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.