Check out our latest Fleet Action!

 

3: Shadows of Cestus

The data from Cardassia in hand, Eden Enigma and the crew of the SS Healer's Hope make their way to Eden's birthplace. The secrets of the Tkon begin to come together.

Shadows of Cestus 1

Then, Now
October 2399

Then

Eden Enigma sat on the floor of her parents’ quarters, working through a series of difficult math problems and trying, and failing, to push aside the tension that had been rising in the station all day. Something was coming, but that something was work for the crew, and it was Eden’s job to do her math then play with her holofrog.

Though if the crew didn’t deal with whatever had them all so on edge soon, she would have to put the math off until after they did. The collective stress of two hundred twenty-three grown adults was, after all, enough to destroy any girl’s ability to focus on quadratic algebra.

Eden. Her mother’s voice rose in her mind, warmth and love filling her, and Eden smiled. Even if there was some of that tension the crew was feeling in her mother’s mind as well, Arianna Starling knew how to maintain proper barriers. There’s likely going to be a red alert soon, and Ensign Rogers is on her way to pick you up to take you to the emergency shelter. Bring a toy or game, and don’t panic. Your father is in command.

Her father. Jay Enigma could handle anything the galaxy sent to their little home in the stars. Eden acknowledged her mother’s words – her mother would be too busy getting the infirmary ready for red alert for a conversation – but held to her calming presence as she got ready for her evacuation. She took two toys – the tiny emitter for her holofrog, and her model of the newest Enterprise.

The door opened for Ensign Rogers. She was tall, blonde, pretty. Eden’s father’s yeoman, and at this point almost an older cousin to Eden herself. She liked Ensign Rogers better than any of the previous yeomen, after all, though sometimes she wondered if that was as much because she was getting older – she would be twelve in mere weeks! – and catching up to the ever-rotating set of fresh ensigns who helped her father with his work and gained valuable insight into his command style in return – as with the fact that they simply got along well. “I’m ready, Ensign.”

“Well done, Cadet.” Ensign Rogers offered Eden a smile that didn’t reach much past her eyes. She was worried, too… moreso than most of the crew. She attended senior staff meetings… maybe she knew something the others didn’t.

Maybe whatever was coming was going to be worse than a few pirate ships or a badly off course Jem’hadar raider.

You’ll be safe, her mother’s voice in her mind promised, and Eden believed her.

As she and Ensign Rogers hurried along the curve of the outer line of quarters, they passed one of the large viewports looking down on the blue-green world of Cestus III.

Now

“Coming out of warp, Lady Starling.” Taimili Voit’s voice shook Eden out of her reverie, though her eyes were already focused on the viewscreen. Cestus III, the same planet she had spent her childhood gazing down on. Nothing seemed different, from space.

Nothing, save for the lack of the Starfleet armed research facility at the planet-moon L3 point.

“Scan for Tkon alloys,” Eden said quietly as she felt Luvrodo’s eyes on her, felt his mind try to touch hers. Her barriers were up as fully as they ever were; he would find only thoughts of Dominion War-era logistics charts.

As much as she liked him, there were things she was not yet ready to share.

“I have them,” Ral said from the sensor station. “Lukan City, underground. I’m also reading some at the city landfill.”

Before Then

They did not get down to the planet often. Between her parents’ work, the distance requiring a runabout or shuttle, and Eden needing to prepare herself before being in crowded places, there simply weren’t that many opportunities.

But today, Eden was eight, and her parents had taken her to the new holographic museum that had opened in Lukan City. Human history, focused primarily on Asia, from the rise of the Zhou Dynasty until First Contact, though the focus was as much on the coming wonders made possible by advanced holographic technology as on the history. “Using the future to teach the past,” her father had said with some disbelief as he read the museum’s promotional material.

“If we’re lucky, that’s how we’ll be remembered,” her mother had responded, drawing one of his rare and brilliant smiles, that undeniable warmth that rose from him when she reminded him that she was cleverer than he was filling their quarters for Eden to bask in.

She’d insisted on going for her birthday, of course. Put extra hours in with Dr. Haval to work on her barriers to be sure she could handle the city. Whatever it took, she wanted to see the exhibit on the clay army.

It hadn’t disappointed. The detail, the scale, the raw number of the terracotta figures… it was utterly breathtaking, and as they passed through the souvenier stand near the exit Eden was still talking about it. “They made so many! What must it have been like to concentrate so hard and work on their faces?”

“Probably a bit like surgery,” her mother murmured. “A bit like command. A bit like that look you get on your face when you’re about to solve a puzzle that’s plagued the Federation since its founding.”

