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

Falls the Shadow – 19

Bridge, USS Endeavour
March 2401
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‘Long-range emplacements disabled.’ Airex’s triumphant, relieved call felt like it had come after a thousand years, but the battle could not have been raging more than an hour. Or thirty hours. Kharth wasn’t sure.

‘Alright.’ Malhotra didn’t sound very sure of anything as he scrubbed his face with his hand. Before them on the viewscreen pulsed the main tactical map, giving the horrifying view of the battle of Izar, an engagement that had already spiralled out of control. Around them hovered the small dots of their support wing and the larger dots of the Jem’Hadar fighters, while nearby was the dull, faded dot of the downed Nighthawk. Deeper into the system, the dots of the Jem’Hadar battlecruisers and the USS Triumph sat atop each other, their engagement unresolved.

‘Alright,’ Malhotra repeated at last. ‘Only a few emplacements left, then; lock on with torpedoes and take them out -’

‘We don’t need to,’ Kharth found herself snapping over the captain. ‘We just move away, sir. The remaining emplacements won’t have the range as we get deeper into the system.’

As Malhotra reeled again, Lindgren called out. ‘Orders from Captain Jericho. We’re to wrap up the fighters and move to support Triumph.’

Malhotra looked at the map, and his lips moved wordlessly for a moment. ‘They’ve been in that fight for too long,’ he murmured. Then he frowned and shook his head. ‘Get me Shep.’

Lindgren pursed her lips but obeyed, and the viewscreen changed to the crimson-bathed cockpit of the King Arthur. It looked like they’d taken a few hits themselves, Shep already rather dishevelled. ‘Little busy here, Krish!

‘I need your runabouts and fighter flights to take out the Jem’Hadar fighters,’ Malhotra said, clearly trying to be cool and commanding. Kharth didn’t buy it. ‘We’ve got to help Triumph.’

Help Triumph? Triumph can do this all day – you do know the Jem’Hadar fighters aren’t, like, Valkyries, Krish; they’re escorts –

‘We have to protect the flagship,’ Malhotra said plainly. ‘You have your orders. Endeavour out.’

‘You know,’ Kharth said in a flat voice as the viewscreen winked back to the tactical map, ‘she doesn’t take orders from you.’

‘She doesn’t have to. We’re going in. Whitaker, disengage us from the Jem’Hadar fighters and take us in to join Triumph against those battlecruisers.’

Lindgren had a finger to her ear as she winced and listened. ‘Sir, Commander Shepherd is vociferously complaining.’

‘If we don’t take those cruisers down,’ Malhotra snapped, ‘this is all over.’


On the Triumph’s bridge, Jericho leaned forward and frowned at the tactical map. ‘What is he doing?’

‘Coming to join us.’ Commander Ranicus’s voice was tense. ‘It would seem Captain Malhotra’s assessed that the support wing can manage the Jem’Hadar fighters on their own.’

Jericho sucked on his teeth. ‘We need to trace that control signal for the defence systems. Yesterday.’

‘Krish is right,’ ventured Lieutenant Quinn, and Jericho tried to not give her a pitying look as she expressed support for her boyfriend. ‘If Shep can contain the fighters, then between Endeavour and Triumph we can take out the battlecruisers quickly. Once we get even five minutes of disengagement, we can trace that signal.’

‘We consolidate our forces,’ Ranicus said to Jericho. ‘Finish the cruisers. And trust Shepherd in the meantime.’ She did not, Jericho thought, sound very happy. Even by Ranicus’s standards. But she’d affirmed his instincts – how to salvage his over-keen protege’s tactical blunder – and all he could do was stay the course, now.

And hope Shep didn’t lose too many people as a result.

‘Pull us back,’ Jericho called at last. ‘Bring us between the battlecruisers and Endeavour. We face them as one.’ He glanced over his shoulder to Lieutenant Sterlah. ‘You give them my tactical solutions and my attack patterns. And let’s see if Rourke’s Kharth is as good as everyone says she is.’


