Star Trek: Fallen Heroes

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Alexbright99, Jul 13, 2018.

  1. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - chapter 2c

    Earth, San Francisco – April 16, 2382 – Stardate 59288.9


    Tony Q takes off his regular uniform jacket and shirt to replace them with his dress uniform jacket, which nicely complements his black pants with its gold embroidering reserved for Starfleet’s most formal attire. “How do I look?”

    “Ready for a party.” Ensign Emily Blue—already wearing her security division dress uniform—is seated in a rectangular lounge chair, with her back turned against the set of windows covering the south side of their modern bungalow. Though this house is a few dozen kilometers away from where they used to live with Tony’s father, the view of San Francisco in the distance is simply spectacular, especially now, late at night, with the city lit up like a Christmas tree. Holding an important position at Starfleet Headquarters has it perks when it comes to choosing a place of residence.

    “I am more than ready for a bit of fun,” Tony says with a weary smirk, followed by a deep sigh. “What a week!”

    “Starfleet knows how to keep us busy,” Emily says while standing up to switch on a few extra lights. It’s getting darker than usual outside—the kind of darkness one would normally associate with endless winter nights. “And they don’t believe in shore leave during wartime, that’s for sure.”

    Tony doesn’t reply, distracted by a hopeless struggle with his collar. “Oh come on,” he says to his uniform, to no avail.

    Emily decides to help Tony get his collar straight before someone gets hurt. She places her hands on his jacket and assesses the situation.

    “I mean it’s Friday night and they still won’t give us a rest,” Tony says as he catches a rosy whiff of her perfume.

    “Relax,” she says while solving his collar problems in two seconds flat. “It’s not another meeting with Starfleet’s finest about fleet strategies, worst case scenarios, or whatever it is you lot talk about all week. It’s a party!”

    “Easy for you to say,” Tony says, checking his collar for any irregularities. Of course, he finds none. “All you have to do is guard some museum in Chicago.”

    Emily deflects his sarcasm with a teasing tone. “Hey, that’s not nice. I love my job at the Art Institute and you know it.” She threatens to mess up his collar again.

    Tony shrinks back, laughing. “No, no. I’m sorry.”

    Emily breaks off her attack and walks away with a spring in her step. “It was nice of you to invite me and your dad to that fancy gala.”

    “Yeah, trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Admiral Paris and Admiral Manero duke it out on the dance floor.”

    Emily makes a display of rolling her eyes at his attempt at humor but can’t suppress a giddy chuckle. “No, seriously. Your father’s really looking forward to it.”

    Tony heads over to the window and gazes at the city. “He’s probably already out there, waiting by the entrance.”

    In the sky over San Francisco, multiple shadows take form. Tony has to squint to make them out, but they are there—no question about it. Of course, a metropolitan sky is never empty—tons of shuttlecraft of all kinds and sorts fly around twenty-four hours a day—but these shadows cannot be ordinary shuttlecraft, because those are required to fly with activated navigation lights. These shadows are blacker than night itself; if they weren’t moving, they’d be invisible.

    Beautiful and alarming in equal measure, green lights emerge from the shadows to rain down on the city. When these lights hit the skyline below, instigating bright explosions, Tony realizes at last he is watching a terrible disaster unfold before his very eyes! He wants to call out to Emily, but his mind has gone numb and his mouth dry.

    While opaque fighters descend from the heavens and fire at the city of San Francisco, Tony doesn’t even wonder how they broke through the planetary defense grid and the fleets of starships guarding Earth, or if they’re also attacking other cities all across the globe. All he focuses on is a plethora of spacecraft attacking his city, unleashing their wrath on defenseless buildings, extinguishing lives left and right.

    Fiery detonations knock out the electrical grid of a skyscraper, shrouding it in darkness until another weapon strike zaps through dozens of its floors. A handful of seconds later, the weakened structure collapses in an avalanche of dust and debris. Countless buildings suffer the same fate, one by one. The burning city lights the sky with an irregular, lurid glow, enabling Tony to identify the fighters as Foora-class Altonoid ships—similar in appearance and configuration to Klingon Birds of Prey and just as deadly. Heavily armed, highly maneuverable, and boasting a wingspan of up to 60 feet, these fighters are built for one thing and one thing only: to spell doom for their enemies.

    Shuttles and other armament-carrying craft that were already airborne mount attacks on the Altonoid battalions with varying results, mostly in the aggressors’ favor. No matter how hard they try to defend the city, the fighters easily outnumber them. A million questions pop up in Tony’s head; fury, sadness, and despair vie for his attention, but they’re all set aside by one simple fact: the Altonoids are invading.

    There is Starfleet Headquarters, near the Golden Gate Bridge, lit by numerous phaser beams and white-hot explosions. Tony is forced to watch helplessly as a squadron of Altonoid fighters barrels down in an attack run and lets fly at the most important building of San Francisco—or Earth, for that matter—and Tony’s workplace. Within seconds, the proud nerve center of Starfleet Command is diminished to mere ashes and rubble, and what’s left is destroyed by the Altonoid squadron directly behind the first one.

    Tony finally regains control over his vision, so he can actually choose where to direct his gaze, allowing him to notice that the suburbs and nearby towns are under siege as well. Directly ahead, a Starfleet fighter catches his eye. It’s flying at low altitude with an angry Altonoid fighter hot on its trail. The small Peregrine-class fighter is hardly a match for the Foora-class Altonoid fighter, and it’s suffered heavy damage. Worse yet, the Starfleet fighter’s left wing catches fire after its impulse engine blows up, causing the fighter to spin out of control, heading straight for Tony and Emily’s bungalow!

    Hypnotized by the fighter twirling down at him in a frenzy of flames, Tony refuses to believe this is happening. It isn’t going to hit the bungalow; it’s going to zoom over and crash into something else. It can’t possibly—

    His hypnosis bursts like a bubble when Emily grabs him by the arms and shoves him away from the windows overseeing the imminent disaster. Tony concludes it’s a good idea to dive away from a spacecraft on a direct collision course, and he and his wife land uncomfortably behind their brand-new couch.

    In the final moments before the crash, the fighter makes a last ninety-degree roll to the right. Now it’s coming in vertically with its right wing pointing at the ground. In essence, the bungalow is about to be carved in two by an enormous, burning circular saw.

    The fighter’s nose shatters the windows within a nanosecond, sending a mist of pulverized glass flying in all directions. Although these fighters seem relatively small when airborne, they’re not so small when they come bashing through your living room! The impact causes the vertical fighter to tumble end over end, slicing, dicing, and scorching all it encounters, including the roof, the floor, and everything in between that’s unfortunate enough to get hit by the rotating vessel and the debris it sheds.

    Luckily, Tony and Emily don’t find themselves in its direct crash path. They do, however, find themselves covered in remnants of their walls, furniture, and windows. Unrelenting racket terrorizes their eardrums as the fighter careens by and unexpectedly jumps up and over the rest of the building, sparing the bungalow from being entirely cut in half. The earsplitting din originating from the tumbling wreckage ends in a bright flash not more than a hundred yards away. Burning debris of all shapes and sizes strike what is left of their home, pierce through the few upright walls, and flutter in through the damaged roof. The lights have gone out; now, the only light source is the burning rubble left by the destroyed fighter.

    They can’t hide under the couch forever. Emily strains to lift its splintered frame. Holding up the collection of wood and rags they once knew as their couch, she wrinkles her brow at her husband, who makes no effort to get up. Tony is scratched and bruised, muttering things like, “I put on my best uniform for this?” and grumbling mild profanities. Other than that, he believes he’s all right. Nothing’s broken, as far as he can tell.

    Emily throws away what remains of the couch, freeing herself and her husband. Tony carefully sits up to assess the damage while Emily rises to her feet to no doubt do the same. Not an easy task, considering the living room is now as dark as the sky, which has become an unwanted addition to their ceiling. The fact that some pieces of furniture and household items, including broken lamps, are on fire is helpful in an ironic sort of way. Their bungalow has been reduced to one big mess with debris lying everywhere. Everything is charred, shattered, unrecognizable, or simply gone. The roof has come down where the big windows used to be, the ceiling is cut in two, and the kitchen’s on fire.

    “So, what’s your opinion?” Tony asks with a wagonload of sarcasm. “How bad is it?”

    “Oh, it’s not so bad,” Emily replies while trying to walk through the rubble. “Lick of paint here and there.”

    Tony laughs a sad laugh as he stands up and pats the dust off his uniform. He has to wade across a river of broken possessions to get to Emily. Once he has caught up with her, they both share a long and sad look at their living room. Nothing they can possibly say will be much of help. Well, maybe nothing except, “I’m glad you’re okay,” which Tony says as he puts an arm around his wife. Emily responds with one of those smiles that would’ve set the room on fire if it weren’t already.

    They climb through and over the rubble, searching for an exit, not even bothering to check for valuables. Soon enough, they find their way out of the scorched bungalow that was supposed to be their home for many years to come. Instead of the pitter-patter of little feet they hoped to hear one day, they get to listen to hollow clicks of spreading fire.

    The street adjacent to their burning home is relatively quiet. This reasonably secluded neighborhood is by no means a pivotal strategic target. However, there is no indication the Altonoids will cease their attack once they’re done with downtown San Francisco. If they’ve made it this far, there will be no stopping them.

    Noises of panic and bedlam, though several miles away, frighten Tony to the core. The bright nimbus of phaser beams and explosions turns night into day, giving the sky a beautiful but haunting ignited aspect. With every act of destruction, the war front is brought closer to their current whereabouts. There simply isn’t a single area to be found here that can guarantee safety for more than a few minutes, which is unlike anything Tony has ever experienced— despite being a former Q. Nonetheless, he realizes fear is merely a luxury when it comes to dealing with potential planet-wide annihilation.

    Tony turns to his wife. “This is pretty bad,” he says in a tone more reassuring than its implication. He rests his hands on Emily’s shoulders to grab her attention as lovingly as possible when their dreams of a happy future lie burning a stone’s throw away. “I want you to take the first warp-capable spacecraft you can get your hands on, and then get the hell off this planet and out of this solar system without looking back. I’m going—”

    “—to the city to find your father, I know. Let me come along.”

    “I don’t…” Tony finds himself unable to complete the sentence. He bites his lip and tries again. “I don’t want to lose you as well.”

    “That’s very sweet of you,” Emily says, sounding impatient yet gentle, “but I’m a trained security officer. I can help you.”

    “My first priority is to make sure my loved ones are safe, starting with you.” If only he knew how. Just as he’s about to admit to himself that there is no plan, he spots the silhouette of a parked shuttlecraft in the distance. With its back door open, it casts light on the pavement, acting as a homing beacon for the handful of shadowy figures fleeing into the shuttle, helped by another stationary shadow. “Let’s go.” Tony says as he grabs Emily by the hand and runs toward them. Emily doesn’t protest.

    * * *

    When the Altonoids started their devastating attack on Earth, Lieutenant Junior Grade Danielle Forrester had a decision to make: power up weapons and fight back or find a landing spot and gather as many survivors as possible. Without hesitation, she landed her shuttle, opened its hatch, and started guiding people in. After all, she’s a medic, not a fighter pilot.

    Two more survivors run up to her: a man and a woman, both wearing singed dress uniforms. They must be in their early twenties, like Danielle, but judging by the rank insignia, the young man holds the rank of commander. Could it be? Yes, it’s none other than Commander Tony Q—quite a small guy for such a big reputation.

    “Hello, Lieutenant,” he greets her. “Is there room for one more passenger?” His flustered attitude and tendency to cast glances at the burning city behind him indicate he is not coming along for the ride.

    “Yes, there is,” Danielle says, and she addresses the woman by his side in a pleasing tone, showcasing her medical training. “Hop on board.”

    “Are you sure you—” the woman says to Tony. She doesn’t finish the question, because she must already know the answer. “Good luck,” she says instead.

    “I will see you soon, Emily.”

    Emily works up a faltering smile. “Go and get your dad.”

    After kissing goodbye, Tony watches Emily enter the shuttle and keeps staring ahead for a few long seconds, prompting Danielle to say, “There’s still room for you in the shuttle.”

    “I need to get to the city,” Tony replies immediately. “Perhaps I could use the transporter system on the shuttle to g—”

    “I’m afraid not, sir. Since the attack started, usage of communication and transporter systems has become impossible. My guess is the Altonoids have placed a dampening field in our atmosphere. Before all communication was cut off, I heard that every major city on this planet is under attack.”

    Tony presses a palm against his forehead as the news sinks in. Lost in thought, he takes no heed of the distressed people passing him by as they enter the shuttle, hoping to find refuge. His eyebrows contort into a frown as he asks her, “How could the Altonoids invade us like this?”

    With no way to answer the rhetorical question, Danielle lets him rant.

    “It’s like all our security precautions, the shield grid around Earth, and the fleet guarding this solar system are… nonexistent somehow! How come we’re suddenly rendered completely defenseless?” The occasional fighter crash going on in the background provides his sudden monologue with extra poignancy. “We had so many defensive and offensive combat strategies, so many preventive measures, so many well-thought-out worst case scenarios. And now, all that remains is collecting as many survivors as possible and getting off this rock, this death trap!” He takes a deep breath. “All right, so the transporters are down,” he says to himself before talking to Danielle again. “Start prepping the shuttle for launch. I will be coming along. You can drop me off at the edge of the city.”

    “No way, Commander,” Danielle replies with her chin held high. “This is not a combat vessel. Once the shuttle is full, I will get the survivors out of harm’s way at maximum warp.”

    Tony’s perplexed at her reaction. “That was not a suggestion, Lieutenant!”

    Danielle stays perfectly poised and lays down the facts. “Going to the city is suicide. It is swarming with fighters. You will not only endanger your own life, but also that of mine, your girl, and the other survivors.”

    “That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

    “I’m sorry, but I am not willing to take that risk.”

    Tony resorts to sarcasm to get the message across. “Look at my collar,” he says. “Three rank pips. Look at your collar. Two rank pips. Hey! Doesn’t that mean something?”

    Danielle remains equally as polite as unyielding. “It means disobeying your rash order might get me court-martialed. Problem is, you probably won’t survive your little trip to the city, so you won’t be able to testify against me, so there won’t be a court martial.”

    “Damn it! Look around you!” Tony shouts as he waves his arms all over the place to point out the surrounding mayhem. “What do you think this is? A bloody cadet review? You can’t disobey a direct order. We’re at war. We’re in the midst of an all-out invasion, for crying out loud!”

    “I know full well we’re in a terrible war,” Danielle shoots back, surprising Tony once again and successfully shutting him up in the process. “I’m sorry if I don’t live up to your standards of what the perfect Starfleet officer should represent, but I really couldn’t care less right now. I’m trying to rescue as many as I can, because that is what I do. If you want to go on your quest to save the day, then by all means, go! But do not risk the few souls who have become my responsibility as soon as they stepped aboard my shuttle. I will stop at nothing to make them survive this cursed day. And in case you want me to face that court martial, I am Lieutenant Danielle Forrester. Maybe you should write that down!”

    Tony has to straighten his back to regain his posture after being subjected to this unexpected barrage of words. “I will remember you,” he says in a subdued voice, “as the officer who saved my wife.”

    Now it’s Danielle’s turn to be surprised. Before she can retort, Tony runs away, back to his house.
     
    CeJay likes this.
  2. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Man, San Fran can't catch a break in the future. First the Dominion and now the Altonoids. Well, looks like its the entire planet that's gone to hell in a hand basket. I wonder where things go from here? Dark days.

    Also, good for Forrester to stand up to a superior officer who clearly isn't thinking straight. That girl has moxie.
     
