by David McLeod
"Davey? Remember, I told you I thought I'd seen Jonathan somewhere? Would you come look at this?" Nicky was sitting at the computer terminal in the boys' quarters.
Davey draped his arm over his boyfriend's shoulder. "What have you got?" Davey asked. Then he saw the image.
"That's Jonathan, isn't it?" Davey said. "He's cute. He looks like he's about twelve years old. Where did you find it? Is that a military outfit he's wearing? What's on his cap? I mean, just about everything's on the internet, but . . ."
Nicky zoomed out the image. "It's from a book cover; one I read a few years ago. It's a picture of Tsesarevich Alexei Romanov, son of Tsar Nicholas II. I told you I thought I'd seen Jonathan, before. I guess this is what I was thinking."
"You don't really think . . . ?" Davey said.
"No, the communists murdered the entire family a hundred years ago. They were all found where they had been buried, in the forest somewhere, and they were all identified from DNA." Nicky shrugged. "It's just a coincidence."
Lt. Griggs, the commander of the Sea Cadets, grew accustomed to Nicky and Davey spending a lot of time and at odd hours with Jonathan and me. Nicky and Davey—and then some of their mates—were not only crawling around sensor arrays below decks, but also sitting at computer terminals on the bridge and in the conference room, running simulations and helping Jonathan wring out the bugs in his special package.
Gradually, we identified others of the Sea Cadets who had the right mix of talent and energy, and brought them into the team. With a little prodding from the captain, Dr. Brewster added cadets to the science team. Nor did the air wing have a problem integrating cadets into their operations. It wasn't long before the entire duty rota for the cadets had changed—for the better.
"But Captain, I've crossed the equator at least a dozen times!" I protested. He had just told me that I was a slimy pollywog, and that Jonathan and I, most of the Sea Cadets and the science crew, and a bunch of other crewmembers including the barber and hairdresser, would have to be initiated by older and more experienced sailors into an ancient order as Shellbacks. The equator was only a couple of days away, and our course at the moment was due south.
"Alexander, you're smarter than that," he said. I knew then, as sure as I knew up from down, that Captain Izzard had already talked to my dad, and that an appeal to him would be useless. Dad would listen, but then he'd tell me that the captain was right, and to do what he said.
"Even though you've crossed the equator, and even though you've done it on a ship, you haven't done it this way. We're balancing military tradition and civilian world-view, here. I need you to set the example."
I sighed. Then, I said, "You're right, of course, Captain. What do I have to do?"
Jonathan was no more anxious than I was to put on reef walker slippers and a Speedo®, and join the party on the flight deck. I was a little less nervous when I saw Nicky and Davey, as well as most of the science crew, in the corral that had been created for the pollywogs. The twenty or so women—mostly members of the science staff—stood together. Only the younger guys wore Speedos; the older guys were in swim trunks. I was thankful for that!
The Shellback King was one of the former Navy Chiefs; his court was everyone who had ever undergone this ritual in the past. I wasn't surprised to see Captain Izzard and all the senior ship's officers in the Shellback group; I was, however, surprised to see Dr. Brewster. That he was a Shellback was probably the only thing he had not put on his seven-page curriculum vitae.
The initiation wasn't too bad. We all had to kiss the belly of the Shellback King, and then try to climb a pole liberally covered with black grease . . . probably from shaft alley. The pollywogs quickly cooperated, and by creating a human pyramid, got one of the smaller Sea Cadets high enough to capture the flag near the top of the pole.
The mess stewards put on a party afterwards. Most of the stewards had been recruited from the navies and merchant marines of the USA and allied countries; most of them were already Shellbacks. They all went to a lot of trouble making sure everyone enjoyed the party. After a while, I found that I wasn't too uncomfortable eating a hot dog while wearing nothing but a Speedo, reef walkers, and a coat of grease.
I think we were all glad we had two nuclear reactors: it probably took most of their output to purify and heat the water for showers after the party. Jonathan, Nicky, Davey, and I tried to conserve water, but even with us covered with grease, the showers in the owner's suite were just a little small for four.
