The lake was still. Will checked his watch and considered setting out to find the others; it’d been over an hour now and he should put them out of their misery. He definitely didn’t want a repeat of what had happened with that graduate scheme group who’d wandered off, found the pub in the local village, and then refused point blank to do anything other than sit tight and drink all night.
Why this ? Why didn’t you take up cycling like everyone else ? Do a triathlon. Invest heavily in lycra and join all the other middle aged men staring down the barrel of their own mortality by taking up some extreme physical endeavour. Just to, you know, show they’ve still got it. Even a vintage Porsche or an ill judged affair with someone almost half your age would have been better. But no. Not you. You couldn’t have a midlife crisis like everyone else. You had to jack it all in, sell your house, and plough everything in to ‘Next Generation: leadership and life development lessons from Star Trek’. There had always been that nagging sense, from way back, that you were in the wrong place, not quite sure why you were there. Even back to university and studying. Taking that degree in Politics, a Bachelor of Arts in having an opinion with conviction, and then graduating with a Desmond. Just a half arsed, couldn’t be arsed qualification. Graduation pictures were always taken with all of the hats thrown up in the air. Hats ? Mortar boards. Whatever they were. Those things you wore once in your life at that moment of jubilation, frozen in time. There was never any record of those awkward moments afterwards when everyone had to scrabble around on the floor trying to retrieve the object of their celebration. Sorry, I think you’ve picked up my hat by mistake. No, really, it does matter. That one was mine. I’ve only rented it for today and I’m pretty sure you’ve got mine. There was a deposit. Some people, of course, caught their hat. Probably tossed casually just a few inches and effortlessly plucked from the sky. Confident in what came next, just marking off another step in a pre-determined journey from school through college to some expected destination in the City or at the Bar or into consultancy. You weren’t one of those people.
Will heard them before he saw them, laughter carrying across the water punctuated at irregular intervals by the splash of an oar. They came into view around the side of the small island in the middle of the lake, the six of them sprawled across a bright blue row boat. They were either the worst mariners since people had ever ventured out onto the waves or extremely drunk. Or both. Will watched them lurch across the the water. Eventually they were close enough to shore for him to shout across to them.
“What are you doing ? Where’d you get that boat from ?”
“It’s not a boat.” said Rich, sat at the front, feet dangling over the side. “It’s our starship. The Enterprise.”
“The Enter-surprise” someone reminded him from behind.
“Ah yes. ‘Course. The Enter-surprise. Boldly going where…” he looked around, shrugged. “Well, across this lake mainly. But boldly.”
“And surprisingly,” offered the voice from the back of the boat. The crew dissolved into giggles. An oar was relinquished and bobbed away back towards the island.
It wasn’t meant to be like this. Setting up on your own was going to be the thing you finally committed to, something you could believe in. It had all seemed so right at the time, such a good idea. All the big corporates wanted leadership development and all of them wanted it delivered with some kind of new angle. A hook. Colleague engagement was the thing. No more sitting in pseudo class rooms listening to lectures, it was time to get out into the real world and discover how to lead and grow by doing things. You’d looked at the competition and, sure, opportunities to go pot holing or climb a mountain or walk on hot coals or break wooden blocks with your bare hands were all available. Unlock your full potential by standing on burning ashes. All of that stuff. But no-one offered the chance to go into space, to lead in an imagined environment unburdened by earthly constraints. No-one had understood the essential leadership archetypes and lessons contained in the various Star Trek captains over their many iterations. The emotional, impulsive, instinctive, charismatic brilliance of Kirk. The considered, rational, intellectual rigour of Picard. The paternal, consensual warmth of Sisko or the maternal, resourceful, protective strength of Janeway. What kind of leader are you ? No one ever claimed to be the Quantum Leap guy who appeared in Enterprise. No one ever remembered it to be honest. There were a lot of Kirks. There was also a fair amount of bemusement. But, undeterred, you’d done it. Bought a plot in some remote corner of Devon and built your own version of Star Fleet Academy.
“Where have you been ?” asked Will. “I thought we were going to finish this task and then work on a case study of conflict resolution in the workplace by looking at tensions between humans, Klingons and Romulans throughout galactic history. It gives an interesting perspective on diversity too.”
“We’ve been…” started Rich.
“We’ve been at the pub,” offered the ever present voice from the back which Will now identified as Simon.
“Yes, that’s right,” acknowledged Rich. “We have been at the pub but… but we were initiating first contact…”. The boat howled again. Will stood stony faced. “First contact with an important new sentient race previously unseen by us.”
“Really. Scrumpy. Unbelievably advanced. It’s like cider but with pan-dimensional qualities. We had to study it very hard to try to understand it.”
They’d said there would be moments like this. Obviously not exactly like this. No one had said to watch out for the time when a cohort of delegates on the “Accelerated Leadership: Warp Speed One Engage” program went rogue, got pissed, and nicked a boat. They’d said there would be times you’d want to jack it in. Times when you’d wonder if your grand idea wasn’t just the tiniest bit ridiculous and that you should have just sucked up the quiet and predictable corporate route instead. You wonder what your heroes would do in this position. Kirk would probably be sleeping with Kate, the startlingly pretty accountant that seemed to be able to consume vodka at levels disproportionate to her frame. Then he’d get Spock to work out the hard stuff. Picard would maybe send Riker to ingratiate himself with the group, get them back on side. He’d be clinical and detached and resolve it through reason. Sisko and Janeway ? Who knows ? The die-hards would know but who are you kidding ? Hardly anyone coming on the courses knows who they are. If you’re going to run a theme based in space then at least do Star Wars. That’s what your friends had said. And you’d thought about it – Solo as the reckless, impulsive one with a heart of gold, and Skywalker as the earnest believer following his destiny, and Kenobi with wisdom, and Leia, all feisty spirit and resolve. But it was less obviously corporate. Where were the structures and hierarchies ? So you’d gone with Trek. And here we are.
“You were supposed to be liberating the Federation colony from an invading Dominion force.”
“You mean we were supposed to be trying to get on to that island to pick up a piece of paper that said ‘you have liberated this colony’ ?” shot back Rich.
“The program is designed to use your creative and imaginative skills as well. If you went along with the role play you’d get much more out of it.”
“We did. We got fully into it.”
“No you didn’t. You went to the pub.”
“Two words for you Will,” said Rich. “Kobayashi Maru.”
“Kobayashi Maru ? What’s that got to do with you lot getting pissed when you’re supposed to be learning and developing ?”
“You know what it is. I’m Kirk, right ?”. Rich gestured at himself and Will nodded. All of his questionnaire responses indicated that he was, characteristically, Kirk. “Well, when Kirk gets given a task that can’t be completed what does he do ?”
Will shook his head. “No, no, no. When Kirk was graduating Star Fleet the Kobayashi Maru mission was deliberately designed to teach potential captains the nature of failure. This wasn’t like that.”
“Well on balance we decided that it was. Sorry Will. We figured it was too hard and that it would be better for all concerned if we went to the pub and got very, very drunk.”
There it was. One of the essential lessons at the heart of the thing he loved – when you are tested against literally impossible odds then find a way to win – reduced to a lazy retreat to alcohol induced stupor. To be fair you might argue that Kirk cheated and that, perhaps, sometimes in life you need to cheat. What had they learned though ? What had you learned ? Was it all just a waste of time ? What does anyone take from one of these courses ? Burnt feet ? A tick box appreciation of their own inner quirks and personality ? A chance to boldly go deep into the human soul where no one has gone before. The final frontier.
There was a long pause before Will finally spoke again: “Do you think that pub’s still open ?”