Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter VI

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Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter VI

Post by Alexbright99 »

And here we have it: the final chapter of Fallen Heroes Part II, to be uploaded in four segments, as usual. Special shoutout to my beta readers. Enjoy!


Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter VIa

“I recommend evasive maneuvers,” Lieutenant Commander Erin Crow says from her tactical station.

Captain Stephan Rinckes, his feet planted on the floor in the center of the bridge, stares at the two approaching Altonoid warships. The distress call sent out by the wreckage buried under the planet’s surface must have transmitted the Achilles’ location. He fears that, this up close and personal, their cloak won’t fool the Altonoids. “Baxter, break orbit.”

Captain, you’ve got to let me get Emily,” Commander Tony Blue says, disrupting the captain’s focus. The Achilles is breaking orbit and the Altonoids seem to be adjusting their course accordingly. “I’ll have the rest of the away team ready for beamup. I’ll—”

“Commander, this is not the time.” Rinckes straightens his uniform jacket. “Baxter, set heading 014 mark 182, quarter impulse. Crow, keep tabs on those Altonoids.”

The obligatory “aye sirs” are drowned out by Tony’s pleading. “…to get them here, but I can do it. I know it’s asking a lot, but the Achilles is strong enough to withstand a few—”

“Tony, not now!” Rinckes snaps. The abrupt silence on the other end of the comm channel is deafening. The bridge crewmembers pause their work briefly, trying and failing to appear unruffled by this outburst. Even Doctor Kingsley refrains from commenting, although the look he gives his captain speaks volumes. Their opinions of him be damned; ensuring the safety of the ship takes precedence, no matter what.

“Captain,” Erin Crow says, urgency tarnishing her regular air of detachment. “The Altonoids have once again adjusted their course to match ours.”

Rinckes meets her gaze, realizing the implication of what she has said. “Red alert! Drop cloak and raise shields! All hands to battle stations!”

Red alert panels flash to life and start blinking as the warning claxon primes the crew for battle.

* * *

In the computer room of the crashed Altonoid vessel, the away team’s environmental suits keep at bay the unbreathable air, which is heavy with gloom and tension. Lieutenant Commander Terrell, assisted by Ensign Donahue, is checking the six upright pattern enhancers to ensure the Achilles can beam him and his squad mates up. The security chief, Lieutenant Gibbs, is casting worried looks at Tony, who’s pacing back and forth while fruitlessly attempting to re-establish communication with the bridge. Lieutenant Surtak is quietly awaiting what’s to come.

“Commander Blue to Achilles.” Despite his suit’s internal climate control, sweat pools on Tony’s forehead and smudges his faceplate. “Dammit, Captain! What the bloody hell is going on up there?” He kicks a nearby computer terminal in frustration—a rather pointless thing to do, especially while wearing an EV suit. He huffs and faces the security chief. “I’m going back for them.”

“I’m coming with you,” Gibbs says in a reassuring tone. “But we’ll need these enhancers. Terrell, Surtak, and Donahue must be beamed to the ship first.”

“I’ll go ahead,” Tony says. “Catch up with me once you’re done here. We have to hurry.” He is about to start toward the exit when the Achilles contacts them.

“Achilles to the away team.” It’s difficult to hear over the din of ship-to-ship combat, but Tony can make out it’s the captain. After another audible explosion, Rinckes addresses his bridge crew first. “Evasive maneuver Delta. Keep lining up the pulse phaser cannons. Don’t worry about overheating them. Just keep 'em firing. Commander Blue, are you still in the computer room?

“Affirmative. Terrell, Surtak, and Donahue are ready for beamup. Gibbs and I will proceed to the cargo bay and retrieve—”

Like hell you are. We’ll open up an EM window in our shields to beam you up, and then we’re out of here. I know this means leaving Lieutenant Blue and Ensign Barton behind, but we cannot hold position. You’ve seen the increased activity in this region. Enemy reinforcements are not in short supply.

Tony wants to protest, but the captain has resumed yelling orders at his bridge crew. Dizzy in spite of the rigidity of his suit, he looks at his four colleagues, who mirror his helplessness. No, this cannot be the end of it. “Captain,” he says. Rinckes does not respond. “Captain!”

“Regrettable as they are,” Surtak says coolly, “our orders are clear, Commander.”

“Yes, they are.” Tony curls his upper lip into a sneer. “I’m going anyway. Jeremy, are you with me on this one?”

Before Gibbs can react, Rinckes addresses them again, sounding unperturbed by Tony’s disobedience. “What do you think you’re doing, Commander?” It’s as if he’d been expecting to have to say this. “We’re beaming you up.” A thunderclap of enemy fire rumbles the bridge in the background. “—run out of time.

“Captain!” Tony shouts. “Emily’s trapped in the cargo bay. There must be something we can do!”

No, Commander, there isn’t. Baxter, initiate transport.

“Wait! Please!” The jumbled noise of a bridge under attack has disappeared. The comm channel is closed. Shoulders sagged in defeat, Tony stands there, giving Gibbs a look he won’t soon forget—a look of unfiltered anguish.

As the computer room dissolves to be replaced by a shaking transporter room, Tony balls his hands into fists.

* * *

With a series of violent sparks, the second officer’s console gives up altogether and goes dark, providing further ammunition for Doctor Kingsley’s disgruntled mutterings, which Captain Rinckes blocks out. The bridge is rocking violently, and its crew has to put in extra effort to keep from being torn from their posts. Somehow, Rinckes stays on his feet, issuing orders with levelheaded competence. He knows they cannot afford to overstay their welcome. With no backup or repair facilities to fall back on, every enemy phaser strike and torpedo impact carries the risk of crippling the Achilles, stranding her indefinitely, condemning those aboard to die in the vacuum of space.

“Shields down to 53 percent,” Ensign Robert Dolphin, manning the engineering station, reports. “I’m detecting minor hull breaches on the upper decks. Main power is draining. Switching to auxiliary power.”

“What about the away team?” Rinckes asks as a nearby EPS conduit ruptures and starts billowing smoke.

Lieutenant Ernest Baxter accesses the corresponding data on his console. “Blue, Terrell, Gibbs, Surtak, and Donahue are now on board.”

“As soon as there’s an opening, get us out of here. Maximum warp.”

