Star Trek: Fallen Heroes

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

  1. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    It's Duvivier's mother's death actually, which makes it no less douchy.

    Fun fact: There's a seven-chapter Fallen Heroes book 0 I wrote many years ago which tells the story of the Station A-12 Debacle. It's not up to my current quality standards so I've written book 1 in such a way that those early chapters can be skipped. Some interesting things do happen in it, though. Tony Q starts off as an arrogant jerk who fully expects he can save the day despite the limitations of being stripped of his powers, an illusion shattered halfway through the story when he receives a nasty phaser injury in a brazen attempt to save a colleague.

    So Tony has had quite a few lessons in humility at this point, which, in my humble view as vapid author wannabe, has made him more relatable than he was at the onset of his character arc.
     
  2. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - Book 2 - Chapter 3c

    USS Achilles – July 18, 2386 – Stardate 63541.7

    Doctor Chris Kingsley waves hello as Captain Stephan Rinckes enters the observation lounge behind the bridge. The rest of the senior staff has been present here for a good minute, with the exception of Jon Terrell, who is in command of the Achilles for the duration of this meeting, having already been briefed. Kingsley was the first to arrive, unwilling to delay this assembly any further. While his colleagues trickled into the lounge, he admired the view offered by the huge windows overlooking the ship’s stern, a far more interesting spectacle than the wide computer terminal on the opposite bulkhead.

    Kingsley taps his feet incessantly, a nervous habit hidden by the large table separating the attendants. Captain Rinckes takes a seat at the head of the table, to the doctor’s left. Lieutenant Tony Blue sits at the opposite head of the table, flanked by Lieutenants Jeremy Gibbs and Ernest Baxter. Across from the doctor sits Commander Erin Crow, sporting her usual grim expression. Lieutenants Kels and Surtak form their own little Neutral Zone in the middle.

    “Welcome everyone,” Crow says. “The objective of this meeting is to apprise the senior staff of our investigations’ results. Thanks to our hard work, we have broadened our understanding considerably, so pay attention.”

    It takes Kingsley all the willpower in the galaxy to keep from pointing out the redundancy of that last notion.

    “Thank you, Commander,” Rinckes says. “Our expanding knowledge of S’Prenn biology and technology combined with cross-referencing the S’Prenn and Altonoid databases has led us to some interesting conclusions.”

    Crow is poised on the edge of her seat. “This information will be made available to all personnel. You are free to discuss this with your department at your discretion.”

    The captain turns toward Kingsley. Finally! “Could you fill us in on your findings regarding S’Prenn physiology?”

    Like an actor rearing to go when the curtain raises, Kingsley jumps at the chance to share his insights. “The S’Prenn are indeed extradimensional visitors from another universe. I’ve confirmed that a S’Prenn’s brain functions as a quantum computer, capable of adapting mind and body to whichever universe they choose to reside in. This also enables them to attune to a limitless variety of nervous systems in order to highjack their hosts. It’s riveting stuff, really.”

    “It is,” Kels says, having received a glance of approval from the captain. “They travel to other universes by cultivating biological portals. The mysterious nebula that formed next to Station A-12? One of their portals. The Altonoids misused its properties to develop a bioweapon based on their earlier experiments on the S’Prenn.”

    Surtak raises an eyebrow. “The S’Prenn database mentions that creating such a portal necessitates an irreversible growth period, usually lasting over a year. Therefore, great care is required when initiating such a process.”

    “True,” Kels says, “Growing a portal near A-12 was meant to improve diplomatic ties with the Federation. They intended to use A-12 as an outpost to solidify our alliance and protect us from the Altonoids.” Her antennae droop subtly. “Quite a step for them, because other portals have been carefully hidden. This was a significant gesture of trust. An irrevocable one.”

    A heavy silence befalls the lounge.

    Tony, from the other side of the table, speaks up for the first time in this meeting. “They couldn’t have known Station A-12 would fall.” Gibbs and Baxter nod their agreement.

    Rinckes meets Tony’s gaze. “According to the logs we deciphered, the S’Prenn were planning to retake Station A-12 once the portal was fully formed.”

    “They underestimated their enemy,” Tony says.

    “The costliest of mistakes. They believed one vessel would do the trick, and justifiably so, but it never came back. So they sent another, then a small squadron, then a fleet. When the lost ships returned, filled with subjugated S’Prenn hellbent on spreading the bioweapon, the Altonoids had them by the throat before they realized what hit them.”

    Kingsley summons a cheerless smile. “Sad as it may be, does anyone else appreciate the irony of the S’Prenn falling victim to their own specialty: mind control?”

    Tony dares to answer that loaded question. “I think I speak for everyone here when I say, ‘No, not really.’ Taking over an individual is one thing, taking over an entire race to have them bow to your will and betray their allies is a whole different level of moral depravity.”

    Crow scoffs. “You don’t speak for everyone, Lieutenant. Don’t trivialize an individual’s worth to get your point across. Your encounter with that dying S’Prenn may have clouded your judgment.”

    Tony pulls back slightly, his mouth contorted in a grimace. Baxter comes to the rescue, saying, “That dying S’Prenn had a name: Kronn. His friends and family melted before his eyes because of the Altonoids’ bioweapon.”

    Gibbs cuts in. “Let us not forget the prime reason for the S’Prenn’s suffering. They wanted to help us.”

    “You said it.” Tony all but slams his fist on the table. “And what did they ever ask from us in return? What did they stand to gain? Not a heck of a lot. They helped us anyway. Why? Because they saw something in us that made them care.”

    Kels rallies to his cause. “If that’s not the extension of unconditional friendship, if that doesn’t align with Federation ideals…”

    “The S’Prenn are like us in many ways,” Gibbs says.

    “We shouldn’t speak ill of them,” Baxter adds.

    “I stand corrected,” Kingsley says to keep the meeting from derailing further, though he cannot resist putting his hands up to satisfy his theatric flair. “Now that I have the floor again, I’d like to discuss another important discovery. The mind-controlling bioweapon was used in excessive quantities to cripple the S’Prenn wreckage and melt every soul on board. It’s the same compound. In relatively small dosages, up to 1 cc, it renders its victim susceptible to brainwashing; higher dosages result in permanent brain damage. The higher the dosage, the worse the effects, as one might expect. Above dosages of 3 cc, the subject goes absolutely haywire. Above 4 cc, internal organs begin to melt; above 5 cc, its exoskeleton joins in.”

    “I’m almost afraid to ask…” Tony says. “How was this information acquired?”

    “S’Prenn wreck’s database. They paid with their lives to steal this information from the Altonoid medical facility they fled.”

    “I’m sorry, Doctor. That doesn’t entirely answer my question.”

    “Do you want me to say it out loud? Fine, we’re all adults here… The Altonoids learned this through the joys of extensive experimentation on live subjects. They have dozens of these facilities spread throughout their territory.”

    “Their main facility,” Rinckes says, “appears to be Station A-12.”

    Tony grunts. “Because of its convenient location.”

    “Correct,” Surtak says. “Station A-12 is their primary medical research base. It has been refitted and heavily fortified. In addition to its upgraded defenses and weaponry, a fleet of Altonoid warships has been assigned to guard it.”

    “Paranoid as they are,” Crow says, “a sphere of detection sentries surrounds the area, robbing us of the chance to sneak in under cloak.”

    “In addition,” Surtak says, “we have found ample evidence of the cure’s existence. The cure that the dying S’Prenn…”—he bows his head in respect—“Kronn informed us about has a strong possibility of being on Station A-12, rendering such a base an alluring target. However, given the unacceptable risk involved in such an endeavor, I recommend we start by investigating smaller facilities, for which we now possess new leads.”

    “I agree, Surtak,” Rinckes says. “As of now, this is our top priority.” He pushes away from the table and rises to his feet. “That will be all.”

    Not quite yet. Kingsley has a final warning in store for them. “Investigating those installations won’t be for the fainthearted. Perhaps we could create a holodeck program to prepare for these missions.”

    “See to it. Dismissed.”

    As the lounge clears, Kingsley begins humming to himself in delight while contemplating the horrors he can invoke for the poor bastards who’ll use this training program.
     
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  3. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    "Won’t be for the fainthearted," I believe, perfectly encapsulates this story so far.
     
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  4. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - Book 2 - Chapter 3d

    USS Achilles – July 22, 2386 – Stardate 63552.2

    Oh, he has done it now. Tony hasn’t mustered the courage yet to ask the computer what time it is, but the six o’clock alarm going off is nothing but a distant memory. Even after over a month of widowhood, he still clutches the fitted sheet next to him upon awakening, confused by how that side of the mattress is empty, only for sorrow to emerge from his drowsy subconscious and gnaw at him.

    Any minute, the combadge on his nightstand will channel an angry voice asking him what the hell is keeping him. Instead of getting up, suiting up, and rushing to the nearest turbolift, he opts to stare at the ceiling. Trouble awaits on the bridge, so he might as well savor the moment and grant himself the illusion of choice when it comes to fending off the paralyzing somberness that glues him to his bed. You’d expect grief to become bearable as the passage of time dulls its fangs, but it’s worsening, not improving—an endless cresting of a summit obscured by storm clouds.

    Something is amiss, though. A creeping sense of worry allows him to escape despair’s claws and sit up straight. As he looks around to find what’s wrong with this scene, a sudden realization dawns on him: his quarters are dead quiet. The perpetual background noise of activated engines and subsystems is missing. “Computer, lights. Computer?” No response. “Computer, what’s our status?”

    Unease rids him of residual fatigue as he rolls out of bed and investigates his dark quarters as a pajama-clad explorer. Has the power gone offline? He attaches his combadge to his chest and presses it to no effect. Even the combadges are down. Could this be a catastrophic ship-wide energy drain? His heart flutters and his mouth goes from dry to parched as he hurries to the window, pulls aside the curtains, and sees the familiar streaks of stardust indicative of warp travel… frozen in place.

    Tony shuts and opens his eyes five times in a row while staring at the impossible. He must be dreaming, but… he is wide awake, no question about it. Dizzy with surprise, he stumbles to a nearby seat and continues gawking from there.

    Someone hands him an extra-large cup of coffee and says in a cheerful voice, “Here you go, Mister Blue.”

    “T-t-thanks.” Tony frees his gaze from the motionless streaks defying the laws of physics. Beside him stands a middle-aged man wearing an old-fashioned barista outfit, complete with brown apron and oversized bowtie. Tony gasps. “Q?”

    “Who else could it be?” Q replies, brandishing the smuggest of smiles. “I took the liberty of freezing time for you at precisely one minute past six in the morning. How kind of me.” While Tony sets down the steaming cup of coffee, Q saunters about the room, taking in every detail. “So this is your habitat? What a dreary place.” He scratches at a charred stain on the far bulkhead. “Though I must admit battle damage gives it a nice finish.”

    Tony droops his shoulders and wishes he could fade into the darkness of his quarters, anything to avoid having Q see him like this. “Q, why are you here?”

    “To check in on my favorite disappointment.”

    “Oh.”

    Q starts toying with a gilded starship model he has grabbed from a shelf. “You really need to work on that gratitude, young man. I saved you from a lecture on tardiness from Captain Joyless or Commander… What’s her name? Vulture?” He shudders as he mentions her, then wills the starship model to fly back to its cabinet. “News flash: your career is all you have left. I suggest you hold on to it.” With a snap of his fingers, he changes into a Starfleet captain’s uniform. Mimicking the brisk stride of a flag officer inspecting his subordinates, he walks over to Tony. “Stand at attention, officer.”

    Averting his gaze, Tony slowly gets to his feet.

    Q plucks at Tony’s pajamas. “Oh, mister, this won’t do.” He snaps his fingers again. In an instant, Tony’s hair is groomed, his stubble gone, his nightwear replaced by his standard-issue uniform. “Hmm, there’s a rank pip missing on your collar. What happened to your whole ‘Commander Tony Q, Starfleet messiah’ shtick?”

    “Please… just leave me alone.”

    Tony’s glum demeanor curtails Q’s feigned enthusiasm. “Aw, what’s that now? Living amongst ungrateful mortals isn’t how the brochure described? You expected them to hoist you onto a pedestal and worship your every sacrifice? You gave up all you held dear in a pointless effort to offer assistance and they… they make you wear…” He sticks out his tongue in disgust. “Yellow?”

    “We call it gold.”

    “I call it a crime against good taste.”

    “It’s been years since I last saw you. Why do you show up when I’m at my lowest?”

    A flicker of malice crosses Q’s expression. “You’re always at your lowest.” A third snap of his fingers dissolves Tony’s world in a bright flash.

    * * *

    Beneath a purple sky, thick waves of liquid mercury roll onto a black beach, shone upon by four blood-red suns in different stages of sunset and sunrise. Spanning the distance from ocean to upper atmosphere, cloud columns rise up from the silver sea. A planet this hostile would normally provide anyone without protective gear a swift death, but shielding a frail human from these lethal conditions is child’s play for a Q. In fact, Tony Blue’s senses interpret the inhospitable environment as a pleasant spring day at the Californian seashore, right down to the breeze carrying a typical brackish scent.

    While Tony marvels at the gorgeous panorama, Q stands by his side. His former mentor doesn’t allow him to stare in awe for too long. “This used to be your backyard, remember?”

    As often, regret brings even the most overwhelming sense of beauty to its knees. “I have forgotten so much about that life.”

    “Let me refresh your Swiss-cheese memory.” Q spreads his arms in a grandiose but redundant gesture, and among the billowing columns, a vast screen appears to show a highlight reel of Tony’s life as a Q.

    Too perplexed to object, Tony watches his life unfold in this unsolicited clip show. Though his physical appearance hasn’t changed much since those days, he barely recognizes this arrogant teenager wielding limitless power. Painful as it may be, he cannot pull himself away from the translucent video offset by the splendor of an alien world outside his feeble reach. Tony Q was the definition of freedom, an impressionable teen who had the universe as his playground, a far cry from the sad man he sees in the mirror nowadays. To pour salt into the wound, the reel displays heroics from his hybrid days, the transitional period between his being human and becoming Q: saving the Kennedy from Altonoids, insane S’Prenn, the Borg, etcetera, back when he was permitted to meddle with Starfleet affairs and his interventions weren’t met with hostility and fear by the higher-ups in the Q Continuum.

    He watches himself cooperating with close friends, all of whom he had to lose. As the images in the sky linger on Tony Q sitting in the Kennedy’s XO’s chair, exchanging jokes with the bridge crew, Captain Duvivier doubling over in laughter, unaware of fate’s cruelty, his patience for Q’s parlor tricks snaps in half. “Enough! I’m past feeling sorry for myself. I made choices; they had consequences. If you feel compelled to rub that in once every few years, then I suggest you go find a more productive hobby. Yes, I am weak. Yes, I didn’t live up to my potential. No need to tap into my flimsy brain and visualize…”

    His rant trails off as his first Borg encounter appears in the sky, larger than life. Thirteen-year-old Tony hides in a maintenance alcove, whimpering to himself, the corridors lit by red lasers emanating from Borg eyepieces.

