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"We should take a look inside," B'Elanna said.Her companion nodded. "But first, we'll let the captain know whatwe're up to." He tapped his comm badge. "Kim to Janeway."The communication was plagued with static, but the captain's voice wasrecognizable nonetheless. "Janeway here. What can I do for you,Ensign?""We've located what appears to be edible vegetation," he said. "But itseems to prefer the dark. More specifically, a cave we've discovered.""And you'd like to explore it," the captain deduced. "Taking allpossible precautions, of course.""Of course," B'Elanna chimed in.There was a chuckle on Janeway's end of the communication. "Verywell," she told them. "But don't stay down there long. I want a reportin, 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 thedarkness. 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 theygot inside, but deeper as well. And if anything, it was more profusewith usable flora than they had imagined."This place is one big larder," Kim laughed. "Neelix is going to havea field day with this stuff.""No doubt," she agreed. "I'll take the wall on the left, you take theone on the right.""Sounds good to me," he told her.Little by little, they worked their way deeper and deeper into thecavern, following its twists and turns. The orange-and-white stuffgave way to something big and fluffy and scarlet, then something thatlooked like a bunch of tiny purple tubers.And all of it was edible, with a good varietyof vitamins andminerals. The way it tasted was another matter but, as always,B'Elanna would leave that to Neelix. Maybe her discovery would make upfor the way she'd growled at him that morning.The lieutenant was so busy cataloguing the cave vegetation, she didn'tsee her friend turn his head to look at her. That is, until he clearedhis 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 ensignfinished. "You know, when you were with the Maquis."B'Elanna smiled with relief. "I suppose. But then, we were all goodpilots. 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 lastobstacle that gave him the most trouble. "I can't seem to get the hangof it," he confessed. "I was wondering if you might have any..." Heshrugged. "I don't know, any hints."She went back to cataloguing the vegetation."Well," she said, "you might want to try applying your thrusterssooner, then reversing them when you rotate too far. That's worked forme."Kim shook his head ruefully. "I tried that. It didn't "Suddenly, they heard a crunch. It seemed to have come from thedirection of the cave mouth.Stopping in mid-remark, the ensign looked at her. B'Elanna swallowedand deactivated her palmlight, throwing her half of the cave intodarkness. Then, as Kim extinguished his own light, she put hertricorder away and took out her phaser.Of course, she was probably being overly cautious. There were animalson 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 oftenenough growing up, it was better to be safe than sorry.Kim pulled his phaser out as well. But try as they might, theycouldn'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 offeet. 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 cursedsilently.Kim looked at her from across the cave, little more than a shadow. Hehad likely come to the same conclusion she had. And if it was theKazon, theycould expect no mercy only hostility and savagery and death.Another directed-energy beam pierced the darkness, throwing the caverninto stark relief. Then a third beam, and a fourth. All of themmissed but by their light B'Elanna could see several large, poorlyclad 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 theground? Or were the Kazon interfering with their communications?At this point, it hardly mattered. Either way, they couldn't expectany help from the ship. For all intents and purposes, they were ontheir own.Gritting her teeth, B'Elanna pushed away from the cave wall and firedin the direction of their adversaries. As her ruby red beam lancedout, 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 theair with a wild barrage of seething blue energy. Suddenly, the shotdidn't seem so lucky anymore.B'Elanna felt something hit her in the midsection so hard it knockedthe 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 herhand. But it was no use. Against her will, darkness claimed her.
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