Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter V

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Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter V

Post by Alexbright99 »

Here it is, good people. Chapter five of six. As always, the chapter will be uploaded in four segments, with a new segment each Friday. Do let me know what you think of the story so far and have a good weekend.


Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter Va

“Time is running out, Captain,” Ensign Surtak says with the composure of a true Vulcan.

An armada of hostile vessels fills the Achilles’ holographic viewscreen, thereby covering a significant portion of the bridge. It’s as if you can reach up and pluck them from the stars. A few years ago, that’s exactly what Commander Tony Blue would have done, each warship a speck of dust compared to his infinite powers as a Q. Now, he only has a tactical station to work with. “The enemy will be within weapons range in twenty seconds.”

Captain Rinckes stares at the viewscreen, his mind undoubtedly racing, weighing all possible actions and their prospective outcomes.

“The Orwell and Chekov have undocked from the starbase,” Lieutenant Baxter says.

“Total evacuation is 82 percent complete,” Surtak says.

Tony sets his jaw. “Ensign, we’re talking about people. Don’t give us percentages, give us numbers.”

“That won’t be necessary, Commander,” Rinckes says, chin held high, chest thrust forward. “Abort evacuation. Get us out of here, Baxter, and signal the others to do the same.”

“Sir,” Tony protests. “Several of our ships haven’t been able to undock yet. There must be a way to buy them time. Or, at the very least, let us complete our own evacuation responsibilities.”

“Well done, Tony,” Rinckes says without any trace of emotion. “You’re a fine first officer, performing your duty, adhering to protocol. Well done. Baxter, engage warp drive.”

Baxter already has a new course laid in and executes the command without hesitation. There’s a faint shudder as the ship hits warp speed, and the starbase and its ominous backdrop stay in view while the Achilles accelerates to well over 3000 times the speed of light. Star Scream, Nova, Arancibia, Orwell, and Checkov, in addition to numerous shuttlecraft and other warp-capable vessels, follow suit and try to keep up.

“It’s not just my duty,” Tony says fiercely. “It’s our duty to save as many as we can.” One could hear a pin drop as his stunned coworkers wait for the captain’s reply. The holographic representation of Starbase 43 about to be ripped apart by ravening warships adds even more pressure to the conversation.

“Your objection is noted,” Rinckes says as he sits back down.

Tony wants to continue his appeal, but it’s no use pressing the matter. In all honesty, he can’t think of any alternative strategy that might save the people trapped on Starbase 43. However, that does not exonerate anyone from giving up so damn fast.

On screen, Starbase 43 fires phasers, mile-long beams of red-hot energy making their way to the enemy fleet. Tony considers it a futile attempt at self-defense against such an overwhelming force, mentally drawing a somber parallel with Dad lifting his arms to protect himself from a collapsing building.

The crew watches quietly as the first enemy vessels unleash phaser fire and torpedoes at the starbase. Surreal as it may be, the S’Prenn, their former allies, join in on the attack, no holds barred, deepening their betrayal with every merciless weapon strike. One brave Norway-class starship, the Peninsula, undocks from Starbase 43, only to get blown out of the stars in a heartbeat. Hundreds of lives snuffed out in an instant. The fleet barely slows down while carrying out its bombardment. Even though the holographic starbase is shrinking as the distance increases, Tony can see its hull blacken. One by one, its phaser arrays are quenched until it is rendered helpless, but that doesn’t satisfy the fleet’s appetite. They want to see it burn.

“Viewer off,” Rinckes says. The buckling starbase and its attackers disappear, replaced by the bulkhead they obscured.

Seconds, maybe minutes, pass by while much remains unspoken. Lieutenant Commander Erin Crow re-enters the bridge and walks toward the tactical station, which is still being manned by Tony, who makes no effort to move over. In fact, he hardly notices her presence. “Commander, if I may,” she says with a hint of politeness. Evidently, the tacit friction on the bridge has mellowed her for now.

Tony ignores her because he has finally gathered the courage to ask, “Ensign Surtak, how many did we leave behind?” He glances at his captain to see if he’s going to object, but Rinckes does not grant him a response.

As if he has been expecting the question, Surtak has his answer ready. “Nineteen thousand two hundred fifteen.”

Tony clasps the sides of his station. “We left nineteen thousand two hundred fifteen officers and civilians behind?” He keeps repeating those numbers as if they were a mantra. When Rinckes looks at Tony through the corner of his eye, Tony meets his gaze and summons a wry smile. “That has to be a new personal record.”

The captain’s stare doesn’t change one bit. Better yet, nobody on the bridge dares to make a sound. Tony suspects he has crossed the line. His bravado slips and shatters as he awaits the captain’s reaction.

The captain pushes off against his chair and starts toward the tactical station while maintaining eye contact—an action so sudden it prompts Lt. Cmdr. Crow to postpone her attempts to retake tactical and she steps aside.

Rinckes halts a foot away from his young XO and towers over him. “How many people did you leave behind when you fled Earth?” Tony cannot answer that question, prolonging the uneasy situation, so the captain speaks for him. “There’s nothing you could’ve done. There’s nothing we could’ve done. Accept it. Move on.”

“Yes, sir,” Tony somehow manages to say.

At last, the captain walks off. “You have the bridge, Commander Blue,” he says as he retreats to his ready room. The sharp tension on the bridge dissipates like a sigh of relief, leaving silence in its wake.

* * *

Klingon space, USS Achilles – May 7, 2382 – Stardate 59346.1
Worn but functional would be the best way to describe the century-old Klingon outpost the Achilles is orbiting. Federation and Klingon shuttles are flying to and fro, transporting countless officers and civilians brought here by dozens of starships, which are either in synchronous orbit or in ever-changing formation as new arrivals trickle through the ranks.

Stood by the window, Tony spectates from his and Emily’s quarters with wavering attention. Emily breaks him from his trance by saying something nonessential, grateful as he may be for the intermission. “It was nice of the Klingons to welcome us and our refugees into their territory,” she says, placing two cups of tea on the table by the couch.

