~I wish my feet touched the floor.~ Marius thought sadly as he swung
his feet, making his Awesome Angel superhero shoes flash and blink
with red lights. ~Then I’d feel braver.~
But the wooden chair remained tall, hard and unyielding. It was as
uncomfortable as everything else in the sterile office – the while
walls, the books that were somehow all the same color and height, the
lights that were too bright and too harsh.
He felt his father place a hand on his shoulder and give it a little
~Courage has nothing to do with how tall you are, Marius.~ Warren said
in his mind. ~This will all be OK. I’m proud.~
Marius licked his lips and swallowed, wishing he’d taken a drink at
the fountain in the hall. He was tired, mentally and physically, after
half a day of testing in Dr. Slove’s office. Now he just wanted to go
He reached out his right hand without looking, and felt reassured as
his mother, Molly, took it without a word and held it firmly.
The door to Dr. David Slove’s office opened with a sound like grating
sandpaper, making Marius wince and hunch down farther in the
uncomfortable chair. The doctor strode briskly to his desk, a thick
old-fashioned paper file in his hand, and sat down with a soft sigh.
Slove was pale and thin, even for a Betazoid, and had a pinched looked
about his face – like he was constantly sucking on a lemon. He looked
like one of the Fates; the one that led all people to the After.
~Well, I’ll get right to it.~ Slove began in mindspeech. ~The results
of your son’s tests are not encouraging.~
He paused, waiting for a response.
~Go on.~ Warren thought back at the doctor.
~He…~ Slove began, but was interrupted.
“Do stop that,” Molly said, tightness in her voice. The fresh
chameleon rose in her pocket swirled red and green with her mixed
annoyance and anger. “You are both aware that I’m human, correct? If
it isn’t too much trouble, I’d like to find out the testing results as
Slove cleared his throat, and when he spoke, it sounded raspy, as if
rusted from disuse.
“My apologies, Mrs. Prott,” he said. “I’m afraid it’s a force of
habit. I’ll speak aloud from here on out.”
Slove coughed dryly and took a long drink from a mug on his desk. He
opened the folder and shuffled through it for a few moments of tightly
“Our tests have shown,” he said at last. “That Marius has a condition
known as E.D.D. – empathy deficiency disorder.”
Molly Prott’s mouth drew thin, and her cheeks began to flush.
“Translation, Doctor Slove?”
Slove shuffled the papers and pointedly avoided Molly’s burning gaze.
“It means that Marius has telepathic ability, but absolutely no
empathic sense – as all other Betazoids have. This leaves him with a
complete inability to navigate Betazoid society. Mental deficiencies
aren’t uncommon in… mixed species parentage… but this particular
condition is rare, even so.”
Slove went silent, as if expecting Molly to respond to this. Receiving
nothing, he continued.
“Testing has also revealed that he also has S.D.S. – screening
deficiency syndrome,” Slove said, with a hint of hesitancy.
Anticipating the question, he said, “It means that his telepathy is
wide-open. He doesn’t have the ability to turn off hearing the
thoughts of those around him. It’s been known to cause social
withdrawal, substance abuse and, in extreme cases, insanity.”
The doctor trailed off lamely, and the silence became a palpable
presence in the room.
It was, at last, his father that dispelled the quiet.
“So, what do your recommend, doctor?” he asked.
Dr. Slove licked his lips, and addressed his words to the reflective
glass surface of his desk. “There’s a very good facility just outside
of Olivan. It’s designed to help care for children like Marius.
Sometimes – with transcranial alteration, medication and a… structured
discipline system… children like Marius can be reintroduced safely
back into Betazoid society…”
“No!” the monosyllable was so loud and sudden that it seemed to come
from the very walls.
Marius nearly fell out of his chair at the sound. He looked over to
his mother. She was sitting stiffly, her face was a mask of stone, the
chameleon rose was a chaos of swirling red and a black, wet streak
made its way down one of her cheeks. She gripped Marius’ hand so
tightly that he cried out in pain.
“Mom,” he gasped. “My hand…”
The pressure eased, but Molly continued in a voice just a tense.
“You will not take my son away from me,” she said. “He is… my… son. He
is coming home … with me.”
Marius looked back at Dr. Slove, whose had turned – if possible – even
paler, his mouth comically open in a wide “O”.
“B… But, Mrs. Prott,” Slove stammered. “You have to understand.
There’s no public school that will take him with his condition. He…”
“Then, I’ll teach him myself,” Molly said, her eyes narrowed and
determined. “You’re not taking my boy.”
Marius suddenly became aware of his father’s reassuring hand on his
shoulder. “Molly,” he said, meekly. “Maybe we should consider it. He’s
at a big disadvantage compared to other Betazoids…”
He was cut off as Molly whirled, her dark hair spinning around her
like a vortex. Her face was suddenly as scarlet as the chameleon rose.
She spat out the words. “A disadvantage? Like I’m at a disadvantage,
Warren? Is that how you see me? An emotional cripple? Because I’m
Her eyes bore into her husband, challenging him.
Warren dropped his head and folded his hands, abashed at his wife’s
rebuke. “Molly… Imzadi… Fifteen years ago I stood before you unclothed
and swore before all the gods to love and obey you. I have never
thought of you as crippled in any way. You have always been my Imzadi,
and always will be.” He hazarded a look at Molly. “If this is what you
say we will do, then we will do it.”
The chameleon rose eased back into a sedate orange and the flush
receded from Molly’s face.
“I know, Warren,” she said, in mixed affection and sadness. “Never
And suddenly she was standing, with Marius being pulled gently along
the slick surface until he slid out of his seat. His feet touched the
ground solidly and his shoes flashed vividly around the sterile white
of the room.
“Come on Marius,” Molly said softly. “We’re going home.”
Dr. Slove nearly stumbled out of his chair.
“Mrs. Prott, you’re making a mistake,” he jabbered. “I urge you to
reconsider. I… I must protest.”
“Protest all you want, David,” Molly said without turning around as
the door slid open. “We’re leaving anyway.”
And the door rasped shut again against the near-shouting of Dr.
Marius felt his mother’s hand relax in his own as they left Dr.
Slove’s cold office and made their way into the bright sunshine of a
Betazed summer. His father was left behind for a few moments, settling
the bill for the consultation, which left Marius alone with his mother
for a few moments.
“Mom,” he asked, “What are you feeling?”
Molly stopped short, her muscles tightening for a moment before she
knelt down to eye level with Marius.
“Happy… that I won’t lose you,” Molly said gently. “And… a little
She paused, looking down and past her son for a second before her eyes
came back to focus on him. She barked a rueful laugh.
“OK, a lot scared. I…I don’t know if I can do this, Marius. But I love
you too much not to try.”
Marius felt something warm blooming in his center as his mother’s dark
eyes drew in his own. The chameleon rose in her pocket was a deep
royal blue shot through with swirling pink like licking flames.
“Can you tell?” Molly asked, as she took the rose and tucked it into
Marius’ shirt pocket. It turned a rich sunset purple.
Marius thought about it for a second. He had never had an empathic
sense, not in the way his dad had described the sensation. But…
“Yeah, mom,” he said, a slight smile coming to his lips.
“Yeah. I think I’ve always been able to tell.”