CHAPTER 1: Eden
SUMMARY: On a lush planet devoid of sentient life, the crew of the Enterprise discover an ancient alien religious artifact that takes two of the crew on a vision quest to Camelot.
DISCLAIMER: All Enterprise related characters are the property of their rightful owners. Any new situations, characters, creatures, etc, are mine. :-D
CATEGORY: Angst, Drama, Romance
CODES: R/S, with a little bit of everyone
NOTES: Hello, everyone! I bet you all thought I'd forgotten about Enterprise, didn't you? ;) Well I haven't! I've just been fighting with a bout of Writer's Block coupled with unexplainable exhaustion for the past few weeks. Rest assured, I WILL finish "Ghosts in the Cellar" (for those of you interested), but until then, here is another R/S offering for my fellow Ent enthusiasts.
As the summary states, this story DOES involve the legendary kingdom of Camelot, but before you start picturing gallant knights on horseback and ladies in waiting, I want to tell you that Camelot is really just a backdrop. This story is more about the interaction between two people, and less about the setting wherein they find themselves. In a way, it's an extended vignette more than a story. I hope, however, that this doesn't in any way dim your opinion of it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it! It's been quite the labor of love, let me assure you. LOL! So please, read on and enjoy!
"I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls
with vassals and serfs at my side,
and of all who assembled within those walls
that I was the hope and the pride.
I had riches all too great to count
and a high ancestral name.
But I also dreamt which pleased me most
that you loved me still the same…"
Lush. Verdant. Full of life. Effervescent.
Ensign Hoshi Sato stared across the gently rolling meadow, her brown eyes drifting calmly over the swells of each new hillock, before brushing over the dark, ragged fringe of the coniferous forest that marked the glen's northern border. Behind her, the fragrant grass undulated gracefully backward until it bumped up against the clear, rippling water of a deep blue river. The water wasn't truly blue, but it reflected the sky so perfectly, despite its ripples, that the crew had taken to calling it the River Cloud. If she stared deep enough into the water, she could see the very bottom, deep down - deeper than a man is tall, or diminutive ensigns for that matter. Smooth stones pebbled the shoreline; a few had already made it back to her small, private rock garden aboard Enterprise.
Hoshi closed her eyes. //This,// she thought with a soft sigh, //is Eden.//
She would not groan. She would not laboriously turn her head and fix the approaching armory officer with a hard, penetrating stare. She would not say something rude and worthy of court martial. Any and all of those would ruin the perfect tranquility of this place; the delicate pool of calm that nestled around her heart, slowing her pulse to a lazy ripple.
She would, however, ignore him. Maybe he'd go away.
"Ensign Sato? Hoshi?"
"Hoshi? Are you awake? Ensign Sato!"
He was standing beside her now. His shadow had fallen over her relaxed posture, dimming the honey-orange glow of the sun through her closed eyelids. No doubt he was staring at her with stony blue eyes and an even stonier set to his jaw. Lean arms crossed over a taut torso, back ramrod straight, mouth set in an admonishing line, as though she had been caught napping during an enemy attack.
Slowly - the kind of slow that lets the other person know you are unwilling to move ANY muscles - Hoshi opened her eyes. "I'm awake, Lieutenant Reed," she said calmly, refusing to let his intrusion disrupt her serenity. "Did you need something?" She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from finishing her question with, A swift kick in the pants, perhaps?
Malcolm's eyes flickered faintly. Hoshi had the uneasy feeling he knew perfectly well what she HADN'T said. "Captain Archer sent me to find you," he told her with clipped, British precision. "We've discovered an obelisk approximately a mile upriver."
Hoshi's brow furrowed. "An obelisk?" she asked, accepting his proferred hand and allowing herself to be pulled to her feet. "Why didn't we read it on sensors when we arrived?"
"One of many questions that need answering, Ensign," Reed replied. "Sub-Commander T'Pol is working on that one. You are needed for something quite different."
"Oh? What's that?"
Hoshi frowned. "Runes?"
"Excuse me if I sound like an idiot here, Lieutenant, but...what about runes?"
"The obelisk, Ensign, is covered in runes." The armory officer was already walking away. Hoshi found her inner contentment being jarred, for no real reason, by the confident roll of his shoulders. It seemed to her that Malcolm Reed could be surrounded by choirs of angels and be unmoved. Or, more befittingly, could be smack dab in the middle of Eden and not notice the baby lambs for the snakes at his feet. "Last I checked, that was your field of expertise. It's all a bunch of rubbish to me - looks like chicken feet."
Hoshi sighed and hurried to catch up to him. "They'd have to be alien chickens," she muttered under her breath, low enough to go unheard. She didn't think he'd appreciate the joke.
