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Part of USS Arcturus: Refresh

02. Run

USS Arcturus, Waterline Track
Stardate 2401.6
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Even though he’d done his routine workout that morning, he found himself unable to sit still by the afternoon, so he’d turned his daily one-on-one meeting with his yeoman, Ensign Kaplan, into a run from stern to bow. They were running at a pace just slow enough that they could still have a conversation about the final checklist before the baryon sweep while Kaplan recounted all of the items that Lancaster needed to provide input on before the ship was shut down. Five minutes into their meeting, they were in the starboard promenade on deck fifteen—a place that was normally bustling with activity between the comfortable lounges and green space lining the broad path but was now eerily empty and quiet other than the sounds of their footfalls.

“Engineering reports that diverters 19, 21, and 38 have taken more time to bring online, but we are on schedule to begin the baryon sweep at 1800 hours,” Kaplan said, without the aid of a PADD. 

“Right. What’s causing the hold-up with the diverters?” Lancaster asked as they got close to the middle point of the deck.

“The starbase wasn’t able to provide enough to meet our needs in exactly the same configuration, so engineering is having to rebuild the power interface for those units,” the yeoman summarized. “That’s the final item on the list, sir.”

“Good. No point in delaying things,” Lancaster said coming to a stop in the grand lobby between the ship’s main lounge and the arboretum. “Computer, disable all command functions at 1800 hours, authorization Lancaster zero-six-alpha-two.”

“Authorization acknowledged,” the computer replied.

The captain exhaled, pushing through the anxiety that leaving his ship in the hands of the engineers was giving him. He nodded down the path and the two men resumed their jog. Even before Frontier Day, having a personal yeoman was a luxury—automation across the ship’s computer records and personnel scheduling would have been nearly as good from an organizational standpoint, but Kaplan had become a trusted confidant during his service under Lancaster. The young man could anticipate his needs—and tended to head off minor issues on his own to keep things off of the fleet captain’s plate and thus keeping his temper in check. Still, there were more than enough operationally critical roles that Kaplan could be filling somewhere else.

It was about five hundred meters from the forward lounge down the promenade towards the end of the primary hull where deck fifteen was split by the ship’s separation plane. They had to wait for a few moments for the heavy, duranium doors to part to allow them into the narrower access tunnel that ran all the way down the port side of the secondary hull to the stern. Still wider than a normal corridor, the four-abreast tunnel allowed for the quick evacuation of one section of the ship to another. It started out as a steep descent through the “neck” of the ship, with access points to each deck branching off rapidly as the two men ran. Decks sixteen and seventeen flew by, until the path leveled out on deck eighteen towards the docking cradle. It was informally called the waterline track because that’s about where the ship would sit if it were floating in the water. Because of the width of the primary hull, the pathway all around the ship was just under 2 kilometers—a distance that Lancaster found to be merely an acceptable physical distraction for his hard-to-quiet mind. 

Kaplan was keeping up well, and the ensign never complained when Lancaster changed the venue of their meetings like that. He was loyal and talented—though Lancaster sometimes wondered how the rest of the crew treated him, given his own reputation. His field promotion from petty officer to ensign had been well-earned and confirmed through his completion of the requisite officer training by correspondence, but it marked him as the captain’s favorite. 

“Kaplan, I want you to complete the technical training simulations for the operations, communications, and tactical bridge stations,” Lancaster announced.

“Sir?” Kaplan replied.

“You have the theory. You also survived Commander Bowens’ hazard team training, but I want you to go through bridge rotations, and certifying you as a pilot will take a lot longer,” Lancaster said to explain why he left off the flight control station. They stopped at the end of the access tunnel, where it narrowed once again at the entrance to aft thruster maintenance. “Two to three months on delta or gamma shift will make you a good candidate for bridge officer positions on a frigate or light cruiser.”

Kaplan furrowed his brow, his mouth opening and closing for a few moments as he tried to compile a response.

“Sir, if you’re not happy with my performance…,” he started, trailing off.

“You’re doing an excellent job—which is why we need to find a more critical posting for you to serve in,” Lancaster replied.

“Respectfully, Captain, I’m happy where I am.”

Lancaster exhaled slowly through his nose; he’d done well over the years with never raising his voice towards Kaplan, but he also did not handle dissent well. He could see the ensign’s wide-eyed fear. The captain put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder to give an out-of-character squeeze of reassurance.

“You are too talented and too valuable to Starfleet to stay a yeoman forever, Connor,” he said, which changed Kaplan’s expression briefly to one of gratitude. “You’re doing excellent work, but you need to take advantage of the current staffing shortages to make your mark.”

