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Part of USS Endeavour: Falls the Shadow and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

Falls the Shadow – 2

Captain's Quarters, USS Endeavour
March 2401
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Rourke gave a wan smile as he opened the doors to his quarters to find Eli Gault stood brandishing a bottle of whisky. ‘Just like old times.’

‘Not exactly like old times.’ Gault swaggered past him like he owned the place, casting an eye about the gloomy quarters for drinking vessels. ‘Back then I’d hide this in your footlocker. Now I can sling it around openly.’ His gaze landed on the cabinet by the wall, and he stalked over to pour into the cut-glass tumblers sat atop it. ‘And you’re a lot classier now.’

‘Than I was when I was nineteen? I’d hope so.’ Rourke took the glass, expression sinking. ‘I’d say you’ve not come here to reminisce, but…’

‘But reminiscing is suddenly on-topic? Yeah.’ Gault hefted his drink. ‘To absent friends.’

‘Christ, Eli.’ But Rourke drank anyway, brow furrowing as he regarded his old comrade. ‘It might not be them, you know.’

Gault turned to the window, to the stars streaming past as Endeavour pelted at top speed for the Deneb Sector. ‘Hey, I’m meant to be the one who doesn’t trust Command. You’re the good soldier. But Command can’t agree on if this is that missing Dominion fleet back again or some shit-stirring Breen. So you tell me, Boss. Which do I believe?’

Rourke’s eyes also fell on the stars, the main source of light in his gloomy chambers. He thought of FNN reports downplaying the scale of the threat and Admiral Beckett, paranoid in a corridor on SB38. And he thought of the boarding actions on the Hood a quarter-century ago, close confines and deadly battle with unyielding Jem’Hadar.

He had another swig of his whisky. ‘It’s them. Don’t ask me how. Once this is over, someone smart will figure it out. But it’s them.’

‘Old Iron-face Beckett himself says so, huh?’

Against all sense, Rourke gave a bark of laughter. ‘I forgot that nickname.’

‘Wanted so badly to be Ironsides or something,’ Gault guffawed as he reminisced, ‘and don’t get me wrong, XO was a badass back then, but I think I followed him into battle not because I was so inspired, but because there was a chance I’d get to piss on his grave while I was there.’ But he sobered, fidgeting with his glass of whisky. ‘He brought a lot of us home, though.’

Rourke watched Gault for a moment. ‘Not all. There were enough funerals. Especially after Chin’toka. Lavery, Johnson – what was his name, that kid just out of Basic. Domnic?’

‘Domoraynic,’ Gault said without missing a beat, and something in Rourke’s chest eased. They’d been through basic training together, served on the Hood through the war together, and been side by side through times that, these days, Rourke preferred to not think of. Not only for the shadow of war itself, but for who he’d been back then, what those times said about him as a man. Contrasting political opinions were not the only reason he and Eli Gault had fallen out of touch over the years. They’d both wanted to leave the war far behind.

But now it was here anew, and the two old comrades didn’t have much choice. Now Gault gave his small smile, the one that said he was going to joke without meaning it. ‘Seems like I had good timing in getting arrested.’

‘This wasn’t what I wanted to bring you back for,’ Rourke admitted. ‘I wanted you on Endeavour because you know the Neutral Zone better than anyone else I could recruit. Seems I’ve got you for different experience.’

‘Don’t pretend this was all high-minded of you, Matty.’ Gault’s lips twisted as he sipped whisky. ‘If it were, you’d put me in the SOC or Science or something. Not as your yeoman. You know I hate paperwork.’

‘I need someone I can -’

‘Trust, I know. But it’s no mistake you’ve picked a war veteran who’s been rough-and-tumbling it through the Neutral Zone for fifteen years. Because you want me to watch your back literally.’

Rourke winced. ‘I didn’t bring you here thinking I needed a bodyguard.’

‘And now we’re going into war again, only this time we’re not fresh-faced security officers. You’re a sun’s damned captain.’ Gault sobered, and for once Rourke could not see the glint of humour on that worn, handsome face. ‘I know what my responsibility is if the Jem’Hadar come knocking.’