Baxter’s fingers race the controls he mastered years ago. “I believe I’ve found one.” The two large Altonoid vessels roll out of view by virtue of his piloting skills.

Blood rushes to the captain’s limbs, as if he is fighting the enemy in person. If only. “Crow, fire dorsal torpedo cannons, as many as you can without blowing ourselves to kingdom come. Let’s make sure they won’t follow us.”

* * *

Outside, the Achilles lets loose with her impressive dorsal weaponry, hitting the warships dead-on. The grid of torpedo launchers atop the Achilles launch smaller photon torpedoes than normal launchers do, but their greater numbers render them lethal nonetheless. The majority of these packets of intense and destructive energy disperse in the Altonoids’ shields and wear out their defensive capabilities, allowing others to sneak through and wreak havoc.

However, the attack serves primarily as a distraction for the giant Massal-class vessels; it’s nothing they can’t shrug off. The vehement Altonoids respond with enough phaser fire and torpedo volleys to bid the Achilles a scorching farewell. Then, the lone Federation vessel engages her warp engines and propels herself out of the area.

* * *

The bridge rattles as the ship accelerates, settling under duress after having taken yet another beating. “Are they chasing us?” Rinckes asks.

“Negative, sir,” Lt. Cmdr. Crow says.

Rinckes sits down in his chair. “Re-engage cloaking device and take us to yellow alert. Baxter, navigate us to a safer destination and make our flight path as erratic as you deem fit. Ensign Dolphin, damage report.” The alert indicators go from red to yellow, but because the Achilles is travelling under cloak, the standard lighting doesn’t come on, masking the additional damage the Altonoids inflicted in their brief but brutal assault.

“Auxiliary power is holding,” Ensign Dolphin says. “Many of our dorsal torpedo launchers are overheated. In fact, all weapons require an extensive cooling-down period. Our cloaking device is functioning but not at optimum efficiency. Shields were down to 38 percent before we switched them off. Decks 3 to 5 have suffered hull breaches, but emergency force fields are…” The ensign doesn’t finish his sentence, because he finds himself upstaged by the hum of an active transporter beam.

* * *

Commander Tony Blue materializes in front of the engineering station and hands his EV suit’s helmet over to Ensign Dolphin, who is nothing short of perplexed. The bridge goes dead quiet, save for the occasional bleeps and hisses of respectively functioning and broken equipment.

Tony has to reach from deep within his psyche to summon the inner calm to stay articulate. “We have to go back.”

Captain Rinckes heaves a troubled sigh. “Commander…”

“We have to go back,” Tony repeats, but this time the sentence is a plea directed at the entire bridge crew.

Lieutenants Gibbs and Surtak, also in their EV suits sans helmet, step out of the turbolift and remain in the back of the bridge to watch the situation unfold.

Tony eyes his crewmates one by one, hoping to find allies for his cause.

“Ensign Dolphin was sharing his detailed damage report,” Rinckes says. “With our weapons overheated and our cloaking device in need of repair, we’re in no condition—”

“We can do it, sir,” Tony says, grasping at straws. “The Achilles is a fine ship. We can head back, stall the Altonoids for a few minutes, and retrieve Emily and Barton. Right, guys?”

The silence is heartrending.

Tony takes a couple of steps toward the captain. In his current state, this could be perceived as threatening, unintentional as it may be. It forces the bridge crew to stop ignoring his presence, however.

This includes Doctor Kingsley, who can no longer be a passive spectator. “What you’re asking… It cannot happen. I’m so sorry.”

“Come on, Doctor,” Tony says, shambling toward the center of the bridge. “We’re talking about Emily. Emily.” A bittersweet smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. Despite his struggle to stay poised, a few tears fight their way to the surface. “Please, Captain.”

“Harsh as it may be,” Rinckes says, tensing up as his first officer closes in, “you willingly signed up for this mission. So did your wife. She knew the risks.”

“Sir, not like this.” Tony ceases his intimidating approach. His throat is sore from suppressing despair, and he wonders how long he can keep from breaking down. The viewscreen shows their escape from the Nedron system, how they’re flying away from Emily at many times the speed of light. “Lieutenant Baxter.” He clears his throat and wipes his tears. “Turn the ship around and set course for Nedron Eight.”

Baxter freezes up, awaiting the captain’s response.

“Belay that!” Rinckes says, which gains him his first officer’s renewed attention.

“We’re talking about Emily,” Tony says.

Rinckes grits his teeth. “You don’t have to remind me, Commander.”

Dr. Kingsley makes a valiant effort to represent the voice of reason. “Tony, we have quite possibly found the very answers we’ve been pursuing these past four years. We can’t afford to lose that in a last-ditch battle for the lives of two crewmembers. A botched rescue attempt could kill us all and prevent the valuable intel we’ve found from ever reaching the Federation. Ted and Emily wouldn’t want that. Am I… making sense to you?”

“Lieutenant Baxter,” Tony says as tears reemerge. “Ernest. I know it’s asking too much, but… please turn the ship around.”

Baxter fixes his gaze on his helm station, even if it were solely because it wounds him to see Tony like this.

Rinckes springs up from his seat. “You’re out of line, Commander.”

Tony bites his lip and faces his captain. His mind is racing, his heart burning to a cinder. He instills his voice with every scrap of volume he can muster, sounding feeble regardless. “Is there anyone who’ll help me? Anyone who thinks we shouldn’t desert our colleagues?”

“This has gone far enough,” Rinckes says, his composure belied by the faint cording of his neck muscles.

Dr. Kingsley stands up too, concerned and ready to intervene. “Captain, he’s upset. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.”

“I know damn well what I’m saying,” Tony yells, causing one of his tears to tremble loose and fall to the floor. “I’m asking if anyone here has the gumption to help liberate our friends from certain death. The Altonoids don’t take prisoners, they shoot on sight! Ted and Emily don’t have a prayer of surviving.” Defying a wave of tiredness, he continues, “So ask yourselves what you would want if you were down there, in a dark cargo bay of a wrecked enemy vessel soon to be swarming with Altonoids. Would you like to be abandoned to your fate? Ask yourselves that!” He is on the verge of hyperventilating, and his aching ribs compete for dominance with the painful lump he’s trying to swallow.

