Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

Mosaic (9 page)

"That would be the prudent course. But we have lost

communication with the ship."

This was disquieting. Was there damage to the comm system?

Or did the humanoid presence on the planet indicate that

Voyager was under attack?

Neelix hoped Tuvok had been thinking of the problem and

already had a plan in mind. He was not disappointed.

"Mr. Neelix, do you have a fix on our location? I believe

we should unite our groups."

"I have your coordinates, but we'll be taking an indirect

route. A direct line to you would take us through a thick

grove of trees I'd prefer not to wade through."

"Understood. Bring your group around it."

And that's what Neelix intended to do. But almost as soon

as the group had been collected and given their orders,

that possibility was snatched from them.

Ensign Kale moved toward him, freckles standing out on her

pale face. "Mr. Neelix, my readings show that if we move in

an easterly direction around the trees, we'll run into a

deep ravine. It'd be pretty tough to get across-maybe

impossible. If we go in a westerly direction we'd be moving

directly into the path of the humanoids."

Hesitating before making a decision, Neelix scanned in the

direction of the humanoids once more, didn't like what he

saw, and checked his readings again.

Now the life signs could be read clearly: they were Kazon,

and they were moving quickly. Neelix stared into the

tenebrous depths of the copse of trees, ominous and

foreboding. He pointed. "This way," he said, and instantly

trotted into the murky, tangled corridor of trees before he

could think better of it.

6

KATHRYN RACED THROUGH THE HERB FIELDS, HEART pounding and

lungs burning.

How could she have lost track of the time? One minute the

morning had been fresh and cool, sun low in the sky and dew

still clinging to the herb gardens. What seemed like

minutes later the sun was overhead and beating mercilessly

down; hours had gone by and now she had only minutes to get

ready and meet the team at the transport site. She clutched

the padd in her hand as she ran. That's what had betrayed

her, of course. She'd gone out to her favorite study spot,

a hilly knoll between herb fields, with a willow tree that

cast delicate shadows on the ground below. Kathryn had

climbed the tree several years ago, when she was nine, and

discovered a comfortable "chair" of tree limbs, against

which she could sprawl comfortably and read, study, or just

daydream. She loved the tree. If she was troubled, she came

to it.

If she was faced with a problem, an hour in the tree

frequently provided the solution. If she faced a difficult

test in school, the leafy bough of the tree provided a

tranquillity that cleared the mind and made study

efficiently easy.

She'd come there early this morning because she was

determined to understand the derivation of the distance

formula.

She was convinced that if she did, Daddy would be so proud

of her that he'd spend more time at home, more time with

her, the way he used to when she was little. She didn't

know what had happened lately, why Daddy had to be away

from home so much. It used to be that he would transport to

Starfleet Headquarters once or twice a week, staying at

home the rest of the time to work. But something was going

on; she had sensed it about a year ago, when Daddy began to

transport to San Francisco almost every day. Occasionally

she heard him talking with Mommy, and she had heard him

mention a species called Cardassians. And when he talked

about them, he seemed very worried. He began staying in San

Francisco for days at a time, then weeks at a time. It had

been a month since she'd seen him, but he was going to be

back tonight. She desperately wanted to show him she could

derive the distance formula, and watch his face light up as

he realized what she'd been able to do.

Finding the numerical value of the distance between two

points was simple, of course: just plug the Cartesian

coordinates of the two points into the padd and it would

give you the distance.

The hard part was to find the formula that would apply to

any pair of coordinates. That was the kind of thinking

Daddy expected of her. But in spite of hours of working the

problem, coming at it from every angle she could think of,

the solution remained elusive. And then she looked up and

realized how late it was.

She burst onto the patio of her house, right by a startled

64

Mom and Phoebe, and past Bramble, who rose immediately to

run after her, through the door and into the breakfast

room, down the hall to her room. She slammed the door open

and began stripping off her clothes, reaching at the same

time for the uniform on her bed. Haste made her hands

clumsy, and she stamped her feet in frustration; under her

breath she said one of the words that weren't supposed to

be said except at times of great distress. Pants were on,

then shirt and jacket, shoes. She glanced in the mirror and

saw that she looked frazzled and unkempt. There was no time

to do anything with her hair, so she ran her fingers

through the fine, reddish brown locks and watched them lie

limp on her head, damp from perspiration.

Habit made her reach for the cylinder of sun protector; she

tapped the lever that opened the dispenser at the top of

the cylinder-comand screamed as something leapt out of the

cylinder, something long and serpentine, springing up and

at her in an explosion of energy.

Her heart raced in shock and her stomach knotted as she

stumbled backward, tumbling back and catching herself

awkwardly on one wrist. And then she heard Phoebe giggling.

She looked and saw her eight-year-old sister standing in

the doorway, hands cupped over her mouth, unable to choke

back the giggles that erupted from her.

Kathryn stared at her, then looked over to see the thing

that had erupted from the cylinder. It was a long coil of

polymer that had been jammed down into the container of sun

protector-the one thing Phoebe knew she would never leave

for a game without using. She stared at her sister, trying

to understand this cruel betrayal.

"It isn't funny!" she yelled. But that only made Phoebe

laugh harder. Kathryn turned and grabbed her bag, brushed

past her sister at the door, and ran outside toward her

hovercycle. She had only minutes to get to the school

transport site; she was frantic, unprepared, and furious.

