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Part of Gateway Station: Your Sacred Stars and USS Endeavour: Your Sacred Stars

Your Sacred Stars – 19

Alfheim, Midgard System
July 2401
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The transporter set him down a short walk from his destination, privacy regulations stopping him from materialising on the front porch unannounced. Along a winding path through thick woods of tall firs and spruces he stepped, the early evening buzz of birds and insects in the undergrowth washing over him. Had he not known where he was going, he might have assumed there were no people here for miles around.

That was the way of the Midgard Colony, the settlements across the Federation’s furthest-flung system along this border, and no more so than on Midgard III. Also named Alfheim, rich resources had pushed the human settlement towards the colder poles and hemispheres, with the frost-locked capital of Ymir built atop and near the plentiful mineral deposits that had given the colony its economic might and social capital. Most human settlement had stayed within those continents, which had left the equatorial archipelagos, a little hot and arid for comfortable habitation, a perfect choice for the Teros resettlement.

Deep in the woods on the northern continent’s most southern reaches, Rhade needed a thick jacket to stay warm as he broke from the treeline towards the modern, comfortable, timber house. He spotted the security devices, the camera that clocked him as he moved from dirt underfoot to gravel crunching as he advanced along the path towards the house. He had nothing to hide.

Despite the size of the house, John Grimm lived alone, and opened the door himself before Rhade got there. He had clearly had a chance to school any possible surprise at this unannounced arrival. ‘Commander Rhade. Do come in.’

‘I know this is sudden,’ said Rhade, ascending the wooden steps to the porch before stepping into the heated house. He shucked his jacket, hanging it up as Grimm indicated on the hooks. ‘But I knew I could find you here.’

None of it was an apology, but Grimm still waved it off. ‘I was wondering if I’d see you.’ He extended a hand, ushering him into the living space. The interior of the house was big and open-plan, with large windows looking onto the deep woods that surrounded them.

‘You were?’

‘Of course. You’re not happy. Have a seat. I’ll get you tea.’ Without asking, Grimm went to the cupboards along a wall. A replicator was set into them, but from there he only acquired boiling water. Fresh leaves and teacups were gathered from storage, assembled in a firm, confident routine that reminded Rhade distantly of Greg Carraway preparing for a counselling session.

But there was none of the sense of comfort constantly exuded by Greg Carraway, still far away on Teros. Rhade had dropped by unannounced, without apology, and now Grimm was determined to be hostly. Considering the humming in his veins and the tingling in his fingertips, it was off-putting.

‘Please, sit,’ said Grimm as he returned with a tray of his teapot and cups, setting it down on a coffee table. ‘You came to talk to me about Voler.’

Rhade hesitated, and took his time finding a seat to buy time. He had come with such certainty, a certainty that Grimm’s confidence was blowing chunks out of. ‘Yes.’

‘Not the resettlement on Teros. Which will go ahead. I’ve made sure of it.’ Grimm poured them both cups of tea, and slid Rhade’s towards him. ‘Please. Drink.’

Rhade took the cup. ‘Why?’

‘Traditionally, once you have offered someone sustenance under your roof and they have accepted it, they are protected under all laws of hospitality. Old laws, you understand. The kind that bind our blood, not our legal affairs.’

Cautious, and not sure why any more, Rhade sipped the tea. It tasted a little acrid, with a scent that shot into his nostrils. It should not have bothered him to be rude, and yet Grimm’s manner had disarmed him so much he had another gulp.

Only once he’d set the teacup down did he say, ‘I meant, why are you making sure the settlement on Teros goes ahead?’

‘I have no reason to stop it. I’m an intelligent man, Commander. I know that evil doesn’t lie in the hearts of a whole species, or a whole community.’ Grimm’s expression stayed level. ‘Evil lies in the hearts of everyone.’

The humming in Rhade’s ears had begun to return. He took another sip of tea to disguise the effort of fighting it. ‘I’m not sure why an intelligent man would lie to me and Chief Kowalski.’

He’d expected confusion, blustering. Not the calm tilt of the head. ‘Did I lie?’

‘You said you didn’t know Voler, only of him.’ Rhade pulled out a PADD. ‘But in the transcripts of Petty Officer Amaru’s interviews of the Colonial Affairs staff, several of them mentioned that you did know him. That you worked with him.’

Still no change in expression. ‘I worked with several Romulans. I must have gotten confused. But why is this coming up now, Commander? You have a suspect in custody.’

‘It’s coming up now because Amaru didn’t put this in his report to Chief Kowalski. I had to dig the transcripts out. Kowalski had a lot to go through; he had no reason to scrutinise one of his officers’ report of the statements of some fairly unrelated individuals.’

