by monkee

Stardate 49548.7

"My Baby—she's going to die, isn't she."

It's not even a question, really. I just want someone to look me in the eye and tell me that this is actually happening.

The Doctor hesitates briefly before answering, "Not if I can help it." His reassurance subroutines must have kicked in. I know the hesitation was the true answer.

God, this can't be happening. Please let this not be happening. It has to be a nightmare. It feels like a nightmare. I feel light-headed, disconnected like I'm watching it all from far away. The Doctor turns away to tend to someone else as Kes prepares for the procedure and I just want to grab his uniform and drag him back. My baby is HERE. Stay here and help my baby. You have to make this right.

God, I feel so desperate. So angry. I'm angry with the Doctor for running around like a maniac while my baby is dying. I'm angry with Kes because she won't look me in the eye, and she's not a doctor, anyway. I'm angry with Captain Janeway for letting this happen, whatever it is. I'm even angry at my injured crewmates I just want everyone to get out of here. Nothing should matter but my baby right now.

I'm angry with myself, too. Why did she have to be beamed from my body? If I'd been able to deliver her naturally, she wouldn't have hemocythemia. She wouldn't be dying. How could I have failed her like this?

Everyone teased me during my pregnancy. 'Just don't have the baby during a red alert, Samantha!' I'd laugh right along with them such an unlikely worst-case scenario, right? Now the ship is falling down around my ears and the medical systems are damaged and I am losing my baby.

There's chaos all around me. They're wheeling over equipment, and the Doctor is barking out orders. No one disturbs me, though, so I just stand and stare down at my baby. She's dying. I'm a xenobiologist and I know what death looks like. She's gone quiet and still. She has no color. She's slipping away from me. They won't let me touch her it interferes with her already weak bioreadings. I can't even touch her. If I could just hold her...

"Stay," I whisper to her. "Please, just stay."

Then the Doctor is across from me tapping at his console as he tells Kes, "Again. Again." My baby is so pale I can no longer see the rise and fall of her breathing. I hear the flat-line tone of the monitor and I look up at the Doctor, dazed. Is that it? He says just three words, but they shatter my world, "I'm sorry, Ensign."

God. Oh, God. I can't hold myself upright anymore, so I crumple into the person who's beside me. Neelix, I think. Through the roaring of blood in my ears, I hear someone sobbing quietly. It turns out to be me. Distantly, I hear someone calling for medical assistance on Deck 15. Kes leaves, looking sad, but almost relieved. I wish I could leave just take myself out of this place. Start over, somehow.

Neelix is holding me up. He's speaking, but the words are all nonsense. Just murmured, comforting sounds. He's crying, too. He and the medical assistant are trying to steer me away from the incubator, but I won't go. I can see my hand clutching the side my knuckles are white.

Finally they let me hold her. Maybe later, I'll find that ironic that they would only let me hold her when she was gone. Still, it's oddly comforting to finally touch her face, her tiny fingers. I think about my husband, Greskrendtregk, and how close I felt to him during my pregnancy. Now I don't feel anything. He's gone now, too. I have nothing left. I clutch my baby to my chest and just let myself cry.

When I'm too exhausted to continue, I notice that Neelix is sitting next to me, and has been all along. We are on the floor with our backs against the wall all of the biobeds are full. Smiling sadly, Neelix reaches over and gently strokes the baby's cheek with the back of his index finger. "She's beautiful, Samantha," he tells me.

"I never even named her," I whisper, more to myself than to him.

Neelix is silent for a moment, then he murmurs, "Forest's tears," as he continues to caress the baby's cheek. At my look of confusion, he explains. "They live in the upper branches of certain trees in the rainforests of Rynax. Tiny gray birds called M'Ina's, or forest's tears, because when the light filtering through the leaves shines on them, they sparkle like silver. They only live for a few days, and they rarely light on the ground, but my people treasure them for their delicate beauty." He smiles sadly at my daughter. "I'd almost forgotten about them," he says. "She reminds me of them."

Touched, I find myself crying again, silently. But the sound of Neelix's voice is soothing and, for a moment, I feel almost peaceful. M'Ina. It's perfect.

The calm is only temporary, of course, and soon the claxons are sounding again, and a new wave of injured arrives. Commander Chakotay tersely reports over a comm line that the Bridge has been evacuated and Engineering will be the new command center. He adds that Ensign Kim is dead, and Kes has disappeared into some kind of spatial anomaly on Deck 12.

