Second Encounter

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Second Encounter

Postby LilJennie » Wed Sep 20, 2023 9:22 pm

Second Encounter
by Jennie Flint and Miki Yamuri

Megan was in a hurry. It seemed she was always in a hurry these days, driving to work or home from work, grabbing a bite to eat here and there when she could, getting groceries, going to help her friend Sharon, oh and she had to call the super about the leaky shower that dripped all night. Right now it was late and dark as she drove home from one of her only forms of solace, the public library, because they’d just closed – and she’d only just gotten there right before closing time, too, so she hadn’t had a chance to really browse, just grab something to read, as if she had time to actually read anything lately.

She drove out of the city and into the suburbs, and traffic was crazy, even though it was so late. Everyone was still on their way somewhere. Megan pressed the brake pedal and felt the heel of her shoe break off, silently cursing it. Her favorite pair of shoes, shiny and just the right shade, almost black but she knew they were really dark purple and that was all that mattered, with heels not too high but still looking great. Now she’d either have to fix it or get it fixed, or find a new pair of perfect shoes, which had been really hard to find, and …

Her car wasn’t moving. No, it wasn’t just that. Her car wasn’t making a sound. And none of the other cars were moving either. Everything was bright outside her car – but only just outside it, not anywhere else; it was dark from about four feet away from her car all the way out to the pools of light on the road from others’ headlights and the streetlights. It was as if something straight above her were shining a super-bright spotlight down on just her car … and as if time itself were somehow stopped …

Suddenly the cars around her dropped out of sight below, and the lights of the highway and the city around her dropped downward too, as Megan felt herself pressed downward against her driver’s seat. Then … everything was white.

She didn’t remember getting out of the car, but now she was standing next to it, and she could feel that her right shoe didn’t have a heel anymore. She wanted to move, but she couldn’t. She wanted to shout, “No! I don’t have time to be abducted by aliens tonight!” … but she couldn’t do more than stand there.

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“This Earth person’s name is … Megan Kline, Sir,” said Research Assistant Halax. “We last retrieved this one for study … approximately thirty yarlons ago, when she was still in the larval stage.”

“Yes,” said Scientist Rhylar. “They call it the ‘toddler’ stage. I recall; I was on that mission. She was quite adorable. So this is what she looks like now. Fascinating. Well, register her vital signs and do the usual light brain scan.”

“Right away, Sir,” said Halax, pressing buttons on the control panel.

The two of them were sitting in a control room high above the examination chamber, looking down through windows. Megan was far below them, immobilized by the stasis ray, next to her primitive human ground vehicle.

Data began coming in from the scans of her body and brain, and Rhylar examined it. “Yes, interesting,” he said, perusing the readings. “My goodness, look at her high stress levels …” His head slanted in concern. “Her mode of employment produces inadequate compensation. Her domicile arrangements are inferior. She consumes inadequate nutrition due to temporal and economic constraints … and there is so much more …” Rhylar was saddened. “I see this far too often. Is this what adulthood does to these poor beings? Why does Earth, their homeworld, seem as hostile an environment to them as outer space?”

“Clearly a backward civilization, Sir,” said Halax.

“You speak truly, Assistant,” said Rhylar. “Megan, I’m truly sorry for what your world has done to you,” he said to the three-dimensional image of Megan that was projected in front of him. He remembered when she had been just a small child.

He had been Research Assistant Rhylar at the controls then, and they had beamed Megan and her parents out of their home with their transport beam one at a time, freezing time so none of them realized that any of the others had ever been gone. Young Megan’s giggles had charmed everyone, even Scientist Ulon, who always seemed so serious. They had done the usual scans and were fascinated by how happy Megan’s mental state had been. They had even played with her, tossing a glow-ball toy back and forth with her as she giggled up a storm. Megan herself had practically glowed with joy.

Only now there was no sign of joy in adult Megan’s brain scan. “I do not feel right about simply releasing this Earth being back into her toxic environment,” Rhylar said. “It seems … inhumane. If only there were a way to return her to the joyous state of her infancy. Wait – of course! The rejuvenation ray!”

“Preparing the ray, Sir,” said Halax, pressing buttons.

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Megan couldn’t react but wasn’t particularly surprised when the two small pale-skinned bald beings with large eyes materialized in front of her, wearing silvery robes from neck to floor. She’d seen aliens in movies and on TV lots of times. This at least explained what was happening to her. She hoped she wasn’t going to be dissected. One of them said something unintelligible, and the other one pressed buttons on some sort of tablet that he carried with him. Then the first one said, “Megan Kline, please do not worry. My name is Scientist Rhylar. We are only here on a scientific expedition to study your world. I would like to restore the joy to your life that you had when we last examined you.”

Last examined her? Megan didn’t remember ever being examined by aliens before. When had she been …?

The pink beam that shone on her made her feel tingly all over, and when she looked at her hands her skin was glowing. And her fingers were getting … shorter? And chubbier? What was going on …? Her clothes were too big for her and just fell off as she floated in the air. She wasn’t worried about that shoe anymore. She wasn’t worried about anything anymore other than what was going on right now. She looked at the car next to her and could see her reflection in the windows – was that her? There was a baby floating in the air, a diaper materializing around her hips, its outer cover a sparkling silver like the robes these aliens wore. What was going on …?

The beam faded, and she slowly sank to the floor. “Wha … why me … bay-bee?” she asked in wondering confusion.

“I understand that this may cause some confusion,” said the alien named Rhylar, “but your brain waves are already showing far less stress and more contentment. Here, when we examined you earlier in your life, you enjoyed playing with one of these.” He held out a glowing orb. Megan reached for it, her eyes wide.

Why was this simple ball so fascinating? Megan wondered about that but bounced it on the floor, and it came back to her. She giggled and did it again, then a few more times. She looked up to see that Rhylar was watching her with what might have been a smile on his face and some sort of sparkle in his large eyes. She actually giggled. There was something about this that seemed so familiar.

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Halax was looking at something on his device and said, “We can’t return her to her dwelling alone in this condition.”

Rhylar said with actual tone of happiness, “Why? What could possibly be a problem with making this specimen happy once again?”

