The Archanis Campaign: USS Arcturus
edited May 2021 in Campaign Operations
The Arcturus is an Odyssey-class starship imminently prepared to depart once more to the Delta Quadrant. As she is still too far away to participate directly in the Archanis Campaign, one of her Hazard Teams has been redirected to take on scouting duties for the contingent being sent from the Fourth Fleet, aboard a New Atlantic-class runabout, the USS Mare Imbrium.
Hazard Team Alpha consists of:
- Lieutenant Harper Bowens, Team Leader (Human Male)
- Lieutenant Junior Grade Serala, Team Deputy Leader (Vulcan Female)
- Ensign Shadi Oxel, Engineering Specialist (Bajoran Female)
- Ensign Corvol Taom, Science Specialist & Team Medic (Trill Male)
- Ensign Thonan, Team Pilot (Andorian Thaan)
- Ensign Loulin Taigan, Security Specialist (Orion Male)
- Chief Sarah Zhou, Security Specialist (Human Female)
- Chief Gaarv, Sensor Specialist (Tellarite Female)
- Crewman Wren, Sensor Specialist (Human Male)
- Crewman O’Hare, Sensor Specialist (Human Female)
- Crewman Sinclair, Security Specialist (Human Male)
- Crewman Hollow, Security Specialist (Human Female)
“Lieutenant Bowens, report to Rear Admiral Seagraves on the double.”
The announcement floated in over the noise of the officers’ lounge, causing a few eyes to turn towards where the eponymous lieutenant was sitting at the bar. Bowens reveled in the moment of attention, even though internally he was wondering what he’d done to be the subject to the notice of the Fourth Fleet’s operations officer. He tossed back the rest of his synth-whiskey and smirked at the junior lieutenant he had been chatting up, an Andorian in a blue uniform that complemented his lovely cerulean skin.
“Duty calls. I’m sure I’ll see you around,” Bowens said, winking before he slipped off of the barstool and headed to the nearest turbolift. Hopefully being summoned by an important flag officer would mean that the twenty minutes he’d spent talking to Lieutenant Soran wouldn’t go to waste. The lift deposited him in the loftiest heights of Starbase Bravo, where there was an unusual amount of activity going on: ensigns and yeomen rushing back and forth across the long lobby of the Fleet Operations Center, which was lined with workstations facing inward on either side. A scramble in that office was never a good sign.
“Lieutenant Bowens for the admiral,” Bowens said, once he got to the end of the room and came to the Admiral’s yeoman.
“Right this way, Lieutenant,” the yeoman replied; Bowens noted the older Grazerite woman’s choice of his rank rather than ‘sir,’ probably as a subtle reminder of the distinct difference in their relative importance, despite his higher rank.
Bowens passed into Seagraves’ office to find her and a young captain both standing behind her desk and pointing to various displays being projected above it. From his position, the displays were backward but clearly starship assignment charts.
“Lieutenant Harper Bowens reporting as ordered, sirs,” Bowens said, coming to attention.
The captain didn’t look up, gesturing for Bowens to come closer. “The Mare Imbrium is available. I’ll have a scouting package fitted,” he said, looking at the admiral, who nodded. “Lieutenant, your team is going to deploy to the Archanis sector immediately.”
“Sir, my team and I are already assigned to the Arcturus,” Bowens said.
Seagraves looked up and fixed Bowens in an icy stare. “I don’t believe that Captain Bancroft asked you what your current assignment was, Lieutenant. Does it look like we would be unaware of that? You’re detailed to me until further notice, and if you perform this mission well, you will be given back to the Arcturus. Is that understood?”
Bowens swallowed. “Of course, Admiral.”
“Good. I don’t like having to change my deployment plans, but we have an emergent situation with the Klingons—rogue Klingons. You and your team will take a runabout to join our deployments along the Klingon border in the Archanis sector,” Seagraves said, putting her palms flat on the desk and looking over at Captain Bancroft.
“Your orders are to scout these systems for any footholds being made by the Hunters of D’Ghor. You will report them back to Starbase 27 and not under any circumstances engage them on your own,” Bancroft said.
“You’re going to find every little hidey-hole they have, so we can send our heavier hitters in to deal with them,” Seagraves added. “A hazard team on a runabout is perfect for this job., and you’ll be supplied with additional technicians.”
“Understood, sir. When do I deploy?”
“Was there something about the word ‘immediately’ that was confusing? Dismissed, Lieutenant!” Seagraves barked.
“Runabout Bay 23, Lieutenant. Briefing details are being sent to your craft,” Captain Bancroft said, as Bowens retreated from the room.
“Get me Beckett. Let’s see if there are any other ways he’d like to manhandle my carefully-planned deployment schedules,” Bowens overheard Seagraves order before the doors close behind him. The space in front of him remained a hub of activity, as the staff presumably were working on pulling dozens of other teams and starships onto this new front.
Bowens tapped his badge, walking as quickly as was dignified out of the Fleet Operations lobby. “Bowens to Arcturus Alpha Team. We’re deploying early. Meet in Runabout Bay 23 on the double,” he ordered.
The Mare Imbrium was suspended far above the deck by a ceiling-mounted tractor beam as a long wedge-shaped module was moved into position by another tractor beam located on the bulkhead of the runabout bay. There was a clunk and then the sound of magnetic latches engaging when the runabout itself was lowered onto the module. Fully-assembled, the New Atlantic-class runabout was roughly cylindrical, narrowing to a point at the nose. It had unusual disk-shaped warp nacelles on either side amidships, encircling deployable tactical modules.
“What am I working with, Chief?” Lieutenant Bowens asked, approaching the Vulcan who was operating the control panel next to his new vessel. The bay was directly open to space and the blue forcefield cast everyone on the deck with a slightly alien glow. He’d stopped by his quarters to grab his duffle, knowing that they might not be back onboard the starbase in the near future, but less than five minutes had passed since his brief meeting with Admiral Seagraves. He was impressed that the deck staff had managed to refit the runabout in such a short amount of time.
“Lieutenant, as ordered by Captain Bancroft this runabout has been equipped with a primary scout module, which contains a sensor analysis suite and a deployable ground vehicle. Sensor modules have been added in all of the secondary module points,” the chief said, pulling up a diagram of the runabout. A runabout of this class could be fitted with torpedo launchers or phaser cannons in those same modules slots, but he knew not to ask about them—the orders were not to engage, after all.
“Good. Thank you. Are we ready for pre-flight?”
“Indeed. The work order stressed the need for your immediate departure.”
“Carry on,” the Lieutenant said, as the doors to the bay opened again and his team began to file in, along with some faces he hadn’t seen before.
One of the Arcturus’s four new hazard teams, Alpha Team consisted of six junior officers and a chief, whose job it was to take on away missions that were judged too dangerous for senior staff members. They were meant to rotate in to take the place of the team already on board for the ship’s first Delta Quadrant mission and campaign against the Breen as those other officers were promoted or sent to other postings, but instead found themselves pressed into service against Klingon raiders.
“Reporting as ordered, sir,” Serala said. A Vulcan junior lieutenant, she was his second-in-command. They hadn’t worked together long, but during training exercises, she’d proven herself to be a logical counterbalance to Bowen’s instinct to go with his gut.
“Good. We’ll brief on board,” Bowens said, before looking at the rest of the team and the technicians they’d been lent for this scouting patrol. “Everyone, grab a bunk and then take your stations. Command wants us skids up as soon as possible.”
“Aye, sir,” came the response in a chorus. Bowens turned and started walking over to the aft ladder on the Mare Imbrium, climbing up to the upper deck, where the small vessel’s cockpit and crew support areas were. Despite being roughly the same length as the Danube, the New Atlantic had almost twice the deck space, thanks to the underslung module.
The hatch opened up directly into the bunk room, which allowed Bowens to drop off his duffle, before proceeding forward through a compartment with sensor analysis equipment and work stations, as well as ladders down to the module. There was a large tabletop display that would be useful for the planetary surveys they would need to make. Forward of that was a lounge that also contained yet another workstation. At the very front of the upper deck was the cockpit, where Bowens took his seat at the pilot’s station.
