Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter VI

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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter VI

Postby Alexbright99 » Fri Aug 02, 2019 6:44 pm

And we're back with a chapter so new my keyboard's still smoldering! As always, I will upload it in four parts, with a new chapter segment released every Friday. Here's the first segment. Enjoy!

P.S. If you're new to this story, start by reading Fallen Heroes Part II from Prologue to Chapter VI, then Part III from Prologue to Chapter V. It's okay. I'll wait while you read it. It's fine. No rush. Chances are you'll read a lot faster than I can write.

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Captain Stephan Rinckes is lost in thought, figuring out how to get as many members of his crew as possible to survive. For now, he’ll have to focus on keeping the three officers riding the turbolift with him safe. “Discard your combadges”—he plucks his combadge from his jacket and tosses it to the floor—“so they can’t track us once we’ve left the turbolift.” The others do as he says.

Commander Erin Crow and Lieutenant Tony Blue stand side-by-side, shoulders touching for the smidgeon of comfort it brings. “We should switch turbolifts at the earliest opportunity,” Crow says.

Doctor Chris Kingsley leans against the wall and looks at Rinckes and Crow. “You two are the only ones with the authority to cancel the auto-destruct sequence. The S’Prenn will stop at nothing to control you.”

“The sooner we get to shuttle bay 4, the better,” Rinckes says, operating the turbolift LCARS display, which shows a cutaway diagram of the Achilles. “We’ll switch lifts on deck 5, section 14.” From the corner of his vision, he sees Tony has grabbed a tricorder. The lieutenant is typing into it while frowning. On the rear of the tricorder, a small depression houses an emergency transport unit. “Could that transport me and Erin to shuttle bay 4?”

“Yes, sir,” Tony says, “though configuring one of these is a bit of a—”

With an ear-piercing screech, the turbolift grates to a halt, a maneuver so rough its four occupants hit the deck. Rinckes bangs his head against Kingsley’s knee but is up in an instant. For a second he fears the incident has blinded him, but the lift has simply gone dark, its power cut. “Everyone all right?”

A vertical strip of light two meters high starting half a meter above the floor draws their attention. Pallid fingertips slip through from top to bottom, prying the turbolift doors open inch by inch.

“Phasers!” Rinckes shouts. He and his underlings back up against the lift’s wall to keep as much distance between them and the wriggling fingers. Rinckes presses the fire button on his phaser and shoots the first pair of hands, causing them to retract from the doorway. At least the S’Prenn experience pain via their host, which serves them right. Another pair of hands appears without delay. There must be a horde of S’Prenned crewmembers behind the door, and they have the distinct advantage of holding the high ground.

Kingsley and Crow assist Rinckes by firing at the slowly widening gap through which dilated pupils and foaming mouths grow visible.

“Surrender,” one of the taken—a young woman—growls. “Do not postpone the inevitable or we will tear Blue and Kingsley to shreds.”

To hear the S’Prenn speaking these vile words through the disfigured officer disturbs Rinckes to the core. In a violent act of mercy, he kills her and her puppeteer with a well-aimed shot. Even though he has no alternative, shooting his own crew goes against everything he stands for as a starship captain. How he wishes he were on the bridge, leading his faithful subordinates, instead of being trapped like a rabbit in its hole with predators digging their way in.

“S’Prenn incoming!” Crow shouts, adjusting her aim at the foot-wide arachnids scrabbling through the gap to tumble into the lift or sneak up the door slabs.

“Concentrate on the S’Prenn,” Rinckes says. “I’ll handle the S’Prenned.” If anyone should carry the burden of harming former shipmates, it should be their captain.

Despite Kingsley and Crow’s incessant firing and Tony’s valiant attempts to stomp any S’Prenn within range, the trickle of S’Prenn crawling in swells to a wave. With a decisive thud, the S’Prenned men and women open the turbolift doors fully. Two of them die by their captain’s hand in a single sweeping phaser hit. It’s hard to make a proper estimate from this low angle, but Rinckes guesses there are at least ten of them in the corridor. Two S’Prenned security officers jump into the turbolift together, arachnid and humanoid arms extended. Rinckes manages to shoot the first, who slumps to the stained carpet upon hitting the floor, eliciting a scream from Tony, before the second grabs the captain’s wrists.

“You will join us,” the mutated officer says, saliva dripping from his fangs. He pins Rinckes against the wall, which is alive and moving with spider legs. “You will be our captain again.”

With his wrists held above his head, his handphaser aimed at the ceiling, S’Prenn scratching at his back, and moments from being taken over by a heartless creature that will subdue his will and identity to serve the Altonoids, Rinckes stares into the ghostly face of a man who would’ve given his life to protect his captain. That man is still in there somewhere, struggling in vain against his S’Prenn master. The security officer’s blanched complexion, opaque eyes, and protruding fangs notwithstanding, the captain discerns subtle Coridan peculiarities around the mouth and eyebrows. “Ensign Munroz,” Rinckes says.

A hint of recognition crosses Munroz’s features.

“You did all you could, Ensign.”

Rinckes flips the phaser so it lies flat in the palm of his hand, points it at Munroz’s scalp from above, and presses the trigger button with his ring finger. Munroz dies in a flash of light, freeing Rinckes just as two S’Prenn clamber onto his shoulders. The arthropod duo raise their palps at each other, presumably to battle over who gets to control the Achilles’ captain. Competing for dominance, they creep toward Rinckes’ neck.

While bright phaser beams shine in from the corridor, Rinckes slams himself backward into the wall to rid him of these clingy arachnids, to no avail. S’Prenn are persistent.

Tony, also the persistent type, clutches the two S’Prenn with his bare hands, rolls them into a ball, and dropkicks them out through the open doorway. He follows up with a yell that’s part annoyed huff, part war cry. “I’m so fed up with them!” S’Prenn blood covers his face, sleeves, and pant legs.

Before Rinckes can express his gratitude, a mildly surprised blonde woman appears in the doorway. “I’m not fond of them either,” she says, her phaser rifle’s barrel fuming from activity. “Ensign Marian Horsch reporting, sir. Corridor is clear.”

The same cannot be said of the turbolift they’re in; its deck is lined with S’Prenn—half of them dead. Rinckes lets Horsch pull his senior officers into the corridor and protects them by firing at everything that moves on the walls and floor.

