“My knees hurt.”
“Well, you should sit down more.”
“I told you, I can't whisk when I'm standing.”
“Okay, but you're not whisking right now, right?”
“So, get back into bed and I'll rub your knees.”
“Oh, c'mon, not that old ploy. I know what that's gonna turn into.”
“And you object? C'mere,” he patted her side of the bed.
“Okay. But, really. We gotta be up soon.”
“There's, um,” he leaned over to check, “almost a half an hour until the alarm goes off,” he kissed her.
“'Ommy!” came a high-pitched call from the other room.
“That would be me,” she said.
“Hurry back,” he said.
It was a few minutes before she returned.
“Is Jeremiah okay?” he asked.
“Yes, just a diaper change. And, my God! Jeremiah. How the hell did you convince me it was all right to name him that! It's not only Biblical, it's severely Biblical. Call him Joss, it's easier on everyone.”
“It was my father's name,” he said.
“Yes, I know. Jeremiah Logan Beckett. Named for Jeremiah and Lena Hayes, your parents,” she leaned over and kissed him, “At least this one will be named for mine. Peter Matthew, for Peter and Marie Helêne O'Day.”
Kick Kick Kick.
“Ow!” she complained.
“Petey's very active,” he said, and then kissed her huge belly, “Come back, we'll continue where we left off.”
“Who knew pregnancy would be such a turn-on for you?” she said, getting back in and trying to get comfortable, but her massive bulk made that difficult.
“It is ... you need to understand, Lili,” he said, kissing her neck, which made her moan a little, “I know how it all happened. How that baby got there. How you and me put him there. Very, very sexy.”
“You! So we'll, uh, do math again?”
“That's all right,” he conceded, “But I miss the intimacy of regular activities.”
“You know Dr. Miva said we can't do that.”
“I know. I also know what you and I did last time.”
“Yeah, and it was really frustrating, Doug.”
“Well, I will be careful. Really, really careful. Everything will be all right,” he went back to kissing her neck and put his hand on her abdomen.
“I don't want to hurt Petey,” she said, patting her belly. As if in response, she got another sharp kick.
“I felt that one, too,” Doug said, “Now listen here,” he said, pointing his finger into her midsection, “You are not being very kind to your hostess, Young Man. You need to lay off the kicking every once in a while, Pete.”
“Fat lot o' good that did,” she said, then kissed him.
“'Ommy!” came their son's voice from the other room.
“Why doesn't he ever call for me?” Doug asked.
“Because you're not the Mommy. It's all very Oedipal,” Lili got up again, “I'm coming, Joss,” she called out.
A minute later, she returned, “Not hungry, not wet. Just wanted company, I guess.”
“He can hear us talking,” Doug said, “So, let's stop talking so much,” he kissed her.
This time it was harder for Lili to get comfortable, “Gawd, I'm the size of a planet. Pretty soon forks and spatulas will start revolving around me,” she said, “And this is only the fourth month! What am I gonna do? This is all your fault, you know.”
“Yes. That beach on Lafa VI – you were totally outta control.”
“Me? It was a nude beach for gosh sakes.”
“I didn't know that when I booked it. You were an animal. The Calafans were staring.”
“That's 'cause they could hear you. You're not exactly a little mouse when you, uh, when you know. It must kill ya to keep quiet with Joss in the other room.”
“I bite the pillow most of the time in order to keep quiet,” she admitted, “Poor Pete's gonna come out, thinking pillowcases make for good eating.”
He smiled at her, a little more crinkly around the eyes but otherwise looking the same as he did when they'd first met almost two years before, “Well, I like to make it so that you have to bite the pillow.”
She smiled at him a little, “I just get afraid. Don't want to even take a chance of hurting this baby. Neither of us knew we could have one, let alone a second. He's a tremendous gift.”
“I know,” he said, “I will be as careful as when we put in the windows in this house. I swear.”
“I'm gonna bite that pillow in half if you keep doing exactly what you're doing right now.”
“Oh? Tell me more, Mrs. Beckett,” he said, kissing her ear.
“Oh, yeah. Right ... there.”
“Oh, man,” she said, “Doug, Doug, Doug, listen, I, Gawd, can I get a rain check? I so want to. You don't know how much I want to.”
He propped himself up on one elbow and checked the clock by peeking around her massive form, “Alarm's going off soon anyway,” he sighed, “Rain check. I will come to collect, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” she said, bending around and kissing him, “And collect the interest, too, while you're at it.”
“'Ommy! Duck Duck!”
Doug sighed again, “He just wants to be entertained.”
“Yeah, I guess so. When Pete arrives, he'll have more entertainment.”
“Once Petey gets big enough, I guess,” Doug allowed, “Man, there are gonna be a lot more frustrating days like this, aren't there?”
“Yeah. I wish that wasn't the case,” she said.
“Lili, I'll, uh, I'll go put on the coffee. Then I'd really better, erm, take a shower.”
She smiled at him. “I, you don't have to.”
“Don't act like it's this huge chore for me to put on the coffee. It's okay. And, uh, this is okay, too. I just miss you. I miss our, our immediacy.”
“I miss that, too,” Lili said, “Like crazy.”
“Duck Duck!” came Joss's voice.
“So, are you gonna quack like a duck?” Doug asked.
“Yes, of course. Are you gonna honk like a goose?”
“Man, I'm terrible at that. You don't wanna hear me sing.”
“Of course I do! You have such a sweet tenor voice.”
“Will you do that little hootchie coo dance step when you sing about the swan?” he asked.
“Yes, although I don't feel like a swan. I feel like a whale.”
“You are still a swan.”
“My public awaits,” she said, and went into the other room.
He could hear her singing to Joss, who was clapping but doing a lousy job of keeping time, just a toddler's irregular clapping:
“The duck was quackin'” (finger snap, finger snap)
“The duck was laughin'” (two more finger snaps)
“The duck was dancin' by the water
quack quack quack
The rhythm made him think he oughta
quack quack quack
He was dancing to
the samba the samba the samba
Oh goose oh
The goose was gaining passing by”
She stopped for a second and called out, “Doug, you're supposed to be honking.”
“I feel stupid.”
“He's a baby. He has no idea the lyrics are silly. Now, you are the goose. The goose has to honk!”
“I'm a gander.”
“Yes, I know. Can you honk a little, please?”
“Okay. Honk, honk, honk,” he sang.
She continued singing, “He stopped and gave the dance a try”
“Honk, honk” he answered.
She sang, “The bossa nova had him dancing
The new thing. The new swing.
Then a lovely swan swam by, in all her majesty,
and she loosened up.
Hootchie-cootchie-coo did that swan.
She joined the duck and goose and did the samba too.
You should have seen the kind of samba she could do.
They did the samba so long, they all fell right in the water.
While they were singing away,
quack quack quack, quack quack quack
o pato, ” Then she continued in Portuguese.
And Doug Beckett knew – despite his mounting frustrations – that if Lili was singing, if Joss was clapping, if Petey was kicking, and if he was honking like a goose and feeling more than a little bit silly about that, that all was right, in this or any other universe.