Halax replied, “The subject is two point five yarlons old physically. She’s unable to care for herself and will need someone to watch over her.”

Rhylar thought for a few minutes then said, “Would it be against the rules to set her up in a situation? I feel somehow we can find someone willing to care for an infant of their species.”

Halax replied after rubbing his chin in thought, “Such a thing wouldn’t be too difficult to arrange. However, this subject will only mature to about a four yarlon old level. After exposure to the rejuvenation ray at the levels she was, I’m uncertain that she can be … potty trained, as the Earth people say, again.”

Rhylar looked at Halax for an instant with concern in his expression, “You mean we can rejuvenate her, but she will never grow back up?”

Halax replied, “Something like that. Her mind is still intact. It will take a while for her to regain control and learn how to speak normally and not stumble and babble. The end result will be a four-yarlon-old with her full adult mental proclivities. She will be a toddler, more than likely requiring absorbent undergarments for the rest of her life, but by that time she will be untroubled by this. Her mind will have adjusted to her reduced stature. We will have to stop the age progression of her chosen providers as well, though. We both know subject Megan’s life cycle is much longer now.”

By this time, Rhyler and another technician named Sinndar had activated a scanning device. They took their time and scanned the entire planet. They discovered an elderly couple who had lost their children many years earlier due to a horrid accident. Their brain scans revealed that both were still grieving heavily over it.

Sinndar said, “I have located a choice pair. They have lost their own and are in grief.”

Rhylar brought up the scans on his console and frowned. These two individuals were a gentle and meek couple. Rhylar felt a pang of pitty and sorrow for all the pain their tragic loss had created. He said as he programmed the device to make it happen, “I agree. Now, they will suddenly find themselves many years younger and with a daughter still a babe in arms.” Rhylar pressed the button.

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In a very large custom-built solar independent log cabin built in the middle of a huge forested acreage in the mountains, a bright golden beam penetrated the roof and engulfed the elderly couple sitting in their armchairs watching the news.

Tom and Sylvia Hipps gasped as the beam took hold of them.The transformation and age reduction was immediate. The two of them sat in a daze in their slightly oversized clothes. They were now physically 27 years old and no longer heavy, as age had previously done to them. Their eyesight had returned, their hearing, even their lost teeth that had been replaced by dentures for many years had miraculously grown back.

In front of them, a large playpen appeared. Sitting in the middle of the pen was the most adorable little baby girl they had ever seen. She had on a silvery diaper and booties.

Tom stood. He was slightly confused. His memories were somehow having interphasic issues. He had memories of an entirely different life from two different perspectives. As soon as his eyes fell on Megan, the old memories seemingly vanished and the new ones solidified.

Sylvia said, “Tom, how in tarnation did we get into this horribly outdated and oversized clothing?”

Tom replied, “Don’t know, Sylvia – what I do know is that Megan is sitting there and I really wanna hug her and cuddle her.”

Sylvia stood and replied, “I do too, but I gotta find some better clothes than these old rags.” She stood and walked over to the stairs to their bedroom.

Sinndar had already figured they would want to change clothes as soon as possible. He had perused the primitive information network Earth called the World-Wide Web and materialized some of the best and most handsome clothing for Tom, and some of the cutest and sexiest clothing for Sylvia. Of course he wasn’t slack for Megan either, so many adorably cute and lacy items appeared along with a really cute chest of drawers and a toy box filled with toys.

Sylvia entered their room, which had also been updated and modernized. She stood next to her bed and just knew something was very wrong, but for the life of her she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. She stripped nude and tossed the old clothing in a pile in a corner for disposal.

She dressed in the nice jeans and the strappy top. All the while Sylvia just knew something was out of order. She watched as Tom came in, and he too changed clothes. Sylvia smiled; Tom was such a handsome man.

She was so glad she’d married him and was even happier that she’d had Megan … there was something not quite right about that too, but whatever it was faded fast as the joy of having her daughter took over and filled her heart with joy.

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Megan babbled happily and played with the toys in the playpen. She was just so happy, thinking and feeling like a baby as she was, that she ignored the funny feeling that something was strange about this. There were memories of doing different things … adult things … and that made no sense. But since they didn’t fit in with her obvious identity and situation, she just dismissed them as some silly dream she’d had during her last nap.

Then her Mommy and Daddy came to see her. She smiled and recognized them immediately, and giggled as Daddy picked her up and tickled her tummy lightly with a finger. “Hey there, Megan honey! Who’s my good girl? Are you my good girl? Are you? I think you are!”

Megan could barely say anything through her giggles. “Daaaaddyyyyy! Heehee!”

“Let’s see if our good girl needs a change yet,” said her Mommy, taking her from Daddy and checking her diaper with a finger. “Oooo, you’re a little bit damp but not too bad. What a good and pretty girl you are!” She rocked Megan back and forth in her arms, which Megan adored. She sighed contentedly, and her thumb found its way into her mouth.

“She’s such a joy,” said Tom.

“She is,” Sylvia replied. “What would we do if we somehow lost her?” She suddenly felt horrible, as if she’d touched a terrifying subject. She shuddered.

“Let’s not even think about that,” Tom replied. “It’s … too horrible to contemplate. She’s here, with us, and it’s wonderful.”

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Megan woke up slowly. She felt so nice and contented. She suckled her thumb a bit as she basked in the warm feeling tingling all through her. Suddenly. Megan’s eyes popped wide open as her mind came out of the fuzzy contentment that beckoned so hard.

Megan sat up and looked around. She was definitely in a crib with several plushies and an empty bottle. She held her arms out and looked down. She was dressed in an adorable pastel pink lolita babydoll top with matching plastic lined rumba panties. The diaper she had on was rather damp too.

Megan began to fumble with the locking diaper pins holding the soggy diaper on. To her dismay, she had no idea how to make them work and through all her fumbling only managed to get frustrated. Megan realized suddenly that she had teared up and was almost about to cry. Sucking on her thumb as she did her best to rein in her emotions helped a lot more than she would have liked.

She found her legs to be almost uncooperative as she attempted to stand up. In even more frustration, Megan used the rails of the crib to stand and hold herself steady as she took a look around what was obviously her nursery.