The ensign hoists her captain out last. S’Prenned officers are lying everywhere, narrowing the hallway, filling it with a burning stink. Most of them were shot by Horsch and her three fellow officers, who are currently firing into the turbolift to ensure nothing follows them out. Horsch, in her mid-twenties and built like a gymnast, is the only security officer of the bunch; her colleagues—two men and one woman—wear science division uniforms and carry their phaser rifles with less confidence than their de facto leader.

“This way to the escape pods, sir,” she says.

Rinckes collects a phaser rifle from a dead officer and passes it to Tony. There should be a weapons locker nearby for them to upgrade from handphasers to rifles. A wise precaution, because he wonders how long it will take for the S’Prenned to risk returning fire. “Thank you, Ensign Horsch, but we’re going elsewhere.”

“S’Prenned bridge officers have made it no secret you’re going to shuttle bay 4. It’s on every wall panel. I strongly recommend you come with us or at the very least choose a different shuttle bay.”

“Not happening.” He opts to keep the reasons for this particular shuttle bay’s importance secret. All it takes is a S’Prenn accessing one of his confidants’ memories and his strategy becomes common knowledge. He learned that the hard way when he told the bridge crew which shuttle bay they should meet up in. “Computer, recognize voice pattern Stephan Rinckes. How much time until auto-destruct?”

Ten minutes and thirteen seconds.”

Crow exhales through her teeth. “We’ll never make it scurrying through Jefferies tubes.”

“We’ll have to chance riding another turbolift,” Rinckes says. Based on his familiarity with this deck, he determines which lift will get them there quickest. Provided they can get there fast enough, he is willing to share this information with the group. “The one in section 7 should suffice. Agreed?”

“Oh, please,” Kingsley says. “I’m done with turbolifts for today.”

“It’s our only shot,” Crow says.

“Fine…”

Horsch scratches her chin, smearing it with S’Prenn blood. “At least let us escort you there.”

“Negative,” Rinckes says. He sets off, signaling his senior officers to do the same. “Your orders are to evacuate. Head to the closest shuttle bay if you think it will increase your odds.”

“With respect, we’re with you, Captain.” Horsch and her team catch up with them. “It’s the least we can do.”

Rinckes pauses to remind her of the chain of command’s application in crisis situations. However, after staring the four junior officers in the eyes and seeing their determination and allegiance, undeserved as they may be, he nods his approval. “Double file. Take point, Ensign.”

Horsch nods back, telling him in one look she accepts that her gesture of loyalty may have sealed her and her team’s fate. They may not be able to change the hell they’re in, but they will tread fire and brave the flames to serve their captain once more.

* * *

Lieutenant Tony Blue and Ensign Marian Horsch lead their group into the fourth consecutive corridor filled with S’Prenn and S’Prenned. Directly behind them, Captain Rinckes and Commander Crow provide covering fire with the phaser rifles they procured. Also armed to the teeth, Doctor Kingsley and the three science officers cover the rear. This ship will soon blow itself to dust, so they are purposefully running toward danger while letting loose with their phaser rifles.

“Two lefts and two rights and we’re at turbolift 7-K,” Horsch says. Tony is sure nobody but him heard her in the din of combat.

“Press on!” Rinckes shouts. Moments ago, the captain had instructed the ship’s computer to raise lighting levels, hoping to thwart the S’Prenn by using their photosensitive skin against them, even though the interior lighting is in subpar condition throughout the ship, but the abominations residing on the bridge had had the foresight to lock out voice commands on such systems. And so, the hallways are poorly lit as usual. This renders intersections a challenge because they have the tendency to conceal threats until they’re on top of you. There are few crewmembers remaining who haven’t escaped or succumbed to a S’Prenn yet, and when they spot their captain being rushed past, they take it upon themselves to assist in expediting his journey and defending him from their positions.

These acts of support are becoming rare, and Tony is on the verge of instinctively shooting anyone wearing a Starfleet uniform, because most of them belong to S’Prenned individuals. He and Ensign Horsch clear a path by firing on sight at every enemy approaching over the carpet, bulkheads, and ceiling. Hitting their targets while running is quite demanding, so Tony mainly sticks to the left while Horsch handles the right. S’Prenn or S’Prenned who make it past their line of fire have to be picked off by the captain and the XO. It’s not ideal, but it’s effective for now. That is, until screaming erupts from the officers bringing up the rear. “Man down!” Kingsley shouts.

Tony sneaks a peek over his shoulder. A growing number of S’Prenned are after them, oblivious to how many they have to sacrifice to a tactic this insane, banking on the difficulties of their preys having to shoot in the direction they’re fleeing from. A quick headcount proves the home team is one officer short.

Refocused on the hallway ahead, Tony espies a S’Prenned woman clumsily taking aim with a phaser rifle. She hesitates, unwilling to hit the captain or the first officer. Doing so would ensure the Achilles’ destruction. Before she can reconsider, Tony ends her existence, repressing a pang of guilt over having to take two lives at once: that of a former colleague, and that of the S’Prenn controlling her. Both are victims to mind control in one way or another.

Behind them, horrific screaming indicates the loss of a second member of their team, sounding increasingly distant as the group pushes forward. “Dammit!” Kingsley says. “How much farther?”

“Not much!” Horsch replies.

Survival instinct prompts Tony to cast another look over his shoulder, in time to see two S’Prenned men leap from the darkness and tackle the science officer beside Kingsley to the ground. The young woman shrieks and reaches out for the running officers, who have no choice but to abandon her because the other S’Prenned are gaining on them.

Horsch signals the group into a right turn. As they swing around the corner, three S’Prenn jump out at them. One is too close to shoot, so Tony dives away in a reflex, and the spider soars past his head. Just as he wonders if Rinckes, Crow, and Kingsley can deal with the airborne S’Prenn, he notices many doors in this stretch of hallway have opened for S’Prenned to come stumbling out, forcing the group to slow down to eliminate these new targets.

“Hurry up, people!” Kingsley says, firing wildly at their pursuers.

“You don’t have to remind us.” Tony does his utmost to maintain a steady pace, but the complication of moving past rooms with opened doors has made clearing a path more taxing. He glances into the first room on the left.

Rinckes shoves him forward. “We can’t afford the delay, Lieutenant.”

