Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
discuss. Continue your course for the Alpha Quadrant, warp
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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