“It would be nicer if they helped us fight back,” Tony says, lacking his wife’s casualness. “I always thought they were warriors, driven by honor, yet they claim this is not their war.”

“It isn’t.” Emily sits down on the couch and invites him to do the same.

Tony reluctantly accepts her invitation. “And it won’t be if they persist in their stiff-necked mentality.”

“At least be glad we finally have access to our quarters,” Emily says, trying to change the subject—without any result, because Tony is still gazing out the window, albeit from the couch now.

He shakes his head. “The Altonoids concentrate exclusively on Federation space; they steer clear of the Romulan, Tholian, and Klingon borders. There’s no clear motive for their actions. It’s as if they’ve merely got a score to settle. And now we have indisputable evidence that the S’Prenn are aiding them… Frankly, we’re at a loss.”

Emily doesn’t offer a reply. There’s nothing left to say about their enemies and allies. It is the way it is.

Tony gives up staring at the Klingon outpost and takes a good look at his wife. He has been so preoccupied with this war and being second in command of a Federation flagship once again that he has given her little consideration. “So how have you been holding up?” he asks, ashamed for not asking this earlier.

“Busy,” she says with a tired smile. “Having to control over three thousand scared people with a security staff of sixty-five was harrowing. I don’t know how we managed to do as well as we did. And you?”

“Busy,” Tony says, without the smile. “I can barely keep track of the days. The minute I start thinking about anything other than the present, I automatically arrive back in San Francisco at the sight of my father buried underneath the rubble.” He pinches the bridge of his nose, hoping to ward off a brewing headache. “We haven’t even had the chance to mourn his death. I haven’t seen you crying. I haven’t cried.”

Emily caresses his hands. “All of this goes beyond you and me. We have lost so many friends, but we’re not alone in our grief. Almost everyone here has lost close relatives. You don’t see any of our colleagues mourning. They’re too busy doing their jobs, because that is what we’re left with. We are little cogs in a giant machine. If we give in to our pain, if we cave in and stop doing what we must, the machine will stop, and we will fall. Humanity would be lost.”

“What’s in that tea of yours?” Tony remarks dryly.

“Truth serum, I guess.”

After chuckling at Emily’s astute reply, Tony sips his tea and—for the first time since they’ve moved in—allows himself to take in his surroundings. Dominated by tan colors, officers’ quarters aboard the Achilles are remarkably luxurious and roomy. The many ornaments and comfy furniture complete the feeling of a home away from home. In all fairness, he misses their bungalow, and he is convinced his wife does too.

Apparently, the truth serum is still in effect, because Emily says, “Did you hear about Commander Crow?”

“Yes, I heard she smiled today,” Tony deadpans. “They had to rush her to sickbay, but the doctor said it was unlikely to ever happen again.”

“Very funny.” Emily gives him a soft slap on the chest. “I’m being serious here.”

“Sorry. What about Commander Crow?”

“I recently found out her husband has been missing in action since the onset of the war. She used to be a lot more sociable, but his MIA status has embittered her.”

“Is that so?”

“It made me think about us. Rumor has it this ship and its crew will be sent back to the front.”

“It’s in the cards,” Tony admits. “But until it’s official, it’s nothing but a rumor.”

“A persistent one. It’s just… It made me think…”

“…about the possibility to resign our commissions and stay out of harm’s way.”

“Not very heroic of us, is it?” Emily says with a sweet but somewhat abashed smile.

“Who ever said we were heroes?” Tony stands up abruptly and starts pacing the room. “We’ve proven our tenacity, no question about that. And yet…” He halts near a framed holophoto to stare at the holographic image of his late father. “The thought has occurred to me more than once these days.” He turns to Emily. “We have a decision to make.”

* * *

Captain Stephan Rinckes is sitting in his ready room, catching up with the latest logs and developments while pondering their implications, when the door chimes. “Enter,” he says, using a perfect mixture of authority and volume.

Commander Tony Blue walks in, greets him with a nod, and sits down opposite the captain’s desk. “You’ve asked for my presence.” To his credit, Tony figured out a couple of days ago that the best way to initiate a conversation with the captain is by being the first to speak.

“It’s hardly news anymore,” Rinckes says, absorbed by the info on his translucent desktop screen. “We’re being sent back to Federation space.”

“I suspected as much.”

“Mind you, this isn’t some heroic endeavor to battle a few Altonoids and recapture bits and pieces of our territory. Take a look at this.” He throws his first officer a PADD. “The S’Prenn did more than just strengthen the Altonoids’ numbers. What you’re reading is the report on the technology used during the attack on Earth.”

Tony sums up what he reads. “Disabling Earth’s planetary shield grid; dampening sensors, communications, and transporters; upgraded weaponry, cloaking devices, and propulsion—it’s all traceable to the S’Prenn.”


Before Tony can continue, the captain does it for him. “You want to know why? Why have the S’Prenn, once the Altonoids’ most powerful nemesis and our strongest ally, betrayed us, even though the Altonoids represent everything they do not?”

Tony fidgets with the edges of the PADD. “That’s what I was thinking.”

“That’s what we’re all thinking.” Rinckes heaves a weighty sigh. “So we’re being sent back to Federation space, not to be heroes, not to be liberators, but to find answers.”

Tony leans forward, anticipating this briefing’s next subject.

Rinckes cuts to the heart of the matter. “A couple of officers have petitioned for a transfer. I can’t blame them. The mission we’re about to embark on will not be without its risks.” He pauses to goad the commander into replying, with no immediate result. “Given the extreme circumstances, most of them must have concluded—”

“Don’t expect a transfer request from me and Emily. We’ve vowed to serve Starfleet to the best of our abilities, and this is a call to action we cannot ignore. For better or worse, we’re in this together.”

Rinckes did not foresee such a determined answer from the young man in front of him. For a moment, they share a glance of mutual understanding. They’re both going to fight for their cause, wherever it may take them. “Very well,” he says. “We depart tomorrow at noon. That will be all.”