“The commander has a point,” Lt. Cmdr. Crow says, surprising everyone, including herself, and causing the bridge crew to murmur.

Lieutenant Kels, who has spent the entire debate conveying pity with her sapphire eyes, finally gathers the courage to say, “We should at least consider the idea.”

“Quiet! All of you,” Rinckes bellows, silencing the brewing commotion. “Commander Blue,” he continues, speaking with indisputable clarity. “This has gone too far. I must ask you to leave the bridge at once. I am deeply sorry for your loss, but as Doctor Kingsley explained, I cannot condone a rescue mission, not in our current shape, not with this much at stake.”

“We can do this,” Tony says, his confidence no doubt contrasting with his runny nose and puffy face. “We can pull this off.” Not alone in this belief, he senses how his colleagues are starting to change their mind, how they might be willing to put their lives on the line once more to save two friends in need.

The moment does not last. “I’m not going to ask you again,” the captain says in a tone that effectively subverts the frail enthusiasm that was building up. No one offers any further opposition.

Tony is defeated. There is nothing he can do. It is over.

With the lucidity one obtains upon waking from a bad dream, it dawns on him there is indeed one option left. Attached to his suit, his handphaser demands to be used. If the captain cannot be persuaded by appealing to his humanity…

As if controlled by an external power, he slowly reaches for the phaser, even when his common sense shouts that drawing a weapon against his superior is a heinous offense. Unfortunately, its shouting isn’t anywhere near loud enough to drown out the crying of his heart—a heart refusing to live without Emily.

Rinckes’ shaking his head in disbelief barely registers with Tony as his gloved fingertips tap the phaser’s grip. It would take half a second to remove it from its holster and aim it at his captain. It’s probably still on the stun setting, and that’s okay. He’d only have to incapacitate him, find out which crewmembers will support him, and… Lieutenant Gibbs has grabbed a phaser of his own and he aims it at Tony from the back of the bridge, prepared to defend his captain. With a wagging index finger, Rinckes signals him to stand down, and the security chief lowers his phaser after a few seconds of indecision. The captain has guts, that’s for sure.

“So my first officer is going to shoot me?”

Tears and sweat further reduce Tony’s vision to a blur. Only now does he notice he has actually grabbed his handphaser and he is pointing it at the captain, who appears fearless, convinced that the young commander won’t push the trigger button. Well he’s in for a shock. But then, Tony becomes aware of Dr. Kingsley, standing at the edge of his despair-induced tunnel vision, and sees him lower his head and close his eyes, having lost faith in the commander, resigning to bitter disappointment instead.

It’s enough to bring Tony back to the real world. “What the hell am I doing?”

“You’re threatening your captain with a phaser,” Rinckes explains sternly.

A beat of hesitation. Nobody so much as breathes.

“Put down the phaser, Tony.”

Tony looks around, sees his colleagues, his friends, and realizes he is making a fool of himself. Gradually, he allows the phaser—his last hope of saving Emily—to slip from his grasp. It hits the carpet with a thud, and the commander collects whatever strength is left in him to hurry past the captain, past the doctor, past Gibbs, and into the turbolift, where he collapses on the floor just before the doors shield him from his colleagues’ prying eyes. As he begins to weep, the doors open once more, and Dr. Kingsley rushes in to kneel beside him. The doctor wraps an arm around his shoulder and starts expressing words of consolation that become increasingly distant like the planet that has ensnared Emily.

* * *

While the turbolift carries Tony and the doctor away, the bridge crew is left to ponder the jarring events that took place in rapid succession.

Captain Rinckes notes his subordinates are avoiding his gaze. Stunned beyond measure, nobody has the nerve to speak up. And yet, by definition they all do, in unison, weighing and judging his actions. He has made the correct choice, hasn’t he? This is what’s required of him, isn’t it? No, there is not a shred of doubt within him. “You have the bridge, Crow,” he says in a flat monotone as he walks off without acknowledging the emotions haunting them.

Forcing himself to keep his gait steady and decisive, he marches into his ready room and heads for the window. The doors close behind him and offer him the mercy of cutting him off from the bridge. Resting his forehead in the crook of his arm, he leans against the cold viewport and finds little comfort in the familiar streaks of stardust grazing the hull in endless tedium.

It doesn’t take long before he detects a dissonant image floating among the iridescent stripes indicative of warp travel. It’s the reflection of his desktop monitor, which is portraying the same image it did when he neglected to switch it off.

Separated by inches of transparent aluminum and an arm’s length of optical illusion, Commander Melanie Simons smiles at him, forever out of reach.
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Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter VIb

Post by Alexbright99 »

Behind enemy lines, USS Achilles – June 18, 2386 – Stardate 63461.6
I should have done this sooner. Lieutenant Ernest Baxter makes his way through the corridors and chastises himself for not being a better friend. Not knowing what to say is a poor excuse, but it truly is the leading motive for his steering clear of the grief-stricken commander. Shipmates passing by have weathered looks on their faces, matching the hallways’ battle-worn appearance. He has grown accustomed to both.

Posted outside Commander Blue’s quarters, Lieutenant Jeremy Gibbs stands motionless and upright like a sculpture guarding a tomb. He could’ve delegated this simple task to any member of his staff, yet the security chief insists on being here whenever his schedule permits. He raises his palms as Baxter approaches. “The commander doesn’t wish to see anyone.”

“I’m here on captain’s orders,” Baxter says. “Besides, I think Tony could use the company. Have you read the message the Altonoids sent out on all channels? Those scumbags had the gall to brag about executing Ensign Barton and Emily.”

A fleeting tinge of sadness crosses Gibbs’ features. “I read it.” He sizes up the chief helmsman. “So, you’re here to drag him upstairs?”

“Pretty much.”

“Go easy on him.” The security chief presses the comm panel on the bulkhead. “Commander, Lieutenant Baxter is here to talk with you.” No reply. Gibbs waits half a minute before pressing the panel again. “Commander, I’m opening the door for him.” He types in his security code and the doors slide open.

Before Baxter can enter, Gibbs blocks his path, chest puffed out, standing so close that his greater height prevents him from making eye contact. “Good luck, Lieutenant. I’m here if you need anything.”

Baxter hesitates. “Um… Thanks.” The security officer steps aside to let him walk into the XO’s quarters.