Eden blushed. “But they won’t do any of my solutions!” Certainly, the reasonable part of her mind insisted, there were reasons for that, complications in all the problems she’d put her mind to work on this year that she, a child on the far edge of the Federation, couldn’t understand. But the reasonable part of her mind was boring and didn’t want to make everything in the Federation right at once.

“Then you’ll just have to grow tall enough to make them listen,” her father said with a wide smile, but he wasn’t halfway through the sentence before Eden’s attention was captured by something else.

A tiny silvery holoemitter, just big enough to fit in her hand, projecting an image of a white-spotted Chinese flying frog. The frog looked up at her as she approached, her dark eyes wide, and when she touched it she felt the slick skin under her fingertips even if she couldn’t feel the frog’s tiny mind.

A single holoemitter, projecting a simple image with simple behavior, her reasonable mind provided. Her unreasonable mind drowned it out with joy over the presence of the frog.

She did not know how long it was, how patient her parents were, with her fascination with the toy before her mother suggested that perhaps they could take it home with them.

Now.

“Miss Thibeau, take a team to the landfill and see if you can find any Tkon artifacts there. Ka, Ral.” Eden rose to her feet. “With me. Let’s see what the Cestians have built over.”

Shadow of Cestus 2

Cestus III, Then
October 2399

Then

The red alert activated as Eden and Ensign Rogers turned the corner to head toward the station’s core, toward the emergency shelter. The claxons filled the corridor, and Eden forced herself not to cover her ears, not to stop walking, not to hide right there against the wall and hope that everyone would stop being afraid at her and the sound would stop and the lights would…

Remember, Eden. Her mother’s voice. Her mother’s warmth. She was done with her preparations, ready. Ready for casualties.

There would be casualties.

When outside is too much, focus on inside. Remember that time when Alexandria read to you?

Eden smiled at that, thought about it. Admiral Reese’s oldest daughter’s melodic voice and quiet pride at her Academy acceptance. The way she sang Tom Bombadil’s songs of Goldberry and the Old Forest… Eden focused on that, kept it and her mother’s presence in her mind, and, somehow, she made it to the shelter.

In the shelter, there were no claxons, no blinking red lights. The civilians who fled there would remain until an all-clear was sent; there was no need to add to their troubles with reminders of danger. In the peace of that, the low murmur of conversation between the station’s bartender and schoolteacher, Eden settled into a seat. Turned on her holofrog to teach it a new trick.

Now

“We’ve known for a while that we weren’t the first colonists on Cestus,” Milton Johannson, attache for the Lukan City government, said to Eden. “We’ve found ruins from at least three previous civilizations… one was Hurq’, while we haven’t been able to identify the other two.”

Johannson was leading the away team toward the tallest building in the city, the Lucan Administrative Tower. “Tower” was a strong word for it – standing at just four stories tall, it would not have earned that distinction on Betazed, much less Earth – but for a place in the second city of a border colony, it wasn’t entirely unimpressive.

“We might have answers for you on one of them,” Eden said. “You say your people found these ruins recently?”

“Two months ago,” Johannson said. “Though… this is a little awkward…”

“The Commander isn’t here to enforce any old building or preservation laws,” Luvrodo said, cutting to the core of Johannson’s caution. “Her business is too urgent for that.”

“I suppose,” Johannson said. “When we found the ruins, Commander, there were signs they’d already been broken into once in the last century. Our assumption is that it was looters, or builders for the Tower building. That they didn’t report the ruins because they didn’t want the delay in construction.”

Eden sighed. “Trust me when I say I have no intention of leaving here with a bunch of old builders in my brig. We just need to see the ruin.”

“Come in, then,” Johannson said, leading them into the building and to the elevator.

Then

The deck shook under Eden’s chair, nearly throwing her from it, and the bartender was flung to the floor, rolling over to show a bloody nose. Eden bit her lip hard to focus herself on her own body – that shattering pain was his, not hers. Then she screamed, tucked her head into her hands.

Whatever was attacking the station… it was one thing. One creature, one mind. And it hated them, with a power and intensity that was agonizingly painful for Eden to bear. She shook her head, face hidden against the table. “No… no no no. No…”

Then her mother’s warmth pressed back against that hate, reached into parts of her mind that only Arianna Starling really knew. Eden. I feel it too. But we will make it. After all… we have our family. Something that hates like that…

Can’t understand love. Eden finished the sentence. “Can’t understand love,” she whispered to herself.

Shadows of Cestus 3

Cestus III
October 2399

Now

They stood within a buried laboratory, a group of Cestian scholars gathering data, and Eden tapped her own tricorder. “We need to find where the key goes…”

An older man approached. “Commander… welcome to the Dig. I’m Robert Powell, head researcher here.”