Neelix stiffens beside me, and we exchange a horrified glance. I see in his eyes the terror of having the one person who means absolutely everything to you taken away so abruptly. He rises to his feet, stammering an apology. I touch his arm briefly and tell him, "Go. I'm all right." I wish I could offer him more some consolation, some reassurance but I have nothing left to give.

Chaos continues to swirl around me. I try to take it all in, but it's just too much: my baby, Harry, Kes, all of the injured. The Doctor is working desperately over a patient across the room. I can't even see who it is. Some of these injuries look quite severe we could lose more people before this is over. This is as bad a situation as Voyager has even been in, and for the first time it occurs to me that we may not survive. I don't even know what's happening. People keep mentioning proton bursts and I hear someone say something about another Voyager, but I don't know what all of that means. I really don't care, either. Perhaps I should feel something fear, anger, sadness but I'm numb. I figure that at least if the ship is destroyed, this will all be over.

Neelix returns, but there's no news of Kes. Ensign Cartwright kneels beside me and tells me that they have a cot set up for me now. She says that I really should be monitored and gently insists that I give her my baby. Neelix touches my arm and nods. I don't want to let her go, but I know I have to. I kiss the top of my daughter's head. Her skin is already so cool. I start crying again when Ensign Cartwright takes her. She tearfully assures me that she'll take good care of her, but I know she's just going to put her in a stasis drawer. Watching her walk away is wrenching, but Neelix puts his arm around me and leads me away.

Before we get very far, however, word comes down that we have to evacuate to Deck 12. The next fifteen minutes are a blur. There just aren't enough people to help, so the injured must assist the more seriously injured. Neelix and I support Ensign Ayala, who has a broken leg, between us. I stumble under the weight, and realize that I still have quite a lot of pain in my abdomen. I suppose it's been there all along I just didn't notice it before. We stagger through darkened corridors the red alert lights are flashing, but the claxons are mercifully silent. The ship looks like a war zone.

We start to set up in a small conference room outside engineering, but before Lieutenant Carey can even get the holographic emitters set up for the Doctor, we're told that we can return to Sickbay. Sometime on the way back, Kes rejoins the group, briefly embracing Neelix apparently she's returned from wherever she disappeared to. I like Kes, and I'm relieved for Neelix, but the events of the day have caught up with me. I lean up against a wall to catch my breath, and everything goes black.

* * *

When I come to, I'm lying on a biobed in sickbay. For a split second, I'm confused and don't remember anything, but then my hand instinctively brushes against my stomach and it all comes back to me my baby's gone. I suppress a wave of nausea and choke back a sob, remembering, suddenly, the tenuous status of the entire ship. Looking around, I see that normal lighting has been restored and although the room is still bustling and crowded, things are obviously settling down. Across the room, I spot the Doctor in animated conversation with Kes and Neelix. The three of them turn simultaneously and look directly at me. I'm brought up short by the identical expression on their faces. They seem almost afraid of me—or for me. The room is warm, but I start to shiver. I have an odd sense that something is about to happen that will forever change my life. Again.

They approach the side of my bed warily. The Doctor checks my readings and nods with satisfaction. Then the look of uncertainty returns. He glances at Kes, who takes my hand.

"Something has happened," he tells me.

"My baby?" I whisper. I don't know why I ask that. I watched her die, and held her as she grew cold. But there's something strange going on here...

"In a sense," he says, cryptically. Then he tells me a story that is so incredible, so completely unbelievable, that I know without a doubt it has to be true. It's a story about a divergence field, a duplicate Voyager, a duplicate crew, and a Vidian attack on the other side of a subspace rift.

"The other Captain Janeway has set the auto-destruct," he concludes. "But first she's sending the other Harry Kim and the healthy Wildman baby through the rift."

I stare at him for a few moments, completely unable to comprehend what he's saying. When it finally sinks in I feel bile rising in my throat and a hot flush burning my face. I jerk my hand away from Kes and struggle to sit up.

"That's not my baby!" I say emphatically, sputtering with rage. "My baby's DEAD. You can't just give me another baby like...like some sort of...consolation prize!"