Once inside, the air is frigid and a shroud of darkness obscures the damage the many battles have caused even here. The last run-in with the Altonoids deepened the Achilles’ hidden scars. There’s a shadow seated by the window, peering through torn sheer curtains, observing the stardust stripes, which cast dappling light on a floor strewn with portraits and cups, vases and books.

By now, Tony must be aware of the helmsman’s presence, but he doesn’t react to Baxter pulling up a chair to join him. The first officer sits stooped forward, his hands groping his knees, his eyes unfocused, his hair a tangle.

“You’ve read the Altonoids’ message,” Baxter concludes.

Tony nods weakly.

“They’re bastards,” Baxter says. “Wait until they discover how much info we gathered on our recon mission. It’ll tell us why and how they managed to recruit the S’Prenn for their needs.”

Tony remains unaffected.

“This is a huge find. It could flip the entire war around.”

The commander doesn’t bother to reply and keeps studying the view.

“Emily died a hero, Tony,” Baxter says, telling it as it is, entwining pride and grief. “A real hero. She gave her life to save countless others. None of us will ever forget the price she and Ensign Barton paid in the name of Starfleet.”

“Isn’t that wonderful?” Tony says at last, his voice a loud whisper. “She’s a hero. A bloody hero. Isn’t that superb?” He glares at the chief helmsman while the inner strength he must have kept pent up for the last three days returns in full force. “We could’ve procured the information and saved her life. She died a hero, yes, but she didn’t have to die in the first place.”

Baxter doesn’t have an answer ready. He stares into Tony’s sunken eyes, white-red in a ghostly mask.

Tony’s jaw shivers as he tries to stay coherent. “I failed her. She’s dead, Ernest. Can you believe it? Gone. Forever. I will never see her again. Well hurray for the Federation, but I can’t say I give a damn. Nothing could ever replace her.”

Baxter takes a deep breath. “Realistically speaking, what could you have done differently? You gave it your all. Heck, that’s putting it mildly; you pulled a phaser on the captain.”

“Not my smartest move.”

“But a bold one. You remember my reaction when you asked me to go back? I didn’t have the courage.”

Tony takes a moment to ruminate on this. Despite the darkness, his stare softens visibly as he replies, “I do not blame you. You were obeying the captain.”

“Following the regs to the letter isn’t what’s going to get the job done. Our cloaking device is a perfect example of this. Whichever way you put it, using the device the Klingons gave us is a flagrant violation of the Treaty of Algeron. We are doing everything in our power to uncover the S’Prenn’s motives and outwit the Altonoids.”

Tony must be aware of where this is heading; he keeps listening nonetheless.

“Emily and Barton’s sacrifice is part of that equation,” Baxter says, careful not to overplay his hand. “And it sucks, but that’s the way it will go down in the history books. Somehow, and it needn’t be today… but somehow, you’re going to have to come to terms with this.”

“It sounds great in theory, but my pain is far from theoretical. How do I…?”

Fearful as Baxter had been for not knowing what to say, it’s clear to him now. “You’re an asset to this crew. Otherwise, the captain wouldn’t have beamed you back against your will, in essence saving your life. That’s got to be worth something.”

Tony shakes his head.

“If you weren’t valuable, if you weren’t capable of making a difference, he would’ve left you there.”

“Not a terrible alternative,” Tony says with a glimmer of humor that signals Baxter is on the right track.

“Man…” Baxter slumps back in his seat. “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling right now. Please don’t forget there are still people who believe in you, who’d risk their lives for you without a second thought.”

Tony scoffs. “After the stunt I pulled on the bridge? A first officer my age is unprecedented. I always managed to be professional enough to compensate for that ‘handicap.’ But when I grabbed that phaser and aimed it at the captain… I lost my credibility.”

“You may think so.” Baxter leans in and lowers his voice. “Not everyone agrees. If you hadn’t let go of that phaser, you might’ve been our new captain.” He shrugs. “Maybe not. You took a gamble, made choices. You can’t change what happened. You can only determine what you do next. Easy for me to say, I know, but it’s the only way you’ll get through this.” He lets his utterances of impromptu wisdom linger for a while, hoping they’ll benefit his friend somehow. “Are you ready to talk with the captain? Because that is inevitable anyhow.”

Tony spends a handful of seconds in contemplation. “I don’t think I want to.”

Baxter straightens up. “I’ll be honest with you, Tony. He really needs to talk to you. Better yet, he’s waiting for you as we speak. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to test his patience a little. Your well-being is of greater importance, as far as I’m concerned.”

“I appreciate it.”

“You might as well get it over with. I’ll ask Gibbs to take you to him, okay?”

With considerable reluctance, Tony rises to his feet and follows the chief helmsman out of the disheveled quarters he has spent the past couple of days in. Lieutenant Gibbs sends the commander right back in with the directive to comb his hair and tidy his uniform, lest he won’t take him anywhere.
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Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter VIc

Post by Alexbright99 »

The bridge lighting is dimmed too, because the Achilles is cloaked and running in silent mode to avoid detection. As soon as the turbolift opens to reveal Lieutenant Gibbs and Commander Blue, the bridge crew goes silent as well.

“This way, Commander,” Gibbs says, escorting Tony to the captain’s ready room.

While trailing the chief of security, Tony senses the crew is watching him. He doesn’t return the favor. He cannot bear to see their faces, which leaves him to guess how they regard him—with anger, disappointment, pity?

Gibbs halts near the entrance and gives him a reassuring smile. Tony enters the ready room, where Captain Rinckes sits at his desk and Doctor Kingsley stands beside him, both wearing grim expressions. Tony takes a seat and waits for the other shoe to drop. The captain glowers at him, eyes narrowed, resembling a bird of prey stalking a mouse.

“How are you feeling, Tony?” Kingsley starts the conversation with a healthy dose of sympathy.

Tony doesn’t respond. What is there to say he hasn’t told Kingsley yet during the doctor’s well-intended but ill-fated attempts at grief counseling?

“We offer you our sincere condolences,” Kingsley says, which became the hollowest of phrases soon after Tony was widowed. “Tell me, do you understand why the captain did what he did?”

With effort, Tony scrounges together a reply. “I understand.” Kingsley wants to build on that, but the young commander continues, “I understand the tactical and strategic arguments. What I don’t understand is the lack of heart involved.”

