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"We should take a look inside," B'Elanna said. Her companion nodded. "But first, we'll let the captain know what we're up to." He tapped his comm badge. "Kim to Janeway." The communication was plagued with static, but the captain's voice was recognizable nonetheless. "Janeway here. What can I do for you, Ensign?" "We've located what appears to be edible vegetation," he said. "But it seems to prefer the dark. More specifically, a cave we've discovered." "And you'd like to explore it," the captain deduced. "Taking all possible precautions, of course." "Of course," B'Elanna chimed in. There was a chuckle on Janeway's end of the communication. "Very well," she told them. "But don't stay down there long. I want a report in, say, fifteen minutes -- no later." "Acknowledged," said the ensign. "Kim out." He turned to B'Elanna and indicated the cave mouth with a gesture. "Shall we?" he asked. Snapping the palmlight off her uniform, B'Elanna shone it into the darkness. Then she hunkered down and took the lead. As it turned out, the cave was bigger than it looked -- not just taller and wider once they got inside, but deeper as well. And if anything, it was more profuse with usable flora than they had imagined. "This place is one big larder," Kim laughed. "Neelix is going to have a field day with this stuff." "No doubt," she agreed. "I'll take the wall on the left, you take the one on the right." "Sounds good to me," he told her. Little by little, they worked their way deeper and deeper into the cavern, following its twists and turns. The orange-and-white stuff gave way to something big and fluffy and scarlet, then something that looked like a bunch of tiny purple tubers. And all of it was edible, with a good variety of vitamins and minerals. The way it tasted was another matter -- but, as always, B'Elanna would leave that to Neelix. Maybe her discovery would make up for the way she'd growled at him that morning. The lieutenant was so busy cataloguing the cave vegetation, she didn't see her friend turn his head to look at her. That is, until he cleared his throat and drew her attention. "Something on your mind, Starfleet?" "Well," Kim said, "now that you mention it . . ." Oh no, she thought. I can't escape it even here. ". . . I understand you were a pretty fair pilot," the ensign finished. "You know, when you were with the Maquis." B'Elanna smiled with relief. "I suppose. But then, we were all good pilots. We had to be." She tilted her head. "Why do you ask?" Kim sighed. "There's a holodeck program Tom keeps running me through. We're in a shuttlecraft, and there's this asteroid belt . . ." He went on to describe it for her -- and how it was that one last obstacle that gave him the most trouble. "I can't seem to get the hang of it," he confessed. "I was wondering if you might have any..." He shrugged. "I don't know, any hints." She went back to cataloguing the vegetation. "Well," she said, "you might want to try applying your thrusters sooner, then reversing them when you rotate too far. That's worked for me." Kim shook his head ruefully. "I tried that. It didn't --" Suddenly, they heard a crunch. It seemed to have come from the direction of the cave mouth. Stopping in mid-remark, the ensign looked at her. B'Elanna swallowed and deactivated her palmlight, throwing her half of the cave into darkness. Then, as Kim extinguished his own light, she put her tricorder away and took out her phaser. Of course, she was probably being overly cautious. There were animals on this world, after all. One of them had probably disturbed a rock. But it could also have been something more. And as she had heard often enough growing up, it was better to be safe than sorry. Kim pulled his phaser out as well. But try as they might, they couldn't hear anything more. B'Elanna began to relax a little. Then a bright blue beam sliced the air mere inches from her face, blinding her for a moment. She heard a shuffling, as of many pairs of feet. Pressing her back against the hard, sloping wall of the cavern, she blinked away her blindness and fired back. The Kazon used directed-energy beams of that color. She cursed silently. Kim looked at her from across the cave, little more than a shadow. He had likely come to the same conclusion she had. And if it was the Kazon, they could expect no mercy -- only hostility and savagery and death. Another directed-energy beam pierced the darkness, throwing the cavern into stark relief. Then a third beam, and a fourth. All of them missed -- but by their light B'Elanna could see several large, poorly clad forms poking their bizarrely coifed heads around the bend. Kazon, all right. She tapped her communicator "Torres to Janeway. We've got a problem down here Captain." A moment passed. Then another. "Torres to Janeway," she repeated. Again, nothing. Was it the fault of the signal blocking minerals in the ground? Or were the Kazon interfering with their communications? At this point, it hardly mattered. Either way, they couldn't expect any help from the ship. For all intents and purposes, they were on their own. Gritting her teeth, B'Elanna pushed away from the cave wall and fired in the direction of their adversaries. As her ruby red beam lanced out, she heard a grunt and saw one of the Kazon slump to the ground. A lucky shot. At least, it seemed so at first. Then a whole bunch of Kazon came roaring into the cave, scalding the air with a wild barrage of seething blue energy. Suddenly, the shot didn't seem so lucky anymore. B'Elanna felt something hit her in the midsection -- so hard it knocked the breath out of her. She staggered, fell. And as she lay gasping, she felt a second hammer-blow -- this time, to her shoulder. And a third. She fought hard to stay conscious, to hold on to the phaser in her hand. But it was no use. Against her will, darkness claimed her.
Copyright © 1997 by Paramount Pictures