Part of USS Arcturus: Under Pressure and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

Prologue

USS Arcturus, Captain's Ready Room
January 2400
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It had been more than two weeks since the Arcturus was unceremoniously returned to Federation space by a territorial Nacene artificial intelligence. The atmosphere on the ship was mixed; no one minded being in real-time communications range with their friends and families, but once again, their deep space mission had been cut short. Their return had also prompted many promotions and transfers to come earlier than expected, leaving vacancies across the upper echelons of the ship’s command structure. Captain Rakan and the newly-minted Captain Song had both gone to take command of ships of their own, Commander Vahlen had accepted a professorship in exology at Starfleet Academy, and Counselor Kaer had decided to retire home to Trill. While all of these moves would likely have occurred in due course, Captain Lancaster wasn’t exactly thrilled to have to rebuild his senior staff ahead of schedule.

To top it all off, Dr. Anjar had taken emergency family leave, and Admiral Hayden had been summoned to debrief with the Delta Exploration Initiative and the First Contact Office on Earth, which left the captain very short on confidants, save one.

“Austin’s not going to be happy about being passed over,” Sheppard noted as he carefully crawled a little deeper into the planter box to prune one of the rose bushes towards the back of the installation.

“No, he won’t be. But you don’t think I’m wrong, do you?” Lancaster asked, focusing one of the bushes closer to him.

“I don’t. He needs more time,” Sheppard replied.

While Austin Carver was a close friend to both of them, Lancaster had decided against advancing him to the Chief Counselor role that was now vacant. He was a good person and a terrific counselor, but he just wasn’t ready to become a department head on a starship, not without more experience and more time to settle as an officer.

“I think he wants it, in theory, more than he’d enjoy the added paperwork in practice,” Lancaster said, sitting back to admire their handiwork.

When Hayden had been in command, she’d grown roses in the planter box under the large windows in the ready room. Lancaster had recently decided to revive the practice as an attempt to find himself a hobby. So far, he was just pleased he hadn’t managed to kill them, though that was likely thanks to the virtual intelligence monitoring the soil acidity and moisture levels. Horticulture had a lot more art to it than he’d realized, which made it both an intriguing puzzle to figure out and a slight annoyance.

“We’ll wait until Anjar is back, though. He can make the decision,” the captain noted.

“Isn’t that passing the buck?”

“It’s a perk of command,” Lancaster replied with a grin.

“Incoming transmission from Fourth Fleet Command,” the computer reported.

“They’re getting antsy,” Lancaster muttered. The captain stood up, pecking his husband on the cheek on his way up the steps to the main level of the ready room. Not knowing if the call was privileged or not, he proceeded through the glass double doors into his private briefing room. “Open the channel,” he ordered.

A moment later, Vice Admiral Seagraves appeared projected from the round holo communicator at the end of the table. The senior officer glanced at him and raised an eyebrow. “Am I interrupting something, Captain, or have the uniform standards aboard the Arcturus lapsed in Admiral Hayden’s absence?” she quipped.

Lancaster glanced down, forgetting for a moment that he’d taken his uniform jacket off. He still had his gardening gloves on as well. “My apologies, Admiral. I was gardening,” Lancaster explained.

“How rustic. I am transmitting a data packet containing information on what we’re calling the Century Storm. The Arcturus is being diverted to Sentinel Major. The long-range sensor station there needs to be upgraded to attempt to predict this storm’s movements. If the outpost is threatened, it will need to be evacuated,” Seagraves explained.

A floating display appeared next to the admiral, displaying the basics of Starfleet’s current understanding of the Century Storm as well as specifications for the outpost at Sentinel Major. It would be a straightforward assignment, though Lancaster was immediately disappointed at further delays in ending his staffing shortage.

“Understood, Admiral. We’ll alter course right away,” Lancaster replied.

“You, Captain, will still proceed directly for Starbase Four. Take a shuttlecraft. There are still questions that need answering about your experience with the Nacene,” Seagraves replied, shaking her head.

