Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter VII

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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter VII

Postby Alexbright99 » Fri Nov 01, 2019 10:41 pm

And here we are: November 1st. And guess what? Chapter 7 is done and ready for you avid readers! As per usual, it will be published in four segments, with a new chapter segment being released each Friday.

If you're new to this story, be sure to begin with Part II, found elsewhere on this writer's forum.

If you're not, here's a quick little recap to bring you up to speed before we plunge into a new chapter:
Captain Stephan Rinckes and Lieutenant Tony Blue have made it to the Altonoid-controlled Station A-12, where a cure for the S'Prenn's brainwashed state is rumored to be hidden. However, with no way to escape, their enemies closing in from all sides, and the fate of billions of Federation citizens resting squarely on their shoulders, Rinckes and Tony have to rely on their knowledge of Station A-12's horrors to continue their impossible mission.


Station A-12 – December 22, 2387 – Stardate 64970.5
Five minutes ago, the intruder alert revealed the Altonoids are aware of Lieutenant Tony Blue and Captain Stephan Rinckes’ presence aboard their space station. Once a Starfleet outpost, Station A-12 has been perverted into a mockery of Federation principles by filling it with illicit and stolen information and technology, most of which acquired through bloodshed and the trampling of human and alien rights. The Altonoids do as they please.

Although he has already spent half an hour on this defiled station, Tony still considers the situation absurd. The last time he was here, he was injured, the Federation was losing the battle for this station, and he had to flee for his life. The phaser scar above his right hip never quite healed, and it’s been hampering his walking and running ever since. Revisiting Station A-12’s corridors reminds him of the energy-sapping agony of staggering around with a fresh phaser wound. Thank heavens Emily had been there to help him reach the shuttle bay.

As if removing cobwebs, Rinckes pulls away tape cordoning off a doorway. Aided by Tony, he strains to open the double sliding doors, which have been powered down in this abandoned section of forgotten wonders and horrors.

Standing close to his captain, Tony realizes what a mess they both are. Rinckes is bruised and battered, his dark-blond hair bears more resemblance to lion manes than the combed-back tidiness it used to be, his face and hands are ridden with contusions and minor lacerations from the Achilles’ final space battle and his fight with Kels, and he carries himself like a vexed animal rather than a man. Tony may look even worse: On top of his similar collection of bruises and cuts, S’Prenn blood sticks to his skin and uniform, and his throat hurts from Baxter’s attempt to choke him.

The doors open with a double thud and the two Starfleet officers shine their phaser rifles’ flashlights into the room. Two beams of light pierce settling dust to find a rectangular device the size of a hovercar sitting on the floor in the center of the chamber. Worn tubes and wires curl from the apparatus to each bulkhead, as if it’s hanging on for dear life in its neglected state.

“There you are,” Rinckes says as he lowers his rifle and approaches the device. “Recognize this?”

“Not really.” Tony circles it, notices details such as its azure color scheme and sharp-edged design features, and tries to deduce its origins and purpose. It does seem familiar somehow. He stumbles upon an embedded glass door and smudges it with S’Prenn blood in an effort to wipe it clean. “Is it Loïdian?”

“You guessed it.” Rinckes uses his sleeve to remove a crusty layer of dust from the access panel clinging to the machine like a tilted shelf. “And what did Loïdians excel at before they were conquered by Altonoids?” He starts tinkering with the darkened console.

“Temporal mechanics. It’s in their weapons, defense systems, propulsion. Wait, is this a…?”

“It has to be.” Rinckes locates the correct button and presses it. The device croaks and groans to life, filling the chamber with blue light coming from its access panels, status indicators, and the hardware shielded by its blurry glass door. “This is an actual, hopefully functional—”

“Time machine?”


The tactical opportunities of this discovery are overwhelming. Curiosity prompts Tony to pry open the wobbly glass door to peek inside. At that precise moment, the device begins producing a violent rattle. “What did I do?”

“Nothing.” Rinckes types into the console. “It’s just in poor condition.”

Still hiding, Starfleet?” the Indefatigable’s captain, Donovan Sharpe, controlled by S’Prenn, broadcasts over the stationwide comm system, giving Tony a proper scare. “We know there are two of you—just two. With how many men and women did you start your mission? Four hundred twenty? Heavy losses for such a dismal endeavor.

