Castle Roland

Book I - Global Explorer

by David McLeod


Chapter 5

Published: 11 Jun 15

Global Explorer

by David McLeod


A whistle from the voice tube interrupted the unpacking and my conversation with Nicky. Rather than answer the voice tube, I picked up the phone, and pressed the digits that would put me through to the bridge.

"Commander Anconia? This is First Officer Thackery. We have reached deep water, and are ready to deploy the towed array. Dr. Brewster asks if you will join the party on the fantail."

"Yes, Mr. Thackery; thank you." I knew that party meant people and not celebration; still, it would be a celebration of sorts.

"Well, come on, Jonathan, Nicky, we're about to see up-close the science behind this mission," I said. I felt from them both a little excitement and eagerness, although Nicky's was mixed with some disappointment. Hmmm. Why might that be? I wondered.

You know exactly why! Jonathan said. I felt, rather than heard, his giggle.

The towed sensor array was the principal scientific tool of the Explorer's mission. During the International Geophysical Year of 1957, a dozen nations had collaborated to map deep ocean currents: the so-called thermohaline circuit. Now, some 60 years later, the Global Explorer was going to replicate their research.

As scientists, we did not decide what conclusions we were going to reach, unlike the anti-science, young earth creationists who focused on their superstitions and then sought (or, more often, made up) proof that they were correct. We were simply going to examine the extent and parameters of the circuit in the Pacific Ocean and, at some time in the future, the Atlantic and elsewhere.

Only Jonathan and I knew that the equipment in the spare bedroom, when we got it unpacked and integrated with the other servers, would also receive the signals from the towed array, including special sensors built into the power modules, plus our ELF electromagnetic signals, and would perform a different analysis on it, and present it on separate screens on the bridge—if Jonathan could get it working.

Dr. Gannon cornered me as soon as I reached the fantail.

"Commander Anconia! I'm so glad you are here. We've tested each component—salinity, temperature, pH, density, conductivity, turbidity—the entire array is working. Your design—time division multiplexing—solved the data problem. We're ready to deploy."

The young post-doc from UCSD stuttered to a halt.

"Dr. Gannon," I said, "I'm very happy to serve with someone as brilliant and dedicated as you are. But I didn't invent TDM—I only suggested it for this project. Hardly a claim to fame on my part."

Dr. Gannon blushed, but his excitement soon overcame that. "We're ready to deploy." He held out the remote controller. "Would you . . .?"

"No, Doctor," I said. "This is your show, and Dr. Brewster's."

Dr. Gannon grinned and pushed a green button. Beneath the deck, a drum 200 meters long slowly turned and a line played out through a channel in the stern.

First into the water was a cage that contained several hydrofoils, each less than a foot across and connected to servos. They would operate to keep the sensor array at the proper depth and would steer the array in a zigzag pattern to sample not only the current, but also the sea on both sides of the current, as well as above and below. The software would turn this into a three-dimensional picture of the current and the surrounding waters.

The sensor modules knew where they were by comparing signals from electromagnetic sensors that operated using a trick from Maxwell's equations. The technology had been developed to help monitor the location of deep oil drilling heads, years ago. It was another not my idea that the scientists seemed to think was out of the ordinary.

Even Drs. Gannon and Brewster did not know that the hydrofoils and the rest of the array were powered by micro fusion devices, the fruits of Jonathan's discovery. That was technology, and of no interest to the scientists.

Immediately following the cage was a sensor package. Separate instruments would measure properties of the ocean water and report back—using TDM through a set of conductors different from our ELF conductors—to the ship. Every 30 meters another sensor package was attached to the carbon-nanotube cable.

"Even with TDM," Nicky said, "with a 12,000 meter cable, and 400 sensors continuously measuring eight parameters, Shannon's Law says you won't get that much data on copper conductors."

"Eight?" I asked. "Dr. Gannon only listed six." I knew the answer, and that there were twelve parameters, not six. Even Dr. Gannon didn't know about the 10th through 12th, which were part of our ELF system, and the 13th sensor for dissolved oxygen content which was of special interest to seafood farming. Nor did they know about the magnetometer that was at the lowest part of the hydrofoil array.

"Depth and location, which are probably x, y coordinates to go with the z of depth," Nicky said. "Nine if you count both x and y."

