Lieutenant Junior Grade Arturo Hidalgo’s Personal Log. Stardate 76705.7. Encrypted.
We’re close to docking with the stardrive section. I’ll feel a lot safer with the rest of the ship—and the rest of our crew. We’ve been busy in engineering, which has helped me keep my mind off of whatever it is the other half of the ship was doing, but I hope everyone there is ok. I don’t know whether it’s just because we haven’t seen each other in a week or not, but I’m also really looking forward to seeing Nate again, if he still wants that. He seemed pretty eager before he left, but a week’s a long time in the dating life of a twenty-something. Would I say any of that if this weren’t encrypted? That’s a definite ‘no.’
While much of the process was automated, it still took a lot of work from flesh-and-blood engineers after every separation and reintegration to make sure that both halves of the Arcturus fit back together to once again serve as one united vessel. Some of these procedures were simple, like servicing the redundant components in either hull that served in the place of a primary system in the other, but making sure the power systems were perfectly aligned was a much more involved and crucial task. From Secondary Engineering on Deck 5, Commander Noah Slater began overseeing that work as soon as the docking latches were locked into place. It was a chore made even more important—and that much more difficult—as the captain had immediately jumped the ship back to high warp.
Lieutenant Hidalgo was standing across from him at the main workstation, glancing up occasionally as the commander gave orders. It was a lot to keep up with. During the three years he served on their sister ship, the Verity, the ship didn’t separate even once, so he wasn’t exactly sharp on the procedures they were doing. Granted, he also only skimmed the manual the night before, as he knew that Slater would keep him on a pretty tight leash anyway. Hidalgo had met him first as Professor Slater at Starfleet Academy, where he’d taken two advanced warp field dynamics courses from him, never earning more than a high “B” on anything with Slater’s extremely high standards.
“Starboard warp plasma manifold secure, sir,” Hidalgo reported, once he’d verified that the starboard coupling joining the saucer’s warp coils to the main power transfer conduit had been physically separated. It wouldn’t do to have power accidentally flowing into those coils while the ship was connected, as it could rip the ship apart if a warp field were created.
“Port warp plasma manifold also secure,” Lieutenant Commander Nayar reported from the other side of the workstation.
Nayar was probably Hidalgo’s favorite of all of the shift engineers, as she never seemed to be stressed out about anything. Well, not until they’d spent a week away from the rest of the ship. Her husband was a security officer, and he’d been part of the 500-person skeleton crew that had gone with Captain Lancaster. She seemed more like her bright, cheerful self once they’d reattached, though. Hidalgo hoped that meant she’d be back in the mood to bring homemade laddoo to engineering when they ended up back on delta shift.
“Secondary engineering to main engineering. Preparing to sync EPS flowthrough rates,” Slater said, glancing at the status board to confirm his two subordinates had given accurate reports.
“Van Dorland here,” came the reply from engineering.
A moment later, the disembodied head appeared of Lieutenant Commander Jack van Dorland appeared floating over the console to join his disembodied voice. He ran the ship’s dedicated Starfleet Corps of Engineers team, added after the ship’s campaign against the Breen in the Alpha quadrant to help rehabilitate damaged outposts along the border, and retained for their trip into the Delta Quadrant to service the other ships in the area and maintain the nascent subspace relay network they were building. He was easily the most popular member of the engineering department, not just because he was pleasantly blond and blue-eyed but because he was probably the least egotistical officer in the fleet, willing to help anyone with any problem, no matter how small.
“Oh, Hi!” Slater said with a smile that Hidalgo hadn’t seen before. “I didn’t realize you’d be running this from that end.”
“We’re pretty swamped. Captain’s already taken us past 9.9 again, so most everyone else is focused on keeping the ship from flying apart,” van Dorland replied. “Confirming EPS flowthrough sync. Reduce saucer intermix ratio to minimum standby, please.”