“Understood, sir.”

Rinckes watches his first officer leave and keeps staring at the doors long after they have closed. After a while, his eyes are drawn to the nearby window, to the view of the stars. He recognizes several of them as belonging to Federation space. Disguised as the hallmark of serenity, they hold so many tragedies, so much beauty and emptiness, so much destruction.

And for some unfathomable reason, the captain believes with absolute certainty that his fate lies hidden among those stars, and those stars alone.
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Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter Vb

Post by Alexbright99 »

In former Federation space, USS Achilles – June 14, 2386 – Stardate 63450.5
The lone window flaunts numerous constellations, and Captain Stephan Rinckes pensively studies their patterns and brilliance from the comfort of his desk chair. The captain’s dark blond hair is graying, the lines in his hawkish face have deepened, but other than that, his appearance hasn’t changed since he first took command of this ship. His ready room, like the rest of the Achilles, isn’t as pristine as it was when this clandestine operation began, courtesy of several unavoidable skirmishes with the Altonoids. Soon, the battered Achilles will hit high warp and head for its next destination and the perils it contains.

“Captain’s log, stardate 63450.5.” He rubs his temples and tries to collect his thoughts despite his fatigue. “We’re en route to the Nedron system in hopes of finding another piece of the puzzle that might explain why the S’Prenn are cooperating with the Alto Empire. I remain grateful for the Klingons outfitting the Achilles with a cloaking device; without it, we would never have made it this far. Our current journey has proven hazardous even by our standards. Today we barely evaded another enemy fleet. Our sensors picked them up at the last minute. It’s hard to believe this whole region of space once belonged to us, because we are finding less and less indication of a prior Federation presence.”

A tranquil minute drifts by as Rinckes listens to the soothing drone of a starship in motion. He cannot for the life of him recall the last time he slept; by force of habit, he has been working nonstop for days on end. “Captain’s log, supplemental. We’ve been hiding, searching, wandering from planet to planet, chasing caches of information, and following up on every shred of intel for four years. Where is the backup we were promised? The Achilles could use a major overhaul, and the crew is in dire need of R&R. We never expected this mission to take this long, and the setbacks are beginning to outweigh—” With a shudder, the captain realizes the view outside has been engulfed by the total blackness of space.

There are no stars outside.

Rinckes freezes up, yet he’s starting to perspire. He gets up from his desk and walks toward the window to take in the surreal, ink-black darkness. Something is amiss, but he cannot dare name it. The dark threatens to hypnotize him, to suck him in, and he forces himself to turn away. The lights in his office have dimmed to the lowest setting, rendering it near impossible to see anything, so he grabs the phaser rifle that has materialized on his desk and switches on its flashlight.

His breath bursting in and out, the captain exits his office and enters a familiar set of corridors, lit solely by blinking red alert panels. After a few paces, the ready room behind him vanishes into thin air, taking everything reminding him of reality with it.

He is roaming the desolate innards of Station A-12, his sweaty hands clasping the phaser rifle as he progresses through murky hallways, feeling as if a thousand disembodied souls are watching him. From the brink of oblivion, a distorted figure whisks by. “Stop!” Rinckes hears himself shout while trying to track the specter with his rifle. His voice echoes into the void. Defying his instincts, and not by his own volition, Rinckes chases after this apparition.

After rounding the sixth consecutive right-hand corner, the captain stops dead in his tracks. The corridor is littered with Starfleet uniform-wearing corpses—some of them flat on the carpet, others leaning against the bulkheads like marionettes long since abandoned by their puppet master. With apprehension as his sole companion, Rinckes shines the rifle’s flashlight at each slain officer he encounters. Their faces are pale, their eyes milky and devoid of pupils. It forms an eerie scene, and each corpse he inspects adds fuel to the lonely fire that burns within him.

Rinckes aims his light at the end of the corridor, where an isolated corpse lies on its back. With irrational carefulness, Rinckes inches toward it. The red alert panels short out, leaving the rifle’s flashlight as his sole light source even though it’s dwindling, succumbing to the darkness. He keeps it fixed on the dead officer—a woman. Her blonde hair obscure her face. The captain crouches beside her and tries to dismiss the sensation of being stalked by an unstoppable murderer hiding in his peripheral vision. The air is warm, on the verge of smothering him.

Gently, Rinckes pushes aside her clammy locks of hair to reveal her identity. “Melanie,” he says. She’s pallid, like the others, and her eyes are closed, complementing her peaceful death mask. “Melanie!” He has been frightened ever since the stars disappeared, but now he’s beginning to panic. Fear, mixed with pain and despair, dictates his every thought, his every move. He grabs her by the shoulders and starts shaking her in an effort to wake her up, but she remains lifeless…

Then, without warning, Melanie opens her eyes in a furious stare directed straight at him.

Unable to withhold a muffled scream, Rinckes awakens from his nightmare. His skin is sweaty, his heart is thumping a wild rhythm, and his lungs are doing backflips to keep up. He looks around, bewildered, and notices he’s sitting in his ready room with the lights dimmed. The window that heralded his nightmare displays streaks of stardust, indicating the Achilles is at warp.

The doors across the room swish open and a shadowy figure enters.

Rinckes backs up in his chair, prepared to defend himself. “Who are you?”

The figure halts. “Lieutenant Ernest Baxter, sir. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. The door was unlocked, and you—”

“Why are the lights off?” Rinckes asks, still disoriented and confused.

Baxter, featureless in the artificial dusk, briefly hesitates before saying, “We are in silent mode, Captain. Standard procedure when travelling under cloak. Are you all right, sir?”

“What is it you wanted to say?” Rinckes asks while regaining his composure, downplaying his embarrassment by ignoring it altogether.

“We’ve evaded another squadron of Altonoid vessels. We will arrive in the Nedron system in nineteen hours.”

“Another squadron? Unusual activity for this area,” Rinckes says, more to himself than to Baxter. “Maybe the intelligence reports we acquired are correct.”

“Let’s hope so.”

