Karissa awoke. Something had startled her . . . Something in her dream, she realized. She had been at the edge of a cliff, while a young boy of seven had been holding on as he dangled helplessly over the side. She was trying to help him . . . save him . . . Holding onto his hands, but his weight was too much for her . . . She didn't understand where her strength had gone . . . She couldn't hold him . . . and his hand grew slick with perspiration. She saw the desperate fear in his face and could hear her own pounding heart. There were tears in his eyes and in hers . . . Suddenly, his hands slipped from her grasp.
"NO!!!" she screamed as she watched the young boy plummet down the cliff face.
That's what had caused her to wake up. Since her pregnancy, her dreams had taken on a vividness they had lacked before. With a deep sigh of relief and sadness, she sat up, and pushed the hair from her face. She remembered the boy . . . Dark hair . . . Dark eyes . . . Asian features . . . It didn't take a genius to figure out what the dream had represented.
Without warning, a wave of sadness and loss hit her . . . The child she lost . . . Her child . . . she would never know what that child might have become had he or she been given the chance at life . . . And though she knew it was irrational and untrue, there was a part of her heart that felt as if she had somehow caused the death. She hadn't spoken to anyone about it. Ryan, Ciara and several other friends knew that the loss had profoundly affected her, but they couldn't understand her grief. They felt badly for her and understood that she felt the loss . . . but not going through it themselves they only had a limited understanding of all the pain and sorrow that she felt. Ryan's arms had comforted her and that had meant everything to her. But she was still feeling the loss of her child . . . of Ming's child . . .
She took a deep breath as she contemplated things. She knew that Ming had been avoiding her . . . She had expected as much and had not tried to change that. She had made up her mind to let him decide when he was ready to talk . . . but now, she thought that maybe it was the wrong choice. They both had lost a child . . . Their child . . . He would understand . . . and perhaps he needed someone to talk to as well . . .
"Computer," she stated. "Where is Lt. Ming Wang at this time?"
<Lt. Wang is in his quarters>
Getting up from the bed, she quickly dressed. It was time to put closure on this once and for all, she thought . . .
The door chime sounded. Ming was busy preparing for his evening workout. He wanted to get it in before he met up with Ciara later that evening for another dance session. Ming was almost tempted to forego the workout and commence with the festivities but discipline prevailed. "Enter," he said as he pulled on a long black tunic.
As the door slid open, Karissa walked in. Her movements were slow and hesitant, like a cat entering the street, ready to bolt at the first sign of danger. She smiled softly.
"Hello, Ming . . ."
Ming didn't quite know what to make of this. Since the loss of the baby he hadn't wanted to face Karissa. In fact, he was finally starting to come to grips with his situation. His new friends--Varn, Cody, Bob, Jenna, and especially Ciara had been of tremendous help to him; Captain Evans had also been more supportive of late. But Ming knew that sooner or later he would have to talk directly to Karissa.
"Hello, Karissa," he said. "Is there something I can do for you?" Ming asked very tentatively.
"Well," she started softly, as their eyes met. "I couldn't sleep . . . and I wanted see how you were . . ." The last time they had actually spoken was the day they had discovered she was pregnant among other things . . . and then she had lost the baby . . . all in an instant it seemed . . . A lump was growing in her throat as she turned away. "I mean . . . we haven't had a chance to talk for awhile . . . Not since . . . that day in your lab . . ."
Ming breathed in deeply, then let it out. "I'm glad you came. For a while it seemed as though no one really cared...almost no one, anyway. I'd even had a name for the baby..."
She walked farther into his quarters. "You did?" she replied with surprise. Her dark eyes were bright with tears that were misting them. But she stayed collected.
"Yes," Ming said, trying desperately to maintain control. "The DNA scan indicated the baby would be a boy. I wanted to name him Ah-Jian. It means 'strong boy.' Ironic, considering what happened."
With a sharp intake of breath, she walked to the porthole and stared out. "A boy . . ." she whispered. "A boy . . . just like in my nightmare . . ." Stray tears trickled down her cheeks. She subtly tried to wipe them away. If only she could wipe away the pain, she thought.
"You had a nightmare too?" Ming asked, incredulous.
Finally, she returned her gaze to him after doing her best to stop the small cascade of tears. "Yes . . ." she replied. "Its what woke me up tonight . . ."
"I've been having nightmares every night since it happened," Ming confessed. "Nothing-- not my work, not my friends, not any amount of exercise--has gotten rid of them."
"What happens in your nightmares," she asked. She wondered if they would parallel hers or be completely different . . . If they would reflect the pain he was in . . . A stab of guilt washed over her. Whatever he felt was her fault . . .Whatever he was going through was because of her . . .
