Read Mosaic Online

Authors: Jeri Taylor

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction


BOOK: Mosaic
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were back home in Indiana. The air was warm and slightly

humid; there was a scent of something that was almost like

newly mown grass; and a gentle insect hum lulled the

senses. She could almost forget that she was on an unknown,

unnamed planet in the Delta Quadrant and pretend that she

was hiking in the rolling hills of her home state.

Her eye fell on a bank of billowing white bushes-a fluffy

mass of fronds that looked almost like pillows. It was

tempting to lie down for a few moments, savoring the warm

afternoon. She reached out and lightly touched one of the

thick fronds; it yielded gently, promising a soft cushion.

Janeway glanced around at the rest of her away team, busy

scanning for edible foodstuffs: Chakotay, the darkly

handsome first officer, led a group of young ensigns who

were clearly enjoying their first time on land in over a

month; the sound of their laughter rang through the lush

valley they were exploring.

Chakotay, she knew, was wise enough to let them have some

fun. A field trip on a verdant planet was just the thing to

raise youthful spirits after a month of isolation on a


Half a kilometer away, near the mouth of the valley, her

Vulcan security officer, Tuvok, led the second contingent,

which had been assigned the task of collecting foodstuffs

deemed safe. That determination would be made by Neelix,

their Talaxian guide, cook, self-proclaimed morale officer,

and all-around handyman. Janeway smiled, imagining the

interplay between the two.

It had become Neelix' obsession to bring joy to Tuvok's

life-an effort which the staid Vulcan greeted with a

noticeable lack of enthusiasm. But Neelix was undeterred,

determined to dispel what he insisted was the cloud of

gloom that surrounded Tuvok.

Janeway inhaled deeply. It was so much like home-the faint

scent of moist soil, a hint of floral fragrance on a gentle

breeze-that she decided to yield to temptation. She fell

back onto the mound of soft, pillowlike plants and closed

her eyes, as if she were lying on a mound of hay.

Back home.

The warmth of the planet's yellow star warmed her face.

Insects droned ceaselessly; it would have been easy to

drift off to sleep. But she wanted these few moments to be

hers-to daydream, to pretend for this short time that she

wasn't sixty-eight thousand light-years from Earth, that

she wasn't carrying the extraordinary responsibility of

getting her crew home safely, that she wasn't struggling to

keep alive everyone's hopes that the journey could somehow

be foreshortened. For just these few minutes, she would lie

here and imagine that she was back on Earth, had managed to

get voyager home, had seen her crew welcomed as heroes and

returned to the loving arms of their families and friends.

Then she had transported home to visit her own family-and


She had finally managed to resolve her feelings for Mark.

It had taken over a year before he wasn't forever creeping

into her thoughts, before she stopped hearing his voice,

his laughter, in her mind. She had put away his pictures

because they only helped to keep the wound open; she

decided (although she sometimes doubted it) that after more

than a year, he would have written her off as dead and

moved on with his life.

And that she must do the same.

Recently she had realized that she didn't quite remember

what he looked like.

So this daydream would not be about Mark. It was only

about home, about the part of her life spent in one of the

most beautiful parts of the country, the agricultural

paradise of Indiana. She thought of her mother, and

imagined their post-homecoming conversation.

"There were times when I didn't think we'd make it," said

Janeway. "You can't imagine how hard it was to keep my

spirits up-but I had to, because I couldn't risk the crew

losing heart because their captain did." She was sitting in

the sunny breakfast room of the home she'd grown up in,

mellow with pine paneling, sunlight filtering through an

ancient sycamore tree that grew outside the window, its

graceful branches swaying in a gentle breeze.

Her mother, wise and warm, smiled at her.

"Heaven forbid you ever show the slightest weakness. Is

that what being a captain means? That you're not allowed to

have the feelings everyone else has?" "That's how it seemed

to me. I had to set the standard. I had to be confident.

And it worked-I did get us home."

Gretchen Janeway reached out a hand and caressed her

daughter's cheek. "And I'm so proud of you."

"Proud enough to bake me some of your caramel brownies?"

Gretchen laughed, started for the kitchen. "I already

have. I knew that's the first thing you'd ask for."

Lying on the soft, billowing plants, Janeway smiled to

herself. She'd tried to replicate her mother's brownies,

the effort cost her four days' rations-but the result was

so disappointing that she couldn't bear to eat them. She'd

run into Jerron, the young Bajoran, and given him the plate

of treats; his incredulous delight was more rewarding than

eating the brownies could ever have been. Jerron's pain in

the early days of their journey had been palpable;

gradually, he had been losing his anger and was becoming

more comfortable, starting to feel himself a member of the


Janeway made it a point to make him feel cared for, and the

young man was responding.

She wasn't sure how long she'd been lying there, drifting

and dreaming, when she sensed that something was wrong. The

smell had changed: the fragrant, grassy aroma had altered

somehow-it had an edge to it, a-what? A metallic quality?

Janeway opened her eyes and sat up, saw that both teams

were aware of something, were scanning with an increased

urgency, pointing, calling to each other.

