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Old February 5 2013, 01:49 AM   #150
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Re: UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths

UT:TFV - Part II - Scorched Earths (Chapter 6 continued)

Stellar Cartography, USS Europa

“Impressive,” Sandhurst murmured as he observed the magnified image of a Ferou colony ship via the enhanced holography of the Stellar Cartography Lab’s cavernous viewing chamber.

“They’re advanced, that’s for certain,” Shanthi noted, gesturing to an accompanying text breakdown of the Ferou’s hull constituents. ”This is a duranium-analogue, but it’s been enhanced with some kind of sub-structural crystalline lattice. It’s similar to Starfleet’s latest generation of ablative armor, but with significantly higher density. I’d guess they could take an unshielded photon torpedo strike without a hull breach.”

“Weapons?” Sandhurst inquired.

“Some kind of high-energy collimated beams,” Lar’ragos replied from where he stood next to the commodore. “Their maximum yield is approximately sixty percent more powerful than that of our Class-XI phasers. They appear to have some manner of missile or torpedo-based standoff weapons, but the launchers are heavily shielded and resistant to our scans. Just based on what we’ve observed from their other weapons and defenses, I think I’m safe in saying we wouldn’t want to take a hit from whatever it is they’re fielding.”

Sandhurst bobbed his heat curtly in acknowledgment of Pava’s assessment. “Have we observed any overtly hostile actions by the Ferou against any local species or others among the nomadic groups?”

“None,” Juneau offered. “In fact, we recorded an instance of a Ferou ship rendering assistance to a Voranti vessel that must have fallen behind the Voranti formation some months ago. It looked to us like the Ferou helped get their warp drive back online and then sent them on a course that will have them rendezvous with the rest of the Voranti formation in less than six weeks.”

“That’s a positive sign,” Sandhurst said hopefully. “Let’s pray they’ll be open to talking with us and discussing options.” He made a few notes on a padd before looking around at the assembled officers. “Any other updates?”

If Sandhurst noticed the guarded looks exchanged by his officers, he didn’t mention it.

Ashok, who had been silent until this point, finally spoke. “And if the Ferou are unwilling to communicate with us or cooperate in our plans to divert them or see their species settle on a Class-M world in this sector, sir?”

Sandhurst’s expression was one of reluctant resolve. “In that case, Lieutenant, we’d have to review our options.” He nodded to the others, “Alright, then. Keep up the good work.”

Lar’ragos followed Sandhurst out of the compartment and fell into step beside him in the corridor. “We need to talk, sir,” he said in a quiet voice.

“We are talking, Pava,” Sandhurst noted wryly as he stepped to one side to allow a crewman heading in the opposite direction to squeeze between them.

The El Aurian’s voice took on an edge Sandhurst had only heard a handful of times in the past, all of them life-or-death situations. “Respectfully, sir, this is serious.”

Sandhurst dipped his head, acceding to his friend’s wishes. “Very well. Where would you be more comfortable, my ready room or quarters?”

“Your quarters would be fine, sir.”

The two men proceeded in silence, Sandhurst sensing Lar’ragos’ accumulated tension as the smaller man almost seemed to buzz with repressed energy.

The door to Sandhurst’s quarters slid open at his approach. The commodore unzipped his uniform jacket and tossed it onto the couch as he entered. As he turned to engage Lar’ragos, Pava instead made a beeline for the replicator, ordering a black cup of coffee that appeared in the delivery slot.

As he brought the cup to his lips, a firm hand on his forearm interceded. Lar’ragos started, not having seen or even perceived Sandhurst move the three meters from the door. He slowly lowered the cup, setting it atop the nearby dining table. “That answers my first and second questions,” Pava said coolly.

Sandhurst’s expression was neutral. “How long have you known?”

Lar’ragos turned to face him, his eyes searching Sandhurst’s, probing for any sign of the man he’d once known so well. “We’ve been putting the pieces together for a few days, now. Despite the evidence, I didn’t want to believe it was true.”

Sandhurst nodded understandingly. “I know, and I’m sorry I kept it from you, Pava. The truth is… I am Amon, by choice.”

