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Old December 6 2012, 04:49 AM   #102
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UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 4 continued)

Chapter 4 <cont'd>

Sickbay, USS Europa

T’Ser entered Sickbay and made her way to the secured ward, directing a nod towards Sandhurst as she did so. Clad in an engineering jumpsuit, he stood at the window through which the status of their prisoner could be seen.

Even through the transparent aluminum partition, the man’s screams could be heard. As Taiee and an LMH attempted an examination of the Baron, he writhed in agony atop the biobed, struggling against the restraining field which held him in place. He babbled incoherently between these bouts of suffering in spite of the multiple sedatives Taiee had injected him with over the past hour.

“How’s our guest, Commodore?” T’Ser asked, her eyes riveted to the scene playing out before them. To avoid the confusion of having two captains aboard, the crew had taken to addressing Sandhurst as ‘commodore.’ He wasn’t fond of the title, but his desire to make the situation less awkward for T’Ser forced him to accept it.

“Apparently, he goes from being a practical tabula rasa to this, whatever the hell this is.”

“It looks painful,” she observed without a trace of sympathy.

Sandhurst nodded in agreement. “Sure does.”

She turned her head to look at him. “Given the circumstances, shouldn’t you be enjoying this more?”

He sighed. “One would think… but, no, actually. Whatever’s causing this is certainly nothing less than what he deserves, but it gives me no pleasure to see him suffer.”

There was a long moment of silence between them before T’Ser remarked, “I just killed hundreds, maybe thousands of beings in less than a second. I ordered Verrik to fire, watched the Alpha Weapon go downrange, and then – poof – I’m a mass murderer.”

“I know,” Sandhurst replied, voice laden with sympathy. “I’m sorry, T’Ser. It should have been me giving that order.”

“I’d pay latinum to give you this fourth pip back.”

Sandhurst pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Unfortunately, the fact that you have a healthy fear of that responsibility just means you were the right person for the promotion, Captain.”

“I was afraid you’d say something like that.” T’Ser rubbed the bicep of one arm with her opposing hand, her body a collection of stress-related knots. “How’s your new engine design coming along?”

On the other side of the partition, Taiee was trying the fourth different formulation of sedatives in another attempt to curb the Baron’s seizure-like fugue.

“We’ve replicated nearly three-quarters of the parts to assemble the drive. The design instructions are very detailed, though I can’t remember a thing about how I came up with them.”

She cast a wry glance his way. “I hope to hell you know what you’re doing.”

He snorted a half-laugh. “You and me both, Captain. Right now I’m just assembling something from schematics, a task any engineering cadet could do. The concept behind it… it’s staggering in its implications. It’s like the promise of transwarp a century ago, but this time the math actually adds up.”

“And you couldn’t see it before?” she asked, still finding herself coping with that notion.

“No,” he uttered with a disconsolate sigh. “It’s damned humbling, too. I rejected Ra-Havreii’s design theory out of hand, arrogantly assuming that because I couldn’t grasp the concept, that the theory itself was incorrect. It turns out I just wasn’t smart enough to see it.”

T’Ser was about to respond when the door to the secure ward opened, releasing Taiee amidst a wave of the Baron’s manic ranting. As the door hissed closed, Taiee paused to remove a pair of earplugs she’d inserted as a safeguard against the man’s persistent screaming.

Sandhurst was about to ask Taiee about the Baron’s status when he suddenly remembered he was no longer in command.

“Any idea what’s going on with the Baron, Doc?” T’Ser inquired a second later.

“Do we know what’s happening to him? Yes. What we haven’t a clue about is why or how it’s happening.” Taiee stepped over to a large viewer set into the far bulkhead, inputting commands to call up a rotating two-dimensional scan of the Baron’s brain.

As Sandhurst and T’Ser followed her across the compartment, Taiee began to point out a number of dark spots in the geography of the Baron’s cerebral activity. “These areas indicate places of zero neural activity. They’re localized to long-term memory areas of his brain, analogous to the medial-temporal lobe, hippocampal formation and neocortex in a human brain.”

Sandhurst frowned. “I didn’t do this, did I? I mean… when I—“

“No, Capta—uh, Commodore,” Taiee corrected herself. “This appears to be unrelated to the physical injuries he sustained in your quarters. The neural degradation is an ongoing process, and based on the rate of decay we’ve observed, it’s been going on for some time now.”

T’Ser scowled as she considered the implications of this. “So, this is some kind of degenerative neural disease, like Alzheimer’s in humans or Bendii Syndrome in Vulcans?”

“We don’t think so,” Taiee replied, her expression equally dour. “The damage appears too specifically directed to be truly random. In fact, the LMH is reasonably certain that whatever’s doing this is inflicting damage in a purposeful sequence.”

“A sequence?” T’Ser repeated. “For what reason?”

Taiee’s expression grew pained, as though she was hesitant to reveal their working theory. “If we had to guess, Captain, it looks as if the Baron’s memories are being destroyed in such a way as to maximize the psychological damage he suffers during the process. It’s as though he somehow manages to retain the emotional sense of loss associated with the destruction of specific long-term memories, even though he can't remember the events themselves that have been deleted."

Sandhurst’s eyes widened as realization came to him. He stepped forward, placing a hand against the transparent aluminum window. On the other side the Baron’s violent episode was beginning to wane, leaving him to whimper in confusion. “It’s torture,” Sandhurst exclaimed. “The bastard finally went and picked a fight with someone who’s given him a taste of his own medicine.”

Lar’ragos' voice intruded by way of the comm system. “Bridge to Captain T’Ser.” There was an edge to Pava’s voice that Sandhurst detected instantly. T’Ser looked askance at him as her former captain’s jaw clenched in unconscious anticipation of bad news.

“Go ahead, Commander,” T'Ser prompted.

“Sir, we’ve arrived back at Galaxy’s coordinates. The ship’s been wrecked, and is not answering to hails. Life signs are sporadic.”

T’Ser moved quickly for the exit, with Sandhurst close on her heels. “Any sign of the Voranti that did it?” she asked as she jogged toward the nearest turbolift alcove.

“We don’t think it was the Voranti,”
Lar’ragos fairly growled. “We’re detecting Starfleet weapons signatures.”

T’Ser and Sandhurst shared a troubled look as the turbolift doors closed and the car began its ascent.

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