This kid's smart, I sent to Jonathan. I felt Jonathan's assent, before he answered.

"You're right, Mr. O'Brian. So, we have a modified TDM. Can you suggest what that might be?"

Nicky thought for a moment, and then said. "If I were doing it, I'd have each sensor package send initial conditions, and then send only changes to conditions. If things remained the same, all you'd receive would be . . . well, not much of anything more than an identification and timing sync blip from each sensor."

"That is correct," I said. "Turn the page."


"Sorry, it's an old joke," I said. "But you are right. That's exactly what's happening."

Besides several of the science staff, there were perhaps a dozen Sea Cadets on the fantail. I wasn't sure Nicky would know all of them, and didn't want to embarrass him, so I introduced myself and Jonathan to each one, and said something I hoped was not too geeky. I was glad to see them, there, and promised myself that I would remember their names—and that they were interested enough in the science mission to be there.

"That's it for here," Dr. Gannon said. "From now on, control will be from the science station at the bridge, and monitoring in the main science lab."

The party broke up at that point. I gestured for Jonathan and Nicky to follow me.

While we finished unpacking my stuff, Nicky asked several more astute questions about TDM, the sensors, and the mission. The questions showed not only an understanding of science in general, but computer science in particular. Jonathan and I conferred silently, and agreed to ask him to help Jonathan with his project. But not tonight. Jonathan and I had been apart for too long for that.

"Nicky? Would you tell your element leader that you will be working with Mr. Romanov—umm, that's Jonathan—for at least the next few days, and ask him to adjust your duty schedule accordingly? Please tell him that this is an official request and that it came from me. And report to the conference room immediately after breakfast, tomorrow, please."

I couldn't tell whether Nicky's excitement or disappointment was stronger, but I did get his agreement.

It was not quite 10:00 PM, which was 11:00 PM body time for me, but not for Jonathan who had been in San Francisco for almost two weeks. On the other hand, I was not even close to being sleepy.

Jonathan and I washed each other, each of us careful not to spoil the evening by bringing the other to orgasm.

"I've missed you so much," Jonathan whispered. We were lying on the bed, face-to-face, chest-to-chest, legs interlaced.

"Even with all the cute Sea Cadets to pick from?" I asked.

Jonathan and I had talked about our past partners, and about the future. We had reached the conclusion that we were both polyamorous and agreed that we would not be jealous of either the past or the future.

"They and I have been much too busy," Jonathan asserted. "Although there are several who seem interested."


Jonathan stopped my lips with his, and filled my mouth with his tongue. Then, he slid his lips down my chest to my penis. Before I could climax, I gently pulled him off. "My turn," I said.

We traded off several times, guided by the other's hands, until Jonathan was a little slow, and I felt him quiver, then arch his back, and then fill me with his essence.

We lay, side by side, until our breathing slowed. "My turn," he said.

We did not know that our conversation and coupling had been mirrored by Nicky and his boyfriend.

"What's he like?"

"They," Nicky said. "Alexander and his boyfriend, Jonathan. He said so," he added quickly. "He told me they were boyfriends, and said to call them by their first names when we were in private.

"Well, Alexander has curly black hair and gray eyes that sometimes look a little green and sometimes look a little blue.

"Jonathan has auburn hair, brown with red it in. His eyes are blue. He looks like someone I've seen, before, but I don't know who it might be. Maybe it will come to me.

"I think Alexander, uh, maybe likes me? I think he wants to have sex, too."

"Way cool!" Nicky's boyfriend said. "What about Jonathan?"

"Jonathan is a little shy," Nicky said. "But he's incredibly cute."

"Well, we're just going to have to push him a little!"

The next morning, Nicky and Jonathan began unpacking the dozens of boxes in the third bedroom, installing servers in racks in the conference room, hooking them up, and testing them. It would be a few days before they could start working on the interface with the sensors and with the software. I helped until I thought I was in the way. Then I went to the bridge to talk to Captain Izzard.

He was in immediate command of the vessel and the crew; I would determine our mission. Although the captain worked for me, he was in charge of the ship. I could set the agenda, but he was responsible for day-to-day operations and for all operations during an emergency. And he got to define "emergency." I was comfortable with that. Actually, I was pretty damn happy about that.

