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.