She jumped to her feet, and in the same instant identified

the odor: ozone. An electrical burning.

And that was the only warning they got.

Suddenly, there was a sizzling snap! A green arcing light

pierced the air, and the ozone smell became acrid. Janeway

twitched involuntarily, as though she'd suffered an

electrical shock. The air itself had become charged by the

bolt of-what? Plasma? She scanned quickly and detected a

hot, electrically energized field unknown to the Federation


A hot wind began to stir, intensifying the burning smell;

Janeway's nostrils began to sting. Out of the corner of her

eye, she noticed the cottony white bushes begin to ripple

in the sultry wind, but her mind quickly focused on her

crew. Chakotay and his young group were already on the

move, heading toward her, when three or four more bolts of

green sliced through the sky, crackling and smoking. This

time Janeway heard herself cry out as pain slashed through

her body.

Were they under attack? Or were they simply caught in an

unexpected natural phenomenon? It hardly mattered--whatever

these strange flashes were, they were clearly dangerous.

She had to get her people out of there.

She hit her commbadge, noting that Chakotay was doing the

same, as undoubtedly Tuvok was also.

"Janeway to Voyager . . . We need emergency transport." She

repeated the message several times before accepting what

she had already suspected: that the electrical disturbance

was interfering with the communications system, and it was

doubtful the transporters would function through the


Then the air crackled with energy bolts, sizzling and

sparking. She heard a scream and saw someone fall to the

ground. The hot wind began to gust violently, and the

hissing sound of the arcing flashes became deafening.

Janeway called out to Chakotay, but her voice was swallowed

in the noise and the wind.

She waved her arm at him, gesturing him to the mouth of the

valley. Ahead of her, she saw Tuvok and his group already

on the run. She began sprinting toward them.

But her body wouldn't behave as it should. Her legs were

shaky, uncoordinated, like a newborn lamb's. She stumbled

and then shuddered as another series of green flashes

ripped through the air. Now it felt as though oxygen had

been depleted from the atmosphere, and her lungs rasped as

she drew stinging air into them. Reflexively, she began

scanning again, and discovered a possible shelter: in the

mountains that ringed the valley were a series of caves; if

they could find an opening they might be able to escape

this brutal attack.

Chakotay and his group came stumbling toward her, gasping,

struggling against the wind. One of the ensigns collapsed

to the ground; two others immediately pulled him up. All of

them looked frightened but not panicky. Janeway pointed

toward the mountains.

"Caves," she yelled, but she barely heard her own voice

over the roar of the wind.

Chakotay nodded; he understood. He turned and began herding

his young charges to follow Janeway, who was moving toward

the nearest outcropping of the mountains, scanning for a

possible opening as she went. Suddenly the tricorder

disappeared from view. Janeway registered that fact, then

realized everything had disappeared; she saw only a field

of black punctuated by jagged green slashes. She barely had

time to realize that there had been another series of

energy bolts when the pain hit her. She felt as though she

were on fire, muscle and tissue seared, bodily fluids

boiling. With an involuntary cry, she fell to her knees,

stunned and shuddering.

For a moment she was blind, desperate for oxygen, and in

agony. But she forced her mind to take control. She stilled

herself, locating the pain, isolating it, containing it

until it began to subside. Gradually, the green slashes in

her vision began to fade, the blackness receded, and she

lifted her head.

The young officers were scattered on the ground like

deadwood, writhing and moaning. Chakotay had already begun

rising shakily to his feet, assessing their condition. One

by one they began to get up, faces pale with shock,

staggering, but on their feet.

We won't survive another round, Janeway thought, and she

lifted her tricorder to scan for the nearest opening in the

mountains. Then, ahead of her, she saw Tuvok's group

crowding toward a dark slash in the cliff side. She

realized they had found the mouth of a cave and she whirled

to motion to Chakotay; but he'd already seen and was

yelling at the group, gesturing toward the mountain, urging

them forward. The ragged group tried to run, fear of

another bombardment of energy bolts propelling them against

the fierce wind.

Janeway's legs felt like gelatin, but she forced them to

drive forward. The roar of the wind thundered in her ears;

her lungs burned and streaks of green still obscured her

vision. The side of the mountain seemed kilometers away,

but she knew it wasn't-it couldn't be more than forty

meters now. Tuvok's group had disappeared into the cave,

but her Vulcan friend remained outside, moving toward them,

prepared to help.

Thirty meters . . . The wind whipped dirt from the ground,

making it even harder to breathe. Janeway glanced behind

her to make sure the others were with her; they were, heads

down, doggedly forcing their shaking legs to move. Chakotay

brought up the rear, ready to help stragglers. The ozone

smell began to build again, and Janeway realized it was the

harbinger of another attack; she picked up the pace,

yelling at those behind her to hurry.

Ahead of her the mouth of the cave yawned like a gaping

maw; the figure of Tuvok swam before her, mouth moving,

calling to them soundlessly as his words were swallowed in

the wind. And then she was there, Tuvok's arm steadying

her, his firm grip infusing her with strength. She turned

BOOK: Mosaic
10.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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