She had memories … recent memories of “Mommy” and “Daddy.” The room was obviously very well decorated and showed that Mommy and Daddy obviously cared a great deal for her.

“Mmm .. Mmmaa.” Megan was astonished, not only at the sound of her toddler’s voice, but at the great difficulty she was having forming even the simple words “Ma Ma.”

About that time, a very pretty and shapely young woman entered the room and walked up to the side of the crib. “There she is. Mommy’s precious little angel.”

Megan found herself in Mommy’s arms getting a very wonderful patting on her diapered behind. Whatever it was Megan had been thinking up to that point vanished once again as an overpowering feeling of infantile contentedness filled her with another overpowering feeling, the feeling of being deeply loved. Megan lost what ever adultness that was trying to hang on and allowed the two and a half year old take over.

Megan began to giggle as her mommy gently and lovingly tickled her and carried her over to the changing table. Megan’s lucidity returned as she was being lifted by her ankles and having her private places cleaned. She felt really embarrassed, since she also retained some memories of being an adult.

Megan relaxed and allowed it to happen, because there was no other way for her to be put into a dry diaper. The person who had just set her bottom in the thick diaper and powdered her was Mommy, and this was reason enough.

As she pulled the cute plastic lined rumba panties back over Megan’s thick diaper, Sylvia came to an understanding with herself. She immediately dispelled any of the thoughts she’d been having that something was wrong. She knew in her heart how much she had missed her baby. Sylvia wasn’t sure why those hard emotions were so strong, but she was sure of one thing; as long as her little angel was there, they didn’t matter.

Tom came to the edge of the table and smiled. “I was wondering if you girls would like to have a campout in the den? Somehow … don’t ask me why, but I miss doing that.”

Sylvia smiled as she sat Megan up and started putting matching booties on her feet, “Funny you should say that – I have a similar feeling. The only way I can see to fix it is to do it.” She picked Megan up from the table and twirled her around once. “What do you say to that, my little angel?”

Megan was a total blank. “Bebe wov doin that. Can hasa plushy fights,” somehow just rolled out of her mouth unbidden.

Tom and Sylvia laughed as they carried Megan into the huge den. Both of them had already decided within themselves that whatever it was they felt was so wrong, wasn’t so bad, and they forgot about it for now.

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On the bridge of a super advanced alien research vessel, Scientist Rhylar gave the order for them to leave orbit. Their mission was more than completed – they had filled many crystal storage arrays with data about Earth and its various species, and they felt full satisfaction that they had really aided one of their test subjects.

But when moments later they docked at Trillben Hub, only 1000 light-years away from Earth, and began to upload the data about their mission, they got hailed by the Science Council – it was Sub-Leader Ssann. “I see here that you interfered with a test subject’s life,” Ssann stated. “State why this is not a violation of scientific guidelines and why I should not invalidate your entire data set.”

Rhylar responded, “We had already scanned the subject, Ssann. We were going to release her back into her natural habitat when we took the troubling readings of extreme stress from her brain scan. It is all in the report: we deemed that it would have been cruel to return her to her environment.”

“Hmm,” mused Ssann, “if your data readings were already complete, then I suppose your actions invalidate nothing. But why did you not bring her back for study, then? You know that the Achernar Zoological Institute has an Earth exhibit.”

“We did not have prior authorization from the Achernar Institute,” said Rhylar. “We had not even applied for it, as it was not in our plans to capture any subjects. Besides, I believe they are not accepting humans. They do not do well in captivity, as is well known.”

Ssann checked something on a nearby display. “I see that you are correct,” he said. “Your report says that you returned her to another environment on her home planet after ensuring that she would enjoy a more humane situation. Will you be making a return visit to ensure her continued well-being?”

“Yes, we will, Ssann,” said Rhylar. “Ethics dictates that I must verify that my actions did not have adverse consequences to the subject.”

“That is acceptable,” said Ssann. “See that you do this. Science Council out.”

“But Scientist Rhylar,” said Halax, “our next mission will be taking us to Zuben Elgenubi 3.”

“It will be complete in less than half a yarlon,” said Rhylar. “After that, we can return to Earth and check on the subject. Perhaps there will be more data to collect, as well.”

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Megan sat up in her crib early morning and discovered her toes. She lay back and started to suck on her big toe when her lucidity returned for a little while. She turned and looked through the bars of the crib and realized something wasn’t as it should be. She sat up, then stood, with the help of the rail. She wanted to get out of the crib now, but she could also plainly see it was a bit of a drop.

As she reached out through the rails and felt below the mattress, her hand came across a small bar of some kind. For no reason other than infant curiosity, she pulled on it as best she could. Suddenly, the crib rail fell with a loud noise, scaring her. She absolutely couldn’t help it as she burst into tears.

It took every thing Megan had to stop crying. It amazed her – her mind thought a certain way, but her body was reacting differently. She still sniffled heavily as she sucked her thumb thoughtfully and pondered how to make it to the floor, now that the way was unobstructed.

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Sylvia had heard the rail’s thump and heard Megan start crying loudly. Immediately, Sylvia jumped from the chair she was reading in and rushed downstairs to the nursery. As soon as Sylvia hit the bottom of the stairs and turned, she was confronted by a large framed picture on the wall of an older version of herself, Tom, and a young toddler girl in a cute ruffly Snuggle Bug romper.

Sylvia stopped and looked at the image. A memory that was like something viewed in a very foggy place began to form in her mind. She had a sudden realization like a light coming on – that was her and Tom on a picnic … but … they were a lot older. The child … she had a truly sudden and horrible remembrance, immediately tempered to where the emotional trama was removed, but the memory persisted. Sylvia now knew something was very wrong, and this wasn’t how things were supposed to be.

She turned away from the picture and entered the nursery. She saw Megan on the edge of the crib about to fall head first to the floor. “No!” A terrible remembrance of another young infant falling in the same manner and breaking her neck.