    The ethereal video rewinds itself to an earlier moment: Lieutenant Ralph Blue, so much younger than Tony remembers him, clenching Tony’s hand while desperately trying to protect him from the relentless Borg and sprinting through a smoke-filled corridor until a tactical drone shoots him in the chest, causing him to slump to the floor mid-run, his hand slipping from his son’s. Tony, just a child, screams for his father, believing him dead, as drones close in on both sides. Backing away from his unresponsive dad, who would soon join the ranks of cybernetic drones by way of forcible assimilation, he covers his ears to drown out the Borg’s monotonous threats and spins around, searching for an escape route. Shaking all over, he spots an open maintenance hatch and dives through it…

    …only to arrive as a twenty-year-old at the rubble of a collapsed apartment complex, digging through heaps of debris, finding his dead father and being unable to hold his hand because it is too mangled.

    “Please,” Tony begs as tears hit the black sand beneath his feet and evaporate with a sizzle. “No more.”

    Q raises his palms. “Don’t look at me. I surrendered control over these images to you as soon as I created the screen.”

    Overhead, alien weaponry reduces starships to fiery wrecks, unstoppable enemies slaughter officers and civilians, brainwashed S’Prenn scuttle through corridors in search of victims to maim or control, high-risers topple, cities burn—all of it flashes by in quick succession. It’s too much. Tony can hardly breathe as he fights the disturbing imagery.

    “Come on. Can’t you handle even the tiniest sliver of power? Focus!”

    Tony closes his eyes in self-protection, but now the depictions of violence are displayed on the inside of his eyelids. “Why all this destruction?” he asks, reopening his eyes. The footage changes to him firing his trusty phaser rifle at Altonoid soldiers, using Q powers to annihilate opponents, ordering weapon strikes on enemy vessels from his first officer’s chair, tearing warships apart from his tactical station. Each act of violence thickens his throat further. He wishes he could put a stop to his actions, stop being this madman, this agent of death.

    Those in his gunsights, those he had to leave behind, those he couldn’t protect bring him to one particular image: him aiming a handphaser at Captain Rinckes, who is staring him down, challenging him. It’s set to stun, so why not fire? With all his heart, Tony wills his duplicate up in the clouds to fire, but the handphaser falls to the floor like it always does. This scene keeps repeating itself until its scenery undergoes a gradual transformation to a burning street in San Francisco, Foora-class fighters screeching through a green sky, and Captain Rinckes lying on his back in an Altonoid uniform, reaching for his phaser. Tony’s handphaser morphs into a phaser rifle set to kill, and he squeezes the trigger. With a nauseating thud, the phaser blast hits the captain. Rinckes lies dead on the pavement, staring at the battle-filled sky, a smoking phaser wound in his chest. All the real Tony can do is watch these abstract events unfold.

    “Now why would you kill a man to save yourself,” Q says, “but not stun a man to save your wife?”

    Up above, memories of Emily pass by. In this instance, his recollection prefers the mundane to the profound: sitting curled together on the couch in their bungalow, enjoying a meal in blissful silence, stargazing in Dad’s garden, slow dancing to old music in their quarters. Q’s harsh question and these memories gone bittersweet should upset him, but instead, he relishes the warm feeling he gets from this reminder of the mutual devotion she brought into his life. There may be a plethora of ways to justify his deeds and the paradoxical nature of what he has become, but they all fall short, so he says, “I wish I knew.”

    “That’s it? That’s all you have to say for yourself?”

    “Yeah.” Framed by a quartet of suns, Emily smiles at him, playful twinkle in her eyes, reassuring him without uttering a word. “For all I have lost, for all the mistakes I’ve made, for all the injustice I might have endured, I got to be with her for as long as it lasted. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything the Continuum ever offered me.”

    Q huffs at him. “I brought you here to discuss your hypocrisy and lack of discipline, and you defend yourself with this treacly nonsense? You’ve grown soft.”

    “Yes, I have.” Tony straightens his back and walks off. “Deal with it.”

    It’s as if he has slapped Q in the face. “Deal with it? Where are you going?”

    The screen repositions itself to hover above the faraway ridge dividing the horizon into black and purple. It doesn’t matter that it follows him wherever he casts his gaze; seeing Emily invigorates him. “All that violence,” he says. “It’s not to protect myself. It’s to protect those I care about.” Ahead begins a memory of Tony and Emily having a lively conversation with colleagues and friends in the mess hall. “And that’s not as small as protecting one person—no matter how precious to me—and not as large as defending humanity. I have to be there for those who are alive with me. I cannot save everyone. I cannot even save myself. But I’ll give it my damnedest. Every day.”

    “Stop and face me!” Q demands, his booming voice quaking the ground.

    Undeterred by Q’s histrionics, Tony marches on. “After all, I’m only human.” He doesn’t bother looking back to see Q no doubt fuming in anger. No, he focuses on the screen above the ridge. On it, Ralph Blue tucks in five-year-old Tony, plants a kiss on his forehead, and says, “Goodnight, son.”

    * * *

    As if having stepped through an invisible doorway, Tony, still in uniform, returns to his quarters in an instant—a final courtesy from Q. The gentle hum of active warp engines and ship systems confirms he is once again in temporal synch with the universe. Partly hidden by the curtains, spears of iridescent stardust zoom by, as they should. “Computer, what is the current time?”

    0601 hours.

    Plenty of opportunity to prepare for his shift, but Tony has other plans. “Locate Captain Rinckes.”

    Captain Rinckes is in his ready room.

    Tony storms out of his gloomy quarters and heads for the nearest turbolift to settle this once and for all.
     
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  5. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - Book 2 - Chapter 4a

    As if harboring the same determination and agitation as its occupant, the turbolift shudders and trembles while transporting Lieutenant Tony Blue to the Achilles’ bridge. Once there, Tony storms out and reaches the entrance of the captain’s ready room in no time flat, ignoring the nightshift led by Surtak, who raises an eyebrow at the lieutenant’s sudden appearance.

    Tony exercises plenty of restraint to keep from repeatedly chiming the doorbell. A single chime suffices to announce his presence.

    Come in.”

    He enters the room so fast his shoulders clip the opening doors, then stops in his tracks, having expected the captain to be seated at his desk.

    Captain Stephan Rinckes is standing by the left bulkhead, hanging up a freshly replicated, meter-wide picture of a Nova-class science vessel. Pinning the artwork encased in a solid frame against the bulkhead one-handedly, he points at his desk with his free hand. “Adhesive.”

    “Sir, we need—”

    “Unless we’re facing an imminent attack, it can wait.” Rinckes snaps his fingers at the adhesive dispenser on his desk.

    Stumped, Tony defaults to obeying his captain and fetches him the apparatus.

    “Thank you, Lieutenant.” The captain uses it to add a layer of glue to the picture frame, mounts the artwork on the bulkhead, and steps back to appreciate the result: an incongruous addition to the battle-damaged ready room.

    Why the pragmatic captain would resort to interior decoration at this early hour baffles Tony, and he is about to dismiss this strange occurrence and speak his mind as intended, but then he recognizes the vessel. “The Solar Field.”

    “My first command.”

    Though mentioning this is probably a bad idea, Tony must bring up the ornamental elephant in the room. “Destroyed by the Borg, if I recall correctly.”

    The captain’s eyes go dead for an instant. “Sacrificed in a daring move to learn their weapons’ secrets. Her destruction saved many lives at the cost of none. She was completely evacuated when the Borg blew her up.”

    The captain reminiscing about a vessel claimed by fate has disturbing implications. Tony is not in the mood to mince words. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, why hang up this picture?”

    “I do mind your asking,” the captain says, a remote trace of humor in his voice. “You’ve heard the cliché ‘a ship is only as good as her crew.’ It’s true. Once the crew has left, it is just a heartless shell, a collection of resources, a dead bulk.”

    Tony studies the image. The Solar Field is at warp, its interior and exterior lighting is on, including an external spotlight perpetually illuminating her name and registry. “You are saying those aboard constitute her soul.”

    “I’m saying materiel is expendable.”

    “And your crew isn’t.”

    “If only it were that simple.”

    “What happens if the greater good demands you dispose of her soul piece by piece? What will be left of her in the end?” Tony faces his captain. “What will become of us?”

    Rinckes returns his stare. “It’s academic. We either succeed or fail.”

    “Here’s a practical question for you: How will you keep a crew together if they believe you’ll throw them to the wolves?”

    A long pause. “I am aware people have been discussing my leadership. Obedience and faith in the captain is paramount.” He narrows his eyes at Tony. “Those who disagree must be kept in line.”

    “And have their faith in you forced on them?”

    Rinckes doesn’t take the bait. “Your shift starts in twenty-five minutes. Why are you here?”

    “Please, Captain, answer my question.”

    “You’re serious about this?”

    “These are legitimate concerns.”

    “Whose?”

    “You can’t deny abandoning Ted and Emily has been a contentious decision, a divisive one for the crew. It’s left them uncertain.”

    Tony half-expects Rinckes to take a step toward him, as he is wont to do when arguing, taking advantage of his greater height, but the captain remains rooted in place and says, “Forget the crew. Forget Ted. This is about Emily.”

    “Of course it is,” Tony blurts out. “You never gave a damn about her. Do you think I’ve forgotten our escape from Station A-12? If I hadn’t acted quickly she would’ve died right there and then. How many safeguards did you bypass to decompress that shuttle bay? And for what? Just so you could escape faster?”

    Rinckes clenches and unclenches his fists. “I should kick you out of my ready room for talking like that.”

    “At least I had an excuse for fleeing the station, what with my phaser wound. But you… You only cared about yourself. You still do.”

    “We both ran.” The captain’s voice has become a guttural rumble. “We abandoned countless men and women, friends and colleagues. How many, when the famous Tony Q set foot on the station, assumed you would save them like you always did? You let them down.” He composes himself, yet the muscles in his face are twitching subtly. “We let them all down.”

    “Sir, I simply don’t understand why you endangered Emily during your escape.”

    “I… wasn’t myself.” Before Tony can react, Rinckes emphasizes, “It wasn’t personal. It never has been.”

    “Just a cold calculation for survival.”

    “No. It wasn’t that. I… I cannot...” As if having flicked a switch, he becomes his unflappable self again and gives Tony a level stare. “Whatever my reasons were, they have become moot long ago. We are here now.”

    “Yes, we are. Emily is not.”

    Rinckes looks at the Solar Field. “Emily was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

    “At the receiving end of your pragmatism. Twice. The second time proved fatal.”

    The captain shakes his head and a wan smile forms on his lips. “An interesting way of putting it.” His cheerless smile fades. “I regret your loss. I do not regret my decision. If I am destined to shoulder the burden that comes with it, I accept it as part of my job. And I expect my subordinates to accept the risk.”

    Tony raises his chin. “Sending people on dangerous missions is one thing, but you abandoned two crewmembers.”

    “To save the many. And in those circumstances, I’d do it again. I’m not the bad guy here, Tony, just the man in charge during a no-win scenario. You have ample command experience. Don’t tell me you can’t follow my reasoning.”

    “I do, but… I might’ve succeeded, and part of the crew believes that too. It worries me.” He lets out a long sigh and looks at the Solar Field’s bridge module. “However, the chances you took to save the twenty-eight and your nod to Ted and Emily’s death at the funeral service, controversial as it may have been to some… It has given me hope.” He meets the captain’s gaze. “You have my loyalty, Captain, for those reasons, out of principle, because of my sense of duty, and because we are on the same side.”

    The captain hesitates. “Good.”

    “And I will convince others to follow my example.”

    “Noted.”

    Tony deepens his tone. “But never forget the price we paid for this loyalty and the price we’ll pay for your future decisions. Never forget Emily.”

    Rinckes is still as a statue, offering no reply, no response whatsoever.

    “Or you’ll wind up with a ship that’s full of people, yet as empty and expendable as the Solar Field post-evacuation.”

    “Dismissed, Lieutenant,” Rinckes says, an order Tony obeys before it is issued.

    * * *

    Now Tony has left, Captain Stephan Rinckes casts a final glance at the Solar Field and returns to his desk. He powers up his desk monitor and attempts to get back to work, although his mind is drawing a blank on the next item on his to-do list. No matter how he tries to concentrate, the isolinear chip in his pocket is calling for attention. He has been carrying it with him ever since the battle near the S’Prenn wreckage. After his brush with death, impaled captain’s chair and all, the top of the pile on his desk in his quarters wasn’t reminder enough for him.

    He grabs the chip, inserts it into the desk port, types an elaborate encryption code, and glares at the two files challenging him to open them. One is an official message from the Altonoids boasting about the death of two officers found in the wreckage of the Atlunte, the date marked June 15. This file is no secret; everyone aboard the Achilles has read it.

    The second file, not so much. The Altonoids had included it to add salt to their wounds, its existence only known to him and Lt. Commander Terrell, who was first to receive it and was sworn to secrecy. Rinckes had ordered the file deleted, keeping one heavily encrypted copy of the shocking video for himself in case he should ever reconsider its fate.

    While he has already seen the video too often, he selects it and presses play. As recorded by several bodycams and a drone, two Starfleet officers in white environmental suits are held at gunpoint by a phalanx of at least twenty Altonoid soldiers, also outfitted with EV suits, though their version is black and brown and has a tinted visor that makes its wearer appear anonymous and inhuman.

    Lieutenant Emily Blue is lying on her back between the crates that broke her fall while Ensign Ted Barton blocks the Altonoids’ path to her, arms held out, his voice shaky as he pleads, “I am a medic! I beg you, do not harm my patient.”

    A tall Altonoid—presumably their leader—walks up to him.

    “Please let me give her the medical care she needs,” Ted says.

    The faceless Altonoid pulls out a knife. “Any last words?”

    Ted’s EV suit covers part of his facial expression, so his body language does most of the talking: his movements become jerky and his raised palms unite in a gesture of supplication. “Please, the Seldonis IV Convention protects our rights as prisoners of war. We surrender unconditionally.”

    The Altonoid slashes at the ensign’s knee, drawing no blood but rupturing the young officer’s EV suit, which starts hissing violently as its oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere leaks out in a fast-moving plume of smoke.

    Ted tries to cover the leak with his digits, enabling the leader to slice another rupture into his suit, by the shoulder. The Altonoids laugh as Ted contorts to stop both leaks. With no protection from Nedron Eight’s harsh temperatures and toxic atmosphere, he wriggles on the ground for a good fifteen seconds before going still.

    The lead Altonoid steps over his corpse, towers over Emily, and lifts his knife. “Your turn.”

    Emily strains to prop herself up on her elbows. “Wait.” She pulls out the tubes and other self-sealing medical equipment Ted had attached to her suit. Her bared teeth reflect the Altonoids’ flashlights through her mask as she straightens up, taking the pain for granted, and faces her executioner. “Do what you must.”

    The Altonoid gives her a respectful nod. “We have a woman of courage here, soldiers.” He holsters his knife and takes out a handphaser. “Your death will be swift.”

    Emily never lowers her gaze as the Altonoid sticks to his promise and vaporizes her on the spot.

