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“Let's conceive this one in love.”– Melissa Madden

“I know that my love isn't going to be enough.” – Doug Beckett

“You will never be hopelessly ugly to me. Don't ever forget that.”– Lili O'Day

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“Kevin?” Lili asked, “When? How?”

“Uh, later,” Q said.

“Don't be evasive,” she said, “Tell me everything.”

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“You're doing your best. He'll realize that someday.” – Brian Delacroix

“You can't tell me too many wonderful things or I get kicked – reminded that I should be down to earth, I guess.”– Lili Beckett

“How absurd. People are dead but delicate flowers survive. A bit of beauty in a wasted land.”– Malcolm Reed

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Doug continued pacing.

Malcolm finally looked up, “I have an idea,” he said.

Doug glared, “Let's hear it,” Melissa said.

“Uh, we could – Doug and I – go out for, I don't know, five minutes,” Malcolm said, spinning it along, unsure whether it made any sense, “We can see if the, if the house is intact. And determine whether the storm has passed.”

“We need to wait for the 'all clear',” Norri said.

“You really think they've got a concept of an 'all clear' here?” Doug snapped.

“Dad, can I go, too?” Joss asked.

“No,” Doug replied curtly.

“You'll need to stay here and keep everyone company,” Malcolm said, “We can, uh, get more water, too. If, uh, if it's still bad, we'll just close the door and not even go outside.”

“I dunno,” Melissa said.

“We really should go,” Doug said, a tad calmer, “I, uh, I need to get out of here and do something. I hate just sitting around.”

“Mama, cookie?” Tommy asked Norri.

“Uh, not right now, love,” she said distractedly.

“We could, uh, bring back some, too,” Doug said.

“C'mon, this shouldn't be like heading to the market,” Melissa said.

“Five minutes. No more,” Malcolm promised.

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“You may think you're not doing a damned thing. But you are. Now get them and get gone. Don't dawdle.”– Rick Daniels

“I'm not as delicate as you seem to think I am.”– Lili O'Day

“And you showed me – that you, and me, and what we could, what we have had, that it's all, it's all made from, from sterner stuff. None of it shattered. And I learned that I could do more, and be more, and feel more. The very limits of my intolerance have been stretched.”– Malcolm Reed

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“There's not much to tell,” Q said, “Twenty-two days is not a significant amount of time unless you're a mayfly.”

“That may be so, but I still want to know. Tell me all of it,” Lili demanded, “If you want to hear anything from me, get any sort of answers, you'll give me the full lowdown.”

“Huh. Explanations will be unsatisfactory,” he said, “Perhaps I can just show you.”

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“Just keep letting me believe things that I know, really, aren't so.” – Deborah Haddon

“Well, whose morality applies to us? I mean, aren't there species that still have child brides? Do we go by their rules, or ours?” – Brian Delacroix

“I guess we do what we think is most right. All the while hurting the smallest number of people.”– Lili Beckett

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“Captain, can I see you for a second?”

“Sure, Travis. In my Ready Room?”

“Thanks.”

As soon as the door had closed, Travis said, “I, uh, some of our being off-course. It's, it's my fault, sir.”

“Oh?”

“I've just, I've been distracted.”

“Something troubling you, Ensign?”

“Yes. But, uh, I can't talk about it. I promised not to.”

“Hmm. Is there anyone you can talk to? Phlox, maybe?”

“Maybe, sir.”

“Tell you what, take the rest of the day off. And talk to someone – even if it just means writing a letter,” Jonathan said, “Will that help?”

“I think so. Thank you, sir.”

“All right. Contact Chris Harris, tell him to come up here and start second shift a little early. Dismissed.”

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“I don't want you to get hurt. I do care about that.”– Jonathan Archer

“I must insist – my condition is – I want pictures of everyone – kids' births and graduations, medal ceremonies, vacations, anything and everything.”– Lili Beckett

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“Show?” Lili asked, but the room was already changing.

It was the Fep City apartment – Leonora and Melissa's home. But it was different.

“Uh, what year is this?” Lili had the presence of mind to ask.

Q just stayed quiet, so she looked around. She settled on looking at the video cutout, a slide show of family photographs flying by. There was one of Norri getting her doctorate. Then another was a Prom picture, of what looked like a young Doug with a girl of Chinese extraction. And then Lili realized, it wasn't Doug. That was Joss's Prom picture. She put her hand out to try to pause it and look longer, but couldn't make contact with the display, “What the –?”