Kharth’s eyes flashed at the precision of the attack orders transmitted from Triumph scrolling across her tactical console. She glanced up with a rueful gaze. ‘Commander Malhotra, I have our heading.’

‘I see it.’ With Triumph effectively holding their hand, Malhotra now sounded calm. ‘Follow the big bird in, Commander.’

At his left, Harrian turned to Lindgren. ‘Lieutenant, how’s our support wing?’

‘Angry,’ Lindgren said plainly, ‘but holding on.’

‘They’ll hold on,’ Malhotra said with, Kharth thought, unearned confidence. ‘We’ll come back for them.’


‘Son of a -’ Shepherd’s breath caught as one of Triumph’s fighters went from full shields to wreckage in one salvo from the Jem’Hadar. ‘This isn’t working.’

Shiera had just a hint of tension in her voice, which from a Vulcan was rank panic. ‘Maintaining evasive manoeuvres, Commander.’

‘We need a whole other squadron to handle these Jem’Hadar.’ Shepherd pulled off her webbing and stood. It wasn’t strictly necessary, and the surging of the deck almost threw her off her feet, but she staggered to Shiera’s controls and grabbed the back of the pilot’s chair. ‘The last weapon emplacements. Short-range point defence. Take us closer. Direct the wing to come in closer.’

Rhade spun on his seat at King Arthur’s tactical controls. ‘Closer?’ He hadn’t said anything for a while, she realised now, and his dark eyes were clouded.

The runabout rattled at weapons fire, and Shepherd clutched the chair tight. ‘We’re more manoeuvrable than the Jem’Hadar. Bring the fight into the cross-fire of the short-range defences. We can evade the platforms’ attacks, and it’ll give the Jem’Hadar a hell of a time to not be blown up by their own weapons.’

‘What if they ignore us and go to the battlecruisers?’ Rhade asked.

‘Then we hit them in the ass!’ Shepherd clapped Shiera on the shoulder. ‘Do it.’ But when she slid back into her seat and snapped her safety harness back on, she spared Rhade a less-sombre look. ‘You okay?’

The big man frowned softly. ‘Yes, ma’am.’ Then he hesitated. ‘My brother serves on Nighthawk.’

Shepherd swallowed an oath. ‘The ship’s not broken up. There are survivors. We’ll get them.’

If they stay alive long enough. The runabout shook again as it surged away into the new battlefield, and Shepherd gripped her harness with a grimace. If we stay alive long enough.


‘Battlecruiser Bravo’s starboard shields are down,’ Sterlah called with crisp enthusiasm. Jericho could almost hear the battle-blood singing through the Andorian’s ice-cold veins.

But after so much of this battle had been setback after setback, the adrenaline coursing through him at this first sniff of victory meant he could only share Sterlah’s feelings internally. He rose to his feet. ‘Target their power systems. Quantum torpedoes, full spread! Direct Endeavour to…’

‘Sir.’ Ranicus’s cool voice was an unpleasant balm on the surging sense of success. ‘Endeavour has broken away from the attack run.’

‘What the – oh, hell – fire, Lieutenant,’ Jericho snapped at Sterlah. He’d deal with Endeavour in a moment.

Triumph’s hull lit up like the skies of Mars as phaser fire and torpedoes cascaded away. The phaser blasts struck first, the initial burst flashing off the scant percentages of shields the Jem’Hadar had struggled to restore, before those, too, collapsed. Energy splashed across the hull, scoring and wearing it.

Then the torpedoes hit. Blazing beacons of fire ripped through violet-hued tritanium, tearing the protective hull apart. The second volley thundered into the space it had been before finding its true target: the power systems. Conduits were sundered, venting plasma throughout the belly of the ship. Then it began, the cascade reaction, as junction after junction overloaded.