“I know, but how else can I—”

Horsch screams as a S’Prenned technician emerges from the opposite room. She attempts to point her rifle at him, but he strikes her in the temple with a hyperspanner, knocking her out cold. As soon as she hits the deck, the merciless technician plants a foot in the small of her back to guard her until a S’Prenn accepts her as its new host.

Crow takes aim to shoot the man, but Kingsley drags her along. If he hadn’t, one of their chasers would’ve grasped her by the collar.

With Horsch out of the picture, Rinckes takes her place by Tony’s side. “Crow, Kingsley, forget about our six. All eyes forward!”

Phaser blasts from their four rifles zoom ahead to neutralize S’Prenn after S’Prenn, damaging the corridor even further. Wall panels explode, dangling light fixtures go dark, fresh char stains besmudge carpet and bulkheads. Tony’s mind goes blank as he loses himself in battle, selecting and subduing targets in an increasingly trancelike state—a blessing, considering the mayhem that surrounds him. His training kicks in to protect his psyche and adrenaline takes care of the rest. Despite Horsch’s fate, he forgoes checking every room he passes, feeling as if he is on rails, progressing through a holodeck shooting range, improving his score with each successful phaser hit.

Not knowing how he got there, Tony makes it to the final intersection along with his companions. “To the right!” he hears himself shout.

Only then does he see the S’Prenn crawling over Rinckes’ spine to his neck. Crow is behind the captain and raises her rifle before dismissing the idea to shoot at it. Instead, she squeezes her digits around the S’Prenn and tries to throw it away in mid-run. The S’Prenn thrashes its spider legs and bites her fingers. Startled, she lets go of it, allowing the furious arachnid to latch onto her face!

Where Tony and Rinckes take the required right turn, Crow goes straight ahead, desperately clawing at the S’Prenn attacking her. Kingsley trails her, trying to free her from the S’Prenn, which is coiling its legs around her neck to twist its scaly body closer to her brain. In her panic, she collides with the doctor, causing them both to lose their balance and sending them tumbling. Broken from his trance, Tony is once again inclined to slow down and assist.

Rinckes prevents this with a simple command: “No going back!” He’s right. The S’Prenned officers have followed Crow and Kingsley into the wrong corridor. This tragic diversion may have saved his and the captain’s lives. Sad as it may be, their singular objective remains: to reach turbolift 7-K and ultimately shuttle bay 4.

Tony has always been reasonably adept at estimating the passage of time—an instinct that stays intact during combat. How many minutes do they have left until the Achilles vaporizes in a matter/antimatter explosion? Tony settles for seven at most.
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter VIb

Postby Alexbright99 » Fri Aug 09, 2019 6:17 pm

There is the turbolift entrance. The promise of temporary refuge lures Tony and Rinckes closer. Tony is so focused on their destination and shooting the few scattered S’Prenn in their path that the click of an opening maintenance hatch barely registers with him. He is about to trigger the lift’s proximity sensors when Rinckes trips to the floor, firing blindly.

Behind them, an alien yet familiar voice asks, “Remember us, Captain?”

Tony pivots around and aims his rifle at Lieutenant Kels. Having grabbed the captain’s legs, she crawls on top of him, intending to pin him down as he lies prone on the floor. Her blue skin is discolored; her S’Prenn puppeteer’s eight spider legs complement her two antennae.

Something moves at the edge of Tony’s vision. When he spots its source, he draws in a rasping breath and watches aghast. Clinging to the ceiling upside down, Lieutenant Ernest Baxter looks through Tony with coal-black eyes and releases at least three of the six S’Prenn attached to his torso. There’s no sign of the helmsman’s benevolent personality or the friendship he and Tony shared. Locked up inside their minds by indoctrinated S’Prenn, Kels and Baxter must be horrified to be unwilling instruments of Tony and Rinckes’ potential demise, but they are lethal instruments nonetheless.

As Tony lowers his rifle to point its muzzle at the triad of S’Prenn creeping up on his struggling captain, Baxter’s tilted stare turns vicious. Tony shoots two of the phobia-inducing creatures as quickly as he can. A third one has already made it to Rinckes’ ear. The three other S’Prenn detach themselves from Baxter’s chest and land on the carpet.

The captain wriggles an arm loose and elbows Kels in the face, causing Tony to wince even though Rinckes has every right to defend himself. Blue blood streaming from her nose and onto her fangs, Kels hisses in anger while Tony takes out three S’Prenn scuttling dangerously close to the captain’s head. Rinckes repeatedly bashes Kels in the nose in an attempt to liberate himself. Even a regular Andorian would have called it quits by now, but her S’Prenn captor forces her to endure the beating and keep the captain in place.

Once Tony has shot the last S’Prenn, Kels changes tactics. She swings an arm around the captain’s throat and tightens her grip, then swivels her head to allow her S’Prenn to switch hosts. Its fangs’ intricate wiring retracts from her brainstem and reaches tentatively for the captain’s skin. Meanwhile, Baxter is inching toward Tony and getting ready to pounce.

Hesitation is not an option; to perform this precision shot, Tony lifts his rifle to peer through its scope at the S’Prenn preparing to seize the captain, holds his breath, and squeezes the trigger. The phaser blast strikes the S’Prenn dead center and smashes through its rigid carapace, which offers no protection whatsoever for poor Kels. The phaser blast strikes her in the neck and she goes limp in an instant.

An awful knot twists his stomach as Tony realizes what he has done, but he is given no chance to regret or mourn his snap decision, because Baxter jumps down from the ceiling and knocks the rifle out of his hands. Rinckes is still on the floor, reeling from his scuffle with Kels, and Tony is too shocked to react sensibly and ward off Baxter’s attack. Now that he bears responsibility for Kels’ death, how could he harm another of his dearest friends?

The mutated helmsman slams Tony against a bulkhead and presses his thumbs against his victim’s throat. “Why did you do that?!” Four arachnid arms confine Tony. “Monster! Do you have any idea how much my host cared for her? She didn’t have to die!”

Without the means to respond and lacking the resolve to defend himself, Tony permits Baxter’s verbal and physical assault to continue. In a distant recess of his mind, he does find it peculiar how Baxter’s S’Prenn is upset about Kels’ death and not the seven S’Prenn he shot in its presence. Perhaps the host’s influence, although negligible compared to a S’Prenn’s overpowering nature, is more prominent in the early stages of… It doesn’t matter.

“We would’ve served together on this ship, served our Altonoid masters! You robbed us of our destiny. We would have been together.”