The Doctor reaches for my arm, but I flail at him so hard that I actually strike him in the chest. Neelix is saying my name, and Kes is trying to get me to lie back down, but I refuse to be soothed. What's the matter with everybody have they all gone mad? What they're suggesting it's just obscene! I can't believe what I'm hearing!

"Let me talk to her," Kes tells the other two. They hesitate, but she adds a firm, "Please," and they back away, reluctantly.

I allow Kes to help me back down, then tug at her arm, crying, praying that she'll see reason. "That's not my baby," I sob, lowering my voice.

"No, it's not," she agrees, quietly. "But Samantha, I was over there, on the other side. They're identical to us. I looked at the other Kes and she was ME, even in her eyes! The only difference was that their medical systems weren't failing and your baby was alive and thriving. And you I mean, her, the other you she was so happy, Samantha..."

For a moment, I wonder about her this other me who hadn't had her world crumble around her. I'm actually jealous until I remember that if she's not dead yet, she will be soon.

"Besides," Kes reminds me, as though she'd heard my thoughts, "that baby needs you. She has nothing else now."

She touches my cheek and smiles, sweetly and sadly. "No one is trying to diminish your loss, or your daughter's life," she says. "But this can be a new beginning, for both of you."

I know she's right, of course. The other baby needs me. My head is spinning, but I can grasp that one truth well enough. I wipe tears from my face, and force myself to take slow, deep breaths. I nod at Kes, and she smiles and brushes a strand of hair off my forehead.

"How soon?" I ask.

"They should be here any time now," she replies.

God. Only in Starfleet. Only in Starfleet would I suffer through a day like this one, lose my baby so brutally, and then have a duplicate dropped in my lap from out of the blue.

I find myself shaking uncontrollably. I absolutely cannot make myself stop, no matter how hard I try. It's probably a combination of physical exhaustion, shock, and terror. And I am terrified. I'm terrified that I will feel nothing for this poor child or worse, that I'll resent her for not being the right baby. Or perhaps I'm terrified that I'll love this baby, and that M'Ina will fade from my thoughts.

Kes waits with me. Captain Janeway comes in looking terrible she has a bad gash across her forehead. The Doctor makes her sit on a biobed across the room from me as he tends to her injuries. It's been a hellish day for everyone.

We wait for what seems like an eternity, although it's probably less than five minutes, and then the sickbay doors hiss open and Harry Kim walks in with a swaddled bundle.

I know instantly that my fears were unfounded. I feel a surge of protectiveness, and I'm reaching for the baby before Harry is halfway into the room. He places the baby gently in my arms and I study her face, closely. She's identical to M'Ina, of course, except for the life in her eyes and the color in her cheeks. She's absolutely beautiful. Just...beautiful.

"Thank you," I tell Harry. "Thank you so much."

He says something about the other Doctor saving her from the Vidians and I am suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude towards all of them. The other Doctor, for protecting her. The other Captain Janeway, for sending her to me. This Harry, for bringing her here safely. And, of course, the other Samantha. Perhaps her spirit will have some measure of peace now that this child is safe in my arms.

My own Captain Janeway approaches the biobed and gives the baby and me a warm smile. After a brief conversation with the Doctor, she and Harry leave sickbay. The Doctor and Kes drift away to tend to other patients, and I'm left to get acquainted with my baby in peace. Looking at her calm face, and her alert eyes, I realize that Kes was right. This child's presence doesn't diminish my birth daughter—it honors her. I can accept this child into my heart easily, for M'Ina.

* * *

The next day, I arrange for a simple memorial for M'Ina in one of the observation lounges. I ask only a handful of people to participate. Neelix and Kes are there, and the Doctor watches on one of the monitors. Harry holds the new baby for me. It's funny—I feel that the two of them will always share a special bond—the only survivors from the other side of the rift.

Neelix approaches me as I keep my vigil by M'Ina's burial tube. He hands me a tiny sterling silver bird. "This is for you," he says. "I replicated it from memory. It's a M'Ina bird. To remember her by..." It's a beautiful thing, nestled in the palm of my hand. So small. So delicate. I close my fingers over it and hug Neelix. "Thank you, Neelix," I whisper. "This means a lot to me."

Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay arrive. The Captain gives me a soft blue blanket that she has made herself. "This one is for M'Ina," she tells me. "I'll make another one for the new baby."

