DISCLAIMER: All recognizable characters do not belong to me and are used here without permission for no financial gain. All others do. Please do not use them without my permission.

Spoilers: Major ones for Restoration

Author's Note: Any religious elements in this fic do not reflect my spiritual beliefs and are not meant to offend anyone. They simply reflect the feelings of the character.

In the Garden of Eden

Twenty years was not nearly enough time with a woman as wonderful as Elizabeth. Ah, Elizabeth! They had been together for only two decades: loving, arguing, laughing, and kissing. And now she was gone, stolen from him by a rogue form of cancer. It seemed unfair that one as vibrant and vital as Elizabeth could die like that, trembling and coughing. He did not want to remember her sick and pale in bed, but energetic and lively, with hair of gold. He wanted to remember as his stubborn first officer, the young and innocent woman he had first made love to, the beautiful woman he had seen in a vision all those years ago.

And now he was alone, left to empty their apartment of her belongings. In a way, this was more difficult than watching her die. At least then he had felt something. Now he was empty and lifeless, a shadow of his former self. Now he had to continue living without her. Every morning he woke up and rolled over expecting to see her. Every morning the horrible realization hit him again: *She's dead.* Yes, this was the hard part. To die would be easy. Perhaps he would see her in the afterlife, a golden-haired angel. Perhaps he would simply fall into an endless, dreamless sleep. It really didn't matter. Either way the pain would be gone. And yet for some reason his lungs kept filling with air and his heart kept beating day after day.

Right now he sat in their closet, sorting through her belongings. Clothes, padds, jewelry . . . and pictures, snapshot after snapshot of happier times. Their wedding, their anniversary, Moke's graduation from Starfleet Academy . . . in each picture she smiled happily at him, young, beautiful, and timeless.

However, as he pulled open a small box at the back of the closet, he found himself looking at pictures he had never seen before. Elizabeth stared up at him, but there was so much sadness in her eyes. Also, she looked very young in the picture, with long blonde curls. She looked 17 or 18, but every other picture had been taken during or after Starfleet Academy.

Rifling through the box, he found picture after picture of young Elizabeth. Each one showed her with a group of children, all of them with blond hair and blue eyes, sometimes with two smiling parents. The later ones showed five children of varying ages, all smiling brightly. But as the children grew older, the pictures eventually showed only four children, then three, then two, and then the final one with just Elizabeth.

Looking back, he had never met any of Elizabeth's family. All he knew was that her parents were farmers on a colony and that she had one brother who also lived away from Earth. He had never thought to ask her about them, assuming that they simply did not get along. But now he had to wonder . . .

Why had she kept these pictures all of these years? And why had he never seen them?

Walking over to his computer, he prepared to arrange for passage to Elizabeth's homeworld, a small, distant colony called Arinol IV. Something told him that he needed to go there.

*****

The planet looked like paradise. Lush green grass covered the ground, and fragrant blossoms filled the air with their delicate perfume. Tall trees arched upward, sheltering the many pedestrians from the sun's bright rays. Although it was a warm day, the gentle breeze made the air seem cool and comfortable.

*Perfect . . . * Calhoun thought. Everything seemed completely perfect.

Too perfect.

Calhoun shook his head to clear his thoughts and set along down the road. Although the shipyard had been almost completely empty, the town was full of people. Adults traded food, goods, and news in the village square while bright-eyed children played nearby. Older men and women walked slowly through the village, smiling gently at each other, the busy adults, and the carefree children.

He stopped next to a beautiful blonde woman. She carried a baby on her right hip, and she was calling to an older boy. "Jacob, come here." For a moment, she imagined that she was his Elizabeth, that the boy was Moke, and that the child in her arms was theirs.

She turned towards him. "Can I help you?" Her round, gentle face was trusting and comforting. "Where are you from? I don't think I've seen you in New Eden before?"

"I'm from . . . far away. My wife, Elizabeth, grew up here."

"Beth Shelby? I haven't seen her in so long. How is she?"

"She's dead," he answered shortly.

"I'm so sorry." Her large brown eyes shone with sympathy. "That family had more than it's share of tragedy."

"What are you talking about?"

"Mommy!" Jacob interrupted. "I'm hungry."

"All right, we're going home." She turned back to Calhoun. "I hope your trip goes well."

"Wait! Do you know if her family is still here? Her parents?"

She shook her head. "Her father died a few years ago. But her mother still lives in their old farmhouse. Just take that road out of town. It's a few kilometers away, a big white house. I expect that the farm itself is in ruins by now, but you should find the house easily."

Calhoun began walking towards the house. The crowd thinned immediately, and he found himself on a simply country road passing through rolling green hills. He imagined Elizabeth's walking this very same path as a girl. Why had she left this green paradise for Starfleet? The slow, peaceful life seemed so idyllic. Granted, he knew that he would have gone insane in this environment from boredom. But Elizabeth had been born and raised here. What would make her leave?