‘But you had reason to scrutinise.’ Grimm leaned forward, eyes narrowing. ‘I thought you came here with such fire and determination, and now you’re sat there all… procedural. All Starfleet.’

‘What else should I be?’

‘Why did you look at Amaru’s transcripts? Why did you come here yourself?’

‘I don’t…’

‘You have nothing. I didn’t lie in a statement, I misspoke in a conversation. You have a confession from a cultist. Because that’s what everyone thinks, no? That the Romulan refugees are cultists. I’ll stand against that, of course.’ When Grimm stood, he didn’t just look taller; he loomed. The gathering dusk behind him had come quickly, and the shadows crept in from the corners of the room as Rhade tilted back his head. ‘Everyone will crow and complain, rage in fear against the Romulans on their door. But they will live on Alfheim. Wretched and hated as they are.’

Rhade stood, but found his legs shaky. ‘Did you kill Voler?’

‘Why would I do that? Falsify a ritualised Romulan murder of a random refugee? Why would I do that and still fight to let the refugees resettle, when I could whisper in the governor’s ear and it’d all be over. The more important question is, why are you asking me that?’

The gathering dusk and shadows brought with them colours sparking in front of Rhade’s eyes, kaleidoscoping around Grimm’s looming form. He blinked hard. ‘I don’t know what your political motivations are, but you had a connection with him, you could have seen him that night…’

‘And killed him in a way to stir a bloody chaos, stoke embers that are sparking across the sector.’ Grimm’s expression at last changed. When he smiled, his smirk seemed to split his face in half. ‘So many would think that irrational. But that’s why you’re asking me, isn’t it, Adamant? Because you understand. I knew from the moment we met that you understand.’

‘I have no idea why you’d -’ But Grimm took a step forward, and Rhade flinched unwittingly. His legs wobbled, and his body, usually so strong, betrayed him. Knees buckled, and he fell back down onto his seat. His eyes swam to the teacup. ‘…did you drug me?’

‘I wanted us to talk. To talk properly. The brew isn’t so nobody will believe you, though… that helps. But I had to be sure your mind was open, first. You’ve been so close for so long. Longer than I could have imagined.’

Grimm stepped forward, and Rhade found his head lolling as he tried to look. But before him was not the mild-mannered bureaucrat, but a figure wrathed in shadows. Colours ebbed around him, crackling and oozing crimson, and coalescing around his head in the same branching pattern Rhade had seen before. The blood on the door to Voler’s murder. Again in the turbolift, flashing before his eyes when he’d first met Grimm. And now, branching, bloodied antlers crowning his temples.

‘I thought for so long I was alone,’ said Grimm, his voice reverberating with a rumble no vocal chords could muster. ‘I saw the hate in the heart of the galaxy, and when it called back, I thought I was the only. The work of others was… something. The immolation in fire and blood of those on Teros impressive, but limited. The heart of the galaxy called to them, and they were so weak they could only throw themselves into the abyss. Not call the abyss back.’

Rhade brought his hands up, as if he could claw away this veil across his eyes. All he found was air and shadows. ‘What are you…’

‘It’s called you, Adamant. I know the blood on your hands. The boy you killed whose suffering and fate you relive every night. Do you hate those dreams? Fear them? Or relish them? Gorge yourself on them?’ Grimm’s hand came to the back of the sofa as he leaned over Rhade, now close enough that the stench of blood hanging off him filled his nostrils.

‘I didn’t mean – that was the blood dilithium -’

‘Ghosts of the slaughtered who found something in you they could stir. Because they saw behind the mask. The man of duty, who’s bathed himself in blood for the Federation. How many frontiers? Battles? For so many years.’ A low chuckle escaped Grimm’s throat. ‘You call it duty, when in truth, you’re just weak to the call of flesh and blood. You call slaughter duty, then, when it comes to true duty, duty to those around you – family, the ones you’re oathbound to – you break it. Throw yourself on your base hungers. Rosara. Tahla.’

The haze of shadowed confusion did not fade, but the names stirred something. The fog coalesced into a fist in his chest, burning bright and seeping with his heart’s blood, and Rhade’s hand shot out to grab Grimm.

‘Don’t say those names.’ His chest heaved, and the flash of fury brought some clarity. ‘How do you know?’

Grimm looked only more delighted as he lashed out. ‘I told you. I saw the hate in the heart of the galaxy, and it called back. It showed me. There’s so much it gave me, Adamant, and so much it could give you.’

‘Give me? You’re insane.’

‘Don’t tell me you didn’t feel it. A presence. A companion. Ancient and powerful. You are special, Adamant, to have found its attention.’

