Part of USS Arcturus: Return to Farpoint and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

3. Promise of Profit

FMS Promise of Profit
Stardate 2401.3
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For a moment after Captain Alesser beamed aboard the Promise of Profit with his away team, everything was pitch black. The marauder’s gravity was offline, so in that instant of darkness, it felt like floating alone and untethered in the maw of the void. The internal lights within his helmet weren’t strong enough to give any hints of any details about the room he was in. He reached down and touched the control strapped to his right thigh to turn on both his gravity boots and his suit’s external lights. Commander Bowens and Lieutenant Commanders Evandrion and Tornelis turned their lights on in quick succession, and the four pairs of their spotlights were bright enough for Alesser to confirm that they had arrived on the bridge of the Profit.

“Alesser to Arcturus. Beam-in complete,” he reported.

“Acknowledged. Stay safe over there,” Lancaster replied, his voice quiet, masculine, and right in Alesser’s ear, thanks to the EV suit helmet. Alesser was briefly embarrassed at the attraction he felt at that moment from both the tone and the content of that message. “You’re on the clock. No heroics. I want you back on Arcturus at the first sign of trouble.”

“Understood, Arcturus. We’ll be in and out faster than you can say ‘capitalism run amok,’” the first officer said. “I’m glad we brought a power pack with us. This ship is completely dead.”

“In and out. Arcturus out,” Lancaster replied.

Alesser turned his head, catching sight of the shadows of hemispherical consoles and the DaiMon’s throne on the marauder’s bridge. It looked fully intact, and he noticed that there was no sign of any biological remains, carbon scoring, or anything else that would suggest that the ship had been in a fight. 

“Bowens, see if we can restore power to this compartment,” Alesser said as he pulled out his tricorder and began scanning. “I am not picking up any Ferengi on this ship, alive or dead.”

“The Breen do favor taking captives, and the Jem’Hadar often vaporize their enemies, so it’s not unusual for there not to be bodies,” Tornelis reminded him. Alesser could see the glint of the man’s green skin lit up by his helmet as he used his own tricorder to scan their surroundings. He was grateful for the EV gear, as he found being close to the Orion—or any Orion man, really—to be mildly intoxicating, thanks to his extremely sensitive Ardanan sense of smell, and being separated by two suits kept that distraction at bay. “What’s more unusual, though, is that I’m not detecting any latinum aboard. You’d expect a vessel of this class to have at least twenty kilograms of the stuff on hand for incidental trading, apart from the crew’s personal funds.”

The thought of a Ferengi vessel without any Ferengi or any latinum aboard made Alesser deeply suspicious that whatever they had stumbled on was far more interesting than a simple attack on a trading vessel. Before he could think that through, the lights in the compartment turned on, and the consoles lit up, thanks to Bowens connecting an emergency power cell to a port in the wall. Alesser turned to one of the control stations, and his helmet automatically overlaid real-time augmented reality translations of the interface on the interior of his face plate.

“The logs have been scrubbed, but the asset recovery code we have should allow us to force the computer to reconstruct them,” Tornelis reported from one of the other stations. 

“It looks like the main reactor is intact. Should I try to start it?” Bowens asked.

“No, I don’t like this,” Alesser replied. “Logs first.”

“Captain Alesser, all of the escape pods are present, but the support vessel has been detached,” Evandrion said. The Deltan pointed to a schematic of the vessel that showed the docking cradle in the neck of the ship, which should have a large yacht-like barge but was vacant. “The access logs to that system weren’t cleared. The shuttle left approximately 12 hours ago.”

“No latinum, no bodies, and they had time to fuel and launch the barge?” Alesser wondered aloud. He opened a comm channel. “Alesser to Arcturus. I have a hunch. Scan the hole in this ship. What weapon made it?”

“Scanning,” Lancaster responded quickly. He scoffed. “A Ferengi mining laser. Based on the angle, from the inside, too. Seems as though someone is trying to trick us. What have you found over there?”

“There’s no crew, no loot, and no support vessel. It seems pretty clear that the Ferengi left their marauder here as a ruse. We’re still working on recovering the logs, though,” Alesser replied, glancing over at Tornelis, who appeared to be making progress because of the data that was scrolling along on his screen. “The engines on this ship are still intact. Should we get it ready to send back to the FCA?”

“No. Not until we figure out who’s involved in this false flag attack,” Lancaster replied. 