    Alexbright99 likes this.
  3. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - chapter 2d

    Tony almost wishes he hadn’t bothered opening the garage door. Even though the out-of-control fighter missed it, the destructive forces of the nearby crash didn’t spare the garage in the slightest. His carefully arranged shelves are a shambles, and its contents—mostly tools and vintage car memorabilia—lie scattered about on a floor that used to be pristine. The lights are out, the walls are smudged black, and floor and ceiling panels have been shaken loose. He has to push a toppled storage rack away in order to see it in all its glory, but there it is: his classic Mercedes-Benz hover car.

    Tony is very proud of this rare vehicle brought forth by a distant era, but his wife thinks it’s “an antiquated piece of cavemen engineering filling up the garage.” She just refuses to understand what it is like to hover around in this prime example of cultural heritage. Even bringing her along on several day trips failed to change her mind. Her loss.

    This silver 2134 Mercedes hover car was the pinnacle of automotive engineering in its heyday, with its speedboat-like design, its beautifully sculpted two-seater cockpit dome, and the rounded contours at the bottom that mask the once revolutionary repulsorlifts. It’s a work of art, really. Granted, its technical condition isn’t perfect yet, but Tony always takes good care of its interior and exterior, making the nearly 250-year-old Mercedes seem factory-fresh.

    Tony polishes off a little stain made by a stray ceiling tile and makes an unlocking gesture at the transparent cockpit dome. The dome separates and both segments slide down into the sides of the hover car. Or at least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. The right half bounces back up with a feeble sound, to Tony’s dismay. “Cursed Altonoids…” he mutters as he hops into the car. The left half closes automatically, sealing him in 22nd-century luxury.

    Red leather and chrome decorate the cockpit of the Mercedes. With a barely contained sigh of sheer pride, Tony grabs the steering wheel, rests his hand on the throttle stick, and revels in the mesmerizing simplicity of their chrome design. At least the interior wasn’t harmed in the attack. A series of displays covers the dashboard from left to right, casting soft, blue light and showing polite welcome messages to the driver and the notably absent passenger.

    Tony switches on the headlamp, which in turn showers the garage with light. Not a particularly pleasant sight, as there isn’t much left of the garage to begin with. A big, illuminated Mercedes star rises up from the hood, fizzles out, and lowers again. After some annoyed growls, Tony decides to try to ignore the damage to his hover car and focus on getting it started instead.

    Starting the engines of this type of Mercedes used to be easy—back in 2134. All you had to do was say “check area” to let the car conduct a few tests to make sure it’s safe to activate its engines, say “initiate repulsorlifts” so the car would lift up about a foot or so, and conclude with “start engines” to start hovering wherever you want to go. It’s the kind of ritual that makes any hover car enthusiast feel warm and fuzzy inside, and Tony is no exception.

    “Check area,” he says. Nothing happens. “Check area!” Still nothing. “Check the bloody… Oh, that’s right.” Impatiently tapping a finger on the steering wheel, he starts over.

    “Cheek gibble.” The dashboard displays indicate the area is secure.

    “Tamper riddlesteak.” The repulsorlifts become active, shining bright blue light at the ground and lifting the car up.

    “Hollow ostrich.” Nothing. “Um…” He rubs his chin in an attempt to jog his memory, before saying with cheerful sarcasm, “Hello, ostrich.” The engines ignite with a furious roar, scattering sparks throughout the dusky garage. Vowing to himself to get the voice interface module replaced at his earliest convenience, he pushes the throttle stick to the max. The car lunges forward and fights its way through the remains of the garage, shoving all rubble aside on its way to freedom. He steers the hover car into the night, forever leaving his war-torn house behind.

    * * *

    It’s as if Tony is driving through a very detailed nightmare. Practically every building is either destroyed or on fire. Man or woman, old or young, indigenous or alien—they roam the streets, drifting from place to place like phantoms in the night. He hears desperate screams coming from all directions, audible in spite of the dome’s considerable insulation. Fire pours down from the skies, and blazing debris keeps striking the ground at random.

    Gathering clouds hide battles being fought several kilometers high. Masses of evaporated water cannot obscure the sounds of spacecraft whooshing by, weapons firing, and the accompanying devastation, nor can they shield Earth and everything on it from impacting phaser beams carving deep marks into its surface.

    Though his hover car is painfully slow by today’s standards—a top speed of a mere 600 kph is laughable at best—Tony is progressing steadily toward San Francisco. Judging by the state of these burning suburbs, the city isn’t going to be a safe place to visit, to put it mildly. Tony is fully aware of the risks involved, but it’s going to take more than that to deter him from protecting his dad.

    The surroundings are getting misty. Green phaser beams hitting the soil like unnaturally straight thunderbolts bathe the region in an unsettling hue. The hover car’s wide headlight shines at an encroaching wall of fog. Even though it’s the last thing he wants to do, Tony is forced to ease back on the throttle. He does not intend to veer from his course, however, navigating from memory, taking every shortcut he recalls. Skillfully, he pilots his Mercedes through abandoned pedestrian zones and parks, avoiding residential areas for fear of becoming trapped.

    His mind wanders to how fast everything went from the mundane to the extraordinary, from the enjoyable to the horror he’s in now. Is his wife safe or has her shuttle been shot down like the many smoldering wreckages he encounters on the road? What will San Francisco be like when—and if—he arrives? Will there be anyone left to save?

    An ear-piercing explosion to his left rocks the hover car, jolting him from his reverie. He passes whatever act of wanton destruction he has witnessed and continues his perilous journey. Pondering the situation won’t do much good anyway; his fraying concentration is better spent on getting to the city in one piece.

    * * *

    “Alert. Alert,” a baritone computer voice says while the dashboard displays a series of warnings. Before Tony can react, his Mercedes initiates an emergency stop. With nauseating deceleration, the hover car comes to a complete halt—and just in time too. If the emergency braking system hadn’t deployed, Tony would’ve fallen at least 40 feet before hitting two semitransparent railway tubes emanating from the tunnel below. Visibility is poor, but he knows where those two railway tubes lead: the Golden Gate Bridge.

    Tony loosens his grip on the steering wheel and leans back in his leather seat. With a couple of quick commands, he deactivates the safety protocols, ending the numerous alerts. He will have to go around somehow, unless he wants to crash-land on top of those railway tubes. Skipping California’s most famous bridge altogether is an option worth considering. His hover car should be able to travel across water. However, given its current suboptimal technical condition, he’d rather not chance it.

    The air is clearing up, making the nearest tower of the Golden Gate Bridge protrude through the fog in all its steel majesty, its distinctive red color turned to dried blood in the mist. The bridge is actually closer than Tony thought at first—it’s less than a mile away.

    Even though much more technologically advanced bridges have been constructed since this landmark was built—about 450 years ago—the Golden Gate Bridge remains impressive to this day. The many evenly spaced lampposts dimmed by the haze give the bridge an eerie appearance. Tony can’t even see the ocean with all that low fog floating around the feet of the bridge, though it can still be heard faintly over the gentle hum of the Mercedes’ idling engines. The Golden Gate Bridge being completely deserted worries Tony a great deal. The bridge itself looks fine, its suspension cables steady. Then why is no one crossing the bridge, leaving the city? Does that mean there are few or no survivors left?

    He peers through the cockpit dome. A blanket of dark clouds looms over the area, which the slowly dissipating mist reveals in more detail with each passing moment. Reflections of warfare draw bright patterns of light in the sky. One of those patterns stands out against the rest. These lights are flickering on and off, and they’re slowly moving toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

    “Oh, not again,” Tony says when he realizes what those descending lights represent. He slams the throttle stick forward and the hover car responds like a bullet fired. It leaps over the ledge, makes a seemingly endless fall, and lands on the railway tubes below in an uncomfortable fashion, shaking Tony about without injuring him. As expected, the rough landing damages the hover car—especially its underside—but the rattled Mercedes is still accelerating toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

    The descending lights close in on the top of the bridge; they’re already giving the surrounding fog an orange glow. Tony tries once more to push the throttle stick past its breaking point. He can use all the speed he can squeeze out of this old machine. His sweaty left palm is locked in a fight with the steering wheel to prevent the hover car from sliding off the bulbous railway tubes. The hover car’s underside keeps scraping the tubes as the repulsorlifts desperately search for something to push off against. Though Tony keeps struggling to keep the car under control, he is far more concerned with the sky—and for good reason.

    Just as Tony reaches the Golden Gate Bridge, a battle-worn Excelsior-class starship breaks through the fog as if sent by the heavens to wreak havoc upon the lands. He instantly recognizes it as the USS Fredrickson, part of Earth’s defense force. The ship tries to maintain altitude, but all it manages to do is stay level as it falls like a brick dropped in a pool, zeroing in on the closest bridge tower. Big chunks of hull are missing, exposing rooms and blackened corridors, and multiple sections of the once graceful ship are on fire. She is dying, plummeting to her final resting place.

    Feeling like an ant about to be crushed by a shoe, Tony doesn’t lose sight of the Fredrickson for a split second. This particular starship is approximately 500 meters in length and over 180 meters in width, considerably wider than the Golden Gate Bridge. Even though the bridge has been rigorously strengthened after its near destruction during the Breen attack in ’75, it’s tinfoil compared to a starship with a total mass of over two million metric tons. Tony awaits the inevitable impact while clutching the throttle so hard it hurts.

    Suddenly, the hover car jumps twenty feet into the air and gets tossed back onto the railway tubes with such immense force that the bottom of the car leaves an impressive set of sparks behind. This can mean only one thing: the Fredrickson has collided with the bridge tower, right above his head! He is speeding away from the crashing starship, which is easier said than done when dealing with a Starfleet vessel half a kilometer long. When Tony looks up, he is treated with the breathtaking spectacle of a crumbling starship toppling the tower, deforming it as if it were made of clay. And that sound! It’s as if two incredibly powerful, metallic monsters are caught in an epic fight to the death. It’s the most frightening and humbling sound he has ever heard, bar none. But the ear-deafening screams of tritanium against steel are the least of his worries.

    The railway tubes start to bend upward as the unyielding Fredrickson and the collapsing bridge tower entangle the suspension cables and pull them along. The entire bridge quakes, convulsing like a massive beast in its death throes, while the hover car smashes through burning debris that’s raining down from the inferno above him. One by one, suspension cables snap and lash out at Tony, who is busy enough keeping the car on the tubes and evading falling lampposts.

    With the railway tubes curling skyward, the Mercedes gradually loses speed. The railway’s increasingly steep grade also sends all debris rolling in Tony’s direction, making it an almost impossible feat to stay on the tubes. Swerving left and right, he does his best to evade scores of unidentifiable ship and bridge components—some small and nothing more than an inconvenience, others big enough to flatten him in an instant.

    Tony’s hover car makes another leap into the air as the starship behind him strikes the bridge deck. This is a good thing, as it turns out, because Tony was just wondering how to circumvent a big lump of burning hull plating blocking his path. Now he just sails over it. To his dismay, however, he finds out in midair that the entire bridge deck continues moving away from him, toward the water. The Fredrickson’s abundant weight must be pushing the entire bridge down, upgrading the hover car’s jump to a long drop as it nosedives toward the railway tubes. The bridge deck hits the giant wall of water and sends huge waves spraying in all directions, which slows the falling bridge down considerably, ensuring Tony’s free fall will end soon. The part of the bridge where Tony is headed for is still bent up and hasn’t sunk… yet.

    All he can do is brace himself, teeth clenched, until the Mercedes crashes into the bent railway tubes. When it does, everything goes dark as the headlight is smashed and the interior displays sign off with their last error messages. Though the magnetic seatbelts absorb most of the impact, all air is shoved out of Tony’s lungs and he nearly loses consciousness. The car flips on its roof, giving him a clear view—albeit upside down—of the unidentifiable wreckage of the Fredrickson resting on the crushed bridge tower and a portion of the Marin Headlands.

    Collapsed beneath the defeated starship, the bridge deck is still sinking. To make matters worse, the Mercedes starts sliding down the railway tubes, and there’s nothing Tony can do about it. Flames the size of houses shoot from the Fredrickson, lighting the entire area, while the merciless ocean swallows the ship’s engineering section and crooked warp engines along with mutilated remnants of the northern half of the Golden Gate Bridge—a mighty scene to behold.

    There are few things worse than sliding down a sinking bridge upside down in an old hover car. For instance, doing so in an old hover car with a transparent roof! Bending metal, exploding debris, and thunderous waves create a deafening orchestra of destruction, yet the damaged roof scratching those railway tubes is the worst sound by far. A growing web of fractures spreads in the dome’s surface, weakening its structure with every offshoot. Although its safety glass won’t hurt Tony if shattered, it is his only protection from the outside world.

    Tony is nothing but a hapless passenger as the car slides down, hitting the occasional lamppost or chunk of molten metal while the roof sustains more and more damage, losing its ability to shield him. He has lost all sense of direction. His entire body aches. Panic is taking over. The ocean roars ahead, ready to devour him.

    As soon as the upside-down hover car hits the black waves, water rushes in via the broken dome. Reflexively, Tony extends his arms in a fruitless attempt to stop gallons of water from flowing in. It is amazing and frightening at once how rapidly the cockpit fills up, how quickly a comfortable vehicle can become a deadly trap. The shock of being submerged in ice-cold water prevents him from collecting one last breath, and he starts thrashing about, frantically searching for a way out.

    He briefly manages to lift his head out of the water before slipping and going back under. Desperate for oxygen, he moves into the same direction and lifts his head clear again. Could he have broken free somehow? He inhales as deeply as his tightened chest allows, opens his eyes, and claws at the red leather above him. The driver’s seat… He is trapped, water rising above his chin, air seeping away through the hover car’s battered underbody. Tony takes one final breath before the sea claims the last pocket of air.

    Darkness envelops the cockpit. The Golden Gate Bridge has disappeared. The Fredrickson has disappeared. The whole world has disappeared. There is nothing left to see, no air left to breathe, no warmth left in this freezing water.

    Tony has never felt this alone in his entire life while his cold cage drags him to the bottom of the sea.
     
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  4. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Blatant product placement aside, this was an intense chapter of dread and destruction. Looks like Tony didn't get very far in his quest to save the Earth. What's next?
     
  5. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    He is saved by Spock in an Audi hover car. No, that's not what happens. But now that I think of it, that would've been awesome!
     
  6. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - chapter 3d

    How long can I hold my breath?


    Is there any point?

    Tony Q forces himself to open his eyes. As a result, ice-cold seawater pricks them like small needles. There is not much to see anyway; everything is pitch black. His antique Mercedes hover car is upside down and sinking, dragging him to a watery grave.

    How long have I been under?

    Weightless and numb, his body craves oxygen, but there is none to be found. He might as well take a giant breath of water. Not doing so is merely postponing the inevitable. He experiences the distressing sensation of being compelled to thrash one’s limbs about in a desperate bid for air. It takes a gargantuan effort, but he controls that reflex and remains silent and tranquil, staring into the yellow light that spreads through tons of water and floods the car’s interior with brightness. It’s a beautiful sight, though he doesn’t fully understand what it—

    A massive shockwave smashes the hover car backward and sends it reeling. Centrifugal forces toss Tony against the broken cockpit dome, giving him no choice but to go along for the ride.

    When the Mercedes finally stops tumbling, Tony sinks back into what must be the driver’s seat. He has lost all sense of direction—a spin in the world’s most unpleasant washing machine will do that to you. It isn’t completely dark anymore, but there’s no way of telling what’s going on beyond the fissured dome, especially because Tony is finding it harder and harder to retain coherent thought. He managed to hold his breath when the shockwave hit, but he has been under water for at least a minute now. The pressure on his lungs is rising to intolerable levels, as if begging him to make room for fresh air. There isn’t any. It’s all in vain; he’s going to drown. He shuts his eyes as his mind grows dimmer by degrees, as if someone is switching off the lights one by one in a long hallway.

