It was a little known fact
outside the Reed family that father and son shared a birthday, that little Malcolm had been born on Stuart’s thirty-fourth
birthday... or was it his thirty-fifth? Either way, it was not something Stuart liked to discuss if he could at all help it,
despite the many questions he received on a daily basis.
The answer he gave most
often to avoid the questions was that pondering on mortality was a pastime for fools and doctors, usually adding silently
that there was sometimes very little difference between the two. However, he had suffered the many medics, specialists and
nurses so far over the years, and there was little point in leaving all that good effort to waste now.
But yes. Stuart’s
son’s birthday was the same as his own, although in some ways it was just another date on the calendar, or had become
that over the years. Stuart’s own father, a formidable beast of a man, had brought his five children up to not bother
with such frivolous and unnecessary things.
It was a lesson Stuart
had learned well. His life in the Royal Navy and the subsequent constant moving around the planet to various postings meant
that he often travelled with little more than a small shuttleful of basic furniture and other supplies. Later there had been
Mary into the equation, and although she had followed her partner, and later husband with good grace – the best of grace
– there had always been some small niggling feeling in the back of Stuart’s mind that he was doing the wrong thing,
in uprooting his small family time and again.
And for what? A military
organisation that had come into the twenty-second century with no more chance at seeing action than the cavalry horsemen that
still paraded outside Buckingham Palace twice weekly with extra “performances” during the tourist season. The
monarchy had gone when the Eugenics Wars had arrived, and the best part of London and the surrounding Home Counties had been
wiped out in seconds, including the Palace in the city, and Windsor Castle. Later rebuilt, of course, but their inhabitants
had long since fled the country, fled the ceremonial seat of false power that had been the figurehead of British politics
since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
What good was a Royal Navy
without a Royalty to serve? Sometimes Stuart caught himself thinking that, most often on the second of September ever year,
watching his growing son coming to terms with the latest place the Reeds had to call home.
Shortly before Malcolm’s
second birthday, Madeleine had been born, adding another name to the list of Reeds and their possessions constantly uprooted
in the name of ceremonial military. It was this same fašade that had pushed Stuart to in turn push both his children towards
a more nautical way of life and living. Sailing lessons around the shorelines of wherever he had been posted for that three
or six or nine month stretch. Constant trips and visits to places of nautical interest; museums, exhibitions – anything
The crux had of course
come the summer before Stuart’s forty-third birthday, the summer before Malcolm in turn would have turned nine. That
summer in the sailing boat had put paid to any lingering ambitions Stuart may have had regarding the Navy.
It was also where the multitude
of doctors and specialists had come in, of course. All paid to poke, prod and pander...
Contrary to popular opinion,
there was nothing Stuart regretted about the aftermath of the accident. The Navy had given him an honourable enough discharge,
and a pension plan good enough to keep him well into old age and beyond.
And perhaps, most importantly
– to him – he had saved his son’s life. Losing three quarters of a leg in return for being able to watch
his son grow up and follow in the family tradition?
It was probably the best
deal Stuart was ever going to get in life.
And it was probably why
he felt so disappointed on the inside when Malcolm announced to the family, shortly before his nineteenth birthday, his ambitions
to join the Starfleet program in San Francisco. It had been almost ten years to the day since the sailing boat “incident”,
and somewhere inside him Stuart couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of the whole damned thing. Here he was, someone
who had been brought up to almost completely disregard birthdays and anniversaries, and here Malcolm was, almost smack bang
on the tenth anniversary of something that had reshaped the Reeds’ lives, showing complete disregard in turn for the
life Stuart had been trying to show him on that day in the first place.
Sometimes, Stuart didn’t
know any more. He couldn’t find the words, even in his head, to describe what had happened between himself and his son.
Occasionally, he smirked and wondered if the wheelchair had something to do with it, if no longer being able to look Malcolm
in the eye was a partial reason for the situation as it now stood – or, in his case, sat.
But either way, blame no
longer mattered. By the end of that summer, Malcolm had gone, left England behind altogether. Madeleine hadn’t been
that far behind him, choosing to study abroad somewhere, anywhere as long as it wasn’t within the same borders as her
Birthdays came and went
after that. The older Stuart got, the more he was reminded by the constant influx of doctors and specialists that he could
– and should – be doing more, but he’d always resisted any change to the routines that had taken over his
Stability and normality
were good, and change brought about the unknown. Before the accident, Stuart had never given much thought to the so-called
“great unknown” – after all, the entire surface of Earth had been mapped and explored and visited several
times over, the moon had been colonised and there was even talk of a permanent settlement on Mars the last he had paid attention
to the media.
But the accident had changed
everything, and Stuart would have happily become a recluse if circumstance had let him. He no longer liked to think about
the world outside his front door; he even recognised this to be a real shame, because there was still some small part of him
overjoyed when Malcolm wrote home one Christmas to say he’d been promoted to officer status within Starfleet, and another
small part of him that wished he had been there to see his son receive his promotion.