    Rinckes yanks the chip out of its port and tosses it against his desk, causing the chip to bounce and twirl around until it hits the side of his coffee mug. Ted died protecting his patient and Emily’s valor at death’s door impresses him to no end. These officers did not deserve to be killed in cold blood. They did not deserve his frigid decision to abandon them.

    Tony has every right to see this. He’d be even more proud of Emily’s final moments than her captain. Yet, seeing a loved one die and being utterly powerless to stop it is the cruelest trick the universe can play on those who dare to love.

    When Rinckes found Commander Melanie Simons back on Station A-12 all these years ago, he was too late to save her. She died in his arms, asking him to take care of the Sundance, the ship he had neglected in order to find her, the ship that had already been reduced to fire and rubble in the battle raging outside. In a terrifying state he has difficulty remembering, he fled the station, killing all who crossed his path—barehanded if necessary.

    Having the one person you love most die before your eyes breaks your heart into unrecognizable pieces, transforms you into a shadow of the person you were and could have been. He cannot recall endangering Emily’s life in the shuttle bay, but he believes Tony’s account, believes his shadow deactivated the force field.

    Rinckes locates and picks up the rectangular chip beside his coffee mug and, as he has done many times before, clenches his fist around the storage device. Tightening his grip, the captain stares at the Solar Field, then through it, squeezing the chip until it hurts his palm, until its plastic coating caves in.

    He slams his closed fist on his desk, shattering the chip. Ignoring the stinging pain, he heads over to the replicator and opens his fist above its pad. Most shards fall down immediately, some he has to pull from his skin first, which he does without flinching, until there’s a tiny pile of alloy and plastic mixed with drops of blood, as if to form a pact.

    If there were a chance to recover the data, Rinckes destroys it with one word: “Recycle.”

    Two seconds of whirring is all it takes to dissolve the evidence. He gazes at his open palm and the web of blood in it, then taps his combadge with his uninjured hand. “Captain Rinckes to Doctor Kingsley. I’ve had a minor mishap. Please see me in my ready room and bring a medkit.”

    Right away, Stephan.

    Though he can count on the physician’s discretion, he leans back against his desk and thinks up an innocuous cover story for his injury. Something involving his coffee mug, perhaps. He settles for detaching the Solar Field’s picture frame, breaking its right lower edge, and rubbing his palm against it. It fell, he didn’t notice the damage, picked it up and sliced his hand. The doctor will believe him. They always do.


    =================================================================================

    Author's note: I will be away for a well-earned vacation next week. The next segment of Fallen Heroes chapter 4 will be released Friday, April 26.
     
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  6. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Tony is laying down the smack. Good for him. He may have crossed the line there a little bit, but sometimes you just gotta say what you gotta say. And it helps if you do that without holding a phaser in your hand. So he's got that going for him.

    The revelation about the death tape was tough, man. It crushes any kind of hope that perhaps Emily did survive. Of course, it was foolish to believe otherwise in this dark tale.

    I'm off to go read some Orwell or maybe Tolstoy. You know, light-hearted stuff.
     
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  7. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - Book 2 of 2- Chapter 4b

    USS Achilles – July 31, 2386 – Stardate 63578.9

    Lieutenant Tony Blue recalls visiting the ship’s theater three or four times with his wife. Although this has never been his favorite pastime, he must admit the place is impressive for this type of vessel. He’d learned a while ago that Arthur and Erin Crow assisted in developing the Achilles, and Erin’s love for theater inspired this construction, a love doomed to wither when her husband went missing.

    Tony enters the auditorium through its port entrance and sorely misses having a beautiful woman by his side. Admiring the architecture of this large chamber distracts him somewhat from this sudden emptiness. A semicircle of tiered seats divided by two aisles surrounds the stage, which features a lone grand piano, rumored to have been patched up by none other than Chief Engineer Jon Terrell. Countless lamps give the pitch-black ceiling the appearance of a starry night, further enhancing the theater’s special atmosphere. Not all of them have remained functional, but who misses a few stars in a star field?

    The recital will start in fifteen minutes and the venue is packed and buzzing with excitement. Extra seats have been placed and broken ones repaired to accommodate most of the sixty attendees, some of whom will be required to stand for the entire duration. Ever since Ensign Josh Donahue’s adventure on the S’Prenn wreckage, he has become a celebrity of sorts. It isn’t every day that an officer mutates into a temporary human/spider hybrid and lives to tell the tale—his and that of the brave S’Prenn rebels who met a tragic end.

    From smackdab in the middle of the center seating area, Lieutenant Ernest Baxter waves at Tony and invites him to join him. Tony trudges to the middle tier to shake Baxter’s hand. Lieutenant Kels stands beside him, claiming most of the helmsman’s attention. Her blue skin glitters in the theater’s unique lighting, but Tony does feel sorry for whoever has to sit behind her, due to the antennae protruding from her white hairdo.

    “Hello, Lieutenant,” she says to Tony. “Glad you could make it. I am not overly familiar with human classical music, but Ernest here is trying to bring me up to speed.”

    Even in the gloom, Baxter’s cheeks redden visibly. “Uh, yes. Yes, I’m telling her about the greats in Earth’s history.”

    “I thought you were more of a blues guy,” Tony says.

    “Blues?” Kels asks.

    The helmsman’s blushing is about to match the light intensity of an impulse engine. “I love blues. Blues music, yeah.”

    Kels either doesn’t pick up on Baxter’s obvious behavior around her or chooses to ignore it. “Let’s see how I like classical music first.”

    Someone’s breathing down Tony’s neck. “Is this seat taken?” a reluctant voice asks, belonging to Lieutenant Jeremy Gibbs, who looks as if enemy soldiers could rappel from the ceiling at any given moment to mock him for being here.

    “You can sit with us,” Kels says with a smile, and she takes the initiative to sit down. In a synchronized movement, Baxter sits down beside her.

    Noticing Gibbs’ unwillingness to pick a seat just yet, as if that would make his attending this recital official and irrevocable, Tony says, “You’d rather have Donahue give a martial arts demonstration?”

    The muscular security chief grumbles. “I respect the discipline and effort needed to master an instrument and the gumption it takes to perform in front of a live audience… but yeah, I’d rather have him flaunt his combat training.”

    “Maybe he’ll karate chop the piano in half.”

    “Here’s hoping.”

    They watch as people file into the auditorium, including the captain, his first officer, and the doctor, who seat themselves in the front row by the port entrance at the expense of three low-ranking officers, who willingly give up their seats. While these officers spread out in search of new places to sit, Gibbs flips through the playbook and says, “Not a single jazz composition.” He and Tony settle themselves in their chairs. “Only cloying, sensitive classical music. What’ll they think of our security division after this?”

    “Stay awake and you’ll find out.” With Grumpy Gibbs to his left, and Blushing Baxter to his right boldly attempting to reanimate his conversation with Kels, Tony leans back and waits for the show to start.

    Before long, Josh Donahue scuffles onto the stage in full dress uniform. If it hadn’t been for the brightening stage lights, he would’ve snuck up to the piano unnoticed. Anticipatory chatter dies out to be replaced with applause, of which Gibbs’ insincere but loud contribution threatens to inflict permanent hearing damage to Tony’s left ear. The security chief throws in an encouraging yell for good measure. At least he’s being supportive.

    With a quiet posture, Josh opens with the instantly recognizable intro of Debussy’s Claire de Lune and transfixes the audience from the first note onward. Despite its suboptimal condition, the auditorium provides excellent acoustics. The ensign’s playing is not flawless—there are mistakes, the occasional wrong note, some pacing issues—but it is genuine and heartfelt, and it holds all present spellbound. Staring at the piano keys as if they were a long-lost lover, Josh breezes through Debussy’s most notable works and segues into Satie’s Gnossiennes and Gymnopedies, stirring the rapt crowd. Each time applause erupts, Gibbs’ contribution to it becomes slightly more genuine.

    A bit of stage light bleeds into the first rows, illuminating Captain Rinckes as he listens intently with his usual indecipherable expression, Commander Erin Crow, who sits closer to the captain each passing piece, and Doctor Chris Kingsley, who hasn’t stopped smiling since the recital began. Off to the far right, near the starboard entrance, Lieutenant Surtak takes in the music, emotionless but appreciative. Tony wonders if the Vulcan’s pointy ears and better hearing allow him to pick up nuances in the compositions human ears cannot.

    Josh lets loose his piano skills with the impossibly fast piece La Campanella. He didn’t need the spider arms to play this after all, and it earns him the first standing ovation of the evening, during which Lieutenant Commander Terrell pops in to stand beside Surtak and admire the rest of the performance. Even the modest Terrell couldn’t resist seeing the repaired piano in action. In fact, when Josh throws in several compositions of his own, Terrell slaps Surtak on the shoulder every time the ensign wows the audience. Surprisingly enough, Surtak is okay with it.

    By the time Josh reaches his selection of Chopin’s Nocturnes, he is completely in the zone and transcends his limitations as a musician. There seems to be more to it, though. As he navigates these intricate, melancholic melodies, he plays with a maturity beyond his age, a sorrow beyond one man’s suffering, conveying the grief of someone who saw his children and friends die.

    Kronn’s memories never left.

    Josh performs his heartbreaking rendition of Nocturne in C Sharp Minor, and the audience revels in it with bated breath, uniting them in a collective aching that, if only for a few minutes, salves their wounds. It’s enough to bring a lump to Tony’s throat. He has lost more than he could ever have imagined, given more than he could ever recover, yet he is not alone.

    Surrounded by his brothers in arms, Tony looks up at the imperfect star field, allows each and every stroke of the piano keys to reach within his soul, and relishes the moment, for it may never come again.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Altor Seta – November 26, 2387 – Stardate 64899.3

    For once, their away mission takes them to a location where EV suits aren’t required. In fact, Altor Seta features a temperate climate with breathable atmosphere and twenty percent lower gravity than Earth, giving Lieutenant Tony Blue the impression he is in much better shape than he should be with his once-a-week visit to the gym. The planet’s rich flora and fauna are hidden from view, however, as he and Lieutenant Ernest Baxter prowl the corridors of a secret Altonoid lab, which isn’t secret anymore to the valiant crew of the Achilles.

    Baxter halts by a heavy door, careful to avoid triggering its motion sensors, and studies his tricorder. “Target reached. I’m reading three life signs—human.”

    Tony readies his phaser rifle. “We’re taking no chances. Cover me. Stay clear of the door until my signal.”

    Also armed with a rifle, Baxter alternates between covering both ends of the hallway. Tony crouches and triggers the door’s sensors by touching the floor with an outstretched hand. As soon as the door opens, Tony points his rifle into the room while keeping most of his body hidden behind the door jamb.

    “Halt!” Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Gibbs shouts, blinding Tony with his rifle’s flashlight. “Drop your weapon!”

    “I liked you better before your promotion,” Tony teases. “Blue and Baxter reporting in, sir. Area secure.”

    Gibbs sighs in relief. “We’re all accounted for.”

    Tony steps into the room. In its center, Lieutenant Commander Jon Terrell is hacking into the main computer terminal. Commander Erin Crow has her back turned to them as she guards the room’s opposite entrance. This particular lab room is the size of a Federation vessel’s standard quarters, yet according to the intel they’ve puzzled out, this is where local Altonoid scientists store and access a fair portion of sensitive information, and security is relatively lax thanks to the scatterbrained nature of its eccentric director.

    Baxter peeks around the corner and Gibbs waves him in. Using hand signals, he instructs Baxter to help him guard the door and Tony to help Crow.

    “This is brilliant,” Terrell says, uploading the terminal’s data to his tricorder. “I even found a batch of floor plans for other research facilities!”

    “Please hurry,” Crow says, her unease worsened by the wall-mounted S’Prenn corpses in various states of dissection. Away teams have visited a wide range of Altonoid research facilities, but nobody has grown accustomed to the brutal treatment the S’Prenn continue to undergo.

    Tony, his weapon aimed at the exit, casts her a glance over his rifle sight. “We’re the only ones alive in this room. Focus on the door. We’ll be back aboard the Achilles before you know it.”

    “Don’t talk to me like I’m a first-year cadet.”

    Must. Resist. Sarcasm. Reflex. “My apologies, Commander.”

    “Um, fellas,” Terrell says as the intruder alert sounds. “We should go. We have what we want.” Stern Altonoid voices express warnings over the comm system, and both exits lock their doors with a metallic thud.

    Crow presses her combadge. “Away team to Achilles. Five to beam up.”

    No response.

    “This facility’s in lockdown,” Terrell says, rushing past her. “Transporters and communications dampened”—he rips out the panel of the door Tony and Crow are guarding and starts tinkering with its exposed wires—“for a one-mile radius.”

    “How do we return to our ship?” Baxter asks.

    Terrell flashes him a smile. “No worries, Baxxie. Come here. You too, Tony.” He reaches into the toolkit strapped around his waist and gives them one emergency transport unit each, saving one for himself. For such a powerful device, it is deceptively tiny: a round object barely an inch in diameter. It was first used in 2379 by Lieutenant Commander Data in order to save Captain Picard’s life before sacrificing his own by preventing an outlawed thalaron generator from destroying the Enterprise. “Set your tricorder to indicate you’re outside the dampening field. Once clear, activate the transport unit. It’s preconfigured to beam you to the Achilles.”

    “Where’s mine and Gibbs’?” Crow asks.

    “You’ll have to share.”

    Crow upgrades her stare to three out of five scowling stars.

    “Good news is I’ve modified it.” Terrell strains to adjust an unseen panel or wire and the door slides open. “Enhanced its energy storage. It now has two uses: two for one person, or one for two simultaneous beamups.” He gestures at the open doorway. “Let’s shake a leg, people.”
     
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  8. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Somebody must have had a relaxing vacation judging by the somewhat light-hearted tone in this latest chapter, particularly the first segment. Even if it turns more melancholy towards the end, it probably contains my favorite joke in this story so far. Yeah, he likes the Blues, all right. Andorians and Bolians, watch out!
     
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  9. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - Book 2 of 2- Chapter 4c

    According to their predictions, twelve Altonoid soldiers patrol this research outpost. All of them are chasing the away team through Altor Seta’s exotic vegetation and fire phasers at random in hopes of killing the five sprinting officers. Thick foliage renders it difficult to keep track of one’s colleagues. However, it also provides cover.

    Tony has difficulty maintaining the pace. Of course his phaser scar chooses this particular moment to act up again. His old injury hampers his ability to navigate this obstacle course filled with amazing variations of trees, shrubbery, twisting roots, meat-eating flowers, and dog-sized crawling and flying bugs. Especially the bumblebee-like creatures snapping at his extremities annoy him to no end, although clubbing these carnivores out of the way with his rifle is a welcome distraction from the occasional Altonoid phaser beam whizzing by.

    A hand in the small of his back pushes him along. “How much farther?” Tony asks the hand’s owner.

    “No idea,” Gibbs answers. “Keep running. I got you.”

    Just as Tony begins to gain a new appreciation for the value of teamwork, a stray phaser beam shears a sizeable branch off an overhead tree and sends it sailing down at him. Gibbs takes aim and causes the branch to erupt in cinders, saving Tony from a nasty headwound.

