Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XI

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Alexbright99
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Master chief petty officer
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Joined: Sun Feb 18, 2018 12:47 pm
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XI

Post by Alexbright99 »

Hi there, good people!

The new chapter is ready! As always, I will upload it in four conveniently sized segments. This way, you will get to read a new, properly polished chapter segment each week for the rest of this month.

Here's a quick recap of the story so far:
Having travelled back from a bleak future to the history-defining battle for Station A-12, Rinckes and Tony went their separate ways after violently clashing over how to handle their desperate mission.

Driven mad by his return to the place where he'd lost the woman he loved, Rinckes fought his way toward the observation lounge where he rescued Melanie from certain death and sent her away with his younger self after suffering grave injuries. Stranded in the lounge, he awaits the space battle's conclusion, knowing the USS Wolf is destined to crash into the station.

Tony meanwhile, was merged with his younger self by Q, keeping his knowledge of future events intact, and giving him a final shot at fulfilling his high-stakes mission. He opted to beam over to the Kennedy's bridge and influence the space battle from there, and they have made progress damaging the last remaining enemy vessel, but in the final stages of the battle the Kennedy is barely spaceworthy anymore. Her weapons have been destroyed, and the wounded Tony is quickly running out of options.
Enjoy!

Part III Chapter XI, segment A:

Little is left of the Sovereign-class vessel Commander Tony Q is piloting. It has been quite a while since he has flown an actual starship, although a solid argument could be made the Kennedy hardly qualifies as one anymore. There are decades-old junkyard derelicts more intact than this rickety mishmash of hull and equipment. Robbed of her stardrive section and weaponry, she has been reduced to a wreck with impulse engines.

The captain had instructed him to replace the chief helmsman, the blonde Trill Lieutenant Malin, who sustained a dreadful head injury at this post. Now, she is lying behind him, unconscious and being cared for by the Denobulan medic Lieutenant Voss. Tony has not escaped injury either on this violent day; especially the phaser wound above his right hip is depleting his strength and stirring up a mighty fever. At least being seated at the helm is easier on him than clutching on to tactical.

The flickering LCARS panels on his helm station occasionally fail to respond to his input, which is problematic because the Kennedy wants to do everything except move in a straight line. Only so much can be done grappling with her obstinate controls.

“We’re coming up on the Massal,” Lieutenant Commander André Soeteman says, having annexed a wall panel to the left of the bridge. Bellowing orders to the two other engineers present, who are tasked with repairing the shambles of a command center they’re in, Chief Engineer Soeteman faces the insurmountable challenge of holding this death trap together. “Captain, emergency power reserves are as good as gone.”

“Do what you can to keep the engines going,” Captain Mathieu Duvivier says, standing by Tony’s side for moral support.

On the viewscreen, which flashes and distorts even worse than the helm interface, the Altonoid prototype’s phaser wires pummel the USS Wolf, which is in better shape than the Kennedy, though that’s not saying much; her weapon pod and starboard warp nacelle are missing, and the rest looks remarkably fragile for a starship class renowned for its robustness and tactical prowess.

Voss announces, “I’ve managed to stabilize Malin by inducing an artificial coma. She is safe for transport, and I’m confident she’s going to make it.”

Duvivier lets out a big sigh. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

“You are very welcome, Captain.”

On screen, the Massal pauses at the sight of the lurching Kennedy’s return. In the confusion, the Wolf circles back, a maneuver causing her empty nacelle pylon to bend. Sick of being chased, the Akira-class starship confronts the Altonoids head-on and gives them a run for their money belying her weak appearance, firing all available phaser arrays simultaneously at the thorn in Starfleet’s side, striking the Massal’s chipped bow with full force. As a result, a great portion of phaser wiring on its bow snaps loose, whipping at open space.

“Yes!” Tony raises a fist in a feebler gesture than intended, prompting a surprised frown from Duvivier. “Since I’m filling in for Malin,” he explains to his captain, “I assume cheering and whooping is my department now as well.”

“As you were, Commander,” Duvivier says, patting him on the back.

Provoked by the Wolf’s successful attack, the Massal lets its phaser system blink on and off, as if to signal its rage, and light begins racing through its wires. Tony’s blood runs cold as he realizes it’s preparing for a massive phaser strike, the likes of which none of these souls have forgotten.

