Castle Roland

Book II - Global Explorer

by David McLeod


Chapter 2

Published: 29 Jun 15

Global Explorer II

by David McLeod

Not So Secret, After All

Anconia Virginia Compound, December 20—25, 2017, Ensign Davey Jones's Journal

Jonathan asked me to be with him when he told his mother that he was going to claim the crown of Russia—and tell her about us. I had never been so frightened in my life.

"Mom, you know that Dad was the only surviving patrilineal descendant of the Romanov dynasty. Now, I am. Mr. Anconia knows that, too, and he has convinced me that I should reclaim that throne and clean Russia of the corruption that has ruled since my ancestors were murdered a hundred years ago.

"I have agreed to do that."

Mrs. R sipped her tea before she spoke. "I thought you would. Your father and I spoke of it. He did not believe he could do that. The forces of communism and later the KGB were too powerful, and the Romanov Organization, even if it were to recognize him, was too weak. As soon as Mr. Anconia visited us, and your father gave him the packet of papers for you, I knew that you would be the one who would do this thing."

She smiled. "I am frightened for you, of course. But I know you have strong allies. I am also happy for you, and for your country and your people."

"There's something else, Mom," Jonathan said. He looked at me briefly. "Something that must never be spoken of."

"That you and this adorable child are boyfriends?" she said. Her voice and her mind held both love and approval. I felt that, so I didn't mind being called a child. Even though I was six months older than Jonathan.

I don't know whether Jonathan or I blushed more furiously. He couldn't speak, so I spoke for him. "Yes, ma'am."

She laughed, but it was a happy laugh. Jonathan and I could both feel that. "My dears, a mother always knows!"

Anconia Compound—Virginia, USA, December 20, 2017, Mrs. Helen Anconia's Diary

The winter holidays were always busy, and it was my responsibility to ensure that they remained fun, despite the seeming stress. Francisco gave me my head in this. I decreed that an early Christmas (for the few Christians and the many children who believed in Santa Claus and—more important—the presents he brought) would be celebrated in Virginia, and that the Anconia traditional mid-winter festival—the Country Dionysia (ta Kat' Agrous Dionusia) for the rest of us would be celebrated in both Virginia and Montana. The New Year's reception would be held in Montana, as always.

This was the first year that Victoria Romanov, the mother of Alexander's boyfriend, would be "at home" in Virginia. Her son, Jonathan and his friend, Davey, would be there, as well. I had to do something special for them.

Anconia Virginia Compound, December 20—25, 2017, Ensign Davey Jones's Journal

I had spent a lot of Christmases at group homes. Some of the house-parents tried to make the holiday special; some didn't care. Some years, we got presents, usually from some local charity; some years there was nothing under the tree—even if there were a tree.

What Jonathan's mother, and Alexander's parents did was so very much different. It took a while for me to understand, but finally I realized: they did what they did because they got pleasure from it. Not because it was expected of them.

Jonathan's mom's home was decorated in what he said was Russian style. I recognized the nesting dolls, but I'd never seen a set painted like a Russian St. Nicholas. There were a lot of toy sleighs filled with candy, nuts, and baubles, but the sleighs were drawn by only two reindeer or two horses. It wasn't Dasher, Dancer and the other six.

There was a tree, not a big one, which Mrs. Romanov decorated with candles and icons—small wooden plaques painted with the images of her saints.

Alexander's parents invited Jonathan, his mother, and me to a pre-Christmas dinner. Their home was decorated in American style—lots of greenery and a huge tree with a million lights. The dinner was just for family: Mr. and Mrs. A, the triplets, and Alexander's sister, Francesca. Alexander and Nicky were in Montana.

When we arrived, the triplets mobbed Jonathan and me, and nearly knocked me over before their dad corralled them. Actually, all he did was say, "Play nicely, boys." Their pummeling changed to brief hugs.

Francesca held out her hand to be shaken. I wondered if she knew that Jonathan and I were boyfriends. She'd seemed pretty bright when she had visited the Explorer and gone to the park with us to meet with Dryad Colin.

I had seen a lot of really big trees in the Virginia compound, and wondered if we would see dryads, too, but I wasn't sure who to ask, or who to trust.

Alexander had sent gifts for Jonathan and me: the new model iPad—that hadn't been released, yet. The family added gifts, including some real books.