Sylvia rapidly entered the room and caught Megan as she slipped from the mattress. Sylvia couldn’t help herself as she hugged and kissed her little snuggle worm … who wasn’t hers, Sylvia suddenly realized, but just as suddenly realized that she didn’t care. She had apparently just saved this one from the same fate, and that was good enough for her. As Sylvia snuggled lovingly with Megan, she realized she loved this little girl as much as her lost one. The only difference was that she’d been there to save this one.

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In a large chamber adorned with highly advanced technology, the Universal Imperial Science Council was holding a formal meeting to discuss the ethics of one of its expeditions to a primitive culture. The research data had been shown to be uncorrupted; however, the ethics of reverting a young female of their kind to infancy for what they might think of as forever, and to hijack an unwitting couple without permission and rearrange their life as drastically as had been done required further investigations and inquiries.

“Scientist Rhylar saw an ethical dilemma where none existed. The right thing to do would have been to return the human to her environment just as he had found her. Regardless of the measurable fact that her environment was unpleasant and causing psychological stress, it simply was not his job to try to improve her existence.”

“Suppose the human had been about to be eaten by a Trylorg? Would it have been ethical to just put the subject right back into that situation?”

“No, but she was not in an immediately life-threatening situation. Besides, there are no Trylorgs on Earth.”

“But Scientist Rhylar had previous data from this same subject. The plight of Earth’s adult humans is clear. They have created a terribly stressful environment in which to live. They know it should not be so, as they shield their young from it. And yet they subject themselves to it every day. The difference in psychological makeup between the subject in question as a child and as an adult is provably a product of this toxic environment. Therefore she was in a life-threatening situation, since we have proven the link between stress and a shortening of the human lifespan.”

“You suggest, then, that every human test subject be returned to Earth as an infant? Perhaps next you will suggest that we apply the rejuvenation ray to every human on Earth. But then who will care for all these new child humans?”

“I -”

“And then there is the matter of the humans whom Rhylar and Sinndar chose to place this test subject with. Was it ethical for them to change their lives in such a way?”

“No harm was done to them.”

“No physical harm, but their memories were altered.”

“We alter test subjects’ memories all the time. No ethical questions are raised.”

“These humans were not test subjects. And we alter subjects’ memories so they do not remember us or our testing. Considerably more was altered here.”

“And because of this, Scientist Rylar should be brought up on charges of ethics violations!”

“I do not say that, but I say that an investigation should be opened.”

“I disagree. Since when do we concern ourselves with the psychological well-being of lesser species?”

“My thought precisely. Why intercede to improve some test subject’s lives, and why bother ourselves with whether it’s ethical to interfere with the lives of some non-test-subject humans? Neither we nor Scientist Rhylar should concern ourselves any further with this matter.”

“I propose that we compile our further questions and require Scientist Rhylar to respond to them, as he is currently in the field.”

“Zuben Elgenubi 3, I believe?”

“Yes. Not outside galactic beacon range.”

“Proposal seconded.”

“All in favor? … Then, those volunteering to serve on an ad hoc committee to draft the request for response …”

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“Tom,” said Sylvia as she rocked the sleepy Megan in her arms, “I had a very strange thought about the big photo on the wall in the hallway.”

“What do you –” Tom began, but then there was a knock at the front door. “Oh dear, who could that be? Just a moment, Honey, I’ll see who it is.”

Sylvia continued rocking Megan. It could wait.

Tom opened the door. “Can I help you?” he asked the two people on the doorstep, a man and a woman wearing black and white business attire.

“Mr. Rutherford? Federal Agents Trevi and Russo,” said the man, holding up a wallet with an ID. The woman simultaneously held up the same sort of official-looking ID. “We were wondering whether we could come in and ask you a few questions.”

“Well, sure, but what’s this about?” Tom asked. “We haven’t done anything. We filed our taxes in time.”

The two came in and closed the door behind them. “Don’t worry, Sir, this isn’t about taxes,” said the woman, apparently Agent Russo.

Tom lowered his voice, seeing that Megan was asleep. “What’s this all about, then, Agents?”

“There have been reports of unusual lights in the sky the night before last, and we’ve picked up strange energy readings coming from your home,” said Agent Trevi in hushed tones, glancing at the sleeping child. “Have you or your wife noticed anything unusual?”

“No, we moved out here to the mountains to get away from the hustle and bustle,” said Tom, very quietly. “We haven’t seen anything strange.”

“It’s been very quiet,” whispered Sylvia. “I don’t think there was a storm two nights ago, was there?” Tom shook his head no.

“Would you mind if we used a detector we have in your house?” asked Agent Russo softly, holding up a device the size of a mobile phone. “It won’t disturb you or your child. The most it will do is display numbers on its screen – no sounds. The last thing we want to do is wake up your adorable daughter.”

“I have no problem with that,” Tom said very quietly. “What … sort of unusual things are you looking for?”

“Anything that may be of national security concern,” replied Agent Trevi as Agent Russo started methodically taking readings around the perimeter of the living room, which consisted of her slowly moving around the outside of the room while looking carefully at her meter.

“National security?” asked Tom. “Are you saying there might be spies around here? What’s there to even spy on?”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss that, unfortunately, Sir,” said Agent Trevi. “What I am free to say is that we’re still just gathering data. We’re not looking for anyone specific. This is a very preliminary investigation. There may be nothing.”

“Oh, well, I hope it’s nothing, then,” said Tom.

Agent Russo returned to Agent Trevi’s side. “It looks like my partner’s done with her readings. Thank you, Sir, Ma’am,” said the agent.

“Let me get the door for you,” Tom said, opening the front door.

“Good day,” said Agent Russo as they left.

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“What did you find?” asked Trevi after they had gotten back into their black SUV.

“Readings are faint and fading,” said Russo, “but they’re coming from the Rutherfords, not the house. Especially Sylvia – either from her or from the baby; it’s hard to tell. Or both.”

“I guess we report that, then, and see what Admin has to say about this,” Trevi said, driving away down the mountain road. “Especially the part about how all known photos of them show a couple in their 60s, while every government document, online and off, says they’re in their mid 20s, as we just saw them today.”

“And those documents show similar fading energy readings,” said Russo.