“Apologies for butting in, but you’ll want to hear this, Captains: the Profit was tracking the Banting,” Tornelis said. “They were following a locator beacon. According to these records, they were the ones who attacked our ship.”

“They must have spoofed the energy signatures,” Alesser replied. “Why the Banting, though? What was her mission?”

There was a pause on the other end of the communications channel. 

“Her mission is listed in the register as ‘astrozoan cataloging,’ but we’ll have to pull information from Starfleet Science to get a clearer answer than that. We found recorder buoy in the wreckage, but it’s damaged, and we haven’t been able to download it yet,” Lancaster replied. The Banting was looking for spaceborne lifeforms. Why would that be a priority in a war zone? “This Ferengi vessel hunted down one of our ships and has tried to pin the blame on another convenient enemy. We’re not picking up a warp signature. Can you track their shuttle from there?”

Tornelis tapped in a few commands at his station. “With the code provided by the FCA, I can tap into the shuttle’s transponder remotely. We will be able to track it using the communications array aboard Arcturus,” the intelligence officer confirmed. “I was also able to recover the ship’s true cargo manifest. This ship was indeed carrying thought makers, but they are no longer aboard. They were fabricating… something,” he added, pulling up a schematic of some sort of polygonal lattice.

“A cage?” Bowens wondered.

“Unknown,” Tornelis replied.

From what Alesser could see, it was a structure that was at least five meters across with dozens of circular ports. To him, it looked like a frame for holding thought makers, but he didn’t want to jump to conclusions based on that simply being the easiest explanation. Nothing about the ship they were on made sense.

“Download everything,” Alesser ordered.

“Already done, sir,” the Orion said, his grin looking especially pearly white in the glow of his suit lamps.

“If we leave the emergency power pack here, we can restart the engines remotely, sir,” Bowens added.

“Good. Arcturus, we’re ready to come home,” Alesser reported. “Four to beam up.”


Moments after calling for beam-out, Alesser and his team materialized in the transporter room aboard Arcturus. With the help of a yeoman and the transporter chief, they removed and stowed their EV suits before heading down the corridor toward the main bridge. Lancaster spun around in his chair as the door opened, and Alesser could see a look of quiet relief in his blue eyes—a look that made Alesser smile. Alesser took his seat next to him and resisted the urge to say anything irreverent that would force Lancaster to pivot into grumpiness. 

“Welcome back,” Lancaster said.

“Happy to be home,” Alesser confirmed, sharing a look with him for a moment before turning toward the communication station where Tornelis was hovering over Rivera’s work. “What do we have on the shuttle, gentlemen?”

“Mr. Tornelis was able to activate their transponder without alerting them. Based on this information, the shuttle is 1.2 light-years from our current position,” Lieutenant Commander Rivera reported.

“Good. Send the coordinates to the helm. Mr. Marshall, plot an intercept course. Maximum warp,” Lancaster ordered. “I suppose we better give the Ferengi government their ship back first, though. Commander Bowens, send the start-up signal.”

“Aye, captain,” the operations officer replied. “Transmission in progress.”

Alesser was still looking at Tornelis and Rivera’s work, but he turned his head back to the viewscreen just in time to see a flash as the Promise of Profit seemed to evaporate in space. It wasn’t a warp core breach, but it was enough to rock Arcturus and trigger red alert. The first officer pulled his console across his lap to begin checking for damage or casualties, but none came up. His heart was pounding in his rib cage as he thought about what would have happened had he allowed Bowens to restart the reactor while they had still been aboard. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lancaster having the same thoughts.

“Report!” Lancaster shouted.

“Based on this sensor data, the self-destruct system was triggered. The reactor wasn’t energized, which is why we weren’t just vaporized,” Bowens noted. “Apologies, Captain. I should have anticipated this.”

“This isn’t standard Ferengi operating protocol–they would always rather salvage a ship rather than scuttle it,” Lancaster replied, that being the closest he would come to telling someone not to worry about a mistake. “All the more reason to track them down. Stand down red alert. Helm, execute,” he ordered.

Moments later, Arcturus engaged her engines and jumped to high warp. Lancaster stood from his seat, tugging at the hem of his uniform jacket to straighten it. It was clear that he was a little shaken by what had just happened—clear to Alesser, anyway, as an expert in reading the other man’s body language. The tension on the bridge was palpable. 

“Mr. Bowens, I want you down in the engineering workshop putting the pieces of the Banting‘s recorder buoy back together. Tornelis, I want to know everything there is to know about that ship, her daimon, and thought makers before we intercept the shuttle,” Lancaster ordered. He turned to Alesser. “Marshall, you have the bridge. Alesser, with me.”


