Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter X

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Alexbright99
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter X

Post by Alexbright99 »

Hello, good people! Fallen Heroes is back with a blisteringly new chapter segment every Friday for the month of September!

Let's kick off with the first segment, shall we? But first, a little recap of the previous chapters:
Having travelled back from a bleak future to the history-defining battle for Station A-12, Captain Rinckes and Tony Blue had a violent clash over how to win this no-win scenario, resulting in Tony being mortally wounded. As he lay dying, he had one final trick up his sleeve: He beamed his eighteen-year-old self to the USS Kennedy, hoping the young Commander Tony Q can make a difference.

Intrigued by Tony’s mettle, his former mentor Q merged the young and old Tony’s minds into one, keeping his knowledge of future events intact, and giving Tony one last fighting chance to fulfill his mission and save those he cares about.
Meanwhile, Rinckes fought his way in a daze toward the observation lounge that has been haunting his nightmares for years on end. Having sacrificed everything from his loyalties to Starfleet to his sanity, he is left with only one goal: to rescue the love of his life from certain death.
Part III Chapter X, segment A:

Captain Stephan Rinckes’ heartbeat is throbbing in his temples. According to the schematics he studied, Station A-12 boasts at least fourteen observation lounges identical to the one he’s in, but this particular one has featured in many of his nightmares. Besieged by Altonoid soldiers trying to circle him, his back pressed against a buckling metal table, he looks to his right, to Commander Melanie Simons, the woman who is supposed to die here surrounded by glass shards and gilded starship models from the shattered display on the opposite bulkhead. She’s fending off the enemy with her phaser rifle, like she did before. He never got to witness her final stand, however, having arrived too late to save her.

Now he’s here, ready to exchange his life for hers.

“To your left,” Melanie shouts, firing over the vertical tabletop.

Rinckes chides himself for zoning out under such dangerous circumstances, raises his handphaser at the Altonoid sidling into his peripheral vision, and pushes the fire button. It’s the first time he has used it since ditching his damaged rifle, yet it’s already stained with blood trickling down his right cuff.

He misses, and the Altonoid scrambles off to await the next opportunity. Erupting phaser fire from Melanie’s position draws Rinckes’ attention; a soldier has sneaked into her line of sight and started shooting at her. She deals with him via a succession of well-aimed phaser bursts and flashes her captain a charming half-smile. Gawking at her isn’t going to help, so he tears himself away from her mesmerizing presence and refocuses on spotting the Altonoid he failed to hit, just as the soldier in question moves into view and opens fire.

Rinckes ducks in reflex. The phaser beam sizzles past and etches black smudges into the nearest window, blotching a segment of starfield, threatening to erase his link to reality. In response, he brings up his handphaser and fires at the beam’s origin. The Altonoid dodges the hasty shot and charges at the captain, prompting him to get to his sore feet and fire another shot, which grazes the Altonoid’s arm. The instant the soldier enters striking distance, Rinckes leans out of the way, shoves aside the man’s rifle barrel, and follows up with a quick punch to the throat. The grunting Altonoid struggles to retain balance, allowing Rinckes to smack the rifle upward and out of the soldier’s grasp.

“No!” the Altonoid yells, milliseconds before being shot with his own rifle.

“Watch out, Captain!” Melanie shouts, firing at a new group of soldiers pouring in from the side entrance.

Wielding a rifle and handphaser proves difficult when still reeling from the last close-quarters combat demonstration, and the bulkiest Altonoid of the bunch ploughs into Rinckes at full speed. His weapons clatter to the floor as the crown of his head bangs into a blend of carpet and glass shards. The Altonoid pins him down, holding up a knife, preparing to strike. An orange phaser burst from Melanie’s direction blasts the heavy soldier off him, revealing two Altonoids approaching fast. Acting on instinct, Rinckes seizes the knife from the Altonoid’s limp hand and throws it straight into the left soldier’s chest.

