“And there were letters. I knew they weren't just being sent to me, but I could, I could believe they were, if I felt it hard enough. And there were photographs! If I squinted just right, I could, I could believe that it was you and me in front of your new business venture, you and I standing on a beach, and you and I holding our, our son.”– Malcolm Reed
“You got bitten. Hard. Don't just concede it.”– Pamela Hudson
“I guess it looks weird, getting that intimate and involved that quickly. I won't deny that my brain's probably rather sex-addled.”– Lili O'Day
“I'd wish you all luck, but, ha, getting lucky is what got us into this in the first place.”– Jonathan Archer
“How are you feeling, Lili-Flower?”
“Pretty good,” she said, on the viewer, from the den at her home on Lafa II. Her daughter and son ran in and out of viewer range.
“I see you have company there,” Malcolm said, “How many kicks today?”
“Seventeen,” she said.
“Hmm, that's less than yesterday.”
“Are you graphing the numbers, or something?”
“No, no, of course not,” he said, “He just doesn't seem to be as active as, as Marie Patrice was.”
Hearing her name, Lili's daughter stopped for a second and addressed the screen, “Mackum! When are you coming back?”
“In a few days, young miss,” he said, “But your mother and I are going to be a bit busy.”
“A baby's going to come out,” Marie Patrice said.
“Yes, that's right,” Malcolm said.
“We, uh, don't have the specific mechanics on that yet,” Lili said, “But we do know that Mommy's having an operation, but that's not how it's normally done. And Melissa is going to have a baby come out soon, too, right?”
“Uh-huh,” Marie Patrice said, “But that's some other way.”
“Yes,” Malcolm said, “How old is your daughter, again?”
“Two in January,” Lili said.
“My God. They are amazing.”
“Mirror children,” Lili said, “The genetics from the other side of the pond are pretty powerful.”
“It is ... you need to understand, Lili … I know how it all happened. How that baby got there. How you and me put him there. Very, very sexy.”– Doug Beckett
“You were an animal. The Calafans were staring.”– Lili Beckett
“That's 'cause they could hear you. You're not exactly a little mouse when you, uh, when you know. It must kill ya to keep quiet with Joss in the other room.”– Doug Beckett
“I like to make it so that you have to bite the pillow.”– Doug Beckett
“I'm gonna bite that pillow in half if you keep doing exactly what you're doing right now.”– Lili Beckett
“You seem to be so much smaller than you were when you were expecting her,” Malcolm said.
Since the conversation had turned to more grown-up things again, Marie Patrice returned to running around and chasing after her older brother, Joss.
“Well, I am smaller, even than I was when I was only four or five months along with her.”
“Is that, is that bad? Are you getting enough to eat?”
“Of course I am! Oh Gawd, I am eating half a perrazin all by myself these days.”
“But your, your size. I just, I worry. Are you certain Declan's all right?” Malcolm asked anxiously, touching the cuff a bit.
“Yes. He's fine. He is normal,” Lili said, “It's that the other two were giants. This is the easiest pregnancy I have ever had. We should have six more.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“That's a joke,” she smiled, “If you want to see someone who's gotten as big as I did, maybe give Melissa a call.”
“Is she doing all right?”
“Yep,” Lili said, “She's due in mid-November. I think she and Norri will be glad to be done with this one.”
“I think she's just uncomfortable, but nothing bad. Oof! There was kick number eighteen.”
“Yes, I think I saw that one. I wish I was there, putting my hand on your stomach, feeling it along with you.”
“You were always good at getting Marie Patrice to lay off the kicking,” she said.
“We are already intimate.”– Lili Beckett
“You'll be here on the twenty-eighth?” she asked.
“The twenty-ninth, I think.”
“Something the matter?” he asked.
“The twenty-eighth is, do you know what day it was? Uh, four years ago?”
“Hmmm. Was it when you and Doug first, uh, met?”
“So have that to yourselves, my love. And the twenty-ninth, as I recall, was when I noticed you for the first time,” he smiled, “But you weren't as radiant as you are right now.”
“You're a smooth talker,” she lowered her voice, “You, uh, you don't have to flatter me in order to get lucky, yanno.”
Joss ran in, “Empy's not sharing.”
“Hmm. Come back in here, Miss,” Lili said.
