Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XII - Penultimate Chapter

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Alexbright99
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XII - Penultimate Chapter

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Good day, everyone! As promised, here is the penultimate chapter of Fallen Heroes. This and the upcoming final chapter are slightly shorter than usual to reduce the wait between chapters. As has become tradition, it will be uploaded in four segments. So step right up and get your slice of Fallen Heroes each Friday for the rest of this month and a bit of April. Enjoy!

I’ll skip the spoiler-filled recap this time around, because the chapter picks up right where we left off and is written in such a way that its narrative quickly brings the loyal reader up to speed, or so I hope.

Here we go!

Part III Chapter XII, segment A:

Starbase 9 – June 30, 2380 – Stardate 57495.1
Everything is grand about this starbase, including this particular waiting area offering a brilliant view of the humongous interior docking bay. Seated in a quiet section, Commander Tony Q observes the docked starships, among them the USS Achilles, which remains a beauty, and the USS Bellerophon, the Intrepid-class vessel that will transport him and hundreds of others to Earth at maximum warp to deal with the impending crisis and share his valuable intel on the future. They might even overtake the Hawkeye, the passenger transport he took in the original timeline.

Healing wounds tug at his skin a little. Courtesy of the starbase’s exemplary facilities and skilled personnel, he has undergone another round of excellent medical care. Soon, he’ll be back to what should pass for normal.

Despite his pleasant surroundings—contemporary, multileveled architecture embellished with countless plants and trees—nothing beats ogling at intact Federation starships. How he has missed that!

A group of officers pass by, shooting him furtive glances and whispering among themselves. “Move along. Nothing to see,” Tony mumbles. Even in a society renowned for valuing contribution above the brevity of fame, anonymity is hard to come by once your name gets out there. And sure, a solid reputation has its perks, but at times like these, sitting here waiting like any regular adult, he wishes he were invisible. Without thinking, he plucks two rank pips from his collar and folds his hand around them. An eighteen-year-old ensign will draw a lot less attention than an eighteen-year-old commander, Emily had said. Smart woman.

He reverts to staring at the Achilles. Although he was never safe and her entire crew suffered so many tragedies, an undeniable sense of nostalgia is tied to that magnificent vessel. It’s hard to ignore the fuzzy feeling inside when reminiscing about living with Emily.

An officer walks past, gawking at the commander. Then his gaze lowers to Tony’s rank insignia. He blinks several times in confusion, raises an eyebrow, and continues on his way. A bittersweet smile forms on Tony’s lips, and he resumes studying the Achilles’ sleek design and the abundant memories contained within her sparkling-white hull.

Lost in thought, he is late to notice a man in his mid-twenties standing a few meters away, a puzzled expression on his sharp but friendly features. “Commander Tony…? Uh, Ensign?”

Tony meets the befuddled lieutenant’s gaze and instantly recognizes him. “Ernest!”

It is indeed Lieutenant Junior Grade Ernest Baxter, appearing younger than ever. “Are you Commander…?”

To prevent the poor guy from losing his sanity, Tony opens his palm and shows the two rank pips. “Keeps unwanted attention at bay.”

“Ah, okay. Um, sir, I was asked to—”

“Hold on a sec.” Tony pockets the insignia, grabs the cane leaning against his chair, and rises to greet his old buddy. “Ernest Baxter, chief helmsman of the Achilles. What can I do for you?” Though this version of Baxter has never met him before, Tony knows this fellow through and through, the memory of helplessly watching the pilot S’Prenned and killed the most vivid. It requires heaps of self-control to refrain from tackling the lieutenant to the floor in an overjoyed bear hug.

“Captain Harriman asked me to relay important information to you. I’m not sure I understand it completely.”

“Let’s hear it, Baxxie.”

Caught off guard by the commander’s informal attitude, Baxter raises the upside-down PADD he’s carrying and tries reading it.

Tony reaches out, turns the PADD around, and sticks up his thumb.

“You requested to be notified of Ensign Emily Murphy’s status. I believe she was in your security squad?”

Tony’s joviality dissipates. “She was.”

