Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
Mars was a viable concept by the end of the twentieth
century," he told her.
"But all the theorizing was done envisioning only the
technology that existed at the time. No one ever imagined
making contact with the Vulcans, or what a technological
breakthrough they would help us establish."
They were walking outside in a Martian atmosphere that no
longer required spacesuits or even 02 concentrators to
breathe. Before them swept a vast plain studded with oak
trees-genetically engineered, to be sure, but recognizable
just the same-that grew to towering heights because of the
low Martian gravitational pull. Beyond that lay the
deceptively gentle slope that led to the top of Olympus
Mons, the highest point on Mars (and three times as high as
Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth); it, too, was
covered with trees, though pines predominated at the upper
elevations. "Warming the planet was accomplished in a
fraction of the time twentyfirst-century scientists had
Water and oxygen were liberated from the subterranean
permafrost and genetically engineered bacteria were
introduced into the terrain. This began the terraforming
process. There were colonists living on Mars as early as
2103, but they needed atmospheric suits in order to breathe
outside a biosphere. Not quite one hundred years after
that, Mars possessed a breathable atmosphere." They had
approached a huge, man-made quarry that, Kathryn noted,
contained water. "These are quarries left by the first
mining projects on Mars," explained Data.
"The earliest colonists utilized local resources, mining
the elements to build habitable structures."
Some of Kathryn's history lesson came back to her. "They
mined something that helped them make concrete . . . ."
"This is correct. Basaltic regolith exists in large
quantities on this planet.
Refined and mixed with water, it forms a crude concrete.
This process was far more efficient than trying to bring
building materials from Earth."
"Why is there water in the quarry now?"
"When the quarries were abandoned, they filled with water
from the underlying cave systems. Mars had quite a wet
beginning, you see; rivers, streams, and lava flows carved
caves just as they did on Earth." The pale being stared
down into the clear water of the quarries. "In summer these
quarries are quite popular as swimming sites." He glanced
down at his small charge. "Although I am told that adults
frown on children utilizing them in that way, since they
are not serviced by lifeguards."
Kathryn smiled to herself. This fascinating person said
things that were funny, yet she was sure he didn't intend
them that way, or even realize that's how they came out.
But her mind had filed away an interesting piece of
information: children weren't supposed to swim in the
quarries. Why that seemed interesting, she wasn't sure, but
HARRY KIM WAS FASCINATED. FOR THE PAST TWO HOURS, THE trail
of burial markers had led the group from one site to
another, each one larger and more elaborate than the one
before. The arrangements of the flying creatures" delicate
skeletons became more complex as they went, curves and
loops and spirals composed of the bleached white bones of
the beings who had once inhabited this place. "What do you
think it means, Lieutenant?" he asked Tuvok. "It seems as
though we're being led somewheresomewhere important."
Tuvok, he knew, was more concerned with reestablishing
contact with voyager than with conjecturing about an
archaeological site. But Harry also knew that it wasn't
unusual for an away team to lose temporary contact with the
ship, as there were many kinds of interference that would
cause trouble with the long-range comm system. And he was
too caught up in the present mystery to worry unduly about
what was probably a routine mishap. He waited until he had
"It may be," the Vulcan mused, "that the eventual goal
will be what the inhabitants considered the most important
site-the grave of a leader or great dignitary, or possibly
the location of sacrificial offerings." Harry stared at the
intricate grouping of skeletons that lay before them,
dozens of them laid out in a series of concentric circles.
Was it possible these magnificent creatures had been
sacrificed to some deity, living or imagined? The thought
gave him a chill, even though he knew through his studies
that many species-including his own-had at one time
performed such rituals.
Unbidden, the moment of sacrifice flashed through his
mind: a priestly knife held high, plunging, gouts of blood
spraying a feathered spasm, then stillness, great wings
forever closed. He shook his head to clear it of such
disturbing thoughts and began to search for the next blue
spire, the marker for the next site.
He couldn't find it.
Perplexed, he turned toward Tuvok, who was also scanning
with both eyes and tricorder, his dark forehead furrowed.
"I don't get it, sir," said Harry. "It doesn't seem like
this should be the end of the line-there's nothing
particularly special about this site."
"Agreed, Ensign. It may be that the location of the final
site is hidden, protected in some way in order to provide a
defense against defiling or looting."
Harry looked around. No clues presented themselves. The
green slime of the ground was unmarked; the flora dense and
solid. It was as though the trail simply ended. And yet he
knew there must be more. The trail had been so clear, so
And then the thought struck him, like a spoken voice in
his mind: "For anyone on the ground. his The trail could be
followed by anyone on the ground.
But these were beings capable of flight. The markers of the
final location might be visible only from the air.
"I've got it, sir," he said excitedly.
"There must be a pattern that can be seen from the air, not
the ground." Tuvok understood immediately. "That would be
logical, Ensign. Proceed with that hypothesis."
"I'm going to enter the coordinates of every marker we've
encountered. The tricorder will able to extrapolate an
Excited now, he plunged into the overgrown thatch of the
vegetation that surrounded them.
Jal Sittik emerged from the Kazon shuttle and moved
eagerly into the hot sunlight.
