Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
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
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
"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
"There don't seem to be any artifacts buried with them."
This was from Kes, who as always was curious about
"Quite right. And again, there are inferences one can
make, but little way to delimit them without more
"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
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
"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
Lieutenant Rollins said crisply; he was filling in for
Tuvok at Tactical. "Prepare to return fire. Ready forward
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 ....
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