticing that she was being mimicked, Kate started to lead the ensign through several stretches.

Zoë followed the captain’s lead. A few of these stretches were long forgotten since her days at the Academy, but when they finished stretching Zoë felt a little more prepared.

“Pretty beach,” Zoë said, standing up from a lunge. “Based on a real place?”

“Yes,” Kate answered with an enthusiastic nod. “This is where I grew up, on Risa. It is a small town, mostly insulated from the tourists, but we get some, looking for the ‘authentic experience.’” Pointing at a nearby house, she added, “My parents still live there.”

“Wow,” Zoë said. “Lucky you, ma’am. My dad lives in, basically, a resort town on Bajor, and it’s got nothin’ on this. I actually did the majority of my growing up on ships, so I don’t really know what I’d do with so much open space around me every day.”

With a shrug and a grin, Kate replied, “I did a lot of swimming, naturally, and still do. And, of course, running! Come on!” She laughed and set off into an easy jog, her red ponytail rhythmically swinging behind her.

Oh god, here we go. Zoë took off after the captain, almost immediately discovering difficulty in keeping pace with a seasoned runner. Come on, Zoë, you’ve been through training, your work is all done on your feet, you can do this. 

The firm rendering of the sandy terrain was kind to Zoë’s legs, at least for now. She never could get used to the peculiarities of holographic design, where some senses absorb conflicting information from the other senses. A beach of soft sand should’ve been making her calves scream in agony after ten meters, but it felt like fresh, springy track.

Zoë monitored her breathing, trying to remember the alternating inhale/exhale pattern she’d read about. Doing good, she thought. For right now.

All Starfleet officers had to run while at the Academy, but not all of them continued after graduation, at least not beyond whatever exercise they needed to do to meet the minimum physical fitness standards. Kate monitored her companion as they ran and adjusted their pace to not be overly strenuous; even youth did not provide much of a benefit if its bearer did not take advantage of it. The ensign was clearly not a practiced runner, but the captain did notice that she was giving it her best, trying to adhere to proper form and breathing. After a few minutes, Kate gently asked, “Are you doing alright, Zoë?”

Zoë nodded. Stammering through her breaths she said, “Yeah! I’m shaking off…some of the rust…but otherwise…yeah…I’m doing just…fine.”

She felt that twinge: that indescribable signal from the body that it’s time to stop doing what you’re doing. The how-to Zoë read this morning described this as a thing one needed to just push through, but she needed to work up to pushing through such a thing.

“Actually, Captain, might need to…might need to walk for a minute.”

“No problem!” They slowed to a walk, and in an effort to get the belabored ensign’s mind off her difficulties, Kate tried to keep her talking. “So, you are clearly not a runner, and that is perfectly fine. What do you like to do in your free time?”

Arms up above your head, Zoë, don’t double over like you really want to. “Oh, I, uh… I read. Write. Listen to music. Films, holonovels, games, the whole indoorsy-person gamut. Unless I have some kinda work-adjacent thing I could work on. I know that might be kinda boring of me, but… I dunno; outside of holonovels and trainings I’m not a real holodecky kinda person. A lot of the transport ships I was on growing up didn’t have holodecks, so I got used to getting by with whatever I had at hand.”

“I also enjoy holonovels! Oh, and games too, but since taking command I have not had as much time for those. I used to play a fantasy roleplaying game with our former CMO where we fought dragons and died a lot.” Kate laughed at the memory before continuing, “We have a persistent holodeck program called Lost Harbor that simulates an island in the Pacific ocean on Earth, in the early twentieth century. Feel free to drop in and meet the locals, if you want to branch out beyond a preprogrammed novel.”

“Oh whoa, cool!” Zoë said. “I’ve been in a pretty deep reading phase the past couple months, but when I start feeling the itch for holonovels and the like, I’ll check it out for sure.” She took a big breath. “I’m ready to start jogging again, if you want, by the by.”

Impressed with the ensign’s quick recovery, Kate resumed their earlier pace. In an attempt to encourage her further, she remarked, “You know, if you can make it, there is a seaside cafe ahead with a breakfast menu that is simply divine…” Trailing off, she cast a sideways grin at Zoë to gauge her reaction.