On the Enterprise, Malcolm dictated:
“To: Doctor Pamela Hudson, in the care of the Charon Medical Center.
My dear Pamela,
I trust all is well with you and you are enjoying your new job. I have been well.
I wanted to ask you, I have been invited to a wedding on the thirty-first of August, 2159. The wedding will be held on Oberon. I can bring a date, and so I was hoping that you would, that is to say, I would be honored if you were to accompany me. I hope that thirty days' notice is enough time for you to clear all obligations.
The Enterprise is currently headed to Lafa II to pick up a former crew member who is going to cater the wedding. Her husband is teaching a hand to hand defense class in San Francisco and I will be assisting. If you'd like to come to Earth a few days before the thirty-first, you can see me in action if you'd like.
I do miss you.
He paused for a moment and fingered a bright piece of cloth, “Post script: You left your green scarf with me the last time we were together. It still is a bit redolent of Toxic. Let me know if you'd like it back. ”
He sniffed the scarf a little. It did still, faintly, smell of her perfume. He hit send.
On Lafa II, Lili left their home and went to work to tie up some loose ends.
It was like a mantra, a magical talisman, every time she went to Reversal, she'd reach up and touch the sign. This time was no exception. She smiled, “Our first baby,” she said to herself quietly.
Treve was there, talking to a workman, “Ah, how are things going? Is my younger nephew quieting down at all?”
“Not one bit,” she said, “I'm sorry we'll be leaving you for so long.”
“No, this is a good time to do the expansion,” he said, “And, um, there. Thanks,” he said to the workman, pointing, his bare arm a mass of silver.
“Did you get the new oven?”
“Yes. And there's the place on Lafa VI. It should be close in climate to, what did you call it?”
“Mediterranean. Kind of subtropical,” she said.
“Yes. Well, we can get some land for a good price. Growing human foods won't be easy, but it will be quite the coup if we can. My people really want to try, what did you call it?”
“Hummus,” she said, “Your people have been so kind to us, Treve.”
“Well, we are making friends with you humans, and I think people are seeing that you're, well, you're worthwhile people to be friends with,” he smiled at her.
“How is your mother doing?”
“Better. She speaks a little now. Amazing what doctors can do. I don't know if she has quite figured out that Father had something to do with her condition. I think the only reason they stay married is because, well, the First Minister can never leave the High Priestess. It's just not done,” he said.
“I get the feeling, when she's stronger, your mother may very well decide she wants out, regardless of protocol. I can't imagine living in such a state,” Lili said, and then changed the subject, “Please convey our thanks to her for sparing your sister for so long. She is the best babysitter I could have ever asked for.”
“Well, Yimar loves Joss. You'll be gone for over a month, though.”
“Do you think business will really suffer?”
“Can't say it won't fall off at all,” he admitted, “I'll see if I can use the time to build anticipation for the return of the great Lili and her Roast Elekai with Olowa.”
“My biggest critic,” she said, looking down, “You can't tell me too many wonderful things or I get kicked – reminded that I should be down to earth, I guess.”
“A wise child.”
Jonathan sat in his chair on the Bridge. Behind stood Security Crewman Deborah Haddon, making sure everything was okay.
“Now approaching Lafa II,” Travis said, looking up from his controls.
“Take us in closer,” Jonathan said, “Ensign Sato, Lieutenant Reed, you're with me. See you all later,” The three of them departed.
Chip Masterson and Aidan MacKenzie came in to relieve them. T'Pol got into the Captain's chair as the ship approached the planet.
In the shuttle bay, Tripp Tucker handed a box to Jennifer Crossman, “Be careful with that, it's the gift from our department.”
“Yes, I know,” she said.
“The guy on the Andorian home world said those are the best knives they make. I hope she's okay usin' 'em. Maybe she just wants to use her own stuff,” he said.
“I think these will be fine,” Jennifer said.
Crewman Melissa Madden came in, “I've got the gift from Navigation,” she said. It was a lot smaller, “We weren't sure what to get so we got them candlesticks. Kind of a fall-back present but most of us didn't really know them that well. We're getting you something different for your wedding, Jenny.”
“That's okay,” Jennifer said, taking the smaller box, “I still can't believe I'll be married in a month.”
Jonathan, Hoshi and Malcolm walked in, “Here, let me help you, Ensign,” said Malcolm. He had an envelope tucked under one arm already and a medium-sized box in both hands.
The presents were loaded into the shuttle, “Okay, have we got everyone, and everything?” Jonathan asked.
“That looks like it,” Tripp said, closing the door. He turned to Melissa as they watched the shuttle depart, “I bet they're havin' something really gourmet tonight.”
“It might just be chicken fingers with a little kid running around,” she said.
“Can you help Joss set the table, please?” Lili asked.
“Yes, just a sec,” Doug brought over a chair, “Seven, right?”
“Plus the high chair.”
“Got it. He'll sit next to Yimar. Okay, Joss, everybody gets a spoon. Not just Mommy.”
“Are we too early?” It was Jonathan.
“No, no, oh, Gawd, it's great to see you!” Lili wiped away a quick tear and hugged him. This was not something he was expecting, nor was he expecting her bulk.
She hugged everyone, hard, a little teary. Doug hung back more, and Joss held his leg.
“Sorry,” she said, wiping her face with the end of her apron, “I'm a big hormone cocktail these days.”
“Wow, look at you!” Jennifer said, “You sure you're not gonna just drop any second?”
“I am sure. I'm due in January, can you believe that?” She found Joss and bent over to talk to him, “Come meet Uncle Jonathan, Aunt Jenny, Aunt Hoshi and Uncle Malcolm.”
“No!” Joss said.
“Huh, we are still working on using that magical word. Okay, now, I know there are a lot of people here but we go over and we say hi when we meet people. Okay? You wanna try that again?”
This time, he came over with her.
“Your son is a year old?” Malcolm asked, “He looks like he's about three, I'd say.”
“We grow them big here. He'll be one in a little over a month,” Doug said proudly.
“September. When?” Malcolm asked.
“Second,” Doug replied.
“Ah, that's my birthday as well,” Reed said.
“Well, then I'll have to make a cake for the both of you,” Lili said, “We'll still be on the Enterprise. I hope you don't mind a big shuttle on it, done in frosting.”
“No, of course not.”
“Pineapple, right?” Lili asked.
“Yes,” Malcolm smiled, pleased she'd remembered.
Yimar came in, and Joss immediately went over to hug her, nearly knocking her over in the process, “Um, hello,” she said, a shy sixteen-year old with silver arms. She busied Joss with her bracelet and then went to help Lili in the kitchen.
“We brought you your wedding gifts, a year and a half late,” Hoshi said.
“And we’ve also got a little something for the little ones,” Jonathan said, presenting a largish box.
“Can he, uh, is it anything too delicate?” Doug asked.
“There's nothing breakable or with small parts.”
“Good. Here, Joss. Tear this one open,” Doug brought the box to his son.