The shadowy figure leaves and Rinckes is alone once again. Stacks of PADDs holding relevant files beckon him to go back to work, seducing him with the promise of hidden clues. He picks one up and begins reading, only to throw it back on the pile moments later. Outside, iridescent shafts of stardust rush by, consoling him in hypnotic monotony, keeping the darkness at bay.

* * *

Commander Tony Blue picks a biobed and hops onto it. The Achilles’ main sickbay is dimly lit—a telltale sign of the cloaking device’s activated state.

Doctor Chris Kingsley emerges from his office and marches over to him. “I regret to inform you there’s no cure for ugliness.”

“Very funny, Doctor.” Tony still finds it hard to believe that, of all people, this particular chief medical officer doubles as counselor for the duration of this mission, but the crew has learned to roll with this sarcastic individual’s punches. “You know I’m not a big fan of these pre-mission checkups. I mean, if I believe there’s something wrong with me, you’ll be the first to know.”

“Maybe that’s because there’s always something wrong with you,” Kingsley says. “Granted, you’ve taken an impressive amount of beating during your current human stint, but medically speaking you should be able to jump and frisk around like a little schoolgirl.”

Tony lets him rant. It’s best not to interrupt the doctor when caught in a new variant of his infamous monologues. He means well; he just loves the sound of his voice.

“Somehow, and I think it’s out of spite, you manage to keep limping. Honestly, I’m done rearranging your bones and muscles. I’m done polishing old phaser scars. I’m done running laps with you in holographic recreations of Olympic stadiums.”

“Doctor…” Tony says, successfully hiding his amusement, “shut up and fire up the bloody biobed.” He is grateful to be one of the two persons allowed to issue orders to the chief medical officer.

Kingsley has another trick up his sleeve. “I could make this examination last hours, days if necessary,” he says with a slightly unhinged grin. “I could even declare you unfit for duty.”

Tony decides to give up and stay silent. Surprisingly enough, it works.

Assisted by the biobed’s sensors, the doctor conducts the examination by waving a medical tricorder over his patient and—as the good Doctor Kingsley is wont to do—by assuming a severe aspect while studying the data, as if he has found a horrible affliction, only to shrug it off and continue the checkup. Sometimes, it makes Tony wish for another doctor. Any doctor, really. Even a farsighted, one-armed Klingon with psychopathic tendencies would do.

Kingsley glances at the biobed’s readouts. “You’re completely healthy, as you should be at twenty-four years of age. You are hereby officially cleared to set foot on Nedron Eight. Please try not to limp too much during the away mission. I understand you think the crew will respect you for it, being a fallen hero and such, but I can assure you it won’t do any good.”

Tony refrains from replying. He’d better not encourage him.

“Fine. The limp joke has worn out its welcome,” Kingsley says as he tosses his tricorder aside. “Just make sure you don’t get any other medical ailments, missing limbs, or whatever I can make fun of, okay?”

Struggle as he might, Tony cannot stifle a brief chuckle. “Is this your way of telling me to be careful?”

“Um… Yes.”

“I’ll try not to disappoint you.” Tony gets up and heads for the exit, the limp in his walk slight but noticeable.

* * *

Nedron System, USS Achilles – June 15, 2386 – Stardate 63452.7
Dimmed lights suffuse every corner of this starship with a sense of gloom one never quite grows accustomed to. Captain Rinckes sits behind his desk in his ready room, using his personal access console to review earlier investigations regarding the S’Prenn’s influence on the war. Some of these reports go back as far as the last time the Achilles visited the Nedron system—six years ago—under the command of the late Admiral Harriman.

“You might have been closer to a solution than you could have imagined,” Rinckes says to a picture of Harriman on one of the reports.

His lowly lit monitor highlights several related subjects. Rinckes scrolls through the list, and his heart skips a beat when he spots the subject “Station A-12 Debacle.” He selects it, causing images and a brief summary of events to fill the screen. From the short table of participating ships, he selects the USS Sundance and summons images and specs of the Prometheus-class vessel. After selecting “crew” and the stardate on which the Sundance was lost, he is confronted with a photo of his younger counterpart. Its caption reads:

Captain Stephan Rinckes – Captain – b. 2334

At the click of a button, the next crewmember appears. He can’t bear to look at the profile picture, even though it holds no secrets from him. Every time he closes his eyes, every time his thoughts stray, he sees it, an image more vivid than life itself. It is welded into his memory. As a result, he can only bring himself to glimpse at its immutable caption.

Commander Melanie Simons – First Officer – b. 2351 d. 2380

Quickly, before he might change his mind, he selects “next.” And again, and again. Every entry of every member of the Sundance’s crew, except his own, ends with d. 2380, a total of 173 Starfleet officers. Most of them he knew personally, and all of them were once his responsibility.

He arrives at his own picture once more and stops pressing the “next” button, aware of what’s hiding behind it.

The intercom signal chimes to offer reprieve from his somber musings. “Bridge to Captain Rinckes. We have arrived at Nedron Eight.” The lighting automatically increases to normal levels, further prompting the captain to action. He wants to shut off his computer and—whether by accident or on purpose—clicks “next” instead. The screen shows a youthful, blonde commander smiling prettily at the camera.

Commander Melanie Simons – First Officer – b. 2351 d. 2380

Rinckes reaches out and briefly caresses her face. All he feels is the cold tripolymer display beneath his fingertips. Without a change in his blank expression, he rises from his desk and leaves the room.
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Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter Vc

Post by Alexbright99 »

“Sorry, guys,” Tony Blue says, hobbling into transporter room 2 in an environmental suit, which consists of relatively tight-fitting, white fabric and an upper-body shell resting on a maroon vest. This bulky shell has an integrated helmet with a sizeable, transparent faceplate, which, in Tony’s view, has been specifically designed to exhibit how queasy you become in zero-G.

The other six away team members, also in their EV suits, are waiting for him on the transporter platform. Their hefty magnetic boots are the only reason they’re not tapping their feet.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m late,” Tony says. “I had a little trouble suiting up.”

