Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (27 page)

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

warmer.

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

eyelids.

"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

transport site.

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

them.

"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

her.

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

anticipation.

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

tennis ball.

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

hypothermia.

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.

Please-come in."

She walked in, conscious of the fact she had never been in

his quarters before. They had done all their work in the

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