Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XI

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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.

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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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.”


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


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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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XIc

Post by Alexbright99 »

USS Achilles, in orbit of Station A-12 – June 28, 2380 – Stardate 57491.8
Confined to a wheelchair for the time being, Commander Tony Q gazes through the windows of his guest quarters aboard the Achilles. Memories of this beautiful vessel in prime condition resurfaced as soon as he was released from sickbay, a fresh inpour of images and scents dating from his becoming first officer in an averted future. Although these quarters don’t hold a candle to the XO’s quarters in terms of size and luxury, the mere fact that the whole thing is intact is wondrous enough, topped solely by the astonishing vista of Station A-12 being guarded by ten battle-worn but steadfast Federation starships. Shuttles and work bees swarm the wrecks of the Kennedy and Wolf to continue an ongoing and fruitful search for survivors, dismantling entire segments if need be. It’s a far cry from the horror station the portal unveiled as he and Captain Rinckes fled this very same vessel’s destruction. With each cubic inch vaporized to keep her from falling into the brainwashed S’Prenn’s—

A chime at the door chases off his thoughts. “Enter,” he says, hoping it’s not a former shipmate. Reuniting with them would be marvelous, for sure, but… he has formed these strong bonds with them over the years, while they merely see him as a celebrity affiliated with the Q Continuum, and it’s… awkward.

The doors swish open for Captain Keith Harriman, who’s projecting a pleasant demeanor. Despite himself, Tony squares his shoulders, grateful the medical staff helped him put on a clean uniform and made him presentable.

Arms clasped behind his back, Harriman walks over to join the window-staring match. “Latest reports confirm there are zero Altonoids left on the station; they’re either in custody or killed in action.”

“We did it,” Tony says flatly, still unable to believe his eyes and ears.

“You’ll be pleased to hear Captain Duvivier is doing fine, although he’s rather cross with you for beaming him off his own ship and crashing it.” A subtle curling of Harriman’s lips betrays his mild amusement. “Van Aken seems less angry, claims the ends justify the means. Quite mellow for an admiral whose ship you’ve also totaled. You had your motives, I assume?”

“I did, sir.”

“I suspected as much. Your warning to Doctor Kingsley cemented our decision to spare no expense retaking Station A-12. We beamed over every combat-ready person and recaptured what is ours.”

Ahead, three shuttles use their tractor beams to separate a bulky section of hull plating from the Kennedy’s mutilated bow. Her stardrive section has been tractored back to the scene and parked next to the saucer for easier access. Having the wretched object immobile and no longer spinning allows it to further sink in the future has been saved.

“I guess the Continuum didn’t take kindly to your helping us,” Harriman says.

“Captain, I’m as human as you are.” But I’ve gotten used to it. “Injuries are part of the game. Please extend my regards to Kingsley. He did a fine job patching me up, says I’ll get to ‘swap this ride for crutches’ tomorrow.”

“Glad to hear it.”

A series of warp flashes distracts them, heralding the arrival of eight Starfleet vessels led by the USS Oregon, a formidable Galaxy-class starship.

“I’m also glad you’re on our side,” Harriman adds.

“So are the S’Prenn.”

The captain lifts an eyebrow, then resumes his friendly poker face. A lesser man would’ve skirted the confidential subject. Harriman is no lesser man. “What do you know?”

“Without that subspace well they created to destroy the seventy Altonoid warships attacking you, we wouldn’t be standing here; nothing would have remained of the backup fleet. They came to our rescue. If we retain a strong presence around Station A-12, they will continue to support us. I can personally vouch for that.”

“Are you sure you’re not still part Q, with the knowledge you have?”

“Seriously?” Tony chuckles. “The wheelchair isn’t enough evidence for you?”

The captain’s combadge chirps. “Jennings to Harriman.”

“Go ahead.”

Reinforcements have arrived. Achilles, Tripoli, and Praxis are to return to Starbase 9 at our earliest convenience. Give the word and we’ll be prepped to depart in three minutes.

“Commander, the word is given. Maximum warp.”

Aye, sir. Jennings out.

“Jennings?” Tony muses. A memory pops up of the esteemed officer he succeeded as first officer. “I hear he’s an excellent XO.”

Harriman smirks. “Ah, his reputation precedes him. I’ll be sure to tell him the famous Tony Q thinks highly of him.”

Together, they watch the fleet led by the Oregon disperse to assist those present and defend the area—a reassuring sight. Gone are the lonely days in enemy territory.

