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

Does It Ever Get Easier?

SS Lucre, Nasera Municipal Spaceport
Mission Day 13 - 2000 Hours
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“Admiral Reyes asked if you’d meet her downtown.”

“Only if there’s another Vorta that needs to be shot,” Commander Lewis replied coldly. They’d just been through hell, and he was not ready to be a Starfleet officer again just yet.

“Figured as much. Told her you’d call her when you were ready,” Grok knew how his old boss would feel right now because he felt the same way. They’d lost too many friends today, and so much blood had been spilled. You couldn’t just go straight back to being normal after that.

“Tell the team to meet at the Lucre,” Lewis instructed.

“Understood. See you soon.”

By the time Commander Lewis, Dr. Hall and Lieutenant J.G. Morgan stepped into the hold, the rest of the team had already found their way back to the musky Ferengi merchant ship where their crucible had begun nine days earlier.

T’Aer, Grok, Chief Shafir and Ensign Rel sat there, silent in their own thoughts, reliving what had unfolded, trying to process it all. The mission had started simple enough. They had slipped past the eyes of the Dominion with ease. But then the Jem’Hadar caught Petty Officer Atwood. From there, it was all downhill. In the end, they had accomplished their mission, and the citizens of Nasera II were once again free, but victory had come at a heavy price.

“How is everyone holding up?” the Commander asked, breaking the silence. The aged veteran knew the importance of this part. You locked your feelings and emotions up during the heat of battle, but in the quiet afterwards, they came roaring back with a vengeance. Just like the Jem’Hadar, you could only face your inner demons head on.

“Like shit boss,” replied Chief Shafir. “Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. We always say we won’t leave a man behind, but I didn’t bring Brock home. I buried him beneath the control center.”

“There was no choice,” Ensign Rel interjected. She had been there in the tunnels when Shafir had to make the impossible choice. “The Jem’Hadar had him. Any way you slice it, he was a dead man walking. And if you hadn’t done it, thousands more would have died.” There really had been no choice. If she hadn’t blown the control center, the Dominion would have regained control of the planetary defense grid, and they would have turned it against Polaris Squadron.

“Why couldn’t it have been me in there instead of him?” sobbed the Chief Shafir.

“It is far harder to be the one that survives,” Lewis observed grimly. He knew it too well. Again and again, he’d buried his friends, and tonight he was no different. The Commander thought back to his times traipsing across the borderlands with Ryssehl as private contractors, and to the two years he spent building the Polaris’ intelligence department with Lieutenant Commander Brock Jordan. Together, he had shared the majority of his last ten years with those two men, but now their stories were over, and his story would have to go on without them.

“Does it even get easier Commander?” asked Lieutenant Morgan.

“Does what get easier?”

“Any of it. The killing, the loss, the lines we cross. Does any of it ever get easier?” The things they’d been through on Nasera, the things he’d been a part of, Lieutenant Morgan didn’t know if he’d ever sleep again. Not only had they lost friends, but they had tortured and then murdered a restrained captive. Sure, it was a Vorta, but that was still a war crime.

“Easier? No. It always sucks,” Lewis admitted. “But you learn how to live with the suck.”

Dr. Lisa Hall didn’t agree, although she kept her thoughts to herself. She’d hardly been a teenager before it stopped hurting, but that was because she gave up on humanity altogether. Commander Lewis was a stone cold killer and a pragmatist willing to cross any line for the good of the mission, but at his core, he was still someone who deeply cared. In fact, Dr. Hall was fairly certain that care lay at the core of everything their Commander did. She was the odd one out because she really didn’t care. Some would call her sociopathic, but she preferred to think of herself as realistic.

“Ryssehl did at least go out doing the thing he loved the most,” Grok offered with a meek smile, shifting the conversation to their friend who had given his life to blow the orbital platform before it could unleash a genocide-level orbital bombardment upon Nasera City.

“Yes, he did love his explosions over all else,” agreed T’Aer. Even her Vulcan stoicism couldn’t fully mask the sadness in her soul.

Commander Lewis smiled. They were right. Ryssehl had gone out exactly as he would have wanted, in a blaze of glory lighting up the night’s sky as he triggered the chain reaction of a thousand warheads. He was probably in his element all the way to his last breath. Crewman Nam Jae-Sun on the other hand, Commander Lewis really wondered how he had felt. The kid wasn’t a day past thirty, full of youthful energy, positivity and kindness. Ryssehl, like Lewis, knew what he was getting into, but Nam Jae-Sun, and Brock Jordan, Kora Tal and Jason Atwood for that matter, it was unlikely they truly understood. He deeply regretted it had been necessary to put them on the firing line.

