Written by Shaun "Iceman" Rashid
|HOLDING THE LINE CHAPTER 123: WALKING WOUNDED
TCS Endeavour, Loki System
0700 Hours, 14 Feb 2681 (2681.045)
It had been several days since their last encounter with the Nephilim. Days filled with sorrow, heartache, anger, pain, and a multitude of other emotions all mixed into a state of confusion and despair. Days riding an emotional roller coaster. Now she simply longed for sleep.
Wearily, Julia Stevens of the Black Dragons squadron, wandered down the dim corridors of the TCS Endeavour. Her generally vibrant blue eyes were now marred with red streaks and her hair was hastily tied back. The lack of a good night's rest had gotten to her. She walked up to the squadron's ready room. With one hand on her neck and massaging it gently, she used the other hand to key in the security code to unlock the door. To her surprise, she found it already unlocked, so she pressed another button on the keypad that opened the door and made her way inside.
The ready room was just as dimly lit as the corridors but the light, coming from the medium sized video monitor situated on the far wall, flickered as the imagery on the screen changed.
The door slid closed behind her, cutting off any light from that end of the room and she proceeded to walk over to where the monitor and a group of couches were placed. Two of the squadron's pilots were there, one lying across one couch with the remote control for the monitor in hand, and the other sitting upright in a seat against the wall as he looked down at a data-pad that was in his hand. Two mugs and a half-filled pot of coffee sat on the table in front of them, still steaming as the pot had just been made.
Julia wasn't sure if the two pilots were aware of her presence, because they continued on with their conversation.
"... All I know is that the brass has said that the traitor has been dealt with and that we've stood down from the intruder alert," the pilot who was lying down said. Julia recognized the voice as that of the squadron commander, Cameron Garrison. "But, I tell you. The way that security has increased in this section of the ship has me thinking that its one of the pilots in the wing."
"Great," replied the other person. That was unmistakably the voice of Lt. Cmdr. Shaun Rashid, otherwise known as Iceman. She could pick his quiet voice out of any crowd. "Makes things even more personal." He said, finishing off his thought before glancing up at Julia.
Garrison looked over the top of the couch and saw Julia standing quietly behind him. He smiled and waved her over. "Grab a cup of coffee and take a seat, Julia," he said, trying to sound cheery even though he probably knew the weariness was still evident in his voice.
She smiled slightly then took a cup from the counter on the sidewall and made her way to the unoccupied couch. She poured herself a cup of coffee then sat down on the couch, curling her legs up. "Security seems to be focusing on the Hornets squadron, I think," Garrison said, continuing the conversation. "Perhaps our infamous turncoat is one of them."
"Perhaps," replied Iceman. "Though I haven't seen any indication that any of the squadron members have been taken into custody." Iceman paused for a moment, his gaze still fixed on the data-pad. "Perhaps one of the deceased pilots is the person in question?" he asked to no one in particular.
"Its possible. But if that, and the fact that it's a Hornet are true, then to my knowledge, that would only leave three pilots under the microscope," replied Garrison. "Though I'd narrow it down to two. Pattenden might have been aggressive against the brass, but he isn't a traitor. I'll vouch for him on that any day." Garrison paused and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. "Damn shame he got scratched," he said with a hint of sorrow in his voice. "You don't see guys like him everyday. A true soldier."
Iceman nodded. "A good man, for sure," he said, echoing the praises from his squadron commander.
For a few moments, no one said anything. The only noise from the room came from the wall monitor that was spewing out inconsequential news tidbits. Finally, Garrison turned back to Julia, who was quietly taking sips from her cup of coffee. "How are you holding up?" he asked her.
Julia brought the cup down from her lips and looked at him. "As well as can be expected, I guess," she said with a weak smile. "Sleep seems to be escaping me at the moment though."
"If its any consolation, I don't think any of us have slept very well lately," he replied compassionately. "With all that's going on with the bugs and the loss of both Catherine and Chris, it's been hard to get much rest."
Julia nodded in agreement and glanced towards the monitor as she took another sip from her cup. "Two good pilots, two good people. Gone just like that. Of course, you have the politicians back on the home worlds sitting down cosily with their big fleets protecting them," she said with anger rising inside of her. "If they would have just released one of the Inner Fleets to be used in this operation, I bet none of this would have happened!"
She took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling as she tried to calm herself down.
Garrison, who had now sat up in the couch beside Julia, watched her without a word. His mind was racing as he tried to think of something comforting to say. However, the sad truth of the matter was that she was probably right.
"Well," she continued. "At least this time we won't have to go up against the bugs alone now that we have some backup from the 8th Cruiser Squadron."
Garrison nodded. "Yeah, that's true," he said, realizing that Julia was trying to avoid talking about their deceased comrades. "They seem like a good bunch. I'm sure they'll be extremely helpful in furthering our efforts against the bugs." Garrison reached over to the table and picked up his coffee mug as he switched vid stations.
