Naomi hesitantly followed her mother into the dark cavern, situated near the top of the mountain range. Her legs hurt from the long hike up. Her shoulders ached from first having her arm nearly tugged out of its socket while her mother moved at a pace she should have known her daughter couldn't possibly keep up with, and from clinging to her mother after she was finally picked up.
Naomi looked around the dark shelter warily. It looked scary. She couldn't even see into the very back corners. Her mother had scanned it before entering, and said there was nothing alive inside. Naomi wasn't so sure. There might be some creepy aliens that couldn't be detected by the tricorder.
Her mother had dropped camp pack just inside the door. Now, she was rifling through it, intently hunting for something. She found it, whipping an object out so fast Naomi couldn't see what it was in the dim light.
"Mom, where are you going?" Naomi called after her mother, who had just darted out of the rocky entrance.
"Nowhere. Stay there."
Naomi stood in the dark cave for a moment, before deciding that she was not staying in there alone. She ran to the opening, one foot barely crossing the entrance before her mother's voice halted her.
"I *said* stay there, Naomi. I mean it."
There was a quality to her mother's voice that made Naomi stop and backtrack slowly. She kept her feet inside the cave, creeping to the side of the entrance to see what her mother was doing. Her mother had climbed a few more boulders, and was standing a few yards above the head of the cave, leaning over the rocks.
Careful to remain inside the cave, Naomi leaned against the wall, trying to see what her mother was watching. Her hand pressed against a slimy substance coating the surface.
"Naomi! I said stay inside!"
Her mother was clambering down, the strap to a pair of binoculars hanging from one of her hands.
"I am inside!" Naomi protested as her mother hustled her away from the entrance.
"I don't want you to fall, Naomi. It's a long way down."
At that moment, Neelix and Chell entered the cave. Both were soaked in sweat, looking exhausted from the hike.
Chell's eyes shot to the instrument clutched in her mom's hand.
"Did you look?" He asked.
"Yeah," she answered.
"I can't tell from their uniforms, Chell," her mother snapped.
She walked over the pack and put the binoculars back inside.
"They don't seem to be moving so I don't think we have to worry about them coming over here."
"Who?" Naomi demanded.
"Some creatures, sweetheart," said Chell.
"*Harmless* creatures," Neelix quickly interjected.
"Neelix, would you mind setting up the sleeping area? It's past Naomi's bedtime."
"I don't want to go to bed here. It's gooey."
"I'll cover the ground, Naomi."
Neelix was already escorting her further into the cave, away from what appeared to be a brewing argument between her mom and Chell.
Later, tucked into a sleeping bag in the darkness, Naomi heard her mother's voice begin to speak quietly. Naomi could barely hear the conversation, and only caught a few words of the whole.
"If they do come over here, we have to be ready to tell them something."
"What?" Neelix asked.
"If it's Starfleet, we had no idea what was going to happen. That includes you, Chell, and the other Maquis down here. And we wait for them to tell us what's up. If it's Maquis, there's no problem. Not for us, at least."
"What if it's both?"
"Then I don't think they're going to pay much attention to us," her mother said, coldly.
"It's not the Maquis," said Chell. "Launching escape pods isn't in the plan."
"Maybe it didn't go as planned."
There was silence for a while, and Naomi almost slipped off into sleep. She was reawakened by Neelix's voice.
"Who do want you to win, Sam?"
"Whichever side is going home."
Naomi lay in the dark, completely confused.
She hadn't heard the substance of the conversation, but enough to know that every adult in the cave was ill at ease.
She also knew that creatures did not wear uniforms.
Naomi stared at the roof of the cave and wished she were back on Voyager, that her mother would stop being so irritable and deceptive, and that they weren't in a gooey green cave.
She fell asleep, her dreams full of a green, gooey Voyager.
Part 46 | Index page