“I hope you don’t feel too guilty about her fate,” Harriman says.

Tony’s breath hitches. Is he talking about Emily?

Unaware of his conversation partner’s reaction, Harriman continues, “She was a fine ship. I’ve always admired the Sovereign class. Van Aken said she gave her all during this battle, called it miraculous she held out as long as she did.”

Eyelids hot with restrained tears, Tony glances at the split-apart wreck and agrees wholeheartedly.

“I received confirmation before I got here,” Harriman says. “Every member of the Kennedy’s senior staff has survived. I wanted you to know that.”

A huge sigh escapes Tony’s lungs. “A relief, sir.” He bites his lower lip to avoid making a scene in front of the captain, a vain effort to keep the emotions washing over him in check. “All of them?”

“Yes, including Lieutenant Malin. She’s recovering in the station’s medbay.”

Tony tries to say something meaningful, dignified even, but he’s having a hard time as it is blinking away tears. With countless worlds saved and a bleak future evaded, why should realizing his old friends from the Kennedy are safe affect him the most? Harriman studies the view in silent camaraderie to convey his sympathy and patience.

Breaking into a quiet sob, Tony thinks of Ensign Parkin, slumped over the tactical console, one of numerous deaths he could not prevent. So many lives ended prematurely today; who got to live or die relied solely on happenstance. It is, simply put, unfair. He clears his throat. “Ensign Emily C. Murphy. She was in my security squad. We got ambushed in a storage bay on deck 56. Do you know if she made it?” The probability of this is discouragingly low, yet how could he not ask? “Is there a way to find out?”

Harriman shoots him a side-glance. “It’ll be a day or two until we have a comprehensive roster of survivors.”

“Could I please be informed as soon as possible?”

Being the gentleman he is, Harriman refrains from prying. “I’ll see to it.”

A rising hum indicates the Achilles is powering up her warp engines, and she turns about, causing the station and its defenders to roll out of view. Tony strains to catch a final glimpse of this incredible reality he brough forth.

The captain smoothens his jacket and starts for the exit. “Next stop, Starbase 9.” Before walking through the doors, he halts to offer an amiable smile. “I have a feeling the admirals are itching to debrief us. Get some rest; you’ve earned it.”

The doors close behind the Achilles’ captain, a good man who perished when the Altonoids shot Earth Spacedock from the skies. For all the people Tony couldn’t save, Harriman is one of many who did make it, who will get to live their lives in full, who will get to continue being their awesome and wonderful selves. Tony inhales deeply, letting the pain in his torso remind him this is not a dream, and permits himself to be entranced by the multicolored stripes of stardust shooting by the windows as he is taken away from Station A-12.

Far away.

* * *

USS Achilles, en route to Starbase 9 – June 29, 2380 – Stardate 57492.2
The time is 0645 hours,” the computer’s dulcet voice announces, rousing Commander Tony Q from his sleep. The ceiling’s drab colors prove he is aboard the Achilles, and for a moment, he mentally prepares himself for another lengthy shift as chief tactical officer, the umptieth day spent behind enemy lines with the Federation driven from their home planets.

But these aren’t his usual quarters, and his limbs and torso ache as if he’s been blindsided by a train and hastily reassembled. Ridiculous as it may seem, he is perfectly safe—for the first time in ages.

Though it requires half a minute in his suboptimal form, he manages to prop himself up on his elbows and against his pillow, relishing in his unblemished surroundings. Relieved his legs are more responsive to his commands than they were yesterday, he gets into his wheelchair and heads over to the bathroom to freshen up.

Under Kingsley’s care, he’s certain the doctor’s promises of recovery are warranted, and he’d be happy to bid this wheelchair goodbye. When Tony first visited this sickbay on the heels of the Station A-12 Debacle, Kingsley had hardly taken notice of him. This time, however, the doctor has made him a pet project. Apparently, his heroics in this timeline have made an impression.

While combing his hair, brushing his teeth, and shaving his youthful face, he devotes an inordinate amount of time studying the uniform he has wriggled his way into. Alternating between staring at his red sleeve cuffs and the three rank pips on his collar, he recalls dying in a storage bay aboard Station A-12 as victim and spectator before Q intervened and merged his memories and personalities.