Provided their assailants fail to subjugate Rinckes and access his vocal cords and memories, the Achilles will explode in a few minutes, ending this nightmare scenario and all its participants. Oxygen deprivation and remorse over Kels’ fate is already tricking him into a paradoxical calmness seducing him to surrender to the inevitable.

“I will not allow you to become one of us,” Baxter snarls. “You will die right h—” His bulging eyes go wide as the life is removed from them.

Baxter sags to the floor, revealing the S’Prenned Lieutenant Josh Donahue holding the S’Prenn he has ripped from the helmsman’s neck. The mortally wounded spider squirms and quivers until Donahue crushes it in his hand.

“E-Ernest,” Tony whimpers. “You killed…” Unsure how to react to his friends’ sudden deaths and the surprising reunification with something he’d tried his damnedest to forget, he stares at the abhorrence that chased him through the S’Prenn wreck.

Donahue regards his blood-soaked hand with disgust. “The Altonoids are our overlords.” Confusion taints his speech even more than the fangs in his mouth do. “They will lead us to glory.”

Rinckes scrambles to his feet and reclaims his and Tony’s rifles to aim both at Donahue. Tony raises a palm to hold the captain off and asks in a hoarse voice, “Josh, is it you?”

“The individual you call Josh Donahue is completely under my control.”

“We must go,” Rinckes says.

“If the Altonoids are so glorious,” Donahue continues, “why did they murder Kronn, his friends… his family? Was his heresy justified?”

Rinckes grabs Tony by the sleeve and hustles him into the turbolift.

Donahue keeps standing there, staring at his hand, while a new batch of S’Prenn pour in from across the corridor. “What if we’re wrong?”

Tony coughs and wheezes to enable himself to shout, against his better judgment, “Come with us!”

“Once freed, we shall retaliate,” Donahue mirrors Kronn’s dying words as he tightens his bloodied fist.

“Shuttle bay 4,” Rinckes instructs the turbolift. “We can’t risk bringing him.”

Donahue turns to face them, his ghoulish expression rueful. “What has become of us?”

“Come with us!” Tony prevents the turbolift doors from closing. He is aware of the foolishness of his behavior, incited by the fear of losing a third friend. “Please!”

Rinckes yanks Tony’s wrist free of the doorpost. “Pull yourself together!”

“Go,” Donahue says. “I don’t know how long I can resist… indoctrination… from the glorious Altonoids.”

As the doors slide shut, Tony shouts, “Find an escape pod! Get off the ship!”

Donahue gives him one last puzzled look before the doors close entirely and the turbolift starts its descent.

Rinckes releases his chief tactical officer’s wrist. “Focus on the present. That’s an order. We have to assume our position has been compromised. Prepare to switch turbolifts again.”

Tony would like nothing more than to let out a proper wail of sorrow, but he knows it must wait. The captain returns his phaser rifle to him. Tony is somewhat ashamed for having lost sight of it in the chaos. At least the captain is thinking straight, despite the horrible mess they’re in. The adrenaline pumping through Tony’s veins has no outlet with him stuck in the turbolift, cannot be transformed into defensive action, cannot prevent his mind from wandering to the horrors they fled. Travelling away from the corridor where his friends lie forsaken, Tony feels as if he has left an irretrievable part of himself there.

An announcement over the comm interrupts his spiraling thoughts. “All hands, this is Commander Erin Crow.” She does her best to sound normal, but her inflexion is tarnished by fangs. “I have cancelled my share of the auto-destruct sequence. All is well. Soon the captain will complete its cancelation. Please refrain from abandoning ship and surrender to the nearest S’Prenn. You will understand, as I do now.”

A cold chill runs down Tony’s spine and he suppresses another urge to grieve.

Rinckes remains steely-gazed. “We have them worried.” When he notices Tony is raising an eyebrow at him, he explains, “They’re starting to get polite.”

* * *

Doctor Chris Kingsley knows the Achilles in and out, yet the unmitigated disaster he finds himself in has a severe disorienting effect. He tried to rescue Commander Crow, tried to fight off the S’Prenn attaching itself to her neck, but all that his best efforts garnered was misplacing his rifle and losing track of Rinckes and Tony. While Crow lay convulsing on the floor, S’Prenn and S’Prenned had chased him deeper into the ship, where he is now, headed for sickbay, his harbor in a sea of madness.

Time is short, but he plans on gathering a few personal effects and checking if his medical staff managed to evacuate all patients before he’ll hop into an escape pod himself. Whatever Rinckes’ intentions were at the shuttle bay, he will not be part of it.

He pushes aside the rubber curtains leading into sickbay and enters the corridor, which stretches beyond the next corner. Transparent containers, left undisturbed by the S’Prenn sent by the Indefatigable and her conspirators, house dead or twitching S’Prenn unaware of the ship’s imminent demise.

How many S’Prenn had to suffer and die for the doctor’s hunt for the cure? Kingsley would rather not dwell on such statistics. Shame and self-reproach have no place in his job, not anymore, and these containers have simply blended into the scenery. He did what he had to do, and he’d do it again in a heartbeat. Yet, he recalls his days as a cadet at Starfleet Medical Academy. Hardly a straight-A student, he compensated his lack of innate talent with heaps of idealism and curiosity. The latter of which took quite a dark turn for him as despair set in on the Achilles.

A figure emerges from the far end of the hallway, shrouded in darkness.

“Doctor Kingsley,” the figure speaks. It’s Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Gibbs, wearing a hospital gown. At the current stage of his arduous recovery process, he has been able to go on sporadic walks. It surprises Kingsley he hasn’t been evacuated along with the rest of the patients.

“Are you all right, Commander?” Kingsley asks.

“Yes, Doctor,” Gibbs hisses. As he lumbers nearer, red alert panels illuminate his mutated face, the four spider arms having burst from his sides, and the eight trembling legs belonging to his S’Prenn master sticking out from behind his neck. Gibbs quickens his pace, striding more efficiently each consecutive step.

As Kingsley predicted in the treatment he had suggested, a linked S’Prenn is capable of rapidly improving the patient’s mobility by repairing damaged nerve pathways. Awestruck, he watches as Gibbs breaks out into a sprint until common sense kicks in and forces the doctor into a hasty retreat.