“Computer, begin preflight checks,” Bowens ordered. As the computer began listing off systems and running automatic diagnostics, Ensign Thonan entered the cockpit and sat down next to Bowens, nodding to the Lieutenant. “We’ll brief later, but we’re going to be jaunting over to the Archanis sector at high warp. There won’t be much excitement for a few days at least.”
Thonan nodded. “Understood, sir,” he said, turning to the flight checks. Bowens found him to be even more attractive than the Andorian lieutenant he’d been flirting with in the officers’ lounge, but he was also substantially more out-of-bounds, being one of his direct reports, so he’d kept his interest distant and his tone professional in their interactions. Unlike most pilots, he wasn’t one to showboat, but as a fellow flight controller, Bowens knew that he had the chops his team needed.
“All crew accounted for,” Serala said, taking her place at the tactical console behind them.
Bowens tapped the intercom button. “All hands, prepare for departure,” he said.
“I have clearance from the starbase,” Thonan reported.
“Let’s hit it, then,” Bowens said, before taking the controls. The runabout lifted up from the deck and the forward landing skid retracted up into the hull before, before they exited through the forcefield. “Clearing starbase navigation perimeter in thirty seconds.”
“Our pre-determined course to the Archanis sector has been uploaded from the station,” Thonan ordered.
“As soon as we’re clear, take us to maximum warp,” Bowens said; he was eager to get into the action, as the sooner they accomplished their mission, the sooner they would be back on their way to the Delta Quadrant. Moments later, the runabout jumped to high warp, and the stars streamed past the forward viewport. “Everyone, meet up below,” the lieutenant ordered, once the autopilot was engaged.
The forward two-thirds of the mission module was an open area containing work stations on the side and two more table-top displays in the center. It would be a perfect space for pouring over detailed sensor data and was also large enough for the whole twelve-person crew to gather.
“Alright, folks. I know most of you, but we’ve got some extra help for this mission, so before we get started, let’s go around and introduce ourselves. I need everyone to know who’s who if we’re going to cohere. I’m Lieutenant Harper Bowen, and I’m the team leader.”
“Lieutenant Serala, second-in-command,” his Vulcan XO said with a nod to the others.
“Ensign Thonan. Pilot.”
“Ensign Shadi Oxel, engineering specialist,” a Bajoran leaning against one of the tables said. She was exceptionally proficient at understanding and hijacking alien technology in the field, which made her a good fit for a team that would often be operating with a need to get inside places that they weren’t meant to be.
“Ensign Corvol Taom. Scientist.” The Trill in a blue uniform was already running his hands over one of the science consoles, clearly more interested in the technology than his colleagues. Like Thonan, he was relatively soft-spoken, and Bowens had to remind him several times to stay focused on the training exercises they had gone through.
“Taigan. Security officer,” said the Orion in a gold uniform, who stood with his arms crossed. Tall, lean, and serious, Taigan was an expert in hand-to-hand combat, and an imposing presence even despite a lack of bulk or the appearance of brute capability; he was the sort of person who looked like he could kill you with a single finger.
“Sarah Zhou, security specialist. Happy to be here,” said the final member of Bowen’s team. She was a Human female in her early thirties, and her specialty in long-range weapons of all sorts, rather than in hand-to-hand combat, a talent that was belied by her happy-go-lucky, clumsy personality.
Their mission specialists took their turn next. Chief Gaarv, a Tellarite, and Crewmen Wren and O’Hare, both Humans, were sensor technicians assigned to help operate the runabout’s scouting systems. Crewmen Sinclair and Hollow were security specialists to round out their little crew.
“Alright. I’m sure we’re all going to be getting to know each other pretty well, given the close quarters,” Bowen said, pulling up briefing materials on a screen on the forward bulkhead. “We’re being sent to scout out any possible boltholes or hideaways being used within our space by the Hunters of D’Ghor, as part of a massive Starfleet campaign to halt their advances in the Archanis Sector. I know none of us were expecting this, but it’s the mission we’ve been given.”
“I thought we were at peace with the Klingons, sir,” Taom said, glancing up from his sensor console.
“We are. Well, with most of them. The Hunters of D’Ghor have been disavowed by the Klingon Empire. They’re also obviously not doing enough to stop them from crossing into our space, though,” Bowens replied. He downloaded the rest of the briefing into a holographic PADD and scrolled through it. “We’re going to have a lot of time at warp to get acquainted with the briefing materials, so I want all of you to go through it, so we can get ready for our first scouting tasks.”
“Should we prepare for combat?” Taigan asked.
Bowen smirked. “I was told we’re not to engage, but the admiral also gave us two more security specialists, so I’d say that the answer is to be ready for anything, Ensign. Alright, people. Let’s get to work.”
//A Few Days Later
Zeta Archanis was an obscure system just on the Federation side of the border with the Klingons. Along with a handful of gas giants, it had one terrestrial planet that careened between getting so close to the sun that its surfaced boiled and then out past the habitable zone so that the entire world froze. It had briefly been a scientific curiosity, but otherwise its unusual orbit made it completely useless. Bowens and his team had been in the system for several hours scouring the asteroid field and the moons nestled in amongst the radiation belts being kicked off of the gas giants, but so far they had found no sign of Klingon activity.
“Anything interesting to report?” Bowens asked, as he stepped off of the ladder down to the main mission compartment, where Ensign Taom was coordinating with the technicians the starbase had lent them to go over their sensor readings. He had his palms flat on one of the “pool table” consoles and was deeply engrossed in whatever he was reading, looking a little startled when Bowens called on him.
“The asteroid field is made up of materials of incredibly varied densities, which suggests that it was formed as the result of the collision of multiple planetary bodies. The system could have had three or four other planets, twenty-million years ago or so. With computer modeling, we’ll be able to figure that out for sure,” the Trill scientist reported, turning to smile at Bowens. He was fresh out of the academy and Bowens couldn’t help but admire his enthusiasm—he found it endearing, even—but that’s not what their mission was about.
“Okay, I should have asked if you’ve got anything mission-relevant to report,” Bowens asked, crossing his arms.
“Oh, well, no. No discernable Klingon activity and no obvious reason for them to be here at all. There aren’t any useful materials in the field,” Taom replied, looking slightly deflated.
Bowens sidled up to the younger man to look at the data. Much of the readings were incomprehensible to him at first glance, but he did notice that the sensors had cataloged quite a bit of duranium, which was used to built nearly every starship and space station.
“What about duranium? Why rule that out as a useful material?”
“Oh, well, because it’s part of the old research base,” Taom said, using the controls on the table to zoom in on an X-shaped structure in the asteroid field. “It was originally orbiting the terrestrial planet, but it looks like it was pulled into the asteroid field over time. There aren’t any power signature aboard, so I didn’t mark it as a high priority target.”
Bowens sighed. That was exactly the sort of thing that they were looking for. “Taom, that’s the only place in this whole star system that could have a breathable atmosphere, so you should have called me when you saw it. What are the odds in a system as chaotic as this one is that a station like that could drift into the asteroid field and not be obliterated?”
“Um… Sorry, Lieutenant. Poor, I guess. I’m really better at biology more than astrography,” Taom muttered, looking down at his feet.
“Well, we’re a ground team, not a space team, but we’ve gotta all step it up. Don’t apologize and don’t give me excuses, but you’ve got to keep in mind what we’re looking for, Corvol,” Bowens said, putting his hand on the Trill’s shoulder. “Understood?”
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Taom said, offering the tiniest of smiles and blushing slightly.
“Good. Send those coordinates up to the helm, so we can take a closer look,” the lieutenant replied, before heading back up the ladder to the runabout’s main deck.
In the cockpit, Serala and Thonan were sitting at the forward controls, with the other three members of the team at the other stations. For the two security specialists, there hadn’t been a lot for them to do, but the pilot was at least keeping busy navigating through the complicated gravitational fields of the star system.
“Alright, team, we may have a lead. The old science station they’d been using to research the inner planet is in the asteroid field. Taom’s not detecting any power signatures, but it’s our only lead. Let’s check it out and then head to the next system,” Harper ordered, stepping up to the free-standing tactical console in the middle of the cockpit. A lot of good it did them, considering the runabout only had the base model phasers installed, and none of the tactical pods with anything like torpedoes or pulse weapons.
