"Final Graduation" Part III

Author - bat400 | Genre - Alternate Universe | Genre - Angst | Genre - Deathfic | Main Story | Rating - PG-13
Trip * Malcolm Fanfic Home
 

Sequel to: Final Graduation (Part 2)
Author: bat400
E-mail: batfic400@yahoo.com
Part: NEW, 3/8
Rating: PG-13, for violent images, deathfic, AU to canon Xindi Arc.
Betas: Quiz Mistress, M.S.
Archive: Any houseoftucker, Warp Five Complex, EntST*. All others request please.

Summary: The full measure of devotion. Alternate ending of the Xindi Arc. A shorter version of this story appeared under the title, "Graduation Day."

Disclaimer: Characters, places, and various incidents belong to Paramount. No monies were requested or received for this fiction. Header quotations from the works of Dickinson.

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It dropped so low -- in my Regard --
I heard it hit the Ground --
And go to pieces on the Stones
At bottom of my Mind --

Yet blamed the Fate that flung it -- less
Than I denounced Myself,
For entertaining Plated Wares
Upon my Silver Shelf


Part 3.

Stuart Reed had been startled when near strangers started mentioning his son. It had started within a few months after Malcolm had been re-assigned to the new ship, the Enterprise. Reed was surprised at how many people were following the activities of that ill-conceived flyboy's dream. He found people asking if he was related to the Weapons Officer on the Enterprise. Because he'd been stationed at the naval base in Kota Kinabalu, and Enterprise's Reed had gone to school there, it said so in the News Cast.

Then there was that disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. If only people had spent more time and money on the Defense Forces -- the Earth Defense Forces, well, that never would have happened! Or wouldn't have taken that many lives. Malcolm had sent a written message. Very short. Insultingly short, really.

You'll have heard that the Enterprise is leaving to counter the threat to Earth. You can trust us to do everything we can. The Enterprise will be contacting Earth as the situation allows..

Mary had been quite upset, not that she let it show; good girl.

Their neighbors and total strangers, busybodies one and all, had appeared. The local Imam called and asked them to come as "honored guests" to a service for the Godspeed and safe return of the Enterprise. To fob the man off, Reed had told him that they were Anglicans. Then when the local Vicar called, there was nothing for it but to attend a much larger and more public service for the same thing. Fools. Idiots. The embarrassment to sit and be prayed over by this weak-minded charlatan; prayed over as "members of the community" with a son on the Enterprise, whose safe return was in the hands of God.

What rubbish! More like in the hands of those dreamers at Starfleet!

But Stuart Reed had felt a childish, warm tug of relief when those first reports came back. When the casualty lists, good Lord, nearly half of the poor beggars, had not included Malcolm among the dead. Weakness.

Mary would have been crushed. Not that Malcolm had had the decency to avoid Starfleet from the beginning, to stay, as he ought to have, with the Navy. Running away from his responsibilities. A disgrace. A disappointment. At least he hadn't gone and gotten himself killed.

So now, the news Stuart Reed had read early that morning, broken by some disreputable rag, and slavishly re-reported on the other papers, well, he really couldn't believe it. When Mary woke up, he'd have to warn her.

But it was quite early when his wife came in holding a news PADD flimsy sheet. He sat up, a look both sour and worried on his face as he recognized the download to be from that news organization -- sensational stories that only morons would read. Except he knew what was in it today, because all the reputable morning papers had commented on the late night addition of The Subspace Echo. Stuart hadn't realized that Mary was up yet. One of her busybody friends must have just called; he hadn't heard it.

"You've seen this?" she said, her voice shaking.

"Mary, you know it's all lies. Gross, disgusting exaggeration. He called Madeline. He said he was fine when they got back into the system."

"But you've seen this?"

"No, I read the report in the Times about that moronic Yank politician blabbering about this in order to wave a bloody shirt --"

She flinched.

"-- and try to make hay out of, out of, this."

Mary rose up on her toes, making the most of her slight stature, and shook the page at him; shouted at him.

"Hay? Hay? Look at it! Look at it! No one is saying it isn't true. That is what happened to our son!"

She threw the PADD at him and it flopped loosely at his feet, like something he'd pulled out of the sea on a line. The page rolled flat and displayed a hellish "artist's conception" of three men being tortured by creatures like giant beetles. The paper had used service photos and manipulated them into the illustration.

Reed was momentarily stunned in spite of his foreknowledge. The report in the Times said the same thing, but mere words were not as shocking. He stooped and folded the PADD to hide the image.