This hardens the captain’s stare even further.

“We all have hearts, Commander. I checked personally,” Kingsley says, not grinning at his own joke. “Nobody liked abandoning two crewmembers. Ted was a good medic, and Emily…” He presses his lips together and starts over. “Our primary goal, the sole reason we’re out here, is to find out why the S’Prenn have changed sides. You haven’t forgotten this, have you?”

Tony bites his tongue in lieu of saying something impertinent.

“I’ll take that as a no.” Kingsley summons a confident smirk. “Emily’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain.”

This prompts the captain to speak up at long last, albeit in an uninflected tone. “The data we’ve gathered explains why the S’Prenn have joined Altonoid forces.”

“We’re hurrying back to Klingon space,” Kingsley says with a level of excitement greatly contrasting with the other two officers’ shortage of it. “We decided to tell you in person before we make an official announcement.”

“And to talk about the incident on the bridge,” Rinckes adds.

“Yes,” Kingsley says, grimacing at the interruption. “But I think Tony here wants to know about the S’Prenn. Right?”

“Sure,” Tony says. Last week, the tiniest morsel of intel on the S’Prenn would’ve made him ecstatic, but now… it seems so trivial.

“As it turns out, the consequences of the Station A-12 Debacle are more extensive than we could’ve imagined,” Kingsley says, his upbeat attitude clashing with the subject matter. “The Atlunte’s database wasn’t in tiptop condition, but we’ve pieced together a significant amount of information, including a series of S’Prenn transponder codes that will help us spot and identify their vessels from larger distances.

“We’ve also learned that an unusual nebula has developed near Station A-12. I’ll spare you the scientific details, mainly because we don’t have them, but this nebula is unlike any other. It is artificial, presumably created by an extra-dimensional species. Why it emerged there is anyone’s guess, but the biological substances found within proved to be extremely useful for the Altonoids. You still with me?”

“Go on,” Tony says.

“Thanks to the horrors of genetic meddling, these substances became the, ahem, Achilles heel of the powerful S’Prenn. Initially, the Altonoids tested their new bioweapon on prisoners of war they’d captured during earlier S’Prenn raids. It had a 100 percent efficiency rate at, well, seriously screwing up their mental faculties. Any contaminated S’Prenn became overly susceptible to outside stimuli. In fact, you could indoctrinate them, reprogram them, as it were, to do your bidding.”

Tony ponders the implications this news carries before saying, “This reminds me of the octatium the Altonoids experimented with years ago.”

“Yes, but octatium drove its victims crazy and turned them into vicious killers. This product, however, preserves the S’Prenn’s high intelligence while forcing them into absolute obedience, effectively brainwashing them. The Altonoids infected subject after subject, and before long they had amassed legions of S’Prenn soldiers and ships. As icing on the cake, they acquired in-depth knowledge of sophisticated S’Prenn technology.”

Rinckes cuts in. “That’s exactly why the S’Prenn withdrew from Federation-Altonoid affairs, only to make one hell of a surprise comeback. And it tells us why the Altonoids have become nigh invincible.”

“It makes perfect sense,” Kingsley says. “We’ll report this to the Federation Council. For the first time in four years, my dear Tony, we have options!”

Tony expresses what was tangible from the get-go. “It’s nice to have found the answers, but it changes little. We’re here now, aren’t we? Most of our friends and loved ones are dead, our homeworlds in Altonoid hands, the few survivors exiled to Klingon space.”

Neither the captain nor the doctor have anything to say to that.

Tony rubs the back of his neck, which has started to ache. “Don’t get me wrong. It is good news. But we have already lost too much, in my opinion.”

“It is understandable considering your recent loss—” Kingsley begins.

“It doesn’t bring anyone back.” Tony speaks in the same soft voice he used when reasoning with the Altonoid soldier holding a knife to his throat. “It won’t bring back my father.” Contrary to the doctor, Rinckes evades his gaze. “It won’t bring back Emily.”

“No, it won’t,” Kingsley admits. “But… I cannot stress this enough: her sacrifice wasn’t in vain.”

“Her sacrifice may not have been needed at all,” Tony says, pausing his speech until the captain is man enough to return his piercing stare. “However, I apologize for my conduct on the bridge.”

Rinckes grunts. “You’re damned right about that.” He sucks in a breath and exhales through his teeth. “Believe me when I say I comprehend the emotions involved, but I can’t have one of my men,”—he stands up to emphasize his message—“especially my first officer, exhibiting this kind of behavior, under any circumstances.”

“I hear you, Captain, and I am sorry. I don’t agree with your decision, but I shouldn’t have—”

“Whether or not you agree with me is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is this: Are you fit to perform your duties as first officer of the Achilles?”

Tony lets out a grave sigh and prepares to answer but isn’t given the chance.

“After much deliberation… we have concluded you are not.”

Kingsley nods his approval.

“As of this moment, you are relieved of duty,” Rinckes says, his expression unreadable.

Tony is willing to bet his own expression is far from unreadable. In a verdict one sentence long, his resolve suffers a crippling blow.

“Once we reach friendly territory, you will be court-martialed. Given the mitigating factors, we suspect you’ll be honorably discharged from Starfleet.”

Tony’s face is tingling and he begins to feel light-headed.

“Maybe, once you’ve regained control over your life and you’re ready for action again, reinstatement will be an option.”

“It’s for the best, Tony,” Kingsley says with a friendliness the captain lacks. “This must be the last thing you want to hear, but think it through: you’re going to need time to grieve. We will let you have that.”

“I… I don’t know how to respond to this,” Tony says.

“You don’t have to.”

Tony’s cheeks flush, and his uniform jacket suddenly feels too hot and a few sizes too small. “I don’t think I agree. Starfleet is my life. I have sacrificed absolutely everything for it.”

“I understand.”

“No, you don’t! You can’t possibly understand what I have given up. Threatening the captain at gunpoint is a serious misdemeanor, but the situation was extreme… You know I’m not like that, normally.”

Kingsley remains unyieldingly polite. “Which is exactly why it would be best for you to take it easy for a while.”

Tony is stumped, to say the least. “I don’t believe you guys.”

