Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
and waited as the young people lurched toward the cave
opening and tumbled in. Only when they had all entered did
Janeway, Tuvok, and Chakotay turn to follow them. The
crackle of an energy buildup pulsed through the air; the
eruption of a massive charge of bolts created a percussive
wave that pushed them through the entrance, and they fell
headlong into the cool darkness of the cave.
As soon as they were inside, the roar of the wind receded;
the cave was a muffled haven, the air was clean and cool,
and the dreadful energy of the plasma bolts, which they
could hear outside, didn't penetrate the heavy rock.
Janeway looked up, squinting in the darkness. As her eyes
adjusted, she saw the entire away team huddled in the cave,
drawing soothing moist air into burning lungs.
Neelix was moving among them, comforting them, checking for
injury. She turned toward Tuvok and Chakotay, who were
already counting their people, making sure everyone had
made it to safety. "All accounted for, Captain," said
Tuvok. She nodded and looked at Chakotay, who seemed to be
counting a second time.
She noted a worried furrow on his forehead, slightly
distorting the distinctive tattoo he wore on his temple.
"What is it?" She moved toward him, fearing the worst. He
turned to her, and his eyes told her she was right. "Who
isn't with us?" "Jerron," he answered, and they both
hurried to the mouth of the cave.
She spotted the young Bajoran almost immediately, a
crumpled blue form in the distance, where they had all
taken the first blast that had driven them to the ground.
He must have been separated from the others and left behind
when they were temporarily blinded.
Janeway immediately started forward, only to feel
Chakotay's strong grip on her arm, pulling her back. "I'll
get him," he said, but Janeway jerked her arm loose.
"Commander, you're to stay with your team. Tuvok, too.
That's an order."
Chakotay held her glance for a moment, not responding, but
Janeway didn't wait for his acquiescence. Taking one last
gulp of good air, she hurled herself out the cave opening
and into the raging plasma storm.
It had mounted in intensity even in the few minutes they
had been in the cave. Instantly, Janeway's lungs were
burning; the air was bitter and caustic; she began to cough
uncontrollably. Her eyes watered in the swirling dust. Her
legs, which had regained some strength in the cave, turned
mushy again, and she felt herself stagger. If she could
reach him, get him back before the next round of plasma
bursts, she'd make it. But she wasn't sure either of them
would survive another attack. She felt her body begin to go
slack, reluctant to go farther, and she steeled herself
again. Jerron was only ten meters ahead; she could reach
him. One step, then another, fighting the brutal, swirling
wind, dizzied by the deafening noise, each breath like
breathing flames, she pushed ahead. Jerron wasn't
unconscious. He was staring at her with dull eyes, as
though he were looking at something unreal, something his
mind couldn't reconcile. His uniform was scorched, and
Janeway realized he had taken a direct hit by a plasma
bolt. How had he survived?
As she reached him, he pushed himself upright, reaching out
an arm. She grabbed it, and he tried to stand, but his legs
wobbled and he swayed against her.
She struggled to stay on her feet until Jerron steadied
himself. Then, bracing each other, they started toward the
mouth of the cave.
Janeway smelled the unmistakable odor of an ozone surge.
The plasma bolts would hit before they could get to the
safety of the cave. She picked up her pace, urging Jerron
on, hoping they could somehow outdistance the gathering
plasma swell. The cave opening yawned ahead, not fifteen
meters away; they could do it.
But Jerron stumbled, and they both went crashing to the
ground. Without conscious thought, Janeway threw her body
on top of the young Bajoran's, to shield him from the worst
of the blasts. It was the most ferocious attack yet,
filling the air with snapping, arcing green bolts that
clutched at the ground like the tentacles of some hideous
beast. Janeway squeezed her eyes shut, but even so ragged
streaks of green irradiated her lids.
The fiery pain seemed to sear her from the inside out; she
couldn't even hear her own scream. Her body thrashed as
though in the throes of a violent convulsion, bucking and
leaping uncontrollably, and the ragged gulps of air she
drew between screams produced even greater agony. And then
her father lifted her up.
She felt his strong arms grip her, pulling her across the
ground, his handsome, sturdy face calm and unworried,
smiling down at her in reassurance.
Janeway smiled back and relaxed into the journey, gliding
across the terrain, feeling as though she were skimming on
a cushion of air like a hovercraft.
The air had cleared, and was sweet and cool; the pain was
dissipating. She looked up again, wanting to see her
father, wanting to look into his clear gray eyes just once
more .... Chakotay was staring at her, his face just inches
from hers. Her eyes fluttered slightly and she tried to sit
upright. "She's all right," she heard Chakotay say, and she
looked around her. She was in the cave again, Jerron at her
side, Tuvok and Chakotay leaning over them, still coughing
from their exposure to the plasma-infused atmosphere. They
had rescued her, and Jerron; Chakotay's strong arms had
saved her, not her father's.
She looked at Jerron, whose color was returning. "He has
suffered no permanent damage, Captain," intoned Tuvok, "and
neither have you." Janeway nodded. She took a deep breath
and leaned back against the wall of the cave. Death had
been cheated once more. Everyone was safe.
"I can't really call them nightmares. But they make me
feel . . . anxious. Sometimes I wake up and my heart is
pounding as though I'd just run five miles."
Janeway sat in the doctor's office, telling him of the
strange dreams she'd been having in the weeks following
their experience with the plasma storm-dreams she had had
before in her life, though they hadn't recurred since she
had journeyed to the Delta Quadrant. The holographic doctor
sat patiently, listening, brow furrowed, as though puzzled
by what she was saying.
