Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
FOR A FEW, MAGICAL MOMENTS, KATHRYN JANEWAY FELT AS IF she
were back home in Indiana. The air was warm and slightly
humid; there was a scent of something that was almost like
newly mown grass; and a gentle insect hum lulled the
senses. She could almost forget that she was on an unknown,
unnamed planet in the Delta Quadrant and pretend that she
was hiking in the rolling hills of her home state.
Her eye fell on a bank of billowing white bushes-a fluffy
mass of fronds that looked almost like pillows. It was
tempting to lie down for a few moments, savoring the warm
afternoon. She reached out and lightly touched one of the
thick fronds; it yielded gently, promising a soft cushion.
Janeway glanced around at the rest of her away team, busy
scanning for edible foodstuffs: Chakotay, the darkly
handsome first officer, led a group of young ensigns who
were clearly enjoying their first time on land in over a
month; the sound of their laughter rang through the lush
valley they were exploring.
Chakotay, she knew, was wise enough to let them have some
fun. A field trip on a verdant planet was just the thing to
raise youthful spirits after a month of isolation on a
Half a kilometer away, near the mouth of the valley, her
Vulcan security officer, Tuvok, led the second contingent,
which had been assigned the task of collecting foodstuffs
deemed safe. That determination would be made by Neelix,
their Talaxian guide, cook, self-proclaimed morale officer,
and all-around handyman. Janeway smiled, imagining the
interplay between the two.
It had become Neelix' obsession to bring joy to Tuvok's
life-an effort which the staid Vulcan greeted with a
noticeable lack of enthusiasm. But Neelix was undeterred,
determined to dispel what he insisted was the cloud of
gloom that surrounded Tuvok.
Janeway inhaled deeply. It was so much like home-the faint
scent of moist soil, a hint of floral fragrance on a gentle
breeze-that she decided to yield to temptation. She fell
back onto the mound of soft, pillowlike plants and closed
her eyes, as if she were lying on a mound of hay.
The warmth of the planet's yellow star warmed her face.
Insects droned ceaselessly; it would have been easy to
drift off to sleep. But she wanted these few moments to be
hers-to daydream, to pretend for this short time that she
wasn't sixty-eight thousand light-years from Earth, that
she wasn't carrying the extraordinary responsibility of
getting her crew home safely, that she wasn't struggling to
keep alive everyone's hopes that the journey could somehow
be foreshortened. For just these few minutes, she would lie
here and imagine that she was back on Earth, had managed to
get voyager home, had seen her crew welcomed as heroes and
returned to the loving arms of their families and friends.
Then she had transported home to visit her own family-and
She had finally managed to resolve her feelings for Mark.
It had taken over a year before he wasn't forever creeping
into her thoughts, before she stopped hearing his voice,
his laughter, in her mind. She had put away his pictures
because they only helped to keep the wound open; she
decided (although she sometimes doubted it) that after more
than a year, he would have written her off as dead and
moved on with his life.
And that she must do the same.
Recently she had realized that she didn't quite remember
what he looked like.
So this daydream would not be about Mark. It was only
about home, about the part of her life spent in one of the
most beautiful parts of the country, the agricultural
paradise of Indiana. She thought of her mother, and
imagined their post-homecoming conversation.
"There were times when I didn't think we'd make it," said
Janeway. "You can't imagine how hard it was to keep my
spirits up-but I had to, because I couldn't risk the crew
losing heart because their captain did." She was sitting in
the sunny breakfast room of the home she'd grown up in,
mellow with pine paneling, sunlight filtering through an
ancient sycamore tree that grew outside the window, its
graceful branches swaying in a gentle breeze.
Her mother, wise and warm, smiled at her.
"Heaven forbid you ever show the slightest weakness. Is
that what being a captain means? That you're not allowed to
have the feelings everyone else has?" "That's how it seemed
to me. I had to set the standard. I had to be confident.
And it worked-I did get us home."
Gretchen Janeway reached out a hand and caressed her
daughter's cheek. "And I'm so proud of you."
"Proud enough to bake me some of your caramel brownies?"
Gretchen laughed, started for the kitchen. "I already
have. I knew that's the first thing you'd ask for."
Lying on the soft, billowing plants, Janeway smiled to
herself. She'd tried to replicate her mother's brownies,
the effort cost her four days' rations-but the result was
so disappointing that she couldn't bear to eat them. She'd
run into Jerron, the young Bajoran, and given him the plate
of treats; his incredulous delight was more rewarding than
eating the brownies could ever have been. Jerron's pain in
the early days of their journey had been palpable;
gradually, he had been losing his anger and was becoming
more comfortable, starting to feel himself a member of the
Janeway made it a point to make him feel cared for, and the
young man was responding.
She wasn't sure how long she'd been lying there, drifting
and dreaming, when she sensed that something was wrong. The
smell had changed: the fragrant, grassy aroma had altered
somehow-it had an edge to it, a-what? A metallic quality?
Janeway opened her eyes and sat up, saw that both teams
were aware of something, were scanning with an increased
urgency, pointing, calling to each other.