Trevi opened the portfolio with the data on the current investigation. “We have another problem, too. From what our directives say, these energy readings do show a positive strike, although a rather old one. Pursuit is not authorized based on these figures, although we are required to make a complete report with all supporting documents. Any further investigation will require far more substantial proof. The door is open if we can find other proof without compromising the directive.”

Russo took on an expression of disappointment, “So close, but they won’t allow us to do any further investigations.”

Trevi replied, “You know as well as I do why they choose not to really pursue these things. It’s totally unknown what type of mass hysteria could come from the news that there are aliens ... and they’re among us.”

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Tom returned to where Sylvia was rocking the almost sleeping Megan. He softly commented as he shook his head, “That was so weird. Now, what could have possibly been a national security Issue here? I tell you, it’s so strange.”

Sylvia cut her eyes towards Tom and narrowed them, “I have something to talk to you about that … might just explain things a wee bit.”

Tom turned towards Sylvia and spread his arms, “And just what, pray tell, would constitute a danger to national security?”

Sylvia replied in a strange tone, “How old am I, Tom? Don’t just answer, think about it a little. How old are you? Just when did we have our precious angel?”

After a minute’s thought, Tom replied, “I’m 24. We both are …” But a strange memory began to form in Tom’s mind. It was like looking at a scene through thick fog, but he was now positive that something was wrong.

Sylvia stood, balancing Megan in one arm while holding the other hand out and wiggling her fingers towards Tom, “Come with me, I have something to show you, and there’s more to tell.”

Tom obediently took Sylvia’s hand as she led him down the stairs to the nursery. Sylvia turned as they stood in front of the framed portrait. “Take a long look at this picture. Notice anything … unusual?”

Tom’s eyes grew large as his mouth fell open in total astonishment. It was a picture of them, at a picnic with their daughter … they looked a lot older … “This was two days before she fell and broke her …” Tom snatched his gaze to Sylvia, who had a very strange smile on her face.

Sylvia said softly, “Today is actually the anniversary of our original daughter falling and breaking her neck.” She lovingly patted Megan’s bottom as she cooed softly, “We’ve been given a second chance. Not to relive all those horrible years over, but to have them back anew. Another thing too, this time I was there to save our precious little bundle. I was given the ability to correct something, and I don’t care why, or who, all I know is it’s a miracle, and I’m very grateful.”

“But … how …” Tom began, then caught himself. “Well, I can wonder how, or who did this. Maybe it was an act of God, or maybe something else that science just doesn’t understand, but you’re right. We’ve got a second chance. Wherever she came from, our little Megan here must have needed a home. And now she’s got one. I just hope …” He trailed off.

“Tom?”

“I just hope trouble isn’t coming for her. Or us. From those agents, or from someone else.”

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“It has now been one tenth of a yarlon,” said Sub-Leader Ssann to the committee. “Scientist Rhylar and his team remain in the Zuben Elgenubi system, doing their scheduled research. He responded candidly to the questionnaire transmitted to him. And yet questions remain?”

“Yes, specifically how his actions will taint future data from the Sol system,” said one committee member. “If what he did will end up changing society on the planet Earth, it could invalidate all research done there so far.”

“Now just wait,” said another member of the committee, “if a large asteroid struck Earth, it would obviously change the planet’s society, but it wouldn’t invalidate any research – it would just mean that we’d have to do new research to learn about how their society adapted. All existing research would still be valid – it would just become historical, applying to a society of the past.”

“But then all research applies to societies of the past,” said a third member, “since all worlds are constantly changing. One could argue that all data becomes outdated moments after we obtain it. That is why we continue to travel to primitive and even uninhabited worlds and collect data.”

“Yes, but all these changes are natural,” said the first member. “We didn’t cause them. They would have happened whether we had been there to observe or not. Scientist Rhylar deliberately interfered with Earth’s natural development.”

“It could be argued that transporting any human aboard any of our research craft for scanning potentially interferes with the planet’s development,” said Ssann. “We try to prevent it. We use chrono-stasis so the subject is returned to Earth at the moment they left, but doesn’t that mean their lifespan is then shortened by the duration of the test? The long-term effects of chrono-stasis and the brain scans we do have yet to be definitively determined on all the galaxy’s primitive species. But we do what we can. Scientist Rhylar took precautions to avoid affecting Earth society – he initiated a global document search of the humans’ government records about all humans involved, both their primitive electronic records and their even more primitive printed ones.”

“What of documents not found on that primitive electronic information network of theirs, nor in their government repositories?”

“Those would have been unaffected,” said Ssann, “but how many of those could there be? How many holograms of you exist, for example, that aren’t registered with the Imperial Document Repository?”

“Well, none, of course, as that would be illegal,” the committee member replied indignantly.

“Precisely,” said Ssann. “Now, we cannot expect these Earth primitives to be as advanced as we are, but there can’t be that many unregistered records. What wasn’t altered simply won’t be believed. Scientist Rhylar chose well – these parents he found for the subject are unlikely to have many friends or attachments. They were older by human standards and had little family other than one another. We will send Rhylar back to Earth to assess the effect his alteration has had – once his current mission ends. But I doubt he’ll have had any measurable effect on human society – and even if he did, that’s just fuel for more research, as we observe those effects and how they develop.”

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Tom had gone into one of the nearby towns for supplies. He went every month or so, sometimes with Sylvia and sometimes alone, with their shopping list. The fact that he might not look like what others would remember crossed his mind, but he wasn’t extremely troubled – these big-box stores had so many customers that nobody would remember his name. His photo on his ID cards had all changed to match his current appearance somehow; he’d checked after seeing the photo on the wall.

Whatever had happened had given them several months’ worth of baby supplies, but not of everything. Megan went through a lot of diapers, and baby food didn’t stay fresh forever. They might want to come get her some new clothes at some point, but she didn’t seem to be growing as fast as might be expected, though it was still a bit early to tell – it had only been a bit over a month since Megan had apparently entered their lives. So here Tom was, shopping for groceries and other household needs, along with a few baby supplies.

He paid with cash – the ATM had reported a curiously high balance on the receipt it had given him, but Tom chalked that up to whatever strange miracle had happened. Whoever their mysterious benefactor was, they wanted Megan to be comfortable, and it would take a long time for Sylvia and him to go through that amount of money. Especially if he invested some of it wisely and quietly. But as he was loading the truck with his purchases, he heard a voice. “Hey, Tom, how are ya?”