Joss's bluish-greenish-greyish eyes widened in wonder as he revealed the box's contents, “Wha–?”
“It's a sled,” Doug said, “It doesn't snow on Lafa II, except on Point Abic.”
“It's not gonna start a war or anything if they sled, is it?” Hoshi asked.
“I don't think so,” Doug said, “Yimar, do your people mind if anyone walks on the snow on Point Abic?”
“What?” she asked, coming out, “I don't think that's ever been thought of. Oh, and, uh, dinner is served. Hope everyone's hungry.”
Lili came out and was about ready to serve when Doug caught her eye, “I'll, um, I've been struggling to not do too much these days,” she said, “So I'll sit with all of you.”
Jonathan pulled out a chair for her, and then sat across from her, “I hope you don't think you need to cook for the Enterprise while you're with us.”
“Well, I'd like to do a little,” she said, “Long as it doesn't turn into a busman's holiday for me. Ah, Yimar, let’s have soup first, please.”
They sat down, “This is wild mushroom soup. It's made from some of the last of our supplies,” she admitted.
“Good thing we brought what we did. My department's present is some things we hope will remind you of home,” Malcolm said.
“Wonderful. And nobody had to get us anything. We're an old married couple. It's Jenny who's the bride now,” Lili said.
“Well, we weren't here when you tied the knot,” Jenny said.
“It was a shotgun wedding,” Lili said, “'Cause you,” she poked Joss in the ribs a little, “were already marinating.”
“It was such a chore,” Doug joked, “She really had to twist my arm.”
“I convinced you because I appealed to your sense of efficiency.”
“Efficiency?” Malcolm asked.
“They got married on Valentines' Day,” Hoshi said, “Two holidays in one day.”
“That's rather romantic, I suppose,” Malcolm said.
“It was practical. Now he only has to worry about forgetting one day,” Lili said, “Salads, please.”
Yimar and Doug served.
“What is this?” Jenny asked, looking at strips of different shades of purple on her plate.
“That is an olowa. Or, rather, it's bits of a bunch of them. It's a vegetable that grows on Lafa IV. Now, the interesting thing about olowa is, as it matures, it petrifies and turns to stone. It also lightens from deep purple to, eventually, kind of an ash grey. You can't eat it then; you'll break a tooth. So what you've got here is a salad made from olowa at different stages of maturity. If anything feels too hard, all I can say is, don't eat it. I won't be offended,” Lili said.
“It tastes a little like, hmm, like peanuts,” Malcolm said.
“No, I've got some that's spicy,” Jennifer said.
“Mine's like pears,” Hoshi said.
“All of that's true. It depends on how old it is,” Doug said, “It starts off kind of sweet, and then gets spicy, then it gets a bit fattier and then it's suddenly inedible one day.”
“Is there any dressing on this?” Jonathan asked.
“None,” Lili said.
“What's dressing?” Yimar asked.
“It's a kind of sauce for raw greens,” Lili said.
“Hmmpf,” Yimar replied, “Here, Joss, one more bite,” she coaxed.
Jenny leaned over and whispered to Lili, “You lucked out. She's good with him.”
“Yes. She's terrific. And she’s not as moody as a human teenager,” she raised her voice back up to normal volume again, “Main course, please.”
It was a huge roast.
“Oh my God,” Jonathan said, “How many people did you think you were feeding?”
“We have a big freezer,” Doug said, “Uh, Lili, this really is too much.”
“You'd think I'd have the proportions right by now. I'm past the 'all I want to do is eat everything in sight' phase of my pregnancy. Anyway, uh, like Doug said, don't worry about leftovers. This is,” Lili took some for Joss's plate and starting cutting it into smaller pieces, “an elekai. Or, rather, it's most of the upper half.”
“It's a big flightless bird,” Doug explained.
“What he's not telling you is he hunted it himself,” Lili said.
“Not by myself. I went with the guys. There were nine of us who brought it down.”
“It must be really big,” Hoshi said, tasting her food, “It tastes like chicken.”
Lili smiled, “The upper half, yes. The legs taste like duck.”
“That was something you said once you made a lot of. Duck, that is,” Malcolm said.
“Duck Duck!” Joss called out.
“Not now,” Doug said to his son.
“You, uh, huh, that was a small thing to remember for a few years,” Lili said, smiling.
“Duck Duck!” called Joss again.
“He might have had enough dinner. Can you, please, Yimar?” Lili asked.
“Sure. C'mon, let's look at the sled,” Yimar said, lifting Joss out of the high chair.
Clearing the plates, Hoshi and Jenny got a chance to talk to Lili, “You seem really happy,” Jenny said.
“I am. I’m just a little frustrated.”
“Oh?” Hoshi asked.
“Well, the super-male makes super babies, as you can see,” Lili patted her belly, “But with, um, our little duck running around, there are not a lot of occasions to, uh ....”
“Say no more. We'll babysit. Won't we, Hoshi?”
“I dunno. Doesn't the girl, uh, Yimar? Doesn't she do that?”
“Not at night,” Lili said, “And, you do not have to.”
“It's okay. Practice for me,” Jenny said, “Maybe we can take Joss up to the big Enterprise tonight and show him all the neat things and he'll feel like a really big boy. And you'll come up tomorrow like you planned. Travis can come and get you, right?”
“Or Melissa Madden,” Hoshi suggested.
“I don't know her,” Lili said, “Did she come on board after I left?”
“Yes, I think so,” Hoshi said, “Will Joss be scared, away from you for a night?”
“He already has been a few times,” Lili said, “Really, are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes. A baby gift, okay?” Jenny said.
In the other room, the men talked about hunting and the class that Doug and Malcolm were going to teach, “The combination, we need to work on that,” Doug said, “Ah, coffee.”
“And we’ve got tea. And milk for somebody,” Lili said waddling in slowly as Hoshi carried the tray.
Jenny said, “Doug, do you mind if we borrow Joss tonight? Actually, I guess I should be asking you this as well, Captain.”
“All right with me if it's all right with you,” Jonathan said.
“Uh, hmm,” Doug thought, and then looked at Lili, who nodded very, very slightly in the direction of their bedroom, “That'll be great. He's all packed anyway. I'll just, remind me to make sure you have his dinosaur.”
“We do not sleep without the dinosaur,” Lili explained.
“Well, I suppose if I had a dinosaur, I'd sleep better, too,” Hoshi said.
In one man's mind, a switch was flipped, and something turned.
And though it was wrong, and hopeless, he couldn't help it. That old feeling. It came roaring back, and he was powerless to stop it.
They waved as the shuttle left. Dishes in the sanitizer, Doug turned to Lili, “So, whaddaya wanna do?”
“Actually, if you don't mind, open presents. You okay with waiting a little bit?”
“Only a little bit.”
“Well, I feel a little like a bride all over again. And this time without morning sickness.”
“That is definitely an improvement,” Doug said, “I'll hand over, you tear wrapping,” he handed her the biggest box.
“Hmm, this is from Engineering,” Lili ripped, “Ah, it’s a set of knives. These are good, titanium blades.”
