Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (28 page)

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

detail.

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

LGU-EA IlLGU

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

course."

"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

how dire.

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

answered.

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

us out.

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

portent.

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.

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