Acacia Creek Rehabilitation Facility
Australia, Earth, Sol Sector
June 16, 2160
The walls of Ward C were freshly painted, the eggshell-white shade of hospitals that had endured for hundreds of years. The smell of disinfectant hung in the air, underscored by the hint of blood and burnt flesh. Plasma burns were still virtually impossible to treat in the field with any degree of success, which meant field medics' only option was to stuff burn victims into cryotubes and ship them back to rehabilitation facilities behind the lines - and since they were already in cryo, Starfleet brass decided that they might as well receive the very best treatment, which meant transporting casualties back to their homeworlds.
Lt. Cmdr. Isobel Beaumont, late of the UES Fearless, sat on a padded bench and watched as a handful of fellow casualties made their way up or down the hall. It was part of the physical rehabilitation regimen most had to endure - plasma burns tended to require high limb amputation, and over half of the residents here had been fitted with replacement prosthetics. The process of tuning a replacement limb to fully replace the original was long and difficult, and it was unlikely that any of these men or women would ever serve aboard a Starfleet vessel again, but they would go on to lead almost-normal lives once they left the facility.
Beaumont's wound was not so easily treatable.
And orderly pushed an aging cart past her, and Beaumont closed her eyes at the abrupt irritation caused by one squeaking wheel. For a moment she wanted to stand up and shove the cart down the hallway, just to get the damned thing away from her -
Relax, she thought, breathing slowly, in and out, in and out. The Starfleet doctors had warned her of this - the abrupt mood swings, the problems with impulse control, the fugue states - that came with traumatic injuries to the frontal lobe of the brain. They had repaired as much of the damage as they could, had made her functional again for the most part - but Beaumont would never again serve in Starfleet.
Beaumont shook her head, noticing after a moment that the shadows had moved, lengthened - she had lost at least an hour staring out the window. She looked up to see Captain Isaac Proudfoot standing beside her, holding two plastic cups of coffee. "How long have you been there?" she said.
"Only a couple minutes," Proudfoot replied, handing her one of the cups.
Beaumont took it gratefully and drank deep, letting the sugared brew fill her senses as Proudfoot sat beside her on the bench. For a long moment neither spoke, sharing the view of the bright blue Pacific Ocean spread out before them. "Almost makes you forget there's still a war going on out there," Proudfoot finally said.
"Might be over soon, if you can believe the rumors," Beaumont replied. "The Romulans are on the retreat after Cheron."
"Not soon enough." Proudfoot leaned forward, his hands clasped around the cup.
"I heard about the board of inquiry, Isaac. They made the right call. Losing the Fearless wasn't your fault."
"Six hundred and thirty-three people went down with the ship," Proudfoot said, his voice tinged with bitterness. "My ship. My crew. I should have done more."
"Such as what? Die with them? Isaac, you saved my life that day - mine and ninety others. That counts for something."
"Maybe." Proudfoot watched the waves roll out to sea. "But I'll never have another command." At Beaumont's shocked expression, he said, "Those rumors are true - the Romulans are reaching out, looking to end the hostilities. Seem to have lost their taste for fighting." He shook his head sadly. "Starfleet Command has decided that my experience is best applied... elsewhere."
Beaumont reached out and rested her hand on his arm. "I'm so sorry," she said. "I know what commanding a starship means to you."
"Thank you." Proudfoot looked over at her. "I just wanted to give you something before I shipped out."
"Shipped out? But you just said - "
"I've resigned my commission," he said. "There are dozens of cargo ships looking for experienced commanders to make the deep-space runs. It may not be Starfleet, but it's still a command." He reached into a pocket and pulled out a data chip, setting it on the bench between them. "Look over this, Isobel. I think they might be able to help. Maybe even get you back into Starfleet."
Beaumont looked numbly at the chip. "How?"
"Get in contact with Dr. Makav. I've already told him you might be calling." Proudfoot stood. "Starfleet needs good people, especially now."
"Then why are you leaving?"
Proudfoot did not respond, just shook his head sadly. "Take care of yourself, Isobel. Maybe we'll see each other again, somewhere out there."
As Beaumont watched him walk away, she hoped he was right. But before that could happen she had a call to make.
Tau Delta system, Sector Nineteen
May 13, 2163
The UESN Vanguard was gigantic, a massive Omicron-class fighter carrier that even dwarfed the Pathfinder. The shuttlepod was barely a speck against the slab-sided hull.
Proudfoot's vessel was a veteran of the Earth-Romulan War, its hull pitted and scarred by dozens of engagements with a faceless enemy. Two thousand feet long, its twin fighter bays stretched forward from the crew spaces and engines at the stern, each bay capable of housing a dozen short-range warp-capable fighters. During the war, the Omicron-class ships had been heavy hitters = a single carrier with a full complement could easily tip the balance of a battle in Starfleet's favor.
Beaumont never wanted to set foot aboard one. While she understood the need for such vessels during wartime, it served no peaceful purpose. All of the surviving Omicron-class ships had been converted to long-haul cargo carriers or colonial transports - or so she had believed.
She eased the shuttlepod closer, above the main fighter bays, moving above the smaller landing pads spread along the dorsal hull. Somewhere below her, Proudfoot was waiting for her. One of the pads lit up and she steered the pod toward it, setting down with a gentle thump. A moment later the pad retracted into the hull, massive doors sliding closed above her. Beaumont felt the whirr of pumps through the pod's hull as the bay was repressurized.
A man-sized hatch set into the bulkhead swung aside to admit a half-dozen men in civilian dress, each one armed with a plasma or phase pistol. The last one through was Proudfoot himself.
Beaumont pushed open the shuttlepod hatch and slowly stepped out, her hands raised as Proudfoot's men surrounded her. "I'm here, Isaac," she said. "Now do you want to tell me why?"
Proudfoot gestured for his men to lower their weapons. Two of them crawled into the pod, hand scanners open, opening every hatch and panel as they looked for hidden weapons or transmitters. "It's clean, sir," one of them finally said.
"Good. Lieutenant, take your team and report back to your station."
"Are you sure about this, sir?" the lieutenant said. "She's not one of us. How can we trust her?"
Proudfoot smiled grimly. "I trust her not to attack me. As for the rest... we'll just have to see. Go on, now."
The other men quickly departed through the hatch into the corridors of the Vanguard, leaving Beaumont and Proudfoot alone. "It's good to see you , Isobel," he said. "Especially back in uniform."
"I suppose I should be glad you're not wearing one, pretending to be part of your very own fleet," Beaumont replied.
"Starfleet made their choice, and I made mine. I have no desire to act in their name - those days are long past. What I have now... is a chance."
"A chance for what?"
Proudfoot looked at her, and for the first time Beaumont could see the unbalanced glint in his eyes. "The chance to end the Earth-Romulan War, once and for all."
To Be Continued...