Even though it hinders his escape, Kingsley cannot resist looking back while fleeing to see his patient running flat-out. Because of this, Kingsley trips over a tube connecting a container to a bulkhead and goes sprawling. Scraping his wrists, he slides to a halt on the grimy floor.

Gibbs is on him in seconds and grabs him by the collar. Kingsley tries to punch his attacker, but Gibbs remains unfazed and drags him to a container in which a living S’Prenn sits pressed against the glass. The S’Prenn is tapping its tarsal claws in anticipation, eager to accept the doctor as its host. Luckily, it is separated from its would-be victim by half an inch of transparent aluminum; even a biologically souped-up Gibbs could not break it with his bare fists.

Still bent on having Kingsley merge with the captive S’Prenn, Gibbs throws Kingsley against the container. The doctor brushes off a sharp pain in his ribs to sit up right away and sneak a glance at the container. With a shudder, he realizes a single red indicator signals its emptiness. Then how…?

The S’Prenn crawls over the glass and onto the doctor’s shoulder. Kingsley was mistaken. This was never one of his wretched test subjects; it must have boarded the Achilles along with its fellow arachnid soldiers. With raisin eyes, it stares at the doctor as if to appraise him. It decides he is a suitable candidate and hops onto his neck.

Before it latches on, Kingsley curses through his teeth and addresses Gibbs one final time. “I told you the treatment would work!”

Gibbs frowns at him.

Needlelike wires sting Kingsley’s neck, producing an ever-increasing pain as they dig to his brainstem and gradually seize control of his motor functions. Already, the S’Prenn is asserting dominance in Kingsley’s psyche, sweeping his thoughts aside as undesirable and irrelevant. Each muscle in his body trembles and spasms. A sensation of overwhelming nausea comes and goes. Memories are ripped from his skull and new ones come flooding in, altering his personality, shaping him into someone he never was and never should have been.

Showing no mercy, the S’Prenn locks the doctor into a tiny room inside his mind, where he will be trapped indefinitely. The S’Prenn is the new owner of his body and soul and bends both to its will. Kingsley is remotely aware of Gibbs helping him to his feet. Together, they will find other misguided officers and help them see.

Help them see the Altonoids know what’s best.

Help them see this is the way to serve aboard the Achilles.

Help them see the auto-destruct has to be called off at all costs.

Help!
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter VIc

Postby Alexbright99 » Fri Aug 16, 2019 5:16 pm

Captain Stephan Rinckes catches his breath as he studies the wall terminal next to shuttle bay 4’s entrance. “You think this is Lieutenant Donahue’s doing?”

“It has to be,” Lieutenant Tony Blue replies, clutching his phaser rifle with whitened knuckles. He has holstered his tricorder and its appurtenant emergency transport unit for now, having made progress with learning how to configure them during their subsequent turbolift rides.

Rinckes is grateful these rides were considerably less eventful than the first one—thanks to Josh Donahue, as it turns out. Somehow, having the proper authority as a S’Prenned officer, Donahue has altered the ever-present wall panel messages to mislead the invaders. It reads: “Mission critical. Captain Rinckes is headed to shuttle bay 1 instead of 4. He must be apprehended to cancel auto-destruct.”

Shuttle bay 1 is on a different deck, and with Rinckes and Tony’s combadges discarded, the S’Prenn cannot easily pinpoint their location. The captain regrets they had to leave Donahue to his own devices. Of course, the risks involved with bringing him along would have been unacceptable. Maybe they could’ve persuaded the S’Prenn controlling the lieutenant to release him, but such ideas are relegated to the benefit of hindsight. The way the situation has unfolded, Donahue’s cooperation has served them well.

Rinckes lifts his rifle in preparation of entering shuttle bay 4. “Computer, time until auto-destruct?”

One minute, nine seconds.”

“Resume audio warning. Tony, together we’ll go right, rush over to shuttle pad 2-R, and take one of the Altonoid shuttles we procured.”

His chief tactical officer gives him a shaky nod.

“Stay on my six, whatever happens.”

“Aye, Captain. I’m with you.”

With the push of a button, Rinckes opens the entrance’s sliding doors. “Let’s go!” In unison, he and Tony step into the shuttle bay, which is spacious enough to accommodate ten shuttles of varying types. As they feared, S’Prenn and S’Prenned are roaming the bay. Rinckes spots at least fifteen of them. It could have been much worse. Donahue’s meddling has given the ragged duo a fighting chance.

Their entry has caught everyone’s attention, so Rinckes and Tony let loose with their phaser rifles as they hurry to the three auburn Altonoid shuttles sticking out like a sore thumb among their Federation counterparts. Altonoid engineers gave them a distinct style by incorporating a multitude of spikes along each shuttle’s outer hull for intimidation purposes.

Auto-destruct in forty-five seconds.”

Though some S’Prenned officers are armed, they refrain from firing to avoid hitting the captain. He and Tony have no such restrictions and shoot at everything that shambles or crawls as they bolt for the nearest Altonoid shuttle. In the chaos, Rinckes loses count of their arachnid foes. He cannot incapacitate them all in time, so he homes in on the shuttle’s port interface and punches in the access code he remembers. Soon after, the vessel’s side hatch lowers to the bay floor.

Tony dives to the ground to dodge a jumping S’Prenn aiming for his neck and springs back up immediately to follow Rinckes into the bulbous cockpit, which houses eight seats divided by a center tunnel. The front stations harbor the shuttle controls: a hodgepodge of stolen technology from all major players in the Alpha and Beta Quadrant. The Altonoids have never been big on the value of intellectual property.

Tony seals the hatch and claims the copilot’s seat. “I assume you’re the undisputed expert at flying these.”

Rinckes, at the helm, looks about and tests a few displays and buttons to familiarize himself with this particular layout. Baxter—poor guy—never got the chance to try one of these out, so the captain’s piloting skills will have to suffice.

Presumably out of habit, Tony acquaints himself with the shuttle’s tactical console to identify its weaponry and related functions. As Rinckes recalls, these warp-capable vessels are outfitted with four modest phaser arrays and a cubion microtorpedo launcher. Its interface and intuitive targeting system appear to suit Tony just fine, because he reports, “Powering up weapons.”

A confused huddle of S’Prenned has gathered around the shuttle, unsure of their next move. Firing at the shuttle would risk harming the captain, whereas letting him depart would guarantee the Achilles’ destruction.