I had asked the captain to sail northwest, skirting the coast of California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

"Alex?" The captain was clearly puzzled. His pencil incessantly tapped the chart table, and his brow was furrowed, making his eyebrows run together. "The nearest current on the study list is about 10 miles east of us by now, isn't it?"

"Yes, Captain. However, this leg of our voyage is the cover for another mission. One I'd appreciate your keeping to yourself for the moment. As far as the science team and crew know, we're still shaking out the sensor array. We will also be testing one of the submersibles in relatively shallow water. But somewhere, about here"—I put my pencil on the chart—"is the wreckage of an executive jet, lost less than a year ago. We should reach there by tomorrow afternoon.

"We searched for the plane, but it was never found. I believe that with the Explorer's equipment, we'll be able to locate it.

"Someone went to a lot of trouble to murder three people, one of whom was a child who was allied with them, but who almost certainly didn't know he was going to die. The flight crew were Anconia employees—members of our family."

Captain Izzard knew what I meant by family. He knew, as did many others, that one didn't have to be related by blood to be a member of the family.

"I don't believe that whatever it was—call it their soul, their spirit, their mind—that made the two pilots and that boy who they were, still exists. Still, I'd like to close this particular chapter."

The captain's pencil stopped tapping. "I understand, Alex," he said.

By midmorning of the second day at sea, our sensors located metal that was likely the remains of the jet. I asked the captain to hold the Explorer steady while we prepared to drop one of the submersibles for a closer look.

"Captain? Would you and Drs. Brewster and Gannon join us in Compartment Papa-2-Golf?" I asked.

I phoned the conference room. "Jonathan? Bring Cadet O'Brian to SVRC, please. This is something else he'll need to learn."

Compartment P2G was SVRC: Submersible Virtual Reality Control. The captain knew it was filled with electronics, and that it had something to do with the submersibles, but no one except Jonathan and I had seen the software systems in operation. We had tested the submersibles on simulators and in Chief Mountain Lake to 475 meters, but this would be the first test at depth.

"This is Cadet Jones," Jonathan said when he brought a second boy into the room. "We recruited him to help with the servers."

There was something more, but I didn't catch it and didn't think this was the time to ask.

Jonathan and I sat in two of the four reclining chairs. Nicky was in a third; we put Cadet Jones in the fourth. The chairs had built-in shiatsu massage. That was to keep us from getting sore: during submersible operations, the operators could be sitting for hours. We put on the wrap-around goggles and the earphones with boom microphones, and then slid our hands in the gloves. What we saw in the goggles would be duplicated in HDTV screens around the room for the benefit of the observers, and could be recorded.

"Mr. O'Brian? Mr. Jones? Your controls are not active, however, you will see and feel what Mr. Romanov is doing. Later, we'll switch, and you'll see and feel what I am doing."

I got a crisp "Aye, sir," from Nicky and felt his grin. He was playing our game, and keeping our informality from going public. Good boy.

The submersible Allyn was already suspended over the water. Jonathan moved his hands to operate the virtual controls he saw in his goggles, and lowered the vessel until it was completely submerged. As soon as water reached the fusion generators, he sent the coded signal to start the reaction, and they started pumping out the watts. I began running system checks of propulsion, while Jonathan checked sensors and the articulated arms that would be our hands.

"Power and propulsion, green," I said.

"Sensors and mechanicals, green," Jonathan said.

"Free the cable." The cable did not support the vehicle, but was necessary for the high-speed communication link between the computers in P2G and the Allyn. Free the cable meant to activate a system that would pay out or retract the cable based on the submersible's movements. The cable also served to hide that power came from fusion generators—as far as others knew, the cable provided power as well as signal.

"Disconnect from the winch." That command allowed the Allyn the freedom of motion for which she had been designed.

It seemed odd to call Allyn, named for a guy who was a submersible pioneer, her, but tradition is tradition.

The Allyn began a slow descent to the ocean floor. After about 100 meters, it started getting dark; Jonathan switched on the lights. Even wearing headphones, we could hear the excited voices of the observers.