Eden blinked, meeting the man’s hazel eyes. “We’ve met.”

Then

“I’ve got the bandage on!” Eden called out to Ensign Rogers, holding the broad strip of torn cloth firmly in place over the wound on Mr. Hakamoto’s leg. Somehow, the last time the station shook, he’d been cut by a piece of debris. The cut went deep, and Ensign Rogers was busy using the one dermal regenerator they had to work on an even worse injury to Lieutenant Tain’s wife.

Hold it there. Firm pressure. Her mother’s voice rose in her head. You’re doing perfectly, Eden.

Eden closed her eyes. It’s never been this bad here, Mother. People are getting hurt… I don’t know how we can help them all.

Help the patient in front of you, Eden. Then the next, then the one after that. That’s all you can do. I’m so proud of you. Her mother’s voice faded, though the warmth remained – she likely had patients of her own to focus on, after all.

The bandage was soaked in blood, and Eden’s arms were so very tired, when another man knelt next to her. “Girl… he’s gone. I’m sorry.” She turned her eyes on the newcomer, the darkness of her gaze meeting his hazel eyes.

“I… I can’t feel him any more. I thought he was asleep…” But that wasn’t true. She knew he wasn’t asleep. People who were asleep still felt things, often vivid things. When had she started crying? She could barely make out the kneeling man past the film of her tears.

She knew he was gone, but she’d hoped… almost convinced herself…

“There’s more that need your help. Come on.” The man guided her to the next casualty.

Now

“Do you?” Powell blinked. “Those eyes… can’t be. Jay Enigma’s girl?”

“Eden Starling-Enigma,” she said. “And given that this is your dig, I could use your help. Again.”

Powell shook his head. “I just gave you some bad news, girl. You saved my life. What do you need?”

Eden pulled the disc from her pouch, presented it to him. “Something this fits. It’s a key…”

Powell’s eyes widened. “Never thought I’d see that. Come with me.” He smiled. “Maybe I can repay you.”

Shadows of Cestus 4

Cestus III
October 2399

Then

Mr. Powell was bleeding. Too many people were bleeding, too many were hurt, but it was him who she was drawn to. The man with the kind hazel eyes. She knelt at his side, trying to treat his injuries, though the way his arm hung indicated that the blood loss might be the least of his wounds.

It was the one she was equipped to help with, and she held pressure on the worst of the cuts, the bad one on his hip. The station shook under her, screamed under the hate of whatever was attacking them, but Eden managed, somehow, to stay steady.

His skin was pale, and his heart raced. Shock. Shock can kill. She remembered her mother’s words from her first aid lessons, and focused herself on the moment. Control the bleeding. Control the shock. Help him calm down.

Eden hadn’t been able to speak for the last fifteen minutes. Too much was happening, too much noise, too many emotions around her. She fought to keep from turning inward, from hiding inside herself. I have to help him keep calm…

Now

There was a broad door with a single aperture – an indentation, about an Imperial foot wide, level with Eden’s face. A keyhole. She took the disc from its pouch at her side, stepped forward. “A key for a keyhole,” she whispered. “Let’s see if it fits.”

“Should I be ready for something terrible?” Ral’s hand rested on her phaser.

“Given our luck,” Eden murmured, pressing the disc to the hole. It fit perfectly, and a series of red lines flashed out from it before the door dematerialized, key and all.

The next room had power. Lights. A huge console marked with Tkon runes.

“Careful,” Eden murmured, leading the others into the chamber.

“A lifetime spent here, and I never imagined something like this. Working Tkon technology,” Powell whispered.

“This could be a key to saving the galaxy,” Eden said.

Then

Retreating into herself.

If Eden couldn’t speak, couldn’t find words, there was something else she could do to help calm Mr. Powell, whose eyes darted about wildly. Something else she could do to help him live until someone who could really help him was free.

She closed her eyes, focused. Not on the chaos outside, or the kind man’s blood soaking through her clothing, but on herself. On the places deep inside her. The places where she had to keep peace, all the time, to hold her shields in place. To keep her mind her, her heart her own.

Some of her mother’s people – very few, now, but many in older and more superstitious days – would consider her a monster for what she could do. An abomination for actually doing it. But there was no other choice. Mr. Powell was going to die, she could feel him dying, his shock shoving his blood pressure down to the point that it could not serve his organs even as his bleeding slowed.

She found that peace, the peace that lay at the core of her, and focused there, let it fill her. Let it reach her fingertips and her toes, her eyes and her nose. Every bit of her. Even the hateful thing that lashed at the station seemed to pause, though she held herself back from it. Whatever it was, she was terrified to touch it.