My eyes fill with tears, and for a minute I can't even speak enough to thank her. Such a simple thing a gift for a baby but that she was compassionate enough to think of it...And with all that's going on around here, she even took the time to embroider a tiny 'M' in the corner. I tuck the blanket gently into the burial tube with M'Ina.

Everyone leaves me alone for a few minutes as I stroke my daughter's cheek and say goodbye. I close the lid carefully and nod once to the security personnel, who somberly come over and carry the baby away to the torpedo bay.

Then it's time. The Captain says just a few words. She mentions, close to tears, that M'Ina is the first baby she's lost as a Captain. She speaks of the anticipation throughout the ship during the latter stages of my pregnancy and how she felt that, in a way, this child belonged to everyone on board. She concludes by saying that some sacrifices are just too great, and that although we have been blessed with the other baby, M'Ina will never be forgotten.

Commander Chakotay says a blessing from his native people, and it's very beautiful, and comforting. Then he calls everyone to attention. The Captain taps her comm badge and quietly orders the tube jettisoned. As I watch it drift into the field of stars, I feel Neelix's hand on my shoulder. Kes takes my hand.

M'Ina was my daughter. Fate and circumstance took her away from me after only a brief time, but I loved her with everything that I am, and I will never, ever forget her.

In Harry's arms at the back of the room, the new baby wakes and begins to gurgle and coo.

* * *

Later that night, I'm curled up on my bed nursing the baby. She's so warm snuggled against my skin and I'm just reveling in her scent, her softness the life in her. Her fingers are clenched tightly around my index finger and I feel such an intense connection to her. I love her fiercely, and my doubts about being able to bond with her are a distant memory. God, she is so perfect. So beautiful. I only wish that I could come up with a name for her. I spent all day searching through the database, but nothing seemed quite right.

Eventually, her grip on my hand begins to loosen and I watch her fingers uncurl. She's sound asleep, but I don't feel like moving. Lulled by her warmth and my own contentment, I begin to drift off as well. We both startle at the sound of the comm signal.

"Neelix to Wildman."

"Hello, Neelix," I say, smiling. He's practically whispering. It's sweet.

"Did I wake you?" he asks, guiltily.

"Almost, but not quite," I tell him. "What is it?"

"I've been searching through the database for names," he says. "I found one I thought you might like. What do you think of 'Naomi?'"

"Naomi." I form the word carefully with my lips, turning it over on my tongue. I immediately love the way it sounds. It sounds a little bit like M'Ina.

"I like it," I tell him, pleasantly surprised. "What does it mean?"

"It's a Terran name," he says. "From the Hebrew language, I think. It means 'beautiful.'"

I shiver and feel the prickling sensation of gooseflesh forming on my arms. Naomi. Beautiful. Yes. It's absolutely perfect.

Stardate 54548.9

Today is Naomi's birthday. She's five, although she looks and acts as though she's ten. When I married Greskrendtregk I knew that Ktarians develop more rapidly than humans do, but I never realized what an impact that would have on me as a parent. People always complain about their children growing up too fast, but they have no idea!

We're having her birthday party in the mess hall again, and I stand back away from everyone and just watch her. I'm so proud of her. She has such a keen intelligence, and she's funny, and clever, and so kind to everyone around her. I know that I've been a good mother to her, but I also know that a lot of what she is came from Voyager's doting crew. They say that a starship is no place to raise a child, but I'm not so sure. Certainly she's in more danger than a child should be, and my heart is in my throat each time there's a red alert, but just look at her role models. Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, Tom, Harry, B'Elanna, Tuvok, Neelix...even Seven they've all influenced her life in remarkable ways.

Naomi waves to me from across the room, and I wave back. I watch her for a while, then, as always on this day, my thoughts turn to M'Ina. I wonder what she would have been like if she had lived. Would she be different from Naomi in subtle ways? I think she would, although I don't know how, or why. I reach into my pocket and finger the small silver M'Ina bird that Neelix gave me earlier in the day. He gives me one every year, bless his heart. He never forgets. And every year, after the party is over, and before Naomi goes to bed, she helps me hang the bird from the ceiling in our quarters. She's always been gentle with the birds, even before she was old enough to understand their significance. They look beautiful up there. They're light enough to move in the breeze from the ventilation ducts. They catch the light, and draw my attention at random times. They glitter above my head like tears.

The End.

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