    Right then, a sharp-fanged and overly determined bumblebee the size of a soccer ball latches on to the lieutenant’s left elbow. Tony yelps in pain and starts flapping his arm about like a deranged man trying to get airborne. Still running, he repeatedly punches the hovering ball of yellow fur, which refuses to budge in the slightest. Its faceted eyes stare at him in confusion, as if it is second-guessing its lunch choice. Even though this clingy insect’s bite hurts, freeing his arm will have to wait, because they encounter Baxter lying flat on his face and Terrell trying to help him up.

    Baxter is uttering mild profanities while Gibbs grabs him by the torso and lifts him to his feet. “I stumbled like an idiot. I’m all right.”

    Terrell’s eyes go wide when he sees Tony. “Blimey, there’s something on your arm.”

    “Yeah, no kidding.”

    Crow appears from out of the shrubbery. “Come on, guys. We—” A salvo of phaser bursts interrupts her and lights up the area. Tony dives for cover and tackles Crow to the ground as mud and flames surround them. At least this motivates the bumblebee to finally let go. But now Tony hears someone cry out in agony.

    It’s Gibbs. He drops to his knees and yells in pain, fighting back tears, a smoldering phaser wound between his shoulder blades. Bristling leaves betray the Altonoid soldiers’ approach. As if telepathically linked, Baxter and Terrell choose a side each and drag Gibbs off as quickly as they can, no doubt grateful for this planet’s lower gravitational pull.

    Crow clutches Tony by the jacket and yanks him up. “You have a transport unit, right?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    She fires a couple of shots at their hidden pursuers to buy time, seizes Tony’s wrist with the ferocity of an indigenous bumblebee, and guides him in another direction than Gibbs and company’s escape route. Splitting up is wise, given the circumstances, as long as they make straight for the shield perimeter.

    A memory surfaces in Tony’s mind of skipping through a field, holding hands with a classmate, though despite his dark and troubled past, there weren’t soldiers shooting at him back then. Since Crow’s wrist-grabbing precludes the use of his right arm, he grabs the muzzle of his phaser rifle with his left and uses the weapon to bat at nosy insects, even though his wounded elbow stings something fierce.

    A humongous centipede uncurls to block their path. The twenty-foot-long invertebrate has decided the two officers could be an interesting meal, and it opens its monstrous beak in a high-pitched screech. Footsteps and shouting Altonoids remind them they cannot afford this delay. Still clenching Tony’s wrist, Crow fires at the creature, which only infuriates it. One-handedly, Tony flips his rifle around, adjusts its setting to a higher intensity, and fires a shot that slices off a slab of the bug’s exoskeleton. The centipede writhes closer to them despite Tony and Crow firing off burst after burst, and soon their firing is joined by stray Altonoid phaser beams.

    Tony shakes his wrist loose to better aim at the creature. “Cover me! Back-to-back!”

    Crow spins around and fires at the disturbingly nearby Altonoids, who remain concealed by the vegetation. Her warm hair presses against the nape of Tony’s neck as she provides steady covering fire to slow the Altonoids’ advance and his phaser bursts chip at the relentless centipede’s beak. The furious arthropod raises its ugly head like a cobra mimicking its snake charmer’s motions, and Tony takes a step forward to draw a bead on its eyes.

    A signal chimes, originating from his tricorder.

    “We’re outside the dampening grid!” Crow says.

    Tony fires two more bursts and affixes the small, circular transport unit to his collar bone. The centipede recoils, shakes off a blackened venom claw, and prepares for another lunge.

    An Altonoid shouts, clear as day, “Lower your weapon, human female!”

    Crow tenses up and complies, which convinces Tony there must be multiple Altonoids emerging from the bushes. Without hesitation, he turns around, wraps an arm around her to reel her in, and flicks a thumb against the transport unit. One second later, their world becomes a blue particle mist in which the centipede lashes right through their dematerializing bodies. Over the characteristic whine of active transport, Altonoid soldiers scream in terror as the oversized insect tears into them.

    The screaming dies out as soon as Tony and Crow rematerialize on a transporter pad, safely aboard the Achilles, holding each other tightly.

    Crow sighs in relief. “Thanks for the lift, Lieutenant.”

    “Happy to help,” Tony replies, catching his breath.

    A subtle cough from the transporter chief prompts them to break off their lifesaving hug.

    Crow pats off her uniform as if nothing has happened and walks up to the chief. “Did the others make it?”

    “They’re beaming to transporter room 3 as we speak.”

    She resumes her all-business expression. “Alert sickbay. Wounded incoming.”

    * * *

    USS Achilles – December 6, 2387 – Stardate 64926.2

    Lieutenant Tony Blue rubs his elbow. Although a medic healed it shortly after the completion of the Altor Seta mission, it continues to itch every once in a while, or maybe it is just a resilient memory of that enthusiastic bumblebee with attachment issues. “Computer, what is the time?”

    0605 hours.

    Earlier than needed to make it to his shift. In fact, the past few months he has woken up feeling rested, despite the stress and danger that has become part of everyday life. Jumbled nightmares about Altonoids, Borg, and S’Prenn remain a regular occurrence, but his nightly panic attacks have subsided.

    Tony puts on his uniform jacket to complete his attire and inspects himself in the mirror. If only he felt as young as the twenty-five-year-old staring back at him. He has allowed a stubbly circle beard to grow, which has garnered two effects: he has a more mature look, and Lieutenant Baxter frequently asks him when he will return to the Mirror Universe and send the original Tony back.

    In the living area of his tidy yet battle-damaged quarters, he collects a handphaser and tricorder from a drawer to secure them to his belt. Both items have become mandatory for on-duty personnel. A sensible precaution, given the hostile territory they’re always in.

    His gaze rests on the corner dedicated to his loved ones. Prominently on display beside the holopictures of Tony, his dad, and Emily, is a wireframe heart, torn asunder yet held together by near-invisible wires, a thoughtful and surprising gift from Jon Terrell. And to think the unassuming chief engineer had almost trashed it. Tony is glad Terrell summoned the courage to share this custom-made work of art with him. Speaking of which, he should pay the man a visit. But first, Tony is going to have an early-morning walkabout and swing by sickbay to go see poor Jeremy Gibbs.

    * * *

    Wherever Tony’s stroll leads, he finds damage and disrepair. Flickering light fixtures dangling from ceilings have become a staple of the typical Achilles corridor, as are loose panels, exposed circuitry, char stains, barricaded sections, and harried crewmembers carrying handphasers. These troopers are at work despite mild injuries, wear frayed or torn uniforms, and look like they haven’t showered in days. Ship systems declining or failing is taking its toll on all of them—a process so gradual one almost gets used to it, save for these moments of reflection. It is easy to forget this vessel has been out here on its own for five consecutive years.

    After being forced into another detour to avoid a collapsed deck section, Tony arrives at stellar cartography and steps inside. This voluminous chamber has a holographically projected star map shrouding every surface. By the lone computer terminal at the far end of the room, Lieutenants Ernest Baxter and Kels chitchat, unaware of Tony’s presence.

    “I don’t think so,” Baxter says. “I mean, playing guitar for a holographic audience is entirely different from an actual living and breathing one.”

    “If that is true, what’s the point of practicing so often?” Kels teases.

    “What’s the point? You’re asking me?” He laughs. “What’s the point of you stuffing your quarters with culturally diverse tableware and outdated equipment? I bet you haven’t seen the floor in months!”

    Kels punches his arm playfully. “Hey, you don’t get to judge me, not until you’ve played a concert in our theater.”

    “I’m not Donahue. I’ve no desire to hog the spotlight like he does.”

    “No, you’re not. You’re better! You should challenge him to a stage duel.”

    Tony slowly backs into the holographic stars and re-enters the corridor, seemingly disappearing in outer space as the doors close. These two and their incessant tentative flirting… If they don’t confess their feelings for each other soon, someone is going to snap and scream “Just kiss already!” How can they take their time when each day could be their last? The Achilles has evaded destruction so far during this ceaseless cloak-and-dagger mission, but luck tends to run out unannounced.

    Not all intel they have found is equally reliable. Fortunately, examining S’Prenn and Altonoid databases has yielded slow but steady progress in their search for a cure to counteract the Altonoids’ brainwashing chemical weapon. They keep dredging up new targets for intel raids, which, generally speaking, have become increasingly better protected. It’s as if they’re always one tiny step ahead of the Altonoids, like a clever mouse in a wolf den. One slipup, one mistake, and it’s over.

    He is still brooding on this as he arrives in the hydroponics lab, i.e. their attempt to assuage those sick of replicator rations and their sometimes questionable results, and the one spot on the ship where war seems distant. This chamber consists of an indoor park with eight gardens intersected by grass paths. The drab ceiling never fails to ruin the immersion, however.

    Tony inspects a portion of the fruits and vegetables growing here. Who could’ve foretold one day the sight of cauliflowers, broccoli plants, and carrot leaves would stimulate his appetite? He is about to sink his teeth into a tomato so ripe it required but the gentlest tug to pluck it from its vine when he notices a figure meditating six feet ahead of him.

    “No loitering on the grass,” Tony quips in a reflex, late to realize joking with a Vulcan is… let’s say ambitious.

    Lieutenant Surtak looks up. He is on his knees, his hands steepled. “No stealing tomatoes either, Lieutenant.”

    “Got me there.” He gives the ripe tomato a tender goodbye squeeze and places it on the soil. “Sorry to disturb you. The thought of running into meditating colleagues in our greenhouse didn’t occur to me.”

    “No apologies are necessary. If today’s meditation demanded absolute solitude, I would not have chosen this publicly accessible location.”

    “Fair enough.” Tony should leave, so he doesn’t. “Don’t you prefer desert areas? This is the polar opposite of your home world.”

    “Having witnessed so much death, I prefer to surround myself with life.”

    That unexpected nugget of wisdom pulls at Tony’s heartstrings and he struggles to scrounge together a reply. “Okay, wow. I’ll… uh, leave you to it then.”

    Surtak lifts an eyebrow. “Did my statement elicit an emotional reaction? I did not intend to remind you of the tragedies we share.”

    “It’s fine. Humans wear their emotions on their sleeves.”

    “They do indeed.”

    “I’ll get over it.”

    Surtak gestures at the space next to him. “Sit with me, Lieutenant. Perhaps a moment of tranquility will offer solace.”

    “Perhaps.” Tony accepts his invitation, because why not? He kneels beside the Vulcan and copies his body language, steepled fingers and all. “Like this?”

    “Crude but sufficient.”

    “Story of my life.”

    “No more redundant comments, please. Be silent and let your thoughts be. Quiet your inner ocean by focusing on the present.”

    Tony represses the urge to add banalities such as “be one with the grass” or “imagine your desires to be a forbidden tomato” and heeds his advice.

    Truth be told, Vulcan meditation techniques do have their merits. The grass is soft to the touch, the air is fresh and rich with oxygen, and the plants dampen the constant hum of the ship’s engines and systems. Already, tension is dissipating from Tony’s muscles, especially in his neck and shoulders. His “inner ocean” is doing whatever the hell it wants, yet he could envision his troubles and pains floating off into the distance if he tried, leaving him to enjoy the present. And so, for a handful of minutes spent in wordless companionship, Tony and Surtak experience a small measure of peace.
     
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  10. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - Book 2 of 2 - Chapter 4d

    Lieutenant Tony Blue pushes the two rubber curtains forming an entrance to sickbay aside and enters the lowly lit hallway, which stretches beyond the next corner. Expanded to 300% its original size, sickbay these days consists of a network of corridors and rooms, a research facility disturbingly similar to the Altonoid laboratories they scour for intel. One cannot roam four feet without bumping into a container and its horrific contents: S’Prenn specimens, most of them dead. Some are alive, insane, and attacking their transparent aluminum cages, which cannot be broken by S’Prenn fangs and claws, though he gives them a wide berth nonetheless. Instinctively, he hovers a hand over his phaser holster.

    Tony suspects the S’Prenn carcasses and live subjects outnumber the ship’s current complement of 386 souls. A quick calculation confirms the Achilles’ journey into their former territory has claimed the lives of thirty-four crewmembers so far—a humbling statistic.

    He steps over thick cables and medical equipment, which are difficult to spot in the dark. A combination of traveling under cloak and S’Prenn skin photosensitivity renders these innards of the Achilles spookier than they already are with the lights on.

    The corridor opens up into an equally dark chamber that used to be the entire sickbay instead of its locus. Wires and tubes crisscross the floor, and an acidic odor summons harrowing memories of the S’Prenn wreckage. Off to the right lies Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Gibbs partly covered in blankets on the only biobed not occupied by containers of decaying or convulsing arachnids. Staring at the ceiling, Gibbs grinds his teeth. His eyes and cheeks are sunken. What do you say to someone in this bad a shape? Tony approaches his debilitated colleague and settles for, “How are you holding up, Commander?”

    With his mottled skin and thinning blond hair, his weakened condition, and in this unfavorable lighting, Gibbs seems sixty-eight instead of forty-eight years old. “I still can’t move.”

    Tony takes a knee beside the biobed. “I’m sorry to hear that.” For a man this bent on exercise and martial arts training, being cursed with a quadriplegic state has to be gut-wrenching.

    “I hate this place.”

    “It gives me the heebie-jeebies too, but we have to find the cure. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself whenever I’m down here.”

    “I hate this ceiling.”

    “Doctor Kingsley insists your paralysis is temporary.”

    “I’m done waiting.” He is blinking rapidly, one of the few means at his disposal to vent his frustration. “My team needs me.”

    “Yes, they do, but Josh is doing well leading security until you’re back in the saddle.”

    “He’s a good officer.”

    Tony musters a smile and pats Gibbs on the shoulder. “Learned from the best.”

    From the dark recesses of this sickbay of horrors, Doctor Chris Kingsley emerges. His ragged appearance matches his working environment; black S’Prenn blood splatters stain his uniform. He places a tray of used medical devices atop an adjacent container. “Speaking of the best, here I am.” He sounds tired. “I’m sorry neither of you like the scenery. I admit it is not for the fainthearted. It’s… an acquired taste.”

    Neither Gibbs nor Tony have anything to add to the doctor’s observations.

    “I have news regarding your condition.”

    “I was just leaving,” Tony says out of politeness.

    “No,” Gibbs says, nearly begs. “Please stay.”

    “Suit yourself,” Kingsley says. “Judging from your spinal cord’s current state and your treatment response, I expect you to walk again in two or three months. A full recovery is the most probable outcome.”

    Gibbs lets out a mighty groan, a mixture of relief over regaining his mobility and dread over having to extend his stay.

    The doctor stares at the floor and shuffles his feet. “I have… an alternative, a way of expediting your recovery.”

    “Let’s hear it,” Gibbs says.

    “I propose attaching a limb- and headless S’Prenn to your neck. It won’t try to assert dominance, because its higher brain functions have ceased, but its adaptive biology would seek to control and repair your nervous system. You would be able to walk and use your arms within an hour, maybe faster. I speculate the repairs will become permanent after a month. Then it might be possible to surgically remove the S’Prenn.”

    A beat of silence. “Are you out of your mind?” Gibbs replies. “Get away from me!”

