Check out our latest Fleet Action!

 

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

Falls the Shadow – 13

Conference Room, USS Triumph
March 2401
0 likes 445 views

Kosst hadn’t realised she was early to the conference room, but her keen social senses and diplomatic training told her she’d interrupted when she found Captain Jericho and Secretary Hale in an argument.

‘…will run this squadron as I see fit.’ Jericho’s words echoed off the bulkheads, enough to hit Kosst and Hale twice.

Hale, in contrast, was all poise; tall and gathered and unwavering as she stared Jericho down. ‘I am not seeking to overrule your judgement, Captain. But how will the Cardassian Union respond, do you think, when they learn that one of our officers was relieved of duty for rendering them assistance?’

‘For disobeying orders. Not for helping them.’

‘I doubt they will care for such a distinction.’

Jericho gave a smile that was more a grimace of bared teeth. ‘I leave such matters, as always, in your hands as a member of the Diplomatic Corps, Secretary.’

That made Hale shift a little. ‘To do that job, Captain, you need to include me in decision-making. By all means, choose to not follow my advice. If it’s your judgement that a diplomatic quagmire is yours to cause and me to deal with it, so be it. But we cannot stumble into such matters because we didn’t talk. Fundamentally, I should not have heard of Captain Rourke’s relieving of duty in the mess hall.’

Neither of them had reacted to Kosst’s presence, but if her keen training was telling her anything now, it was that neither one would back down. And they had a staff briefing. She cleared her throat and shifted her feet so the doors slid open again at her presence. If they wanted to pretend she’d only just arrived, that would be good enough.

‘Sorry for intruding,’ Kosst said, mostly sorry she was here and not ascending to the astral plane. ‘The others are on their way.’ She had no idea if the others were, but surely they had to be.

Their responses were mixed. Hale looked less frustrated at Kosst’s presence, more inclined to keep up the argument anyway, while Jericho looked irritated at her arrival but happy to use her to deflect. He waved a hand to one of the seats around the long table. ‘Captain. Gagneux is putting the coffee on.’ He looked up at Hale. ‘We can continue this later.’

But Hale took a seat at the table. ‘I think the best way to continue this, Captain, is for me to continue to be involved in these meetings.’

‘I don’t -’

‘So no military decisions are made that I will have to account to the people of Izar for later.’

Then the doors slid open to admit Malhotra, Shepherd, and Harrian, with Endeavour’s new skipper reporting that Vornar wasn’t far behind, and it was time to get to business. Ensign Gagneux served the coffees soon after, and Kosst settled down, knowing it was her duty to listen. Nighthawk filled in the gaps on operations like these.

Fleet Captain Jericho sat at the head of the table, but Commander Harrian stood before the central display and spoke first. ‘Izar. The biggest and oldest colony in the sector. The whole system has defensive systems in place, but resource management meant local security were keeping their eyes on the Breen and Kzinti borders – not the direction the Dominion came from. The Lost Fleet landed on them almost out of nowhere, and the governor was forced to surrender with hardly a shot being fired. Which means we are not expecting to liberate a war-ravaged colony, however harsh Dominion occupation must have been. But we are expecting to face a Federation world whose defensive systems will have been turned against us.’

Shepherd was chewing on her PADD stylus and had to pull it from her mouth to speak. ‘They can’t have stripped those systems away from our command software. Surely we’ve got the authorisation codes to take them back?’

‘One step at a time,’ Jericho warned, and looked to Harrian. ‘What’re we facing on arrival, Commander?’

Harrian inclined his head. ‘The Breen reinforcements were successfully intercepted and destroyed. The Dominion warships who crossed the border to engage the Cardassians were stopped from returning to Izar -’

‘There’s no telling,’ Malhotra blurted, ‘that they’d have even returned to Izar.’

Kosst’s breath caught at the young officer’s interruption, his dismissal of Endeavour’s action, but Commander Harrian stared him down without a word, and only when silence resumed did he continue. ‘Our efforts have been successful,’ he said briskly. ‘Dominion forces have been denied the chance to consolidate at Izar. We’ll be facing only the garrison left there when the Lost Fleet tried to push onward.’ The press of a button brought up the tactical map. ‘This is based only on long-range scans and our intelligence. But our observations remain limited by the Ciater Nebula.’

‘In short,’ Vornar mused, ‘we won’t know what we’re facing til we get there.’

‘Just so.’ Harrian nodded. ‘But our initial plan stands. Forty-eight hours to wait on Pathfinder to join the squadron. They have speed and a sophisticated sensor array; enough to navigate as close to Izar as possible from within the nebula’s shrouding to conduct a final survey – I cannot recommend any of our other ships attempt that; we’d have to get much, much closer than Pathfinder and we’re liable to be noticed. Once the intel has been confirmed, Pathfinder has the speed to take out listening posts, both Dominion and our own, we know are near Izar. Speed here is essential; we want to cover our actual approach but also blind them from other directions, so the Dominion don’t know our exact vector.’