Rinckes is eager to put an end to this conversation. “The decision has been made. Your confinement to quarters is hereby cancelled, but with your rank privileges revoked, you will no longer be permitted to visit key areas.”

“We can go over the details later,” Kingsley hastens to add. “We’ll reach Klingon space in a few weeks anyway, so it’s not really that important right now.”

“Mister Blue, you are dismissed,” the captain says and he powers up his computer terminal, which instantly becomes engrossing enough for him to ignore the other two people in the room.

“Let me walk you to your quarters,” Kingsley says. Despite the doctor’s role in this verdict, his aspect is compassionate as he helps Tony to his feet and pats the young man’s upper arms as if he’s fluffing a pillow back into shape.

With legs made of lead, Tony follows the doctor, then halts before reaching the door. “One more thing,” he says, prompting Rinckes to look up from his computer. “Captain Duvivier would’ve gone back.”

Rinckes quickly refocuses on his terminal. That had to hurt. Kingsley cannot suppress a grin as he guides Tony out of the ready room and onto the bridge. Lieutenant Gibbs is waiting outside, poised for wrestling the doctor to the floor should the need arise. Kingsley waves him off and says, “I’ve got it from here.” After seeking approval from Tony through a brief exchange of glances, Gibbs retreats to his security console. The bridge crew has ceased their activities once again to gawk at their former XO, who gives them one last look and a strained smile before he and the doctor make a beeline for the nearest turbolift.

As soon as the turbolift doors have closed, Kingsley loses his cool. “So you’ve finally given him an excuse to dispose of you.” He runs his fingers through his short, red hair. “I had to talk like mad to dissuade him from throwing you in the brig and keeping you there till hell freezes over.”

Tony lets the doctor vent his frustration, and said doctor is more than happy to do so.

“Centuries ago we would’ve had you shot!” Kingsley continues. “The impending court martial won’t be a barrel of fun, but I’ll make sure the record shows you had the presence of mind of a dried-out cauliflower the moment you lifted that phaser.”

Tony leans back and stares at the carpet.

“Of course, your unique reputation will prevent them from making an example out of you. That combined with your sacrifices and losses means you’ll get that honorable discharge. So don’t worry about that, okay?”

The only reply Tony grants him is an absentminded nod.
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Fallen Heroes Part II Chapter VId

Post by Alexbright99 »

Near the Klingon border, USS Achilles – June 30, 2386 – Stardate 63493.9
Situated at the bow and sporting a set of windows covering the entire forward bulkhead, the mess hall offers a splendid panorama of whatever spectacle the Achilles is facing. Even though at warp speed all you see is stardust flying by like a hi-res version of an ancient screensaver, it’s encouraging to know that a friendly port lies up ahead. The mess hall itself is modest in its simplicity; it comprises six beige tables with color-matched seats and a couple of wall-mounted replicators.

It’s reasonably quiet, which is why Tony Blue has chosen this late hour to have dinner here. He ignores the few people present, yet he’s aware they’re not ignoring him, halting their chatter whenever his eyes accidentally meet theirs. So he pretends that eating his meal requires his undivided attention. Occasionally, he shoots a glance through the windows. The view from here is usually better than the one from his quarters, which he is allowed to keep for the time being, and he has grown tired of eating alone. However, the stares burning into the part of his collar where his three rank pips used to be make him feel ill at ease.

Someone sits down across his table, and for an instant of foolishness, he feels joy and relief well up as he thinks it’s Emily, followed by disillusionment when it naturally turns out to be someone else. It’s Lieutenant Jeremy Gibbs, who has brought a plate of inedible goop. Tony gives him and his questionable choice of nourishment a short look and then continues his meal.

“We’re nearly home,” Gibbs says. “Or at least, what should pass as home.”

Tony’s silence is almost audible.

Giving up is not the chief’s strongest suit. “We’ll be safe there at long last. No more sneaking around, constantly on the lookout, living with the lights dimmed. Maybe we’ll get to spend our R&R on whichever lush planet’s available. It’ll be nice to catch some sunrays.” Tony’s unwillingness to respond stagnates the one-sided conversation, so Gibbs drops his veil of faux optimism and replaces it with sincerity. “I’ve said it before, and I hate to sound like a broken record… but I’m real sorry about what happened.”

“Everybody’s sorry.” Tony takes another bite of pâté, robbed of its taste by his sullen mood.

“I’ve been replaying the events over and over in my head and I realize I haven’t been much help to you. I was the one who convinced you to leave Emily and Barton in the cargo bay. I didn’t protest the captain’s decision to beam us back. I even drew my weapon on you.”

“You did what every good officer would’ve done.” Tony puts down his utensils and meets the blond lieutenant’s gaze. “You wouldn’t be much of a security chief if you had let someone phaser the captain.”

A hint of amusement flickers across the chief’s contrite features. “True. Regardless, I feel responsible for what happened. I want you to know you have my sympathy and my apologies.”

“Thanks, but there’s no need to apologize. You did your job to the best of your abilities and as your former commanding officer I expected nothing less.”

This causes Gibbs to chuckle. “Very true. If there’s ever anything I can do for you, you can count on me.”

“Next time you could aim your phaser at the captain instead of me,” Tony says dryly.

Gibbs misses the joke because he’s looking out the window, his brow contorted into a puzzled frown. “We’ve dropped out of warp.” Indeed, the view has changed to a stationary field of stars.

Tony rises to his feet and wants to press his combadge to request clarification from the bridge but realizes in time he doesn’t have that privilege anymore.

Gibbs gets up too, to report to the bridge. “Don’t worry, Commander,” he says, winking at the “commander” part. “We’ll keep you informed.” And with that, the security chief leaves.

After a moment’s hesitation, Tony takes Gibbs’ dinner tray, places it on another table, and returns to his own table to finish his meal.

* * *

“Are you absolutely certain?” Captain Rinckes asks, double-checking his crew’s findings, which are displayed on the armrests of his command chair.

“Yes, sir, beyond a doubt,” the Andorian Lieutenant Kels says. “The border has been hermetically sealed. Nothing can slip through.”

Doctor Kingsley lets out a derisive snort. “We have a cloaking device. I’m sure Jon here has been able to fix it properly.”