    Kingsley ignores the outburst and stares coldly at his patient.

    “I’m sick of this place! I’m sick of all this!” Spittle builds up in the corners of Gibbs’ mouth. “I’m sick of you!” Hyperventilation and saliva threaten to choke him.

    Kingsley collects a hypospray from a utility cart and presses its rounded tip against the security chief’s corded neck.

    As the sedation takes rapid effect, and before losing consciousness, Gibbs looks Tony straight in the eye and asks, “What have we become?”

    The patient goes quiet, bringing the pumping and whirring of medical equipment and the thrashing of captured S’Prenn to the foreground.

    “I think he wants a second opinion,” Tony says, having no idea what else to say. “I’m guessing the disfigured S’Prenn treatment is off the table.”

    Kingsley shrugs. “It’s up to him.” He picks up his tray and disappears halfway into the darkness.

    “He’s not wrong,” Tony says after him. “What have we become?”

    Kingsley’s silhouette lowers its head. “Purveyors of necessary evil.” Reluctantly, he turns around. “We lost Nurse Durand this morning. She’d stumbled across a chemical alteration that made the bioweapon transmittable to humans. Before she realized what she’d done…” He pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. “It’s safe now. We’ve disinfected her corpse and the wing she was working in, and I suppose we could consider it somewhat of a breakthrough, but damn… If we don’t find that cure soon, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

    Another death, which increases the death tally to thirty-five. “You will go on,” Tony says, “like the rest of us. We must. Everything depends on us.”

    The doctor dips his chin and walks off.

    Alone with Gibbs, Tony runs a hand over the injured man’s scalp. “Stay strong, Jeremy. We need you.”

    * * *

    Lieutenant Commander Jon Terrell is in his comfort zone, tucked away in an alcove in main engineering, tinkering with the secondary impulse manifold’s settings to improve its capabilities. A smart idea, given how the incremental damage the primary manifolds sustained could endanger them during battle. And there will be a next battle. So here he is, ensconced up-side-down underneath the impulse control terminal on engineering’s upper level.

    Someone blocks his light and says, “There you are.”

    Terrell clambers out to be met by Lieutenant Tony Blue, who extends a hand to help him to his feet. Terrell graciously accepts. The chief engineer has pulled an all-nighter once again and his muscles are upgrading their silent protest to nagging pain.

    “Sorry to interrupt,” Tony says. “You must have the busiest job on the ship.”

    “I’m never bored.” He maintains an optimistic tone despite engineering’s shoddy state. “Whenever we fix something, there are plenty of Altonoids willing to field-test it without delay. They’re nice like that.”

    “Don’t make me feel guilty about stealing their data.”

    Terrell chuckles. “Those floor plans we nicked are marvelous. We’re studying them now. The files even include a complete set of floor plans for Station A-12! If you think our sickbay is scary, you should have a peek at those. The Altonoids have turned it into a horrorfest.”

    “I’m good. I have a different reason for—”

    “Wait. You have green on you.” Terrell removes a blade of grass from Tony’s jacket.

    “I went meditating with Surtak. Don’t ask.”

    “I won’t. You’re here for your own slice of Terrell tech. Follow me.”

    They ride an elevator to the lower level, where Terrell opens an inconspicuous drawer and retrieves a seemingly standard-issue tricorder. He flips the tricorder to show its padding has a small recess in its center, housing an emergency transport unit.

    “Exactly as I asked. Thanks, man.” Tony switches his regular tricorder for the prototype. “These transport units saved our hides back at Altor Seta.”

    Terrell grins. “I wish I could take all the credit, but I simply boosted their energy storage so they can be used twice. Oh, I also made them configurable by tricorder. It’s best to keep the unit paired with your custom-built one.”

    Tony taps a finger against the new tricorder in his holster. “I’m pushing the captain to make these mandatory for away teams.”

    “As if I’m not busy enough as it is,” Terrell jokes and then adds in a conspiring tone, “That next away mission may happen sooner than you think. The Altor Seta intel did not only include floor plans…”

    Senior officers,” Captain Rinckes announces over the comm, “report to the observation lounge at once.

    “Spoiler alert,” Terrell says. “It’s bound to be good news.”

    “Really?”

    “Let’s go and find out.”

    * * *

    Resembling two excited kids preparing for show-and-tell, Lieutenants Ernest Baxter and Kels are standing on either side of the observation lounge’s monitor. Projected on it is a far-off region of space with a highlighted anomaly in the top-left corner.

    “Our extensive analyses confirm it beyond the shadow of a doubt,” Kels says. “Cross-referencing S’Prenn, Altonoid, and Loïdian databases has provided us with conclusive proof of a S’Prenn navigational portal’s existence in the Aragos Sector.”

    “Stellar cartography corroborates our suspicions,” Baxter says.

    There is an unspoken consensus among the senior staff, communicated solely through an electric mix of fear and excitement. A discovery this remarkable cannot be dismissed. From his usual spot at the head of the table, Captain Stephan Rinckes contemplates these findings. Commander Erin Crow and Lieutenant Commander Jon Terrell flank him. Terrell is seated in the chair usually reserved for Doctor Kingsley, but the doctor has excused himself from this conference for understandable reasons.

    “This portal,” Kels says, “is virtually identical to the one near Station A-12, making it a potential goldmine of information regarding the cure.”

    Lieutenant Tony Blue, seated next to Terrell, clears his throat. “Do we know where the portal leads?”

    “We don’t,” Baxter says.

    “Are the Altonoids aware of this portal?” Crow asks, frowning.

    “Unknown, Commander,” Kels says. “The portal is either as yet undiscovered by the Altonoids, or…” Her antennae droop slightly. “We cannot discard the possibility of it being a trap to catch stray S’Prenn vessels… or perhaps even us.”

    “The Altonoids have been increasing their efforts to catch us,” Crow remarks.

    Seated opposite Tony, Lieutenant Surtak leans forward. “I advise caution. There are too many variables.”

    Rinckes folds his hands on the tabletop. “Agreed. Terrell, is this ship ready for battle?”

    “Ready as she’ll ever be, Captain.”

    “Blue, I want you to schedule and perform frequent tactical drills until we reach the Aragos Sector.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    “Donahue, the same goes for security drills.”

    “Consider it done, Captain.” Lieutenant Junior Grade Josh Donahue sits farthest away from him—out of modesty, the captain hopes, not timidity. The acting security chief encounters far more intimidating creatures than his fellow senior officers in his line of work.

    Rinckes allows himself a moment to look at his people. “What we have accomplished out here on our own is beyond exemplary. Each and every one of you can be proud of the tenacity and bravery we invested in achieving our goals. We are not out of the woods yet, but I can think of no ship and crew I would trust more to continue our mission than the Achilles and her beating heart of heroic men and women.” He rises from his chair. “To your stations, everyone. Baxter, lay in a course for the anomaly, warp 8.”

    His subordinates clear the room, leaving the captain to study the windows, which boast an excellent view of the Achilles’ sleek stern. She is invisible from any vantage point outside her cloaking field. It hides them, keeps them safe, and prevents the enemy from seeing her weakened ablative armor, the numerous flickering internal and external lights, and the crevasses of deep phaser scars tracing her battered hull.

    Yet, somehow, her engines flash and she goes to high warp to carry them across the stars and toward their destiny.

    ============================================================================

    Author's note: After many months I finally have no headstart left. I'm currently working hard to write and edit the next chapters. Chapter 5 will be released Friday, June 7th. Save the date ;)
     
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  11. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Looking forward to more Fallen Heroes.
     
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  12. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes is back with a brand-new chapter! Yes, I actually made a deadline. I'm as surprised as you are, but a promise is a promise ;)

    Here is the first part of chapter 5. As always, the next three parts will be released on a weekly basis.

    =============================================================================

    Fallen Heroes - Book 2 of 2 - Chapter 5a

    USS Achilles, en route to Aragos – December 9, 2387 – Stardate 64935.1

    This is an illusion. Captain Stephan Rinckes knows he is aboard the Achilles, travelling toward the first S’Prenn portal Starfleet gets to study, the result of his crew’s persistent search for clues in former Federation territory, yet he finds himself haunting the corridors of Station A-12. Distorted red alert panels with frightening tendrils light the endless hallway he runs through. His phaser rifle’s flashlight casts a feeble hue onto the path ahead.

    The Achilles’ destination is too important to dismiss. However, as wisps of smoke transform into monstrous parodies of Altonoid soldiers, his recurring nightmare robs him of his tenuous grasp on reality and devours him whole. Submerged in delusion, he fires at rows of deformed enemies. Each phaser burst infuriates them, causing them to growl like the animals they are and lash out with elongated arms to scratch at him with claws that have sprung from their digits.

    He wipes the maniacal grin from their faces with his rifle stock. “To hell with you! All of you!” Although he lets loose with phaser fire and melee attacks, it is hatred that kills his spectral foes, reduces them to mist as he fights past them. No matter how misshapen and imposing these spirits are, they succumb to his raw fury, and bit by bit, their numbers decline until he is the last man standing.

    Having slain the apparitions, Rinckes passes through a doorway and enters an observation lounge he recognizes instantly. Upturned furniture, five Altonoid corpses, starless view in the windows, phaser marks on the bulkheads, and there, surrounded by broken starship models and shards of glass, lies the woman he loved, a gaping phaser wound in her chest.

    Rinckes has been here so often: once in real life and over and over in his dreams. Each time he is grateful to be with her and heartbroken because she can never be saved. She looks at him, eyes glazed over. As always, he plays his part, never deviating from his personal tragedy’s screenplay.

    He crouches and holds her in his arms. “Melanie, I’m here. I’ll get you to sickbay. You’re going to be all right.” There was no sickbay to return to; their ship had already perished at this point.

    “No, Captain,” she whispers. She always whispers. In a foolish act of self-protection, to prevent himself from spending hours wrapped up in biting nostalgia, he had deleted every audio and video file of her from the Achilles’ databanks. A mistake. He resisted, fought to retain the memory, but he has forgotten the sound of her voice.

    “Don’t give up,” he says, “I’ll get you back to the ship.”

    “Take good care of the Sundance for me, will you?”

    “Melanie, I…” The actual exchange took place seven and a half years ago, and his recollection of these events has gradually morphed into the content of his nightmares. He is supposed to say, “I will,” even though every fiber of his being compels him to profess his feelings for her. In each iteration of this dream, he has adhered to the lie, has stuck to his role. No more! He breaks character and begs her, “Please don’t go.” He cradles her and presses his forehead against hers. “Just this once. It’s all I have left of you. You don’t have to go. Please.”

    Despite his pleading, the life drains from Melanie’s eyes until they’re reduced to an empty stare. Defeated, he caresses her blonde hair and gazes at her peaceful visage. As opposed to the numb killing spree he undertook to escape Station A-12, he is perfectly content to stay with her and cry beside her lifeless body.

    To his astonishment, Melanie’s lips begin to tremble, and she struggles and succeeds to whisper a one-word warning: “Run!”

    She vanishes in his arms, swept to the ghostly realm where she will be waiting for his next slumber. His nerve ends tingle as he becomes aware of two figures looming over him: Emily Blue and Ted Barton, wearing the environmental suits they died in, their faces ashen and somber behind transparent masks.

    How many have died because of you?” Emily asks, her voice distorted by her suit’s crackling comm system.

    With a glove as cold as death, Ted grabs Rinckes by the throat and lifts him off the floor. “Your time is up, Captain. You will cause no further harm.

    “I- I’m sorry,” Rinckes croaks, but there is neither life nor mercy in Ted and Emily’s eyes.

    Emily adds a bony glove to the chokehold. “You will be with us soon.

    Rinckes frees himself from their grasp, swings around, and starts running, out of the chamber and into the corridors of the USS Saratoga.

    Warp core breach imminent,” the ship’s computer announces as Rinckes flees through hallways crowded with civilians and officers, the latter of which in 2360s-style uniforms. He pushes these panicking men, women, and children aside and dashes forward as fast as the circumstances allow. Emily and Ted follow him wherever he goes, their magnetic boots clanging against the deck. Worse yet, gray-faced officers in tattered attire have joined them, officers he recognizes as Achilles’ fallen crewmembers. One by one, those lost under his current command emerge from rooms and corridors to form an army of the damned. They’re beginning to outnumber the period-correct characters in his dream, the ones who are evacuating the Saratoga as a solitary Borg cube rips into the old vessel at the Battle of Wolf 359.

    The corridor he has fled into features windows lining its port side, which should display Admiral Hanson’s ill-fated fleet and the cube they’re engaging. Instead, it shows an absolute void—no stars whatsoever. Its alluring finality nearly smothers his desire to get away, but approaching footsteps and the dead calling his name prompt him to continue toward the escape pod lying ahead, his sole means of salvation. Already, icy fingertips are touching the nape of his neck.

    A bone-rattling detonation shudders the corridor and floods it with orange light. Outside, the saucer section of the Sundance braves the starless void and careens by, larger than life, deck sections blowing apart as it loses entire chunks of hull. Cascading explosions produce a catastrophic rippling effect, resulting in one final explosion that shreds the saucer to pieces. Simultaneously, charred Sundance crewmembers start piling in from every side entrance.

    “Where were you, Captain?” they ask.

    Scared witless, Rinckes shoves them aside. The escape pod is so close.

    “You abandoned us!” a woman shouts after him. She receives clamorous support from the droves of people who have amassed, hundreds of them.

    “What kind of man are you?”

    “Come back and face us!”

    You’ll be one of us soon.”

    He hurries into the escape pod and taps its LCARS panel to shut the door. It does nothing.

    The horde has traded their grim death masks for furious expressions as they continue their unstoppable advance led by Emily. Rinckes keeps pressing the door button to no avail, then starts prying at the escape pod hatch, but it does not budge in the slightest.

    A few feet away, Tony Blue materializes between the captain and the macabre lynch mob. Tony is also wearing an EV suit, albeit without helmet, and gives Rinckes a plaintive look while reaching for his handphaser. His cheeks are tearstained and his forehead is sweaty. Biting his bottom lip, he detaches the phaser from his suit and aims it at Rinckes.

    “So my first officer is going to shoot me?” Rinckes asks. The horde has neared Tony’s position. They’re ignoring him completely; they’re only interested in the captain’s blood. They will get to Rinckes and tear him limb from limb. “Then shoot me.” It would be merciful. “Shoot, dammit!”

    Tony lowers his head and allows the phaser to slip from his grasp.

    “Damn you! Damn you, coward!”

    As soon as the phaser lands on the carpet, the crowd rushes over Tony like a river spilling over its embankments.

    Straining and swearing, Rinckes attempts to pull the hatch closed. His efforts are in vain; hundreds of angry faces descend on him. Countless outstretched arms grab at him, snatch his clothing, his hair, his flesh. He is utterly helpless against this all-consuming rage. Unable to breathe or move because every inch of his body has become pure agony, he cannot even scream for help; he can only hold still and suffer…

    …until he wakes to find his executioners have evaporated. He swivels his head slightly to stare through his quarters’ windows at the reassuring presence of stardust flashing by. The small replicator on his nightstand gurgles a small puddle of water into existence, omitting the glass and producing a tiny indoor waterfall. Doesn’t anything on the Achilles function as it should anymore?

