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[2005: JUN-JUL] At What Cost, Honor?

Sakorra Jefferson Reed

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At What Cost, Honor?

Ensign Kiarna Taiven of Starfleet curled up under her covers at her parents’ home on Trill. She was having a delicious dream that included golden biceps, muscular thighs, and miles of sand surrounding her and a gorgeous golden man who could rival any on Risa.

"Kiarna!" her mother called up the stairs. "Kiarna, this is the last time I'm calling you! You'll miss breakfast and you'll have to get your own ride to the hospital!"

Kiarna groaned and buried her head underneath the sheets. "So go without me!" she called back to her mother. "They'll have more kids! They're like rabbits! I'll just watch the next...hundred...being born!"

"Kiarna Taiven! Don't you speak about your brother and sister-in-law in that manner! Get down here, now!"

Groaning, Kiarna rolled over in her bed. She could never get enough sleep around here. She should have stayed in a hotel. The house was crawling with Taivens. Her brother, Garon, had arrived two weeks ago from the university and her sister, Tegan, and their father, Korvan, had arrived yesterday after delivering a shipment of Misty Kippets to Betazed.

Misty Kippets was a bubbly confection that her mother had invented, bottled, and sold, vaulting the Taiven family into instant splendor and fame. The drink was a large success all over the quadrant, mostly for its energizing yet relaxing properties. Their trip had taken longer than usual because they had swung by Deep Space 9 to pick up Jandra, Kiarna's older sister, and the only one in the family who was joined, much to Kiarna’s bitterness.

The cacophony of voices carried up to her from below as her eldest brother’s children and the three youngest members of the family, Neko, Lani, and Odal, clambered up and over the sleek metal sculpture that had recently been added to Arliel and Korvan's living room and three...two...one, like clockwork, Tegan's shrieking.

"How many times do I have to tell you to stay off of that, you little runts! You'll ruin it! Mom! Kiarna!"

She could hear her mother's placating tones as she spoke to the children, telling them how hard their Auntie Tegan had worked on the piece of art and how special it was. Unable to ignore the utter chaos, Kiarna threw the covers off of her and lumbered down the stairs. Tegan was the first to see her, but she hardly got any words out before three little faces rushed at Kiarna in a blur of laughter and smiles. The small whirlwinds knocked the breath from her, and she pretended to fall under their weight, commencing the ritual tickling and kissing until they were all so tired that they lay in a heap on the cool marble floor. The smell of freshly broken Shiga fruit descended upon her senses.

"Mmm. Well, I can see that I didn't miss breakfast."

"She knows to call you a half an hour beforehand,” said Tegan, gritting the words out through clenched teeth. “You were supposed to be up helping me with them," she pointed to the three children sprawled upon the floor, "not lazing about all day.”

Luckily, Arliel came to the rescue before Kiarna was able to throttle her sister. "Tegan, sweety, since most of the family is here, I think we could use a centerpiece on the table. How about that blown glass piece that you did last year, the one that has colored glass strands inside of it? The sunlight will really highlight it, I think."

Tegan instantly lit up and went off to fetch the object. Arliel smiled after her youngest child. Tegan had been touchy lately because she was sure that she wouldn’t qualify for symbiosis. Kiarna hadn’t even known that it was such a big deal to her younger sister. She’d hardly been around in the past years since she’d first went into Starfleet.

“You and Jandra don’t call or come home enough. It’s been hard on your sister. She’s been feeling a self-induced pressure from your successes.”

Kiarna sighed and looked at her mother, an apology ready in her eyes. She had been neglectful. Coming home was not easy. She’d had her own life away from her family, her own disappointments and heartbreak. It had been her time to grow and become an adult. Her family had taken a backseat. The last time that she had been home, Neko had been Vonaghan’s and Cassiene’s only child. Now they were about to have their fourth and the family was headed to the hospital where both Cassiene and Vonaghan had been staying for the past week. Cassiene had been on bed rest, and Vonaghan wanted to make sure that she was well cared for. He had brought her to the maternity ward’s residence block, a place for mother’s to prepare for birth away from the normal stress of everyday life.

* * *

Hours later, through a crystal screen that announced each child’s time and date of birth, parents’ names, birth weight and length, and name, Kiarna could see dozens of tiny babies, each swathed in white linen. The new addition to the family was a girl. Cassiene wanted to name the baby after her sister, Katta, who had been joined briefly. Unfortunately, the symbiont had suffered when Katta had received a foreign insect sting on another planet. She had returned as quickly as she could, but to save the symbiont, it had to be removed from Katta. She had died three hours after the removal of Desol from her womb. Katta seemed the obvious choice for a name, but Vonaghan and Katta had never gotten along.

Vonaghan felt that Katta had believed she was better than the majority of Trill’s citizens, being a member of the joined minority, and indeed, privileges had been granted to her that had not been granted to others in her career field. It was what seemed to fuel Trill these days, privileged and unprivileged, joined and unjoined. The news had been trickling in that Trill’s government had been lying to its own people for years, that Trill’s symbionts were directly related to the parasites that has so recently attacked Trill and Bajor. A group called the neo-purists had been causing trouble, and the air was rife with tension. Protest rallies were gathering steam around the globe, even in smaller towns. The neo-purists wanted a symbiont-free Trill, believing the symbionts were little more than slugs that controlled their “pampered and privileged humanoid slaves.” Others wanted joining for all. Many just wanted the truth.