I ended up paired with Nicky. There was a lot of giggling as we washed the grease off of one another.
Even distracted by Nicky, I felt Jonathan and Davey in the next room, and knew that something was happening between the two of them—something I did not understand.
I was polyamorous, because I had never been able to sustain a relationship. I think Jonathan was polyamorous because he had never found his complement—that which completed him. Were we that much different? I was afraid to face that question.
"Alexander?" Nicky's voice interrupted my thoughts. "Where did you just go?"
I was surprised that he noticed I wasn't paying attention to him, and forestalled his question with a hug and a tickle. "Nowhere, my little mischievous spirit. Are you ready to be dried?"
Even though sex with Nicky was lively and energetic, I felt, somehow, that there was a deep question that needed to be answered.
"There is a gyre—"
"Sorry, a what?" Cadet Nkosi interrupted. No one minded; English was not his first language. In fact, it was his third, and he was more fluent in German than English, and more fluent in isiZulu than in German. Azisa Nkosi was one of the cadets whom Dr. Brewster had added to his staff.
"A huge, circular current," Dr. Brewster said. He was becoming accustomed to working with the cadets, and—like me—was losing some of his geekiness in the process. He displayed a map and pointed to the oval in the Pacific south of the equator.
"This one is nearly 5,000 kilometers in diameter and lies off the southern coast of South America. It is associated with the Southern Pacific Oscillation—popularly if somewhat loosely referred to as El Niño and La Niña—although they are its most important effects. It is fed by water from the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the Equatorial Current. We believe by examining this gyre we could learn a great deal about the Antarctic Current and the effects of ice melt—without having to sail too far south."
I was looking on my terminal at a map that showed both the currents and the underlying tectonic plates. Perfect! There are two tiny plates along the border of the Nazca Plate and the East Pacific Plate. They're far enough from land that they're in international waters. And they would be a perfect location for mineral formation. If we sail south along the coastline, we can return along the western plate boundary and get information for Uncle Ricardo.
I put that idea of investigating the plate boundary into the hopper. "We can test our tectonic capabilities, and then collect sea data, as well, on the return, to provide control and get some idea of how fast the melt water is penetrating the gyre."
And that will be of use to Uncle Carlos, too, not just Uncle Ricardo, I thought. Double-whammy!
Dr. Brewster liked the idea, so it was decided. Actually, I decided. It was a mission commander thing, and I was slowly becoming accustomed to that.
Nicky and Davey had already begun training on the tectonic test stations. Actually, they trained on simulators that ran on terminals in the conference room. We weren't yet ready for everyone to know the full capabilities of that system.
When we reached the first of the two small plates, Nicky and Davey sat at the tectonic test stations on the bridge. There was quite a crowd to watch this first use of the equipment. Our helos had gone out at first light, and dropped two-dozen seismometers into the water. They would sink to the bottom and drill into the seafloor. After 24 hours, they'd rise to the surface and transmit their data and position. If we were lucky, we'd get good data and then be able to recover them.
Jonathan and a cadet were in one of the submersibles, directly below the Explorer. Actually, they were in Compartment P2G, and operating the submersible and a bigger seismometer by remote control. Two other cadets were at the second set of controls, monitoring and learning.
The fixed-wing aircraft had launched, and begun flying a pattern, scanning the ocean with multi-spectral lasers that penetrated to about 50 meters. They provided data over a wider area than the towed array, and also helped keep the array's sensors calibrated.
Captain Izzard signaled us that we'd reached our destination. "All stop," he ordered. "Station-keeping this location. Rudder amidships; tie thrusters to GPS. Tower, report aircraft status."
"Aircraft are clear," came the report from the tower.
"Commence tectonic operations," the captain ordered.
Nicky and Davey began the firing sequence. Missiles sped from ports at each of the locked rooms, fore and aft, port and starboard. When they reached their programmed positions, they dropped into the sea and headed straight down. Low powered, shaped explosive charges detonated upon contact. The tectonic plates rang like a carillon, and the seismometers gathered data.
