Contact: feedback (at) ventura33.com
DS9, O’Brien family, rated PG
Summary: Miles blames himself for the events of “Time’s Orphan.”
Note: The title comes from the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.
Miles had checked to make sure it was safe, of course, a year ago when he first took his family off the station for a picnic. He always checked everything carefully — that was how he did things. The planetary ecological report showed that there were no large predators on the northern continent, no venomous snakes, no poisonous berries; even the local version of the honeybee had no stinger.
Once again, he relaxed on his picnic blanket next to Keiko, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and the chirping of the birds. Molly was turning cartwheels in the meadow, her lithe young figure framed by a backdrop of tall grass, boulders, and clear sky. He glanced back toward Keiko, who had started taking the food out of the picnic basket.
Afterward he always felt that if he had paid better attention, if he had not turned away, it wouldn’t have happened — Molly’s terrified scream as she fell into the cavern beside the boulders, the bright flash of energy as she disappeared into the ancient time portal, and the many years she struggled to survive alone in a wilderness because of his failure to repair the alien device sufficiently to recover her at the moment of her disappearance.
“It wasn’t your fault, Miles.”
Keiko spoke very softly so as not to wake Molly, who had fallen asleep perched high in a tree, with one arm wrapped securely around a branch. The tree, along with some grass and flowers and other reminders of the wild planet where she had lived alone for so long, had been brought aboard Deep Space Nine to help Molly feel more at home. A recording of bird and insect noises played from a concealed speaker and echoed faintly from the walls of the cargo bay.
How can something so peaceful and natural seem so alien, Miles wondered; and he wasn’t sure whether he meant the scenery, or Molly herself, or both.
“She’ll be back to normal in a few weeks,” he said, more to himself than to Keiko. That phrase had become his mantra even as the weeks stretched into long, difficult months. “She can say a few words now. It won’t be long before she’s talking just like before, and reading, too.”
Even in the dim light he could see the frown lines between Keiko’s brows clearly. “But what if that doesn’t happen? What if it’s not as simple as we thought? Maybe Deep Space Nine isn’t the best place for her. Maybe she would do better on Earth, where there are more resources and specialists. I’ve been doing some research, and there’s one place I think might be good for her, a little community in the Tennessee mountains for young adults with cognitive disabilities; it has a large fenced acreage, so Molly could wander around outdoors safely, and there are experienced teachers and speech therapists and other professionals who could help her.”
“But Molly isn’t.” These few words were all Miles could bring himself to say, as a parade of ugly historical images went through his mind: village idiots, the bars of Bedlam, forgotten mute children rocking silently in corners.
“Miles, it wouldn’t be like sending her away to an old-fashioned institution. I would stay with her for several weeks, until she felt comfortable there, and afterward we could visit her from time to time. We could talk to her over a comm screen, too; she wouldn’t just disappear from our lives.”
“But we’re her parents. Surely we know her better than some therapist who’s never seen her before.” He glanced up once more at the almost-alien figure of the girl crouched in the tree like a leopard silhouetted in the moonlight of an ancient jungle, and for a moment he found himself wondering if he knew her at all.
“I’m just saying that we should think about it.” Keiko’s brows relaxed, although it now seemed that the finely etched lines between them never quite went away. “We can’t keep her in the cargo bay forever.”
His next mistake seemed perfectly logical at the time. Setting up a replica of the meadow in one of Quark’s holosuites looked like a good way to give Molly some time in a familiar setting under the open sky, or as near to it as could be achieved with modern holographic technology. He expected this would show Keiko that it wasn’t necessary to send Molly back to Earth to give her the freedom of the outdoors that she craved.
In hindsight, the outcome was all too obvious — Molly’s incomprehension and distress when the program ended and the meadow suddenly disappeared, her resulting tantrum in Quark’s, the injury to a bystander that caused Molly to be taken into custody on an assault charge, and a Federation magistrate’s order that she be brought to a mental health facility for evaluation.
“We might be looking at a long-term situation,” Sisko acknowledged, confirming Miles’ worst fear.
Would anyone at that facility really do anything to help Molly learn to communicate, Miles wondered, or would they just keep her drugged and locked away like a wild animal? The parade of horrors flashed through his mind once more as he tried to argue that Molly belonged with her family, not with strangers; but he already knew that Sisko could do nothing to change the situation and that his arguments weren’t getting him anywhere.
He made his plans quietly, in the little corner of his mind that always maintained some semblance of calmness even when things were at their most desperate. He would steal a runabout, get Molly safely away in it, and send her back through the time portal to her home in the distant past. Keiko didn’t need to know; in fact, it would be best if she knew nothing, so that she wouldn’t have to face the consequences of his actions.
“We’re just going to have to hope Molly can adjust,” he said, not meeting Keiko’s eyes as he tried to look like a man who had given up hope.
He had never been much good at lying, especially to his wife. It took less than thirty seconds for Keiko to figure out that he was planning something. Before he knew it, she had gotten the whole plan out of him and was busy packing a traveling bag.
“Hand me that, will you?”
Miles glanced down where she was pointing and saw Molly’s little doll, Lupi. At least this time, he thought, Molly wouldn’t be completely alone. He picked up the doll and handed it to Keiko, who efficiently stowed it in the shoulder bag with the other items she had packed.
“I thought that you wanted Molly to be under the care of specialists — that you thought she’d be better off that way.”
Keiko slung the bag over her shoulder and turned toward the door. “Miles, there’s a huge difference between taking Molly to a place that we’ve chosen for her and — and what they’re trying to do now — sending her away for God only knows how long, without giving us any say in the matter. And without giving Molly any say. Although she can only speak a few words, she should have the right to choose the kind of life that she wants.”
He fell into step beside her. “Even if the life that she wants is in a wilderness where we’ll never see her again?”
A bleak look passed across Keiko’s face before she answered. “Yes, even then.”
The door opened into the corridor, and Miles could not say anything more because of the risk of being overheard. He quietly held Keiko’s hand as they walked together, knowing that she understood everything that he could not put into words.