Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (3 page)

discuss. Continue your course for the Alpha Quadrant, warp

six."

"Yes, ma'am. was Paris was obviously pleased with the 14

decision. He was still-would probably always be-a bit of a

daredevil, someone who struggled at times against the yoke

of Starfleet protocols, but whose skill and intelligence

were such that he could get away with risk-taking that

might undermine others.

Janeway knew, however, that she would hear something

different from Tuvok, and before that thought was even

completed, she heard his voice from the security station:

"Captain, it is my duty to point out that the Kazon Maje

will be highly insulted by this decision; we risk his

enmity by ignoring his request."

"Noted, Mr. Tuvok. But I have yet to hear what might be

termed a "request' from a Kazon.

They tend to make demands, and I don't feel like yielding

to a demand."

"As you wish, Captain." Tuvok was imperturbable as ever,

but Janeway imagined she could sense approval from him. No

one liked being pushed around by the Kazon. In fact,

Janeway thought she felt a general uplifting of spirits on

the bridge; on an expedition where they frequently found

themselves at the mercy of their circumstances, it was

bracing to take a stand, to thumb their noses at the dark

forces of the Delta Quadrant.

News of Janeway's decision hadn't yet filtered down to the

mess hall; if it had, Neelix' mood of well-being might have

dissipated.

He frequently failed to share the intrepid-what he would

call reckless-convictions of the Starfleet crew. Neelix had

survived in a dangerous quadrant for many years through

guile, cunning, and an instinctive sense of self-preservation, and he didn't fully understand the

adventurous nature of Janeway and her people.

They were daring, certainly, and to be lauded for their

courage, but Neelix had learned through a lifetime of

struggle that a small step backward could often save one's

life. Plunging into the unknown might be exciting, but he

had quite frankly had enough excitement to last him for a

long time. At the moment, he was concentrating fiercely on

decorating a large cake. It was triangular in shape-particularly difficult to achieve, especially in the jury-rigged kitchen he had cobbled together from odds and ends

he had scrounged around the ship-and made from Grissibian

nocha. The closest equivalent in the Alpha Quadrant was a

substance known as chocolate, but Neelix found it a pallid

imitation. Nocha was denser, richer, creamier, and of all

the nocha he'd tasted, none compared with the Grissibian

variety.

He had been saving this nocha since a chance encounter with

a trader who had been willing to part with it in return for

a quart of Vulcan ale. Neelix didn't know what Vulcan ale

was; the recipe was in the replicators and many of the crew

prized it above any other refreshment. He had found it a

valuable commodity in trade: usually one sample of the brew

and the bargain was sealed.

Grissibian nocha was a delicacy that couldn't be

described, only experienced. He remembered his first taste,

when he was a boy on Rinax, before the disastrous war that

had claimed the lives of all his family. His father had

managed to procure some of the rare treat and brought it

home to his family. He had handed Neelix a square of a

mild-looking substance, slightly oily and a pale beige in

color. But when Neelix bit into it, his senses were

overwhelmed; the nocha was an intense, dusky explosion in

his mouth, the creaminess of it moistening every part of

his tongue, his throat, his stomach. The sweetness was

powerful but not cloying, and seemed to travel directly to

his brain, creating an almost narcotic sensation of deeply

felt pleasure. His father had laughed to see his son's

expression of utter delight.

It was an experience he had never forgotten. In fact, the

night his family had died in the horrendous explosion

caused by the weapon known as the Metreon Cascade, the

thought of that brief moment of bliss was one of the

memories that flashed through his mind.

The cake he had made was for two people: Kes, simply

because he adored her more than life itself; and Tuvok,

because he was determined to bring a smile to the Vulcan's

lips. Somewhere inside, that man had the capacity for joy,

Neelix was sure of it. He had made numerous attempts to

unleash it, but Tuvok had stoically resisted every one of

them. Now, with the Grissibian nocha cake, Neelix was sure

he had a winner. No one could resist this nocha, he was

certain, not even 7uvok.

He was taking pains to present a cake that not only had an

exquisite flavor but was delectable to the eye, as well. He

was squeezing colored icing from a modified hypospray (he

had borrowed it from sickbay; he was sure the doctor

wouldn't mind) into an intricate design on the cake's

surface, a delicate, looping scroll that complemented the

smooth surface of the nocha. It had required all his

willpower not to sample the nocha, or the cake, before it

was presented to his two recipients.

He felt somehow that the occasion would be undermined if he

partook of the cake's savory delights before they did, that

its potency would somehow be lessened. Now, as he bent over

it, eyes squinting to make the decoration perfect, the

chocolaty aroma wafted over him, through him, permeating

his senses with an overpow-ering urgency. It seemed to beg

him to taste, to sample just the tiniest crumb, one that no

one would ever notice was gone. But he resisted the siren

call. He was nothing if not disciplined; that was another

quality he had developed in his peripatetic life. He'd

learned that giving in to every indulgence was a quick way

to lose one's edge; denial had a tendency to fend off

complacency and keep one sharp.

He was so engrossed in his task that he didn't hear the

soft footfall behind him, wasn't aware of anyone's presence

until Kes' soft voice was almost in his ear. "That looks

delicious.

What is it?" He whirled in dismay. "Kes-what are you doing

here?" Her beautiful elfin face, framed by its cap of

feathered blond hair, stared back at him in surprise.

"I just stopped by to say hello. Shouldn't I have?"