“Ignore his nonsense,” Rinckes says, “or embrace it as an incentive to stay focused and hurry.”

“Yes, sir.” Employing brute force, Tony opens the glass door entirely. Inside the time machine, there is room for two persons sandwiched between a briar patch of wires and circuitry. A finished seating area would have been nice. “So we take the cure and escape through this?”

“Let’s be realistic. Being tracked down is a matter of minutes at best, so obtaining the cure is unfeasible at this point.” Rinckes lets out a sigh. “There are two things we have to worry about: getting this contraption to work and devising a plan to use it to our advantage.”

Through sheer determination, Tony tries to quiet the storm raging in his skull and conjure up viable ideas. None are forthcoming so far.

We haven’t confirmed your identities yet,” Sharpe continues, “but rest assured we will not permit you to live after the Achilles’ destruction. The ship and her crew were a package deal. No ship, no need for a crew. Death will suit you fine.

Tony blocks the S’Prenned captain from his mind and thinks aloud, “We travel back to Earth, Starfleet Headquarters, say, a few days before the Station A-12 Debacle and inform them of what’s to come.”

After typing in a new string of commands, Rinckes shakes his head. “Once activated, this machine becomes quantum locked to its surroundings in four dimensions with a gravitational quotient in play.”

“Yeah, I hate it when that happens.”

“So we can only travel back and forth in time to wherever we activate this machine, limiting us to this exact room on this station.”

“Okay, Earth isn’t an option.” Tony paces around, careful not to get snagged on wires. “You remember the date of the Debacle? Of course you do. We both do. Our only chance is to travel back to before the Altonoids occupied the station. We go back to five days prior to the takeover, emerge from this room, and warn the station commander and Starfleet of the impending attack.”

Rinckes stares through the access console. “Return to Station A-12? Before it fell?”

“If we prevent this station from being taken over and turned into this monstrosity, we prevent the Altonoids from gaining access to the S’Prenn portal we traversed.”

“We can go back seven and a half years,” Rinckes says, emphasizing each syllable yet maintaining a level tone of voice.

Tony is glad his suggestion is heard, but the captain’s response does seem a bit off. Regardless, he continues, “We had no idea the portal would form next to Station A-12, so the station was deemed an unfortunate loss at most instead of the strategically vital locus of Altonoid-S’Prenn activity it became during the war.”

We know where you are hiding,” Sharpe interrupts, oblivious to the conversation taking place. “Spying in our research labs? How do you intend to smuggle your ill-gotten gains off-station?

“Shut up, I’m explaining!” Tony says to the ceiling. “Anyway, no station, no excuse for the Altonoids to linger. No access to the portal, no mind control over the S’Prenn. No mind control, no crazy S’Prenn allies. No S’Prenn allies, no distinct advantage over us. In fact, we know the S’Prenn were our allies, and by ensuring Station A-12 remains ours, it will stay that way.”

“And we will save a lot of lives, Tony.” Rinckes meets his gaze, looking… vulnerable. “People we cared about a great deal.”

“Yes, sir.” Tony fondles the wedding ring he never stopped wearing. Emily—an ensign then—was there on Station A-12 and saved Tony’s life in more ways than one. He thinks of his father and his friends from the Kennedy and the Achilles. Will this device allow him to see them again? To reclaim them from Death’s cold embrace?

So you’ve taken an interest in scrapped technology? Study it well before you die.

Tony grumbles. “Speechifying over unclosable comm channels should be illegal.”

“They’ll be here soon,” Rinckes says. “Temporal coordinates set for us to arrive five days early.” His expression goes from vulnerable to pondering as he studies the console. “The machine itself doesn’t travel anywhere, only its occupants. We must guarantee the Altonoids can’t go after us. One of us has to stay behind to destroy it.”

Tony did not anticipate such a contingency.

“I think it should be you,” Rinckes says a little too quickly.

“Oh, wow. I, uh… Hold on.” Unwilling to commit so easily to what amounts to a death sentence, Tony joins Rinckes by the console and examines its intuitive layout. “Unless… we destroy the machine directly after use. Given its rickety state, that shouldn’t be too hard.” He brings up several informative screens and crosschecks the data they display. One by one, they provide him with clues that lead to a hypothesis first and a conclusion next. It requires forty valuable seconds, but the solution is pretty straightforward.

