Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (10 page)

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

way home.

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

her.

"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.

7

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

physician.

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

done."

"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

table.

"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

the accuracy."

"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

again."

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

biting jaws.

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

animal.

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

through."

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

safety.

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

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