With a sigh, Rourke padded over to the window. The stars would not fall into focus, no matter how hard he looked. Every second they left another blip of light behind, and hurtled towards darkness. ‘What about your responsibility right now?’ He raised his half-empty glass. ‘How about we have a drink and think less about the bloodier end of old times.’

Gault laughed and was at once all light again, reaching for the bottle and pouring refills. But though Rourke knew they could kill this slow evening of boiling apprehension, peel off the tension with old anecdotes and recollections served like they were dealing cards from a well-shuffled pack of memories, it could only go so far.

After all, their old times came with a lot of blood.


‘Prophets, all our praise is on you, all our trust is on you. Guide us through this shadowed time. Grant us the light so we may be torch-bearers against the oncoming darkness. Grant us strength to stand against the all-consuming wave. Grant us wisdom so we may see the way.’

The words echoed through the shrouded quarters, shadows pierced only by the gleam of the small duranja oil lamp. Normally those words brought as much illumination to Harrian Cal as the light itself, comforted him against the shadows, and gave him the clarity and confidence to move forward in darkness.

Today they tasted ashen on his tongue. His hands, clasped before him, fell into his lap, and his eyes opened to land on the flickering flame. The litany flowing from his lips stopped, and instead he said, in a throatier, thicker voice, ‘Why did you let them out?’

Prayer was, of course, not a matter of question-and-answer. If it was not bringing him the peace he needed, then experience told Harrian to walk away rather than rage against the dark alone. With a frustrated noise, he covered the flame of the duranja to put it out. Rather than dig out his uniform jacket, he found a thick-knit woollen jumper and pulled it on before heading out.

The Safe House was quiet, with officers clustered in their ones and twos in corners. Harrian ordered a deka tea from the bar before padding to a quiet pair, voice low as he approached. ‘Do you mind if I join you?’

Commanders Shepherd and Far did not look like they had been much engaged in conversation, at a table by the tall windows of the dim lounge. They sat on the two comfortable, pillowed seats with hot drinks, but Shep pushed a stool out from under the table with her foot. ‘You’re not gonna be intruding on brooding time, Commander.’

Kol Por Teren Ilka Far looked more tired, more worn, bright eyes locked on him as he sank down. ‘Surely someone on staff’s getting sleep somewhere, right?’

‘At least Endeavour won’t stop functioning if I’m yawning in the morning,’ he said good-naturedly. ‘I trust you two to perk up if you have to.’

‘Already got a line on stims,’ Shep drawled, and had a swig of coffee. ‘But I was just wearing a hole in the deck in my room. Came down here to unwind and found Far.’

‘I… I’ve been running calculations all evening. I’m just too wired to sleep just yet,’ Far admitted with a shrug. ‘I’ll have them on your desk in the morning, Commander.’

He squinted. ‘What calculations?’

‘The combat readiness protocols for the ship. I expect you need to compare them against the squadron. I know that Commander Kharth sent them already, but I’ve been toying with alternative power distribution plans which can alter our offensive and defensive stances…’

‘You should probably,’ Harrian said gently, ‘run those past Commander Kharth first.’

Far flushed. ‘I know. It was a bit of a distraction for me. It’s just that Commander Kharth can be a bit… scrunchy.’

‘Scrunchy,’ Harrian echoed.

‘You mean “mad as hell and ready to fight?”’ Shep drawled. ‘Yeah, she does that. Her bark’s worse than her… actually, I’m not sure about that.’

‘If I come along and say that I’ve done all this, she’s going to get defensive,’ Far said with a wince.

‘So don’t say you’ve done it,’ said Harrian. ‘Say you have an idea and offer her your help.’

‘And if she says no?’

It was his turn to wince. ‘Then don’t step on the tactical chief’s toes.’

‘That’s… fair,’ Far admitted. ‘It’s just I can only stock check so many times.’ She sighed and looked at him. ‘What’s kept you up, sir?’

