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

Ruminations of the Long Night

Trachyte Tavern Safehouse, Nasera City
Mission Day 11 - 1930 Hours
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As minutes turned to an hour, and an hour turned to many, he began to worry. Chief Petty Officer Shafir should have returned by now. While blasting and polishing sheets of duranium at the mill to maintain his cover, Commander Lewis would steal an occasional look at the stairs, hoping to see her reemerge. But she never did.

When the last block was blasted and polished, and the work was finally done well after the sun had fallen, the weary workers began to filter out of the mill. Commander Lewis followed them out. He had no choice. If he lingered, the Jem’Hadar would wonder why. He glanced back at the staircase one last time as the Jem’Hadar locked the heavy metal doors of the mill for the night.

If Ayala Shafir returned now, she was on her own.

As Commander Lewis made his circuitous trip back to the safehouse, his mind was on Ayala Shafir. He shouldn’t have let her go down there alone. He should have kept a better eye on her. That had been the whole reason he’d gone on this little field trip with her. But it had all felt so natural, the two of them traipsing around in a hostile environment like old times again. Ayala Shafir was one of the best he’d ever worked with. From Cardassia to Luria to Narendra, they’d gone everywhere together during their years in private enterprise, and she’d never faltered. That bias had led him to create a distraction for her to go down into the tunnels, rather than devise one for the both of them to descend together. That was a mistake in judgment. He should have been there covering her back. He knew she was emotionally compromised.

Had he just committed the same sin that she was burdened by? Had he just failed to protect someone that was depending on him? Now he had a sense for how she felt when she’d split with Petty Officer Atwood, only for him to wind up dead. Please let Ayala not suffer the same fate, he thought to himself.

Commander Lewis stepped into the safehouse.

“Damn boss, you look like you’ve gone native,” laughed Lieutenant Commander Brock Jordan, noting the thick duranium particulate caked across Lewis’ skin, the dust congealed with dry sweat in what looked like a craggy exoskeleton. Lewis hadn’t even noticed it. He was exhausted after a day at the mill, and his mind was elsewhere. “Where’s Ayala?” Jordan asked.

“She went down into the tunnels around 1500 hours.”

“That’s a little over five hours ago, Jake.”

“I know.” Even though the Commander was a master of hiding his emotions, in this moment, his expression betrayed his thoughts.

“You’re worried, aren’t you?”

“Ayala knows how to handle herself,” he assured Jordan. Ayala had managed to escape the Jem’Hadar yesterday, and she’d do it again today. At least that’s what he told himself. She’d gotten out of difficult spots dozens of times before. He was ready to change the subject though. “How’d everyone else’s missions go today?”

“Hall and Kora, they continued to build their relationship with the dad and the fiance,” the Lieutenant Commander explained, referencing the colonists their twisted psychologist had taken advantage of after the public execution of a girl they loved. “They‘ve talked to their friends, and it’s shaping up to be a small army of angry colonists ready to rise up against their occupiers and storm the governor’s mansion. T’Aer also went out. She did some scouting of the mansion, and she’s drafting assault plans now.”

Commander Lewis nodded. That was all good news. While the mansion wasn’t a primary objective of theirs from the outset, if they could capture the Vorta, it might give them an opportunity to avoid a prolonged ground battle to expel the Jem’Hadar. Plus, he’d love to get some revenge for Petty Officer Atwood.

“Ryssehl and Crewman Nam aren’t back yet, but as I understand it, they did manage to get enlisted as part of a maintenance crew for the orbital station.”

The orbital station, if the Dominion realized the battle was lost, had enough firepower on it to level Nasera City. By proportionality, it would make the genocide of Cardassia look mild. The fact his demolitionists had engineered a reason to get up there was more good news.

“And Grok has scheduled debarkation for two nights from now, right after the Polaris is scheduled to arrive,” Lieutenant Commander Jordan continued. “It will give him a plausible reason to be at his ship throughout the evening.”

Grok had an essential role to play. If all went according to plan, they’d be executing three simultaneous direct action operations in tight coordination, right as the Polaris and her sister ships arrived. They needed someone running comms and quarterbacking to make sure  everything happened at exactly the right time. If the Dominion believed that Grok was just prepping his ship for departure, they wouldn’t think anything of him sitting there aboard the Lucre for hours on end. That was natural on departure day, prepping the ship for takeoff.

“So we’re really just waiting on Shafir to confirm if we have a way into the control center,” Lieutenant Commander Jordan concluded.

“And for Ryssehl and Nam to get back,” Lewis added, trying to keep his thoughts off Ayala. Plus, it was fair to be concerned about them too. A spacewalk with faulty equipment and a novice squad was dangerous, even with the deep experience Ryssehl and Nam had in zero-G.

Right then, there was a knock at the door.

Ensign Rel, who sat by the door on guard duty, shouldered her rifle and leveled it as Commander Lewis opened the door. Lewis was conflicted on who he hoped it was more, for all three of the remaining operators out there meant something to him. 

