Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (5 page)

at his feet would have distracted him. He was working-he

was always working-on a starship design, and the various

clicks and beeps of his padd punctuated the silence in the

room, offering odd counterpoint to the sonorous clock.

Kathryn loved hearing the sounds of the padd; they were

oddly soothing, a reminder that he was there, a connection

to him. Sometimes she pretended the sounds were in fact a

private code they shared, that he was sending her messages

that no one else could interpret.

"Daddy to Goldenbird . . . my ETA is fifteen minutes . . .

rendezvous with me in my study at sixteen hundred hours . .

. this is top secret . . . Daddy out. his Kathryn smiled as

she snuggled in the kneehole. Maybe it would be only

fifteen minutes more, maybe it would be longer. But the

reward for her patience and stillness would be worth it:

she and Daddy would do their games. She would have him to

herself for a time. And for that, Kathryn would gladly have

sat quietly under the desk for hours. She'd been spending a

lot of time in Daddy's study lately, ever since Your Sister

had come to their house. Your Sister didn't seem to be much

more than a wriggling movement inside a soft blanket, but

her arrival had had a profound effect on the household.

Mama was hardly ever in evidence now, except when she

walked with the small bundle in the blanket over her

shoulder, patting its back and singing softly to it. So

far, Kathryn had not heard Mama singing her song to your

Sister, but knew that was because Mama and Daddy had not

yet decided on a name for this new presence.

Kathryn had her own thoughts about that, but so far no one

had asked her. Her father's leg shifted slightly next to

her and she sat up quickly. Did this mean he was almost

done? Was he closing up his padd and getting ready for the

games? She held her breath, afraid of causing distraction,

but she continued to hear the sounds of the padd. Daddy

wasn't ready yet. She settled back again, mind running over

the games, practicing, readying herself so she would be

perfect.

She intended to surprise Daddy by knowing every single

thing today-and even more-so he would ruffle her hair and

say, "That's my Goldenbird . . . what a clever girl you

are!" The prospect of hearing those words made her heart

quicken.

She sat like that, contained and quiet, for another half

hour. She could tell because the grandfather clock chimed

every fifteen minutes, and there were four fifteen minutes

in each hour. Two of them was half an hour.

She had figured that out when she was three.

She heard a familiar click and realized that Daddy had

snapped shut his padd. She held her breath for a moment,

for sometimes he would open another, but she saw his legs

withdrawing from the desk. He was done, and she knew

exactly what would happen next.

Now she heard him pacing the room, as though looking for

something. "No, not there," he intoned, and she smiled. A

few seconds later, he said, with a hint of exasperation,

"Not there either. Hmmmmm."

Her smile grew as she listened to this careful ritual. "I

could swear I heard a little bird in this room . . . but I

can't find her. Where could she be? Is she hiding in the

replicator?"

Now Kathryn had to cover her mouth with her handsin the

replicator! How silly, how could she do that?

She felt a giggle building. "Oh-oh . . . maybe she got into

the fish tank . . . she's after my African lionfish . . .

you naughty bird, you'd better not bother my lionfish!" Now

the giggle was starting to tickle her throat; she tried to

push it down and instead it came out through her nose as a

little snort. "What's that? What did I just hear?" His

mock-stern voice moved closer to her.

She scrunched into the tiniest ball she could become and

covered her face with her hands. Then she heard his voice

right next to her. "Why . . . it's a bird all right. It's a

Goldenbird, and she's hiding under my desk!"

Now Kathryn looked up as she felt his hands on her,

pulling her out. She shrieked with glee as he picked her up

effortlessly and swung her around the room. "Goldenbird is

flying . . . all around the room . . . up . . . and down .

. . and down . . . and up . . ." Kathryn's laughter pealed

as her father swung her in delicious circles and dips and

then finally lowered her to the floor.

"More, Daddy, more," she pleaded, but he knelt down close

to her. "I'm sorry, but we don't give free rides around

here. What do you have to do for a ride?"

"Earn it."

"And how do you do that?"

"Win the games."

"Are you ready?"

"Yes, Daddy, all ready."

His wonderful face looked down at her. Gray eyes twinkled,

sandy brown hair fell over his forehead. Daddy's face

always looked happy, she thought. "Very well. Did you work

on the sevens?"

Kathryn took a breath, plunged into the scary unknown. "I

worked on the sevens . . . and the eights. And the nines."

His look of amazement was reward enough for all the work

she'd done. She giggled again, delighted that she'd

surprised him. She knew he'd never have expected her to

learn so much.

"Eights and nines, eh? Those are very big numbers for a

little girl. Are you sure you want to take this chance?

You'll win your ride if you just get the sevens."

"I'm ready. I can do it."

"But if you make a mistake on the eights or nines . . . no

ride." "I know."

He smiled, and his look of genuine pride made her shiver.

"Well, then. Nine times eight?"

"Seventy-two."

"Eight times seven?"

"Fifty-six."

"Seven times four."

"Twenty-eight."

"Eight times eight."

"Sixty-four."

"Nine times . . . eleven."

She paled. They'd never gone past the tens. She had

memorized everything up to a multiple of ten, but eleven

represented an area of computation she'd never considered.

"That's not fair, Daddy. We've never done elevens."

"You've proven you can memorize very well. But it's

important you learn how to think about numbers.

I'm expecting you to move to the next level of

mathematics."

Her mind threatened to panic. She couldn't do this, he was

betraying her. How could she answer something she'd never

even thought of? She would have to admit to him that she

couldn't do it.

