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“Talk for a little while. It can be as little as five minutes. But, really, you both need to process this. I have done this many times, but the first time I was a wreck afterwards, when I thought about what had happened. It wasn't anything bad, but it just – our brains aren't really wired for this. – Rick Daniels

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They were back in the hospital room.

Lili sat down, hard, on the bed, “My God.”

“I still have questions.”

“Go to hell.”

“Now, now,” Q said.

“You should, you should take me instead,” she said, “Really.”

“You?”

“Yes. That baby is innocent and doesn't deserve this. And they, they don't deserve to have to bury him.”

“You honestly think that's how it works?” he asked, incredulous.

“C'mon, don't you have accounts? Me for him. This is my one and only offer, Q.”

“You still think I'm some Angel of Death? How strange,” he said, “And it wouldn't do any good anyway. If you died today, they would never conceive him. Your sacrifice would be for naught.”

“Then tomorrow,” she said, “At some point, the accounts all balance out, right? I die and he gets to live.”

“No, no,” he said, “Your friend, Richard Daniels, he explained this to you. There is only one timeline per universe – one to a customer. Kevin's death is in the timeline. Yours – at least not for now – is not.”

“But how can I help him?”

“My, but you are in a sacrificing mood today,” Q said, “And it's all for a child that isn't even related to you genetically, who would have had numerous developmental difficulties ahead of him if he had survived, and will never know that you exist, and who barely comprehends the world around him. Why would you do such a thing?”

“It's for love,” she said, getting up and going over to the bassinet, “If you do become a father, with Kathryn or anyone else, you should understand that.”

“Love? But it's so abstract in this instance. This child has not only not yet been conceived, the egg is tucked firmly away in the ovary. And the sperm are not only not even created yet, they are nowhere to be found. An accident of timing, a delay, a late transport, or a faster climax, or a crying child preventing or putting off coitus and things turn out far differently. It's all exceptionally random.”

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“I'm going to assume you don't want me dead.” – Susan Cheshire

“I gotta get them paired off soon – it's better for them to start producing their own heirs as early as possible. I know I waited too long. They should learn from my one, rare, error.” – Empress Hoshi Sato

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At the last minute, Malcolm grabbed his PADD.

He and Doug opened the cellar door. It was loud outside but there was no wind within the house.

“So far, so good,” Doug said.

They cautiously went past the door and closed it behind them.

=/=



“Oh, c’mon, you practically had a halo on.” – Doug Beckett

“Do they write my name on a wall or something?” – Jennifer Crossman

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“So it's random,” she said, “But it's still done – at least in our cases – it's done with love. And that child is innocent.”

“Unlike your husband,” Q said.

“My husband has faults. And so do I. And so does every human. I suspect, even Kathryn does.”

“But your husband is a killer, several times over. That little domestic scene you just witnessed is far from typical for him. More of his time alive is spent ending lives, not starting them.”

“Fourteen men and one woman,” Lili said, “I know about them.”

“Yes, but do you know the details?” Q asked, “Has he given you the whole truth?”

“No,” she had to admit that.

“That's right, he hasn't.”

“You've been watching how much of my life?”

“All of it,” he said, “It was a quick diversion.”

“So you've watched me in bed, and having my children and confessing love and all of the other intimate things I've done? Was it good for you, Q?”

=/=



“When you think of how we look when we do it, how we look when we climax, it's all rather comical if you really, really think of it, look at it closely.” – Pamela Hudson

“I'm just dyin' to play doctor.” – Aidan MacKenzie

“Nothing imaginative there.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=


Travis got to Sick Bay. Doctor Phlox was alone, “Can I help you with something, Ensign?” he asked.

“Uh, can I talk to you privately?” Travis asked.

“If you can say it in front of the Derellian bat then, yes,” The Denobulan smiled.

“Yes. Uh, doc, it's, um, it's about Jennifer Crossman. I mean, Ramirez, Jennifer Ramirez.”

“I see,” Phlox pulled up a stool and motioned to Travis to sit down, “Does this have anything to do with the announcement about Lieutenant Reed?”

“A bit,” Travis admitted, “I just, I guess it could have been me. I'm not sure how I feel about it.”

“Well, as I recall you told me at the time that you weren't ready for parenthood. Have you changed your mind?”

“Actually, no,” Travis said, “I don't know if I ever want kids. I mean, I like to think that, if I had to, I could rise to the occasion. I want to feel that I could care for a baby if I had to.”

“But you wouldn't necessarily have done so gladly, eh?”

“I would want to be fair. I mean, it's not the kid's fault, right? It's us. We, uh, we did the deed.”

“It wasn't exactly voluntary.”

“I know, but still! There were things we probably could have done,” Travis said, “But even if it's not my and Jennifer's fault, well, it still wasn't the kid's, right?”

“Absolutely not. Children don't ask to be born.”