“I better be nice to you, then.”
“Nothing to worry about,” she smiled. She took a little necklace out from where it had been tucked into her blouse and looked at the charm on it, “Pity I can't wear my ring these days.”
“Well, it's not fitting. Don't want to cut off your circulation.”
“You always keep yours on,” she said.
“Yes, I never want to take it off.”
“Yeah, but you even wear it during diaper changes,” she said.
“I wash my hands well,” he assured her, “Okay, this is from Navigation,” he said, handing the box over.
“Hmm, it’s candlesticks. Not exactly our style, but okay,” Lili said.
“Well, they probably had to guess. Here's an envelope.”
“Ah, hmm. This is from Security. Your side of the family,” she said, “A gift card, see?”
“Oh, it's that place in San Francisco. Wow, that's really generous,” Doug commented, “This one's from Archer.”
“A linen tablecloth,” Lili said, “This is really nice. We won't put it down if we, er, use the table for, ahem, unconventional purposes,” she smiled at Doug wickedly.
“Ah yes, I remember those.”
“Back before I weighed about a thousand kilos.”
Kick Kick Kick.
“What's that one?” asked Lili, “No, the smaller one.”
“It's from Communications. Here.”
“Hmm. It's a book. Jane Eyre,” Lili read off the spine, and then cracked it open, “Have you read it?”
“Nope. I'm not so sure it exists on the other side of the pond.”
“Ah, yes, that distorted mirror you called a universe for so long,” she said.
“It was bad and it was nasty but it was how we met,” he leaned over and kissed her.
“There's an inscription. It says, 'One good love story deserves another. – Hoshi and Chandler.' Who's Chandler?”
“That's Chip Masterson's real name? Holy cow.”
“Is that a bookmark?” asked Doug.
“Yeah, but it's also one of those things where you can scan it with a PADD and it passes data. Here, hand me yours, please.”
“Lots of other books, mostly about movies. I guess those were heh, Chandler's contribution. 'Film Criticisms throughout the Years',” she read, “Critiques from Rex Reed, Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, etc.,” she clicked around randomly and then laughed.
“What's so funny?”
“Here's one that just says, 'Clint sings like a moose. '“
“Oh, c'mon, it doesn't say that, Lili!”
“Yes it does! Here, under 'Paint Your Wagon',” she showed him.
“Well, I'll be damned. One left,” he handed her the box.
“Hmm, it says Marks & Spencer on the side. That's British. This must be from Tactical. Your side.”
“You open it. You're the blushing bride.”
“Okay, hmm,” The box was heavy, and filled with all sorts of cans and jars, some of which were wrapped in blue cloth, “Some of it is wrapped up, and some of it isn't.”
“Okay, what's not wrapped?”
“Here, uh, cheddar cheese, a bag of mixed nuts,” the bag crinkled a little when she lifted it, “a box of orzo and basmati rice and a small tube of curry paste.”
“What are the canisters?”
“Oh, it's a kitchen canister set. Heavy,” she opened one, “They're filled! Look, flour, sugar, whole bean coffee and loose leaf tea,” she sniffed, “English breakfast, I think.”
“What are the wrapped ones?” he asked, taking each canister from her.
She unwrapped one, “Hmm. It’s a tin of kosher sausages. Little card says this one is from Ethan Shapiro,” she unwrapped another, “It’s a jar of chestnuts, from, uh, Karin Bernstein,” Next one, “Fortnum and Mason jam, blueberry. From, uh, Lucas Donnelly.”
“Yeah. Uh, you know him?”
“Yeah,” Doug looked down, “Number one from the other side of the pond.”
“Oh,” Lili said, “Not the same guy, right?”
“I suppose you're right,” Doug said. He didn't want to kill her mood, or blow his chances for later. But Lucas Donnelly was, well, his counterpart in the mirror universe was known to Doug – as the first man Doug had ever killed.
“Okay, ready for bed, Joss?” Jennifer asked.
“We already read two,” she said.
“Whatever Duck Duck is, it'll have to wait for tomorrow.”
“No. Here's your dinosaur. Time to sleep,” she bent over him.
He touched her, “Milk?”
“Ha, no. The kitchen's not open yet. And you will be too old for that by then. I thought your Mommy said you were weaned.”
“Yes, she'll be here tomorrow, with Daddy. Say good night.”
“Jenn. Uh, that's okay,” she crawled into bed with him and put her arms around him. Joss squirmed a little bit, but settled in soon. She smiled to herself and fell asleep, dreaming of having her own someday.
“Moving along, yes?” Lili asked.
“Yes,” Doug said, “The blue cloths, how many do you have?”
“Eight. Two more to unwrap. Ha, I just realized, these are cloth napkins,” she smiled, “Okay, hmm, this one is Scottish Steel-Cut Oats.”
“That's gotta be from MacKenzie.”
“Right you are, sir. One more. It must be from Reed,” she opened it. It was a small can of pineapple rings, “Yep, these are from Malcolm.”
“He must've packed that whole box himself. It's very British-centric.”
“Nah. I bet he just flirted with some shopgirl at Marks & Spencer and had her do most of it,” she looked at the bottom of the box, “There's an old fashioned card.”
“It says, 'We don't know if you can make one meal out of all of these things at the same time, but we'd like to see you try, and we will eat it no matter what it tastes like. Congratulations from the Tactical Department'. And then they all signed their names, see?”
“Excellent. Now that that's done....”
“Yes!” she cried out.
“No, not that yet. There’s one more thing. I shoulda cleared this with you first, Lili.”
“It’s nothing alarming. At least I don't think it is. I wrote to Laura.”
Melissa Madden piloted the Enterprise in a meandering course around the Lafa System. There were lots of stars and planets to duck, lots of movement and ships. It was an interesting challenge.
“Crewman Madden,” T'Pol said, “Are you aware that you'll be picking up the Becketts tomorrow?”
The course continued figure eight upon figure eight around and around.
“Laura as in Laura Hayes? As in Jay's sister?”
“Yes. My counterpart's sister. Here,” he brought the letter up on his PADD.
Lili read it aloud.
“Dear Ms. Hayes:
My name is Doug Beckett. I know you don't know me, but we are related. I don't want anything from you, I just want to introduce myself to you, if that's okay, and have you meet my family. I will be on Earth on August twenty-eighth, in San Francisco. I will send you the particulars if you are interested. I recognize this probably looks really strange but all I want to do is introduce myself. Please feel free to suggest any place where you would prefer to meet if Starfleet Headquarters is not acceptable to you. Thank you.
Lt. Cmdr. (Retd.) Douglas J. H. Beckett”
“Well?” he asked.
“It's perfect,” she smiled.
“Good. That's been, that's been worrying me a little. I really want to do that. I think she should know that, well that Major Jay Hayes may not be alive, but his counterpart is.”
“He is very much alive,” Lili said, kissing him and nodding a tiny bit towards their room.
“Let me show you how alive I am,” he said, getting up and helping her up.
Kick Kick Kick.
