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Part of USS Arcturus: Icarus

Dress Down

USS Arcturus, Flag Suite
2401.1.30
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Standing in front of Commodore Logan’s desk, Captain Lancaster was radiating silent, cold rage like waves of blooming hoarfrost. Whatever minor irritations he had from Commodore Logan’s management style before, the way he and his first officer had been summoned off of the bridge had been enough to move him from ambivalent to resentful. Never before in his career had he had a problem with the person above him in the chain of command—just peers and subordinates—because of how religiously he followed Starfleet’s regulations. Logan kept his office nothing like the way Admiral Hayden had, and there was no sign of warmth or personalization in the bare bulkheads behind him. In fact, there was almost nothing that suggested to Lancaster that the flag officer even had two sons—let alone a soul.

“Captain, your orders were to survey HD 92018. Why are we now at warp?” the commodore asked, looking up from whatever he’d been reading off of his monitor during the uncomfortable twenty or thirty seconds he’d left Captains Lancaster and Alesser standing there.

 “We are responding to a distress call, sir,” Lancaster replied, his tone fully neutral.

“I saw that in the logs. Why did you bypass the flag officer and make this decision on your own, Mister Lancaster?” Logan asked, and Lancaster knew that he failed to conceal his own facial reaction to the obviously intentional breach of protocol by the way the commodore chose to address him.

“I don’t understand the question, sir.” Lancaster felt Alesser’s eyes on him, and he continued before either of the other men could say anything. “‘General Order 3: Starfleet vessels are obligated to respond to distress calls sent by Federation citizens unless another vessel could respond more quickly or if, in the captain’s opinion, responding would create an unacceptable risk to the safety of their ship or crew,’” he quoted.

“Do not quote the rulebook to me,” Logan said, waving his hand dismissively. “According to the logs, you were contacted by the bridge a full seven minutes before you walked on deck. Are you saying you couldn’t spare thirty seconds to request permission from your commanding officer before proceeding?”

Lancaster blanched; the fact that Logan had checked the internal communications logs as part of this dressing down was beyond the pale. “With all due respect, no starship captain would ask for permission before responding to a distress call, not from a starbase across the sector or from a fleet admiral sitting a meter away on the bridge. I acted upon my obligations as the captain of this vessel.”

Logan chuckled. “That is still not an answer to my question. Why did you not ask me for authorization first? I’m aware of your close relationship with Rear Admiral Hayden, and I can’t imagine you wouldn’t have consulted with her before charging off in the opposite direction of her orders.”

Vice Admiral Hayden did not involve herself in the day-to-day administration of this ship, sir. She trusted me to carry out my obligations, and in this case, I would have been in breach of a general order by delaying my response,” the captain replied, barely keeping his voice at a civil volume.

First Officer Alesser cleared his throat and took one step forward so he could be in the sight lines of both the captain and the commodore. Logan gestured for him to speak, which made Lancaster clench his jaw in annoyance.

“Sir, we were moments away from alerting your office, as per protocol,” Alesser offered.

“And this wasn’t even some minor expression of rebellious or mutinous intent on Mister Lancaster’s part?” Logan asked.

“No. Sir,” Alesser replied, the pause between those two words noticeable but not clearly able to be called disrespect.

Lancaster found the entire situation to be surreal, but the words “rebellious” and “mutinous” had him feeling queasy. Even in jest, those were words he never expected to hear associated with his own conduct. He glanced at his first officer, who stepped back in line next to him.

Logan sucked his teeth and then tapped a button on his desk, which brought the holographic screen he had been using back up. He gestured as if he were spinning it around, and it inverted so that Lancaster and Alesser could read it from where they were standing. It was an audio-visual file from the ship’s internal log recorder system.

“I have a very good inkling that cutting me out of this decision was, in fact, a conscious move on your part, Lancaster,” the commodore noted. “I would have expected that a technician of your aptitude would have remembered that airlocks are always actively monitored,” he added, which made Lancaster’s heart sink.

The video began playing a moment later. It was a camera angle from directly above the door separating the nacelle airlock from the staging area. Lancaster remained silent when he saw the images of his shirtless husband massaging his shoulders while he spoke about his displeasure with their assignment. 

“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,” Lancaster heard himself say. Sheppard replied, assuring him that he could talk about those things with him, and Lancaster remembered at that moment his sense of guilt about concealing his feelings until that moment. “This man is nothing like the service dossier suggests Brett Logan is supposed to be,” the recording said.

Alesser made a noise like he was about to object and moved forward, but Lancaster reached over to put his hand on his first officer’s chest to make him take a step back. There was no sense in them both leaving the meeting with their careers in tatters.

“Seeing as how you’re feeling underutilized, you don’t have anywhere to be right now, do you?” Sheppard’s recorded voice said. A message passed across the screen indicating that the magnetic locks to the compartment had been engaged. “You should probably disable the security feed coming from this compartment. I’d like for you to go back to the bridge with a smile on your face,” the doctor said, as the two of them stumbled together back against the bulkhead, losing further articles of clothing until Lancaster’s verbal authorization code disabled the recording systems.