The Jem’Hadar battlecruiser exploded in a blazing inferno. Just as its counterpart came bearing down on Triumph’s aft. After all this fighting, the Dominion had plainly identified where Triumph was weakest, the angle of approach where she would struggle to bring all her weapons to bear.

But before the second Jem’Hadar ship could unleash a fierce volley on Triumph’s weak spot in vengeance for her fallen ally, Endeavour was there. Swooping in, the Constitution III-class moved close enough to take half the volley on her shields, splitting the impact across both ships – and returned fire.

‘Battlecruiser Alpha is breaking off its attack,’ Lieutenant Sterlah reported, and even he sounded faintly relieved.

Jericho blew out his cheeks. ‘Come around to get us a new targeting solution, pattern Gamma-Echo-4. Hail Endeavour.’ The viewscreen flickered to the other starship’s bridge, cast in crimson shadow, and Jericho had to give his young protege in the captain’s chair a lopsided smile. ‘Good call, Krish.’

But Malhotra shifted his weight. ‘You should thank Commander Kharth’s vigilance.’ Perhaps knowing Jericho would do no such thing, he pressed on. ‘If we can finish this battlecruiser and source the control signal, sir, we can still win this.’

He looked breathless, giddy with success. Jericho’s experience told him this would be short-lived, the older man far cooler – more jaded – in the face of only one victory. Many more would need winning. But he did not disagree that it was possible.

Then an urgent call came over his shoulder from Sterlah. ‘Captain! The Dominion battleship has broken orbit from the fifth planet and is on an intercept course. And…’ Possibility died as the redoubtable Andorian faltered. Swallowed. And pressed on. ‘Multiple Dominion signals approaching from the far side of the system. At least another three cruisers.’

The light had not yet gone out from Malhotra’s eyes, but Jericho looked from Sterlah to the damage reports from Triumph, from Endeavour. Then his gaze again fell on his protégé. ‘Krish,’ he said, his throat thick. ‘I need you to take out this cruiser. We’ve got to take this battleship.’

Malhotra tensed. ‘As quick as we can, sir. Then we’ll reinforce you -’

‘No.’ Jericho heard his rebuttal echo off the bridge bulkheads, off the shocked faces of his crew. He flexed his hand. ‘Take out the cruiser. Find the signal. Then recover everyone you can from the Nighthawk and the support wing and get out of here.’

‘Sir -’

‘With the control signal sourced, the next assault can do this.’ His chin tilted up an inch. ‘We’ll cover the retreat.’

‘Sir

‘Once you’re clear with as many people as you can rescue, we’ll disengage. And be right behind you.’ It was, on the one hand, not an outright lie. Jericho truly hoped it would be possible. But it was also the kind of lie you told your children when they were very young. And, bright-eyed as Krish Malhotra still was, he believed, and nodded.

Yes, sir. We’ll get them out.’ His eyes clearly flickered to Jericho’s right, and he felt the brief pang of guilt that here, in front of everyone, in the middle of a battle, was no time for the young man to give parting words to Olivia Quinn. Probably forever. Instead, Malhotra drew a deep breath, and said, ‘Good hunting, Triumph. Endeavour out.’

The viewscreen winked back to the tactical map, and Jericho took a moment to watch the tiny dot of Endeavour swoop back towards the single battlecruiser still engaged. Then he gave a long, slow look around the bridge, forgetting other ships, other fights. For a moment, there was just his ship. His people. From the stern, confident gaze of Ranicus, to the light of battle in Sterlah’s eyes, to the resolved acceptance of Arys, to the quiet, nervous determination of Quinn, they were all here. With him. His.

‘Heroes and monsters, people,’ Lionel Jericho gently reminded the crew of the USS Triumph. ‘But the time for heroes has passed. So.’ He leaned back in his chair. ‘Set an intercept course for the battleship, Tar’lek. Let’s show them what real monsters are.’