“I regret to inform you her body has been found in the storage bay you mentioned, the one on deck 56, where…”

Baxter’s talking fades into the background as this confirmation of the inevitable stabs Tony squarely in the heart. There wasn’t a chance in hell; Q emphasized this outcome of the grueling dilemma Tony had to solve. Now that he knows, grief may run its course. What more could he say or think? He made a choice, and he’ll have to live with it.

If only he knew how.

“Commander? Are you all right?”

“No. No, I’m not.” Biting his bottom lip, he looks into the eyes of a dear friend he rescued from certain death and uses that notion to recompose himself. “Thank you for telling me.”

“Of course, sir. My condolences.”

Realizing this Baxter will never get to be colleagues with her, will never discover what a great person she was, threatens to puncture his fragile composure.

“I’ve more for you, sir.” Baxter grimaces. “This is unsettling. We found your body as well, in the same storage bay. Kingsley told me you warned us of this possibility. Something involving time travel?”

“I’d better not answer your question. Admirals are on my case as it is about the Temporal Prime Directive.”

“Oh, I didn’t to mean to snoop, sir. I, uh, we’d like to know how you prefer we dispose of the… your… the body.”

Tony ponders this bizarre question. “Repatriated to Earth. I’ll handle the funeral arrangements from there.”

“As you wish.” Once Baxter has finished typing notes, he shivers. “I can’t wait to return to the Achilles. The general mood on this starbase is so claustrophobic and somber.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Tony says, a tad disappointed in himself for how self-absorbed he must’ve been these past couple of days.

“Seriously? People are sad and scared. I don’t blame them; in fact, I’m joining in! This Altonoid attack is a blatant act of hostility, this week’s battles the kickoff for a war Starfleet cannot afford. We’re still reeling from the most violent decade in recent history, what with the Dominion War and Borg encounters, and now the Altonoids have upped their game and proven they’re a force to be reckoned with. Granted, we won’t give up without a fight, but—”

“Ah, there’s the crux,” Tony says. “We won’t give up.” To Baxter’s surprise, he sits back down and taps his fingers on the seat next to him. “The Bellerophon hasn’t begun boarding yet. Why don’t you have a seat and let me tell you what the Altonoids don’t have?”

Hesitantly, Baxter complies.

“For starters, they don’t have you or that mighty starship you get to fly. That superb heavy cruiser over there”—he points at the Achilles—“trapped alone behind enemy lines for five stressful years, staffed with dedicated personnel like me, you, and Emily, was enough to learn the Altonoids’ secrets and change the course of history.”

“Didn’t you say you weren’t permitted to… Uh, the Temporal Prime Directive?”

“I’m speaking purely hypothetically, of course, of a timeline you’ll never experience. So I won’t tell you about the friendship we forged serving together. I won’t tell you how your piloting skills saved our hides over and over, and how your loyalty and camaraderie inspired me and your coworkers to persevere. I certainly won’t tell you how grateful I am to have gotten to know you and how thrilled I am to see you again, confident that the horrors you think await us have been averted by our combined efforts.”

Baxter’s mouth falls open.

“So I wouldn’t be afraid of the future. The coming year’s going to be tough on us all, but it will work out in the end. And even if by some oversight we haven’t outwitted the Altonoids through sheer commitment and a pinch of time travel, I’ll happily brave whatever’s in store for us, because Starfleet is brimming with people like you and me who are incapable of giving up.” He shakes Baxter’s hand. “Thank you, Ernest, for being who you are.”

Face as red as a port navigation light, Baxter stammers, “I don’t know what to say.”

Tony smiles at the lieutenant and leans back in his chair. “We’ve said and done plenty. Now we get to relax and enjoy the view.”
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XIIb

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Earth, San Francisco – July 1, 2380 – Stardate 57498.5
“What’s the delay?” Wearing civilian clothes, Commander Tony Q pushes against the shuttle’s aft door locking mechanism and throws impatient glances at his fellow travelers and especially the shuttle pilot.

The pilot sighs, announces they’ve touched down on Glen Park’s landing pad, and presses a combination of buttons, to which the aft door hisses open, revealing a clear blue sky presiding over the stunning view of a thriving San Francisco. Awestruck by the modern buildings, multispecies inhabitants bustling about, and bright green fields and parks, Tony lingers in the doorway, passengers brushing by him as they disappear into the wonderful scenery.