"I wake up and find myself an old man on board an old, decrepit version of the Ronin. No one I recognize is on board; the people who are on board laugh at me. Or sometimes I dream about what Ah-Jian would have been like had he survived...it was horrible, Karissa. Defects like those he had aren't usually seen outside of biowarfare or radiation accidents. And always, I feel guilty..."
"Why would you feel guilty?"
she asked with surprised concern. "That night in the holodeck was my fault.
If anyone is to take responsibility, it should be me . . . I could have returned
to my quarters . . . That's what I had been going to do . . .but I saw you all
there . . . " she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I had a
choice, and instead of doing what I should have done, I took you all to the
holodeck . . . seduced you all . . . and now . . . Now you, Ryan and Will are
paying for my mistake . . . And the baby . . . Ah-Jian . . . was part of that
price . . ." Suddenly, the pain coursed through her strongly, and she let
cry out. She quickly gained control of herself, but wasn't sure how long she could hold it. She was dealing with her own emotions that she had pushed to the side until now.
Unsure of how to respond, Ming reached for Karissa and embraced her. "We've both been through a lot. I thought at first that my stupid joke with the catnip had induced the spontaneous abortion, and no matter how much I read the literature telling me that it's just not possible, I wonder. And I could have left well before things got out of hand. I want to move beyond blame and guilt, Karissa--I just want to *live* and I don't know how anymore!"
She allowed him to comfort her as she felt in some way he also drew comfort from it. More tears trickled down her cheeks from the dark pools of her eyes.
"I understand . . ." she replied. "When my mind turns to my . . . our lost child . . . there's such pain there . . . Sometimes I don't see how I will go on . . . " she sobbed softly. "I never thought I would feel a loss so profoundly . . . It's different from any other loss I have ever felt. How does one start to live again after that?" She was the counselor and she didn't know a quick fix. Everything took time . . . Wounds like these healed very slowly.
"When I find out, I'll let you know. For a long time it seemed like no one cared, and that hurt, too. They took my--our--little boy and disposed of him as medical waste! I've never hurt so much in my entire life!!!!" Ming said, now starting to break down himself.
Another sob escaped her. She hadn't had time to adjust to the fact she was going to have children, let alone having to cope with the loss of one . . . She had always wanted children, though she had never dreamed of becoming pregnant in the way it had happened . . . But she had wanted them all . . . Then her son was taken from her by whatever powers that be . . . Her son . . . Ming's son . . . No good-byes for them to say . . . No little smiles to look forward to . . . no birthdays . . . no school days . . . No hugs . . . No little voice saying "I love you." She'd have that some day, she hoped, as she carried two other children within her, but there would always be a voice missing . . .
"He didn't deserve that . . ." she said softly, between sobs.
"And none of us deserved what we got, but what can we do? It's fate, nothing more, nothing less," Ming said. "And I wonder whether it was the modified DNA, or something wrong with me...that does still happen even these days. Will I *ever* have a healthy child of my own?"
The thought of her DNA brought another wave of pain. She was a genetic experiment and her children were as well . . . She couldn't prove it, but she felt in her heart that she had lost her son because of it . . . "You will have healthy children. . ." she said with conviction. "There's nothing wrong with you, Ming . . . I just know it . . . But my DNA . . . who knows what it could cause . . ."
"The other babies are healthy; at least there's that much. I still wonder, though--why mine?" Ming said, clearly in pain himself. "What did I do to merit such bad karma?"
"Maybe its not your karma," she replied, as other painful thoughts crossed her mind. "What if my sick creator made it so only people with certain DNA could reproduce with me? Only those with certain genetic markers . . . " She still struggled with her identity even now . . .
Ming's scientific mind struggled to break through the emotions that were overwhelming him. "Perhaps that's why the gods have not listened; it is outside their purview," he said. "But still, why would they do something like that? I could see setting it up for only humans and no other races, but to specifically block out subcategories of humans? Nobody's thought like that since the 21st century!!!"
Ming then picked up a PADD and made notes on it. *Perhaps this is a personal grudge,* he thought. *I'll ask Cody to check the records for geneticists who have animosity toward particular groups of humans...*
"Is it possible that someone could have done that?" she asked, still struggling against the voice in her head that repeated she was nothing now . . . Nothing but a genetic mutation without parents or a species . . .
"I don't know," Ming said. "I'm certain of nothing anymore. But I will tell you this: I know what you're feeling. The Captain has made our unofficial research project official, and has pledged the full resources of the ship in finding out what happened to you and how we can help." He picked up another PADD and handed it to Karissa.
