Ciara reported to the science lab facilities aboard the Ronin per Captain Evans' orders. On one hand, she was aware that departmental reassignments took place all the time, both to cover shortfalls and to ensure that people were working in areas suited to their abilities. On the other hand, the schoolgirl part of her mind--a mindset that had been going around the ship rather fervently of late--she was excited to actually get to work with Ming. But another part of her mind was concerned: Is this because I haven't been performing well as a medical officer? I like medicine; I don't want to give that up! she thought. Her thoughts stopped as soon as the door to the lab slid open. There was Ming, wearing the traditional white lab coat over his uniform, and three lab assistants working on various pieces of equipment.
"Good morning, Lt. Tierro," he said, smiling. It was the first time she'd seen Ming smile since their night in the holodeck.
"Good morning," she replied with a bright smile of her own. Seeing him put her at ease a bit.
"You're probably wondering why you've been detailed to Science," Ming said.
"Yes, actually . . ." she replied, her spot-framed face looked at him curiously.
"Step into my office, please." Ming led Ciara to his office off to one side of the laboratory. The office was bare except for one adornment: a small, carved wood statue of an enormously fat, bald, laughing Chinese man sitting down. The statue sat at one corner of Ming's desk. Ming closed the door behind them.
She eyed him with a gleam in her eyes. "You requested me?" she asked, as she sensed she was right. The question was why . . . She wasn't a scientist . . .
"That's right. I have a project for which the skills of a medical doctor are both useful and necessary. My own knowledge of genetics and biochemistry is as a theoretician. I need a clinician--someone who actually works with patients and knows the difference between the textbook and the living being. I would imagine by this point you are aware of Ms. Bentara's situation?" he asked. Ming couldn't help but feel a deep twinge of regret at mentioning her name. Subconsciously he began rubbing the belly of the statue.
"Captain Evans mentioned that her DNA had been manipulated. When I took a look, I didn't notice anything at first glance, but as I looked closer it just looked too perfect . . . But I imagine you were the one that had made that initial discovery," she said to Ming, as she went to him and placed a hand gently on his shoulder. "Are you all right?" she asked, concern apparent in her aqua colored eyes.
"Yes, I made the discovery. The DNA of several different feline species, plus a few completely artificial sequences, had been spliced onto her human DNA at mathematically-precise intervals. There is almost no genetic drift, and no sign of radiation degredation other than that which would have occurred in her lifetime. The data seems to indicate that the manipulation occurred during her life, possibly even before conception," Ming explained. "Our purpose is two-fold: one, to identify the party or parties responsible for manipulating Karissa's DNA. This is, as you know, a violation of several Federation laws. I'm coordinating with Lt. Yellowhorse in Security for law-enforcement research. The other objective is to identify and mitigate any known or potential problems that might occur for Ms. Bentara as a result of this illegal experiment," Ming said, again rubbing the statue.
Ciara was still concerned. "Want to tell me exactly what's on your mind . . . what you're feeling?" she asked. "Its obvious that this is getting to you . . . Maybe talking about it would help . . ." she offered.
"Oh, this?" Ming said, indicating the statue. "This is Ho-tei, Chinese god of good fortune! This statue's been in my family for ten generations! My father had him in his ready room when he was captain of the Uhura, just before I was born. It's said that if you rub his belly you have good luck! I've been trying to invoke him of late, hoping maybe he can get me through some of this..."
She nodded and squeezed his shoulders. "Well, depends on what you're hoping to get lucky with," she smiled. She refrained from adding something else, since they were both on duty.
Ming laughed. If you only knew! he thought, then reflected that if she didn't know before she knew now! "I'm hoping Ho-tei will bring us good fortune in our research, and that he will somehow end all the evil that's surrounded my life recently."
"What evil?" Ciara asked, a bit puzzled. "You mean what happened with Karissa?"
"Yes. You might have heard an old proverb of my people: 'May you live in interesting times.' These have definitely been interesting times for me. The incident with the pheromones, everything that followed from that, and on top of everything else, losing my little boy..." The DNA scan had indicated the baby would have been male had it survived. "I was going to name him Ah-Jian; it means 'strong boy.' Ironic, eh?" Ming said. He didn't sound nearly as bitter as he had been. Subsequent DNA scans of the miscarried fetus had shown its genes to have been catastrophically defective; had Ah-Jian lived, he would have had a very short, very painful, and very tragic life. In at least this one instance, Ming's DNA had not been compatible with Karissa's.
"I've had a lot of good happen, too: getting assigned to the Ronin on such a prestigious mission; gaining a department head position after only three years in Starfleet; meeting you..." Ming continued. "So perhaps Ho-tei's looking out for me after all!"
She smiled. "I think so . . ." she replied with a wink. "So where are we now with your research and what can I do to help?"
Ming gathered himself. He produced a PADD and handed it to Ciara. "These are mass-spectrometer readings from the air filtration unit from Holodeck 2, the place where the incident occurred. I've managed to eliminate all but three peaks from the readings; this one at the center, with the high resonance frequency, is the most likely candidate to be Karissa's pheromone. It has a molecular weight somewhere near 50,000 grams/mole, meaning it's a very complex molecule. Such a molecule will have millions of isomers, and even with computer simulations I'll not be sure if we have the correct molecule. But someone with a medical background, who routinely synthesizes compounds much more complex, this task should not be too cumbersome. After that, clinical trials of both the pheromone and its antidote will have to be conducted. Again, this is something that a clinician should be handling."