Her consternation undid him, as always. He hastened to

reassure her. "Of course you should, sweeting, I'm always

delighted to see you. It's just . . ."

He trailed off, wondering if he could still preserve the

surprise. "Just what?"

Neelix' mind raced, but he could think of no plausible

explanation that wouldn't give away his plan. He opted for

honesty. "It was supposed to be a surprise. For you and

Tuvok."

Kes' beautiful face erupted in a smile, and she gave

Neelix a gentle kiss. "You're so thoughtful. But-why me and

Tuvok?" "You, my love, because I want to share an amazing

taste sensation with you.

And Tuvok because . . . because I'm certain this exquisite

cake will make him smile."

Kes regarded him fondly. "You just don't understand,

Neelix. Tuvok is Vulcan. He isn't supposed to smile."

"I do understand. I understand that the poor man

experiences none of the delight that comes from pleasure.

What a wretched way to live! If he can control his emotions

so well, why not just suppress the negative ones and allow

the positive ones to rise to the surface?" "Don't you

remember what happened when he mind-melded with Lon Suder?

Anything other than total control could allow very violent,

ugly emotions to overwhelm him. It's hard to imagine that

tasting a cake would be enough to break through his

reserve."

"This isn't just a cake. It's an experience. As you'll

discover this evening, my dearest."

Kes' smile was sweet as she departed for sickbay. Neelix

returned to his ministrations on the cake, gleefully

anticipating Tuvok's response to it, never imagining that

the evening would be occupied by activities far more dire

than eating Grissibian nocha cake.

They detected the planet at nine hundred hours, and

Captain Janeway was pleased. It was a particularly

fortunate discovery, for they hadn't collected any supplies

after the electrical storm on the last planet-which

Chakotay had wryly named "Sizzle." Food stores were

dwindling and they had to resupply as quickly as possible.

The heart of the system was a K7-class yellow dwarf star,

rich in helium and perhaps ten billion years old-a bit of a

senior citizen.

The fourth planet had an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere and

according to sensors was abundant with flora. The

possibility of food was temptingly high. There was no

indication of a population, although Janeway noted that

some formations had a curious symmetry that might warrant

investigation.

Cautious after their experience on Sizzle, she ordered an

exhaustive series of sensor sweeps, looking for any

aberration on the planet or in the atmosphere, anything

that might produce an unexpected phenomenon. Only after she

was satisfied that they wouldn't be blsided again did she

order the away teams to the transporter room.

Tuvok was to take one group only and make an on-site

inspection before calling for additional crew.

He named Harry Kim to the team. She remained on the bridge

as they took their leave, and she chalked up the small

chill she felt as they left to a draft from the turbolift.

Tuvok's team consisted of himself, Kim, Neelix, Kes (at

Neelix' request), and twenty Maquis and Starfleet crew.

Kim's presence wasn't strictly necessary, but Tuvok

believed that away missions were good for the young man.

They gave him the experience he needed in disciplining his

emotional responses to dangerous and startling situations.

Harry always seemed to appreciate the opportunities, though

Tuvok suspected it was more to get out into the open air

and release some of the natural energy of youth than to

practice controlling his emotions.

Tuvok's first order of business was to investigate those

suspiciously symmetrical formations; he wanted to make

certain there wasn't a population on this planet that had

gone undetected for some reason.

They had beamed down within a kilometer southeast of the

formations, and would proceed cautiously toward them, all

the while scanning continuously. The landscape of the

planet was not so Earth-like as the prior planet had been

(he would not call it by the ridiculous sobriquet Chakotay

had chosen for it); the terrain was shot with volcanic rock

and the soil was slimy, with a greenish cast to it. The

flora was completely unfamiliar. It was Harry who first

speculated: "Lieutenant, those formations are constructed.

I'd bet on it."

"A wager would have no effect on the outcome of your

observation, Ensign. Either they are constructed or they're

not." He could never understand the human belief that

betting enhanced one's argument. A ridge separated them

from their group and the location of the formations, now

only forty meters away.

Quietly, cautiously, the team climbed the ridge and

crouched on its rim before raising their heads to peer over

it. Tuvok gestured to the others to stay down, and he

slowly crept forward, lifting his head to peer through

thick underbrush at the formation before him.

Even then, he wasn't sure what he was seeing.

A tangle of undergrowth wove in erratic designs over a

mound of stone rubble that stretched for nearly half a

kilometer in either direction, and that might or might not

have once represented a structure. There was a vague order

to the rubble, but it was so clumped with weeds and bushes

that it was difficult to discern a pattern. One feature,

however, identified the mass of stone and brush as having

at some time been subject to intelligent hands: a

brilliant, cobalt blue spire rose from the center of the

mound, gleaming in the sunlight which reflected off its

glossy planes. Nothing-not mound, rubble, or spire-gave off

any suspicious readings. There was no sign of life.

Whatever this mound had once been, whatever the purpose of

the radiant blue spire, they functioned no longer. Tuvok

motioned for the team to move forward; if the mound was the

remnants of a dead civilization, that knowledge should be

included in Starfleet's cartographic database.

The team spread out around the mound, tricorders aimed and

busily recording data. Kim, in particular, seemed

fascinated by this possible archaeological find, and he

eagerly took the point of one wing of the team. And it was

his cry of discovery Tuvok heard first after he disappeared

around a large boulder.

When the others caught up to him, they gasped at the

sight: an arrangement of delicate skeletons, which at first

glance appeared to be of winged humanoids, was spread in a

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