"These are the preliminary results of our research. We've isolated a likely candidate for the pheromone and Lt. Tierro is busy working out which isomer is the correct match. I'm also researching law enforcement data through Security and reviewing the case files for previous incidences of illegal genetic research. Despite what you might be thinking, *I* do not regard you as a lab animal. You are a human being--the mother of my first child--and I will keep you informed of our progress every step of the way."
Ming took a deep breath. "I know we can't be together, and believe it or not, I feel better about that now. But I still want to be as much as I can be for you. And this is the only way I know how. They've made it personal for me, Karissa. They killed my son and hurt someone I care very deeply about. They won't get away with this."
The tears started again as she allowed herself to feel his emotions. After everything, he still did care. But though he didn't blame her for that night, she knew she would blame herself for a long time to come . . . There had been so many times that her mind wandered to the fact that she was nothing but a science experiment, and just wondered why she had been created . . . for what purpose . . . and it haunted her. She was sure she had not been created to grow up and become a counselor in Starfleet . . . She wasn't meant to want family or love . . . Perhaps she hadn't even been meant to feel emotions . . .
Those that knew her, didn't look at her differently . . . She was still Karissa Bentara to them . . . But sometimes she didn't know who she was to herself anymore. And with losing the baby . . . There was too much loss . . . How was she suppose to compensate, she wondered? And she wanted to help Ming through his own grief and pain and yet wasn't sure if she could actually help him . . . Except by sharing their grief. They were the only ones who truly understood the pain . . .
"Thank you," she replied barely above a whisper.
Being more forward than he could ever recall being, Ming took Karissa's hand.
"We'll get through this, I promise you," he said. "If I can't be your lover would you at least accept me as a brother?"
"Of course . . ." she replied trying to keep her tears under control as she caressed his face. "Maybe together we can get through this pain . . . "
"You can depend on it. There was an Earth poet by the name of John Donne, who said 'No man is an island.' Don't forget that. I'm here for you, if ever you need me. A friend of mine told me that sometimes we need someone to talk to who won't make an official report. You can count on me," Ming said, putting his arms around her.
Finally finding some peace in the pain, she let her emotions completely out and cried. All her pain, sorrow and guilt . . . It was released from the bottle she had stored it in, inside herself.
"We'll both lean on each other . . ." she said as her tears subsided.
Ming just rocked her back and forth. Suddenly he didn't feel nearly as broken as he had before. Finally his relationship with Karissa was resolved, and he felt at peace about what had happened with her for the first time since that night.
As for the loss of Ah-Jian, Ming would never feel at peace about that. *Wherever you are, I will make you pay for all of this!* he thought to the unknown monster who had perpetrated this experiment.
Karissa allowed herself to be rocked like a child. It was calming . . . At least she felt that the pain she had caused Ming was finally resolved, except for the guilt she carried within her from that night. But the loss of their child would be with them both for a long time to come. However, they would no longer be facing that pain alone.
Ming entered his quarters after his shift the following day. Just as he was going to head to the replicator, he noticed something on his couch. It was a flat box wrapped in blue and white paper that simulated clouds in the sky. It was topped with a white, iridescent bow. He went to it, staring curiously.
Slowly, he opened the box. Inside, as he moved the tissue away, he caught site of a golden frame. Reaching for it, he saw a picture . . . Clouds . . . And then, in the center was the image of a young, healthy, Asian boy, smiling brightly. Wings displayed proudly from his back . . . There was a joy and peace in the image. On the frame below was a name. Ah-Jian. As he removed the frame from the box, he saw a folded piece of paper. He put the box down and grabbed the paper, not letting the picture go. He opened it and read.
I still couldn't sleep last night . . . I knew that I had to have a way to remember our son other than the loss . . . so I created him in this picture . . . I don't know if I believe in heaven, but if there is one, he is there watching over us . . . There he's healthy and happy and he wouldn't want us to always feel pain when we thought of him. I believe he brought us together last night to get beyond the pain, and I think we have made strides in that direction . . . So I offer you this as a reminder that wherever he is, he's still with us . . . our guardian angel . . . and I can't think of a more beautiful angel than he . . .
Tears misted his eyes as he looked
at the picture once again. He set the letter in the box once more and walked
to a shelf that had, until this moment, been empty. It was a prominent shelf
and he had never found anything he had wanted to put there before. As he set
the picture down, he looked at the child's face gazing back at him, almost as
if the child were there. It was Ah-Jian, he thought . . . Somehow, though he
didn't understand it, it was their child . . . He was with them . . . Ah-Jian
would never be forgotten or unloved . . . not by them . . .