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Part Four

UESN Vanguard
Tau Delta system, Sector Nineteen
May 13, 2163

Beaumont stood at the railing, looking down at the weapon that Proudfoot called Achilles. It was a truly massive construct, stretching hundreds of meters down the bay, mounted along the spine of the Vanguard. Dozens of people surrounded the weapon, replacing components, calling out readings and making adjustments to the system. Even if it was a weapon, Beaumont still thought it was a spectacular piece of engineering. "What is this?" she said.

Proudfoot exchanged a few murmured words with the nearest technician before answering her. "Achilles is the most powerful subspace transmitter ever carried aboard a starship," he said. "It's not the most efficient device - anything but, in fact. Its power requirements are massive. It can affect targets over short to medium combat ranges, out to about a million kilometers."

"Is it some kind of jamming system?" Beaumont said. She knew full well that it was not, but she needed to keep Proudfoot talking, to get him to share concrete details, something they might be able to use against him. "A million kilometers isn't even a dent when it comes to subspace comms."

Proudfoot smiled. "You're right, of course, Isobel. Achilles doesn't jam subspace frequencies - it generates a modulated pulse on very specific wavelengths. It uses a target's internal systems to amplify those frequencies, spreading the field throughout the target."

He turned to face Beaumont. "It's quite elegant, in a terrible way. The Achilles pulse effects the brain directly, rendering its victims... compliant. It leaves them suggestible, easily controlled, able to follow simple instructions but utterly incapable of resistance. Much like the siren's call of ancient Earth myth." At Beaumont's horrified expression, he said, "Of course, the effect is only temporary - it fades within a few minutes of stopping the pulse. But by that time a small force can have an ship's entire crew restrained and take control of the ship, all without a shot fired in anger."

Beaumont's stomach lurched as she went pale listening to her former commanding officer describe the effect of Achilles. It was no wonder Starfleet had never used it - Achilles wasn't just a weapon, it was mind control on a massive scale. "It's barbaric," she said.

"No, barbaric is sacrificing the innocent in a war when the key to victory was in our grasp all along," Proudfoot replied. "Starfleet proved that in the Romulan War."

"You used this on the Roosevelt. On a Starfleet crew."

"I had to prove my point to Starfleet. They weren't harmed, just like the crews of the cargo ships."

"So where are they?"

"We dropped them on Tau Delta III, along with enough supplies to be quite comfortable. The region we dropped them in will be temperate for several months. Did you really think I would use them as slave labor... or something worse?"

"The thought crossed my mind," Beaumont admitted.

Proudfoot frowned. "The Vanguard was the first field test of Achilles, and they managed to take out two assault groups of Preybirds. The Romulans still managed to self-destruct - paranoia in all its glory." He clenched his right hand into a fist. "Soon after, the Romulans chased this ship into that radiation belt because they couldn't get close enough to destroy it outright."

Proudfoot's eyes narrowed. "How did you figure it out?"

"Sir?" she said, his sudden question taking her by surprise.

"Don't play dumb with me, Commander," Proudfoot spat, his tone changing from sadness to anger at the same moment he chose to address her by rank and not by name. "It was your implant, wasn't it? Is that what gave you enough warning to jam the Achilles pulse?"

"I didn't know about any signal until you showed me this - " Beaumont said.

Proudfoot shook his head. "You never could bluff worth a damn. You're too earnest, too honest. No guile." He nodded once and Beaumont felt hands clasp around her biceps, On either side of her were technicians, each with a holstered sidearm. She struggled for only a moment before realizing the futility of it - even if she escaped, where could she go?

Proudfoot clasped his hands behind his back and approached her. "Commander, so far I've been truthful with you. I have not once tried to conceal my motives, despite the fact that the advantage is mine. The first thing I ask for from you... and you try and lie to me. Not a good way to begin."

"You don't really think you can win, do you?" she said. "Even if you do manage to reignite the war, you'll have both the Federation and the Romulans against you. It's suicide."

"Once people see what the Romulans have done - what they're still doing - they will understand my actions. People will see I did what had to be done to protect humanity. Over time, more and more will support me... until the tide is unstoppable. Until the day the Romulan Star Empire is broken at last." He looked at her captors. "Take her to Sickbay. Isolate the frequencies her implant shares with the Achilles pulse and work around them."

"What then?" one of them asked.

"Then... confine her to quarters and make damned sure she's secure, with a guard outside at all times. Achilles will be charged to fire again in - " Proudfoot checked a nearby readout - "thirty-six minutes. This time we take the Pathfinder."

Beaumont's eyes widened in shock. "The jamming - "

"Stopped a medium-power pulse," Proudfoot replied. "The next time we fire, the Achilles pulse will be at maximum strength... and at this range, nothing your ship can do will stop it."

As the men dragged her off, Beaumont heard him say, "Soon we'll be on our way to the Neutral Zone... and the Pathfinder will be my flagship."

To Be Continued...

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