Starfleet was not the Royal
Navy, not by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes Stuart caught himself wondering – usually on the 2nd day
of the month of September and after the doctor had left – if Malcolm truly appreciated the opportunity his generation
had... to truly be able to sail the stars and explore the greater unknown, to be the first men, all over again, to go forth
and make the maps for themselves.
In a way, Stuart found
himself envying Malcolm’s chosen lot in life. And maybe that was why he never responded to the letters that came less
and less often, and eventually, not at all. The launch of the Starfleet ship came in fifty-one, and Stuart idly wondered on
more than one occasion if Malcolm was on that ship. He couldn’t see his son settling for anything less, of course –
after all, the man was a Reed – but then again he couldn’t see very much at all these days when his entire life
was spent in the upright sitting position, watching the world and its pet monkey fly by him.
The move back to Malaysia
had been more out of habit than anything else. It was easier to hide from the world in the depths of Asia, and there Stuart
didn’t have to try very hard to avoid the world at large. Habit again meant that every two months Madeleine and her
partner came to visit, never for very long, and usually driven away after two or three days by Stuart’s very own Victor
Meldrew act, which he’d honed to a fine art over the years.
Mary had followed her husband
out of the same enforced habit that had taken him back to Kota Baharu in the first place. There was very little between them
any more – not since the two children had left home so many years before – although there was still the sense
of companionship. Mary put up with Stuart’s changing moods, and in turn he suffered hours of inane conversation, occasionally
interested or amused by the topics.
This level of companionship
was of course to prove essential during the summer of fifty-one; the Asiatic monsoon season kicked in almost as soon as the
Reeds had moved there; not even Mary could leave the house to get anywhere for those first few months. So the summer passed
with evenings spent idly talking and talking and... more talking...
Madeleine did her daughterly
duty and came to visit towards the end of August, spending most of the four days in the kitchen with her mother. Once or twice
Stuart heard them discussing Malcolm’s favourite food, one of the stranger things the two women had ever talked about
on the rare occasion they’d been under the same roof, but like so many other things in his life, Stuart dismissed it.
That way, he didn’t
have to think about it for too long, or before it became too painful to remember. The Navy had been his entire life until
the sailing accident, something Malcolm had known all too well in the years after the accident, but that was probably one
of the few thing Stuart had made certain that the boy didn’t think himself responsible for. The only thing, probably.
Stuart Reed may have been
many things, and was probably lacking a great deal more, but he was by no means the kind of man who enjoyed inflicting second-hand
guilt onto his children. Malcolm was more than welcome to feel guilty over breaking with the family tradition and sailing
in space rather than the North Atlantic, but damned if Stuart was going to let him take the blame for something that had happened
when he was eight years old.
And Stuart was no fool,
either; of course, being in a wheelchair helped his case also. He’d seen Malcolm’s lingering looks in the direction
of the fruit bowl as he’d been growing up, and was more than willing to hazard the guess that the favourite food, the
item of stomach fodder that had so far eluded the two Reed women was the pineapple. But Malcolm, in all his years as a child,
had never said anything, and Stuart couldn’t ever remember pushing the issue. It was something that fell under the same
header as his own father’s stance on birthdays, came under the title of “unnecessary frivolity” and so therefore
was not something to get fussed about.
And for all this sudden
discussion about a son who was no longer around, Stuart supposed he should have been expecting a call about said son, although
the circumstances of the call had been... well.
Malcolm had made it onto
the Starfleet ship, after all. And there was something about the words, “He’s my tactical officer,” that
made Stuart smile on the inside, although years of natural reticence and that old unwillingness to share anything with anybody
meant the emotion didn’t translate onto his face. Maybe it couldn’t. Maybe he’d never know for certain.
Much like her daughter,
Mary could not tell the Starfleet officers what their tactical officer’s favourite food was, citing the same reasons
Stuart himself had been using as an excuse for the past few days, and the last however many years.
He could probably get away
with blaming the constantly changing doses of medication that the doctors insisted he take. Or maybe he hadn’t said
anything to Archer because the call was to do with Malcolm’s birthday, which was only another reminder of Stuart’s
own mortality, his own impending doom.
That, and he felt as though
he’d be interfering in something if he actually had said something. Malcolm wouldn’t have expected him to know
something so trivial as his favourite food. Nobody would have been expecting him to know – and who was Stuart Reed to
argue with that kind of unanimous acceptance?
The kind of man everybody
thought he was.
He’d lost count of
the years by now. The onset of the autumn of fifty-one brought about Stuart’s sixty-fourth birthday... or was it his
sixty-fifth? Either way it was not something Stuart liked to discuss if he could at all help it. He’d done the meaning
of life thing lying in a hospital bed more than twenty years before; there was little point in getting pretentious this close
Stuart had grown far older
than his years; there was no denying that, no arguing with it.
Except that sometimes he
looked at the few remaining photographs of his son and wondered if for all those extra years, had he grown any wiser or not?