“At least Brock also knew he had made a difference,” Ensign Rel volunteered.

“Yes, that he did,” agreed Grok, his eyes coming to life as he recalled the scene. “You should have seen it from here, the planetary defense system all coming online at once, a dozen platforms firing in synchronicity. It was like the entire sky was filled with fire as everything lanced towards the Fleet. I’ll bet it gave Reyes quite a scare.”

“She didn’t know the mad lady over here was behind the controls,” Rel laughed, looking at the Chief. “Ayala, you were really in your element at that moment.”

“I thought of it as a final salute for Jason,” Ayala Shafir shared, acknowledging their fallen colleague who had died by Jem’Hadar hands a couple days earlier. “It gave some closure to use what he had discovered to burn them all to the ground.” Right before Petty Officer Jason Atwood had been captured, he had collected readings on his tricorder that had made it all possible. Without those readings, the mission most likely wouldn’t have succeeded.

As the minutes ticked by, the team continued to talk through their feelings and process their grief. Slowly, grief turned towards stories of the good times with those no longer with them, but the undertones of their pain remained.

Eventually, Grok rose and went over to a storage crate. He returned with a bottle of Chech’tluth. The Klingon beverage seemed apt for the moment, a potent liquor frequently enjoyed by the warrior race after the battle was won. He poured a glass for each of the men and women who had survived the crucible with him.

“A toast to our dearly departed,” the Ferengi said as he raised his goblet.

“To Jason Atwood,” offered Ayala Shafir, “who didn’t give up, no matter what they put him through, and who kept his Texan resolve through the very end.” The Petty Officer’s last words had been ‘I will not break’, and he had never broken, even at the very end as the Vorta stood over him and the Jem’Hadar delivered the killing blow.

“To Kora Tal,” offered Jace Morgan, who’d been there when she died. “A healer and a warrior whose convictions never waivered, and who held onto her compassion until her very last breath.” Lieutenant Kora’s very last act had been to make sure Commander Lewis was okay.

“To Nam Jae-Sun,” offered Lisa Hall, recognizing the young man who died alongside Ryssehl aboard the orbital station. “Who, while the youngest of us all, was full of respect and goodness, and who did what had to be done.” He had lived true to the Korean translation of his name.

“To Ryssehl,” offered T’Aer. “Who gave his life to save sixteen hundred Starfleet officers, even after Starfleet had long turned its back on him.” Three decades prior, Starfleet had dishonorably discharged a young explosive ordnance disposal technician who tonight had sacrificed himself to save them all.

“To Brock,” offered Elyssia Rel, knowing Ayala Shafir wouldn’t have the words. “Who died so we could live. He made sure we got out first, and he defended our retreat to the very end.” Elyssia flashed back to that moment when they’d made eye contact as the Jem’Hadar swarmed Jordan. His last words had been him urging her to flee.

“And to all those who answered the call tonight, sworn officers and civilians alike, who answered the call and made the ultimate sacrifice tonight,” Commander Lewis concluded as he raised his glass. “Tonight, we mourn, and tomorrow, in their honor, we rise to answer the call once more.”

The smoke wafting from the brim was like the souls of the fallen drifting away, and the burn of the liquor matched the pain they felt inside. Seven glasses clinked, and together they drank.

The conversation continued as the night waned, but eventually the bottle was empty, and exhaustion began to take root. The team had been on high alert for nine days straight, and with adrenaline no longer carrying them, they had nothing left but fumes.

Commander Lewis turned to Grok and T’Aer: “You guys are heading out tomorrow?”

“These hands,” laughed Grok. “Do they look like the hands of someone who rebuilds things?” The Ferengi could crack a joke even in the darkest of moments.

“We have a lot to sort out with the firm,” T’Aer clarified. “Without Ryssehl, I anticipate a great deal more paperwork for me to do.” Not only had the Andorian been their friend, but he was also the CEO of Sebold Logistics. Without him, that fantasy Grok had of T’Aer as his bookkeeper might actually come true.

“Besides, do you think all those fleeters, or the colonists for that matter, really want the two of us hanging around?” asked Grok. The Ferengi were persona non grata in the Lost Fleet crisis, as his people had no issue selling to both sides, and from the Fleet perspective, Sebold Logistics was viewed as a vigilante paramilitary. “These are your people, not ours.”