It was Stan, Stan Lawrence, an acquaintance Tom had once worked with. He hadn’t seen or thought about Stan for years. How was he going to play this?

Tom turned around, and Stan said, “Oh, wait, sorry, Sir, I thought you were someone I knew. About the same height, but now that you’ve turned around I can see you’re not him. Sorry about that.”

Tom blinked and decided to go along with that. “Oh - uh, no problem, Sir, guess I just have one of those faces.” Stan, embarrassed, went on about his business.

Was this going to be what it was like? He didn’t have much in terms of close friends, other than Sylvia herself, but would he have to cut off his ties to people who used to know him? Would they even recognize him?

And then he had another thought. Those agents had said something about lights in the sky. Now that he’d started wondering whom he could go to, what about old Joe up on the mountain? Joe was a strange one, but sometimes he talked about seeing lights in the sky from far off, since he could see for miles from his log shack up there. He had a telescope and nearly a proper observatory, having retired to look at the stars, but he wasn’t talking about stars when he mentioned lights in the sky. Maybe they could invite him to dinner and talk to him.

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“Wait, who are you folks?” asked Joe when Tom opened the door the next week. Joe was wearing his best flannel and suspenders, having been asked to dinner by mail. “Thought this was Tom an’ Sylvia’s house. Sorry, must be the wrong address –”

“No, Joe, I am Tom. This is Sylvia. And that’s our daughter Megan, over there in the high chair getting her dinner early. Please come in. We’ve got some things to talk to you about.”

“Well now, don’t that beat all?” said Joe, scratching his balding head. His hair and beard were mostly gray now, but they were neatly trimmed. He came in, and Tom shut the door behind him. “The years have been a lot kinder to you folks than to me, lemme tell ya.”

“Please sit down, Joe, and let me get you something. Iced tea? Cold beer? Something with a shot of something?” Tom wanted Joe to feel comfortable but didn’t know what Joe drank.

“I’m gonna hold off on the firewater until after dinner, if’n you don’t mind,” said Joe. “Iced tea sounds just fine.”

Tom poured a glass for both of them and said, “Now, Joe, I know you’re up on the mountain every night, and I know you see things. Do you … keep records of things you see?”

“What … type of things d’you mean exactly?”

“Well … did you see any lights in the sky on … what was the date, Sylvia?”

“May 15,” she said, still trying to get more food inside Megan than outside.

“Hmm,” he said, pulling out a worn notepad and flipping through its pages. “May 15 … yep, there was a humdinger of a light show that night – not a cloud in the sky, neither.” Joe’s accent was undefinable – from what Tom knew from talking to him, he’d lived just about everywhere in the English-speaking world at one time or another during his life. “Was over these parts, now you mention it.”

“Well,” said Tom, “near as we can figure, that’s when we suddenly found ourselves looking a lot younger, and we found ourselves with a refurbished nursery with a baby girl in it. Thing is, we don’t remember things being any different – except for some very vague feelings.” Tom explained about the photo in the hall, the federal agents, and how they were seeing it as a second chance.

“Whoo!” said Joe. “Now that’s a new one on me. Them lights – somethin’ strange always happens below when they’s above, so whatever’s up there, when it’s around, things ain’t gonna be normal. Usually somebody’s cow disappears or somebody tells a weird story about being abducted by aliens an’ experimented on. Never heard of anybody endin’ up younger an’ with a baby, though. Did now, I guess!”

“Yeah, I guess you have,” said Tom with a smile.

“Dinner’s ready as soon as I put Megan down in her crib,” said Sylvia. “I have to fix something on the crib so our little snuggle bug doesn't get into troble.”

They were at the table, and Sylvia served up a delicious glazed ham dinner. As they ate, Joe said, “Now, I’m gonna level with ya. I know they’re up there. They’re from other worlds, an’ they’re watchin’ us. But think about it – they can do lotsa things, they could take over this whole planet or even blow it up if they wanted to, but they don’t. So they ain’t here for that. They’re here for science. They’re studyin’ us – mostly they don’t do any harm – and they’re tryin’ to be quiet about it. I see the lights, but I think that’s mostly ‘cause I’m always lookin’. I don’t think most people are lookin’. And even me, I don’t see spaceships, flyin’ saucers, or whatever. They’re pretty careful.”

“So … you think it’s aliens,” said Sylvia.

“Yep, people from other worlds out there in space,” said Joe. “I don’t go talkin’ about that kinda thing usually, ‘cause it sounds crazy. It’s just, you’ve got a crazy story too.”

“Far be it from me to call you crazy,” said Tom. “But … why give us a baby and make us younger? And change our memories?”

“Now I can only guess,” said Joe, “but I got two guesses. One, somethin’ happened to baby Megan’s parents an’ they wanted her to be happy somewhere. Two, baby Megan’s somebody who found out about ‘em an’ they wanted her somewhere she couldn’t talk.”

“So either they’re good or they’re bad,” said Sylvia.

“Yeah, I dunno which,” said Joe. “Maybe somma both. But why change somebody’s memories? If you’ve got somethin’ ta hide. You don’t want anybody ta notice. But then why change what you look like? All I can think of is, they want you to be around for Megan, so’s they made you younger, an’ maybe there’s no way for people to be younger without lookin’ younger, y’know? But it sounds t’me like it’s all about Megan. They want her to be with a lovin’ family. Or least they want her not to look like anything’s outta the ordinary.”

“So the question is … who was Megan before?” Tom asked. It was the obvious question, but nobody knew the answer.

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On a super advanced bridge, a young individual came to the commander’s gravity couch, “Sir, with all due respect, I have yet again another request for information on a …” The individual glanced at the device in his hand for an instant. “A subject called Megan on a research location known as Earth …”

“What?!” Rhylar banged his fist on the arm of his gravity couch, shouting, “More of their nonsense? OK, if they want more data on the current resolution of stress protocol I initiated on the Earth subject, then they shall have it.” He sat forward and said in a harsh tone, “Helm, set course for Sol 3 – max transition!”

