Agere Sequitur Credere, Chapter I

Disclaimer: Paramount is just that.

Written by Eetic

Author's Note: This story will deal with darker themes, sexuality and violence. Some chapters will receive, as a precaution, an 'M' rating. This will be clearly marked at the beginning of the chapter.

Two months after the events of Delenda Est.

"Evasive patter gamma-three. Open fire with the forward phaser banks, target their weapons and impulse drives." Data's voice set into motion a buzz of activity.

The darkened bridge was illuminated in a soft red glow from the alert lights that pulsed on and off, and the controlled chaos of the ship's command centre reassured Picard that nothing was wrong yet.

The war had taken a sinister turn over the the past weeks, and Starfleet had been thrown on the defensive across the quadrant. The great M'loi battleships had been seen in greater numbers, augmenting their powerful cruiser fleet, making the conflict far more deadly than it had started out. Casualties had begun to mount as more and more engagements led to severe losses. Starfleet was less concerned about the loss of the ships, but rather the depletion of trained crewmembers and officers.

It had been nine years, but that had not been enough time to fully heal the deep scars that the Dominion had gouged in the Federation. Recruitment numbers had never been higher, but the casualties sustained in the war against the Founders had numbered in the tens of millions, and Starfleet had borne the brunt of those. Ships were being constructed faster than Starfleet could train men and women to crew them, and that lead to rushed preparation for the task of running a system with the size and complexity of a Starship.

The Enterprise rocked after being hit, but the Tactical Officer reported that only minor damage had been sustained. The wreck of a M'loi cruiser drifted past the viewscreen, and the bright lance of a type 12 phaser bank struck and bore into the flank of their battleship. Enterprise had been ambushed outside of a nebula by a M'loi battleship and two cruisers, and, much to Picard's great pride, had at last gained the upper hand. He knew that fatalities in the crew would be high, but that was what war was about. He said a silent thanks to those who had given their lives for their comrades, and continued to watch the tactical screen. His knuckles were white from the grip they had on the armrests of his chair.

Enterprise was still without support ships, as Picard had requested specific officers and ships that were currently assigned. Being who Picard was, his requests were being pushed through the bureaucratic red tape endemic to any large institution, and Geordi La Forge, captain of the Dauntless, and Worf, recently returned from another tenure as Ambassador to the Klingons, captained the Defiant, refitted once again to serve. Picard would have found it irksome in the extreme to head a fleet without Will Riker in it, and he managed to snag the Titan from patrol duties in the Argolis Cluster to serve as a secondary flagship.

The last two positions he needed to fill, captains for the Damocles and her sister ship, Odysseus, were taking longer. They were Sabre-class ships, and didn't warrant a Captain for command. Rather, Picard had chosen Lieutenant Commanders Christine Grande and Tannar of Vulcan to serve in those positions. Both were untested as field commanders, but Picard had review both of their histories. The Admiralty had bemoaned the fact that skilled Masters and Commanders were difficult to find these days, and Picard took it upon himself to help teach a new generation of captains. He could not think of better instructors than Will, Data, Geordi, and Worf.

"Sir, the battleship is coming about. Forward shields are down to 34%, and we've sustained heavy damage to decks thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen. Casualty reports coming in from those decks."

"Acknowledged." "Engage a one second burst of warp eight, and then back to impulse." "Reroute power from the rear shields to the forward shields." Data ordered helm and tactical.

"Fire all forward weapons on my command. Target their shield generators."

The inertial dampeners didn't quite keep up with the manoeuvre, and all on the bridge was lurched into their seats at the sudden, massive acceleration. Coming out of warp, the Captain gave the order to fire, and the battleship began to list, plasma leaking from its broken hull.

"Take us about, heading 223 mark 321. Correction: 187 mark 302. Target quantum torpedoes on the battleship's aft section. Fire."

The Enterprise glided through space towards the other flank of the battleship, spewing energy at the larger vessel until its hull began to break apart. In large fleet engagements, the size and sheer power of the M'loi battleships were a dangerous threat, but in these small duels, their mass made them poor dogfighters. It turned out that the battleships were particularly susceptible to the manoeuvre that Picard himself had developed during the Battle of Maxia, almost thirty years ago.

The great ship broke apart under the assault, and Data ordered the Enterprise to back away before the power core ruptured, sending short lived, brilliant stars out in all directions.

Another thousand deaths.

"I'm going to inspect the damage and help out if I can, Captain."

"Of course, Admiral." Data responded, rising from his command chair in respect.

Picard rose from the Admiral's Chair on the bridge, installed during their refit a month ago, and moved towards the turbolift, wanting to inspect the damage to the ship first hand. Moving as soon as he left his chair were his two young flag lieutenants.

