Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
had become. The wind had died down a little, and the
thunder seemed to be moving on, but there was still a
steady downpour. And it was night. Kathryn reached
automatically for her bicorder, which would give her
bearings, then remembered that she was in her tennis
uniform. She stopped, turning around in the rainy darkness,
and realized she had lost her sense of direction. No stars
were visible, no distinctive landmarks stood out. She could
make out fields, and rolling hills, and a wooded area, but
which way was home?
Her tears dried up as her mind went into gear.
What should she do? Stay put, that's what. She'd always
been told that if she was lost she shouldn't wander.
Sit down and stay there.
The rain was diminishing. She put her tennis bag on the
mucky ground, sat down next to it, and then laid her head
on the bag, an impromptu pillow. She could sleep right
here, and tomorrow when the sun came up she would find her
She realized she was exhausted. She closed 69
her eyes, and her mind drifted to analytic geometry and
the distance formula. She felt drained of energy and
emotion, and her mind became still and calm.
And as soon as she stopped trying so hard to get it, the
solution immediately became apparent to her.
It lay in antiquity. Nearly three thousand years ago, a
visionary mathematician named Pythagoras had developed a
theorem that related the sides of a right triangle to the
length of the hypotenuse-the distance between two end
points. With sudden, vivid insight, Kathryn realized that
this was the solution to the derivation of the distance
formula. And then her father lifted her up.
She felt his strong arms grip her, pulling her to him, his
handsome, sturdy face etched with concern and relief.
Kathryn smiled at him and relaxed into the journey, safe in
his arms until he had put her into the hovercraft and
wrapped her in a blanket.
"I saw lights," she murmured, still drowsy.
"Was that you? You shouldn't be out in a storm."
"You were out here, Kathryn. I had to find you."
"I'm sorry, Daddy."
"What were you thinking?"
"I lost my match. I didn't deserve to come home with the
others." She felt his eyes turn to her, and he was quiet
for a moment. "But guess what?" she went on. "I figured out
how to derive the distance formula. It's the Pythagorean
theorem, isn't it?"
She heard him chuckle. "You're a funny little bird, you
know." He eyed her mud-splattered body. "Tonight you're a
blackbird." There was a silence, and then he looked over at
"Kathryn, I want you to promise me you'll never do anything
like this again. We were all worried sick about you. 11 "I
promise, Daddy." She waited for him to praise her for
figuring out the distance formula, but he didn't talk about
anything except how frightened they'd been.
When they got home, her mother put her in the sonic shower
and then tucked her into bed with hot soup, but Daddy had
gone to his office and didn't even come out to say good
night. Under the warm covers, sipping hot soup, Kathryn was
nonetheless ice cold. Her heart felt like stone. Daddy
didn't even care that she had derived the formula. She was
more miserable than she had been lying in the cold mud with
the rain pouring down on her.
THE CAPTIVE LAY ON THE TABLE, EYES GRADUALLY losing a
struggle to stay open as the narcotic had its inevitable
effect on his system. It had proven necessary to keep the
prisoner under almost constant sedation, a situation
Trakis, the Trabe physician, regretted because he was
uncertain as to the ultimate effect of such high levels of
drugs on this alien being.
However, unless lie was narcotized, the captive had
demonstrated an alarming unwillingness to cooperate with
Trakis' examinations. Perhaps all members of this species
were similarly truculent, or perhaps this one was
particularly fierce, but Trakis had no intention of coming
to bodily harm in order to aid the Kazon-Vistik in their
vain quest for control of the sector.
A noise startled him as the door to the ship's laboratory
opened, and Nimmet entered, swaggering slightly, as always,
adopting an air of lofty condescension intended to make
Trakis feel insignificant.
Would it matter, wondered Trakis, if Nimmet knew that his
posturing had quite the opposite effect: made Trakis feel
decidedly superior to this preening toady Kazon, who
rendered himself ridiculous with his mannered arrogance?
Nimmet was his Control. He had been assigned to Trakis
soon after the physician had been abducted from the Trabe
outpost on Slngsnd and brought to the Kazon ship. Trakis
was not the only Trabe on board, but he was the only
The smug but foolish Vistik hadn't even bothered to abduct
a physician until they had a specific purpose-as though
they had no need of regular medical examinations
themselves. Pride would be their undoing, Trakis reflected.
"Well?" Nimmet all but barked the question.
Trakis turned to look disdainfully at him.
"You have eyes. You can see. I've done nothing more."
Nimmet's eyes flared. Trakis knew he became furious when
treated with such disrespect, but he also knew Nimmet
couldn't retaliate: Trakis was necessary to their mission
and couldn't be harmed until it was completed. Afterward,
of course, was a different story, but Trakis was already
laying his plans for escape before he became expendable.
Nimmet advanced toward him, narrowing his eyes to slits and
adopting his most menacing growl. "Why not? Maje Dut is
waiting for your report." "The Maje will have to wait. I
cannot do these procedures any faster than they can be
"Do you know what the Maje would say if I told him that?"
"He would explode in a tirade of fury, threaten to cut off
my fingers, and then realize he has no choice but to let me
proceed as best I can." Nimmet then tried to squeeze his
eyes into even narrow-73
er slits as though that would intimidate Trakis, but the
physician knew how to respond to this posturing. He turned
his back and approached the captive, now unconscious on the
"I can perform the examination now," said the physician
matter-of-factly. He was busily keying controls at a large
console, quickly scrolling through blocks of data.