“You’ll pay for that,” his friend growls, leveling his rifle at the captain.

Its chrome gleaming in the shards’ reflections, Rinckes’ handphaser lies within reach, and he rolls his sore body toward it, evading incoming fire in the process. Just as his fingertips touch the phaser’s grip, a black boot appears from seemingly out of nowhere in this chaotic brawl and stomps on his wrist, accompanied by the crack of breaking bones. Shouting in pain, he slaps his handphaser over to his left hand, grabs it, and fires upward. The boot pivots away from his wrist as the attached soldier keels over, no longer blocking the view of Melanie being wrestled to the ground by two Altonoids.

Rinckes shoots one of them. What happens next eludes him, because he has problems of his own in the form of the vengeful Altonoid leaping at him, rifle stock swinging. He can’t rotate his handphaser quickly enough, and a dull thud above his right ear distorts his vision and crashes his world to the floor.

“A swift death will be too good for you,” he hears faintly, glass and carpet scraping his cheek as he fights to stay conscious, lying facedown. A broken phaser rifle lands close by—evidence of how hard he has been struck. He hears a knife unsheathing and realizes he has lost his handphaser. Ahead, Melanie is attempting to pick up her phaser rifle after defeating the soldier she was grappling with, but she has to dive away to avoid enemy fire and hides behind a slab of metal belonging to an unidentifiable piece of furniture.

A serrated blade pierces Rinckes below his phaser-burnt shoulder and pushes its way in. Writhing in agony and scratching his fingernails across the floor, he curls up threads of carpet until his left hand comes across a sharp object: a large triangular shard of glass. As he closes his fist around its razor-sharp edges, he meets Melanie’s gaze for a brief yet eternal moment.

And he sees the fear in her eyes.

Rage supplants his discomfort. If the universe is hellbent on taking her from him, he refuses to submit. He takes as deep a breath as the blade allows and strains each muscle in his injured body. Using every ounce of strength and then some, he rotates his torso and swings the shard at his assailant, striking fabric. Knife sticking out of his back, he gets up on his knees to face the soldier, who’s staring at him dumbfounded, holding the gash in his uniform, checking for wounds to his stomach.

Rinckes slices at the Altonoid’s thigh.

The soldier’s agonized howl attracts his colleagues’ attention. They cease firing at Melanie and try to look past the screaming soldier, at Rinckes standing up as if rising from the grave. The captain wraps his right arm, broken wrist and all, around the Altonoid and presses the shard against his throat, using him as a humanoid shield to prevent the agitated soldiers across the room from firing. His captive is gnashing his teeth in frustration.

Though walking has become arduous in his worrisome state, Rinckes and his hostage shuffle toward the other soldiers—three of them, all aiming their rifles. He hasn’t a clue what his next move will be once they resolve this brief stalemate.

“Drop the shard!” one of the soldiers commands. They’ll risk opening fire soon. Already, their befuddlement is yielding to resolve. “You won’t get far. Just calm—” A phaser burst slams into his ribs and smacks him backward into the rubble. Startled, Rinckes glimpses to the left and sees Melanie standing there with her reclaimed phaser rifle, its muzzle smoking. As the two remaining armed Altonoids return fire, she dives for cover behind the buckling table.

In the chaos, Rinckes’ hostage elbows him in the gut. Despite this nauseating surprise, he manages to stay upright, but the shard slips from his maimed hand. Survival instinct in high gear, he shifts his weight and pushes the soldier forward, coercing him to run along lest he topple over, turning him into a battering ram against one of the Altonoids firing at Melanie.

The ensuing collision sends the three of them tumbling in a flurry of limbs and bad language. The captain rolls to a halt against a flipped chair and cries out in pain; his right wrist is bent at an unnatural angle and the knife in his back has had a field day with the skin and muscles near its blade. He’d be about to faint if it weren’t for the sight of a chunk of metal breaking off the table Melanie is hiding behind.