This last thought ripped through her mind, searing it like

a jagged lightning strike, and she felt the beginning of

tears sting her eyes. Daddy was looking at her, patient but

unyielding. She knew he would not back down, would not

simply take pity on her. He would expect her to come up

with the answer. That realization was somehow calming to

her, and she sank to the floor, sitting with her legs

crossed and her hands folded in her lap, eyes closed. She

forced her mind to close out the room, the grandfather's

clock, and Daddy's presence looming above her. She

concentrated on the numbers, trying to see them in front of

her. Nine tens was easy. She learned weeks ago that for ten

times anything you just added a zero. So nine tens was

ninety. She tried to see them in her mind, lined up in

ordered rows: nine lionfish in one row, nine lionfish in a

second row, nine lionfish in a third row. She proceeded

this way until she could see all ninety fish, whiskered and

malevolent, spread out in her mind's eye. If those were ten

rows, she needed only add one more row.

Eleven rows of fish . . . eleven nines. Ten of them are

ninety, and if she added nine more-- "Ninety-nine." She

opened her eyes and looked up at him. He was regarding her

with a strange expression that she did not come to

understand for a long time.

He swooped down and lifted her up, holding her close to his

chest. For a long time he didn't say anything, and she was

terrified she had made a mistake.

"Is that right, Daddy?" Her voice was a whisper. "Exactly

right." He sat her down and tousled her hair. "What a

clever Goldenbird you are. How did you do that?"

The smile erupted on her face. "I could see the numbers. I

just added another row."

He gazed at her fondly. "You know what? You not only get

another ride-but you and I are going to the cornfields

together."

This was the ultimate reward. Kathryn's favorite place on

Earth was the cornfields of the agricultural park in which

they lived, row upon row of stately tasseled figures,

marching in unison, bending and swaying in the summer

breeze, dancing on the wind. Sometimes when they went

there, she and Daddy invented little stories they acted

out-the cornstalks were Starfleet cadets, marching on the

parade ground, or they were a corps de ballet, with

beautifully gowned ballerinas dancing in unison-and

sometimes they played hideand-seek. Last year, when she'd

watched the harvest, she cried for the loss of her

companions.

She put her hand in Daddy's, and they walked out through

the wide doors onto the patio. Her heart was thudding with

happiness, and she wished she could preserve that moment

forever.

3

JANEWAY'S HEAD SHOT UP AND HER EYES FLEW OPEN AND FOR A

moment she didn't know where she was. Childhood memories,

recollections, and feelings hung about her, vaporous and

fleeting. She tried to cling to them but they receded like

shadows in the rising sun. Then the present came snapping

back at her: she was on Voyager and they were in danger.

The Kazon lurked outside the nebula and part of her crew

was stranded on an alien planet.

A check of the time showed that she had slept for over an

hour, though she would have sworn her eyes hadn't closed.

"Janeway to bridge."

"Rollins here, Captain.

"Can you give me an update?"

"Repairs are continuing. Engineering reports that we

should be under way again in about four hours."

"Thank you, Lieutenant."

Now was the time to rest, to recharge her batteries in

preparation for the ordeal that lay ahead. She lay down

again, and tried to recapture the comforting feelings of

home and family she'd been experiencing before she woke.

She must've been dreaming . . . but what about? She

couldn't retrieve it . . . every time she thought she'd

snagged something with a corner of her mind, it slipped

away again ....

4

"RACQUET BACK . . . TURN YOUR SHOULDERS . . . NOW-uncoil!"

The commands were endless. They became a ceaseless drone

in her mind, a part of her unconscious.

"Sleeve to the mouth . . . lengthen your follow-through . .

. racquet face steady . . . level your backswing . . ." Her

tennis coach's voice rolled over the net from the opposite

end of the court as smoothly as the balls she hit. Coach

Cameron made it look so easy. But most of Kathryn's balls

went into the net or out of bounds, no matter how hard she

tried. She "was getting frustrated. Kathryn was on one of

the tennis courts of a small athletic complex near her

home. It was the locus of what were known as "traditional"

games-tennis, golf, and swimming.

Another complex nearby housed contempo-rary activities,

which included hoverball, Parrises Squares, hurdleleap, and

loft circles. That's where Kathryn would much rather have

been. She was good at most of those games. The Indiana

spring was in fulsome bloom, with forsythia and dogwood

emerging in an ecstasy of color. The air was fragrant and

warm; two months later baking heat would join with

oppressive humidity to create a veritable steam bath, but

now the May morning was pleasant. Kathryn, however, had no

appreciation of either the landscaping or the weather.

She jabbed ineffectually at a stray lock of hair that kept

falling in her eyes, trying to hook it around her ear. It

would only fall forward again. There seemed to be nothing

she could do to her thin, fine hair that would keep it out

of her eyes when she exercised.

"Kathryn, come up to the net." Coach Cameron was walking to

her side of the net, racquet in hand. She was a short,

muscular woman with thick blond curls and a smiling face.

Kathryn wanted to look just like her when she was grown up,

but even at nine years of age she realized that her hair

would never look like Coach Cameron's. And neither would

her tennis strokes. "I want to check your grip."

Kathryn put her hand in the forehand grip and Coach Cameron

inspected it carefully. "That might be the problem," she

said. "Your grip is rotated too far to the right, so the

racquet face is coming through at an angle. See?"

She swung Kathryn's arm through an exaggerated stroke.

"You're hitting the ball up, and that's why so many of them

are going out. Turn your hand back this way just a little."

Coach Cameron rotated Kathryn's hand slightly to the left.

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