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

Falls the Shadow – 21

USS Triumph
March 2401
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‘We’ve been boarded,’ was Tar’ek Arys’s urgent hiss when he opened the doors to Hale’s quarters. ‘I need to get you to safety, First Secretary.’

She’d asked – insisted – demanded – to be on Triumph’s bridge for the battle, but Jericho had been adamant that it was no place for a civilian. This meant she’d instead been trapped in the dark when everything had gone wrong, and now she was being rescued by a young, earnest man who looked terribly out of his depth.

Hale looked Arys up and down, then glanced to the corridor beyond. It was empty. ‘I don’t mean any offence, Lieutenant, but… you’re alone?’

‘We had to abandon the bridge,’ Arys said, wincing. ‘There was a Breen ship out there, reinforcing the battleship. We didn’t spot it until too late. Their energy-dampening weapons hit us, and -’

Hale hadn’t even known about a battleship, but she put a hand on Arys’s arm, hearing the panic in his explanation. ‘What’s the plan, Lieutenant?’ Sounding calm wasn’t easy. But she was a professional liar. ‘Is Captain Jericho retaking the ship?’

‘We’re defending the ship. That’s all we can do. I need to get you to Main Engineering – it’s a defensible location, and we can’t let them take it. Captain Jericho’s fully locked down the bridge, so even if they do restore power, it’s no use to them. Now he and the others are hunting Jem’Hadar boarding parties.’

‘Well, then.’ She gave a wan smile. ‘Lead on.’

‘Oh…’ Arys hesitated, then pulled a phaser pistol from his holster. ‘Ma’am.’

She winced. ‘I think I’ll be more of a liability than a help with that, I’m afraid.’

He didn’t look pleased by that. ‘Then stay behind me.’

It was quiet on this deck, or at least on this section. Hale presumed that not only had the Jem’Hadar not breached here, but there were very few targets in a section that was mostly crew quarters and offices. Either they were hunting resistance or trying to seize control of the ship.

‘This way,’ Arys hissed and cracked open a Jefferies Tube. ‘It’s a long way down, but -’

‘But it’s better than moving in the open. I understand.’ He still went first because she had no idea how to navigate the labyrinth of tunnels. Now she regretted sticking to her professional wear; none of it was very good for crawling on her hands and her knees through a confined space, clambering down ladders and moving through passageways.

Three decks down, Arys paused at a junction and wiped his brow. ‘We’ll need to get into the open again at some point. We’re in the wrong section for this to take us to engineering. But I think we can manage it on deck six.’

He sounded a little like he was asking, not telling. Hale forced a smile through her breathlessness at the rush. ‘That sounds sensible, Lieutenant.’

Perhaps she didn’t lie enough. Perhaps the anxiety around their dire circumstances was more than her lies could beat. Either way, Arys remained crouched in the Jefferies Tube junction a moment more, chest heaving. ‘I know this isn’t the time, ma’am…’

‘But?’

He met her gaze awkwardly. ‘Did you know Captain Rourke was going to disobey Captain Jericho?’

She’d been trying not to think of that day. Think of Rourke, asking her – almost begging her – to come with him. She’d known why he was asking even before he’d spoken in plain, personal terms. Even before he’d kissed her. And, because she was a professional liar, she knew she’d sounded convincing when she’d explained why she had to stay.

As if I was ever going to deter Lionel Jericho from anything. Bearing witness to the squadron commander’s choices wasn’t nothing. It meant that if they got out of this, she could be a neutral voice in what would undoubtedly be a holy mess with JAG. But that wasn’t why she’d stayed. She could have influenced events this much from anywhere.

But Sophia Hale was such a good liar she’d been excellent at convincing even herself. It was  thus child’s play to look Arys in the eye and say, with a firm, worried smile, ‘I didn’t know.’

He believed her. And they pressed on.