Mr. Anconia gave each of us beautiful, leather-bound books that turned out to be blank journals, and what had to be really expensive fountain pens.

"Jonathan, you are going to make history. Davey, you are going to be the closest witness to that. There will be ample public coverage and documentation. However, I hope that you will both keep journals that describe your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and emotions—all the things that the press will miss."

"I'm sorry, but I have nothing for you," I said. I was saying what Jonathan wanted to say, but could not. He was still coming to grips with what he would be doing, and at the same time, trying very hard not to miss Alexander and Nicky.

"Boys?" Mr. Anconia said. "You have made my son, and me, and all the family so very happy. You are part of us. You have trusted us with your lives. You know that, don't you? Your trust is the greatest gift you could give."

On Christmas Eve, Jonathan and I cuddled on the couch. Logs—real ones, not gas ones—burned in the fireplace. Mrs. A was in the kitchen. The smell of cinnamon and yeast permeated the house.

"Did you know," Jonathan said, "that it was Queen Victoria's husband who introduced the Christmas tree to England, and that Queen Victoria was my great-great aunt's grandmother?"

"Actually, no," I said. "I didn't know that. I did know you were sort of related to Queen Victoria, and that it was from her that Alexei got hemophilia."

Jonathan didn't say anything for a while. I thought, maybe, he was just enjoying cuddling in front of the fire, and the thought of the cinnamon rolls his mother was making. But he surprised me.

"Davey? Do I need to be jealous of a cousin long dead?" he asked.

"You see what I'm thinking," I said.

"Um, hmm. You know I do, especially when you think so hard."

"No, you do not have to be jealous of Alexei—not really. You do look a lot like him," I said. "Even more in those pictures your mother showed me. But I've never seen a picture of Alexei on a bearskin rug with his naked bottom—"

"She didn't really show you my baby pictures!" Jonathan said.

"Must have gotten mixed in with the others." I giggled. "You still have a cute bottom."

Then I kind of sobered. "Jonathan? What the communists did to Alexei and his family is, for me, a symbol of what they then did to your country and your people. I know your ancestors—some of them, at least—had a bad rep. But I also know that nothing they did, nothing! was as bad as what the communists did, and what the KGB thugs did after that. I can't wrap my head around all that, so I focus on Alexei and his family, and it keeps my hatred of the communists burning."

"Davey, I don't want you to become—"

"Obsessed," I interrupted. "I know what you're thinking, you know. I'm not obsessed. My feelings are not an obsession, but a flame that powers my resolve to you, my promise to you, to do whatever I need to do to help you … make it better."

Jonathan's kiss and his hug made it better. Our feelings were so much more than just sexual, but that was there, too. After hot chocolate and cinnamon buns, Mrs. R shooed us upstairs. "If you boys don't get to bed, Father Frost will not visit!"

Jonathan and I had been lovers—more than just as in having sex with one another—for nearly a year. It had taken our four-way relationship with Alexander and Nicky a while to shake out, and I knew that both of us would still have sex with Alex and Nicky if it were offered, but Jonathan and I were boyfriends, and more. I felt that feeling when he entered me—slowly, carefully, watching my eyes but also feeling what I was feeling—inch by inch. Did I mention that Jonathan was a very big boy?

It took only a few minutes before he was pressed hard against me, and my legs were locked around his back. I watched his eyes as he watched mine, and we both felt what the other was feeling.

Jonathan stroked my prostate slowly but powerfully, and I felt myself rising to climax. Jonathan felt it too, and held himself motionless, although I felt how hard that was for him.

"Don't stop, Jonathan, don't stop. Release yourself. Fill me and I will warm your tummy when I cum. Do not stop for me. I love you, and I feel you and—"

"Oh, Davey! I love you!" Jonathan cried softly. I felt my bottom fill with his heat, and my own heat splashing between us.

Mr. and Mrs. Anconia had invited us to fly to Montana with them for their family festivals and New Year, but Mrs. R wanted to have some alone time with Jonathan so we stayed in Virginia. Actually, I think the Anconias expected that, and that they weren't disappointed.