Lieutenant Junior Grade Emily Blue scoffs. “He can never dress himself properly without my assistance.”

“You sure it’s airtight?” Chief of Security Lieutenant Jeremy Gibbs teases.

“Don’t worry, I carry extra sealant,” Lieutenant Commander Jon Terrell says, his cockney accent contributing to his wit. The dark-skinned chief engineer never shies away from an opportunity to poke well-intended fun at his fellow shipmates.

With as much elegance as possible while wearing a space suit and having a limp, Tony steps onto the transporter platform. “We look like a bunch of Michelin men,” he says to the man standing beside him, who turns out to be none other than Lieutenant Junior Grade Surtak, the ship’s ops officer.

The Vulcan arches an eyebrow. “I do not understand the reference, Commander.”

“Who invited him along?” Tony says, facing the others.

“I did, sir,” Lt. Gibbs says with admirable patience, “because you specifically asked me—”

“Yeah, yeah.” Tony waves him off. Apart from Tony, Emily, Gibbs, Terrell, and Surtak, there are two other crewmembers present on the platform. “You two,” he says to them. “What are your names and ranks?”

“Ensign Ted Barton.”

“Ensign Josh Donahue.”

“Good,” Tony says. “I hereby doubled your chances of survival. You can thank me later.”

The ensigns exchange puzzled looks.

Tony presses one of the colorful buttons on his space suit, opening a comm channel with an audible chirp. “Commander Blue to the bridge. We’re all set here.”

Good. Get underway,” Captain Rinckes replies. “Bridge out.”

“And good luck, valued crewmembers,” Emily adds with a small heap of sarcasm.

“Transporter chief,” Tony says to the ensign manning the transporter controls. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, sir,” the young man says.

“Ready ready?” Tony asks.


“I’m-not-going-to-mess-up-again-and-transport-you-into-the-one-lake-on-the-bloody-planet ready?”

“Sir, that happened only once,” the ensign says sheepishly.

Judging by the ensuing laughter, nobody has forgotten about that incident yet.

“All right,” Tony says, lifting a hand to signal his team to stop laughing, without much success. “Ensign, take us down.” He half-expects the transporter chief to take out his phaser and start gunning down everyone, but by some miracle the chief understands it correctly, and soon the away team dissipates in several blue transporter beams.

* * *

“Commander Blue and his team have been transported to Nedron Eight,” Lt. Baxter says from his station.

Captain Rinckes acknowledges the helmsman’s report with a quick nod. Here on the bridge, the many battles have left their permanent mark as well, but all stations remain operational. On the viewscreen, the Garcon Nebula lies in the distance, stunning in its lilac and blue grandeur. The graveyard of ships created by the Battle of Nedron must still be there, even though the Altonoids have probably stripped the derelicts of all valuable technology and scoured their databases for every usable fragment of information.

“Odd,” Doctor Kingsley says, seated on the second officer’s chair, to the captain’s left, studying his computer terminal’s data—or lack of it. “I’m reading no bio-signs.”

“That’s not surprising,” Lt. Kels says, her matter-of-factly tone belying the bad news she is sharing. “The Garcon Nebula tends to interfere with short and long range sensors. That, combined with the planet’s volatile atmosphere, could hinder communications, so they’re carrying pattern enhancers, which they will have to set up manually. They’ll likely need them to beam back, too.”

“And nobody told me this, because…?”

None of the bridge officers feels inclined to answer right away. Lt. Baxter breaks the silence. “Because reading their bio-signs isn’t going to help much when they’re being mauled by a ten-foot Nedronian cave dweller.”

“Well put, Lieutenant,” Lt. Kels says.

Dr. Kingsley is not amused. “So all we have to do is wait?” he asks. It winds up being a rhetorical question.

* * *

Nedron Eight isn’t your typical holiday destination. The terrain is rugged, volcanic, and features man-high vegetation stretched out in random contortions, as if drawn by a mirror universe Dr. Seuss. The sky is red and foggy, and the landscape’s aesthetics are dreary in every direction, from lava streams strangling the hillsides to blackened trees branching out like skeletal husks. The most fun you can have here is by taking off your environmental suit. You’d suffocate, burn, and get poisoned—in any particular order.

“God, I miss Risa,” Lt. Cmdr. Terrell quips.

“God, I miss Earth,” Ensign Donahue says.

“These are the coordinates,” Lt. Surtak says clinically, having activated the tricorder he detached from his suit.

“Okay, guys, this is the place,” Tony says. “Stay alert. Report anything of interest.”

They look around, seeing different variations of depressing scenery. The officers spread out, reluctantly so, but Tony sticks with his wife.

“Not a great place for a family picnic, huh?” Emily says.

“We’ve had worse outings,” Tony responds with a slightly forced giggle. Their attempt at lightening the mood is thwarted by the inescapable uneasiness this planet radiates. “Gibbs, any hostile activity yet?” Their in-suit communication systems allow them to talk with each other, even when they’re outside visual range. It also gives their voices a metallic quality, compounding the suit wearer’s sense of isolation.

“No hostiles,” Lt. Gibbs says. “As far as I can tell, there’s no wildlife, and I’m not detecting any life signs other than our own.”

“And yet,” Tony says, “I have the feeling we are being shadowed.” Out of the blue, someone taps him on the arm, causing him to leap into the air higher than you would think possible in such a heavy space suit.

“That would be me, sir,” Gibbs says, sporting a grin almost too wide to fit within his suit’s faceplate. “Nice jump.”

“Just carry on,” Tony grumbles.

After six minutes of their collective fruitless wandering, Emily speaks up. “It’s hard to be sure with this much interference, but there might be a structure over there, made from materials not indigenous to this planet.” Immersed in her tricorder’s readings, she heads onward.

“Team, this is Commander Blue. We might be on to something. Gather at our location.” He and Gibbs follow Emily into a patch of bleak shrubbery. All of a sudden, Emily stumbles and vanishes from sight within milliseconds. Tony’s skin crawls and his stomach tightens. Trailed by Gibbs, he rushes toward her last whereabouts, shouting his wife’s name.