The fundamental right to privacy was enshrined in the Federation Constitution, though there were certain exceptions in Starfleet operational settings. The logical part of Lancaster’s brain knew that Logan probably had the right credentials and reasoning for accessing that log, but his emotional side was completely flabbergasted. While the recording was hardly explicit, it still felt like a tremendous violation for anyone to have watched it, especially in such a strange situation as the one Lancaster now found himself in. The commodore cleared his throat. 

“I really do not care what your hormones compel you to do, but this doesn’t exactly scream ‘good judgment,’ does it, Captain?” Logan asked. He dismissed the hologram and folded his hands on the desk. “This is a flagship. You are the flag captain, and I am the flag officer.  Your sole purpose is to carry out my orders, and your opinion about this is irrelevant,” the commodore said. “Consider yourself on probation for the duration of this mission. I’ll be watching all of your actions closely to determine if I need a flag captain at all.”

Lancaster glowered.

“Is that understood, captain?”

“Yes, sir,” Lancaster replied.

“Good. I will be at your senior staff briefing in just over 90 minutes, so make the case you should have in the first place to justify this excursion,” Logan ordered. “Dismissed,” he said before immediately turning to his computer terminal.

Captain Lancaster turned on his heel and walked straight out of the commodore’s office, with Alesser following in his wake. The first officer tried to interject several times, but Lancaster ignored him until they were sufficiently down the hallway to avoid any possibility of being overheard. They turned a corner, and Lancaster abruptly pushed Alesser through the doors into one of the public heads. An ensign from the sciences division was chatting and laughing with a junior lieutenant from operations as the two young men washed their hands—young love among the stars.

“Out. Now,” Lancaster ordered. “And we were never here,” he added, gesturing to himself and Alesser.

“Aye, captain!” the two junior officers squeaked before retreating. 

Lancaster locked the door; he knew that the audio pick-ups in the head that allowed crewmembers to talk to the ship’s computer were entirely disconnected from the recorder system for privacy reasons. There was no conceivable security or intelligence reason that would have compelled Starfleet to allow for Orwellian bathrooms, even if the airlocks were part of the budding surveillance state.

The captain grabbed his head in his hands for a moment, pacing like a caged lion. He glanced at one of the mirrors above the sinks, and in a fit of catharsis, he punched one of them as hard as he could. The mirror’s semi-flexible surface wobbled from the force of the impact like the glassy surface of a pond disturbed by a stone, but neither his fist nor the mirror was damaged—an innovation in materials design developed for precisely that situation.

“Okay, two things: first, whatever that was back there was completely beyond the pale,” Alesser said. He took Lancaster’s hand into his own and examined the other man’s knuckles, then looked up at him with a grin. “Second, even though it’s actually kind of a turn-on, this better be the end of your performance of hyper-masculinity, because throwing you off balance is exactly what that stuffed shirt wanted,” he teased.

Lancaster found Alesser’s touch reassuring but still removed his hand. Of all the moments to express their more-than-friendship, forty-five seconds after being slut-shamed by the commodore was the worst possible one. The Ardanan man’s amber eyes contained a mix of understanding and mournful reproach. 

“Agreed,” Lancaster agreed to both statements. “Ari, do you think I did the right thing?”

Alesser scoffed. “Obviously.”

“Don’t… confuse your loyalty to me for an objective assessment of my performance.”

“Your performance has never been in question, Michael,” Alesser quipped. “We got a distress call. You answered it. That’s what the regs demand. Would a courtesy request have been impossible? No. But was it obligatory? Also no. Logan is acting fully insane.”

“Either that, or he has his eyes set on the center seat of my ship, and he’s angling for a drumhead court-martial,” Lancaster said.

“You should contact Admiral Hayden or Admiral Dahlgren. Plead your case in advance.”

“No. We have to assume that all external transmissions are now being monitored. We have to solve this ourselves,” Lancaster replied. “I also have to assume I am now under surveillance, so I need something from you: instruct Ensign Kaplan to learn everything there is to know about Brett Logan.”

“Why Kaplan?”

“Because his IQ is ten points ahead of either of us, but, more importantly, I trust him. The two of us have a briefing about the Icarus to put together, after all,” the captain replied. 

“I’ll get it done,” Alesser agreed.  

Comments

  • And tension is ratcheted up quiet a few notches here, bringing professional and personal relationships to the fore in this mystery. Loving the layers of stories here as the mystery of Brett Logan is added on top of that of the Icarus' distress call. Logan's unreasonableness is certainly puzzling and am looking forward to more as this develops, showing us what is going on here. Lancaster and Alesser as always are a delight to read in how they blend professional and personal so well.

    April 26, 2023