The kissed and moved into the bedroom. She smiled at him, “You're already ready to get started.”
“Uh huh, I thought that box from Tactical would take forever! C'mere,” he stared at her and then appraised her, “A little different from when I first saw you.”
“I would imagine so.”
“It's all good. Sit down; let me take care of you.”
“Oh, twist my arm,” she said, holding her hand out. He gently turned her wrist slightly and she laughed, and then sat down.
“Here, now, back up a little. Yeah, that's it.”
“Didn't I tell you? I'm as into this as you are. But, uh, you'll be careful, right?”
“Absolutely. I love you, and I love Number Two Son. And I won't do anything to hurt either of you.”
“Good thing Number One Son is flying high above our heads right now. I'd rather not be explaining this to him for a few more years.”
“Better be soon, Lili. The first time I saw a girl naked, I was four years old.”
“Yep. She was, uh, also four. Kathy Norris. The ole - you show me yours, I'll show you mine. ”
“So show me yours. I'm already showing you mine,” she said.
He rolled over to her side.
She shook her head, shaking off cobwebs a little, “Huh,” she breathed, “That was less, uh, frustrating that time,” she got up.
“Where are you going?”
“Just to the bathroom. You forget I live in there now,” she said.
And, again, although he had been so very, very careful, he saw it – a spot of blood on the sheet, “Lili,” he called out, trying to hide the alarm he was feeling, “Can you get dressed?”
“Uh, why?” she asked, coming back in.
“That,” he pointed to the incriminating stain, “I'll get the car and call Miva.”
She got dressed as quickly as she could, “Damn. Petey, I, Gawd, please be all right.”
The ride to Dr. Miva's was fast, breaking about every Calafan traffic law there was.
Miva was a middle-aged Calafan woman, arms a mass of silvery scrollwork. She was yawning and stretching when they arrived, “How bad is it?” she asked.
“It wasn't much,” Doug said.
“Yeah. No real change, I don't think,” Lili said.
“Here, let's do the examination,” Miva said.
The pelvic exam was thorough, and Miva spread some of the blood on some slides, “Now lay back,” she said to Lili, “Let me check these. That will take a minute or so,” she left Lili and Doug alone.
“We never should have done that,” Lili said, hand on her belly, shaking a little. It was finally sinking in.
“No. I, God, I guess not,” Doug said, taking her hand, “It'll, um, it'll be all right.”
Lili just stared into space.
Miva returned, “I checked, and none of the blood is the baby's. It's all yours. You have a fresh abrasion on your cervix. Now, I can guess how you got it or you can tell me.”
“It's obvious, right?” Doug asked, “We, uh, I, uh, I went too far.”
“Right,” Miva said, “Allow me to explain what is going on here, although we all know what is happening. I just feel it might help to get the message across to you both,” she sighed, “Your endowment is greater than most human males. Your wife is the same size or smaller than most human females, despite having had one child already. In order to accommodate your dimensions, your wife has had an operation to clear space. Otherwise, your parts do not fit, and you can injure her – which has happened in the past. For both of her pregnancies, I have reversed the operation so that your children could develop properly. You were all right with Jeremiah, and you waited. Why are you unable to wait when it comes to your second child?”
“Actually, we didn't wait last time, either,” Lili confessed, “But, uh, this didn't happen. We were okay. We, uh, only did it once then. I'm sorry.”
“Look, it's not me you need to apologize to. Or to anyone, for now. But you can cause a great deal of damage to the developing fetus if the uterus or the placenta is punctured. And those are very real possibilities,” Miva said, “The placenta is very large. Understand that you have gained more weight than human females are supposed to gain at four months' gestation. But that is mostly placenta. The weight gain has now mostly stopped and, instead, the proportions will change, and you'll go from perhaps five percent fetus and ninety-five percent placenta to more of a balance. And at that point, you'll have another Cesarean. But that is a good five months away. You cannot attempt this again. It is too risky to your child.”
“It's all my fault,” Doug said, “I pushed her.”
“No, I wanted to,” Lili said, “Doctor, isn't there anything that we can do?”
“I had thought that other stimulus would be sufficient, but apparently it is not,” Miva said, “You can also use directed dreaming. As you are aware, it is possible for you both to have dreams that are richer, deeper and more meaningful than standard human dreams.”
“I don't wanna do that,” Doug said, “It's not real. Lili is here, and real. I don't have to fall asleep in order to be able to touch her. Not anymore.”
“That may be so,” said Miva, “But given her condition – and the complications with this pregnancy – that may be your best option. Many of my patients in similar circumstances can have rather satisfying experiences this way.”
“But that's what you do,” Doug said, “You all dream, you all meet your dream lovers and have your dreamy affairs with people in the other universe, and it's all dandy for you. But it isn't for me. We have different values. We just, I just, I can't do it.”
“Your relations would still be with your wife. You have been with us for a long time and you keep a bit of amplifier metal on you at all times anyway,” Miva explained.
“Yes. Those rings you wear. A very human tradition – we don't do that. It seems a bit possessive, like the last name thing, or having a last name at all. I don't quite get it but that's what you humans do.”
“Well, I just can't get and accept what you Calafans do,” Doug said.
“We could try at least once,” Lili said, “You know we can have really good dreams together.”
“I know we can. But, like I said, it's not real. And you! Would you be pregnant in these dreams, or not?”
“I guess it would be as the occasion required,” she said.
“I'm sorry, I just can't,” Doug said, “I can't go back to that when we've moved so far forward in the past two years. I'll just have to stay away,” he muttered, “I'm sorry, Lili.”
They were still speaking, but just barely, when Melissa arrived in the shuttlepod to pick up them and Yimar. Yimar chatted happily and asked about everything on the shuttle. Melissa explained how the thrusters worked, and they generally had a great time. Lili and Doug just sat in the back with the luggage. She stared out the window. He sighed, “I'm sorry,” he finally said again.
“We'll talk later,” she said, and they were silent for the remainder of the trip.
Jennifer and Joss were waiting at the shuttle bay, “'Ommy! 'Ommy!” he called out when the ramp came down.
“Don't hug too hard, Joss,” Doug reminded him.
“Go over and say hi to Daddy,” Lili said, straightening up, “Daddy missed you, too, yanno.”
“Big big ..,” Joss said to Doug.
“What's he trying to say?” Doug lifted Joss up and asked Jennifer.
“We saw the kitchen this morning. Lots of big pots and pans. At least I think that's what he's talking about. He also got to sit in the big Captain's chair. It might be about that,” she smiled.
“I hope he wasn't too much trouble,” Lili said.
“Not at all. He only cried a little. But what's 'Duck Duck'?”
“Oh, ha, it's O Pato. It's an English-Portuguese song about a duck,” Lili pointed to Joss, “a goose,” she pointed to Doug, “and a swan,” she pointed to herself, “even though right now I think I want to change the lyrics to a duck, a goose and a whale.”
“Portuguese? I thought you were French.”