"Although with this outmoded equipment I can't guarantee
"That is equipment the Trabe constructed,"
Nimmet reminded him, still trying to get the upper hand in
the relationship. "Over a quarter of a century ago. The
Kazon have simply driven our technology into the ground-no
upgrades, no innovations, no advances whatsoever. It's a
wonder these ships still fly."
"Our engineers have maintained them expertly. As they have
the medical equipment. Do not try to excuse your own
ineptness by blaming the technology."
Trakis turned slowly to face him. His voice was calm,
almost pleasant, as he said, "Perhaps you would prefer one
of your own physicians to attend to this matter."
Nimmet flushed. The Kazon had no healers, at least none
that didn't do more harm than good. He gestured toward the
captive. "Hurry up and do what you must before he wakes up
Trakis turned back to his console and began reciting in a
near-monotone: "The specimen is approximately one half
meter in length and possesses the familiar tripartite
construction of parasectoid species: there is a head,
birax, and abdomen; the exoskeleton is hard-shelled.
There are two sets of wings-durable forewings that resemble
the alytron of similar species, and more delicate hind
wings folded underneath. Two antennae and four mandibles
are present. The head presents an elongated snout with
There are three compound eyes. The underbelly is soft and
is green mottled with black.
"The respiratory system is unique; it is clearly
constructed for air-breathing but there are adaptations
which permit it to exist in various environments. There is
an unusual fluid circulating throughout the creature's
body, similar in some respects to lymphatic fluid, but
possessing superconducting electrical and magnetic
properties." As he spoke, he was aware that Nimmet barely
listened. The Kazon didn't understand this medical jargon,
didn't care about it, didn't want to be trapped in the
bowels of the ship serving as Control to a physician. And
it was this indifference that Trakis intended to exploit
when the time came.
Neelix and his group had moved quickly into the gloomy
grove of trees, but they were soon forced to slow down. The
undergrowth was thick and tangled, ripping at faces, hands,
uniforms, and hair. It was so dark they had to turn on
their wrist beacons, and even then the beams of light
seemed to get swallowed in the fetid darkness.
The odor was cloying, a rancid dampness with the telltale
sweetness that bespoke rotting flesh.
Neelix' mind went briefly to the reading of life-forms he
had detected earlier, but he thrust those thoughts out of
his mind. They had to get through this dense thicket and
unite with Tuvok before the Kazon found them. What followed
them was far more threatening than what might lie ahead.
They moved deeper into the copse, the undergrowth thicker
all the time, the putrid stench more intense.
Neelix turned around to check on the group.
"Everybody present and accounted for?" he queried
cheerfully. "We're here, Mr. Neelix." Ensign Kale's voice
drifted from the back of the group.
Neelix turned around again to see what seemed to be an
impenetrable obstacle-a solid wall of brush and thicket.
Neelix played his beacon around it, looking for a gap, at
first finding nothing. Then, at the very bottom, he
discovered what looked like a small burrow, a hole that
showed evidence of broken branches and so was probably a
route that had been used before, probably by some kind of
Neelix knelt down and shined his beacon into the hole; it
seemed to tunnel through the underbrush for quite a
distance. It might take them all the way to the other side.
But that would require a squirming journey on one's belly,
inching through the moist, decaying carpet of the forest,
into a thick darkness that could conceal-anything. He
turned back to the group. "This looks like the only way
The young faces looked at the uninviting tunnel without
enthusiasm. No one was eager to crawl into that gamy, sour-smelling burrow, and they all seemed to be trying to come
up with another option. But LeFevre wiped out that line of
thinking. "Kazon . . . they've reached the clearing." That
meant they'd be moving into the thicket in minutes. Neelix
and his group had no choice. They had to try the tunnel.
Neelix took a breath and tried to sound confident.
"I think this will take us right through," he said, smiling
optimistically, then dropped to his knees and plunged into
the jagged opening that might or might not lead them to
Immediately, he began to regret it. They could have taken
a stand and fought the Kazon, instead of crawling like
insects through this fetid passageway. Brambles snagged at
his hair, and he couldn't see a foot ahead. It was moist
and hot in there; a dank steam rose from the decaying
sludge and the stench was worse than ever. He forced
himself to think of Kes, her delicate beauty and her gentle
touch, and it helped him to stave off the queasiness he was
feeling from being trapped in this hot, smelly enclosure.
He put his hand down in a pile of slime that seemed to be
a mixture of fur, bone, and runny gelatin. He didn't want
to think what it might once have been. He concentrated on
moving steadily forward, inch by reeking inch, hearing
behind him the crew, gamely following his lead. He heard a
soft, chafing sound, as though heavy rope were being pulled
along the ground, and he turned quickly, shining his beacon
into the impenetrable undergrowth. He had a brief
impression of slitted eyes that disappeared as the light
hit them. Even though he was sweating in the hot, foul air,
he was suddenly chilled to the bone.
He stepped up his pace. Eventually, the narrow confines of
the tunnel seemed to widen, and soon he was able to crawl
without nasty thistles ripping his face and hands. The air
seemed slightly cooler. Then he was able to lift his head
up, and finally to get to his hands and knees and
eventually to stand upright. The tunnel had given way to a
wide, canopied passageway, even more spacious than the one
they had first entered. Neelix felt like breathing deeply
for the first time since they had penetrated this
uninviting forest; he turned as the others began emerging