Commander Lewis nodded.

“But do give us a ring next time there’s something to shoot,” T’Aer added with the slightest of a smile. She’d done good today, as she always did, and she’d answer when her dear friend once again called on her.

Commander Lewis turned to his officers. There was one more matter that he needed to address with them before they returned to the ship. 

“Listen up folks,” the Commander said as he gathered what remained of his Hazard Team. “When you get back to the Polaris, it will feel foreign. The clean corridors, the sterile surfaces, and most of all, those bright, chipper officers who cannot comprehend the nightmare you lived. That is normal. You’re going to feel very alone, like no one gets you. That is normal. But if you need someone to talk to, you have me, and you have each other.”

“And my door is always open,” Dr. Hall offered. “I may not come off as a sweet shoulder to cry on, but we went through this together, and I am here for you.” There was a committed compassion in her voice that was very uncharacteristic for her, but she meant it. Everyone in the hold of the Ferengi trawler had earned her respect tonight.

“This was a shitshow, no way around it,” Commander Lewis continued. “But we achieved victory. We accomplished the mission. Eight million colonists sleep free tonight because of what we did. That is what counts. There are things we did down here that the others will not understand, and I encourage you – no, I ask you – to keep it between us.”

They all understood what he was saying.

“And if anyone badgers you about what happened here, whether it’s your friends, your colleagues, the JAG, or hell, even the Admiral herself, you send them to me.” The conviction in his voice was palpable. They all knew Commander Lewis meant it. He’d once been a young shooter, on the wrong side of those that didn’t understand, and he would not let them go through that. It wasn’t fair. “I, and I alone, will answer for what we did. You all have better things to do.”

He had no doubt there would be questions. Admiral Reyes would probably leave them alone. She had once been in their shoes. But there’d be others who wouldn’t be so understanding.

“You all made me proud today.”

Commander Lewis raised his hand in a salute, a sign of respect he had for the team that had put everything on the line. They stared into his eyes, taking it in, and in unison, they returned that salute.

“Lewis to Polaris. Four to beam up.”

“You’re not coming with us?” asked Ensign Rel curiously.

“No, I need to take a walk first,” he replied. “Get some fresh air.”

“Polaris, make that three to beam up,” Rel said over the link. Lewis looked at her inquisitively. “I could use some fresh air myself.” But more than that, after he had put his trust in her, she wanted to be there for him. She could see the burden he carried.

As Dr. Hall, Lieutenant Morgan, and Chief Shafir disappeared in a shimmer of light, and as Grok and T’Aer rose to start preparing the SS Lucre for departure, Commander Lewis and Ensign Rel set off into the night.

Comments

  • A wonderful and dramatic conclusion of the team efforts put into a summary of their deeds and actions to be remember for what they had done and what price they had to pay. A position that no officers in Starfleet will understand until they witness the very thing themselves, this will haunt them for some time and change them forever. But the question begs, will this victory be enough to outweight the needs of the many?

    May 29, 2023
  • What an absolutely delightful post. Just a bunch of maniacs and war criminals chilling in a Ferengi barge, reminiscing about the time they killed a Vorta and put their careers on the line. So, just the usual then. It feels like a dark version of Lord of the Rings, and I think we are seeing the foundation of a great fellowship here. I loved every second of it. Could this be the beginning of the end for Lewis, though?

    May 31, 2023
  • I enjoyed this chapter it showed the different characters and how each of them was feeling after all of what they had gone through. The toast to each one lost was a nice touch, even reminiscing of the past. Though grief is going to be a long process for each of them I am sure they will get through this together as a team. It was as if I will feeling the pain a long with them as I read this story, you made it feel real on so many levels. Great job!

    June 3, 2023
  • Jake Lewis

    Squadron Intelligence Officer
    USS Serenity Commanding Officer

  • Lisa Hall, Ph.D.

    ASTRA Lead, Cultural & Psychological Research
    Chief Counseling Officer

  • Ayala Shafir

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

  • Elyssia Rel

    USS Ingenuity Chief Flight Control Officer

  • T'Aer

    Private Contractor
    Sebold Logistics

  • Grok

    Private Contractor
    Sebold Logistics

  • Jace Morgan

    Deceased; Formerly
    Operations Officer
    Hazard Team Member