“I’ve got the coordinates. Ready to head in, Lieutenant,” Thonan replied.
“Do it. Keep it nice and steady, though. That field is a mess,” Bowens replied.
“If it is a ‘mess,’ sir, then that suggests the station remaining intact is unusual,” Serala noted, not turning around to look at him.
“Just what I was thinking,” Bowens said. “Which either means that it was moved into that position for safe-keeping or it’s occupied,” he added, looking over at his security folks.
“We’ll be ready, sir,” Taigan said, clenching his jaw. The Orion couldn’t seem not to be scary, and Bowens hoped that the Klingons felt the same way if they did accidentally make contact.
“Well, our orders are not to engage, but it never hurts to be ready,” Bowens said, chuckling, even though he personally was in no rush to encounter the Klingons without it being absolutely necessary, not the least because he didn’t want to be on the receiving end of Admiral Seagraves’s displeasure.
Asteroids started to zoom by the cockpit windows as the runabout entered the field. “Shields up,” Bowens ordered. The computer complied automatically and there was a brief whir and the shields materialized around the ship for an even briefer moment. He wasn’t about to let their mission get sidetracked by something like the destruction of the runabout and the death of his crew due to an asteroid impact.
Bowens could tell from the color of the passing rocks that Taom was on to something about them being vastly different in terms of composition, which made him wonder what sorts of planets once made up this unusual system. Even if nothing that they were made up of was valuable enough to worth spending much time there, it was at the very least a scientific curiosity worth investigating when there weren’t Klingon raiders at their doorstep—though for all he knew, the science base had figured it out and that’s all there was to learn about the system, so it was abandoned.
When they got closer, Bowens could see the hull of the station silhouetted against the dark asteroids. It was clearly from the early-to-mid-23rd century, judging from the white paint with a red “UFP” banner on the central tower, which rose up just a few decks from the otherwise-flat main body of the station. None of the marker lights were on and the few windows they could see from their position were dark. What was unusual though was something large and green attached to the side of one of the station’s four identical arms.
“What the hell is that?” Bowens asked.
“It’s a freighter, sir. Orion in origin. I’m detecting very faint power signatures, but no identifier being transmitted,” Serala said. The Orions had worlds in both Federation and Klingon space, but when looking for Klingons and instead finding Orions, Bowens was nervous that this might not be a friendly encounter.
“Have they detected us?”
“Unknown, but they aren’t using any active sensors,” Serala replied.
“I’m not detecting any weapons,” Chief Zhou noted. “Which is unusual for Orion ships of any type.”
“Take us in closer,” Bowens ordered.
The runabout nosed down and got closer, rotating above the station to get a good view of the Orion ship. When they got around to the port side, they could see a massive hole in the cargo bay.
“The damage is consistent with damage from a Klingon disruptor cannon,” Ensign Oxel, their engineer, said. “It looks like their power system has been integrated directly into the station and its thrusters are being used to keep it in a stable relative position in the belt.”
“Well… that’s not good,” Bowens said, before tapping his badge. “Taom, are you getting any life-signs down there?” he asked.
“I am having trouble scanning the interior of the station, Lieutenant. There’s a low-level dampening field in place, which is why I didn’t detect any energy readings from our previous position. I can compensate, but I need a full-power active scan, which will give away our position,” the scientist reported.
Bowens looked over at Oxel. “Give him all the power he needs. Do it, Taom.”
There were a few moments of silence, and then Taom spoke up. “Sir, I’m reading two-hundread and seventy-three life-signs. All Orion.”
None of the rest of the crew probably meant to, but Bowens felt all of their eyes turn to look at Ensign Taigan as they wondered what this discovery of theirs meant.
The sensor readings were plain as day: two-hundred seventy-three Orions occupied several compartments in the research station's central structure. The dampening field they'd set up to conceal themselves was relatively easy for the runabout's sensors to penetrate, which made one wonder why they'd bothered to create it in the first place.
"Can we hail them?" Bowens asked.
"I'm not detecting any form of active communications equipment. The only thing on over there is life support," Taom reported. The Trill scientist had come up from the mission compartment to help plan their next steps, and he definitely seemed much more focused on his work now that they had actually found something.
"Well, I guess we'll have to knock on the front door," Bowens said with a grin. "Are they armed?"
Taom shook his head. "No, Lieutenant. I'm not picking up anything at all like that, which is unusual, isn't it?" he asked, glancing over to their resident Orion: Taigan.
"Not all Orions are bloodthirsty pirates, you know, Corvol," Taigan said. The security officer fixed the scientist with a gaze that was definitely not set on stun.
"Y-yeah... I know that. That's not what I was saying. We're right on the Klingon border. Everyone here is armed," Taom replied. The young man's pale skin turned a shade of deep burgundy.
Taigan frowned, but his expression softened a little. "True. Judging from the giant hole in their freighter, it doesn't look like they meant to get stuck on the edge of Klingon space, though," he noted.
"A vessel of that size would not be able to safely transport the number of people that are currently aboard the station," Serala chimed in from the helm.
"We could be dealing with a refugee situation, then. But if that's the case, why didn't they call for help?" Bowens wondered. "Alright. Serala, send a message to Starbase 27 that we have a potential humanitarian crisis. We're not equipped to handle this on our own. We do need to make contact, though, as they might have information relevant to our mission."
"Understood," Serala replied.
"Let's get suited up, team. Phaser pistols only," Bowens ordered. The team quickly began to leave the cockpit to grab their gear. On his way out, he gave his last instructions to their Andorian pilot. "Thonan, I want you to stay aboard and keep the engines hot. Find a docking port we can use."
A few minutes later, the team was assembled at the lower starboard airlock as Thonan carefully maneuvered their small ship into position for docking. The standard-issue away mission uniform for hazard teams consisted of a form-fitting bodysuit marked in department colors across the shoulders like the standard uniform and girded with a silver harness and utility belt for carrying mission equipment. It provided substantially more protection against atmospheric irritants and small weapons fire than the cloth uniforms did while still providing a full range of motion.
Each of the team members had a phaser pistol strapped to their utility belt. Zhou inspected hers, looking quite disappointed not to be toting something with a little more punch, but it didn't really make sense to walk into this situation armed to the teeth. They also wore a flexible polysilicone rubber band on their non-dominant wrist, which contained essential tricorder functions and could project a holographic PADD display when needed.
All of them, except Serala and Taigan, who wouldn't be affected anyway, had also taken a dose of a pheromone neutralizer. Orions (and certain other species like Deltans) in Starfleet took a regular routine of pheromone suppressants due to their body chemistry's coercive and otherwise unpleasant impacts on other races. Still, it was standard protocol for non-Vulcans and non-Orions to innoculate themselves against those effects when they anticipated being around large Orions groups.
"Alright. We don't really know what we're walking into, so stay alert. We're treating this like a rescue mission until we're given a reason not to. Our priority is to make contact to find out why they're here and if they have any intelligence on the Klingons," Bowens explained. "Phasers to heavy stun. We're back to the runabout the second things get hairy. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," the team replied in unison.
"Shadi, open the hatch," Bowens ordered. The engineer nodded and went over to the controls. She checked the cofferdam's pressure and the integrity of the seal before opening the hatch that separated the station from the runabout.
Bowens took point with Taigan, with Zhou and Serala pulling up the rear behind their scientist and Shadi. The station's airlock was dimly lit by red emergency lighting, and there was no apparent welcoming party. Once they were all in, Shadi cycled the airlock to let them into the station's main body.
The corridor in front of them had the hexagonal shape and wire grills in the bulkhead support struts typical of mid-23rd century design, though it looked eerie in low emergency lighting.
"According to the database, the command center is one level up," Taom said softly. "But there are life signs all throughout every deck of the central core."
"That's as good a place as any to start," Bowens agreed. The signage on the wall pointed the way to a round staircase, which they took up one level. The main lighting was on here, though it flickered occasionally. "Look for any computer access points along our path. Maybe we can get some sensor readings from the station."
"Doubtful, if they haven't even noticed us, yet," Taigan noted. He raised his wrist to call up his tricoder. "Command center's just ahead. Reading thirty or forty life-signs there."