Alesser followed Lancaster off of the bridge and into the ready room. After the doors closed, Lancaster paced a few times in front of his desk, then turned around and put his hands on Alesser’s hips to pull him in for a deep kiss on the lips. Because of how unaccustomed he was to Lancaster being that spontaneous, Alesser tensed for a moment before leaning into the kiss. He kissed him back, pushing him toward the desk. His mouth tasted like anxiety and need.

Ardanans had an unusually large number of chemical receptors in their olfactory systems, so while the range and power of their sense of taste and smell weren’t hyper-sensitive like those of Vulcans, they could detect extremely minute distinctions between scents and tastes. It made them great sommeliers, being able to pick out clearly and taste the differences between vintages with very little training. Alesser could even taste a difference in the same dish from different ships’ replicators. This biological superpower also meant that when he was intimate with someone over a period of time, he could pick up on scent (and taste) cues about the other person’s mood. Alesser now knew when Lancaster and Sheppard were each happy, sad, or aroused—among other things—and Lancaster tasted anxious.

“It’s fine. I’m fine. The ship’s fine,” Alesser offered.

“I hate this,” Lancaster muttered. With their height difference, it was easy for him to kiss Alesser on the forehead. “I should be just as upset about the potential for the other three to have…,” he said, trailing off. “Sheppard doesn’t often go on away missions, but I hate it when he’s off the ship. I hate it when you’re off the ship, too.”

Alesser smiled at him. “He feels the same way when you get into dangerous situations. That comes with the territory when you’re married to one dashing, adventurous Starfleet officer and dating another one, though,” he said. “You’d be so bored if you traded us for a couple of cabana boys on Risa. The feelings we have when there’s a risk we’ll lose something is how we know it’s worth holding onto.”

“I didn’t realize I was dating a fortune cookie,” Lancaster quipped, laughing through a tear. “You’re worth holding onto. You both are,” he added in a whisper.

“This is far too sappy, isn’t it?” Alesser asked though he found it genuinely touching that Lancaster would turn his phrase back around like that. He stepped back from his lover so that he could straighten the other man’s commbadge, though Lancaster’s hands were still on his waist. “Too bad there’s no time for me to get that cloying, sickly sweet taste out of my mouth. So to speak,” he teased.

Lancaster rolled his eyes, blushing at the suggestion, though Alesser could tell he was still amused by it. 

“I’ll see if I can help Bowens in the engineering bay. Try not to miss me too much,” the Ardanan man said, leaning up to kiss Lancaster again before leaving him there to think through the obviously complex set of emotions he was feeling.

The captain followed the first officer back to the bridge, and Alesser had a bit of a spring in his step with the knowledge that his well-being had such an impact on someone else. It wasn’t a feeling he was used to, and he liked it a lot. He knew what being desired and even being objectified felt like, and he’d felt those feelings himself towards others, but being needed and cared for felt a whole lot better. As he passed through the doors to the turbolift and the captain sat down in the command seat, he caught Lancaster’s eyes again and couldn’t help but smirk on his way down to engineering.

“This man loves me,” he thought to himself for the first time. 

At first, that just generated smug satisfaction, but by the time the lift doors closed and he selected his destination, the magnitude of that thought struck him with an equal blend of excitement and sheer terror. 

Comments

  • "I didn’t realize I was dating a fortune cookie" had me laughing out loud, a nice shift in momentum from the gravity of the rest of the post. I also though the way the crew regarded the Ferengi, the way they typically do, the way the FCA was tied in, etc., it all made it feel very believable and in-universe. Although, I must say, the Ferengi are featuring in so many of our stories for this FA that one has got to wonder if they're the third fiddle here or something... Looking forward to seeing the mystery unfold.

    May 8, 2023
  • The plot thickens! The scene on the Marauder bridge was delightfully tense and twisty, with layers of the mystery peeling away. It's the great kind of 'reveal' writing, where you give the clues for the audience to put the pieces together at the same time as the characters so the reader gets to feel smart instead of just being told by smart characters what's going on. But really, the star of the show is the personal moment at the end - I am always here for Lancaster's emotions being in conflict, and him wrestling with his anxiety about Alesser in general and his *professionalism* around Alesser in particular is solidly written and very satisfying to explore. Dating a fortune cookie indeed.

    May 20, 2023