    It will all be over soon—the constant pain, the second-guessing, being trapped in this feeble human form on an insignificant planet ravaged by war. It will all be gone if I’d only give in.

    Tony feels lighter somehow. Could that be one of the final stages of suffocation? He opens his eyes for a final glimpse at the world through the blur of stinging water. To his astonishment, he sees burning rubble and gray mist outside. His hover car has resurfaced! Yet, no matter how close he is to salvation, he is still trapped inside the water-filled cockpit.

    Time has run out. He exhales explosively, sending a swarm of bubbles to the top of the dome, and grabs his mouth and nose with all his might to prevent himself from inhaling water. His lungs fight for breath with such increasing force that he ends up convulsing violently. After an intense, hopeless struggle, he releases his mouth and nose, reaches up, inhales deeply… and fills his lungs with fresh air.

    While brawling with the Grim Reaper, he must have fought his head and upper body out of the broken cockpit, and now he’s sticking out of the hover car with his arms held high, relishing the fact that he didn’t drown, and looking pretty silly in the process.

    Tony rests his arms on the cracked dome to keep from sliding back into the cockpit that nearly killed him, and he takes deep breath after breath, savoring every oxygen molecule. Walls of fog stretch out in each direction, making it impossible for him to discern anything other than distant specks of light, floating debris, and the poor excuse for a boat he’s in.

    “I’m alive!” he shouts suddenly and much to his own surprise. Every cubic inch of his body aches and blood merges with seawater on the transparent cockpit dome, but he couldn’t care less. The good fortune of having survived this ordeal quells his worries. Sure, he’s half-stuck in an oversized fishbowl, sailing straight for Japan for all he knows, but he’s alive!

    The hover car glides up and down the waves, and Tony actually enjoys the first twenty-five times it does this (near-asphyxiation does strange things to the mind), but inevitably, he grows tired of it as exhaustion sets in. Listening to the roily sea and the faraway thunder of warfare, only now does he notice a barely audible hum. When he tracks the sound and follows his blood trickling to the undercarriage of his totaled vehicle, he spots a faint blue light illuminating the water.

    “Thank you, Mercedes,” he says upon realizing what the blue light represents. A section of the repulsorlifts has reinitiated in emergency mode. That’s what made his Mercedes resurface after being turned the right way up by that shockwave, that strange yellow light… The Fredrickson! Its wreckage, resting on seabed and shoreline, must have exploded. It saved his life.

    A humorless grin appears on Tony’s face as the hover car keeps floating through the mist. “Thank you, Fredrickson.”

    * * *

    Commander Tony “Q” Blue understands why the USS Kennedy is one of Starfleet’s finest starships. Its crew keeps this Sovereign-class vessel in pristine condition. The carpet he is walking on appears untouched by mere mortals, the corridor is so brightly lit that he suspects somebody has nudged up the lighting a few levels, and the LCARS displays on the bulkheads have been furbished to such an extent that they act as slightly distorted mirrors.

    Subordinates who happen to pass by salute him by stating his rank, further cementing his status as local hotshot. The young commander replies with a charming smirk and continues his journey to the end of this corridor. The instant he enters the turbolift he finds there, he arrives at his destination: the Kennedy’s bridge, brand new and shinier than ever.

    For reasons he can’t quite fathom, he hesitates to enter and observes the bridge and its crew from the turbolift instead. Tony’s old friends from the Kennedy are here, and they drop what they’re doing to meet his gaze with broad smiles. Captain Mathieu Duvivier rises to his feet, and one by one, everyone who wasn’t standing already follows suit: First Officer Jansen, Doctor Van Oers, Lieutenants Malin and Muntenaar, Chief Engineer Soeteman, and even the Vulcan science officer Sivar. Lieutenant Appels and Ensign Parkin greet Tony from their tactical stations.

    He had almost forgotten how much he cared about these people. Seeing their kind faces in this familiar setting feels like coming home from an arduous journey.

    Captain Duvivier gives him a respectful nod. “Welcome back, Tony Q.”

    Before Tony can reply, the captain starts a round of applause. Everyone joins in, and Tony finally steps onto the bridge to be surrounded by his friends.

    “She sure was a fine ship, wasn’t she?” Captain Duvivier says, brimming with pride.

    “Not as good as her crew,” Tony says, intensifying his friends’ smiles. They are nothing but nice to him, and yet an eerie sensation crawls from the recesses of his mind to no longer be ignored. Something is very wrong.

    Despite his desire to cling to the illusion, the events of June 26, 2380, are ingrained in his memory. That day, the USS Kennedy was lost with all hands during the Station A-12 Debacle. Captain Duvivier and Commander Jansen were held captive on board the station and never made it out. Of the dozens of armed security squads that were sent to free the hostages, only two people survived: Tony and Emily. The rest of Tony’s team, led by Lieutenant Appels and Dr. Van Oers, perished in the corridors of Station A-12.

    These exemplary men and women, his friends, this ship—they’re all gone; they have been for almost two years. But here he is, on the bridge of the ill-fated Kennedy, encircled by the dead. A paralyzing coldness creeps up from Tony’s soles to his spine, and the once overly bright illumination dims gradually. Within seconds, the cruel temperature shift brings him to his knees.

    “It’s so cold. So cold,” Tony says. His friends don’t respond to him anymore. They keep smiling those loving smiles while everything dissolves. Invisible claws seize his hips, inciting crippling surges of pain. He reaches out for the shadowy figures around him, begs for their help, but they fade into darkness to be replaced by equally dark clouds spewing green thunderbolts.

    The hover car beneath Tony shocks and shudders as if a giant hand is lifting it out of the sea. He awakens completely from his upsetting dream and finds himself reintroduced to harsh reality. Peering through the night sky, he notices the Mercedes has stopped moving as well as floating. It has hit the shore.

    Protruding fragments of the broken cockpit dome have pierced Tony’s hips, keeping his lower body trapped and his legs submerged in ice-cold water, which is slowly seeping away. If he were to make a wild guess, he would say his unintended sailing trip has taken at least half an hour—long enough for his legs to go numb while the rest of his body aches up a storm.

    Tony tries to wrestle himself out of the shattered cockpit dome, causing its jagged edges to cut deeper into his skin. With the last vestiges of his strength, he frees himself from the Mercedes and slides down its frigid glass and metal face-first to make a soft landing in the sand. Where is he anyway? This beach has no discerning landmarks. If he is to find his father, he must determine where his hover car has taken him. Lacking the energy and will to get going, he lies there for a prolonged moment of inaction, listening to the gentle roll of the tide inviting him to drift off to sleep.

    A surge of adrenaline snaps him back into the real world. Ahead, the ruins of San Francisco burn, under attack by Altonoid fighters circling the hills like vultures. That solves the mystery then; his little odyssey, adrift in his Mercedes, has brought him closer to his destination.

    The last time he saw the city—right before he jumped into his hover car and took off without a plan—it was already in a demolished state, but that was nothing compared to this. Most buildings have collapsed, fire and smoke arises for as far as the eye can see, and downed fighters and assorted space vehicles litter the area. A wrecked Galaxy-class starship has crushed entire neighborhoods. It rests aflame on the remains of houses and toppled skyscrapers, incinerating everything in its vicinity.

    Packs of fighters search the streets and let loose barrages of phaser strikes. The sheer volume of explosions seems to be dwindling, however, probably because most of the invaders’ work is done. The only signs of ground activity are numerous beams of light piercing the all-encompassing haze in frantic disarray. Whether those beams originate from flashlights of survivors or those of Altonoid ground troops is anyone’s guess.

    He is still lying prone in the sand. “All right, Tony. This is it. This is what you’ll have to do. Your father might be alive, and if he is… he needs your help.” When he raises his head, he sees nothing but utter despair enveloping the destroyed city as the Altonoids finish this attack with brutal efficiency. “It’s hopeless… There’s no point.” Another wave of fatigue hits him and he realizes he still cannot feel his legs. “I’m badly injured. My father is dead. Earth is lost… I should give up.”

    He tightens his fists. “Yeah… I really should give up.” He begins crawling his way up the beach, away from his stranded hover car and into the doomed city.
     
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  7. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Olympus Earth Has Fallen.

    Whatever happens next, things are likely never going to be the same again for the Federation, perhaps the entire galaxy.
     
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  8. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - chapter 3b (previous post was chapter 3a, not 3d. Way to make it confusing ;))

    Commander Tony Q’s stamina is admirable, but his progress is slow nonetheless. Since he’s unable to get any response from his legs, he has no choice but to stick to his strenuous army-crawl. Soon enough, he identifies the location he’s in as the Presidio of San Francisco, which isn’t as overbuilt as the city center. There used to be several important military facilities here. All that is left are piles of stone, dust, and trash, some ablaze—a great contrast with the impressive flora decorating the premises. Most of the vegetation has evaded destruction, which indicates the Altonoids are solely focusing their attacks on killing as many people as possible. It doesn’t take long before Tony comes across the first war victims. He tries to ignore them as he inches past, but these dead bodies lying quietly in the darkness stay in the corners of his vision wherever he fixes his gaze.

    As a welcome distraction, a shiny object draws his attention. It’s close to the stone path Tony is crawling on, so he takes the slightest detour to sate his curiosity and digs out what appears to be a plaque. It reads:

    STARFLEET MEDICAL ACADEMY

    annex to STARFLEET ACADEMY

    Nearby lies Starfleet Medical Academy’s charred skeleton frame. He recognizes it solely because of the plaque he has found; there are no other distinguishing features left.

    He has recovered a modicum of feeling in his legs, making it easier for him to move, but he can’t drag himself to downtown San Francisco like this. “Here goes nothing,” he says before shifting more weight onto his legs. Gushing pain flares up throughout his body and he can barely hold back an agonized scream, but his legs are equal to the task. Carefully, he stands up. A severe wave of nausea and dizziness rewards him for his efforts, and he falls back to the stone path—and just in time too.

    Hurried footsteps are approaching, denying the young commander the chance to get up and flee. Instead, he closes his eyes and remains perfectly still. That, combined with his torn and bloodstained dress uniform, should make him a convincing corpse.

    “Hey Hune, would you look at that,” he hears someone say.

    Multiple flashlights bathe Tony in sallow light.

    “All dressed up for his own funeral,” another voice, presumably Hune, says to the amusement of his companions.

    Tony’s mind races as his survival instinct takes the reins. Altonoids, no doubt whatsoever. Judging by the laughter there’s at least four of them. Or there’s at least four them who liked Hune’s joke…

    “We’re not looking for the dead. We’re looking for survivors,” an Altonoid with an authoritative voice says.

    That’s right. Carry on.

    “I’m not sure this one is dead,” says a voice so nearby that Tony almost gives himself away.

    I am dead. Very much dead, thank you. Will you move on, please!

    “Too bad our scanners are inoperable,” the nearby Altonoid continues.

    “Yeah, well,” Hune says, “our dampening field’s effect on sensors, transporters, and communication devices is a disadvantage for us too, but I like to think of it as adding to the fun. The best way for us to confirm he’s really dead is by shooting him!”

    A couple of Altonoids laugh and one of them charges his rifle. No, no, no! This isn’t working! What was I thinking? I’ve got to do something fast!

    Tony readies himself to jump up and run off in a last-ditch escape attempt, but the authoritative Altonoid interrupts his trigger-happy subordinate. “No. Don’t waste your ammo on the dead.”

    Tony expresses his relief with but a few sweat beads dripping from his forehead onto the ground without anyone noticing. Did I just meet the first Altonoid I’d like to hug?

    “He’s an obstacle,” the trigger-happy Altonoid retorts. “Other teams will be slo—” An agitated scoff from the commanding Altonoid silences him.

    “Throw him with the others. We’ll burn them later.”

    This doesn’t calm Tony’s nerves. Throw me with the others? Oh no…

    Tony tries to stay convincingly dead while two burly Altonoids lift and carry him like a heavy sack of potatoes. He can only hope neither of them detects a heartbeat or muscle contraction and discovers he’s not quite as dead as they think he is. So, despite how rough his carriers are handling him, he surrenders to his fate and keeps himself limp and silent, wondering where they will take him.

    He doesn’t have to wait long.

    They hurl him onto the pavement. The impact causes Tony great pain, but he doesn’t wince or moan while lying there on his side, pretending to be nothing more than a lifeless bag of meat and bones. Without further decorum, the Altonoids retreat.

    When their footsteps have dissolved in the clamor of far-off destruction, Tony allows himself to take deeper and deeper breaths, followed by a long-overdue sigh of relief. “It worked,” he whispers, and he opens his eyes. “It actually—” He looks straight into the dead stare of a motionless cadet lying half a meter away. Every hint of triumph disappears as he stares into the glazed eyes of the young woman—one of today’s many casualties—whose terrified expression became permanent upon dying. Tony cannot avert his gaze, even though this horrific sight wounds him to the core. With a tender gesture, he reaches out and closes her eyelids. She couldn’t have been more than twenty years old.

    Tony’s blood boils with anger. Such an unnecessary loss of life. What the hell could justify killing innocent people? What did this poor girl ever do to anyone? These Altonoids may be humanoid, but their brutality rivals that of beasts. When Tony props himself up on his elbows, he sees countless other dead bodies—mainly cadets—piled up near the Academy’s ruins. These people were training to become doctors, healers. And now they’ve died a violent death.

    Fear gets the better of him. If the Altonoids hadn’t fallen for his desperate trick, he would’ve shared these medics’ tragic fate. Slowly, he gets up, his tired legs aching but complying, horror and fury raging through his skull. Trapped inside this weak shell and uncertain of what’s to come, he would like to let out a plaintive groan, but that might attract the enemy. At least he’s standing, and he hasn’t been defeated yet. He has to go on—for Emily, for his father.

    Tony rolls up his muddy uniform jacket and shirt to reveal his abdomen. It looks bad; his sides are bloody and bruised, and the old phaser scar above his right hip has opened up again. Suddenly, a twig snaps nearby. He tugs at his shirt to cover his injuries and moves off. Though limping like a wounded animal, he leaves the scene quickly.

    * * *

    Although Tony has been living in San Francisco for a couple of years, he is having great difficulty orienting himself. The once thriving metropolis has turned into a maze of rubble. Headed for higher ground, he should be going in the right direction, deeper into the heart of the city, where continuous explosions are deafening but not loud enough to drown out disturbing screams coming from people he cannot see.

    He rests against one of the few remaining walls and gives the phaser rifle he found minutes ago a quick but thorough inspection, hoping he will have better luck with it than its previous owner. The scope is clear, the rifle’s power cells fully charged. He switches its flashlight on and off, blocking its light with his palm. Tempting as it may be, leaving it on would draw unwanted attention. The commander has come this far by staying off the main roads, but he can’t get to his destination solely by diving through destroyed alleyways.

    An Altonoid fighter flies past, searching for lives to extinguish. Dirt on Tony’s dress uniform helps camouflage his presence, and as soon as the fighter has disappeared from view, the young commander pushes off the wall and starts running toward the end of this alleyway. His injuries hinder his running speed, but his resolve compensates for his pain.

    He lifts his rifle and places a finger on the trigger guard while gathering sufficient momentum to dash across the next main street. Not a great strategy, he admits to himself, but it might work if he is fast enough. He’ll have to cover about 20 meters out in the open, which will take about seven seconds at his current speed. A lot can happen in seven seconds.

    Nothing in his unique lifetime could’ve prepared Tony for what he experiences when he enters Divisadero Street and is forced to jump over the many bodies littering the road. Not all of them are dead yet; a few of them, mangled beyond recognition, beg for help with raised, bloody arms trying to grab him. Tony evades the grasping figures. Though it’s breaking his heart, there’s nothing he can do for them. They are slowing him down, however, and thus increasing the chance of him getting caught. Around him, other shadows are sprinting through the night, but whether they are survivors, Altonoids, or figments of his frightened imagination is impossible to tell.