“Everything all right there?” Terrell asks over the comm.

Tony doesn’t reply. He arrives at a precarious hole in the ground, about five feet in diameter, containing nothing but unending darkness, and kneels next to it. “Emily! Are you there?”

“Raising your voice is unnecessary, Commander,” Surtak says. “Our suits’ communication systems relay our messages regardless. Furthermore, we will reach your position in approximately ten seconds.”

Gibbs gives Tony a worried look. Normally, the commander would’ve verbalized his deep-felt sentiments concerning Vulcans, but all he does now is search for any indication of his spouse’s well-being, repeating the same words over and over. “Can you hear me, Emily? Are you there?”

Terrell, Surtak, and the two ensigns join them. “Is Lieutenant Blue all right?” Ensign Barton asks, medical kit in hand. No one has an answer ready.

Surtak hovers his tricorder over the opening. “The shaft does not appear to have been forged by nature. In fact, I have reason to believe we are standing atop a large metal platform, which is covered in soil.”

“Very interesting, Lieutenant,” Barton says politely, “but are you reading any life signs?”

“If there are, I cannot discern them at present.” Captivated by his tricorder’s output, he continues, “This shaft is at least twenty meters deep and opens up into a vast area. I surmise we are on the roof of a very large chamber—a storage room, perhaps.”

Tony straightens up. “I’m going in,” he says. “And you’re all coming with me.”

“No problem,” Gibbs says, snapping to action. “Everyone, activate your magnetic boots and follow me. The first steps are going to be difficult, so watch yourself.”

“May I point out we should not forget our mission,” Surtak says.

“I don’t know, Mr. Surtak,” Terrell says with a teasing smirk. “An artificial shaft in the middle of a deserted planet. If that’s not a clue, then what is?”

“In my opinion, it would be inadvisable to…” Surtak stops mid-sentence upon realizing Tony and Gibbs have already disappeared from sight.

Tony lets his magnetic boots do what their name suggests. Like the security chief predicted, the first few steps into the abyss are tricky, and Tony fights to maintain equilibrium despite gravity tugging at him from unusual directions. Having Gibbs by his side is reassuring, and soon his other colleagues join them.

Together, the six officers tramp the ceiling upside down—an unnerving experience. In the gloom, it’s impossible to determine the size and purpose of this seemingly boundless place. Fog leaking through the hatch, claiming the chamber as its own, doesn’t help visibility either. The SIMs beacons—or flashlights, if you will—strapped to their wrists only shine so far.

Finally, they encounter the nearest wall and start traversing the vertical plane, for all the difference it makes in this disorienting journey. All is quiet apart from their clanging footsteps and Tony’s repeated attempts to contact his wife. “Emily, I know you’re there. We’re coming for you. Don’t worry.” His tone is soft and gentle. Even if his comforting messages won’t reach her, they do strengthen his resolve to rescue her.

* * *

Lieutenant Emily Blue has no idea where she is, her surroundings a starless night. She cannot move. Throbbing pain besets her spine and limbs. She appears to be lying on her back, resting on an uneven surface, but it feels like a vague dream conjured up by a stranger. Despite her best efforts, she cannot remember what circumstances brought her here. She’d panic if she were lucid enough. Someone is calling her name from beyond the haze, but it’s too faint, drowned out by distorted thoughts. Darkness envelopes her, singing her to sleep. She doesn’t have to get up; that won’t do her much good. She might as well lie here and drift back into unconsciousness.

There’s that voice again, calling for her, but it’s distant and slipping away.
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Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter Vd

Post by Alexbright99 »

The six officers have to climb over scattered crates and containers from which unidentifiable content has spilled out in threads of grime, forming artificial dunes on a dusty floor. With the team’s magnetic boots, it’s easier to negotiate these obstacles, but it slows their progress nonetheless.

“Assuming Lieutenant Blue fell straight down, she should be nearby,” Lieutenant Surtak says, the only composed person here. This storage room from hell combined with the uncertainty of Emily’s fate is enough to make everybody else skittish.

Clambering through the field of smashed crates, Tony keeps talking to Emily in a soft, detached voice, contributing to the eeriness of the situation.

“I am reading a life sign,” Surtak says, to his colleagues’ relief. “Straight ahead.”

“Ready phasers. It could be a hostile contact,” Lieutenant Gibbs says.

Tony stops his one-sided conversation with Emily and looks straight through the security chief. After a few seconds of indecision, the commander nods his approval and unclips his handphaser from its holster on his EV suit. Emotions may run high, but he cannot afford to lower his guard in enemy territory.

“There she is! We’ve found her!” Ensign Donahue shouts. Six beams of light converge on a white space suit between a pair of broken crates.

“She is alive but wounded,” Surtak says as the group hurries over to her.

Tony is the first to get to her, and he crouches beside his wife. “Emily, I’m here,” he says, but she does not respond.

With the quiet precision of a Starfleet medic, Ensign Ted Barton hunkers down on the other side, opens his medkit, and begins scanning her with his medical tricorder.

“Wake up, Emily. You’re safe now,” Tony says in the same calm tone he has been using for the past few minutes.

“Commander,” Barton says after finishing his quick examination. “Sir!”

“Yes, Ensign?”

“The crates and her suit have broken her fall for the most part. She has sustained minor injuries to her head, limbs, and spine, but nothing life-threatening. She’s going to be all right.”

“That’s good to hear,” Tony says, voicing everybody’s thoughts.

“I could start treatment here, but I’d prefer to take her to sickbay.”

Lieutenant Commander Terrell chimes in. “We’ll have to set up the pattern enhancers if we want to beam her to the Achilles.”

“What’s going on?” Emily says, much to everyone’s surprise. Tony immediately embraces her. Not a very bright idea, considering her aches and bruises, so he backs down and rests her in his arms instead. “What did I miss?” she asks drowsily.