Her daughter obeyed, “Yes, Mommy?”
“What's this about you not sharing?”
“I just wanted to wait on the porch swing by myself, and see Daddy first.”
“Hmm. Okay. But let Joss wait next time, all right?”
“Okay,” she ran off again.
“Do you need to get anything ready for Doug?” Malcolm asked.
“Nope. You can't smell what I'm cooking. I have elekai stew going in the slow cooker. And, uh, the table is set. Isn't it, Joss?”
“Uh, yeah. Hiya, Mackum,” he said, then disappeared to do something which only three-year-old boys who look like they're six like to do.
“I wish I could come there right now, and smell not only your stew but, uh,” Malcolm smiled, “your hair and your neck and then move a bit downwards and then I would not be concentrating on that sense as much as I would be concentrating on taste.”
She chuckled a little, “Oh yeah,” Lili took a thin chain out from inside her shirt. On it were her wedding ring and an old-fashioned skeleton key charm with a solid handle.
“I should not give you a ring. That would not be right. But I can give you this. It means not just an unlocking of, of me, but also key as in important. You have always made me feel important, and I want you to know how important, how key you are, to me as well. And, and, I hope you will wear this some days, and look at this, and think of me, sometimes.”– Malcolm Reed
“I don't need to look at this to think about you. I already do. I love it. Really, totally love it. And I will wear it every day. It's just right.”– Lili Beckett
“Thank you again for wearing that,” Malcolm said, “I struggled to get you something that would be right.”
“It's perfect. I can't imagine taking it off.”
“I can imagine you, uh, taking something else off,” Malcolm said.
There was the sound of a door opening, “Hold that thought for tonight,” Lili said, getting up, “Be right back. Doug!” she called.
“Ah, life doesn't get any better,” Doug said, coming in and shaking off some rain, “Beautiful wife, kids not, uh, killing each other too much, and dinner making the whole house smell unbe-freakin’-lievable. Oh, and the recruits were pretty good today. I think they're finally all getting the hang of present arms.”
“Like these?” she asked, opening her arms to hug him. Her arms were tattooed with intricate silvery scrollwork.
“Not exactly,” he said, “Yours are better,” They kissed, “After dinner, let's find them some sort of video to watch. Something engrossing.”
“Oh?” she asked, “I should tell you, I've got Malcolm on the viewer.”
“Right now?” Doug asked.
“Uh, yep,” she smiled.
“Ah, well. But don't forget – a video for them and then you, me, and math,” Doug said. He came within viewer range, “Hiya, Reed.”
“Hello,” Malcolm said, “Everything doing all right?”
“Definitely. We got the nursery all set up. Dec will sleep in there until he's, I dunno, two or so, then he'll switch with Marie Patrice and she'll get her own room. That work for you?”
“Of course,” Malcolm said, “And I can't even begin to thank you. You're going to do so much for him,” he found himself getting a bit emotional, but it was easier to do that in front of the Becketts than in front of anyone else.
“Hey, forget it. I know you'd do the same. And the addition's all done. We had some trouble getting it finished. The workmen got committed to building another place, right near us,” Doug said.
Lili came over, “Yeah, there's land behind us, a little rise. It looks like it'll be a house for humans. There are all these big boxes out there. It might be furniture or appliances or something; I can't tell. I have to keep telling the kids not to go over there and bother the workmen.”
“Do you, uh, know who your neighbors are going to be?” Malcolm asked.
“Not a clue,” Doug said, “Look, I gotta change. Reed, you'll stay with us, right? The couch in the den folds out. Then when Lili's in the Med Center, the Calafans will set it up so that you and Lili can sleep in the same room with Dec for a night or two.”
“Then I'll have to return to the Enterprise,” Malcolm said, “But I'll be back in January.”
“Come back for Marie Patrice's birthday,” Lili suggested, “And in the meantime we'll see if we can find you a temporary apartment or something.”
“Thank you. It'll be a good two years. I am truly looking forward to getting to know Declan really, really well. I don't want to have to guess at what his favorite food is.”
“There are things I want to tell you. Three words. You know which ones they are. But I cannot. I, it's a pity. I cannot, because I know that you don't –”– Malcolm Reed
“I want to ask you to be patient with me. After all, it took me about two years to know the score. Let me, let me come to it in my own way, at my own pace.”– Lili Beckett
“Wonderful,” she said, “So, tell me Enterprise business,” she leaned over and called, “Kids, come wash up!”