"Alright. Keep it tight and be ready for exfil," Bowens said, as they got closer to the center of the station. He wasn't prepared for the scene in front of him when the doors opened.
Some of the control consoles were online, but the command center's domed space was packed with bedding material, and every free space was taken by an Orion. The majority of them were children, and there were only a handful of adults in the room, all of whom moved to put themselves between the Starfleet team and the children in a display that Harper had never seen before in his entire career.
"We claim the right of asylum!" a woman in tattered robes of blue silk exclaimed, rushing forward towards the team before they could even introduce themselves. "Please, you have to save us from the Klingons!"
The Mare Imbrium's warp coils threw a blue glow over the slender, white support arms of Deep Space Research Station A-35. It had taken the team a few hours to get a cable attached from the umbilical port on the runabout to a jerry-rigged adapter on the station's hull, but it had been enough to jump-start the station's ancient EPS grid and bring the reactor back online. They'd had to run a hose from another part of the runabout over to the fuel ports, so their small ship's Bussard collectors could pull tiny amounts of hydrogen out of space and pump it into the station's fuel tanks.
That was all after Lieutenant Bowens found himself struggling to produce words of any kind in the face of an Orion colonial minister seeking asylum for two-hundred and seventy-three of her people: the only survivors from a D'Ghor raid on the Gamma Electra IV aerostat colony. Most of the team had never heard of it--Orion colonies within Klingon space weren't exactly well-documented by the Federation--but Taigan had.
Nestled in the atmosphere of a gas giant with a relatively weak magnetic field that prevented the formation of heavy bands of radiation, the colony floated in the atmosphere on flexible bladders holding helium. Its tall spires of transparent aluminum soaked in the sunlight from massive arrays of solar concentrators in synchronous orbit outside the giant's clouds. It was said to be a marvel of architecture. Apart from its beauty, the colony also happened to be a strategic hydrogen production facility for the Klingon Defense Force, the regular supply of deuterium and tritium provided for domestic political independence. As long as the Orions kept the KDF's warships in the region well-supplied with fuel, they were left to their own devices.
According to Minister Velar, the senior-most official who managed to board one of their hydrogen tankers in the attack, the garrison in orbit was not a token one. The KDF had three Vorcha-class attack cruisers to bolster a handful of Orion destroyers patrolling the Gamma Electra system. Still, the D'Ghor had executed a relentless, targetted attack before anyone could react. The raiders chased Velar and her people nearly to Federation space, almost crippling their escape ship before it managed to cross the border, where it then drifted into the Zeta Archanis system. By sheer dumb luck, they'd managed to find the research base and slave their damaged systems to it, clinging to it like one might to flotsam after a shipwreck.
Explaining to the Orions that they'd have to stay on the station until a starship came along was difficult; Bowens was worried they'd rush the runabout. That's where Ensign Taigan had come in handy, though—he wasn't exactly friendly to most people, but having his crossed-arm reassurance that Starfleet would send a ship managed to keep a modicum of calm in the crowd. It had also helped that they'd set up their field replicator and shored up the station's life support system, making their immediate survival much more manageable.
While each of Bowens's team members had been selected for hazard team duty, they'd only had a few training sessions together on the holodeck before being shanghaied for this mission. Hazard teams weren't really "units" of their own the way that a planetary garrison command was; they were a component of a ship or base's crew. They could handle short, intense missions but weren't meant to ever operate entirely on their own for more than a few days.
Serala, Thonin, and Bowens himself were all pilots by trade and were due to take third and fourth shifts at the conn of the Arcturus or flying its shuttles and runabouts. Shadi was a computer systems specialist, and Taom was a biology specialist. Chief Zhou and Ensign Taigan were assigned directly to security. They all had to be generalists on this scouting mission, but being thrust into managing a humanitarian crisis without the support of a starship had left them all tasked to capacity.
Bowens had just spent two or three hours with Minister Velar filling out the massive amount of paperwork the Federation required to formally seek asylum. Even after they'd stepped in to provide them with aid, she'd been reluctant to allow him access to her ship's computers. They finally had permission to download the database, which would hopefully give them some intelligence toward their actual mission: identifying D'Ghor ships and finding their hiding places.
When he stepped back on the runabout from the cofferdam, the only thing Bowens could think about was getting something to eat. He wasn't entirely sure how much time he'd spent on the station, but he hadn't taken a break since they'd discovered the Orions. As he walked, he unfastened the neck of his bodysuit, wishing that there was something other than rations and a hard bunk waiting for him.
Bowens tapped his badge. "Serala, find out what kind of equipment we need to interface with the Orion computer and download their logs. I'll take a team over after I eat."
The lieutenant tapped the badge again to end the call and then inclined his head towards the ceiling to trigger the computer's dictation system.
"Computer, begin log entry. Team Leader's Log. Supplemental. Despite limited resources, we have been able to stabilize the situation long enough to hold out for reinforcements. With permission from the Orions, I am formulating a plan to retrieve their computer records of the attack, with the hope of securing intelligence on the D'Ghor. End Log," he said, finishing as he entered the runabout's aft compartment.
Rations were sitting in a pile in the center of the long dining table under the viewports. Bowens had ordered them made so that they could save power to send to the station. The lieutenant regretted that decision immensely when he sat down to massage a foil packet of "chicken parmesan" until the chemical heating cell in the packaging warmed it up.
When the lieutenant kicked his feet up onto the table, he didn't realize that he wasn't alone. Ensign Taigan was doing push-ups on the room's starboard side, and seeing him nearly caused Bowens to tumble backward in his chair.
"Shit, you scared me. How are you always so quiet?"
Taigan smirked. "When you are green, you learn to be stealthy to make up for fluorescing in the eyes of most other races," he quipped. He did one more deep push-up, putting the tip of his nose on the deck plating, before hopping to his feet. His yellow-yoked bodysuit was hanging down to his waist and called attention to the bare skin of his torso, having gone from its typical jade to deep emerald from exertion. At just under two meters tall, Taigan was of average height for his species but towered over the rest of the team—Bowens included—with immense strength packed into a lean, almost gaunt frame.
"Do you think of yourself as green? I don't think of myself as pink," Bowens replied, busying himself finding a fork from the pile of utensils in the center of the table to avoid staring as Taigan pulled his uniform back over his shoulders. He regretted the phrasing almost immediately.
"Well, you are Human, and with all due respect, you don't really have to think much about your species or race all that often in Starfleet," Taigan said, remnants of his smile disappearing. He zipped his jumpsuit up to his neck abruptly, grabbed one of the ration packs off of the table, and started to leave.
"Wait. That came out wrong, Taigan. I just never made the connection you just did about needing to be stealthy," Bowens said, feet dropping off of the table as he made a reflexive lunge towards the door the Orion was about to walk out of.
Taigan paused at the hatch and then turned around to sit opposite of the lieutenant at the table. "I do not expect you to understand. My species is one of the few Humanoids in the Federation with green skin. No matter how far I advance in Starfleet, I am always going to be Orion first when people look at me, so, yes, I have practiced being able to move and exist unseen when I want to," he said. It definitely the longest chain of sentences Bowens had ever heard the normally-silent security officer string together.
"That's not how we look at you, though," Bowens replied, trying to sound comforting but then realizing how dismissive he came across. The two of them hadn't yet had a real one-on-one conversation alone before. "What I mean is that you're an essential member of the team, and that's what I see first."
Taigan nodded. "I did not intend to come across as so easily offended. I meant it as a joke, originally, but... Yes, I do often see myself as green in a way that you do not have to see yourself as 'pink,' sir," he replied curtly.
"Racial prejudice is something that Humans like to think we have moved beyond, so it makes me sad to hear that," Bowens replied, sticking a fork into the 'meal' pouch. The simulated chicken dish was entirely vegan but didn't taste all that bad—it just also was nowhere near what the replicator could typically make.
Taigan made a face at his ratamba stew, which evidently was also not precisely five-star cuisine. "Why phrase it like that? Not that you have moved beyond it but that you think you have," he asked after a bite.