Cassiene had been given something to help her sleep. She had been highly agitated because of the planet wide comnet message that had been aired by a neo-purist activist named Nas Ditrel. Kiarna had never liked the idea of joining, tending to think that a symbiont changed a host, turning them into a completely different person, and she did not agree with the privileges that were extended to the joined. Her sister, Jandra, had advanced in Starfleet much more quickly than Kiarna. The joined were also slated for all positions in the government. Kiarna’s views had caused a very strained relationship with her sister, but her views were nothing compared to the woman on the comnet. Ditrel’s message was extreme.

The comnet message had seemed to fuel the protesters around the city. Kiarna was concerned at what could happen, but she wanted to hear what Nas had to say. Nas Ditrel said she had evidence that the parasites originated from Trill, a reason for all of Trill to be concerned because of the genetic relation between the symbionts and the parasites. The neo-purists believed that the parasites were on their way to attack Trill because of ancient crimes committed against them after experimentation on symbionts by a group of Trill settlers on a planet names Kurl went bad. The neo-purists also believed that the Trill government knew why the parasites had a vendetta against Trill and demanded that they discontinue their lies and secrets.

“Be warned: we will not permit any such thing to happen to our world again. We will stand vigilantly against the parasites and their so-called symbiont cousins. We will allow neither the joined nor the creatures who control them to lead us to destruction. In the defense of our world, we are prepared to take drastic measures.”

Kiarna turned away from the babies to find Jandra waiting for her. As always, an uneasy tension hovered between them. “Vonaghan and Cassiene are both resting. It’s turned into full out rioting out there. Let’s see if there is anything we can do.”

Jandra took Kiarna’s arm, linking it with her own. Kiarna swept an uneasy hand up, tucking stray wisps of hair behind her ear. They walked to the front of the hospital in silence, their own tension combining with the tension of the Trill people in the city. They walked quickly. As they reached a lift, Jandra turned and spoke quickly.

“I wish you could accept me like this, Kiarna. I’m still your sister, you know, symbiont or not.” Since Jandra’s joining, the two sisters had hardly talked. Kiarna had pulled away from her sister, and it had obviously pained Jandra. She didn’t know what to tell Jandra. The Zak symbiont made Kiarna uneasy. It was as though her sister’s eyes belonged to someone else now.

“I know what you are, Jandra. My sister, yes, though much different from the girl I grew up with.”

“All people change, Kiarna. No one can stay the same as they were as a child. Life doesn’t work that way.”

Kiarna looked at her sister and started to speak, but before she could, Jandra’s body reacted as though it had been hit with something and she let out a scream that ripped through Kiarna. Her blood froze and she caught Jandra before she crumpled to the ground. Her sister’s weight pulled her down and she sunk to the floor, cradling a writhing and screaming Jandra in her arms.

“Jandra! What’s happening?! Kiarna tried hard not to panic but Jandra’s eyes were large and glassy. She strained for breath and clawed at Kiarna. Movement from Jandra’s abdomen caught Kiarna’s eyes. Something was wrong with the Zak symbiont, and she couldn’t tell if Jandra was ill and the symbiont was suffering because of it or if it was the other way around. A shrill scream rent the air. It was coming from her sister, but it sounded alien, and then her sister’s voice merged with it so that they were both screaming. Kiarna’s heart was racing. She looked around wildly for medical personnel, but the hall was deserted. “Medical emergency!” She yelled as loud as she could, but no one came.

Her sister’s tortured scream ripped through her eardrums with such ferocity that Kiarna was suffering herself, her ears gnawing from her sister’s pain. She knew them. The neo-purists had struck somehow. She grabbed Jandra under the arms and hoisted her up, dragging her backwards into the lift and pressed the button for the triage center. Her sister’s and Zak’s mingled screams continued to radiate through her body, and she broke down in helpless frustration, her vision blurring as the lift opened up near triage.

“Help me!” she yelled, hoping someone would come rushing. No one came. She dragged her sister further. She tried to get into the intake ward, but a guard stopped her. She did what she knew would get her sister care, even though she knew it might hurt someone else. She knew somehow that her sister’s condition was very serious. “She’s joined!” Kiarna yelled.

Immediately, a flurry of activity surrounded her sister. A doctor came over personally and assisted her onto a gurney, rushing her back into the trauma unit. One of the nurses tried to lead Kiarna away, but she was having none of it. The cacophony of screams assaulted her senses, Jandra’s among them. Around her, dozens of joined Trills were dying, all the victims of some sort of attack. Jandra was scanned quickly with a plisagraph as she was placed on a hospital bed.

