Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (4 page)

deep circular indentation in the ground. The skulls were

strong, elongated ovals, with large eye holes. The rib

cages were humanoid in shape, while long, hollow-boned arms

ended in hands of six digits, including an opposable thumb.

The leg bones were short and somewhat stubby.

But Tuvok realized it was the wing bones that had caused

the collective gasp. Now they were tucked in close to the

body, but clearly when extended they would have stretched

two meters or more.

These beings would have had the capacity to soar high into

the air above the surface of this planet, dipping and

sailing on the breezes, then coming to land on their short,

squat legs, which would have afforded them locomotion of a

much more limited sort. Did they spend most of their time

in the air, these winged beings?

And just how, Tuvok wondered, should this species be

categorized: as humanoid or avian? It possessed qualities

of each in a way no one had ever seen before. Kim, speaking

excitedly, ran down the possibilities. "In Earth's

development, modern birds began to branch off from reptiles

shortly after the first mammals appeared.

It's certainly possible on some planets there could have

been a branch of avian mammals that eventually evolved into

winged humanoids."

Tuvok looked at the faces of his group, all of which

reflected a reverence for this burial place.

It was, he felt, quite appropriate. He scanned one of the

skeletons.

"The cranium of this being suggests a large brain; in all

likelihood they were intelligent. I would suggest this

burial grouping was arranged by similar beings, and that

these creatures do not represent intelligent animals cared

for, and buried, by a higher order."

"The grouping indicates a death ritual, doesn't it?" Kim's

brow was furrowed in concentration. He seemed to have been

particularly affected by the discovery.

"Indeed. There are a number of inferences to be drawn from

what we see here: this may be a family group; it might

represent a being of some social power and his or her

subordinates; or it may represent the victims of a

particular disaster-plague, perhaps, or disease. Without

further information it would be impossible to make a clear

determination."

"There don't seem to be any artifacts buried with them."

This was from Kes, who as always was curious about

everything.

"Quite right. And again, there are inferences one can

make, but little way to delimit them without more

evidence."

"Look at that, Mr. Vulcan." Tuvok lifted his head to see

Neelix pointing at something a hundred meters distant. It

was another spire, deep blue like the first. It had not

been visible from their original position; in fact, it

would only be visible from where they were standing-near

the foot of the first spire.

"It is common in many species to link burial sites with

visual markers," suggested Tuvok.

"We may be able to follow a trail of such markers until we

arrive at a sacred site."

"If we find that's the case, it would be the first

documented evidence of such behavior in the Delta

Quadrant," said Ensign Greta Kale, a young woman with blond

hair, dark brown eyes, and a sprinkling of the spots humans

called "freckles" across her nose. "What does that kind of

commonalty say about the origin of all species?"

It was an insightful question, but Tuvok didn't look

forward to answering it. There was a great deal of contro

versy about that very matter. Why were there more simi

larities than differences among most species? It argued for

some original link, a commonalty of origin among the

galaxy's species that had never been satisfactorily ad

dressed. Many believed that an alien group from another

galaxy had "seeded"

the primordial soup of all the planets at the point when

the building blocks that would produce life first began to

develop. Others believed that a powerful, unseen supreme

being had created life, full blown, in an instant.

Tuvok himself preferred a more scientific explanation:

basic matter-the elements and their various molecular

combinations-from which the galaxy was formed was common.

These building blocks would have been distributed

throughout the galaxy as stars and planets were formed. Why

would it not follow, then, that the stuff from which life

developed had many common qualities, and that the

development of humanoids along similar lines was to be

expected, rather than questioned? "I will let you make your

own judgment about that, Ensign, based on your individual

beliefs." Kale smiled at him; apparently it was the answer

she had expected.

"Can we do it, Lieutenant? Follow the marker, see if

there's a trail?" Kim looked at him with what could only be

described as eagerness. The young man was clearly caught up

in this mystery and wanted to pursue it. "I see no reason

not to,"

answered Tuvok evenly. But Neelix jumped in. "I must remind

you that our primary mission is to gather food supplies.

This paleontological stuff is very interesting, of course-I

myself am an amateur archaeologist of some experience-but

let us not lose sight of our priorities."

"Quite right, Mr. Neelix. I suggest you detail a group of

ten and scout the area for foodstuffs. I will take the

others on a scientific investigation." "Fine. Kes, you're

with me-was "Oh, no. I'm going with Tuvok." Tuvok, like

Neelix, noted her tone of voice and knew she was

determined. Neelix nodded and quickly counted out the ten

who would be with him. Tuvok was aware that they all seemed

disappointed, but unlike Kes, they were too steeped in

Starfleet discipline to refuse.

Neelix led his small band away from the mound and began

scanning for edible plant forms. Harry Kim led the others,

eagerly marching toward the second spire, eyes scanning

upward as though he might suddenly spot one of the soaring

creatures who had once sailed these skies.

Tuvok continued to check his tricorder frequently.

There was no inkling of the real danger that would come

from those skies.

It could not have been more sudden or unexpected. One

minute Janeway was in her ready room, relaxing with

vegetable bouillon while reviewing personnel reports.

Strictly speaking, that wasn't her responsibility; the

first officer's review was all that was officially

required. But Janeway enjoyed the process, finding that it

drew her closer to her crew. If a junior officer in quantum

mechanics was having a rough week, she wanted to know about

it. Lunch with the captain, or a private chat over

afternoon tea, could work wonders in reviving flagging

confidence or dispelling a touch of homesickness.