‘Deck six,’ he grunted when they dropped down another ladder. ‘Nothing in this section but storage for lab equipment.’ He led her crawling along the tube and towards an exit hatch. ‘This should be clear. Let me check.’

The hatch swung open. Arys stuck his head out. Then swung into the darkened corridor, rifle raised, sweeping, watching –

And weapons fire took him in the chest. Once, twice, thrice.

Hale clamped her hands across her mouth as she watched Arys’s body topple and collapse. Then came the thudding footsteps, the gravelly voices of Jem’Hadar – shrouded, no doubt, as distant memory reminded her they could do – and instincts she didn’t know she had made her kick her heels and catapult herself back deeper into the tube. She couldn’t look back at the hatch. If she looked back, if she saw one of those horned, grey-skinned faces, faces she’d only ever seen before in recordings, then she’d be dead.

Move. Move. Move.

Adrenaline got her to a junction, letting her swing around a corner. Back to the metal, Hale slammed her eyes shut, tried to slow her breathing, tried to not whimper in panic, and waited. And listened.

She didn’t know how long she waited. Because while the only sound was her own panicked breathing, while there was no thudding of Jem’Hadar soldiers following her down the Jefferies Tube, the darkness slid in to join her.

Not the absence of light, per se. Emergency strips continued to bathe the tube in illumination that was somehow dim yet hard on the eyes. This was a different darkness, a darkness she’d known too well for too long, a darkness from inside that welled up and became all she knew. And it took her to an altogether different hell.

A different hell, because Sophia Hale knew a place worse than being trapped on a dying warship with Jem’Hadar all around. A hell with which she was much more intimately familiar.

A crashed shuttle. Shattered bulkheads and metal. A long, long wait with pounding injuries until emergency services found them. Found her – found her strapped in beside her young son, dead on impact, and her dying husband, who never woke up. This was a hell she knew well; one she visited every night. One she visited in times of danger.

It was worst in danger. At night it tormented her, kept her awake, forced her mind and body back to work, forced her to push on to run away. But in danger, the memories were vivid, overwhelming. In some ways, they emboldened her; no enemy, no threat, could be worse than this. But they were seductive, too. Because it would be all too easy to close her eyes and give in. And let herself join them in the dark.

I’ll be with you soon. Sophia Hale tucked her knees up under her chin and wondered when the Jem’Hadar would find her.

…are you really just going through the motions til you die?

Normally there were no voices in the hell. But now she had fresh memories, and the angry, hurt tones of Matt Rourke broke through darkness. As did the look in his eyes, that glint of pain and desperation when he’d stood in her quarters and asked her to, for all intents and purposes, run away with him. When she’d said no, he’d seen right through her.

You didn’t care. You didn’t care how close you came to dying.

She hadn’t argued with him. Hadn’t tried to convince him of anything. She’d let him leave. But not before she’d kissed him. I’m not ready yet, she’d said. Had that been a lie? Was the last thing she said to him going to be a lie?

Hale’s next breath came out calmer. Then she opened her eyes. ‘Shit.’ She stretched her legs out. Gave the passageway back the way she’d run a cautious look. And began to move towards the ladder.

If she had been even ten seconds later, she would not have nearly landed on top of the engineers two decks down. As it was, the burly figure of Chief Lann almost brained her with a hyperspanner.

‘Prophets! Ms Hale, is that you?’ He caught himself at the last second and had to catch her as she nearly fell the lowest rung off the ladder. ‘You alright?’

‘I’m – I’m fine…’

Around Lann appeared Cortez. Where he had to slouch even in the junctions of the Jefferies Tubes, the diminutive engineer was comfortable in such a confined space – though looked not at all comfortable under these circumstances. ‘Sophia! Hell, did Deck Two get overrun?’

‘I don’t know, Lieutenant Arys came to get me out…’ Hale swallowed. ‘We were heading for engineering.’

‘Don’t,’ Lann said bluntly. ‘We had to lock it down. Flooded it with coolant so the bastards can’t get it. Where’s Arys?’ Her silence sobered him. ‘Oh.’