Rinckes solves their conundrum. “Ventral thrusters engaged.” The shuttle lifts off the deck. “Destroy those bay doors.”

“So… still not a fan of shuttle bay protocols?” Tony says offhandedly, a remark Rinckes chooses to ignore. As the shuttle dashes forward, the lieutenant orders its forward phaser array to disintegrate the vast doors, causing an instantaneous explosive decompression that blows all surrounding S’Prenn and S’Prenned into space along with the accelerating Altonoid shuttle.

Adjusting for violent turbulence, Rinckes guides the shuttle through fragments of charred shuttle bay doors, over the Achilles’ marred stern, and toward the shimmering portal set in an infinity of stars. Seven and a half years have passed since they first boarded this vessel via the same shuttle bay, to be welcomed by the late Keith Harriman waiting to debrief them. And now they are leaving, with Rinckes withholding the key to rescuing the Achilles, preferring her obliteration over her falling into enemy hands.

The Zhukov, Ironclad, Alaska, Triton, and their lead ship, the Indefatigable, have encircled the Achilles. With tractor beams and phasers, they assault her escape pods and shuttles, reeling in helpless evacuees and destroying those who threaten to get away. While Tony fires phasers and torpedoes at the immovable starships, Rinckes steers hard to port to evade a tractor beam ensnaring an escape pod and initiates a series of evasive maneuvers, inadvertently offering him and Tony front-row seats to their vessel’s final moments.

The weakened Achilles, controlled from the bridge by S’Prenned crewmembers, assists her treacherous sister ships by capturing a type 11 shuttle in her tractor beam and holding it there for the Triton to beam its occupants aboard, where they’ll be summarily S’Prenned. A final act of betrayal from a starship that has served them so well during her impossible five-year mission. She cannot be blamed for this; the debt she is owed could never be repaid in full. Her crew may have put her through hell, yet she has always provided for them. The Achilles was their home.

In milliseconds, a buildup of flames spreads from Achilles’ engineering section to engulf deck by deck, consuming her blackened secondary hull and spawning detonations that trigger larger explosions along its path. At its height, it covers every corner of the ship, tears off her starboard warp nacelle, sets corridors and rooms ablaze, bursts her exterior windows, and turns her bridge into an inferno. A bright star of colliding matter and antimatter forms in the center of engineering, combining all flames and explosions into a mushrooming shockwave of unbridled devastation, ripping the starship apart until nothing recognizable is left.

Something deep within Rinckes dies with the Achilles. She may have been an inanimate object, a collection of tritanium/duranium alloy and assorted building materials, a lifeless vessel, but its heart and soul were the people it transported across the stars. Their indescribable loss smothers the last vestige of his stoicism. He lacks the opportunity to reflect on these matters, however, as the oncoming shockwave strikes the bows of the nearby starships with enough force to affect their bearings, then threatens to envelop the shuttle.

“Brace for impact!” Rinckes shouts as he steers the shuttle into the expanding bubble of pulverized debris. No holds barred, the shockwave hits the shuttle and sends it barreling away from the carnage. Countless alert messages flood the cockpit as he wrestles sparking interfaces to take advantage of the momentary distraction the starships are dealing with and orient the shuttle toward the portal.

“Warp drive offline!” Tony shouts over beeping and hissing machinery. “Weaponry disabled. Shields are down. Structural integrity—”

Rinckes stops listening, fully intent as he is on bowing the damaged shuttle to his will. Ahead spins their view of the portal, closer than ever, a growing pool of white vapor and liquid drawing them in like insects to a bug zapper.

“I can’t get any proper readings on the anomaly,” Tony says, still pretty vocal for someone who is undergoing several g’s of centrifugal force. “We don’t know what it’ll do to us. Last chance to reconsider.”

“We’re going in.” Rinckes permits himself a glance at his flickering situational display. None of the starships are pursuing them yet, and there are few—if any—escape pods or Federation shuttles by their side. He and Tony are going it alone as far as he can tell. So be it.

By the time the captain has stabilized the shuttle, they’re freefalling toward the rippling puddle of light spanning the entire window dome, headache-inducingly bright despite the window’s filters protecting their vision. Size and distance are impossible to gauge with an anomaly this abstract, but it dwarfs their shuttle as it swallows them whole in an endless kaleidoscope of optical illusions.

This miracle cultivated by S’Prenn exudes beauty and serenity, and Rinckes is at a loss for words. It’s as if they’ve reached the gates of heaven. Perhaps they never made it off the Achilles and this is some kind of afterlife where they will be reunited with their dear colleagues. It is unbearable to think of the additional loss of life to his name, sullying his captaincy, his humanity, his very being, so he refuses to do so. As long as he has at least one crewmember with him, he remains the captain. “Shuttle status update.”

“We have sustained severe damage,” Tony replies, “but impulse engines and thrusters are functional. Hull breaches are being contained by force fields. The portal seems to have little effect on us. We’re traversing it with great ease, almost as if it’s but a mirage.”

Ahead, a solid wall of reflective diamonds arises and grows in size as they near it. “I hope that’s a mirage as well,” Rinckes grumbles.

“It doesn’t register on sensors.”

“I’m slowing us down. Boost power to sensors.”

“Yes, sir.”

Rinckes wants to halt the shuttle approximately twenty meters shy of the wall, which stretches out in each direction, but his input changes nothing. “We’re not decelerating.”

“Confirmed.” Tony’s fingers race over his console. “No idea why.”

Their current speed is 800 kph and the wall closing in appears solid and unyielding. The captain dismisses a tiny sliver of panic. “Must be part of the ride.”

While Tony braces himself and struggles not to flinch, Rinckes is not impressed, not when the wall is upon them, and not when they and their shuttle ghost straight through it.

Tony lets out a big sigh. “What a… unique design feature.” In the distance, a dark pinpoint surfaces dead center.

“Engines are responding again.”

The dancing, bright patterns surrounding them dissipate to be replaced by redshifted light and darkness beset with stars. Before long, the portal is but a fading glow framing the dome’s edges, so Rinckes focuses on resuming the battered shuttle’s navigation.

“Good grief!” Tony exclaims, startling the captain. “The rumors! They were… Look!”

Rinckes looks up from his controls. Fleets of Altonoid warships patrolling the area have come into view, a comprehensive collection of spacefaring enemy vessels divided into clusters of five to fifty ships. But what are they guarding? When he sees what Tony is pointing at, his blood runs cold.