As if he’s a cane-wielding interstellar explorer discovering an alien planet, he steps out of the shuttle, walks its ramp, and plants a foot on solid ground. Viewing Earth in her peaceful splendor from orbit was breathtaking. Now, he’s standing here wrapped in a warm breeze, the inspiring vista doing its very best to erase horrific imagery of toppled skyscrapers, skeletal husks of buildings clawing at green thunderclouds. He buries those memories in a past that will never happen to these citizens, who are blissfully unaware of the catastrophe they have been spared.

“Are you going or what?” the pilot grumbles.

“You bet I am!” Tony zeroes in on the nearest patch of grass, kicks off his shoes, and starts hopping around barefooted, leaning on his cane, cackling like a happy maniac. Nobody minds—it’s San Francisco, after all. After conducting three twirls in a row with the finesse of an overexcited kitten, he stumbles and grabs on to an elm tree to keep from rolling down the slope. Running his hands across the elm’s rough bark, he chuckles at its typical unpleasant smell welcoming him back to Earth. Behind him, the shuttle flares its thrusters and takes off to join the throngs of airborne craft up above, and he catches a glimpse of its irritable pilot. Tony waves at him, sits down in the elm’s shade, fingers splayed in the grass, and wonders at the undamaged infrastructure stretching out in every direction until he has officially lost track of the minutes creeping by.

A lightweight object bumps into his knee and lands in his lap. Startled, Tony picks up the remote-controlled starship model, a detailed replica of the original USS Enterprise.

“Sorry, Mister!” A kid runs up to him, eager to reclaim his first and somewhat unsuccessful command. Tony can’t help but stare at the young boy. Having had part of him spend five years on the Achilles with no children in sight, he is yet to grow accustomed to dealing with them. Easily enough, this kid simply wants his toy back and snatches it from him.

Full of enthusiasm, the boy skips over to his father. “Daddy! I crashed the Enterprise!” His father grins and lifts him onto his neck. The boy relaunches the starship model with an energetic throw, and they follow it down the hill.

For reasons Tony can’t quite grasp, he has been putting off reuniting with his own father. Having witnessed this simple family interaction reignites the flutter in his belly. As real as the sun above him, the grass beneath him, the people around him, his father is alive! He gets up using his cane and begins searching for his shoes. Although it’s an hour-and-a-half hike to Dad’s cottage and the weather’s boiling hot, the prospect of ambling through the city instead of relying on a cab or public transporter is too enticing to pass up on.

Having recovered his shoes, Tony heads south. For the first leg of the journey, he soaks up the environment and greets strangers with a smile. Upbeat as he may seem, he cannot escape the soul-crushing fact that the first time he walked to the cottage on this very same day, he had Emily by his side. He’d discussed his worries of his sudden return being met with skepticism from his dad, who hasn’t seen him in a year at this point. She’d listened and eased his mind, and they’d been together since.

He adopts a brisker stride, rapidly losing interest in the parks, buildings, and passersby. Hopefully, his father will understand his complicated grief over a woman who meant the world to him but was lost to time. Knowing Dad, at least he’ll try.

An hour in, he permits himself to stop by a drinking fountain—a necessity in this heat—then continues hurrying toward the house that provided refuge and a home to him and Emily. Unlike before, he’s certain his father won’t hold his year-long absence against him. But how is he going to explain he saw him die? How he attempted to pull him from the rubble of a collapsed apartment complex as Altonoid fighters screeched overhead? How he tried and couldn’t hold his dad’s hand once more? How keenly he has missed him? Dad’s not even aware his son has forfeited his Q powers yet!

These ruminations slacken his pace, cause him to falter until he acknowledges the truth behind it all: None of it matters. These worries are valid but belong to the past. Sadness and fear have no place in these familiar streets bristling with life.

Thousands of arduous footsteps and a lift from a gracious bicyclist later, Tony arrives at the base of the hill where two hundred yards in the distance lies the cottage harboring seven months’ worth of fond memories. Cane stabbing at loose soil, he follows the trail, chest heaving in and out as he vigorously inhales and expels fresh air, which could rival the finest shipboard climate control any day of the week.