Lancaster’s stomach fell. “Admiral, we are severely short-staffed as it is. I shouldn’t leave the Arcturus in the middle of an emergency!” he objected, with uncharacteristic disregard for her authority.

Seagraves pursed her lips. “Hayden likes you. You two have a long-standing relationship. So, I’m not entirely shocked by your flagrant insubordination, Captain Lancaster. I won’t tolerate it, though. Unless you’re suggesting that Captain Okusanya is incapable of performing a simple engineering mission on her own?”

“No, Admiral. She’s more than capable,” Lancaster replied through gritted teeth.

“I’m glad we’re on the same page, then. I’ll expect you and Commander Alesser at Starbase Four on schedule,” Seagraves replied.

“Commander Alesser, sir?”

“I have a job offer for him, one with an expiration date. Don’t spoil the surprise,” the admiral replied. “Seagraves out.”

The admiral’s hologram disappeared, and Lancaster stood there dumbfounded for a moment before he took his gardening gloves off and tossed them onto the table. When he walked back into the central part of the ready room, Yeoman Kaplan was flicking several dossiers from his WRIST display to the holographic display on the desk as he shared a joke with Sheppard.

“Uh oh,” Sheppard noted when he caught sight of Lancaster’s face. “Bad news?”

“Not exactly,” the captain replied, thinking about what to do next. “Kaplan, I need an overnight bag. Add a dress uniform to the usuals. Have the Achilles warmed up, please.”

“Right away, sir,” the young man replied, dropping what he was doing to go into the cabin on the other side of the ready room. Lancaster could hear him ordering the shuttle prepared for action as the doors closed behind him.

“We’ve been diverted, but apparently, I am to proceed on my own with Commander Alesser to Starbase Four,” the captain explained in response to the quizzical glance from his husband.

“Why him?” Sheppard asked.

“Knowing Admiral Seagraves, she’s read my logs and the ship’s personnel files to find the person I’d least like to spend 26 hours in a shuttle with,” Lancaster replied. He grabbed his uniform jacket and slipped it back on. “He’s just always so…”

“Flirty?” Sheppard supplied.

“That too. I was going to go with that he’s such a try-hard, though,” he said, stepping close enough to kiss Sheppard on the lips while they were momentarily still alone. He pulled away just as Kaplan re-entered the room. “I’d take you as well, but with Tenesh on shore leave, someone has to be acting Chief Medical Officer,” he noted. “It should only be a few days.”

“Does Kaplan get to go?” Sheppard asked, cocking his head towards the yeoman.

“Not this time,” Lancaster replied. “Captain Okusanya is going to need more support than she’ll admit. Don’t tell her I said that,” he said.

“Of course not, sir,” Kaplan replied with a smile. “I’m guessing I should clear your schedule for the rest of the day?”

“I’ll leave as soon as I’ve briefed her,” Lancaster confirmed. He glanced between his yeoman and his husband before deciding that it was as good a time as any to go through with something he’d been considering for a while. “Kaplan, did you know that most Odyssey-class captains have chiefs or officers as their yeomen?

A holdover from Lancaster’s time as first officer, Kaplan had been elevated to Yeoman Second Class when Lancaster had moved into the center seat. He was an exemplary assistant. Discrete. Loyal. Organized. In Lancaster’s mind, he was also wasted in his current job, despite how much he approved of his service.

“Yes, sir. I suppose I did. Are… you not happy with my work?”

Lancaster shook his head. “No, I was just reflecting on the fact that I’ve neglected to give you the recognition you deserve. Effective immediately, I am giving you a field promotion to Ensign,” he said. “I was going to tease it out a little more, but he wouldn’t let me,” he added, gesturing towards Sheppard.

“I.,. I don’t know what to say, sir. Thank you,” Kaplan replied, but his beaming smile was pretty clear about where his thoughts were about his promotion.