    Close by, a salvo of phaser fire blows up another building, sending out a fast-moving carpet of thick dust that consumes everything it touches and robs Tony of his vision. Confused and with each breath more labored than the last, he tries to make his way through, but his feet connect with something hard. The ensuing fall causes him to smack his face against the unforgiving pavement and knocks his phaser rifle out of his hands. He hears his weapon sliding away, its heading concealed by the dust cloud.

    Hurt, unarmed, flat on the ground, blinded by and choking on dust, surrounded by the dead and suffering, he curses his plight. The dust cloud is slowly dissipating, and Tony discovers he is halfway across the street and facing the right way. He spots his phaser rifle, out of reach but intact. Before making any sudden movements or other rushed decisions, he checks if the coast is clear.

    It isn’t.

    Partially obscured by the concrete mist, an Altonoid fighter hovers in the air, close enough to see in all its terrifying glory, and it aligns its phaser banks on the tips of both wings with Tony’s position. There’s no room for doubt; it’s coming to get him. As the enemy ship accelerates, Tony gets up with a pained grimace and sprints for his rifle. He doesn’t notice his wounds aching, his eyes itching, or his lungs filling with dust. There are only three things in this universe that matter at present: the fighter, the rifle, and seeking cover. If he can make it to the bushes and their adjacent gardens, he’ll be safe—or safer, at any rate.

    The second he picks up his weapon, the fighter unleashes its green phaser beams at its running target. Intense heat imbues the air as the phaser beams slice through the asphalt with unimaginable speed, igniting pockets of dust along its path. The bushes ahead are near—just a few more yards to go. The commander sets his rifle to its highest power setting and prepares for a short demonstration of its capabilities. He leaps backward into the bushes while firing a series of powerful phaser bursts at the Altonoid vessel, right when one of the phaser beams misses him by a hair.

    Tony hits the ground sprawling, automatically hidden beneath the foliage. He saw the phaser bursts disperse in the fighter’s shields, and it might’ve distracted them briefly, but a rifle is no match for a Foora-class attack ship, which can take on multiple shuttles with ease. It has bought him a few seconds, however.

    Without looking back, he scampers off, racing through the bushes, through nicely maintained backyards of burning houses, and past a wrecked shuttlecraft that has been reduced to a macabre garden ornament. The fighter’s engines humming above him fuels his desire to flee. Forgotten is the battle, the inconceivable death toll, the pain and sorrow that permeates the globe. He should know better, having undergone extensive training, but all he can focus on is that low rumble chasing after him.

    He scales a fence and tries to land swiftly and gently. His injured state doesn’t permit such a hasty maneuver, though, and he slips and lands on his back in somebody’s garden, its loose dirt softening his fall. As Tony faces the sky, too terrified to blink, the fighter’s searchlights come on to scour the abandoned residences. Soon, they will find him.

    Tony is still holding on to the heavy phaser rifle, his right hand firmly clasping its grip. Set on its maximum setting, it’s capable of instantly vaporizing a modest rock formation. He lifts it carefully and points it where the Foora-class fighter should appear. Unexpectedly, its pilot switches off his searchlights, shrouding the area in emerald darkness, but Tony senses its proximity as he lies there, every muscle tensed, waiting for the axe to fall.

    And there it is! The fighter swoops into view. Before Tony can pull the trigger, the fighter fires its phaser beams at an unseen target in the sky and speeds off, having found a more interesting prey.

    Although this particular danger has passed, Tony can’t bring himself to resume breathing just yet and rests on the garden’s soil like an unburied corpse while staring at the clouds, trying to remember a time when they weren’t suffused with a persistent green hue. It’s hard to imagine a few hours ago he was having a pleasant conversation with his wife, chatting about the weather and getting ready for that fancy gala party. Now, he is lying in some poor bastard’s garden in a crumbling city he used to call home.

    Tony sets the rifle to the lowest kill setting and gets up. Between rows of flattened houses, Alta Plaza Park lies dead ahead, untouched in dreamlike serenity, as if this entire war business never happened, as if all will be rebuilt and all casualties will be resurrected at sunrise.

    It looks too calm… He’d better stay clear of it. No more beauty and hope on this planet. With that notion lingering in his mind, he scrambles to his feet and disappears into the next alleyway.
     
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  9. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Man, the horror-show continues. This is just depressing. Oh, and fine writing.
     
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  10. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    I recommend googling pictures of kittens, bunnies, and puppies after each chapter segment ;)
     
  11. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - chapter 3c

    A few more blocks and Tony will arrive at Geary Boulevard, the long street where the party would’ve been held and where his father must’ve been when the Altonoids started their relentless carnage. A rare intact sign that reads “Steiner Street” confirms he is heading in the right direction.

    Tony pays no heed to the unlit buildings, nor does he dwell on how the skyscrapers’ obliteration has forever mutilated the skyline. He just runs as fast his injured body can carry him, avoiding detection by crossing junctions in a flash, staying close to the walls, and keeping up the pace. Reaching Geary Boulevard is his sole purpose. So he trains his gaze on the horizon and shuts out everything else. Although…

    Multiple shadows graze the walls on the other side of Steiner Street. Tony keeps on running, but the shadows distract him; he’s losing his hypnotic fixation on Geary Boulevard. The more his perception of the world around him grows, the more he sees the blackened ruins hemming him in, the more he feels the sting of his wounds, the more he smells the scent of death, the more he hears the moaning of dying strangers, the more he—

    A green phaser blast explodes mere inches away, sending fragments of a nearby brick wall flying. Acting on instinct, Tony hits the ground and rolls to shelter, which consist of a piece of shuttle hull plating sticking up from the pavement. His assailants quickly discover his hiding place, but the hull plating withstands this sudden outpour of violence. It shudders with each phaser blast, but it holds—for now. Multiple impacts suggest there are two—possibly three—Altonoids attacking him from across the road.

    Outnumbered and outgunned, he looks around, taking in the inescapable darkness and destruction, and realizes this scenario applies to every desperate soul courageous enough to offer resistance during this brutal invasion. He remembers the many slain civilians he encountered along the way. That young medical cadet’s lifeless, gray eyes… Tony curls his upper lip into a sneer. These Altonoids are going down. It may not make much of a difference, but these Altonoids are going down.

    He sneaks a peek over the hull plating to ascertain the positions of his rivals—three in total. This increases the intensity of phaser fire his hiding place has to endure; it’s buckling under duress. Judging by the angles of attack, the enemy is zeroing in on him like a hungry pack of wolves. Ignoring the pain, Tony stands up, aims his rifle with lightning-fast precision, and shoots the middle Altonoid squarely in the center of mass before dropping behind cover again. That’s one.

    Another phaser strike breaks loose a part of the hull, giving the ensuing phaser blasts that make it over the edge free rein. White-hot packets of energy miss the commander by a whisker. Worse yet, the chipped plating is sizzling and on the verge of melting.

    Both Altonoids try to render his hiding place useless by splitting up and circling it, effectively flanking the commander—a decent if not predictable strategy. Just as the rightmost Altonoid has progressed far enough to pose a risk, he appears in the scope of Tony’s readied phaser rifle, exactly where Tony expected him to be. Before the Altonoid can take aim, Tony squeezes the trigger and shoots him in the chest. That’s two.

    If Tony doesn’t act accordingly, the third soldier will be on him soon. Powered solely by adrenaline, Tony leaps over the hull plating to make it act as a buffer between him and the last Altonoid. Strafing to the right, he directs his rifle to where the Altonoid should be after basically having switched places, ready to hit his mark as soon as he shows up in his crosshairs.

    Nobody’s there.

    From out of the blue, a strong arm clenches around his waist, and a serrated knife is pressed against his throat. “Don’t move,” a gravelly voice says. Tony can’t turn to face his attacker, but he’s willing to bet his threatened life that it’s the third Altonoid. “I will make you suffer for what you did to my friends.”

    Lacking alternatives, Tony holds perfectly still. “Okay. You got me,” he says with every iota of calmness he can muster, stalling for time with no idea what to do next. “Please tell me, how many people have you killed today, excluding me?”

    It takes a few long seconds for the Altonoid to respond. “Twelve.”

    “Why? I want to know why.”

    Tony’s calm reaction puzzles the Altonoid. “I don’t answer to you. You’re as much a murderer as I am.” His hold tightens and the knife’s blade pierces the skin on Tony’s neck. But then, he hesitates and asks, “How many Altonoids have you killed today?”

    Tony takes great care to keep from sounding accusatory, opting instead to convey a childlike innocence. “Two. Just now. I was trying to find my father. You attacked me. I had to defend myself.” His distracted opponent slightly weakens his grasp, inadvertently enabling the young commander to gently lower the phaser rifle clutched in his right hand. “What did those twelve people do to you? Did they attack you?”

    Tony hears and feels the Altonoid sigh. “I will kill you, but I will make it swift.” A distant trace of sympathy in his voice. “Any last requests?”

    “Yes,” Tony whispers. “Forgive me.”

    Tony presses the lowered phaser rifle against the Altonoid’s right shin and pulls the trigger. The phaser blast—fired from point blank range—smashes his captor’s right leg, making him howl in agony.

    Immediately, Tony knocks away the knife, frees himself from the Altonoid’s loosened grip, and propels his rifle’s stock against the soldier’s face. His opponent falls backward and makes a rough landing. Cradling his maimed leg, blood streaming from his nostrils, he stares wide-eyed at Tony, who pulls himself together after that dizzying maneuver, plants his feet steady on the ground, and rests his phaser rifle in his hands, its muzzle still hot from firing.

    Deserved or not, Tony pities the soldier. Apart from subtly grooved facial ridges and abundant, bristly hair, Altonoid physiology differs little from a human’s, and it’s hard not to empathize with an injured sentient being. Wincing in pain, the Altonoid reaches for his handphaser, which is secured to his belt. Tony aims his phaser rifle with an outstretched arm and shakes his head, hoping to break his adversary’s resistance with one simple word: “Don’t.”

    The enemy soldier bares his teeth and mutters indistinct curses while reaching, slowly, for his weapon. Tony doesn’t want to shoot him, not even after having witnessed the Altonoids’ atrocious war crimes. Killing people from afar is easier—horrible but less personal. Without the intensity of a firefight or a ship battle, ending a life is exposed for what it truly is: abhorrent. The Altonoid leaves him no choice, because his fingers have reached the surface of his weapon.

    Something from deep within forces Tony to shut his eyes while squeezing the trigger, knowing he won’t miss. With a nauseating thud, the phaser blast hits the Altonoid. When Tony reopens his eyes, the soldier lies dead on the pavement, staring at the battle-filled sky, a smoking phaser wound in his chest. Tony stands there, rooted by conflicting emotions, the phaser rifle in his hand pointed at its latest victim. With effort, he tears his gaze from the corpse. Geary Boulevard is up ahead. He’s so close.

    Tony moves onward, past the man he killed. At first, he’s walking, then jogging, and soon enough he’s full-on sprinting toward Geary Boulevard. From the opposite direction, clusters of wounded survivors are carrying themselves away from the large street. As the commander passes by, his eyes meet theirs for a split second of mutual understanding, their shared desperation glimpsing through before they push on into the night. But Tony doesn’t waver…

    …because he has reached Geary Boulevard.

    He finds cover by a lone wall—all that remains of a structure it once supported—and sees smoldering buildings, blistered tarmac littered with smoking debris, and survivors who are frantically running around, seeking shelter or a way out. There are no enemy troops here at present, but innumerable bodies lying scattered about reveal the slaughter taking place tonight. Green phaser beams light the area, instigating fiery displays of violence, their origins concealed in smoke and confusion. This battle may have been lost, but it’s not over yet.

    “All right,” he says to himself, his voice lost in the pandemonium of combat. “This is where Dad—” A sudden eruption of screams precedes a group of survivors emerging from Steiner Street, the same ones he saw leaving Geary Boulevard moments earlier. Now they’re scurrying toward Tony with expressions that go beyond despair, beyond fear, and enter the realm of utter terror.

    “Move!” one them shouts at him.

    The fleeing mob reaches Tony before he has a chance to react and knocks him aside, causing him to bang his head against the wall and hit the ground face first. Surrounded by countless trampling and kicking feet, his injuries take their toll and the world darkens, the sound of explosions and screaming softens, and the pain subsides to nothing but an unpleasant memory. With increasingly blurred vision, he observes a couple of Altonoid fighters rounding the corner and targeting the crowd. He barely notices their phaser beams whizzing by and setting off distant screams of panic. It’s happening to someone else, not him. It’s only a dream, the end of a nightmare.

    * * *

    “Wake up, buddy,” a friendly voice says. For a second, Tony believes he is in bed. Then he hears the fighters roaring up above, smells the scent of char, and feels the cold night air sending chills up his aching spine. He knows exactly where he is: facedown in a puddle of dust, here at Geary Boulevard.

    A pair of fingers presses against his neck.

    “Come on, buddy. This is no place to take a nap. The Altonoids can be here any second.”

    Tony recognizes the voice. All drowsiness vanishes in an instant, and he attempts to stand up.

    Lieutenant Commander Ralph Blue’s jaw drops. “Is it really you?” He helps his son to his feet. “What are you doing here?”

    “I heard there was a party at midnight,” Tony says while trying to get reacquainted with vertical life. “Sorry I’m a bit late.”

    Ralph is at a loss for words, but his broad smile speaks volumes. The hug that follows speaks libraries. Right this moment, the war and its accompanying horror and destruction fade into the background, as father and son revel in having found each other amid the chaos. Sure, they both look terrible, their scorched dress uniforms unsuccessfully concealing bruises and lacerations, but what matters is the present, the fact that they are both still alive. That makes one forget one’s injuries, albeit for an instant.

    “I don’t understand,” Tony’s father says after letting go. “How did you get here? I mean, they’ve got us pinned down, killed everybody in sight, blown up practically every building, bridge, installation…” A few blocks away, several detonations wipe out yet another structure, as if on cue. “They’ve turned San Francisco into a death trap, a place to flee from, not to come rushing in headlong.”

    Tony has heard that concerned fatherly tone on more than one occasion. “With all due respect,” he replies wryly. “To get here, I survived two starship crashes. I was nearly burned, shot, and stabbed to death. I almost drowned, almost had my throat slit, managed to evade hordes of angry ground troops and fleets of fighters against incredible odds. Oh, I also crashed the Mercedes. And all of that for you to tell me that coming to your rescue isn’t such a great idea in the first place?” His ranting causes his phaser wound to act up, and his knees buckle. Ralph prevents him from falling. “But it sure is good to see you,” Tony continues with a subdued grin.

    “Thank you for being here.” Ralph gently wraps Tony’s arm over his shoulder to support his injured son and help him walk.

    “This jogs my memory,” Tony says, recalling his escape from Station A-12 and how his future wife had volunteered to carry him through the corridors—a story they had told his father many times over.

    Ralph gasps. “Emily! Is she okay?”

    “I hope so. I sent her away on a shuttle packed with survivors.”

    Ralph gives his son’s arm an encouraging squeeze. “Then she’s in good hands. I saw a batch of shuttles evacuating the Embarcadero, by the Ferry Building. I think that’s our best shot at getting out of here.”

    “I agree.” Tony peers through the mist of ashes and vaporized rubble. “The sooner we leave, the better.”

    Ralph picks up Tony’s phaser rifle without letting go of his son and shifts his balance to get a firmer grasp and bear more of Tony’s weight. “Comfy?”

    “It doesn’t beat piggy back ride, but I suppose it will have to do.”

    They start down the road, due east, toward the docks and hopefully their rescue.
     