“Thank you,” Kaplan replied, notable in his omission of the word ‘sir.’ He shifted on his feet. “Can we at least say that I’ll go through the training, but we’ll leave my future career plans for a later time?”

“Are you negotiating now?” Lancaster quipped.

“Haven’t I earned that much? I like being here, on Arcturus. It’s where my friends are. Where my mentor is,” Kaplan replied pointedly. “Where else am I going to learn from one of the youngest fleet captains in history?”

Facing an unusual moment of hesitation, Lancaster paused. He’d never been called a mentor before—that was never his forte. He was better at assessing and utilizing (or mitigating) the strengths and weaknesses of those who served under him to accomplish a task, not at cultivating their talents. Nothing he was saying was unreasonable, either. There was something else there in Kaplan’s eyes—admiration or maybe even desire—that made the captain for a moment wonder if there had really been any wisdom in selecting a beautiful young man for a position requiring so much one-on-one interaction. He also wondered how much he was projecting his own feelings in that moment.

Aloof as he was, he had his own channels of information to the crew through Sheppard, and he was aware there was a (mostly joking) perception about the purely coincidental fact that number of extremely attractive men was far higher than statistics should allow for aboard Arcturus. Lancaster released Kaplan’s shoulder, regretting the instinctive, innocent gesture of platonic affection for the mixed signal it may have sent. 

“Very well, Ensign,” Lancaster agreed, raising their formality back to its standard levels, though he considered doubling down on his order to fully restore the hierarchy between them. He also briefly considered outsourcing his training to Captain Alesser or Commander Bowens, but he had a flash of protectiveness—or more probably selfishness—that led him to abandon that notion. “I’ll supervise your progress myself. Don’t let this interfere with your other duties.”

“No, sir. Thank you, sir,” Kaplan replied, taking the verbal cue without a beat to let their moment of relaxed decorum pass. 

Lancaster glanced down at his WRIST band, which was functioning as a fitness tracker in that instance. It was smart enough to only count their actual running time, but even without adding in their breaks for conversation, it had taken a little over ten minutes for the two of them to run just two kilometers. Being annoyed about their pace was a welcome segue out of their conversation.

“Back around. Neither of us has any excuse not to be hitting four minutes per kilometer,” the captain ordered before leading the way down the access tunnel. 

Once again, Kaplan didn’t complain, though he seemed to struggle slightly to match Lancaster’s pace as the two officers ran around the perimeter of Arcturus. What was a relatively steep descent from the primary hull down into the engineering section really made Lancaster’s thighs burn as they went in the opposite direction. Thanks to whatever genetic and lifestyle factors controlled that, the captain rarely perspired, even while exercising, but after practically sprinting to make up their time for two kilometers, his command red tank top was soaked in sweat, and his legs were nearly rubber by the time they circled all the way back to the aft starboard thruster control.

“Eighteen minutes and seven seconds,” the computer announced.

The seven seconds mocked Lancaster’s need for excellence. He had an impulse to try again right then and there, but he kept it in check. He glanced over at Kaplan, who was in a similar state as he was.

“We’ll make better time in the future,” Lancaster said.

“Yessir,” Kaplan managed, panting and gasping for breath while the two of them started their post-run stretching. 

They walked back through the deserted hallways, and a quick turbolift ride took them to the captain’s ready room. In Lancaster’s over two years in command, he’d left the room nearly identical to the way now-Admiral Hayden had it before she was promoted. It was one of the rooms scheduled for reconfiguration during the overhaul, so all of Lancaster’s personal belongings had already been moved to his quarters for storage. As a flag captain, he’d initially had difficulty seeing himself as the captain since there was always a higher-ranking officer just a few decks away, for years under Hayden and a few weeks under Commodore Logan’s abortive tenure. Now, he was the senior officer, and reconfiguring the ready room was one of the ways that was starting to feel real to him. It was unnerving to see it so bare, though.

“Is there anything else I’m forgetting before the shutdown?” Lancaster asked, turning to look at his yeoman.

“Unlikely, sir,” Kaplan said with a smile. “Is there anything else you need? I should change before evacuating,” the young man added, tugging at the damp fabric of his physical training gear. 

Lancaster swallowed involuntarily. 

“No, you’re dismissed. Hit the showers, Ensign,” the captain replied. Kaplan nodded and turned to leave, but Lancaster cleared his throat. “We’re going to be fully offline for a whole day and won’t start re-boarding any crew for another two, so I expect you to take full advantage of shore leave here, Connor.”

The ensign grinned. “Yes, sir. I hear there are some great running trails here. I’ll be the one out-pacing you next time,” he replied before leaving the ready room.