Although Lieutenant Commander Jon Terrell is concentrating on operating his engineering station, he has been listening to his colleagues. “Our cloak is back to spec, but that Altonoid sensor network is ridiculously sophisticated. It’s truly a work of art, a great mixture of Loïdian and S’Prenn engineering. Remarkable? Yes. Problematic? Also.”

“And they’re proud of it too,” Kels says, feeding commands into her science station. “They’ve made no attempt to hide it.” More and more sequential images of identical sensor arrays pop up on the viewscreen. “They’ve sealed off the entire Altonoid-Klingon border with millions of self-replicating detection sentries. Flying past them will not go unnoticed, and they’re armed to the teeth with S’Prenn weaponry.”

From the corner of his vision, the captain sees Lt. Gibbs enter the bridge. Nobody bothers to acknowledge his presence; they’re too busy dealing with this unwelcome news, as they should be.

“They don’t want anyone to go in or out,” Lt. Baxter says. “The only way to get back to Klingon space is by avoiding this border altogether, but who’s to say the Altonoids haven’t planted these sentries all around?”

Lt. Surtak weighs in with his opinion. “If we crossed through Tholian and Gorn space, for example, the detour would take at least four months, not to mention the extra risk involved.”

Requiring but a few seconds of deliberation, the captain comes up with a feasible plan, and he rises from his chair. “Commander Terrell, prepare a buoy with all the intel we’ve found on the S’Prenn-Altonoid collaboration. Rig the buoy to start transmitting into Klingon space exactly thirty hours from launch and set it to self-destruct when approached by any vessel.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Needless to say it will have to impart its message on all secure Federation and Klingon frequencies. Upon successful transmission, it should self-destruct after one week at most. Starfleet might be able to use it to transmit a reply.”

“Anything else, sir?” Terrell asks as if he prepares buoys with delicate, life-altering information every day between coffee breaks.

“That would be all, Commander,” Rinckes says. “Baxter, as soon as the buoy has been deployed, take us deeper into Altonoid space at maximum warp. As always, ensure our flight path is hard to trace.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Rinckes sits back down, content with his plan. “Seems like our mission hasn’t ended just yet.”

“Trapped behind enemy lines, sir,” Surtak adds.

“That’s a rather ghastly way of putting it,” Terrell says, distracted from his new project, if only for an instant.

“Is it?” Surtak arches an eyebrow and rotates his seat to address the crew. “I did not intend it to be ‘ghastly.’ I am simply stating facts. I do not believe our inability to cross the border is such an unfortunate development. We are fulfilling our mission by relaying our findings to the Federation, and by staying in Altonoid space we have ample opportunity for undertaking new assignments, which may be even more important than the one we have completed. Also, we should not forget we have a number of uninvestigated leads left to explore.”

“That’s the spirit, Lieutenant,” Rinckes says. “Terrell, what’s the status of our buoy?”

“You’ll have it in a couple of minutes, sir.”

With that settled, Rinckes presses the comm button on his right armrest. He has never been a fan of speechifying, but it comes with the job. He is yet to come to terms with this particular setback, so this speech will serve to encourage himself as much as the other souls on this vessel. Not a scrap of timidity is allowed to blot his authoritative timbre as he says, “All hands, this is the captain. The Altonoids have sealed the Altonoid-Klingon border. We cannot go through.”

His message can be heard all over the ship, from engineering to the crawlspaces, from the corridors to the crew quarters.

* * *

Tony Blue is still stabbing at his flavorless dinner when the captain’s announcement echoes through the mess hall.

We’ve earned a substantial amount of shore leave, but we’re not done here yet. Our mission to find out why the S’Prenn have betrayed us has been a complete success, and it is ironclad evidence that this ship and her crew is a force to be reckoned with.

But as long as the Altonoids occupy our space, there will be no time for us to rest, no time for us to waver. We have been given the opportunity to make a difference once again, and we will grab it with both hands. With our skills, knowledge, and strength, we will head back into Altonoid territory, find a way to undo their hold on the S’Prenn, and turn the tide of this war!

Shipmates cluster together to discuss this sudden twist of fate. Some of them sound enthusiastic, others uneasy about the prospect of extending their dangerous sojourn in hostile territory. Tony just stares motionlessly at the equally motionless stars. As minutes drift by and his crewmates’ discussions fade into the routine of everyday life, he watches the ship reverse course and accelerate to high warp, turning its back on the prospect of a safe haven.

* * *

Deeper into Altonoid space, USS Achilles – July 8, 2386 – Stardate 63515.6
Captain Stephan Rinckes travels the hallways of the Achilles at a steady pace, his expression blank, as usual. Touring his ship, he instills the same respect as if he were barking orders on the bridge. Crewmembers who happen to pass by greet him immediately, and he returns the courtesy with a faint nod as he presses on.

He reaches his destination and pushes the call button on the LCARS display near the door.

Who is it?

“Your captain.” Before long, the entrance whooshes open and Tony Blue appears in the doorway, giving him a level stare. “We need to talk,” Rinckes says. He enters the former XO’s quarters without invitation and notices the familiar marks of battle damage: dark patches smudging the bulkheads like life-sized Rorschach tests, frayed carpet and upholstery, the odd conduit and wiring creeping out from behind cover. Has no part of the ship been spared? Despite these inescapable blemishes, this living area has an orderly appearance, something he had not expected after reading Baxter’s report. Lost in thought, he walks over to the window and halts there. Tony takes refuge on the sofa and quietly waits for the captain to reveal the purpose of his visit.

“You won’t be facing that court martial any time soon,” Rinckes says to the stars. “We have picked up a reply from Starfleet. They have analyzed our data and were most pleased.” He anticipates a response from Tony, but he gets none. “And they have officially sanctioned our endeavor to try and win this war from the inside out.” He faces the reticent young man. “Which means you’re stuck with the Achilles, whether you and I want that or not.”

Rinckes zeroes in on the chair opposite the sofa and seats himself. “After… lengthy talks with Doctor Kingsley, I have made the following decisions regarding our command structure.”

Tony tilts his head. He’s probably wondering why the captain would inform him of this in person.

“Erin Crow is now my new first officer. She has also been given an overdue promotion to the rank of commander. This renders the position of chief tactical officer wide open. A few good officers are available, but the doctor insisted on giving you a second chance.”

This surprises Tony even more. He straightens his back and is all ears.

