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

Falls the Shadow – 17

Bridge, USS Independence
March 2401
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He’d hoped he was wrong. Hoped there’d been some last-second update on intel that reached Jericho before it reached Harrian. That this was why Harrian had been talking about Independence’s original mission while Vornar came to the bridge and told them they had new orders.

But the Independence’s communications records, blazing quietly on the small window in the corner of Rosewood’s screen at the operations console, was clear. Rosewood’s conversation with Harrian on Endeavour was the only communication between Independence and another squadron starship in the thirty minutes before the comms blackout. And there were no signs of any communications between Vornar and Jericho for hours.

This meant either something was wrong with Harrian to make him unprofessionally unaware of critical mission updates, or something was wrong with Vornar.

Rosewood looked at the sensor readings from Ra-Talorei’s scans for the umpteenth time. There was no sign of any forces coming from the trailing reaches of Dominion-held territory. Izar, on the other hand, remained a hotbed of activity. Of battle. Battle they were far, far away from.

He stood from his console and gave Ra-Talorei an emotionless grimace of a smile at the science officer’s look, a thin, flimsy mask of reassurance. But it was to Vornar he stepped, padding to the captain’s side and leaning down so he could speak without being overheard. ‘Sir, there’s still nothing on sensors,’ he said quietly.

Vornar’s fist curled. ‘I know, Commander.’

‘Izar is -’

The captain’s head snapped around. ‘Are you unable to perform your duty, Commander?’ This was said louder; loud enough for the rest of the bridge crew to hear. Rosewood had hoped to keep this a conversation between captain and first officer, but Vornar was forcing his hand as he pressed on. ‘Because if this assignment is untenable for you, you don’t have to be here.’

Rosewood’s eyes flickered about the bridge crew. At Ra-Talorei, sympathetic but guarded; at Sovak, inscrutably Vulcan. At Livia Hadrian, glaring at him for speaking up against the captain but, he hoped, he hoped, sharing all of his discomfort at sitting on their hands. He drew an awkward breath and said, in a normal volume, ‘Captain, I spoke with Commander Harrian immediately before the communications blackout, and he impressed upon me the urgency of our assignment to destroy the listening posts ahead of the squadron making contact with the enemy at Izar.’

‘You’re not -’

‘And our communications records make abundantly clear this was the only contact we received from another squadron ship for a long time, so tell me, sir -’ When the hell did Jericho supposedly tell you to sit us on our asses? But Rosewood’s jaw clamped shut, his training forcing him to a different route. ‘Why did the Strategic Operations Officer of the squadron not know the plan?’

Vornar stared at him for several thudding heartbeats, dark eyes almost black. ‘I can’t speak for Commander Harrian. Why should I? I take my orders from Captain Jericho.’

‘Sir!’ Rosewood rocked back on his heels. ‘The squadron is fighting and dying at Izar, while we’re looking for reinforcements that aren’t coming. We shouldn’t even be the ones keeping watch – sir, someone gave you bad orders –

Vornar shot to his feet. Rosewood had never thought of him as a particularly big man, but the presence he was now positively oozing was enough to cut him off mid-tirade. ‘This is not the USS Endeavour. Here, we follow orders. I don’t care what Harrian thinks is going on. Now.’ His jaw set. ‘Are you going to sit your ass down and do your job, or do I need to relieve you of duty?’

Rosewood’s breath caught, and he found himself throwing another look about the bridge. The die was cast, and all he could do now was double down or fold. Around him stood officers who had served with Vornar for months or years, served under a captain who did not tolerate even the slightest creak of poor discipline. But through them hummed the same discontent that blazed in him. He wouldn’t know without pushing if they’d support him, or if he’d find himself in a cell next to Rourke.

Rosewood opened his mouth and wasn’t sure what he was going to say until the words spilt out. ‘I -’


‘- don’t know who sent you.’ Rourke tried to keep his voice low and calm. ‘But you don’t want to do this. It’s Ingram, right? That’s your name?’