Giving up is unthinkable, so he forces his aching shell to stand up like the two Altonoids he bowled over and readies himself for round two of this unfair tussle. He tucks his chin, bends his knees slightly, and puts up his fists—one bloody, one askew and barely responsive. The Altonoid firing at Melanie is almost within grasp as well and swivels his torso to train his rifle on the wobbly captain. Facing down three opponents—two of which armed, one of which bearing one hell of a grudge—Rinckes hesitates, unsure who to defend against first.

“Over here!” Melanie taunts from her hiding place, and she simplifies her captain’s choice by shooting the guy who was swiveling toward him, just as the former hostage steps aside to let the third soldier open fire. Although Rinckes may be looking worse for wear, his reflexes remain serviceable, and he hits the deck to evade the phaser beam, going prone instead of rolling out of the way. A wise decision, considering the knife in his back.

As Melanie draws fire from the armed Altonoid, and the former hostage stomps closer, Rinckes sweeps his left arm across the rubble-strewn floor and encounters a cold metal frame. Clueless as to what it is, he grabs it and summons his declining strength to get up once more and lash out at his attacker. The object is much heavier than expected. Like a hammer thrower, he instills momentum into what turns out to be a sturdy chair and drives it into the Altonoid’s jaw with full force, knocking the soldier over.

The rifle-carrying Altonoid catches on to the captain’s resurgence and takes aim. Rinckes advances, lifting the chair like a shield, which disintegrates into smoldering cloth and metal upon first impact. No matter, he has closed the distance. Having held on to a ragged chair leg, he smacks it against the soldier’s fingers, pushes the rifle barrel away, and follows up with a proper headbutt. As the Altonoid loses his balance, Rinckes yanks the rifle from his opponent’s grip and twirls it in his non-dominant hand like a gunslinger until its business end points forward. His first shot misses the Altonoid, who’s stumbling backward, nose bleeding. The next strikes him dead center.

From the right, the soldier who took a chair to the face lunges at him. Shaking from exertion, the captain rests the rifle barrel on his bent wrist to steady his aim and fires.

The Altonoid sags to the floor, smoke drifting up from his midriff phaser wound.

Rinckes stands there for a confused moment, observing his surroundings, dizzy and uncertain what is keeping him on his feet. It is awfully quiet in the lounge. Holding on to his Altonoid phaser rifle, he staggers toward the metal table. “Melanie?” His parched throat almost renders him mute. “Melanie? Are you okay?” These attempts at speaking result in a coughing fit that feels like being stabbed repeatedly.

“Sir,” he hears. Done coughing, he watches the center of his universe rising from cover. Apart from tousled blonde hair and several cuts and bruises, Melanie is all right. No phaser burns, no gaping hole in her chest, her blue eyes filled with life. Exhausted, he smiles at her. Darkness is calling, luring him in with the promise of blissful unconsciousness.

“Sir! Are you… Oh God!” She dashes over to him. Before she can reach him, he collapses into a heap. It’s a peaceful affair; he deserves some respite from the struggle, can hardly believe what has happened the past few minutes, hours even—it’s all a blur, and that blur is expanding.

Being sat up postpones his slumber. Melanie is with him, holding him, saying words he cannot understand. It’s okay, listening to her voice keeps him from blacking out. She sounds worried, so he tries to maintain his smile for her. Tears wet his cheek; he doesn’t know if they’re his or hers.

She inspects his injuries, finds the knife and leaves it be. Smart girl. Removing it would surely kill him. Time is running out nonetheless. Each fiber of his being compels him to tell her what he never could, but what difference would it make? She has to live. Everything else is trivial. “Go,” he whispers. “To the shuttle bay. Go.”

“…don’t think you can be moved.”

A soft chuckle. “Not me. You. Get out. Is an order.”

She lowers him to the floor carefully to ensure the knife isn’t pushed in deeper.

“Good. Go.”

He hears fabric ripping.

