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

Unraveling in Darkness

Nasera City and Nasera Orbital Station
Mission Day 11 - 1430 Hours
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Time was running out. The covert team needed solutions. In three days time, the USS Polaris and her sister ships would arrive. If either the planetary defense system or the orbital station still remained under Dominion control, it would be a bloodbath.

Deep in the heart of Nasera City, and high in the skies above, two pairs of operators worked carefully but quickly. Commander Jake Lewis and Chief Petty Officer Ayala Shafir, dressed in dregs, slowly made their way across the city towards the control center for the planetary defense system; meanwhile, fresh out of the wielding pits, Ryssehl Th’zathol and Crewman Nam Jae-Sun boarded the orbital station and donned ragtag spacesuits to do hull work for their Dominion overlords. None of the operators had any illusion this work was safe. They’d lost a colleague just yesterday. They had to push through their guilt, their grief and their fears though. The clock was ticking. If they didn’t take these risks, many more would die.

Shafir and Lewis turned the corner and saw a large duranium mill before them. They recognized it from the old maps. This mill had once been connected via a utility shaft to a factory that once stood where the control center now stood. If Lieutenant J.G. Morgan’s hypothesis was correct, these tunnels would provide access to the control center without the team having to shoot their way through a company of Jem’Hadar guards.

The mill was busy. They could hear the grind of gears as duranium slabs were carved into smooth surfaces to be used for the hulls of Dominion warships. Their mission wasn’t to stop that production today though. Instead, their mission was to make sure that the entire industrial capacity of Nasera II would no longer be in the hands of the Dominion in just a few short days.

“Do we risk it?” Chief Shafir asked quietly as they looked at the mill. It was the first time she’d gone out since the Jem’Hadar had caught Petty Officer Atwood, and she could feel the doubt creeping into every decision.

“Yes, time is short,” replied Commander Lewis firmly. “And this will be a cakewalk.” 

The fact that the Chief hesitated worried the Commander. This was so simple. Blending into a crowded room shouldn’t have qualified as anything more than a regular day in the life of Ayala Shafir. This was a woman who spent years breaking into things, as a hacker, a Starfleet officer, a private contractor, and then a Starfleet officer again. If she doubted herself here, how would she fare when something actually hard happened?

Together, the two meandered their way towards the factory. As they stepped inside, a Jem’Hadar guard spotted them immediately.

“You two! What are you doing? Why are you not working?”

“We just had to get some food,” Commander Lewis answered casually.

“The work will not complete itself,” the Jem’Hadar insisted. “Get back to it!” These weak-blooded humans had such pathetic needs. He, on the other hand, needed nothing but the White for sustenance. That was genetic superiority.

“Yes, we’re sorry,” Lewis apologized, bowing his head subserviently. The two hurried into the mill as instructed.

To ensure they drew no attention, Commander Lewis and Chief Shafir made themselves busy. Although no one knew who they were, no one thought anything of the new arrivals either. The workers at the mill were just thankful to have the extra hands as, until they filled their daily production quota, none of them would be allowed to go home. And new faces were not uncommon. Since the Dominion had taken over, new people appeared all the time in factories and mills across the city. Non-productive workers, like doctors, educators, and entertainers, had all been converted into productive ones, like miners, refiners and assemblers.

Each time they’d cut or polish a block of duranium, Lewis and Shafir would move deeper into the mill. From time to time, they’d glance around, looking for any hints of how to access the sub basement. It took nearly half an hour, their progress slow to avoid drawing suspicion, but eventually they reached an old stairwell that matched what the blueprints had indicated would lead to their destination.

“You see it?” Lewis asked under his breath as he blasted through a duranium block with a hyperkinetic driver.

“Yeah, but we’re not going to get down there without a distraction,” Shafir whispered back. This time, it wasn’t hesitance though. It was just a fact. The Jem’Hadar watched over the mill like hawks. If two people suddenly bolted down a stairwell to nowhere, they’d be noticed instantly.

“I’ll handle that, and you go ahead without me,” Lewis replied, slipping back into old habits, trusting Shafir like he had in the past, forgetting his concerns over her current state. And without another word, he disappeared into the crowd.

A couple minutes later, a hoverlift carrying a large duranium block suddenly accelerated to full speed, flying through a crowd of overworked laborers. Bodies dove out of the way as the hoverlift ran straight through several workstations and collided with a structural wall. It was pandemonium, the wall partially collapsing, workstations completely obliterated, and people struggling to get back to their feet. What the hell had just happened?