“I guess we don't. But I can't help feeling – I dunno – I feel weird about the whole thing. Like I'm not feeling the right things.”

“Whatever you are feeling, that is the right thing,” Phlox said, “You said you were not ready. And you continue to feel that way, and feel that you probably will never want to become a parent,” Travis nodded, “There's nothing wrong with that. And Jennifer not having a successful outcome is, well, it turned out to be in keeping with your feelings. And hers, too, I suspect. But I think, deep down, you cannot help feeling a tad guilty that it worked out so conveniently for you. Am I right?”

“Yeah.”

“But it did work out,” Phlox said, “And whether that was deliberate or not, it is, ultimately, what happened. You are allowed to experience a sense of relief. I don't think you're a bad person if you do.”

“Even though you have children, doc?”

“Especially because I do. You see, for parents, we know how much work it is. You don't just invest the first eighteen or so years. You invest all of them. So to be seeing two people potentially going into parenthood without fully embracing it and wanting it, well, that's troubling to me. I would rather that all parents went in with perfect embracings of their offspring, and with perfect desire to get there. Not everyone does. And you're right, some people truly do rise to the occasion. Others don't, or can't. All children should be wanted. All parents should be willing. I have no doubt that Jennifer will become a mother. And she will be willing and she will be happy and will work hard to make sure that her children are as loved as possible. Her life is on track, and so is yours.”

“But our becoming parents would have derailed that.”

“Not derailed,” Phlox said, “Placed it onto a different track, to be sure. Your lives would be far different. But there are differences if you turn left instead of right, or have the oatmeal for breakfast instead of the pancakes, right?”

“This is a more meaningful decision than that, doc.”

“Yes, but what I am saying is, it is a difference. Thinking back on what could have been is counterproductive. Feeling guilty that it's not what it didn't turn out to be – well, that's also counterproductive. You did not become parents. Your lives will go on. You may change your mind about this, but I doubt you will. It tends to be pretty deeply ingrained, the desire to become a parent. Or to not become one. One is not a defect. The absence of this desire is not fatal to one person. If you all felt that way then, yes, it would be fatal to the human race. But the human race will go on. And you will have your chances to contribute to the lives of children, if you wish to. You will do so every time you read to one, or you help a lost one find his mother again, or when you contribute to making the galaxy a better and safer place. Sperm need not meet egg for you to help children, Travis.”

=/=



“She's got a right to be happy.” – Frank (Francisco) Ramirez

“I, I think I'd need you more.” – Doug Hayes

“It’s that people who love you scare you.” – Malcolm Reed

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“Please, I get no titillation from your couplings,” Q said.

“But you watched anyway.”

“Only to get a sense of who you were,” he said, “You and your husband, you and the short Brit, good times all around, or so it appears.”

“It's not just the bedtime stuff,” she said.

“No, it isn't. There's an awful lot of talking.”

=/=



“It's the stuff that makes up your life. You have allowed me to be a part of it. That's almost as intimate as holding your body to mine, touching and kissing and looking at all of your, your secret places.” – Malcolm Reed

“And yours, too. You've let me into your life, too, Malcolm. And I know that it's not easy for you to do that.” – Lili Beckett

“There was never anyone before who I wanted to open the door for.” – Malcolm Reed

“That depth of feeling can really make you feel alive.” – Pamela Hudson

“I just miss you. I miss our, our immediacy. I miss kissing you when we climax.” – Doug Beckett

“I don't want you to feel you need to spare my feelings if it doesn't happen for you. So let me do this for you.” – Doug Hayes

=/=


“Well, we talk because we're involved with each other,” Lili said, “And I bet Kathryn would prefer that, too. You can't just blow into her life, say, 'let's do it!' and then just leave, yanno.”

“I have many things to do.”

“That would be more important? C'mon, Q. Surely even you can see that just abandoning your child is, well, it's not the sort of thing that an evolved being should be doing.”

“Hmm. So this is all done out of love? This, this diaper changing, the disciplining, the driving them around to all sorts of appointments?”

“Yep. There are things that are done that are, shall we say, less than fun. But we do them because our children need us. So we think about how much we love them, and that makes it easier. Even if the diapers are really stinky.”

“My offspring will not have such issues.”

“Excellent,” she said, “Evolution's a wonderful thing, eh?”

“Truly,” he said, “You may ask me another question if you wish.”

“Ah,” she said, “Do any of the children – except for Kevin, I suppose that's a foregone conclusion for him, poor dear – do they die without having had real love?”

“I can't answer that. That's a question for you. Let's table that one.”

“Do they marry?”

“Two do. One of those divorces.”

“That's a pity. Does that one remarry?”

“Yes. This is dull. Don't you have any questions about yourself?” Q asked, a bit peevishly.

“How does my marriage end? Death or divorce?”

“Death.”

“Does he remarry?”

“No.”

