“Energise chief.” Commander Duncan instructed the Zakdorn transporter chief.
Tapping his hands over the console and pushing his three fingers upwards, Chief Koll Akerniel activated the Aquarius’ transporter and beamed aboard the two senior most officers joining them from the Endeavour. The blue and white glittering affect materialised two figures on the transporter platform.
Stood in front of it, Duncan stood up tall with his hands clasped behind his back as he watched the Zakdorn operator conduct his business. Once the two women, both wearing operations gold uniforms, were fully in the room he spoke up. “Lieutenants, welcome aboard the Aquarius. I am Commander Max Duncan.”
The tall Romulan woman alighted from the transporter platform first, nod brisk. “Thank you, sir. I’m Lieutenant Kharth, Chief of Security. This is Chief of Operations Lieutenant Thawn.” Her gesture to the shorter, red-haired and dark-eyed woman was brusque.
“I appreciate Captain Rourke being able to spare you both to assist us in this mission. If you both would follow me to the bridge, we can get started.” Duncan said and gestured towards the doors out of the transporter bay. Like most other Aquarius-class escorts, a majority of their design lineage came from the reliable classes such as the Defiant and Rhode Island. Leading the two women out into the narrow corridor, Duncan continued with his welcome speech. “Unfortunately the Aquarius isn’t as spacious as our own ships, but it still has its own special charm. You both are assigned to the same quarters on deck three section six. I hope you both don’t mind sharing bunk beds?”
Thawn opened her mouth. “I’m sure that -”
“That’ll be fine, sir,” interrupted Kharth, and silenced what was either assent or a pivot from her subordinate, who fell rather tellingly quiet. “We’ll more than make do for a few days. Comfort isn’t exactly a priority on this mission.”
“Luxury on the ship is at a premium.” Duncan remarked as they approached the end of the corridor and he led them up a small flight of stairs heading towards deck one. There was only one turbolift, it only went up and down the ship and not across decks. As a result of this, crew members would have to work the stretch of a deck to get from one end to the other and in some cases using either the jeffery tube access or the staircases between decks at certain locations to help them get from one deck to the other. It certainly kept everyone onboard fit. “Once we get underway, I want us to review our plan of action and to see how quickly we can catch these hunters.”
Kharth nodded. “Captain Rourke and our Chief of Strategic Operations have prepared the search routes, which will give a complete sweep of the system eventually. I’m sure adjustments can be made depending on your flight teams and necessary coverage.”
“And,” chirped up Thawn, somewhat meek air brightening, “our CIC is prepped for threat analysis as the shuttles report their data. It’s designed to assess situations and predict possible incidents quicker than we’d be able to, so the more we feed it, the better it’ll -”
“It’s a job that’ll get easier as it goes,” Kharth said, sounding like she was cutting off the risk of Thawn getting too exuberant about one of Endeavour’s particular toys as the turbolift slowed to a halt.
Entering the bridge with both women in tow, Commander Duncan showed them to the area where everything took place. Similar in layout to a Rhode Island-class, the Aquarius’ bridge design was slightly different where it had a singular captain’s chair in the middle (instead of two). The cool, dark grey and silver colour scheme reflected off from the bright lights coming from each console and station.
“Captain on the bridge.” announced Lieutenant Commander T’Rani in her cool and calm Vulcan tone. She stood up from the centre chair and relinquished it to Duncan.
“Lieutenant Commander T’Rani, please meet our guests from the Endeavour, this is Lieutenants Kharth and Thawn.” Duncan introduced his acting first officer and chief helm officer to them. “Lieutenants, this is Lieutenant Commander T’Rani, Odyssey’s chief helm officer and my acting first officer for the mission.”
“Welcome aboard.” T’Rani said to them both with a curt nod.
Thawn attempted a smile. “Thank you, Commander, happy to be here.”
“And happy to work,” Kharth said levelly.
“Commander, I see no other reason to be waiting around any further. Shall we get this show on the road?” Duncan insisted.