The eyes of everyone, Jem’Hadar included, were on that crashed hoverlift. The Jem’Hadar swarmed from above, suspecting sabotage. What they found though was just an older man in the midst of a seizure, now also bleeding from the crash.

A factory worker pushed his way through the gathered crowd. “Let me through, let me through,” he begged. “I’m a doctor.” But then he ran straight into the burly chest of a Jem’Hadar soldier, who blocked his path and stared him down. “That man, he’s suffering a tonic-clonic seizure and blunt force trauma. Let me help him.”

“That man just set this factory back hours in its production goals.”

“And so we’ll work harder after,” the doctor pleaded. “But please let me help him now.” The Dominion might have turned the doctor into a metalworker, claiming his former occupation provided no value to the Dominion, but he could not turn his back on someone deep in medical distress. That meant nothing to the Jem’Hadar though.

“No, get back to work!”

The Jem’Hadar soldier shoved the barrel of his polaron rifle into the doctor’s chest, but the doctor just stood there. He feared for his life, but he could not abandon his duty as a healer. 

Before anyone had to find out how the Jem’Hadar would take his insolence, another man emerged from the crowd, stepping between the two. “Let him help the old man,” Commander Lewis said calmly, looking the Jem’Hadar in the eye. “It will be good for morale, and morale helps productivity.” He glanced at the damage the careening hoverlift had just caused. “Plus, we need all the able bodied men we have here if we’re going to get all this done today.”

The Jem’Hadar looked him over. “Who are you?”

“Just someone who wants to see everyone go home tonight,” Lewis replied with a tone that perfectly balanced exhaustion and remorse.

“Very well, but be quick about it,” the Jem’Hadar begrudgingly agreed. He could see the logic in it. Right now, the entire duranium mill was all just standing their idle, and humans had this strange fascination with life. Maybe if the doctor was allowed to work, the rest of them would move on from this distraction. “As long as all the rest of you get back to work!”

The doctor was allowed to pass, the Jem’Hadar returned to their guard posts, and the workers rushed back to their stations to repair the damage and get the machines going again.

Commander Lewis breathed a sigh of relief as he returned to a duranium blasting station. He’d hit the driver with a neurolytic agent, but he hadn’t quite anticipated how close he’d come to killing the man. He didn’t want innocents to die. He’d just wanted a big enough scene to draw the focus of the Dominion.

In all the commotion, no one noticed a lithe young woman slipping away down an old stairwell into a forgotten sub basement.

High above the scene in the factory, a team of five nervous metalworkers prepared for a spacewalk. Aboard the orbital station that the Dominion had turned into a weapons platform, their task this afternoon would be to repair structural damage to two stabilizing pylons. 

Ryssehl Th’zathol made his way around their group of five, checking and adjusting the seals of their suits. Besides his partner Crewman Nam Jae-Sun, it was clear that none had ever so much as put on a spacesuit before.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” one of the metalworkers was saying as he shook uncontrollably. “I’ve never even traveled off the surface of Nasera before.” 

Ryssehl grabbed the newbie by the wrist firmly to help him get his shakes under control. “It will be ok. Just follow my lead and we all come home,” he insisted as he looked the man square in the eyes. He could see terror on his face.

“I… I… I’ve just been a welder my whole life,” the man lamented.

“And you’re just going to be doing some more welding today,” Ryssehl assured him. “Don’t rush it. Slow is safe. We walk out there, we patch the pylons, and then we walk back.” Even as he said it, Ryssehl could sense a dangerous fear in this man. Fear led to mistakes, and fear could kill you. He just hoped he’d be able to help this man return home tonight.

Behind them, their Jem’Hadar guard was amused. These colonists were so weak and feeble. Just like the Andorian, he had a sense of how today’s story would unwind. Although it was interesting to him that two of these dregs seemed to have at least some degree of competence with a spacesuit. “Where’d you learn about space, blue skin?” the Jem’Hadar asked.

“Used to work maintenance on my dad’s freighter as a boy,” Ryssehl answered nonchalantly. It wasn’t exactly true. His dad was an ice fisher. He did have plenty of experience in the weightlessness of space though. He worked as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician for Starfleet until he was dishonorably discharged for recklessness, and then he worked demo for the Maquis and other borderlands freedom fighters after that. This was natural to him, both the simple hull work today and the larger battle for freedom before them.

“Hmmm, then maybe you can actually be useful,” the Jem’Hadar remarked. “Unlike the last group we had up here. They didn’t do their job, and they didn’t last long.”

The soldier looked around, noting everyone finally had their suits on.