Rhade’s breathing slowed. ‘That’s why I’ve been seeing things. Hearing things.’

‘That’s why you knew it was me when you saw me. But you didn’t know to read the signs.’

‘What is this thing?’

‘The galaxy does not need help to inflict untold suffering upon itself. People do not need help to inflict untold suffering on each other in so many ways. Malice. Neglect. And here? Midgard? We have wrought and felt such suffering.’ Grimm shook his head, almost as if he thought it were sad, though Rhade could nearly taste his delight. ‘And in response to that call, something answered.’

Rhade’s throat was raw as realisation sank in. ‘It gave you dreams, too. Visions.’

‘Signs.’

‘And those people on Teros? The ones who blew themselves up?’

‘Weaker than I,’ said Grimm with satisfaction. ‘But serving a purpose. Taking the suffering within themselves and passing it forth tenfold.’

‘You’ve been feeding it.’ Rhade tried to push Grimm away, but there was no strength in his arm. The man loomed over him, shadows twisting to give him even more monstrous proportions, as though he was all he knew and all there was. ‘Killing Vorel to stir up hate.’

‘Don’t pretend.’ Grimm met his eyes, voice going softer. ‘Wasn’t it beautiful?’

The surging siren song of the memory of Vorel’s broken corpse, bloodied and still, called at him. Rhade had to screw his eyes shut to block it out.

This could just be petty suffering. No grand meaning at the bottom of it. There usually isn’t. All of that slashed skin and emerald seeping is, at the end of the day, just blood.

Draven’s words came surging back at him, simple and scathing. They cut through the illusion with cold clarity, a reminder of the banality of evil that stripped away the veneer of meaning, the seductive beauty of pain. There was no soft ache at how exquisite it was. Just a harsh sting. A mundanity.

When Rhade’s arm coiled to shove Grimm back, this time his body responded. ‘Get off me!’

Grimm tried to hold firm, then Rhade’s fist coiled for a cracking blow against the jaw. He gave way, staggering back, and Rhade was free. He legs sturdier now, fists clenched, but the room still swam around him, a swirling maelstrom of shadows oozing crimson and emerald.

‘It’s disappointing,’ mused Grimm, touching his bloodied lip. ‘I thought you understood.’

‘No.’ Rhade’s chest heaved. ‘I just deceived myself for so long. You use these lies to convince yourself there’s meaning in bloody brutality. So did I. That I killed people, hurt people, tricked and betrayed them, out of duty.’ He spat out the acrid taste in his mouth. ‘That’s enough. I’m bringing you in.’

But Grimm’s shadowy form began to swim before him at that. ‘But Adamant,’ he said, voice soft again. ‘What will you tell them?’

And the darkness rose to consume him.

When Rhade woke, he was in the woods. He wore the jacket he’d taken off in the house, but the chill of the cold ground had still seeped into his skin and bones, and he sat up quickly, shivering. That brought forth the pounding in his skull, the unsteadiness in his limbs, and for a moment, he fought the urge to retch.

He was far from Grimm’s house, not a long way from where he’d beamed down. No doubt, if he checked his blood, he’d imbibed something. But for all the thudding in his temples, the nausea in his gut, something felt lighter. Rhade blinked. He’d heard his own blood pumping in his ears for days, weeks. Only now it was gone had he realised.

His eyes dragged down the path towards Grimm’s house. He had little to nothing to make an accusation against John Grimm. He’d come to challenge him on an inconsistency, and got more than he bargained for. Soon enough, the young refugee who’d made his confession would be charged with murder. The settlement would be established on Alfheim, risking whipping the colonists into a frenzy. Teros remained stricken with grief and horror at the bloody attack. And the shadow of a brutal, nihilistic murder still hung over them all.

And all Rhade had to show for his work was a tale of a monstrous encounter in a government official’s house that would stand up to no scrutiny, and a claim that he, and Grimm, and the attackers on Teros, had all been influenced by some mysterious, telepathic entity. One that had stirred these events, and sunk its claws into people to do its bidding, and feasted on the emotions stoked by the horrors it had wrought, and was likely not done.

For days, aches and pains had felt like comfort, a soft companion to the thudding in his ears. Now thudding was gone, leaving only the silence of himself, and the aches were just sore. Dragging himself to his feet, he looked up and down the path, knowing he had to get a little further from the house if he was to beam out, needing to take a moment to check which way to go.

Disorientated, he looked up, through the canopy of trees. Mostly, it was dark. Shrouded. But here and there, he could pick out the gleams of the stars, pinpricks of light clawing to break through to him. It was enough.

Sore and stiff, Rhade began to walk.