Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (36 page)

his hand as the toxic fluid began eating into it.

Trakis caught one glimpse of Nimmet's fevered eyes, which

fastened on his in a mixture of pain and rage, and then the

entire room began shimmering before his eyes. He blacked

out momentarily and then, miraculously, he was standing on

a small stage in a room he had never seen before, staring

at a uniformed Federation. His head swam dizzyingly as the

man approached him, took his arm, and said, "The captain

wants to see you on the bridge." They swept out of the

room, entered a conveyer of some kind, and minutes later

Trakis stumbled onto a bridge that appeared to be in chaos.

A malodorous coolant gas was venting from a conduit; an

alarm was sounding continuously, and in one corner a

wounded crewman was being tended to. The ship continued to

reverberate as it was pounded by Kazon weapons, and Trakis

wondered briefly if he would be any better off on this ship

than he had with the Kazon. His mouth was dry and his legs

trembling, but he didn't know if that was a result of the

strange, disembodied journey he'd made from the Kazon ship

to this one, his near-death at the hands of Nimmet, or of

his quite natural reluctance to die on an alien ship

surrounded by strangers.

A small, trim woman approached him, and he realized this

must be the fabled captain of the Federation ship.

"It's not as bad as it looks," she reassured him. "Our

shields are holding."

He circled immediately to her, his mission clear.

He had to convince her to depart immediately. "There's no

need for you to endure this, Captain. If you leave this

area of space, the Kazon won't pursue you."

"I can't leave. I have crew who are trapped on the

planet."

"The Kazon will never let you get near the surface. They

think you want the Tokath, and they'll keep you away at all

costs."

"The Tokath?" Janeway began, but then the ship took a

comterrific jolt and everyone, including Trakis, went

tumbling. Trakis cracked his elbow painfully on a nearby

console, and he yelped, rubbing it to reduce the lancing

pain that now consumed his arm.

"I can explain everything-but it would be easier if we

were in circumstances where we could remain upright.

Please-all you have to do is leave, and we'll all be safe."

Suddenly, to Trakis' amazement, the woman captain grabbed

his jacket and steered him firmly into one of two chairs at

the center of the bridge. She leaned in close to him; her

eyes were a penetrating blue-gray, and her voice had a

timbre that resonated like a cymbal. "I told you I'm not

leaving my crew. Now you tell me what you know about all

this, so I can figure out what to do."

She turned to the others. "Mr. Paris, continue evasive

maneuvers. Rollins, fire at your discretion." Then she

turned back to Trakis, who was frankly more unnerved by her

than by the Kazon attack. "Most people thought it was

apocryphal," he began urgently, for he believed that the

faster he could tell his story, the faster they could get

away from this ominous planet and the pounding of the

Kazon. "But it's true-the Tokath are real. I've examined

one myself, and it's everything the myth suggests."

Another hit rattled them and Trakis looked around in some

desperation; the bridge was venting more coolant gas 271

and several consoles had exploded. He turned back to the

captain, whose eyes had never left him, and the tempo of

his recitative increased. "The Tokath are what we call a

parasectoid species, hard-shelled creatures lacking

intelligence-but which are vicious and deadly.

They'd adapted to survive in almost any habitat-air, water,

even space. They were an almost ideal defense force, and

they kept this planet safe from all invaders for

centuries." A series of hits knocked them about again and

the captain glanced over at one of her crew. "Shields at

eightyseven percent, Captain, and holding. I'm betting

they'll get tired of this before we do," he said, and

Trakis marveled at his buoyant confidence. He realized that

the attitude on this combat bridge was different from any

he'd ever witnessed. The Kazon were veritable wild men when

in combat, shouting loudly in what Trakis felt was an

effort to shore up their courage; the Trabe were usually

nervously desperate, the result of years of running from

the Kazon. Never had he seen behavior in battle that was so

composed, so professional. The woman turned back to him,

and there was no doubt he was to continue, and quickly.

"The planet was also inhabited by a humanoid species, the

Krett, who possessed the power of flight-a wise, gentle

people who communicated telepathically, and who had a

genuine affection for their unusual protectors. That's why

they went to such extraordinary lengths to save them."

She looked at him questioningly.

"A massive plasma eruption burst from the star's

equatorial zone thousands of years ago. It created an

electrical disturbance in the planet's atmosphere which

would eventually kill almost every living thing on the

planet-which is the only one in the system that supports

life. The Krett were technologically advanced, and had

spaceships. They could evacuate, but there was no way to

take millions of 272

the Tokath with them. So they transformed the Tokath

habitat into hibernation chambers, put them into stasis,

and departed-hoping one day to return to their world." He

shook his head sadly. "But they learned what a hostile part

of space they occupied. Without the protection of the

Tokath, they were set upon at every turn. Like us, they

were decimated." The woman looked at him intently. "What

does all this have to do with us? Why are the Kazon

attacking Voyager?"

"They're fixated with the idea of finding the Tokath and

resuscitating them, turning them into a personal fighting

force, and thereby dominating the sector. They believe you

have the same thing in mind, and they're determined to stop

you."

"How did the Kazon learn all this? How did they know where

to look for these creatures?"

"The Kazon-Vistik stumbled on the truth during one of

their nasty little raids on unprotected outposts. They

discovered a small Krett colonv which had endured over the

centuries-with a few of the Tokath, which they had taken

with them, still extant. The Krett, hoping to gain sympathy

and be spared, told them the tale of their ancient

diaspora, and of their belief that the Tokath might still

live. In return, the Kazon slaughtered them all and took

the remaining Tokath with them for examination. And managed

to kill all of them but one."

