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.