Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
from the tunnel, grateful and gasping. When the last one
had crawled free, Neelix lifted his phaser.
"Kale, LeFevre, Hutchinson, train your phasers on that
thicket. We can make it a little tougher for the Kazon to
follow us." Phaser to ire collapsed the tunnel, and Neelix
smiled to think of the Kazon trying to find their way out
of the rancid tunnel.
Ahead less than half a kilometer they could see a small
flash of sunlight-the end of the trek through the dense
copse of trees and overgrowth.
Tuvok's group was beyond, just minutes away now. Neelix
waved the group forward and, with a lighter step, they made
their way toward the glint of light. Then something began
dropping from the trees.
Neelix sensed, rather than felt, a heavy weight plummet
through the air behind him; barely brushing the back of his
head and then thudding onto the ground.
Puzzled, he turned around in time to see a dark coil
enclosing LeFevre's shoulders, heard LeFevre's sudden gasp
and then a strangled cry of distress. Neelix had time to
register only a dark, serpentine shape before he realized
more of them were dropping from the trees, directly onto
the hapless crew, hissing fiercely, an awful, caustic sound
that heightened the terror of the sudden attack.
And the smell was dreadful. These creatures were the
source of the putrefying odor they'd been smelling since
they entered the forest, and the viscous fluid that they
extruded from long, tubular snouts was a miasma of death
and decay. Neelix felt his gorge rise, and he fought a wave
He saw LeFevre struggling against tightening coils, hands
groping desperately to find the long head that darted just
out of his reach. Neelix lifted his phaser, afraid he'd hit
LeFevre if he used it. The young man made a strangled cry
of pain, and Neelix realized the reptile had encircled him
and was crushing his ribs.
The tubelike head of the creature swung into Neelix'
vision; ancient, glittering eyes caught his briefly, before
Neelix pointed the phaser and blasted directly into those
unblinking bronze slits. There was a thrashing as the
serpent's head was flung backward, and then it went limp,
coils relaxing and falling away from LeFevre, who gasped
for air, drawing in great sucking lungfuls as he pulled the
now-flaccid body of the huge reptile from his torso.
Neelix looked up to see the others in similar struggles; a
desperate, feral dance was being performed in the dark
passageway as the crew wrestled with their hissing
attackers. Those who weren't entwined tried to rescue their
comrades by phasering the heads of the serpents, but the
beasts were deft and agile and getting a target was
Neelix spotted Greta Kale sagging in the crushing embrace
of mottled coils. He started to sprint toward her, then
suddenly felt a pressure on his ankle; looking down, he saw
a snaky coil wrapped around his leg and a foot-long snout
moving toward his head.
He fired blindly, missed, saw the coil envelop his leg and
begin to tighten, felt his leg go numb immediately, looked
for the elongated head, which was bobbing and weaving,
fired again and hit the mark, saw the tubed head drop
heavily to the ground, and felt his leg regain feeling.
He turned to Greta, who was already turning blue, eyes
popped wide. He couldn't isolate the serpent's head; in
desperation he put the phaser tip directly against the
reptilian body and fired. The serpent exploded.
A stream of matter and fluid sprayed Neelix, who threw up
his hands to ward off gouts of tissue and cartilage. Bits
of bone stuck to his face and hair, but Ensign Kale was
released, and he could hear her ragged, shallow breathing
once more. She moaned, and Neelix guessed she had broken
ribs. Glancing around, he saw that the situation seemed
under control: serpents lay dazed or writhing on the
ground, and all the crew were standing, some bent over,
drawing grateful breaths of air, others warily eyeing the
huge coiled reptiles on the ground and scanning the trees
for more of the vicious animals.
They weren't, strictly speaking, snakes. On their dark,
mottled bodies were a series of small leglike appendages,
which would serve to give them traction on the ground and a
better grip on their victims. Their long snouts could
spread wide to ingest prey far larger than they.
All in all, they were perfectly hideous creatures. Neelix
shuddered slightly, grateful for Starfleet's powerful
phasers. He wasn't sure his would have had the same effect.
He motioned for someone to help him with Greta; they
hoisted her between them and hurried toward the light that
beckoned to them from the end of the passageway with a
comforting golden glow. It seemed to promise safety.
Tuvok scanned once again: Neelix and his group were
nearing his location; the Kazon were behind them and moving
steadily. It was imperative they find cover.
He turned to eye the members of his squad, who were
investigating the terrain for some kind of protection
against the Kazon. It did not look promising. There was no
high ground to hold, no cover except the woods through
which Neelix was now proceeding. Tuvok disliked the
prospect of a ground battle with the Kazon without some
tactical advantage, but at the moment he saw none.
He turned to see Ensign Kim scanning the ground intently.
The young man had been trying to discern a pattern of some
kind that could be seen from the air and that might mark
the location of a protected tomb or tombs; before they had
realized the Kazon were on the planet Kim believed he had
identified such a pattern. But that search had stopped as
soon as the dangerous intruders had been identified. Now
everyone was scanning for caves, which might provide
"Lieutenant Tuvok!" Kim's voice rang through the air.
"I've found something!"
Tuvok turned to see Harry standing about fifty meters
away, waving at him. Then the young man abruptly
disappeared. Tuvok was on the run instantly, plunging
through the brushy weedbed. As he neared the spot where Kim
had disappeared, he could hear the young ensign calling to
"This is it, Lieutenant-this is it!"