“I said leave.”
Melanie swaddles her torn-off sleeve around the cut by his broken wrist and knots it. She then sits him up straighter and applies pressure to the knife wound with both hands to minimize bleeding. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“More soldiers could be on the way.”

“Then I suggest we watch both exits.”

“Don’t you worry about me.” He sneaks a peek at her gorgeous face. She’s so warm and near. He could spend eternity like this, but her survival takes precedence over sentimentality. “You have to get out. Please.”

“Bad idea. Abandoning my captain would harm my career prospects.” There’s that half-smile again.

“Please. Go to the shuttle bay. Forget about me. Forget about the war. You get to live, Melanie. You get to live.”

She purses her lips in concern. “What happened to you? I mean, it’s obvious the Altonoids did quite a number on you, but you seem… different.” She blows a wisp of hair from the captain’s forehead. “I never noticed you were graying, or those lines in your face. And what’s this talk about the war? Sure, it’s probable, but let the diplomats—”

“I love you.”

“—sort it out first and… Sorry, what?”

“I love you, Melanie.”

“Oh. Um….”

He can practically feel her blushing, but with the floodgates finally open, he won’t hold back now. “All these years, I’ve been reliving how I found you in this room. I could never save you. Not here, not in my dreams. Every time I closed my eyes, every night I slept, I saw you dying and… I failed you.”

“What? I’m not… Y-you’re the one who’s—”

“I failed you, every time. Those Altonoid bastards got to you. Always did. I held you as I saw the life drain from your eyes, and… even then I couldn’t say how I felt.”

“Maybe you’re going into shock.” She applies a tiny bit more pressure to his wound. “You’re speaking gibberish, aren’t you? Because I don’t understand what you’re…” She scrutinizes his wrinkles and graying hair again. “You’re not the man I spoke with hours ago.”

“Seven-and-a-half years.” He lets go of the rifle and gestures feebly at himself. “From my point of view.”

Her mouth falls open. “Seven-and-a…?”

Rinckes caresses her chin, smearing it with blood. She’s too nonplussed to mind. “Couldn’t tell you how I felt when I had the chance, and now I just blurted it out like a nervous teenager.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Her voice has gone shaky. “I mean, I never really… I mean…”

“Saying this at last, I’d hoped it would lift a burden off my shoulders.” He looks past Melanie, at the starship battle framed by the comforting stars in the windows, and back to her eyes, which are glossy with emotion. “My affection for you is utterly inconsequential in the grand scheme, pales in comparison to seeing you alive.”

“I was supposed to die here?”

“You were. So I came back.”

She’s silent for a good five seconds before muttering, “You traveled back in time? For me? I… I didn’t know you’d miss me so much. I had no idea.”

“To be honest, I never quite figured out what you thought of me and I don’t need to know. Whatever your feelings are toward me, I’m okay with it. I love you, Melanie. More than anything. I just… want you to make it through today. I cannot lose you again, so I’m begging you to leave. Go to the shuttle bay and flee to Starbase 9. This station will soon be under enemy control.”

She turns to the raging space battle. “What of the Sundance?” Outside, the Kennedy and Wolf circle the Altonoid prototype, which keeps firing its four convergent phaser beams at the beleaguered vessels. Melanie lowers her gaze. “Where is our ship?”

“Already lost. I’m sorry. There was nothing I could’ve done.”

Her mouth forms a thin line. “Was there?”

Rinckes wants to justify his actions, explain how it all went down, how he tried in vain to prioritize his loyalties to the Sundance and the Federation. His excuses come out as incoherent nonsense.

“Did you even try?”

He bites his lower lip to stop his bruised jaw from quivering. “There was nothing I could’ve done.”

“Captain, what did you do?”

“Please leave.”

“No, I’m not leaving you.” She withdraws from his hand caressing her chin. “Answer my question. Did you even try?”