“I am. My grandmother taught me that song, and a bunch of others. She had a job running a day care center for the European Union delegation to Titan. So I know Spanish and German songs, too.”
“We did go through Frère Jacques,” Jennifer said, “I figured that would calm him down, and I think it did. Or maybe he just wondered about my pronunciation.”
Brian Delacroix came in, “Sorry I'm late, it took me a while to get done with the breakfast dishes. Can I help with the bags?”
Lili hugged him, teary again, “I'm so glad to see you. Are you making good sauces?”
“Yes. Just the way you taught me,” he looked at Yimar, “Uh, hello,” he stammered out, unused to seeing bald, alien teenaged girls.
“Oh, bad manners,” Lili said, “Yimar, this is our friend, Brian. He has my old job.”
“Hiya,” she said, hanging back a bit. She took Joss from Doug. Joss started to fuss a little, “I think it's time for some quiet play.”
“Here, you'll be staying in, well, it's actually Crewman Cutler's old quarters,” Jennifer said, “And you'll have next door as well. So one room for you two”, she smiled at Lili, who looked away a little, “and another for Joss and Yimar.”
“Did you get a new roommate?” Lili asked as they made their way through the hallway.
Kick Kick Kick.
“Yes, your pilot. She's a lot quieter than you were,” Jennifer said, “Here we are. The Bridal Suite, I suppose.”
There was a large fruit basket on a desk, with small plastic baggies next to it, “Oh, look!” Lili called out, “It's from Chef! And you, too, Mr. Delacroix! And look, there are bags, we can save the seeds and bring them back to Lafa II!” she smiled, “I gotta,” her voice got emotional, “I gotta go hug and kiss Chef. Excuse me a sec,” she left.
“She's all over the place emotionally,” Doug explained, “C'mere, Joss. Let's go see your room. Yes, you can bring your dinosaur.”
Malcolm's PADD was flashing. A letter. He was on duty but the moment was quiet. The Calafans were friends, no one was about to start shooting at them. He could take a peek at Pamela's note.
I'm so glad you wrote. It just so happens that I will be totally free on the twenty-eighth and the thirty-first and all of the days in between. But not too much before – there was a mining accident on Io – perhaps you saw it in the news? They need any doctor they can get, so I'm off to get some serious overtime and help, but I'll be done by the twenty-eighth. I'll be doing regular surgery, not just plastic, so I'll be putting eyebrows back on and taking care of crushed ribs and all of that. Nothing too specific, I know you don't like hearing about that.
Tell me whether it's a day or evening wedding, and a day or evening reception as that'll define what I wear. And, uh, I have some special things for when it's just you and me. I can tell you're smiling, I can see you through the page. Plus of course I don't need the scarf back but I will spritz it with a lot more Toxic and you know I'll roll around a bit and get it in the sheets. I know you're smiling even more now and so am I. Might even be reddening, which is very hot. Anyway, I've teased you enough. See you soon and we'll scratch the itch.
He turned off the PADD and, despite himself, could tell he was reddening.
“Are you feeling all right, Malcolm?” Jonathan asked, “You look a little flushed.”
“Uh, yes, sir,” he squeaked out. Might have to scratch the itch a little earlier than expected, he thought to himself. It was going to be a long four weeks.
“Alone at last,” Doug said to Lili. Brian had taken Yimar and Joss to go look at the Botany lab's flowers.
“Yes. We should talk,” she said.
“I, uh, do you know why I'm angry?”
“Well, you want to do it that way, the dream way. And I just can't anymore,” he said.
“I can understand if it bothers you that way. What bugs me more is that it was such an unequivocal, unilateral decision on your part,” she said, “You just decided it, case closed, and there's no discussion. It's like I have no position at all.”
“Lili, it feels like cheating to me. I mean, the Calafans, the way they do things – there are husbands and wives and they, they go to sleep in bed together, maybe even having had lots of hot sex, and they dream about more sex, with other people. I'm like, what the hell? What could possibly be missing that they've gotta do it with someone else?”
“But you and I will be dreaming about each other,” she said, a little teary again, “And we are stuck otherwise. Unless you want to do math, well, we are stuck and there is nothing else when we're awake. I thought it would be good to have options,” her voice was breaking a bit more.
“Shh, shh. Look, it's a great number – divisible by three and twenty-three. You like to do math,” he said, using their word for the act, “And it'll have to be enough. We'll make it enough. And five months will fly by.”
“Doug, I was thinking, I dunno if it's a good thing but I had an idea.”
“I'm all ears.”
“Well, I'm fifty years old. I'll be almost fifty-one when Petey is born.”
“Number Two Son.”
“Yes,” she smiled a little, “Number Two Son. And I was thinking, I mean, I'm getting hot flashes throughout this pregnancy. I think I might want to be over and done with everything. I think I'd like for Miva to just tie my tubes, maybe the same time she does the O'Day Reversal again.”
“No more kids? I thought we'd have our own team.”
“You honestly think, even if I don't get my tubes tied, that we'll have enough for a basketball team, let alone a baseball team?”
“I dunno. I guess not. But it's just, you're really amazing when you're pregnant.”
“Even when I'm barfing with morning sickness?”
“Yes, even then. It's kinda why we're in this mess to begin with. Beautiful white hot flame. I just want to be near it,” he said, kissing her.
“Then dream with me,” she said softly.
“I'm just afraid I'll like it too much. It's not real, it's not true. No dream is like this, like us.”
“Yeah, we'll do math. Every night and every morning if you like,” he said.
“I should really see Phlox at some point; ask him about all this kicking,” Lili said, patting her stomach.
“Later,” he said.
Lili stood up and got a change of clothes out of a drawer. And one more thing, a bracelet, from Lafa II, made of the same material as their wedding rings. She slipped it on and it fit, but barely. Her wrists had swollen, along with everything else, “It's Movie Night tonight,” she said, putting on fresh clothes.
“Oh? Uh, are you okay with me passing? The game is on.”
“Well, it's another reason why this is a superior universe,” he said, catching clean boxers that she tossed to him, “You have football. It's preseason and all.”
“Ah, yes, very important meaningless games,” she smiled, “I didn't know you'd make me a football widow.”
“You watch sometimes.”
“Yeah, I do,” she admitted, “But I can't get into it until it gets a lot later on.”
“Well, watch with me and maybe I can persuade you to change your mind,” he said.
“Or, you can go to Movie Night with me.”
“What are they playing?”
“A French film - The King of Hearts,” she said.
“A chick flick? Uh, no thanks,” he said, making a face.
“All right, suit yourself,” she said, “I'll take Joss so you can watch with a lot of sound and Yimar can get a little peace.”
“Thanks,” he said, “And I'll see you after, for the second half of your double feature,” he kissed her.
Jonathan yawned. First shift was basically done.
“Clear of the Lafa System, sir,” Travis said.
“Good, steady on to Earth.”
“Captain,” T'Pol said, “I'm picking up some EM radiation.”
Jonathan punched on the console on his chair, “Tripp, we're getting signs of EM radiation.”