At the word breakfast, Zoë’s mind surged with images and aromas of the breakfasts she and Mom used to have: the ancestral meals like syrniki and blini, amongst the other Earth classics like pancakes, fried eggs, biscuits, hollandaise. Her stomach experienced the same internal jolt a puppy must have felt when its owner said the W-A-L-K-word.

She tried not to sound too eager, but as it came on the wings of a labored exhalation, Zoë almost grunted, “That sounds great, ma’am!”

In contrast, with little effort apparent in her voice, the captain cheered her ensign onward. “Then come on; it is not far! You can do it, Zoë!” Kate surged forward, but over the next several seconds, subtly slowed their pace so that it ended up slightly more leisurely than before. This morning’s run would not provide much exercise for her, as Kate had hardly even broken a sweat, but exercise was not the reason she had invited her new crew member along.

Quailing but for a moment at the relativity of the phrase, It’s not far, Zoë channeled her inner hobbit and propelled herself by the fresh steam of a hundred imaginary meals. The aforementioned syrniki and blini, aebleskiver with lemon curd, toasted and spiced mapa topped with a moba compote, breakfast hasperat, Gusmati cheese fries (counted only because late Academy hours had pushed late-night cuisine into early daylight hours), redspice sausage with Mars-grown red potatoes fried up in rosemary and enough garlic to choke a horse.

And before she knew it, there they were: Klee’s By the Seas. Zoë heaved, almost bent over this time but remembered not to.

“Great run, Zoë! I knew that you could do it!” After giving the ensign a few moments to catch her breath, Kate stepped from the sand onto the worn wooden floor of the open-air restaurant. An older Risian man of over one hundred and fifty years, though he certainly did not look his age, welcomed her with a hearty greeting, to which she cheerily answered, “Hi, Klee! A table for two, please.”

Once they were seated and had placed their orders, Kate commented over the rim of a cup of coffee, “I have been coming here since I was a little girl, and Klee has always been here, running this place since even before my parents’ time. He is a local legend, as is his cooking.”

Light on holodeck activities as she was, Zoë had to remind herself not to be embarrassed about wearing sweaty workout clothes in a quaint restaurant. She also had to get over her impractical distaste for outdoor dining. Where does that come from? she wondered, jotting a mental note to bring it up to Ori at their next session. The sky was stained with every color on morning’s palette; the halcyon sea lapped lazily at the sand; the breeze was warm and gentle and carried upon it the redolence of salt and coastal flora. Valendhar had darkened every watt of yearning for the ‘paradise’ convention of a tropical idyll, but even this holographic facsimile of Risa sparked a little light within her.

Already starving for that ‘Risian take on the classic crêpe’ she ordered, Zoë sipped her breakfast tea. “Yeah, it’s cozy. Never did a whole lot of dining out at places like this. Closest thing I had were the overpriced tourist traps in the town my dad lives in.”

“We have plenty of those down in Suraya, of course. That is the sort of city that those of us who do not work in hospitality or entertainment tend to avoid, though.” Kate placed her coffee back on the table and asked, “What does your dad do in such a place?”

“He’s a coordinator for system-local supply and transport lines. He worked on those ships for years until they promoted him, now he works remotely.” Change the subject, Zoë. “It’s really kinda boring, though.” But don’t make it too obvious; come on, now. “Uh, other than running, what do you like to do when you’re not running the ship?”

The captain noticed the subject change, but decided not to press the ensign on a topic of conversation she was clearly not comfortable with. “Well, I mentioned swimming already, yes? I have always been athletic, and was even a competitive swimmer for a time, but I still enjoy doing it for fun. When I got to the Academy, tennis became my sport of choice.” Kate paused to thank Klee as he delivered their breakfast before continuing, “Outside of sports, I play flute and guitar, and oh! Also on Earth, along with picking up tennis and the guitar, I learned to ride these old two-wheeled machines they call motorcycles. Those are fun on the holodeck, but better when we are actually visiting Earth and I can ride the real thing on the old roads.”

“Oh, cool! I also picked up guitar, but I can pretty much only play easy open chords. I have a lot of trouble with C. I think my hands are too small for C. And yeah, there’s a motorcycle club in my mom’s town on Mars. They hold an annual race.”