    At least the nightmare is over and his adrenaline subsiding. That is, until he hears a loud knock at the door, which startles him and rids him of his sleepiness altogether. “Captain,” a woman’s voice says. It’s his current first officer, Commander Erin Crow.

    Rinckes pushes away his sweat-soaked covers and jumps out of bed. He is not too thrilled to have her see him in his pajamas, but he isn’t planning on raising the lighting levels in his quarters anyway. “Come.”

    The doors to his quarters refuse to open all the way, and Crow has to forcibly push both door slabs aside, grunting with effort and annoyance. “Sorry to disturb you, Captain.” She squeezes herself into the room. “You didn’t respond to my calls.”

    His combadge lies within earshot. He must’ve slept straight through the messages it relayed.

    Despite the darkness, Crow apparently picks up on his troubled expression. “Don’t worry, sir. We’re all tired.”

    It’s not his deep sleep that worries him, it’s the sad fact he can’t recall the last time his dreams were pleasant. This particular nightmare has him so vexed he’d love to yell and flip a chair or table, but he stays composed for his first officer’s sake.

    “Are you okay, sir?”

    “What brings you here?”

    Crow reveals the PADD she is carrying. “We’ve picked up an encoded subspace message on Starfleet’s emergency channel.”

    “Oh?”

    “We’ve verified its authenticity.”

    “What’s it say?”

    “Not sure. I have lifted Terrell from his bed to decipher the message. This could be huge, sir. New orders, new intel, new technology, who knows?”

    “Speculation will get us nowhere.” Rinckes needs a moment to let this development sink in. They haven’t heard from Starfleet in over a year; the brass would risk communicating only to share vital information. “They were wise to encrypt it. And we would be wise to decrypt it before the Altonoids do.”

    “We will.”

    “Good.” Still reeling from his tussle with his subconscious, Rinckes steadies himself by placing a hand on his bed.

    Crow steps toward him. “You sure you’re okay?” Even in scarce lighting, her beauty is undeniable, and her concern somehow enhances her attractiveness. She reaches out to touch his upper arm.

    Rinckes brushes off her kind gesture. “I’ll be fine. I need you to oversee our decryption efforts. Go help Terrell. Ask Surtak and Kels to assist; we’ll need the brightest minds on this.”

    A brief hint of pain in her eyes. “Consider it done, Captain.”

    “Dismissed.”

    Pursing her lips, she exits his quarters without bothering to wrestle the doors closed again.

    Rinckes seats himself on the mattress and considers working up the courage to return to sleep. Truth is, the difference between being caught in his nightmares or soldiering on awake is becoming harder to discern, but his personnel deserves a well-rested captain.

    And so, he permits himself to surrender to starless dreams.
     
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  13. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Nice to see this come back as promised. Kicking things off with a nightmare to allow us to reflect what has happened is a good way to ease us back into this tale.

    Curious about this message. Also what's with Crow and the captain? Hmmm
     
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  14. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - Book 2 of 2 - Chapter 5b

    USS Achilles, en route to Aragos – December 10, 2387 – Stardate 64939.4

    “Captain’s log, supplemental. The message Starfleet is sending out is heavily encrypted, but I am pleased to say our team has risen to the occasion. By using an array of Starfleet decryption protocols, we discovered the deciphered message comprises a series of riddles, mathematical equations typical of Federation worlds, and specific trivia questions on the history of the Federation and mankind, methods to confirm its recipients are from Starfleet.

    “Once solved, it became an invitation to transmit a standard greeting on a specific lower band subspace frequency that should ensure safe communication. We will then receive new instructions. I have requested the senior staff’s presence on the bridge for this memorable event. Although we have no idea what’s in store for us, the opportunity to consult with our remote colleagues is very welcome indeed.”

    Captain Stephan Rinckes looks around at the shambles of a bridge they are on. Flickering workstations, dangling ceiling conduits, broken railings, bent support struts, and loose rubble make for a depressing sight, yet the bridge crew is in good spirits.

    “Power from sensors redirected to comm,” Lieutenant Kels says.

    “Comm system boosted to 85% efficiency,” Lieutenant Commander Jon Terrell says with a smirk. “Haven’t seen that figure in a while.”

    To the captain’s right, Commander Erin Crow exhales sharply in an attempt to ease her nerves. “Give the word, Captain.”

    Rinckes stands up, straightens his jacket, and lets a handful of seconds pass by to emphasize the significance of this moment. “Send a standard greeting on the appropriate channel.”

    “Message sent,” Lieutenant Surtak says calmly. The Vulcan’s patience and placidity remain a constant source of envy among his colleagues.

    “Now we wait,” Doctor Chris Kingsley says, seated to the captain’s left. “Is it too much to ask they have a cure packed and ready for pickup?”

    “It would be a nice early Christmas gift,” Lieutenant Ernest Baxter says.

    Lieutenant Tony Blue adds, “If this turns out to be an elaborate way of expressing season’s greetings and nothing else, I’m going to scream.”

    “Cut the banter,” Rinckes says, heralding thirty seconds of tense silence during which the crew shuffle and shift in anticipation.

    “We are being hailed,” Surtak reports at last, upping the tension, “via the same channel we sent our message on.”

    This is it, Stephan. The next few minutes might be instrumental in the success of our mission. “On screen.”

    The holographic image of a Starfleet captain in a ready room appears, a balding human male in his early sixties with a wide, thin-lipped mouth and kind yet intelligent eyes. “I am Captain Donovan Sharpe of the Federation starship Indefatigable. Please identify yourselves.”

    As if he were a Vulcan himself, Rinckes removes all trace of emotion from his voice. “Captain Stephan Rinckes, USS Achilles.”

    “It really is you. I’m honored,” Sharpe says. “I’m not sure you’re aware, but the Achilles’ reputation has become quite legendary, perhaps bordering on mythical.”

    “No need for modesty,” Rinckes says. “The Indefatigable is a renowned vessel, and you have quite a reputation as well for being an excellent strategist and a popular captain. We’ve met before, on Rigel X. We shared coffee and tall tales.”

    A subtle smile. “It was Delta IV, and we drank something a bit stronger than coffee.” Sharpe is correct, of course. “Did I pass the test? I understand. Caution is a virtue, especially when you believe you are out there on your own.”

    Rinckes’ breath catches in his chest. Believe?

    Achilles, you are not alone, not anymore. I’m in command of a fleet of seven starships tasked with the same mission as yours: to undo the Altonoids’ hold on the S’Prenn.”

    The bridge crew fail to stifle surprised gasps, but Rinckes stays focused. So many questions are going through his mind. He categorizes them in order of relative importance. “How long have you been out here?”

    “Six months. The seven of us are currently spread out across nearby sectors. Sorry we didn’t contact you right away. Diligent reconnaissance has kept us occupied. We weren’t even sure you were still alive.”

    “We most certainly are. How did you get past the extensive border sensor grid?”

    Sharpe leans in on his captive audience. “Our ships are outfitted with the most sophisticated cloaking devices you have ever encountered, a blend of Klingon and Altonoid technology. The Klingon part was a gift, the Altonoid part we acquired through… less legitimate means. We will be more than happy to share this technology with you. It would make your lives considerably easier.”

    “No argument there.”

    Sharpe’s cheerful disposition yields to seriousness. “How are you holding up? You’ve been at it for years now. It must have been… grueling.”

    Rinckes looks at his ragged bridge crew. “You cannot imagine. We have never wavered from our mission, but we have paid the price.” He lowers his gaze. “Thirty-five men and women lost.”

    “I am deeply sorry.” Sharpe stares off into the distance. “I don’t know what to say. Losing people under one’s command is a rough deal.” The spark returns to his eyes as he says, “However, you’ve done the Federation a great service, and you will continue to do so with our help. I’ll have my best engineers standing by once we meet.”

    “Where do you suggest we do?”

    “Our fleet’s combined intel suggests the presence of a S’Prenn anomaly in the Aragos Sector. We believe it to be a portal of sorts, a way of navigating. It is strikingly similar to the anomaly that has formed on Station A-12’s doorstep.”

    Rinckes is impressed by the knowledge they accumulated in such a brief period, yet it does trivialize the Achilles’ accomplishments to a degree. A fleet of seven starships with superior cloaking devices has a distinct advantage during a prolonged stealth mission. He wonders if Sharpe knows about the existence and importance of a cure, an antidote for the Altonoids’ bioweapon. It can wait, though. “We will rendezvous there.”

    “It’s settled. Together we will study the portal and effect repairs to your stalwart vessel.” Sharpe adopts an air of confidentiality. “With your cloaking device upgraded, you will finally be able to pass the border. No crew has earned the right to shore leave more than that of the Achilles.”

    “I agree,” Rinckes says with a nod. “But we have a job to finish, a mission to complete, and a score to settle.”

    Though it breaches protocol to interrupt ship-to-ship communication, Tony, Terrell, and Baxter almost simultaneously say, “Hear, hear!” followed by a series of unprofessional cheers and yells so infectious that their colleagues join in.

    “You heard them,” Rinckes says, subduing a smile.

    “Loud and clear.” Sharpe salutes the bridge crew. “See you in the Aragos Sector. Smooth sailing, fellow seafarers. Sharpe out.”

    Stardust against the blackness of space replaces Captain Donovan Sharpe’s image on the main viewer, and silence replaces his reassuring voice. It’s almost as if the conversation never happened. But it did! Rinckes exchanges a glance with Kingsley, then Crow, and knows they’re thinking what he’s thinking: this is a gamechanger.

    * * *

    USS Achilles, en route to Aragos – December 21, 2387 – Stardate 64969.9

    Save for the shiny grand piano on stage, the theater is empty and in a shoddy state. Lieutenant Tony Blue considers it an adequate substitute for the many demolished lounges and more inspiring than his quarters. He sits in the front row, studying the PADD he balances in his lap while finishing a Caesar salad, obeying Doctor Kingsley’s mandate to eat healthier—especially before the big day tomorrow. At noon, the Achilles is slated to arrive at its destination: the mysterious portal. They’ve had two weeks to scrutinize the data, and rumors are growing of this portal leading to Station A-12, straight into the heart of the Altonoids’ main research facility.

    Tony refuses to commit to such a conclusion, but if this guesswork turns out to be accurate, the best strategy would be to upgrade their cloaking device with the help of Sharpe’s fleet, restore the Achilles to battleworthy condition, and go get that cure with one or all ships. He has already concocted several plans and scenarios ranging from covert operations to full-blown surprise attacks. If the portal leads elsewhere, who knows what valuable new locations or technology they may find. Worst case scenario, if it leads nowhere, studying the portal should at least provide insight into the cure.

    After setting his empty plate aside, he immerses himself in the PADD and its information about the brave fleet led by the Indefatigable. She is a Sovereign-class starship, a sister ship to the lost Kennedy, on which he served as a Q/human hybrid. That brings back memories, mostly good ones of his former crewmates, but the prevailing one is the sight of her eviscerated secondary hull spewing debris, rotating away from Station A-12 in slowmotion. He and Emily had flown past the darkened hulk when they fled the station in an appropriated shuttle. The Kennedy’s saucer section had already been blown to dust.

    Wallowing in yesteryear is a pointless exercise, so Tony refocuses on the present. Besides Captain Sharpe’s vessel, the fleet consists of two Defiant-class escorts (perfect for cloaking and combat), an Ambassador-class ship (the famous Zhukov, an old but tough heavy cruiser), and three starships representing the Steamrunner, Luna, and Nebula class respectively. Their names and registries checked out; they are confirmed to have reached Klingon space in the wake of the Altonoids’ initial destructive campaign, as are her crew complements.

    Tony did the math; the fleet’s presence means 2,600 extra souls have joined their mission, which is both encouraging and admirable. Shelving his humility for a second, he recognizes it takes a special type of person to sign up for the imposing task of crossing into dangerous territory to reclaim Federation worlds against all odds. Hiding behind the Klingon border is a far safer option, yet these people have risked their lives willingly, just as the Achilles’ crew did five years ago. He’d shake each and everyone’s hand if he—

    The grand piano ringing a loud chord nearly launches Tony into the air. He yelps and unholsters his phaser in a reflex. This in turn causes Lieutenant Josh Donahue, who has seated himself at the piano, to scream in shock at the mysterious figure in the front row pulling a phaser on him.

    “What are you doing here?!” Tony asks, and he puts away his phaser.

    Josh lets out a mighty sigh of relief. “I could ask you the same question.”

    “Um… This is where I eat my salad.”

    Josh bursts into tremulous laughter. “And this is where I practice piano. Now tell me which one of us shouldn’t be here.”

    “Point taken.” Tony picks up his plate and PADD and walks up to the stage. “Had enough of conducting security drills?”

    “You just gave me one heck of a surprise drill. My phaser reflexes need work. Flailing my arms in terror isn’t becoming of an acting security chief.”

    “Well, I am notorious for my quick draw.” Just ask the captain. “I’m guessing this is the first time an audience member threatens you with a weapon?”

    “It is, actually.”

    “Please take it as constructive criticism.”

    “I will.” He starts playing little improvisations, and Tony mounts the stage to listen. “Before coming here, I visited Gibbs in sickbay,” Josh continues. Apparently, he can talk and play piano at the same time. Show-off… “He can’t wait to resume his old job.”

    “I heard Sharpe’s fleet has lifted his spirits.”

    “Yeah, he is doing much better, mentally. Physically, though, he is not out of the woods yet.”

    “It’s usually the other way around.”

    Josh’s improvised piece goes from lightweight to melancholic. “I understand why he rejected Kingsley’s offer to fuse half a S’Prenn with his neck. It’d shorten his healing process, sure, but… I don’t care how different such a ‘treatment’ is from being taken over by a living S’Prenn, I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone.”

    “Gibbs made the right call.” Tony’s gaze drifts to the nonexistent audience. “I wonder what Captain Sharpe will think of our sickbay of horrors.”

    “Sharpe will condemn it. Shut it down. Rebuild it to conform with Federation principles.”

    “The sooner the better.”

    “Kingsley will be relieved.”

    “Of duty?” Tony asks.

    “Not what I meant.”

    “We’ll see.”

    Josh morphs his impromptu piano piece into a pompously cheerful accompaniment and sings in his best approximation of an opera singer, “Got shot in the back, doctor thought, ‘What the heck, stick a spider on his neck, turn him into a spider snack,’ caught some flack, career out of whack, soon Kingsley will get the sack.”

    Despite himself, Tony giggles at the childish yet expertly performed song. “And to think we are Starfleet officers in charge of tactical and security.”

    “Should we be worried?”

    “You should write all senior officers a song to even things out.”

    “Oh, you’re on!”

    Tony chuckles. “See you on the bridge tomorrow, Josh.”

    “Goodnight, sir.”

    As Tony heads for the exit—PADD and empty plate in hand—Josh breaks into another improvised song, a mock dramatic one. “Lieutenant Tony Blue, Lieutenant Donahue, when Sharpe’s fleet appears in view, they’ll have a special song for you.”
     