“I see,” Rinckes says. “We expand the temporal relocation area nanoseconds after we’ve dematerialized and send half the time machine along with us. That should certainly do the trick. I’m impressed, Lieutenant.”

“Time travel used to be second nature to me. I’ve retained the tiniest smidgeon of knowledge on the subject.” They proceed to reconfigure the time machine. “Although snapping my fingers and simply willing myself elsewhere was less of a hassle.”

Above the rattling and sizzling of the dilapidated machine, shuffling feet and muttered orders grow audible. Tony makes out a gruff voice saying, “They should be close. Kill them on sight.”

“All set,” Rinckes says. “Into the time machine we go.”

Exposed wires and machinery render it a challenge, but Tony, carrying his rifle, squeezes into the occupant area and finds an acceptably comfortable position sitting on the bare metal floor, holding his head to one side to keep his hair from tangling with heating-up cables. “I must point out we are breaching all sorts of temporal regulations by doing this.”

Rinckes also climbs into this cramped, unwelcoming space and needs but a weary glance to make it abundantly clear the lieutenant had better drop that particular issue. He wedges himself between a circuit board and a cluster of glowing tubes, leaving the glass door ajar to aim his phaser rifle at the entrance to this room. “There are more pressing matters, headache-inducing ones. Explain to me, if we save the Federation, won’t we prevent ourselves from finding and using this time machine? Won’t that create a paradox?”

The lights brighten as the machine prepares to fulfill its final purpose. “Depends on the principles on which this device operates,” Tony replies. “Long story short, in case we’re successful, we either become immune to any changes and become orphans of a lost timeline, or our interference will cause the timeline to branch off into a new one, which will coexist separately with the original as a parallel universe.”

A blank stare from the captain. “So it’ll work?”

“It’ll work.”

Their metal cage shudders and heats up considerably. This time travel apparatus could double as a sauna; Tony is sweating like a marathon runner in winter clothes. In the background, almost drowned out by the din this enigmatic device generates, Sharpe is going on about something—something unpleasant, most likely. To soothe his nerves, Tony translates the muffled threats in his best approximation of Sharpe’s inflexion. “Starfleet, we have set your time machine on full grill.”

Acknowledging the spot-on impression with a faint smile, Rinckes keeps his rifle aimed at the entrance, ready to oppose the numerous Altonoids who will appear soon. “This is a one-way trip, so will there be two versions of us roaming the galaxy once we go back? How are we going to deal with that?”

Tony withdraws his hands from the boiling-hot floor. “Believe it or not, there are methods to reintegrate us with our younger selves. Once we’ve restored Federation rule, I surmise we’ll automatically restore our future agencies protecting the preferred timeline. They have the technology to—”

A phaser blast fired from Rinckes’ weapon kills the first Altonoid to sneak into the room. “Final question!” the captain shouts. A second shot claims the life of another soldier as a group of Altonoids spread out and hide behind the doorway.

“Go ahead,” Tony says.

“This’ll take us to the exact same location, years in the past. Do we know what was in this room back then?”

“We kind of don’t.”

“So we could end up fused into a workstation or container?”


“Just checking.” Rinckes fires his rifle at a smoke grenade the soldiers have tossed at them and causes it to go off in midair. As soon as the grenade spews out its chemical gases, the captain slams the glass door shut to keep out the harmful cloud of smoke billowing toward them.

The machine’s noise has become deafening and the heat unbearable; beads of sweat on Tony’s brow are starting to evaporate. He closes his eyes, clenches every muscle, and tries to ignore the penetrant smell of burnt plastic. The same evaporating effect now tugs at his digits. What if something has gone wrong? What if it doesn’t function as it should and cooks them right here, right now? His nails tingle as they dematerialize in painless fashion, followed by his fingers, his toes, his hair. Even the phaser rifle he’s clutching is feeling progressively insubstantial.

It doesn’t matter if the machine functions or not; there’s no backing out. Altonoid soldiers are waiting outside to slaughter them.

As the time machine slowly dissolves Tony, he submits to the choices he has made and surrenders to what’s beyond. Someone speaks to him. It’s his captain, raising his voice yet sounding atypically gentle. “Whether we succeed or not, we will be with our loved ones.”