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  12. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Well, what do you know? Father and son reunited ... again. What were the chances? Can't keep a good team apart, I suppose. Alien invasion or no.

    Now for the next magic trick. How the hell to get off a doomed planet Earth alive? Good luck, guys. Odds: Not in your favor.
     
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  13. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - chapter 3d

    The Altonoids seem to be ignoring this location for now, but they can reappear any second. They’re still wreaking havoc across the city, across the entire world. Geary Boulevard has become an unidentifiable path of smoldering debris and corpses. Save for a lone survivor hastening past, the area is devoid of movement. Above the twisted remains of skyscrapers, the night sky refuses to shed that green tint caused by unrelenting weapon fire. The ascending road obscures any potential danger lurking beyond the next couple of blocks.

    Without speaking, the two ragged officers climb the hill. The threat is far from over, but ever since Tony has been reunited with his father, he feels safe. He has found someone to lean on—literally. Though Ralph has not been able to avoid injury either, he carries his son with fortitude, staying vigilant while keeping his phaser rifle at the ready for any defensive actions necessary.

    There are a million things Tony would like to say, but it’s best to focus on getting out of here as fast as possible. However, mutual silence offers little comfort, so Tony speaks up nonetheless. “I can’t believe I actually found you.”

    “Technically speaking, I found you,” Ralph says with a smile highlighting his familiar laugh lines. “Once the attack began, I hid beneath a torn awning and waited till the brunt of it was over. Then I began my search for survivors, to find the flag officers who attended the party, but the venue was smashed.” He clears his throat to rid it of welling sadness. “The only officers in dress uniform I could find were already dead or dying. I… I didn’t stop to think about it. I just kept searching.”

    “Did the thought of escaping cross your mind?”

    A deep, weighted sigh. “To be honest, I think our chances of escaping are slim at best.”

    “That won’t keep us from trying anyway.”

    “We Blues have always been a stubborn lot.”

    As they approach the hill’s summit, the creeping realization dawns on them that there’s no telling what might face them on the other side. Is it simply apprehension or are the distant cries for help really getting louder, the explosions closer?

    “If I had stayed with the Q Continuum,” Tony says, seizing the last opportunity for having a conversation before their trials resume, “all of this would have happened regardless of my decision. The battles, the loss of life, this determining invasion. It wouldn’t have mattered one—”

    “I would’ve died alone in my house,” Ralph says, bringing Tony’s monologue to a complete stop, “thinking about my son, wondering where he was and why he never came back. Maybe you haven’t made a great impact on the universe yet, but I’m just glad to have you by my side.”

    Tony lets this notion sink in, then gives his father a playful nudge and brings up a heartfelt smile, which departs rather quickly, because they’ve reached the top of this hill and the view from there is disheartening at best.

    Geary Street (as it is called east of Van Ness Avenue) is unrecognizable. Only the street layout suggests this used to be part of the Starfleet capital of the world. In between the roads lies nothing but rubble, some of which aflame. There isn’t a single building within visual range that hasn’t been destroyed or severely damaged. Shuttle crash sites and neighborhood-wide fires illuminate the warzone.

    This isn’t a city anymore. This is hell.

    It takes a few minutes for them to encounter a reminder of the residential area this once was: a row of darkened buildings, an oasis in the blackest of deserts. Two Altonoid fighters whoosh past, activated impulse engines flaring. Their sudden appearance startles Tony and his father, who freeze up, unable to move until they know what’s in store for them. The Foora-class vessels break formation and initiate a steep climb. Showcasing impressive piloting skills, both fighters perform a symmetrical U-turn and descend from the skies to execute a coordinated nosedive aimed at Tony and his father. They have been spotted! The Altonoid vessels, now next to each other, are closing in rapidly. Four searing phaser beams emanate from their weapon arrays to melt the asphalt off the road.

    Abruptly, Ralph turns left and runs into Polk Street, dragging his son along with him—and not a moment too soon. Behind them, green phaser beams plow the tarmac into grotesque sculptures. The fighters have to make another synchronized maneuver to line up with Tony and his father, giving them a minuscule window of opportunity to bolt for cover. They jump over heaps of bodies and rubble, which have paved the road with a burning stench. Driven by survival instinct, they master the rugged terrain—fatigue and injuries be damned.

    Sooner than expected, the two fighters reemerge side by side and unleash another salvo of phaser fire. With sensors jammed, hitting mobile targets is challenging, and a stray phaser beam pulverizes the foundation of a large metal building less than a hundred yards up ahead. As the fighters pull up and disappear into the night, the metal building’s ground floor subsides. In a matter of seconds, the building keels over and threatens to block the officers’ path.

    The steel behemoth collapses onto the street, knocks over the remains of a few houses on the opposite side, and embraces its final resting place with a scraping howl. While overturned and unsalvageable, its internal structure has stayed mostly intact. Metal doesn’t crumble as easily as brick or concrete does, which works to the officers’ advantage. Given the circumstances, going straight through is the only way forward, so Tony and Ralph rush toward the building and dive through the nearest broken window.

    Adjusting to the darkness, Tony gathers they have landed in someone’s office. The entire room has turned sideways, so they have to stand on the rubble and furniture that has accumulated on the concealed facade. Fumes thick as soup make breathing difficult and fill their eyes with tears. Orienting oneself in a toppled building is problematic, and the gloomy conditions aren’t helping. What’s worse, the walls shudder and rumble ominously at random intervals.

    The glow of nearby flames shines in from an opening doorway, enabling Tony to see his father’s uncharacteristically worried expression. The doorway appears to have been placed horizontally against the ceiling. Of course, that’s because the office has been flipped forward. Ralph activates the flashlight atop his phaser rifle, casting a beam of light through the smoke. Without saying a word, father and son clamber into the next room… which looks even less inviting than the one they left.

    Fires ignited by clipped pipes offer adequate compensation for the power outage in this harrowing corridor, which is a mere eight feet wide but at least fifty feet long and sports a notable forty feet of headroom. A few minutes ago, this was a sizeable office space like any other, containing dozens of desks and workstations. Now, nearly everything has converged on what used to be the frontage. The left side of this newly formed hallway is carpeted; its right side consists of ceiling tiles and broken light fixtures. Without pattern, that persistent shuddering and rumbling increases and decreases in intensity.

    Tony and his father try to cross piles of furniture and equipment while avoiding burning terminals. “They’re out there, firing at us,” Tony says, climbing over an upended desk.

    “Could be,” his father replies. “I’m not entirely… Watch out!” Ralph shoves his son away from a tumbling cupboard that travels a good twenty feet before barely missing them and crushing a nearby stack of chairs. Plenty of these dormant projectiles dangle above them from various heights, waiting for the right moment to succumb to gravity.

    They continue their journey despite this bizarre corridor’s hazards. Yet, the more Tony gets to explore this interior gone askew, the more he gets the creepy sensation that this is the last place they should be.

    “Come on!” Ralph says when he notices his son lagging behind.

    “Something’s not right.”

    “There’s no time for this.”

    “No, listen!” Tony lifts a hand to his ear. Ralph pauses and leans against a slanted cabinet to listen somewhat impatiently—to humor his son, more than anything. Tony, squinting at the rifle’s flashlight, remains silent long enough to make his point.

    “They’ve stopped firing at us,” Ralph says. “They must’ve given up. Come on, while we still can.” The beam of light turns away from Tony as his father resumes climbing.

    “We should go back.”

    “What?” There’s more than a hint of anxiety in his dad’s voice.

    “Trust me. They’re either gone or waiting for us on the other side. We shouldn’t be heading north anyway; we should be heading east, toward the piers. Going back is our best option.”

    His father gives it some thought and shines the flashlight back and forth until he reaches a conclusion. “You could be right. Good thinking.”

    “It would’ve been good thinking if I’d come up with this before we entered the bloody building,” Tony mutters as they turn back.

    Once they’ve reached the office they started from, Tony slides down the flipped doorway, into the room, and strikes a blunt chair leg with his right thigh. Clenching his jaw to refrain from saying something unholy, he gets up and determines the chair leg hasn’t caused much more damage than his limbs have already sustained. He then assists his father so he can enter the room with a bit more flair.

    They exit the metal wreck the same way they entered it: by jumping through the open window. The cityscape hasn’t improved during the minute they spent indoors, but Tony is glad he’s out of that infernal office and shares a relieved smile with his father. They’re about to get moving when a giant blast knocks them to the ground. A green phaser beam fired overhead blankets them with blistering heat and sprays debris in all directions. Father and son have no choice but to cower and wait for the worst to pass. Acting on a childlike instinct he had considered lost, Tony grabs his father’s hand and holds on tightly, finding comfort in this simple gesture.

    After what seems like an eternity, the phaser beam moves off, and the two officers sneak a glance at the building. Four ear-splitting phaser beams originating from the other side are carving it to pieces.

    “You were right,” Ralph shouts as he pulls his son up.

    Tony spits out a mixture of gravel and blood and dabs at the filth that has accrued on his mouth, staining his sleeve with ashen and red. “Let’s just get out of here!” With that, they sprint back toward Geary Street, leaving the doomed metal building behind.

    The young commander has no idea from where his exhausted body draws the energy to make him run as fast as he does, as though it is fueled by will power alone. He manages to keep up with his dad as they round the corner and enter Geary Street once again, which will lead them to the docks. But there’s no reason for joy…

    …because they stare straight into the phaser banks of a fully armed Altonoid fighter hovering two dozen feet above the ground, its nose lowered at the two men as if to size up its prey. Tony’s heart sinks and drags his conviction with it. Despite the ordeals they have suffered through, he was confident he could save his father’s life. Speechless, they gawk at the invincible warship that has quashed their hopes of survival. So far, it has refrained from firing, but there’s no chance whatsoever it will grant them mercy. Perhaps its pilot loves toying with his helpless victims prior to delivering the killing blow. It’s impossible to tell with the pilot obscured by the fighter’s opaque canopy.

    “No matter which way you turn, there’s no escaping them,” Ralph says while laying his rifle on the tarmac. He sticks his hands up and slowly approaches the hovering ship, as if he can somehow persuade it to stand down. “Make a run for it,” he says without taking his eyes off the enemy vessel. “While you still can.”

    Tony bites his lip and stares at the sword of Damocles looming over them. His dad is diverting the pilot’s attention for his sake, but he finds himself frozen in place.

    Ralph notices his hesitation and says with a side-glance and a reassuring smile, “Now, son.”

    There’s so much Tony wants to tell him, so much he wants to share, but the circumstances permit him only the briefest of summaries: “Goodbye, Dad.” He collects the remnants of his mental and physical strength and dashes off, away from his father and away from the Altonoid vessel. Almost immediately, he hears the heavy shriek of phaser fire.

    But the area is being lit by red phaser beams, not green ones!

    A pair of battle-worn Starfleet fighters barrel down on the Altonoid fighter, impulse engines roaring, weapons blazing. Red phaser beams hit the fighter dead-on, and it starts dropping from the sky while attempting a frenzied counterattack. Tony and his father, thirty yards apart, duck for cover to avoid the enemy’s random phaser fire. Ralph tries not to get caught under the plummeting wreckage, which spews shredded armor and equipment as it enters an unrecoverable spin. Having defeated their mark, the Starfleet fighters fly past in quest of a new target. Their rickety state makes one wonder how far they’ll get before suffering the same fate as their fallen sister ships.

    The Altonoid ship fires blindly until it crash-lands but a few meters from Ralph, who is lying on the pavement, ensnared between the burning wreck and a scorched apartment complex. Random phaser beams from the dying fighter have struck the five-story building and sliced deep, molten crevices into its masonry. Already weakened from earlier attacks, the structure tries to remain upright, as it has done for hundreds of years, but gravity wins out.

    Tony watches it collapse, watches as his father lifts an arm in a futile act of self-protection before a torrent of stone swallows him whole.

    Forgetting everything around him, Tony scrambles toward the massive heaps of brick, glass, and broken furniture and starts digging, praying he’s searching in the right spot. The newly formed dust cloud impedes his efforts, but that isn’t the main problem; some pieces of debris are simply too large to pick up. If he were a Q, he could’ve hoisted those materials without as much as a wave of the hand, but now, stuck in this bruised human form, his excavation attempt is nothing short of pathetic.

    “Can you hear me?” Tony cries out while continuing his hopeless rescue mission. Soon enough, his determination morphs into bitter desperation. “Dad!” he shouts at the top of his lungs. With a swift gesture, he brushes aside tears conspiring with dust to hinder his vision, and he resumes digging while flames consuming the crashed fighter provide him with a sporadic light source. There’s no reply whatsoever, no sign of there being a living person trapped in the rubble. Tony keeps shouting, foolish as it may be with soldiers prowling the streets. If only his father responded to his pleas.

    Having displaced every movable object in the immediate vicinity, Tony sits down, panting with exertion, forced to take a break. With shaking hands, he wipes clots of sweat and grime from his forehead, then clutches his shoulders, uncertain of what to do next—besides fighting back tears. Despite his unfocused stare, he spots an oddity among the debris: a strip of white fabric.

    With newfound vigor, Tony goes back to digging. A conflicting mixture of relief and dread rages through his mind as he lifts a tabletop strewn with bricks and throws it aside with the little energy he has left. His inkling was correct: the strip of fabric is part of a Starfleet uniform, worn by his motionless father. A concrete slab presses down on his torso. In one final effort, Tony grabs the heavy slab by the edges and pushes it away.

    Bloody and battered from head to toe, Ralph Blue lies prone in the rubble. His death must have been instant. As Tony watches in stunned shock, any lingering trace of hope evaporates and his heart disintegrates on the spot, leaving an empty shell in its stead. It’s as if all his courage, all his fighting spirit has yielded to pure acknowledgment. There is nothing left to do, no trick to pull, no way to fix this. Tony falls to his knees by his father’s side and reaches out to hold his hand one last time, only to recoil at the sight of his dad’s mangled fingers. Horrified, he wraps his arms around himself and whimpers, “I’m sorry, Dad.”

    He faces the distant piers, where the last shuttles—a handful of them at most—take off one by one to transport evacuees to destinations unknown. The chaos of earlier has passed; a serene yet frightening silence has enfolded the city. The Bay Bridge lying collapsed in the sea, the charred streets, the ruins—they all bear silent witness to the tragedies that took place today. The first sunrays are shining through the green clouds. A new day has begun; an era of human reign on Earth has ended.

    Tony will stay here with his father.

    Alongside the Altonoid wreckage, a spacecraft touches down and opens its aft door, blinding Tony with its interior lights. A backlit figure emerges, its intent unclear. Tony should get up and run, but he remains there, kneeled, staring at the approaching shadow, having no opposition to offer. Once the figure is close enough, it gently picks him up and carries him aboard.
     
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  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Alright, so there is dark storytelling and then there is ... this. I mean jeez, finally some good news with Tony having a rather unlikely reunion with his dad and then ... bang ... that's over. And after everything these guys have been through.

    Well at least it can't get much worse, right? Right?!?
     
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  15. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    We'll find out next week! To be clear, this isn't some sort of torture fic where everything just gets worse and worse for the hapless protagonist. There's a plan behind it all, but yeah, when tragedy strikes it's a bit of a rough ride.
     
  16. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - chapter 4a

    Soothing tremors of a spacecraft in flight wake Commander Tony Q from a dreamless sleep, and he finds himself sitting in the back of a large shuttlecraft intended for public transportation. Its many seats are empty, however.

    Despite grogginess clouding his vision, he sees the shuttle hasn’t escaped Earth’s atmosphere yet. It has levelled off, flying ten thousand feet in the air while broad daylight shines in through its portholes. The countless cities below resemble collapsing volcanoes, yet there’s no indication of suffering anymore. It’s unlikely anyone is left to suffer; if there is, their hardship will be over soon, swallowed whole by eternal oblivion.

