Posted on July 1st, 2021 by Kathryn Harper
Captain Harper usually conducted her strength training with the crew in the ship’s gym, located in the recreation area next to her frequent stop of the pool on deck twenty-three, but today Kate wanted to be alone, so she found herself in the adjacent holodeck five. Having shed her coverup windbreaker with her sandals into a pile on top of her half-open gym bag, Kate was now barefoot and left wearing tight forest green sports shorts over a matching athletic bikini appropriate for her usual routine of a post-weightlifting swim, although today it would be in a holographic ocean instead of the ship’s pool.
The program was the beach by her home on Risa that hosted many of her morning runs, but she had added assorted free weights along with the necessary support equipment to properly use them. One of Risa’s suns started to peek over the horizon opposite the water, lending its soft golden hues to the gentle waves lapping the shore. The dawn’s air was warm with a light sea breeze, and an approaching front of clouds over the ocean seemed to promise rain; although it would have been trivial to have the program’s weather always be perfect, Kate chose to have it be faithful to the actual weather back home during the most recent morning, as a small way to reinforce her connection there.
Her toes dug into the sand as her sculpted legs drove her shoulders upward against a barbell perched upon them, and she counted each repetition in her native tongue as she powered through the squats. Once the set was complete, Kate backed the weights onto a metal rack behind her and leaned against it, looking out to sea as her mind wandered while she rested. Her desire for privacy was driven by a need for solitary thought; she had devoted almost every spare moment to studying what knowledge they had about the Xovul, to further understand them in hopes of devising a way to make peace. That the solution to this problem continually eluded her was increasingly affecting her emotional state, with the likelihood of what should be an avoidable war leading her to blame herself for being unable to avert it. “What have I missed?” she frustratedly wondered aloud, still speaking in Risan.
“Your deadlifts, for one thing,” came a somewhat disapproving reply in the same language. A tall dark-skinned Risian woman, athletic in build and dressed in a fitted white tank top and burgundy track shorts, had approached unnoticed while Kate exercised. The sea breeze teased strands of her short black hair around her brown eyes as she folded her arms over her chest, where a whistle hung on a lanyard around her neck.
“Sorry, Coach,” Kate instinctively apologized, the reflex ingrained in her from thirty years ago. This was a holographic simulation of Rhivi Ahnoon, who had coached her in several high school sports, and although Kate was no longer a teenager, even a hologram of the Coach still commanded an ingrained respect from deep within her.
“Your form was also off in those squats; lead with your hips and keep your chest up.” The Coach pursed her lips and pinched her chin; sometimes her students needed coaching beyond athletics, and something told her this might be the case now. “Hm. I have to admit, these errors are unlike you. What’s on your mind, Miss Aerpoor?”
She had tried having the hologram address her by her original Risan first name, or as Harper, Kathryn, or Kate, or even by her rank instead of Miss, but none of it sounded right coming from the Coach, so back to her high school salutation and name it went. “I’m a starship captain,” Kate began.
“I know that,” the Coach interrupted with a wry grin as her persona of a hardass coach started to soften, “you’re the first woman from our world to command in Starfleet. What you have gone on to accomplish comes as no surprise, but to me, you’ll always be Miss Aerpoor, one of my student athletes coming to ask her coach for advice.”
“Of course,” Kate dipped her head in deference. “But now they’ve put me in charge of a fleet, and, Coach… We may be going to war with the Xovul, and I’m still trying to figure out how to prevent that, not to mention dealing with the responsibility of commanding a fleet.”
“That is a tough one.” The Coach tapped her lips with a finger. “Give me ten deadlifts while I think about it.”
“Yes, Coach.” Kate obediently stepped up to the heavy barbell resting on the sand and obliged, ensuring that her form was correct, especially while under the Coach’s watchful eye. She was not always present during Kate’s exercises in the holodeck; Kate had given her a random chance to appear, weighted to be more likely if her form suffered. She enjoyed the idea that Coach could show up at any time to spur her onward, and found that when her form was improper, it was usually because something was on her mind and the chance to talk was always welcomed.
With an approving nod following Kate’s set of deadlifts, the Coach spoke up. “You are in command for a reason, Miss Aerpoor. We all know that back home; your parents will not stop telling everyone what you’re doing, and we are all so proud of you. The prospect of war, well, that is terrifying, but if there is a way to avoid war, you will find it. And if that doesn’t happen, you are the Captain; just like I made you the captain of my teams because of what you are capable of, so did Starfleet. Get in the game and do what you do best, Aerpoor!” The Coach offered a wide, encouraging smile before concluding, “But first, do another set of squats, and actually do them right this time.”
“Yes, Coach,” Kate answered with gratitude for the pep talk apparent in her expression. She shouldered the bar from the rack and powered through another set, feeling the burn in her legs, but that burn was worth it for the results. Coach is right, Kate thought as she received another nod of approval before her frustration started to creep back into her mind. I am here for a reason… but so are the Xovul commanders. Fuck! So many people will die… a diplomatic solution must still be possible, it just has to be!