The obelisk was tall, but not enormous. By Earth standards, it was puny. The Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., dwarfed it considerably. The Sky Spire of Vella Prime put it to shame. But this obelisk was far more interesting than either of those because this monument was the only sign of sentient life they'd discovered on this luxuriant planet so far. Other than a plump, cuddly form of alien rabbit and a willowy, spiny creature that resembled a sloth made of twigs, the crew hadn't run across anything bigger than a potato bug during their three day exploration of the surface.
Hoshi was enthralled by the delicate carvings which decorated the structure the instant she laid eyes on them. They were obviously very old. Far from the "chicken feet" of Malcolm's description, they were intricately chiseled and incredibly dynamic. Already she'd been able to decipher a rich language of verb tenses and subordinate possessives that classified the creators of this obelisk as a highly advanced society, possibly rivaling the Vulcans in terms of intelligence and philosophy.
So where were they?
"Sensors are still not reading the structure, Captain," she heard T'Pol say behind her.
"Any idea why, Sub-Commander?" Jon sounded like he was having a hard time splitting his attention. His curiosity about the nature of the spire was fighting for dominance with his awe at the structure's very existence.
"It would appear the structure does not exist."
Hoshi pulled herself away from her study of the runes to stare over her shoulder in disbelief.
"What?" Jonathan snapped in surprise. T'Pol didn't so much as flicker a cool eyebrow. "What are you talking about, Sub-Commander?"
"I know it sounds crazy, Jon, but it's the closest we've gotten to an explanation since we stumbled over the thing."
Hoshi turned her attention away from the Vulcan. Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker was approaching, clambering over the stony ground that surrounded the towering block of stone. "T'Pol and I have been over this thing with a fine tooth comb. We've picked at it, poked it, prodded it, given it the third degree. We've done everything but beat it with a rubber hose, and it's still not coughing up any secrets." The engineer came to a stop beside his commanding officer, forming the classic triad of the captain, engineer, and chief science officer. He looked as confused as Hoshi was feeling. "Doesn't matter WHAT it's made of, we should be able to get some reading off it now that we've done such close study. Still nothing. Closest we can figure is it exists in some kind of temporal dilation. It's here, but at the same time, it isn't. It's like a shadow."
"A shadow?" Archer didn't sound convinced. "Trip..." He reached out and rapped his knuckles on the stone. "You see that? I'm touching it. I'm standing next to it. Its got weight. How the hell can you call THIS a shadow?"
Trip shrugged. "I'm working on getting you a clearer answer, Jon, but I don't know how much luck I'm going to have. I mean, I swear even T'Pol here was on the verge of cussing once or twice while we were trying to get THIS much."
"I do not cuss, Commander."
"I said you were on the verge, T'Pol. And you gotta admit you were."
Before they could embark on one of their patented squabbles, Archer interrupted. "Perhaps Hoshi can shed some light on all this." Three pairs of eyes turned in her direction. "Have you had any luck translating, Ensign?"
Hoshi nodded, glad to have something to contribute. "There's still a lot of work to be done, but from what I've gathered so far, this appears to have been some kind of holy place." She held up the PADD she was working with for the captain's inspection.
Archer took it. "Holy place?" He thumbed through some of her pages of translation.
"It's called the Vision Stone," she continued, turning back to her study of the runes. "Whoever these people were, they valued visions as dearly as those who visited Delphi during the times of ancient Greece. They considered a vision to be a holy message from the mouth of their gods. This place - the Vision Stone - seems to have been built on what they considered a very powerful point of cosmic energy, called the God's Breath." Her fingers traced the runes as she spoke.
"So, what... They had questions, and they'd come here and get answers?" Trip asked.
Hoshi shook her head. "No...," she murmured, staring at the intricate language. "This wasn't that type of oracle. People didn't come here to ask about their crops or who they should marry." She smiled faintly as she felt ripples of history coursing through her blood from the tips of her fingers as they caressed the stone. "They came here to learn about themselves."
"What do you mean, Ensign?" T'Pol asked.
"Do you know who you are, Sub-Commander?" Hoshi asked in response.
"I am Sub-Commander T'Pol, assigned to the starship Enterprise as liason between -"
"No, Sub-Commander, that's not what I mean." Hoshi looked over her shoulder at the statuesque Vulcan. "When you have to make a decision, what makes you choose one thing over another?"
"Logic," T'Pol replied immediately.
"But what makes one choice more logical than another? If you're being attacked by an enemy, is it more logical to surrender, or to attempt escape? If you're tired, but you have to finish a report, is it more logical to get it finished THEN go to bed, or to sleep, then wake earlier to finish it first thing in the morning? If you have to choose between the fish or the chicken, is it more logical to choose the fish or the chicken?"
"You are not making sense, Ensign."
Hoshi resisted the urge to sigh in frustration. "You make choices based on YOUR version of logic, Sub-Commander. But your logic and someone else's logic may be utterly and completely different."