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  15. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Good news? In this story? I'm not buying it. At least not until I see it for real. Could this be the turning point to this hellish ride for Tony and his crew? Considering how powerful their enemies are, even if this Starfleet task force turns out to be real, it could still be a steep hill to climb before they come out of this victorious.
     
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  16. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - Book 2 of 2 - Chapter 5c

    USS Achilles, Aragos Sector – December 22, 2387 – Stardate 64970.4


    The Achilles’ cloak deactivating restores the bridge lighting to normal levels. “We have arrived in the Aragos Sector,” Lieutenant Ernest Baxter says with a tinge of excitement. “Portal dead ahead.”

    “On screen and magnify,” Captain Stephan Rinckes says, standing in the center of his bridge. Massive and awe-inspiring, a glowing, vertical disc of rippling white light as bright as a star covers the left-hand side of the viewscreen.

    “Readings flooding in, sir,” Lieutenant Kels says. “The portal has a diameter of 6.5 kilometers and it is emitting an exorbitant amount of tetryon particles, most of which foreign to us. Energy output is off the charts.”

    “Boost power to sensors,” Commander Erin Crow says. “Let’s waste zero time.”

    Rinckes wholeheartedly agrees. “Take us closer.”

    Once again, the entire senior staff is present for the occasion, including Doctor Chris Kingsley, who is more upbeat than usual and a better representation of his former self. “Don’t forget its biological properties!”

    Kels smirks. “I won’t, Doctor.”

    To the right, competing with the portal for being the most welcome sight for sore eyes, seven relatively pristine Federation starships face the new arrival in V-formation. Rinckes, and probably the whole crew, could recite their names at the drop of a hat. Leading the pack, the Indefatigable lives up to her name by being a strong and formidable battlecruiser. The Zhukov and Ironclad flank her, the latter of which a compact Steamrunner-class vessel. They in turn are flanked by two large science vessels: the Luna-class Triton and the Nebula-class Berkeley, both equipped with impressive armaments and scientific equipment—powerful additions to a mission like this. The Alaska and Renegade, small Defiant-class ships jampacked with heavy weaponry, guard the tips of the formation.

    So much for the hard facts and the demonstration of Sharpe’s wise fleet deployment. Even a pragmatist such as Rinckes has trouble suppressing his relief and—dare he think it?—joy over seeing familiar hull configurations. He casts those distractions aside, as he should. There is much work to be done in concert with these reinforcements.

    “Captain, the Indefatigable is hailing us,” Lieutenant Surtak says.

    Though vanity is low on his priority list, Rinckes runs a hand through his graying hair and tugs at his jacket. “On screen.”

    Whatever detached professionalism the bridge crew maintained vanishes instantly when they’re greeted with a standing ovation from Captain Donovan Sharpe and his senior officers on the Indefatigable’s spotless bridge. Rinckes channels the deluge of emotions they all experience into a courteous nod at Sharpe, who nods back while applauding, a show of respect from one captain to another.

    Sharpe signals for the applause to stop, allowing him to say, “We are honored to have you with us, Achilles. Our fellow captains in this fleet express the same sentiment.”

    “It is rare for a Starfleet captain to be stumped,” Rinckes says, “but here I am. Here we are.” He shares a brief smile with Lieutenant Tony Blue, then clears his throat. “USS Achilles, reporting for duty. Permission to join your fleet.”

    “Do you really have to ask? Permission granted.”

    “We are at your command. Baxter, have us join formation.”

    “First order of business,” Sharpe says as he returns to his captain’s chair and his people to their stations, “is to investigate the portal and repair the Achilles.” The viewscreen’s image starts to distort and stutter. “We will… finest… to ensure… efficiency.”

    “What the devil?” Rinckes says, shooting a glance at his chief engineer.

    Lieutenant Commander Jon Terrell taps away at his engineering station’s interface. “Our comm system is acting up, sir. Nothing major. I’ll have it fixed in a jiffy, but we need to reboot it.”

    “…going on?” Sharpe asks.

    How embarrassing. “Please stand by,” Rinckes says. “We are experiencing difficulties with our communication system. We need to bring it offline.”

    “Thirty seconds at most,” Terrell adds.

    “Sorry about this,” Rinckes continues. “We will re-establish contact within a minute.”

    “No problem,” Sharpe’s hazy profile says. “It is… be expected after… in enemy territory… a patient bunch.”

    On screen, the Indefatigable’s bridge is replaced by the portal and the seven starships the Achilles is approaching.

    “I have pinpointed the problem’s source,” Surtak says, eyebrow arched. He swivels in his chair to face Terrell. “It is you, Commander.”

    Terrell gives his captain an apologetic look. “He’s right, sir, but I have a good reason.”

    “Out with it!” Rinckes demands.

    Flustered, Terrell says, “It is subtle, but it’s there: the presence of an audio overlay and a holographic filter in the Indefatigable’s video feed.”

    “You mean…?”

    “We are hearing and seeing what they want us to. There could be a completely innocent explanation for this, or…”

    Crow tenses up in her chair. “They are hiding something from us.”

    “Please let it be a pimple,” Kingsley says, earning him a nervous chuckle from Tony, who’s manning the tactical station behind the doctor.

    “Can you disable the filter?” Rinckes asks.

    “Yes, sir,” Terrell says. “I didn’t want to do it mid-communication, hence my deception.”

    “Good thinking.” Rinckes cracks his knuckles and loosens up his shoulders. “Disable filter. Hail them on my mark. Stand by cloaking device and warp engines, maximum warp, random escape route—not through the portal. Cloak and warp as soon as I call for red alert. Let’s talk to them first. Maybe it’s nothing, but it is suspicious.” He seeks eye contact with every member of his bridge crew to ensure they understand him. “Whatever we are confronted with, we will not react. That’s an order. You will show no reaction whatsoever. We are happy and relieved to be talking to them, and that changes only on my say-so.”

    This has certainly ruined the mood, but everyone hides their apprehension well as they perform their duties.

    “Projecting false energy output as soon as we cloak,” Terrell says.

    “Weapons and shields standing by in case we have to fight,” Tony says.

    “Security teams standing by on all decks,” Lieutenant Josh Donahue says from his security station behind Crow.

    “We have assumed formation,” Baxter says. From their current position, the bright portal with its hypnotic ebb and flow takes up the entire viewscreen. “Helm ready for quick retreat and defensive maneuvers.”

    Rinckes tidies his uniform and forges a positive attitude. “Surtak, resume communication.”

    On screen, the Indefatigable’s bridge now appears disheveled and dilapidated. Rinckes’ heart sinks into the coldest depths of despair as he sees her crew unfiltered by holographic illusion.

    Captain Donovan Sharpe’s face is pale as snow, dilated pupils inhabit his bulging eyes, white fangs frame his mouth, four spider arms protrude from the sides of his jacket, and eight spider legs tremble behind his neck. “Did you solve your technical troubles?” His voice is scratchy and less enunciated with the audio filter disabled.

    Rinckes doesn’t flinch and neither do any of his men and women, although it’s as if the ambient temperature has dropped several degrees. He suppresses the urge to scream in anger, curse the Altonoids, curse himself, and declare red alert to escape this obvious trap, but he cannot call their bluff yet. It takes shuttleloads of willpower to refrain from giving his reply double meaning. “Signal is clear. We can pick up where we left off.”

    “Excellent,” Sharpe replies, his friendly smile a terrifying sight. Controlled by their arachnid puppet masters, the captain and his crew look emaciated and half-dead. They must have been S’Prenned months ago. “We were about to send medics and engineers to assist you.”

    “That would be much appreciated,” Rinckes says, realizing midway that the other six ships must be brimming with S’Prenn and S’Prenned people as well. “Our divisions are preparing for their arrival and will let us know once they’re ready. Meanwhile, let’s recommence studying the portal. There is no time to waste.”

    “Our teams are ready for you now, Captain.” Around what remains of Sharpe and his subordinates, individual S’Prenn a foot wide crawl across the floor, ceiling, and bulkheads. “Why wait?”

    Rinckes sustains his poker face. “To be frank, it’s been five years since we received guests and we need a little more preparation to smoothen the transition.” He throws in a smidgeon of fake charm. “Simply put, we want to give you a proper welcome.”

    Sharpe’s deformed features dampen his subtle change in expression. “Very well. Don’t take too long, though. We’ll be analyzing your vessel in the interim. Sharpe out.”

    The instant the transmission ends, Rinckes stomps back to his captain’s chair and falls into it. “That bought us seconds at most.” He rubs his forehead and stares at the anomaly in front of them. “Kels, can you tell us where the damned portal leads?”

    The Andorian woman is on the verge of crying. “Negative, sir.”

    She isn’t the only brokenhearted person on the bridge. Kingsley sums it up best: “I thought that for once… we had caught a lucky break. That… we weren’t alone.”

    “We have each other,” Rinckes says. “I promise you all, we will uncover this portal’s secrets.” He exhales through gritted teeth and springs to his feet. “But not today. Red alert! Engage cloak. Get us out of here, Baxter, maximum warp.”

    The lighting dims and red alert panels blink to life as the cloaking device activates, and Baxter maneuvers the Achilles a few degrees starboard to avoid the portal. However, engaging warp drive does not produce an immediate result. “The portal is interfering with our warp field. Attempting to counteract its effects.” The helmsman urgently types strings of commands into his station. “There!” The engines’ hum rises in pitch as they’re about to propel the Achilles to warp speed. Unfortunately, at the first sign of motion, a violent shudder brings the ship to a complete halt.

    “Three tractor beams locking on to us!” Tony shouts. “They’re disrupting our cloak!”

    A loud warble stings the captain’s eardrums and violent tremors jolt the bridge. “Cloaking device damaged!” Terrell says. “They know exactly where we are.”

    “Raise shields,” Rinckes orders. Damn it, these bastards came prepared! “All hands to battle stations!” The tractor beams lose their death grip on the Achilles, which has become too slippery with shields up to maintain an effective lock. “Baxter, try again.”

    “No good, Captain. Primary and secondary warp engines are momentarily out of kilter after that failed warp attempt.”

    Rinckes wants to order Terrell to fix it right away, somewhat redundantly, but the reappearance of Sharpe on the viewscreen prevents that.

    “Where are you going?” The disfigured shell of a man chuckles. “You want to spend another five years sneaking around?”

    Rinckes ignores him. “Ahead full impulse!” The Achilles lunges forward and breaks formation.

    “You’ve raised shields. How long do you think you’ll last against seven starships?”

    “The Triton and Berkeley are sending out continuous nadion pulses,” Kels says, “which exacerbates the portal’s influence. Our warp field keeps collapsing.”

    “Full power to aft shields,” Rinckes says. “Target their deflectors and fire.”

    Hesitant but compliant, Tony fires a full spread of quantum torpedoes at the Starfleet vessels, wrong as it may seem.

    “We do not take kindly to your firing on us,” Sharpe says.

    Rinckes’ nails bite into his palms. “Get that thing off my screen.” Sharpe and his ghoulish crew make way for seven starships, five of which sending out tractor beams that glide across the Achilles’ shields, and two of which firing a steady stream of nadion particles from their deflector dishes. “Terrell, notify me when the cloaking device is operational again but prioritize fixing the warp engines. Blue, can you lower their shields using their prefix codes?”

    Tony gives it a try. “Negative, sir. They must have changed it like we did before entering enemy territory.” He refocuses on wielding the Achilles’ weaponry. At his behest, another volley of quantum torpedoes bursts through the Berkeley’s forward shields. One more should do the trick, and then they will have to—

    The fleet lets loose phaser beams and torpedoes, unleashing thunderous destruction on the Achilles’ shields and stern. The ship quakes as if shaken by the gods. “Defensive maneuvers!” Rinckes yells.

    “Aft shields are down!” Tony says. “They’re targeting our shield generator and warp drive.” Already, one of the tractor beams is threatening to gain foothold on the Achilles’ naked hull.

    “Baxter, pull up, heading 235 mark 045. Blue, destroy the Berkeley’s deflector. You have permission to deplete dorsal phasers and microtorpedoes if required.”

    The fleet continues their barrage, favoring sheer firepower over mobility, and the Achilles maneuvers her stern out of their weapons’ path, lines up her dorsal section, and concentrates all phaser fire and blankets of quantum microtorpedoes on the Berkeley. With forward shields drained, the Berkeley’s deflector is defenseless against this unabating violence; bright-red explosions reduce it to a useless disk of blackened remnants and leave the Berkeley listing at an unnatural angle.

    One nadion pulse to disable before they can retry the warp drive. “Status of warp engines,” Rinckes says.

    “Secondary engines good to go in five seconds,” Terrell replies.

    “Dorsal shields failing!” Tony shouts as rupturing overhead conduits spark and smoke.

    “Damage reports are coming in from all decks,” Surtak says.

    The Achilles’ hull creaks like an old galleon, a sound the captain has never heard her make before. “Face the fleet and maintain full impulse. Present minimal aspect. Divert power to forward shields. Alpha Strike the Triton’s deflector.”

    Achilles sics her phaser arrays, pulse phaser cannons, and quantum torpedo launchers on her target while rushing toward the Triton. This also brings them closer to the fleet and their overwhelming strength. Worse still, the two flanking Defiant-class escorts break formation and initiate parallel attack runs on the Achilles’ weakened dorsal section.

    “Brace yourselves!” Rinckes warns. “Repel them with microtorpedoes!”

    The Achilles’ bow is taking one hell of a beating as it is, yet her tired phaser cannons and dorsal torpedo launchers do their jobs undeterred, as if they sense what’s at stake. Three quantum torpedoes finish off the Triton’s weakened shields just as the side-by-side Alaska and Renegade dive-bomb the Achilles. Scores of microtorpedoes rip through the escorts’ shields but cannot prevent their phaser pulses from tearing through the Achilles’ armor and instigating ship-rocking explosions. In retaliation, a batch of microtorpedoes cripples the Renegade and sends her tumbling end over end in a cloud of smoke and debris.

    “Hull breaches reported along our ship’s spine,” Terrell says, smoldering rubble fragments clinging to his uniform. “Forward shields are failing.”

    “Press on!” Rinckes shouts. “Baxter, as soon as we destroy the deflector, go to high warp.”

    Alaska is coming about for another strafing run,” Tony says.

    “Initiate corkscrew maneuver.” By having the Achilles rotate along her longitudinal axis, Rinckes hopes to keep damaged areas out of reach, though he admits to himself it is a tactic born of desperation. Yes, it protects the ship’s weak spots, but it also allows her shields and armor to be pummeled from multiple directions, rattling the worn vessel, gashing her scarred hull plating. On the viewscreen’s tilting image, the Zhukov and Ironclad close ranks to protect the Triton, absorbing hits meant for the science vessel while leaving enough room for the nadion pulse to affect the Achilles.

    As the net tightens, Rinckes remembers his nightmare. You will be with us soon. Were they speaking of today? Has the weight of his sins culminated in a demise this inglorious? If he fails his people once again, he will have nearly four hundred extra deaths on his conscience. What kind of man does that make him?