“Agreed captain.” T’Rani said and then looked at everyone else. “All hands blue alert, prepare for departure stations.”
The blue alert klaxon rang through the ship and hues of flashing blues filled the bridge as the lights dimmered.
“Lieutenants, we’ve set up both mission ops stations for you to use.” Duncan said gesturing towards the two aft stations on the port side of the bridge. “You’ll see we’ve got a direct feed with everyone’s sensors, communications and anything else important we think will help us. Please make yourselves comfortable.”
Kharth nodded. “Good, sir, thank you. Thawn will focus on initial analysis and the feed to Endeavour, but from here I can help coordinate operations with our shuttles,” she said, and the two headed for their stations to familiarise themselves and prepare for departure.
T’Rani, who had returned to her station at the helm, looked around at Duncan as he made his way back to the centre of the bridge. Before he sat down she announced that everyone was ready to leave the Odyssey. “Commander Hunsen has given us clearance to leave Odyssey.”
“Very good.” Duncan replied as he sat down. “Computer, begin auto-separation sequence, authorisation Duncan-four-seven-delta-romeo.”
“Initiating decoupling sequence.” announced the computer. “Autoseparation in ten seconds. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three.Two. One. Separation sequence in progress.”
The humming of the ship’s engines and the docking clamps being released could be heard and felt as the smaller craft removed itself from the Odyssey. A slight jerk made the crew move alongside the ship, even in this modern age of technology and Starfleet still had not perfected an easy glide as a ship was separated.
“Separation sequence complete.” the computer stated.
“T’Rani, lay in a course for the battle scene where the Odyssey engaged the Hunters and take us to yellow alert.” Duncan ordered. He spun in his chair to look at his two new officers. “Lieutenants begin your sensor scans and start to bring up our little flotilla on the aft screen.”
“Flight teams confirmed underway,” said Kharth. “Bringing up tactical deployment display now.”
The holographic projectors came to life and individual dots of every shuttle, runabout and even probes that the Odyssey and Endeavour had committed to this mission appeared. Each one of them were connected by sensor beams. The idea being that they were in constant contact with one another and the moment one of the Hunters tried to pass through their net then they would detect them straight away.
“Course laid in sir.” T’Rani reported from the helm.
“Engage at full impulse.” Duncan commanded and then indicated for T’Rani to join him and the others.
Once the ship was underway, the four senior officers gathered at the aft stations of the bridge. “Right everyone, listen carefully as this is going to be a busy job for us. We need to coordinate and lead our crews out to capture the Hunters that have gone into hiding. We can pick up some of them already thanks to their verdium patches, however our teams that we are sending in know already that these could be booby traps. If we return to the battle scene we may be able to pick up a lead, an ion trail for example, from any of the shuttles after they departed from their main ships. Those clues may help us in finding the rest of the Hunters. Does anyone have any thoughts or questions so far?”
Thawn straightened up, eyes brightening as if she was in a classroom with a quick answer. “Commander, I’ve contacted the Haydorian authorities and had us patched us into the traffic beacons for swift identification of any civilian ships so they don’t risk flagging as unknowns if they enter the search grid.”
Kharth glanced at her before turning her eyes to Duncan. “If the D’Ghor have any contact with or bead on each other, they may begin to realise their security is compromised by the verdium patches as we reel other groups in. I’d suggest we make these initial strikes as simultaneous as possible, and be prepared that some might try a better job of going to ground after.”
“Oh, yes,” Thawn chirped up, and tapped quickly on her PADD. “With all our ships’ scans of the system, we’ve identified locations of key concern in the sweep: areas of minimal sensor efficacy where the D’Ghor have a higher chance of being overlooked or of lying in wait.”
“Recommend we don’t send any shuttles to those alone,” said Kharth, “or without backup close and on standby.”
“Good idea lieutenant,” Duncan said as he looked over the data that the two women had presented. “Those on runabouts should be sent in as they’ll be better equipped and for most of our runabouts they have larger teams. Lieutenant Kharth, send those coordinates to the appropriate teams on those runabouts. We should also have some of our own probes fly in closer to give us a clearer picture of what is down there.”