“We're not really here,” Q explained, “We are the proverbial fly on the wall.”

“And Declan?”

“Back in the room.”

“A newborn really shouldn't be left alone for more than a minute or so,” Lili pointed out.

“He's on slowed down time now, as well.”

“That molasses time is convenient,” Lili said. She went back to the wall. Marie Patrice was pictured holding up some sort of art project. Tommy was in a scout uniform. And then Doug. It was a picture of him with recruits, but he was far older, “He's, he's what, sixty-five in this picture?”

“Seventy,” Q said.

Lili left the display and went over to the clock. It scrolled through the time and temperature in Fep City and then to the current date – June twenty-fourth, 2177.

“Doug is, he's seventy-four. And, and Melissa is, uh, forty-something.”

“Forty-three,” Q said, “Watch.”

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“That's just like you, Joss, to take the side of a slave or an animal. Really, you're too soft.”– Marie Patrice Beckett (Sato)

“I'm not a perfect person by any means. I have flaws – that's a huge one, of course. All I can hope for is to not pass that along to the kids.”– Doug Beckett

“I got my own imperfections that I don't want to pass along to the kids.”– Melissa Madden

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There was a yowling sound, like a cat in distress, but it was feeble.

“They got a cat?” Lili asked.

Q said nothing.

As Lili watched, Melissa blew by her, into another room. Lili followed.

Melissa was older, to be sure, but she looked even older than she should have – tired, teary, as if she hadn't slept well for a while.

The yowling was a bit louder. There was no cat to be seen anywhere.

Melissa leaned over a crib, and picked up a baby, and Lili saw.

He was the one making the noise. There was no cat, just a newborn. And his eyes – they were too far apart. He cried strangely as she tried to soothe him without much success.

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“Telling me I'm pretty, when I know I'm not. I'm just a mass of arms and legs, I feel. I bump into things all the time. My mother was, she was graceful and lovely and I'm not that at all.” – Yimar

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“Q, what's wrong with the baby?” Lili asked, loudly, “Tell me. What's wrong with that baby?”

“Just watch,” he replied.

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“I love my children. I'm proud to take care of them.”– Doug Beckett

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Doug walked into the little scene, “Hey, buddy,” he said as Melissa handed him the squalling infant, who quieted down a bit, “There ya go.”

“You have the touch,” she said, “Doug, do you think he knows?”

“I, I don't know.”

“I think maybe he does, somehow,” she replied.

The baby yowled again, a high-pitched whiny cry that did not feel normal.

“Shh, shh,” Doug said, “Have you tried nursing?”

“He hasn't nursed for over twelve hours,” Melissa said, “We should call Doctor Linwev.”

“No,” Doug said, “We've been over this before.”

“He needs treatment. We need to get him to the Med Center.”

“Which is where we just got him from,” Doug said, insistent, “Linwev let us take him home, to, to, well, uh, for this purpose.”

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“I, too, am a Dad. But I don't exactly qualify for Father of the Year.”– Rick Daniels

“I would rather take care of the children.” – Aidan MacKenzie

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“But why can't they fix him?” Melissa asked, teary.

“We have talked about this,” Doug said, “We both know he's got too many problems. The chances aren't good that he'd survive any surgery whatsoever. To, to, die,” he barely whispered that last word, “on an operating table, versus here, in my or your arms – I mean, if you were Kevin, which would you choose?”

“I hate this choice,” she said.

“It's, it's all my fault anyway,” Doug said, handing her the baby, “I never should have made you.”

“You didn't,” she said.

“C'mon,” Doug said, “We could've stopped this before it went this far.”

“We both chose for him to be born,” Melissa said, “I don't regret that. I love him. I love you, Kevin. Hear that?” she asked the baby, who began yowling again, but he wasn't as loud.

“Here, let's give him the painkiller,” Doug said. He injected the baby with a little hypospray, and the crying changed to just a few gasping breaths.

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“Doug, I know you. You wouldn't be able to stay away. The minute you see that kid, whether it's in person or just a photograph, I know you. You're gonna fall in love. And that's okay. It's what's supposed to happen.” – Lili Beckett

“I don't believe I've seen such devotion.”– Dr. Phlox

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“What is wrong with the baby, Q?” Lili demanded, “Tell me.”