He wouldn't, couldn't take it seriously. It was a lie. Malcolm wasn't hurt. This reassignment, this demotion, it was just more example of his son's failure to face his responsibilities. It was leaving the Navy all over again. The only thing wrong with Malcolm was his weak, contrary, dumb insolence. His refusal to do was what right and proper. If he had really wanted a proper career, he would have done well in the Navy. But no, it was starshine and moondust for his frivolous son.

The picture looked so real. The three men were screaming, pinned down on examining tables.

Stuart Reed thumbed the "clear" and erased the page entirely.

He was about to remind Mary that she couldn't believe everything just because it was in print, when she stole the march on him and began to speak. Her voice was nothing more or less than that of her father, Captain Mathias Whitsun, reading some hapless crewman the holy writ of his order.

Stuart remembered that voice. He'd wanted the Captain's daughter, a biddable, small, bird-like creature, and he had been willing to beard that Whitsun lion in its den to get her. Only a few times in their forty-year marriage had she used that voice to him. It had not ever failed to shake him.

"Stuart, I shall see Malcolm. I want him to know that he is welcome here in our home. His home."

"He's never even been here; he left home before I retired --"

"Stuart! I want him to know." Nothing she said was a command, but it was clear that everything she asked, she expected to happen. "I have to see him and know that he is all right. I want you to call him now and ask him to come see us. Madeline can come and visit, too."

"I won't beg him," Stuart said, but it sounded undeniably weak.

"If he does not come here, I will go to California." Nothing about coming back. Mary turned and went to the door. She stopped before exiting and spoke without looking at him. "I always gave you the freest hand with Malcolm. I always let you raise him as you saw fit. Even when he was a child; even that to-do about the other boy. But I can't have anything less than this. You'll have to welcome him here, now."

"What nonsense," he said with false bravado. "Not welcome him? What an idea!"

But she had already left the room.

Malcolm was surprised and suspicious when his father called.

"Malcolm, your mother wants you to visit. If you can." The pause was unusual, as if his father were trying to see if someone was listening to him or not.

A visit was hardly what he wanted, but he had reported to his new duty station at Starfleet, which turned out to be additional testing, evaluation, and some forced leave prior to starting the real work at Weapons Research. Leaving the Enterprise had been hard. He had spent his last night on board walking through the passages, standing in the armory, checking the inventory once more, and then, finally, he had gone to Engineering.

Hess had been on Gamma shift. And after asking him if there was anything he needed, she had, thankfully, left him alone. He had listened to the hum of the warpcore on standby. He stood below the engine and looked up to the display station. Remembering Trip standing there, on their very first mission out from Jupiter Station. Reed had smiled with Mayweather to see Trip rubbing at a spot on the casing with the sleeve of his uniform. And there, against that bulkhead, that was where Trip had been thrown, putting him into a coma. Lying immobile in sickbay for weeks, not knowing when Malcolm visited him, not hearing foolish, heartfelt wishes that it would all turn out well. He was an idiot. He had thought those wishes had come true; wrong again, Lieutenant Reed. And here, the little alcove where Trip had his work table. This was where he had left the job he'd been working on, and was shuttled to the alien spacecraft to relieve Rostov. Reed had heard his voice over the COM on the Bridge, "Ill be there, Captain," and Reed had thought, this is a terrible thing to do. What is the Captain thinking?

Reed felt homeless. It had felt so good to have a home, and now he'd been exiled from it. And he had too much spare time now. Time to recover, time to rest, they told him. Recover from what? Rest from what? Reed wandered around San Francisco and would find himself, not in places he had enjoyed there, but instead, in places Trip had told him had been his favorites.

He might as well visit Kota Baharu, see his mother and Madeline. He hadn't wanted to worry them, but he could imagine what Mother might have thought when that stupid senator had released details of one of the debriefings. He dreaded seeing his father. But the phone call had surprised him. He wondered if it were some sort of trick.

Madeline met her brother at the port facilities in George Town and they rode the maglev to their parent's retirement house on the east coast. He asked her how her husband was, the man they wouldn't be talking about at their parents. Father had never approved of the marriage and preferred not to hear about it. She told Malcolm that William was fine, and even that they were considering a child, soon. Malcolm smiled wanly and wished them luck.

She had been concerned to see Malcolm so thin and drawn, but she didn't say anything about it. It wouldn't do to say anything about it; one didn't comment on other people's looks, bad or good. At least not in the family, except for Father's occasional, caustic comments that came from out of nowhere. She and Malcolm had been taught that it just wasn't done.