The young woman at the helm station turned and looked at Scientist Rhylar with a quizzical expression. “Sir, I’m required by regulation to remind you of how much stress we are placing on the fabric of dimensional continuity by expending that much energy in the crossing.”

Rhylar smiled as he replied, “If they want this data so badly, then so be it, I will give it to them. If we take half this galaxy with us in the crossing, it would make a fitting epitaph. Now, enable.”

“Aye, sir.” The young woman said as she turned back to her console, made the course entries, and enabled the NR drive unit.

A massive energy barrier formed and opened, the ship leapt in, the hole closed … and space returned to normal. Just outside the orbit of Pluto, near the asteroid belt, another massive energy portal opened. This one acted like more of an outpouring of some type of energy. The satellites that managed to get a proper picture of it would show something that resembled an active quasar type stellar object. The size and energies it gave off were never before seen in the small amount of time it had existed. The thing they didn't get any reading on was the fully shielded and stealthed research vessel that had appeared from the heart of the stellar phenomenon.

Rhylar said, “Put us in a polar orbit. That should keep us out of the way of that ring of garbage they have circling their world. I want to be about 300 miles up at research altitude.” He leaned over and typed for an instant on the small keypad on his couch’s console, “Science, this is the bridge. I want a research team assembled and ready to gather subjects from the location I have sent to your locations.”

“Aye, Captain. I thought that last message we received would send us back here. Team already assembled and equipped. On your orders.”

“All right, I’ll be there momentarily. We will plan this mission out before we do it; I want to prove that what I did was ethical and proper.”

“Of course it was, Captain. From the new readings we are getting for all the subjects involved, you solved several major emotional dilemmas in one stroke.”

Rhylar arrived at the research station and began to enter data. He intended to get straight to the horse’s mouth and actually talk with the subjects.

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Tom and Sylvia were sitting in the middle of their den doing what had become the most enjoyable thing of their day, playing with their daughter Megan, whom they loved very much.

It came as a huge surprise when all around them a bright light appeared. They couldn’t do anything, as their bodies seemed to be paralyzed. Fear ran through Tom and Sylvia as several individuals wearing strange silver suits appeared in a bright flash.

One of the individuals came slowly and non-threateningly to Tom and Sylvia. He held out a device as he started speaking in strange noises. As he talked, he pressed buttons and messed with dials on the device.

The box started to emit a voice. It sounded mechanical at first but got a lot better as the conversation went on. “Do not be afraid. We are not going to hurt you. We would like to ask you some questions, and I already know they are going to sound strange. Please do not be upset. We can fix any undue stress our research may cause you if you so desire.”

Tom suddenly relaxed, and the fear ebbed from him. These creatures didn’t appear to mean any harm, and he decided to answer their questions, “Ok, my name’s Tom.” He points to Sylvia and Megan, “This is my wife Sylvia, and my daughter Megan.”

The being nodded, and the box replied, “I am Researcher Pladdinx.” He pointed to the being next to him. “This is the head researcher and captain, Rhylar. “ He waved his hand at the others, “And those are the rest of the science team.”

Rhylar had been making some types of scans of Megan and Sylvia. He spoke up, “I would like to apologize if what I have done has created undue stresses in your lives.”

Syliva said, “Undue stresses? From what I have remembered, you have done us the greatest service you could possibly imagine.”

Rhylar raised his eyebrows in surprise, “Is it possible for you to explain what you mean, please?”

Tom replied, “Absolutely. There were a few items from our original lives that you missed. One such item is the family portrait of me, Sylvia, and our sadly deceased daughter.”

Sylvia interjected, “It lifted the brain fog I had. I remembered who I was and the fact that I am supposed to be well over 60 years old. It also allowed me to redeem a very serious problem I had.”

Rhylar asked with interest as he recorded all the scan data and the very words of the subjects, “What was it that I allowed you to redeem?”

Tom replied, “The very day you chose to set us up with Megan was the anniversary of the terrible day our real daughter fell from her crib and passed away.”

Sylvia said with obvious joy in her voice, “Only this time, I was there to save her from the fall and to fix the stupid crib so the infant can’t let it down by herself.”

Tom said, “You gave us not only the ability to redeem a serious mishap, you returned our daughter to us and have allowed us to begin our lives again fresh and not have to relive those horrid other years.”

Rhylar was more than delighted as he watched the scan comparisons. Not only had he resolved the stress issues with Megan, he had allowed this couple to gain redemption to a past oversight. According to all the regulations and scientific by-laws, the method may have been a bit strange, but the results more than justified the means under the very strict rules set forth by the Science Council. As for the charge that his actions would taint future data taken on this planet …

He switched off the translator for a moment. “Pladdinx, program the planetary molecular pattern scanner to search for a more thorough examination of any records, whether they be photographs or documents, having to do with this couple or of subject Megan before our intervention. Remember that primitive planets such as this one will have documents not stored within central government repositories. Ensure that Tom and Sylvia’s documents are altered to reflect their new ages. Ensure that Megan’s past life is forgotten. And ensure that all records show Megan having been born to Tom and Sylvia on the agreed-upon fictional date.”

“Of course, Sir,” said Pladdinx. “Now programming scanner.” He started tapping on the tablet device on his wrist.

Rhylar turned the translator back on. “We are attempting to ensure that the governments of your world will not find anything suspicious about you … photos such as the one you have in your house were overlooked because they were not previously found by our search of your government records and your electronic information systems. We may have made an error in attempting to remove your memory of your first daughter’s sad demise from your minds. I see now that was a mistake. You have a new daughter, but she is not your first daughter.”

As if a fog lifted, Tom and Sylvia’s memories of their first daughter returned. Beautiful little Sandra. They knew she would always be part of their memories, even as they made new ones with Megan.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Without warning, all the data the government thought they had acquired from the investigation into Thomas and Sylvia Rutherford and the mysterious energy signatures vanished. All the photos and other items that had previously been missed by the aliens either vanished completely or changed to show the new reality … except for one. It hung at the bottom of the stairs leading to Megan’s nursery. It depicted Tom and Sylvia as a much older couple …. and a very adorably cute female toddler named Sandra on a picnic.

