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Authors: Dean Wesley Smith,Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction

The Escape (10 page)

BOOK: The Escape
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"The six-hundred violation is a misdemeanor.

But the others are felonies, I'm afraid." "Which means whatThat' Kim asked.

"The punishment is severe," Rawlik said.

"Eighthundred violations cover temporal tampering." "We keep hearing this eight hundred stuff." Neelix. said. "Just tell us what we did, please?" "Your eighthundred violation," Rawlik said, "was for traveling within a Period, which falls under a distinct class of regulations, which are divided into two subsets. Those tamperings committed with intent, and those committed without." "We didn't intend to come here," Torres said.

"I know." Rawlik fi-owned. "You keep saying dut 1102 But it makes no difference, really, except on your record. The punishment is the same." "And that punishment is?" Neelix asked.

"Death." The word hung in the processed air for a moment.

Then Torres said, "Death?" Rawlik nodded. "No exceptions.

Eighthundred violations are the most serious crimes possible." "For most cultures murder is considered the most serious crime," Torres snapped.

"This is worse," Rawlik said. "Capital offenses within Real Time fall in the one-hundred violations. They have differing punishments." "What can be worse than murder?" Neelix said.

"Temporal disturbances," Rawlik said. "In the wrong hands they can lead to genocide, the complete destruction of our culture, or the complete destruction of our world." For the third time that day the breath left Torres's body. "We haven't done any of that, have we?" "Not according to my records," Rawlik said. "But you did commit an eighthundred violation. We can't change that." Circles within circles within circles.

Torres could barely tolerate Starfleet regulations. This bureaucratic doublespeak was making her dizzy. I "All right," she said. "We committed some kind of horrible crime that's somehow related to your timetravel culture. You had better explain culture, crime, and our, involvement in language we "PlanetHoppers" can understand."

She crossed her arms and glared at him with a bravado she didn't quite feel.

Rawlik smiled at her and nodded. "I'll try." "Please," she said. "And if you plan to kill me when you're through, this explanation better be damn good$1' r

DRICKEL IGNORED HIS SMALL FLASHLIGHT IN FAVOR OF THE lantern he had brought. Carefully, he took the lantern out of his bag. He flicked the On switch and a flood of light filled the pitch black caverns, making him feel obscurely lonely.

Normally he never felt lonely. Yet here he was, in a time he hated, with only himself, his bag, and unknown scavengers to count on. It took him a moment to get his bearings. Each movement in time included a bit of readjusting. As he was getting older his body adjusted less quickly to the changes in temperature and humidity. Not to mention the other problems inherent in a shift. These old Control caverns were so bone dry and dusty that any fast movement he might make would send clouds of choking dust into the air.

He turned slowly, studying the remains of the old chamber. There were still some clay rings where the trees and flowers used to grow. The remains of a desk scattered across the floor and wires poked through the dust like gray snakes.

Even though he knew that this place had been abandoned because his people had found dimensional shifting more interesting than simple time travel, he still found the empty caverns spooky. Perhaps that had been the original inspiration for his behavior as a Watchman.

He swung the beam of the lantern toward the corridor. A wall on the right had caved in, causing a huge rock slide that sloped up into the ceiling. "Wonderful," he said.

His own voice echoed until it grew so faint he could no longer hear it. He wondered how far away the vibrations traveled. It was actually amazing that most of these old chambers were still open after so many years. They had been built solidly. He just hoped they were solid enough to hold together until he was out of them.

He put his bag over his shoulder and clamped the lantern to his side so as not to blind himself As he started across the main room, clouds of dust billowed up with his every step. He kept moving, staying ahead of it. He found the old magnetic train tunnel right where he remembered it being'from the maps.

The last time he'd jumped into this Control had been over twenty years Real Time ago, and then he had transported right to the surface from inside the smaller time chamber of the Back Room. He had caught scavengers who had jumped forward to the 1106 days after the Second Exodus. There had been six scavengers and it had been easy to scare them back to their Real Time without many problems. They had been a religious bunch and he'd played on those fears the way a professional musician played an Alcaharp.

