Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
science lab or the wardroom-neutral territory. Her
peripheral vision indicated a room devoid of individuality:
a neat, spare space that could have been occupied by
anyone. She had seen empty quarters with as much personal
He was eyeing her with that cautious, wary look of his, an
animal anticipating attack, poised and ready, blue eyes
holding her look firmly.
She had absolutely no idea how to begin.
She didn't know exactly why she was there, or what she
wanted to say. She didn't know whether to be direct or
oblique, lighthearted or solemn. She only knew she had to
make some kind of connection with him. The moment elongated
as she tried to find an approach, an opening sentence,
anything to get her started. Suddenly he startled her by
chuckling, a low, throaty sound she'd never heard from him
before. She looked at him curiously.
"What?" she asked.
"Once my little sister had to ask my father if she could
take an offworld trip with her school class.
She knew he wouldn't approve, but she was determined to do
it. I was with him when she came to ask.
She stood there for about three minutes, not saying
anything, all her emotions playing out on her face.
My dad was perfectly content to let her squirm, and he just
waited, not saying anything. Finally, 208
when she opened her mouth to speak, he just said, "You can
go."" He looked at her, amused. "You looked a little like
her just now." n 11less-than Sllll yl lathcomyn ilfha
tmension wa-, broken She walked less-than Sllly lll j11Il
aneai vdm. a mddaavaa in and sat down. "I've been talking
to Admiral Paris. I know what happened to you with the
Cardassians. And I wanted you to know how grateful I am
that you put yourself in danger to save us."
Justin shrugged, deflecting gratitude in a way that seemed
to her reflexive. "It was my job."
"Admiral Paris seemed to think it was more than that." He
was silent, and she felt uncomfortable again.
She had to fill the void. "Did you ever think-about what
would happen if the Cardassians took you again?"" "Of
"But you cane anyway."
A long silence, some difcult inner decision on his part, a
step considered and taken, and then he looked directly at
her. "1 just knew I wasn't going to let them hurt you," he
said simply, and in that moment the chasm between them
closed and she realized that what she had sensed between
them, the wrongness, the awkwardness, was her futile
resistance to the inevitable.
HARRY AND KES SAT' IN THE
MIDDLE OF THE ROOM, WRINGING wet and gasping. The heat was
now at a torturous level, and the walls were glowing a
burnished red. They had exhausted themselves trying to find
a way out, a control panel, some indication of technology-anything to stop this inexorable rise in temperature which
now threatened to roast them to death. To no avail. Degree
by degree, the heat had increased, until the point where
breathing itself was difficult. Kes looked flushed but
unafraid; Harry admired her indomitable spirit but feared
it wasn't going to survive this present calamity.
He slumped to the floor, trying to make his mind function
and tell him what to do in this strange and dangerous
situation. He tried to concentrate on all the survival
skills he'd been taught at the Academy, first and foremost
staying calm and not yielding to the situation, no matter
There was no evidence that the people who had built these
underground catacombs were aggressors or that the capture
of prisoners had any place in their society. It didn't
stand to reason that this unusual chamber existed merely
for the slow destruction of interlopers. On the other hand,
the universe didn't necessarily organize itself reasonably.
People did strange things for strange reasons, and a slow,
ritualistic death had had its place in many societies.
Harry's mind wandered in spite of himself. He dreamed idly
of Libby, and of his parents; he dissociated from the
present and seemed to drift through space and time.
Hallucinatory images swirled in his brain . . . his first
clarinet lesson . . .
Libby dressed in white . . . the melodious tinkling of a
wind chime in his father's garden . . . his mother's eyes
shining at his graduation from the Academy...
All of those people undoubtedly thought he was dead. And
in a few minutes, they would be right. He felt no
particular regret at that moment. Death seemed merely a
curious phenomenon rather than a dreaded event. What lay
there? were there answers to anything?
The universe posed so many questions, and so few had been
He reached over to Kes, who had also collapsed onto the
floor. He took her hand and squeezed it and was comforted
to feel a slight pressure in return. He was content to die
like this, offering solace to. and receiving it from, a
good friend, drifting through memories of those he loved;
it would be a peaceful going.
He wasn't even aware of the cooling breeze for a few
moments. His mind had taken him to the beach on a baking
day, with gentle gusts from the ocean dancing over his
skin. Presently he realized there was a breeze cooling him,
and he opened his eyes; there, through sweat-encrusted eyelashes, he saw a figure looming above him,
fanning him. No, not fanning-not exactly. Moving something
. . . Harry rubbed the moisture from his eyes and focused
on the apparition before him. It was humanoid, its head
elongated and narrow. It was covered in dense layers of a
hairy fur, and its eyes, dark and intense, were in the
front, rather than at the sides, of its face.
And attached to its back were huge, plumed wings, which
beat slowly, magnificently, stirring the air and cooling
Harry's fevered skin.
Tuvok's entire team had reassembled, and he was leading
them through the maze of corridors, away from the main
staging area where they had first descended into the
underground structure. Neelix' sense of unease was growing by the minute; they had found no sign of Kes or Harry,
who were not responding to hails.
The impact of weapons fire from above continued to jar
them, and a fine dust had been loosened from walls and
ceiling, smoking the air and coating therri all in an
irritating mist of particulates. Neelix trotted alongside
the tall Vulcan as he strode purposefully down the
labyrinth, scanning carefully and mapping their route as
they went. "Mr.
