Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (30 page)

tissue. Where the aquarium had once sat was a Starfleet

console; she realized she didn't remember when the lionfish

had been replaced.

Wiping her face, she returned to the couch.

"I'm so sorry, Dad. I guess I've been under some stress."

He looked gravely at her, putting his fingers under her

chin and tilting her head up. "What is it, Goldenbird?" he

asked gently. "What is it, really?"

She struggled with the decision. She'd never complained to

him, never let him see her weakness. It was important that

he regard her as beyond weakness, someone who wouldn't be a

burden to him, or make demands on him, someone strong

enough to—

To ignore.

She looked up at him now through scratchy and swollen

eyes. "Oh, Daddy, I just want you to be proud of me."

He looked at her in abject puzzlement.

"Kathryn, I am proud of you. There aren't words to tell you

how much. Ask anyone I work with-I'm afraid I drive them

crazy talking about my daughter."

"You do?"

"I've told my colleagues about every honor, every

accolade, every commendation you ever received. And there

were a potful of them. I'm a terrible braggart about my

Kathryn."

"Admiral Paris talks about his son all the time. I wanted

you to feel that proud of me."

Her father threw back his head in a snorting laugh. "Are

you kidding? Owen talks about Tom from time to timebut he

isn't in the same league of gloating fathers as I am."

Then he turned to her and rubbed her cheek softly.

"How could you think I wasn't proud of you? How could you

imagine it?" "You never told me," she said simply, and saw

his face crumple. He rose abruptly, moving away from her,

fists clenching and unclenching in distress. He stood like

that for a horrible moment, then turned back to her.

"War takes many tolls, Kathryn. I'm all too aware of the

massive ones-slaughter, torture, misery, starvation . . ."

He moved to sit next to her again. "Those things you can't

ignore.

I guess I didn't pay attention to some of the others. I was

asked to help prevent war from befalling the entire

Federation, and I never hesitated. I'm still trying." He

looked solemnly at her, his gray eyes burrowing into her,

those kind, loving eyes, urging her to listen, to believe

him, to accept his absolute sincerity.

"You and Phoebe, and your mother, paid the price. I simply

wasn't there when you were growing up. I knew your mother

had enough love to give you, and I thought-I hoped-that

would be enough. But I swear to you, I thought of you every

day, every hour, missing you so much it was like a physical

pain.

"And it seemed as if you were flourishing. You excelled at

everything. We were more worried about Phoebe-she lacked

direction, she wasn't motivated. I was relieved when she

found she loved painting, because it gave some focus to her

life. But you-you were never a concern."

Kathryn couldn't ever remember her father talking to her

like that, talking about personal things. She felt as

though she had been unburdened of a huge tumor, one that

had melted into the million tears that had flowed out of

her body, leaving her weightless. She snuggled into her

father's arms again, and they sat for another hour, talking

about her childhood, about Phoebe, about Justin, and about

whether she should take Admiral Paris' advice and switch

her career track to command. Her father was strongly in

favor of the idea because "the best of the best should be

in command-and that's you, Goldenbird."

Kathryn made popcorn and hot chocolate, and they ate bowl

after bowl, washing it down with the velvety sweet liquid.

And later that night, after they'd gone to bed, she woke,

and with the house dark and quiet, her mother and father

sound asleep, she crept downstairs to the study and curled

up in the kneehole of his desk, where she sat contentedly

until the sun rose.

A month later, she, Justin, and her father were seated in

the prototype ship Terra Nova as it entered the Tau Ceti

system. It was an impressive vessel, small and lean, highly

maneuverable-and heavily armed.

It was Starfleet's necessary response to the mounting

threat of war with Cardassia.

Edward Janeway had been working on its design and

construction at the Utopia Planitia shipyard for two and a

half years, had test-flown it himself on numerous

occasions, and was now overseeing its first long-range

flight-a three-day journey to the Tau Ceti system, where it

would undergo a series of experimental flights conducted in

a variety of spatial environments. Lieutenant Justin Tighe

was the pilot. They had spent the previous night at Mittern

Station, enjoying a festive meal with Admiral Finnegan,

whom Kathryn had first met years ago on Mars Colony. His

red hair was now mostly gray, but his sense of humor was as

keen as ever, and they had lingered over coffee, laughing

and telling stories.

Even Justin, not the most social of people, had relaxed

and enjoyed himself, and told a funny story about growing

up on a mining colony. She couldn't remember his ever

having been able to laugh about his childhood, and to her

it was proof that he was truly becoming comfortable with

them. Her heart had warmed as she saw her father and

Admiral Finnegan's response to him: they liked him and

respected him-but most important of all, they enjoyed him.

"On final approach to the Tau Ceti system, sir," she heard

Justin say, jarring her out of her reverie.

"Stand by to execute the warp thrusters maneuver,"

replied her father. The Terra Nova was designed to function

in a variety of battle conditions. One of the innovations

of the ship was warp thrusters, which provided quick bursts

of speed without engaging full warp engines, allowing the

ship to maneuver quickly out of dangerous circumstances,

change position, and return to the fray from an unexpected

direction. Computer simulations had originally indicated

intractable stresses to the hull from the maneuver, but

Admiral Janeway had eventually solved this and a host of

other design problems.