    As if in a reflex, his subconscious presents him with the sight of his dead father lying buried in the rubble, every bone in his body shattered. Through sheer force of will, he shoves aside the jarring memory and rises from his seat. His muscles object to being molded into any other shape than cramped misery, and even the slightest movement causes cold sweats. The metal scent of blood clings to his tattered dress uniform. He has almost gotten used to pain and filth covering his mortal shell. Almost.

    Up in front, a middle-aged Starfleet officer is piloting the shuttlecraft. That must be the man who carried him to safety. With a considerable degree of effort, Tony shambles toward him, leaving a trail of muddy footprints on the otherwise pristine center-aisle carpet.

    Once Tony is about halfway, the pilot says, “I hope you’re going to clean that up, because I know I won’t.”

    Tony instantly recognizes the master of sarcastic delivery. “Q?”

    It is indeed Q. He pivots in his chair and meets Tony’s tired gaze with a jovial smile, which quickly turns into a huge frown. “My goodness, you’re a mess! Didn’t your father ever tell you not to go playing outside in your clean uniform?”

    Tony opens and closes his mouth several times in a row before gathering the coherence to say, “You’ve got a lot of nerve.”

    “There, there,” Q says, patronizing him. “If it weren’t for me, you’d be busy burning to a crisp on Geary Street. Don’t humans often show their saviors a little more gratitude?”

    “You son of a bitch!”

    “See, how hard was that?” Q swivels back to the shuttle controls.

    “After all this time,” Tony says, inching forward, searching for words, “hoping you were out there, somehow, watching over me. You were never there. And now, while I’m at my weakest, you show up to laugh at me?”

    “Yes, that about covers it,” Q says cheerfully while flailing at the controls, pretending to use the interface instead of his powers to steer the ship.

    Tony halts next to his former mentor. “You have no idea what I’ve been through.”

    “Oh no, that’s not true,” Q says in an indignant tone. “You were throwing the biggest barbecue party in human history when I plucked you off the planet.” He smirks at his own joke.

    “You refuse to understand why I rebelled.” Tony’s voice gains strength, whereas his body has none. “I couldn’t sit by and watch those Altonoids destroy all I hold dear. What choice did I have?”

    “Oh, there’s always a choice,” Q says, not as upbeat as he was moments ago. “What person in his right mind would prefer being trapped inside a weak collection of biological matter over an immortal life as a supreme being?”

    “A human would, out of compassion. That’s why the Continuum appointed me as one of their members in the first place, to study the qualities they lacked.”

    “Yeah, but look at you! You’re an absolute embarrassment. You’re wounded, broken, bent, a limping animal. You had such potential.”

    “I know,” Tony says with more sadness than they both expected. “But I gave it up. You want to know why?”

    “Well, yes,” Q says, unable to resist answering rhetorical questions.

    “It’s called friendship. It’s called loyalty. It’s called love. Concepts beyond the Continuum’s grasp.”

    Q scoffs. “Blasphemy.” The ensuing awkward pause demonstrates Tony has made a valid point. To prevent him from scoring valid three-pointers, Q asks, “Are you familiar with another concept ‘beyond the Continuum’s grasp’?”

    “I don’t—“

    “It’s called failure.”

    “What?”

    “Look around you.”

    Reluctantly, Tony complies. The shuttle has gained enough altitude to enter orbit around the scorched planet. Not far ahead, a swarm of Altonoid warships besets Earth Spacedock, and battling starships take up the rest of the view. The majority of the intact ones belong to the Altonoids.

    “Earth’s final stand,” Q says, nodding at the carnage. “Pitiful, pitiful. Behold their mighty, cardboard war machines, exchanging glorified laser fire and puny projectiles. Waste of ammo, I’d say. The spacedock is already lost.”

    Tony hates to admit it, but Earth Spacedock is coming apart, sending red-hot chunks of hull the size of skyscrapers toward the planet it’s already orbiting dangerously low.

    Q spares the starbase a tiny double-handed wave. “Bye-bye, Admiral Harriman and the poor souls who trusted him with their lives. This, Tony, my dear friend, is failure at its finest, at its purest.”

    Together, they watch the starbase spiraling to its doom in slow motion.

    “Sucks, doesn’t it?” Q says.

    Tony has no defense to offer. Fatigue and dizziness take hold, and he silently curses his feeble condition.

    “Aw, don’t feel bad about it,” Q says without making any attempt to hide his menacing tone. “Here, I know what. Why don’t I show you the state the of universe had you chosen to stay with us?”

    Before Tony can protest, Q snaps his fingers and summons a universe-altering flash. Prominently in view, Earth Spacedock is still falling from the sky, Altonoid warships are still swarming all over, and Starfleet vessels are either significantly damaged or adrift like the dead bulks they are.

    “Would you look at that!” Q says with faked amazement. “Nothing has changed!” Without touching the controls, he projects the astern view onto the front window. “Earth is still burning.”

    Tony flinches at Earth’s image, the flames of crumpling nations too bright for his tired eyes.

    “People in the back!” Q shouts.

    Lifelike facsimiles of Tony’s dead friends materialize out of thin air, enough to fill nearly every seat. The senior staff of the Kennedy, his colleagues at Starfleet Headquarters, his father—they all shout “Failure!” in angry unison before vaporizing on the spot.

    Q gives him a surprisingly fierce glare. “Failure,” Q says, emphasizing each syllable. He snaps his fingers and restores the original universe in a white flash, which, painfully enough, means everything stays the same.

    Without breaking off his unforgiving stare, Q commands the shuttle to evade the one-sided battle and engage warp engines. The falling spacedock, the fighting starships, and the burning planet fade into a series of long streaks of iridescent light as the shuttle hits warp speed. Finally, after too long a time, Q breaks eye contact, takes a deep breath, and leans back in his pilot’s chair.

    Tony wipes away the tears that have formed despite his best efforts to mask his sorrow and asks, “So why didn’t you?”

    “Why didn’t I what?”

    “End my miserable existence. Get it over with. I’ve become an insect to you, haven’t I? What makes me any different from those who were killed? Why should I live and my father die?”

    “Oh please, don’t give me that.”

    “Perhaps I should rephrase.” There’s a subtle edge to his voice. “Why didn’t you leave me to die?”

    Q crosses his arms. “Like you said, your life has become unimportant, nothing but a trivial matter. I’m free to do with it as I please. The Continuum doesn’t care anymore.”

    “But do you?”

    Q lets out an annoyed sigh. Instead of answering the question, he points at Tony’s bloody torso and sneers, “Maybe you should have that looked at. You only live once, you know.” Q snaps his fingers and vanishes in a flash of light, leaving Tony in a transport shuttle full of empty seats.

    * * *

    Starbase 43 – April 22, 2382 – Stardate 59303.3

    Exhausting doesn’t begin to describe living on this starbase for the past week. The Altonoids’ sudden takeover of the Sol system has dampened everyone’s spirits. Virtually every person aboard Starbase 43 has reason to mourn. Relatives, loved ones, friends—none were spared in this horrifying attack, as survival became a matter of random luck.

    Lieutenant Junior Grade Ernest Baxter dares not imagine what the incalculable refugees on this starbase are going through. He wasn’t born in the Sol system, so he cannot begin to comprehend the full scope of their trauma, but the loss of Earth and the surrounding colonies is devastating at best.

    This starbase, one of the bases nearest to Earth that haven’t been attacked by Altonoids yet, has been a complete chaos ever since the invasion started. A constant flow of docking spacecraft brings in hordes of the confused and wounded. Every part of the starbase is crowded: crew and civilian quarters, passenger decks, waiting rooms, sickbays… morgues.

    Baxter is on his way to a far-off section of airlocks to serve as a welcoming party of one for the occupant of an arriving shuttlecraft. The transporters are constantly in use and the turbolifts are packed, forcing him to traverse congested promenades and hallways. Wherever he goes, he gets a firsthand experience of chaos, unease, and fear… mostly fear. Nobody speaks of it, but an undeniable sense of dread fills up every room, a buildup of apprehension choking any budding sign of relief. Nobody knows what’s next. Nobody wants to know, including Baxter, so he does what everyone else does: finding some way to cope, even if that coping mechanism merely consists of keeping oneself busy.

    As he reaches the correct airlock, he opens his medkit for a quick inspection. From a medical tricorder to a compact trauma kit, everything appears to be present. Here’s hoping he recalls the few superficial medical trainings every officer is obligated to partake in. By the looks of it, the spacecraft has already connected itself to the airlock. However, its pilot makes no attempt to make an entrance just yet.

    * * *

    An opened medkit and a bloodstained dress uniform lie in a corner of the transport shuttle that brought Commander Tony Q to Starbase 43. Using the vessel’s scarce facilities, he has patched up the more severe injuries, cleaned himself up, and replicated a fresh standard-issue uniform. He may look better, but he doesn’t feel it, sitting hunched over the helm station, watching the pilot screen.

    Logging into Starfleet network,” the onboard computer says.

    He has been postponing this long enough. “Access Starfleet’s personnel database. Display Lieutenant Commander Ralph Blue’s file.”

    The computer shows a recent photograph of his dad, accompanied by a summarized biography and other relevant information.

    Tony blocks out the image of his father happy and alive the same way he blocks out the memory of his demise—unsuccessfully. “Process the following update.” Difficult as it may be, he is the one who should do this. These words, though hard to utter, must be spoken. “Date of death: April 17, 2382. Time: unknown. Killed in the line of duty. End of update.”

    Authorization required.”

    “Authorization Tango Alpha Eight Five, as reported by Commander Tony…” He hesitates, as if repulsed by his full name. “Commander Tony ‘Q’ Blue.”

    Personnel file updated and closed.”

    He ruminates for a handful of seconds, then nods to himself and says, “Display Commander Tony ‘Q’ Blue’s file.”

    Tony stares at his picture, taken the day he became first officer of the USS Kennedy. Hard to believe he was once the dapper young man on the screen. That version of him doesn’t exist anymore. That… boy was a fool, his abundant naivety rivaled only by his arrogance. “Process the following update: change subject’s full name to Tony Blue.”

    Authorization required.”

    “Authorization Tango Alpha Eight Five, as reported by Commander Tony ‘Q’ Blue. End of update.” The last time he’ll have to refer to himself by that name.

    Personnel file updated and closed.”

    Commander Tony Blue allows himself a short-lived smile.

    * * *

    To Lieutenant Baxter’s relief, the airlock opens, and none other than Commander Tony Q comes stumbling out. Baxter sizes up the surprisingly young commander. Granted, with twenty-six years of age, the lieutenant isn’t exactly a hoary war veteran either—his sharp but friendly features and cropped, auburn hair help maintain his youthful appearance—but somehow he’d expected the famous officer to be older. He pushes these inconsequential thoughts aside and salutes the commander. “Welcome aboard Starbase 43, Commander Tony ‘Q’ Blue. I am Lieutenant Ernest Baxter.”

    For reasons that elude Baxter entirely, Tony grunts at the “Q” part. “At ease, Lieutenant,” he says, eyeing Baxter’s attire—a command uniform instead of a medical one. “This is going to be quite a spectacle,” he mutters beneath his breath, loud enough for Baxter to hear.

    Missing his cue, Baxter opens his medkit and takes out its medical tricorder with the finesse of a drunken Klingon, spilling an assortment of medical equipment onto the floor before apologetically putting them back in.

    Tony arches an eyebrow. “May I ask what your function is?”

    “Uh… yes, sir. I’m the chief helmsman of the Achilles,” Baxter says while waving his medical tricorder in the general vicinity of the commander.

    “I requested medical attention, not a pilot with a medkit.”

    “I’m sorry, sir. Wounded survivors have flooded the starbase, the sickbays are crammed, and the entire medical staff is swamped. All available personnel have been asked to assist in tending to the injured.”

    Tony raises the palms of his hands. “Listen, this can wait. I’ve already stopped the internal bleeding and treated the serious wounds on the way here, and—”

    “According to my readings you still have a few severe bruises and other physical trauma requiring examination.”

    “Yes, and according to those readings I’m currently standing on my head! You’re holding the bloody thing upside down.”

    Flustered, Baxter turns his tricorder around and reinterprets its data. Tony, unwilling to tolerate any further delay, limps past. “Hey, where are you going?” Baxter asks, going after him.

    “I have to find Emily,” Tony says. “My wife,” he adds in response to Baxter’s puzzled expression. “If she’s even here. Most shuttles were shot down. She probably didn’t make it, but if she did…”

    A vague recollection of Tony marrying a fellow Starfleet officer surfaces in Baxter’s mind. “What’s her full name and rank?”

    “Huh? Oh. Ensign Emily Christina Blue.”

    Baxter presses his combadge. “Computer, locate Ensign Emily Christina Blue.”

    Tony grimaces. “We don’t even know if she’s—”

    The starbase computer interrupts him. “Ensign Emily Blue is located on deck 814, promenade 14-Alpha.”

    Tony’s aspect turns on a dime from sullen to elated. “She made it!” He hugs Baxter, who is a bit uncertain how to react to this mood swing.

    “Congratulations, sir,” Baxter says while trying to escape the unexpected embrace as courteously as possible.

    Tony lets go and—with newfound energy—begins searching for the nearest turbolift.

    “Perhaps you should take it easy, Commander,” Baxter says, hurrying after the limping commander once again. “Your medical condition isn’t… Oh, what the heck.”
     
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  17. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - chapter 4b

    Neither Commander Tony Blue nor Lieutenant Ernest Baxter could have guessed that such a large and diverse representation of sentient lifeforms would fit into the turbolift they’re riding to Emily’s last known location. Despite the uncomfortable setting, Tony is bouncing on his toes, smirking at Baxter, who’s awkwardly pressed up against a purring Caitian.

    The turbolift doors open to reveal a sea of creatures—human or otherwise—obscuring promenade 14-Alpha. Multileveled, rife with waiting rooms and restaurants, encircled by a walkway boasting a splendid view of docked starships—this promenade is an impressive feat of engineering, but the sheer amount of people currently in it exceeds its intended capacity at least threefold. It’s so crowded it’s challenging to see anything of the carpet or furniture.

    They descend the main stairway and soon become lost in the masses. Wherever Tony looks, beings of all types wander around in a collective daze. Most of them are hoping to be reunited with loved ones, like Tony is now, or waiting to hear what’s next, whether it be sharing a small room with another group of survivors or boarding a vessel that will whisk them away from here.

    It’s impossible to cross the promenade without getting shoved aside or yelled at by these wayward souls. Above the cacophony of talking, bellowing, squealing, and whatever you can call this racket, a newsreader is feeding swarms of refugees with updates on the current state of affairs. Tony doesn’t focus on any of it; he keeps skimming the hordes in hopes of finding his wife. So far, his only accomplishment is losing sight of Baxter.

    Lieutenant Ernest Baxter is nearly getting used to navigating a starbase this congested. He has managed to maneuver himself toward a wall terminal to access Emily Blue’s personnel file. Knowing what she looks like might be a good idea when searching in a throng of this magnitude.

    Commander Tony Blue considers using his combadge to reach his wife, but there’s no way they’ll hear each other over the noise. He gradually becomes aware of a building commotion and pauses to listen to the news broadcast reverberating through the promenade. “—fall of Andoria and Tellar Prime, the home planets of all founding members of the Federation have been defeated.

    “That can’t be good,” Tony mumbles as he resumes his search.

    —attacks on colonies on Federation borders suggest we are under heavy attack from the outside as well as the inside.