He reached to the holographic display hovering in the middle of the table, and spun it to bring the view closer to Izar. ‘From there, the squadron closes in on the system. Independence deals with any weapon emplacements, while Endeavour and Triumph engage enemy starships. Nighthawk is to stay behind our lines and try to get a bead on where the Dominion are running the centralised control of Izar’s defence platforms. There are multiple Federation-built platforms it could be, or perhaps they’ve figured a way to run point from one of their ships. Once identified, Triumph escorts an assault wing of our support craft to drop a boarding team on this location, and we restore control of the system defences.’

Kosst tilted her head. ‘If we want those system defences to help us, then we better not blow up too many of them.’

‘Just so,’ Harrian said again. ‘Independence will clear a field for us upon our arrival and we make only a cursory effort to advance past enemy ships that engage us. The point is to tie up their forces and buy your officers time to trace the control signal.’

Shepherd leaned forward. ‘And what if the Dominion keep their ships back and let us hang out at the edge of the system? They can sit tight and force us to come to them through all their defences.’

‘Except there are multiple potential control points of the defence infrastructure across the system, and there’s no way the Dominion can keep it active and completely locked up against Federation access codes. If they let us run riot around, say, the moons of Izar VII, then a Starfleet systems engineer worth their salt can probably wrestle at least a section of the defences back under our control through the central mining station.’

‘They have to come to us,’ Jericho rumbled, cutting up the speculation of more junior commanders. ‘Izar’s system defences are a double-edged sword to them. They’re only a weapon against us if they protect them.’

‘It’ll be hard work for us to find an appropriate control point and fight our way to it,’ Harrian agreed. ‘And any landing party is no doubt going to have to face a garrison of Jem’Hadar soldiers.’

Kosst sucked her teeth. ‘Who’s leading that?’

Jericho looked to Malhotra. ‘You should put Kharth on that.’

But Endeavour’s new CO shifted his weight. ‘I’ve taken Shep’s advice to keep her at Tactical,’ he said awkwardly.

‘I’ll be leading it,’ said Shep, leaning forward and looking Jericho in the eye with a slight tilt of the chin.

He narrowed his eyes. ‘You’re leading the support wing -’

‘I’ll be on the King Arthur, coordinating the runabouts and fighters,’ she agreed. ‘Who will then be pressing on to secure the target. At that point, the plan rather is, “keep the bad guys off our asses while we save the whole system,” and I’m sure Lieutenant Tyderian can run that show. We’re sending in security officers to face down Jem’Hadar soldiers. A senior officer needs to be with them.’

Jericho shook his head. ‘I don’t -’

‘Are you sending Commander Ranicus or Lieutenant Sterlah?’ she challenged, and at his silence, pressed on. ‘Endeavour is down her CO and XO on the bridge, which is why I insisted Kharth stays where she is. Nighthawk doesn’t have a spare officer with experience, and Independence is going to start this action strung out and alone. We’re thin on the ground, and this is the best call.’

Kosst ground her teeth as she listened. It was a grim reckoning; Brennos would have been well-suited to such a task, but it left Nighthawk with no redundancies. He was her tactical officer, and if something happened to her, the only person aboard who could assume command. The idea of forcing Fox or Percian into the centre seat at a time like that was laughable.

At length, Jericho leaned back in the chair. ‘Alright. Put boots on the ground, Shep.’

‘I can advise,’ interjected Hale in a gentle but clear voice, ‘that you take Lieutenant Rhade with you, Commander. His service at Agarath was exceptional.’

‘I wanted him on Endeavour,’ Shep sighed, ‘but you make a good point.’

‘Someone has to watch your back,’ she agreed.

Jericho cleared his throat. ‘Thank you for the briefing, Commander Harrian,’ he said, like he’d not been disagreed with and nearly overruled. ‘Once Pathfinder –

‘If I may.’ Vornar sat up, hands clasped before him. ‘I don’t think we should wait for Pathfinder.’ At the looks he received, he grimaced. ‘Pathfinder is already behind schedule. They need to find us in the nebula. The longer we stay here, the more likely the Dominion will find us – the more time they have to realise what happened to the Breen reinforcements and come looking.’

‘The more time,’ Kosst ventured, ‘to conduct repairs.’

But Vornar looked to Jericho, and Kosst’s spine tensed as she realised something unspoken was rumbling between them that she could not sense. ‘Let Independence perform Pathfinder’s part of the plan. We can take out the listening posts and rendezvous with the squadron. This isn’t a task you want to trust Commander Valance with.’

That made Hale sit up, less poised and more intent. ‘Karana Valance is an excellent officer with an excellent combat record.’

Nothing Kosst had ever heard of Commander Karana Valance made her doubt her suitability for this mission, but they’d never met. Kosst’s eyes swept up and down the table, checking the other officers for their opinions, only to realise that Valance had left Endeavour without working with any of them. She’d been Rourke’s strong right hand for years, and Matt Rourke wasn’t here.

Her eyes flickered back to Jericho. Surely not…

Jericho gave a slow nod, scowling. ‘Ramius is right. We can’t wait for them.’ He nodded to his old XO. ‘Independence can take out the early warning systems. Nighthawk, you’re on the weapon emplacements alongside the support ships. Keep them off our backs while we engage the starships.’