They spent an hour testing the new thrusters, which

functioned perfectly. Kathryn enjoyed watching Justin at

the controls, which he handled like an artist, seeming to

become at one with the ship as he worked it through the

complicated commands. Her love for him swelled in her like

a living thing, enveloping her in a warmth of a sort she'd

never known before. She had the giddy and irrational

thought that she didn't deserve this much happiness. "Solar

winds are kicking up, Lieutenant," her father said. "Let's

give the port thrusters one more burst and then call it a

day."

"Aye, sir. It's been a good first run."

What happened then occurred so quickly that, years later,

she couldn't pinpoint exactly what the sequence of events

was. All she could recall was that one moment she heard her

father say "Wind shear-"and the next she was falling

through space, slowly, drifting, vaguely aware of strange

chilly breezes but not bothered by them. She felt as though

she were in a hammock, swaying gently, floating toward the

surface like a scrap of paper tossed on the winds but

settling inevitably lower and lower. There was no sense of

disaster, or even mishap. She felt mildly curious as to

these puzzling circumstances, but not alarmed by them. The

downward drift was so soothing that she almost wanted it to

go on indefinitely. She sailed that way for a long time.

Then she heard a rush of air and her body absorbed a

massive impact; pain screamed through her bones and she

thought they must all be broken. She lay stunned for a 228

period of time she couldn't determine, waiting for the

pain to subside, waiting for her vision to clear-comshe couldn't see. That fact finally registered in her

mind. Only darkness surrounded her, a black, agony-filled

universe that began and ended with her body, racking her,

obliterating her efforts to quell the suffering. She tried,

without success, to use her pain-reduction techniques, then

finally resigned herself to the hurt.

Time passed. She had no clear idea of how long, and knew

she might have been passing in and out of consciousness.

Eventually the pain ebbed and she began to feel tranquil

again; a narcotizing effect seemed to have pervaded her

brain-a natural secretion of endorphins, she thought

instinctively-and she felt consciousness begin to slip

away.

Something was in her mouth. And her nose. She couldn't

breathe, she was suffocating, that was why she was drifting

off . . . strange, that she could acknowledge that she was

dying, recognize the cause, and yet be unable-even

unwilling-to do anything about it. She coughed. Felt a

sudden intake of cold substance, and then choked, gasping,

sucking air but ingesting instead whatever that cold

substance was, wishing she could return to the cocoon of

unconsciousness once more.

Dying, she realized, wasn't frightening; living was

infinitely more difficult.

Without conscious will, she lifted her head. A realization

invaded her mind: she had been lying facedown in a

snowbank. White crystals clung to her face, and to her

eyelashes, obscuring her vision. She dug at her eyes,

brushing away snow and bits of ice, and suddenly she could

see again.

Parts of a small space ship were strewn around a vast, ice-ridden landscape; everything was white for as far as she

229

could see, and the horizon blended almost

indistinguishably into a pale gray sky, making her feel as

if she were inside a vast white sphere.

Snowy cliffs rose abruptly from the ground several

kilometers beyond her, and grotesque white shapes on the

ground, like abstract ice sculptures, testified to the

irregularity of the terrain.

She sat up and involuntarily cried out; bones were broken

for certain. She moved gingerly, trying to get her

bearings, and realized she was sitting on the rear

empennage of the ship. A drogue system must have deployed,

slowing her plunge to the surface, but even so if she

hadn't landed in a soft snowbank she would never have

survived.

She had no idea what had brought her to this snowy

wilderness. She could remember nothing that led up to her

present existence, pain-racked and cold, on an unknown ice

planet. How had she gotten here?

What ship was now scattered in wreckage all around her?

were there other people here, too? Other people. A vague

alarm rose in her, but she couldn't identify it. Was she

with others? If not, why would she have been flying alone?

She wasn't a particularly accomplished pilot, it didn't

seem likely that she'd be on a solo mission.

But what was the mission, then? And if there were others,

who were they? And where were they?

Dizziness engulfed her and she lowered her head, trying to

keep blood flowing to her brain. A vast confusion began to

overtake her, and she couldn't think what she should do

next. Lie down again, perhaps. It had felt so much better

to be lying prone, in the pillow of snow and darkness, than

to stare, bewildered, into this milky landscape. She

started to put her head back onto the snow when another

feature of the terrain caught her eye. An iceberg. A huge

shard of jagged ice, jutting from . . . from . . . the

ground? No, icebergs didn't form on land.

There must be water there. Maybe it wasn't an iceberg.

Maybe it was just another of the strange icy formations

that dotted the surroundings . . . but no, no, it was

definitely an iceberg. She was sure of that, but unclear

why she was sure. She became intrigued, then obsessed, with

this question. How did she know with such certitude that

she was looking at an iceberg? She pondered what she knew

about icebergs. They were floating masses of ice, broken

from the end of a glacier or a polar ice sheet. They

drifted according to the direction of sea current. They

most assuredly required a huge body of water to support

them. Ergo, there must be water here. Isolated bits of

iceberg-information came climbing upward from memory like

salmon. Only one-ninth of the mass of ice is seen above

water. The Titanic was destroyed after impact with an

iceberg. Many bergs are tilted, as the result of wave-cutting and melting that disturb their equilibrium. She

glanced up at her berg, and saw it tilted at an angle. It

was rapidly fulfilling the requirements of being what she

was so sure it was. Nonetheless, it was increasingly

important to her that she be absolutely, positively,

unequivocally sure that she was looking at an iceberg. She

forced herself to her feet, shuddering with the pain that

knifed through her with each movement, standing shakily,

light-headed. The horizon swam and undulated like silk

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