The two agents doing the investigation had a fog settle in on their minds to the point they had wound up doing another investigation into gun trafficking and totally forgot about the mystery surrounding the Rutherfords – as did their supervisors. The only reason the aliens hadn’t managed to clean things up this thoroughly before was that they couldn’t imagine a world where all information wasn’t centralized.

The alien team did their specialized scan of all the possible ways some kind of other image or writing could show anything other than that Tom and Sylvia were both 24 and Megan was their real daughter. They even had an official birth certificate that was properly filled out. The only real issue no one had thought about was that none of the Rutherfords would age as far as those around them were concerned.

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In a highly advanced conference room, many individuals dressed in silver sat around the outer edge of a crescent shaped table. Across from the inner crescent was a stage and a podium, where several dozen others were sitting with strange devices in front of them.

One of the individuals sitting at the crescent stood and said loudly, “We have just taken an independent examination of all the collected information and other pertinent data on the Rutherford issue and whether or not Captain Rhylar has violated the Science Academy's rules of conduct and ethics. From what we have observed firsthand, and from these reports, Captain Rhylar’s methods may have been peculiar, but he did not violate any of our directives. None of our research data was corrupted, nor has he changed any of the basic social parameters we have been studying for many centuries. We have one of his crew with us. His name is Researcher Pladdinx.” The individual pointed to Pladdinx, who stood.

Another of those at the podium said, “Now, Researcher, in your own words, enlighten us as to the methods and results of the actions taken by Captain Rhylar.”

Pladdinx bowed slightly at the waist and replied, “With respect, honorable leaders of the Council. When we first arrived in system and began taking readings, we noticed extremely high stress levels in the subject known as Megan. Based on our previous studies, this amount of stress causes severe health issues and in some subjects leads to them killing themselves.”

Sub-Leader Ssann asked, “But surely many such deaths happen every yarlon on Earth – tragic, of course, but not our doing or responsibility. How did that justify the actions he ordered?”

Pladdinx replied, “If that individual had continued under that stress load, she would have either killed herself or died of some other serious health issue within five yarlons. Also, Thomas and Sylvia Rutherford were suffering from severe remorse over a past accident that resulted in the death of their daughter. Captain Rhylar set Megan up in an optimal environment that relieved her severe life threatening stress, and also allowed Tom and Sylvia to redeem themselves from the earlier death of their daughter.”

Sub-Leader Ssann opened some kind of device and turned it on. He scanned whatever was on screen for a minute, then said, “From what I can see here, all three of the individuals are now well within a healthy temperament, and all stress levels and grief levels have been modified to a nonexistent state.”

Pladdinx replied, “That is correct. We also redid our scans and made proper corrections we had overlooked the first time. Now, all human data shows that Tom and Sylvia are 24 Earth yarlons old and they have a toddler daughter named Megan who is almost 3 yarlons old. All conflicting human data has either been modified or removed, so they are now free to enjoy the time they missed with their first daughter – and more – and do not have to relive that time.”

Sub-Leader Ssann sat back in his seat, and for the first time in memory, he smiled. “Well, now … this is a bit unorthodox, but from what I see and the testimonies of the crew, all was accomplished without corrupting our gathered data or changing the social order of our subjects.”

Pladdinx replied, “Yes, it is so. The only thing we changed was to set a horrible accident back up and allow the subject to gain redemption by saving her daughter this time. It resolved all the many years of heartache and gave Megan the thing she had so desperately desired in the first place.”

“There is only one issue remaining,” said Ssann, “and it is far from beyond our capability to deal with.”

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Megan came almost back to lucidity as Sylvia placed one of her shapely nipples in Megan’s mouth. Megan felt so helpless as she began to nurse eagerly. The rich, slightly watery taste was warming her tummy and made her feel so nice. She once again drifted off into an infantile state of contentment and bliss as she nursed her mother’s breast. It felt as if she had always been and would always be her mommy’s baby.

There was a knock on the door, but Tom went to get it. An older couple was at the door. “Welcome,” said Tom. “Glad you’re here. I just had to invite our new sort-of-neighbors over to dinner, once I found out somebody had bought and fixed up Joe’s old place, after he moved to Florida.”

“Please, though, call us Mark and Julia,” said Julia.

“Well, come in, new neighbors, come in,” Tom told them, holding the door for them. “Sylvia’ll be right out – she’s just taking care of our daughter. Once Megan’s asleep in her crib it’ll be dinner time. Everything’s keeping warm in the oven.”

“Thank you for inviting us,” said Mark. “Yep, ever since we retired we’ve been looking for a place to relax, far away from everything, and this area just sort of called to us.” They sat down on the couch.

“Nobody around for a mile in any direction,” said Julia. “So much better than the city – always something happening, always with other people’s problems becoming our problems.”

“It’s almost as if there’s something … familiar about this place,” Mark said. “But … we visited so many people’s houses. Can’t really tell you much about what we did before retiring – government work, I’m sure you understand – but we did travel around a lot and talk to a lot of people.”

“Sounds very interesting,” said Tom. “I’m sure if you came here before, you probably talked to my uncle. He used to live here with his wife and daughter. Sold the place to me when he and Aunt Maud moved to Arizona.”

“Can’t say for sure whether we did or not,” said Julia. “Looks a bit familiar, so maybe we did stop by here at one time or another. Nothing must have come of it.”

Having ensured once more that Megan was safe in her crib, Sylvia joined the conversation, and soon she and Tom set out dinner. Far, far above, the stealthed alien satellite orbited and monitored the situation until the next time a research team came to Earth to collect more data. It was simplicity itself to create new identities for Tom, Sylvia, and Megan within the human data systems whenever it was necessary. It had even been easy to locate an asteroid made of precious metals and carefully land it on Tom and Sylvia’s property. It would ensure that Tom, Sylvia, and Megan would be just fine when Scientist Rhylar eventually returned to scan more humans and to interview the only experimental subjects he’d ever personally spoken with.

In the meantime, Megan lived a life of infantile bliss, and their beautiful daughter made Tom and Sylvia happy every day.

~~~~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~~~~
Sunshine & rainbows,
LilJennie
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