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.”