The Risian crêpe was delicious as expected. Zoë wanted to inhale the thing but made a conscious effort to keep up the conversation while they ate. She found Captain Harper far more approachable than she expected. Even her captain on the Meridian-A, for all of his informalities, bore that untouchable air of being more of a force than an individual. Harper felt like that strange and perfect balance of being able to hold the line of command while maintaining a friendship.

When she took the last bite of her crêpe Zoë napkined her mouth and said, “Thanks for inviting me on this breakfast run, Captain. Great way to start the day.”

“Thank you for coming!” While she finished the last bite of her bacon, the captain wondered if the ensign had it in her to push herself out of her comfort zone once more. Kate tilted her head forward, her expression and tone becoming somewhat mischievous as she added, “I would be happy to have you along again… if you are up to the challenge?”

Zoë’s legs were already leaden and sore; the prospect of running again, even in a week’s time, felt torturous. But Ori always said that healthy challenge, even if painful, led to a healthier self.

“You know what, Captain? I think I am.” She winced from a throb in her calves. “But not today.”

=Λ=

Mere moments ago, Captain Kathryn Harper stood on the bridge of the Atlantis excited by the wonder of exploration and the possibility that they would get a chance to set foot on the only island on an ocean world. In seconds, that had all changed as the bridge descended into chaos following a surprise attack from a Romulan Warbird. She heard herself shouting for reports and calling for red alert and for evasive maneuvers, but even her own voice sounded distant through the daze she found herself in after being thrown into a wall, the helm console, and her wife’s chair at the operations console. Even the red alert klaxon, a sound that was designed to be unable to be ignored, seemed to be coming from somewhere else entirely.

Her gait slightly unsteady, the captain once again fought to get to her chair. There, she could strap in and at least find respite from the abuse of being thrown around the bridge. She heard herself calling for shields once again and, looking back toward the engineering console, saw Commander Kuari. That was not right; what was her XO doing there? Captain Harper scanned her bridge while an unnoticed rivulet of blood seeped its way down her temple from somewhere on her scalp. Kate’s eyes settled on a form on the floor and, after an audible heartbeat to process, the captain was able to identify the officer down as the engineer on bridge duty, Ensign D’bryn. Her intake of breath to declare a medical emergency caught in her throat as the ensign began to rise.

Zoë’s eyes fluttered half-open. At first she saw a mosaic of blurred colors, overlapping, swimming over each other as her eyes tried to focus to center. Her ears rang; her stomach turned; her equilibrioception turned harder. She didn’t need a clear head nor a professional diagnosis to know she had a concussion, and she didn’t need a doctor to tell her that this was going to make her job tenfold as difficult if left untreated.

Rolling herself to her side and propping up on one elbow, Zoë spotted the XO at the engineering terminal. Through the haze of her vision and the chaos on the bridge, the terminal looked as if ten kilometers away.

It is not far. You can do it, Zoë.

Clenching her jaw Zoë rolled over further, and with a grunt she pushed herself up to a wobbling sitting position.

You can do it, Zoë.

Her legs felt shapeless and disconnected from the signals her brain was trying to send, but she moved them all the same. Using the wall she’d collided with as leverage, Zoë clambered to an uneasy stand.

It is not far.

Distant, hollow shouts filled the air of the bridge. The smell of something burning in some mechanical innard added to the dizziness in Zoë’s head. She stumbled, but did not fall.

You can do it, Zoë.

You can do it.

You can.

She reached the engineering terminal and said, to whoever could hear her, “I’m good. All good.”


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4 Comments

  • Scott Ammora says:

    What great chemistry! That’s a great read, for sure. Thank you for collaborating and for sharing. Got to make sure Scott stretches more, apparently. :)

    Nice work!


  • Emilaina Acacia says:

    I like the tie-in to the sim at the end. This was a really good read, guys. I liked the way they got over the awkwardness.


  • Kuari Kuari says:

    I particularly like the contrast between the two characters, one athletic and the other an “indoors person”. It makes for a good intro to their friendship. The best part of all is, of course, how D’bryn is inspired to push through her injury in the second part. I loved it!


  • Alexis Wright says:

    Lexy, too, is an indoors person for the most part. She and Zoë should hang out.
    That being said, this is well done, especially with regards to the sim tie-in at the end. An enjoyable read!




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