Part of USS Arcturus: Under Pressure and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

Chapter 3

Sentinel Major Outpost
January 2400
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While it was by no means her first away mission, Odea was eager to have her trip to the facility on Sentinel Major go smoothly if it was to be her first challenge as acting executive officer. She had been momentarily surprised that Captain Okusanya hadn’t wanted to visit the colony herself, knowing how hands-on she tended to be with engineering projects. Still, she knew that the good captain was likely following protocol closely as a way of auditioning for the permanent first officer position. By joining the Arcturus a year prior, Odea had put off her own immediate advancement for the sake of service on such a prestigious posting and on such a sought-after mission: exploring the Delta Quadrant. She was content in her role as tactical officer, but the thought of moving up was tantalizing.

She materialized along with Lieutenant Galan and the engineering team on one of the transporter pads in the Sentinel Major aerostat facility. Upon initial inspection, it was identical to any other Starfleet facility she’d been in, which seemed somehow strange or underwhelming to her given that the station was suspended in the atmosphere of a gas giant. The station’s commander, Lieutenant Vahlen, and a Tellarite chief petty officer were on hand to greet them. Though members of Starfleet the same as Odea and the others from the Arcturus, they wore less formal uniforms, a jumpsuit that lacked the raised collar of the starship duty uniform for greater mobility. Their combadges were an unadorned delta, further setting them apart from their visitors.

“Welcome to Sentinel Major, Commander,” Vahlen said. Odea could sense a mix of envy and relief coming from the young lieutenant, even as she avoided prying into his thoughts. “As I said to your captain, we have been looking forward to these upgrades for a long time, so I’m glad Starfleet has finally found a ship they could spare.”

The chief scoffed. “The only reason Starfleet is even paying attention to us is because of the subspace weather event. We’ll go back to invisibility as soon as it’s over,” he grumbled, his disdain evident even without telepathy.

“And this is Chief Thorn, my Chief of Operations and second-in-command,” Vahlen said, with a slight sigh. “He’ll be able to get your team up to speed on our systems.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. I’m Dealhi Odea, acting first officer. Commander van Dorland, acting Chief Engineer, will lead our efforts here on the ground, so to speak,” she said, gesturing to the Human engineer. “This is Kasir, Asos, and Shadi,” she added, introducing the Vulcan computer scientist, the Andorian sensor specialist, and the Bajoran engineer who made up the rest of the engineering team. “If you agree, I’d like to have Chief Thorn brief them while you and I discuss the logistics of a possible evacuation with Lieutenant Galan, my communications officer.”

“Of course. Chief, take them to operations. Perhaps you’d like a short tour as we discuss, ma’am?” Vahlen offered.

“It’s your station,” Odea replied with a small smile.

She could tell that he was feeling intimidated with not just three senior officers suddenly in his space but three senior officers from a capital ship. There was a difference in prestige that would likely be the elephant in the room for the duration of their visit. Happy to leave behind what was sure to be a lively discussion between the engineers, Odea followed Vahlen out of the transporter room with Lieutenant Galan in tow.

“I noticed a lot of ‘acting’ designations in your titles,” Vahlen noted.

“We were on our way to Starbase Four to take on crew replacements, but we were diverted here, instead. It’s… complex,” Odea offered.

It was just a short walk down the corridor to an expansive observation gallery that offered sweeping views of the amber-gold clouds swirling around the station. From that vantage point, Odea could see one of the two greenspace decks, which stretched out a hundred meters from the center of the station. Otherwise a relatively typical Jupiter-type research installation with one stack of habitat and lab saucers, the station was suspended in the atmosphere through a combination of anti-gravity arrays and buoyant gas bladders, which ensured that a power failure wouldn’t send them down to crush depth. The flotation pods were beneath two outdoor parks that allowed the residents to take advantage of Sentinel Major’s breathable atmosphere.