But the security officer with a phaser pistol in his face didn’t bat an eyelid at the effort to reach out, establish a sense of familiarity. ‘Security footage will show a glitch on the delivery of your evening meal that brought the forcefield down. An unfortunate consequence of the strain on the power grid by the high-level scan the ship’s conducting on the trailing sector. It won’t stand up to long-term scrutiny by the time there’s an inquiry, but that won’t matter -’

‘I’m a Starfleet officer, like you -’

‘Or there won’t be enough left of this ship for anyone to investigate. Either way. Once your ships are shattered at Izar, you, Captain Rourke, cannot be in a position to rally any survivors. So whether anyone believes you took advantage of the forcefield lowering to jump me, grab my phaser, set it to high power before I wrestled it back and was forced to shoot… is irrelevant.’

It was hard to summon distinct emotional reactions with a phaser shoved in your face, but Rourke knew nausea brought on by terror when it writhed in his gut. ‘Oh,’ was all he managed to say. Beckett was right. Son of a bitch.

If he hadn’t been exceptionally lucky, those would have been his last words and thoughts. But instead, the brig doors slid open, and the burly shape of O’Hare stomped back in, scowling.

‘Didn’t do the handover paperwork, Ingram; Hadrian will -’

Ingram’s phaser snapped over, and the shot blasted a hole in O’Hare. The security officer’s scowl barely had time to shift even an inch into surprise as his body toppled over, hitting the deck with a thump. But that was all Rourke needed, instincts acting faster than his brain.

Move. Or die.

His fist lashed out, and only at the last millisecond did he realise hitting Ingram’s wrist could be pointless. So he put more force into it, smacked the phaser pistol itself, and sent it flying out of Ingram’s grip and clattering across the brig’s deck. All he could do then was pivot away and race after it.

Ingram didn’t move. Or, rather, Rourke didn’t hear the impact of Ingram’s feet even as he threw himself towards the phaser pistol metres away. And still, as he hit the deck, arms outstretched, he felt an iron grip wrap around his ankle.

Look back, and you die. Move. Move.

There was no time for confusion, no time for questions. His fingertips brushed the phaser’s grip, but whatever had a hold of his ankle – tight, muscular, strong – wasn’t giving him so much as an inch. Rourke had to kick forward with his free foot to give himself the centimetre he needed, and his hand nestled around the phaser pistol just as he was yanked down.

He spun onto his back, knowing what he’d see and still wholly unprepared for the sight of Ingram, steel-faced and emotionless as his warped, impossibly elongated, tentacled arms dragged Rourke across the deck towards him.

The phaser was already on its highest setting as Rourke snapped it up and fired. He did not stop shooting until the dragging stopped, the pressure in his ankle eased, and the Changeling that had worn the face of Petty Officer Ingram collapsed to the deck in a pile of melting ooze.

Alarms should have been blaring at the discharge of weapons in the brig, but those had been disabled, too. Rourke knew his legs were too shaky to be trusted, so he stayed down, dragging himself to O’Hare’s corpse so he could grab the security officer’s combadge.

‘Rourke to bridge.’ His voice came out both raspy and higher-pitched than he’d expected, exhausted and borderline hysterical. ‘A Changeling just killed O’Hare and tried to murder me in my cell. It’s dead, but – we’ve got a big goddamn problem.’

There were infinite problems, in fact, and he couldn’t see a solution to any. Except one, as Rourke let himself collapse on his back on the deck, chest heaving, and knowing that in minutes, adrenaline would call in significant debt for keeping him alive once again.


Rourke’s voice echoed across the bridge, and anything Rosewood would have said was lost in the swell of horror rushing over them all. Vornar, still on his feet, rounded on Hadrian. ‘Lieutenant, you better get down there.’

Hadrian stood, but Rosewood brought up a hand. ‘Hang on.’ His eyes stayed on Vornar. ‘Changelings. Changelings have infiltrated the squadron. Sir, we’re arguing right now about incomprehensible orders that have hung the other ships out to dry. How can you trust them?’

Vornar tilted his head. ‘Are you suggesting that with a Changeling confirmed aboard, I should disobey orders and take Independence into a firefight? We need to investigate this. See if Rourke’s lying –

‘- then how did he get a combadge?’