Having reached the cherry blossom tree at the edge of the garden, he lets its green, post-bloom petals hypnotize him into a wistful trance before thoughts of his destination urge him to press on. As he crests the hill, the white-stone cottage with its lush garden bordered by neatly trimmed hedges comes into full view, resembling a photorealistic painting of days gone by. At the garden’s center, Ralph Blue is whistling to himself, shaping one of his prized box trees into a perfect globe. There labors a content man, not a care in the world, relishing the sunrays.

Enthralled by the sight, Tony halts his march and allows this rewon moment to pass in slow motion. When Ralph died underneath a torrent of rubble, Tony’s heart had disintegrated on the spot. With their reunion as of yet unspoken, being in his reassuring presence may yet mend this old wound in a reversal of grief as powerful as its instigation.

He takes a step forward, prompting his father to turn his head and squint into the sun.

Tony wants to say something, like he did the first time, but he is stumped for words.

Ralph drops his gardening tools, rises to his feet, and staggers closer. “Tony?” His face lights up and he breaks into a run, crosses the distance between them, and hugs his son so thoroughly he lifts him off the ground.

Tony’s cane lands in a flowerbed and his injuries make him wince in pain. When his father tries to let go in response, Tony holds on tighter, finding comfort in the embrace he has missed so dearly.

“You’re not a Q anymore, are you?”

“No,” Tony replies, his speech muffled by his dad’s collar.

“I must say I didn’t expect this sudden visit. But you know you’re always welcome here.”

“I–I know I am.”

The affectionate warmth in his father’s voice evaporates the years spent without him. “Stay here as long as you like, or as long as Starfleet will let you stay.” Gradually, Dad breaks off the hug. He wipes away the tears rolling down Tony’s cheeks and smiles broadly—laugh lines around his eyes and all. “I figured you’d be back one day.”
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XIIc

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Earth, Scotland – April 27, 2386 – Stardate 64318.8
“What a gorgeous location for a memorial,” Commander Ralph Blue says to his son while traversing a gravel path leading to a rocky headland. Surrounded by steep cliffs dropping to the North Sea, the headland delivers a flawless transition between land and water, and its imposing monument dedicated to commemorating the Station A-12 Conflict and the Battle of Nedron enhances the already spectacular view. “You okay? Quite the incline ahead.”

“Yeah, don’t worry.” Commander Tony Blue favors his right leg slightly while keeping up with Ralph. Though the limp has remained a factor in his daily life, he was able to dispense with his cane soon after settling in on Earth.

Tony and his dad climb the path and arrive at a promontory three hundred meters long and a hundred meters wide, lined with benches and information displays. Dozens of people, mostly Starfleet officers, have gathered around its centerpiece: the part-physical, part-holographic monument. Towering layers of floating sculptures rotating in opposite directions shelter a slowly revolving column displaying the names of the fallen. These sculptures represent the forty-six Federation starships involved in the two costly battles and orbit an impressionistic rendition of Station A-12.

“Beautiful tribute,” Ralph says.

Tony agrees in silence, too in awe to formulate a proper reply.

“Shame we missed the unveiling.”

“Dad…”

“By half an hour.”

“We’re here now.”

“Still.”

He pats Ralph on the back and says half-jokingly, “We’re men of importance, Commander. Our schedules wait for no one.”

“There’s always so much to do, so much happening at once. We’re living in crazy times.”

“Not as crazy as they could have been.”

“True. The war went on longer for you than it did for us.”

“You could say that.” The Federation-Altonoid War of 2380 and 2381 ended rather decisively when the S’Prenn began sending emissaries and ultimately fleets of reinforcements through the Station A-12 portal. “We owe a lot to the S’Prenn.”

“And to you. With what you did and sacrificed… This monument is for you as far as I’m concerned.”

Tony giggles at the remark. “You can’t help being a proud parent, can you? I’ll concede I played an important role, but I consider this a remembrance to those who died. I mean, 970 lives lost in the fight for the station, and 10,607 in the Altonoids’ ambushing the backup fleet. This monument is for them.” He points at the nearest park bench. “Maybe that one’s dedicated to me.”

