Karissa was cornered the against canyon wall. She had been running away, but there was nowhere to go. Faceless people were sounding her. She was ready to strike back . . . only they stayed in the shadows . . . threatening, but never coming at her, as if they were waiting for something.
Suddenly, intense pain went through her body and she crumbled over. Then she saw blood beneath her. Her blood . . . She was losing the babies!
"NO!" she screamed, with panic-filled tears.
Instantly, her eyes opened. As she looked around her in the darkness, she saw she was in her quarters. With a deep breath, she tried calming her racing heart. It had only been a dream. She had been having nightmares on and off for several weeks now, but they had gotten more frequent since the arrival of Benson and Mikori . . . And Mikori. . . Shara . . . She wasn't sure what she was going to do about her. She was trouble. Karissa could sense it. The girl was not a true team player. She did what she had to, but she was a loner otherwise and very cold and distant. Something would have to be done sooner or later.
Ming couldn't sleep. More than just being restless, Ming was deeply disturbed.
He had not slept well since the new arrivals had come on board, three days earlier. Thoughts he thought long banished were cropping up in his head, and none of the usual methods of dealing with them were working. And I don't dare tell the one person I know absolutely that I can trust, he thought.
"Well, nothing helps distract my mind like work," Ming said to himself as he put on his uniform and headed to the lab.
Night shift at the lab was very quiet. Judith Schwartz was monitoring the equipment as always, her stern Teutonic gaze not missing a single reading. Rob Benson was with her. He'd been much better than anyone had expected at his new job.
"Good evening, Ms. Schwartz. How is the lab holding up?"
"Oh, everything is working just fine, sir!" she said. "There was a minor fluctuation in the FTIR spectroscopy equipment, but that appears to have straightened itself out. I haven't seen it again in over five hours."
"Great," Ming smiled. "How's our new tech working out?"
"He's absolutely wonderful! You set him to work on something and he doesn't stop, even for end of shift! It just seems a pity that there isn't more he can do... but I understand what you mean. Sometimes you have to explain things to him two or three times, and then double-check what he did. But nothing's broken and he hasn't given us any trouble!"
"I'm glad to hear that. You're doing a fine job, Rob. Why don't you go get something to eat?" Ming said.
"Okay," Benson said, setting down the tools he was carrying for Schwartz and departing.
"Young man, what did I tell you about putting things back where they belong?" Schwartz said sternly. The matronly lab tech was not a person to be defied.
"Oh. Put things back where they belong. Sorry!" Benson said as he picked up the toolkit and placed it back in the storage locker.
"I'll log them back in, dear. Go get some dinner like the Lieutenant said."
"Yes, ma'am." Benson left the lab.
"Not terribly bright, he is, but he's a sweetheart once you get to know him! I wish my own son were so well-mannered!"
Be grateful your son has comparatively normal DNA and at least average intelligence, Ming felt like saying. Benson will likely be eight years old forever.
"Forgive me for speaking out of turn, but is there something on your mind, sir?" Schwartz asked.
Despite the grandmotherly nature of the woman before him, Ming knew better than to confide in a subordinate--it would just set up trouble in the future. "No; just couldn't sleep. I thought I'd work on a project of mine."
"I see," Schwartz said, knowing Ming was lying but not able to do anything about it. "Will you be needing any assistance?"
"No; you're dismissed. Thanks again for your help!"
As soon as Schwartz left, Ming retrieved the circuit board samples he had been working on weeks earlier, and began experimenting with an idea.
"Computer, replicate approximately 100 grams of manganese chloride in a paste matrix, a solid carbon rod approximately six centimeters in length and 75 millimeters in diameter, and a sheet of 150 square centimeters of 10-gauge zinc...."
Karissa rolled over and tried to close her eyes again, but her mind was now awake and churning. As soon as she had head about the shuttle blowing up from a supposed warp core breach, she knew what had really happened. Regardless of how innocent it looked, she knew otherwise. That shuttle had been meant to take out Benson and Shara, maybe even her on the Ronin . . . The thought disturbed her a great deal.
With resignation, she got up and pulled on a robe. She went out to the main part of her quarters and replicated a glass of milk. After a few sips, her stomach turned and she put the glass down. That wasn't going to help and there was no way she was getting back to sleep. With a sigh, she stared out the porthole. Maybe getting out and walking around would help, she thought.
