Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
"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.
KATHRYN RACED THROUGH THE HERB FIELDS, HEART pounding and
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
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
She'd come there early this morning because she was
determined to understand the derivation of the distance
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
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
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
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