Vulcan . . . isn't it true that the deeper we go, the more
likely they'll be to trap us in the bowels of this maze?"
"We may be able to locate another way out.
Ensign Kim reported finding a stairway. It is my intention
to track his movements and locate that stairway."
Neelix' heart quickened-they were going to find Harry and
Kes. But immediately some of the ramifications came
flooding in on him. ""Even if xc find them, it doesn't mean
they've found a way out of here. The Kazon could just wait
We have only a little food and water."
"We will have to face each eventuality as it presents
itself. For now, this is the tactical strategy I have
decided upon." Tuvok kept striding purposefully forward,
checking his tricorder as he went. Neelix settled into a a
steady trot at his side, somewhat comforted by the Vulcan's
calm demeanor. But his anxiety over Kes didn't abate. Her
absence and her silence concerned him.
Who knew what might lurk in the dark halls of this
subterranean grotto? What unanticipated dangers might Kes
and Harry have encountered?
Neelix knew he wouldn't relax until he could see her sweet
face again and hear her low, husky voice. And then all
their lights went out.
A murmured gasp arose from the group as they were plunged
into total blackness. There was the sound of twenty wrist
beacons clicking as the crew tried to get them started
again, but to no avail. Muffled explosions continued to
rumble in the distance; the air was thick with grit; they
were trapped in the dark.
Neelix felt certain they were on the cusp of some
monumental event, an occurrence of dire and overwhelming
Jai Sittik picked at a hangnail which had turned bloody,
trying to contain his anxiety. In spite of constant
bombardment, the Federations had not appeared, and the men
were beginning to cast irritated glances in his direction.
He had struck a nonchalant pose and busied himself with his
thumbnail, as though the outcome of the mission were so
assured that he needn't give it another thought, and could
concentrate instead on the nagging shard of nail.
But each time his eyes flicked upward, he saw more of 213
the men looking at him, doubt and aggravation etched on
their faces. He decided to abandon the hangnail and began
walking confidently toward them.
So far, the day was most definitely not turning out as he'd
planned. As the system's star had risen higher, the heat
became more intense, and a cloud of insects had descended
on them, buzzing annoyingly and inflicting nasty little
bites on any patch of uncovered skin. The bites didn't hurt
at first, but gradually turned into red blebs that burned
like hot needles. No one's mood was helped by this. It was
a time when a good leader reflected certitude and courage,
so that his troops would persevere. Sittik clapped one man
soundly on the shoulder. "Tonight we'll feast together, my
brother. I will pour hock ale for each of you, and carve
the roast naggath myself." He smiled at the man, but was
disconcerted to receive only a surly glare in return. He
moved on. "Teslin, my friend-when we tell Maje Dut what
we've accomplished today, he will reward us with a showing
of women." He leaned in to the man, conspiratorially. "I
know you've had your eye on Kosla, who is under the
protection of the Maje. Tonight-she will be yours." Teslin
gave him a curt nod and kept firing into the ground.
Sittik moved through the ranks like this, sharing his
vision of the celebration they would enjoy at the end of
the day. It was vaguely troubling to him that they didn't
respond with more enthusiasm, but he excused them for that
because of the heat and the irritating insects. He allowed
himself to think briefly of Kosla, a ripe young woman who
had caught the Maje's eye when she emerged into womanhood.
Dark velvet eyes peered at the world from behind thick
lashes; her hair when wound was thick and heavy, and" he
imagined it, unplaited, as long enough to cover her body.
Her body. It was wondrous, 214
plump as a nesting looci hen, always straining against her
clothing as though longing to be free. He often thought
that if he held one of her firm, supple arms and pinched
the flesh between thumb and forefinger, it would burst with
juices like fruit that had remained on the vine until it
was thick and swollen.
These erotic visions had so completely invaded his
imagination-and led him to decide that it would be he, not
Teslin, who would spend the night with Kosla-that he didn't
realize Miskk was standing in front of him, glowering.
"Yes, Miskk?" he asked pleasantly, still suffused with
lingering images of Kosla. Only gradually did he realize
the extent of Miskk's ire. "How long do you expect us to
continue this foolish tactic? Can't you see it's not
working? Don't you have an alternate plan?" Anger had
turned Miskk's forehead ridges a striated purple.
Outrage began to bubble in Sittik, as well, and he felt
his blood course strongly through his veins. He could
demonstrate purple ridges as well as Miskk. "Are you
challenging me, Miskk? Shall we decide here and now who
will lead this mission?" And before Miskk could answer,
Sittik backhanded him viciously across the face with a fist
shrouded in studded leather. Miskk dropped like a stone,
stunned and bleeding. Sittik kicked him in the ribs a few
times but Miskk didn't move.
Sittik reached down and removed his weapon, then turned to
the men who had stopped, temporarily, in their efforts to
flush out the Federations, and were now staring at him-in
fear, Sittik noted ebulliently.
"That's what happens to those who oppose me. This one will
be held in chains until his wrists rot."
Sittik nodded at two of the men. "You two-take him to the
shuttle and restrain him."
The two men moved warily toward Miskk, who was now sitting
dully on the ground, holding the wound on his head, from
which blood was streaming. The men pulled him to his feet
and led him away. But as he passed Sittik, he gave him a
final look, and in that look lay a hatred so powerful that
Sittik was momentarily immobilized. He had not bested Miskk
at all. Miskk was planning vengeance.