Part of USS Arcturus: Icarus

Prologue

USS Arcturus, Starboard Nacelle
Stardate 2401.1.30
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Arcturus was gliding along under thruster power over a dense asteroid field dappled with the ruddy light of the dwarf star HD 92018. This planet-less system on the edge of the Talvath Cluster was so utterly unremarkable that it did not have a formal name, just an archaic 20th-century star catalog designation. Over the past week, Arcturus had confirmed the complete dearth of anything worth studying there with a painstaking survey of seemingly every rock big enough for her sensors to scan. A ship as capable and as important as an Odyssey-class heavy explorer would almost never perform such a task; indeed, it was unlikely that even a mainline surveyor would do so, and the assignment would likely have gone to a third or fourth string survey ship flying the flag of the Starfleet Auxiliary, on the off chance that the system had dilithium or other resources that had been missed on a long-range sensor fly-by. 

Captain Michael Lancaster was a by-the-books, order-following Starfleet professional to his core. He understood that science often involved lots of waiting for the very good chance of nothing happening. Countless examples from Starfleet’s history showed that there was often more to a system than first met the eye, too. Even with all of that, he was mystified by Commodore Logan’s orders to stay put. Mystified and bored. He was so sick to tears of sitting there and doing nothing that he’d found an excuse to get out onto the exterior hull for some routine maintenance.

“I always like to spend time with you, Michael, but I would just like to point out that some men take their partners to Risa,” Luca Sheppard noted, the channel between his suit and Lancaster’s set to private. 

The two men were both down with one knee on the hull and one magnetic boot keeping them in place as they used debridement wands to carefully remove a large patch of carbon scoring surrounding a gash the size of one of their palms in the hull plating near the aft tip of the starboard warp nacelle. Lancaster grinned at him, knowing that it would be as close as Sheppard to come to admitting that he hated EV work; he’d brought him along mainly to ensure that his EV qualification remained intact, but just a little bit as payback for the multitude of times Sheppard had made him get out of his own comfort zone.

“We’re out here experiencing the majesty that is unexplored deep space, and you’d rather be on some beach?” Lancaster teased. He glanced back down at the tool he was using, making sure that the hull was being cleaned properly and then knitted with the microreplicator built into the debridement wand. It was slow and boring work, almost like scrubbing the hull with a toothbrush, but at least it was a change in pace from bouncing off of the bulkheads of the ready room. “Don’t worry, big guy. This will be done soon, and we can get back to our tedium.”

“Speak for yourself, M. Sickbay’s always busy,” Sheppard reminded him. 

The two officers kept at it for almost ten more minutes until the hull panel was as pristine as it had been when the ship was launched just over two years prior. Arcturus still had her new starship shine and smell, and Lancaster was intent on keeping her that way. He resisted the sentimental urge to pat the hull, even in front of his closest friend and soul mate, but he had developed a strong attachment to his ship.

“How does a meteor end up hitting the ship in the first place with our deflector shields?” Sheppard asked as they packed their equipment back into the rectangular toolbox magnetized to the hull next to them.

“The score mark was diagonal relative to our direction of travel. The deflector mainly keeps us from running into things while at high speeds, so it won’t always catch things that come from the sides or from behind us,” Lancaster replied. He tapped a control on the gauntlet of his EV suit to order the toolbox to detach and return to the airlock. With a few puffs of propellent, the box zoomed forward along the upper spine of the nacelle towards the elevator waiting to take them back down to the nacelle control room. “It happens all the time, and engineering sends one of the DOTs out to fix it.”

Standing up together, Lancaster and Sheppard both stumbled slightly ensuring that they kept one magnetic boot where it needed to be to avoid sending them flying out into space. They ended up in an embrace for a moment, which still gave Lancaster first-date butterflies after over ten years of being together. 

“Things on the bridge must really be boring if you’re taking away work from the robots,” Sheppard noted. 

“You have no idea,” Lancaster said as the two of them started clomping along the hull back towards the interior of the vessel. He tapped the badge insignia on his suit. “Lancaster to bridge. Repairs complete. Sheppard and I are on our way back to the airlock.”

“Understood, captain. I hope you enjoyed the field trip,” the first officer replied.

“Next, I’ll look for some paint to watch dry. Lancaster out,” he replied, closing the channel and switching back to his secure line with Sheppard.

“Why are we out here?” Sheppard asked.

“Ostensibly, we need a detailed scan of this system to confirm the accuracy of the Daren Array.”

“Why did you say ‘ostensibly’?” 

That question made Lancaster roll his eyes, but not at Sheppard. Admiral Hayden was a dynamic, inspiring woman who kept them charging toward the unknown for her entire tenure on Arcturus. Commodore Logan was proving himself to be a cautious bureaucrat who both wanted an enormous amount of input on how the flagship was run and excluded almost everyone else from his decision-making. In the four weeks since he’d raised his flag in Arcturus, Lancaster had been shocked over and over again by how poorly they worked together, considering their similar backgrounds.

“Because we’ve done more than enough to confirm that. I have absolutely no idea why we’re still in this system,” Lancaster admitted. He sighed. “I was thinking, though, that if we do end up being here for a few more days, we could take the yacht out for a spin. Spend some time alone,” he suggested.