“Monosomy five,” Q said, “The syndrome is called Cri du Chat.

“Cry of the cat,” she said.

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“It appears that you are introducing a rather powerful bit of evolutionary biology into the human gene pool.”– Dr. Phlox

“I don't think that some accident of genetics should make any difference here.”– Lili Beckett

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“It is my fault,” Doug was insistent, “Linwev said. It's me. The defect comes from me,” he said, “Blame me for everything.”

“You and I made love, and yeah, he wasn't exactly planned,” Melissa said, “But that is the only fault here.”

“But the genetics are all screwed up,” Doug said, “We can deny it all we want, but I am the cause of this. All of his insides are messed up. His eyes. That way he cries. He'll never have,” Doug stopped for a while, and just cried a bit, then continued, “He will never have normal intelligence.”

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“Weep if it makes you feel better.”– Malcolm Reed

“Well, the super-male makes super babies, as you can see.”– Lili Beckett

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“That's not supposed to be possible,” Lili said, “Phlox had said, back when I was pregnant with Marie Patrice. Doug's sperm can't unite with a faulty egg.”

“And that was true,” Q said, “Back when he was in his fifties, and then in his sixties. But he's older now. And it's not the egg's fault at all. Your husband is telling the truth and is not just being a martyr. He really is at fault. So tell me, why would such a child be born at all? You heard them. They could have stopped it. Why didn't they?”

“It's, uh, well, I can't speak for their choices,” Lili began, “But they love each other. And even with such insurmountable odds, maybe they hoped that somehow it wouldn't be so bad. I mean, do these cri du chat children, can they live?”

“It's not impossible,” Q allowed, “But this one has numerous pulmonary and cardiac problems. The baby has stopped feeding – you heard her say that, yes?” Lili nodded grimly, “His digestive tract is not correctly developed, either. Some of that was detectable in utero. Some, given the current pathetic state of your technology, was not. But even without the details, it was clear that this child would not have many chances in the world. Why was he brought to term?”

“Because they love him,” Lili said, “Even if it's wrong. Even if it's hopeless. They love him. We don't – we're not like the Romans were. We don't just leave our, our imperfect children out on some mountaintop to be devoured by, by wild animals.”

“Is this much better?” Q asked.

“Kevin doesn't know much,” Lili said, “And apparently he never will. But I think he knows that they love him.”

“But that's not enough.”

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“You are my boy. I didn't go away because of not caring or not wanting to know you. I didn't want to go away at all. I love you as much as I love the other kids. I am as proud of you, as invested with you and as identified with you as I am with them. You are my boy.”– Doug Beckett

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“I have something for you,” Doug said to Melissa.

“Oh?”

“I had, uh, I don't know if this is a good time or not. But, uh, here,” he said, as they stood over the crib and looked down at Kevin, who wasn't moving much.

“Um, thank you,” she said, opening up a box that fit in the palm of her hand, “A bracelet.”

“With, see the charm?” he asked, “The, the oval. That's you. And the three circles inside? Those are, uh, they're the boys,” Doug said. He couldn't continue.

She finished for him, “Yeah, I see. The, uh, the biggest one is Tommy. And the middle one has gotta be Neil. And, and he's the littlest one,” she slipped it on her wrist, “And they're, the two bigger circles, they're around the smallest one. So they'll, they'll always protect him. Even, even after,” she picked up Kevin and Doug put his hand on the top of Kevin's hand gently.

The baby took one big gasp and that was it.

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“Just cry.”– Malcolm Reed

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“He's, he's done,” Doug said, “Isn't he?”

She put her fingers on the baby's tiny neck, “I can't feel a pulse.”

“Oh, God.”

“Doug, do you, do you think there's a place where, where he is right now? Where he's safe and comfortable?”

“I, I don't know,” he said, “An afterlife? I, I never believed in that.”

“You hear about people seeing lights, and going to them. Do you think that's what happened?” she asked, between sobs.

“I hope it's not just our brains losing oxygen,” he said, “The universe laughing at our tiny lives.”

“Don't say that,” she said, “He can hear us.”

“I don't – uh, maybe he can. Kevin, Daddy and Mommy love you,” Doug said.

“No more pain,” Melissa said softly, “Forever.”

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“I will always be there.”– Frank (Francisco) Ramirez



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