Firing missiles and setting off explosions was more exciting to Davey than I had imagined it would be. He operated his tectonic station as if he were firing cannons from the gun ports of an ancient sailing ship. I felt his excitement. The bell-bottom blue jeans of his duty uniform confined his erection, but that only made him harder. I checked with Jonathan. It was agreed.
Jonathan "borrowed" Nicky to help him load the initial data onto the servers, leaving me to deal with Davey. I stood close while he closed down the tectonic stations, and then gestured him to follow me into the owner's quarters. I waited until we were in the hallway that connected the conference room and the three bedrooms.
"Davey? Nicky said that you guys were boyfriends, and that he'd told you that Jonathan and I were okay having sex—"
"What took you so long?" Davey interrupted. "I've done everything but grab your . . . everything but grab you on the bridge!"
"I wasn't really sure, until today, and I saw how excited you got firing the missiles. I'm not sure you were even all there. Some of you was on the USS Ironsides or one of the old sailing ships named Enterprise."
Davey said nothing while I gathered my thoughts. "I was kind of there, with you, I think," I said. "That's when I knew . . ."
Davey and I were both a little short for our ages, so we fit together perfectly when he grabbed me, pulled us together, stared at me for a moment, and then closed his eyes and kissed me.
Let the record show: I'm intensely oral, and Davey was happy to allow me to exercise that particular proclivity. My mouth must have touched every part of his body over the course of an hour before his whimpers let me know he was about to peak, and I dropped my mouth onto his penis. It's a good thing I have a hard head, 'cause he nearly pushed me into the ceiling when he thrust his hips up.
I was able to hold on as he cried, "Oh . . .oh god . . . oh Alex . . ." and other, similar expressions. That's what I heard . . . but somewhere, deep in his mind, brought to the fore by his orgasm, I heard, Oh, Jonathan.
After our breathing slowed to something close to normal, Davey began to kiss my chest, tummy, and then pubic mound. I knew his heart wasn't in it, though. Mostly, because he was exhausted. At least that's what I thought. Maybe there was more to it. I didn't want to pry, so I pulled him away, and cuddled him.
"Davey, thank you for giving yourself to me, for trusting me. I'm kind of tired, too. May we . . . may we just cuddle and sleep?"
I read his acceptance, which he sealed with a kiss and a sigh. He rolled over; I wrapped my arms around him, and we were both asleep in minutes.
By noon the next day, we'd recovered all but one of the seismometers. Jonathan began to process the data, and the Explorer turned northwest to pick up our next target, the westbound South Equatorial Current.
"The plate boundaries are good candidates," Jonathan announced three days later. Nicky, Davey, and I looked over his shoulders as he put a three-dimensional image of the ocean floor on the screen.
"The tectonic plate is thin enough, here and along this edge, to make some test borings. And the sediment is thick enough to have a record of perhaps 100,000 years of climatology in the shells of the foramens."
"That's especially good news," I said. "Uncle Ricardo will get bores of the sediment for science, and then keep drilling to check for minerals."
"Alexander? Do you ever, um . . . feel guilty about hiding your family's business behind science?" Nicky asked. Davey looked like he was going to pass out. I grabbed Davey before he could fall.
"No, Nicky, I don't. And Davey? It's okay that he asked. You know we trust you guys, and we want you to trust us.
"If you think we're doing something wrong, immoral, illegal, or just plain stupid, it can break that trust." I said. "Please, don't ever be afraid to ask us anything."
"Are you a top or a bottom?" Davey asked.
"Davey! I don't think that's what he meant!" Now it was Nicky's turn to nearly pass out.
I managed to stop laughing long enough to say, "Let's stick to mission parameters and not missionary position—at least, for now." That got a grin from Davey.
I tried to bring us back to the point of the meeting. "First, it was my family's money that paid for this ship and its equipment, to the tune of more than six billion dollars.
