"A Twisted Web"


Author: Lieutenant JG Wang & Lieutenant JG Tierro
Date: June 9 - 10 , 2384
Location: USS Ronin


No sooner than Ming had been given orders by Captain Evans to begin researching the matter than he jumped to work. All other projects were put on the back burner as Ming began analyzing tissue and fluid samples from Karissa, and tricorder data taken by Medical.

How am I supposed to identify the enzyme when I don't even know the likely substrate? he asked himself. It could be anything!

"Computer, begin analysis of collected data on Commander Bentara. Identify all known and possible substrates related to neurochemical activity," Ming ordered, figuring he'd start with the obvious.

<Working.>

Ming knew the project would take some time, so he decided to analyze data from his other project related to Karissa--identifying and neutralizing the pheromones she emitted--to see if he could learn anything useful. Absentmindedly rubbing the belly of his Ho-tei statue, Ming sat down to read his notes.

An hour later, the computer returned its results. Over two hundred possible substrates had been identified, their chemical structures displayed in three-dimensional images in a holographic viewing tank in Ming's office.

"Computer, eliminate all substrates for which a definite physiological function has been identified," Ming said.

All but twenty disappeared.

And here's where we start, Ming thought.


Two hours later, Ming was frustrated. In every one of his models, no matter what enzyme or combination of coenzymes he used, he was having no luck.

<Incoming message,> the computer alerted him.

"On my terminal," Ming said. The images of interlocking molecules were replaced by the image of an older man, a Starfleet Marine officer.

[Lieutenant Wang, I presume,] the image said.

"Yes, Major, what can I do for you?"

[I am Major Charles Pennington, USS Parnassus Marine Detachment. I am the commanding officer of one Private First Class Robert Benson, whom you've requested be transferred to your vessel and under your command. May I ask why?] the officer asked with a very pronounced British accent.

"I have reason to believe that Private Benson's situation may be important in some research I'm conducting," Ming answered. "Without dealing with him face-to-face, I can't make a full assessment."

[Oh, Lieutenant, you misunderstand me! I meant to ask why you would want to take on someone so volatile as Private Benson! He is currently under charges for brawling and insubordination. The last three outfits he was in were glad to get him off their hands. I tried to give him a fair chance--he is one bloody good fighter--but the man just won't see an opportunity when it is presented. Not firing on all thrusters, if you know what I mean.]

"As I said, I believe he will be important to my research. My commanding officer sent you an abstract of the project," Ming said.

[Ah, yes, I believe I saw that. Something about DNA research. Pity I didn't take more genetics classes at the Academy. Very well. I'll recommend that Private Benson be paroled and remanded to your custody. He should be aboard the Ronin in about two weeks.]

"Thank you, sir. Your help is greatly appreciated." Then, in a stroke of inspiration: "Can you arrange for the ship's medical officer to transmit his medical records to the Ronin?"

[No, thank you, Lieutenant! You'll have those records forthwith. I'm glad to have this man off my hands without having to go through a court-martial. Every time that's been tried before, he goes free and an officer's career is ruined!]

"I'll keep that in mind."

[For your own sake, please do. Pennington out.]

Heartened by the imminent transfer of another subject--and another key to the puzzle--Ming continued his work.


Ming had been working for seven hours without a break. Still, he was no closer to the answer than he was when he started.

"You need to take a break," Ciara said, "If you exhaust yourself you won't be any good to anyone . . . Come with me and get something to eat . . . " Her eyes were filled with concern.

"I can't," Ming said, almost slurring the words. "If I don't find out how to stop what's going on, Karissa's going to die!"

She let out a breath and went to him, kneeling before him so that she could look him in the eye. "Listen to me, Ming . . . Karissa is one of my best friends. I don't want to lose her either, but if you don't rest somehow and recharge your own batteries, there is no way you are going to be able to help her . . ." She reached out and caressed his face. "You have to take a break!"

Ming sighed deeply, then turned from his terminal. "I suppose I could use something to eat," he said. "Computer, continue analysis of substrate S14, repeating same algorithm." Ming got up and joined Ciara.

She smiled, taking his hand and leading him from the lab. "Well, instead of going to the mess hall, how about we go to my place. We can relax and talk," she suggested as they walked.