The Wolf, commanded by Admiral Van Aken, refuses to be intimidated and carries on her bombardment, pestering the prototype’s top and flanks with continuous phaser fire, compensating for her missing pod and nacelle with pure, unbridled mettle.

Increasing in speed, luminous bubbles rush through the remaining wires like sickly green blood cells through veins to unite in a focal point emerging on the Massal’s dorsal section, ready to direct its fury at the Wolf.

“You see it?” Duvivier asks.

“I do.” Without hesitation, Tony lays in an intercept course to shield the Wolf against the impending blast. The Altonoids will carve straight through the Kennedy’s saucer, but a decent portion of the impact will be absorbed, granting the admiral and his brave crew a fighting chance to survive.

The captain glimpses at the helm console. “I was about to give the order myself.” It isn’t until this sentence is spoken that Tony realizes the finality of the maneuver he’s initiating.

“Diverting power to the structural integrity field,” Soeteman says. “Every bit helps. Gentlemen, it’s been an honor serving with you.”

“Likewise,” Duvivier says, sharing in the chief engineer’s determination.

As the Kennedy nears the Massal and its glowing focal point, and the emergency lighting begins to waver, Tony’s sore muscles tighten. If only he and his shipmates had more options; he has no idea whether their noble sacrifice will make a difference. Wouldn’t it be reasonable, prudent even, to withdraw and figure out another way to save the future?

No, this is where he should be: on the Kennedy’s bridge, in defiance of all odds, convention, and expectations. He’s not in the mood to abandon his friends, his brothers and sisters in arms, so he strains the quaking impulse engines to push the Kennedy’s hulk toward the Massal.

The helm’s comm panel displays a succinct text message from the Wolf, signed by the admiral. Tony loves it. Brimming with pride and gratitude, he reads aloud, “Priority one message from Van Aken: ‘Maintain distance. We got this!’”

Duvivier stifles a careful smile. “What can I say? The guy’s a tough customer. Okay, admiral’s orders: Reverse thrust. Give them some room.”

Groaning and creaking, the Kennedy decelerates. The Wolf barrels into view, losing hull plating left and right while her phaser arrays feast on the anchor points keeping the Massal’s wires in place.

“That glimmering focal point wasn’t visible in earlier attacks,” Soeteman says. “From what I can glean from our fried sensors, their phaser system is on the brink of collapse. This could be a final trick up their sleeve.”

Tony has forced the saucer into a lethargic reversal to put a safe distance between them and the two ferocious combatants. Already, the Wolf’s phaser beams are cutting into the prototype’s hull, mutilating every corridor and onboard system in their path, setting off explosions from deep within, yet the wires persist in blinking faster and the focal point is emitting brighter and brighter green light.

Firing all she’s got, the Wolf swirls around the Massal in uneven bursts, her engines operating well beyond safety limits. She then turns about to let loose with her dorsal saucer arrays, denying the prototype the chance to breathe. Despite the hammering it’s undergoing, the Massal refuses to yield. The Wolf does not relent. She rotates to line up her dual port torpedo launchers with the ravine she’s created along the Massal’s spine and fires two volleys of torpedoes into it.

It pays off.

Unable to retain its incredible tensile strength, the prototype’s entire phaser system uncoils like a released spring. Energy amassed in its focal point zaps free and rips entire chunks of hull to shreds. In five separate waves of explosions—each grander than the one prior—and the consequent violent convulsions of shifting decks and gushes of jetsam, the Massal tears itself apart from the inside out and breaks into countless fragments. Miles of blazing phaser wires lash out at the two starships that orchestrated its destruction. In a futile reflex, Tony ducks as one of these fiery lassos comes straight for the Kennedy and misses her by a hair.

The Wolf, however, is less fortunate. An errant wire thrashes her across the saucer, carving out a crevasse of exposed machinery into her belly and slicing her deflector dish in half, killing its blue glow. Knocked sideways, the gutted vessel maintains sufficient momentum to drift helplessly toward Station A-12.

As she did before.

Soeteman brings a shaky hand to his forehead. “The Massal is gone. We made it!”

“But the Wolf!” Tony says, overcome by memories of the Wolf colliding with the station. While he and Emily fled the Debacle by shuttlecraft, the victorious Massal prototype had rushed to aid the Altonoid troops and thereby made the first steps toward repurposing the station. The warship has blown up in front of him, so he has changed the timeline, hasn’t he?

“Do we have enough reserves left to engage tractor beam?” Duvivier asks.