A cold shudder travels through his spine. His corpse is still there, either found or close to being found by rescue teams. That’s going to raise some questions. Macabre as this whole situation is, he giggles to himself envisioning a possible worst-case scenario: Maybe they’d worry the real Tony is dead and he’s an alien impostor. Stranger things have happened in the history of Starfleet. To avoid confusion, he’d better mention the issue upon reporting to sickbay.

Squeaky clean and neatly groomed, he rolls toward the exit, thinking to himself he has also averted a future where he decided a stubbly circle beard is the look to go for.

Having barely made it ten meters into the pristine corridors, he hears a woman shouting, “Commander Tony Q! Wait up!”

He coasts to a stop and swivels toward Lieutenant Commander Erin Crow marching up to him. The petite woman is sporting a delighted smile instead of a severe scowl. He has witnessed his share of craziness, from half-melted S’Prenn to planets on fire, but this incongruous picture makes him consider performing a J-turn and testing his wheelchair’s top speed.

“Commander,” she says, catching her breath. “I really wanted to say hi.”

Trying and failing to hide his befuddlement, he shakes her hand. “Um, hello.”

“I’m Erin Crow, the ship’s chief tactical officer. My husband, Arthur, is a bit of a fan. He regrets not being able to meet you in person. Conflicting duty shifts.” She sounds so kind, her body language is so open. Sure, rumor had it she was a nicer person before her husband went missing, but he didn’t expect this! “…always interested in stories about your confrontations with the Federation’s enemies. Altonoids, Borg—you fear no one. He’s sorry you were injured and wishes you a speedy recovery. So do I, of course.”

Yup, it’s still awkward, until he remembers she let her gentler nature shine through once in a blue moon, most notably when she embraced him during the S’Prenn’s invading the Achilles. He takes her hands like a religious figure pronouncing a benediction and trades his unease for the joy of seeing her alive and—of all things—happy. “I appreciate it, Erin. I really do.”

They gaze at each other for a good ten seconds, prompting Crow to tilt her head. “You know me, don’t you? How—?”

“I should get going. I have an appointment in sickbay.” He turns around but can’t bring himself to leave just yet. Although the new timeline is a significant improvement, of one amendment he cannot be sure, because this event happened shortly after the war began. He checks for eavesdroppers and motions her nearer. “Listen carefully. Don’t tell this to anyone but Arthur. This or next year, he will be asked to go to a training colony by shuttle. He will go missing, never to be found again.”

Crow gasps.

“When this request comes in, he should refuse, convince his fellow travelers—six of them—to stay put too, and thoroughly check the shuttle they were to use for malfunctions. Regardless of what they’ll find, they are not to go to that colony.”

Trembling ever so slightly, she nods.

“If he gets in trouble over this, refer those in charge to me and I’ll take care of it. Do you understand?”

Her light-brown eyes have gone moist, and she straightens up choppily. “I do.”

“Good luck, Erin. I wish you two the best.”

“Thank you, sir.”

With that infringement of temporal regulations out of the way, Tony hurries toward the nearest turbolift, leaving a grateful ex-colleague behind. Once he’s inside the turbolift, alone with his thoughts, a warmth he has rarely experienced rises in his chest, and he’s glad nobody’s around to see his lower lip wobbling up a storm. “Main sickbay. On the double.” As opposed to the clunky turbolift ride this vessel guaranteed in 2387, this ride is as smooth as can be.

Once the lift has stopped—a perturbing clunk notably absent—he recomposes himself and enters a set of corridors, where he focuses on how the light fixtures are properly installed instead of dangling from the ceiling. The bulkheads practically sparkle at him; every panel is in place, no exposed circuitry, no char stains. He is free to travel without having to circumvent barricaded sections. Crewmembers going about their business are unarmed and wear tidy uniforms. Most greet him—some in recognition, others out of politeness.

Navigating the corridors, he realizes the section he’s in was part of the expanded sickbay in the negated timeline. Rubber curtains bordered it, its floors were strewn with thick cables and medical equipment and lined with dead or twitching S’Prenn in transparent cages. The combination of traveling under cloak and S’Prenn skin photosensitivity necessitated an eerie darkness. Now, these hallways are well lit. In fact, the Achilles hasn’t been outfitted with a cloaking device yet and probably never will. He’s perfectly content with—

An Andorian science ensign walks past.

“Kels!” Tony exclaims, stopping on a dime.

“Sir?” Kels retreads her steps. When she spots his rank, the antennae protruding form her white hairdo perk up in nervousness. “Commander! What can do I for you, sir, um, Commander?”