“So now hurry up and get out there! The pylons don’t weld themselves.”

As the airlock opened, the welder Ryssehl had just coached took his first step into space. But his boots didn’t lock onto the hull. Instead, the momentum of that first step caused him to immediately begin floating away from the station. He reached out to grab onto anything, but all his fingers caught was empty vacuum.

“He forgot to activate his mag boots!” shouted Crewman Nam Jae-Sun as he unspooled a safety line and tossed it to his partner Ryssehl. The moment the Andorian had a hold of the line, Nam kicked off, launching himself towards the flailing body of the man drifting into space. 

Fifteen meters apart, then ten meters, then five. So close. He was going to save this guy. But then the line went taut. There was no more slack. It was at the limit of its length. He stretched as far as he could, but the man was just beyond his reach. For a moment, the Starfleet crewman made eye contact with the welder. He could see the terror in his eyes as he realized what was going to happen to him. But then the man’s face rotated out of view as he kept drifting away.

“Noooooo!” shouted the Starfleet crewman as Ryssehl began to pull him back with the line.

“You tried,” Ryssehl said as his partner drifted up alongside him on the hull next to the airlock.

“Help us go get him!” Nam shouted as he pounded on the airlock. But the Jem’Hadar on the other side just stood there looking at him. He either wasn’t on their comms channel or he simply didn’t care. Or both. Through the window of the airlock, he could see a slightest hint of amusement on the Jem’Hadar’s face.

“Those sick monsters!” Nam exclaimed. “This is some sadistic, twisted game they’re playing, sending people up here with no training to do this work!” As he looked out, he could see the figure of the helpless man growing smaller and smaller as he drifted further away into the blackness of space. And then he was no longer visible. Nam let out an exasperated cry.

“Just relax,” Ryssehl said calmly. They were here to do a job. They would not save every life, and if they tried, they’d probably just end up dead too. “Let’s just get this done.” He had to admit this whole thing was strange. It was grossly inefficient for the Dominion to send untrained people out like this. If it wasn’t for him and his partner, how many dozens of colonists would they have gone through before they actually got this hull work done?

Crewman Nam Jae-Sun, for his sake, couldn’t shake that last look the man had given him as he drifted away. It was a look of pure desperation, the realization you were going to die. And then he flashed back to the look in Petty Officer Atwood’s eyes as he lay on the concrete right before the Jem’Hadar executed him. It was that same look. Suddenly, he wondered if they were all going to end up that way. What the hell were they doing here? This was insane.

Far beneath them, Chief Ayala Shafir shimmied her way through the utility tunnels under Nasera City. The tunnels were pitch black, no lighting whatsoever besides the dim glow of her tricorder, and the tunnels were a tight fit even for her lithe frame, barely wide enough for her petite shoulders and only high enough for a labored crawl. They were passable though, and if they could get her under the control center, that was all that mattered.

Underground in the dark with no reference points, it was easy to lose your bearings. Even the tricorder struggled, the ferrous composition of Nasera’s subsurface interfering with its magnometers. Ayala tried to keep her head on straight. She needed to remember the path she was taking so she could get back later, and she needed to stay oriented enough to actually keep moving in the right direction towards where the control center was. But the further she went into the spiderweb of dark tunnels, the more difficult it became.

Five minutes into navigating dark, narrow tunnels, she felt fear. Five minutes later, fear became terror. And five minutes after that, as she came to yet another junction in the spiderweb of tunnels, debating which way to turn, she froze. How many junctions had she passed? She’d lost count. What direction was she going? She wasn’t sure. She was lost. How would she find her way out of here? She was going to die down here.

“Knock it off Ayala,” she muttered to herself in the darkness. She wasn’t afraid of death. But now suddenly she was. And she was talking to herself too. This wasn’t normal. She began to shake, began to feel the walls closing in around her, began to panic, her breathing becoming fast and labored. 

Just like Crewman Nam high above, down in the tunnels beneath Nasera City, Chief Shafir was unraveling.

Comments

  • The tension is building up, the infiltration team is getting one blow after another but it feels like you are there with them in every step they take. It is much fun to read as it sucks you into the story so deep. Well done, I hope they succeed and not loose more people damn it :P

    May 20, 2023
  • Jake Lewis

    Squadron Intelligence Officer
    USS Serenity Commanding Officer

  • Ayala Shafir

    Intelligence & Computer Systems Specialist
    Hazard Team Member

  • Ryssehl Th'zathol

    Deceased; Formerly
    Private Contractor & CEO
    Sebold Logistics