Harrian hesitated. ‘I wasn’t sleeping,’ he confessed at last. ‘I was praying. Or trying to.’

Shep made a face. ‘Sounds like it didn’t help.’

He could see both feelings running through her: not wanting to be rude but not placing much stock in his faith. It was an expression he was accustomed to and he was only relieved that the first strain existed. ‘You’re wondering,’ he ventured, ‘how I can be a Starfleet officer and worship wormhole aliens.’

‘It’s not really my business,’ said Shep.

But Far leaned forward. ‘Do you want to talk about it? If it wasn’t working, I mean.’

Again he hesitated. There was nothing but open honesty on her face, a kind curiosity. So he shrugged. ‘I’m a man of science as much as faith. Science tells me the Prophets are aliens of a power beyond anything we have the means of studying or comprehending. But history tells us they’re not indifferent – they sent my people the orbs, communicated with some of us. They sent us the Emissary when we were coming out of the Occupation, and they did, yes, close the gates of the Celestial Temple to stop this fleet from unleashing unfathomable pain on the Alpha Quadrant twenty-five years ago.’

Shep looked a little guilty for her cynicism. ‘Until now.’

‘Which is the problem?’ Far asked gently.

‘Yes,’ he admitted. ‘Because science also suggests they don’t necessarily care about me in particular. That’s normally where faith steps in. I don’t pray with the expectation that they’ll hear me and mend my woes. I pray to reflect on and remind myself of two simple facts.’

Shep raised an eyebrow. ‘What facts?’

He gave a small, warm smile. ‘That the capacity of people is boundless, with the right inspiration. And that what many would call miracles are possible. The Prophets have provided inspiration and performed miracles again and again. I can’t account for the latter. But I can immerse myself in the former; seek inspiration, and seek to give it, so we can all rise to be our best selves.’

Far had rested her chin in her hand as she listened, eyelids hooded. ‘That’s what you’ve got faith in. People.’

‘I do. And I have faith in… hope. Faith that we should never give up hope.’

They were silent for a moment, then Far gave a small smile. ‘I don’t know if that helped you, Commander. But I feel better.’

‘Faith in people,’ Shep echoed, and lifted her mug of coffee for a toast of the late-night insomniacs. ‘I can get on board with that.’

‘Don’t worry, Commander,’ Harrian assured her as he raised his tea. ‘I’ll handle the praying part.’


Commander T’Varel peered down through the hatch into the torpedo maintenance bay and said, ‘Is this the best allocation of personnel, Commander?’

Kharth gritted her teeth at the Vulcan’s voice. ‘I started a job here. So I’ll finish it.’

‘Manually checking the calibration of each torpedo is an irregular task for the chief tactical officer to personally undertake.’

‘Manually checking in on the chief tactical officer is an irregular task for the chief engineer to personally undertake, no?’ She was on her back down a storage pad, and had to pull the micro-spanner from between her teeth to talk.

‘My staff reported you were here. I found it curious. They did not feel it was appropriate for them to question you.’

Kharth glared at the casing. ‘If you’re going to be up there, can you make yourself useful and hand me the optronic coupler?’

There was a pause. Then the tool was dangled down through the hatch, just within arm’s reach. ‘I can assign Ensign O’Malley to assist you. Or to take over torpedo calibrations. It is 0230 hours, Commander.’

‘I’m fine.’ Kharth gritted her teeth. ‘Forrester’s gone, isn’t she?’

‘Lieutenant Forrester transferred to the Pathfinder, yes.’

‘Shame. I liked Forrester.’ Easing off this next casing hatch took a little more effort. ‘I bet Isa sent her so she could look out for Valance. Soppy asshole.’

A pause. ‘I came to ascertain your status, Commander, not to gossip.’

‘My status is that I’m getting on with it.’

‘You are “getting on” with a highly irregular task below your station.’ There was another pause until T’Varel ventured, ‘It is not uncommon for illogical species to overwork themselves in times of great apprehension in order to avoid engaging with feelings they consider unwelcome.’