She’s so young! Twenty-one years old, Tony calculates, fresh from the Academy. “Kels…” Her appearance dredges up the distressing memory of shooting her in the neck to prevent the S’Prenn controlling her from switching over to Rinckes. She died instantly. From one of his perspectives, this happened a mere three days ago. Now, she’s standing there, hugging herself in a telling gesture of insecurity and youth, oblivious to how Tony’s final stand aboard the Kennedy has set her on a path to a long and happy life.

“You are Commander Tony Q, right? I heard about you.”

“It’s great to see you,” he says in a shaky voice. “Let me look at you.”

“Um, sir?”

Maybe he’s treading a fine line between dealing with unexpected reunion after reunion and amassing a compendium of harassment complaints. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Oh, Kels. If only you knew.”

She gives him a shy little smile. “Knew what, sir?”

“I just…” He wants to be honest about their history as colleagues and its tragic conclusion, but he can’t go rolling around haphazardly breaching temporal regulations. Warning Crow was already over the line.

“Just what?”

He doesn’t want to lie to her either, make up some nonsense like knowing her by reputation as an up-and-coming science officer. Pretending this is simply a disastrous attempt at flirting wouldn’t work either; it’d be like betraying the Baxter he knew in 2387. “It’s nothing, Ensign. As you were.” I’m deeply sorry for shooting you. “Sorry to bother you.”

“Oh.” Her antennae droop slightly. “Well, I heard you saved us… again. I had no idea a Q could be injured. It must’ve been terrible out there.” She extends a blue-skinned hand. “Commander, it’s an honor meeting you. Thank you for everything you’ve done.”

He accepts the handshake with both hands. “You’re quite welcome, Kels.” He can’t leave it at that. “At the risk of sounding like a sleazy fortune teller, I genuinely believe you have a bright future ahead of you.”

She laughs. “I’ll try to live up to those expectations.”

“You will. Trust me, you will. Take care, Ensign.”

Waving goodbye, she walks off.

A gentle glow on his face, Tony spurs his wheelchair onward. His upper body has never felt this lightweight before, as if the gravity deck plating is malfunctioning. With his quivering grin and tears welling up, he must be quite a sight speeding past his fellow officers. He couldn’t care less. Humming an uneven tune, he rolls through sickbay’s entrance, just as Doctor Chris Kingsley emerges from his office.

Mirroring Tony’s upbeat attitude, the doctor says, “Ah, if it isn’t Commander Cordiality. Let’s get you on your feet, shall we?”
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter XId

Post by Alexbright99 »

Starbase 9 – June 29, 2380 – Stardate 57493.7
Wielding a cane draws more attention from passersby than the hypermodern, superfast wheelchair Commander Tony Q had at his disposal. On the plus side, in contrast to the crutches he was initially promised, this fancy cane does lend him an air of authority, or a certain “look at me, I performed all sorts of heroic and dangerous acts for the greater good” vibe.

A Vulcan staff member escorts him through a complicated section of corridors aboard Starbase 9. Without the stern officer, he’d have found himself utterly lost within minutes in a complex this vast. Ultimately, his guide stops in front of two large doors at the end of a hallway and leaves.

Tony steps into the main conference room, capable of seating hundreds of attendants, though the ten people here have gathered around the imposing table at its center. As he nears them, he overhears their conversation, the chamber’s relative emptiness adding a twinge of reverb to every word spoken.

Six admirals are present, two of whom he recognizes as Fleet Admiral Owen Paris and Admiral Coen Van Aken. They are discussing serious matters with the captains directly involved in what has colloquially been dubbed the Station A-12 Conflict—a considerable upgrade from the Station A-12 Debacle. These captains are Stephan Rinckes, Mathieu Duvivier, Suzan Reynolds, and Keith Harriman.

Rinckes is answering the admirals’ questions. “Because my older self ordered me to procure a shuttle and take Commander Simons to Starbase 9.”

“You didn’t question this order?” Admiral Paris asks.

“I did, but he pulled rank on me by invoking seniority.”

This incites tense laughter from Reynolds and Harriman. Duvivier crosses his arms and shakes his head.

Van Aken asks, “Has this older version turned up yet? We definitely have a few questions for him.”

“Last I saw him, he was severely injured.”

Paris notices Tony is approaching. “We’ll get back to you, Captain. Commander, welcome. Please join us. We’re eager to talk with you.”