The Admiral's prerogative regarding his personal staff was a source of great patronage. Serving under an admiral was often seen as a fast track to promotion, and the ability of an admiral commanding a squadron to promote, not just to acting rank, but substantively, was often seen as one of the great perks of the job. His choice of flag lieutenant would be scrutinized, and their careers would be almost assured to end with a captaincy if they so desired it, and kept a good record. He had asked, and received, permission to appoint not the traditional one, but rather two flag lieutenants, and Beverly had only needed to prod him slightly for him to make his choice.

"Any news from Earth?"

"Not as of five minutes ago, Admiral." Bellia Korax answered crisply.

Picard waited in the life while it sped along the inside of the ship, reflecting on the delicate situation he found himself in. Ever since Beverly had brought to his attention the thought that his subordinates saw him as a father figure, he had become acutely aware of how they looked at him. Even in the midst of a crisis, they gained strength from his calmness and experience. Who the hell do I get to look to?

It's lonely at the top. But of course, it wasn't. Over the past month and a bit, Beverly and he had continued to cultivate a careful relationship of sorts. As intimate as lovers, but without the physicality, he had come to rely on her as his confidant more than he used to. Hers was the shoulder he could count on being there, and hers was the face that calmed him. But she was in sickbay, now, tending to the worst of the wounded, and doing her duty. All he could do was try to help as best he could where help was needed the most.

The turbolift whisked them off to deck fourteen, the sight of the worst of the damage. Upon the door opening, the acrid smell of burning electronics mixed with the stomach churning scent of burnt hair and flesh, and together they assailed his nose and eyes, making him gag and his eyes well up in defence. The lighting in the hallway was low, and most of the people there were either dead or on the ground injured, their faces taking an infernal tint from the alert lights.

Moving towards the nearest prostrate form, he checked for a pulse. The young ensign whose neck he was checking opened his eyes.

"Admiral...I-" he tried to stand.

"Lie still, Ensign. You'll be ok. Medical is on their way."

The man smiled, trusting in the words of his leader.

His two lieutenants were silent, not used to this level of destruction. Over the past month, the Enterprise had seen as much combat as she had the two years which had preceded, and it was beginning to show. The three week patrol cruise was coming to a close, and Enterprise had seventeen more kills to her record. In another week, they were due to be in orbit around Earth, for final refit, and to gather the fleet that would be under Picard's command.

It was not long before he could see the medical teams at the far end of the hallway, assessing the states of each person, and prescribing their treatment. Every time a medic's face fell, he cursed at himself, thinking it would be one more letter of condolence that he'd have to write later that night. It never got easier, and he never got used to the hatred that welled in him at those forcing him to do this. Repair teams soon joined those of medical personnel, and were beginning to perform their own triage on the burned out panels and displays on this deck.

"Get back!" the cry was a second too late.

A power conduit exploded outwards, throwing a young engineer into the wall opposite. Her body slumped to the ground, her face was charred by the rupture, and her neck was jutting at an unnatural angle to the rest of her body. Picard thought he could hear the last few gasps of air as the young Bolian fought for her life, and then the gurgle when the fight was lost. Medics rushed over, but the sombre expressions confirmed Picard's fears, and he wanted to shout in rage. His two flag lieutenants gasped, and Rachel's hand went to her mouth to stifle a cry.

They shouldn't have to deal with this. No one should have to see something like that. Yet, here we are, just another day in hell.

Rachel Yerla and Bellia Korax were too young to remember the Dominion War well, but Picard remembered, vividly, it's transgressions against life itself staggering in its magnitude, the horrors that he had witnessed, that still stayed with him a decade later.

He looked about him, and saw the division was clear amongst the personnel. There were those, looking at the dead and wounded, who were glimpsing their loss of innocence, unwilling to take their first steps into a crueller world, but unable to turn away from it any more. Others, he noted sadly, only wept for their innocence, long since taken from them by the Founders and a dozen others.

A junior officer had wretched and been sick from the sights and sounds he was being bombarded with mercilessly, and was looked ashamed of himself. The Admiral silently placed a hand on the young man's shoulder, and tightened it in support.

There is no shame in that, young man. The young officer straightened, and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his uniform. Picard welled with pride at the man, who moved to help some enlisted men and women clear away burning wreckage, only to reveal another body.

The Admiral glanced about, and his eyes rested on one scene above all. He cursed silently, and smashed his hand against one of the blackened bulkheads in his sorrow. He cut his hand, and gasped. The pain, however, wasn't from the wound.

The young ensign that he had told would be fine was the cause of another fallen face. Another life mercilessly cut off, another grieving family, another memorial in space, another loathsome letter.

No shame in that at all. War makes fools and children of us all.