“Not much to tell,” Malcolm said, “We're done with the Augments. I don't think there are anymore. At least, I hope not. And Terra Prime seems to be dissolving as a movement.”
“Good. Don't want you to be in any danger, my soul,” she said.
He smiled, “It's Movie Night tonight, actually.”
“Ah. Very important, then. What does Chip have picked out?”
“It's called Pulp Fiction. He said the director is some chap named Quentin Tarantino.”
“Hmm. You're not thinking of Quentin for Declan's middle name, are you?” she joked.
“Ha, no. But I admit I am stumped. Stuart was in the lead for a long time.”
“That's your father's name, right?”
“Yes. But I'm just not sure.”
“When it comes to you, it'll be right,” she said, “Whatever it is.”
“Thank you, Lili-Flower.”
“I think dinner's ready,” Doug said, coming back into visual range.
“I'd better go. I love you,” she said, “See you tonight?”
“Yes. And I love you both,” Malcolm said, “Just close your eyes and we'll see one another, Lili-Flower.”
“I'm just sort of a pet names person. Called every, everyone, every woman by one or another, but it was always something more generic, like Sweetheart or Darling. I wanted this one to be more unique and personal.”– Malcolm Reed
Movie Night was packed. Malcolm could barely find a seat. He looked around the crowded room. It was as if there was no one actually piloting the ship, there were so many people there. Seats were lined up against the walls and people were standing. SRO! Pulp Fiction was that good a film?
Chip Masterson, the night-shift Communications Ensign, walked to the front of the room, “Wow, this is an awesome turnout! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, as always, to Movie Night. Tonight's feature is Pulp Fiction, starring, uh, John Travolta, Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman.”
Captain Archer came in and got to the front of the room and stood next to Chip, “Excuse me,” the captain said.
“I see I have a co-host tonight,” Chip said, “Captain, you have the floor.”
“Thanks. I, uh, took the liberty of changing tonight's film,” There were some sounds of disappointment, “And this also goes with the orders that most of you received, requiring your attendance here this evening.”
Malcolm was taken aback. He'd received no such orders. How strange.
“In any event,” Captain Archer continued, “tonight's film has been changed to Kramer versus Kramer. Chip, that's, uh, K-R-A-M-E-R,” Jonathan paused a second, “The film is, in large part, about a divorce. But that's not why I chose it. I also selected it – and believe me, the divorce parts of it aren't some special message I'm trying to get across. It's the other part. This film is also about the relationship between a man and his son.”
Malcolm reached for the all-important handkerchief.
“In fact, the father argues in court that he is the better parent. And he is. I would like to, uh, I would like to dedicate this film to, to someone in our midst who's about to become a father,” Jonathan said.
“Captain,” Chip began.
“You're actually not the first one, Chip,” Jonathan said, “Malcolm, where are you?”
Malcolm stood up tentatively.
“This film is for you. We call you Malcolm. But there's going to be – in less than a week! – someone named Declan who will call you Dad.”
The room got loud.
The women all came up to him first. Hoshi hugged him, and Shelby, and Karin. Deborah came over – she wasn't quite showing yet – and kissed him on the cheek. She whispered to him, “Tell Chip what it's like. He's terrified.”
“I am, a bit, too,” Malcolm admitted.
There were loud popping sounds as Champagne corks flew. Someone thrust a cup in his hands and he nearly spilled it on Ethan Shapiro, who was shaking his hand fiercely.
“Just a second!” Chip yelled from the front of the room, “We actually will show the film. It stars, uh, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep,” he read off a PADD, “And the kid is an actor named Justin Henry. It won, uh, Best Picture and Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. But first, a toast. Captain?”
“Yes,” Jonathan said, getting a cup of Champagne from Deborah, who smiled at him as she held a cup of juice for herself. No Champagne for her, of course, “To Malcolm Reed – going where none of us have ever gone before.”
“Hear, here!” they called out as one.
“Okay, roll it, Aidan!” Chip called as the lights were dimmed and the movie began to play.
“I'm kind of a cheap date these days. I can't party like I used to.”– Lili Beckett
“I'm finding I prefer a quieter life now, myself.”– Malcolm Reed