Even from miles away, the captain recognizes the space station that haunts his dreams.
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter VId

Postby Alexbright99 » Fri Aug 23, 2019 5:18 pm

Outside Station A-12, former Federation space – December 22, 2387 – Stardate 64970.5
It beggars belief, but there it is: the infamous space station, its substantial damage suffered during the Station A-12 Debacle patched up with ill-fitting black and brown hull plating. For Lieutenant Tony Blue, this sight evokes a distant memory of the USS Wolf colliding with the station, although the intervening years have distorted his recollection to an extent. He had heard vivid descriptions of the event from Emily, who was there with him, but he is unsure of having seen the actual collision occur. He may have been too spellbound by the Kennedy’s drifting wreckage.

Regardless, in preparation for the Aragos Sector mission, he leafed through the entirety of their collated intel on this station, so he knew about the extended decks added to either side of the already sizeable space station, yet seeing it in real life stumps him. It clashes with how he remembers this structure from his last visit. These modifications give Station A-12 a menacing aspect even to those unaware of the atrocities committed within.

Captain Stephan Rinckes pilots the shuttle toward it as Tony conducts a scan and says, “We’re inside the sphere of weaponized detection sentries. Seventeen Altonoid and six S’Prenn ships in our immediate vicinity. Total enemy vessel count incomplete. No Federation shuttles or escape pods.”

“Are you sure?” Rinckes asks, as reluctant to give up hope on other survivors making it through the portal as Tony is.

He rechecks his readings. “No-one, sir.”

“Then it’s up to us.”

Tony cannot begin to fathom the amount of death preceding their arrival, both in the Aragos Sector and here in this desecrated region of space. To occupy his somber mind and keep the last two representatives of the Achilles alive, he concentrates on his tasks. “Radiation leaking from our warp engines should mask our life signs, but not for long.”

They’re approaching the station. Unfortunately, so is a group consisting of four Attack-class Altonoid warships and two S’Prenn ships, the latter of which looking even more intimidating than the sinister wreckage the Achilles investigated. Their arachnid design lends them a predatory appearance, especially when they’re turning to face a comparatively miniscule shuttle.

The shuttle’s sudden emergence seems to have baffled the fleet and their response is sluggish. They’re trained to engage S’Prenn vessels containing unindoctrinated specimens, not a solitary battle-damaged Altonoid shuttle. According to the intel he studied, Tony surmises that if they had arrived in a S’Prenn vessel, they would have been apprehended immediately.

While he and the captain are closing in on Station A-12, the group of Altonoid and S’Prenn starships are moving to intercept, acting like a herd of inquisitive sharks encountering a human diver.

An audio transmission forces itself into their comm system. “Unidentified vessel. This is the UEA Hupe. State your intent.

Tony and Rinckes make eye contact and try to come up with a reply that won’t get them killed straightaway. Tony conveys his lack of ideas with a grimace and an exaggerated shrug.

Identify yourself and state your intent.

“Time is short, so I will keep it brief,” Rinckes improvises. “We are being chased by S’Prenn rebelling against their indoctrination. We fear they have found an antidote. We are hurrying toward Station A-12 carrying four dead S’Prenn for immediate dissection to ascertain the cause of their resistance.”

Tony sticks up two thumbs to show his support.

“These S’Prenn are controlling the small Federation fleet led by the Indefatigable, which is trailing us. They have betrayed us and must be stopped! Requesting immediate landing clearance in Station A-12’s main shuttle bay to hand over the specimens to the appropriate medical research teams.” The Hupe refrains from answering, so Rinckes continues, “We must ensure our delivery reaches Station A-12 before the Indefatigable catches us.”

Hold position and stand by.

Two Foora-class fighters undock from the Hupe and converge on the shuttle. Tony swallows something vile as he stares down the barrels of four phaser banks. The fighters are joined by a full-scale S’Prenn vessel looming over them, prompting Rinckes to decelerate.

“I repeat, we cannot afford to hold position. The more distance we put between ourselves and the portal, the better. They were right behind us.”

Tony admires Rinckes’ audacity. The Indefatigable and her associates may not have followed them at all. It’s a gamble, but it will buy them a few more seconds either way. He bites his tongue to keep from speaking up along the likes of “are they buying it, sir?” or anything else the Altonoids might hear. Meanwhile, the fighters and the S’Prenn ship slowly rotate about their axes to circle the shuttle and keep their weaponry trained on it.

The warships in the fleet spur to action, jolting him in his seat. To his relief, they are moving to assume formation by the portal.

The Lurelt, Duler, and S’Ronn will escort you to Station A-12. Please confirm.” The fighters and S’Prenn ship keep maneuvering around the shuttle to face the station together.

“Affirmative. Ri… Ready for escort.” The captain ends transmission and orders the shuttle forward.

“You almost said ‘Rinckes out,’ didn’t you?” Tony deadpans.

“Old habits die hard.”

The S’Ronn takes point and the fighters flank the shuttle. It’s an odd experience, to say the least, to have a floating mechanical spider lead the way and to fly side-by-side with two Altonoid fighters capable of destroying this rickety shuttle in one shot.

A new blip on their sensors catches Tony’s attention. “Sovereign-class starship emerging from the portal.”

“The Indefatigable, most aptly named. Keep an eye on her.”

“It won’t be long till the Altonoids uncover our deception.”

“Can’t be helped. Stay frosty.”

As they close in on Station A-12, a warped sense of déjà vu causes a weird feeling to settle in the lieutenant’s gut. The S’Ronn makes a graceful left turn and reveals the station’s main shuttle bay, filled with Altonoid and S’Prenn shuttlecraft, located in the center of the 100-deck-tall space station, and completely rebuilt after the rudderless Wolf wreaked havoc upon it.

Tony attempts to deal with the avalanche of memories about the place he, Rinckes, and Emily fled from, but the captain sidetracks his ruminations by saying, “Grab your rifle. Step onto the transporter platform. We’re bailing out.”

Altonoid infantry units hurry toward the landing pad while Tony clambers out of his seat, mounts the shuttle’s transporter platform, and waits for Rinckes to finish typing commands into the helm console.

“Ready your weapon,” the captain says, dashing onto the platform as alerts go off throughout their small vessel. He lifts his phaser rifle, aiming it at an unseen foe to prepare for beam-out.