I cranked up the motors and used the map we'd created with the sensor array to bring Allyn to where we thought the plane's wreckage might be. Jonathan monitored magnetometer readings and sonar echoes. Once we reached the ocean floor, it didn't take long to find pieces of wreckage, and only minutes to positively identify it as the lost aircraft.

There were only a few pieces larger than a card table, but one had three digits of the plane's tail number on it. There was no sign of bodies. I was thankful for that. I wasn't sure if I could have dealt with bodies.

"Jonathan? Can you snag that piece? The one with the numbers?" I asked. "We might, someday, want proof."

Jonathan moved his hands. Mechanical pincers unfolded. I moved us closer to the metal plate. Jonathan latched onto it with two of the manipulators, and tucked it close to the body of the submersible.

"Let's bring her up," he said.

I sped up the process by blowing compressed air into a ballast tank giving the submersible slight negative buoyancy. Then, I cranked up the propeller speed and pulled back on the diving planes. Jonathan monitored the cable and the speed with which it was reeled in. That was something we'd not been able to test before this moment.

"Alex?" Nicky's voice was soft. Everyone had left the submersible control room except him and me. We were shutting down the systems.

"Yes, Nicky?"

"What did we just do? Why was that airplane important?"

"Nicky, the answer is a dangerous secret." I thought really hard and exchanged a flash of thought with Jonathan. He sent the confirmation I expected.

"Will you keep that secret?"

"Yes, Alexander, I will."

"Some evil people—and I mean evil, not just bad—killed two Anconia employees and an innocent child just because they suspected the existence of a secret. Those three people were on that plane. The evil people didn't have any idea what the secret was. All they knew was that there was a secret. And that's all they needed to commit murder.

"They would not hesitate to kill you if they thought it would help them find out what the secret is."

"I understand, Alexander. Thank you for your trust."

Only Jonathan was with me at 9:00 PM when I dropped a wreath from the fantail. The wreath was made of freeze-dried seaweed—natural and biodegradable. That I had brought it on board was a sign of my confidence in our equipment.

"I didn't think you believed . . . " Jonathan said, when we had returned to our bed.

"I do not believe that anything of the two pilots or that unnamed boy remain," I said. "The wreath symbolizes only that I will not forget them—ever. The boy died in your place, although neither you nor he had any choice in the matter. The pilots left a husband, a wife, and three children who are part of the Anconia family. This will, I hope, bring peace to them."

And someday, I will have revenge.

Jonathan heard, but did not respond. I felt his approval, however.

The next morning, Jonathan and I met with the captain, as well as Drs. Brewster and Gannon, and a couple of the pilots.

"We've tested the sensor arrays as well as we can without being airborne," the fixed-wing guy said. "We'd like to schedule test flights this afternoon."

"Ditto the sona-buoy and seismometer drop systems on the helos," one of the Army Warrants said. "We need to test while airborne. More important, we need to test—and practice—recovery."

"Sounds good to me," I said when I realized Captain Izzard expected me to say something more than that. I guess this is a 'Mission Commander' thing, I thought. "Captain, any operational reason we shouldn't do this?"

"No. Sounds like a good plan," he said.

"Then, lets do it," I made it official, sort of.

"Gents," the Captain said, "I'd like to schedule the fixed-wing launches and recovery after lunch, and want Sea Cadets in safe positions but part of the operation. I'll talk to the flight deck crew about that. I'd like the helo operations to take place after the fixed-wing launch, and for your exercises to be in sight of the ship so the cadets and crew can watch. They need to have more than an academic understanding of what we're doing.

"Any reason you can't put a few of the cadets in the aircraft?"

"We can live with that," both pilots said.

I took Captain Izzard aside. "Thank you for thinking of putting cadets on the flights and on the flight deck. I wouldn't have thought of that."

The captain grinned. He knew I was a geek, but that I was trying to get over it!

Then, he asked, "Do you want me to ask Lt. Griggs to ensure Mr. O'Brian and Mr. Jones are on one of the flights?" Lt. Griggs was a British Royal Navy Officer, and the Sea Cadets' Element Commander.

"No, Captain, please. They're good kids, and they've already put in some hard hours helping us. Rather than favoring them, we need to bring more of their mates on board our end of the mission. And Dr. Brewster does, as well. If anything, Lt. Griggs should keep records of assignments, and ensure they are fairly allocated."