"Yes," I said in response to the boys' shocked expressions. "Nuclear powered aircraft carriers don't come cheap.
"Second, it's my family's money that's supporting the university that is paying the salaries of the science crew and it's family money that's paying most of the crew through one company or another. And salaries for more than 500 people, many with advanced degrees and professional qualifications, don't come cheap, either."
I didn't want to go into the details: things like that although Anconia Industries and the Anconia family were incredibly rich, we operated on very thin profit margins, and most of the profits went back either to the communities where we operated, to research, or to non-profits like the university.
"Finally, there's no one else on Earth who has the technology to extract minerals from that deep in the ocean, and the world needs those minerals."
"What do you think we'll find?" Davey asked. I felt him say, we. I thought then that perhaps he was okay with my explanation.
"I'm hoping for rare earths—iridium, gallium, germanium, among others. Right now, not only do the Chinese have a lock on most of the world's supply, but also they don't have enough to meet demand."
"Demand for what?" Nicky asked, even though I knew he knew the answer.
"Integrated circuits, mostly. And I don't mean just for tablets and cell phones. We need more ICs to implement a smart electrical grid, for example. Almost twenty percent of the electricity generated in the USA is wasted because of inefficiencies in the distribution network. We could shut down a lot of coal-fired power plants if we could fix that. The Chinese could shut down even more; so could the East Indians.
"And, our new power system needs those minerals, as well." After a talk with Nicky and Jonathan, we'd brought Davey in on the fusion power secret.
"You didn't answer my question," Davey said. Davey and I were in one of the bedrooms; Nicky and Jonathan would be in another or would join us depending on whether we were still awake when their watch was over.
I rolled Davey onto his back, and lay atop him. "What do you think?"
Davey wrapped his legs around my body. I felt Davey lock his ankles together behind my back. "I think you are incredible," Davey said, and stopped my reply with his mouth.
"Um, Nicky said you bottomed for him," Davey said the next morning. "So you didn't really answer my question."
"Davey? Remember what we said about trust? There are secrets you know you can't tell, even speak of with anyone—not even Nicky—except in one of the secure locations. But what you and I, and what Nicky and I, and what you and Jonathan and Jonathan and Nicky or I do? Well, after the four of us spent four hours in the same bed a couple of weeks ago, I don't see how any of that can be secret!
"And I don't care who is top and who is bottom, as long as both enjoy it."
Jonathan had drafted Nicky to pull an all-nighter to work on the mapping software and wring out some bugs in the imagery. I convinced Davey to join me on the deck outside the conference room for a talk. We stood at the railing, watching the magical phosphorescence of the ship's wake, staring at the stars—the millions of stars that most land-bound people never see because of light pollution.
"Davey? I know you are searching for something. Would you tell me what it is?"
Davey thought for so long, I thought he'd fallen asleep on his feet. Then, he straightened up and began talking.
"Nicky and I are both orphans. I think that's what first brought us together.
"We met three years ago when a Sea Cadet summer cruise from the UK stopped in Boston. I was one of the local boys they took out for a few days.
"Nicky and I got to talking about living with foster parents, and worrying about what would happen to us when we became emancipated but destitute at age eighteen. I think we kind of fell in love, then, but we didn't say anything to one another and sure couldn't do anything on that ship!
"We kept in touch by email, and when we found out about this cruise, we both signed on. Besides the science, we knew that for at least a year we wouldn't have to worry about where we'd sleep or what we'd wear or what we'd eat and maybe, after it was over, we'd be able to get a scholarship or at least a job . . ."
Davey's voice cracked. I felt his tears. I pulled him into a hug, and let him cry on my shoulder for a while. When his sobs diminished, I whispered to him.
"Davey? I promise that you and Nicky will be able to do anything you want after this voyage, whether it's to have a paid job on this ship or somewhere else in Anconia, or to continue at university, or whatever."