    Unlike his fellow listeners, Tony doesn’t submit to the desperation this news brings, grave as the situation may be. The prospect of reuniting with his wife defends his tenuous optimism with fervor. If only he could find her… He keeps gently nudging others aside in order to move through the crowd, and sometimes one of those persons nudges back. Tony understands this behavior, but when someone clasps his upper arm, he wrestles it free, shoves the offending arm out of the way, and hopes it doesn’t belong to an eight-foot-tall Nausicaan.

    “Commander,” the arm-clasper says. It’s Baxter.

    “Sorry I pushed you.”

    “No problem. I think I know where we can find Ensign Blue.”

    Tony must be the only one smiling on the whole starbase as Baxter escorts him to another section of the promenade. It takes a fair amount of willpower to cross a room filled with anxious humanoids and assorted beings, but soon enough they reach their destination: a lone table, a boulder in a river of people.

    “She should be here somewhere,” Baxter says to Tony, who climbs the table and begins waving his arms like there’s no tomorrow. Few bother to pay attention to the young commander; they deem the newsfeed more interesting.

    Just when it dawns on Tony he is making a fool of himself, he notices another person has joined him on the table. That someone grabs him by the shoulders and starts kissing him passionately. It’s Emily!

    After such a whopping kiss, they take a long look into each other’s eyes. Emily slowly shakes her head. “I thought you didn’t make it,” she says, unsuccessfully fighting back tears.

    Tony tries and fails to come up with a witty retort. Instead, he wraps his arms around her the way a drowning man would cling to his rescuer. He’d be perfectly content with simply holding her until the end of time.

    Sooner than feared, she asks him, her sweet voice unable to mask its sad implications, “Where’s your father?”

    Tony lets silence speak for him, for saying it aloud would break her heart as much as it did his. She understands, as she always does, and draws him nearer. They’ve been through hell. No words could weigh up against the feeling of hugging each other, resting their heads on each other’s shoulders.

    Lieutenant Ernest Baxter watches the two embracing officers and decides to wait a little while before telling them the floor is better equipped for standing on. As the moment passes, the news broadcast catches his attention. “This just in. The Alpha Centauri system has been completely overrun by Altonoid forces. Not a single planet has been spared by the enemy fleet. Latest intelligence reports confirm the Altonoids are progressing to nearby systems. If you are in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri, prepare to evacuate.”

    Panic cascades through the hundreds of people who have huddled together by the news monitors. Alarmed, Baxter hops onto the table, where Tony and Emily have downgraded their hug to a blissful holding of hands. “Did you hear that?” he asks them.

    “Hear what?” Tony says, too busy doting on his wife to re-enter the real world just yet.

    “The Altonoids have taken Alpha Centauri and are spreading out to nearby systems.”

    “Alpha Centauri? That’s mere light years away,” Tony says, adopting Baxter’s worried tone.

    “Exactly. I am under orders to send you to quarters RD4372. Undoubtedly, the evacuation will begin soon, but you’ll have to go there first. Understood, sir?”

    “Yes. RD4372.” He exchanges a concerned glance with his wife. Baxter is preparing to leave, but Tony isn’t done with him yet. “Lieutenant.”

    “Yes, sir?”

    “Thank you.” Despite the bittersweet circumstances, Tony offers him a genuine smile. “You’ve earned yourself a commendation. Your captain should know he has such a fine officer on his ship. Tell me, who is currently in command of the Achilles?”

    “Captain Stephan Rinckes,” Baxter says politely before disappearing into the crowd.

    * * *

    With the flashlight atop his heavy phaser rifle as his only light source, Captain Rinckes creeps through the corridors. Red alert panels snaking the walls flicker on and off, showering the passageways in an intermittent red hue. Other than that, his surroundings are pitch-black. The captain’s dark blond hair partially covers his hawk-like features as he checks his rifle’s status indicator. Its energy levels are running low, although he can’t remember firing it. His sleeves are torn, his knuckles bloody, but he can’t remember his last fight. There’s nobody around, not here, not in the last couple of corridors. So why does he feel as if a thousand eyes are watching his every move?

    The hallways’ curvature makes it impossible to see beyond the next twenty yards. Seconds, maybe minutes, pass by until he encounters a lone doorway on the left bulkhead, its broken doors crooked but intact enough to shield the room behind it. Quietly, almost surgically, he peels open the doors and aims his phaser rifle as fast as his tightened muscles allow.

    The room is empty. Even the window, which should display an elaborate star field, show him nothing; his flashlight shines into an infinity of darkness.

    Suppressing the urge to give in to the void, Rinckes backs out and collects the strength needed to press on. Before he can set off, a shadow rushes past, through a corner and into the endless maze. Rinckes’ heart misses a beat and compensates by pumping twice as fast. Compelled yet apprehensive, he initiates pursuit, his rifle lifted so he can follow its flashlight’s vague light blot. There are no sounds other than his panting and heavy footfalls as he dashes through the never-ending passageways in search of that apparition.

    Rinckes halts near another doorway—or is it the same one?—to catch his breath. After mustering his courage, he quickly turns his upper torso along with his phaser rifle to shine its flashlight through half-open doors into an empty room. No stars in the window. He is all alone.

    From out of nowhere, voices begin whispering to him. Startled, he swings around but sees no one while these whispers encroach upon him and grow furious. He can’t make out what they’re saying and panic swells, choking him with invisible hands.

    His flashlight goes dark, engulfing the corridor with the same infinite darkness he saw through the window. Despite an uncontrollable urge to call for help, all he can say is a soft, desperate, “Melanie.”

    Rinckes opens his eyes and stares at a dun barrier he comes to recognize as the ceiling of his quarters aboard the Achilles. As the confusion between sleeping and waking wears off, he slowly sits up and rubs his temples. The computer detects the captain has woken and automatically synthesizes him a glass of water with the small replicator on his nightstand. The captain soothes his dry throat with a sip of ice-cold water and realizes he is covered in sweat. This nightmare is no stranger to him; it’s intensifying with each visit. He tries to shrug it off, as always, and inspects his attire. He has been sleeping in uniform once again. It is becoming a bad habit. “Computer, what is the time?”

    The time is 2312 hours.”

    This prompts the captain to jump out of bed. He permits himself the luxury of rest as infrequently as any starship commander should during an invasion this cataclysmic and it is wreaking havoc on his sleep schedule. What was to be a quick nap became a lengthy slumber. After allowing himself thirty seconds to tidy his appearance, he hurries out of his quarters.

    As the memory of his bad dream fades, Rinckes enters a turbolift and bumps into its sole occupant: the chief medical officer.

    Like the captain, Doctor Chris Kingsley is in his mid-forties. With his short, red hair and boyish face, the doctor has the guise of a bully, and he has adjusted his bedside manner to match. His mischievous grin doesn’t help either.

    “You have been waiting for me,” Rinckes observes.

    “Indeed I have, Stephan.” Dr. Kingsley is the only staff member on a first-name basis with the captain, a privilege not to be overused in public.

    “What is it you want to tell me?”

    As usual, Dr. Kingsley has his answer ready. “I have prepared sickbay for evacuees in need of medical assistance. I have assigned all medical personnel to their respective duties, making them pull double shifts. I have sought to it that nobody on this ship can move a muscle without knocking over a stack of medical supplies and… Well, I did everything you asked.”

    “Good,” Rinckes says. A short silence ensues. Nondescript elevator music would have been fitting. “And that’s why you decided to wait several minutes in the turbolift nearest to my quarters instead of using your combadge?” He knows this question will encourage the good doctor to speak his mind.

    Dr. Kingsley jumps at the chance. “You are on your way to welcome the new first officer aboard, right?” He doesn’t await a reply. “Among my medical staff, I have fumbling and stumbling cadets who are older than him. Sure, his service record is exemplary, and several high-ranking officers have recommended him for the job—”

    Rinckes lets out a grumble. “And when Starfleet selects him as our new first officer, there isn’t much I can do about it.”

    The doctor’s eyebrows rise to the point of breaking. “You didn’t protest?”

    “Why should I?”

    “You and I both know ‘Tony boy’ managed to climb the ranks solely because he had a benefactor with the powers of God,” Dr. Kingsley says, making a lot of expressive gestures, as he is prone to do when ranting. “The kid is twenty years old.”

    “Technically, he might be older,” Rinckes says, his calm demeanor contrasting with the doctor’s stridence. “He has spent a few years as a Q, unbound by the space-time continuum. He could’ve lived entire lifespans over the course of those years.”

    “You mean he could be a driveling old geezer masquerading as a young man?” The doctor snorts at the suggestion. “Why not request a Mausaurian first officer? With their reversed aging, you could have a wise XO the size of a toddler. Sure, you’d have to change his diaper and read him a bedtime story once in a while, but other than that he’d make one hell of a fine officer you can carry wherever you go.”

    “Chris, are you questioning my decision to comply?” Rinckes asks as the turbolift doors open.

    “Um… Yes! And I’m pretty damn sure I’m not alone in this.”

    Rinckes brings up a subtle smile. He has gotten used to the doctor’s antics. “There’s one way to find out who’s right,” he says while stepping out the turbolift.

    Dr. Kingsley follows him. “Please, Stephan. Let me come along.” He tilts his head and widens his grin. “I don’t want to miss this.”
     
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  18. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - chapter 4c

    “He’s running late,” Commander Tony Blue says to his wife. After staying at the starbase itself for half a day, he was assigned first officer of the Achilles and directed to this XO’s office, which doubles as their sleeping quarters for the time being, what with the overflow of evacuees. The previous XO, Commander Jennings, must have been a highly capable first officer to be field-promoted and given his own command during a crisis like this. He has left Tony with big shoes to fill.

    Ensign Emily Blue has seated herself on a banquette. “The captain is entitled to be late,” she says. “And it’s your duty to make sure he never will be again.” Tony’s lack of a humorous reply prompts her to showcase a reassuring smile. “Relax. You’ll do fine.”

    Tony rubs his fingers to stop them from tingling. “I’m grateful Starfleet has given me this chance, but it’s been three years since I last served aboard a starship. I was a completely different person back then.” He shifts his weight on the desk he’s sitting on—his desk, in his office, on a starship with a crew of over 400, of which he’s second in command.

    “Yes, you were a different person, someone with three years less experience, not counting the virtually infinite knowledge you gained as a Q.”

    Tony sees where she’s getting at but dismisses the idea with a soft groan. “You know that’s not true. It has faded, mostly. There’s a limit to what you can store in this frail collection of carbon and water.” He realizes too late how harsh this must sound. “Sorry,” he adds immediately. Emily disapproves of him talking bitterly about being human, and the presence of a slight wrinkle in her nose reveals her displeasure. That wrinkle always means business.

    Luckily, the door chimes, and Tony quickly dismounts his desk. Emily gets up to stand by his side and gently squeezes his arm as a token of reconciliation and support. “Come in,” Tony says to the door in his most mature voice.

    Captain Rinckes and Doctor Kingsley enter the XO’s office. The interplay between the captain’s austerity and the doctor’s flippant smirk makes Tony’s stomach tense up.

    “Commander Tony ‘Q’ Blue,” Captain Rinckes begins.

    “In fact, if I may be so bold,” Dr. Kingsley interjects, “he dropped the Q from his name a few hours ago.”

    The captain is unimpressed with this tidbit of information. “Commander Tony Blue, then.”

    “Hi, I’m Doctor Chris ‘Q’ Kingsley,” the doctor says as he vigorously shakes Tony’s hand. “I figured I might as well adopt the Q, since you weren’t using it anymore.”

    “Chris, that’s not funny,” Captain Rinckes says.

    “Sorry, sir. Couldn’t resist.”

    Captain Rinckes clears his throat. “Doctor Kingsley is our second officer and chief medical officer.” He gestures at Tony’s wife. “Doctor Kingsley, meet Commander Blue’s wife, Ensign Emily Blue.”

    “Ah yes,” Dr. Kingsley says while shaking her hand with the same fervor. “The ensign you nearly got killed two years ago when you decompressed an entire shuttle bay.”

    Captain Rinckes doesn’t know how to react to this reminder other than blinking up a storm. Tony and especially Emily will never forget how, in the heat of the moment, Captain Rinckes had carelessly opened a shuttle bay door during their escape from Station A-12.

    Emily intervenes to keep the awkwardness from spreading. “All right, Doctor, if your knowledge of our medical records is as amazing as your knowledge of our personnel files, we’ll be in safe hands.”

    The doctor acknowledges her riposte with a nod and a wink.

    “Commander Tony Blue,” Captain Rinckes says in a formal tone. “Sorry for the lack of decorum, but our strict schedule doesn’t allow any. You are hereby officially appointed first officer of the USS Achilles. I’m sure you’ll go above and beyond to serve to the best of your abilities.”

    “I will, sir. Thank you.”

    Captain Rinckes directs his attention to Emily. “Welcome aboard the Achilles. I have arranged for you to meet with our security chief. He’s waiting for you in the armory. Your first shift will begin shortly and I need you to acquaint yourself with the security staff. Be assured, serving on a top-of-the-line starship will be more demanding than guarding a quiet museum.”

    “Yes, sir,” Emily says, doing her best to take that last remark in stride. With a brisk pace, she walks out of the office and into the corridor.

    Once she has left, Captain Rinckes says to Tony, “I have an assignment for you.” Dr. Kingsley crosses his arms and listens closely as his grin turns sardonic. The captain either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. “I need you to—” A chirp from his combadge interrupts him.

    Bridge to Captain Rinckes.” Tony recognizes Baxter’s voice. “The Altonoids will be arriving sooner than expected. Their ETA has been reduced from six hours to one hour from now.

    “Understood, Lieutenant. Do what you can to speed up the evacuation.”

    Aye, Captain. Bridge out.

    Captain Rinckes sighs. “Commander Blue, I want you to report to the bridge and assume command. Undock from Starbase 43 as soon as possible, but make sure every evacuee is given the opportunity to board the ship before we leave. Is that clear?”

    “Crystal clear, sir,” Tony says seriously, dutifully, and—above all—nervously. He starts toward the corridor but halts upon realizing Dr. Kingsley is shadowing him.

    Captain Rinckes has other plans for the doctor. “Chris, go to sickbay and make certain everything is in top order. We cannot afford any delays.”

    “But, Stephan.” The doctor doesn’t even try to mask his disappointment. “Every member of my staff knows exactly what to do. I’ve briefed every single one of them personally. We could—”

    “Chris...”

    Just as Tony walks off and the doctor wants to throw in the towel, he spots Tony’s limping gait. “Look!” he says, overtaking the new first officer and pointing at his legs. “He’s wobbling! The kid needs medical attention. I can’t let him to go the bridge and take command without my supervision.”

    Confronting the doctor, Tony says, “If you’d read my medical file, you would’ve known I have spent two hours being patched up in Starbase 43’s main infirmary prior to boarding this vessel.”

    Dr. Kingsley’s smug smile plays up again. “Still, it would be advisable—”

    “I’ve been declared fit for duty. I’m about to obey the captain’s orders, and I suggest you do the same.” And with that, the commander exits his office.

    Before the doors shut behind him, Tony hears Dr. Kingsley say to the captain, with unmistakable sincerity, “I like him already.”

    * * *

    A turbolift brings Commander Tony Blue to the bridge of the Achilles. When its doors open, he notices the command center has benefited from the same modern design and technology as the rest of the ship. Especially that hovering, translucent holographic interface in the back half of the bridge appears to be every bit as modern as impractical. The prominent three-dimensional viewscreen displays the innards of Starbase 43, which is smaller but otherwise similar to Starbase 9 and Earth Spacedock, right down to the layout of its docking area.

    The crew is staring at Tony in such abrupt silence that he suspects he has forgotten to put on a rather important part of his uniform.

    He hasn’t.

