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Command 101 – B+
Posted on April 20th, 2022 by Kathryn Harper

Her morning routine was automatic: wake up without an alarm, quietly slip out of bed to not disturb Lexy, take a quick sonic shower, dress in her usual exercise apparel of a matching racerback sports bra and track shorts under a coverup windbreaker for the walk through the ship’s corridors, run a brush through her red hair and tie it back in a ponytail, step into sandals since most of her runs were barefoot in sand, then head out on her way to the holodeck. This routine was so automatic to Commodore Kathryn Harper that she performed it even while dwelling on the recent tragedy that had befallen her crew, the murder of her Chief Engineer, Lieutenant D’bryn Zoë.

Through all of this, she had not yet remembered that Zoë was supposed to meet her this morning to run together and, as she stepped through the holodeck doors onto the familiar beach of her childhood home on Risa, that realization struck her with the force of one of the waves crashing onto this very shore. Up until this point, her Command Demeanor had held up well while she had focused on protecting the rest of her crew from the same fate that had befallen Zoë, but now, alone with such a stark reminder of her loss, it began to crumble. After a few dazed steps, Kate collapsed to her knees in the warm sand while the holodeck’s arch vanished behind her.

The weather in this program was true to the actual conditions from the most recent morning back home, and today, the sky was overcast with a noticeable wind coming from the unusually rough sea. In fiction, such weather would be cliche for a time of mourning, but sometimes reality had a way of demonstrating how certain cliches came to be. A warm, light rain began to fall as a sudden deep sob wracked her body, followed by another a few seconds later, and then the dam burst as everything she had been suppressing surged through. Kate buried her head in her hands and wept, still on her knees in the sand.

Command training dealt with losing subordinates and even having to knowingly send them to their deaths, but it failed to address the emotional trauma beyond a cursory note about seeing the ship’s counselor if necessary. This was not even the first time Kate had lost someone under her command, but her track record of dealing with it was not exactly stellar; several years ago while serving as Atlantis’s CAG, she nearly drowned herself in alcohol after the loss of so many of her pilots in a single battle, many of whom were replacements that she had just personally recruited to fill vacancies from previous losses. ‘Be Detached’ was Command 101, but that was not her style; even before taking the center seat of Atlantis, Kate had always gotten better results by taking the time to get to know, and even befriend, those under her command.

Someone sat down in the sand beside her, but Kate didn’t register until a pair of strong dark-skinned arms were hugging her. She looked up long enough through tear-blurred vision to identify the arms as belonging to Rhivi Ahnoon or, rather, a holographic simulation of the woman that had coached her in several school sports. Kate had added a random chance for Coach Ahnoon to appear while she was exercising that increased if her form suffered, and this morning certainly qualified as poor running form. Gratefully, Kate slipped sideways from her knees and let her head fall onto the Coach’s shoulder, where she continued to sob for several minutes while being held.

Finally, with a great undignified sniffling snort, Kate pulled back and wiped at her face with her windbreaker. “Thanks, Coach,” she quietly offered in her native tongue.

“You’re welcome, Miss Aerpoor,” Rhivi answered, also in the Risan language. It was always Miss Aerpoor, as Kate’s high school salutation was the only form of address that sounded right coming from her coach. Her program was aware of what was going on aboard Atlantis and, although she suspected what the problem was, Rhivi gently asked, “Are you mourning Lieutenant D’bryn?”

“Zoë,” Kate began with another deep sniffle and wipe at her face, “was supposed to run with me this morning. I’ve been so focused on the problem that it just now hit me.” Another wave of tears erupted forth, and for another few minutes, she wept on her coach’s shoulder.

When it seemed that Kate’s sobs were dying down once more, Rhivi offered, “Even starship captains are free to mourn, Miss Aerpoor. It’s healthy, especially given the effort you make to get to know the members of your crew.”

“This is why they tell you not to do it,” Kate whimpered into her shoulder.

“Would you rather have not known Zoë?” The Coach pulled back a little and lifted Kate’s chin with a finger to find her watery green eyes. “Would you rather remember her by a form letter to her family?” Kate shook her head, and Rhivi continued, “And that’s why you never listened to what they taught. You found that others respond to the knowledge that their leader cares about them as people, and not just as resources, and you’ve enjoyed being able to reach out and spend meaningful time with so many over the years. Yes, this is part of why they tell you to be detached, but it’s not the only reason. You’re less likely to sacrifice those you care about, but if every military commander made this kind of effort, maybe we would have a more peaceful galaxy.”

Kate held her gaze on the Coach’s brown eyes for a few moments after she finished speaking, blinking away the blurriness before lowering her reddened face to wipe it on the windbreaker’s lining once more. “You’re right, Coach,” she quietly affirmed. “It’s never not been worth it, even when I’ve lost them.”

“And because of that, you work that much harder to try to keep from losing them,” Rhivi added with a nod. “Not that this was your fault; you took every precaution, but the procedures rarely account for beings like this Sarreon.”

“Yeah,” Kate answered in a casual manner that she rarely used when speaking English. “I know that, but knowing that is different from believing it.”

“Believe it, Miss Aerpoor, and learn from it.” They shared a silence for a bit, with the therapeutic routines that Rhivi had added to her programming churning while Kate stared out toward the gray horizon and listened to the sound of the crashing waves in an attempt to gather herself. After a few minutes, Coach Ahnoon stood and offered a helping hand. “Now come on. I’m not Zoë, but I’ll run with you this morning.”

Kate looked up at her coach incredulously.

“You have to get back to your feet and keep moving forward, Miss Aerpoor. Lives depend on it.”

Kate looked back out to sea and licked her lips that felt dry even though the rain made sure that they weren’t. Coach was right, of course. That’s why she’s the Coach and you’re just a Commodore, Harper finally decided as she clasped Rhivi’s hand and pulled herself up. She brushed the sand off her legs and rear before shedding her windbreaker and sandals into a pile on the beach. The rain raised goosebumps on the skin of her arms and stomach that had been covered by the jacket, but Kate didn’t notice; instead, she slicked back her soaked hair, nodded to the Coach, and the two women set off together into a run as the waves chased their bare feet.

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  • Jack Leirone says:

    A great look at all the ways such a tragedy can hit someone in a leadership position. Wonderfully done!

  • Emilaina Acacia says:

    I knew Harper would be hit hard by this, it’s heartening to see that consistency in her character. The moment was very poignant. Good work!

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