“Nothing really,” Tony says, unable to suppress a smile. “You just took a shortcut. We had to take the long way round.”

“Oh,” she says. The simplicity of her reply makes Tony chuckle.

“I hate to break up the tender moment,” Gibbs says, “but we have to keep moving. Ensign Barton, is Emily’s condition stable?”

“It is, sir.”

“Commander Blue, don’t get me wrong, but the sooner we complete our assignment, the better. Ensign Barton can stay with her, and we will pick them up on our way back.”

Tony knows Gibbs is right. With the team’s medic tending to Emily’s wounds, it’s time for them to move on. “I understand, Lieutenant,” he says, still cradling his wife. “You proceed with the mission; I think I’ll stay too.” Emily tries to sit up, but her struggles yield only a pained grimace. “Careful, don’t move. I’m here with you.”

“Sir, I understand why you’d rather stay,” Gibbs says as he crouches down and rests his hand on Tony’s shoulder, coaxing the commander to snap out of his overprotective state. “Emily’s in good hands. We’ll come back for them once we’re done.” He scoots closer. “Sir, you have more experience with the Altonoids than any of us do, and I don’t have to remind you of the importance of this mission.”

The security chief’s reasoning may be solid, but Tony remains unconvinced.

“It’s okay, Tony. I’ll be fine,” Emily says with a masterful combination of stubbornness and sweetness that never fails to bypass his defenses. “I’m usually the one looking after you, remember?”

“It’s your call, Commander,” Gibbs says.

Tony lets out an exaggerated breath. “Oh, all right. Don’t you all get all puppy-eyed on me. Just give me a sec.”

“No problem,” Gibbs says, and he stands up to join the others.

Tony turns to his wife. “Okay, you stay here and be nice to Ensign Barton.”

“I’ll do my best,” Emily says in a mock-serious tone.

“And you, Ensign,” Tony says. “Ted, take good care of her.”

“Yes, sir. Of course, sir.”

“Or else I’ll drop you off at the nearest Altonoid melee weapon party.”

“Yes, sir.”


“Yes, sir.”

“Good. We understand each other.”

“Commander, we need to get going,” Gibbs says. The other three members of the away team have already become contours in the chamber’s mist.

“Don’t go anywhere,” Tony says to Barton and Emily.

Emily smiles. “We won’t.” And with that, Tony rises to his feet and accompanies Gibbs into the unknown.

* * *

“We’ve reached an exit,” Ensign Donahue says. Tony, Terrell, Gibbs, and Surtak convene at his location and spot a vast metal door, camouflaged in the murk. They’ve been trudging for a while now, navigating a maze of darkness and broken crates, scouring the walls for a way out. Tony for one is relieved, although what lies hidden behind the door probably won’t justify that feeling.

“It is locked,” Surtak says.

Nobody knows how to respond, except for maybe a concealed “duh,” given the fact that this massive door looks like it can only be opened with a volley of quantum torpedoes.

“That’s where I come in,” Terrell says, ever the optimist. The others take a respectful step back and let the British chief engineer do what he does best: fixing stuff. With a modicum of effort and through the magic of a jerry-rigged energy cell, Terrell persuades the big door to open, revealing a twisted corridor as hazy and endless as the storage room. A faraway metal screech, amplified by the hopefully empty hallway, echoes its welcome.

“Keep your phasers ready,” Gibbs says with a relatable hint of peril.

Surtak, however, is calm as always. “It is doubtful we will encounter living beings beyond this doorway.” Unlike his colleagues, he hasn’t armed himself yet. Fearlessly, the Vulcan crosses the threshold with his tricorder held out in front of him, as if he’s taking a quiet stroll in a friend’s backyard and not entering a nightmarish corridor. The other officers have no choice but to follow.

Tony cannot decide whether he finds Surtak’s approach brave or careless—stoic would probably be the correct term.

“I believe I have collected sufficient data to confirm we are aboard a crashed Attack-class Altonoid vessel,” Surtak says, causing a fit of surprised mutterings among the other members of the away team. “I suggest we head over to the computer core control room, where we can attempt to access the main computer.”

“I’m impressed, Lieutenant,” Gibbs says. The others agree in silence.

Flanked by Gibbs and Terrell, Surtak takes point. Tony and Donahue bring up the rear. Light beams emanating from their SIMs beacons hit either the bulkheads or the enclosing walls of fog. The big cargo bay door has already disappeared in the mist. It’s as if this corridor has no beginning or end. It makes Tony miss the safety of the Achilles. It makes him miss his wife. “Emily, can you hear us?” No reply.

“Out of range, Commander,” Terrell says. “The door probably closed behind us, too.”

Just as Tony concludes this couldn’t get much spookier, they encounter a molding Altonoid corpse lying casually on the floor. Their beacons are drawn to it, and they stop and stare for a while. Mummified by the planet’s unforgiving atmosphere, its mouth retracted in a soundless scream, it has become hideous and grotesque.

“He is dead,” Surtak says.

Tony sinks his upper teeth into his lower lip to keep from laughing and asks, “Sure you don’t want to check his pulse?”

“Yeah,” Terrell says with an ear-to-ear grin. “I mean, if there’s anything we can do for him, we shouldn’t hesitate.”

“That’s Starfleet for you. Always here to help,” Gibbs says with an equally broad smile.

“I find these so-called jokes at the expense of a deceased individual distasteful,” Surtak says. “According to my readings, the Altonoid has been dead for two years, providing us a reliable indication of when this vessel crashed.”

“Such a buzzkill,” Tony mumbles to himself before addressing his team. “Show’s over. Let’s get going. And Surtak, be sure to warn us when you encounter any living Altonoids.”

“I will, sir,” Surtak says as he continues into the darkness. The others go with him, leaving the Altonoid to rest in peace.

* * *

The bridge crew of the Achilles has been trying to ascertain the away team’s status, but they have very little to go on. That goes double for the chief medical officer, Doctor Kingsley. “I don’t like to be kept out of the loop like this. We haven’t heard anything from them since the mission began.”