"Amen, sister," Trip said under his breath. Hoshi fought down a smile.
"So what you're saying is, these people came to this place... to see why they made the choices they made?" Archer asked.
"Exactly," Hoshi answered with a nod, then turned back to the runes.
"They came here to understand who they were," she murmured. "And perhaps to know how other people saw them, looking from the outside in."
There was silence as the four of them digested that knowledge. Hoshi let her mind wander over the implications of what she'd just said. A shiver of wonder ran up and down her spine. To know what other people thought of you... That was a frightening thought. Could she bring herself to ask that question of the gods? Could she bear the answer, if it wasn't what she wanted to hear?
Even more frightening.... to know herself. Completely. There were still aspects of her personality she didn't understand, and wasn't entirely proud of. Her selfishness when it came to Christmas gifts. How much she hated people who looked in the mirror too much. Her utter belief in the one-time existence of unicorns. Her fear of heights. Her fear of small spaces. Her fear of being always afraid.
She didn't think she would have been brave enough to worship at this stone. She didn't know many people who could have done it.
"Captain, we've found something."
Okay, except for him. He wasn't afraid of anything.
"What is it, Malcolm?" Archer asked, walking around the stone to where the armory officer and three of his security team were examining the opposite side. Hoshi stood up and followed with Trip and T'Pol.
"This, sir," Reed responded, pointing to an elaborate design - reminiscent of a Celtic knot - that looked oddly out of place amongst the rune carvings on the obelisk's surface. "We've been trying to figure out what it might be, and I think we've discovered something."
Hoshi watched as the other members of his team moved forward, placing themselves in predetermined positions, technical equipment at the ready. This was Malcolm's forte - the concerted study of a problem until a solution presented itself. It was an admirable quality in a man whose rank required him to think on his feet much of the time.
"What did you come up with, Lieutenant?" Archer asked, his impatience showing a little in the clipped way he said Lieutenant.
"A lock, sir."
Hoshi frowned and moved forward to look more closely at the pattern. It had stumped her as much as anyone. But a lock… it did make a certain amount of sense. There even appeared to be a faint, hairline crack running in a rectangular pattern from the ground, up about 9 feet, then down again. Perfect dimensions for a door for a particularly tall race of people.
Malcolm was instructing his men to do this with their shoulders, and to do that with the settings on their phase pistols. Hoshi stood back with the rest of the crew and watched as, on cue, the members of the armory team aimed their phase pistols at the complex pattern and fired.
There was no explosion. No shards of stone shot out at the onlookers as they watched Malcolm and his team methodically "pick the lock" of the ancient door. Hoshi found she was holding her breath as she watched the swirls of the Celtic pattern start to glow hot and red.
Then, with a belch of stale air and dust, the rectangular crack moaned and shifted, revealing a narrow strip of black along one edge. Not black like ebony, but black like space. Empty black.
The obelisk was hollow. And they'd just found the door.
"Excellent deduction, Lieutenant," the captain enthused, clapping Malcolm on the shoulder.
Malcolm nodded tersely. "Thank you, sir."
Hoshi watched as the armory team moved forward, planted their shoulders against the modest ridge of the exposed door, and pushed with all their might. Slowly - very slowly - the heavy stone door began to creep outward, revealing more and more of the dark, empty interior of the obelisk. She shivered as cold air that had been trapped for centuries ebbed out into the sun-dappled forest around them.
"Shall we take a look inside?" Jonathan asked cheerfully.
"Please, sir, if you'd allow me," Malcolm said quickly, moving forward before anyone could stop him. "It might be booby trapped."
Archer crossed his arms. "They'd have to be very old booby traps, Malcolm."
"And if someone shot you with a longbow, you'd still be dead. Even very old things can be very effective, sir." Phase pistol at the ready, the armory officer carefully inspected the stone doorway, checking closely for hidden trip wires or other mechanisms that might trigger a reaction from the ancient structure.
Hoshi felt a wave of something that might have been foreboding wash over her. This didn't feel right. It was like unearthing Native American burial grounds, or looting Egyptian pyramids. This was a holy place, not a scientific discovery. If it truly existed in time dilation, then it might well still half-exist in the time when it had been built. They might walk into the structure and find themselves disturbing the ancient prayer rituals of a long dead society.
"Wait, Malcolm, stop…!" she sputtered, lunging for his arm as he took a step over the threshold.
There was a sudden crushing weight of black on her skull.
Then there was light.
Slowly, carefully, she opened her eyes. And gaped.
"Bloody hell," Malcolm muttered, rubbing the back of his head as he sat up beside her. "What happened? This place is awfully large. It looked quite small from the outside, don't you think?"
"Malcolm," Hoshi whispered, still staring in disbelief at the room around her.
"What?" he snapped, still rubbing his head. "Blast, I think I hit my head on the wall when we fell."