She quickly dressed in black, loose pants and a matching turtleneck. As she stepped out into the corridor, she thought about seeing Ryan, only she knew he was asleep and didn't want to disturb him. Letting her mind wander, she found Ming awake. She decided that maybe she would talk with him and see what he was doing, if he was interested in some company.
Hmmm...I've got the mixture right.
Why isn't this working? Ming thought as he tried the fifth prototype dry cell
battery. Despite having the exact constituents, and working from a
schematic in the ship's database, for some reason he was unable to get current from the cell he'd constructed. Guess I'll try one more time. At least this is better than some other things that have been in my head!
"Hey, Ming," came a soft voice from behind him. "You're up late . . ."
Ming jumped suddenly. "Karissa! I wasn't expecting anyone here this late!" He looked over at her and noticed the exhaustion and fear in her eyes. "Can I do something for you?"
"I couldn't sleep . . . Just thought I would stop by and see you . . ." she said. "I sensed you were still up . . . I hope I'm not disturbing you . . ."
"Oh, no--not at all! Just indulging in a little hobby of mine. I couldn't sleep either," Ming said, at once a little shy and anxious. "I guess that's going around."
"Yeah . . ." she replied, as she took a seat on one of the stools. "What are you working on?" She asked, making small talk. She wasn't sure if she was ready to talk about the fears that had taken on a life inside her head.
"An ancient power supply called a dry cell. It was used during the 19th and 20th centuries on Earth to run small electrical devices. A chemical reaction between the zinc casing and the manganese oxide--this black paste here--created a direct current which could run something like this ancient radio circuit," Ming said, holding up the relic circuit board. "This board is over a thousand years old. I was hoping to make it work."
"And it hasn't, huh?" she asked. "I bet you'll figure it out though . . ." She smiled gently.
"Oh, yes, I figure out everything," Ming said glumly. "Except..."
"Except what?" She asked curiously.
"It's silly. I shouldn't have even mentioned it," Ming said, blushing deeply. Oh, great! Now she's going to know something's up!
"What is it?" she asked, pressing a little, her dark eyes gazing at him.
Ming sighed heavily. "This is just foolish. I'd actually become reconciled to--to what happened between us. And I've been enjoying what I have with Ciara, don't get me wrong! But ever since Shara came on board, I can't get these thoughts out of my head! Somehow all those stupid fantasies I had are coming back, and I don't know why! I mean, she looks exactly like you but quite frankly I don't like her at all! And yet ever since she showed up all this stuff has been coming back!"
"Oh . . . " Karissa replied, knowingly. "Yeah, a lot of things have gotten stirred up since her and Benson's arrival . . . For me too . . ." Her mind tripped back over the painful memories of the last couple of months and she looked away. It was still going to be awhile before she could completely rid herself of the guilt she had from the pain she'd caused.
Ming was still trying to recover from the monumental embarrassment of what he had just confessed when he saw that Karissa was at least as embarrassed, if not more. "Anything you want to talk about?" he said.
"I just have a lot of stuff going through my mind too . . . None of it pleasant, I'm afraid . . ." she replied, looking at the deck.
"Karissa," Ming said, finding himself bold enough to take Karissa's face in his hands and draw it back up to eye level with his. "As much as we've been through together, you can tell me."
"I still have trouble dealing with the guilt from that night," she said. "I'm dealing with it . . . but its a slow process . . . I hurt three people, and I am living with the consequences of that," she replied.
"As much as I wish what had happened then had happened under other circumstances," Ming said, struggling to find the right words, "I don't regret it. It's part of my life now. What has happened, has happened. Now I have to force myself to look for the opportunities it presents."
"I can't imagine it's brought any opportunities," she replied, a hint of tears misting her eyes.
"It has...it brought you and
Ryan together," Ming said with only a slight tinge of regret in his voice.
"It's provided me with a lifetime worth of research--not that I really
wanted it this way," he continued, realizing that he may have misstepped.
"And it's helped me to grow. Besides, there are two wonderful people who
will be entering the world shortly, with all
they have to offer."
She smiled gently. "I certainly hope so . . ." she replied as she caressed her abdomen. "I guess that night had a purpose . . ."
"All things have purpose," Ming said, slowly beginning to realize that a philosophical discussion was not what Karissa had in mind. "Are you sure that's all that's on your mind?"