Eden let that calm concentrate in her hands, opened her eyes.

She was half-human, not a telepath. But she was one of the most powerful empaths Betazed had produced in a generation, and her talents, uniquely among those as powerful as she was, were not simply receptive, were not limited to feeling the emotions of others.

She pushed, came against the natural resistance of any mind to invasion. One last chance to rethink her actions.

Pushed again, and Mr. Powell’s barriers, like those of nearly any human under the pressure she exerted with next to no effort, simply collapsed. They would recover, given a few days, but his heart was open to her.

She fed her peace into him, and his heart slowed, his blood pressure normalized. Life slowly rose once more in him.

She drew her mind back into herself, tucked her heart away once more. Opened her eyes to the world around her.

Mr. Powell’s breath was shallow but regular and even. The deck heaved under her once more.

Shadows of Cestus 5

Cestus III
October 2399

Now

Powell’s people were already exploring the rest of the facility, and Eden and her team stepped to the console. “This doesn’t look like one of the beacons connected to Horizon,” Ral said softly.

“No. It doesn’t,” Eden whispered. “What can we do as far as translation?”

Ral was already scanning the console, frowning at her tricorder. “It’s going to take some time to get everything, or even enough to really interact with it. But… this looks to be some form of archive. Backup files from across the Tkon Empire.”

“Nothing glorious,” Eden whispered. “But a treasure nonetheless, and one that might help us understand Horizon. Keep working.”

Then

You did so well. Eden’s mother’s voice rose in Eden’s mind as she moved to the next person. Her hands shook, her eyes were wide, but the warmth of her mother’s feelings in her heart helped calm her. Helped her center herself.

I can’t talk. Eden couldn’t keep the worry out of her answer. Not being able to talk usually went badly for her…

You’re doing well. You don’t need to talk. Rest a few moments.

Yes, Mother. Eden fell against the wall, sat back against it and let her eyes close. Forced out the sounds of the station around her, her father’s mounting urgency in Ops, the fear of the crew, the hate of whatever it was outside. Focused on herself and her mother. Took a sip of water from her canteen. Resting.

Good. When this is done…

There was a scream, and Eden’s soul ripped away from her, the calm gone from her heart, replaced with a moment of raw terror and regret and a pain she could never have imagined. A future gone. Never seeing her daughter grow…

Then emptiness. Emptiness in Eden’s mind and heart where her mother had been. She kept hearing the scream, and it would be a long time before she recognized that the voice screaming was her own.

Now

“Commander? Commander!” Ral’s voice rose in pitch, in volume, and Eden looked up from where she sat, resting against the wall of the archive chamber while the tricorder and the Cestians did their work.

“Yes, Lieutenant?” Eden pushed herself to her feet, banishing the memories. Pushing the empty pain that still lingered when she remembered that terrible moment aside, filled its place with work and focus and purpose.

It probably wasn’t the healthiest coping mechanism, but it would do.

“We have more of the translation,” Ral said. “I don’t know how much data is stored here… it’s huge, and will probably take decades to sort all of. But the primary databank is a record of stellar movements.”

“An astronomic record?” Luvrodo blinked. “We keep those on every starship in the quadrant…”

“No.” Eden breathed. An entire bin of trouble. “The Tkon Empire’s focus wasn’t on recording the movement of the stars. The Tkon moved the stars… took entire systems from one place to another. You’re saying the archive records where the Tkon moved star systems to and from?”

Ral nodded. “There’s hundreds of detailed records about it, Commander. Hundreds of star systems, recorded to miniscule detail, the reasons and times of their movements marked.”

“We’ll need to inform Starfleet,” Eden said. “There could be implications to this they’ll need to be ready for.”

“I’ll contact the ship,” Luvrodo said. “Have them get in touch with Earth.”

“Not Earth,” Eden said. “Starbase Bravo. The people I want to have hear about this first will be there.” She looked to Powell. “Any sign of a beacon?”

“None at all,” Powell said. “Racks and racks of computer storage far more advanced than anything I’ve ever seen. Personal artifacts that will inform our understanding of the way the Tkon lived and our world’s place in the galaxy’s history for generations to come.” He smiled. “No beacon, though, and a relief that is. This archive will probably bring more than enough attention.”

“We’re going to get back to our ship soon, then,” Eden said. “Thank you again, Mr. Powell.”

Shadows of Cestus 6

SS Healer's Hope
October 2399

Then

Somehow, the quarters Eden shared with her parents had gone mostly unscathed in the fighting, though Eden’s ability to sleep in them was gone. Gone with her mother, ripped from the world by a monster from outside space-time.