Trakis paused with genuine sorrow. He still regretted his

actions on the Kazon ship, and the fact that he, a

physician, had caused the creature's death. And all for

nothing, all to feed the Kazon obsession. He had to

convince this icy captain that the only recourse they had,

the only way to prevent more killing, was to retreat. He

clutched the arm of the chair as a series of muffled

explosions thudded in the distance, and beseeched her once

more. "I can lead you to 273

a Trabe planet. You'll be welcome there, to repair your

ship and take on stores.

Leave the Kazon to their wild dreams; my experience has

been that they're so inept they'll never succeed."

"If the Maje would only answer my hails, I could explain

to him that we have no interest in the Tokath. All I want

is to get my crew back." Trakis stifled a rise of

irritation; this woman showed little understanding of the

Kazon. As though Maje Dut would listen reasonably to her

statement, accept it at face value, pause in his assault

long enough for her to retrieve her crew, and then send

them on their way with a wave and a smile. This obstinate

insistence on saving part of her crew-perhaps at the

expense of all the others, and the ship as well-was

evidence of weakness. In some things, the Trabe and the

Kazon agreed: women simply weren't suited for positions of

leadership. They were too idealistic, too sentimental, too

emotional.

He sighed and began to think of another means of helping

her see the error of her ways when two of the crew spoke at

once-the pilot and the man standing behind her right side.

"Captain, I'm reading something-was "We've got activity

from the planet's surface-was The captain moved immediately

to the pilot's console. "What is it, Mr. Paris?" she asked

crisply. The blond young man was working his controls

rapidly. "Something rising from the planeta convoy of

ships . . . no . . ." He looked up at her, puzzled, and

Trakis took the opportunity to move closer to them.

The man from the rear station called out now.

"Captain, I have organic readings. There's a mass of life

signsmillions of them-ascending through the ionosphere."

"On screen," said the captain, and Trakis looked up at

what was revealed there. At the same time, he realized that

they were no longer taking hits from weapons; apparently

274

the Kazon were as curious about what was happening as the

crew of this ship. And when the screen before them revealed

a view of the planet below, he understood fully. What he

saw there made his legs suddenly lose stability and his

stomach sour.

A brown miasma, vast and inexorable, was rising into space

from the surface of the planet. Trakis rubbed a damp palm

on his pants and turned to the captain, who was staring in

puzzlement at the screen.

"Captain," he said, trying to keep his voice from

quavering, "those are the Tokath."

 

"A REVIEW BOARD IS STANDARD

PROCEDURE, KATHRYN. ALL captains go through the process

after their first mission, and frequently after that. Don't

worry about it." Admiral Paris'

blue-gray eyes crinkled as he smiled at her.

Kathryn sat opposite him in his office-the very office

she'd waited in when she first met him over ten years ago.

Now, she'd just returned from a six-month mission into the

Beta Quadrant; she'd collected some valuable scientific

data on microsecond pulsars, and she was annoyed that her

trip home-where Mark was waiting-was being delayed for a

routine and, in her mind, wholly unnecessary procedure.

"I'm not worried about it-that's the point. There's

nothing to worry about; the mission was a complete success,

nothing was amiss, and I don't see why everyone's time has

to be wasted with this superfluous review." "You're proving

to be an excellent captain. I'm more proud of you than I

can say. But you may need to pay some attention to one of

the finer details of command: an abiding patience for

Starfleet rules and regulations. You'll have to set the

standard on your ships, Kathryn. It won't do to have a

captain who plays fast and loose with the rules."

She drew a deep breath. He was right, of course. She was

just so eager to see Mark, and Phoebe, and her mother. But

two days more wasn't the end of the world, and she'd have a

full month to spend with them before catching another

assignment. "You're right, sir. Thanks for the reminder."

He started to reply but suddenly the door to his office

opened and his aide, the dignified Mrs. Klenman, now a full

captain, walked in, her face reflecting alarm. "Excuse me,

Admiral," she said quickly, "but I think you should get

over to the Academy right away."

Kathryn saw Admiral Paris's face go ashen. His son Tom was

now a senior at the Academy. "What is it? Is something

wrong?"

"There's been an accident. Commander Lewis wouldn't give me

any details-but I know he was concerned."

Kathryn saw the naked fear that only a parent can know

take its hold on Admiral Paris. He glanced at his console,

considering sending a transmission to the Academy, but then

shook that off, preferring to go in person. "Let the

commander know I'm on my way."

"Sir, do you want me to come with you?" Kathryn felt she

should at least offer support.

"No. Thank you. I'll see you at the review board

tomorrow." And he was gone, fear propelling him.

Kathryn had the sudden insight that she was glad she had no

children, and wasn't hostage to the powerful concerns of

parenthood; it was more vulnerability than she felt she

could tolerate. She turned to Commander Klenman.

"Will you let me know what's happened? I'll be at the

Officers' Quarters tonight."

"Of course, Captain." Klenman was clearly worried, too.

She'd spent more than ten years with Admiral Paris, and was

devoted to him and his family. Kathryn left the office with

a heavy heart.

The news that evening was tragic, but it was to spare the

Paris family for now. Tom had been leading a fighter

squadron in maneuvers; one of the cadets had made a

miscalculation, which led to an error, which led to an

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