She sighed. "No, its not . . . " she admitted. "I woke up from a nightmare tonight," she began. "I've been having them a lot . . . More so since the arrival of Benson and Shara . . . In the nightmare I was being chased and I was cornered, but the people chasing me stayed hidden in the shadows . . . Suddenly I started bleeding . . . I was losing the babies. . . That's when I woke up . . . It was so vivid . . .But its more than that. I know that I'm afraid of losing the babies because of whoever created me. They never intended me to have children. I also think they tried to kill me . . . and not just me, but Benson and Shara too. I just have this terrible feeling that shuttle accident wasn't an accident . . . and I'm scared . . . I'm ANGRY and I'm scared . . ." Everything she felt was reflected in her dark eyes, especially the intensity of the emotions coursing through her.
Ming very tentatively put his arm around her. "I wish I knew what to do to help," he said plaintively. "But I don't know either. Ever since those two arrived I've had nothing but troubled thoughts myself. I don't think it's Benson; he's too good-natured at heart and quite frankly not bright enough to try something like that. And nothing in his genome suggests a telepathic ability of any kind. But every time I see Shara I lose all ability to concentrate--and it seems like she's been deliberately going out of her way to see me, too."
"That one is definitely a troublemaker," Karissa replied. "I'll have a talk with her tomorrow. I'll know in a matter of moments what her intentions are here, and if its to cause trouble, I'll deal with her."
"That would be appreciated," Ming said. "She especially likes to seek me out when Ciara's not around--or Varn, for that matter. I'm wondering if she's causing some sort of telepathic trouble."
"If she is, she's messed with the wrong people," Karissa replied. She didn't take kindly to anyone hurting her friends. Karissa was silent for a moment, and looked away again, trying to reign in her emotions as she thought about the shuttle again, and how her genetic engineering had almost cost her her life and that of her children . . . In fact, had cost her one of her children . . .
"Something else on your mind?" Ming asked, sensing Karissa's distress.
She rubbed her face with her hands and ran them through her hair with a heavy sigh. "Everything dealing with my genetic engineering . . . " she replied, the fear and rage rising in her. "I want these people to pay. I want them to pay so badly!" she said. "But I can't . . . Ryan was right about one thing. They wouldn't hesitate to kill me, or anyone else around me. But how can I just sit back and do nothing? They're going to come," she said, tears misting her eyes again. "That shuttle was supposed to have taken out Benson and Shara and very possibly me too. They know what we're doing. They know what's happening. They're not going to just stand by and let their little mutant project get out of control . . ." Her breathing was growing rapid along with her anger. She closed her eyes and turned her face away again, as the rage began consuming her, the same rage that had caused her to go to the holodeck and kill several holograms.
"Nothing is going to happen to you! There is not one being aboard this ship who wouldn't stand up to these people on your behalf, and that's doubly true for your children! If they want to destroy you, they'd have to destroy this ship, and I don't think the Captain would go down without a fight," Ming said. "I sure won't go down without a fight! Maybe it wasn't meant to be between us, but you still mean a great deal to me and I would take on the forces of nature themselves for you." Ming was almost frightened at how strident he had been on that point. It was almost as if something else had come over him. As an officer, a scientist, and a man he was deeply offended by all that had transpired with regard to Karissa--and he would stop at nothing to make it right, or at least bring those responsible to justice. "They will not harm you, do you understand me?" he said, shaking in anger as he finished.
Gently, she placed her hand on his. "I don't want them killing anyone because of me either. I know you and Ryan and the rest of the crew would protect me and the children, but these monsters could very well destroy the entire ship just to hide their project," she said. "I'm having such a hard time dealing with this . . . rage I feel. Sometimes I'm afraid that something else will go wrong in my body that will cause me to lose the babies. But outside of that, I want to stop whoever did this to me, and to Benson and Shara and whoever else like us is actually out there. And I hate to admit this, but a part of me wants to kill . . . " She looked away again, shameful of the emotion and having admitted it. "These people don't deserve to live after what they've done. They've played God--creating life and destroying it."
"The odd thing about playing God," Ming said, "Is that God usually ends up winning. They won't get away with it. Two Klingon ships also got the distress call from that shuttle and have no doubt launched their own investigation. If someone within the Federation was responsible for this, don't you think that the Klingon military leadership would use that to their advantage? These people, whoever they are, can't silence everybody."