This Christmas was the first time I really felt like I was part of a family. Besides what the Anconias did for us, Mrs. Romanov had fixed a stocking for me with candy and silly toys, including a gyroscope that I could wind up with a string, balance on my finger, and watch while it went slowly in a circle, just like the Earth did. Jonathan and I exchanged simple gifts. And we all helped create a spectacular Christmas dinner.

Global Explorer, Norfolk, Virginia, December 27, 2017

The winter holidays had many meanings for the crew of the Global Explorer. After all, they represented sixty countries from around the world. Only a few of the crew members were religious, and even fewer of those celebrated the Christian holiday that had been co-opted from Greek, Roman, and Scandinavian mid-winter festivals. The _Explorer'_s crew and passengers began to report for duty well before the end of Year 2017.

Tommy Samson had been put in charge of greeting them and getting them settled. I should say, "Ensign Samson." Tommy was one of the 40 or so Sea Cadets who were qualified to transfer to the United Nations Science Corps. I wish I could have been there to see Tommy's face when Captain Izzard turned over command of the Explorer to Tommy when the captain and the rest of the Merchant Marine officer corps, as well as our pilots, left the ship for lunch and to watch a televised football game at the Naval Base Officers' Club.

Tommy's entire life revolved around the sea. For the past year, that had been expanded to include his place as a key member of the _Explorer'_s crew. He was a good choice to welcome aboard the two-score new Sea Cadets who would replace those who had been promoted to the UNSC, as well as the 100 high school kids from Anconia families who would be spending their spring semester on the Explorer. That was something Francesca had arranged in her conspiracy with our father, Francisco Anconia. It wasn't hard for her to convince me to accept it.

"Are we supposed to salute or something?" Tommy looked at the kid who stood, struggling with a huge duffel bag, at the top of the brow. Gangplank. Boarding ladder. Whatever. The boy had seen the Sea Cadet in line in front of him salute, but wasn't sure if he should.

Tommy stuck out his hand to help with the duffel bag. "Not required of civilians, although some citizens of the USA or allied nations will stand for a moment facing the ensign—that's the USA flag on the stern—with their hand over their heart. I'm Tommy Samson, by the way."

The kid squinted at the gold ensign bars on Tommy's collar. His eyes widened when he saw the gold circle with the Bohr atom and anchor that was Tommy's nuclear specialty insignia.

"If you're wearing that," he pointed to the circle, "you're a lot more than Tommy."

Tommy's eyes followed the boy's finger. "You recognize it?"

The boy nodded, and then said, "I'm Artie Michaels. Someday, I want to be on the crew of a nuclear sub. Why is there a nuclear specialist on the Explorer?"

Tommie temporized. "Artie, I've got more than 140 kids to get squared away before dark, but if you'll find me after supper—ask anyone on the crew for Tommy Samson, they'll help you—I'll answer your question. Right now, would you please follow Cadet Jorgensen, here? He'll show you and this group of people to your quarters." Tommy resisted calling the "group of people" a "gaggle," but that's what he was thinking.

It seemed to Tommy that everyone had a question.

"Does this boat have WiFi? Is it secure?"

"When do we eat?"

"Can you provide stable power? My experiments …"

"Where is the captain? I really must speak to the captain!"

"When will Mr. Anconia join us?"

"Do we need to show our passports?"

"How can I call Mom to let her know I got here?"

"Young man? Has my equipment been delivered?"

Tommy looked down to see an ancient woman, perhaps twelve inches shorter than he, peering at him through thick glasses.

"There have been a lot of deliveries, ma'am. If you would tell me your name, please?"

"Dr. Helen Stroud."

"Yes, ma'am." Tommy glanced at his iPad, and then signaled one of the sea cadets. "Dr. Stroud, this is Cadet Harrison. He will show you to your quarters and laboratory. Your equipment was delivered there two hours ago."

"Mr. Harrison, Dr. Stroud is Commander Anconia's aunt." I hope he understands all that means, Tommy thought. The cadet's widened eyes, and quick nod reassured Tommy.

Tommy was happy for a break in the routine when one of the members of the flight deck crew interrupted him. "Mr. Samson? We have a special package." The crewmember who brought the news to Tommy grinned, and gestured toward the dock.

One of the aircraft elevators had been lowered, and two crewmembers had guided a wheelchair onto it. Tommy watched the elevator rise to the flight deck. The crewmembers tried to keep up when the kid in the wheelchair pushed the electric motor to full speed ahead and came directly toward Tommy.