    “Captain. Captain!” Crow says, breaking his spell. “What do we do?”

    The Indefatigable rises above her colleague ships and reactivates her tractor beam to grasp the Achilles’ unshielded bow, decreasing the battered vessel’s speed to curtail her defensive maneuvers. The inevitable attack run from the Alaska knocks out the Achilles’ primary impulse engines with a deafening blast, and she comes to a complete standstill in the tractor beam’s grip, sending her crew flying due to the immense deceleration. Rinckes holds out his arms to soften his landing, but he is too late to avoid smashing against Surtak’s ops console. In an instant, the captain’s whole world goes black.
     
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  17. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    I knew this was too good to be true. Man, what a total crusher for this crew which attracts bad news like a super-powered electromagnet.

    I'm sure this isn't the end for Achilles and crew but it ain't gonna be easy escaping this death trap. I wonder how much of a ship is going to be left once it is over.
     
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  18. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    It's a good thing my characters are fictional. If they were real, they'd track me down to have a serious word with me about my penchant for constantly throwing mighty obstacles in their way ;)
     
  19. Alexbright99

    Alexbright99 Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2018
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Fallen Heroes - Book 2 of 2 - Chapter 5d

    Flashes of light in Rinckes’ vision confirm he hasn’t lost consciousness. Disoriented by darkness and muffled shouting coming from all around him, he digs his fingernails into the carpet to ground himself and regain his bearings. He ignores the pain and shock of what felt like undergoing an interstellar collision and gets to his feet, right next to Baxter and Surtak, who have held on to their stations but look worse for wear. “Switch to secondary engines! Target tractor beam and fire!”

    “Secondary engines unable to compensate,” he hears Terrell say. “Emergency battery power is dwindling. Hull integrity down to 41 percent. Shields are fried.”

    Resembling a weakened prey attempting to bite its killer one last time, the Achilles spews out a final volley of quantum torpedoes, which dissipates in the Indefatigable’s forward shields, rocking her but not affecting her unremitting tractor beam. The Alaska rejoins formation while the Zhukov and Ironclad incapacitate the Achilles’ phaser arrays, cannons, and torpedo launchers with precision strikes, denying her the ability to defend herself.

    Tony slams a fist on his tactical station’s now useless interface. “Weapons offline.”

    A torrent of sparks surrounds Terrell. “They’re disabling our transporter systems too.”

    “They don’t want us going anywhere,” Kingsley says.

    Rinckes looks at his horribly ravaged bridge. His disheartened crew continues their work despite the imminence of defeat. It is a miracle they have made it this far against these odds, a notion extending beyond this one-sided battle, although he’d be remiss not to swap the term miracle for dedication and skill. Nevertheless, they are trapped like a struggling insect in a web and there is no-one to bail them out.

    “The Indefatigable is hailing us,” Surtak reports, sounding remarkably dejected for a Vulcan.

    Dreadful as it may be, this unfair test of their resolve goes on, so Rinckes straightens his spine and returns to his chair. He seeks eye contact with Crow and starts typing commands into his armrest’s display. “On screen.”

    The main viewer is one of the few remaining functional onboard systems. The Indefatigable’s terrifying bridge and her mutated captain appear on it once again. “I don’t understand why you’d fight us,” Sharpe says. “Perhaps your mission has been more traumatic than we realized. Although you’ve severely damaged the Berkeley and Renegade, I am sure their captains will forgive you in time, as we do now. We welcome you back into the fold. Let us heal your wounds.”

    “Your acting skills are impressive, whatever your name is,” Rinckes says, “but you are not the only puppeteer at play here. The Altonoids are pulling your strings the same way you are controlling Captain Sharpe.”

    Sharpe drops the pretense of camaraderie. “You could not possibly comprehend how the Altonoids have opened our eyes and given us meaning in this universe. As for my acting skills, humans are easily duped. It is hardly a challenge.”

    “We have accrued mountains of evidence of the Altonoids’ horrible experiments in mind control on your kind.” Reasoning with an indoctrinated S’Prenn is a long shot, but Rinckes has to try. “The Altonoids have constructed a bioweapon to safeguard their total dominion. You have been victimized as well. Our mission is to cure the S’Prenn, to cure you, and have you regain autonomy.”

    “We are aware of your flawed motives created by misguided fear. You thought you were always one step ahead, but we were on your trail, and by ‘we’ I mean the combined forces of the best that Altonoids and S’Prenn have to offer. It is how we extrapolated your next destination: this portal. It is how we set this trap. You put up a good fight, Achilles, almost as good as the crews of these vessels we seized attempting to cross our border.” Sharpe chuckles, a different laugh than when he was in character—no friendliness, no malice either. “They were sent to assist you, believed their improved cloaking devices were sufficient.”

    “Do you care so little for us? Do you care nothing for your species’ plight?”

    “I have no choice in the matter. I must obey my directives as ordained.” A solemn pause. “For what it is worth, my host has never ceased resisting my control, doubly so since we have contacted you. He is an extraordinarily strong-willed, principled humanoid, yet no match for my biological and intellectual superiority. Despite his powerlessness, he is deeply remorseful about the current state of affairs. Many of my brothers and sisters report similar sensations from their hosts.”

    Rinckes shares a mournful glance with Kingsley before saying, “Donovan, if part of you can hear me… You tried to come to our aid and for that we are grateful, regardless of how it turned out.”

    Sharpe recomposes himself. “Sentimentalities aside, my Altonoid masters will be pleased I have captured your vessel. You have been a thorn in their side for far too long.”

    “And what reward will they give you?”

    Hesitation flickers across Sharpe’s malformed face. “None.”

    Having wrongfooted his conversation partner, Rinckes goes for the kill. “They will keep oppressing you. Do you think they’ll permit you to separate from Captain Sharpe anytime soon? You are as tied to him as he is to you, both slaves to the ruthless Altonoids’ will as they continue to slaughter your kin—men, women, children alike.”

    Sharpe offers no reply.

    “All the while you’re trapped controlling a human body that’s degenerating into the likeness of a corpse and stuck with an utterly miserable human mind that’s resisting your every thought each and every second, day after day. How terrible you must be feeling. Believe in the Altonoids’ benevolence all you want, your situation is hopeless.”

    The gaunt captain shifts his gaze in lieu of responding.

    “It doesn’t have to be this way. Please help us liberate you. Tell us where the portal leads.”

    “We have nothing further to discuss. You will understand soon. Fear not, you will continue to serve on your vessel as hosts for my fellow S’Prenn. Not everything we told you was a lie. We will repair the Achilles; you will make a fine addition to the magnificent Altonoid fleet.”

    Rinckes hardens his stare. “Like hell we will.” He makes a cutting gesture across his neck and Surtak closes the channel. In a futile, last-ditch bid for redemption, Rinckes considers the alternatives to the orders he is about to issue and concludes there aren’t any viable ones. Heaving a weighty sigh, he presses the intercom button. “All hands, this is the captain. My first officer and I have set off preliminary intruder alerts throughout the ship and primed the auto-destruct.”

    Nobody on the bridge moves a muscle as they listen to his devastating announcement.

    “Arm yourselves, phasers set to kill. Do not hesitate to fire on S’Prenned crewmembers; they cannot be freed unless their S’Prenn does so willingly.” A brief silence as professionalism battles his reluctance to destroy what he vowed to protect. “Computer, begin auto-destruct sequence, authorization Rinckes 1-7 Delta Epsilon.” He nods at his first officer.

    “Computer, Commander Erin Crow. Confirm auto-destruct sequence, authorization Crow 1-8 Gamma Charlie.”

    The captain wishes this were a nightmare, but the stars that used to soothe him affirm there is no waking from reality. “This is Captain Stephan Rinckes. Destruct sequence Alpha-One. Fifteen minutes, silent countdown. Enable.”

    A warning claxon sounds and the ship’s computer declares, “Auto-destruct sequence initiated. Warp core overload in fifteen minutes. There will be no further audio warnings.”

    “All hands, abandon ship. I repeat, all hands, abandon ship. Make for the shuttles and escape pods. If you think you cannot outrun the fleet, you may go through the portal at your discretion.”

    Cobalt swirls of light indicative of Federation transporters materialize the first S’Prenn on the floor, bulkheads, stations, ceiling—a dozen of them at least.

    Like his bridge officers, Rinckes unholsters his handphaser. “I don’t know what’s beyond the portal.” Phaser fire erupts and he rises from his chair to join his crew’s final stand. “But this is our last chance to find out.” A S’Prenn leaps up at him, quivering legs fully extended, and Crow shoots it in midair, allowing the captain to sign off. “Godspeed, everyone. It’s been an honor serving with you. Rinckes out.”

    Crow and Kingsley stand by his side to defend their captain, shooting S’Prenn left and right while he fires at a S’Prenn crawling toward Baxter’s ankle. The spider screeches as it dies and Rinckes blocks out the harsh fact that these creatures are sentient beings under enemy control, unwilling participants in a cruel war.

    Despite his evacuation order, none of the bridge crewmembers show an inclination to leave their posts. Like the captain, they have difficulty accepting how their mission has come to an abrupt end.

    * * *

    Lieutenant Tony Blue is picking off creeping and jumping S’Prenn wherever he sees them, relying on survival instinct and his vision’s acuity for movement, but his accurate and fast aim is insufficient to ward off waves of S’Prenn beaming onto the damaged bridge.

    “On your feet!” Rinckes shouts, backing toward the aft turbolift with Crow and Kingsley. “We’re done here! You deserve far better, but we have to make our escape!”

    To Tony’s left, Kels guides four junior officers into an alcove leading to escape pods. Baxter tears himself away from his helm station to provide covering fire, ensuring their retreat will not be hampered by the countless invaders. Unfortunately, the officers return seconds later, chased by a group of S’Prenn scuttling over carpet and bulkheads.

    “If you are able,” Rinckes continues, “follow me to shuttle bay 4!”

    Those not yet on their feet get up, with the exception of Surtak, who makes zero effort to do so. Facing the viewscreen, he is twitching in his seat as a S’Prenn burrows its fangs into his brainstem.

    “Shuttles present better tactical options than escape pods,” Crow says. The pandemonium of phaser fire renders what she says next inaudible.

    Baxter and Tony fire at the stream of S’Prenn pouring out of the alcove, while Kels—being the sweetheart she is—helps the junior officers. That is until one of them, a male ensign, grabs her by the throat and pushes her against the bulkhead near the helm station. Lit by blinking red alert panels, eight spider legs are sticking out from the ensign’s neck.

    From across the bridge, Josh Donahue fires his phaser at the ensign, killing the poor soul instantly and freeing Kels from a merciless chokehold. Baxter rushes toward Kels to tug her away from the spider-infested bulkhead, causing Tony to step up his game and fire at the surrounding S’Prenn.

    A desperate scream distracts him. “No! Please!” It’s Josh. A S’Prenn has latched itself onto his neck, from Tony’s perspective visible as fluttering spider leg shadows on the flashing red displays behind the acting security chief. “Tony! Help!” Contorting and gagging, Josh struggles against the arachnid seizing his mind. “Please shoot!”

    What can he do? Tony raises his handphaser at his friend, temporarily forgoing his personal safety, unsure if he possesses the courage to honor Josh’s request.

    “No!” Baxter yells from his left. For a split second, Tony thinks Baxter wants to prevent him from firing, but then he catches a glimpse of Kels twitching and convulsing in the chief helmsman’s arms. Baxter is too distraught to notice the two S’Prenn crawling up his legs, racing each other for ownership of his body.

    “Baxter, watch out!” Tony yells, aiming his phaser at the S’Prenn duo, realizing he can’t fire from this angle without seriously injuring or killing Baxter. His senses heightened by adrenaline, he feels something crawling up his own legs as well. In a moment of indecision, he alternates between aiming at Baxter, Josh, and the growing number of S’Prenn. From near the vacant captain’s chair, a S’Prenned officer exposes dripping fangs and growls at him.

    He cannot protect them anymore.

    Tony spins around, patting his legs and torso like a man on fire, until he clutches the warm exoskeleton of the S’Prenn climbing to his neck, its scaly femurs squirming against his fingers. It made it as far as his shoulder blades. With all his might, he flings the screeching creature toward the viewscreen, where it disappears in holographic depictions of hijacked Federation starships.

    Tony fires at groups of S’Prenn dropping from the ceiling, kicks the ones on the ground reaching for his pant legs, and dashes for the aft turbolift to join Rinckes, Crow, and Kingsley. He is about to cross the lift’s threshold when a strong arm grabs him by the collar. It’s Surtak, or rather, it was. Now, the S’Prenn on his neck is calling the shots.

    The pale ops officer twists the phaser out of Tony’s hand and speaks through thick fangs while another S’Prenn scales the Vulcan’s chest. “Your mind holds many secrets.” The second S’Prenn creeps over Surtak’s arm and homes in on Tony’s neck. “We have never controlled a former Q before.”

    “You never will!” Jon Terrell shouts, tackling Surtak with a full-speed shoulder charge, sending himself, the Vulcan, and the second S’Prenn rolling over the floor.

    Tony intends to dart to the heroic chief engineer’s rescue, but someone thwarts his plan by wrapping an arm around his waist and yanking him backward, into the turbolift. It wouldn’t have mattered; Surtak pins Terrell down for a S’Prenn to leap off the carpet and onto his neck. Terrell yells in pain as the S’Prenn bites him. Terrified, he looks at Tony and pleads, “Go! Go!” before he is reduced to gargling and thrashing.

    “I’m so sorry, Jon,” is all Tony can say while Crow pulls him to the back turbolift wall.

    The holographic Indefatigable presides over a dark bridge teeming with S’Prenn that are steadily approaching the turbolift. There is no-one left on deck to conquer. Those commandeered by the S’Prenn join their advance, spider arms bursting from their sides, eyes black as coals. Shuddering like a defective automaton, Terrell rises from the floor as his puppeteer acquaints itself with controlling its new host.

    “Shuttle bay 4, emergency close doors,” Rinckes says.

    As the doors slide shut and the lift prepares to transport its four occupants, Tony catches one last glimpse of the horrendous scene unfolding in front of him. Kels and Baxter work together once more, under enemy coercion, ripping open the Jefferies tube hatch behind the captain’s chair to pursue the turbolift. Josh Donahue, looking exactly like he did in the S’Prenn wreckage, stares at Tony with soulless pupils.

    The doors have closed to separate them from the madness, and the lift descends into the bowels of the ship. Crow embraces Tony in a mutual attempt to console the inconsolable, a break in professionalism he considers perfectly understandable; at a time like this, they are humans first, officers second. Rinckes and Kingsley keep silent, for they may be relatively safe now, one undeniable truth remains: the S’Prenn know where they are going.

    =================================================================================

    Author's note: I'm working hard to complete the final few chapters of Fallen Heroes. From the looks of it, there will be nine chapters in total, so there are four more to go. Chapter 6 will be released Friday, August 2nd.
     
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  20. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Dare I say it? Things have gone from bad to worse. At this pace I'm not sure if there are enough adjectives in the English language to describe this crew's misfortunes.
     
    Alexbright99 likes this.