Ten years earlier a small ship of PlanetHoppers trying to salvage had set off another alarm in this Period. After a day of having equipment and metal appear and disappear around them as they tried to work, they had left orbit without so much as a souvenir. PlanetHoppers, when faced with a huge ghost port like this one, were easily influenced by suggestion. In all his years, ghostlike antics had not failed him yet.

He studied the old magnetic railcar that was parked near the opening of the tunnel. The car was a small, oblong-shaped bullet made of once-shiny metal. Now, however, the car was buried in dust.

Carefully, he wiped the dust from the car's side, pulled on the handle, and winced at the snap! as the handle came off in his hand. He sighed, making dust particles float around him. It would have been nice to save himself the ten-kilometer walk and half-akilometer climb through the dark. Of course, he had just been dreaming, and a part of him knew it.

Even in a dry climate like this, too many years had gone by since anything but a few shuttles had been serviced and maintained against the years. Well, he was never one to shirk a good workout. He would get a sense of what kind of condition the tunnels were actually in. He dropped the handle in the dust, then started up the tunnel.

For the first half kilometer the tunnel went up at almost a forty-five-degree angle. He was sweating and covered with dust before he'd gone even a part of that distance. He slowed to a stop, letting the dust slowly settle around and behind him.

"This is stupid," he said, wiping dirt from his forehead. He was all for regulations-a Watchman should always use natural means of transport when available (watchmen Regulations, Section 4,221, Article 96)-but pot when those regulations asked him to be both grimy and exhausted. He opened the bag and removed the control for his personal, transporter. Some of the swirling dust finally caught in his throat and a coughing fit dislodged even more dust from the ceiling and walls.

Dimly he was aware he was making matters worse.

Finally he held his breath, choking back any coughs that threatened, until the dust settled enough to be only a foglike substance swirling in the lamplight. Then he made himself breathe slowly, promising himself a deep satisfying cough attack when he reached the surface. He flipped open the Attached panel for the transporter on his belt.

Then he opened the panel for the personal invisibility shields, located on the other side of his belt. Only Watchmen and high-security lowprofile police were allowed invisibility shields (watchmen Regulations, Section 66,719, Article 2), and for that he was grateful.

It would make his job extremely difficult if the average Alcawellian even knew invisibility properties existed.

Still, invisibility wasn't perfect. For a fraction of a 1108 second, he wouldn't be covered when he reached the surface. tHe couldn't transport and have his invisibility screen turned on at the same time.

They hadn't solved that problem yet. Or at least hadn't given the solution to him yet. He would have to chance that the PlanetHoppers wouldn't see him. They rarely had sensors that good, and even if they did, he'd be gone almost instantaneously.

They'd never trace him.

He punched the transporter button and the next thing he felt was the cold wind blowing sand against his face like stinging hailstones. "Wonderful climate," he said, turning away from the wind and keying in his invisibility shield. "I almost prefer the dust." He found his coat in his case and put it on, then snuggled a cap down over his head and put on a pair of goggles to protect his eyes from the flying sand. With a quick glance around at all the broken-down old time shuttles, he started off at a steady pace toward the site where the PlanetHoppers had touched down.

Janeway sat behind her desk in the ready room, her personal computer screen displaying the ship that had taken her away team from her. She had retired in here to study her options, review the situation, and to think about all that Kjanders had told them.

Like Chakotay, she didn't trust Kjanders. But he seemed to be telling the truth about the Alcawellian society. Tbvok and Chakotay had hit on the main problem, though. Kjanders seemed very unconcerned about his own possible death sentence.

She had confined him to quarters until she learned more. tilde She leaned back in her chair. Her ready room failed to soothe her. The view out the long windows included glimpses of comAlcawell, and even though she couldn't see the hundreds of thousands of shuttles on the surface, she could picture them, lined up in their perfect rows. Sometimes she felt completely at sea in this part of the galaxy.

Relying on Neelix only proved fifty percent effective. He got them help some of the time, and into trouble all the rest.

She only hoped he would be able to get them into trouble again because that would mean he was back on board.

She hadn't had time to check on Kes. The slight, pretty Ocampa had proven herself invaluable. Janeway knew that she would be having trouble, knowing that Neelix was a long way in the past.