Kharth wriggled out from under the torpedo to glare up through the hatch. ‘Did you come here to help or snipe?’

T’Varel’s expression did not change as she looked down at her. ‘Identifying irregularities in your behaviour on the eve of engagement with a hostile force is helping. It seems others aboard do not challenge you under such circumstances.’ Kharth opened her mouth to bite back, but the Vulcan pressed on. ‘As second officer and Chief Tactical Officer, you are under considerable strain. It is understandable for you to wish to focus on minor tasks to distract your thoughts. But it tires you. Will you be fully rested when we face the Dominion?’

The two women locked eyes for long, thudding moments. Then Kharth shook her head. ‘Your concern’s touching,’ she drawled. ‘But I’m not done here.’

‘I feel no concern at all,’ T’Varel insisted as she stood. ‘I have offered you a fresh perspective. Do as you see fit, Commander.’

The light footsteps of the Vulcan receded, and Kharth slumped back in the confined torpedo bay, eyes closing. The only thing worse than being needled by a Vulcan was being needled by a Vulcan who was correct.

She didn’t know how long she sat there, stewing on her desire to not be proved wrong, but when she heard footsteps above, her eyes snapped open, and she looked upwards. ‘Commander, I don’t need needling –

Then Dav Airex’s head appeared through the hatchway, surprised and apologetic. ‘I didn’t come here to needle.’

Kharth winced. ‘Oh. I thought you were T’Varel. She was trying to logic me into finishing up.’

‘I heard you were down here. Startling all the technicians.’ Airex paused, then sat at the open hatchway and handed down a steel travel mug. ‘So I brought you some tea.’

Her throat tightened, and she was glad she had to shift her weight to reach up and take the mug, hiding her expression. ‘Have I been that much of a menace?’

‘You?’ His smile was tight but sincere. ‘Always.’

As her hand wrapped around the mug, his grip lingered for a heartbeat longer than necessary. She felt his finger brush against hers, then he let go, and she sat back down. ‘We’ve never faced anything like this before. Not at Archanis. Not at Agarath. We’ve lost most of the veterans we had from those encounters, and the safety of this ship is my responsibility.’

‘It’s not just your responsibility,’ Airex pointed out gently.

‘Is Rourke going to pay more attention to the Dominion, or to squadron politics? Is Shep going to focus on what Endeavour needs, or what Jericho needs? Then I’m on the bridge with a brand new Ops, a brand new Helm, and sure, I can rely on Lindgren to hell and back but she’s Comms.’

Airex’s expression pinched, and he hesitated before he said, ‘And T’Varel is new to Engineering.’

But that wasn’t what he’d wanted to say, and she knew it. Guiltily, Kharth stood, bringing her about level with his stomach while he was sitting at the hatch. She looked up at him. ‘When the fighting starts, when we need to think out of the box, when we need to know everything the enemy is doing before we can engage… I know I can rely on you.’

That still left chasms unspoken, and it did not ease the tension in his expression. Still, he nodded. ‘I know you’ll look after this ship, and everyone aboard. That’s why, when I heard you were down here, I brought you tea. I don’t expect you to do anything but work flat-out until we engage. I thought I could make it a little easier, though.’

He’d done things like that before, once upon a time. When they’d served on the Cavalier together and he’d been Davir Hargan, and she’d still dealt with adversity in the same way but he’d had the thoughtfulness and the patience to sit with her as she did so. The tension in her chest at the oncoming storm did not abate, but it felt different as she met his gaze. Kharth swallowed. ‘This isn’t a border skirmish. This is war.’

She’d set her mug on the deck, and he looked down at her hand beside it. Slowly, his own fingers slid across the deck to brush against the back of her hand. ‘You’ve experience of the Breen. You’ve experience of all sorts of enemies. You know everything you need to know. You’re the exact person you need to be to face this.’

His touch sent prickles across her skin, up her arm. One instinct told her to yank her hand back, pull away at once. The other told her to grab him and never let go. ‘We’re going to lose people.’

