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Part Five

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

"What did you do?" said the tall technician.

His name was Jakobs, and his shorter, stocky cohort was Allenby. Neither man was comfortable with what they were doing, it seemed - they wore their weapons because they were ordered to, not because they felt being armed was necessary. They had taken her from the Achilles bay to Sickbay, where they had secured her to an exam table with fabric straps. Now Allenby ran a bulky scanner over Beaumont's head while Jakobs scritinized the readout, trying to sift out which parts of the Achilles pulse had tripped the implant.

But now the signal from the implant had cut out. "What do you mean?" said Allenby.

"The implant - it's just stopped," Jakobs said. "Total shutdown."

On the table Beaumont uttered a low giggle - the whole situation was suddenly very funny to her. "Of course it shut down," she spat, a hard edge in her voice. "Your pulse almost fried it the first time. It was barely working by the time I set foot aboard this ship. Just a matter of time." Her arms strained against the straps holding her to the exam table. She needed to move, to get up, but the chances of that were slim. It was hard to think - Beaumont's thoughts were no longer the ones she was used to but a tangled mess of impulses.

Jakobs and Allenby shared a worried glance. "I'm calling the captain," Jakobs said.

Beaumont's laugh filled the exam room, utterly unexpected even by her. "Really? You want to bother him now, when he's just about to assault Starfleet's most advanced ship? I'm sure he'd be delighted for you to take precious time out of his busy day to bring him up to speed on my lack of well-being," she snarled. She could hardly believe the cutting tone in her voice - even on her worst days before the implant, she had never sounded like this.

Got to calm down or they might sedate you, she thought, and choked back the next words she wanted to say - something unflattering about their parentage. Then she breathed deeply, remembering the mental exercises she had learned in her long rehabilitation, trying to control her raging thoughts. She hated this feeling, hated it even in a safe, controlled environment, and this was anything but safe or controlled. Every light seemed too bright, every sound too sharp, every sensation too intense, all trying to crowd out rational thought. "I can survive perfectly well without the implant," she explained through gritted teeth. "It just make things - easier to deal with."

Yhe two men shared another quick look. "Come on, let's get her secured," Allenby said, unbuckling the straps. Neither made a motion toward the comm terminal on the desk to alert Proudfoot.

Beaumont could barely hold back her grin as they led her away from Sickbay.

* * * * *

"Commander Beaumont's signal has ceased, Captain," said T'Vril.

Teague was ready. "Tactical alert. Execute evasive plan Gamma. Commander T'Vril, disable those fighters as fast as you can."

Web pressed her hands to the helm controls and the Pathfinder instantly responded to her touch. The massive fusion-powered impulse engines flared bright blue, propelling the starship forward through a tiny gap between the warp fighters. At the same time, a metered electrical current was being passed through the hull plating, aligning the molecular structure of the ship's skin into, effectively, a single colossal construct instead of separate plates, one that was capable of dispersing more energy damage than separate plates could hope to manage.

That did not make the hull indestructible, however. The warp fighters set off in pursuit almost as soon as the Pathfinder moved, firing their high-yield phase cannons at the fleeing ship and scorching the hull with each successful strike. The Pathfinder fired back as it ran, scoring hits on a pair of fighters before the smaller craft reached full speed and their maneuverability could keep them just out of Pathfinder's weapons fire. The pair slowed and circled back toward the Vanguard, their impulse engines stuttering.

On the bridge T'Vril calmly watched her tactical display, a schematic of the Pathfinder centered on the screen. Various portions of the ship lit up red as weapon fire struck, then faded to yellow as the energy dissipated through the hull. "Two enemy craft disabled. Multiple phase cannon impacts, minor damage. Polarization capacity down ten percent."

"How long until we're clear for warp?" Teague said.

Marakis didn't have to check his console - he had run the calculations in his head. "Three minutes, twenty seconds."

Teague was doing the same, though his figures were coming out considerably more grim. At this rate, the warp fighters would disable Pathfinder in less than two minutes, long before they could get clear of the gas giant's gravity well - just as he had feared. "What about the larger ships?" he said.

T'Vril answered him instead of the science officer - Kassin was still halfway through rebuilding the sensor head, somewhere down in the bowels of the ship. "The Roosevelt is drifting, sir. Vanguard is on a pursuit course but her acceleration is less than ours."

The Pathfinder shook under another volley of phase cannon impacts. "Close the distance," Teague muttered. "Helm, reverse course - take us back toward the planet."

"Sir?" said Webb, even as her hands obeyed the command.

"Proudfoot expects us to run - he doesn't expect us to go for his throat," Teague explained. "Take us right across their bow and beneath their keel. T'Vril, arm a full spread of plasma torpedoes. Target the ventral weapons systems."

Deep inside the Pathfinder torpedoes locked into their and nozzles found fill ports, charging them with high-energy plasma from the warp reactor. Six torpedoes sat, death in gray casings, waiting for the ocmmand to be unleashed and fulfill their function.

Teague smiled grimly as the Vanguard filled the main viewscreen. "Fire!"

To Be Continued...

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