This is Corporal Vuse piloting the Lurelt. Slow your approach or you will endanger everyone.

The shuttle bay is near enough to discern its details, including the worried expressions of foot soldiers staring and gesturing at the shuttle coming in hot. Per the captain’s instructions, the shuttle is accelerating exponentially, which catches the enemy by surprise.

Collision alert!” the shuttle warns. “Collision alert! Pull up!” Its roaring impulse engines sputter and protest against the strain they’re under.

What are you doing?” Corporal Vuse says. “Slow down or we are forced to open fire.”

Rinckes presses a comm button on the starboard bulkhead and gets in character once again. “Mayday, mayday!”

Tony wonders if the universal translator has an adequate Altonoid translation for that old aviation chestnut.

“Helm not responding. We’re going down. Don’t shoot! We’re carrying—” Rinckes closes the channel and turns to Tony. “That’ll keep ’em occupied.”

A tractor beam emitter from the shuttle bay deck grapples the shuttle in an effort to slow its descent. Before Tony can question Rinckes’ plan, the captain taps a balled fist against the transporter interface, beaming the two of them off the shuttle just as it passes through the open bay doors at breakneck speed.

* * *

Station A-12 – December 22, 2387 – Stardate 64970.5
The deck shudders, flinging Captain Stephan Rinckes against a stack of medical containers. He deems it confirmation of their shuttle’s explosive arrival. He and Lieutenant Tony Blue have boarded the space station that once belonged to Starfleet and has been converted to a research facility dedicated to ensuring the Altonoids’ supremacy. “Let’s go,” he says to Tony, who appears dizzy from processing the whirlwind of events that brought them here.

The corridors have also been modified, its Starfleet technology from wall panels to lighting stripped and exchanged for Altonoid equivalents. The new owners also did away with Starfleet’s bright color palette; floor and bulkhead coverings have become sober and moody, presenting a handful of variations on gray, black, and brown shades.

Station A-12’s importance is inestimable, yet the two intruders encounter little security as they travel its research area’s gloomy corridors. Rinckes guesses the Altonoids never expected anyone would make it this far, what with the sphere of armed detection sentries and the abundance of patrolling vessels. Any S’Prenn ship or fleet venturing through the portal would’ve found itself quickly overpowered. Nobody counted on a single Altonoid shuttle operated by two brave Starfleet officers who refused to cower behind the Klingon border.

Tony sways his rifle about at the corner of an intersection. “Where do we go, sir?”

To be fair, Rinckes has no idea, a state of uncertainty each commanding officer worth their salt has learned to hide well. However, he beamed them to this location for a reason. “The cure to undo S’Prenn indoctrination must be nearby.” Having scrutinized and partially memorized the stolen floor plans, he chooses the most likely corridor.

Tony is lagging behind. “I hate to be a spoilsport, but how are we going to distribute it once we’ve found it? They’ll soon know we’re here and hunt us down.”

“The odds are definitely against us. Bear in mind, though, this station is packed with experimental technology from Altonoids and their ‘allies.’ There has to be something we can use.” Rinckes halts by an open doorway leading to a busy science lab and sneaks a peek inside.

Teams of Altonoid scientists are conducting gruesome biological experiments on live S’Prenn subjects. Rinckes doesn’t permit the particulars of the horrific scene to register. Survival depends on their ability to move on, so he signals for Tony to hurry past and says, “I mean, the technological leaps they’ve taken are beyond impressive. Right before we entered the Aragos Sector, Terrell…” He lets out a sigh of regret. It’ll take a while to grow accustomed to having people he trusted and worked with on a daily basis belong to the past. “Terrell reported he had discovered among the cross-referenced data an account of how, earlier this year, the Altonoids allowed a naturally occurring supernova to obliterate Romulus, then subdued it with a red matter singularity.”

“You mean the Romulan Empire has fallen?”

“So it seems, and what’s left is governed by Altonoids.” He looks into a chamber filled with S’Prenn carcasses, most of which contorted and disfigured. An acidic stink permeates the room, so he recoils in disgust and leads Tony further into the hallway. “S’Prenn technology surpasses whatever you’ll find in our Quadrant, and the Altonoids are reaping the benefits, usurping other alien technological advancements along the way. It won’t be long before they’ll consider expanding their empire to drive out the Klingons as well.”

Tony lets that sink in. “How do we stop them? It’s just us!”

“We do what they do,” Rinckes says, struck by a sudden inspiration. He turns around and guides the lieutenant into a corridor where empty containers lie stashed haphazardly. Careful not to make a noise, they sidle past the containers.

The farther they progress through the next hallways, the more disheveled and poorly maintained their environment becomes. They’re busy navigating a network of intersections when, to their dismay, the corridors go dark in an instant and an Altonoid computer announces in a cranky tone, “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!

Rinckes calms his breathing. “This was unavoidable. Don’t worry and follow me.”

The section they’re in sees few visitors; dust coats the floor. A number of bulkheads feature Starfleet panels, the rest have been dismantled and reveal skeletal framework housing partial circuitry. Most doorways have been cordoned off in lackluster fashion, hiding technological and biological secrets destined to be forgotten.

“If I recall correctly,” Rinckes says, counting doorways, “there’s an interesting piece of technology for us to investigate. I hope they haven’t disassembled it.”

A sinister, familiar voice resounds through the hallways and no doubt the entire station. “Your ruse has delayed your elimination only a handful of minutes, Starfleet.” It’s Captain Donovan Sharpe, or rather, the S’Prenn speaking through him. “You have made it this far, but we will find you, the same way we tracked and killed your brethren. You’re the last one standing. We do not ask you to surrender. We ask you to make peace with your impending death.

Chilling as Sharpe’s posturing may be, Rinckes ignores it, because he is confident he will find a specific chamber he remembers from Station A-12’s schematics, the one chamber containing hardware that might convert their hopeless mission to a viable one, that might give them a fighting chance.

He has never bothered to believe in anything but himself, but right here, right now, he prays for his plan to succeed.

Everything depends on it.
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Little update

Postby Alexbright99 » Wed Sep 18, 2019 5:42 pm

Hi there! A little update on how work on the final few chapters of Fallen Heroes is progressing:

I'm about to complete the third draft of Chapter VII. After that, it'll require three thorough revisions before it's ready for publishing. Expected release date: 1st of November, on a Friday of course. Mark your calendars ;)
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