Airex sighed, gaze tightening. ‘Most likely.’

But his voice was too achingly gentle. As if his warmth was heating up to become scalding, she drew her hand away, and shook her head. ‘I should finish this. You should get some sleep.’

He watched her for a moment, then dropped his gaze and shifted back. ‘Enjoy the tea,’ he said, and it sounded like a veil had fallen across his voice as much as his expression, restraint restored.

She just nodded, grabbing the mug and disappearing back down the hatch. There was a moment before she heard his footsteps, a moment where he lingered before he left, and Kharth drew her knees under her, curled up in the maintenance bay, and closed her eyes as she listened to him go.

We’re going to lose people.

I can’t lose you again.

Comments

  • Can you feel it? The calm before the storm. It's a horrible time when people get all contemplative and start doing stuff they forgot about, or have an urge to do to take their minds off things. I really enjoy how you convey the mix of emotions your crew are feeling in the run-up to battle. They know it is coming, and it is going to be swift, even painful, and that is hard enough for the veterans to deal with, but those poor, younger officers with no frame of reference have no clue what is coming their way. You convey the feelings of the veterans well, making it clear that not one of them is relishing the prospect of what is to come. I really love the Kharth/T'Varel dynamic. Oh, and the prayer! What a lovely homage to the Bajoran faith. Can I please steal it for my own, wrinkle-nosed characters?

    May 6, 2023
  • It feels like the memories are flashing by of what Rourke had seen in the Dominion War. I feel more connected with the characters after seeing them prepare for what they will be facing. But I am glad that they are facing it together as a family, now is the only question, who will they lose? Awesome work on this post!

    May 6, 2023
  • I enjoyed this chapter, the dynamic between both Kharth and T'Varel, and even the interaction between Airex and Kharth. Are the two beginning to fall in love again? Wonder how that will go, though I do think they are a cute couple, and from previous stories recalling their past relationship would like them to be able to start over again. But that's probably wishful thinking. I like the fact that Kharth works through her restlessness and what lays ahead of them. Can't wait to see what is next for the crew of the Endeavour.

    May 6, 2023
  • There's something so evocative about a forgotten nickname and a pretty disappointing one at that. You used that so well, among other references, to really solidify the long friendship between Gault and Rourke. You made it real in just a few moments. "Today they tasted ashen on his tongue" is such a solid gut punch. But where you really left me breathless was the weight of responsibility Kharth feels and the heat of that moment with Airex, which you ramped up to one-thousand with "I can't lose you again." Pain! Delicious pain!

    May 7, 2023
  • Of all the snippets in this, the one to really hit was Kharth's. When anxious she works, when working she's snippy, when snippy it's dangerous to approach without the requisite offerings. I really do hope nothing happens to her or Airex. They honestly do need each other and I can't wait for them to get over the hurdle in their relationship. But that weight of responsibility and committment in the moment is what's going to weigh on them all. Oof the emotional tension is palpable.

    May 9, 2023
  • How the hell have I missed all of this action until now? “Her bark’s worse than her… actually, I’m not sure about that.” - that made me laugh out loud. I would have said this sums up Kharth in one phrase; however, that last scene was pure magic. I absolutely loved reading and hearing Kharth’s inner monologue about everything that she is worrying about over the sudden arrival of the Dominion. And how did I not see a possible other budding romance developing on the Endeavour?! Even in war, love is still able to exist. Beautiful!

    May 13, 2023
  • Oh my goodness, I am in love with this chapter. You are a master at writing dialogue and conversation, I felt myself completely pulled in and invested in these characters and their apprehensions and fears. It was so enlightening to read Harrian and his take on how he is both a scientist and a man of faith, that was great storytelling. I didn't think it could get any better until the conversation between T'Varel and Kharth, my favorite part being when Kharth admitted the Vulcan was right. But you could definitely resonate and identify with her in that moment because I'm the same way when I'm feeling anxious, I'd rather stay busy. Another amazing chapter from Endeavor squadron!

    May 17, 2023