Distant Horizons
Notes: The second 'Basic Training' tale; two months in, Scott starts figuring out a few things. Like what freedom is, when you've earned it rather than gained it by apathy, and what it is to be just a little bit defiant against what was demanded or expected of you. Last of this set. Thanks to everyone who read. The next story is actually 'In Theory' in the novel Kobayashi Maru. That being said, the next story in the Arc of the Wolf is On the Nature of Wind. Hope that you enjoyed this, and as I said, thanks to those who gave it a chance.

It struck him as somehow ironic that he could look at a piece of equipment and often figure out how it worked within a matter of minutes, but it took him over two months to figure out that the purpose of Basic Training's first phase was conditioning. And not just physical conditioning.

Scott wasn't a big fan of jogging; before now, he'd never really engaged in it for the sole purpose of exercise. It wasn't that he didn't jog ever, but it was always with a firm destination in mind. The physical training in Basic was pretty rigorous, but he'd had a rather easy time of it, at least compared to a lot of other cadets -- in Aberdeen, walking had been his primary mode of transportation, seconded by the public transit. So, despite it being a work-out for him, he wasn't dropping in a heap when it was over like some of the others.

He still wasn't a big fan of jogging as exercise, but he was becoming a very big fan of the freedom it afforded.

San Francisco was temperate; at night, if the fog came in, it was downright cold, but the days were tolerable and even with the sunlight it still wasn't too bad. He didn't know the city very well -- in fact, he hadn't even seen beyond Academy grounds those first two months -- but the climate was all right.

The trail he was on was more than all right.

The sun had just come up a bit ago; he'd started jogging before it was even showing light. Stopped off briefly at a small place across the Golden Gate Bridge for breakfast, then headed back out again just as the sky was vaguely starting to lighten, walking for awhile until he felt like picking up pace again. The cadets started getting Sundays off three weeks ago; before that, the days were scheduled twenty-four hours for all seven days in the week. They had to be back in the barracks by 2000 hours on Sundays, but it still seemed like more than a fair deal after two months where there was no freedom whatsoever.

It was when Scott realized that he really wanted to put some distance between himself and the Academy that he also realized the past two months had been all about the conditioning. Not because he had suddenly turned into an exercise nut, but because when he was actually given some freedom, he felt the overpowering urge to take it and run with it for awhile.

At the moment, he was jogging on a well-packed dirt path, running shoes making a good steady beat against the ground, breathing a rhythm that fell in line with his footfalls.

This path was more than all right. Scott wasn't exactly what anyone would call a nature buff, but he'd spent his single digits wandering the woods and trails around the family's home, and had spent an absurd amount of time making himself hideouts there. When he got older and more bold, then he'd gravitated to the city where he could sometimes find discarded mechanical things. But he still ended up taking them back to his hideouts for a couple years more until he realized that no one really noticed all that much where he was or what he was doing, even if he was all over Aberdeen.

This was nothing like the woods he'd grown up in.

Aberdeen was an overcast city, which wasn't bad if it was all you knew, and it had its fine days as well. But the area around San Francisco was different -- the sun was shining, still rather golden, and the dew was all over the grasses by the trail. Flowers were starting to open, bright bits of color. There were a few deer, who looked up when he went by but didn't bolt, just watched rather placidly.

It had been all about the conditioning, so far. By the end of the first week, he couldn't care less how packed the barracks were -- he was so tired at night that he'd drop like a rock into his bunk and hit terminal oblivion, sometimes before he even had a chance to get all that comfortable. He'd learned to sleep through all kinds of people-driven noise, either talking or snoring or what-have-you, mostly because he was just too tired not to.

It wasn't that he'd decided to like being in a crowd, but when your day consists of getting up, getting cleaned up, squaring away the barracks, doing PT, having breakfast, then various classes, lunch, drill and ceremony, more classes, dinner, more classes, more PT, shower, bed... you quickly and genuinely stop giving a damn about how many people are around you. He had to absorb and become proficient at so many things in those first weeks that there were times when he was just surviving it in ten minute blocks. There sure wasn't time to actually talk himself into any kind of self-doubt.

The valley he was in was far, far quieter than the barracks, and the quiet was something he didn't take for granted. According to one of the guys in his squad, who grew up in this area, it was a great trail -- Scott had to agree.

He slowed down a little, falling into a walk. Could feel a bit of the burn from jogging, but he'd paced himself well and it wasn't real fatigue. The path had gotten a bit narrower, and sometimes some overgrown grass would tickle his legs. This path would end at the Pacific; months in San Francisco and spitting distance from the ocean, and he hadn't been to the water's edge yet. Closest so far was going over the bridge.

He'd figured out that he had the potential to be a worryingly good soldier, too. Maybe too good. While Starfleet drill instructors weren't nearly so harsh as military drill sergeants in the past, Scott still reacted instantly to the tones they used, and followed orders in that same instant just so that they wouldn't go barking at him. So far, it had certainly worked out -- while he wasn't the shining star of his group, he wasn't reprimanded once yet, either.

Logically, he knew that the ability to follow orders swiftly was pretty important, especially in a crisis situation. There was a reason that Basic started with drilling and ceremony and repetition and strict routines -- while Starfleet didn't want robots or people who couldn't do their own thinking, they needed people who could follow the chain of command. Later, they would learn to think more independently; for now, they were expected to jump when told and not quibble.

Scott was a worryingly good soldier, and a fairly good marksman, too. Above average with a phaser rifle, and not shabby with a hand phaser. It had kind of hit him, while he was taking out the targets with relative ease, that he could someday have to do this with living beings. That was where the 'too good' part came in. Despite reacting instantly to orders, including orders to fire on targets that were a wee bit too humanoid, he held some part in reserve that refused to like it, or seek approval for it, or want it.

Engineering didn't often require that sort of thing.

Command School, on the other hand...

He'd dutifully filed the application, and prayed quietly in the back of his mind that it would be rejected. Filed it because his Mum wanted him to, because he said he would; there had been a long moment, though, staring at the papers that he had nearly decided not to. Where something tickled in the back of his mind that said this was his life, his decision.

But the patterns of a lifetime held in the end; he signed the application with a resigned heart.

Now, he took his freedom, freedom he'd genuinely earned maybe for the first time in his life, and ran. Maybe in some silent hope that if he ran far enough, he would know how to change things. To buck off the expectations, to get away from the disapproval enough that he was no longer willing to do anything to avoid it.

He only stopped walking when he saw the end of the world.

No San Francisco Bay. No North Sea. The Pacific proper; it was a blue he'd never seen before, broken only by the whitecaps rolling in, thunder pounding against the rock formations on either side of the secluded little beach at the end of the trail.

That much eternity demanded reverence. Something too big for man to tackle without the aid of mechanics; something one person could never hope to conquer without some artificial help. It demanded a quiet respect, this unsoundable amount of water.

He stood for long moments, breath falling automatically in line with the distant thunder of the waves.

Eternity demanded reverence.

He answered defiance.

Without a thought about the cold water, the fierce waves, the long trip back to the Academy, his shoes or anything else, he ran headlong into the end of the world.