"Whoa!" Tommy said. He held up his hands in the universal signal for stop.

The wheelchair halted an inch from Tommy's feet.

"Hi, I'm Tommy. Welcome to the Global Explorer, or if you're in a hurry—as you seem to be—the GX." Tommy held out his hand to be shaken.

"I'm Jimmy," the boy said. He shook Tommy's hand. "They told me that warships weren't made to be handicapped accessible. This one looks pretty good, so far!"

"Jimmy, most of the doors are hatches with sills several inches above the floor. There's no way you're going to be able to navigate them. The spaces for the high school students—dining room, classrooms, and recreational areas—do not have sills. You'll be able to get around, okay.

"Most of the places you can't get to, you probably shouldn't go to anyway—engineering for example.

"On the other hand—" Tommy looked around and spotted Bobby, and called. "Mr. Bell? Do you have a spare ship's cell phone?"

"Sure," Bobby said, when he reached the two boys.

"Would you plug in my number, please and give it to this young man?"

While Bobby was doing that, Tommy said to Jimmy, "You run into a problem, any kind of problem, you may call me."

"Or me," Bobby said. "I'm Bobby and my number is in the phone, too. I'll get a charger sent to your quarters. In fact, if you like and if Tommy doesn't need me, I'll take you there, now."

Tommy agreed, and Bobby led the boy to a door into the superstructure—a door without a sill—and to an elevator, this one sized for people and not aircraft.

"The retrofit crew installed twenty sets of rooms with handicapped … sorry, disabled …" Bobby stammered and blushed.

"Handicapped is okay," Jimmy said. "I know what I am, and I don't need a politically correct label to tell me that."

"Okay," Bobby said. His quick agreement startled Jimmy, but only for a moment.

"Rooms with handicapped access. No rim on the doors, but a special door to seal the room when we go to Condition Zulu. Bars—"

"Sorry. Condition Zulu?" Jimmy interrupted.

"Navy speak," Bobby said. "Means when the watertight doors are secured against attack—I mean, emergency.

"Grab bars all over the bathroom. Wide doors. Both a roll-in-roll-out shower and a shallow tub with a fold-up seat. There are two beds—not double-deckers. You and all the high schoolers can decide on a roommate, later, if you want one. We won't assign them."

Bobby turned a little red when he asked, "Do you need help with the shower?"

"My legs don't work from the hip, down. I can drag myself in and out of bed, dress myself, and use the toilet and shower. Uh," he paused, and then added. "Everything else works."

Bobby's blush deepened.

Thought so, and he gave me his number, Jimmy said to himself. And began to plan.

By the time the captain and ships officers had returned, Tommy was happy to turn command of the ship back to Captain Izzard. It was almost fun, Tommy thought. But next time I will recruit more helpers."

Global Explorer, Norfolk, Virginia, December 27, 2017

Tommy answered the knock at his door. Artie, escorted by one of the Sea Cadets was waiting.

"Sir?" the cadet said. "He said you wanted to see him?"

Tommy thanked the cadet, stepped into the passageway, and then gestured to Artie. "If you will follow me, I'll show you something that you must not talk about to anyone except me. Will you agree?"

"Uh, I guess so. I mean, yes," Artie said. Then he asked, "You're not doing anything illegal, are you?"

"No, Artie. It's not illegal, but it might make some people unhappy, and we don't want to do that." Tommy chuckled.

Artie figured out what was going on as soon as Tommy handed the boy a dosimeter to pin on his shirt.

"The Explorer … she really is a Nimitz class ship. So she's got twin nuclear reactors," Artie said. "The funnel … it's not operational. It's a disguise."

"You got it the first time," Tommy said. "Although the steam whistle on the funnel does work. It's part of the disguise." He punched the code that would open the door to the reactor control room.

"A lot of people know that the Explorer is nuclear-powered. So far, no one has raised that as in issue. We're not hiding it; we're just not shouting it out to the world.

"There isn't a lot to see, really," Tommy added. "Most of the action takes place in the turbine room where we convert steam to electricity and provide steam power to the screws."

Artie giggled when Tommy said screws, although he tried to hide it. Tommy heard it, though, and wondered.

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