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Refresh

Laid up for a refit, Arcturus is set for a major refresh, while her crew struggles to handle the downtime.

01. Laid Up

USS Arcturus Captain and Chief Medical Officer's Quarters
Stardate 2401.6

Captain’s Log, Stardate 2401.6

 

Final preparations for our upcoming baryon sweep are underway. I don’t relish the thought of leaving my bridge, but this essential maintenance procedure and the subsequent overhaul will ensure that we are prepared for our new assignment in the Olympia Sector. Command functions will cease for 24 hours from 1800 today to 1800 tomorrow. I expect us to be back in space within the week.

 

While Sean Gaudain was wrestling with his nascent midlife crisis, Michael Lancaster was in the midst of an existential trial of his own as he saw to the final preparations to put his ship through its first major overhaul.

Arcturus filled the entire lower hanger of Olympia Station, the tips of its nacelles backed nearly up against the rear bulkhead so that its bow just cleared the massive set of space doors. Gangways were connected to the two primary docking ports on either side of the stardrive section, as well as one just above the shuttlebay on the stern of the saucer—at least for the moment. Once the entire crew was safely aboard the station, they would retract to ensure that every single inch of the gargantuan Odyssey-class heavy explorer was covered by the baryon sweep. With just over two-and-a-half years of service under her belt, Arcturus was far ahead of schedule for that procedure, but she’d spent most of that time bouncing from crisis to crisis at high warp, which would eventually lead to the build-up of dangerous levels of radiation in her structural members. 

Lancaster had carefully overseen the transfer of nearly 5,000 Starfleet and civilian personnel from Arcturus to the station—the ship’s operational crew, the many embarked teams of non-mission scientists, and hundreds of new staff for the station itself—along with every bit of biological matter that could be safely moved off of the ship. Everything else that was even partially organic had to go into stasis to avoid being vaporized by the baryon sweep. Unfortunately for the engineering teams, Arcturus used state-of-the-art bioneural-isolinear hybrid circuitry, which meant that almost a hundred thousand chips across tens of thousands of computer banks had to either be shielded or removed. Other conventional systems like the antimatter pods, autodestruct apparatus, and the bridge required special field diverters to avoid damage.

Between the station’s engineers and those on Arcturus, it had taken a full week to make sure that every single precaution had been taken. The science and medical divisions had also been working around the clock to secure their areas while security and operations managed the gargantuan evacuation effort. In normal operating conditions, the ship’s company, crew, and all passengers could be evacuated entirely via escape pods within sixty seconds, but the addition of essential personal belongings, sensitive equipment, and even house plants had taken nearly two days.

The sweep itself would take twenty-four hours—the array built into the bay on Olympia Station was much slower than dedicated facilities like the Remmler Array. Still, it was more precise and had the benefit of keeping the ship utterly safe within the station itself rather than leaving it exposed in an open frame. Putting her back together would take another week, along with a dozen planned system upgrades, which included ripping out the last vestiges of the disastrous Fleet Formation Mode systems that remained aboard Arcturus. After thirty months of solid action, Lancaster was already going stir-crazy at the thought of his ship laid up in spacedock.

“I can sedate you if you like,” Luca Sheppard suggested as he watched his husband pace along the windows in their quarters while reading the final updates and going over the operational checklist for the baryon sweep on a holographic display projected from his Wearable Remote Interface and Scanning Tool (WRIST). “You’re going to wear a hole in the floor.”

“It’s designed to withstand the heat of a thousand suns. It will be fine.” The captain glanced over to where Sheppard was lounging on the couch. He had to remind himself that the medical department had finished their work before lunchtime to abort a frown before it formed on his lips. “If they coated the emitter tracks with a near-frictionless fullerene lattice, they could increase the speed of the baryon sweep by eleven percent,” he noted.

“So, instead of finishing in 24 hours, they’d finish in 22.5 hours?”

“22.46 hours,” Lancaster corrected. “This is what shore leave does to us. Four hours of it and you’re struggling with simple math,” he admonished, in a tone that he meant as teasing but which came out more sincere than he’d intended. “Sorry.”

