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Part Six

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

Beaumont was ready as soon as the first torpedo hit.

Between the end of Proudfoot's communication with the Pathfinder and when Beaumont had departed aboard the shuttlepod, there had been precious little time to come up with a plan of action, or even a means of communication between her and her ship. In the end, they were left with only one option - the implant's telemetry. If that signal stopped, for any reason, that would mean that Proudfoot intended to use his weapon on the Pathfinder again.

As part of its normal function, Beaumont's cortical processor broadcast a constant telemetry signal that was received and processed by the medical systems in Sickbay. Intended as an early warning system for potential problems with the implant, the signal was so low-powered it was almost as hard to detect as the Achilles pulse it was now being used to warn the Pathfinder against. Of course, Beaumont had lied about the extent of the damage - the implant had been designed to be deactivated with a thought should it malfunction. For the first time, she found herself thankful that Dr. Makav had insisted upon including that particular feature. Unfortunately, reactivating the implant was not so simple - it required a full diagnostic check by a qualified neurosurgeon, or at least a ship's chief medical officer.

On her left, Allenby looked around nervously as the Vanguard shuddered. "What the hell - ?"

Beaumont jammed her elbow into Allenby's gut and grabbed his right arm, wrenching him around, placing him in between herself and Jakobs. She shoved Allenby forward, her heart racing as adrenaline flooded her system, then reached up and slammed his head into Jakobs', dazing both men. She reached down, yanked Allenby's sidearm - an old-style plasma pistol - from its belt holster, and fired a blast into his right foot.

Allenby screamed and fell to the deck, clutching at the charred, ruined stump where his foot had been moments before. Jakobs was recovering quickly, pulling his own pistol, but he wasn't fast enough. Beaumont fired as Jakobs dodged, vaporizing a foot-wide hole in the aluminum corridor paneling and the equipment beneath, sending a spray of white-hot molten aluminum and razor-sharp fibercoil into his face and chest. Screaming, the man fell to the deck, his face a ruined mass of scorched tissue and blood.

Beaumont didn't bother looking down at him before she ran down the corridor, stopping only long enough to relieve both men of whatever power cells they had for their weapons - one spare each. Not much if she got in a firefight.

She had to put as much distance between herself and them as possible - soon, every crewman Proudfoot could spare would be searching for her. The Vanguard was massive but not infinitely so, and much of that was empty space - the fighter bays. She set off toward the bow at a run, pausing at the intersections just long enough to check that none of Proudfoot's crew were nearby before darting past.

At least her situation had one positive aspect - concentrating on evasion and escape made her less aware of lacking the implant's control over her chaotic thoughts. Those long days during her rehabilitation at Acacia Creek had been almost unbearable, with noting for her mind to do but think of ways to get her into trouble. Now at least she had purpose - somehow get out of this alive, and maybe throw a wrench in Proudfoot's plans along the way.

Twice she almost tripped over the bundles of wrist-thick cables that weaved across her path like technological vines. The third time her foot caught she stumbled, grabbing at the bulkhead to steady herself, her teeth bared in sudden fury. She raised the pistol, her finger tightening on the trigger... then she slowly lowered it as she regained control of her thoughts. She carefully looked at the tangle of cables - sever had been spliced together, forming a single long piece running hundreds - maybe thousands - of feet through the ship.

Cables, but no crew, Beaumont thought, and an instant later: Control runs for automated systems.

She found herself smiling as she raised the pistol again, this time not from anger but certainty. Aiming down the corridor, Beaumont found a knot of overlapping cables a hundred feet away. She centered the sights on the knot, squeezed the trigger, and a blue-white flash filled the corridor as a bolt of plasma erupted from the muzzle and tore through the cables, severing most of them and fusing the rest into an smoking black lump. The corridor lit us as energy arced from the ends of the cables to the bare metal surface of the walls and deck, hopefully shorting out whatever systems they controlled. At the very least it would take time and manpower to repair the damage - and she hoped Proudfoot would be short on both.

But even if she blasted every cable she came across, she might not even make a dent - none of them were tied to Achilles, she was sure. No, she had to find a way to inflict serious damage all at once. She looked around, saw a tiny plaque mounted to the wall, and studied it carefully. A moment later, a savage grin spreading across her face, she loped off toward the starboard fighter bay.

"All right, then, Isaac," she snarled to nobody in particular, not caring if she were overheard. "No more bluffing."

To Be Continued...



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