With determination that both shocked her and made her proud, Hoshi grabbed his chin and forced him to look up. "Malcolm… Look at this," she murmured, breathless with disbelief.
She felt Malcolm go stiff beside her. "How in heaven's…." he gasped, staring.
This was not what either of them had expected, that was certain. As Malcolm had observed, the room was much, MUCH larger than it should have been. It was, in fact, about the size of the bridge aboard Enterprise. The walls were made of solid blocks of stone, draped in heavy, detailed tapestries. A heavily paneled, wooden door stood in one wall, obviously leading out of the room and into the rest of the castle; this was definitely a castle. Thick brocade curtains hung to either side of a window carved into the stone wall. Through the window, Hoshi could see a bustling courtyard, filled with vendors and horse carts, and small children dressed in dirty tunics, fighting with wooden swords. "Where are we?" she whispered, afraid to speak up, in case it somehow broke the spell they'd found themselves in. She was also trying not to clue him in to the fact that they had somehow wound up in a bed. Together.
Before Malcolm could even try to answer, the massive wooden door swung open, and in walked a plump, jolly looking woman in a simple dress and a wimple. Her arms were weighted down with what looked like clean bed linens, and she was humming a cheerful, off key tune.
She gasped and froze when she saw Malcolm and Hoshi. "Yer highness! And yer highness!" She curtsied awkwardly, obviously taken by surprise. "Bless me, pardon my intrusion, m'Lord. Lady. I thought you'd be up and out of bed by this time! Mercy me, but I am embarrassed. I'll jus' leave these 'ere, shall I?" She hurriedly set the linens on an ornate mahogany chest of drawers that stood against the wall by the door, topped with a candelabra and a red velvet runner adorned with golden tassles. "You can jus' call one of the girls or meself when yer ready to rise, highnesses. I'll be going now." With another awkward curtsy, she started scooting backwards toward the door.
"Wait!" Malcolm barked.
The maid froze. "Y…Yes, m'Lord?"
Malcolm sat up straighter and fixed the plump woman with a penetrating stare. "Where are we?"
The maid stared at him for a second.
Then, with a gleeful cackle, she started to laugh.
"Oh, m'Lord, I've always 'eard you were a joker! That's a rich one, m'Lord! Oh!" She had to bend over to keep herself from falling, wiping away tears of mirth.
Hoshi could feel Malcolm tensing beside her. Trying to diffuse the situation before he sent the poor woman off with a terrible fright, she laid a hand on his arm and said gently, "My lord IS quite the jester." She smiled. "What he meant to ask is, which of our estates is this? It's been such a frenzy of late, it is difficult to keep them straight."
The maid gave them a broad smile, the apples of her cheeks glowing cherry red. "Of course, m'Lady. But this is Camelot! The jewel of your crown!" She beamed. "And we're most pleased to 'ave you back again, yer highnesses. Most truly pleased." With another curtsy - this time half-mixed with a bow - she scurried out the door and closed it firmly behind her.
Malcolm and Hoshi sat in silent disbelief for a moment. Then, very slowly, they turned their heads to look each other square in the eyes.
"Camelot," Malcolm said.
"Camelot," Hoshi affirmed.
"Which would make you-"
"Right. I thought so."
Another long pause.
He pinched her. Hard.
"OW!" she yelped, and slapped his hand away. "What was that for!" She rubbed the bruised flesh of her upper arm for a few seconds, trying to diffuse the hurt, and scowled at him.
"I just wanted to see if this was a dream," he told her.
"You're supposed to pinch YOURSELF for that, SIR," she said, annoyed. After a moment she reached out and pinched him. Hard. Harder than he'd pinched her.
"Ow!" he exclaimed, yanking away from her hand and glaring. "We've already established this isn't a dream, ENSIGN. No need for any more of that!"
"Sorry, SIR, but I wasn't convinced."
More silence passed between them, much less amiable than before. After a few minutes, Hoshi sighed and flopped back in the bed.
"NOW what do we do?" she asked, staring at the embroidered canopy of the king sized feather bed.
Malcolm flopped back as well and joined her stare. "I have no idea," he said.
"That's not very comforting."
"It's not my job to comfort."
"No, but you're supposed to be the tactical officer. So… tacticalize. Think of a way out of this."
"You're the cultural expert. We're obviously trapped in one of those visions you were describing. How do we make it stop?"
Hoshi sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Visions don't work that way," she told him. "You can't just make them stop. Once they've begun, you have to ride them out to the finish."
She felt Malcolm's eyes burn into her profile, but ignored the stare. "Hoshi, you do realize how the Arthur legend ends, correct?"
Hoshi sighed again, and tilted her head to look at him. "Yes, Malcolm, I am. Now, since I don't want to end up a nun, and I'm sure you don't want to end up dead, perhaps we should start trying to come up with a plan?"