‘I don’t…’ Malhotra’s hand shook, before he gave it a quick flex. ‘Kill this battlecruiser. Quickly.’

Kharth paused a beat, expecting more; an attack pattern, a course bearing, anything. Then in the silence, she looked up to Helm. ‘Whitaker, keep us out of its firing arc. We’re quicker than them; we can stop them getting a firing solution and hit them hard with everything we’ve got.’

‘Good,’ Malhotra said, a little distant.

Harrian pushed to his feet like he’d just shaken loose restraints, and took quick steps to the mission control console behind Kharth. ‘Their shields have taken a pounding from Triumph,’ he said. ‘But these ships are made for endurance. We need to run their deflectors down – if we can’t break through, it’ll still strain their power systems.’

‘Do it,’ came Malhotra’s still detached comment.

At Kharth’s direction and Whitaker’s command, Endeavour swung through the outer regions of the Izar system, free now from any concern but this sole Dominion ship still larger than her. The most advanced Starfleet ship of the war a quarter-century ago would have struggled on its own against such a foe, but this was the twenty-fifth century. Nevertheless, Endeavour had taken a beating in the battle so far. Victory was not just a matter of life, but the crew’s skill.

And even as Endeavour rained fire on her foe, her commander turned in his chair to the communications console. ‘Lindgren, how’s Triumph?’

‘They’ve engaged the battleship,’ she reported in a terse voice. ‘Sir, our support wing is struggling against the fighters.’

Malhotra looked at the display on his armrest. Then sat back. ‘Shep can handle it. If we get this cruiser, we can help Triumph –

‘Our orders,’ said Harrian, turning from his console, ‘are to save lives and salvage this mission.’

‘There are three hundred and fifty people on the Triumph. Only two hundred on Nighthawk, and not another hundred-fifty on the support wing,’ Malhotra snapped. ‘We’re going to save the most people.’

Harrian tensed. ‘More Dominion ships are incoming. Triumph is buying us the time to save who we can -’

‘Sirs.’ Kharth couldn’t – wouldn’t – fight the snap in her voice. ‘We have a battlecruiser still on our asses.’

Malhotra gave her a sharp look. ‘I expect you to finish it off, Lieutenant Commander.’

Harrian’s expression was flat, but he looked to the front of the bridge. ‘Far, try to trace this command signal.’ He turned back to the control panel. ‘The cruiser’s struggling to maintain shield strength on their starboard side.’

‘Because,’ Airex chipped in sternly, ‘that’s where their weapons are strongest, so that’s where they’ve been facing us. If we attack them there, we’ll struggle to evade their firing arc.’

‘We’ll take a hammering,’ Kharth agreed, ‘but we’re here to take them out, rescue people, and run.’

‘I’m working on this signal!’ Far called. ‘But Nighthawk was doing the tracing so I’m starting from scratch here.’

Malhotra shoved himself to his feet. ‘Find it,’ he snapped at Far, as if he hadn’t failed to instruct one of his bridge crew to perform one of the few tasks Jericho had charged them with. ‘If we can turn the defensive platforms against them, it’ll help.’

Turning the defence systems of Izar against the Dominion, Kharth wanted to remind him, meant boarding a facility to seize control of it. But she could fight that when – if – Far prevailed. For now, she had an actual fight, as her fingers ran over the scans of the battlecruiser. ‘An attack run at long-range can give us the space to manoeuvre, fire from all torpedo launchers and most of our phasers, and frees us for some evasive,’ she said out loud.

Another dismissive wave of the hand from Malhotra. ‘Do it. And -’

An alert went off on Kharth and Harrian’s tactical displays, but it was Lindgren’s voice that cut him off. ‘Captain.’ Those who’d served with her a while knew when bad news was coming. ‘I’ve lost contact with the Triumph.’

Malhotra stopped. And turned. ‘Explain.’

‘Our communication link is down.’

