Part of USS Independence (Archive): Falls the Shadow and USS Endeavour: Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow – 14

XO's Quarters, USS Independence
March 2401
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‘I don’t know what you expect me to do about it, Cal.’ Rosewood reached across the corner desk in his quarters for his morning smoothie, and slouched back in his chair, still in his workout gear. ‘They won’t let me in to see him.’

The handsome features of Commander Harrian Cal on the small desktop console screen turned pensive. ‘You’re the XO.’

‘It’s as if,’ Rosewood drawled, ‘our cunning ploy of putting someone who used to serve on Endeavour on Independence didn’t escape Vornar’s suspicion. Look, Cal, this will all wash out. Hawthorne said that he can play chicken with Jericho’s backers, try to nail him on neglecting our treaty commitments with the Cardassians, and the whole thing will be made to go away because it’s more political trouble than it’s worth to hang Rourke out to dry for helping the only people who helped us.’

‘In a border conflict that Command’s trying to ignore,’ Harrian pointed out.

‘All the more reason to brush it under the carpet. Because the Cardassians won’t ignore it if a captain’s punished for helping them, and then we have an even bigger fuss. Don’t worry.’ Rosewood gave a toothy grin around his smoothie straw. ‘I have friends in the Union I can make sure will throw a tantrum.’

Only at Harrian’s neutral expression did Rosewood consider that bragging about Cardassian friends was maybe not the most circumspect thing to say to a Bajoran survivor of the Occupation. But if Harrian was bothered, he did not let on as he sighed and said, ‘Even if you’re right, none of that helps us now.’

‘No,’ Rosewood said, sobering and sitting up. ‘For now, Rourke’s stuck in the cell, and there’s nothing we can do about it. So much for our little network of the faithful.’

‘Which brings us to the mission. Independence has to take out those listening posts ASAP -’

‘I know, I know -’

‘Not just because everything needs to be done ASAP.’ Harrian’s lips thinned. ‘I’m not happy about taking the Independence off the board in the battle at Izar. Make sure Vornar gets it done quickly and then gets stuck in.’

‘I don’t expect Vornar to take the pretty route to war,’ Rosewood mused, then hesitated as Harrian’s expression didn’t move at all. He tilted his head, only to realise the connection had frozen, and a heartbeat later the image went dead, the screen flashing up with the Federation logo and the words SIGNAL LOST.

Trying to reconnect got him nowhere. Grumbling, Rosewood rushed through a shower and changed back into uniform, and was still sucking on his smoothie when he made it to the bridge. Vornar was nowhere in sight, and Commander Ra-Talorei surrendered the command chair on his arrival.

‘What’s happened with comms?’ asked Rosewood. ‘Is it the damn nebula?’

Ra-Talorei blinked, his long eyelashes brushing his pale cheeks. ‘The captain ordered a communications blackout ahead of the mission.’

‘Did he, now.’ Rosewood hesitated, then forced his usual sunny grin. ‘That’ll make sense. Even with this nebula, there’s no telling who’ll pick up our chatter on the approach.’

Ra-Talorei gave a small smirk, nevertheless. ‘Interrupted in an important conversation with someone, John?’

Lying could be more suspicious than the truth, sometimes. Rosewood shrugged. ‘Just Commander Harrian.’

Oh.’ Ra-Talorei’s smirk widened. ‘Just Commander Harrian.’

Over-egging the pudding didn’t help, though. Rosewood gave a short laugh and a dismissive wave of the hand. ‘Look, Mal, he’s pretty. But he’s the kind of guy who’s so deep in his head that after sex he’d probably cry or tell you he loves you, and nobody needs that.’ The crew of the Independence had been so serious since he’d come aboard, with the Efrosian science officer the most normal of the whole bunch, the one he could have a beer with and talk to on a personal level. For the rest, Rosewood had found that jokes, even overly-intimate ones, sometimes worked better than just being collegial. They could be shocked into bonding as a group.

It did make Ra-Talorei laugh as he returned to the science console, but as the atmosphere of business resumed on the bridge, Rosewood did not take the command chair. Instead, he headed for Lieutenant Hadrian, sat at Tactical. His smile softened as his voice dropped. ‘How’re you doing, Liv?’

She was always serious, but the frown marring her brow as she focused on her sensor readings, not looking up, was deeper than usual. ‘We won’t make the same mistake again, sir.’

‘You know losing track of the squadron against the Breen wasn’t your fault,’ Rosewood said softly. ‘Not from where I was sitting.’

‘I don’t -’

‘We took a bold approach and it didn’t pay off.’ He made sure to guard his own opinion on how Independence had been caught out of position on the ambush action, losing track of the squadron’s forces and only joining the engagement after Triumph and Nighthawk had taken a mauling. ‘You followed orders.’

Now she looked up, cold eyes even colder than normal. ‘If you’re worried what happened in the nebula will distract me, sir, you’re wrong. I know what I’m here to do.’

Rosewood opened his mouth to argue, but then the doors slid open and Commander Ramius Vornar stepped onto the bridge. ‘Status.’

