Stardate 76478.3; June 24, 2399
Edited by Peter Bossley
Written by Chris Adamek
Kendall Johnson liked to run. He ran from epic battles and blossoming romances, from responsibility and loyalty… and just about anything that one could possibly hope to run away from. Though he would frequently convince himself that things in his life weren’t really as bad as they seemed, Kendall knew that, when push came to shove, he would run again. Of course, running wasn’t always a bad thing…
As far as Kendall was concerned, running was one of the few bright spots in his dreadfully gloomy life—and when he spotted a new track-and-field holodeck program sitting in the Starlight’s database, curiosity demanded he investigate…
It had been many, many years since Kendall’s last serious run. He had been forced to sprint through the Starlight’s myriad corridors on countless occasions in recent years; it was certainly exhilarating, but… none of that truly compared to zipping around a track at top speed. Thus, Kendall was immediately pleased when he stepped into the holodeck.
The track was a classic setup: four hundred meters of pavement ringed a field of verdant grass; a short deck of bleachers sat to the left of the track; a few concession stands led to a chain-link fence, and sandy white beach on the right. It was certainly a small venue, nothing like the giant arenas at Starfleet Academy, but it would suffice.
Eager to get started, Kendall hopped over the fence and started for the track. The pavement was smooth, tan in color, and divided into six lanes. Kendall immediately situated himself on the inside lane and started to whip around the track—when he suddenly heard the holodeck doors clank open back by the beach. Curious, Kendall slowed to a stop and came about to see Neelar Drayge strolling up to the fence.
“How do you like the program?” asked the Bolian. He was dressed in a white athletic jumper, apparently ready to run a few laps for himself.
“It… it looks great,” said Kendall. He then decided that the program most likely belonged to Drayge. “I… um, hope you don’t mind me using it.”
“Oh, not at all,” replied the Bolian. He easily hopped the fence, and wandered onto the track. “To be honest, I didn’t think anyone else would use it. I am pleased to see someone here.”
“I was a part of the track and field team back at Starfleet Academy,” Kendall explained.
A smile crept across Neelar’s face. “So was I,” he said. “It would seem we have something in common, Lieutenant.”
Kendall chuckled. “You learn something new every day,” he mused—and now that Neelar was steadily approaching, Kendall decided to resume his journey around the track.
“What events did you participate in?” asked Neelar, easily keeping pace with Kendall.
“The four hundred-meter dash… the eight hundred-meter relay…” He pulled in a deep lungful of the crisp seaside air. “I was, well… I was a long-distance runner. I think I still hold the Academy record in the sixteen hundred-meter.
“You do,” Drayge readily confirmed. “How did you fare on Danula II?”
Even after ten years, the famed Starfleet Academy marathon still seemed fresh in Kendall’s mind. In his sophomore year, he had been favored to win the forty-kilometer run, but… “I finished third,” he grumbled. Despite his best efforts, he simply could not catch up with the leaders. “How did you do?”
“I finished eighty-fourth.” Drayge chuckled as he thought back to the event. For a moment, it seemed like Drayge might explain the disappointing finish, but he instead pulled in a deep lungful of air and forged ahead.
And Kendall didn’t know quite what to say. Technically speaking, eighty-fourth wasn’t that bad. There were likely hundreds of others finishing behind Drayge—but still, eighty-fourth place was not exactly near the front of the pack. He must have had a leg cramp or something…
“Obviously, I am not much of a long-distance runner,” Drayge mused as he blew the air through his lips.
Kendall was not about to disagree, but out of respect for Drayge, he didn’t voice his opinion. Actually, he didn’t voice his opinion because after five years, he barely knew the Bolian and wasn’t exactly comfortable around him… but it was much easier to justify his silence with respect. Unfortunately, that did little to advance the conversation, and silence slowly began to grip to arena.
Shoes hit the pavement. Deep, rhythmic breaths filled the air. A gentle wind whispered in the ears. Birds chirped… And thankfully, so, too, did Neelar Drayge’s communicator.
“Christopher to Drayge.”
The Bolian slowed to a halt very near the start/finish line, took only a moment to catch his breath, and then slapped his communicator. “Drayge here.”
“Neelar,” said the Captain, “I need to see you in my ready room when you’ve got a minute. It’s about your… little inquiry.”
A devilish smile suddenly crept across Drayge’s face. “I’ll be right there,” he said. He must have been up to something, but Kendall couldn’t even begin to imagine what. He simply did not know the Bolian well enough to even speculate.
Whatever the case, their little jog was certainly over. Though he could have done a few more laps, Kendall didn’t want to wear himself out—besides, his fifteen-minute break ended a good ten minutes ago. Thus, he headed toward the exit alongside Drayge.
“We should do this again sometime,” said the Bolian.
Kendall couldn’t tell if the offer was genuine, or if Drayge was simply being polite… but Kendall didn’t have any objections. As far as he was concerned, he still had plenty of impetus to go running. So he forced an awkward smile upon his face. “That… that sounds good.”
• • •
Alan Christopher couldn’t wipe the smile from his face. He had certainly been surprised to find an inquiry from Neelar Drayge on his desk; it wasn’t often the young Bolian submitted such formal paperwork to Christopher… In fact, he couldn’t even recall the last time he saw Drayge’s name on such an inquiry (if it ever happened). Thus, he had been more than a little curious.
And now that he had perused Drayge’s submission in its entirety, Alan Christopher was thoroughly pleased with the Bolian. He had come a long way from his days as a lowly ensign.
“A promotion,” mused Christopher as he glanced up from the padd. Neelar stood about a meter away, smiling faintly as Christopher continued to wrap his mind around the situation. “Neelar, it seems like just last week we were changing your diapers!”
Drayge had never been the biggest fan of Christopher’s quirky humor, but to his credit, he always forced a smile to his face. This time was no different. “My parents always said that I was a child prodigy,” he mused, gently clasping his hands behind his back.
“Mine said the same thing,” Christopher happily recalled. It seemed that, at one time or another, all parents liked to profess the genius of their children. “They were wrong, of course. I was no genius back then…”
“But you are now,” Drayge succinctly continued, practically taking the words right out of Christopher’s mouth. Of course, had Christopher spoken, he suspected the sarcasm in his voice would not have been so evident.
Not wanting to dwell upon minor details of this conversation, Christopher instead focused on the more pressing matter at hand. Neelar’s promotion to Lieutenant Commander wasn’t written in stone; at the moment, it was little more than a suggestion, written on a padd—and because Neelar himself initiated the process, he would first have to prove himself worthy of the higher rank.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Christopher warned. The sentiment wasn’t meant as a deterrent—Christopher had total faith in Drayge’s ability to succeed—he was just stating a simple fact. “You’re going to have to endure countless cheesy simulations on the holodeck, a few written exams, and you need to gain a little more first-hand command experience.”
Drayge didn’t hesitate for a moment. “I am up to the challenge,” he crisply replied.
“Then report to holodeck tomorrow morning,” said Christopher. “I’ll have Ensign Jayesh take your shift on the bridge.”
This time, the grin on Neelar’s face was truly genuine. “Thank you,” he said, already headed for the exit. He was certainly eager to get started, and somewhere deep in the back of his mind, Alan Christopher wanted to know why…