Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
icy, brackish sludge. She felt it seep over her face,
slowly entombing her in a silty mask, covering ears,
cheeks, mouth and eyes, and finally her nose. Thick and
gritty, it was substantial enough that she worried for a
moment that they wouldn't be able to submerge completely.
But gradually she felt the chill muck encasing every part
of her body; the thin reed was her only connection with the
world above the marsh. She breathed slowly, trying not to
think about the fact that the thick mud felt like concrete,
hardening around her, gradually crushing her to death.
Her ears were filled with mud, but she could hear dimly
the sounds of the Cardassian troopers and the howls of the
Toskanars. The muffled sounds grew slightly louder, and
that volume was maintained.
Kathryn deduced that the group had stopped nearby.
The dogs were clamoring loudly-had they found a scent?
Wouldn't the marshy mud eliminate their human odor? She
sensed something moving against her side and immediately
her heart hammered. were the Cardassians probing the mud?
If so, she and Justin would quickly be found. But then she
felt fingers reaching for hers and knew it was Justin. He
clasped her hand, squeezing it in comfort, and she
responded gratefully. The chilling mud seemed a tiny bit
After what seemed an interminable time, the sounds of the
troops and their animals moved on, but both of them knew it
wouldn't be safe to surface for a while.
They might have left someone behind. They might be coming
back. But another danger was becoming apparent:
hypothermia. Kathryn was numb from cold and had lost
feeling in her feet. Only the hand that Justin's held had
any sensation. She conjured up images to help combat the
chill: hot, humid Indiana summers . . . baking on a tennis
court, sweating, running for the net . . .
sun tingling the skin . . . splashing water on her face to
cool off . . . putting a wet towel on her head to shelter
her from the sun . . . she envisioned herself drifting
through space, floating toward the sun, its golden heat
drawing her closer and closer, warming her with fiery
light, and not until she had dived into its molten depths
was she even beginning to get warm...
Something was hauling her upward, out of the ooze. She
scrambled to get her balance, eyes still covered with mud.
She heard Justin's voice. "We have to go now."
She spat out the reed and dug at her face with mudcovered
fingers, managed to scrape away enough to open her eyes
slightly, peering at the woods through gritencrusted
"We might have bought ourselves enough time to get to the
transport site." "Can you walk?"
"No, but I can hop."
And he did, bounding through the woods on his good leg,
gritting his teeth against the pain that seared through his
broken ankle each time he landed. Alter a few minutes,
Kathryn saw a clearing, and knew they had reached the
But so had a Cardassian trooper. He stood in the clearing,
holding a Toskanar on a chain. It was a powerful, sinewy
animal that looked like a cross between a mountain lion and
a bear, with muscular legs and a great, shaggy head. It was
silent now, but straining on the chain, eager to get at
"Stay where you are," ordered the Cardassian.
Kathryn surmised they were still within the transgenic
field; unless they were completely into the clearing, they
couldn't contact the Icarus to transport them.
"Lie down on the ground with your arms above your heads."
Kathryn kneeled to comply, but Justin gestured toward his
bad leg, still dangling off the ground. "My ankle is
broken," he said. "Lie down on the ground with your arms
above your heads." Justin nodded and put one hand down on
the ground as though to help himself to get off his feet,
lost his balance and tumbled to his side-then came up with
his phaser drawn, and fired.
Nothing happened. Kathryn stared at the weapon; it was
covered with muck from the swamp and must have lost its
charge. She looked up at the Cardassian, who was smiling at
them through the darkness, and saw him unleash the huge
dog. Instantly, it bounded across the clearing right toward
She saw it as though in slow motion: the beast opened its
jaws, baring a double row of pointed teeth, frothy slaver
falling from its tongue. Small, round eyes glittered like
lasers in the darkness; it uttered a guttural growl of
Suddenly Justin had thrown himself in its path, taking the
impact of the animal's charge.
Kathryn's hand snaked out for the thick tree limb she had
spotted to her side; wielding it like a bat, she hammered
at the animal until it unloosed Justin and started toward
her. She gripped the branch and twisted to her left-and an
old familiar power rippled through her. The target was a
She eyed 203
it carefully, timing the backhand, shoulders turned and
pointed toward the target, back leg bent, ready to drive:
and then she set her body in motion, hips uncoiling and
pushing forward, arms swinging as the power of her legs
drove them, the weapon on a flat plane level with the
target, eyes never losing contact until-The branch slammed into the face of the Toskanar with a
sickening crunch; it didn't even yelp before toppling over,
skull crushed. The Cardassian was standing in shock, losing
precious seconds in his astonishment at the dispatch of his
vicious animal. Justin had crawled a few feet closer and
was trying to get his phaser operative; without even
thinking about it, Kathryn, bat still in hand, charged the
Cardassian. The rest happened quickly: the Cardassian
regained his senses and grabbed for his weapon as Kathryn
reached him and swung at it; it discharged against the tree
branch she wielded, knocking it from her grasp in a violent
surge of energy. She saw the weapon turn toward her when it
suddenly seemed to explode in his hand, and she realized
Justin had fired his phaser. The Cardassian toppled, dazed,
and a fury rose in her; rage for what they'd done to the
admiral, and to her, and to all their victims, and she
swung her leg in a vicious kick against the Cardassian's
temple and felt a surge of primal satisfaction as she felt
cartilage and bone give beneath the blow. She swung to kick
again, hearing Justin's voice behind her ordering the beam-out. Her leg dematerialized before it made contact again.