He was greeted by the smiling face of his Andorian friend. Ryssehl stepped through, followed by Crewman Nam, and then Lewis shut the door. As happy as he was to see the pair, he realized  that he was really hoping it was Ayala.

“We have a way in,” Ryssehl said excitedly. “We’re gonna make that big hunk of metal go boom.” As usual, that thought really got his blue blood going. Meanwhile, Crewman Nam just walked wordlessly into the other room.

“What’s up with Nam?” Lewis asked after Nam had closed the door behind him.

“Struggling with the death of a civvie up there,” Ryssehl replied in a detached tone. It was tragic for sure, but it was also expected under the circumstances. He’d tried to help the poor welder, but that was all he could do. “The dude, never having even gone off world before, forgot to magnetize his boots when he stepped out of the airlock.”

“Oooof.”

“Yep, Nam tried to save him but to no avail. It was a rough afternoon. Nam was pretty shaken up after,” Ryssehl explained. “I think his feelings got all mixed up with everything that happened yesterday. Atwood’s execution still weighs heavily on him.”

“As it does on us all,” replied Commander Lewis, a hint of regret showing on his face. But it only lasted a moment, as conviction then overtook it. “But that doesn’t mean we slow down for even a moment. The Polaris, and the folks here, they’re depending on us. So we push forward.”

Ryssehl, Lieutenant Commander Brock Jordan and Ensign Elyssia Rel, the three standing there in the atrium with him, nodded in agreement. They understood the stakes, and they were ready to push forward.

“Everyone else back for the night yet?” Ryssehl asked. He and Nam had left first thing in the morning for the maintenance pit so the activities of the day were unknown to him.

“Everyone except Ayala,” Lewis answered.

“Where is she?”

“She went down into a set of old maintenance tunnels that should get us under the control center,” Lewis explained, not offering any of his concerns even to one of his closest friends.

“She’s out there solo?” The Andorian was a bit surprised. That didn’t align with how Lewis liked to operate, especially given what Ayala Shafir had just been through. Before he left this morning, Ryssehl had noted how the Chief Petty Officer was stewing in the corner. She didn’t look like she was in a good place, and certainly not one to conduct a solo op.

“I had to create a distraction for her to get down there.” Again, the Commander omitted his concerns. He didn’t want to get into them. Not now at least. “She’ll be fine. She knows what she’s doing.” Lewis said it convincingly, but he didn’t really believe it in his heart. He was very worried.

Ryssehl suspected there was more, but he knew better than to press. The three small talked for a bit, and then Ryssehl and Jordan went off to the bedroom to get some rest after the long day. Lewis wasn’t ready for that though. Not until Ayala was home. He took a seat at the door with Ensign Rel and waited.

The minutes passed by and turned into an hour.

“You’re worried about her, aren’t you?” asked the young ensign. She was on door duty this evening. He didn’t have to be here with her, yet here he sat. Commander Lewis always had a very closed off demeanor, more so than almost anyone she’d ever met, but tonight his eyes uncharacteristically gave away his internal struggle.

“I worry about all of you.”

“There’s something special about her though.”

Lewis paused for a moment. He’d never thought of it that way. But now that he did, yes, there was something special about Ayala. He’d found the girl at her lowest low. She wasn’t like T’Aer or Grok or Ryssehl, who’d joined Sebold Logistics for thrills and meaningful work. Ayala had joined their outfit looking for purpose after she’d lost herself. The year she spent deep cover, playing a terrorist so convincingly she began to fool even herself, had scarred her to her core. Lewis had helped her find purpose again, to find herself again, watching her blossom into an incredible operator. Now that he thought about it, he regarded Ayala a bit like a father regarded a daughter. That was a different sort of relationship than he had with the others. “Yes, I suppose there is.”

“She had you as a mentor Commander,” Ensign Rel said warmly. “I’m sure she’s gonna make it home alright.” The young Trill flight controller grabbed hold of the surly old warrior’s calloused hand, and she held it compassionately. It was an odd sensation for a man who viewed his hands as a tool for killing. But, strange as it was to him, her touch helped.

Another hour passed, and then finally a knock at the door. 

Ensign Rel barely had time to stand up and shoulder her rifle before Commander Lewis had the door open. Standing there, looking like she’d just been through hell, was Chief Petty Officer Ayala Shafir.

“Ayala,” Commander Lewis said, relief flooding through him. “You look like crap.” Gone was the weakness of worry. Now he was once again his usual sarcastic shooter self.

“You always look like crap Jake,” she replied with a meek smile.

“What happened?”

“I found it, Jake. I fucking found it.” She collapsed on the sofa out of sheer exhaustion, both mental and physical. “Jace was right. The hardlines run through the tunnels and roll up to a network switch in the basement of the control center. That switch is the key. I could have turned the entire planetary defense system off tonight if I’d wanted. There wasn’t a soul down there.”