“I tried. I tried every day, for years. But I lose ships. It’s what I do. The Solar Field, the Sundance, the Achilles.”

“Wait. Harriman’s ship?”

“My next command. They gave her to me, but I lost her too, all hands. I did everything, did everything right, even when we were trapped behind enemy lines. We survived, alone, for so long, but fate caught up with me. It always does. I’m cursed, Melanie. That’s why you must leave.”

She lets out a deep sigh bordering on exasperation. “You’re not cursed.” She rests her head on his non-injured shoulder in lieu of embracing him. “You’ve been through hell. I’d be lying if I said I understood half of it, but we’ll discuss the situation later. In the here and now, regardless of the Sundance’s fate, you’re my captain and I’m not leaving your side.”

Her nearness and compassion despite her astute observations dismantle the barriers he set up eons ago and permit him to let his tears flow uninhibited. “Thank you.”

“Well, I couldn’t leave if I wanted to. I have to apply pressure until the blood in your knife wound has clotted, so that buys you another ten minutes.”

Enfolded in her presence, he smiles at her, grateful to have beaten the odds. Blood has been spilled of enemy and friend alike, and his obsession with righting this one sin of his past has numbed his conscience, though his dubious actions and trodden-on principles continue to gnaw at him from afar. His body and soul have gone through a meat grinder, but it’s okay. He is where he yearned to be: right beside Melanie Simons.

He grabs the stolen Altonoid rifle and points it at the main entrance, then presses his cheek against Melanie’s and stares out the window, at the doomed Wolf and Kennedy, and at the stars confirming he is wide awake. His nightmare is over.
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Alexbright99
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter X Segment B

Post by Alexbright99 »

Commander Tony Q types instructions into the tactical station he and Ensign Parkin share, leaving a trail of sweat wherever his fingers go. Is it him or is it getting progressively colder on the Kennedy’s bridge? Life support seems to be functioning adequately, so that can’t be it.

Parkin, supporting a fair share of his weight, leans in on him. “How are you feeling, Commander? It could be a trick of the light, but you’re growing paler by degrees.”

Tony rubs at the clammy phaser wound above his right hip, intending to ease the pain yet achieving the opposite. “Not too well, Ensign. It’s not important. Just concentrate on targeting the highlighted sections along the Massal’s phaser wires.” Given the state of the bridge and by extension the Sovereign-class vessel he’s on, complaining can wait. The command center has become a clutter of debris, harboring damage from cracked floor tiers to metal trusses dangling from the ceiling. The ops station has blown up, the science and first officer stations have been crushed and buried, and the red alert panels are alternating between blinking and flickering.

“Decks 7 through 18 have been evacuated,” Lieutenant Commander André Soeteman reports from his engineering station. “Other decks may have to be evacuated too; we’re losing power fast. Tony, Parkin, I’m forwarding a selection of weakening phaser wiring to your console.”

On screen, the Massal-class warship looks menacing despite Tony’s readouts confirming its structural integrity has dropped below 50%, courtesy of the Kennedy and Wolf’s frantic counterattacks. The Sundance’s final act of destruction permanently damaged its upper-left corner, deservedly so. Four emerald phaser beams originating from the intricate phaser system swathed around its hull persistently torment both starships, which have managed to unravel bits and pieces of the system by singling out its thick wires’ flanks and undersides as per Soeteman’s recommendations.

“Could we speed up the process somehow?” Captain Mathieu Duvivier asks, seated in the middle of his barely recognizable bridge.

“Difficult,” Soeteman says. “Whenever one section is taken out, it automatically reroutes power to circumvent the damaged area.”

At the helm, the blonde Trill Lieutenant Malin works her piloting magic for the creaking and groaning Kennedy to dodge incoming phaser beams. “Difficult does not equal impossible, Commander,” she says in between well-planned maneuvers.