There was another long silence before Davey said, "Alex? I told you once I thought you were incredible, and that's a pretty incredible offer. But . . . you and Jonathan, you'd think that Nicky and I . . . that we're whores for having sex with you and Jonathan so that you'd—"
I shut Davey's lips with my finger. I knew that wasn't true. I knew that Nicky and Davey first had sex with Jonathan and me for fun, and because they thought we were hot. I had read that; so had Jonathan. I wasn't ready to explain it, though.
"Davey? We invited you—probably seduced you, actually. We wanted to have sex with you and Nicky from the first moment we saw you. We were very happy when you accepted our invitations. If anyone should feel guilty, it would be Jonathan and I, for using our positions—"
Now it was Davey's turn to shush me. His voice was tight. I thought he was angry. "Alexander, that never was important."
"But we're in positions of power; and you are—for however smart you are—you're technically subordinates. We've used our power to—"
Davey's distain filled my mind. "Come on, Alex!" he said. "Don't you think we were warned about that? Do you think we're that stupid!"
All I could do was hope he would finish his thoughts. I couldn't speak. Davey seemed to understand this.
"The UN spent six weeks training us for this mission. Two whole weeks were on the_ professional conduct_ curriculum—which was mostly about sexual conduct. They warned us about crew members who'd want to fuck us; they warned us about STDs; they told us about people on power trips, like captains—they didn't say anything about mission commanders, though." Davey giggled at this point.
"Nicky told me the first night after he saw you, that you both were really hot. I told him that we'd have to push you if that's what it took to have sex with you."
"Davey, I promise not ever to think that you and Nicky used sex to gain anything—money, favor, anything—from Jonathan and me. But only if you promise to always believe that we would never, ever, take advantage of you."
Davey smiled. "It's a deal."
"Thank you, Davey. I . . . I'm glad—"
Now, it was Davey's turn to shush me. He did it with his lips, pulling me into a serious kiss. He pressed me against the railing and pushed our bodies so close I could feel his heartbeat—and his hard-on. Stiffy, I thought, and nearly giggled.
Tonight was Davie's turn to show how oral he was. And how strong. Images flashed through my mind, culminating with a Category F tornado . . . If I weren't already an innie, I'd be one after this, I thought.
We ended up in a position to take one another into our mouths, and exploded at the same instant. I still sensed Jonathan in Davey's mind. Odd. The image Davey had seemed much younger . . .
"Nicky? I've found more pictures," Davey announced. He slid aside to allow Nicky better access to the computer screen.
"See? Google® images has a lot of photos of Alexei. You're right, he does look like Jonathan. There's a book on Amazon.com® that says Alexei and one of his sisters escaped the massacre of his family by the communists—"
"I saw that," Nicky said. "I've read it. It's crap. It's the same sort of crap that claims Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and left descendants. Question: How can two mythical people leave descendants? Answer: Only when someone figures a way to make money writing about it."
"I know," Davie said. His voice was nearly a whisper. "Everywhere else it says that Alexei and his sister were positively identified by DNA testing. Besides . . ." Davey's voice broke. "Even if somehow he did survive and Jonathan is descended from him, it's a secret we have no right to know."
"If it's true, then they'll tell us, someday," Nicky said. "Like Alex said. It's all about trust. Speaking of trust: you need to wipe the history file, and cookies. And we need to forget—"
Nicky saw Davey's face, then bent to kiss the tears from Davey's cheeks. "Why are you crying?" Nicky whispered.
"Because he was innocent. Because he deserved a chance to grow up. Because his murder was brutal. And because he was . . . beautiful."
Chapter End Notes:
Special thanks to Brendan for providing significant direction to this chapter and to the developing relationships among the key players.
The amount of electricity that could be saved with a "smart power grid" in the USA is uncertain and may be exaggerated, slightly. Nevertheless, it's a lot. For example, the amount of power that was lost in transmission lines leading to California was enough to have prevented all the brownouts and blackouts during the so-called Enron Crisis around the turn of the century. And that's a fact.
Trademarks used herein are the property of their owners in all realities.