"And that's what you'd like me to do then?" she asked, ready to get started.
"Yes; that's the beginning. Then we need to research any other consequences of the manipulation that may not have manifested themselves yet. This will be important for Ms. Bentara and her surviving offspring--whether or not any developmental problems will occur. When such manipulation was commonplace in the 21st century, miscarriages and genetically-damaged offspring were commonplace. According to surviving records, Khan Noonian Singh didn't occur until after at least fifty of his similarly-manipulated offspring miscarried or were euthanized," Ming said. "The technology has advanced since then but since it's been largely underground there haven't been many advances. Even societies that still practice wide-scale genetic manipulation on sentient beings, such as the Klingons and Romulans, limit their efforts to legitimate therapeutic and prophylactic DNA splicing. They don't create superbeings."
"What purpose do you think Karissa was created for?" she asked, knowing that Karissa was agile, fast and powerful, among other things.
"It's hard to say," Ming replied. "The resources and level of technology needed to generate a being such as Karissa suggests a very large, very powerful organization. The Klingon Empire used to do such genetic research before the destruction of Praxis, but they abandonned their efforts both for cultural and financial reasons. They were my first suspects, but all of the species involved in this manipulation are from Federation worlds. Had the Klingons, or their agents, performed this experiment, one would expect to see DNA from species native to the Klingon Empire. Likewise the Romulans. That suggests to me that an organization within the Federation is responsible.
"That having been said, identifying such an organization is next to impossible. With the level of resources needed to pursue this research, they could easily purchase or engineer their silence. I've got Mr. Yellowhorse researching all cases for the past fifty years involving genetic research, but he hasn't found much yet. The manipulations suggest that Karissa was created to serve in combat, or as an intelligence operative."
He handed Ciara another PADD. "These are Ms. Bentara's physical fitness scores from her last evaluation. Next to them are the averages for human, Bajoran, Vulcan, and Klingon females, as well as the extremes observed in all races. Notice how much higher she scores than even the observed extremes for women who haven't been genetically altered. She exceeds the scores for males of most races as well."
Ciara knew that Karissa was stronger than most women she knew, but had no idea that she was that strong! "What organization would want to created super soldiers within the Federation?" she asked, puzzled by this information and disturbed by it.
"That, my dear, is the most troubling prospect of all," Ming said gravely. "Another question that needs to be asked is whether or not other individuals were so manipulated. It makes no sense to produce just one individual with such manipulations. How many children had to suffer or die before they were able to make Karissa?" he asked angrily. "And how many are suffering right now? For every Karissa Bentara, how many poor innocent people had to be institutionalized or euthanized?"
Ciara sighed deeply. This was more than she had expected. Something so evil and devious as existing within the Federation had never occured to her before. It turned her stomach . . . He was right . . . there were probably other Karissas out there . . . and ones that hadn't been so lucky . . . Something had to be done, she thought. She thought of her friend and a profound sadness came over her. She understood what had happened to her that day . . . She had found out she was pregnant, then that she had been genetically engineered and then she had lost one of her future children . . . It was amazing that Karissa hadn't had a complete breakdown, but then she wondered if that had been built into her genes somewhere as well . . . the ability to endure pain beyond rational limits . . . It couldn't be possible, she though, or could it . . .
"Whoever it is, can't get away with this . . ." she said . . . anger and pain reflecting in her eyes.
"And that's where our research is ultimately headed," Ming said, taking her hand. It was the first time he could recall initiating physical contact with her, although it was meant simply as a show of comfort and support. "Ms. Bentara came to me originally to research an anti-pheromone, but after what happened the Captain has asked me to research the matter in greater detail. Your assignment here is as a personal favor to me; I requested you specifically in part because you have also treated her and have her confidence. Once we get hard evidence, the Captain will turn it over to the appropriate Starfleet or civilian authorities and they'll weigh the merits of the case from a legal standpoint. But in any case, we need to work on ways to help her get through this."
"I'm going to speak to the Captain on his return though about pulling a few hours extra duty in sickbay in case Karissa should need me there until Dr. Hancock gets back . . . But I'll be here as long as you need my assistance . . . Getting to the bottom of this is more important . . . Whoever has done this should rot in a hole somewhere . . ." No one had ever seen Ciara that upset and angry before. The fact that it was personal because of her friendship with Karissa intensified her feelings.
"You're formally detailed here for the duration of the project; the Captain's asked Kira to be Karissa's attending physician. Kira was chief medical officer aboard the Knight; he knows what's going on and with his abilities he might actually be able to do more for her and her children than even Dr. Hancock. He might even have some insight into the problem as well. But I will need a liaison with Medical; you'll know what to ask Kira from a medical standpoint and will be able to help me interpret his assessments. So don't go pulling any extra hours, or else you'll get sick too!" Ming smiled.
"I'm extremely angry about this too, Ciara...these monsters killed my son with their manipulations. His DNA--it was horrible...no one should have to suffer through that...perhaps the gods were merciful this time..." he said, his mood suddenly darkening.
He rubbed Ho-tei's belly one more
time. "But enough of that! The sooner we start working, the sooner we'll
find out what to do and who's responsible!" He sprung up out of his chair
and headed out of the office, Ciara in tow