It was late when they arrived, and she let them both in with a key. Madeline knew the arrangements; she would take the small guest room, and there was a daybed in Father's den for Malcolm.

While they were getting ready to sleep, their mother came in.

"I'm glad you're home," she said, and for a moment Malcolm was afraid that she would cry. But she walked over to him briskly, took his hands in hers, and offered him her cheek, which he dutifully kissed. She surprised him by simply staying there, close to him for a moment.

He asked softly, "Are you all right, Mother?"

"I'm fine," she replied. Then she released him and said good night.

Malcolm lay in the narrow day bed, in a room that smelled of dust and soap and a faint whiff of chemical. It smelled of his Father, actually. In a faint light from the street he could make out display cases on the walls. His Father had kept his collection in retirement. Hundreds of insects carefully killed and arranged and pinned to cards under glass. All around him.

He considered. Mother was fine. He was fine, and so was his sister. The Reeds were always fine.

The next morning he turned from where he was making tea at the counter when his Father came into breakfast. Stood still and straight and said, "Good morning, Father."

He got a very small grunt, a nod in his general direction, and then his father extended his right hand. Malcolm took a step and they shook hands. "Glad you could visit," Father said, glancing over Malcolm's shoulder to where Mary Reed was frying breakfast. Ah, well, of course, this was all for his mother, Malcolm thought.

The four of them ate rather quietly, as they always had. It was almost as if fifteen years had merely been peeled away. Reed answered some simple questions. What was the new posting? (A grunt from his father. Contempt? Indigestion?) Had he found an apartment? And then his mother and Madeline proceeded to carry the conversation, as they usually had done. It was nothing like the meals he remembered on the Enterprise, at least before the Expanse. Reed could imagine that the next few days would be difficult in this small house. Trip's family had never been like this; he told Malcolm about loud, happy conversations at meal times, sitting and talking well after all the food was gone. Trip wasn't at those tables anymore.

His father wanted to go to the marina, take the Sabah Girl out. A grand day out for the whole family. Not what Malcolm would have chosen, but there it was. On the train ride down to the seaside Malcolm found himself trying to mentally prepare. He hadn't been on water in ages, now. It was odd, he considered, that his fears of the water had seemed to grow as he had grown, not lessen. He remembered wonderful days when he had been very small, with his mother's brother, Archie, going out in a boat, teaching him how to sail. That had been when Father had been stationed in the Indian Ocean, and the rest of them had lived in Portsmouth. Then they had moved, with Father, to Malaysia, when he had been transferred. And as the years passed, Malcolm had become more expert with handling a boat, but increasingly fearful of the road it sailed on, as Father had continued to teach him. Or berate him, as the case might have been.

A dark road, an airless road, like space. But not like space. There was no crushing pressure in a vacuum, no streams of water that would press in and fill your lungs. But just as deadly, breathless, empty. Gasping for breath and there was nothing there. Thank God it had been the blow that killed Trip. He hadn't fought for air where there was none. Don't think about it.

Malcolm looked up and realized that Father was observing him with a scowl on his face, staring down toward Malcolm's hands in his lap. Was something wrong? Had he spilled breakfast on himself? No, no he was fine. Everything was fine and was going to be fine.

When they reached the marina, the wind off the Gulf of Thailand was gusting, though still warm. Out past the breakwater you could see the waves coming in and the spray. Mother asked if it wasn't too rough to go out. Tthere were very few small craft on the sea.

Father made a variety of gruff noises, and answered, "You and Maddy may want to stay here, walk in the park and visit. But this is just a breeze. Any sailor worth mentioning could still manage the Sabah Girl in this weather." And he cast an eye at Malcolm.

"It looks fine," the younger Reed replied in an even tone, looking straight back into the contemptuous curl of his Father's lip.

There were thin, sleek life vests in the locker. His father tossed him one, saying, "You'd better put this on."

Malcolm took off his jacket, stowed it, and put the vest on over his thin shirt. "Only a fool would tempt the Old Man," he said. And then, of course, Father put on a vest as well, as if it had been his plan from the start. Why do we do this? Malcolm thought as they took the boat out.

The waves were quite choppy, especially for a fifteen-foot sailing vessel. But Sabah Girl had been theirs for years, Malcolm's first familiarity on the trip, unlike the new house. He had spent so much time in her, trying to perfect his actions, trying to avoid the sharp razor of his father's tongue, the threatening looks. He had done it so well that they had seldom spoken to each other at all in the last few years of their excursions, in his adolescence.