"Sounds good, but I don't want to be gone too long," he said, taking her hand.

"Don't worry . . . " she said, with a gently smile. She was also worried about Karissa. After finding out what had happened, she felt sick . . . But seeing Ming . . . He was driving himself too hard. He didn't seem to understand that if he didn't rest, he would collapse and if he did . . .
Who could help Karissa then?

They arrived at Ciara's quarters. Ming remarked to himself that this was the first time that he'd really paid attention to her decorating tastes. "Very nice," Ming said, noting an intricate sculpture on one of her shelves.

"Thank you," she replied. "That statue was a gift from my father when I left Earth. I found it on my door step . . ." she grew quiet a moment and then turned from the painful memory. She hadn't spoken to her father since she had left Earth. He hadn't wanted her to go. Suddenly, she smiled again. "So what would you like for breakfast? I'm a great cook," she laughed, "I can
replicate anything you want!"

"You know, eggs sound good," Ming said. "Do you mind if I take a closer look at this?" he asked, indicating the sculpture. Ciara nodded.

The sculpture consisted of a curved, helical structure in which several crystalline objects were inserted. It looked almost like a puzzle of some sort.

Within minutes, Ciara had a plate of eggs for Ming and an omelet for herself. She took them to the table and set them down. She went to him. "You like that, huh?" she asked with a smirk.

"Oh, yes!" Ming said, playing with the sculpture. "Oh--you mean the eggs! Yes, thank you very much!" he recovered, somewhat embarrassed. "Tell me about your father," he asked.

She shrugged and took a bite of her omelet. "There's not much to tell . . . I haven't talked to him since I graduated the Academy," she replied. "You know, I didn't replicate anything to drink . . . Would you like some orange juice?" she said, standing up and going to the replicator again.

"I see," Ming said, knowing that she was trying to avoid the subject. "Yes, some juice, please."

Ming continued to study the sculpture, noticing that although the crystals appeared to be shaped exactly the same, they were not interchangeable. These must be some incredibly tight tolerances...almost like enzymes and substrates...wait! A flash of inspiration came to Ming. Perhaps he was not looking at the right thing. Perhaps in his hurry to identify substrates he had failed to look for unidentified enzymes!!!

Ming's face brightened considerably as Ciara brought him the juice.

Immediately she picked up on the change in his emotional state. She also sensed that his body has been flooded with a bunch of adrenaline. "What is it?" she asked, setting the glasses of juice on the table.

"I think I've figured it out!" Ming said. "I've been looking at substrates all this time because they're much easier to identify and isolate. Perhaps what I need to do is start looking at enzymes instead! Seeing this sculpture--and seeing you--helped!"

She smiled. "And you got that from looking at this, huh?" she asked, taking the statue in her hands and gazing at it. It had been a long time since she'd really looked at it. She kept it on a shelf because it was from her past, but it reminded her of her father, which always brought a certain amount of pain with it. So most times, she didn't even give the thing notice. But it was beautiful . . . If nothing else, her father did have taste . . . And if it ended up helping Karissa in some way, then all the better . . .

"Yes, see?" Ming said, demonstrating with the crystals. "This one at the top won't fit into the bottom hole, and the one at the bottom won't fit into the top hole, even though to the naked eye they appear identical. There are slight differences in the shapes of the two crystals, like the shapes of enzymes--the fit has to be exact or it doesn't work. Just like when I see you, I see someone who is part-Trill. Just as the symbiont needs the right host, it's equally important that the symbiont is right for the host! See what I'm saying?"

She nodded and smiled with his excitement. "Yeah . . . I understand!" she replied, herself getting excited with the possibilities.

"Computer, begin analysis of enzymes in Commander Bentara's circulatory, nervous, endocrine, and digestive systems. Identify all enzymes not previously seen in medical examinations of subject," Ming ordered.

<Working.>

"Shouldn't we get back to the lab for this?" Ciara asked. She was now eager to get back to work. It seemed like progress was finally being made . . . Or at least a new direction that might yield something that would help.

"That's where we're headed," Ming said, standing up suddenly. "By the time we get there the computer should be done!"

"Great!" she replied, following Ming out the door and toward the lab.