Ralph sighs. “God, I raised a saint…”

Glistening in the spring evening’s setting sun, the memorial rotates in solemn dignity. In contrast to the occasion’s significance, the atmosphere is lighthearted, most likely a product of relief over a war that could’ve upended the quadrants but petered out five years ago. The updated Starfleet uniforms with blue, red, or gold department colors claiming most of the shoulder area also lend the scene an optimistic aspect. Updating the uniform design had zero priority in the protracted war Tony experienced, so having his fellow officers dressed in these brighter outfits is oddly reassuring.

Off to the left, a reporter has finished taking holophotos of a group of people special to Tony: his friends from the Kennedy. Elated, he rushes over to them, dragging his dad along with him.

Captain Mathieu Duvivier is busy talking with Commander Grad Jansen and Lieutenant Commander Sivar when he notices the new arrival. “Tony Blue, as I live and breathe!” He gives the commander and his father a manly hug. “Great to see you two again. How have you been? We haven’t spoken in… Gosh, I don’t know.”

“I’m still working at Starfleet HQ as tactical consultant, and my dad… Well, tell him yourself.”

“I received a promotion.”

“So modest. Mathieu, you’re looking at the deputy director of Astrophysics in San Francisco. So I’d say we’re doing terrific. How is the Kennedy? Every bit as extraordinary as her predecessor?”

“Definitely,” the captain says. “And not just because the powers that be were kind enough to rechristen a factory-fresh Sovereign-class vessel for us; it’s because we managed to keep our senior staff together throughout the years.” He gestures at his men and women. “Best in the galaxy.”

Sivar arches an eyebrow. “Though your hyperbole is doubtless intended to flatter, it is a matter of opinion and perhaps one clouded by familiarity whether we are in fact the ‘best in the galaxy.’”

Jansen snickers. “As you can tell, we’ve done our utmost to keep Sivar honest.”

At this point, Lieutenant Commanders Sven Muntenaar and André Soeteman have sneaked up on Tony and Ralph to dish out firm handshakes.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” Muntenaar says. “Wouldn’t want to serve on any other vessel.”

“Watch out for this guy,” Soeteman warns Muntenaar in a teasing tone while shaking Tony’s hand. “He’ll beam you off your own bridge if you let him anywhere near the transporter controls.”

“I’m never going to live it down, am I?” Tony says with a wry grin.

“Not a chance.”

Before Tony can mount a defense against this playful banter, he receives a surprise hug from Lieutenant Malin. “We’ve missed you.”

“Aw, thank you. So have I.” He ignores the face Dad is making at him for being embraced by the attractive pilot.

“Our visit to Earth will be brief,” Duvivier tells them. “Tomorrow starts our next mission—a humanitarian one. Possibly quite risky, because we’ll be heading for the Altonoid home world. They’re in dire need of food and medical supplies. We’re hoping this will sway the different governments rising from their empire’s ruins toward pursuing diplomatic relations with us.”

“Timing couldn’t be better,” Tony says. “At Starfleet HQ, we’re picking up increasing rumors of a new line of thinking among the Altonoids now their xenophobic leaders have been deposed. Our sincere help is bound to affect even the remaining hardliners.”

Regardless of his political ramblings, the final three applicants for hugs and handshakes present themselves: Doctor Rose Van Oers, Lieutenant Steven Appels, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Marc Lucas, the three other surviving members of Tony’s security squad dispatched to Station A-12.

Van Oers is currently sporting azure-colored hair and a winning smile. Her embrace brings with it a waft of sweet perfume. “You look well, Tony. I trust you are adhering to a schedule of regular medical checkups?”

“I wouldn’t dare otherwise.”

Appels’ handshake threatens to crush Tony’s digits. “Our squad did a fine job despite the losses, wouldn’t you say, Commander?”

“We fought to the last man and refused to give up, an effort befitting the Kennedy and her remarkable crew.”

This earns him an appreciative grunt from the muscular security chief and the chance to talk with Lucas, who’s hardly the novice ensign he was during the Station A-12 Conflict. In his late twenties, the tall and handsome Latino exudes confidence and skill. “Lieutenant Marc Lucas, sir. Tactical officer, USS Kennedy.”

“No need to brag,” Appels mutters.