I think I surprised Captain Izzard with that, but it was a good surprise.

"Captain? There's something else," I said. "I'm not sure about this, but I remember you saying that the Sea Cadets were learning to be young officers and gentlemen."

The captain's eyebrows furrowed, but he nodded. "Yes, I'm sure I did say that. It is correct."

"Then, would it strain the separation of the classes aboard a ship if two seats at the Captain's Table were reserved for cadets, and if the cadets were rotated to those seats?"

Captain Izzard seemed to hold his breath for at least two minutes before he answered.

"Alexander? I thought you were buried too deeply in your science and technology to even think about something like this."

I knew what he meant was that I was a geek. It was okay.

"I would not have thought of that," the captain continued. "I will speak with the cadets' commander immediately. Breakfast is too informal, I think. We will hold two seats, those across from your place and mine, at lunch and dinner. I'm sure that Lt. Griggs will agree.

"Oh, and dinner on Saturday nights will be formal. That means dress uniforms for the cadets . . . and for the ship's officers and the flight crews."

Captain Izzard chuckled, and then said, "I'll talk to Dr. Brewster, but I'm not sure if we can get the science crew dressed up."

The captain was wrong. Even the science team seemed to like an occasional opportunity to wear real clothes, rather than tie-dyed T-shirts, shorts, and sandals. Usually, that meant slacks and polo-style shirts, but Dr. Brewster showed a completely different side of himself when he came to dinner on Saturday nights in black tie.

During the test flights, the pilots, both fixed-wing and rotary, as well as the flight deck crew and the men in the control tower went out of their way to make sure the cadets understood what was happening. Afterwards, Captain Izzard and I met with Lt. Griggs, and various crew chiefs to discuss training. We all wanted to make sure that the cadets had opportunities to be more involved.

Even the flight deck crew had been willing to have cadets on the deck during flight operations. "If this were a combat ship, and we were engaged in wartime operations, there's no way," the retired Senior Chief Petty Officer who was boss of the flight deck said, "but for peacetime ops? Let's give them a real thrill."

"I think the kids who were on the two fixed-wings got that when the catapult kicked in," one of the pilots said. It got a chuckle.

I had asked Lt. Griggs to meet with me, so he remained after the others had left.

"Thank you, sir, for including the cadets in your planning," he began.

"Please," I replied. "I understand the need for formality when your cadets are present, but in private, I'm Alex."

"My name is Rutherford," Griggs replied. "That's a little awkward for most people."

He blushed. "As a cadet, I was called Rocky, if that would be convenient."

I didn't laugh, even though I wanted to. "Rocky, it is, then . . . at least, when we are in private. And so is Alex.

"And speaking of your cadets—how's that for a clever transition?" I asked and then continued without pause. "Speaking of your cadets, we owe them more training than what was discussed earlier.

"I've talked with the pilots, both fixed wing and rotary. None of them are instructor pilots, although that's a little fuzzy since we're flying a UN flag, and the UN doesn't have a definition of instructor pilot.

"These men are willing to sign logbooks as trainers. These entries may not be recognized by the ICAO, but they'll at least provide a jumpstart for any cadets who might be interested in flying."

Lt. Griggs understood, and agreed to identify kids who might be more interested in the air than the sea. I sent a message to a cousin—Wyatt Anconia, the son of Uncle Ricardo—to arrange rendezvous with a tender to make sure our tanks would be kept filled with avgas for both the fixed-wing and the helos.

And, I made a note. We needed a fusion power plant for aircraft operations. I was convinced that we could do that.

"We are prepared to steam northward to pick up the North Pacific Current," Captain Izzard said.

We had remained on station during the flight operations and tests. Today, we would begin the scientific mission. We planned to follow the North Pacific Current when it turned south and became the California current. That would keep us busy for a while. Of course, all this depended on our finding the North Pacific current.

"We've detected an anomaly that may be the current," Dr. Brewster said. The captain and I looked at the chart, and the summary of the sensor readings. It was agreed.

"The hydrofoils will begin a zigzag pattern in order to identify and map the current. I have the conn and will relay orders from the science station," the captain announced.