‘- and proceed with caution, Commander -’

‘Sir, when did Captain Jericho order the change in battle plan?’ The challenge came out of Rosewood in a thunderous deluge, his fist clenching. ‘You didn’t speak to him for hours before we departed!’

Hadrian had been moving slowly to the turbolift, following orders but keeping one eye on the argument. This stopped her dead, and she was not alone as all eyes on the bridge fixed on Commander Vornar.

Vornar looked at her. ‘Lieutenant, I told you to see to Rourke.’

Send someone,’ Rosewood told her instead.

She worked her jaw, faltering. Then tapped her combadge. ‘Hadrian to Security Team One. Report to the brig. Secure the situation. And escort Captain Rourke to the bridge.’

Vornar’s expression wavered, and then he turned sharply back to Rosewood. ‘What are you suggesting, Commander? That I’m a Changeling? That Captain Jericho is a Changeling?’ He waved a hand at the bridge crew. ‘I could throw this accusation at Commander Rosewood – undermining my authority in a moment of crisis.’

‘Except,’ Rosewood said quickly, ‘Mal, you can confirm the comms records. Go on, show everyone.’ His chest eased an iota as Ra-Talorei cooperated, and the viewscreen display changed for the evidence that had made Rosewood begin to really, really doubt. ‘Except that you, sir, ordered the approach on the Breen strike force that brought us to the fight late -’

Vornar raised a sharp finger. ‘Don’t do this, Commander -’

‘That meant Triumph and Nighthawk took far heavier losses than they should -’

‘I am not responsible for Captain Rourke’s dissent or…’ Vornar hesitated. ‘Or for bridge officers’ miscalculations in navigating the Ciater Nebula.’

‘Are you saying this was Sovak’s fault, or Hadrian’s fault?’ Rosewood looked at them, aghast. ‘You both know that’s not true. I’m not talking about your self-doubt or your fear. You both know that a bad call was made, but you’re Starfleet officers, and you’re trained to take responsibility. Even when it’s not your mistake.’ As they reeled at that, he looked again to Ra-Talorei. ‘Commander, end the trailing scan. Give us sensor readings of Izar.’

Ra-Talorei looked to Vornar, but did turn back to his science controls and obeyed. Rosewood felt his breathing come easier. This was the dice rolling he knew – not demanding everyone throw their lot in with him at once. But incremental steps. Hadrian could be slow to go to the brig, or send others to investigate, rather than defying Vornar entirely. Ra-Talorei could look deeper into the questions Rosewood knew he was asking himself, gather evidence without outright disobeying.

Small steps they could live with. Making them ready if they needed to take a big one.

But the sensor feed of Izar that blossomed across the viewscreen either made this a tiny, easy step, or a fathomless abyss.

Invictus,’ Hadrian breathed. ‘They’re dying out there.’

Vornar’s expression did not change an iota. ‘You all need to stand down,’ he said coldly. ‘That’s an order.’ Rosewood had to force himself to not hold his breath as their commanding officer’s presence rippled across the bridge, ringing with an authority that some of them had obeyed for years.

And nobody moved. Sovak sat at Helm but with his chair still facing the centre. Ra-Talorei continued to scan and feed the sensor data from the battle back to them. And Lieutenant Hadrian stood with her hands by her side – near, Rosewood noticed, the phaser holstered at her hip.

It wasn’t a victory, not yet. But it wasn’t defeat. Rosewood drew a deep breath as he regarded Vornar. ‘We need to go to Izar.’

‘He needs,’ came a new voice, accompanied by the whoosh of turbolift doors, ‘to surrender himself to a full medical scan.’

They all turned at the arrival of the dishevelled figure of Matt Rourke, flanked by two security officers who looked like they were escorting rather than guarding him. The looks on their faces were briefing enough. The report of a Changeling had been no lie.

Rourke’s eyes on Vornar were cold, despite how shaken he looked. ‘You put your ship out of position in Ciater, manipulated me to distrust Jericho, then you had me brought aboard Independence where I could be murdered. Now we’re sitting doing nothing while Starfleet’s losing the Battle of Izar.’

Rosewood felt his heart quaver in his chest as he said, voice ashen, ‘Lieutenant Hadrian, take Commander Vornar into custody.’

Victory, he thought as Hadrian drew her phaser.