“Oh. I don't want him to be lonely,” she cried a little and then picked up the baby again.

“He does not remarry because you do. Really, for someone who does math as often as you do – and I know what that means – you're surprisingly poor with numbers. Your husband is the oldest of the five of you and received horrific or no medical care when he was still in the other universe; of course he would go first. And I'll even give you a bonus one. Your second marriage is to the short Brit. And you're both somewhat old by then, for humans.”

=/=



“I am part-French. And forever, and probably still, there would be, there would be men with a wife and a mistress. And the wife would have the marriage, and the home and the children.” – Lili Beckett

“I can't be called a mistress. The genders are reversed and it's just not manly.” – Malcolm Reed

“I said – the male equivalent of mistress is lover.” – Lili Beckett

“I think that now Doug wants to be a lover, not a fighter.” – Hoshi Sato

=/=



The upstairs was surprisingly intact. Things were off some shelves but the rooms seemed to be all right.

“I could almost swear there was nothing happening outside,” Doug said, “Except something is,” he pointed out the back.

Malcolm looked out through the kitchen window. Up the rise was the neighbor's house, not yet finished. But it couldn't be seen. Instead, the house seemed to be wrapped up in a cocoon of sorts.

“What is that?” he asked.

“Snow, I think,” Doug said.

“That's not supposed to be possible. Tornadoes are supposed to form from the application of moist, warm air.”

“Well, this one isn't.”

Malcolm went to the front and looked out of the picture window, “Look at that,” he clicked a few keys on the PADD and set it to camera mode, and began taking pictures.

“Well, I'll be damned,” Doug said.

The swirling horizontal snow perfectly wrapped around the house and the cars. They were included within the wrapping, swirling snow. Occasionally, there would be tiny breaks in the snow, and they could see blue skies behind the white.

“This is no regular weather phenomenon,” Malcolm said, moving back to the kitchen to get pictures from there.

“I dunno,” Doug said, grabbing a jug and filling it up, “There's no moon here.”

“But tornadoes don't have anything to do with the moon. And you have tides anyway, right?”

“Yeah, we do,” Doug said, “It's because of the two smaller stars in the system, Fep and Ub,” he rummaged around, looking for cookies, and finally found a small plastic container in the refrigerator, “We should go back down there.”

“Will you be all right?”

“I'll try,” Doug said, “At least there's a roof.”

=/=



“If we're gonna have visits, I gotta insist on this one. No one sleeps in – or has sex in – my bed except for my wife and me. No exceptions.” – Doug Beckett

“I don't like sleeping without you.” – Doug Hayes

“I'm just afraid I'll like it too much. It's not real, it's not true. No dream is like this, like us.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



“Oh. Gawd, it feels as if it just happened. How? When?”

“On a hunting trip with his dear, uh, friend, Melissa Madden. The heart just gives out.”

“Oh,” she wept, “It hurts and it hasn't even happened yet. Can't you prevent it?”

“I'm a Q, not a miracle worker.”

“You said you were omnipotent.”

“That doesn't mean I have any interest in preventing this. Or that I should, or that it would be the best thing for anyone.”

“It would be, for him.”

“Humans don't live forever. You'd just find him some time later, or one of your children would. Really, you're not thinking this thing through. Would you prefer if he became disabled, or lost his mind? And, please, you don't know. You may be a little jealous of Melissa witnessing his last moments but the name on his lips – the last word he says – it's not her name. It's yours.”

“I can't continue.”

“Please, we're just getting started.”

“Leave me alone.”

“You see that funnel cloud? I made it. I made it to wrap around your house. Your family is in there. They aren't being harmed but they cannot leave. That storm is going to continue until I get some information from you. I've held up my end of the bargain. Now it's your turn, little Earth mother.”

“I'm too upset.”

“I'd think you'd be fine. You've got a spare.”

“A spare? Is that all you think Malcolm is? This is his son. I don't bear children with just anyone. Only with the ones I love more than anything. And I don't marry without reason. I had other opportunities, and I didn't take them.”

“True,” he allowed, “It must be a powerful thing, this love business. It leads you around and changes your life more than gravity does.”

“An unseen force, I guess,” she said. She put the baby back down as he was sleeping, “You cannot just walk in here and tell me the details of my husband's death without it bothering me. I mean, are you that clueless? Or insensitive? Kathryn's not going to appreciate you if you can't at least muster up minimal sensitivity. And that means giving others their due, even if you know better or even if you are better. Don't be jealous of others – and don't tell me that you're not, because I bet you are, at least a little, jealous of some of us puny humanfolk.”

=/=



“I'm not a romantic guy. I'm not stylish, I don't dance and you will never get me to change my hairstyle, not even when I'm eighty.” – Frank (Francisco) Ramirez

“Letting go of jealousy isn't easy.” – Leonora Digiorno

“… well, he's good to look at but not really that smart.” – Deborah Haddon



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