Lancaster opened a drawer on the cadenza behind his desk and pulled out a silver pip, which he handed to the doctor. Sheppard went over to remove the patch of a petty officer from Kaplan’s jacket and replaced it with the insignia of an Ensign.

“Congratulations, Ensign,” Sheppard said.

“Thank you, Doctor. This was very unexpected.”

“You’ll complete academy correspondence courses in your spare time. When you move on to a bridge officer role, you’ll have earned your rank through your credentials as much as you already have through merit,” Lancaster noted.

Kaplan grinned again. “I won’t let you down, Captain.”

“I know you won’t,” Lancaster replied.


Ten minutes later, Captain Okusanya was standing on the bridge listening to the end of her orders. Lancaster couldn’t detect precisely what her mood was, but she’d made no secret of the fact that she coveted command of the Arcturus. As one of her primary designers and her construction supervisor, it was understandable, but she never seemed to actually like leaving the engine room, so Lancaster would be surprised if she were pleased about the assignment.

“It should be very straightforward. Thankfully, your department hasn’t been hit by any major staff changes like the others,” Lancaster noted. “Any questions?”

“Get in, upgrade their sensor arrays, and evacuate if necessary. A milk run,” Okusanya replied. “I’m sure Commander Odea will keep me in line,” she noted.

Lancaster looked between the engineer and tactical officer, who suddenly found themselves in command roles. While he wasn’t nervous per se, he never liked leaving his ship in the hands of others. “You’ll do fine. The ship is yours, Captain,” he said before leaving the bridge.

“Executive Vehicle Bay,” he ordered, once in the turbolift.

The lift took him straight down through the saucer section into the upper levels of the secondary hull. Located between the twin torpedo launchers, the executive vehicle bay was a small hanger containing parking for two Type-12 shuttles, each specially modified to serve as fast transports for either the captain or the admiral. Unlike the diplomatic launch, which could carry a crew of eight and four dignitaries, these sleek, quick craft could barely fit two people and were meant to handle missions requiring discretion.

The two parking berths faced towards the ship’s center, joined by a vehicle replicator that also had a turntable for repositioning the two shuttles. From there, a launch tube barely wider than the shuttles themselves connected the bay to space. When Lancaster arrived, the Achilles was already on the turntable. It had the red markings standard for most Starfleet shuttles, while the admiral’s shuttle, the Odysseus, bore blue and gold markings signifying her status as a flag officer.

Lancaster boarded the shuttle from the aft ramp. The bulkhead separating the cockpit from the aft compartment was further forward than on a standard Type-12 shuttle, so there was enough room for a fold-down bunk above a table for two on one side and a tiny head on the other side. It would be tight but comfortable, or their journey. Thankfully, the shuttle’s speed would keep the trip relatively short. When he got to the front of the craft, he found Alesser already seated at the co-pilot’s station.

“Good afternoon, Captain,” Alesser replied with a bright smile.

“Commander,” Lancaster replied as an acknowledgment; somehow, the other man had already managed to annoy him, even though he hadn’t actually done anything annoying. Yet.

“Pre-flight checks are complete. We’re ready to go on your order,” the Ardanan man replied.

Achilles to bridge. Requesting departure clearance,” Lancaster said.

“Permission granted. Safe flying, Captain,” Okusanya replied over the comm.

“Activating magnetic catapult,” the captain said, feeling the solid connection of the shuttle to clamps in the deck after a moment. The computer began counting down from ten, and the shuttle’s engines powered up. Once the countdown reached zero, the shuttle rocketed forward thanks to the catapult system built into the launch tube.

With the Arcturus already going past warp nine, the Achilles was able to use the momentum it already had and the larger ship’s warp field to sustain speeds far above its normal cruising speed. Coupled with enhanced engines, the shuttle would complete the journey to Starbase Four only marginally more slowly than the mothership could.

Arcturus is pulling away and falling behind, sir. They’re on course for Sentinel Major,” Alesser reported.

Lancaster nodded. “Good. Let’s not keep Vice Admiral Seagraves waiting.”