Of Endings and New Beginnings
Location: Caradan's Quarters
Two days at warp and the Tornado was soon to reenter Federation Space and continue its journey back to Earth and to the Federation itself. Those two days Caradan spent regenerating to fully recover from her ordeal aboard the Klingon Battle Cruiser as a prisoner of war. During those two days, her only visitor was Riaan who had been taking readings and making notations as the Changeling’s natural state returned to its golden color. Riaan would sit and visit for a bit, but Caradan simply stayed in her bowl without even the slightest indication of the times when she was awake.
Caradan did, however, emerge from her bowl long enough to write up a report for Riaan and for Command, to write a letter to Captain Alan Prost and to the Academy, only to flow back into her bowl where she remained the remainder of the time.
Now though, she had had enough of being cooped up in that bowl and felt as one hundred percent as she could, given the situation.
Caradan stood in her lavatory. She had always used it as mere storage as she never had any use of a lavatory. This time though, she was standing before her mirror and looking upon her naked self. She was naked but without features. Upholding the promise she made herself, she would never take on such a perfectly mimicked human form, or any species, again. Her plan to sow distrust among the Klingons did work but she did not expect a stasis device. Despite all that, she learned a great deal about life, about herself, about death and pain, and about the future.
Extending her left arm, she looked down at her forearm and rubbed it with her right hand. Without hesitation, she formed a blade out of her right index finger and sank it into her hand just above the radiocarpal joint. Slicing her arm open from her wrist to her antecubital, she felt no pain, nothing at all, and saw only more of the soft, unfeeling tissue of her templated being in the open gash.
Reforming her arm, Caradan mimicked a human arm. She forced human skin and pores, hair and nails, all the slight imperfections typical humans generally have. She even produced nerves, blood vessels, tendons and muscles, and even bone.
Sinking the blade into her skin once again, she felt the sharp twinge that people would call pain. It continued and grew as she forced the point of that blade to the bone and pulled it up her arm, slicing the blade again from her wrist all the way up to her antecubital. Blood oozed from the open gash and she moved the blade around to open it up and to peer inside. Flexing her fingers which caused more of that sharp twinge, Caradan saw a muscle flex and tear as it met with her blade. There the twinge was excruciating and the blood started pouring forth. Still, it was only mimicked blood and would never fall free.
Caradan grimaced at the feeling as she continued flexing her fingers and continued cutting herself. Withdrawing the blade, she forcibly stabbed it into an unblemished area of her mimicked skin. The pain she felt was absolutely nothing compared to what she felt continuously at the hands of the Klingons. Somehow though, this pain felt right. People cutting on themselves was wrong and she was always taught that, but Caradan found herself second-guessing what she had learned because…How could something that felt so right, be so wrong?
Caradan jerked the blade from her arm, cut to ribbons, and watched as her shredded and discolored arm formed into a column of her liquid state. It emerged again as a semi-human arm, but featureless and pasty. Caradan looked just the way she did when she first set foot aboard the Tornado. She had not one visible scar from her captivity and torture. Her hair was pulled back and tied but did not move like natural hair. She formed her uniform out of her being and sent her commbadge to her chest. She absorbed the blade she had made and returned it to a finger.
Caradan still had some minutes before she was due on the Bridge, not that keeping schedule was as big of a deal now as it had been in the past. Given the situation, Commander Shaqdac was probably not even expecting her to return to duty before reaching Earth. But Caradan decided enough time off was enough. It was time for her to return to her duties.
Lieutenant Mindo had been tied to his duties for the past few days, and regretfully had not been able to see Caradan during that time. It hurt him every moment of it, but Shagdac was riding him hard, and he found himself pulling double and triple shifts to get the Tornado back to full function. The night before he had finally gotten some sleep, and before he returned to duties he decided to see Cara.
He reached her quarters and pushed the chime once. He hoped Cara was taking visitors, but he knew of her complications since the rescue. It would hurt him to be turned away, but he had to see her.