“Much better,” came the Coach’s praise. “It is obvious that you do not skip leg day. I’m glad that at least one of my girls learned that lesson!” When Kate’s smiling response only seemed half-hearted, Rhivi quieted and asked, “There is more on your mind, yes? My motivational speeches seem to have lost their power lately.”
“No, no, you’re always helpful and inspiring, Coach. That’s why you’re here, after all,” Kate hurriedly reassured her holographic mentor. As she continued to speak, her tone gained urgency as the Risan words began to rush from her. “But, what I was saying when you arrived is that I feel that there must still be a way to peacefully coexist with the Xovul, and I have to wonder what I’ve missed that could lead us to it. I just can’t accept that war is the inevitable outcome of our cultures meeting, and if there is still a diplomatic solution, I have to find it!” Captain Harper’s green eyes moistened as they begged Coach Ahnoon to dispense some morsel of wisdom, to just say anything that could guide her to the answer.
“I think that my words have diminished in effectiveness because the problems you bring to me escalate in scale as the years pass, Miss Aerpoor, and I’m just a high school coach, but thank you for saying that I can still help,” Rhivi answered quietly as she folded her arms over her chest once more and looked down at the sand beneath her bare feet. She may only have been a hologram of a woman that had dispensed so much advice to Kate over the years, but she also had access to far more computational power than the real version of herself back home, so perhaps she could tap into that to at least try. The Coach looked back at her student and first reached for the comfortable routine that Kate clearly expected from her. “Give me weighted lunges while I consider what you have said.”
“Yes, Coach,” Kate said, ineffectually wiping at her eyes, then taking a moment to collect herself with a few deep breaths before picking up a dumbbell in each hand and beginning the lunges. The routine of the exercises did at least provide a momentary distraction from her emotional turmoil, but her form on the early repetitions suffered until her focus returned. When the prescribed set was complete, she replaced the weights in the rack and looked to the Coach.
Having been busy extending her programming by running background simulations on probable outcomes of the Xovul situation and correlating them with holotherapy databases in search of some advice she could potentially give to Kate, the Coach nodded and began to speak. “Good form toward the end. Now, correct me if I am wrong, Miss Aerpoor, but diplomacy usually requires that two parties come to the table with open minds toward resolving their differences, yes? You have been twisting yourself into knots struggling to understand the Xovul, but is there any indication that they have tried to understand the Federation and our values? A harmony requires multiple singers, does it not?”
“It does,” Kate admitted, her voice wavering as she continued, “But what am I supposed to do, give up and offer, ‘well, I tried, but they didn’t,’ as an excuse for all of the death to come?”
“Of course not. What you are trying to do… we all desperately want you to succeed. War is abhorrent to us Risians, as a culture devoted to the enjoyment of life, but it’s not just our people who are scared; the news reports a similar mood across the Federation. Regardless of that, you are just one woman who cannot be expected to do everything herself, and moreover, you simply don’t deserve what you are putting yourself through, even if you are ultimately unsuccessful. Especially if you’re unsuccessful… since if you cannot find another way, I doubt one exists short of capitulation to their demands, and that is assuredly not co-existence.”
Kate stood in silence for a few moments, contemplating her coach’s words before eventually defeatedly managing, “That’s all so logical, and I know that it’s irrational of me, but I still feel responsible… and it just hurts.” Looking up at the taller woman, her glistening eyes continued their pleas for help.
“I know,” Rhivi answered, her synthesized voice taking on a convincingly empathetic tone as she finished integrating the therapeutic subroutines into her program. “And it is profoundly unfair that this situation would cause someone who has worked so hard to prevent it to wrack herself with guilt over being unable to do so. I wish that you were able to lay down that burden.”
Again wiping at her reddened face as she lowered her head, Kate sniffled and whispered, her voice barely audible over the waves, “Thank you, Coach.”
“Any time, Miss Aerpoor.” Sensing that her student needed a little push to move on, the Coach prompted, “I think that you still owe me some more deadlifts, yes?”
With a nod, Kate dutifully approached the barbell and paused for some more deep breathing to gather her composure before working through the set, feeling better as her thoughts focused on her form instead of the awful times that may lay ahead. When it was complete after she added a few extra reps, Kate found the Coach’s approving nod and returned a sincere attempt at a smile.
“That was a good workout, all things considered.” Coach Ahnoon jerked a thumb over her shoulder toward the nearby house where Kate’s parents lived. “Now, hit the showers, Miss Aerpoor.”
“I will, Coach, and thank you again. But first, I want to take a swim.” Kate hooked her thumbs in the waistband of her shorts and slid them down her legs to reveal the matching green bottom to her athletic bikini top. After stepping out of the shorts and adding them to the pile on her gym bag, she waved to her coach and jogged into the sea. Spray kicking up behind her feet turned into wakes behind her calves, and once the water became deep enough, Kate lunged forward and began to swim through the surf. The Coach watched and evaluated Kate’s powerful, practiced strokes as they carried her over the waves before she eventually dove and disappeared beneath them.