“Not bragging, sir, simply stating facts. Commander, I heard you’re the reason we’re alive today.”

“One of many reasons,” Tony says.

“The primary reason, then,” Van Oers says, pretending to be annoyed at his reflexive attempt to deflect praise. “I admit it was a close shave for all of us. And to imagine we almost forgot to yank this poor guy out of the Jefferies tube we hid him in.”

“I haven’t forgiven you lot for that,” Lucas says, tongue in cheek.

Appels punches him in the upper arm. “You just can’t get over the fact we saved your a—”

“My dear crew,” Duvivier says, raising his voice to draw the group’s attention. “If I had a synthehol beverage, I’d propose a toast, but I’m afraid my good intentions will have to suffice. It’s a privilege to be standing here, alive and well, joined by what I’ve come to dub the Kennedy family. And yes, I’m willing to extend that moniker to Ralph and Tony Blue. Together, we have faced terrible losses, of which this memorial is a stunning reminder. It means the world to me to serve Starfleet with you by my side, and I’m proud to have you call me your captain.”

“So are we, Captain,” Jansen says, speaking for the rest, who support his words with smirks and nods. “So are we.”

Swept up in the moment, Tony speaks up too. “My friends, it’s fantastic to see you in good health and even better spirits. With all my heart, I wish you the best of the best, and may you forever cherish your journeys aboard the Kennedy as I have and always will. You’re the real deal, guys, and I love you to bits.”

“It’s much appreciated,” Duvivier says. “It’s safe to say we are somewhat fond of you as well.” He winks and addresses his crew. “Now then, I read of an actual bridge on this site, running along these cliffs for a spectacular view. I haven’t found it yet, so I declare this our current assignment before we head to the skies. First to find me that bloody bridge receives a promotion! Maybe.” As his senior staff laughs and disperses, Duvivier offers Tony a warm smile. “Take care, Tony.”

“You too, Mathieu.”

The captain hurries to catch up to Jansen. “Found it yet?”

As Tony watches these men and women he reclaimed from a cruel fate, his eyes fill with an inner glow.

His dad softly nudges him in the ribs. “You okay?”

“Yeah, absolutely.”

“Let’s have a closer look at the monument, shall we?”
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XIId

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Tony and Ralph Blue saunter over to the memorial, allowing them to savor breathing in the brackish air, enjoy the clement weather, listen to the crashing waves, and observe the seagulls perching on the abundant rock formations. The nearer they get, the more this monument impresses them. Its sculptures of the station and each participating starship have been molded into abstract yet recognizable silver shapes and hover in silence over the rotating column bearing names of the perished.

“I think I spotted the Kennedy,” Ralph says. “She was the only Sovereign-class vessel involved, right?”

Tony notices a blonde woman in her mid-thirties looking up at the holographic interpretation of the Sundance. “Just a minute, Dad.” He walks over to her. “Commander Melanie Simons?”

“Yes?” She brushes away a few tears and meets his gaze. “Ah, you must be Tony Blue. We’ve met before.”

“Yeah, before…—“he motions at the monument—“all this. I, uh…”

“Stephan told me the whole story of how you two lived through seven years of alternate history. He told me your ideals and opinions clashed more than once, but I got the sense he respected you nonetheless.”

“The feeling’s mutual. How is he these days?”

“We’ve hardly spoken since he resigned his commission. So much guilt on his part, and he saw his actions had scared me. I reach out to him every so often; he keeps politely declining.” She glances at the abstract sculpture of the Sundance guarding over the fallen. “We lost so much that day. I know they didn’t die in vain, and I’ll never forget the reports on how Commander Levine took charge and granted our crew a heroic end… but it’s so weird being the sole representative of a lost starship. Don’t get me wrong, this work of art is a touching homage to my colleagues’ ultimate sacrifice.”

“It is.”

“If Stephan hadn’t done what he did…” Her brow wrinkles into a frown. “Fighting you to the death when you were trying to save the Federation? The thought of reassuming command of the Sundance not even crossing his mind? Abandoning his subordinates? Over me?”

“This is not your fault.”

“I shouldn’t be alive, but I made peace with my… lucky break. I love my current posting as XO of the Hendrikse, and the friendships I’ve gained there have accelerated the healing process for sure.”