‘They’ve lost their comms -’

‘I’m hearing from the ship. I’m not hearing from the bridge.’

Harrian’s voice was coiled. ‘They’ve taken a hit to the bridge, Krish. The ship’s drifting. Some systems operational, but…’

Malhotra spun to face him. ‘You’re saying they took out the bridge and…’ But his fire of desperation faded as he sputtered.

Kharth frowned as she read the sensor feed. ‘Impossible to say what happened. Perhaps a breach, perhaps not. Their shields are holding, but they’ve stopped manoeuvring, stopped firing. Nobody’s home.’ It could have been anything, from a direct hit that had rattled the bridge crew and they were still rallying, to systems damage disrupting the bridge’s control over the ship, to a complete hull breach venting the entire command crew into space.

Malhotra stared at Harrian. Then he turned to the viewscreen, its tactical map already showing the Triumph as a static, dying dot. Then he looked at Whitaker. ‘Helm. Get us out of here.’

Kharth’s hands planted on her console. ‘Sir, this battlecruiser is still right here; if we try to pick up the Nighthawk –

‘Disengage us from the battlecruiser,’ said Malhotra, voice utterly toneless, ‘and get us to warp.’ Whitaker had turned at the order, staring wide-eyed at his captain. But when he looked, panicked, to the other bridge officers, Malhotra took a sharp step forward. ‘Now!’ He wasn’t toneless any more, wasn’t empty, but frantic, nearly hysterical.

‘Like hell we’re running,’ Kharth found herself saying. ‘Our support wing’s still engaged, we don’t know how many of the Nighthawk are still alive -’

‘Exactly!’ Malhotra spun, his breathing ragged. ‘They could all be dead, we can’t take on the battlecruiser and the fighters, the Triumph are dead! We have to go.’

‘We cannot,’ she snapped, ‘abandon everyone.’

His waves of the hand had been dismissive before – handle it, fix it, make the problem go away. Now it was a dismissal of her. ‘You’re relieved, Commander. Mister Harrian, assume Tactical.’

Kharth froze, hand holding the edge of her console. She’d been here once before at Teros, when Rourke had given the order to destroy a disabled Romulan ship, killing everyone aboard. She’d stood on the bridge, refusing orders, with her commanding officer telling her to step down, because she’d wanted to save lives. But as she’d hesitated, Valance had come in, taken her post, and she’d known her only choice was to fight back or submit.

When Harrian stepped away from the mission control console, her fist coiled, and she knew this time, she would not submit.

‘You’re relieved.’ Harrian was sharp, crisp, controlled. ‘Commander Malhotra.’

Everyone froze. At last, slowly, Malhotra’s head turned to the Bajoran man. ‘Commander?’

Harrian stepped towards the central chair. ‘We could argue about seniority. There’s no time. Step away from the chair. I’m assuming command of Endeavour.’

Perhaps it was the complete lack of protest from the bridge crew, who’d been so clearly horrified at Malhotra’s orders to run. Perhaps it was relief at being relieved, of surrendering responsibility as the skies burned and there were no good choices. Perhaps it was Kharth’s unsubtle move of her hand from the tactical controls to the phaser holstered at her hip.

Krish Malhotra stepped away. ‘You’re going to get everyone killed.’

‘Perhaps,’ was the cool response as Harrian took his place. ‘But we’re going to die trying to salvage the mission, and save our friends.’ He gave the bridge crew a long, level look. ‘If any of you want to protest, it’ll be logged.’

Only silence answered him, and Harrian Cal sank onto the command chair of the USS Endeavour. ‘Let’s finish that battlecruiser. Helm, set an attack course for their starboard side. Far, make sure our shield power allocation protects us as much as we can. Kharth, get ready to hit them with everything we’ve got.’

‘Aye,’ Kharth said, and her chin tilted up an inch. ‘Captain.’

Perhaps Malhotra left the bridge. Perhaps he merely faded into irrelevance for her, as the world narrowed to the battle.