“Tractor beam offline,” Soeteman says.

Tony glances at his helm console and learns the tractor beam emitter isn’t just broken or out of power, it is in fact missing.

The rudderless Wolf’s collision will not completely destroy the space station, allowing it to be repaired, which is exactly what the Altonoids did. What if the Federation backup fleet arrives and sees no value in defending a severely damaged structure? Can he risk having the scales tipped toward evacuating the whole lot to Starbase 9 and abandoning the station, only for it to be rebuilt by their arch-enemy? Everything, including the hard-fought defeat of both prototypes, would be in vain.

Without giving it any further thought, he engages the impulse engines to catch up with the drifting Wolf. The ship rumbles a sonorous protest and accelerates.

“Wait! What are you doing?” Duvivier says.

Tony opens a transporter control panel and exhales in relief when it indicates transporters and site-to-site transport are still available. “Saving billions.” Keeping an eye on their fellow starship growing in the viewscreen, he selects the coordinates Jansen and his additional troops were beamed to earlier: a cleared area of Station A-12, situated well below the projected impact if all should fail. They should be safest there.

Duvivier notices what he’s up to. “Belay that! Soeteman, find a way to force the Wolf off her path.”

“How, sir?” Tony asks, locking all transporters at his command onto every living soul he can locate aboard the Kennedy. “This is our only option.”

Duvivier grabs him by the shoulders and swivels him in his chair. “Look at me. This is not your decision to make. I understand your vision of the future has left you desperate—”

Tony evades his captain’s probing gaze. “Sorry, Captain.” He wrestles an arm loose and thumps his fist on the “activate transport” button.

“What the—?” Duvivier’s eyes shoot daggers as he disappears in a blue mist of dissipating particles along with Soeteman, Voss, Malin, and the two engineers.

Assured that at least they and the other crewmembers he could lock onto are out of immediate danger, Tony reroutes his console to access basic engineering controls and shuts off every function and subsystem except for the engines, life support, and the few working bridge systems. On screen, the Wolf grows in size and detail, revealing how each square inch of her surface has suffered and offering a closeup of the burning chasm sliced into her saucer.

Using the Kennedy’s sputtering remains as a battering ram will result in casualties on both vessels—fewer than if the Wolf were to smash into the station, but it’s not an act he takes lightly. Though having to resort to putting his fellow Starfleet officers in danger sickens him, he has resigned to his lack of alternatives. Now he’s closer, he aims for the Wolf’s bow to maximize his chances of altering her course and minimize potential loss of life.

This is where his Starfleet career began: a brief stint as helmsman on this starship at this same console. His tribulations and adventures will soon be over. Lit by the Wolf’s hull filling the viewscreen, he accepts how his journey has come to an end. His entire body begs him to double over and give up, and his phaser wound has sapped his last shreds of energy, yet he is at peace, knowing the prototypes have been beaten. He can and will prevent the Wolf from ramming the station. The backup fleet will arrive at a space station worth protecting. The same peace he’s experiencing inside will spread throughout the Alpha and Beta Quadrant. No one will be driven from their homes. Earth will endure. The Federation and her numerous worlds will endure.

So with the Wolf’s lacerated bow larger than ever on the viewscreen and only the console’s collision alerts to keep him company, Tony exerts his waning strength to brace himself, lift his head, and watch the impending crash from the one place he was always destined to be: the Kennedy’s bridge.

“Forgive me, Emily, for the choices I’ve made.”

The instant the Kennedy slams bow-first into the Wolf, the viewscreen depicts both hulls intertwining and collapsing in equal measure, and a thunderous boom resounds throughout the vessel, shaking the floor, the bulkheads, his bones. He catches a final glimpse of crumpling duranium and tritanium shoving the Wolf off her course as storms of thick sparks and fire erupt all around him. He faintly registers smashing through his helm console. Then, everything goes dark.

* * *

Facing the observation lounge’s windows, Captain Stephan Rinckes lies on carpet and rubble, surrounded by slain Altonoids. Sharp pain from the knife in his back deters his plentiful injuries from luring him into unconsciousness. He’s chuckling to himself, having watched the battle for Station A-12 unfold. Patiently, he had waited for the fight’s inevitable conclusion, which was written in stone, as he had witnessed it before and neglected to change it.