“Your experience serving aboard starships and at Starfleet HQ as well as dealing with the Altonoids and S’Prenn is invaluable. According to the doctor, it would be foolish not to take advantage of your expertise.”

Tony rubs his chin. “Barely three weeks ago you were determined I wasn’t fit for duty, and now—”

“Now the situation has changed.”

“So… you’re reinstating me as a senior officer?”

“If you think you’re up for it.”

“I am, sir. You know I am.”

“Fine. As of tomorrow morning,”—Rinckes gets up, eager to leave—“you will be Lieutenant Tony Blue, chief tactical officer of the USS Achilles.”

Tony stands up too, albeit slower. “Thank you, sir.”

“Oh, don’t thank me,” Rinckes says, darkening his tone. “You’re being demoted two whole ranks—a fitting, if not somewhat lenient punishment for your misbehavior. And once we get back, be assured, you will face that court martial.”

“Still, it beats being the only civilian on the ship.”

He takes a step closer to Tony. “If you screw this up, I will have you scrubbing waste reclamation units for the remainder of our mission. Consider yourself very lucky to be given this chance at redemption. Don’t you forget that.”

“I won’t,” Tony replies in a thin voice.

“Good.” Having made his point, Rinckes backs off and draws in a couple of deep breaths. While regaining his composure, he notices a table on which three pictures stand: one of Tony’s father, one of Emily, and one of Tony, his father, and Emily together in a sunny garden. Frozen in a moment of happiness, they all smile at him, unaware of what was to come. Seeing those pictures sends a lone shiver down his spine.

“That was all,” Rinckes says as he hurries for the exit and nearly trips over a chair. “You will receive your duty roster later today.” And with that, he leaves the new chief tactical officer to his musings.

* * *

Behind enemy lines – July 9, 2386 – Stardate 63517.2
Tony Blue shucks his pajamas, folds them, and places them on his neatly made-up bed. After a quick sonic shower, he walks over to the closet and rummages through his collection of uniforms. He chooses one, carries it to his bedroom, and belatedly realizes his mistake. He hangs the old uniform back and selects the freshly replicated one with the golden undershirt and cuff stripes instead of the command division red ones. The shower woke him up all right, but it has been many years since he wore gold—the same department color his wife used to wear.

As he puts on the appropriate uniform, his attention is drawn to the table bearing pictures of himself, Dad, and Emily. He can’t escape the feeling these shadows of the past are watching over him and his efforts to move on with his life, even though the persons represented in those pictures have been wrested from him one way or another.

Solemnly, he opens a cupboard drawer and retrieves a suede case, which contains three rank pips. Tony picks up two of them and attaches them to his collar. He glances at the pictures of his lost family once more and gives them a subdued, loving smile before stepping out of his quarters to report for duty.

* * *

As soon as the turbolift opens its doors, Lieutenant Tony Blue wishes he had taken the next one, because its sole passenger is none other than Commander Erin Crow. It’s too late to double back, so he enters the turbolift and indulges her in an impressive showdown of awkward silence. She’s a couple of inches shorter than him, but in her mind she must be six feet tall. Telepathy is not required to sense how much she enjoys having swapped roles with him.

“Bridge,” Tony says, prompting the turbolift to ascend. Despite his intention to avoid eye contact, he sneaks a peek at the new first officer.

As he suspected, the irony isn’t lost on her, and she flaunts a prideful smirk. “Lieutenant, gold just isn’t your color.”

Tony is sure two hours from now he’ll think of a fantastic retort.

The rest of the turbolift ride is equally unpleasant. Luckily, it’s over quickly and Tony lets his new superior exit the turbolift first. Once she’s out of the way, he enters the bridge with careful reluctance. The command center looks exactly the same as it did three weeks ago, though for some reason he had expected it to have changed during his absence.

Captain Rinckes emerges from his ready room and hesitates when he spots Tony, then greets him with a subtle bow of the head and sits down on the captain’s chair, right next to Commander Crow, who has claimed the XO’s chair.

Other officers welcome Tony to the bridge with nods and genuine smiles, for which he is grateful. He will have to stand for most of his shift—not an easy feat with his old injury, but he’ll manage. He slinks up to his new station behind the second officer’s chair. Its occupant, Doctor Kingsley, is too busy to notice him, which is for the best.

Soon, the novelty of his arrival wears off and everybody focuses on their tasks. He’s glad nobody is paying more than cursory attention to him as he attempts to acclimatize to his new function. With the Achilles’ weaponry and shields at his command, he must—

His tactical station starts beeping like a possessed alarm clock. Thanks to the alert, every person on the bridge gives him a wide-eyed stare and waits for him to react. He accesses his terminal with shaky fingers and interprets its flashing data. “Sensors are picking up a S’Prenn signature. It’s one of their vessels, apparently inoperable.”

“Inoperable?” Captain Rinckes asks.

“We’re too far away to get a better reading, but I can confirm it’s adrift and damaged.”

“It could be a trap,” Cmdr. Crow says, brandishing her trademarked worried scowl. “The Altonoids might have intercepted our transmissions with Starfleet.”

“Or it could be a lucky break,” Dr. Kingsley says.

Lieutenant Kels forces a laugh. “Really? Now you’re the optimist?”

“I’m serious. It could be an excellent opportunity for finding missing pieces of the S’Prenn puzzle. Imagine the dead specimens we could examine.”

“Making it all the more convenient,” Cmdr. Crow says, biting a fingernail, “and too much of a coincidence.”

“So it’s either a trap or a gift,” the doctor summarizes. “It’s up to you, Captain.”

The captain is in no particular rush. When he answers, he speaks with authority. “We’re not out here to cower and hide. Baxter, adjust course and increase speed to warp 8.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Go to yellow alert, but don’t raise the shields, Lieutenant Blue.” The captain shoots him a side-glance. “Not yet.”

“As you wish,” Tony says as the alert panels douse the bridge in a yellow hue.

Captain Rinckes leans forward in his chair and joins the crew in watching the viewscreen as the Achilles alters course. “Let’s see what they’ve got in store for us.”



Thank you for reading. I'm taking a little break in uploading to continue working on Part III. I don't have an exact schedule yet, but I will start releasing new content before the end of this year. In the meantime, feel free to shoot me a message. See you out there!
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