They arrived in Ming's office. Sure enough, the analysis was complete. Not one, but four enzymes had been identified! Ming smiled, embracing Ciara momentarily. "Computer, begin testing subject enzymes against all known neurological substrates, in all possible combinations," Ming said. "That should give us sixty-four possible combinations of enzymes."

<Working.>

[Ming, how's it going at your end?] Will asked. [We've gotten her stabilized but that's all that can be said at this point.]

"We may have something for you momentarily," Ming said. "We've had something of a breakthrough here!"

"I hope one of these is it," Ciara said, genuine concern filling her aqua-colored eyes. "It doesn't sound like Karissa's doing too good . . . Is there anything I can do to help right now?" she asked.

Before Ming could speak, the computer interrupted. <Match identified.>

"YES!!!!!" Ming exclaimed. They'd found the enzyme. "Yes, Ciara--synthesize the following molecules in the following proportions," he said, handing Ciara a PADD. Tell Will what we've found--I'll leave the pharmacology to him!"

"I'm right on it!" she replied excitedly, swiftly getting to her task.

A few minutes later, Ming, Ciara, Will, and Ryan were all in sickbay.

"I've identified four coeznymes that are acting in concert to shut down Karissa's nervous system," Ming said. "I'm referring to them collectively as the mutant reproductive failsafe enzyme, or mRFE. The purpose of mRFE is presumably to prevent Karissa from reproducing--these coenzymes were not present in her system before she became pregnant."

Ryan was shocked. "Good God! Who would think of something like that?"

Will interjected. "Someone who obviously didn't want an experiment to get out of control," he said with disgust. "We've found the problem--any progress toward a cure?"

"We've synthesized a copy of the specific substrate against which mRFE acts," Ciara said, holding up a hypospray vial. "Inject this into her and it should absorb the failsafe enzyme. She'll need this on a regular basis, however, until she gives birth. Otherwise she'll die, and the babies along with her."

Will grabbed the vial from Ciara and inserted it into a hypospray, applying it to Karissa's carotid artery. He began scanning her with a tricorder. "It's working!" he said. "The concentration of mRFE in her system is decreasing!"

"How long do you think before she wakes up?" Ryan asked, looking toward Will, Ming and Ciara, as he tenderly caressed her face.

"It might be a while," Will said. "Now that Ming and Ciara have figured out what's going on, I'll need to work on the exact dosage and method of administration. I'd like to keep her here at least for the night, just to make sure."

Ryan nodded. "I'll stay," he replied.

Ciara thought about saying something to him about needing rest, but she could sense that he wasn't going to leave Karissa's side. Not if he didn't have to.

Will applied a neural monitor to Karissa. The instrument began beeping almost immediately. "That's a good sign--her brain wave functions are starting to return to normal. You know, if we had tried this anywhere inside the Federation we would have been sanctioned for not performing
adequate clinical trials," Will said, grinning. "But don't worry--I'm not about to report anyone today!"

"Definitely a good thing," Ciara said, looked at Karissa, who seemed to be resting peacefully. "How are the babies, Will?"

"They'll be fine," Will said, a little distracted. "The anti-mRFE is crossing the placental barrier to both fetuses without a problem. I was afraid that we'd have to administer it directly to them, but that doesn't seem to be a problem. Now, I've got some work of my own to do to figure out
just how much of this stuff we need, and how often! Ming, get some rest--you definitely need it!" Will continued. "Ciara, make sure he doesn't do anything crazy like develop the Philosopher's Stone tonight in that lab of his."

She laughed. "I'll make sure of it!" Gently, she pulled on his arm, as Ryan sat beside Karissa and Will walked back to his office. "We should go . . ." she said softly. He turned to look into her spot-framed face and their eyes met.

"You're right," Ming said, barely able to stay on his feet. "I haven't worked this hard in years--if ever! Oh--before I forget," Ming said, his surroundings reminding him. "We should be receiving a transmission from the USS Parnassus sometime today. Private Benson's medical records. If you could look them over before he arrives, that would be great!" Ming put his
hands on her waist. "Thank you, Ciara--if you hadn't been there I'd still be beating my head against a wall!"

"I'm glad I could help," she replied, tenderly brushing a hand through his hair.

The two left sickbay together, arms around one another. Ryan placed his hand on Karissa's as she fought her way back to life. Yet another miracle, he thought. How many before we've met our quota?