How could he forget? A victorious Massal-class prototype, the USS Kennedy torn in two, and the stray USS Wolf colliding with the station as the battle’s violent denouement, which should have taken out this lounge and snuffed out his redundant existence.

Instead—and for the life of him, he hasn’t a clue how or why—the prototype had blown up in front of his very eyes! The Kennedy’s saucer had maneuvered toward the incomplete Wolf, and straight-up rammed her, evaporating his fixed prophecies.

His chuckling upgrades itself to laughter. He can’t help it. The Kennedy’s decimated saucer slowly pushing the Wolf off her crash path, the two vessels destined to miss the station, flouting the chronicles of his past… It’s absurd. Try as he might, his foggy mind can only come up with a single possible explanation, even if it mocks the relics of his common sense.

“You did it, Tony,” he says, his voice guttural. “You did it, you crazy, insane, stubborn…” His laughter dies out as his thoughts go from the guilt-wracked memory of mortally wounding the young lieutenant to the timeline-shattering spectacle before him, and the implications of the second destroyed Altonoid prototype and the averted Wolf’s collision. Judging from the muffled weapons fire and explosions happening on the decks above and below him, Starfleet and Altonoid soldiers are still contesting over this station, but winning the space battle is a giant amendment to the flow of history, a mountain cast into a river.

From below, a shuttlecraft flies into view—a tiny speck among the debris. It’s a Type 11 shuttle, originating from the station’s main shuttle bay. This is how he fled the scene, alone, torn apart by blind rage and excruciating grief. Not this time. Melanie got to live, a fact he is yet to comprehend or appreciate in its entirety, and she is safe in his younger self’s care. He gazes at the shuttle and its two fate-defying occupants as it levels off, lights up its small warp engines, and disappears in a white flash upon hitting warp speed. He wishes them well.

Having lost most forward momentum in their final clash, the Kennedy and Wolf float past—two behemoths spewing their innards in spirals of flotsam while gently rotating out of harm’s way. Despite their catastrophic damage, they are majestic in their sacrifice, their fate as linked together as their contorted hulls.

Someplace invisible between the wrecks and the extensive starfield, the seeds for the S’Prenn portal have been sown and its formation set in motion. For all their intellect and the best of intentions, the S’Prenn couldn’t predict the dire consequences this act of diplomacy caused. It goes to show: There is no accounting for bad luck, even on a galactic scale.

Or good luck. Rinckes was prepared to die. With the collision avoided, he’s starting to realize the prospect of being crushed by a wayward starship was never appealing to begin with. His injuries may be grave, but he thinks he’s stable. Exhausted, yes. Dying, not so much. Perhaps if he’d crawl over to the nearest dead Altonoid and borrow a communicator, adjust it to a Starfleet frequency—

The hair on the nape of his neck rises. He’s not alone. Despite not having heard anyone come in, he senses he’s being watched. Is it Ted and Emily, gray-faced in their EV suits, coming to get him like in his nightmare? Don’t be ridiculous, he berates himself, reaching for the phaser rifle on the floor next to him.

A polished boot steps onto the rifle, prompting him to look up at two looming figures blocking his view of the battle’s aftermath. They’re men, humans in uniforms he doesn’t recognize.

One of them crouches beside Rinckes. “Pretty beaten up, but it’s him.”

The other gives the captain a penetrating stare. “You’re coming with us.”

“W-who are you?”
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Alexbright99
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Joined: Sun Feb 18, 2018 12:47 pm
Commendations: The Daystrom Award

Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XIb

Post by Alexbright99 »

A swell of panic jolts Commander Tony Q from a restless sleep, and he finds himself in a pitch-black darkness occasionally interrupted by the glimmering of smoldering fires. He’s unable to move yet definitely able to experience a dull ache stretching from his thighs to his collarbones. His legs have gone numb and a metal scent pervades the stuffy air. Could be blood. Trapped between the broken pilot’s chair and the forward bulkhead, he is partially buried in the helm console’s and viewscreen projector’s remnants and assorted unidentifiable debris. His forearms, wrists, and fingers are responding, so there’s that, but he’s stuck like an oversized insect caught in a Venus fly trap.