"Because we haven't, obviously. It's not just Humans. The Federation itself doesn't like letting go of old grudges—we drug our feet on helping the Romulans and then withdrew back behind the castle walls after Mars," Bowens said, with a sigh. He grabbed a steel bottle of water from next to the rations. "Sorry. I've been reading a lot on interstellar relations and diplomacy for this job. Didn't mean to lecture," he added.
"It was insightful," Taigan replied.
Bowens could hear the word 'surprisingly' left out from that statement, but he took the compliment. The two of them ate in silence for a while, avoiding each other's eye contact.
"So... you do seem to be in a pretty bad mood. Is something else up?" Bowens tried.
"I suppose that I am feeling notably green," Taigan replied. "I do not like being around so many other Orions, especially when we cannot be sure of their intentions."
"They're refugees. Not so much as a disruptor pistol on their ship. What threat can they pose?"
Taigan shrugged. "They could be bait. They could be waiting for an opportunity to signal the Klingons. We do not know," he said. "Orions have a reputation for being untrustworthy for a reason: we have made our history on slavery, deceit, and piracy."
Ah. The dots connecting Taigan's mood to their mission started to emerge for Bowens. He was aware that Orions lived on many worlds: some in the Federation, some in Klingon space, and some neutral. He wasn't exactly sure where Taigan himself was from, but he wondered why the ensign was painting his entire race with such a broad brush. Taigan was used to standing out for his green skin, but now he was afraid that he'd blend into this group—but that observation didn't sound like something Bowens should say aloud.
"You're my security officer. If you have a gut feeling, I want to hear about it," Bowens replied.
"It is nothing specific. I just do not like not knowing when the other shoe is going to drop. They could have found a way to send a distress call to the Federation. They could have fled in the opposite direction towards a Klingon outpost. Why here?"
"I mean, if you were a refugee, would you want to go towards Earth or towards Qo'nos?" Bowens asked.
"Good point. That the KDF did not go looking for them speaks to that, too," Taigan said. He set his lunch down on the table and crossed his arms. "I wish we could just be done with this. I feel... conspicuous."
"Your hardly the first Orion to serve in Starfleet. What do you care what this group thinks, anyway?"
"Orions are most vicious towards our own. The majority of our nations still think it's perfectly acceptable to sell sentient beings as chattel slaves," Taigan said, shrugging again.
At this point, Bowens felt how acutely that their team wasn't meant to be so far from home on their own. Under normal circumstances, he'd have the support of a counselor to help Taigan work through these issues. Hell, under normal circumstances, a mission with this level of diplomatic sensitivity would be handled by a senior officer with diplomatic and humanitarian support teams.
"We're not great at small talk, are we?" Bowens offered.
A wry smile crept across Taigan's lips. "No, sir, we are not. I did mean what I said about being stealthy to be a joke, but it seems that I have some other issues to work out."
"Yeah, I think that describes most of us," Bowens agreed.
The Orion resumed eating his meal, and the silence this time was a little more comfortable. Bowens had just finished not being reminded at all of a quiet trattoria nestled to the side of one of Rome's cobblestone streets when his badge chirped.
"Lieutenant, Ensign Shadi and I have produced a device that should allow us to set up a remote interface with the Orion ship, but it will need to be placed on their bridge. That section is not pressurized."
"Understood. Have Shadi meet Taigan and me in the cockpit in five minutes," Bowens said, standing up. The security officer nodded and followed the lieutenant out of the aft compartment.
Several minutes later, Bowens, Taigan, and Shadi had attached helmets, gloves, and mag boots to their hazard suits, which would be more than enough protection for the sheltered interior of a starship, pressurized or no. Shadi was carrying two cases of equipment, with a third on the deck for Taigan to grab.
"Energize. We'll keep an open commlink," Bowens said before the three of them vanished in columns of sparkling energy. They materialized in a dark room, lit only by the soft glow of a few flickering computer consoles. The room was only about four meters on each side, so it was a cramped fit to find places to put all of the equipment.
"I've never actually worked with Orion technology before, but the specs in the computer say this should work," Shadi said, from under a console, once they'd been there for a few minutes.
Bowens ran his hand over the captain's seat as she worked. He would like to have a command of his own one day, but being this far from anyone who could make essential decisions made him yearn for an actual captain to take charge of the situation.
"I can assist with any translations," Taigan volunteered. That statement made Bowens's stomach tighten for a moment; he hadn't actually asked him if he could read Orion, he'd just assumed, and that just underscored the conversation they had earlier.
"I've just about got it," Shadi replied. There was a muffled curse in Bajoran over the comm as she smacked her helmet against the console coming out from under it. "Lieutenant Serala, can you initiate the download for your end?" she asked.
"Affirmative. Data is coming through now. It will take approximately 27 minutes to download their records."
"Sir, we should stay here until it finishes, in case we need to make adjustments to the equipment," Shadi suggested.
Bowens settled himself into the captain's chair. "For as much coaxing as it took to get access to this data, I hope it's worth it."
"A vessel like this has superior sensor arrays to a Federation freighter. If it was present at the battle, it likely gathered significant amounts of data," Taigan said.
"Yeah, I've heard of Orion tanker and freighter captains selling their sensor logs to intelligence services and... other interested parties. The Maquis and Bajoran Resistance both got a lot of useful data from them during the Occupation," Shadi offered.
"Orions know that you should always expect trouble if you're a trader," Taigan said, sounding almost resigned to his own perception of his species.
"Well, that might have also been why the D'Ghor pursued them in the first place. Even for them, a shipload of refugees is hardly worth the effort," the engineer said.
"These aren't your garden variety Klingons, though, Shadi. The D'Ghor don't follow the same rules of honor, and sensor data or not, I bet they would attack a ship like this just for the carnage," Bowens said.
"Serala to Bowens. We have just detected a Klingon ship at the extreme edge of the system. It is a B'Rel-class bird of prey," came the report from the Vulcan back on the runabout.
Bowens's blood ran cold: everything he said about D'Ghor scruples applied equally well to an unarmed, barely-habitable space station, as well as the lightly-armed runabout that was now the only line of defense for nearly three-hundred people. His thoughts raced between different options; he was a pilot, yes, but not yet an advance strategic or even tactical thinker. Everything rested on the next few minutes, though. He glanced at the Starfleet interface attached to the Orion computer: the data they were retrieving had the potential to save thousands of lives, but if they were killed trying to shield these refugees, it would all be lost.
"Beam us back and then go comms dark," Bowens ordered.
When the Klingons liked something, they stuck with it. With only minor variations between the dozens of models produced, the B’Rel-class bird of prey had remained a dangerous predator for over a hundred years. So far, its presence in the Archanis Eta system had been benign. It appeared to be siphoning off hydrogen from the system’s sun, but that also made it difficult for the Starfleet team aboard the Mare Imbrium to track. Lieutenant Bowens kept as close an eye on it as he could from one of the sensor consoles in the amidships compartment while he waited for the sensor logs from the Orion freighter to finish downloading.
The runabout’s computer was hard at work parsing the data. With the survey module attached, it was doing it at a decent pace, too: so far, it had identified three D’Ghor starships by hull composition and warp signature. That data would be invaluable for Starfleet Intelligence and it could lead to clues about the raiders’ base of operations. If they got killed trying to leave the system, it would all be for naught, though. The Orion refugees presented even more of a problem for Bowens, as he was bound by regulations to help them if he could. Still, he was bound by his orders not to engage and his mission to get any helpful information on the D’Ghor back to command.
Lieutenant Serala had managed to establish a dampening field around them and the station housing the refugees. It was a more robust and sophisticated version of the ones the Orions themselves had been using, and it made them appear not as a sensor dead zone but as a mass of useless carbon floating through the asteroid field. It would work for a time, but if the Klingons saw through that ruse, they would be forced to flee. A runabout, after all, was no match for a Klingon warship of any size.
No one was thrilled about the idea of abandoning the refugees, but Ensign Taom, the team’s resident science officer and medic, had been especially doe-eyed about the whole situation. When he’d heard the plan was to flee rather than fight, Bowens saw all of the color drain from the young Trill’s features. Introverted and sensitive, he was a strange personality type for a hazard team. Still, his aptitude scores were off the charts, and he’d earned a commendation at the academy for marksmanship. Captain Lancaster had selected the hazard teams himself from among the new crew rotations, and he had a reputation for knowing exactly what he was doing.
