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!”