Then Tuvok hailed her from the bridge.

"Captain," he said. "I have a-was His transmission stopped, but the link remained open.

Curious. "What is it, Mr. Tuvok?" Janeway asked. She half rose from her seat, ready to goeaffthe bridge.

"Forgive me, Captain," he said.

"For a second MY sensors registered a life-form on the planet's surface.

Humanoid, about ten kilometers from the place the away team disappeared. Then it vanished without a trace." "Is there a problem with the sensors, Mr.

Tuvok?" "I don't think so, Captain. It was almost as if the humanoid cloaked." 11*10 Janeway sighed. "Run a diagnostic and continue your sensor sweep. If that humanoid is cloaked and showed up once, the cloaking device is faulty. It'll show up again." "I am on it, Captain." "Good," Janeway said. She cut the link. Then she hailed Chakotay and asked him to join her in her ready room. Her options were limited, and she was facing several problems. She had to find her away team, as well as concentrate on keeping the ship in good order. Shedidn't want to think about how well Voyager would function if Torres never returned. Carey was a good engineer, but Torres was brilliant.

The door to the ready room hissed open. and Chakotay entered. "You wish to see me, Captain?" She nodded. "I've been considering the informa-. tion our guest gave us. I'm reluctant to send another team down to the planet's surface, but I see no choice in the matter, do you?" "A careful examination of the time shuttle would be, as Tuvok might put it, the logical thing to do," Chakotay said.

"Whom would you suggest?" Janeway asked.

She'd been going over possibles. Realizing that none of them might come back made her evaluate everyone on the ship. None of them were dispensable. She was fortunate. Even though she was seventy-five years from home, she had been stranded with an excellent team.

She had thought of going herself, but knew that while her scientific knowledge was valuable, her abilities as captain were even more so. "The choices are difficult , was Chakotay said, "but I 1111 too have been giving this some thought. Seska is an excellent engineer in her own right. Tavok has knowledge that might help. I believe I would be a good choice for the team. I also feel it's my duty to inform you that Lieutenant Paris volunteered. He is anxious to find Kim and would like to help in any way he can." Janeway permitted herself a small smile.

Chakotay felt the same urge to be involved that she did. "I need you here. I'd like you to follow up on our guest, see if you can get more information from him.

But the rest of your suggestions are good." She stood. "Let's assemble the team." Chakotay nodded. Together they left the ready room. The bridge was quiet. Paris sat at conn, Tuvok was bent over his control panels at security, and Jarvin stood at ops. As Janeway walked toward the captain's chair, the turbolift opened. Kes left it. Her small face appeared composed, but she was twisting her hands together. Janeway nodded at her, then turned to Tuvok.

"Mr. Tuvok, I am sending you, Lieutenant Paris, and Ensign Seska to the planet's surface. I want you to discover all you can about those ships without leaving us for the distant past. Is that understood?" "Yes, Captain." Paris stood. "Thank you, Captain. I've been worried about Kim." "As have we all, Lieutenant. We're doing what we can. Assemble your supplies and meet in the transporter room.

The sooner we move on this, the better off we'll be," Janeway said.

"Excuse me, Captain, but I would like to go as well." Kes's soft voice had a thread of strength running through it. She was difficult to deny.

Janeway turned to her. "I understand your desire to be involved," she said, "but I need mostly technical skill down there. When I find something you can help with, I will summon you immediately." Kes looked at her hands as if they were betraying her; then she clasped them behind her back. Without that single repetitive movement, she appeared very calm. "May I stay on the bridge?" "Of course," Janeway said. She faced Chakotay. "I want transporter locks at all times on the away team. If anything so much as moves down there, I want all of them back on board." "Immediately, Captain," Chakotay said.

Tuvok contacted Seska and asked her to meet him in the transporter room. Then he motioned Paris to follow him, and headed for the turbolift.

Paris was right beside him.

JfLneway watched them go, hoping against hope that it wouldn't be the last time she would see them. But she had a bad feeling. A very bad one indeed.

BOOK: The Escape
13.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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