    Tony heads for the captain’s chair, currently occupied by an attractive officer in her early thirties. Her ethnicity is hard to ascertain, but with her tanned skin and dark hair, she has an exotic flair about her. Her face is all business, however; if she looked any more serious, her ponytail would explode, Tony’s sure of it.

    He walks up to her, and his slight—but evident—limp sends his self-consciousness teetering over the edge of embarrassment. The only one here who is emitting friendly vibes is Lieutenant Baxter at the helm. Next to him sits a Vulcan ensign, manning the OPS station. The science station is operated by Lieutenant Kels, twenty-three years old and renowned for being one of the youngest chief science officers in Starfleet. She’s also the only Andorian bridge officer, undoubtedly masking the loss of her home planet like everyone else here—by burying it in professionalism. The other stations are staffed by lower-ranking officers. Even they are staring at Tony.

    “Hi there,” he says. Really? Hi there?! he scolds himself internally. Too late to do anything about that. Keep going. “I am Commander Tony Blue.”

    He is greeted with a few muffled hi’s and hellos.

    The attractive but serious officer rises from the captain’s chair. She’s shorter than Tony, which doesn’t stop him from feeling intimidated. “I am Lieutenant Commander Erin Crow, chief tactical officer.” Ice drips from her voice. “So you’re the new first officer?”

    “That’s right,” Tony replies, squeaking rather than speaking.

    “Shouldn’t you take command of this vessel, then?” she asks, as if challenging him.

    “Yes. Please return to your station,” Tony says—with the correct timbre this time. Before she can follow this command, he adds, “What’s the status of the evacuation?”

    “Everything is going according to plan. I trust you’ve studied Commander Jennings’ evacuation plan? It was his last action before his transfer.”

    “I haven’t yet been able to wade through every detail. I’m merely interested in its status.”

    “As you wish.” Erin Crow accesses her station, located behind the empty second officer’s chair. “Evacuation is 10 percent complete, as predicted in Jennings’ report. We have sped up the process according to his emergency evac procedures.”

    “Thank you, Commander,” Tony says with forced politeness and he sits down in the captain’s chair. The bridge crew is still intently watching his every move. “Carry on,” he says in a slightly insinuating tone, reminding them successfully to get back to work.

    Tony can’t help but notice that the bridge, with its rectangular shape, resembles an abundantly spacious coffin lined with the drabbest of tan colors. The cold demeanor of most of the crew doesn’t elevate the atmosphere either. How he misses the Kennedy.

    * * *

    Like her husband, it has been a while since Ensign Emily Blue last served on a Federation flagship. In fact, she had last set foot on a proper starship two years ago, when this very same vessel transported her from the Garcon Nebula to Starbase 9, which was destroyed by Altonoids shortly into the war. It seems like ancient history to her.

    Her first mission entails being stationed halfway one of several passenger gateways connected to the ship, supervising an endless stream of evacuees in all shapes and sizes. They pass by without as much as a side-glance and disappear into the ship’s corridors, following the directions of Emily’s new colleagues.

    She insists on giving the hundreds of evacuees a sweet smile, yet her cheeks are already starting to hurt. In this capacity, she feels like a redundant greeter, but she’s here to intervene should any trouble arise. Her phaser strapped to her belt, prominently in view, serves as a reminder that despite her cuddly appearance, she’s a force to be reckoned with whenever anyone should decide to exhibit unacceptable behavior. The Achilles is no cruise liner, Security Chief Lieutenant Gibbs had instructed her. Order should be maintained.

    Countless droves of people are pouring out of the waiting rooms in this vast docking area, which is flooded in flashing red light, indicating the starbase has gone to red alert. Shuttlecraft are flying around in frantic disorder. Standing on her toes, she spots a Norway-class vessel loading up evacuees as well. Everybody is trying to get off this starbase, and fast.
     
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  19. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    So Tony is excising the last vestiges of his Q existence. I'm curious to see if this is really the end of that chapter of his life. Regardless, a new one seems to be starting for him with his new assignment. The way the war is going for the Federation, this may be a very short one.
     
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  20. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - chapter 4d

    No sign of the captain yet. Commander Tony Blue is fine with his absence, because the evacuation is running on schedule.

    “Evacuation halfway complete,” Lt. Cmdr. Crow says.

    “Almost fourteen hundred evacuees in ten minutes. Not bad,” Lt. Baxter says—out of turn maybe, but the commanding officer doesn’t mind.

    “That means we have about forty-five minutes left. That’s more than we need,” Tony says, trying to sound reassuring despite inadvertently reminding everyone the unstoppable Altonoid fleet is a mere forty-five minutes away.

    A console starts bleeping, which is never a good sign. This particular warning signal originates from the tactical station. Lt. Cmdr. Crow immediately checks to see what’s causing it, and her expression transforms from serious to seriously worried. “They’ve tricked us again.” The crew goes dead quiet, pausing to hear what’s next, even though they’re bound to dislike it. “The Altonoids are much nearer than our sensors led us to believe.”

    While Tony tries to remain poised after having had the rug pulled out from under him, Lieutenant Kels is tapping hurried commands into her science station. “It’s true,” she says. Her blue skin has become a tad gray, the Andorian equivalent of blanching. “They’ve masked their hull signatures from our long-range sensors with some sort of temporal field. How is this possible?”

    “Good old Loïdian engineering,” Tony says, though it’s nothing more than an educated guess. “How close are they now?”

    “I can’t be completely sure,” Lt. Cmdr. Crow says, sporting her ever-present scowl. “Sensor readings are still garbled. They could be right on our doorstep.”

    “What are we going to do?” Lt. Baxter asks, voicing everybody’s thoughts.

    With all the confidence he finds within, Tony composes himself and says, “We’re going to inform the captain.” Somehow, he presses the correct button on his left armrest. “Bridge to Captain Rinckes.”

    No reply.

    “Bridge to Ca—”

    I’ve seen the data,” the captain says over the comm. “I’ll be there shortly. Rinckes out.

    “He is a man of few words,” Lt. Baxter says, noticing Tony’s puzzlement.

    “Some things never change,” Tony says with a wry smile. He directs his attention to the Vulcan at the OPS station. “Sivar, how many—” Realizing he called the Vulcan by the wrong name, he shuts his mouth, shocked at his error.

    The ensign swivels to face him. “I am Ensign Surtak. Who is Sivar?”

    Sivar, the USS Kennedy’s science officer. Tony can’t believe he’d actually one day miss that guy, with his inability to laugh, his unfaltering placidity, his unwillingness to use contractions in his speech. This always got on the commander’s nerves, but Tony would trade in quite a few amenities in life just to have Sivar annoy him once more.

    Ensign Surtak raises an eyebrow. “Sir?”

    “Um… right,” Tony says while regaining focus. “How many operational shuttles do we carry at present?”

    “Twenty-four in total, although I do not—”

    “How many of them are equipped with functioning transporters?”

    “Sixteen, sir.”

    “Let’s put them to good use.”

    “What are you suggesting, Commander?”

    Tony had almost forgotten about the Vulcan tendency to ask the blindingly obvious. “Boost power to transporter systems,” he says, leaning forward in his chair, “especially the large cargo transporters. Lieutenant Baxter, clear all moorings and request permission to undock. Commander Crow, assemble a team of crewmen and make sure the shuttles’ transporters are overheating with the sheer amount of evacuees beaming in. I don’t want us to overstay our welcome, but I also don’t want anyone left behind.”

    The crew carries out his orders without protest, except for a questioning grimace from Lt. Cmdr. Crow as she passes Tony on her way to the turbolift. He ignores her unspoken discontent and concentrates on the viewscreen.

    * * *

    Uproar surges through the masses. “What is going on?” Ensign Emily Blue shouts at Lieutenant Jeremy Gibbs, the imposing, blond chief of security, who crosses a river of stampeding evacuees to reach Emily.

    “The new first officer has ordered the passenger gates closed. I can think of only one reason: The Altonoids must be nearer than we thought.”

    Emily gestures at the frightened evacuees who are trying to traverse the gate before it’s sealed off. “We can’t leave them!”

    “Let’s hope your husband knows what he’s doing. Come along!” With that, Gibbs joins the rushing crowd in their push for the ship. Emily does her best to keep up.

    The entire starbase has become even gloomier than it was moments ago. Instead of a safe haven, it has morphed into a gigantic death trap, like the attic of a burning house filling with smoke. Desperate people are trying to get themselves and their families to safety, and although some attempt to knock Emily aside, she can’t blame them for being scared.

    Once Gibbs and Emily have reached the airlock, the security chief guides her toward the airlock controls, just around the corner, where six of her new colleagues are waiting for them.

    “We’ve received word from the bridge. We’ve been cleared to depart,” a tough Coridan security officer says.

    “We have to close the gate now,” another officer says.

    With a short-lived trace of reluctance, Gibbs comes to a decision. “Ensign Munroz,” he says to the Coridan. “Stay here and close the airlock on my command. The rest of you, draw your weapons and follow me.”

    * * *

    On the bridge of the Achilles, tension is mounting to nearly tangible levels. “Helm, why aren’t we departing yet?” Tony asks.

    “The chief helmsman is adhering to protocol, Commander,” Ensign Surtak cuts in. “Passenger gate 2 has not been disconnected.”

    Tony balls his hand into a fist. “We have to undock right away. We might…” He almost said “we might be too late already” aloud.

    Surtak types a handful of commands into his U-shaped OPS console and says with enviable calmness, “It appears airlock 2 is closing as we speak.”

    “Now we’re talking! Mister Baxter, as soon as you can, maneuver us toward the doors.” Tony sits back, unable to keep his left foot from tapping a nervous rhythm.

    * * *

    Hordes of refugees stare in confusion at the phasers being pointed at them as airlock 2 is sliding shut, denying access to their last chance of survival. Emily can hardly bear to look them in the eyes. She’s one of seven officers who are aiming their phasers—set to stun for all the difference that makes—at the refugees to prevent them from making a desperate dash for the airlock. She hopes no one is foolish enough to do so; she would have no choice but to open fire. The corridor behind her empties as those fortunate enough to have made it aboard disperse.

    Once the airlock has sealed with a final metallic clunk, a force field activates to protect the people trapped in the passenger gate. It’s meant to keep them safe, but now it forms yet another impenetrable barrier between salvation and certain death. As the Achilles sets off with aft thrusters roaring, Emily watches these poor souls through the airlock’s window hatch. Officers, civilians, children—they will be shown no mercy by the Altonoids.

    If there’s one thing she has learned in her short career, it’s that following orders like these is harder than one thinks when signing up for the job. She’s about to turn away and deal with this on her own terms when the first couple of rows start disappearing in multiple blue transporter beams.

    * * *

    In the main shuttle bay, most of the parked shuttles are emitting blue light due to continuous transporter activity. Small groups of relieved evacuees are stepping out to be guided to their temporary housing by a cordon of Starfleet officers. Lt. Commander Erin Crow oversees this part of the evacuation from the bay’s control room, which offers a marvelous view of Commander Blue’s effective strategy.

    “We’ve managed to increase the shuttle evacuation rate to 160 evacuees per minute,” an enthusiastic young officer standing next to her says. “That combined with our increased transporter usage has drastically improved our overall evacuation rate. Was this your idea?”

    Erin Crow grits her teeth.

    * * *

    The Achilles glides through the vacuum of Starbase 43’s docking area. The base has opened its space doors to unveil an unlimited field of stars and the inherent promise of escape.

    “We are proceeding toward the exit,” Lt. Baxter says. “Initiating Pythagoras maneuver.” As enormous as those doors are, Starbase 43 was built in an era when starships were comparatively modest in size, and the Achilles is too wide to fit through without tilting 30 to 45 degrees. The chief helmsman has to be careful not to hit any shuttles or passenger carriers intent on leaving the starbase at all costs. They’re buzzing past, under, and over the Achilles in a death-defying scurry for freedom. It reminds Tony of that old saying of rats abandoning a sinking ship.

    “Evacuation is 68 percent complete,” Ensign Surtak reports once the Achilles has squeezed through the space doors. “Your plan appears to be working, Commander.”

    Tony nods in approval. His anxiety hasn’t waned, but for the moment it appears he hasn’t forgotten how to command a starship. On the contrary, the initial hostilities toward him are dwindling, or maybe that’s merely because he sent Lt. Cmdr. Crow to the shuttle bay.

    Just as Tony allows himself to settle back, Ensign Surtak announces, “Captain on the bridge.”

    Tony jumps up to stand at attention. He glances to his right and sees Captain Rinckes stepping out of the turbolift. For some irrational reason, he feels a cold shiver running down his spine as the captain approaches the center of the bridge with his usual lack of cheeriness.

    “Seems like you’re running the show today,” Captain Rinckes says, halting next to his first officer. “At ease, Commander.” With his tall and muscular physique, the captain is a daunting figure, especially from this close. “I heard other ships are copying the shuttle strategy you conjured up.”

    “Once again we’re on the run,” Tony says.

    Captain Rinckes stares off into an unseen, distant place of emptiness and says, “Just like old times.” It gives Tony the creeps, so he steps aside and lets the captain sit down on his rightful chair.

    “Viewer aft,” Captain Rinckes says, and the viewscreen displays a three-dimensional, shrinking image of Starbase 43. “Continue on course for another 5000 kilometers, then hold position. Ensign Surtak, how many evacuees do we have aboard?”

    “2624 out of 3478. Evacuation rate steady at 375 evacuees per minute. Estimated time of completion: two minutes and twenty seconds.”

    “Is that enough?”

    Lt. Kels—still a touch pale—processes the data on her console. “Impossible to say.”

    “The Star Scream, Nova, and Arancibia have undocked too,” Lt. Baxter says. “They’re assuming combat formation with us.”

    “What?” the captain scoffs. “Do they actually believe we’re going to defend the starbase? Signal them to leave upon completing their respective evacuations. Starbase 43 is lost; our primary objective is to get the evacuees to safety.”

    “Along with us,” Tony says with a wry smirk.

    “You think we should stay?” Captain Rinckes replies without friendliness or humor. “I can have a shuttle prepared for you in seconds if you want to stay.”

    Before Tony can say anything funny, the tactical station starts bleeping again. Tony rushes over to it and pushes the nervous ensign manning it aside. It takes a moment to interpret the incoming data. Everyone watches his every move until he says with a slightly trembling voice, “They’re here. They’re about to enter visual range.”

    “Damn!” Captain Rinckes stands up and studies the viewscreen, looking for the first inevitable sign of trouble. “Tactical analysis.”

    “Two hundred and fifty-eight vessels primed for battle.”

    The captain remains speechless, as does the rest of the crew.

    “But, sir,” Tony says, his gaze fixed on the tactical station. “Not all of them are Altonoid. Sensors are reading twenty-eight vessels of a different origin.”

    “Explain, Commander.”

    Tony swallows a big lump in his throat. “They are S’Prenn, sir.”

    This leaves the bridge crew absolutely baffled, and they express their befuddlement with shocked gasps and soft muttering. The captain silences them by speaking up, a thin veneer of anger and disbelief coating his words. “Impossible. They would never ally themselves with the Altonoids.”

    “The Altonoids and S’Prenn are charging weapons,” Tony says, dismissing a sudden onset of lightheadedness. “They’re almost on us.”

    “We require at least one additional minute to beam the remaining 397 evacuees aboard,” Ensign Surtak says.

    “And that’s just us,” Tony says. “The total evacuation is far from complete.”

    A dark cloud obscures the stars on the main viewer, an ominous cluster of hostile starships, most of them featuring the Altonoids’ typical rectangular design. The others are indeed S’Prenn in origin, having the appearance of colossal spiders, ready to swoop down on their prey.

    Lt. Baxter hesitates for a split second before asking the question on everyone’s mind. “Your orders, sir?”

    Captain Rinckes watches as the fleet of warships approaches like a swarm of hungry locusts.
     
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