“Enter,” she said as she put the finishing touches to her form. She was looking at an image of her from her academy graduation ceremony and decided on that look again. Yes, it would make people aware that a Changeling was among them, even among the ones who grew accustomed to her…and those who forget through her previous form of a near perfect human likeness. Those days were gone. That Caradan was a form of the past.
She turned as the door slid open. Pushing her PADD into her being, she saw Mindo standing in the doorway. “Lieutenant,” she didn’t smile, “what can I do for you?”
Mindo was taken somewhat aback by the change of appearance. But he didn't mind it. He'd seen her in her true form and loved her that way too. And he'd said it before. All her shapes are beautiful.
"Hi Cara," he said. "I just wanted to see how you were doing." Did she just call me Lieutenant? he thought. It was enough to raise a red flag, but they hadn't always displayed their affection for one another very publicly. By now everyone knew about their romance, but they had continued to be discreet about it. It wasn't really Mindo's choice. If he had his way he'd kiss her wherever they were. He wanted people to see them. To know they were happy. But he knew Cara felt differently, and so he'd been good about keeping quiet. But Lieutenant? he wondered.
Despite that she and Mindo had been on a first-name basis, lovers in fact, those memories were still there but somehow felt far away. Caradan’s mind was filled with new memories; memories filled with pain and terror and Klingon vengeance. She did not even want to think on the individual words like ‘rape’ and ‘stab’ and ‘beat.’
“I am doing well,” she forced words over her own thoughts. “Do come in,” she said as he was still in close proximity to the door, keeping it from sliding closed. “I suppose this is as good a time as any to thank you for what you did aboard the cruiser. So…thank you…for…rescuing me,” though she hardly considered it a rescue. The indiscriminate and unending violence the Klingons showed her was imprisoning her within her own shell. And this shell was not mimicked.
Mindo looked at her for a moment. The physical change was most noticeable, but there was something different about the way she spoke as well. So formal. Without feeling. As he looked at her he noticed a strange, fading red blemish on her arm. "Is that... blood?" he said suddenly, though he realized that sounded ridiculous. He knew full well Changelings didn't bleed. They don't typically create red splotches on their arms either, he thought. In less than two seconds, the splot was completely gone, but Mindo had seen it. He was sure of it.
“Oh…that.” She started rubbing her arm. “That’s nothing. Still…I’m still getting used to perfecting this form.” She showed him her arm. “See? Nothing.”
Through her memories of them together, she gathered some reasons for him to have dropped by. Within her newly hardened shell imprisoning her was a tumultuous cacophonic symphony of emotion and thought. And it all lead to similar conclusions. There was no way he would ever want to look upon her again after knowing what all she did or did not do. She no longer wanted his love and did not understand how he could even think of her in a friendly light. She could not tell him all the details. This had to end only one way.
“Believe it or not, I am doing fine. Thank you for checking on me. I am sure you have work to get back to. Just, don’t work too hard. There is no need to return the Tornado to top shape.”
Mindo stood silent for a second, trying to figure out what to say, what he was feeling.
"Cara," he started. He looked into her eyes, but he couldn't find her. He knew why. He knew the kind of abuse she had gone through. Maybe not to her extent, but he knew that once he had had that look in his eyes. He had it when he first arrived on the Tornado. But he didn't have it anymore. Because of her. Because of Caradan. He wanted to tell her this. He wanted to tell her that she was the one who changed him. She was the one who brought him back to the world. And he had never known true love before her. Never understood it the way other people did. He remembered their first night on the holodeck. How she had engulfed him in her natural form. How she had caressed him. Held him. Gave him a sense of security and wholeness that no one else ever could; not now, not ever again. Now he wanted to be the one to hold her. To give her security. To wrap himself around her and keep her warm.
Now he understood. How could he not, for so many years? How could he be with so many people, and not once ever make love?
His eyes reddened, and became moist. Now he knew how Cara had felt this whole time. And now she felt what he had felt, just two years ago on the Rhys. A small tear trickled down his cheek, and he wiped it away. It had only been a few seconds, but to a Fesarian in love, it was an eternity.