“Liu and I believe differently,” Lar’ragos countered. “The life-essence is addictive, and it alters both your biochemistry as well as your neural pathways.”

“I don’t deny that,” Sandhurst replied. “After the last of the energy was flushed from my system, I found that I couldn’t stand being the ‘old’ me. I felt slower and more feeble, both mentally and physically. As it turns out, in the midst of my creative fugue, I added design elements to the new drive that would enable me to reclaim my place among the Amon.” He raised his hands, palms up in a gesture of futility. “And so I did.”

“The attack on the En-Il-Que,” Lar’ragos said pointedly, his tone dripping with contempt. “Was that just to fill your chalice with life energy? Is that why you showed no consideration for the innocent Deobeen killed in the strike?”

An ironic smile spread slowly across Sandhurst’s face. “You can’t be blind to the hypocrisy of that accusation, coming from someone with hands as stained as yours.”

“No one is more aware of my sins than I am,” Lar’ragos replied acidly. “Answer the question.”

“That sounds suspiciously like an order,” Sandhurst uttered, his tone conveying strong disapproval. “I don’t take orders from you, Commander.”

It took an achingly long moment for Lar’ragos to back down and concede the point with a brief nod. “My apologies, Commodore. Please answer my question, sir.”

“The attack on the En-Il-Que was necessary and appropriate to the circumstances, and if I recall correctly, it had your full support.”

“The fact that you’re feeding off of the—“

“Irrelevant,” Sandhurst barked, cutting him off. “You’re accusing me of butchering sentients for no other reason than to fill my stomach. That’s completely false. The En-Il-Que were preparing to send a recon expedition in force to hunt for more targets of opportunity. We couldn’t allow that. The fact that I made use of the energy shed by their fatalities was a beneficial byproduct of the raid, it was not the goal of the attack. The Amon do not kill merely for the sake of feeding.”

Lar’ragos reached into his uniform jacket to produce a compact padd which he tossed to Sandhurst. “Tell that to the two-and-a-half million Federation citizens in the Ganopus system that your friends slaughtered two weeks ago, sir.”

Sandhurst set the padd aside without reading its contents. “I’ve already been apprised by Command,” he said. “My tribe didn’t do this. In fact, they’re the only people who can help us bring those who did to justice.”

“Your tribe,” Lar’ragos echoed in disbelief. “Can you even hear yourself? You can’t hold dual loyalties, sir, not in this instance!”

“I’m Amon,” Sandhurst repeated, “but I’m still a Starfleet officer. My loyalty and oath to the Federation are still intact.” He stepped towards Lar’ragos. “You can read people, you can see into the truth of things. So… do it. Sense me. Reveal me as the fraud you believe me to be.”

“I can’t!” Lar’ragos blurted suddenly. In response to Sandhurst’s skeptical look, Lar’ragos elaborated sheepishly, “I can’t sense anything from you when you’re like this.”

“Like what?”

“When you’re Amon,” Lar’ragos spat, as though forcing the admission through clenched teeth.

“Pava,” Sandhurst answered in a surprisingly gentle tone, “I realize that every instinct you have must be screaming right now that I’m under the control of an alien force.”

“You’ve got that right.”

“I can only ask you to believe me that I’m the sole individual in control of my actions and decisions. I have never been sharper or more focused. I’ve never been in a better position to balance the operational needs of the task force with our duty to uphold the Federation’s values.”

Lar’ragos folded his arms across his chest, and now it was his turn to appear incredulous. “You’ve made significant, secretive modifications to the ship’s computers and software, in addition to unauthorized alterations to the nav-deflector and bussard collectors. We also suspect you’ve tampered with the telemetry of the probes we sent into the Dalikar system to monitor the Amon cube.” Lar’ragos opened his arms expansively. “Now why would you think any of that would give me cause to suspect your motives?”

Sandhurst met his friend’s gaze with unwavering conviction. “If I’d informed you of my intent to make those modifications, you’d have stopped me.”

“All of which should have been an indication you’d wandered into dangerous territory, Commodore.”