Boring, I thought. Not for me, for the idea of re-finding the Pacific currents and mapping them fascinated me. Boring for the crew, however. At least, I feared that. So, I found someone who would likely be among the earliest to become bored.

"What do you and the other cadets think about the mission, so far?" I asked Nicky.

"They're all pretty excited," he answered. "Especially after watching the aviation wing in operation. They're not sure about the ocean currents thing, but they know they're on a pretty incredible ship, and they're all learning a lot."

"Ready for something new, something different?" I asked.

"Sure, Alexander." I read something more than simple assent in that reply, but I wasn't quite ready for that, yet.

Nicky and I had checked twenty-five of the four hundred sensor packs that would become part of the backup line. There had been enough time to create a second cable, and enough room for a second, 200-meter drum below decks. There had not been time to test and attach the sensors, however, so a secure, below-decks laboratory held crates full of sensors to be tested and attached before the second line could become operational.

Nicky asked why the science team did not do this. "Not that I mind," he said. "This is some of the coolest gear I've ever worked with."

"I don't mind your question, Nicky," I said. "And I think you're the coolest . . . I mean, I think the equipment is pretty cool, too." I felt his blush at my deliberate Freudian slip. Close, I thought.

"Mostly, because this is technology, not science. And once the technology is in place, the science is all Dr. Brewster's team focuses on. That's not all bad, but only because the scientists have you and Jonathan and me to make sure the technology isn't giving them bad data."

"There is another reason, and that's the secret that the Russians want to know. If they suspected you knew, they would do anything to make you tell them. Do you want to know? I already know you can keep a secret."

Nicky's right eyebrow, one of the golden eyebrows that marked him as a true redhead, lifted. I did not sense any fear.

"I've kind of figured some of that out," he said.

I was surprised, but asked him what he meant.

"I finished one year of university in Wales. I had classes and labs in computers, electronics, and electrical engineering. The stuff I've seen here is way, way beyond what the university had—and it's the best in Britain."

He surprised me, again. "I think you're telling me that it's way beyond even what I've seen.

"And, I want to know."

I unhooked and deliberately set aside the leads that provided power to the sensor that was on the test bench. Then, I sent a signal to start the fusion reaction.

Nicky saw the power output climb until it read 250 watts and held steady. He watched as I put the resistance of the sensors and the TDM transmission module online. Still, the power level remained steady. He looked at the leads, and then looked at me. "There's no way you're getting that much power from a battery. And there's no way batteries on the sensor train could last long enough. What is it?" he whispered.

"Micro fusion," I said. "It's converting hydrogen in the air—or in the seawater when submerged—into power."

"Swmpus!" Nicky said.


"Welch. Means cachau monumental! Uh, that means fuc—"

"I get it, Nicky!" I laughed and watched him blush, and then smile until dimples appeared in his cheeks.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't learn a lot of Welsh: mostly how to order beer, find a restroom, and some cuss words!"

I joined his laughter. Then, we talked for a while. Nicky wanted to know why we were keeping micro fusion technology a secret.

"You said you thought there might be tipping points in the climate or in climate systems. You have to know—you must know—that humans burning fossil fuels causes warming. I mean, the chemical and radioactive signatures of the carbon molecules in the atmosphere prove that! Why are there not fusion reactors everywhere?"

"Couple of reasons, Nicky.

"So far, the only fusion generators we've built are the tiny ones on the sensor train, plus these for the second cable, and four that power the submersibles. The ones on the submersibles produce about 600 amps at 400 volts, each. That's equivalent to about enough for seven or eight USA American homes. The generators on the submersibles cost more than a million dollars, each. And, they've only been tested briefly.

"There is a team in Montana working on a feasible commercial generator, and they'll probably have the cost down to less than five cents per kilowatt-hour by the time the Explorer returns—if not sooner.

"The real obstacles, however, are going to be public opinion and regulatory problems. There are no laws governing fusion generators but you can bet that as soon as people find out about it, you'll hear the not in my backyard crowd and the Luddites demanding government regulation, oversight, and, of course, taxation. The electric generating companies and the coal, oil, and gas industries are going to scream bloody murder. So will the states and countries that depend on coal, natural gas, and oil for their economies. They will do everything they can to stop us."