‘We’re getting the hell off this ship,’ Cortez said, jaw tight. ‘Jericho wants to keep fighting; he’s running around with security teams playing soldier like this place is the Alamo.’

Hale hesitated at that. ‘What happened to the ship?’

‘Breen energy dampening weapon. Cruiser must have been lurking by the moon, waiting for a chance to strike. I made some preparations against it – there’s backup power management protocols which could kick-start all our systems, but Jericho lost the bridge, and Main Engineering was too at risk before I could start them all. So…’ Cortez winced.

‘So, screw it,’ Lann finished. ‘Jumping into an escape pod and taking our chances sounds better than whatever Jericho’s got planned. This is a big ship that can fit a lot of Jem’Hadar, and it’s not a big crew.’

‘But…’ Hale frowned at them. ‘People will stay. Crewmembers will stay.’

Cortez hesitated. ‘I’m not dying for Jericho.’

‘If you had access to somewhere like the bridge or engineering, could you restore control of the ship? Then drop forcefields, beam Jem’Hadar to the brig, anything?’ As they continued to hesitate, Hale’s throat tensed. ‘Perhaps from the auxiliary bridge?’

There was a moment where Cortez continued looking uncertain. Then her shoulders slumped. ‘Aw, hell, I’m the only person who can unfuck this, aren’t I.’

‘They’re your protocols,’ Hale pointed out.

‘And if there are Jem’Hadar between us and the auxiliary bridge, I’ll die with them.’ Cortez scrubbed her face with a hand. ‘Good news is that if Jericho wants to take them on in hand-to-hand or whatever, he’s going to draw a lot of attention of the boarding parties.’

‘Brute force won’t do it,’ Lann agreed. ‘We fuck ‘em up like engineers?’

There was a lot of ground to cover. Enemy forces doubtless between them and their destination. Slim chance of success even if they got there. Every instinct of Hale’s that had sunk into her bones this past decade – every sliver of darkness, every crack of pain – urged her again to curl up in a corner and wait for the end.

She straightened. ‘Like engineers and diplomats.


‘I don’t like this plan,’ Lann said twenty minutes later as they sat bunched in the last stretch of Jefferies Tube before the corridor to the auxiliary bridge.

‘It’s this,’ Cortez said grimly, elbow-deep in the workings of a panel, ‘or Plan B, and Plan B might blow out this entire section.’

Hale had her ear to the hatch. ‘The coast still sounds clear,’ she murmured.

‘Nah,’ said Cortez. ‘They’re there. You might want to back off, Sophia. It’s time for dumb heroics.’

The corridor had looked empty, by both their tricorder readings and a judicious glance out a hatch much, much further down. After what happened to Arys, the trio weren’t taking any chances. At Cortez’s signal, all three pulled on the breathing masks they’d had to trudge down an extra deck to retrieve, then she hit the final control on the tube’s panel.

‘Go!’

Jem’Hadar shrouds were enough to fool sensors and the naked eye. They were not good enough to fool the laws of physics. The bursting of a coolant pipe in the wall panel sent clouds of gas billowing into the corridor, and from there, it was simple: wherever there wasn’t gas, there was a Jem’Hadar.

Wherever there wasn’t gas, they shot.

It wasn’t, Hale thought as she followed the two phaser-toting engineers into the corridor, quite that simple. If Cortez had rigged the pressure in the coolant pipe wrong, it might have blown out the whole corridor. Or the gas might have been so thick nobody could see. It also wasn’t as smooth an assault in the hands of two engineers as it might have been with security officers; Cortez shot one Jem’Hadar approximately six times, and while Lann was much more cold and efficient, they were lucky their element of surprise lasted long enough to win the fight. And lucky there were only three Jem’Hadar.

‘Let’s go!’ Cortez waved a hand at the doors to the auxiliary bridge. ‘We won’t inhale this stuff, but you don’t want to take a spa treatment in it, either.’