Those present greet him with smiles and nods, except Rinckes, who keeps his gaze fixed on the fleet admiral. Reynolds pulls up a chair next to her, an invitation Tony graciously accepts. As he sits down across the table from the other captains, he makes eye contact with Duvivier, whose anger over the hijacking of the Kennedy seems to have subsided; he and Harriman are competing at how much sympathy they can exude.

“Rinckes was telling us about his amazing experience running into his older self,” Paris says. “I have the feeling the tale you have in store for us will surpass even that.”

“I’ll do my best,” Tony says.

Paris adopts a solemn tone. “Commander, we’ve read your preliminary report, and Harriman has informed us of the S’Prenn’s unexpected assistance. Given how they saved eleven of our starships and destroyed seventy Altonoid warships with relative ease, we’d be fools to gloss over their potential as allies. You were adamant we maintain a presence on Station A-12 because the S’Prenn are growing a navigational portal near it. Please elaborate.”

Despite the imposing collection of rank insignia around him, Tony permits himself to gather his thoughts before replying. “To say the following information has been hard-won would be an understatement. In the future I lived through, the Altonoids had taken over the station and exploited the portal’s biological properties to concoct a mind-altering chemical compound. This essentially allowed them to enslave the S’Prenn and use their intellectual and technological superiority against us. The results were devastating. Earth fell on April 16, 2382.”

Concerned looks and expressions surround him. Apart from his grim warnings, the main conference room has gone quiet.

“Other Federation home planets fell soon after. The death count… was extravagant. Our citizens became refugees, forced to seek asylum in Klingon space.” He furrows his brow. “We must defend this portal. If the Altonoids hadn’t been there when it formed, they never would’ve had plenty of opportunity to scrutinize it and connect the dots between its biochemical properties and their earlier bioweapon experimentations.”

“We should contact the S’Prenn at the earliest opportunity,” Van Aken says.

“Two months from now, they’ll come to our aid during the Battle of Sector 453. We should try hailing them then, although I suspect proper communication and diplomatic ties cannot be established before the portal has finished developing. This will take less than one year, during which we will have to rely on our own strength. I should also point out that Starbase 9 was the first Federation structure to fall after Station A-12’s loss. Of course, my interfering has reshaped future events, but I’d advise keeping this starbase on alert until further notice.”

Paris leans back in his chair and stares at something unseen as he absorbs this outpouring of crucial information.

Tony continues, “I cannot stress enough that while guarding the portal will protect the Federation and spare billions of lives, we owe it to the S’Prenn to do so. Their magnanimous gesture of good faith should not result in their collective enslavement by brutes.” When Paris fails to respond right away, Tony addresses him directly. “Admiral, I need your personal guarantee that Starfleet will do everything in its power to secure our and the S’Prenn’s future.”

Paris locks eyes with him.

“I apologize if my impertinence offends you,” Tony says, “but I stand firmly by my request. The stakes are too high to settle for anything less.” He catches a glimpse of Harriman squelching a smirk.

Paris mulls it over, then concedes, “Commander, you have my word. Defending Station A-12 and the portal will be given maximum priority. Ladies, gentlemen, I need not remind you the portal’s origins and importance are to be considered strictly classified.”

Tiredness envelops Tony, albeit a different sensation than usual. It’s the kind of fatigue one gets after accomplishing an important goal or a grueling task.

The fleet admiral isn’t quite done with him, though. “Commander, your bravery and commitment are beyond reproof, but we cannot ignore your many transgressions.” He picks up a PADD from the table. “Violating the Temporal Prime Directive by traveling back in time to change history; firing faulty aft torpedo launchers despite your chief engineer’s recommendations, resulting in almost crippling your ship in mid-combat; willful destruction of Federation property by opening fire at Station A-12’s conference room, endangering four officers within; disobeying your captain by beaming him off his own bridge against his wishes along with the rest of his crew, at which you assumed wrongful command of a Starfleet vessel and used it to collide with the admiral’s flagship, wrecking both vessels and causing injury and death in the process.”

“Sir, if may,” Duvivier interjects. “While his disobedience and this list of offenses trouble me a great deal, even I, as a personally affected party, cannot ignore the extenuating circumstances.”

“Agreed,” Van Aken says. “His actions may have scrapped two starships, including mine, and put my life in danger during his insane—yet successful—rescue attempt, but… as I understand it, these starships and many of our lives were doomed from the start. If it weren’t for him, Duvivier, Reynolds, and I wouldn’t be sitting at this table. Yes, we have to take his word for it. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single individual on this starbase who doubts his honesty in this matter, given his track record and extraordinary sacrifices.