"And they're all so similar. I'm always in a house of some
kind . . . a house that has many rooms, and I have to get
into a certain room, because it's dirty and has to be
cleaned-but there's a closed door blocking my way."
The doctor regarded her curiously. "Houses . . . with many
rooms?" "Yes. Once I dreamed I discovered an entire deck on
Voyager that I hadn't realized was there. It had dozens of
rooms, and I knew it was important that I make sure they
were all clean. But I couldn't even get out of the first
room because the door to the next one was closed and
locked." "And-are these dreams frightening to you?"
"No . . . not frightening. But they're-unsettling.
I don't understand them."
The doctor crossed his arms and fixed his eyes on her.
"I'm not certain what you want from me, Captain. The dreams
don't sound particularly harrowing, and apparently they
don't interfere with your sleep. In that I'm not a
practicing psychiatrist, how can I help you?" Janeway
regarded him fondly. The holographic doctor had become one
of her favorite people. His acerbic nature had not lessened
in the course of a year and a half, but everyone had
learned to tolerate it-even appreciate it. The parameters
of his programming allowed for almost no bedside manner;
but in spite of his brusque gruffness, he had an endearing
"I'm honestly not sure, Doctor. I just thought I should
mention it. As part of my general medical file."
"I suspect it's a temporary phenomenon, and unless you
find these dreams debilitating, I wouldn't worry about it."
"They're not debilitating. Just-bothersome."
The doctor didn't respond, and turned away from her,
busying himself with a padd. Janeway studied him for a
moment and realized he was taking far more time with the
padd than was necessary. The doctor, she was sure, had
something on his mind.
"Is there some way I can help you, Doctor?"
His head snapped back at her; he was always surprised at a
demonstration of instinct. He seemed to ponder her question
briefly, then, in his matter-of-fact way, blurted it out.
"It's been a full ten months since Lieutenant Torres and
Ensign Kim began working on a mechanism by which I can
leave sickbay. I can't believe they are incapable of
solving the technical problems after that amount of time,
so I must conclude that they're not putting their full
efforts into the matter. Probably because I'm nothing but a
Janeway rose, put a comforting hand on the doctor's
shoulder. "Please don't jump to that conclusion. You are
valued and respected, and we couldn't get along without
you. Everyone on the ship cares about you. Especially me."
Although he would never admit it, the doctor was a
sensitive and vulnerable man. His feelings could be hurt
And he never failed to respond to an expression of empathy.
None of this was forthcoming at the moment, of course; he
sniffed slightly, and his mobile face underwent a few
ripples of expression, but when he spoke, he was as terse
as ever. "If you say so. But I'll find that easier to
accept once there are results.
The proof, I believe the saying goes, is in the pudding."
She smiled. Colloquialisms always sounded a little strange
coming from the doctor, but before she could reply, an
ominous hail from the bridge interrupted them.
"Chakotay to the captain."
"You're needed on the bridge, Captain. We may have a
problem." "On my way."
When she entered the bridge from the turbolift, the faces
of the bridge crew looked grim.
Janeway moved immediately to Chakotay. "We've been hailed
by a Kazon ship," he reported.
"He was none too friendly, and insisted we wait for them to
intercept us. He didn't make an outright threat, but it was
Janeway felt a twinge of foreboding. Any encounter with
the Kazon was potentially dangerous, although it had been
some time since they had run into any of them; she had
hoped that Voyager might possibly have moved outside the
bitterly disputed turf of the various warlike sects. "Did
he state his purpose, Commander? Or identify his faction?"
"He said he was Maje Dut of the Vistik, but didn't give any
clue as to what he wanted."
They had never interacted with the Vistik, but Janeway had
heard of them. They were a group smaller than the Ogla and
the Nistrim, which seemed to be the most powerful of the
groups, but they had figured in a disastrous alliance that
had threatened to coalesce the Kazon into a unified force-a
catastrophic prospect for Voyager, which could deal with
individual factions but couldn't hope to survive a massive
and cooperative Kazon armada.
Options: they could make the diplomatic choice and wait
for the Vistik ship, hoping there was a reasonably benign
reason for the meeting. And, after all, one Kazon ship
didn't pose a particular threat. What's more, they had
detected a planetary nebula nearby that might warrant some
investigation. These nebulae, formed when older stars began
to shed their outer atmosphere, were magnificent and
fascinating. Janeway had studied the Alpha Quadrant's Helix
Nebula and welcomed the opportunity to investigate another
of these massive phenomena. It could occupy the time while
they waited for the Kazon.
But she found herself rejecting that option even before it
was a fully formed thought. The Kazon had proven time after
time that they couldn't be trusted. They were warlike and
volatile, and any encounter could prove hazardous.
She knew that they had once been horribly oppressed
themselves, but freedom from their tormentors had not
resulted in growth or enlightenment; it had led only to an
endless series of battles among each other, battles that
frequently harmed innocent bystanders. Like Voyager. She
wasn't going to jump to the whip of some unknown Kazon
Maje; she wasn't willing to delay their journey by even a
day to accommodate someone who more than likely would pose
an unreasonable demand or a vindictive threat.
She turned to Tom Paris, the young, sandy-haired lieutenant
who was, as he had promised on their first meeting, the
"best damn pilot" she could find.
"Mr. Paris, we're not waiting around for a Kazon that won't
even do us the courtesy of telling us what he wants to