Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter IV

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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter IV

Postby Alexbright99 » Fri Apr 05, 2019 9:15 pm

Hi there, dear readers! I have a brand-new chapter for you, which will be uploaded in four segments. Let's kick off with the first segment. Where we left off, Q's attempt to teach Tony a lesson backfired considerably. With renewed vigor, Tony has decided to face his captain and settle their disputes once and for all.

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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.
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter IVb

Postby Alexbright99 » Fri Apr 12, 2019 8:49 pm

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 imaged, 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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Author's note: I'll be out of town next week, so Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter IVc will be released two weeks from now, on April 26.
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