The sea was rough enough that they both had to keep alert, had to pay close attention. Attention to the boat, the wind, the waves, to each other and their actions. It made it easier to try to forget the deadly dark water racing past beneath them.

Malcolm felt a wild, reckless exhilaration. Malcolm had forgotten nothing, from the boat itself, to his Father's mannerisms at the tiller. This was where he had beat his Father into silence, where his Father had run out of all but the most trivial of complaints. Too bad he hadn't been able to force himself to make that mastery last.

It was one thing to take the boat out a few times in a week, where you controlled every action, and there was no time for idle thought. It was something else entirely to serve on a ship, an idler gear in a drive train, where there was too much time, and the constant ever-present sea, pressing in on him. Crawling up the hull of the ship, always there, always plotting, never sleeping.

While he had been in the service and stationed on ship he had been constantly on high alert, never relaxing. And the Navy doctors could not imagine what kept him from sleep, ruined his meals, slowly carved the meat from his bones. But they noticed that he did better on shore, kept him in assignments that took him further and further away from the sea. When his period of enlistment was up he'd already decided where he needed to go, where he should have gone in the first place -- Starfleet.

They had been out for several hours when his father took them back in. There were the last few nauseating meters as they passed the breakwater. They were both soaked from the spray.

Mother and Madeline met them up on the dock after they secured the Sabah Girl. Malcolm had been about to put his jacket on over his dripping, salty shirt, but his mother stopped him, and Father as well.

"Now, Malcolm you know you'll break out from the salt water. Stuart, you're soaked to the skin as well. Here, I have some dry jumpers." She bent over her large handbag, pulling out fresh clothing she'd packed.

Malcolm had half turned and stripped out of the clinging wet pullover. He rose up straight, heard the sharp strangled scream, and froze of a short, sharp instant, standing with his wet shirt in front of him, still over and around his forearms. Of course. He was a fool.

Maddy was silent, wide eyed, one hand pulled up in front of her mouth. Father looked rather struck, not mute, but almost imbecilic, standing there shirtless. His mouth was silently working. Disbelief, disgust, grief? Malcolm wasn't sure what the look on Father's face was; he'd never seen it before. Poor Mother, standing so small, like a child. She'd pulled the clean shirt up, almost covering her face. He could just see her eyes, squinted up, with tears starting to run out and over flow.

Malcolm found himself looking silently down at the dock, as he pulled the wet shirt off. He momentarily held the shirt in front of his chest, covering the longest of the scars, the one that started up at his left collarbone, and dove down to a hand's breadth above his waist. He never should have come here.

He felt more than saw his Father come up and give him the dry clothing, taking the wet one out of his hand.

"Here, Malcolm," he heard. He turned his back to put on the clean shirt, and heard one last, stabbing gasp. He supposed his back looked nearly as bad as his front. When he turned around Father almost reached out, but cancelled the motion. Mother was walking unsteadily away from them, up the dock, on Madeline's arm.

They rode the train back to their home, and Stuart Reed sat silently with this only son on one side of him and his wife on the other. He had walked with Malcolm toward the station, a few yards behind Mary and Madeline. He had nothing to say, and yet, had seldom been so sure he ought to say something. He felt as if he had been snatched up in the mouth of some huge, bruising creature, and shaken.

Mary had gotten herself under control by the time they were on the platform. None of them had said anything. Stuart found himself staring at his son. Yes, he was limping, just slightly. He had not noticed it before. When Malcolm had slipped that jacket, that damned jacket, with that blasted ship's registry number on it, back on, Stuart could see the jerk and catch as he pulled his left shoulder into it. Malcolm had worn a shirt about a size too big for him. It hid the terrible concavity on his left side, below his ribs and above the hip. Stuart Reed had not noticed anything before.

Why couldn't the boy have stayed on Earth? Why couldn't someone else have gone and done those things? Why did he not even really know this man by his side? He found, as if against his will, that he was thinking hard about those questions. But he did not say anything, because they never had said anything.

As they sat on the train, Stuart Reed became aware, first, that Malcolm was shifting in his seat, a bitter, annoyed look coming over his thin face. Too thin, he thought. Then Reed realized that there was a man and woman, sitting across and down from them, staring at them. Talking about them, by God. No, talking about his son.