Slater tapped a few commands in, and the warp core’s pitch lowered dramatically, the swirling blue plasma inside the reaction chamber slowing to a comparative crawl. The saucer warp core was never turned completely off while they were in space, as the ship could separate with very little warming and often without the full day necessary to bring the core online from a cold start, so it was left at minimum output. For a warp core, though, ‘minimum output’ was still in the order of hundreds of megawatts, so it still provided supplemental power through the ship’s EPS grid.
“Confirmed,” Slater said. “It’s good to see your face.”
“Aww, shucks, Noah,” van Dorland replied, which made both of Hidalgo’s eyebrows shoot straight up. “Glad to see you, too. It’s been a weird week.”
“Here, too,” Slater agreed.
There had been no word from the stardrive section except whatever official communiqués were being sent directly to the Admiral’s office, so they’d been totally isolated from their shipmates. Hidalgo could only wonder what had prompted the captain to leave the rest of them behind. Still, nothing that involved this most fundamental use for the ship’s separation ability—keeping non-essentials and the bulk of the crew safe from harm—could be good.
“Are you free later? Dinner?” Slater suggested.
Hidalgo’s jaw dropped. Were those two dating?
“I’d kill for a glass of bourbon and a steak dinner. Arcturus Prime at 1900?” van Dorland replied.
“Sounds perfect. I’ll see you then, assuming we don’t get into another crisis before then.”
Van Dorland chuckled. “I’m not sure we’re out of the current crisis yet, Noah. Main engineering, out,” he said before closing the holo call.
“Did you just ask Jack van Dorland on a date, Commander?!” Hidalgo exclaimed as soon as van Dorland’s face vanished.
Slater turned scarlet. “What’s so surprising about that?”
“Oh! I mean, nothing? It’s more like ‘wow, good job,'” the lieutenant replied with a chuckle. “Are you two a thing?!”
The more senior engineer just chewed on his bottom lip for a moment.
“Leave him alone, Ship,” Nayar chided.
Hidalgo’s first name was Arturo, and he’d been aboard for about fifteen seconds when his fellow engineers had decided that they really had no choice but to bestow the nickname ‘Ship’ upon him. He had almost not taken the assignment in the first place because of some murky feeling of there being some bad karma at sharing a name with the ship itself, but who could resist going on a Delta Quadrant expedition?
“Though, the good Commander did open himself up to speculation by having that conversation in front of us,” the lieutenant commander added, a grin growing. “Aren’t you a vegetarian, sir?”
“We don’t have to eat the same thing,” Slater replied. “Besides, replicated meat has a very tenuous relationship with actual animal flesh. I have no ethical qualms with him eating a steak dinner if he wants one.”
“Well, if you ever do develop any qualms about that, I’d happily go in your place. I am very willing to jump on that grenade for you, sir,” Hidalgo teased.
The commander rolled his eyes. “Don’t you already have one?”
“Have one what? A grenade?”
“No. Someone to eat steak dinners with,” Slater replied. “I thought I recalled hearing you’ve been spotted with that tall command lieutenant. Hapsburg or whatever.”
“Windsor,” Hidalgo corrected, a split second before realizing that answer left him no room to deny the assertion.
Hidalgo had indeed been seeing Lieutenant Nate Windsor for several weeks. Maybe. Well, they were sleeping together anyway, while Hidalgo tried to figure out if he had genuine affection for Windsor or if he just enjoyed how much Windsor seemed to like him. Admittedly, Windsor was well within the top ten hottest men on the ship, beating van Dorland in not only that but also even in sheer niceness, but Hidalgo’s experience with long-term relationships was limited by his short attention span and capacity for self-sabotage, so he wasn’t holding his breath.
“How did you know about that, Commander?” the lieutenant asked.
Slater smirked at him. “Lieutenant Commander van Dorland is an excellent source of gossip because he’s apparently friends with literally everyone.”
“If you’re going to be ‘eating a steak dinner’ with him, maybe call him Jack?” Hidalgo shot back, using finger quotes to make that phrase seem like more of an innuendo.