“I had wondered why Starfleet hadn’t simply built an orbital station, but I think I get it now,” Odea noted, which earned a grin from the lieutenant. She could tell he was proud of his installation, even if it was very minor. “It’s hard to imagine how 200 people live and work within the atmosphere of a gas giant until you see it.”

“I was skeptical too until I first arrived last year,” Vahlen confirmed.

“Is it not unusual for a lieutenant to have command of a crew of 200?” Galan asked.

“Each of the science teams reports directly to Starfleet. I’m just an administrator, responsible for the facility itself and the orbital sensor grid. I only have eighteen people reporting to me,” the scientist clarified. “The majority of our population are civilians, anyway.”

Galan nodded. “That makes our purpose here clearer,” he said. “Are the residents aware of what may be coming?”

“No. I didn’t want to worry anyone until you arrived, and we had a plan.”

“What’s a worst-case scenario? What would it take to make the station sink?” Odea asked.

Vahlen swallowed. “Well, that would be extremely unlikely. The antigrav array would have to be disabled, and a significant number of the flotation pods would have to be breached. In the event of that type of emergency, we have enough escape pods and shuttles to get everyone up into orbit.”

“All of the reports we have suggest that such an occurrence is in the realm of possibility,” Lieutenant Galan offered. The Romulan stepped up to the viewport. “Are those static attraction towers?” he asked, pointing.

“Uh. Well, they’re lightning rods,” Vahlen answered. “They’re attached to capacitor banks that can store energy from the occasional storms we get at this altitude.”

Galan nodded. “The storms reported by the Prospero and on Coronal were extremely strong. It would be wise to reinforce those towers and deploy additional shielding around the facility,” he said, looking to Odea.

“If you’re offering, I’ll obviously take whatever help you can provide,” Lieutenant Vahlen said.

Odea tapped her badge. “Odea to van Dorland. While you’re learning about the station’s specifications, I think it would be wise to check out their electromagnetic defenses, too.”

“Chief Thorn had the same thought. We’re working on a solution to present to the captain,” the engineer replied.

“Thank you, Commander,” Odea replied, ending the call. That Jack van Dorland outranked her was a slight point of awkwardness since she was in command, but he seemed to be pretty ego-free. “I think it would be wise to evacuate non-essential personnel to the Arcturus until we’ve seen to your defenses.”

“Do you really think that’s necessary, ma’am?” Vahlen asked, rubbing the back of his neck.

“I do. We’ll see if my captain agrees with me. In the meantime, please identify which members of the science teams must remain behind to maintain any ongoing experiments, so we can try to minimize the disruption to your operations,” Odea offered, not relishing the task of being diplomatic but not wanting to step on his toes either.

The scientist nodded. “Of course.”

Vahlen opened his mouth to say something else, but that turned into a gaping stare towards the windows behind Odea. She sensed a sharp jolt alarm from the young man and turned around to see a large winged creature flying straight for them. At least as big as a shuttle, it had leathery gray skin and resembled a gormagander or a whale. The window deafened it slightly, but as the creature pulled up to avoid flying into them, it let out a piercing shriek. When she reached briefly into its mind, all Odea could feel was overwhelming confusion and fear.

“What was that?!” Odea asked.

“We call them sentinel gas whales. They… don’t normally do that.”

There was a bolt of lightning in the distance, followed quickly by the boom of thunder. It wasn’t the Century Storm, not yet, but it didn’t bode well. Odea had a sinking feeling that they had arrived just in time to avoid catastrophe on Sentinel Major, but they were running against the clock now.

“I better report in,” Odea said, turning back to Vahlen. “Get me that list as soon as you can,” she said before stepping further down the gallery to speak to the Arcturus in a little more privacy, leaving Vahlen with Galan. Both lieutenants were looking out the windows in stunned silence as Odea gathered the strength to explain to Captain Okusanya that they’d nearly been hit by a very agitated flying cetacean.