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Epilogue

USS Pathfinder
in orbit around Tau Delta IV
May 19, 2163

"What's that?"

Webb moved the duffel a bit further back. "What's what?"

"That." Sarria gestured toward the duffel that Webb had been trying to conceal with her body.

"Nothing."

"You're not acting like it's nothing." Sarria leaned over to get a better look.

"And you're really nosy. Trust me, it's important, okay?"

Sarria's antennae quivered in confusion. Nosy? she thought. Humans have such odd sayings. But she closed her mouth and the pair finished their journey in silence.

The briefing room was already almost full by the time they arrived. A few of the officers spared the duffel a glance - bringing luggage to a briefing was not exactly standard - but as soon as Teague began to speak, it fell away from their thoughts.

"Now that we're all present - " He spared Webb a stern look. " - we can get started. Mister Amara, state of the ship?"

"All systems are fully operational," Amara replied tiredly. "She might not look pretty right now, but everything works."

Amara was understating things just a touch - large patches of scorched and pitted hull plating had been replaced, leaving obvious signs that the ship had recently survived a major battle. But we did survive, Teague thought. That's what matters.

But not everyone had. Shortly after Beaumont's rescue, the Pathfinder's sensors had recorded an explosion deep in the atmosphere of Tau Delta VI as the Vanguard's warp core lost containment, destroying the ship - and the Achilles weapon. Proudfoot's war was over at last.

It had taken the better part of a day to recover the two hundred crewmen that had escaped the Vanguard, including those marooned aboard the disabled Roosevelt. These crewmen - including the injured Jakobs and Allenby - were now secure on the surface of Tau Delta IV, where their captured freighter crews had been kept until just a few days ago. Now those crews, restless after weeks or months of isolation, were gladly assisting with the repairs to both Starfleet ships. The stripped freighters were beyond field repairs, but the various crews were already talking about throwing in their lot together on a few brand-new ships to make the deep=space cargo runs, traveling like the caravans of ancient Earth. Teague wished them the best of luck.

"That's good to hear," Teague said, coming back to the moment. He looked over at Beaumont. She had been quiet since her return and the reactivation of her implant. "And what about you, Commander? Any lasting effects?"

"No, sir," she replied. Her thoughts were once again as ordered and precise as she liked them. Her time without the implant had left no scars it seemed, at least none she could identify. But something was different now - the world seemed just a bit duller, the sounds a touch muted. And part of her wanted to be freed from that dullness.

"I'd still like to keep a close eye on you, Commander," said Dr. Ranik. "Now that I've finally freed up a little room in Sickbay, I want to get some detailed neural scans and send them along to Earth along with a complete diagnostic. I want to be sure the mechanical parts are working as well as the organic ones." He sniffed disdainfully. "I'm a surgeon, not an... engineer. No offense, Commander," he said to Amara, who waved the comment away.

"Your diligence is most appreciated, Doctor," Teague said. "One last piece of business - Starfleet is concerned that someone determined enough might be able to salvage something of Proudfoot's weapon from the wreckage. Is that remotely possible?"

Beaumont shook her head. "between the battle damage, the reactor explosions and the planet's gravity, there won't be enough left of Achilles to fit in a cargo pod."

Beaumont's description of Achilles and its effects had raised the hairs on Teague's neck, especially when he learned that it was a Starfleet project. Teague had been unable to learn anything more about it from Starfleet Command - they had not even wanted to confirm its name when he contacted them. Which left him wondering just why Kassin had uttered the word 'Achilles' on the bridge long before Beaumont had even returned to the ship. The science officer might have regained his outer calm - he had even stopped chewing his thumbnail for the moment - but Teague knew that wouldn't last, not once he had an opportunity to speak with his science officer at greater length.

"That's very reassuring," Teague said. "In that case, there's no need for us to remain here any longer." He rubbed his hands together, looking at his crew who had endured the first of many trials and come out victorious. "The Roosevelt has things well in hand, and will remain on station until Starfleet can collect both the prisoners and the freighter crews. I think it's past time we began our mission properly. Now, if there are no other matters - "

Teague was halfway out of his chair when Webb's voice made him pause. "We can't leave yet, sir."

He slowly lowered back into his seat. "And why is that, Lieutenant?" he said coolly.

"It's bad luck for a ship to leave port without being properly christened." Webb reached down, retrieved the duffel and unzipped it, revealing a dark green glass bottle with a faded label that read Chateau Picard, 2056.

Beaumont picked up the bottle and looked at it. "I hesitate to even think where you got hold of this," she said - examples of wine from before the Third World War were exceedingly difficult to find.

Webb grinned. "Just a keepsake, ma'am," she said. "Figured it might come in handy someday."

Teague looked over at Amara. "What do you say, Rik? Can the hull take one more hit?"

Amara smiled. "Absolutely, sir."

"Then let's get me suited up," Teague said, standing and taking the bottle. "It's not every day a captain gets to christen his own ship."

As they left the briefing room, headed for the nearest airlock, T'Vril turned the opposite direction. "Lieutenant Commander?" Beaumont said. "Aren't you joining us?"

T'Vril turned back and said coolly, "This... tradition... is not logical," was all she said before turning away again.

And without another word she walked away. She found the nearest turbolift, commanded it to go to D Deck, and went to her quarters. Checking to make sure the door was locked, she opened a drawer beneath her bed and pulled out a wide case and sat down at the desk. Turning it upside down, she pressed at one specific area on the case, and a concealed compartment sprang open, virtually impossible to find unless you knew what you were looking for.

Two items were nestled inside. T'Vril gave one of them, a folded flexible case, a long look before she removed the other, a thin portable computer. She set it on the desk and tapped the screen, making a keyboard with strange symbols appear.

Strange symbols to anyone aboard the Pathfinder but her, of course.

She rapidly typed out a message in a language no Federation race would recognize: The objective has been lost. The weapon was destroyed.

After a few moments, a response came. The weapon was never essential. The true objective remains. You will remain in place until you are called upon to act.

A moment later the Romulan letters vanished from the screen, leaving T'Vril all alone... and farther from her home than anyone aboard the Pathfinder could imagine.

The End

Coming Soon:

Star Trek: Pathfinder #3 - The Revenant Star



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