Sheppard chuckled; he was much more challenging to offend than Lancaster was. 

“Is this one of your moods that you’re going to explain or one I just have to wait to pass?” he asked. “I thought you loved checklists and procedures.”

“Sure, when we’re moving,” Lancaster replied. He sighed and dismissed his display. “It’s this,” he said, pointing to the bar of silver under his four rank pips. “They have an office set aside for me next to the admiral’s. Fourth Fleet Command is giving me a staff. I don’t need a staff. I have a whole crew—and Connor,” he complained. “One day, it’s a baryon sweep and minor retrofit; the next day, it’s a desk job.”

As his husband fumed, Sheppard stood up and kissed him on the cheek. The gesture of affection brought Lancaster’s mood out of the rafters momentarily. He exhaled slowly.

“Isn’t a big part of the ‘minor retrofit’ removing the dangerous fleet formation technology that could turn our whole ship against us?” Sheppard reminded him. “Think about this: the Enterprise is headed to the surplus depot, but Arcturus will be the shiniest, most advanced Odyssey-class ship in the fleet. You love elitism.”

That made Lancaster laugh. He thought it was a travesty that Starfleet had not yet decided to reverse their decision to retire the Enterprise-F, even in the face of needing to rebuild nearly an entire fleet lost over Earth. But being better than the Enterprise did make up for it.

“I do,” Lancaster agreed. He gestured towards the windows, which were full of the dull blue glow coming from the interior of the station’s docking bay rather than the usual site of stars streaking past them. “I just don’t like feeling boxed in. Moored. Grounded.”

“I get the picture, Captain Thesaurus,” Sheppard teased. “I wish the crew could see this side of you more often.”

Lancaster scoffed. “Why? So they can snicker and laugh in the corridors?”

“No, because they’d really see how much you care about your job,” Sheppard corrected. He leaned in for a kiss on the lips. The sentiment and the kiss made Lancaster feel flushed. “It’s okay to rest, though. It’s also okay to trust the ship to the engineers.”

That statement made Lancaster realize he was acting more petulant than was acceptable for a man of his age, education, and rank. He straightened up and kissed Sheppard back.

“You’re right. I need to channel this energy into something productive, Luca,” Lancaster said.

“I don’t think I said that.”

Lancaster waved his hand dismissively. “Technically, no. But my takeaway is that I need to transmute my workaholic tendencies into a more mature outlook on the situation,” he said before tapping his badge. “I want to take one last lap of the ship while I finalize system shutdown procedures with Kaplan and Ari. Then I want to consume unhealthy amounts of intoxicants in our quarters on the station while we celebrate your new position.”

“And Belvedere’s promotion,” Sheppard reminded him. “Please make an effort with him. He wants you to like him. That would make his whole day.”

“I will do my absolute best,” Lancaster promised, his saccharine transmuting into mild sarcasm. He tapped his badge after glancing at his WRIST to confirm the time. “Lancaster to Kaplan. I want to get in a run while we go over the final checklist. Meet me outside the aft starboard thruster control room in 5 minutes.”

“Aye, Captain,” Ensign Connor Kaplan replied quickly. 

“A literal lap, huh?” Sheppard asked, looking bemused.

“Maybe two.”

“Can I join you?”

“Not today. I think today’s the day I’m going to tell Kaplan that he has to get a real job and move out of our basement,” Lancaster demurred, referring to the fact that Connor Kaplan had been an ensign and stuck at the position of yeoman for almost two years.  “I want him to be a bridge officer.”

Sheppard nodded, crossing his arms. “He’s barely the age of most of his peer ensigns. You can let him stay in the nursery for a little longer, right?”

“What’s that Goddard quote about the cradle?” Lancaster asked.

Madonna!” Sheppard exclaimed in Italian exasperation. “Stop quoting things to me and go on your run. Try not to hurt him—physically or otherwise.”

