Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (8 page)

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

predicted.

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

it did.

5

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

Tuvok's attention.

"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

explicit.

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

aerial view."

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

mistake.

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

and eager.

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

to Neelix.

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

indications.

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

side."

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