“Your being here is strong evidence of that.”

“I suppose so. I figured, if my life had been won at such a cost, I’d owe it to these people to make it one worth living.”

“You’re so right, Melanie. To be honest, I haven’t had a proper talk with Rinckes in years either. Not since the court martial.”

“How I wish I could tell him what I’m telling you. I’ll admit I’ve been pulling some strings to keep tabs on him, and he’s doing as well as can be expected. It’s obvious, however, he isn’t ready to reconnect with me yet.” She takes in a deep breath. “After everything is said and done, I am alive—we both are, Tony. Let’s make the most of each day we have.”

“Consider it done,” Tony says with a sprinkle of humor, and he gives her a clumsy hug. “All the best, Melanie.”

“Tony!” he hears Ralph shout. “I found her!”

“If you’ll excuse me.” He trots over to his father, who is standing by the base of the monument, which consists of gently spinning rows of names stacked on top of each other to form a two-meters-high column the width of an ancient tree trunk.

“Ensign Emily C. Murphy,” Dad reads aloud. This causes the name tag to stop moving and fold out into a holographic rendition of her personnel file, including a three-dimensional profile picture showing off her brown hair, kind eyes, and dazzling smile. “From what you’ve told me, she was something else, wasn’t she?”

“Dad, I’ve no idea what she saw in me, or what I did to deserve being married to a woman like her.”

“I would’ve loved to have known her. She seems like top-tier daughter-in-law material.”

“She was. I’m a better man for having been part of her life, no question about it. In all my travels across space and time, I never met anyone else who combined strength of character and compassion with such elegance—and I never will again.”

His father places a hand on his shoulder.

“There’s comfort in knowing,” Tony continues, his voice going hoarse, “she’ll always be here, in this beautiful location, smiling her wonderful smile for everyone fortunate enough to select her name.”

A flock of seagulls take off from a nearby rock and fly out to sea underneath the clear sky, drawing attention to two individuals standing forlorn together a dozen meters away. It’s Admiral Coen Van Aken and Captain Suzan Reynolds, who were looking at sculptures of the Satellite and Wolf. They nod a synchronized greeting at Tony and Ralph before coming over.

With a tender gesture, Tony closes Emily’s profile as the two approach.

“That’s been a while,” Reynolds says, exchanging handshakes. “I was just telling the admiral about my new chief medical officer, Commander Voss. I believe you met him on the Kennedy?”

“How could I forget?” Tony says. “The guy saved Malin’s life, for starters. Glad to hear he’s landed on his feet.”

Ralph’s enthusiastic handshake almost rips Van Aken’s wrist off. “Admiral, I cannot thank you enough for your testimony during my son’s court martial. If it weren’t for you vouching for him personally, I’m convinced the subsequent disciplinary action would’ve extended far beyond the official reprimand entered into his record.”

“I second that,” Tony says. “Because of you, I’ve been able to keep serving the Federation to the best of my abilities.”

“Which is the optimal way of repaying us,” Van Aken says, “though I still have recurrent nightmares of being beamed into open space for a Sovereign-class vessel to hunt me down with you at the helm.”

“Oh gosh, I hope you’re kidding.”

The admiral bursts out laughing at his reaction. “Had you going there.”

Cheeks flushing, Tony runs a hand through his hair and changes the subject. “I thought the Achilles’ crew would be here too, given their role in liberating the station.”

“They’re out on a mission and slated to return in a month. They’ll want to see this recognition of their efforts in person.” Van Aken glimpses at the rotating holograms above them. “Did you know that viewing a sunset or sunrise through the memorial has it mimic the colorful aspect of the Garcon Nebula? It’s quite a sight, let me assure you.”

“I’ll go check it out. You coming, Dad?”

Dad has charged up his charming personality and struck up an engaging conversation with Reynolds. “So, Suzan, your current command is an Achilles-class vessel? There aren’t that many yet in Starfleet. How did—”

Tony shares a brief chuckle with Van Aken over this, then assumes an exaggerated salute and says, “Permission to leave, Admiral.”

“Commander, knock yourself out.”