“I can no longer figure out what you two are teasing each other about,” Nayar interjected with a laugh. “But unlike Slater and van Dorland, you and Windsor were hardly a secret, Ship. If you want a secret lover, you’ll need to pick someone a little less conspicuous than the 190-centimeter tall man in a red uniform.”
“193, actually,” Hidalgo replied. “And can I just say ‘ew’ to the word ‘lover’? It’s just so… ew. And it wasn’t a secret. It just… I don’t know if it is an ‘it’ yet. I’m not even sure if we’ll see each other anytime soon.”
Hidalgo’s badge chirped. “Windsor to Hidalgo.”
The two senior engineers shared a glance and then turned to stare at the lieutenant. The timing could not have been worse to support any point Hidalgo was trying to make about their relationship not being serious yet.
“I just got back to my quarters, and the replicator doesn’t seem to be working. Could you come and take a look… if you’re free?”
Hidalgo blushed. That was not a compelling ruse when he had two superior officers listening in on the call.
“Hold that thought,” Hidalgo said, pressing and holding on the badge to mute his end. “Well, it… you know, with the EPS reset, it could have short-circuited the… Maybe I should go check it out?” he said, fully unable to spin that into a working narrative.
“We’ll have to run a level one diagnostic on all of the replicators in that case,” Slater said, looking down at the controls again.
“Commander… That’s… do you really not understand what’s happening?” Nayar asked.
“Well, I’ll explain it to you sometime, but you can hold off on that diagnostic. Go, Ship. It’s five minutes to shift change, anyway,” she said with a laugh.
“Be right there,” Hidalgo said, releasing the badge to speak and then tapping it to end the call.
Hidalgo’s heart was racing as he made his way out of the engineering bay, partially because he had so clearly been propositioned but had still somehow gotten away with it, but also because of his growing anticipation about seeing Windsor again. The lieutenant’s quarters were on the deck above the promenade on the edge of the saucer, so they were just a short turbolift ride away. Less than a minute after he’d hung up, he chimed Windsor’s door. Just about as he was to wonder if he’d shown his hand too much by dropping everything to answer his summons, the door opened, which meant they were both a little over-eager to see one another.
After catching a glimpse of the other man’s blue eyes, Hidalgo launched himself at Windsor, grasping him in a tight hug and burying his face in his chest. Windsor squeezed him back and kissed him on the top of the head. While height was definitely not the only reason Hidalgo was attracted to Windsor, he very much liked that the other man was 23.1 centimeters taller than he was because it meant their bodies interlocked in interesting and enjoyable ways such as Hidalgo fitting in perfectly under Windsor’s chin in a hug. He knew their precise height difference because Windsor had initially downplayed how tall he was, so Hidalgo had taken his exact measurements with a tricorder to prove him wrong.
“I missed you, cielo,” Hidalgo blurted.
“Missed you too. What’s that word mean?”
Oh. He hadn’t meant to say that part. He really liked how Windsor was too insecure in his linguistic talents to even attempt to repeat the word back to him. The other man could be very provincial about those sorts of things, especially when it came to culture because he was from Penthara IV, a sleepy agricultural colony. On the other hand, Hidalgo was from Mexico City, one of the largest cities on Earth. He was streetwise and cosmopolitan, and ergo someone who shouldn’t let such lovey-dovey language slip out like that.
“Um. Well, it’s a term of endearment. It means ‘heaven,’ like ‘you’re my slice of heaven’… Or ‘sky’, because you’re so fucking tall, Nate,” Hidalgo admitted, trying to smash his face even further into Windsor’s pectoral muscles to suffocate himself and avoid further embarrassment.
“I like it,” Windsor replied, running his fingers through Hidalgo’s thick black hair. “Are you alright?”
A fair question, as Hidalgo had previously not demonstrated anything quite so clingy in Windsor’s presence.