Before Tony has the chance to contemplate those words, the machine’s hissing and roaring grows distant and its flashing lights fade into the same emptiness he is being sent to. He possesses nothing recognizable as a human shell, having transcended to a realm of existence unbound by matter or reason. For a moment, he is everywhere at once, then nowhere at all. Bright explosions and unsettling pops of nearby hardware being snapped to pieces surround him as time folds into itself.
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter VIIb

Postby Alexbright99 » Fri Nov 08, 2019 8:36 pm

Station A-12 – June 26, 2380 – Stardate 57485.7
At first, there is darkness, as black as the starless views in his nightmares. Captain Stephan Rinckes, seated in the void, attempts to shift his position and realizes he has no body to shift. That is, until his corporeal form gradually unfolds itself along with time and space and materializes inside a hissing, flaming heap of debris. He reaches for the glass door, which is hanging askew, and kicks it off its hinges.

The Altonoids have gone. The only living soul in this room apart from himself is Tony, who is wincing in pain. Part of the machine has collapsed on him and melted cables have draped a smoldering wreath around his shoulders and neck. “Hang on, Tony. I’ll get you out.”

“Did it work? Have we travelled back in time?”

Rinckes briefly looks about. The setting is different enough for him to consider the time jump a success, but something is amiss. Having no idea what that might be, he instead refocuses on freeing Tony from his precarious half-buried state and drags him out from under the debris and into the room, which appears to be the same one they departed from, but its lights are out so it’s hard to tell. Developing flames lick at the wrecked time machine, which has been partially warped, partially shredded, and partially left behind.

“Ow,” Tony says, trying to uncoil the wiring etched into his skin and jacket. Rinckes can’t decide if it resembles a garland to honor the lieutenant’s bravery or a noose that nearly did him in. Regardless, seeing the lieutenant struggling like this invokes pity. Tony is basically still a kid at twenty-five years old, so the captain assists him out of an instinctive sort of mercy.

Hot to the touch, the wires resist detachment, but Rinckes removes them as quickly as he can to minimize the discomfort, pulls them over Tony’s head, and tosses them aside. Black and red burn marks betray where the plastic had adhered itself, but it could’ve been much worse. “You’ll be fine.”

When Rinckes stands up, Tony points a finger and gasps, “Oh no!”

Only now does Rinckes notice a sharp pain in his left leg. A two-inch piece of metal has grafted itself onto it.

“No,” Tony groans.

Rinckes inspects it and determines the metal’s intrusion is merely skin-deep. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.” He yanks it out in one swift motion. “See?”

“This can’t be happening.”

At last, Rinckes suspects Tony isn’t referring to this superficial wound. “What? What do you—?” From underneath the doors leading to the corridor, blinking red light shines in onto the carpet. The station is at red alert! As the devastating implications those lights might have on their mission dawn on him, it’s as if a fist has gripped his heart. “Maybe it’s a security drill.” No conviction in his voice whatsoever. He rushes toward the nearest workstation, which wasn’t here before they travelled back, and activates it.

“Are we too late?” Tony asks. “I knew we were in trouble when the dematerialization process went disturbingly slowly.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions.” Inputting his authorization codes has the desired effect—thereby proving the station belongs to the Federation at present, whenever that is—and grants him access to onboard and external sensors. It takes but a few seconds to confirm his fears beyond the shadow of a doubt. Sensors do not lie; the station is absolutely teeming with Altonoids. “Tony, check if our rifles still work.”


“Just do it.”

“Aye, sir.”

According to the sensors, countless Altonoid life signs are concentrated primarily around the station’s upper and middle decks. However, he’s also reading at least a hundred other life signs, most of which human. This workstation provides a rather simplified status overview, but external sensors suggest there are currently six starships in proximity to the station: two Altonoid, four Starfleet.

“Rifles check out fine. Don’t tell me—?”
“Hang on.” By locking on to the starships’ transponders, Rinckes gets a proper indication of their positions and identities. They’re engaged in combat, judging from their wild maneuvering. “A battle’s going on outside. Two Massal-class Altonoid vessels. Our ships: Akira-class, USS Wolf. Sovereign-class, USS Kennedy.”

Tony opens and closes his mouth a couple of times in a row until he is capable of saying, “My friends.”