* * *

The admiral was speaking the truth. On the east side of the memorial headland, opposite the setting sun, rolling tide behind him, Commander Tony Blue stands alone, enraptured by the blue-and-lilac halo enveloping the floating starship sculptures. It’s as if these vessels hovering over the names of the fallen are hiding within the Garcon Nebula, their shadows and outlines still visible as if displayed behind stained glass, appearing empowered and protected at once.

Beneath this impeccable blend of nature and technology, the attendees walk about, interacting with each other, marveling at their surroundings, and above all, being free, healthy, and very much alive. At the foot of the monument, his father is having an animated chat with Reynolds and Van Aken.

Had Tony retained the ability to freeze time, he would, right now, and spend a personal slice of eternity here.

A nearby white flash distracts him. “Ooh, fancy new garb,” Q says, admiring the captain’s uniform he has chosen for his physical avatar. He pinches at Tony’s upper arm. “You pull off red so much better than gold. Yes, the memorial is nice too, but these fashion updates your time traveling mishaps sparked make your suffering truly worth it.”

So much for the perfect moment he was experiencing. “I didn’t expect to see you again.”

“Which renders my visit long overdue. I learned you dropped the ‘Q’ from your name in this timeline as well. I am deeply offended.”

“You want an apology?”

“I’m way past any desire for vindication and consider this final slap in my alluring visage a sign you’ve made peace with your regained humanity.”

“I have.”

A pause. “Good.” Q takes another gander at the monument. “It’s a bit tacky, isn’t it? If they were going for tacky, they might as well have added a twenty-foot bust of you. You sacrifice the Continuum’s greatest gifts of omnipotence and immortality and all you get is a casual mention on an info display. I would’ve at least asked for a merchandise stand off by the side. You could peddle T-shirts with your pouting mug on it, self-improvement books on how to grapple with being a starship collision magnet, whiny action figures with limps. I’d be happy to run by some marketing and product suggestions with you.”

“It’s fine. If there’s one thing you’ve taught me, it’s that human gratitude has its limits.”

Q scoffs. “So you did listen to my ravings once in a while?”

“Couldn’t help myself.”

“Seems to me you’ve got the brief future awaiting you sorted out. Perhaps, if I lowered my standards to yours, I could imagine the appeal of the life you have carved out for yourself… but man, did you sell yourself short.”

“No argument there.” A tacit hesitation builds between them. “Is this goodbye, Q?”

“No, I fully intend on popping by when you’re an old geezer and laugh at how wrinkly you’ve become.”

“Deal.”

“Until then, I decided a little parting gift would be in order, to ease your days as a decrepit mortal.”

“You getting sentimental on me?”

“Oh, shut up.” Q summons a PADD from thin air. “Here, a piece of intel that might interest you.”

Tony accepts the gift. Apart from the neat ribbon tied around it, it looks like an ordinary PADD. “Thanks, I guess?”

Q crosses his arms and taps his foot.

“I mean, thank you. Whatever it is, I’m sure I’ll love it.”

Employing a wagonload of sarcasm, Q says, “I’ll just go before your infinite gratefulness overwhelms me.” He lifts his hand, ready to snap his fingers. “See you in a few decades, if you manage to live that long.” In a flash of bright light, he disappears.

Despite their mentor-protégé relationship having been strained ever since Tony chose to march to the beat of his own drum, he is forced to conclude he will actually miss the guy. To distract himself from such a conclusion and out of curiosity, he unties the ribbon, switches on the PADD, and begins reading.

Three paragraphs in, he gasps. Five paragraphs in, his knees start trembling. Seven paragraphs in, the rest of his body starts trembling along. He presses the PADD against his chest and dashes off toward the monument as fast as his limp allows, which is, at the moment, surprisingly fast.

Though still fifty meters away, Reynolds notices Tony’s hasty return and alerts her conversation partners.

“Dad! Dad!” Tony shouts, running in the direction of the three puzzled officers. Upon arriving, he is utterly out of breath.

“What’s the matter?” Ralph asks out of instinctual, fatherly concern.

Tony lifts an index finger while leaning on his knees and calming his breathing. He then straightens up, turns to Van Aken, and says, “Admiral, I’m going to need a starship.”
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