Tony chooses not to be too distracted by the mixture of worrying reports and subdued banter. It’s challenging enough to put up a decent fight with the Kennedy’s forward and ventral saucer phasers pretty much fried. He prepares to line up the aft torpedo launchers and verifies their operating temperatures are safe this time to decrease the odds of Chief Engineer Soeteman punching him in the nose. Meanwhile, Parkin spreads the remaining morsel of shield strength across the ship’s surfaces facing the Massal.

“Our phasers need extra cooling time,” Soeteman says. “Can you two adjust your tactics?”

Parkin exchanges a knowing glance with Tony and says, “We’d rather not, sir.”

Duvivier appears to be on the same page as his tactical staff and explains, “We mustn’t give the Massal the chance to recharge for an all-out phaser strike. Of course, you’re welcome to share your phaser cooling advice with tactical. Do keep in mind our attack has to be continuous or the enemy will get the drop on us.”

“I’ll do that.” There’s an irritated edge to Soeteman’s voice. Tony sympathizes with him. Holding the ship together in an engagement this brutal would ruin every chief engineer’s mood.

The Wolf’s chief engineer must be ill-tempered too. On the viewscreen, which is gradually succumbing to white noise, the Akira-class vessel soars past, showing huge gaps in her weapon pod, which surprisingly enough still functions. It spews a volley of photon torpedoes from its forward launchers.

“They’ve restocked their pod’s forward launchers somehow,” Malin says.

Parkin sucks in a quick breath. “Can you imagine navigating a hole-filled weapon pod mid-battle with antigrav units containing delicate torpedoes?”

“Now that’s commitment,” Malin says, making a face.

The bravery on display amazes Tony and assuages the fear he’s experiencing. Sure, he’s been nothing but afraid ever since the Altonoids pillaged Earth—both two years in the future and five years in the past from his unique perspective. Standing here wounded on the shuddering disaster of a bridge of a starship history mandates will perish today, partaking in a hopeless battle with billions of lives at stake…

Yeah, his fears need all the assuaging they can get.

He shivers despite sweating so much he has to wipe off his half of the console with his sleeve every so often.

Parkin casts him a concerned look. “You’re doing an excellent job, Commander,” he assures him. “In all modesty, I consider myself pretty capable, but it’s nice to have someone as reputable as you by my side.”

“Stop smarming and ready aft weapons,” Tony replies with a dash of humor.

Parkin laughs quietly. “Right away, sir.”

The ship judders as it unleashes a full salvo of torpedoes. The Massal disarms three of them with its automatic defense system—fewer than normal. This intrigues Tony. Could it be their intricate phaser system is losing steam? Regardless, he’d rather have them firing at inbound torpedoes than at their vessels. The remaining torpedoes do hit their mark and light up the prototype’s shields. Parkin aims additional phaser fire at the wires’ vulnerabilities. Combined with the Wolf’s support, they decimate a set of anchor points on the Massal’s port flank. A section of phaser wires eighty meters across springs loose, resembling a burning limb swatting at nothing until it tears free and dims like the piece of jetsam it is.

“Great work,” Duvivier says. “On to the next section.”

“Agreed,” Soeteman says. “I’m suggesting Grid C-18 on the Massal’s bow.”

With the Kennedy’s aft phasers and launchers cooling down, Malin lines up starboard phasers, which Parkin fires eagerly. Searing phaser beams cut through the Massal’s shields and leave a trail of fire and destruction across the chosen segment of experimental wires, demolishing several anchor points in consecutive order.

Tony savors this fleeting thrill of success, admitting to himself that although they may have been on the backfoot this entire battle, they are making progress. “Any weaknesses on the Massal’s stern, Commander?” he asks the chief engineer.

“Searching for them now. Yes, if you—”

Through dense layers of flame and smoke, four phaser beams converge to strike the Kennedy dead on, dousing her bridge in a green hue as it erupts in chaos, slamming Tony into his tactical console.

“We’re drifting!” Malin yells.

“Divert power to thrusters!” Duvivier replies.