“Saucer and lower section of a Prometheus-class vessel, USS Sundance.” Rinckes chuckles incredulously. “They read as two ships.” His previous command, the Sundance, had the ability to split into three independent sections, a feature called Multi-Vector Assault Mode. Regrettably, her middle section had been destroyed early on during the losing fight for the station. Her saucer and lower section will soon meet a similar end. “The Satellite is already gone; sensors detect scattering jetsam matching a Defiant-class’ configuration. Tony, we’re in the midst of the Station A-12 Debacle.” Rinckes glowers at the pile of rubble that brought them here. “No thanks to this infernal piece of junk. I’m dead certain I entered the correct date.”

“Could this be my fault?” Tony buries his face in his hands. “Perhaps sending part of the time machine with us to outwit the Altonoids—”

“Doubtful. Once set up, it created a stable timestream outside our physical universe for our journey. Your trick couldn’t have altered our time jump. No…” He kicks a loose metal cover and sends it flying. “Maybe they scrapped this thing for a reason.”

“Okay… I hope you’re right.” Tony smoothens his ruffled hair, grabs his knees, and slowly rises up. “We need a new plan, though. Not everything is lost; the Wolf, Kennedy, and Sundance are strong assets.”

“Agreed.” It’s vitally important they shelve their disappointment, regain their bearings, and discover a way to come out on top despite this crushing setback. Asking Tony to recount what happened today might be redundant because they both possess clear memories of the day that changed everything for the worse. Nevertheless, he asks, “What do we know about today and how can we spin this foreknowledge to our advantage?”

Tony summarizes, “A diplomatic conference between the Federation and the Altonoids was revealed to be a trap laid by the latter and sprung by the former. The station’s crew and residents were hunted down and killed; the captains and first officers of the Kennedy and Wolf were being held hostage in the conference room. Having won the first ensuing space battle, our ships sent troops to the station—me included—to try to find the shield generator preventing the hostages from being beamed out.

“Two heavily upgraded Massal-class warships showed up and beamed in reinforcements who gradually overpowered our troops. The upgraded warships destroyed our vessels—starting with the Satellite—in a drawn-out, brutal attack. Meanwhile, you and I were stuck on the station, fighting for our lives.”

“A no-win scenario we wound up escaping via the shuttle bay.” Rinckes finds it bizarre to have these historic events taking place as they speak. It seems impossible, surreal.

“With the Satellite gone and the station overrun, we have an inkling of the battle’s present stage, but can we narrow it down further?”

“Apart from checking the time, I’m not sure.” The workstation is Rinckes’ single window into the mess they’re in, so he returns to squeezing it for every bit of data it contains.


“What is it, Tony?”

“I’m so sorry we couldn’t save everyone.”

Rinckes sighs. “We do what we can.”

“We’ve done nothing else the past years.”

“True.” After careful consideration, he opts to eavesdrop on the comm chatter and conduct a search through the audio channels for mentions of Commander Tony Q. “Who were… Who are your squad members?”

Tony recites these names instantly. “Doctor Rose Van Oers, Lieutenant Steven Appels, Lieutenant Clayton, Ensign Lucas.” He hesitates. “Ensign Emily Murphy. I can’t believe she’s running around on this station, alive and breathing.”

So is Melanie. “Inputting their names. Anyone else?”

“Lieutenant Norbert Hoper, the Wolf’s security chief. He sacrificed himself for our team.”

“Hmm… I think I found something worth a listen. Putting it on speaker.”

—Hoper to squad 4-C. Report in.

Hasder checking in. We’re—Oh damn! More of them!” Phaser fire and screaming erupts.

This is Lt. Hoper to squad 4-D. Report in? This is Lt. Hoper to squad 4-Delta. Please respond! This is Lt. Hoper to sq—

Perhaps it would be better if you’d stop asking your squads for a report,” a young Commander Tony Q says. “It doesn’t seem to be very helpful or morale boosting.

Tony gasps. “Is that me? I sound so… so much like a whiny teenager. Good grief, how did you guys put up with me?”

“Transmission stops here. Does it ring any bells?”

“It does. A group of Altonoids ambushed our squad a minute after this exchange.” He places a hand on the phaser scar above his right hip, the cause of a limp that never quite abated. “They proved quite conclusively my immortality had been rescinded and I was as fragile as anyone else.”

The captain dips his chin. “I hear you. Combined with the bio-signs and the outside battle status, this gives us an improved timeframe to work with.” Now what? He had expected this mission to be a breeze, to consist at most of a few awkward conversations with a skeptical station commander. Instead, he has to make rushed decisions while playing for the highest stakes imaginable: the future of the Federation, many of her planets, and the billions of souls residing on them. “I’m responsible for the Sundance as well,” he thinks aloud, “and my crew.”

