Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (2 page)

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

quality.

"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

computer program."

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

easily.

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."

"Janeway here."

"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

certainly implied."

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

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