Tony attempts to regain his bearings while ignoring the lingering sensation of having bumped his nose against a solid object. Parkin gently nudges him in the ribs and points at the Kennedy’s position indicator. She is listing to port, exposing the lower decks of her saucer and engineering section to the merciless Altonoids.

“Ventral phasers, now,” Tony says. “Malin, maximum clockwise rotation.”

He seeks eye contact with Duvivier, who puts two and two together and announces over the comm, “All hands, brace for impact.”

Tony hooks an arm around tactical, leans into Parkin, and forbids himself from envisioning the catastrophic damage this ship will suffer.

As the Kennedy returns fire in a desperate effort to protect those aboard, the Massal retaliates in full. An ear-splitting rumble permeates the bridge as forces beyond description violently raise its deck. The tactical console flickers and goes dark, but not before Tony catches a glimpse of its readouts signaling the four beams have discovered a weak spot in the saucer section’s battered underside. Unable to hear anything over the cacophony of rupturing onboard systems, unable to see due to bridge lighting, interfaces, and even the viewscreen going offline, he tightens his hold on the tactical station, closes his eyes, and surrenders to the insane g-forces pushing over three million metric tons of starship upward.

Something massive in the forward decks bursts and overturns the bridge. Helpless against this sudden shift in velocity, he loses his grip. Surrounded by darkness and screams, he gets flung into the ceiling, smashes into a bundle of hard and soft conduits, and plunges onto a wall of rubble.
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Alexbright99
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter X Segment C

Post by Alexbright99 »

The space battle keeps Captain Stephan Rinckes and Commander Melanie Simons spellbound in the observation lounge. As if ripped open by a chainsaw, the Kennedy loses a five-deck-thick slice of saucer, providing a real-life cross section of the mighty ship, exposing countless rooms to open space, and jettisoning people, cargo, and turbolifts into the vacuum while severed deck segments bleed ignited plasma.

“Good grief!” Rinckes exclaims despite his injuries, gawking at thousands of cubic meters of starship breaking off and shredding itself further apart with each revolution. The Massal’s four phaser beams proceed to target the rest of the Sovereign-class vessel—mainly the center of her stardrive section—transforming unshielded hull to bright explosions and molten alloy.

Another ball of flames rises, from the Massal, as the Wolf bombs the Altonoid prototype with a barrage of torpedoes from her perforated weapon pod and pummels its vast exterior. In response, the Massal redirects its firing power to the brave Akira-class vessel.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be watching this,” Melanie decides. “It’s not like we can help.” Her regretful tone betrays she’s thinking of the lost Sundance as well. “We’d better stay alert.” The knife wound in Rinckes’ back must’ve clotted by now. Still she refuses to leave and keeps applying pressure, though apparently she feels confident enough about his condition to gesture once in a while.

Relishing in her closeness, the captain knows better than to argue with her and refocuses on the main and side entrances, stolen Altonoid phaser rifle at the ready. Intruders have been few and far between for the past ten minutes, but one moment of inattention, one slow reaction to a new threat and their luck will run out.

For lack of a medkit, Melanie has patched him up with whatever’s at hand. She checks the improvised bandage wrapped around the cut near his broken wrist. “Seems okay for now.”

Rinckes stares at her red sleeve, visible because her uniform jacket sleeve is currently doubling as bandage. When she died in his arms, her jacket sleeves were intact. He glances around and counts more dead Altonoids than he remembers finding here. Doesn’t this confirm he has altered the timeline? It should. The truth is, he’s not sure about anything anymore, and her reluctance to get to safety compounds his uncertainty.

“There’s only so much I can do,” she says, having completed her inspection. “I could fashion a splint for your wrist now I’ve got my hands free.”

Rinckes scrounges together the strength to reason with her once more. “Are you just staying here till the cows come home? That battle, we’re not going to win it.”

“This again?”