“Just like a truffle?”

“Crunchy exterior, gooey interior,” Chief Shafir laughed, her first smile in hours. It was an inside joke the two had about the ridiculously stupid yet overly common approach to security where one would fortify the outside but leave the interior completely unguarded. It made it easy to wreak havoc if you found a way in, as Ayala so often did. As she had again tonight.

“Then we have all the pieces to pull this off. Hall and Kora have cooked the locals into a frenzy. T’Aer’s prepped our approach routes. Ryssehl and Nam have got a way up to the orbital platform. Grok has a cover story to quarterback from the Lucre. And you’ve got our way into the control center,” Lewis summarized. “I’ll join you for it day after tomorrow.”

“No, you won’t.”

Lewis frowned. Did she feel he’d betrayed her, whatever it was that had happened down there?

“You won’t fit, those bulky shoulders of yours,” Ayala explained. She also knew she didn’t need their best shooter for this, at least not as much as the others would during their assault. “Elyssia, I think you are coming with me.” She looked over the slender figure of the young Trill, sizing her up. She was certainly small enough to fit. “And Jake, if you insist on sending one of your boys, Brock might be able to pull it. He doesn’t bulk up in the gym like you do. But tell him not to eat breakfast, because it’s going to be a tight squeeze.”

Commander Lewis didn’t like the idea. He wanted to be with Ayala to make up for the guilt he felt for abandoning her today. But logically, it didn’t make sense to go with her. The Chief’s part of the mission should be straightforward. She had a way in, and an unguarded one at that. She’d probably have the orbital defense system hacked and be long gone before the Dominion even realized. Lieutenant Commander Brock Jordan would be able to support them. The correct tactical choice was for Commander Lewis to be with the assault team storming the governor’s mansion. He’d be most valuable in that bloodbath. And besides, he did want to shoot that Vorta square between the eyes and watch as its life faded away.

“Very well. If you take Brock, you’ve got a deal.”

With that, Lewis turned and headed for the bedroom. Now he could rest. Ayala was safe. Ryssehl and Nam were safe. They were all safe. For tonight at least. The day after tomorrow, anything could happen. They had their plan, and they’d do their duty, but there was no promise any of them would come home.

“You didn’t tell him where you’ve been the last six hours,” Ensign Rel said once the Commander had disappeared into the bedroom.

“I was in the tunnels.”

“Come on Ayala. You could have crawled twelve blocks, checked out the control center, and then crawled back the way you came, in an hour or less.” Ensign Rel’s bright blue eyes gazed straight into the weary soul of the Chief. She could see the pain in her heart. “What happened down there?”

“I cracked,” admitted Shafir. “But down there for hours with nothing but dust, shadows and my inner demons, I remembered I don’t care. I remembered that we’ll all just be stardust someday.” Suddenly, a darkness came over her entire being, one that spooked the young ensign. “And until that day comes, I am Sayidat Alfawdaa, the lady of chaos,” Shafir said in a chilling tone, using the name from her criminal days. “And I will murder these bastards, or die trying.”

Comments

  • I love the emotional arc of this chapter. I'm impressed by how it works as a bit of storytelling, all its own, apart from where it fits in the wider narrative. Lewis' inner monologue worked as such a compelling bit of emotive writing; I felt my anxiety rise with him the longer Ayala stayed missing. I felt that same hesitation when she proposed going with Elyssia and maybe Brock, because Lewis' state was written so clearly. And then you got in that final gut punch with Ayala admitting what took her so long, and her words are heartbreaking.

    May 23, 2023
  • Throughout the whole post I was worried about Shafir not coming out of those tunnels alive, the emotions that build up on Lewis was getting bigger by the minute. It felt like time was slowing down on him waiting for Shafir to come back. There are many risks in this mission, the station, the tunnels and the mansion....will it work is the question.

    May 28, 2023
  • I have to agree with Kohl on this one I enjoyed the emotion you carved into this chapter, how Lewis was worried about Shafir. Regret set in wishing he had gone with her if he made the right decision even in the state of mind she was currently in. The longer it took for her to return my heart started to pound wondering if something bad had happened to her, if she was caught. Then hit relief when she returned unharmed, and as Kohl put it that final gut punch as she admitted to why she took so long and the words were a bit more heartbreaking to hear than I hoped. How will this all play out? Will things go as planned? I can't wait to read what happens next!

    May 29, 2023
  • Jake Lewis

    Squadron Intelligence Officer
    USS Serenity Commanding Officer

  • Ayala Shafir

    Intelligence & Computer Systems Specialist
    Hazard Team Member

  • Elyssia Rel

    Flight Control Officer
    Hazard Team Member

  • Brock Jordan

    Deceased; Formerly
    Assistant Chief Intelligence Officer
    Hazard Team Deputy Lead

  • Ryssehl Th'zathol

    Deceased; Formerly
    Private Contractor & CEO
    Sebold Logistics