During his gradual return to the waking world, he hears Admiral Coen Van Aken speaking incessantly in a serious tone. “—Altonoid troops are disorganized but outnumber us.” In the corner of his hazy vision, a screen is glowing on the engineering wall panel Chief Engineer Soeteman reactivated during the closing stages of the battle. The Starfleet emergency channel notification frames this small screen, the one beacon of hope in a hellscape of broken conduits, cracked trusses, and malfunctioning devices. On it, a vague outline of Van Aken is addressing the camera. “—Aken to all vessels within range of Station A-12, calling from the USS Wolf. We are under attack. The Altonoids have invaded our station. We have won the space battle—”

It does Tony so much good to hear the admiral say this.

“—our vessel and the Kennedy are adrift and in horrible condition, necessitating evacuation and rescue teams. The Satellite and Sundance have been lost. Fighting continues aboard the station. The Altonoid troops are disorganized but outnumber us. We need reinforcements. Please hurry. This is Admiral Van Aken to all vessels—”

Staying conscious demands a gargantuan effort, and the ringing in Tony’s ears drowns out the repeating distress call. His head too heavy to keep up, he peers at the screen and notices a tall woman with long brown hair standing next to the admiral. She must be Captain Reynolds. He also spots a dark-haired man at tactical and a blonde helm officer. He finds solace in this proof that his ramming the Wolf didn’t kill everyone aboard, and the pent-up tension in his injured body subsides as his drowsiness pulls him back under.

When consciousness comes peeking in again, he can merely guess at how much time has elapsed with him clinging to life, lodged in the rubble; seems like seconds and weeks at once. He pivots his aching skull toward the engineering screen, which is emitting a series of beeps to indicate the admiral’s message is being answered. This beeping must’ve woken him.

The slender outline of Keith Harriman appears on it. “This is Captain Harriman of the Federation starship Achilles, responding to your distress call.” The familiar backdrop elicits a mixture of nostalgia and trepidation as Tony remembers his life aboard the vessel he considered home for five unforgettable years. ”We will be there in fifteen minutes. A surprise Altonoid fleet ambushed us and inflicted heavy losses, but the Achilles and ten other vessels have survived and will render assistance shortly. Upon arriving, we will be sending in troops and rescue teams.”

“The backup fleet,” Tony says, his voice raspy and frail. “They made it. They’re here.”

“Hang in there, friends. We’ll be with you soon.” Harriman brandishes his reassuring smile, or at least Tony thinks so. It could be his imagination filling in the blanks; the screen is meters away and ten inches across at most. Nevertheless, seeing the ever-supportive Harriman alive warms his heart. He treasures the moment, uncertain how long he has left before his mangled shell gives out altogether.

The pain is becoming increasingly distant, his sight blurred and narrow, and his thoughts dreamlike and ungraspable. He recalls what dying felt like; this is eerily similar. So he fights against his desire to rest, against the bitter cold clawing at him, against the whispers from his past and future soothing him to a permanent sleep.

He imagines the Achilles and her fleet rushing to the scene, being reunited with her crew and captain, contemplates how to deal with the new surge of grief losing Emily will cause—compounded by the responsibility he bears for her death when solving an impossible dilemma. Perhaps he has done enough. He has done more than could’ve ever been asked of him, this ordinary teenager who got to hold the universe in the palm of his hand. Perhaps he should surrender to—

No. Dad is waiting for him on Earth.

He’d love to see his father again, his kind smile and the accompanying laugh lines, relish in his words of wisdom and abundant willingness to share that special type of affection exclusive to a parent. If he can make it home, Dad will be there tending to his garden by his archaic cottage, and he’d be thrilled to see his son and listen to his tales of excitement and heartbreak. Tony decides to keep fighting for however long it takes, no matter how deep within his psyche he has retreated to hide from his body shutting down.

Presumably a quarter of an hour later, he awakens from his self-induced trance to the typical sound of active transporters and their blue hue lighting the Kennedy’s bridge. Footsteps and whirring tricorders approach, and he flails his forearms slowly at the newcomers. “Help. Over here,” he whimpers, his plea barely audible to himself.

“One life sign, very faint. This way,” he hears. “And get those fires out.”

Just like that, none other than Doctor Chris Kingsley steps into view, looking younger than ever in his early forties and snapping his fingers at him. “You still with us…?”—he glances at Tony’s rank insignia—“Commander, no less? Impact must’ve knocked a few years off you. Doesn’t matter, you’re in the best possible hands: mine. Just promise to stay with me.”

Tony gawks at the doctor. Boyish countenance? Check. Curly, red hair? Check. Questionable bedside manner? Double check. It’s really him! “C-c-chris.”