“She’s rejecting her symbiont. Isoboramine, stat!” Jandra was injected, but there seemed to be no change. “The symbiont is in neuroleptic shock. Prepare symbiogenic neurotransmitters.” Once again, Jandra was injected. Zak seemed to quiet his thrashing and Jandra quit screaming, though her eyes remained glassy and unresponsive and her breathing was ragged. “Let’s prepare to remove the symbiont. Get me a mobile symbiont pool!”

“No! You can’t do this!” Kiarna put her arms over her sister’s abdomen to stop any further action and glared at the doctor. The doctor looked at her as if she was crazy.

“This symbiont will die if we don’t extract it immediately. I don’t care how famous your family is, Miss Taiven. I have a duty to this symbiont, to preserve the memories of all hosts for future generations. If left in the host, this symbiont will die.” The doctor didn’t even look agrieved.

“Her name is Jandra, not ‘the host!’ She is a living, breathing being who deserves your care! Please!” She could feel the tears stream down her face and wiped at them blindly. The doctor looked as though he was contemplating having her forcibly removed. Kiarna was desperate. She looked at her sister and cupped her face. “Come on, Jandra. Wake up. Please. Show them you can fight this. Come on!”

Jandra’s body began to convulse again and the medical staff restrained her to keep her from hurting herself or anyone else. Kiarna hardly heard what was going on after that. She just willed Jandra to fight...for what she didn’t know.

“Your sister accepted the commitment of a symbiont when she was joined. She knew that it could mean that she would have to die to save her symbiont one day. It is the risk the joined must take. The symbiont comes first. Now move so we can save it!”

“No!” Her hatred for the doctor and his uncaring attitude fueled her words. “Everything that is happening is the fault of people like you! You and your “symbionts first” attitude, your reverence!” She no longer cared how she sounded. She didn’t care if it was conduct unbecoming of a Starfleet officer. She wanted to lash out at this vile man who would dispose of her sister so carelessly.

“No, Kiarna,” a whisper traveled up from the bed that held her sister. Her sister was struggling to speak. Kiarna leaned close, the tears bright on her face.

“Jandra, don’t let them do this, please, please. Oh, God. I’m so sorry, Jandra. So sorry for everything I felt, everything I said. Please don’t let them do this.”

“It was...so quick...but I...knew.... It was...an...honor...to be Zak’s...host, even...for a short...time. Her breathing came quicker now. She looked over at the doctor. “Please...let them...save Zak.” Her sister’s pleading eyes ripped at her, and she stepped back. The nurses and doctor converged around Jandra, the doctor’s laser scalpel quickly going to work. A few moments later, a shuddering gray mass was deposited into a waiting artificial symbiont pool and whisked away. It would be returned to the Caves of Mak’ala, perhaps to heal, perhaps to die.

Without ceremony, the nurses and doctor rushed off to another patient and left her sister on the bed to die. Kiarna lay down on the bed and pulled her sister into her arms. Jandra’s breathing was coming slowly now. Slowly, softly, she stroked her sister’s cheek and whispered to her.

“I was stupid, Jandra. I see that now. If only....” But if onlys should not be dwelt on, for nothing can be done about them. Jandra knew this, and though she could feel her life ebbing away, her soul being pulled, she looked at her sister.

“You were...what a sister...should be. I understand...now...why. Zak is...gone. I feel different.... Tell Mom and Dad...I love them. Garon and...Tegan and Vonaghan...Cassiene...the same. The babies...and...tell...I’ll always be...my Lincoln...oh my Lincoln. We never...had the chance...to get...married.” Jandra’s grief was etched upon her face. The tears ran in rivulets down her pale cheeks. “I wanted...so much. Tell him...I love him.” Jandra struggled to form the words as her breathing slowed. A low keening was coming from Kiarna’s own lips. She couldn’t seem to stop the tortured, wild sound from escaping as her body was wracked with sobs.

She smoothed her sister’s hair back, caressing her softly. Jandra’s breaths were becoming more shallow. She held her close, her head upon her chest, feeling the weary rise and fall of her chest.

“My sister, my sister. I’m so sorry.”

Another breath, faint...then another. Jandra waited, each breath coming further and further apart, and then Kiarna’s head no longer rose and fell with her sister’s breaths, and she allowed her vision to blur as she shut her eyes against the world around her.

* * *

It had been for the honor and glory of Trill. Ninety percent of the joined population had been slaughtered. That had been the neo-purists’ target, though many unjoined who had been too close to the bio-electric bombs or who had been caught in the rioting, had been killed, as well. The neo-purists felt that justice had been served. Kiarna sat by her sister’s grave, one amid thousands of new graves:

Jandra Taiven

Beloved daughter, sister, aunt, granddaughter, friend.

Starfleet Officer

Host of Zak

At what cost, honor? Trill had been brought to its knees, forced to see its past injustices through irreplaceable sacrifices. Kiarna rose and walked away from her sister’s resting place. She might never understand the honor her sister had felt to be among the joined, the host of Zak, but she knew the honor she felt now at having had Jandra Taiven as a sister, and she was glad that her sister’s memories would be carried on through Zak. In a way, she lived.

Edited by Jefferson Reed
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