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Part Ten

USS Pathfinder
in the atmosphere of Tau Delta VI
May 13, 2163

"It's crazy," Webb blurted.

Standing in the hangar bay, Teague was unmoved. "Can you make it work?"

Nearby, T'Vril was studying a monitor that was currently displaying a rough schematic that was... unorthodox, to say the least. "It is theoretically possible, though I am unaware of such a device ever being conceived. There would be no guarantee it would function correctly, or even at all."

"There's no time for guarantees. Can you do it?"

Webb looked around. "We can put the pieces together. We'll need an engineering crew to do the heavy lifting and to actually get it assembled."

"Then get moving. Whatever you need, you're cleared to take."

Teague walked away, leaving Webb shaking her head. "Commander Amara isn't going to like this one bit," she said. "Brand new ship and everything - it's a shame what we're about to do."

"What the chief engineer likes is irrelevant," T'Vril replied. "We have a great deal of work to do."

* * * * *

Beaumont could barely keep still as the clock counted down, inexorably dropping toward zero. With each passing moment Achilles was building its charge, awaiting only the right moment to unleash its power against the Pathfinder.

And there was nothing more she could do to stop it.

She looked over at Proudfoot as he sat in the command chair, looking like some ancient statue that was crumbling beneath the ravages of time and stress. His dark skin had taken on a gray tinge, and Beaumont wondered how long it had been since he had last slept. "When did it happen, Isaac?"

"What?" he said absently.

"When did you decide you had to restart the war?"

Proudfoot shook his head and sighed. "I'm not playing this game with you anymore, Isobel. You can't talk me out of this."

"We were friends for a long time, Isaac. I think I deserve the truth."

Proudfoot stood and walked toward the main screen and murky clouds of Tau Delta VI it showed. "It was eight months after the treaty. I was captaining a T-class freighter, out on the tail end of the Sigma Draconis run. Last stop was this tiny mining colony - six hundred people who had scrimped and saved every scrap of profit for two years, just to buy a simple auto-doc unit. Can you imagine it? Trying to carve out a life inside an airless rock with just basic first aid. They were so happy when we unloaded it - the party lasted for two days. It was almost a shame we had to leave."

He looked down, his voice quieter as he resumed. "We were four days out when we picked up their distress call. We reversed course at once, drove the engines as hard as we dared... but by the time we got back, it was too late. Every last colonist was dead. Whoever attacked the colony stripped everything of value, right to the bare rock, then purged the atmosphere on their way out. The few who survived, who hid deep in the mines during the attack, ran out of air while we were still half a day out."

He paused, his hands trembling, and then he looked up at Beaumont, his eyes cold as space. "I saw enough Romulan weapon damage during the war to recognize it when I saw it. I started asking questions, listening to the stories that spacers told when they got together, and they were always the same - out on the fringes, someone was killing people. I tracked down the few who survived, heard their stories, saw their wounds. I went to the colonies and saw what little remained, picked up the ash and let it fall from my hands."

Proudfoot gestured at the bridge of the Vanguard. "Finding this ship was pure luck... or perhaps it was fate. I was trying to track down Starfleet ships that had gone missing during the war, maybe to try and build a fleet that could defend the fringe colonies. But when we recovered the Vanguard, when we found Achilles and realized what it could do... that's when I knew what had to be done."

Beaumont looked again at the countdown - seventeen minutes and change. 'What happened was tragic. Criminal. But vengeance won't work, Isaac - it will just spill more blood."

"What else can I do?" Proudfoot whispered.

"Take your claims to Starfleet. Let them see what you've seen. Let them decide for themselves if what you claim could be true. If there's event he slightest chance you're right, they would have no choice but to act."

For a moment Proudfoot's gaze wavered, and Beaumont through he might be listening, that he might actually turn away from this path toward destruction. Then he turned away. "No, Isobel. I've made my choice. If Starfleet decides to follow my lead, I won't refuse them... but I won't turn back now. Even if I could."

Beaumont licked her dry lips as the countdown clicked over to sixteen minutes. "Isaac - "

"Please," he said, holding up his hand. "No more. Just... just be quiet." Proudfoot returned to the command chair and fixed his eyes on the screen, turning his back on Beaumont. "This will all be over soon."

To Be Continued...

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