"Cara, I..." he sniffled a moment, and when he drew in a breath it straggled. Another tear rolled down his cheek again and he wiped it off. "I think that we can have the ship in top form by the time we..." he couldn't. No way.
"I'm not doing this anymore," he said. "I'm not going to play all business and lie to you or me about us. I love you so much, Cara. I know you've been through things worse than hell. But in all the darkness, I'm your light. However bright or feint you think I am, I'm still burning for you. And you can rain and pour on me all you want, but you will never extinguish me. And I will never give up on you. Because you are my light. And I'll never let you fade."
Caradan had heard Mindo’s speeches before…and given him some as well. She recalled spilling her feelings out to him only for him to return with more explanation about how Feserians viewed love differently. Regardless of his words or his true feelings, Caradan knew there would always be another to turn his eye and sway his attention. The sting of that realization was not a sting in the least, but just another point of truth steering Caradan on her own path. There were things she had to do, unfinished business that needed looking into. And none of them required physical distractions or any form of love-making. If Mindo were to come along, he would find himself extremely bored as Caradan no longer felt any interest in physical relationships.
The mere thought of him on top of her…a Klingon was pressing his hand against her mouth and nose whilst he worked at her clothing.
“No!” she almost yelled. Stepping back and away from Mindo a step or two, “I will never again be anyone’s plaything, whether it is for pleasure or violence or otherwise.” He already had the bragging rights to being the second person in the galaxy that she could think of to have shared a bed with a Changeling. She knew he would protest and use his wiles and his words to sway her opinion, but Caradan felt that further relating to him would paint the picture of her simply being the trophy he would keep in his bed to show off. “You’re Feserian right? Your entire race is sexually promiscuous?” She did not need an answer as it was plainly obvious. “That means you will find someone else.”
She knew it would hurt him to hear it, but ‘there is no pain like mine.’
“The first woman…or man…to open their legs to you and you will have forgotten all about us.”
Mindo in that moment wanted to yell "I can change!!!" But could he really? His race needed alcohol constantly just to squelch the sexual impulses. What if a situation arose and she wasn't there? The likelihood of such an event was more than possible. And he knew it. It wasn't about love to him, it was about instinct.
But here he was, in the same situation he'd been in countless times; an argument with a scorned lover. But not just any lover. The love of his life.
He wiped his tears and cleared his throat. He had been silent for almost thirty seconds. It was an awkward silence. The first silence they'd ever had. And Mindo knew it would be the last.
There were millions of things he wanted to say. Thoughts had raced through his head with a million protests. Angry, devastated, horrified, desperate cries for mercy, forgiveness, redemption. He wanted to grasp Caradan and hold onto her and never let go, he wanted to curse her name, to beg for mercy, to spit in her face.
To make love, one more time.
There was only one thing left to do... end it.
"I'm requesting transfer to another ship," he said, his words bitter and cold. "Effective immediately, I resign from my duties as Chief Engineer of the USS Tornado. I will confine myself to my quarters until I receive another assignment, or until we return to Earth, where I will take an extended leave." In a moment, his breathing returned to normal. His face melted into deep resolve, an emotionless, hardened chasm.
"I don't want to see you again," he said at last. With that, he left.
‘I will never give up on you.’ That is what Mindo had said only a moment prior and Caradan was left pondering just how much of a light she had been for him, a light that he said he would never allow to fade.
A part of Caradan, albeit a small part, told her that conversation should have stung deeply. And it kind of did as she did not expect to hear that from Mindo. Just like when she was slicing open her arm though, that sting somehow felt right, as though deserved.
‘I deserve this.’
She turned and went to her duffel bag though had no reason to do so. She inspected it visually. Another shakedown was not necessary.
With only minutes before her time on the Bridge she quickly prioritized her captainy tasks. There was only one however. She had to make Keselowsky the chief engineer. Undoubtedly, he would find the posting both welcomed and as a stab in the back. Yes, he would finally be Chief Engineer, but the last Chief Engineer of the USS Tornado-C as it was to be immediately decommissioned. His tenure would last about 72 hours.
Caradan noted that in her PADD, made the appropriate clearance adjustments and left for the Bridge.