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Part of USS Polaris: Infiltrate and Liberate Nasera (The Lost Fleet – Part 1) and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

Oscillations of Grief, Guilt and Opportunity

Trachyte Tavern Safehouse, Nasera City
Mission Day 11 - 1200 Hours
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“Hey Ayala, come check this out.”

Chief Petty Officer Ayala Shafir didn’t even look up, her head hunched and her eyes dark as she oscillated between the duality of grief and guilt. Jason Atwood had been her responsibility, and now he was dead. She couldn’t forgive herself for that. He was another death she was responsible for, just like so many over the years. Memories of prior time she spent deep undercover came flooding back, when she’d stood idle, watching others die so she could maintain her identity. But this was different. Then, the dead hadn’t been relying on her. She just happened to be present for their end. This time, Petty Officer Atwood had been relying on her to watch his back, and she had failed him. The team had tried to recover him from her mistake, but they had failed too. And so he had died.

“Ayala? You have got to see this,” Lieutenant J.G. Jace Morgan tried again.

“What is it, Jace?” she asked as she looked up. Her tone was somewhere between uninterested and annoyed, and her voice and eyes were both devoid of life.

“No seriously, you need to come check this out,” he insisted excitedly. “I was reviewing the last readings Atwood had uplinked, and he might have found something.”

That got the Chief’s attention. Please let it be that Petty Officer Jason Atwood hadn’t died for nothing, she thought. It wouldn’t bring him back, but it would be some consolation he hadn’t died completely in vain. “Ok, let’s see what you’ve got,” Shafir said as she slowly rose and crossed the room.

Lieutenant J.G. Morgan handed her the PADD and explained while she started reading: “Looks to me like you guys found a hardline for comms to the planetary defense system.”

What should have been an easy read for a woman who had spent her life learning to break into systems now looked utterly unintelligible now. Her mind just wasn’t there. “And so?” She really wanted to just go sit back down in her corner. She was useless right now.

“From what I can tell, these are command signals bussed over a point-to-multipoint protocol with time-division multiplexing,” Morgan explained. “Looks to me like what you found was a one of a series of hardlines that distribute instructions from the control center to a distributed series of repeaters that deliver the signal up to the orbital platforms.”

“How many repeaters are we talking about?”

“Based on the multiplexed acks you and Jason recorded, there are at least forty terminating nodes.”

“A way of ensuring resilience against an attack?”

“Exactly,” agreed Morgan. “You can’t jam the hardlines like you would wireless carrier waves, and if the repeaters are spread out well, it’s going to be damn hard to stop them all from transmitting.” 

Coming to her senses as she continued to read through the telemetry, Shafir agreed with the Operations Officer’s assessment. Looking over the time delays of the ack payloads, she could also infer that, while the nearest one was only a kilometer away from the control center, the furthest was on the complete other side of the planet. It was an impressive amount of physical infrastructure that had been laid to ensure one could not easily disrupt the planetary defense system.

“This just makes our job sound harder,” Shafir lamented as shook her head. This setup meant that literally the only single point of failure was the control center itself, and that thing was a fortress they could never just swarm.

“No Ayala, dig a little deeper,” Morgan insisted. If her emotional state wasn’t clouding her ability to think, it should have been obvious to the woman who’d spent her whole life hacking into things. “With all the insulation and shielding around these cables, forty hardlines coming together will take up a lot of space, and you don’t just lay this sort of critical infrastructure without a way to access it for maintenance.”

That’s when the lightbulb came on for Chief Shafir. “A utility tunnel,” she exclaimed as she rushed over to her bag and pulled out a PADD with blueprints from the Corps of Engineers. “Look at these,” she said, setting the PADD in front of her colleague. “These are service ducts from the factory that was here before the control center was built. I figured they would have been filled in when the control center was built, but if I needed access tubes for these hardlines, why wouldn’t I just repurpose the infrastructure that was already there?” Those ducts ran not just under the facility, but spiderwebbed out across a dozen city blocks, connecting this site with several other factories that were still in operation today.

As everything started to click, she wondered how she could have missed this. They’d literally been looking for this sort of thing when they’d gone out yesterday morning. It was a foolish question to ask though. She knew the answer. Grief and guilt had completely consumed her, making her weak and ineffective, a liability for the team. She needed to get beyond that. The team needed her to get beyond it.

“This protocol is a pub-sub with integrity checks,” Shafir remarked. “The time-division multiplex is just for delivery assurance, not many-to-many multicast. That means there’s a single source, and if we can follow the lines back to that source, we can broadcast something different.”

“And bring the system down without having to swarm the control center from the ground,” Morgan finished her thought. 

“Bingo,” smiled the Chief for the first time in a day. 

At best, the broadcast switch would be in a sub basement, well beneath the hordes of Jem’Hadar that guarded the ground level entrance to the control center. But even at worst, they’d still be able to gain access from the inside by following the path of the wires rather than having to fight their way in from the outside.

“I think we need to take a field trip,” Chief Shafir declared.

Sitting across the room, Commander Lewis watched the exchange quietly while cleaning his sidearm. He had been very worried about the Chief ever since she returned to the safehouse without Petty Officer Atwood. He knew how she thought, and he knew how she’d feel, because he’d feel exactly the same. It’s why he’d left her behind when they went out for the attempted rescue last night fearing she’d be too emotionally compromised. And thank god he had left her behind, because all she would have seen there was his execution.

Chief Shafir’s pivot from debilitating despair to constructive hope over this news was a good sign, but the Commander wasn’t convinced she was fully back in the game. If it turned out to be a false hope, she could succumb right back to her depressed stupor. He wouldn’t leave Lieutenant J.G. Morgan on the other end of that, nor let her hang herself out to dry by doing something foolish.

Commander Lewis picked up his sidearm and stood up. “I’ll join you for that field trip, Ayala.” He knew it would be best to keep eyes on her for a while still.

Comments

  • Between the narration of Ayala's thoughts, the way snippets of her dialogue betrayed her inner conflict, and the physical effect it was all having on her, you've written a dizzying portrayal of someone in intense emotional distress. I loved the combination of show and tell in the way you played out her arresting guilt. "What should have been an easy read for a woman who had spent her life learning to break into systems now looked utterly unintelligible now" is such relatable sense-memory to anyone who's tried to carry on carrying on after deep shock or terror. By following her journey towards trying to keep it together, it made the Treknobabble exposition go down really smoothly!

    May 19, 2023
  • Grief can be hard on anyone and I enjoyed the dialogue you built around how Ayala is grieving and how she feels it was her fault and she could have done better. She seemed annoyed that a team member was trying to get her attention for something that she really needed to see, from what they had found which made things look like Atwood didn't die in vain that they had gotten the information they were needing. You set the scene for what they may have been looking for all along and maybe they can get their mission done without having to storm the command center. I hope this plan works out, great job!

    May 20, 2023
  • And a way was found into the problem. It is great to see Ayala mind at work trying to analyze the data that she was given. Now they get ready to make the final showdown. The secretive 007 vibe your post are given is well placed and I am totally hooked onto it!

    May 20, 2023
  • Jake Lewis

    Squadron Intelligence Officer
    USS Serenity Commanding Officer

  • Ayala Shafir

    ASTRA Staff Researcher, Computational Systems
    Intelligence Specialist & Hazard Team Operator

  • Jace Morgan

    Deceased; Formerly
    Operations Officer
    Hazard Team Member