She jumped to her feet, and in the same instant identified
the odor: ozone. An electrical burning.
And that was the only warning they got.
Suddenly, there was a sizzling snap! A green arcing light
pierced the air, and the ozone smell became acrid. Janeway
twitched involuntarily, as though she'd suffered an
electrical shock. The air itself had become charged by the
bolt of-what? Plasma? She scanned quickly and detected a
hot, electrically energized field unknown to the Federation
A hot wind began to stir, intensifying the burning smell;
Janeway's nostrils began to sting. Out of the corner of her
eye, she noticed the cottony white bushes begin to ripple
in the sultry wind, but her mind quickly focused on her
crew. Chakotay and his young group were already on the
move, heading toward her, when three or four more bolts of
green sliced through the sky, crackling and smoking. This
time Janeway heard herself cry out as pain slashed through
Were they under attack? Or were they simply caught in an
unexpected natural phenomenon? It hardly mattered--whatever
these strange flashes were, they were clearly dangerous.
She had to get her people out of there.
She hit her commbadge, noting that Chakotay was doing the
same, as undoubtedly Tuvok was also.
"Janeway to Voyager . . . We need emergency transport." She
repeated the message several times before accepting what
she had already suspected: that the electrical disturbance
was interfering with the communications system, and it was
doubtful the transporters would function through the
Then the air crackled with energy bolts, sizzling and
sparking. She heard a scream and saw someone fall to the
ground. The hot wind began to gust violently, and the
hissing sound of the arcing flashes became deafening.
Janeway called out to Chakotay, but her voice was swallowed
in the noise and the wind.
She waved her arm at him, gesturing him to the mouth of the
valley. Ahead of her, she saw Tuvok and his group already
on the run. She began sprinting toward them.
But her body wouldn't behave as it should. Her legs were
shaky, uncoordinated, like a newborn lamb's. She stumbled
and then shuddered as another series of green flashes
ripped through the air. Now it felt as though oxygen had
been depleted from the atmosphere, and her lungs rasped as
she drew stinging air into them. Reflexively, she began
scanning again, and discovered a possible shelter: in the
mountains that ringed the valley were a series of caves; if
they could find an opening they might be able to escape
this brutal attack.
Chakotay and his group came stumbling toward her, gasping,
struggling against the wind. One of the ensigns collapsed
to the ground; two others immediately pulled him up. All of
them looked frightened but not panicky. Janeway pointed
toward the mountains.
"Caves," she yelled, but she barely heard her own voice
over the roar of the wind.
Chakotay nodded; he understood. He turned and began herding
his young charges to follow Janeway, who was moving toward
the nearest outcropping of the mountains, scanning for a
possible opening as she went. Suddenly the tricorder
disappeared from view. Janeway registered that fact, then
realized everything had disappeared; she saw only a field
of black punctuated by jagged green slashes. She barely had
time to realize that there had been another series of
energy bolts when the pain hit her. She felt as though she
were on fire, muscle and tissue seared, bodily fluids
boiling. With an involuntary cry, she fell to her knees,
stunned and shuddering.
For a moment she was blind, desperate for oxygen, and in
agony. But she forced her mind to take control. She stilled
herself, locating the pain, isolating it, containing it
until it began to subside. Gradually, the green slashes in
her vision began to fade, the blackness receded, and she
lifted her head.
The young officers were scattered on the ground like
deadwood, writhing and moaning. Chakotay had already begun
rising shakily to his feet, assessing their condition. One
by one they began to get up, faces pale with shock,
staggering, but on their feet.
We won't survive another round, Janeway thought, and she
lifted her tricorder to scan for the nearest opening in the
mountains. Then, ahead of her, she saw Tuvok's group
crowding toward a dark slash in the cliff side. She
realized they had found the mouth of a cave and she whirled
to motion to Chakotay; but he'd already seen and was
yelling at the group, gesturing toward the mountain, urging
them forward. The ragged group tried to run, fear of
another bombardment of energy bolts propelling them against
the fierce wind.
Janeway's legs felt like gelatin, but she forced them to
drive forward. The roar of the wind thundered in her ears;
her lungs burned and streaks of green still obscured her
vision. The side of the mountain seemed kilometers away,
but she knew it wasn't-it couldn't be more than forty
meters now. Tuvok's group had disappeared into the cave,
but her Vulcan friend remained outside, moving toward them,
prepared to help.
Thirty meters . . . The wind whipped dirt from the ground,
making it even harder to breathe. Janeway glanced behind
her to make sure the others were with her; they were, heads
down, doggedly forcing their shaking legs to move. Chakotay
brought up the rear, ready to help stragglers. The ozone
smell began to build again, and Janeway realized it was the
harbinger of another attack; she picked up the pace,
yelling at those behind her to hurry.
Ahead of her the mouth of the cave yawned like a gaping
maw; the figure of Tuvok swam before her, mouth moving,
calling to them soundlessly as his words were swallowed in
the wind. And then she was there, Tuvok's arm steadying
her, his firm grip infusing her with strength. She turned