“A further note of interest: My helmsman attested the commander chose the optimum trajectory when ramming the Wolf to minimize loss of life. He also calculated that, had the Wolf been allowed to smash into the station, our casualties would’ve been close to a hundred percent. Plus, how many would’ve died aboard the station in such a collision?”

Reynolds deigns Tony a brief glance. “I’d like to emphasize that we should not confuse desperation and determination for casually flaunting regulations. With billions of lives of stake, shouldn’t the net result outweigh the letter of the law?”

“Noted,” Paris says, bearing a neutral expression. “Commander, we hereby ask you to supplement your report with a full account of the seven years you spent in the alternate timeline. You may omit details as you see fit if they are in breach of the Temporal Prime Directive, but we require a comprehensive story to ensure a fair assessment of your conduct.”

“That would be reasonable, sir,” Tony says. “I assume full responsibility for my actions, good or bad, and I promise full disclosure. I’ll submit to the ruling of the admiralty, or if so decided, a court martial.”

Paris nods his approval.

“You’ll find I’ve always done my utmost to uphold Starfleet values. However, I’m only human—by choice, in my unique case—and I admit my behavior hasn’t always been… exemplary.” Thinking of the misstep that got him demoted to lieutenant, he looks at Rinckes, who stares at the table, his usually straight posture now bent. Intrigued, Tony keeps looking at him. Little by little, everyone’s attention is drawn to the aloof captain.

At last, Rinckes returns his gaze, and Tony sees right through him. The barely restrained sorrow in the captain’s eyes betray the mutual bond of respect and regret they’ve built over the years. This Rinckes knows more than he lets on.

“Captain?” is all Tony can say.

To retain a smidgeon of dignity, Rinckes raises his head, puffs out his chest, and says to the attendees, “I have plenty to add to that report as well.”

Paris scowls. “Please explain!”

“I was there, the whole seven years, five of which Tony and I served on the Achilles. The Temporal Integrity Commission, a future Federation agency, reintegrated me with my period-correct self. It explains why my fifty-three-year-old version was never located.” His fellow captains look on in shock, the admirals in anger. Rinckes shows no reaction to their display of emotions. “I was hardly myself. As soon as we jumped back to this year and had to fight through Station A-12’s corridors… I lost it. I couldn’t take it. Too many bad memories. Tony, he kept his wits about him. We’re here because of him.”

“We’re here because of each other, Captain,” Tony says, shelving his bewilderment to stay coherent and speak the truth. “You faltered in the end, but only in the end.”

Rinckes chuckles sadly. “Still the idealist, aren’t you? Well, you made it, Tony. You accomplished what you always wanted—no thanks to me. Admirals, I apologize for pretending to be someone I’m not and withholding vital information. I also promise full disclosure about what happened.” He dips his chin. “All of it, for better or worse.”

Baffled silence permeates the giant room as Tony struggles to scrounge together a reply. “Look at me, Captain.”

Rinckes does so reluctantly.

“We fulfilled our mission. Don’t ask me how or at what cost. What was asked of us, it was brutal. But we made it, Captain. We made it. Can you believe that? You kept us safe for five impossible years in enemy territory. Not many could have done the same. I can’t imagine the toll this burden took on you.” Though it demands every iota of his inner strength, he maintains a level voice while asking, “Tell me, did you save Melanie? Did you get to see her live? Did you get to hold her once more?”

A trembling smile offsets Rinckes’ contrite features. “She lives. She’ll never forgive me, but she lives.” A brief pause. “Emily?”

“Uncertain. They haven’t found her yet. The odds are… astronomical. Q made me choose between her and the Federation.”

Another round of shocked gasps. Reynolds places a hand on Tony’s shoulder and squeezes hard to offer her support.

“I’m so sorry, Tony,” Rinckes says.

“I know you are.”

“I… I can’t… If you’ll excuse me.” Rinckes stands up and starts walking away, his face buried in his hands.

Paris slams the tabletop with his fist. “Unbelievable… What do I say to this? Men, I’ve had it with these surprises. I’m hereby sending you both on extended leave pending further investigation. Take whatever time you need to recover. I do expect full reports by the end of next week. I have to know everything I need to know! Understood?”

Rinckes walks on, so Tony answers for them both. “Crystal clear, Admiral.”

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