Today would be the day he would achieve greatness. He took
a deep breath, drawing warm air into his lungs, feeling
them expand and imagining they were drawing power into his
body--power that would, on this day, cause him to achieve a
great triumph: victory over the puny Federations.
Jal Sittik put his hands on his hips and faced into the
sun, filling his lungs with strength, summoning his
virility so that his men could look on him and derive
strength from him, and bless their good fortune in being
part of his great destiny.
He knew that he struck a fine figure for his men to
witness. The adornments in his hair were impressive: for
each of his kills, he had woven a Behrni stone into a lock
of hair. By now, his head was crowned with a mass of the
veined green stones.
After today, there would be more. He thought of the glory
that would soon be his as his eyes scanned the strange,
alien landscape. His Maje would reward him handsomely. He
would sit at the right side of his leader, whispering into
his ear, counseling him on matters of battle and intrigue.
Other men would envy him, jealous of his strength and
courage, and would urge their sons to emulate him. And,
finally, he would erase the humiliating-and completely
unwarranted-stigma that had attached itself to him
following an ugly little encounter with the Nistrim.
Memory of the incident still burned within him, like a
burning coal that retains heat, able to sear flesh for
hours. How could he be faulted because a young man took
foolish risks in order to earn a name? He was a warrior,
not a nursemaid. And if young Hekkar chose to make what
amounted to a suicide run on a Nistrim encampment, how
could Jal Sittik be held responsible?
Maje Dut, however, saw the incident differently. Sittik
had been severely treated, held in chains for two weeks;
the wounds to his wrists and ankles were just healing, and
he would carry the scars forever. Proudly, of course.
He was certain some members of his squad had given the
Maje a flawed report of the incident. Miskk, for one, could
be counted on to color the story so that Sittik would
emerge in the worst possible light. Miskk was a sycophant,
shamelessly willing to exploit the fact that young Hekkar
was the Maje's nephew and that his death would
understandably leave the irascible Dut in a vengeful fury.
Miskk would learn that betraying Jal Sittik was a grievous
For today he would erase the memory of that prior mishap
and replace it with triumph. Maje Dut would embrace him
once more. Women would ache for his recognition. They would
parade before him, dressed in provocative gowns, oiling and
scenting themselves in their efforts to arouse him,
desperate to be chosen by Jal Sittik.
But he would take his time. He would drive them into a
frenzy of display by not responding to them. He would toy
with them, pretending disdain, until they went to greater
and greater lengths to capture his attention.
By the time he made his selection, there would be nothing
the chosen woman would not do for him.
Sittik surveyed his men. They were edgy and keen for
battle; he had whipped them to a furor of blood lust, and
they were eager to enjoin the enemy. Several were young men
who had not yet earned their names; they were particularly
eager to distinguish themselves, preferably through killing
their adversaries with their bare hands.
Power rippled through his veins; he could feel it, a
palpable energy that was both mastery and desire.
Erotic stirrings coalesced with the anticipation of combat,
a potent narcotic that made him heady with anticipation.
"Today!" he shouted to his men, a promise of victory, and
was rewarded with their resounding war cry.
Was there anything more glorious, he wondered, than the
comradeship of fellow warriors at the moment of battle?
Then he struck out across the overgrown terrain, confident
Neelix had been successful in discovering any number of
edible plants-tubers, fruits, and vegetables-that could be
harvested and that showed no toxicity after tricorder
scans. There was an entire grove of a spicy red fruit that
was shaped like a sphere, had a pleasant, crunchy texture,
and appeared abundant in nutritional elements. The grove
was deep and thick, the gnarled trunks and thick leafy
canopy shutting out almost all light.
Nate LeFevre stood next to him, peering into the gloom.
"The fruit might not be good in there," the rangy,
redheaded crewman said. "No light's getting in. I doubt the
fruit would ripen."
"No matter," replied Neelix. "We'll harvest what we can
from the periphery, then move into the interior. If the
fruit's no good, we don't have to pick it."
"I'd like to get as much as we can," proffered LeFevre.
"That's the best food I've eaten in a long time."
Neelix sniffed. He couldn't understand the culinary
preferences of humans. Leola root, prized everywhere as a
rare delicacy, went unappreciated by Voyager's crew. And
this new fruit, while perfectly acceptable, seemed ordinary
There was no accounting for taste. The group of ten had
seemingly gotten over their initial disappointment in not
going with the archaeological group, and were collecting
the foodstuffs earnestly, talking and laughing with
irrepressible good spirits. Greta Kale was energetic and
good-humored; she set a standard for the others, and Neelix
was grateful for her presence.
He was scanning the fruit grove aimlessly, wondering if
there was any purpose in moving into its dark depths, when
he noticed something disconcerting. On the tricorder there
were ever-so-faint but unmistakable life signs emanating
from within the grove-an animal species, from first
They might be harmless, but it was one more argument
against venturing into the dark and foreboding forest. He
turned to tell the others to start collecting the fruit
when he detected yet another life-sign reading-this one far
more disturbing. Ile hit his commbadge.
"Neelix to Tuvok."
"I'm here, Neelix."
"I'm reading humanoids on the planet. A sizable group, no
more than two kilometers from here, and moving toward us."
"I read them, also."
"Perhaps we should return to Voyager to be on the safe