“I’m no longer in danger of bleeding to death, but I’m not exactly mobile—”

The main entrance slides open and Rinckes promptly aims his rifle at the figure stumbling in through the doors. He can hardly believe who it is, even though it makes perfect sense. It’s him, or rather, the 2380 version of him. Forty-six years old, carrying a Starfleet phaser rifle, uniform battle-worn, knuckles swollen, cuts and bruises marking a familiar face. His narrow eyes, partly covered by dark-blond strands of hair, convey a sense of acute despair the older captain has long since moved past—or so he convinces himself.

“Precisely on schedule, Captain,” he says to his younger self, who stands there slack-jawed, frozen in place, rifle clanging to the floor.

“I suppose this corroborates your story,” Melanie deadpans.

Young Rinckes looks from his older self to Melanie and back again, emitting a series of gasps and other unsuccessful attempts at communication before settling on gazing at the woman he loves. “Melanie, you made it!” he says, followed by a huge sigh and an incredulous chuckle.

Old Rinckes’ throat thickens with emotion. To see himself reassured Melanie is okay is akin to looking in a mirror at a person he was never allowed to be. “We saved her,” he manages to say. “She’s all right. She will be, if you take her with you.”

His younger self glances at him and his expression changes from relieved to confused. Although Melanie is handling the fact that she has two captains in varying emotional states exceptionally well, she can’t help but join this contest of befuddled stares.

“It’s okay. Everything’s all right,” Old Rinckes says. “Escort her to the shuttle bay, get her to Starbase 9.”

Blinking rapidly, Young Rinckes picks up his rifle and hesitantly approaches the two.

“We’ve been through this,” Melanie says. “I’m not going to leave you.”

A cautious grin forms on Young Rinckes’ lips.

“Yeah, she’s nice like that,” Old Rinckes says.

Melanie ignores their adulation and stays practical. “See if you can lift him.”

His younger self hunkers down to do so but can’t resist studying his older self’s features. “You’re… You really are me.”

“Yes, and I’m telling you I’m in no shape to be carried around.” He looks his younger self directly in the eye, uncanny as it may be. “I hereby order you to take her to the main shuttle bay… and facilitate her escape. We may have the same rank, but I have seniority, so what I say goes.” Strenuous as it is to move, he turns to Melanie. “I’ll be fine. I don’t belong here anyway. He does, and you two need to get the hell out of Dodge.”

“Are you absolutely sure about this?” she asks.

Old Rinckes works up a smile. “Melanie, your captain needs you. Go with him.” He gives his younger self an encouraging nod. “Take good care of her. No matter how crazy things will become—and believe me, crazy doesn’t begin to describe it—keep her safe.”

“I will,” his younger self says. This promise, Old Rinckes knows, he’ll be able to keep.

“Please hurry.”

“I don’t like this,” Melanie says.

“Neither do I. But it’s the way it should be.”

“Fine… Who am I to disagree with two captains?” She gives him a parting hug, alleviating pain mental and physical, then gently lays him on his side to face the star-filled windows. Her sad, blue eyes pierce his soul. “Goodbye, Stephan.”

“Goodbye, Melanie.”

Gaze downcast, she moves out his field of vision, accompanied by the one person who will guarantee her survival: his young version, who will reach the shuttle bay like before. This time she’ll be there with him, and he’ll be spared the agony of losing her, spared years of grief and guilt eroding the center of his being until nothing salvageable remains. Whether she reciprocates his feelings or not, he’ll protect her, stand by her, and he’ll be at peace.

The doors open and close. Rinckes is alone, surrounded by the fallen. He watches the maimed Kennedy and Wolf struggling to parry the Massal’s ceaseless attacks. He remembers how this will play out. Shortly after he fled in a shuttle, all those years ago, the battle ended with a rudderless Wolf crashing into Station A-12. His failure to influence this conflict’s outcome means the Wolf is destined to repeat this, and he is lying in her crash path.

And that’s okay.

He has fulfilled his purpose.
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