And in that state she would have to function as captain of

her tennis team.

Kathryn and her team materialized on the transport pad of

the Academy Institute's athletic department. Like all the

Institute's facilities, the transporter site was sleek and

pristine, a cool, blue-gray room, spare and unadorned. An

Institute cadet manned the console, and like all the

others, she was (it seemed to Kathryn) faintly

condescending. Kathryn had wanted to attend the Institute.

Each state had such a school geared for a pre-Starfleet

Academy curriculum, and created to channel the best and the

brightest right to San Francisco.

Kathryn could easily have qualified, but her parents had

instead chosen The Meadows for her and Phoebe. They

believed the Institute provided too narrow a curriculum for

young people, and preferred the more liberal, wide-ranging

philosophy of The Meadows, which emphasized creative

experiences and physical conditioning along with academics.

Its goal was to produced well-rounded young people, rather

than superstars of select disciplines. Kathryn would have

been much happier at the Institute. She wouldn't have had

to take such pointless, traditional studies as piano,

ballet, and cooking. Cooking, for heaven's sake! Who would

ever need to know how to cook?

She could have concentrated on mathematics instead. She and

her six teammates stepped off the pad; the uniformed,

female cadet barely inclined her head toward them. Students

from The Meadows were considered somewhat odd, generally

undisciplined, and most definitely inferior. Kathryn made

an inner decision to return to the transport site

victorious, and make sure the condescending cadet knew it.

The seven team members carried their tennis bags toward

the Institute's beautifully landscaped courts. The school

was an immaculately groomed facility, with rich green lawns

and precisely planted shrubbery surrounding low, sleek

classrooms. Kathryn always felt ambivalent about being on

the grounds; on the one hand she loved the ordered neatness

of the place and felt comfortable thereas though she

belonged-but this was offset by resentment that she wasn't

a permanent student there, and had to endure the cluttered

atmosphere of The Meadows, whose sprawling grounds lacked

both symmetry and organization.

Heat waves rose from the ground, and billowing white

clouds hung heavily in the sky.

The air was damp and close; it would rain before nightfall.

These weren't optimum conditions for playing a grueling

tennis match, and Kathryn had no doubt that today's would

be grueling.

She had played her rival before. Her name was Shalarik, a

Vulcan exchange student whose imperturbable demeanor on the

court was unsettling.

But she was attackable, and if she was broken early, her

tightly controlled emotions became an obstacle, because

she was unable to use her feelings to generate momentum.

Kathryn's advantages lay in her head. She could analyze an

opponent's game with mathematical precision, then devise

countermeasures to thwart and frustrate the adversary on

the other side of the net. That tactical capacity was what

had made tennis tolerable, and gradually turned it into a

challenge that she had determined to conquer. Her backhand

was the first stroke to solidify, and it became a

formidable weapon. She loved the feel of it, the coiling of

her body, knees bent deeply, the drive forward as she

uncoiled and whacked the stuffing out of the ball. It gave

her an intoxicating sense of power. Two years later, she

was captain of the team.

Strategy was key today. If she could keep pressure on

Shalarik, hitting deep to the baseline, punishing her with

the powerful backhand, trying to force a short ball so she

could come to the net, she could win. And at least she

would greet Daddy tonight with a victory to report.

Four hours later she was crawling through a muddy field,

sobbing uncontrollably, soaked to the skin from a pounding

thunderstorm. Wind whipped at her, driving stinging rain

into her face, and her throat ached from the harsh sobs

that racked her.

It had been humiliating.

From the beginning of her match, nothing had gone right.

She was unfocused and erratic. Her stamina was low

(probably as a result of her two-mile run through the herb

fields) and she tired early.

Shalarik's controlled, precise shots were unerring: she

kept Kathryn off balance all afternoon. No strategy Kathryn

tried was successful, and the Vulcan broke her serve

immediately and then just kept winning.

Kathryn won only one game in the entire match, which ended

6-1, 6-0. Her loss allowed the Institute team to win the

match and the season. She had let everybody down.

Her teammates had tried to console her, but she was beyond

solace. She refused to go to the transport sitewalk by that

snotty cadet?-and instead struck out, walking, determined

to hike the entire twenty miles back to school, punishing

herself for this intolerable defeat. The storm burst only

minutes after she started out. There had been a quickening

of the breeze, a sudden drop in temperature, and then the

first crack of thunder followed only seconds later by

lightning. So close so quickly! The noise was unnerving,

and she stepped up her pace. But only minutes later the

clouds burst open and deposited their abundant load into

the wind-whipped atmosphere, and almost immediately Kathryn

was drenched and the ground beneath her had turned to soup.

She slogged on, legs covered in mud, mud sucking at her

shoes and creeping in to coat her feet. The rain lashed at

her even harder, and the wind almost hammered her off her

feet. She had to lean into the wind, head down, driving

forward with all her strength.

Tears began to sting her eyes, and then they poured

freely, mixing with cold rain; great sobs began to rack

her. Never in her life had she been more miserable. And yet

the very misery was soothing; she deserved to be miserable

after today.

Somewhere in the distance, she saw the faint lights of a

hovercraft. It shouldn't be out in this storm, she knew;

hovercraft were at risk in storms. Whoever it was was

probably looking for cover. Then she realized how dark it

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