“I’m not sure,” Hidalgo admitted, stepping back a little so he could look Windsor in the eye. “I know before you left, I was being a little… weird? Trying to play it cool, that sort of thing. But I think I just realized that I’d be really bummed out if you hadn’t come back from that mission.”
Windsor smiled and tightened his grip on Hidalgo’s hair. “Just ‘bummed out,’ huh?”
“Very, very bummed out,” Hidalgo admitted. “You can’t hold me to any of this because I am obviously feeling a little shaken because of this whole secret mission thing, but I do like you quite a lot.”
“A non-binding declaration of ‘quite a lot of like.’ Romantic,” Windsor said with a sly grin. “I like you quite a lot, too.”
“That’s all you’re gonna get, for now, farm boy,” Hidalgo shot back. “Cielo.”
Windsor pulled Hidalgo back in for a kiss, which lasted a lot longer than Hidalgo expected. When they broke apart, Hidalgo noticed out of the corner of his eyes that the access panel on the bottom of Windsor’s replicator had been removed.
“Wait. Did… did you break your replicator so I’d come down here?”
“What? No, it’s actually broken,” Windsor said, going over to tap at a completely non-responsive control panel.
“Oh. I thought you wanted to see me,” Hidalgo said, feeling a little letdown.
“Well… that’s why I called you instead of putting in a service request. I thought it was really good luck that I’d have a reason to get you out of engineering a few minutes early,” Windsor replied with a bright smile.
Of course, Mr. Goody Two Shoes wasn’t going to lie over the comm; the fact that he had thought he had done so at all was suddenly ridiculous when Hidalgo thought about how eager Windsor was to get the arch rule enforcer himself, Captain Lancaster, to like him. The replicator having broken for real was far too coincidental for Hidalgo’s taste. It seemed too much like the universe conspiring to put them together when there was no such force that could do such a thing.
“You don’t have any tools with you,” Windsor noted.
“Yeah… Well, we didn’t think it was a real call?”
“We? Did… all of engineering hear that and think I wanted to hook up?”
“Oh, no, just Commanders Slater and Nayar,” Hidalgo replied. “Slater didn’t get it, but she thought the same thing I did… I guess I’ll have to go get a toolkit, now, if that’s not what you meant…”
Before Hidalgo could turn to the door, Windsor curled his fingers behind the shorter man’s bicep and held him firmly in place.
“Later,” he said.
A while later, indeed, Hidalgo was able to solve the problem in the replicator pretty easily: the EPS equivalent of a circuit breaker had been tripped, so it was a simple matter of resetting it. He celebrated that minor victory by replicating two glasses of mezcal, taking them over to the bedroom where Windsor was dozing.
“Thanks,” Windsor said, blinking back to consciousness when Hidalgo set one of the drinks on the nightstand. “Wish you’d’ve just stayed with me, though,” he purred, pecking Hidalgo between the shoulder blades when he sat down on the bed.
“This way, I was able to log the repair in the computer without too much of a delay, in case anyone wants to check the records,” Hidalgo replied, taking a drink and setting the glass down before he was swept up into the other man’s arms. “I wonder how many other couples are doing this right now.”
“Lots of people had partners or… boyfriends… on the wrong half of the ship, so, I’m betting a lot,” Windsor replied. “It’s tough not knowing when the other person will be back.”
It was hard not to notice Windsor trying that word out, and for as much as Hidalgo wanted to think it was premature, it really wasn’t. He liked Windsor quite a bit, and being away from him for a week was just what he needed to realize that. Or maybe it was premature, but who’s to say they wouldn’t all end up dead at the end of this unending secret mission, anyway? After a split-second of thought, Hidalgo pinned Windsor’s wrists to the pillows and kissed him.
“Well, your boyfriend is right here, Nate, if you want him to be.”
Windsor grinned. “Definitely, Arturo,” he agreed.
“Good,” Hidalgo replied while he tried not to think about his heart doing unseemly fluttering things. “How about you tell me all of the hot gossip from your side of the mission over a steak dinner now that your replicator is working?”