“No news could be good news, Doctor,” Lieutenant Commander Crow says, aiming to silence the doctor. He has been grouching ever since he arrived on the bridge.

“Really? That’s all you have to offer?” Kingsley stands up to make room for his wild gestures. “Right this instant, they could be celebrating the unearthing of an artifact that unravels the mysteries of the universe, or they could be stuck in some native monster’s digestive tract.”

“Our most recent scans of the surface prove there are no creatures in their vicinity,” Lieutenant Kels says, helping Crow in her brave but futile quest to shut the doctor up.

“Tell me, Lieutenant,” Kingsley says. “Exactly how accurate are the sensors when it comes to scanning a planet with so much natural interference?”

Kels deflects his probing question. “I’m sure Commander Blue has everything under control.”

“I may certainly hope so.”

“Sir, are you suggesting the away team isn’t capable of performing its duties?”

Kingsley lifts his palms. “I’m not suggesting anything of the kind.” He decides to procure the captain’s support. “Captain, what do you think? Are my worries justified?” That last question is spoken as if there’s only one possible answer.

However, Captain Rinckes doesn’t appear to be following the conversation, nor does he show any willingness to participate. He’s watching the viewscreen, studying it. The view of Nedron Eight with the impressive Garcon Nebula as its backdrop hasn’t changed in the past half-hour. Yet, a glimmer of alarm in the captain’s gaze brings the entire argument to a halt.

“Something’s off,” the captain grumbles. “We’re not alone. Scan the system without revealing our position. Use low-frequency scan pulses.”

The crew complies straightaway. “Nothing out of the ordinary on sensors,” Kels says. “I could divert a smidgeon of extra power to the sensor arrays.”

“Don’t. Just stay alert,” Rinckes says without breaking off his concentrated stare.

“Even if there’s someone out there, they won’t detect us,” Crow says in another attempt to ease the tension. “Our cloaking device is running at full efficiency.”

“I know,” Rinckes says in a manner that doesn’t soothe anyone’s nerves.

An opening comm channel announces itself. Lieutenant Baxter sighs in relief. “Sir, it’s the away team,” he says. “Relaying communication to the bridge.”

“Finally,” Kingsley says, falling back into his chair.

* * *

Tony, Terrell, Gibbs, Surtak, and Donahue are standing in a modestly sized room that’s equipped with wall-mounted computer interfaces gathering dust in serene inactivity. Other than that, it’s remarkably empty, save for the six upright pattern enhancers that have been strategically placed and calibrated to perfection. Those enhancers cast a shimmery blue light against the bulkheads, giving the computer room the aspect of an aquarium.

What’s your status?” they hear their captain say.

“We have found the wreckage of a crashed Attack-class Altonoid vessel,” Tony replies, “the UEA Atlunte. We’re currently in the secondary computer core room. Commander Terrell is busting his hump to get the main computer up and running.” Terrell quickly flashes him a smile while typing commands into a badly lit wall panel. “He’s making excellent progress.”

As if on cue, all interfaces switch on in quick succession, their green hues clashing with the pattern enhancers’ blue, rippling light.

“Nice work, Jon,” Gibbs says as he gives the chief engineer a friendly knock on the helmet. “Let’s figure out what this rusty old flea trap can tell us.”

“If we upload its database to the Achilles,” Surtak says, “it will give us the opportunity to review all files without the delay of an on-site selection.”

“Feasible and wise, Mr. Surtak,” Terrell says.

This is good news,” Rinckes says in a tone implying the opposite. “Set up an independent uplink in coordination with Lieutenant Baxter and send us the data.

“You’ll find the information more than useful, Captain,” Terrell says, almost sounding giddy. Tony can’t help but admire the chief engineer’s unwavering enthusiasm. “I’m receiving Baxter’s signal. Uploading database… now.” The blue lights on top of the six enhancers begin to flash in unison, signaling the transfer has begun.

* * *

A status bar on Baxter’s helm station indicates a steady stream of valuable intel is being downloaded fast. Captain Rinckes keeps track of its progress from his seat in the center of the bridge by shooting glances over the helmsman’s shoulder.

“What’s the condition of the away team, Commander?” Doctor Kingsley asks, no doubt glad to be able to ask this question at last. “Everybody all right?”

Emily was the first to discover the wreckage, but she got wounded in the process,” Tony says. That’s not the end of his story, but Lieutenant Baxter has to cut it short.

“Sir, I’m receiving a distress call.”

“A distress call?” Rinckes spares his helmsman a look. “From where?”

Baxter scowls at his controls, as if they’re somehow to blame. “From the location of the away team!”

Rinckes’ narrow eyes grow wide, and he rises from his seat.

Captain,” Terrell says, higher pitched than normal. “It’s the Atlunte. Its main computer must have detected the ability to send out subspace signals. It has—

“—sent out a distress call,” Rinckes grunts. “Is the database upload complete?”

Yes, sir. Shutting down main computer.

We’re packing up, Captain,” Tony adds.

The captain resumes his piercing stare directed at the viewscreen. During Kingsley’s complaining, he picked up on the subliminal visual imperfections of at least one cloaking device, whether through instinct or experience. Far off in the distance, validating his suspicions, two Altonoid battlecruisers uncloak, two enormous floating caskets offsetting the Garcon Nebula’s beauty. They’re heading straight for the Achilles.

“Two Massal-class vessels closing in,” Lt. Cmdr. Crow says. “But we’re cloaked. We’re invisible to them, right?”

“They know exactly where we are,” the captain says with paradoxical calmness, born of professionalism. “Commander Blue, prepare your team for transport. We’re leaving.”

Sir.” The sudden anguish in Tony’s voice is unsettling. “We had to leave Lieutenant Blue and Ensign Barton behind in the cargo bay. We need at least ten minutes to reach them and use the enhancers to beam them to…” Tony can’t finish his sentence. It’s as if he sees what Rinckes is seeing: two Massal-class battleships with superior firepower on a merciless intercept course.

They don’t have ten minutes.
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