Lancaster laughed again, thankful for once to get his partner to express strong emotions rather than maintaining his normally unflappable sweetness. He kissed Sheppard on the cheek and then went to find his workout clothes. If he had to find something to do to fill the time before pulling the plug on his ship, good old-fashioned calisthenics seemed like the perfect way to sublimate his anxiety into sweat.

02. Run

USS Arcturus, Waterline Track
Stardate 2401.6

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.

03. Ready Room

USS Arcturus, Ready Room
Stardate 2401.6

After two laps around the widest part of the ship, Captain Lancaster was physically exhausted. His mind was also abuzz with an unusual encounter with his yeoman. Lancaster exhaled when Kaplan had passed through the ready room doors into the vestibule, but his ears perked up when he heard Kaplan say ‘captain’ to someone else in the corridor. It was followed by an acknowledgment of ‘ensign’ in Alesser’s familiar tenor. His first officer entered the room before the doors had a chance to close.

“Anything to report?” Lancaster asked. 

“We’re on schedule, captain,” Alesser said in a perfunctory way as he got closer to him. While Lancaster had only been speculating about the intent behind some of Kaplan’s facial expressions earlier, he knew Alesser well enough for there to be no ambiguity about the libidinous glint in his eyes at that moment. “Why did Kaplan look so hot and bothered just now?”

“We went for a run on the waterline track,” Lancaster replied.

“Hm. He’s one of your workout buddies now?” Alesser asked.

Lancaster rolled his eyes. “I don’t know what you mean by that. I converted our one-on-one meeting to a run because I couldn’t sit still while they rip apart my ship around me,” he retorted.

Alesser grinned, his canines seeming especially sharp from the apparent glee he found in their exchange. The Ardanan man stepped closer and put his hands on Lancaster’s bare biceps, flipping their interaction firmly from that of first officer and captain to boyfriend and boyfriend. 

“You’re very particular about who you exercise with. We were having sex for months before I ever got an invitation to join you on the tennis court,” Alesser noted; nothing he was saying was a lie.

The captain was extremely disciplined with his personal fitness, but he rarely used the ship’s public fitness facilities. Sheppard was even more of a fitness buff than he was, and his best friend Austin Carver was a certified personal trainer, but he rarely worked out with either of them because they made him feel self-conscious of his shorter, less-herculean frame. They also had, frankly, an energy that Lancaster found annoying when the two of them were enthusing about fitness or sports. Alesser and Lancaster had begun playing tennis a few times a week on a private sports court, but other than that, he did generally keep his fitness routine to himself.

“That’s an exaggeration,” Lancaster retorted anyway. 

“You also don’t usually sweat from just a run, so clearly something is up,” Alesser insisted. “The simple explanation for the sweat is that you were really pushing yourself, but why bring Kaplan with you for that?”

“It was efficient, Ari,” Lancaster protested. “We kept a pace slow enough for him to give his report, and then, yes, I did push a little too hard when we made up the time on the return trip.”

“Well, whatever you said—or did—to him, he looked like he’d won the lottery on his way out of here and like he seriously needed a towel,” the Ardanan said. “I’m not jealous—good taste all around.”

“You’re such a little shit,” Lancaster muttered. Even as their romantic relationship had blossomed, Alesser had only managed to keep his sarcasm in check about twenty percent of the time. Luckily, it was also endearing about half the time. “I’m going to oversee his training on the bridge stations. That’s why he was happy.”

That made Alesser frown. “You?”

“Why not me? He’s mine, isn’t he?”

“Yours?” Alesser said, laughing. “As first officer, I’m the more natural choice.”

“Fuck,” Lancaster hissed, knowing that he’d outed himself with a Freudian slip. “He is my yeoman and my mentee. It makes sense for me to oversee his training,” he clarified. 

“Mentee, huh? Should I feel threatened?”

For what felt like the thousandth time in that short conversation, Lancaster once again rolled his eyes. Alesser was beginning to drift into the overlap of percentages where his sarcasm was neither in check nor endearing. 