"Maybe you're right," she replied. "I promised Ryan I wouldn't look for my creators. I just don't know how I'm going to reconcile the rage and fear. These people, sooner or later, will come after me. They're going to come after me, Benson, Shara and the children. Maybe even you, Ryan, Ciara and Will--anyone who knows anything. These people have power or else they wouldn't have been able to get this far," she sighed. "Or maybe I'm just crazy to let this get to me. Maybe that was just a shuttle accident and my mind is getting the better of me. But I just can't shake the feeling . . . and with the nightmares . . . " Her dark eyes clouded.
"They don't have that much power," Ming said. "If they try to silence too many people it's going to become obvious. And remember, we've got Admiral Pike aboard this ship! Perhaps we should go to him and let him know what's happening. It's going to take a lot of string pulling on their part to be able to assassinate an admiral with impunity! And besides," he continued with a wink, "I've got a few strings of my own, that I'm already using."
"Like what?" she asked curiously.
"My father is a retired Starfleet
captain--Captain Chong Wang, USS Uhura. He left the service ten years ago but
he still keeps his finger in things as a media consultant...and he's planning
a run for the Federation Senate next year. If he were to suddenly disappear
in relation to our investigations, every news service in the Federation and
a lot of them from outside the Federation would be asking a lot of very uncomfortable
said. "Not to mention the fact that I would personally send whoever was responsible to meet their own personal devils." With that, he grinned a very evil, frightening grin.
"So you told your father about the genetic engineering?" she asked. "I told my parents . . . I'm expecting a reply back from them soon. I think they knew though. I mean, how many women do you know that can do what I can physically?" she sighed.
"If anyone is in a position to get this out in the open so that justice might be done, he is," Ming explained. "All he'd have to do is suggest that he would go public with what he knows, and whoever's in charge of this will panic. Like I said earlier, you can't eliminate everyone...did you say you told your family?" Ming asked. Karissa nodded. "I'm wondering if that might solve a problem or two with my research..."
"How do you mean?" she asked.
"Benson's not been in touch with his family since he enlisted. That was almost seventeen years ago. Even if he didn't know how to send a message himself, someone else would have done it for him--his commanding officer, or a counselor. I don't think there's an estrangement issue with his family, but you're the expert on that. I'm wondering if he's been deliberately kept from speaking with his parents, lest questions regarding genetic engineering come up. They wouldn't expect a lieutenant junior grade science officer who's known Benson all of three days to contact his family, though..."
"You could try it," she replied. "Or I could . . ." She knew she would be bending her promise to Ryan, but she was the ship's counselor and Benson should talk with his family, she reasoned. "Of course, they might suspect me and try to block it . . ."
"But they wouldn't suspect me. In fact, I doubt very seriously that anyone outside either the Ronin or the Parnassus knows that Benson's been transferred yet. And, as I told you earlier, I have proxies..."
"Someone knows, or that shuttle pilot would still be alive," she replied.
"But that could have just been an accident--that hasn't been ruled out," Ming said. "And quite frankly they've no way of knowing whether or not their presumed mission was a success. For all they know, we could just be notifying Benson's family that their son was killed in a freak accident."
She nodded. "Very true . . ." She sighed again, weary from it all.
Ming put his arm around Karissa's shoulder. "You look worn out. Why don't we get something to eat?" he suggested.
"Sounds good," she replied. "I could use a snack." Her hand subconsciously went to her growing tummy.
"I always find salted nuts a good way to relieve tension," Ming said..."Something crunchy to work away your worries...wait a minute! That's what I've been missing from my dry cell! There's supposed to be a layer of paper saturated with brine between the zinc and the manganese paste! I'll have to try that--but after we get something to eat!" he finished, laughing.
"I knew you'd figure it out," she smiled, as she stood up.
"Once again another bold triumph for science!" Ming said, grinning. "Not all of us scientists are monsters who experiment on people, you know..."
"Good thing too," she replied, gently socking him in the shoulder. "Otherwise I'd have to kill you!" For the moment, the sparkle was back in her eyes.
Ming mocked staggering back on his heels from the blow. "Let's hurry to the mess hall--with any luck, Benson's left enough food for the rest of the crew!" Ming said, noticing that joy had returned to her expression once again.
With a soft laugh, she took his hand
and followed him from the lab.