The house suddenly loomed ahead at the top of a slight hill. It was large and white and must have once been beautiful. Now the paint was peeling and faded, and the swing on the front porch hung crooked. The windows looked dirty, and through them only a little light shone.

Hesitantly, he walked onto the porch and knocked vigorously. There was no answer, and after a while Mac decided that the woman must have been wrong. Certainly the land around the house gave the impression that it had been abandoned for years. He had just turned to leave when the door opened.

"Can I help you?"

The woman had long gray curls pinned up in a knot at the back of her head, although a few wisps floated around her face, making her look like a young farmer's wife. Her clothes were faded from many washings: blue denim pants, the kind that hadn't been worn in hundreds of years, and a cream colored shirt. Her face was eerily reminiscent of Elizabeth's, with its identical blue eyes and and small mouth.

"Yes, I . . . " For a moment he was at a loss for words. "Are you Elizabeth's mother?"

"Beth . . . Beth Shelby?" The woman smiled. "Beth, my little girl, where is she?" She glanced around eagerily as though expecting her to pop out from behind a post.

"She . . . she's dead."

The words seeemd to echo in the air. *She's dead . . . she's dead . . . *

The woman's eyes filled with tears. "Beth . . . " she whispered. She seemed to visibly hold herself together as she asked, "Were you a friend of hers?"

"I was her husband."

She smiled and laughed a little, sadly. "Come in," she said suddenly. "We have a lot to talk about."

Inside the house was dark, but clean. Most of the rooms felt strange, though, as if no one had been in them in years.

She led him into the kitchen. Here the shadows were gone. The room was sunny and bright and seemed to reflect happier times. She motioned for him to sit down at the table as she bustled around. "Would you like some tea?" She didn't wait for his answer, heating water and pouring it into two mugs over tea bags. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes, thank you."

She sliced bread and brought it to him with some butter. She added a plate of cookies and a bowl of fruit before pausing. During this time she had been a flurry of motion, completely absorbed in each task. Now she seemed to restrain herself, forcing herself to sit down beside him.

"You're probably wondering who I am. I'm Beth's mother, Rachel."

Calhoun didn't know what to say. He finally pulled out one of the pictures he had found. "I found this in Elizabeth's things after she died. Who are these people?"

Rachel stiffened upon seeing the picture. She pulled it from him and stared at it for a long time. "I didn't think . . . she was so angry when she left . . . I never expected her to take this with her."

"She had a lot more," he offered, pulling the rest out. Rachel stared at each one in turn, biting her lip to keep from crying. Finally she let the pictures fall to the table.

"It was all so long ago," she sighed.

"What happened? Who are these people?"

"Well, let me see . . . where to begin . . . " Her voice trailed off a bit. "The man standing beside me was my husband, Jonathon Shelby. We had known each other nearly all of our lives, so when he asked me to marry him I didn't even think to say no. We were only 19 and just out of school. His father had died when he was young, and his mother couldn't take care of the farm herself, so we moved here after the wedding into his family's farm. She lived with us for a year or so before she died as well.

"Back then we were so young and inexperienced. We really didn't know anything about being married or raising children, but we knew that we were expected to have a family, so we did. Those children in the picture are mine," she said, pointing to their smiling faces, "Laurie, Meg, Rob, Beth, and Joey."

Five children! Mac was stunned. He couldn't imagine Elizabeth's growing up as one of *five* children. "Elizabeth told me she had a brother, but . . . five siblings? Why didn't I ever meet any of them."

Rachel stared out the window at the overgrown fields. Once they must have been neatly ordered, but now they were a testament to the wildness of nature, overgrown tangles of greenery.

"A mother should not have to bury her own children," she said softly. "I've already seen them all go before me, as well as my husband. I always prayed that they would be safe and well, but part of me knew that one day I would be the only one left." She paused, staring out onto the fields as though looking into another time. "I have a lot to ask God when I die."

She turned to him as though seeing him for the first time. "But of course you have no idea what I'm talking about. I suppose I should tell you the whole thing. The only question is where to begin . . .

"It all began when I was 31. My oldest, Laurie, was 11, and the baby, Joey, was only 7. All of my children were about a year apart, so they were extremely close, even for brothers and sisters. And yet all of them were very different. Laurie was sweet and quiet, and looked after her younger siblings like a little mother. Meg was wild, creative, and active. Rob was the studious one, always reading thick books. Beth was a little tomboy, always playing with her brothers and the other boys on nearby farms. And Joey was gentle, more thoughtful and sensitive than the others. Despite their differences, though, they loved each other dearly. They were always together, playing and laughing with the kind of carefree attitudes that only children possess. They created their own world; the five of them seemed to share some wonderful paradise that the rest of us couldn't hope of finding.

