As his two eldest sons raided the toybox for the seventeenth time that morning, Marcel watched them closely, smiling - before letting out a sharp groan as a sudden pain surged across his lower back. Chuckling, he rested a hand on his large, rounded stomach. Very soon, these two little monkeys would have a new playmate.
It was fair to say that Marcel's womanising days were over. He'd learnt his lesson. After that first visit to a doctor following a few days of throwing up in the mornings, Marcel had gone on to take fifteen pregnancy tests before he was finally convinced of his diagnosis.
True, he'd heard the stories of his great-grandfather, and he, too, had been whisked away unexpectedly to undergo a mysterious experience somewhere in deep space, but until that moment, it had always seemed a like a strange, distant dream.
Only it wasn't. It had all been real. And now, the evidence of it all was growing within him. Another baby to add to his already rather long list.
Until now, Marcel had been able to walk away from it all, blissfully unaware of what he'd done... but now the shoe was on the other foot. Somewhere out there, in the great galaxy beyond, an alien lifeform was going about their strange, unearthly business... leaving Marcel alone to fend for the child it had created.
And on top of everything else Marcel was worried about - how the hell was he going to tell his parents?
This time, Marcel hadn't been able to think up the right words to say. Instead, he'd awoken early one morning, placed a handful of the positive pregnancy tests on the kitchen table and scurried away into the back room, waiting for his parents to come downstairs and make the discovery. To try and take his mind off things, he frantically grabbed the nearest book to hand - a volume on Greco-Roman art and mythology. It turned out to be quite an intriguing read... one that Marcel would return to often over the next few months.
After about ten minutes, Marcel overheard confused and frantic whispers coming from down the hall, and realised it was time to bite the bullet. Taking deep breaths, he marched forward into the kitchen - his eyes meeting those of his parents as they looked up from the table.
"Just like Great-Grandpa Mordecai," he told them in a wavering voice... gently patting his still-flat stomach.
Mac understood immediately, and rushed towards his son, embracing him tightly as the young artist broke down into tears. His father shushed him gently, stroking his hair... giving him the comfort and reassurance he so desperately needed in that moment.
"My father was a great man," Mac whispered. "I know this baby will be too."
Roxy nodded in agreement.
"Ah, hell," she'd added, jokingly. "You might as well make it an even number."
In the months that followed, Marcel watched his carefully-sculpted, athletic body bulge and swell to accommodate his latest baby. It saddened him to see all of his hard work essentially collapse right in front of him... but realised that this was all part of the price he was paying for his earlier folly. What had gone around had come around. Besides, he wasn't exactly in the mood or position to go out wooing women with his muscles, anyway.
In addition, he knew the worst part of the whole ordeal was yet to come...
Back in the nursery, whilst Marius browsed his picture books, Mac tossed the giggling Mitch up and down in the air - the infant screaming with delight. Marcel had asked his father to take over for a little while as he popped to the bathroom - the little one having put a lot of extra pressure on his bladder. Mac, who had always longed for a big family, and had been granted this wish through his son, was only too happy to oblige.
As Mac caught Mitch once again, clutching him tightly, the little one patted him on the chest with a chubby hand, eager to get his attention.
Mac chuckled. This was something his grandson often asked for.
"OK, Mitch, OK," he replied. "Grandpa will tell you a story."
Slowly, he settled himself down on the carpeted floor, drawing both Mitch and Marius to his side. As usual, he began to recall a slightly cleaned-up version of one of his many cases as a police officer... on this occasion, that of a diamond heist he had helped foil.
After a few minutes, Marius had grown bored, and had crawled away to play with his teddy bear - whilst Mitch, on the other hand, looked up at his grandfather with widened eyes and mouth agog, utterly enraptured.
It thrilled Mac to know that these tales of his glorious career were of such interest to his little grandson. Sadly, what Mac didn't know is that it wasn't the actions of the force for justice that had won over Mitch's heart... but rather, he was rooting for the villains of the piece.
Before Mac could continue his story, he was interrupted by a loud cry from the corridor.
"Mum! Dad! I think... I think I need to go to the hospital..."
In the examination room, half-naked and exhausted, Marcel groaned and wriggled on the medical bed as another wave of agonising pain crashed down upon him. He'd been given drugs to help him cope with "labour" - ones that would help keep the baby calm, and the father-to-be conscious - but still, it was a far from pleasant experience.