Bowens was not surprised when Taom entered his makeshift office from the cockpit, PADD in hand. No doubt, one last entreaty to do something. Anything.
“Go ahead, Taom,” Bowens replied, managing not to sigh.
“I’ve done some calculations, and I believe we can bring some of the refugees aboard without degrading our maneuverability if we cap the total mass,” the ensign said, handing Bowens the information. “With adjustments to the inertial dampeners and the engine limiting software, there would be no appreciable performance difference from up to forty of the children from the station,” he said, trying and failing to sound confident.
The math was solid. Bowens chewed his lip to avoid noting that if they made those modifications to their craft, they could get a slight performance boost if they then also took aboard no one from the station. “You’re a biologist, Corvol. Did Shadi and Serala help you with this?” he asked, setting the PADD down on the edge of the console.
It wasn’t an accusation, but Taom still shifted between his feet for a moment. “Yes, sir. I wanted to make sure it was feasible before bringing it to you. And that it was supported by regulations,” he replied.
“You feel really passionately about this, don’t you?”
“I didn’t join Starfleet to put other people in danger, sir,” Taom replied. There was a surprising amount of defiance in his voice and a glint of steel in his eyes. Maybe that was the part of him that could hit a tribble between the eyes with a hand phaser.
“I didn’t either, but if it comes down to it, we have to escape with the data. It’s not nice, or right, or wholesome, but if we can help Starfleet identify where these ships are coming from, we can prevent raids like the one that destroyed their colony from happening on our side of the border,” Bowens replied.
“Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Why does it matter what side of the border they’re from? They are in need, and we have to help them. Isn’t that what Starfleet is for?!”
Bowens was taken aback for a moment. It wasn’t a big secret that Taom was a bleeding heart, but he’d never been heard to speak like that in their short time together on the team.
“This decision has nothing to do with who the refugees are if that’s what you’re saying. Suppose this were a group of Federation citizens. In that case, we’d be faced with the same choice, and the decision would have to be the same: staying here and dying trying to save this station means the failure of our mission and more attacks like this one,” the lieutenant said trying to stay measured.
“Well, if we can save even a few of them, aren’t we obligated to, given that it doesn’t put our primary mission in jeopardy, sir?” Taom asked.
“But… Wait, did you say ‘yes?’”
"You win, Ensign,” Bowens said, handing the PADD back over to him. He tapped his commbadge. “Lieutenant Serala, go with Taom to the station to inform the Orions that we’re able to take up to forty children and four adults to care for them on board, to evacuate if the Klingons find us,” he said.
“Understood, sir,” Serala replied over the channel. A few moments later, she emerged from the cockpit and stood next to Taom, whose mouth was flapping slightly as he tried to stammer out a ‘thanks.’
Bowens glanced down at the progress report on the computer download. “You have twenty minutes. Be quick,” he ordered.
After the two departed, Bowens moved forward to the cockpit, sitting down next to their Andorian pilot at one of the forward stations. The longer the download took, the more chance there was the Klingons might notice them. Despite the fact that they could scream at the top of their lungs, and it wouldn’t make them any easier to detect through the vacuum of space, the room was quiet and tense. Only the subtle chirps of the LCARS panels broke the silence as the team’s eyes darted between the tactical display showing the Klingon bird of prey on the other side of the system and the countdown of the download.
“L-T, they’ve switched to active scanners,” Chief Zhou reported. “They’ll find the dead zone if they’re looking closely.”
Fuck. Bowens bit that exclamation back as he looked at the download clock. “Three minutes to go. Better hope that they don’t notice us,” he said, keying in a few commands to the helm. “I’m priming the explosive bolts in the umbilical connections.”
“Serala to Bowens. We are beginning to board the agreed-upon number of refugees in the lower compartment,” the Vulcan lieutenant reported.
“Make it quick, Serala. We might have company soon.”
Bowens turned around to look at Zhou. “Get down there and help Serala and Taom. We can’t risk a panic or a stampede onto the runabout,” he ordered. He didn’t wait for her to acknowledge him before turning back to the console.
There were no easy decisions here: leaving the refugees to the Klingons was not acceptable, but neither was losing the data. It would be different if he were a starship captain, as his obligations would be different, but he wasn’t. He had strict orders from the top of the Fourth Fleet’s command structure, and he couldn’t be sentimental about following them.
“The computer link from the freighter should allow us to collect data for a few minutes after we leave, too,” Ensign Shadi noted. It sounded like an idle comment, but it made the wheels in Bowens’s mind start turning.
“Really? What’s the range on that transmitter you built?”
“About five million kilometers, give or take. There’s some latency at ranges over a hundred thousand, but it’s a low-power subspace transmitter I took from the buggy in the hold. It’s meant to keep a surface team in contact with the runabout even at relatively long distances.”
Five million kilometers wasn’t that far in interstellar terms, less three percent of an AU, but it was well outside the range of most starship-based targeting sensors.
“Does the link include access to their flight control systems?”
“Sure. We have their whole computer. Uh… Why?”
“We didn’t detect a warp signature when we entered the system, but maybe they were able to track down the freighter based on its exit vector from the battle… They’re probably looking for it,” Bowens replied. “We can use it to lure them away.”
“Won’t they then find an empty freighter and know something’s up?”
“They’re not going to find anything,” Bowens replied, grinning to himself. “Shadi. Taigan. Get your suits back on and get out there to remove the moorings from the freighter. Phaser them if you have to,” he ordered.
The Orion and Bajoran looked at each other before scrambling out of the cockpit as Bowens had the computer begin to build an interface with the freighter’s flight control software. He could see the Klingons on the scanners lazily drifting in their general direction, but no sign that they’d noticed them yet. That would change as soon he fired up the freighter’s impulse engines, though, but with this plan, there was at least a chance he could get them away from the Orions.
“Thonan, as soon as we can, I want to send that freighter away. Make it look like it’s fleeing. Once we’re sure the Klingons see it, we’ll detach ourselves and follow to keep control. You’ll handle the runabout, and I’ll fly the freighter remotely,” Bowens said.
“Understood, sir. But if I may?”
“If we put the freighter on autopilot, we could head in the opposite direction instead,” the Andorian replied. He had a point; they could use the freighter purely as a diversion and escape in the process.
“I don’t have time to teach an Orion autopilot what the word kamikaze means, Ensign,” Bowens replied, grinning.
“I don’t know what the Andorian equivalent is, but you’ll see in a minute.”
Down below, the Mare Imbicum’s lower module was packed to the gills with Orion children and the four lucky adults who had been deputized to take care of them. From what Serala and the still-grateful Taom has reported, there hadn’t been any sort of panic as the refugees quickly made decisions on who got to leave—the youngest children had been selected, as well as the youngest four adults, reasoning that they had the most life left to live.
"Download complete,” the computer reported.
“Finally. Beginning engine start sequence,” Bowens said, feeling himself much more in his element with a flight control problem to solve in front of him rather than a diplomatic one.
The freighter had been heavily damaged when it left Klingon space, but the engines were still functional. They powered up slowly, and as predicted, Bowens saw the Bird of Prey turn to come on a direct heading for them.
Bowens had spent a tour on an Intrepid-class ship, and a crippled Orion tanker was far from what he was used to, but he set a heading towards the edge of the system and pushed the impulse engines as far as he could. ‘As far as he could’ wasn’t very far, though. It’s not like it was a hotrod at full power, anyway.
“We will need to separate from the station to stay within range within one minute, forty-five seconds,” Thonan noted. Bowens nodded, hand over the button that would separate them from the station. He wanted to wait until the very last possible moment to keep the additional power flowing to the dampening field. The Klingon ship was still far out from the freighter, but they were speeding up.
“Hit the engines on my mark,” Bowens said. He hit the button to seal the airlock and retract the cofferdam before blowing the bolts holding the umbilical cables. “Mark.”
The Mare Imbrium left the station with about ten seconds of range left, and Thonan kept them about four million kilometers back to reduce the chance the Klingons would notice them. Bowens started dumping all the extra power he could find into the freighter’s engines, as life support and other extras like gravity plating weren’t needed anymore.
"The Klingons will be in weapons range of the freighter in about twenty seconds,” Taigan reported.