The rest of the Ranger team had successfully returned with
Admiral Paris to the Icarus,- he, along with Justin and
Kathryn, were treated in sickbay. Justin's ankle was
quickly healed, as were his cuts from the claws of the
Toskanar dog, and both he and Kathryn were treated for
She listened as the doctor queried the admiral about the
torture device that the Cardassians had implanted in his
body, and a decision was made that the best way to remove
it would be to use the medical transporter to beam it out.
The implant was a highly sophisticated piece of technology
that produced limitless levels of pain, but according to
the doctor, no lasting physical injury.
Kathryn knew that psychological injury might be another
matter. The admiral looked weak and ashen from the ordeal;
he thanked the Ranger team and congratulated them on a
mission perfectly accomplished, but there was a muted,
subdued quality to him that suggested the extent of his
trauma. When Kathryn joined him in his ready room at his
request, she felt a swell of concern rise in her as she saw
his eyes, once twinkling and merry, now dull, as though
covered by a film of soap.
"Lieutenant Tighe tells me you acquitted yourself
admirably during our recent adventure, Ensign."
"Thank you, sir. I have to say that the Rangers were the
real heroes of the mission. Especially the lieutenant."
"I know you've had your problems with him."
Kathryn's head jerked up sharply. How had he known this?
She'd made every effort to keep a smooth front to their
relationship; she didn't want the admiral to think she
lacked the ability to make a professional association work
comfortably. The admiral smiled, but again, it was without
his usual mirth.
"I pride myself in being able to see beneath the surface,"
he said, acknowledging her surprise.
"And I know Justin well. He can be difficult.
But he's a special young man and he's going to become very
important to Starfleet."
For a moment, Kathryn had the distinct impression the
admiral was trying to sell Justin to her, but she quickly
dismissed that idea; he was simply a commanding officer
proud of the heroes of his mission.
"I'd like you to know," the admiral continued, "that we
were highly successful in obtaining intelligence about the
Cardassians. In spite of their discovery of our technology
on the Urtean moon.
Starfleet Command plans to put commendations for everyone
in our files."
"Thank you, sir. That's very gratifying."
A silence fell between them as Admiral Paris studied
Kathryn solemnly. She felt herself growing uneasy under his
gaze, but forced herself to remain quiet and calm.
"Ensign," he began, "I'd like to put an idea in your head.
Not for you to act on right away, just to ponder for a
while, turn it over, examine it with that remarkable
intelligence of yours."
Kathryn was immediately curious. What could he be talking
about? She strove for neutrality. "What's that, sir?"
"Your abilities in science are clear. And you'd be an
asset as a science officer in any situation." He paused
then, eyeing her with the newly flat, remote eyes. "But I'd
like you to give some thought to command." "Command?"
Kathryn felt herself sounding vacuous, but his words had
come as a surprise.
She'd never considered a career track other than science.
"You're smart, you're tough, you think on your feet, and
you don't panic under pressure.
Those aren't the only qualities involved in command, but
they're ones you can't do without. Just think about it. We
can talk more about it if you like."
"Yes, sir. I'm flattered. I'll certainly think about it."
Kathryn hesitated, not sure if she should be broaching the
next subject, but sensing that it might be better for the
admiral to talk about it. "Begging your pardon, sir, but
when the Cardassians were holding us-I mean, I could hear
you screaming, and I know .
. . it must have been terrible."
He looked at her with those filmed eyes. "It was," he said
simply. "I could never have imagined."
"Did they-want anything? Information?"
He shook his head. "Not really. I told them everything I
could think of, of course. There's no way to keep from
offering them anything just to make them stop. But no, they
were just interested in breaking me." Admiral Paris stood
and walked to the window, where warp stars streaked by in
dazzling array. "I'm taking a risk telling you this,
Ensign. But it might help you to understand some things."
He paused for a moment, then continued. "I underwent the
Cardassians' torture for a little more than an hour. I'm
not sure I'll ever be the same again." He turned to her and
spoke softly, awe tinging his voice. "Lieutenant Tighe was
taken by the Cardassians two years ago. They held him for
three days, during which time he underwent constant
torture. He managed to escape somehow and make his way back
to our forces."
Another heavy pause. "How he has survived so well is
amazing to me. How he had the courage to lead a rescue
mission for us is astonishing. I just wanted you to know
what an extraordinary gesture it was."
Kathryn felt a rush of emotions-amazement, wonder,
respect, compassion-all of which quickly coalesced into a
deeply felt gratitude. She looked up at Admiral Paris, and
felt her eyes sting. "Thank you for telling me, sir. It
makes a big difference."
He nodded curtly at her, seeming to withdraw into some
protective isolation. "Dismissed" was all he said, and
Kathryn exited quickly.
When she rang the chime outside Justin's quarters, her
heart was hammering and her cheeks burning. Should she be
doing this? She had no idea, but she was compelled by some
inner need to go to him; there was something yawning
between them that needed to be filled. She had to
acknowledge the immensity of what he had done.
His voice through the closed door was dry. "Come in," he
said, and the doors slid open. She stood there, not
entering, wanting his permission before she would intrude.
He looked up at her in some surprise. "Ensign Janeway.
She walked in, conscious of the fact she had never been in
his quarters before. They had done all their work in the