And trace the command signal,’ Kosst checked, keeping her voice toneless.

‘That’s a job for one officer.’

He was right, but Kosst couldn’t help but conceive of the myriad of things that could go wrong. If Nighthawk was heavily engaged, that meant power systems reallocation when this task, this major task, needed sensitive and sophisticated sensors and computer systems. But she was catastrophising, she knew; Nighthawk was not as fast or sturdy as a Defiant-class, but she could take the heat.

She had to.

‘I would like to suggest a secondary objective for the boarding team,’ Hale said, cutting through the tension and looking to Shep. ‘To, if at all possible, secure control of system-wide comms to transmit a message to the people of Izar.’

‘They’ll see we’re here,’ Jericho said, frowning. ‘We can say “hello” when it’s over.’

Over is a strong word when, as you say, there will be Dominion forces garrisoned across the system. A call to action once we have a secure foothold could turn the tide.’

‘They’re civilians -’

‘In a war-zone,’ Hale pressed. ‘Many of whom have worked and lived in Izar their whole lives. Are you telling me that miners have not been waiting for the right time to turn their knowledge of a platform’s systems against the Jem’Hadar to lock their guards out? That traffic controllers couldn’t gridlock New Seattle at the press of a button? That all these people would not be prepared and willing to disrupt all efforts from the Dominion to respond to our arrival?’

Jericho planted his hands on the table. ‘I will not ask these people to take up arms against trained soldiers.’

‘I have no intention of telling them what to do,’ said Hale coolly. ‘I expect occupation has made that decision for them. But we can tell them that now is the time to do it. Now is when it will count. Now is when you will not be alone. And if you would like, Captain, I can compose and record a message so it is coming from a government official. So nobody can accuse Starfleet of deputising civilians.’

His eyes remained on her. ‘You talked just earlier about avoiding diplomatic messes.’

‘I think,’ Hale said lightly, ‘my point was that we should make informed messes.’

Harrian cleared his throat as the two argued. ‘If we are intent on not waiting for Pathfinder, I will need to fine-tune our plan.’

Jericho didn’t look at him as he drummed his fingers on the desk. ‘We’re intent,’ he said at last. ‘Run some numbers. Put them on my desk in six hours. I want us departing in twelve.’ Now he looked down at the officers, and Kosst’s back remained tense as she remembered she was not, in fact, the most junior captain in the room. That was Krish Malhotra, who’d had so little to say on such a major plan, who’d been put in his position over Shepherd, who’d to Kosst’s eyes had demonstrated how much more steel she had in her veins in just this meeting.

But then again, this war would not be won by words.

‘Finish repairs,’ Jericho said to her. ‘Endeavour will provide support and material, since they came out so unscathed saving Cardassians. And anyone who’s not making the ship ready to go should get some sleep.

‘Tomorrow, we take Izar.’

Comments

  • The scene setting in this post granted a clear understanding of what lays before our heroes without giving away too much about how it will unfold. The dialogue was rich with uncertainty, and the back and forth between the officers reinforced this, imbuing a true sense of the fog of war and the tough questions commanders must grapple with as they plan for battle. As someone who is doing a story with a planetary defense network, I appreciated your treatment of a system-wide one and the “double-edged sword” it creates. That multi-dimensionality adds depth, where it’s a terrifying weapon used against you, but it can also be a powerful weapon for you. Finally, from a character development perspective, Hale stole the show for me. The interplay up front was solid, but it got great in the discussion around messaging to the colonists, the ethical debate, and the final zinger: “we should make informed messes.” The stage is now set!

    May 24, 2023
  • So, there was a plan, a good plan even, to wait for more ships, more help and execute an attack with each ship playing a carefully balanced action for the benefit of all, and at the suggestion of a single officer to jump the gun and launch early, Jericho goes with it? I mean I get that he doesn't like the Rourke clique and therefore doesn't like Valance, but why? And why did Vornar suggest it? Or that his ship take the scouting role? Sounds a bit suspicious to me. I'm watching you Vornar. As for Hale, I love that she's still fighting. It sounds to me like she's laying the groundwork to politically bury Jericho one day. Make him utterly toxic that eventually someone in Command will realise the only place he's suited for is the Gorn border. And Kosst's read on Krish is on point. His XO, who Jericho says he trusts but I doubt, just showed up Jericho in his own meeting. Is silence some internal recognition that maybe he knows he's in over his head finally?

    May 25, 2023
  • Vornar is a changeling - my gut is telling me he is in the right place with the right words and the right chance to manipulate Jericho in making some stupid decisions (though he wouldn't realise it) - also wasn't the Independence the last to come out in time to help out the rest of the squadron against the Breen? If so, I smell morphogenic enzymes at play here!! Finally, you go Hale! You stand up for your man! You go girl, put Jericho back in his spot and do whatever it takes to rescue/save Rourke and bring him back into the fold!! Gotta love a bit of romantic incentive when it comes to such tense matters.

    May 27, 2023