“Sorry, sir?”

“We need to get moving.” He retrieves his rifle and heads for the exit. “How about we stick to the original plan till we come up with a better one?”

Tony loosens his marred shoulders to prep himself for action. “Disable the shield generator, free the hostages.”

Before Rinckes triggers the double sliding doors, he thinks of the floor plans he studied and all the knowledge of the Station A-12 Debacle he has accumulated over the years. “As opposed to our brave colleagues, we do have a pretty solid idea of where the shield array may be located.”

“Let’s do this,” Tony says, a subtle tremble in his voice.

The doors open for the captain and his chief tactical officer, who step out into the corridor. Flickering red alert panels snake the walls and shower the area in an intermittent red hue. Rinckes switches his rifle’s flashlight on and off—mainly to assure himself it’s casting a bright beam of light instead of the feeble glow it emits in his nightmares.

Striding away from the chamber that served as a gateway to 2380, he does his utmost to focus on why he’s here: to use this opportunity to set things straight for the Federation and right the wrongs he committed by neglecting the Sundance and everyone on this station. Tracking down Melanie in a futile attempt to protect her made him desert his duties. This time, he will do what’s right. He is a Starfleet captain, an experienced officer who has devoted his adult life to serving the Federation and upholding its ideals, so he should act like one.

Yet every step, every footfall reminds him of the only goal that mattered to him back then: Melanie must be saved. She is alive but destined to die. Yes, completing this mission should outweigh the one life she brings to the equation. And if anything, his pragmatism defines him and his ability to lead. This same pragmatism informs him there’s a chance her life may even be spared by his actions to preserve the Federation.

Despite his best intentions and his strongest justifications, one question refuses to leave him be: What would remain of him if he lost her again?
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter VIIc

Postby Alexbright99 » Fri Nov 15, 2019 8:31 pm

Lieutenant Tony Blue tries to keep up with Captain Rinckes as they jog through Station A-12’s corridors into what the captain trusts to be the right direction. Marks left by the melted wiring sting like hell and treat him with the scent of singed flesh wherever he goes. Feeling as if he has survived three consecutive hovercar crashes, he concentrates on being prepared for the first Altonoid to make his inevitable appearance.

“Follow me to the nearest turbolift,” Rinckes says. “The shield generator is twenty decks up.”

“Presumably,” Tony adds in reflex. Pessimism on demand, his special forte.

Having rounded a corner, they encounter a Starfleet ensign slumped against a bulkhead. He has been killed on the spot, rifle in hand, phaser burns on his arms and torso. The captain rushes past the corpse, but Tony can’t help but linger on this sad sight. Firstly, this guy is the youngest person he has seen in a while. Their prolonged mission behind enemy lines saw an increase in the mean age of the Achilles’ crew. Secondly, their time machine problems cemented this young man’s demise. How many officers and civilians lie scattered aboard the station, how many are currently suffering and dying, all because he and his captain returned from a bleak future to let them down once more?

In this race against the clock, Rinckes appears to be unaware of his chief tactical officer’s lagging pace, so Tony mentally blocks out the dead as best he can and hurries up. Once he is within earshot, the captain says to him, “In essence, our objective has stayed the same. A few lightyears away, in the Nedron system—”

“The backup fleet,” Tony blurts out. “Of course! Led by the Achilles. Oh, what I’d give to lay eyes upon her again.” It’s downright insane how their vessel is both vaporized and doing fine from their perspective—another lost love they could be reunited with if they play their cards right.

“Currently, they’re being trounced by an overwhelming Altonoid fleet, but the S’Prenn will interfere and rescue eleven of our ships, including the Achilles.”

“I liked those creepy-crawlies better when they were on our side.”

“As did I.” Rinckes once again switches his rifle’s flashlight on and off, for reasons that elude Tony. “If we hold the station, the backup fleet will arrive in a few hours to investigate and they’d be obliged to fulfil their mission and defend us.”

Schooled as Tony may be in time travel and assorted fourth-dimensional shenanigans, the repercussions of each and every action affecting this timeline are kneading his brain into mush. “Because our younger versions fled to the backup fleet and told them the station had been lost, the fleet had no reason to go here.”

“Should we prevent our younger selves from leaving?”