Then everything twisted. Or so it felt as for a moment his perspective on the room warped, distorted. Until he realised, it was not the room, but Vornar.

The figure that had been Ramius Vornar rushed down into a mass of liquid, collapsing into a puddle on the deck. Rourke shouted for them to open fire, but Hadrian, perhaps leery of shooting across the bridge, aimed too high. Then the Changeling erupted upwards, catapulting itself for the ventilation shaft in the bulkhead, and before any security officer could scramble to grab or aim a phaser, he was gone.

There was a moment where John Rosewood realised everyone was looking at him. He waved. ‘Uh. Red alert?’ Then, openly, he looked at Rourke.

Without hesitating, the veteran captain surged to the centre of the bridge. ‘Red alert! Put this ship on lockdown. All hands hold position; nobody goes wandering around. Security teams to deploy in pairs. Find him!’ That brought a flurry of activity, the panicked and shocked crew of the Independence responding to a voice that sounded certain.

Rosewood spun with relief back to his post at Ops, but almost at once hissed an oath. ‘Captain, we’ve got a shuttle launching. One life sign aboard, indistinct.’

‘Tractor beam it, Lieutenant Hadrian,’ Rourke called coolly. ‘There’s no telling how much he’s been able to communicate with his superiors; we can’t let him get away.’

‘Sir, I -’ Hadrian sounded venomous in her frustration. ‘I’m locked out from tactical operations. Trying to restore control.’

‘He’s away,’ Rosewood called urgently. ‘Hitting full impulse.’

‘Follow,’ Rourke said to Sovak, and the Independence did, at least, obey her helmsman.

‘He’s powering up his warp drive!’

Hadrian!’

‘I’m getting there, sir, but -’

‘Incoming ship!’ called Ra-Talorei, and everyone’s hearts lunged into their throats until he said, ‘Starfleet transponder!’

Then the sight of the viewscreen was filled not with the tiny shuttle holding a Changeling infiltrator trying to escape, but the Starfleet vessel dropping out of warp to block its route.

Rourke gave a short, sharp bark of satisfaction. ‘Mister Rosewood, tell them to stop that ship.’

‘Aye, sir!’ Rosewood called. Mere seconds later, the light blue cone of a tractor beam settled around the shuttle. There would be no escape for their Changeling foe from the new arrival; this sleek, lean explorer with her auspicious sense of timing and a sense of place that made her truly worthy of her name.

Pathfinder.

Comments

  • YAY!!!! Pathfinder finally joins the party!! WOOP WOOP!! Finally, we can see a bit of ass-kicking delivered by the one and only Commander Karana Valance. Please and thank you! Wow, that was a great revelation; I was literally holding my breath during that entire part where Rourke was fighting for his life. And is that Rourke back in command (not of Endeavour) but back in the centre chair, at least? I'm enjoying the development for Rosewood here; he has definitely come a long way since his early days on the Endeavour and from where he and Rourke were having their little alpha-male moment back when dealing with the Romulans. Please, can we have more?!

    May 30, 2023
  • Woot! Go, Pathfinder! Finally joining in and perfect timing! Man things went from one extreme to the next very quickly and really had me almost falling out of my chair as I was reading. Rosewood was gutsy to call him out, to stand his ground and get the people to follow his orders. Just as Rourke comes onto the bridge and with the truth out the Changeling is forced to retreat though he doesn't get away. The Pathfinder stopping that shuttle from leaving! I can't wait to see what happens next! How will they explain things to Jericho once they get to Izar to help him to find that Rourke is in Command and that Vornar was a Changeling? So many questions!

    May 30, 2023
  • Did someone order a dramatic cavalry rescue with a side order of pissed-off Klingons? Pathfinder's arrival is perfect! I was wondering when they'd show up after their initial piece towards the start and the wait was starting to get to me. Saving their entrance for this was a masterful stroke. I really enjoyed the whole bridge scene with Rosewood slowly dropping facts, slowly turning the bridge crew to his side. A wonderful little piece of suspense that was delightful to read. Now that Rourke has a ship under his feet again and Valance at his side, guess the rest of us can all go home now yes?

    May 31, 2023