"I recognize his face, from the pictures. He's the one who fired the weapons; not much to look at," the man said in Melayu. Fewer people used it now, switching to Standard; this fellow was about Reed's own age. Reed had slowly picked up Bahasa Melayu over the years, but he knew that Malcolm and Madeline were fluent. That cringing great bastard; what the hell was he going on about?

"It's disgusting that real people, Humans, could do such things. And incompetent as well, the crew -- so many died. But you see, he's European. Most of Starfleet is European. They're cold people." Reed felt outrage swelling in him. He hadn't heard such racist nonsense since he was a child. Was the man some sort of Eugenist, or something? Reed briefly noticed that other passengers were looking away, edging further from the fool.

Don't argue with a fool in public, Stuart Reed thought. That's what he had been taught, what he had taught his children. But this was outrageous. Why didn't Malcolm do something, stand up to this ass? He looked to his family. Mary had noticed nothing, alone, awash in grief. Madeline was turning red with anger. Malcolm had gone paler than usual, tight lipped.

"He's from around here. That must be his family. Surly looking group. How could parents manage to raise a son like that?"

Malcolm had held back when he had first overheard the conversation. He knew how controversial the mission had been to many back on Earth. And besides, his parents wouldn't understand the man, anyway. But at those last comments he began to rise to his feet. He was stunned on standing to find that Father had leaped up and crossed the crowded compartment in a stride.

"I hear a dog barking on this train," Stuart Reed said loudly in Melayu. The man was clearly surprised and rose to his own feet, but leaned back as Reed leaned forward. Reed was taller by scant centimeters, but the other man was brawnier by far.

Reed shouted into the stranger's face, "You could have died in Cuba or Venezuela or Florida. My son risked his life to save you, you ignorant coward! He could have stayed here, on Earth. But he followed his Captain and sacrificed himself while we stayed here! Safe! He went because he was strong to do the job! Could you do the same? How dare you judge him?"

Malcolm prepared to fend this brute off if he decided to fight Father, but the man was utterly cowed. "Father," Malcolm cautioned. He was too surprised to think of anything else to say.

The older Reed took a step back and pointed to the end of the car. "You go to another car, away from a surly European. I don't like you looking at my son, or the rest of my family."

With a rage and a certain weak feeling of relief Reed watched the man take his wife by the hand and quickly leave. He hardly noticed approving nods from several other passengers. He sat down and felt a deep shame that he had started to tremble. He had never in his life had to actually fight anyone, personally, in earnest. And he suddenly remembered all those Starfleet press releases and how the dry, factual summaries had sounded like descriptions of battle engagements, mere history, now, on Earth. Malcolm had had to fight in earnest many, many times.

To hide his discomfort and relief and fear, Stuart Reed made several grumpy, disgusted noises in his throat, He then nodded approvingly to Maddy, who was making a roundabout explanation to her frantic mother about what had just happened. He looked to Malcolm who was peering at him with blank surprise, and scowled. What was he staring at? Good Lord, the boy was so damned exasperating.

A very, very old man came up to them, with two teenagers. He bowed his head down to Malcolm and said, "Thank you for saving my grandchildren," in a Melayu so strongly accented in Cantonese as to make it nearly unintelligible. The children also said "thank you" in Standard. Before they reached their stop several other people in the compartment had come forward, saying about the same thing, some reaching out and taking Malcolm's hand. A woman with a baby, a uniformed private in the Sarawak Boarder Scouts, a man in a business suit.

When they were out on their street, walking, Stuart Reed said, "What a fuss" to the air, as if he wanted to prove some sentiment to himself, and was having a difficulty doing it.

No one particularly felt like eating when they arrived home, and Madeline said she and Malcolm would take care of the later evening meal. Stuart and Malcolm needed to clean up and Mary excused herself and lay down in their bedroom.

Mary Reed felt horrible, guilty, ashamed. Don't cry, she thought. Captain Whitsun's daughter does not cry. When she had first seen Malcolm the night before she had been so relieved. He was thin and looked so much older. But he didn't look disabled. He hadn't looked as if he had gone through hell. And it had been easy to do what she had always done with her son. She was polite. She was reserved. She did not pry.

She had done a terrible job as a mother. She had let Stuart have his way in raising Malcolm once they'd been reunited at the Kota Kinabalu posting. A boy needs a strong father, she had thought, remembering the closeness of her own father and Archie. But Stuart was not her father, and had fathered Malcolm as if to prove some point. As if to throw back some smothering influence, some weakness that Stuart feared in himself. And such a good job had been done that they could not manage to offer Malcolm any comfort, and he seemed incapable of asking for any due him from them.