A dull ache had burrowed its way just behind her eyes. She

hadn't slept well last night, having revisited the house

with many rooms and finding, inevitably, the closed door.

After that, she had tossed restlessly, trying to find the

position that would induce sleep. When that failed, she had

risen early and now, several hours later, was feeling the

consequences of the fretful night.

Then there was Tom Paris' startled voice over the comm-

"Bridge to Captain, we have a rapidly approaching"-and then

a horrendous explosion.

Sparks flew from her monitor. The lights went out entirely

and then were replaced with low-level emergency lighting.

Janeway made her way to the door even as the ship shuddered

and jolted, threatening to throw her off balance.

The doors flew open at her approach and she stumbled onto

the bridge. "Report," she barked, noting as she did that

smoke was filling the space; one officer was unconscious on

the ground.

"A Kazon vessel, Captain. It stayed in high warp until the

last second, then dropped out and attacked. We were sitting

ducks." She knew Chakotay was already handling the

situation, rerouting power, activating defensive systems,

and assigning damage control.

"Taking evasive action, Captain." Tom Paris' hands flew

over his controls as he skilfully maneuvered the ship. "But

we've taken damage to the impulse engines."

"Shields at fifty-seven percent, hull breaches on decks

four and fifteen. There are reports of casualties on all

decks,"

Lieutenant Rollins said crisply; he was filling in for

Tuvok at Tactical. "Prepare to return fire. Ready forward

phaser banks."

Janeway swung into action, her mind automatically moving

in!combat mode. "Fire at will, Mr. Rollins."

"Aye, Captain, firing forward-was A sudden volley of

explosions overwhelmed the rest of what he said. She

couldn't even be sure he had fired the phasers. In spite of

Paris' manuevers at the conn, the Kazon ship was still with

them. Two consoles exploded and several more went dead.

Smoke battled the filtering system and won.

"Shields at thirty-four percent. Hull breaches on decks

three through fifteen. Weapons arrays offline."

"Captain, we can't hold out. We'd better try to get out of

here." Chakotay's voice was implacable as he suggested

retreat. "Agreed, Captain," chimed in Paris. "At least

we've got warp drive now; who knows how much longer before

we're dead in the water?"

Janeway hesitated briefly. The away team was still on the

planet. She didn't want to abandon them, but if they stayed

where they were they could be destroyed, and certainly of

no help to the crew on the ground if that happened.

"Janeway to Tuvok," she intoned, but there was no reply.

"The long-range comm system is down, Captain," said

Rollins. Another bone-shuddering jolt rattled them, and

Janeway wasted no more time.

"Set a course for that planetary nebula we passed,

Lieutenant. Then put us into rapid high warp-let's see if

we can't catch them napping."

"Yes, ma'am." Janeway noted that Paris smiled slightly;

she knew there was nothing he enjoyed more than outfoxing

an enemy with his piloting skills. And she also realized he

knew she wasn't abandoning Harry and the othersshe wouldn't

quit until she had them back. Now they had to lick their

wounds and make repairs, and taking cover in the nebula was

the only prudent course.

The sudden leap to warp did indeed catch the Kazon by

surprise; Voyager had several minutes' advantage and was

able to enter the planetary nebula, which, with its clumps

of star matter millions of kilometers across, offered a

perfect hiding place. They entered the massive, stately

plumes of gas and were safely concealed deep within the

dark dust lanes of the nebula before the Kazon ships

realized what had happened. Janeway made sure repair teams

were in action, checked with the doctor as to the number of

wounded and the severity of their injuries, then met with

the bridge officers. Her plan was straightforward enough:

make repairs and regain strength, then get back to the

planet as soon as possible, hoping to outmaneuver the Kazon

and beam up their away team.

She was amused when Chakotay "ordered" her to her

quarters; it was imperative for all of them to rest while

they could-they'd need to be at their sharpest when they

headed back to the planet-but she felt slightly like a

child being told to take a nap. And again, she couldn't

sleep. She tried going through all the exercises and

procedures she had developed over the years for bouts of

insomnia: a cool, darkened room, breathing patterns,

relaxation exercises, meditation-and when all else failed,

a glass of warm milk. But in spite of her efforts to quiet

her mind, one thought came crowding back. Her crew was

stranded. She had to get them back. It was the second time

in as many months that she had faced this problem and the

fiftieth since they'd been flung to the Delta Quadrant.

Her life since then had been a series of challenges and

crises, and most of her energies had gone into coping with

them. She'd been tested time and again, pushed to limits

she wasn't sure she could withstand, and then pushed

further. Would it ever let up? Would there ever be a day

that she wasn't called upon to solve some insoluble

problem, to overcome some life-threatening obstacle? The

thought of throwing up her hands, acknowledging that she

was too tired and weak and simply didn't have anything left

to give-that thought became tempting. She was tired of

challenges. There was a time when they energized her, but

now they threatened to overwhelm. She wanted to feel safe

again, secure and protected, knowing someone else was

watching out for things ....

2

CROUCHED WITHIN THE KNEEHOLE OF HER FATHER'S DESK, four-year-old Kathryn listened to the sound of the tock-tock-tock of the grandfather clock in his office.

She was careful not to make a sound, for she knew her

father needed to concentrate, and a small child fidgeting

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