"And then everything changed. At first Laurie just felt tired and ached all over. But gradually she got worse until one day she broke her leg. She was running home with her brothers and sisters when she tripped and fell, shattering her leg.

"As I'm sure you have noticed, we do not live as the rest of the galaxy does. Our colony was founded by those who believed that the human race was damning itself to hell by its constant development of technology and its interaction with different species. They created this place so that people could return to a simpler way of life. Our technology in some areas is from the early 21st century; in others, we use things that were developed much earlier. The only spaceport is several miles away, and all citizens of the colony refuse to go near it. We stand firm in our rejection of the modern world."

She gave a bitter laugh. "I say 'we,' but in truth my own faith has been shaken. I no longer know what to believe. I followed my parents and husband for so long without once questioning for myself what was right, but now . . . now I wonder if we wouldn't be better off if all of this were gone.

"But I'm getting ahead of myself. The point is that there was no one to help Laurie when she got sick. I was frantic, though, and I finally disobeyed my husband and the church elders. I took Laurie several miles from town to the small Starfleet outpost for medical care. Even though the church forbid it, I allowed them to examine her with their technology. But even they could not save her. They told me that she was sick with a strange form of cancer and that there was nothing they could do to help her. So in shock, I took her home, made her as comfortable as I could, and watched her die."

Calhoun watched as tears ran down the old woman's thin face. He remembered his own pain at watching Elizabeth waste away into nothing, suffering slowly until finally she gave up and died. He could not imagine how Rachel must have felt, to watch her young child go through that torment.

"And of course that wasn't the end of it. Only three years after Laurie died, Joey became ill too. It was the same thing: the slow, painful decline until he couldn't even sit up, until even breathing became too difficult. Finally he too drifted away, a shadow of his former self.

"We were all heartbroken after they died. I think that somewhere all of us felt the same thing: anger. We hated that Laurie and Joey had died, that two, perfect children had to die so young. But I didn't know how to lash out. Instead I bowed my head and accepted the minister's words: 'It was God's will. To everything is a season . . . ' Beth followed my example, growing quieter and sadder, but not showing her anger. Rob too grew withdrawn and silent, forever studying his thick books. But Meg refused to listen to this. She was furious at everyone: her father, the church, and me. Meg had always been wilder than the others, but now she let her teenage rebellion reach its peak. She began to spend all of her time away with other children who, like her, had grown disillusioned with the colony. They drank alcohol and experimented with sex and illegal drugs they smuggled into the colony on transport ships. I didn't know what to do or how to reach her anymore. She grew more and more rebellious until finally she ran away. She was only 16 at the time.

"We didn't see her for six months. And when she returned, it became more certain that our idyllic lives would never return. Meg was pregnant. Worse, she too was dying of the same cancer that had killed her sister and brother. Again, and I sat beside my child and watched her slip away. This time was worse because the pregnancy made her even weaker." Rachel stared out into space at something only she could see. "The baby was born two months later, premature, weak, sick, and frail. It lived only a few hours, and Meg died the next day."

She continued to stare at something far into the wild land behind the house. "Now there were four fresh graves under the oak trees, and all who lay there were only children. Now there were only four of us left: Jonathon, Rob, Beth, and me. Our lives felt hollow and empty now without the others. I drifted along in those years, barely able to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I was completely absorbed in my own grief . . . so much that I couldn't even see what was happening to my other children.

"Beth was angry now, as angry as Meg had been. She loved her sister dearly, and I think that it was the minister's words that made her snap. At Meg's funeral, he said that she had died a sinner and must suffer eternal damnation for her punishment. At the others, of course, he had compared the children to little lambs, and Beth clung to that image of Laurie and Joey as angels in heaven. But it hurt Beth so much to think that her sister was suffering in hell for all eternity. She rebelled, although she was different from Meg . . . safer, I think, and gentler. I really don't know what happened to her right after Meg's death, but she never ran away or got pregnant because she didn't have time to."

Rachel paused now as if wondering how to explain. "You see, Rob was different from his sisters. I told you that he was smart, but I don't think I made it clear enough. Rob was a genius. He was always reading thick books, and finally I discovered what he had been studying for all of those years. Rob had made friends with several Federation scientists, and they had given him reference books about everything imaginable. And so he had spent those years teaching himself about the Federation, about life outside of the colony. But most of all, Rob studied medicine. He wanted to know what had killed his brother and sisters, and so finally one of the scientists told him."

"Told him what?" Mac prompted.

Rachel spoke slowly now, carefully choosing each word. "Everything that you see . . . the abundant flowers and plants, the bright green grass . . . the planet gives off a lot of radiation. I don't really understand it, just the little that Rob told his father and me. But the planet gives off these rays that make the plants grow big and bright, but they also hurt the people, particularly the children. That's why all of my children have died of cancer. The water they drank, the food they ate, the air they breathed -- it was all poison." She leaned over, cupping her hands over her face.