Roxy took hold of Marcel's hand tightly, helping him through it, as Mac paced up and down nervously. A nearby machine emitted a constant drumbeat-like noise: the heartbeat of the unborn child.
His waters had broken in the bathroom back home over three hours ago now. Clearly, this baby was ready to be born. Of course, a natural birth wasn't going to be possible in his case, so the staff were hastily preparing the delivery suite to perform a c-section.
"Oh God!" Marcel hissed through gritted teeth. "Are they ready yet? I can't hold on much longer!"
"Soon, honey," Roxy told him softly... sympathising as she remembered how painful Marcel's birth had been. "They just have to make sure they have everything you and the baby need. You don't want them to rush it and mess things up now, do you?"
"No," Marcel replied. "No, of course I don't. All the same... I can't wait until this is over."
The pain passed. As Marcel fell back against the bed, sighing with relief, the door opened as a young midwife stepped inside.
"They're ready for you, Mr. Miskin," she said brightly. "We just need to get you up, pop a robe on you, and walk you down to the delivery suite - OK?"
"Sounds good to me," Marcel answered.
Carefully, Mac and Roxy helped Marcel down from the bed, as the midwife clad him in a white medical gown. With the kind young lady leading the way, Marcel slowly waddled down the hallway, his hands clutching his belly protectively... doing his best to hide the terror he felt about what he was about to go through.
In the delivery suite, Marcel settled himself down on the mat that they would shortly slide into the cocoon-like machine that would help him bear his child. He realised that it was a more advanced version of the same device his great-grandfather had been placed into many decades ago. Only thankfully, his life wasn't in any immediate danger. At least, not yet. He could only hope that things would carry on going this smoothly.
The mat was slid in. The anaesthetics were injected. As Marcel did his best to lie back and relax, he felt the strange sensation of something slicing into his stomach, then rummaging around within him, like someone sorting through a basket of laundry.
For a few minutes, all was eerily silent... bar the whirs and beeps of machinery.
Then, all of a sudden - a high, shrill cry rang out, as the obstetrician removed a small, green lump from Marcel's midsection and carried it over to a nearby cot.
Initially, due to the drugs and the painlessness of the whole procedure, Marcel didn't quite realise that he had given birth. It was only when he was stitched up, freed from the machine and invited by the midwife to come and meet his little one that the full reality of what had just happened hit him like a ton of bricks.
The infant was grass-green, like the Wicked Witch of the West, with dark shining eyes like black marbles.
"Congratulations, Mr. Miskin," the midwife said. "It's a girl."
The child squirmed and cried desperately in her new plastic bed, until Marcel scooped her up into his arms, cuddling her close - tears streaming down his face.
"She's gorgeous," he whispered breathless. "She's completely perfect."
The little one looked up at her father - her shining eyes widening, her cries dying away into soft, shy whimpers, as Marcel graced her forehead with a gentle kiss.
"I've chosen the most beautiful name for you," he told her. "'Minerva'. I got it from a book I've been reading. She was a great goddess of wisdom and war. I chose it because that's what I want you to be. Smart and strong."
He chuckled to himself.
"Besides... why should only boys get the nice "M" names, hmm?"
Gently, he placed Minerva against his chest, leaning his head down close to hers.
"I'm going to come back here soon," he said. "For another little operation. You see, I made a decision today. You're very special... because you're going to be my last baby. No more heartbroken ladies, no more half-brothers or sisters."
He kissed her again.
"I can't promise to be the best father in the world, Minerva... I still have a lot to learn... but I love you, and I do promise that I'll do all I can to make you happy. You, and all seven of your half-siblings. Two of them will be waiting for you when we get home. Your two biggest brothers. I know they'll just love you. After all, you're so beautiful, how can they not?"
Marcel knew a rush of activity was coming. Soon, he would introduce Minerva to his mother and father, who would coo and paw over her excitedly, happy as always to meet a new addition. Mitch and Marius would be clambering to see her, offering toys, half-eaten sweets and heaven knows what else to appease her. But right now, he didn't want to think about all that. He just wanted to enjoy this moment: just he and his newborn daughter, alone, in a quiet, peaceful embrace.
Yes... he'd learnt his lesson, all right.
And by God, he was so happy that he had.