The Wanderer – that was the only name they had for it – had ripped the hull over the infimary open. Eden’s mother had been seeing to patients until her last moment, when she was pulled into space and killed in an instant that had seemed – to both her and the daughter to whom she was inextricably telepathically linked – an eternity.

While Eden was sleeping in an emergency bunk in the ruins of her father’s office, she had come down to the quarters to pack some of her belongings. The station’s superstructure had survived, but the research conducted aboard it was ending and the station itself being decommissioned. The damage was simply too great to repair.

Her father went through the motions. Each day, he rose, did the work that needed doing to prepare the remaining crew for evacuation and the station for demolition, ate something, returned to bed. There was, as yet, no word on where they were going next.

This had been Eden’s home her entire life. She wondered, in the parts of her mind that were ready for thoughts of the future without focusing on the absence of her mother in them, what it might be like to live on a starship, or maybe a bigger starbase. Perhaps even one of the deep space stations where visitors from a dozen new species a day arrived…

“Eden.” Her father’s voice was still deep, but something had cut under it, taken the effortless authority out of it and replaced it with a profound weariness and pain. “Come here.”

He sat on his bed, and Eden joined him, sitting at his side. He took a few breaths before speaking.

“I’ve submitted my paperwork for retirement,” he said quietly. “I don’t think I can serve any longer… not now.”

Eden nodded, leaned closer to him. She had hoped this wouldn’t be what happened, but… all she’d felt from him, apart from brief moments of warmth and wonder toward her, had been pain. He was wounded maybe even more deeply than she was by the hole in their lives. “I guess we won’t live on a starship, then… where?”

“Earth,” he said quietly. “New Orleans, where I grew up. We have friends on the planet, and people are there who can help you. Therapists, teachers… people who can help you with your pain, help you with your empathy, in ways I can’t and that we’d have a hard time finding in Starfleet.”

Her mother helped her with her empathy, helped her build her barriers then exist around them. Without her…

“I understand.” It was a half-truth. She did understand, in the end, but she hated it. Planets were too loud, full of people feeling things and saying things and doing things, without the discipline and control of a starship or starbase. Without Starfleet.

But she had to be strong. If Arianna Starling was gone, Eden would be as strong as she would have been. She hugged her father, rose to her feet. Went to the replicator.

“One tea. Orange blossom, hot. One raktijino au lait, cow’s milk, hot.”

The drinks appeared, and she started to carry them back to the bed. Tea for her father. Coffee for her.

Now

“We’re on our way back to Roosevelt,” Luvrodo said as he came in. “Starfleet is sending a team to Cestus to investigate and secure the Tkon archive, though your friend Powell has already managed to get the right for local scholars to access it. Starfleet seemed less than joyful about what it might contain.”

“Starfleet is looking for Tkon beacons,” Eden said. “And the archive is going to become diplomatic trouble at some point. Imagine the reaction on Cardassia if a garden world that had once been a few light years from their system was moved half a million years ago to Romulan space.”

“Reasonable people would say that since neither the Cardassian Union nor the Romulan Free State existed when the system moved, it belongs to the power whose borders it falls in,” Luvrodo said with a small smirk. “So the Detapa Council would likely do the opposite.”

“Exactly. But that’s a problem for the diplomats and the flag officers.” Eden took a long swallow of Klingon coffee. “We did the job today. Learned more about the secrets of the galaxy, helped advance knowledge. Maybe we didn’t find a strange new world, but we certainly found some of our worlds a lot stranger than we thought.”

“That’s true.” Luvrodo joined her at the table. “You think there’s anything like that on Betazed? Hints of a past long forgotten?”

“Between the Tkon, the Iconians, and a thousand other dead empires like them, I’d almost be surprised if there wasn’t.” Eden leaned forward to look at him. “It wasn’t easy, being here.”

“I know,” Luvrodo said. “I felt it. But you seemed to want to deal with your thoughts alone.”

“They’re not thoughts… not feelings… I share easily,” Eden whispered. “But maybe… maybe I’m ready to try. Some time soon.” She smiled. “Not yet, though. Sleep well, Luvrodo.”

“Sleep well, Eden,” he said before rising. “I must admit… I was rather hoping you would invite me to stay.”

“So was I,” Eden said. “But I have a lot to think about. Thank you.”

He left her alone with her thoughts, and Eden let them rise for a long moment before tapping her console. “Computer,” she whispered. “Authorization Enigma Tango Seven Zero Zero One. Please pull up a list of Starfleet counselors without current assignments…

FIN