Hadrian snapped around like she hadn’t been second-guessing her past actions, and Rosewood stepped back so she could address the captain clearly. ‘All systems operational, sir. We’re ready to begin.’

‘Good. To your posts.’

Rosewood slunk to Ops, just in front of Ra-Talorei at Science. Cautiously, he reached for the systems records to take a quick look at communications. They had indeed cut off all links outside the ship while he’d been in mid-conversation with Harrian Cal.

Were he a paranoid man, he’d worry about that.

‘Take us out from the squadron, Lieutenant Sovak,’ Vornar called to their young Vulcan helmsman. ‘You have our course.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Lieutenant Sovak confirmed crisply. ‘We exit the nebula in thirty-two minutes.’

‘Then,’ mused Rosewood, ‘we take out those listening posts.’

Vornar raised a hand, though, as if the chatter on the bridge was pettier than Rosewood felt it was. ‘We don’t get ahead of ourselves. Get us in position. One step at a time.’


If standard Starfleet-issue boots could wear a hole in a tritanium deck, Rourke felt he would have done so by now. He’d prowled his cell aboard Independence, cramped even by brig standards, like a caged animal. Even breaks for food had been spent on his feet, sitting down feeling like too much of a surrender.

Even though he had surrendered.

‘I need to talk to Vornar,’ he told the brig officer, not for the first time.

Not for the first time, the brig officer gave him an impassive look. ‘The captain knows. If he’s not here, he doesn’t want to speak to you.’

‘You haven’t,’ Rourke said roughly, ‘tried even once to contact him.’ Vornar had warned him about Jericho’s erratic behaviour, expressed apprehension before Endeavour had left the squadron. He was the squadron commander’s oldest ally, and he’d gone to Rourke with his worries, only for everything to escalate. Jericho had surely put Rourke here thinking he could trust Vornar, but if he could talk to him, make him see, then maybe…

The brig officer looked unimpressed. ‘I end my shift with a report to the Chief of Security. It noted your request. That’s up to Lieutenant Hadrian.’

‘Then let me,’ Rourke growled, ‘speak to Lieutenant Hadrian.’

The other man’s eyes went to a fixed point on the bulkhead. ‘I can’t. Orders.’

‘From who?’

‘Chain of command.’

‘You mean Lieutenant Hadrian.’ Rourke hesitated. ‘Lieutenant Hadrian, who was coordinating Independence’s manoeuvres alongside the rest of the squadron when the ship got lost in the nebula ahead of the Breen attack.’

Now the brig officer glared at him. ‘Are you blaming Lieutenant Hadrian even though your ship abandoned the squadron, sir?’

Rourke clenched his fists. ‘If you won’t let me talk to Hadrian, and you won’t let me talk to Vornar, what about Rosewood? At least try him. At least send a message.’

The brig officer hesitated, irritated but perhaps hoping for peace and quiet. Then came the rumble of the deck, and Rourke’s eyes lowered as he felt the tell-tale hum of the Independence going to warp.

The mission had begun.

The brig officer settled at that. ‘Nobody’s going to answer you right now.’


‘Bring us out of warp,’ Vornar called.

Rosewood turned, brow furrowed. They had only been at warp for forty minutes, and were barely out of the nebula. ‘Sir?’

But Sovak, of course, obeyed. Stars ceased their endless stream through the viewscreen, solidifying from sliding possibilities to stable, distant dots. Vornar nodded and looked at Ra-Talorei. ‘I want our lateral sensor array focusing on the trailing region beyond Izar. Level 1 scan.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Ra-Talorei, turning to focus despite his own confusion.

‘Sir,’ Rosewood pressed. ‘That’ll take an hour. The listening posts?’

‘There was a change of plans,’ Vornar said crisply. ‘Before we departed, Captain Jericho ordered Independence to hang back and watch the squadron’s rear. We’ve new intelligence suggesting the possibility of Dominion reinforcements coming from deeper into their territory.’ He glanced around the bridge. ‘I apologise for not informing you all. It happened quickly. But we protect the squadron a different way.’

Rosewood found his numb lips forming befuddled words before he could stop them. ‘Then why did the squadron Strat Ops officer mention our job to take out those listening posts minutes before we left?’

Vornar turned a dark eye on him. ‘Why were you talking to Commander Harrian?’

The conspiracy to back Rourke did not feel like the most important secret, but then again, Rourke was languishing in the brig. Even though Rosewood felt the situation on the bridge was more pressing, he still found himself lying effortlessly. ‘Well, he is very pretty.’

Half-lying, perhaps. He grimaced and shrugged. ‘It was just chit-chat, sir. I must have misunderstood him. We did get cut off.’ Still, he had to straighten, tense. ‘Who’s dealing with the listening posts?’

Vornar shrugged. ‘Captain Jericho’s assessment is that if we can stop forces from consolidating at Izar, it doesn’t matter if they see us coming.’

Rosewood could see the sense in that. In theory, at least; he was not a tactical officer, and he was certainly not a strategist at this scale. But the urgency that had rung through Harrian’s voice echoed now in him. He turned back to his console and reached to bring up the long-range sensor feed, but with Ra-Talorei’s refocus of the lateral array, readings from Izar – from the squadron – were limited.

