Tau Delta system, Sector Nineteen
May 13, 2163
"The war is over, Isaac. We won."
Proudfoot paused and turned to Beaumont, his dark features looking decades older than the last time they had met. "What exactly did we win? Every single attempt to capture rather than destroy a Romulan ship ended in suicide, all too often taking our people with them in the process. The Coalition of Planets acceded to the demands of a retreating enemy who never dared show us their face. Even their surrender was negotiated via subspace radio. Now they sit behind their Neutral Zone, safe from us as can be." He shook his head. "Think about it, Isobel. Do those sound like the actions of a defeated enemy - or an enemy trying to buy time to continue the fight?"
It sounds like rationalization for treason, Beaumont thought, but held her tongue.
Proudfoot resumed his walk, easily stepping over the optronic cables that snaked across every meter of deck and were two or three cables deep at the corridor junctions. "Where did you find this ship?" Beaumont said. "I thought all the Omicron-class carriers that made it through the war were stripped and refitted."
"And you'd be correct. The Vanguard didn't make it through the war," Proudfoot said, running his hand over the grimy surface of the wall. Instead of the advanced alloys and polymers of the Pathfinder, the Vanguard had been built with simplicity in mind, much like the Liberty ships of the Second World War two centuries earlier. Plain titanium struts were covered by aluminum panels that had not even been polished, just stamped in orbital factories and then taken right to the ship for installation. "She was declared missing in ‘58, presumed destroyed in action. We found her in a decaying orbit over Taris Qun, hidden in the radiation belts. She'd been ambushed by a pair of Raptors, had her warp drive knocked out. The crew thought they could wait out the Raptors by staying in the radiation while they tried to get the warp drive back on-line."
Proudfoot grimaced at the memory of reading the logs of the dying crew. "Turns out the Romulans had been driving ships into that belt for years - one of their favorite tactics in the area. Whole place was a graveyard, and Starfleet never even knew. The radiation baked the Vanguard's crew in hours." He pulled his hand away and looked at it for a moment, almost like it was not his own, before increasing his pace. "That's just one example of what the Romulans did, one of hundreds that happened that we never knew about during the war. Two thousand people died on this ship, burned to death by the radiation. People with families who never knew what happened to their loved ones."
As they reached the next intersection, Beaumont said, "How does starting another war help them?"
"Because it's not another war," Proudfoot replied. "It's the same war. The Romulan War never ended, regardless of what Starfleet and the Federation believe. You think the Neutral Zone is keeping them out? We don't even know what they look like. We don't even have a scrap of genetic material to extrapolate from. They could already be anywhere in the Federation - or everywhere."
"You're paranoid," Beaumont said. "You're seeing an enemy that isn't there anymore."
"That's what the Starfleet head-shrinkers told me, too," Proudfoot said. "They told me I was thinking irrationally. Can you imagine - people who never served on the front lines, never saw the battles or their aftermath, judging my fitness to command." He looked at his former science officer carefully. "You know exactly how that feels."
Beaumont nodded, remembering the many sessions she had spent with different psychiatric specialists, both before and after the installation of the cortical processor nestled in her frontal lobe. "Isaac, I can understand your anger. I understand the need for vengeance. But what you're doing out here could bring the entire Federation down, just as we're beginning to trust each other."
"The Federation," Proudfoot spat bitterly. "The Tellarites, the Denobulans, a dozen others just sat on the sidelines during the war, waiting to see how it all shook out. The only ones who helped us in any meaningful way were the Andorians, and I think that's just because they wanted to piss off the Vulcans. Again. And the Vulcans were the worst of the lot." He looked at Beaumont, his eyes hard and cold. "Have you read the histories that came out of the Reformation? The violence Vulcans are capable of, the destruction, the sheer brutality they inflicted upon their own kind? But when humanity was fighting for its existence, they sat back and did nothing. Your precious Federation isn't worth the price humanity had to pay."
"Isaac, what happened?" Beaumont said softly. "This isn't just about the Fearless, is it?"
Proudfoot leaned back against the bulkhead and pressed a hand to his forehead, his eyes squeezed shut in pain. "The Fearless was just the start. There have been attacks out here, along the frontier," he said. "The Romulans are sending assault forces across our lines to ambush our supply lines and colonies. Of course, there's no proof - the Rommies always have a convenient scapegoat, the Orions or the Nausicaans, even the Klingons. But what we've found out on the fringe, the things I've seen on the supply runs..." He paused and wiped his eyes.
"It would curdle your blood. Hundreds murdered outright or left to starve. Whole colonies wiped out or picked clean. Some of the victims... some of them were... experimented on." Visions of the carnage filled his mind. "No pirate would inflict that kind of suffering, not so precisely. Not even Klingons would be so barbaric. And lately, we've seen signs of Andorian and Tellarite weaponry being used. This is just the start, Isobel, and while they turn the Federation against itself, the Romulans just sit back behind the Neutral Zone and gather their strength, waiting for the right time to strike." He stared into Beaumont's eyes and leaned close. "I will not let that happen, not while it is within my power to stop it."
In that moment, Beaumont realized two things - one, that Isaac Proudfoot believed each and every word he was saying, and two - that he was utterly insane.
"How are you going to stop them?" Beaumont said, carefully choosing her words. "The Vanguard may be powerful, but it's insignificant compared to the fleets of the Romulan Star Empire."
Proudfoot smiled grimly. "Let me show you."
Without another word he led Beaumont deeper into the ship, past a dozen intersections, making the occasional turn and descent down metal stairs until they arrived at a heavy blast door. Proudfoot pressed his hand to the scanner plate, then entered a long code on a keypad. "The war could have been ended in less than a year, did you know that?" he said as the blast doors hissed and retracted. "Starfleet had the most advance weapon ever developed - they just lacked the will to use it."
The open doors revealed a massive bay filled with power cables and computer banks, all connected to a long, irregular cylinder that ran the length of the bay. Fins and aerials sprouted from its casing at regular intervals, a spiral of protrusions, and Beaumont had enough engineering background to realize that what she was seeing was a not a weapon but a massive subspace antenna.
Proudfoot swept an arm across the bay. "Isobel, this is Achilles."
To Be Continued...