Calhoun leaned towards her and gently rested his hand on her arm. Twenty years of marriage and fatherhood had softened him, changing him from the blunt warrier into a more tender man. Before Elizabeth, such a gesture would have been completely foreign to him, but now he sat with her silently comforting her until she could continue.

"Rob was furious, of course. He came home one night and blamed us for everything. It didn't matter that we didn't understand what he was saying at all . . . we were his parents, and somehow we should have done a better job of protecting our family. He told us everything that night: how the Federation had begged the church leaders to leave the planet, telling them that it was dangerous; how the leaders had refused, believing this to be God's promised land, a new Eden; how the Federation scientists had watched as successive generations grew sicker and sicker from the radiation." She closed her eyes briefly, and it seemed to Mac that she was back in that moment, watching her angry teenaged son curse the unfairness of life.

"And then Rob told us the most shocking thing of all -- he was leaving. He refused to wait here to die or to raise children who would face the same curse again. He told us that he had been accepted at New Johns Hopkins University on Earth and that he was leaving that night. And he picked up a single bag with a few changes of clothing and left. Jonathon ran after his son, yelling, ordering him back into the house, but Rob didn't even look back. He walked down that road, and I never saw him again.

"After that, only Elizabeth was left. She was different now -- quieter, more withdrawn. She wasn't angry and sullen like Meg, just quiet, as though she were waiting. And I knew, somehow I knew . . . and then came the day when my suspicions were confirmed. She was leaving too. She walked into the kitchen one night, carrying a single small bag. Jonathon and I were sitting where you and I are now, and she walked through that door and said she was leaving. There was no more anger or pain in her voice, but she was determined. She said, 'I can't stay here any longer. I have to leave. I can't live here anymore. I'm not going to stay here and wait to die. I'm going to make my own life somewhere else.'

"Her father ran after her, yelling, saying that if she walked out of that door, she could never come back. Beth didn't even seem to listen. She just turned around and looked at me and she said, 'I love you, Mom.'

"And then she was gone, and I never saw her again."

Rachel stopped again for a moment, crying. She sat very still, staring out the window, letting the tears roll down her cheeks.

"Rob died about five years ago. I hadn't heard from him since he left, and then one day there was a letter for me from one of the scientists at the Federation outpost. It was the same one who had mentored Rob all those years ago. He had stayed to save us. After the old minister died, his successor decreed that it was not against God's will for us to take the daily medicine that would protect us from the radiation . . . he was one of Beth's old friends, and I think she would have been proud of him.

"But anyway, the scientist wrote me and told me that Rob had become a wonderful doctor, specializing in children with cancer. He had been famous throughout the Federation as the best. But eventually the cancer that had killed the others caught up with him, and even though he fought it as hard as he could, he died.

"My husband died only a few years ago -- plain old age, I suppose. He was a stubborn man, rigidly devoted to the ideals of the founders. He was barely a presence in our children's lives -- he never really knew them, nor did he seem to *want* to know them. He was sort of like a mythical, deep, booming voice that shouted commandments at the children . . . until the day when Rob and Beth refused to listen." She smiled sadly. "I do miss him, though, for all of his faults.

"And now there is only me . . . "

Calhoun was silent for a long time. He didn't know what to say. The two of them sat in silence until finally Rachel slowly stood up.

"I have something for you."

She was gone for what seemed like a long time, although it probably was only a few minutes. When she came back, she carried an old cardboard box.

"Here . . . " she said, pushing the box towards him. Inside were countless pictures of Elizabeth as a child, many with her brothers and sisters, and even a few with her parents. But there was so much more . . . old clothes; childish paintings; ELIZABETH SHELBY written in the large, proud letters of a child . . .

"I've been saving this for Beth . . . for when she came back. It's yours now."

"No, I can't accept this," he protested.

"You need this," she said, placing the photograph he had brought in his hand. "She would have wanted you to have it."

"What about you?"

"I have my memories . . . and hopefully I will be with them all again soon. God has kept me waiting for a long time . . . but I'm waiting . . . "

Calhoun realized that the afternoon was gone. Long shadows filled the overgrown wilderness. "I have to go. My transport leaves in an hour."

"Of course. I'm so glad you came here today."

"So am I." He stood up and walked outside onto the porch. "I'll come back sometime."

She smiled sadly. "I'll be here."

Calhoun headed down the road towards the town. As he reached the top of a hill, he looked back at the old, white farmhouse. Rachel was still sitting on the porch, staring into the distant hills. The setting sun had turned the sky into a sea of gold, and the dark hills rose in front of it, solid and reassuring. He imagined that he could see her face, lined from pain but serene and patient, always waiting. He turned and walked over the hill and down into the valley below.