The auxiliary bridge was dim and mercifully quiet, but the moment the doors slid shut behind them, Cortez directed Lann to lock them in. ‘Might as well commit to this being a seat of victory or a goddamn tomb,’ she said with a shrug, advancing on controls. ‘Sophia, do you know how to…’

‘Do anything useful here?’ Hale finished sweetly at the hint of hesitation. ‘Not in restoring power to a Starfleet ship hit by Breen weaponry. I’m afraid not.’

Cortez regarded her a moment. ‘Comms,’ she said at last. ‘As power comes back, try to switch ‘em on. They follow about the same principle as any other system you’ll have used in your life.’

It was perhaps merely a matter of size. But size was far from irrelevant, and Hale winced as she saw the scope of the communications system on the dimmed displays. The good news for the moment was that none of them were working.

‘We’re locked in,’ Lann confirmed a minute later. ‘Let’s boot this ship back up.’

‘Heh.’ Cortez was already at the operations console. ‘Turn it off and on again. Actually, that pretty much is the premise here.’

‘How so?’ asked Hale, because making people talk tended to stop them from panicking. Including her.

‘I was on the Cook for a few years on this border, so… I know how to deal with Breen weapons. Their energy dampening drains the power reserves in any given section or system,’ Cortez said, fingers dancing across the controls like a pianist performing a world-class concert. ‘And our system struggles to recharge them with power from the warp core fast enough. But if I purge all power from each system fully, that stops the draining. Then I can recharge it.’ She glanced over. ‘To simplify the shit out of it.’

‘I appreciate that,’ said Hale. ‘How long will this take?’

‘For the whole ship? Hours. For essential systems? Minutes. And…’ Cortez sucked her teeth. ‘I’m gonna prioritise internal sensors and forcefields along the way, ‘cos I don’t fancy us having Jem’Hadar friends blasting these doors if they figure what we’re doing. But first, comms and external sensors. Let’s see what’s going on out there.’

That still took four minutes, and then the communications console in front of Hale began to light up with detected transmissions, internal and external. ‘Internal can’t be safe for us to use for communication, surely?’ she ventured. ‘The Jem’Hadar can monitor it?’

‘Potentially,’ Cortez agreed. ‘What’s being said?’

Hale had to fish around for an earpiece. Then, flicking between the dozens of internal comm frequencies on the ship was a lot harder than setting up a connection on her console or PADD. ‘Uh, Captain Jericho is definitely talking on comms. He’s mentioning a rallying point at the mess hall.’

‘That’s a feint,’ Lann called. ‘Or maybe a trap.’

‘Otherwise… I’m just hearing calls for help.’ Hale swallowed. ‘And I’m only picking up one external transmission so far. System-wide.’

‘Starfleet channels will be encrypted,’ Cortez said, ‘and rebooting the system means connecting with them will take a hot minute. What’s this one message?’

Hale flicked a switch.

…whoever you are, wherever you are, you can make a difference. For those who have been waiting, planning, now is the time. There will never be a moment like this again. For everyone else – even the smallest act of resistance can turn the tide. So do what you can. Lock down buildings so the Dominion can’t move freely about the cities. Cut the power. Bring all traffic in the streets to a halt. Stop them.

She blinked. ‘It’s me.’

And for those who are unsure, I urge you not to let the darkness win. I cannot tell you the cost of trying, but I know the cost of surrendering without putting up a fight. I urge you all, people of Izar: Now is the time. Rise up.

Cortez looked across the dimmed bridge as Hale’s recorded voice crackled over them. ‘You can be kinda persuasive when you want, you know?’

‘Sometimes,’ Hale mused wryly.

An alert went off at the console Lann was standing at, and the big man yelped. ‘Oh, wraiths. External sensors coming back on. There’s – there’s a lot more ships out there, Starfleet and Dominion but some Cardassian, too? And a Jem’Hadar cruiser. Which seems to have noticed we’re restoring power and is heading our way. I’m putting it on screen.’