“I see it, Cap'n,” Tripp replied, “Origin is a little difficult to detect. Could be from the Lafa System's equivalent to our Kuiper Belt. I'll keep an eye on it. Might wanna polarize the hull plating.”
“Malcolm ..?” Jonathan said.
“Ah, yes, done,” he said, fiddling with controls, “I think we'll be all right.”
“Radiation is within tolerable limits,” T'Pol said.
“Keep an eye on it when the shift changes,” Jonathan said, “And let me know if it gets intolerable.”
“Of course, Captain,” said the Vulcan.
Melissa sat in her and Jennifer's quarters, alone. She punched in to her console, “Madden to Hoshi Sato.”
“Yes?” came Hoshi's voice from the Bridge.
“Can you put me through to Ceres, to Leonora Digiorno?”
“Sure. Hang on a sec,” Hoshi clicked a few times, “There, go ahead,” she got off the line and left Melissa to her call.
“Norri!” Melissa called out when Leonora's face came into view.
“Ah, good to see your pretty face,” Norri said, “How're things going? Ya miss me?”
“Buckets,” Melissa said, “Wish I was home with you again.”
“Well, you gotta do assignments so we can eat. Being an editor isn't as lucrative,” Norri admitted.
“Any really funny typos?”
“Nothing much lately. Just the usual 'there' for 'their'. I've been reviewing a lot of dull romance novels. Boy meets girl. Very little girl meets girl.”
“Well, we write our own love story,” Melissa said, “With a few twists.”
“Yeah, the twists,” Norri said, “I'm not so sure I like the twists.”
“This is what you get for falling in love with someone who's bi. Temptation is all around.”
“Sure. But you don't have to give in to it.”
Movie Night was well-attended. Lili took an aisle seat. When people noticed she had Joss in her arms, and he was squirming a bit, they gave her some room.
“Good evening!” Chip Masterson called out from the front of the room, “Welcome, as always, to Movie Night. In honor of our own Jennifer Crossman getting married in a few weeks, we have some romantic films. Tonight is Philippe de Broca's 'King of Hearts', starring Alan Bates and I can't figure out how to pronounce this actress's name so I'll just mangle it. Gen –”
“Geneviève Bujold,” Lili called out.
Kick Kick Kick.
“Ah, thank you from the Peanut Gallery,” Chip replied, “This is not just a romance, it's an anti-war story. Talk all you like; it's subtitled. Roll it, Aidan.”
The lights dimmed, and a figure sat down next to Lili. Joss squirmed a little, “Unka,” he said.
“Shh. Later, Joss,” Lili said, adjusting him in her arms and handing him the all-important dinosaur toy.
Joss only spoke one more time during the picture, when there were canaries on the screen, “Elekai,” he said.
“Yes, kind of,” said the figure next to Lili. It was Malcolm.
“Shh, shh,” Lili said, “Play a little with Dino,” she said to her son as the film continued.
“Want some popcorn?” Malcolm asked her quietly.
“No free hands,” she said, “Unless, here, if you don't mind,” she handed him the sleeping child for a second, took a few kernels, passed the bowl and took Joss back.
“You're rather quick with that,” he said.
“You get that way.”
“I didn't realize this picture would be about the First World War,” Malcolm said, “Will you stay for the discussion afterwards?”
“Only if he doesn't start to fuss. Or if he needs a change, then we vamoose.”
“Yes, of course. Motherhood seems to truly suit you.”
“I really love it,” she said, “But it is tiring. We may end up leaving even if he doesn't start to fuss,” she yawned, “I'm kind of a cheap date these days. I can't party like I used to.”
“I'm finding I prefer a quieter life now, myself,” he admitted.
“Oh, c'mon, it must be fun to be the bachelor around town,” she said.
“Only sometimes,” he said quietly, and then turned his attention back to the film.
The game got dull, and Doug ended up snoring in a chair.
She was there, darker than Lili.
He was younger than he was. Younger and stupider, he would have said, but it was a dream and you can be stupid in dreams.
She was touching him.
He remembered what that was like. It felt like it used to, two decades before.
She stopped what she was doing for a second. He kissed her. Same old feeling, the excitement.
She smiled at him, “Susan,” he said.
“I like the way you do things.”
“Oh? And what if I do them some other way?”
“I get the feeling I'd like that, too.”
She smiled again, dark brown eyes, short black hair in the tightest, kinkiest curls, small gap between her two front teeth, “When are you leaving again, Soldier Boy?”
“I don't know,” he said, “Come on. Leave Titania and come along.”
“They don't need schoolteachers on your ship, Soldier Boy.”
“You can do something else,” he said.
“You just wanna get some,” she said, then went back to things.
He didn't speak anymore. He couldn't. It felt too damned good to ruin it with talk.
The film was maybe three-quarters of the way finished when Joss woke up and began to fuss a bit, “That's my cue,” she said, and left.
She found Doug sleeping in the chair. He said the word 'Titania'. Hmm.
She noticed his condition, and brought Joss into the other room, where Yimar was already sleeping.
“No dreaming, huh?” she said to herself.
“'Ommy, Duck Duck,” Joss said sleepily.
“Sleep now,” she said quietly.
She returned to their room in time to see Doug jolted awake.
“Huh, oh, didn't see you come in,” he said.
“You didn't hear me, either, I see.”
“It was not a Calafan-style dream. Just a regular dream,” he said, “Didn't mean to, you know.”
“I know. So, wanna tell me about it at all?”
“It was Susan Cheshire,” he said, “I dated her a good quarter of a century ago. Haven't thought of her much in the past twenty years.”
“Does she look like me?”
“No. She's as dark as Travis,” Doug said.
“Are you jealous? I mean, it was just a dream,” he said.
“No, not jealous. I don't like jealousy. It's toxic.”
“It wasn't like, like the dreams you and I shared when we first met,” he said, “Nowhere near as good. You have nothing to be concerned about.”
“How did it end with, uh, Suzanne?”
“Susan. She turned out to be a raging alcoholic. It took me a few months to really recognize that.”
“She was probably a very hard person to love.”
“I don't know that I loved her,” Doug said, “It wasn't anything like us. I wonder why I dreamed about her at all.”
“Maybe you miss a little of that,” Lili said.
“No. I don't miss any of it,” he assured her, “Come to bed.”
“I just, uh, I just want to sleep. I’ve had a very full day. Okay?”
“Of course it's okay,” he said, watching her slip off the bracelet, “You and Number Two Son need to sleep.”
Lili crawled into bed and kissed Doug, “If I talk in my sleep, don't hold it against me,” she said drowsily.
“I never do.”
She was her age, but not pregnant. She knew him, kind of. He was someone she'd known a good thirty years before, but aged to the present. It was the big town square at New France, on Titan. Crazy dreams.
“Paul?” she asked, “Paul Mayer?”
“You look good.”
“So do you. Your grandparents around?” he asked.
“Paul, they've been dead for over twenty years.”
“Oh, well, then I guess you're free.”
“I guess so,” she hugged him, and it turned into a French kiss. Suddenly they were in the back seat of his car, parked somewhere dark. There were trees nearby.