She had watched with dismay as Stuart had systematically tried to root out sentimentality and childishness from -- a child. Watched frivolity and happiness hidden away. Not completely. There had been that outbreak of joy when Malcolm had joined the scouts. His scoutmaster had been a very kind, competent man, she remembered. But even that joy had been tempered. What was the boy's name? Teck, she thought. She'd forgotten the family's name.

What a cruel thing to do to Malcolm. To do to both of them. She still remembered how they would come into the kitchen together, from some rough outdoor play; side by side, sometimes with their arms over each other's shoulders. Teck, a head taller, broader, dark with a wide face; Malcolm, thin and pale when he wasn't sun burnt.

"Oh, look," she'd say, "it's the twins." And the room would ring with the peal of the boys' laughter.

She nearly started to cry again, but stopped herself. There was something she could do, at least. She went to her dresser and reached under clothing to get the book she had found when they had packed to move here to Kota Baharu. Too little, too late. But something none the less.

Malcolm was in the kitchen, getting tea, when his mother found him.

"I have something for you," she said, and handed him a book. A real book, a slim, faded green volume. The faded words on the spine said, Poems of Courage and Friendship, edited by E. March.

"Goodness," he said, "I thought I'd lost this, years ago, in Sabah." He opened to the frontpiece and quietly read the handwriting at the top of the page, "For Sherry. Your brother does not seem to love these half so much as you. Uncle Colin. 2085." Then he traced a finger under the writing lower down, "Enjoy these as I did, Aunt Sherry. September 2nd, 2132."

Malcolm smiled when he looked up at his mother, sitting at the table. He had loved these poems, first reading them in his aunts' house on visits. They had seemed so true, so right to him as a boy, and as heroic as the stories his aunts told. Stories about their beloved Uncle Colin; told about how hard it had been for some during the Eugenics War.

"Wherever did you find it?" Malcolm asked.

In the back of Stuart's clothes closet, she thought. "I found it when we moved," she replied. "I should have sent it to you then." She remembered how heartsick Malcolm had been when he'd "lost" the book, and she'd had an uneasy feeling at the time, after all that manipulation on Stuart's part about the boy. She's still been shocked to find the book, hidden away, years later. She'd supposed that Stuart hadn't destroyed it out of some vague feeling for his sister and their uncle. She'd not questioned her husband. She just put the book among her own things.

Malcolm was carefully turning the pages. All the favorites you'd expect, Kipling, Mahathir, Mansfield. That one old chestnut "Captain, My Captiain," by Whitman. Peterson's "The Man from Snowy River." Soaringly romantic, he recognized now, with the jaundiced eye of an adult. But still

Ah, here was Woodberry, the poem about the boys riding. Where are the friends that I knew in my Maying, In the days of my youth, in the first of my roaming? We were dear; we were leal; O, far we went straying; Now never a heart to my heart comes homing! -- Goodness, he hadn't remembered just how -- physical -- it was. And further down: When the breath of life with a throb turns human, And a lad's heart is to a lad's heart set? Ever, forever, lover and rover -- They shall cling, nor each from other shall part, Till the reign of the stars in the heavens be over, And life is dust in each faithful heart!

Malcolm felt a sudden strike in his chest. And life is dust. Dust in the furnace of an alien sun. At the bottom of Woodberry's "Comrades," Malcolm saw a light penciled word in a hand that suddenly fired some synapse left dormant for years.

"BRILLIANT," it read.

He said to his mother, "Do you remember Yong Teck Lee? The boy I met in Scouting, first year? We used to read these poems and vow to do great adventurous things. Talk about sailing the South China Sea, looking for pirates to fight and captives to free. I remember him leaving Scouts. We said we'd write to each other, but he never answered my letters. Well, we were just children."

Malcolm looked to his mother, but her smile back was sad and uneasy. "Do you remember him?" He said.

"Yes," she answered, "I remember him." She thought how easy it would have been for Stuart to filter COM messages.

And strings of thought seemed to catch in Malcolm's mind. The pirates in the Expanse boarding their ship. The slave Captain Archer had thrust into his arms for safekeeping, while he fought her pimp in the marketplace. Trip rebuffing his feeble attempts to help after the death of his sister. The pain of that. It had been so very familiar.

"Mother," Malcolm said cautiously, "Teck's parents sent him to stay with other relatives, in Singapore, I think. Do you remember if something -- upset them?"

"I don't remember," she said lightly. Malcolm knew she was lying.