‘Oh good,’ said Cortez with her usual bleak-yet-chirpy sarcasm as the viewscreen came to life. The blackness of Izar was ablaze with starships and weapons fire, all distant dots and flashes, but the looming violet shape of a Jem’Hadar battlecruiser could be seen drawing nearer and nearer. ‘I wanted front-row seats to watch us die. Tell me, Sophia, what do we win by trying but failing?’

‘Nothing,’ Hale said, then turned to look at her. ‘Everything.’

‘I’m restoring internal security systems,’ Cortez said with a sigh. ‘So we could maybe lock off Jem’Hadar boarding parties with forcefields, if we live long enough to -’

Then the viewscreen flared white-bright as the cruiser racing towards them exploded. Lann whooped. ‘Oh, damn! Someone took them out. They must have been hanging back for repairs and thought we looked easy, but nah, they got sniped real good! Starfleet ship forming up on our wing, Boss; dunno who she is, but she’s a feisty little bird.’

The beep at Hale’s controls almost gave her a heart attack until she remembered she was at comms, and it was hard for that to go very wrong. ‘Oh!’ She turned back. ‘Um, they’re hailing us. Putting it on? Putting it on.’

That took a few pushes of the buttons to get it right, but then the viewscreen stopped showing the drifting debris of a destroyed Jem’Hadar ship and the bright bridge of a Starfleet vessel, clean and rather, Hale thought, untouched by battle so far.

This is Captain Valance of the Pathfinder,’ pronounced the tall, crisp figure sitting in the command chair. ‘We’ve got your backs, Triumph, while you restore systems.

‘Wow.’ A languid smile crossed Cortez’s lips, perhaps unbidden but certainly unopposed. Even in the dim lighting of the auxiliary bridge, even under the stress of battle, it was impossible for Hale to miss the rueful adoration in her eyes as she regarded their rescuer. ‘I gotta say, Captain. You’ve got awesome timing.’

Comments

  • Never, ever underestimate an engineer with their back against the wall, on their home turf and having been allowed to disappear into the tubes. Doubly so for two engineers. Love reading some good engineering heroics and Cortez and Laan delivered. I would say shame about Arys, but frankly my opinion had shifted over the course of this mission as his opinions on Rourke fell in line with Jericho's. And I love Cortez's response at the end. I can just hear her 'Wow.' As soon as I read that word I knew a word like adoration or its ilk was soon to follow. There's still something there, something that can be salvaged and dang it girl, go get it!

    June 13, 2023
  • I agree Cortez can get feisty when back is in a corner and I love the part that said ‘They’re there. You might want to back off, Sophia. It’s time for dumb heroics.’ says it all. But clever using gas to show the Jem'Hadar out there. Sad about Arys but at the same time he seemed to align with Jericho turning his back on those on the Endeavour more so Rourke. I love how at the end the Pathfinder always makes a grand entrance to things even surprising Cortez. Can't wait to see how things wrap up from this battle.

    June 14, 2023
  • You lulled me into a false sense of security with this one. I thought this was going to be a base-under-siege runaround. I laughed harder than I should have on Hale's, "That sounds sensible, Lieutenant," because I could perfectly HEAR the tone. But then you geared up for an absolutely devastating dive into the very heart of Hale. I could ALMOST expect it, the reflection on the way she had navigated the politics-politics and the emotional-politics with careful calculation, but then that truly made it all the more satisfying when you reached three layers under the surface with "I didn't know." And then you gave me that runaround, but the way it stayed so deeply under Hale's skin, I truly had chills from her logic that if she looked back, she was dead. Might as well be a pillar of Ketracel-white, damn. ...I almost had to stop reading at "I'll be with you soon." That WRECKED me. Thank god for Cortez being an absolute boss.

    June 16, 2023