Kingsley rummages through his medkit. “I don’t believe we’ve met, C-c-commander.”

“Chris.”

“That is in fact my name.” He grabs his medical tricorder and inspects Tony’s wounds.

“Chris!”

Unimpressed, Kingsley continues his examination.

“My God!”

“An undeserved step up, but I’ll take it.” The doctor gestures at his medkit and says to a female security ensign, “Prepare 20 ccs of inaprovaline. I want him stabilized for transport and in sickbay asap.”

The prospect of returning to that particular medical facility vexes Tony until he realizes Kingsley’s sickbay of horrors belongs to a different time.

The doctor accepts the hypospray he is offered. “We might have to beam him up along with the debris he’s hoarding. This guy is properly stuck.”

Tony reaches for Kingsley, tries to touch his face.

Annoyed, the doctor evades this unwelcome attempt at connection and presses the frigid hypospray against his patient’s neck. “You’re either the greatest people person in the Milky Way or we can chalk up your touchy-feely nature and compulsion to repeat first names to blood loss.”

The inaprovaline takes quick effect, strengthening Tony somewhat, yet it’s insufficient to turn the tide of his slipping faculties. “Listen to me, Doctor. Station A-12 must not fall to the Altonoids. They will win the war if they stake their claim here. Evacuate and destroy the station if necessary. The Federation’s survival depends on it. It’s what we fought for… all those years.”

Kingsley remains silent for a couple of seconds, then says to the ensign, “Pass that on to the others. You know, on the off-chance Mr. Sandwich here knows what he’s talking about.”

“The Altonoids will win the upcoming war if they… if they…”

“Don’t exert yourself. Yes, you’re in bad shape. You’ll be fine, though. I’ve pulled uglier chestnuts out of the fire.” Right on cue, the ensign hands him a vascular regenerator to reduce the bleeding. “We’ll take you to the Achilles: one hell of a ship, with one hell of a sickbay and one hell of a chief medical officer.” He grins broadly.

“No, I must—”

“Whatever you set out to do, you’ve accomplished it, okay?”

“Maybe… maybe I did. The Achilles… Yeah, I’d love to go to the Achilles.”

“Great! Man, I wish all my patients were as cordial as you.” Kingsley elbows his assistant. “Medical note: If for some highly unlikely reason the commander doesn’t make it, have him stuffed and put on display in my office.”

This causes Tony to laugh as hard as his injuries permit.

* * *

Captain Stephan Rinckes is a new man; any signs of the severe injuries he sustained during the past twenty-four hours—most notably his broken wrist and the knife wound in his back—have been eradicated by skilled physicians, and this is the healthiest he’s felt in eons. Thanks to the state-of-the-art replicators on the 29th-century vessel he is on, his freshly replicated uniform fits more comfortably than ever as he stands on an overwhelmingly futuristic bridge, marveling at her sleek consoles, chairs, and four-dimensional displays showing multiple timestreams.

A stocky man in his late forties approaches him. “Welcome aboard the Federation timeship Relativity. I’m Captain Braxton.” Clearly a no-nonsense type of guy, his speech is curt and direct, and he motions at the lanky man beside him, who Rinckes recognizes as one of the men who found him in the observation lounge. “This is Lieutenant Ducane.”

Ducane shakes his hand. “How are you feeling, Captain Rinckes?”

“Much better. Let’s not beat around the bush. Why have you brought me here?”

“A pragmatist,” Braxton says. “I respect that. I suspect you might have an inkling as to why, or were you planning to spend the rest of your days starting afresh from the year 2380 with two versions of you roaming the galaxy? Especially now that the timeline your and Tony Blue’s actions have created means none of you have to travel back to the year 2387. Perhaps you’ve always wanted a twin brother and this is a dream come true. The Temporal Integrity Commission won’t stand for it. Frankly, neither will I.”

Rinckes hesitates. “Did we succeed?”

“Did you succeed in breaking the Temporal Prime Directive? Did you succeed in breaking all the principles I and the Federation hold dear? Yes, Captain, I believe you succeeded.”

“However,” Ducane interjects, “these actions have prevented a devastating Altonoid-S’Prenn alliance from developing. Such an alliance would’ve in turn prevented our formation, so your temporal incursion deserves the benefit of the doubt.”

Braxton huffs at his lieutenant. “We are not in the habit of extending leniency, but here we are.”