Tony rubs the grimy stubble that should pass for a circle beard. “Wouldn’t matter. If the station is overrun by Altonoids, the backup fleet will investigate but retreat nonetheless. It simply isn’t deemed important enough to warrant retaking.”

“Nobody cared about this place until the portal formed next to it.” Rinckes scoffs. “The Altonoids rapidly established a presence aboard this station out of convenience, and it won them the war…”

A sense of hopelessness washes over Tony. “By the time we’ve convinced the higher-ups in Starfleet to reconquer Station A-12, the Altonoids will have already fortified it.” He flinches as Rinckes suddenly fires ahead, launching a series of phaser bursts that speed through the corridor and hit their mark at the far end: an Altonoid soldier Tony had failed to spot.

The captain grits his teeth, resulting in an unsettling half-smirk. “Warning the S’Prenn isn’t an option either because we have no idea how to contact them unless they’re physically present in our universe.” He shoots the second Altonoid to emerge in the distance. “Which rarely happens.”

Tony refrains from commenting on Rinckes’ spiking bloodlust. “The S’Prenn contacted the backup fleet during the Battle of Nedron. If we’d fly a shuttle there and somehow…” He trails off, realizing how difficult it would be to execute this plan.

“What? Somehow survive battling seventy-eight Altonoid warships and not get caught in the subspace well the S’Prenn summoned? Okay… Let’s assume we manage to pull that off against all odds. Even when they were our allies, the S’Prenn talked and we listened. They see themselves as superior to us ragtag bunch of primates. Good luck persuading them to do as we tell them, because they never bothered to listen much when they came to our aid in the skirmishes to follow.”

Tony nearly trips over an Altonoid Rinckes shot and says, “History dictates they’ll help us thrice in the upcoming months before going silent. None of those occasions they replied to our hails. They simply showed up and secured victory for us.”

“Warning them may go ignored or be too late. Then again, maybe not, but… can we risk it?”

“We should warn them as soon as we can, but we cannot bank on it saving the Federation.”

“Exactly. So—”

The turbolift they’ve closed in on opens its doors and four Altonoid soldiers pile out.

Without hesitation, Rinckes opens fire at the surprised soldiers. Tony has to be fast to get a shot in. He shoots one Altonoid, while Rinckes takes care of the rest. So far, the Altonoids they’ve encountered—albeit in small numbers—didn’t stand a prayer against the two officers. It’s not so much the soldiers’ fault; Rinckes has changed upon entering the first corridor. Tony has spent many an evening honing his shooting skills in the holodeck, yet he cannot hope to match the amped-up captain’s speed and accuracy. It’s impressive and unnerving in equal measure. “So,” Tony says as they step into the lift, “we stick to the main plan.”

“Deck 58, science labs,” Rinckes says to the turbolift interface. “And finish the job we started seven and half years ago.”

* * *

Turbolift doors swooshing aside reveal five Altonoids who have shot a lone Starfleet security officer in the back and have the audacity to guffaw at their senseless act of violence. It will be their last laugh, because Captain Stephan Rinckes makes quick work of them, assisted by Tony. The captain and the lieutenant caught them unawares, a tactical advantage that won’t apply to the next Altonoids to cross their path.

Closer to the heart of the station, the corridors become identical copies of those in Rinckes’ dreams. Or is it the other way around? He shakes off his disorientation and leads Tony deeper into the hallway. Every ten feet, at least one slain person lies abandoned. Officer or civilian, regardless of age, the Altonoids shoot them like animals and leave them to rot. It’s the fate that awaits Melanie, but he’s coming for her. He won’t let—

No, no. He’s headed for the shield generator to liberate the hostages. Maybe remembering the names of the four flag officers held captive in the conference room will keep him centered. There’s Admiral Coen Van Aken, commander of the USS Wolf, and his first officer Dennis Levine. Returning them to their vessel might tip the scales of this battle.

An Altonoid steps into the corridor and swivels toward them to take aim. With lightning-fast reflexes, Rinckes shoots him.

The other two hostages are Mathieu Duvivier and Grad Jansen, captain and first officer of the USS Kennedy. Rinckes and Duvivier will never be friends. Duvivier’s mother died at Wolf 359 because Rinckes was forced to seal an escape pod hatch in front of her during the Saratoga’s destruction. Courtesy of Tony Q, Captain Duvivier got to witness that harrowing incident. He has resented Rinckes ever since. Freeing him might restore their professional relation to an extent, but the distance between begrudging respect and forgiveness is to be measured in parsecs.