“He’s the one who used the word ‘mentor,’” he said, stepping away from Alesser. He peeled off his sweaty shirt and tossed it over onto the desk to be recycled later and then turned to go towards the head. “I need to take a shower before we disembark.”

Alesser caught him by the hand, his brown eyes looking reproachful and apologetic. Sincerity was often difficult for him to muster, especially when he got on a roll.

“Sorry. That’s not what I meant,” the Ardanan man said, apparently seeing the same implied slight there that Lancaster wasn’t a natural mentor. Unlike Sheppard, he had not quite learned to anticipate Lancaster’s many mood triggers, but at least he’d learn how to recognize them and eat crow in retrospect. “Seems like something’s either bothering you or turning you on or both. Besides me.”

Lancaster nodded, reminding himself that Alesser was one of an extremely small group of people that he could risk being honest with. He chewed for a split second on the corner of his lip as he wondered whether Alesser could stop champing at the bit long enough for them to find Sheppard so he wouldn’t have to tell the story twice. That likely would only be possible if he happened to have a phaser handy to stun him.

“We had a moment that felt like sexual tension, and it made me doubt my objectivity,” the captain admitted. “So, I have cognitive dissonance from thinking that I’m unfairly holding him back in his career by allowing him to continue to serve as a yeoman, while also feeling like I’ve given him an unfair advantage over his peers by giving him special treatment because of his looks.”

Alesser whistled. “That’s a lot to unpack,” he noted. His mouth quirked briefly into a smirk. “Would you like my opinion on either of those topics?”

“Yes,” Lancaster replied, leaning back on the edge of his desk and crossing his arms. He smirked back at him. “Not that my answer really matters, does it?”

“Correct. First Officer opinion first: Kaplan is impressive. His aptitude is off the charts and he gets exceptional performance reviews every cycle, which don’t come from you,” Alesser noted. “But he also only has his generalist officer credentials in hand. He’s not certified for any bridge or engineering section station. I’d say that he’s right where he should be, career-wise. Plus, he’s only 22.”

“When I was 22, I was a department head. So were you,” Lancaster pointed out, though Alesser’s analysis seemed to be fair.

“We also went through Starfleet Academy and are brilliant,” Alesser said, shrugging. “You gave him a field promotion in recognition of exceptional service. It wasn’t a gift. And I think you know I’d tell you if you were out of bounds.”

“You would,” Lancaster agreed. The captain nodded, feeling more confident in his decision-making prowess thanks to his first officer’s reassurance.

As he looked at Alesser he felt an inkling in the back of his mind that this really wasn’t about Kaplan at all—Alesser could and should really be on his own ship by now, and Sheppard’s recent promotion to chief medical officer was delayed by years because of Lancaster. He shook it off to focus on the problem at hand, though. 

But there was a moment where I felt like he was looking at me and found myself looking back.”

“I don’t see the problem,” Alesser replied bluntly. “He clearly left in a good mood, so he wasn’t offended, and you’ll never admit it, but you love attention, so…”

Lancaster found himself starting to pout in response to that accusation; Alesser’s views on sexuality were always much more liberal than his own, but even still he had trouble not taking that as an insult. His mood began to lift a little when he realized that he’d avoided thinking about dry docking the Arcturus for that whole conversation, which was a minor victory.

“I just don’t want to be one of those captains who can’t keep his eyes to himself around the yeomen pool,” Lancaster said. “I’m not Kirk, and this isn’t the 2270s. It makes me feel like I am not in control. He’s 22. I don’t know about your species, but in mine, the brain isn’t finished congealing until 25.”

“You could also just embrace it and give him what he clearly wants,” Alesser suggested. He put his hand in the center of Lancaster’s chest. “Not that you would ever sleep with your subordinates.” 

“If we’re back to teasing me, I really need to take that shower before we leave,” Lancaster noted, as he stepped out of his running shoes. Without waiting for a response, he tossed his workout shorts over to join the shirt on his desk and once again turned to walk to the head. “You can join me unless you would rather track Kaplan down for an interrogation.”

For once, Larus Alesser was speechless.