"Wasn't there some sort of business with a sleepover? Not getting permission, or something like that? I can't seem to remember very clearly, but it was upsetting. I remember Father coming to pick me up in the middle of the night." He did not say that he now remembered his Father had been so very angry, but had not spoken at all. And sometime later, or was it sometime before? Father had told him not to play or visit with Teck.

There was a long, long pause. And the longer it went on, the more sure Malcolm was that something had happened. Something he wasn't remembering, or perhaps, that he had never known.

And then, Mother started to speak, very carefully.

"Your Father was worried that your friendship with Teck was too serious. That you would spend all your time with him, and neglect other things. He wanted you to spend less time with him, that's all. I'm afraid Stuart may have gone overboard. It wasn't fair to make you give up a friend."

"Was I doing poorly in school? I don't member that happening when I was eleven, twelve, whatever it was."

"No."

Malcolm remembered lying on his stomach on his bed, chin on his hands. Teck lying next to him, talking about great adventures they'd have when they were older. They'd find pirates to fight; there were still occasional reports of criminals preying on small ships. They'd go to Australia and learn to ride, and have adventures in the Bush; or maybe go to Canada. He remembered Father coming in, and the stern disapproving look on his face.

A sudden, sick feeling.

Malcolm sat down with this mother at the table. "What did Father think was going on? There was something?"

"No, there was nothing. You were just children. You two just played like normal children, just like a pack of, of, puppies," she said. "Absolutely nothing happened."

And the surety of her words made it all the more obvious.

"Mother," he asked again, "what did Father think was going on?"

Her mouth opened and closed several times. Then she said, "I don't know. But he was worried that Teck would take advantage of you. He was bigger than you, and more, more mature."

"Physically," he said.

"Yes."

"Father drove away my only real childhood friend because he thought two eleven-year-olds were experimenting sexually?"

She merely nodded.

"And he told Teck's parents too? Did they believe him?"

"They didn't, at first. I certainly never did."

Something else fell into place. "It wasn't a sleepover. I ran off to visit him in the middle of the night."

"Yes," she said, "Stuart said he didn't want him to visit, or you to see him. His parents called when they found the two of you talking out in their garden. I think that may have made them change their minds."

Malcolm was almost blank with rage. He tried very hard to remember any hint of something improper and he couldn't, not for his life. And he was sickened to think that now, this might be the connotation in which his dimmed memories of Teck would lie. But those memories were faded. That friendship had lost its importance. It could happen again.

"Mother," he said sternly, "why are you telling me this? And I know I asked you just now, but why?"

She watched her son, taut as a bow, worrying with his hand. Those strangers on the train, the ones who had thanked him, they had shown him more kindness than the family had. She had not followed Stuart's outburst well, but Maddy's explanation told her more about her husband than she had realized. But Stuart would never act on that crust of conscience, she felt sure. It was up to her. She watched her son, her beaten-down boy.

"Because Malcolm, there are things people ought to do at certain times in their lives. We kept you from doing those things. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. And if anything has gone wrong because of that, you must know it is our fault, not yours." She reached out and took his hands in hers, the one hand still jerking and fluttering against her palm; he let her hold them. "I'm so sorry, Malcolm."

He didn't know what to do. He shook his head. "Not your fault," he said.

"But, it is. Mine and Stuart's. I think Stuart did it out of ignorance; I sometimes think he doesn't understand anything in any terms except leader and follower. Aggression and weakness. And Stuart is so thoughtless, so sure that whatever he has decided is right. But I know better. Knew better."

Malcolm didn't know what to do. It had been a surprising, horrifying day. Father's outburst on the train had been a shock. It was a pity I've had to be crippled, nearly killed, lost everything important to me, Malcolm thought, to have finally heard the things Father said. And now this.

He finally said aloud, "I understand, Mother. But please, don't whip yourself over this. But don't expect things to change. It wasn't as if I had made a vow not to ever see you again, but I never expected Father's call the other day. It wasn't as if I hated you. But I'm not very good at this." He disengaged his hands from his mother's.

"I know," she said, "neither are we."

Malcolm helped Madeline fix supper. She very quietly asked him a few things, important things about him and about the Expanse. Had it really been as bad as the government said; a weapon that could have destroyed the planet? Yes. Had there been any other way? Perhaps not by that time. He had lost friends, close ones? Yes. Was he very ill? No, not ill at all, just hurt, and no, they didn't think it would get worse.