Knowing about the pushback from financial interests, I think, upset Nicky more than knowing the secret, and knowing that his life was thereby in grave danger.

I removed the module from the test bench, locked it up, and took Nicky's hand to urge him from his chair. He released my hand while we were in public spaces, but grabbed it again the instant we reached the owner's suite.

"You're going to have to turn loose so I can undress you," I said, after I'd closed the bedroom door behind us.

Nicky stood silently while I unbuttoned his shirt and slid it off his arms, revealing warm, glowing skin over tight muscles. His breathing deepened when I unbuttoned the fly of his uniform jeans. He woke up enough to kick off his topsiders, and lift one leg after the other so I could slide off his jeans. He wore white boxer briefs. The elastic material strained to hold his erection, which slapped against his tummy when I was able to work the briefs down his legs.

I thought Nicky might undress me, but he stared as if mesmerized while I undressed. I took his hand, again, and led him into the shower.

I had already sent a thought to Jonathan, who not only approved, but also grinned. It's way past time to ask him. Even though you know what his answer will be, Jonathan sent.

I was enraptured by Nicky's smooth skin, marked only by a few freckles across his nose. I was almost afraid to ask, but, "Nicky? Do you have a boyfriend?" I knew the answer, but wanted him to tell me.

"Yes," Nicky whispered. Then he seemed to wake up. He giggled.

"Hmmm?" I said. I drew a loofa down his back, and felt his excitement—and more than just a little lust. He knew where this shower was headed, and he was okay with that.

"You met him in submersible control. He's Cadet David Jones. He's a Yank. Of course, everyone calls him Davey Jones. Like Davey Jones Locker?"

"Yes, I get it," I said. I had wondered about his name.

Then, I began what I thought would be a difficult conversation.

"Nicky? You know that Jonathan is my boyfriend. What you don't know is that Jonathan and I have had sex with other boys, and we're both good with that. We believe that love shared is love enlarged. We are not jealous of one another's partners, and neither of us tries to hide those partners. Jonathan knows we're in the shower, together, right how."

I thought to give him some time to think about this, while I continued to wash him. He didn't need any time. He turned, grabbed my head, and pressed his lips to mine. When we broke apart to breathe, he said, "Alexander, I have waited forever for you to say that. Since the first time I saw you, on the bridge." He giggled. "You never did answer that message, by the way."

I laughed, and Nicky kept talking. "I told Davey all about you two the first night and, he and I . . . we really like you and Jonathan."

Well, I thought. That will make things a lot easier.

I could read Nicky's feelings well enough that I could have figured out what kind of sex he liked just from a little groping, fondling, and kissing. But I'd learned that a conversation about preferences, if handled well, let my partner know I was interested in his desires and could be an important part of foreplay.

"What would you like me to do with this?" I asked, softly, while stroking lightly his erect penis.

Nicky blushed. I felt perhaps a little fear? Certainly I felt he was concerned how I might interpret his answer, which was to slide his hands down my back and linger on my buttocks.

I almost laughed, but that would have spoiled the moment, and perhaps our fragile friendship.

"Nicky? You know that my family is of Greek origin? And you know what they say about the ancient Greeks."

Before he could think too hard about that, I lay on the bed, and pulled him on top of me.

"Are you sure?" Nicky whispered. "You're . . . I mean . . . the mission commander . . . "

"Nicky? I'm a boy only a few months younger than you . . . and the condoms are in the top drawer of the nightstand."

Nicky didn't disappoint me. He started gently, until we were both comfortable, and then released the mischievous spirit that I knew was inside him. Three, perhaps four years later, when I finally came, my anus tightened enough to cause Nicky to come, too. We lay, quietly, occasionally kissing, rubbing, and kissing until our breathing became slow and steady.

Chapter End Notes: The capabilities of the Global Explorer are based on unclassified information in the public domain in this reality. Much comes from Wikipedia.

The "inside joke" at "That is correct . . .Turn the page," is from Guys and Dolls. Once again, a tip of the hat to Damon Runyon (and Frank Loesser).

ICAO is the "International Committee of Aeronautical Organizations," which has established various rules for aviation, air travel, and aircraft operations.

The origin of the name, "Wyatt" as in Wyatt Anconia is left as an exercise for the reader.

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