Technically, the Da Jiao was not a yacht; it was a diplomatic launch. In the past, they’d used it as the center of planet-side encampments to handle scientific missions, and it had never been used for its primary purpose of transporting and impressing guests or for its secondary purpose as the captain’s pleasure craft. Without anywhere to go, though, there wasn’t much point to Lancaster twiddling his thumbs on the bridge, and it seemed like as good a time as any to finally christen it.

“Oh, absolutely. I think we could solve your boredom problem,” Sheppard agreed.

Buoyed by that thought, the walk to the airlock seemed to go more quickly. Once their two pairs of boots were firmly on the elevator pad next to the toolkit, Lancaster activated it with his gauntlet control. The lift descended into the airlock chamber, and the outer doors slid closed after them. As soon as the computer re-pressurized the room and the lights turned green, Sheppard practically ripped off his helmet, looking relieved to be on what passed for solid ground, at least compared to being on the outer hull. 

The inner doors opened slowly, and the two officers passed into the staging area, a small locker room with six berths in the wall for EV suits. Their gauntlets and helmets went back into the locker, as they were a standard size for most humanoids, but when they returned their boots and the suits themselves, these items shimmered briefly as the computer simultaneously recycled them and deposited a fresh one-size-fits-all version for emergency situations. When the reason for leaving the safety of the inside of the ship wasn’t a crisis, it would create a specially-tailored suit for each crew member using the measurements on file and keyed to each of their combadges. Lancaster reached for the uniform jacket that he’d left hanging in the locker, but he felt Sheppard’s hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see that his husband had discarded his blue-trimmed uniform shirt.

“How are you feeling?” Sheppard asked, putting his other hand on Lancaster’s mid-back to apply pressure nearly as firmly as performing an impromptu chiropractic adjustment.

“My back’s fine, but I don’t mind this at all,” Lancaster replied.

“I’m not talking about your back. Did we really just go out onto the hull because you are bored at work?” Sheppard asked, a note of concern creeping slightly into his voice.

Lancaster turned around and shook his head. “Bored is not precisely the right word. I feel… lots of things, but the words underutilized and undermined both climb to the top of that list. This is my ship, which happens to have a flag officer aboard. I’m the one who should be setting our course, just like the captains of every other capital ship in the fleet,” he admitted, the accusation coming out in a torrent he hadn’t expected.

“You can talk to me about those things, you know.”

That comment struck a chord with Lancaster; he hadn’t been fully transparent about his feelings with his husband, but it had only been a month since the commodore had come aboard and he wasn’t fully sure what his feelings were. He also would admit to feeling sensitive about his recent thirty-seventh birthday and had wondered if his sense of restlessness was just some quarter-life crisis.

“I know. I just haven’t been able to articulate them fully until today. This man is nothing like the service dossier suggests Brett Logan is supposed to be,” Lancaster elaborated.

“Maybe you should talk to him about it.”

“And say what? All of this is petulant.”

“Wouldn’t you want to know if one of your officers were feeling this way?” Sheppard asked.

 Lancaster glowered; he would want to know, but he wouldn’t want to hear about it. He certainly wouldn’t want one of his bridge officers actively whining about his command style. 

“Question withdrawn,” Sheppard chuckled. “Seeing as how you’re feeling underutilized, you don’t have anywhere to be right now, do you?”

Lancaster shook his head. Sheppard smirked and reached over to the small console in the bulkhead next to the door leading further inside the ship. He tapped a button, and Lancaster heard the magnetic locks engage.

“You should probably disable the security feed coming from this compartment,” Sheppard noted. “I’d like for you to go back to the bridge with a smile on your face.”

As he provided the verbal override code to activate privacy mode in the airlock staging area, Lancaster found himself pushed playfully up against the bulkhead with Sheppard’s lips on his. Intimacy in unsanctioned areas of the ship was something new for them. He felt briefly as though he should at least provide a nominal objection, given the sure ridicule they would face if caught, but that thought, and the rigidity in his spine both vanished when Sheppard started kissing him on the base of his neck. While neither of them was starved of physical affection, especially not with one another, the risk and novel location injected a particularly strong energy into the moment. The two of them were both left with mussed hair and elevated heart rates when all was said and done.

“Alesser to Lancaster,” came a call through the overhead speakers in the room while Lancaster and Sheppard went about the task of actually getting dressed.

“Go ahead,” the captain said, quite obviously failing to modulate his voice appropriately to conceal his heavy breathing.

There was a pregnant pause on the other end of the channel before the first officer cleared his throat. From across the room, Sheppard gave him a sheepish grin but mercifully remained silent.

“Sorry to interrupt, but you’re needed on the bridge. We might be picking up a Starfleet distress call,” Alesser reported.

The phrase “distress call” piqued Lancaster’s interest, especially since such a call should be self-evident. Given that ships in their squadron were the only ships in the region, it had to be either the Apollo or the Antares. Regardless of the source, there was now something for them to do.

“Clarify. Either we’re picking up a distress call, or we’re not,” Lancaster replied.

“It’ll be easier to just show you. Trust me: you’re going to want to see this.”