They had often done this when they were younger. Spoken quietly over some chore, fallen silent if their parents came into the room. It had been at the kitchen sink that Madeline had once said, "When I go to Singapore during school break with my friends, I'm going to see a doctor. I found a fertility clinic and someone compatible who can't have a baby. When it's this early, it's not dangerous for a transplant. I want you to know in case something goes wrong." Nothing went wrong, and he'd never revealed her secret.

So it was here that he offered up something to her. "I want you to know that I won't be having any children, so I think it's a fine thing that you and Will are planning a family. You may want to consider that it's important that Father and Mother get used to the idea that they won't be able to continue ignoring Will's existence."

There was a long silence, as Madeline continued to chop vegetables. Finally she asked, "Is this because of what the Xindi did to you?"

"No. I picked up a sort of virus. The doctors think it would be dangerous -- to the child -- if I were ever to father children. I've already taken care of it."

Supper was mostly silent, although this was a very good meal. Madeline had made his favorite for pudding: thick slices of pineapple, broiled with a cane sugar and coconut topping. When they were finishing, Malcolm said as much.

Mother looked at him with a startled expression. "I had no idea you liked it so much. It always made your mouth and throat swell up. That's why I hardly ever made it."

"Well, I'm taking something now so it won't give me a reaction. I've always enjoyed pineapple."

They all stared at him again. But at least it wasn't with horror.

As Madeline started to gather the dishes, their Father said abruptly, "We've not drunk to your promotion. Come into the den while Maddy and Mary clean up."

Malcolm silently nodded and followed his Father. When he had come out of the junior officer's program when he had served in the Navy, his parents had visited him, and he and his father had shared a nearly silent and extremely uncomfortable drink in a pub. So this was a new experience to be invited into this room, and watch his Father pour out two hefty shots of a decent single malt.

"Lieutenant Commander Reed," his Father said.

Malcolm briefly considered setting his own drink back down, leaving the room, and then leaving the house entirely. He thought there was a late flight that would put him back in San Francisco before six hours had passed.

But in only that very moment he realized the complete futility of it. And sipped his scotch instead. It would change nothing. His Father's opinion did not matter to him. Not now.

This was the man who'd treated him like clay, like a thing with no feelings, to be molded into some preset image. The man who'd been dismissive and enraged when Malcolm Reed had declared that he had interests of his own and had followed them. And now, he knew, the man who had either imagined a precocious and inappropriate relationship between two children, or, much worse, had been so jealous of his own child's friendship that he had lied to another family to destroy it.

Malcolm considered that his Father might not even recognize the evil wrong he'd done nearly twenty years before. Just as he appeared to unable to recognize the hypocrisy he was now showing after the contempt he'd shown for Malcolm's choice eight years earlier to leave the Navy.

And Stuart Reed was also the man who had, at least tried to teach his son a few things. The importance of hard work, an admiration of intellect. How to tack into the wind. And he supposed, that his Father thought he still loved his children. Loved them like possessions. William was not good enough for Madeline, and by choosing him she'd somehow cheapened herself. And as they had seen on the train, a Reed was not to be judged, not by any common civilian. There was no apology, or rather, this was it.

The regard he had craved: it was not important. Pointless. And pointless to stay. Tomorrow he'd tell them he had to get back to his new posting and leave sometime before dinner. There was no rest or recovery here.

As they drank, Malcolm asked if any of the insect specimens in the display cases were recent, and his father proudly showed off a few. At one point Stuart Reed turned to his son and said, "You don't mind sleeping in here? Mary suggested I take down the cases, put them away. I told her it was nonsense."

"No," said the younger Reed, looking at the dead and still tropical insects. "I don't mind them at all. I think it's my favorite room in the house."

He was as bereft as the man in the Woodberry poem whose childhood friends were all dead. And my heart -- all the night it is crying, crying, In the bosoms of dead lads darling-dear. Teck was just a small, memory. He couldn't really remember how much he might have loved and missed Teck. He tried a few times to really clearly remember what Teck had looked like and sounded like. But whenever he tried, he kept picturing someone else entirely.


End of Part 3.

Final Graduation (Part 4) is a continuation of this story.

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Feedback? Comments? Thanks! Drop us a few lines: tm_comments@gmx.net

Three people have made comments.

All I can say to this expanded 3-part series is -- Wow! It about blew me away. You kept revealing little pieces as the story progressed. I also kept tearing up during this last installment. Is this the end, or will there be more?

Not the end. This is the original story that was shortened for "Graduation Day."

I love the detail in this, makes it all the more heart wrenching. I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of this, please update soon!

 

 


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