Kharth nodded approvingly as she tapped commands onto her PADD’s holographic interface to be routed via her station. “The D’Ghor haven’t been shown to have the best sensors on their shuttles; probes might evade their notice.”
“Sir, the Aquarius is equipped with a number of micro-probes. I would recommend we launch some of them instead of diverting those probes we have already sent out. The runabout crews can then pick the telemetry when they approach their targets.” T’Rani suggested.
“Sounds good to me.” Duncan agreed. He looked to Thawn. “Is there anyway to tell if the Hunters are able to communicate with one another? I cannot help but think they must have planned this move in detail. If we are assuming that their initial plan had been to stop the Odyssey from deploying the array and if they knew they couldn’t defeat the Odyssey in battle, this back-up plan of theirs must have been thought out. If that is the case, how would they coordinate their next move when they’ve scattered themselves across the system.”
Thawn bit her lip as she thought. “We’ve been monitoring communications, but haven’t picked anything up yet. It would be odd if they didn’t have any means or plan to coordinate. If their technology is less sophisticated, maybe they’re using something older or simpler. I could conduct scans for communication via electromagnetic transmissions?”
Kharth raised an eyebrow. “Those would be slower than the speed of light. It might take minutes, hours to send messages.”
“I think we should explore any and all possibilities, even the most illogical ones.” Duncan said, knowing that T’Rani would agree with him on that. “From what I have read and what we have seen from the Hunters of D’Ghor, sometimes they appeared to have planned every single step of their raids and other times their attacks appear…well without any thought besides charging into the fire head on. We’re not dealing with rational soldiers, but if they knew what the Odyssey was planning to do then I am certain they won’t allow the Discovery and Shackleton from completing the work.”
“If that’s the case then sir, perhaps we should follow the lieutenant’s idea of removing as many as we can in one coordinated movement, it would significantly reduce their power and those that we were unsuccessful in capturing would either require further resources to find them or they may still launch an attack against the array as it is being deployed.” T’Rani remarked. “Perhaps we should increase our sensor profile around the Discovery and Shackleton.”
“Are you suggesting we use them as bait?” Duncan asked the Vulcan. “I’m not sure Captain Bennet would be happy with that idea.”
T’Rani’s eyebrow rose slightly at her superior as she answered him. “As you said sir, the Hunters of D’Ghor do not follow set rules of behaviour of engagement. If we remove those we are to detect swiftly, those that are left may become desperate in their bid to complete their objectives.”
Duncan looked to the other two. “Lieutenants, what do you think?”
Kharth’s lips had quirked. “The D’Ghor’s mission here is likely to either destroy the array, or tie us in knots. If we put them on the back foot, that’s likely to provoke a response from the remaining warriors – they probably don’t want to wait in their holes to be hunted down one-by-one if they realise we’re onto them. Positioning the Discovery and Shackleton as tempting targets could let us control the field when – if – they respond.”
“Or,” said Thawn, visibly uncomfortable at questioning Kharth, “it risks our primary mission, which is the assembly of the array.”
Indeed, Kharth’s gaze was cool as it turned to her, before she looked to Duncan. “If we do provoke the D’Ghor to taking sudden action, and we present the array as an impenetrable target, they might not make a tactically efficient choice. They might choose, as Endeavour’s seen them choose elsewhere, to inflict terror – and strike a civilian target in the system.”
Understanding what could be a disaster for the colony, Duncan scratched his chin. “Let’s proceed as planned and I will inform Captain Rourke of what we are suggesting. We might be able to place more teams down on the colony to assist with defence.”
As they all proceeded with their work, Duncan suddenly realised the burdens of command truly could be horrific when it came to making a decision that could work in their favour or condemn those they took an oath to protect. Looking over to the operations station, he ordered the crewmember on duty to open a channel to the Endeavour. “Get me Captain Rourke at once.”