“So what happens next?” Rinckes asks, ready to knock them to the futuristic carpet if the answer isn’t to his liking.

“Temporal reintegration,” Ducane says. “Please follow me.”

“I’m not moving a muscle until you explain what that is.”

Braxton scoffs. “There can’t be two of you. We can remedy that.”

“We used our temporal transporter to beam you to our century,” Ducane elaborates, walking over to the prominent transporter platform on the far side of the bridge. “Apart from transcending space and time, it’s outfitted with another nifty feature.”

“The aforementioned temporal reintegration,” Braxton says, guiding the skeptical Rinckes to the transporter. “We’ll beam you to Guest Quarters DE9728 aboard Starbase 9, where the Captain Rinckes you sent away with Melanie Simons… It’s always about a woman, isn’t it?”

“It’s a recurring theme in temporal incursions,” Ducane says.

“I digress. Your younger self has retreated for the evening after receiving medical attention and seeing Ms. Simons off to her own quarters. Your and his personalities and memories will be merged into a single individual, allowing the timeline to continue as intended.”

Rinckes stops next to the platform. “How old will I be?”

“Physically, forty-six years old. Mentally, a tad older. Nothing unusual when it comes to temporal interventions.”

“Then why did you treat my wounds?”

“Wasn’t any bother. Consider it a professional courtesy. Now if you’d be so courteous to step on up, we can begin the procedure and be done with it.”

Though cautious, Rinckes obeys. This transporter seems identical to a regular one, save for the different color scheme and a profound sense of imminent danger.

“Excellent,” Ducane says. “Normally, we’d resequence your memory ingrams to remove knowledge of the future. This has been the subject of heated debate between the Relativity’s senior staff and the commission.”

Rinckes prepares himself to jump off the platform.

“As it is,” Braxton says, “history records Tony ‘Q’ Blue knows as much as you do, and thanks to your interference, the timeline you’ll be returned to differs greatly from the one you’ve experienced.”

Ducane adds, “What truly sealed the deal is how our temporal data confirms your and Blue’s combined knowledge has become part of the preferred timeline.”

“In other words, you’re free to go.”

Too confused to feel relief, Rinckes nods at the two masters of his fate. “Let’s proceed before anyone changes their mind.”

“Fantastic,” Braxton says, raising his thumb at the officer manning the transporter controls.

“Best of luck, Captain Rinckes,” Ducane says. “Have a good life.”

He wants to respond, but Braxton cuts him off. “Energize.” Moments later, the temporal transporter ends his brief stay in the 29th century.

The instant he enters the four-dimensional pattern buffer, a peculiar kind of anxiety sets in. He cannot quite place who he is, how old he is, or where he is. As he rematerializes in an environment both strange and familiar to him, new memories come flooding in:

Stumbling into Station A-12’s observation lounge and finding Melanie protected by an older version of himself, who they had to leave behind; his violent journey to the shuttle bay with the woman he loves by his side, using the sum of their tactical training and combat skills to mow down the opposition; procuring a shuttle and fleeing past the wreckages of a fierce starship battle, the Altonoid prototypes defeated; talking to Melanie on the shuttle, detecting an odd mix of admiration and condemnation in her as they spoke. He didn’t understand her ambivalence then. He does now.

As two personalities coalesce into one, his younger self resists the pre-existing memories, appalled at the dark turns Old Rinckes’ psyche took, at how Melanie’s loss and the increasingly dire circumstances caused him to abandon his principles. The irreversible process forces the individual emerging in these anonymous guest quarters to coexist with this amalgamation of past, present, and future sins. Events from the discarded timeline flash by: Melanie dying in his arms; his escaping the station alone in the heat of battle; bluffing his way past accusations of dereliction of duty, even receiving the Achilles as a prize; his command decisions’ harsh consequences, resulting in death and adversity as guilt stacked up; falling for the S’Prenn’s lethal ruse, culminating in his initiating the Achilles’ self-destruct sequence.

One person remains. Captain Stephan Rinckes, aged forty-six, is standing by the window in his quarters aboard Starbase 9, on June 28, 2380, staring at stars without seeing, his mind’s eye replaying his madman’s quest through Station A-12. He attacked and shot his last crewmember, Tony Blue, whose only crime was getting in the way of his obsession. Rinckes gambled billions of lives for the slightest chance of not having to lose Melanie again. He won. Somehow, the Federation won too.

Yet one thought prevails:

What have I done?
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