“I see them,” Bowens said, slowing the freighter down slightly by cutting power to one side of the impulse array, which made the ship list. The Klingons didn’t slow, but they also weren’t firing on it yet, evidently wanting to make this kill a little more personal.
The Klingons didn’t seem to notice, though that the ‘list’ got slightly more pronounced, and the Orion ship started to turn, slowing almost to a stop as it repositioned itself. When they were right on top of them, though, Bowens released the reactor containment fields.
The Orion ship’s impulse engines exploded first, followed by the remaining deuterium fuel in one of the storage tanks and the antimatter storage pods. It was enough to briefly blind the Mare Imbrium’s sensor arrays, but when they were restored, Bowens could see a plasma fire had been started in the bird of prey’s starboard warp nacelle, and the small raider’s shields were down. It wasn’t the outright destruction he had been hoping for, but they were on much more level footing.
“Thonan, hit the impulse engines and take us into the asteroid field. If the Klingons want us, they’re going to have to come and get us,” Bowens ordered.
“Aye,” the Andorian pilot replied, sending the ship on a rapid course towards the relative safety of the asteroids. Bowens felt the adrenaline rush of space combat mingling with disappointment at his plan falling short, but he didn’t have much time to focus on the negatives before the Klingons started following them.
“I bet they’re pissed,” Chief Zhou said. “I would be.”
“Well, it’s good that you’re on our side, then,” Bowens noted. The runabout rocked when it was struck by a feeble blast from the B’rel’s forward weapons. “I’m guessing that we managed to damage their EPS grid since we’re still alive.”
“I’m reading massive damage to most systems over there, but they’re still coming for us,” Taigan reported. “They’re sending out a distress call, sir!”
“Begin transmitting our data back to Starfleet and send out a call of our own,” Bowens reported. “We just need to stay alive long enough to finish broadcasting.”
Thonan was doing an excellent job of diving around the asteroids, and Bowens resisted the urge to take control so that he could focus on trying to see the big picture.
“I have a firing solution with aft weapons,” Taigan reported.
“Let ‘em have it, Ensign.”
With its scouting equipment, the Mare Imbrium wasn’t heavily armed, but they did have an aft phaser strip, in addition to the two that popped out from between the nacelles on the tactical drums. Taigan rotated them aft to get three streams of fire lancing out against the Klingons. A runabout-class phaser was unlikely to make much of a dent to the shields of a fully-functional Klingon bird of prey, but in its damaged state they managed to at least give them pause.
The Klingons returned fire, but the runabout’s shields held. The two combatants kept up their dance through the asteroid field, careening between the rocks and trading pot shots for several interminable minutes, before the Klingons broke off pursuit.
“Sir! They’re on a direct heading for the station.”
“Pursuit course. Load torpedoes,” Bowens replied. They had a dozen micro-torpedoes slotted into a launcher under the cockpit. They were meant to help the runabout fend off fighters and other craft like that, but it’s all they had. One last try to save the Orions.
“Sir, there’s another ship entering the system at high warp,” Taigan replied.
“Ignore them and focus on the bird of prey.”
The Mare Imbrium closed on the B’Rel, which was peppering them with fire from one of the aft light disruptor banks, and their shields were starting to weaken.
“Shields to twenty percent!”
“Fire torpedoes,” Bowens ordered. As he did so, though, there was a flash, and a massive starship came into view in front of the bird of prey. The round blue deflector marked it clearly as a friend and not an enemy. The B’Rel banked left immediately, but they were caught first in a tractor beam from the Odyssey-class ship, and then a salvo of full-size quantum torpedoes belted out from twin launchers under the ship’s saucer section, connecting at the same time as the feeble miniature ordnance from the Mare Imbrium. The combined firepower obliterated the Klingon ship.
“Lieutenant, the Arcturus is hailing us,” Serala replied.
Bowens blinked at that. He thought he recognized the distinctive lines of Starfleet’s newest Odyssey-class ship, but he assumed it was one of her sisters out of the yard early, as she was supposed to be finishing an overhaul following a short campaign against the Breen.
The screen next to the helm switched to the interior of the Arcturus’s bridge, which was lit by dimly pulsing red lights. Captain Lancaster was in his early thirties but bore a preternaturally serious expression.
“Lieutenant Bowens, I am told that Admiral Seagraves ordered you not to engage the enemy,” Lancaster said, sounding altogether more terrifying than the admiral had been. “Explain.”
“Yes, sir. In my judgment, the mission parameters changed when we were forced to defend a group of asylum seekers in this system, combined with the presence of a Klingon vessel in this system that left us unable to either retreat or transmit our intelligence without being detected,” Bowens replied, feeling compelled to sit up straight. “I had just started sending our data back to command. I’m transmitting a copy to you now.”
Lancaster frowned and glanced over at the Arcturus’s first officer. “Very well. I’ll withhold my opinion until I read your full report. Lower your shields so we can beam your passengers aboard, and then we’ll retrieve the ones we detected on our way in,” the captain ordered. “Please convey my congratulations on a job well done to your team… pending receipt of your report,” Lancaster replied. “Arcturus out.”
Bowens sat back in his chair with a relieved sigh. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but provisional or not, I’ll take the pat on the back,” he said.
A single quantum torpedo arced out of one of the forward tubes adjacent to the deflector on the Arcturus and impacted with the center of the former research base, obliterating it in a blue haze of energy. Once they’d evacuated the rest of the refugees to the ship, Captain Lancaster had decided to prevent any further possibility that the Klingons or anyone else could use it as a bolthole in the Archanis Eta system.
“The captain really likes quantum torpedoes,” Ensign Thonan noted from the station next to Lieutenant Bowens.
“I don’t believe the Captain believes in half measures on anything, from what I’ve heard,” Ensign Taigan replied.
Usually, Bowens would feel a need to stop the chatter, especially given that it was about their new commanding officer, but all he could think about was a sonic shower and a meal that didn’t come in a foil pouch. A hazard team was never meant to spend this kind of time on duty away from their mothership, and they’d had their first mission before even seeing the Arcturus, so he was ready to step back into his normal role as a pilot for a little while. This mission against the D’Ghor had definitely disabused him of the romance of command, that’s for sure.
It had only taken a few minutes to evacuate the rest of the refugees from the station, but the Arcturus had lingered in the system while confirming that there were no more Klingons for another hour before finally giving the Mare Imbrium permission to land. Bowens was just about to lay in the landing sequence before the console chirped.
“Lieutenant, the Arcturus is signaling us to hold position,” Thonan replied.
Bowens sighed. “Of course they are. Did they--,” he started, before the sight in front of him stopped him mid-thought. From their position behind and to the side of the massive explorer, they had a perfect view of the Arcturus undergoing starship separation. The primary hull of an Odyssey-class starship was significantly larger than the entirety of most other starships, but the Arcturus’s was even wider to accommodate extra-large crew quarters and the other amenities they would need for their years-long exploratory mission. As it detached from the rest of the ship, a set of secondary impulse engines engaged, pushing it forward and away from the stardrive section.
Since the 2350s, more and more starships had this capability, but Bowens had never seen a ship actually perform that maneuver except on the holodeck. At the same time, the ship launched its support ship, Hokule’a, from the stern cradle on the stardrive section, a light escort that was comparable in size (but not weaponry) to a Defiant-class vessel.
“I don’t think the Captain is just putting on a show for our benefit,” Bowens murmured. The oversized main shuttle bay doors opened, and Bowens watched as four more New Atlantic-class runabouts joined them in formation, along with two of the much larger Arrow-class.
“Captain Lancaster has taken command from the stardrive section. He’s ordering us to provide sensor support to the other runabouts. A Vorcha-class battlecruiser and three more B’Rel-class birds of prey have entered the system,” Serala reported.
Fighting off one bird of prey was a skirmish. Dealing with a battlecruiser and its escorts would be a battle. As impressive as the Arcturus was, it was not a warship. Of Starfleet’s largest ships, it was the one most geared towards diplomacy and command-and-control functions. She was a floating palace more than a floating fortress. A Vorcha-class ship was all weapons, though. Bowens was a little surprised that Lancaster had decided to hold his ground, but it wasn’t his place to question orders.