Sandhurst moved behind his desk, taking a seat. “I can understand and appreciate your concerns as my XO, Pava. I am presently working with my tribe to locate the Amon responsible for the attacks on Federation and Klingon worlds. Once we’ve found them, my tribe and our intercept group will strike hard and fast to excise the rogue element.”

“It’s a good plan, sir, and under different circumstances I might entertain it,” Lar’ragos said, stepping toward the desk. He took a breath before stating, “I regret that given the information I and the other senior staff have uncovered, I must place you under arrest on the charges of Conduct Unbecoming and Failure to Obey Order or Regulation.” Lar’ragos’ hand moved toward the miniature phaser holstered in a pocket at his waist.

Sandhurst’s face took on a sober mien, his eyes growing flinty. “Don’t do this. Starfleet can’t stand against the rogue Amon tribe alone.”

“I’m sorry, Commodore,” Lar’ragos answered regretfully. “That’s beyond the scope of my position. Given the circumstances, I’m compelled to carry out my duty.”

The door slid open to admit two security personnel, and Sandhurst could make out the presence of at least two fully geared Marines in the corridor beyond.

Sandhurst nodded despondently, moving to touch a finger to the computer interface set into his desktop. There was a faint null-function buzz from the interface and then… nothing. Sandhurst looked slightly perturbed.

“I’ve taken the liberty of having Lieutenant Ashok manually disable all transporter functions, sir,” Lar’ragos announced without a hint of satisfaction. “Given your abilities, I figured you’d have planned for such an eventuality.”

A wry grin, tinged with sadness slowly formed on Sandhurst’s lips. “Well played,” he murmured as he closed his eyes and touched another of the controls.

A brilliant, blinding flash surged from the cabin’s lighting fixtures just as Sandhurst shot from his chair. As he rose to his feet, he grabbed hold of the underside of his work desk, tearing it free from its fasteners and throwing it into the air, tumbling end over end.

Lar’ragos’ eyes slammed shut in response to the flaring lights, even as he sensed the rush of air from the upset table and moved to drop beneath it. The spinning desk arced over Pava’s head and the lip of one edge caught him in the back of the head as the desk began its descent. The impact sent him sprawling forward, the compact phaser flying from his grasp as Lar’ragos threw his arms out to try and break his fall.

Sandhurst moved through and past the two security specialists, throwing open-palm strikes into both their sternums that sent the two crashing bodily into the bulkhead on either side of the door.

The first Marine was just starting to raise her phaser sidearm as Sandhurst emerged from the cabin and plowed into her. He drove a fist up into her chin from below, delivering a devastating uppercut that sent her off of her feet.

Her compatriot swung the butt of his phaser rifle at the attacking blur, striking Sandhurst a glancing blow to the shoulder. In response, the commodore grabbed the Marine by his bulky armored breastplate and threw the man six meters down the length of the corridor. The Marine slammed into the seam where the ceiling met the floor as his rifle and dislodged combat helmet tumbled further down the carpeted passageway.

Sandhurst turned to sprint down the corridor only to see a forcefield snap into existence in front of him, blocking his escape.

“That’s… enough,” Lar’ragos called out from behind him, one of his security team’s full-sized phasers gripped in his shaking hand.

Groans filtered into the passageway from Sandhurst’s quarters as Lar’ragos limped into the corridor. He gestured for Sandhurst to lay down. “On the deck, now!”

“Are you certain a stun discharge will prove sufficient should he resist?” Verrik’s voice issued from further down the corridor as the Vulcan stepped out from the nearest intersection, phaser in hand.

Lar’ragos spared the security chief a brief glance before fixing his attention back on Sandhurst. “I’m hoping he doesn’t force the issue, Lieutenant.”

Sandhurst lowered himself slowly to the deck, eyeing the other two men warily.

“Then I’m afraid I’ll have to, sir,” Verrik offered as he sent Lar’ragos crumpling to the floor with a burst of stun energy.

The Vulcan looked dispassionately down at Sandhurst. “Commodore, if you’d like to make good your escape, I’d advise you to follow me.”

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