It was not easy. Whitaker’s keen skills brought Endeavour around with lightning speed, and by his deft touch they avoided the worst of the battlecruiser’s long-range assault. But Kharth still had to clutch her console to stay steady as she unleashed barrage after barrage into the Dominion ship while blow after blow thudded into Endeavour. Far called a warning as their shields wavered, Harrian gave the order for the ship to pivot, sacrificing a whisper of firepower for more defences.

The deck rumbled as Endeavour sank her teeth into the enemy, the two great beasts scratching and clawing at each other. Then the rumbling slowed. Then it stopped.

Kharth’s breath caught in her throat with a feeling she’d not felt in some time: relief. ‘Captain – battlecruiser is drifting! Their power system’s out, they’re going nowhere.’

Harrian was on his feet in an instant. ‘Bring us about!’ he called. ‘Get back to the support wing; chase off those Jem’Hadar fighters and pick up Shep and her pilots. Then we’re grabbing everyone EV and everyone we can get off the Nighthawk.’ He turned back to Far. ‘That signal -’

‘I’m working on it,’ she said in a slightly high-pitched voice. ‘You know, some officers don’t do their best work in the middle of a complete tactical disaster -’

‘Captain,’ Kharth called, voice getting heavier. Relief was short-lived. ‘The Dominion ships from the far side of the system have reached the battleship – who’ve launched small craft, I think they’re putting boarding parties on the Triumph. But they’re forming up and they look like they’re about to head this way.’

Harrian clapped his hands together. ‘Then we do this quickly. The battle is lost, but every life we save is someone who goes home to their families.’

‘Captain.’ This time it was Airex, clipped and tense. ‘More ships dropping out of warp, near our exit vector.’

‘Oh, come on!’ protested Far.

One dot flashed onto the tactical map. Two. Then another pair, then another, but though everyone froze at the sight before them, this time it was with surging elation and hope, not the crushing despair that had first met Airex’s words.

Harrian’s jaw hung open for a moment. Then he gave a slow smile. ‘Hail Independence and Pathfinder,’ he said, ‘and ask them what took them so long. Oh – and when they had time to pick up the Cardassians.’

Comments

  • That is a very intense story, though I am starting to not really care for Krish as he was about to just up and leave everyone to die basically. Then tried to relieve Kharth from her station bringing back memories from the last time she was relieved of duty. I liked how Harrian relieved him from his position because he wasn't going to allow anyone to be left behind no matter what. Then out of nowhere both Independence and the Pathfinder show up with some friends show up which couldn't have been at a better time. Great job can't wait for the next story!

    June 4, 2023
  • Unknown Author

    This was a brilliant demonstration of the emotions of battle for me. I felt the tension in the air, the anger from Kharth, the resignation of Krish, the defiant assumption of command from Harrian. Technically a mutiny, and I'm sure Krish is going to demand the JAG see it as such, but cripes, good luck finding a panel who will convict. I was starting to worry there for a bit about some of the crew and I have some fears there's still a changeling in the midst somewhere trying to be super subtle. This had the right blend of triumph, failure, resigned defeat and topped with hopefully rallying. Lovely read!

    June 5, 2023
  • So often battles are written as a bunch of ships operating in a tightly coordinated choreography, the others of one driving the actions of all. But this post captured the fact that on the bridge of each of those ships is a captain and crew each trying to make the best decisions they can in each individual moment. Those decisions are not easy, and they will not always make sense to the bigger picture because each ship has only a partial picture and each crew have their own biases. A few particular moments that stood out to me in this regard were the confusion Jericho expressed with the break off, the “my brother serves on Nighthawk” line, the multiple debates over the right tactical choice that each crew has, and of course the relieving of the Commander. At the end of all this, there will be a lot of command decisions that will have to be accounted for, both at a leadership level and a personal level. Did they make the right choices?

    June 5, 2023