His rifle stock slams into an Altonoid’s face with such force it breaks the soldier’s neck.

“Close one,” Tony says, pushing himself off the floor to stand by Rinckes’ side. What happened? Has the captain missed an entire sequence of events? Was he so lost in thought his subconscious took over? He blinks and tries to regain clarity of mind.

“Captain, are you all right?”

Two Altonoids are marching toward them, rifles raised. Somehow, these hostiles perish in bursts of lethal phaser energy. He cannot recall pulling the trigger, but a plume of smoke rises from his rifle barrel. He switches on and off his rifle’s flashlight, earning him a questioning look from Tony. “Press on,” Rinckes says, hiding his confusion.

Instead of solely getting the flag officers back to their ships, shouldn’t he consider returning to the Sundance as well? Be the captain they thought he was, the man he should have been? Their deaths have weighed on his conscience for so long, and they still do, but… He believed he had dealt with this as best he could. And now, these ghosts from the past are orbiting the station, clamoring for his attention.

A phaser beam soars by, barely missing his head, followed soon after by a gurgling shriek near the beam’s source. One more enemy taken down, apparently by the captain himself.

“There’s so many of them!” Tony shouts, almost out of breath.

Are there? Efficiently, he fires at everything that moves while keeping on the lookout for friendlies, who are either dead or dying, like the Altonoids who’ve had the misfortune of being caught in his crosshairs.


“There’s a maintenance hatch two intersections from here. We’ll continue our journey to the shield generator through the Jefferies tubes.”

“Good idea, sir.”

Getting out of these corridors also means a healthy change of scenery, so he finds the hatch in nothing flat and opens it for Tony. As the lieutenant enters the network of maintenance tubes first, Rinckes fires at any Altonoid who dares to enter his peripheral vision. Only then does he notice his enemies have drawn blood; a gash reddens his right lower arm. How and when that happened is a mystery to him. All he knows is he has killed the guilty party.

He gives the corpses in the hallway a final glance. They have started to resemble Melanie, but that’s okay. He will save her. She won’t have to die this time. He’ll see to it.

“You coming or what?” Tony asks from inside the crawlspace.

This snaps him out of his hallucination, though his grasp on reality remains tenuous. He dives into the Jefferies tube and overtakes the lieutenant.

“I just realized something,” Tony says, trailing his captain. “But I don’t know what to think of it.”

Rinckes welcomes anything capable of stopping his thoughts from wandering to places unknown and undesirable. “Let’s hear it.”

“The backup fleet will arrive at a fixed time, because they have to wait for the subspace well to dissipate before they can venture out. What if…” His tone becomes apologetic, as if he’s afraid to say it. “What if we ask them to destroy the station?”

“Excuse me?”

“No, listen. Would the Altonoids have claimed this region if Station A-12 had been destroyed? They would’ve had no reason to. I’m talking worst-case scenario, if we can’t hold the station.”

Rinckes ought to kick him in the head for suggesting this. “Asking the fleet to destroy Starfleet property? Regardless of our persuasive skills, they would have to request approval from Starfleet Command for such a draconian strategy and await a decision, which might take days and brings us back to our earlier conclusion: waiting will result in the Altonoids setting up shop. Yes, destroying the station could work, but accomplishing such a breach of protocol is just another long shot. We need to hold the station, no matter what, which is what we are doing right now.”

“When you put it like that, I agree, sir.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I value your input,” Rinckes hears himself say, for his own sake rather than Tony’s. “Let’s make sure we won’t have to rely on such desperate measures.”

“Aye, sir.”

As the conversation ends, so does the one effective diversion from his troubled state of mind. A new diversion presents itself right away, an unwelcome one: behind them, the distinct clunk of a hatch being opened reverberates through the narrow maintenance tube, which prompts the two officers to army-crawl toward their destination even faster.

“In here,” a distant Altonoid barks. “Check for life signs.” Multiple thuds and scrapes betray a group of enemy soldiers are entering the Jefferies tube. Rinckes and Tony will have to lose them at the next junction, or else they’ll run the risk of a problematic phaser battle in these cramped quarters.

One thing is certain: nowhere is safe on this cursed station, this lynchpin in time connecting events historical and tragedies personal.
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