As Tuvok approached, he realized that a circle of earth
had collapsed, not haphazardly, but symmetrically, as
though triangular quarters of the circle had given way from
the center. A series of'
gentle ramps was formed, which Tuvok now descended
carefully to join Kim, who was standing at the conflux of
the triangles, which had deposited him in the center of a
huge and cavernous underground vault.
"This must be the tomb. We can use it to take cover."
"Quite right, Mr. Kim. I'll get the others."
Tuvok climbed to the surface once more and hit his
commbadge. "Tuvok to all hands. Regroup immediately."
At that moment, he saw Neelix and his group emerging from
the forest. He could tell they had wounded among them, and
Kes was already on her way to give aid. They were a motley-looking group, hair full of twigs and leaves, uniforms
covered with mud and slime, faces bloody. A few were
limping; Ensign Kale was carried by Neelix and LeFevre; all
bore the signs of trauma.
What had they endured?
"This way, Mr. Neelix. We've found cover." The Talaxian
gave him a wan smile and herded his group toward Tuvok. Kes
was scanning Ensign Kale, assessing her condition.
"We've had quite an adventure, Mr. Vulcan," Neelix began.
"I'm sure you'll want to hear all about it-as soon as we've
taken cover, of course."
"Of course." Tuvok did not look forward to another of
Neelix' endless discourses. The Talaxian had somehow gotten
the impression that Tuvok looked forward to hearing him
describe his many adventures, in tedious and incessant
Even Tuvok's great store of patience was tested by the
Talaxian's congenial wordiness.
Tuvok insured that everyone made it safely into the
underground cavern, then approached Kim, who was scanning
the carved rock wall of the chamber. "There must be a
control apparatus down here to close this thing up. There's
one on the surface, pressureactivated. It was disguised in
the stonework, but its gravimetric signature was different
from the surrounding matter." He moved his tricorder
systematically over the wall, looking for any anomalous
readings or energy signatures.
"Funny," he mused as he scanned, "I can't figure out what
these walls are constructed of. It looks like some kind of
stone, but I'm getting strong organic readings from it as
"The Delta Quadrant possesses many materials which are
unknown to Federation science," offered Tuvok.
"I just hope, whatever it is, it's strong. Strong enough
to keep the Kazon out."
"Let us also hope they cannot activate it as we did."
Most of the others had begun to fan out, scanning and
exploring. Neelix' group simply sat down, clearly
exhausted. Kes moved among them, tending to the injured.
"Ah," said Kim with obvious satisfaction. "Stand back,
everybody, I think I've got it."
He put his palm on a particular panel in the wall, andwitha
whoosh of air the ramps began to lift quietly, fitting
perfectly together to form a ceiling piece, inexorably
shutting out the sunlight. It was pitch black. Wrist
beacons began to snap on, and Tuvok spied magnesite, which
he infused with phaser energy for light and heat. Others
did the same. A warm glow began to illuminate their new
surroundings, erasing ominous shadows and creating an
environment that Tuvok hoped would soothe his team. For the
moment, they were safe, even if safety lay in the
mysterious underground vault of an unknown alien species on
a planet sixty-eight thousand light-years from home.
In that way, they waited for the Kazon.
THE GROUND WAS ROUGH AND ROCKY; A JAGGED STONE BIT into
Kathryn's leg as she lay, facedown, at the top of the stone
quarry, peering at the swimmers below. The sun was high
overhead, but unlike the muggy summers at home it was never
hot on Mars. She turned her head toward Emma North, lying
next to her; Mary O'Connell was just beyond. All were in
swimmers and shirts, and carried bags jammed with music and
games, snacks, sun protector, and other items designed for
an afternoon of swimming.
"If they see us, they'll tell our folks,"
Mary said in a hoarse whisper. "I can't believe I let you
talk me into this."
Swimming at the quarries on Mars Colony was dangerous and
strictly forbidden by their parents. The water was deep and
cold, access was difficult, and jagged rock wasn't kind to
bare skin. The girls knew, though, that everyone did it at
some time or another; it had become a rite of passage.
Kathryn had wanted for years to swim the quarries.
Starfleet had extensive officers'
facilities on Mars Colony, and her family had visited there
on a number of summer vacations, but her parents had always
kept a close eye on her. Now that she was fourteen, they
had relaxed their guard somewhat. "What are you worried
about? People have been swimming here for years. Decades."
"We're still not supposed to be here."
"No one will ever know."
"They will if those people down there see us."
"They won't," said Kathryn confidently.
"We're not going there." Now Emmy look vaguely concerned.
"But . . . that's the quarry everybody goes to."
"Not us. I know where there's a smaller one. There are
lots of them, actually, a whole network of them that
stretch for kilometers through these hills."
"How do you know?"
Kathryn smiled, remembering the day five years before that
still was etched indelibly in her memory.
"Someone I used to know showed me. He took me all around
the colony. Did you know if you use a breathing gill and
swim underwater in some of these quarries you can access
the cave system under Olympus Mons? There's a whole
honeycomb of caves and underwater lakes. To get through
them, you have to stay underwater for as much as a
kilometer at a time until you reach the next cave. Someday
I'm going to do that." Both girls looked at her as though
she'd sprouted warts. "That sounds awful, was said Mary,
and Emma nodded in vigorous agreement. "And dangerous." "I
think it sounds exciting. I know others have done it."
"Have they all come out alive?"
Kathryn hesitated. Data had in fact mentioned a fatality
that had occurred during the Olympus Mons cave trek, but
that had only intrigued Kathryn, made her more determined
to take the challenge someday. She knew, however, that Emma
and Mary wouldn't share that response. "As long as you're
an experienced diver it's not dangerous," she said firmly.