Bowen’s disappointment at not being able to finally get out of his hazard suit evaporated as he slipped back into a tactical mindset.
“Alright. Not what we were expecting, but we’re a hazard team and this is part of the job description. Serala, keep an eye on any orders we get from the mothership. Taigan, switch all weapons to point defense. We won’t do much against those warships but we have a chance to take down any torpedoes they fire. Taom, you’ll be on sensors. Look for any weaknesses the fleet can exploit,” Bowens ordered, to a chorus of ‘ayes’ around the cockpit.
The Arcturus’s stardrive section took the front of the formation, with the saucer following. It had extended its shields around the small fleet of runabouts, with the Mare Imbrium hovering over its new mothership. Bowens saw the tactic: appear larger to give the Klingons pause, but it seemed to having the opposite of the intended effect, as the Klingons were heading straight for them at full impulse.
“Attention Klingon vessels, this is the starship Arcturus. You have violated Federation space and are severely outgunned. I advise that you retreat immediately,” Captain Lancaster broadcast on an open channel.
There was no response.
As soon as they were in range, the Arcturus targeted all four vessels with it phaser arrays, pummeling their shields for several seconds before their disruptors came into firing range. Bowens watched as the Arcturus’s shields started to glow with the impacts. The rest of the runabouts were split into two squadrons of three, splitting past the stardrive section on either side and attempting to draw the birds of prey off, while the Mare Imbrium stayed further behind to relay sensor data from its survey package.
Bowens nearly flinched when beams of golden energy started lancing out from the saucer beneath them as it laid down, covering fire against all four targets.
“Sir, we’re being ordered to go with the Hokule’a to provide covering fire on her flanks,” Serala reported. Bowens nodded and took the runabout to the right, falling in behind the Aquarius-class escort hiding behind the saucer. It let out a burst of pulse phaser fire against one of the B’rels, which allowed two of the runabouts to score torpedo hits. The Hokule’a definitely needed the Mare Imbrium’s support, though, because it attracted both of the other birds of prey, while the battlecruiser focused on the Arcturus itself.
With the capital ships trading fire, the smaller vessels devolved in a dogfight, with Bowen’s team picking off torpedoes where they could. They got off a few potshots as well to discourage the Klingons from getting behind the Hokule’a.
“Sir, the Mare Tranquillitatis is losing shield power,” Taom reported.
“Focus fire to cover them,” Bowens replied, watching as a number of disruptor blasts connected with their sister ship’s hull, but it remained intact. The other New Atlantic veered off and then pirouetted into a course that took it under the Hokule’a, which let off a volley of torpedoes towards the offending bird of prey. Moments later, the B’Rel was wreckage—their first kill of the battle.
“Status on Arcturus?”
“Shields on both sections are holding, but it’s the same for the battlecruiser,” Taigan replied. The shields of the Arcturus were stronger than weapons of the Vorcha, but its own weapons weren’t meant to take on such a hardened target, so the battle could last forever unless something changed quickly.
“We’re being asked to focus sensors on the remaining two birds of prey,” Serala reported.
“Detecting fluctuations in the second B’Rel’s starboard shield grid,” Taom offered.
“Relaying that to the fleet.”
The B’Rels were fighting two against seven, which wasn’t by any means a fair fight, even with their firepower advantage. Arcturus had them concentrate their fire on the one with weakened shields until it was seven against one. Left alone, the B’Rel peeled off from the battle towards the Vorcha to try to find strength in numbers, but the smaller Starfleet ships managed to score lucky hits on its aft quarter, destroying it in a fireball of antimatter.
“All ships, focus your fire on the battlecruiser,” Captain Lancaster ordered.
The Vorcha’s shields began to weaken under the firepower of the Arcturus and her escorts, prompting the Arcturus to open fire with a barrage of quantum torpedoes against her weakened shields. The Mare Imbrium followed towards the rear of the pack of runabouts. However, from that position, Bowens still had a perfect view of blue torpedoes smashing through the armored hull of the Klingon vessel, leaving it burning in space for a moment before it lost antimatter containment and exploded. Relief washed over him, the second victory he’d experienced within a day giving him enough adrenaline not to simply collapse after what had been a very long several days in command of the Mare Imbrium.
“Arcturus is signaling for all runabouts to return to the ship.”
Bowens put the finishing touches on his report and included both the intelligence and the logs of the runabout’s crew as they finally touched down on the deck of their new ship. There wasn’t time to celebrate with his team, though, other than a few cursory ‘good jobs,’ before he rushed off to the pilots’ ready room to grab a quick shower and a new uniform before reporting to the captain. Since he wasn’t a senior officer, he usually would only have been seen by the first or second officer, but Lancaster had wanted to see him as soon as he was presentable.
The lieutenant didn’t have much time to process the opulent interiors of the Arcturus, with its Federation blues and golds setting it apart from the silvers and greys of the Intrepid-class ship he’d just come from. Still, he felt clearly that this ship was on an entirely different level. He went unnoticed, crossing the bridge from the turbolfit to the captain’s ready room. Less than a second passed before he was bidden enter once he pressed the chime.
Captain Lancaster was sitting behind his desk with a report scrolling in front of him on a holographic screen, which he dismissed when Bowens came to respectful attention in front of him.
“Lieutenant Harper Bowens, reporting as ordered.”
“At ease, Lieutenant,” Lancaster replied, though it was clear that he didn’t mean for the lieutenant to relax completely. Not that he probably would have been able to around him, anyway. The captain gave off a hyper-critical vibe that made Bowens feel a need to be on his absolute best behavior around him, even more so than other senior officers he’d met before. “I looked through your report. It seems like it’s dumb luck that you stumbled across these refugees.”
“Yes, sir. I’d anticipated just confirming that this system was as dead as we thought initially,” the lieutenant replied. “Ensign Taom deserves all of the credit.”
“According to your report, he did not initially identify the duranium signature he detected as important. That makes me question whether he’s an appropriate choice for the Arcturus, let alone a hazard team,” the captain replied coldly.
Bowens made a noise of protest before he could stop himself. The captain had never even met Taom, but he wanted to throw him off the ship for a mistake that was caught and rectified? That wasn’t fair at all.
“You don’t share that assessment, Lieutenant?” Lancaster’s blue eyes were locked on him, and it made Bowens want to look at his feet on reflex, but he maintained eye contact.
“Explain. Speak freely.”
“Corvol Taom is a very competent scientist who cares deeply about what he does. I caught his error, and it was not a problem in the long run. I think his… pathos is good for balancing out the personalities on the team. You must have selected him for a reason, sir,” Bowens offered.
“For the reasons you just stated. I was wondering how you would react,” Lancaster replied. “Good. Evidently, my selections for your team have so far been correct. I don’t think I would have made every decision you and your team did, but you accomplished your mission without casualties and without compromising Federation principles.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Bowens replied, his brow scrunching even as he accepted the praise. He was very certain that he was interviewing for a job he already had, though. Agreeing with Lancaster in this case would likely have gotten him canned instead.
“Admiral Belvedere was already able to use the intelligence you collected to force the Klingon Defense Force to intervene on our half. This was a walk in the park compared to the Delta Quadrant, though. I hope you’re ready.”
The next evening, Bowens managed to gather his team in one of the ship’s smaller lounges that looked out across space from alongside the wide promenade that ran the perimeter of the saucer section. Each of them had a drink in hand and were in good spirits, even after having to rush into their new duties aboard the Arcturus with little ceremony.
“If our first mission is anything like what we’re in for next, I’m sure it’s going to be a rough ride, but I want to thank all of you for doing your part. Serala, your logic kept me off the ledge several times. Shadi, without your engineering expertise, we’d probably still be trying to get the data out of that computer. Thonan, there’s no one else I’d trust to be my pilot, and that’s saying something coming from a fellow pilot. Zhou, you’re not exactly by the book, but sometimes we need a little improvision,” Bowens said, holding his glass up to each of them in turn. “Taigan, thanks for giving me the perspective on the Orions that I needed. I know that wasn’t easy for you,” he said, earning a respectful nod from the Orion. “And Taom—keep wearing your feelings on your sleeve. We’re going to need that,” he added, with a smile.