Every major network seemed to be focusing in on their conflict. It was amazing how well Confederation officials and the media could subdue the fears and worries of the public. The carefully chosen words of their press releases, the calm and cool demeanor during interviews, and the expertly-done news segments all did their job in convincing the general public that the threats to them were not as serious as they actually were. One couldn't help but be impressed by the effect of the Confederation's propaganda.
However, for the soldiers that were right in the middle of the conflict battling to protect the citizens of the Confederation, it was sometimes a slap in the face. To imply that the danger they faced was less than it actually was, that their efforts weren't as heroic or important as they were, was nothing short of degrading. Unfortunately, it had to be done to prevent panic. But it didn't mean that the implications didn't cut them like a searing blade.
Garrison snorted as yet another report aired. "You've got to love the way they do that," he said with a hint of contempt.
He glanced over at Iceman who rolled his eyes and shook his head and got up from his seat. Then he looked over to Julia but she didn't move. She had fallen asleep, obviously exhausted from the emotional turmoil of the past few days.
Garrison turned off the vid-screen then stood up and followed Iceman out of the room.
Lounge, TCS Endeavour
About The Same Time
Mike Ford sat quietly at one of the tables near a window in the Endeavour's lounge, a small, half-filled glass of an amber-colored liquid resting in front of him. He stared out at the black vacuum that was speckled with bright points of light as the same sequence of events played over and over in his mind; haunting him; torturing him.
The Nephilim fighters had surrounded him, taking shot after shot at his fighter as he tried desperately to evade them. Two missiles came streaking in towards him. He couldn't stop them. He thought it would mark the end of his existence. That is, until Renegade came diving in, taking the full force from the missiles. Sacrificing himself in order to save the young pilot.
"I should've been the one to die," Mike thought. "I should've, not Renegade."
Tears welled up in his eyes and threatened to overcome him as Serge Cayouette, the temporary commander of the Hornets, walked up to him. "Hey Mike," he said quietly. Motioning to the chair opposite to Mike, he asked: "Can I join you?"
Mike nodded slightly and Serge sat down across from him with his hands clasped together on the table. Serge looked at Mike, who was still looking out of the window. Serge briefly turned his attention to the window as well before looking back at the young lieutenant.
"How are you holding up?" he asked, again quietly.
"I'm still here."
"That's a good thing."
Mike's gaze moved away from the window and focused on Serge. "I guess," he said. "But if I weren't here, maybe Colonel Pattenden would still be," he continued as an overwhelming sense of guilt emerged from his voice. "And that would probably be a better thing."
"It would? We'd still be mourning the loss of a good pilot, so I sincerely doubt that."
"Oh yeah?" Mike's voice raised a little as anger, frustration, and a whole slew of other emotions came to the surface. "At least if I hadn't come back, you would have only lost a second-rate pilot holding the rank of lieutenant. Instead, we lost our squadron leader and a great pilot!"
Serge leaned forward on the table with a fiery intensity in his eyes. "And as our squadron leader, he did what any great leader would have done. He sacrificed himself to save another!" Serge sat back in his seat and sighed. "Being a great pilot isn't about kill scores, Mike," he said quietly. "Part of its about knowing what the right thing to do is in a situation and then going out and doing it."
Mike remained silent.
"Right now, you can't afford to sit here and wallow in your guilt. You need to do what's right and focus yourself on the battle we're fighting. Otherwise, Dave's sacrifice would be in vain."
A tear rolled down Mike's cheek as he turned back to the window.
Serge waited a few moments for a response. There was none. He stood up and walked away, leaving the young lieutenant to his thoughts.
Bridge, TCS Endeavour
Captain Griffin sat quietly in his command chair in the middle of the bridge as the battle group continued to search for the Nephilim carrier group. For the past two days, they had been scanning and patrolling parts of the Loki system in an attempt to locate them, but so far they had not been successful.
Behind him, Commander Heather Stevens stood over a computer console alongside one of the scanner operators. They continued to scan the area using the Endeavour's passive systems, but knew that if they were to come into contact with any hostile forces, their first indication would come from one of the two Magellan-class frigates, the Lewis or Clarke. Their powerful DSSS systems could pick up any electronic signals with hundreds of thousands of klicks, while remaining totally undetectable to the enemy.
With the constant blank readings from the sensors, her mind began to wander. Her thoughts didn't settle on one thing, but jumped from one thing to another: Nephilim attacks, Confederation Operations, the traitor on board, his death, Renegade's death.
Dave Pattenden. She had identified him as the traitor. She couldn't believe it was true. She still didn't. How could someone like him be a traitor? It wasn't possible. It couldn't be, especially not after what he did to save that kid out there.
But all the evidence pointed to him. The missing computer records, the stolen uniform, and the weapon they found. Everything said it was him. But she still couldn't believe it.
She was jarred back to the present.
"The TCS Lewis has just reported sensor contacts!" reported the scanner operator with a mix of excitement and anxiety. "They've found the enemy battle group!"