Limited, but not much changed from anything the squadron had picked up before heading in. That there was a significant force to meet them, one which would now see them coming now, and be ready to stand against them. While one of their most powerful tactical ships held back, waiting for –

Nothing. There was nothing on Ra-Talorei’s scans. Something cold crawled up Rosewood’s back. ‘This doesn’t make sense,’ he muttered.

Vornar’s eyes snapped to him. ‘Is there a problem, Commander?’

Rosewood hesitated, then turned. ‘We’re not picking up anything on sensors. Why are we hanging back?’

‘We’re not picking up any reinforcements yet,’ Vornar said sternly.

‘Sir…’ Rosewood drew an apprehensive breath. ‘If the reinforcements are only a possibility, why hold Independence back?’

‘If they -’

‘Why,’ Rosewood interrupted, his heart thudding in his chest, ‘not hold back Nighthawk, with her superior sensor array and lesser tactical capabilities, to keep watch and raise the alarm while we get stuck in at Izar and engage?’

That caused a low rumble across the bridge, eyes turning from their consoles to their commanding officer. Vornar’s expression was thunderous for a heartbeat, then he let out a slow breath and raised his hands. ‘I want to be in the fight too, Commander. Everyone.’ He shook his head. ‘But these are my orders from the squadron commander. And I, unlike Captain Rourke, do not have the luxury of ignoring orders that impact the bigger picture just because I don’t understand it from my perspective on the ground. If sensors remain clear, we will go in.’

When? Rosewood wanted to ask, but he knew arguing more wouldn’t help. Vornar’s words rung true, anyway, for someone so loyal to Jericho. One commander had already disobeyed him. There was no space for another to do so.

‘Sorry, sir,’ he said instead. ‘Just don’t like sitting on my hands when there’s trouble afoot, I guess.’

‘Understood,’ Vornar said sternly. ‘Carry on.’

But when Rosewood turned back to his console, he didn’t only bring the sensor feeds back up, showing an indistinct buzz of activity around Izar and an absolute nothingness on the trailing side. Discreetly, his fingers danced across his control panel to bring up a third, small window of records from Independence’s internal systems.

And if his stomach had been tense before, what he saw now was enough to make it turn inside-out.


‘We’re out of warp too soon,’ Rourke mumbled, looking up.

The brig officer also looked slightly confused, but before he could tell Rourke to shut up, the doors slid open for another gold-uniformed officer to walk in. ‘You’re relieved,’ the new arrival said to the brig officer. ‘I’ll take over.’

The brig officer frowned. ‘I’m on shift for another four hours.’

The new arrival, a pasty human Rourke thought might have been a security officer who’d escorted him here when he’d been beamed aboard, shook his head. ‘Roster changes with the upcoming engagement. Lieutenant Hadrian’s orders. You get to stand by for boarding response instead of babysitting, O’Hare. Isn’t that better?’

O’Hare made a face. ‘Pick your poison, I guess. Alright. He’s all yours.’

Rourke gave the new security officer an amiable look as O’Hare left, and waited until the doors were shut before he offered his most winning and annoying smile. ‘Don’t suppose you’ll see if the captain, Commander Rosewood, or Lieutenant Hadrian will come down to speak to me?’

The last thing he expected was for the security officer to look at him, brighten, and say, ‘Sure!’ before walking over to lower the forcefield.

‘What -’

The security officer’s cooperation was enough to wrong-foot him completely. So it left Rourke completely stunned when, as the shimmering forcefield died, the officer drew his phaser pistol and levelled it at him in one smooth, unhesitating moment.

Rourke’s hands half-raised in surrender and surprise. ‘What the hell is this?’ He would never call himself a living lie detector, but he knew how to look for the tiniest micro-expressions, the slightest wavers in behaviour, tone of voice, facial expression, that suggested at least emotional turmoil, or apprehension, or excitement. It didn’t always give him the answers, but it gave him clues.

The security officer’s face wore not a single shred of feeling as he kept the phaser pistol trained on him. Even his voice sounded perfunctory, detached as he said, ‘It’s a pity,’ in a low, level voice. ‘That you’ll be killed trying to escape.’

Comments

  • The twists and turns of this story kept me wondering who was what and what was who - such an intricate and well-told narrative with the tension slowly but surely being tightened around the reader. I started wondering about dialogue choices when they dropped from warp early and immediately put on my deer-stalker hat to try and predict where this was going...and I was left with an open mouth at the end. I still don't know if there's more than one conspirator aboard, but I'm going to guess wildly yes and look forward to reading the next piece of this mission! Tightly paced and woven together really well.

    May 27, 2023
  • Man oh man, there are a dozen little twists going on here. I'm now no longer suspicious of Vornar but of any character on Independence we don't know! This is a fantastic setup for the disaster that's about to occur on a dozen different levels and I'm here for it! Vornar lying, Independence way out of place, Jericho who went along with the plan without any objection and Rourke getting a goo-person break out I bet...is the ship itself a Changeling at this point? This was wonderfully paced and a fantastic read!

    May 27, 2023