“What is this leading to?” she asked.
“Whaddaya think? I got stuff.”
“I bet,” she said.
He brought out a fifth, and they both drank from it, “You know I love you,” he said.
“That stuff is rancid,” she said, after taking another swig, “You sure your parents know you're out this late?”
“They won't be looking for me here,” he said, “C'mon, let's get that tee shirt off.”
“You ever do this with anyone before me?” she asked.
“No,” he said.
The dream jump cut and everything felt hot and friction-y. It hurt a bit, but that was more bulk than anything else. It was all over in a few minutes.
“Don't, um, don't tell anyone we did that,” she said.
“Not to worry,” he said.
“Don't, um, don't tell anyone we did that, ” Lili said in her sleep.
She awoke, “Ugh,” she said. Doug was awake, looking at her.
“Active dream, huh?”
“I lost my virginity again.”
“Oh. Didn't turn out so well, eh?”
“No. He, Paul, uh, I told him to keep it quiet. I knew my grandfather would kill me. And it was, like, a day or so later and it was all over my High School.”
“It was a long time ago,” Doug said.
“It's a little fresh in the mind sometimes.”
“Like Susan,” he said, “I'd fix them up with each other but they're in different universes.”
“I suppose so,” Lili said.
“Commander,” Melissa said as she piloted the Enterprise in the middle of the night, “I think that EM radiation is worsening.”
“Are we still within tolerance limits?” asked T'Pol.
“Yes, but the concentration is climbing.”
“Can you tell where it's coming from?”
“I think it's coming from all around us. I can't get a fix on it.”
“I'll alert the Captain,” T'Pol said.
Early morning, alarm going off.
Lili lay on top of a strong left arm, with a powerful chest behind her that was breathing regularly. She opened her eyes and followed the arm to its wrist and hand and fingers, to the wedding ring she'd given Doug a year and a half before. It was a dull grey metal, a plain but tall band, “'Morning,” she said softly.
“Ah, here, the alarm's on my side,” he said, “Lean forward a sec,” he took his arm away, rolled over and shut off the alarm, “Got, I think a little while before Joss and Yimar are up.”
She kissed him, “I've still got a little sleep in my eyes,” she rubbed them.
“Can I wake you up a bit more?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said, “But I think we'd better be a bit quick about it, before someone gets it in his head that he wants breakfast.”
They kissed. “You first,” she said.
“Yeah,” she smiled at him, “Unless you object.”
“Nope,” he said, lying back and folding his arms behind his head.
Doug thought to himself, even a bad one of these is good.
There was a chime at the door.
“Damn,” he said.
They straightened up in bed and made sure the blanket was around them, “Uh, come in,” Lili said.
“Sorry, we, uh, he's hungry,” Yimar said.
Joss got onto the bed between them. He patted Lili, “Milk?”
“No. We have to save that for Petey. Petey's going to be very hungry when he comes out,” Lili said.
“Joss, do you know where Petey is?” Doug asked his son.
“Uhhh,” Joss thought for a minute, then touched Lili's belly.
“That's right,” Lili said, “And he'll be here in five months. I know that's a long, long time from now,” she glanced at Doug, “but the time will go by quickly. And then after that you'll have a playmate. Would you like that?”
“I don't know how much of that he got,” Doug said.
“Well, maybe not much,” Lili admitted, “He just needs to know this is a good thing that's happening.”
“I'll, um, I can take him to breakfast,” Yimar offered.
“It's okay,” Doug said, “We're getting up anyway. Gonna see Doctor Phlox this morning,” he got up and hustled himself into the bathroom. The shower started running.
“He's the cleanest human I've ever known,” Yimar said, “Not that I have a lot of experience with such things.”
“Yes. Very clean,” Lili said.
Shift change on the NX-01. Oh eight hundred hours.
In Engineering, Tripp Tucker and Jennifer Crossman replaced José Torres and Josh Rosen, “EM radiation is still climbing. We can't quite find the cause,” Torres said.
“Okay, you're on that, Crossman,” Tripp said.
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
At the pilot's station, Travis arrived to relieve Melissa, “Hiya,” he said.
“Going steady,” she said, “That radiation doesn't seem to be affecting our course or our speed.”
At Tactical, Malcolm replaced Aidan MacKenzie, “Ensign, stand down,” Malcolm said to MacKenzie.
“Yes, sir. Hull plating is still polarized, with no fluctuations.”
At Security, Deborah Haddon relieved Azar Hamidi, “All is secure,” he said to her.
“Thank you,” she took her usual place several meters in the back, with a clear view of the Captain's chair and the remainder of the Bridge.
At Communications, Hoshi greeted Chip, “Nothing much is happening,” he yawned, “It's just radiation. No one's trying to talk to us. We can still ping the closest buoy in the Lafa System.”
T'Pol got up from the Captain's chair when Jonathan arrived, “EM radiation is increasing steadily but still within acceptable tolerance limits. Etiology remains unknown. I can perform an analysis later.”
“When you get a chance,” he said, “Thanks.”
Sick Bay was lively with active animals. Lili sat on a bio bed, fiddling with her bracelet.
“Ah, how's my favorite Obstetrics patient?” Phlox asked.
“You mean your only Obstetrics patient,” she replied.
“Well, I didn't want to say,” he smiled at her, with that slightly too wide Denobulan grin that was a tad unnerving to most humans, “Having any troubles? I have your records from your Calafan physician, Doctor Miva.”
“I'm really, really er, interested. All the time. And so is Doug,” Lili said.
“Well, for some human males, the pregnancies of their partners can be quite stimulating,” Phlox said, “You must enjoy the fact that you're responsible for her condition,” he said to Doug.
“Yes. Definitely,” Doug said.
“As for you Ens – uh, Mrs. Beckett,” Phlox said.
“Please, just call me by my first name,” Lili said.
“Very well. Pregnancy comes with a rush of hormones and a flood of emotions. For some women, if they continue to feel attractive – and if their partners continue to assure them of their attractiveness – those women can become very interested in relations. More so than usual. Stimulus and release probably come rather easily.”
“Definitely,” she said, “But things are frustrating right now.”
“This is a high-risk pregnancy. I've been looking at your records and I see that Miva says while you don't have placenta previa, the placenta is still rather large and is in a rather vulnerable position. Plus of course you already have a little one running around. Privacy must be rather difficult to come by. I have children; I know what that is like.”
“What's placenta previa?” Doug asked.
“It's a condition whereby the placenta grows in the lowest part of the uterus and covers all or part of the opening to the cervix. Intercourse is not recommended at all, of course.”
“But you said Lili doesn't have that. So why is Miva telling us we can't do anything?” Doug asked, although he pretty much already knew the answer.
“First, Lili's age. Fifty is not a young age for a pregnancy, although it does not break records for the oldest natural pregnancy. But it is, by definition, high risk. Second, the placenta isn't covering the opening to the cervix but it is close. And, the third part you know. You have issues with controlling your own strength, even under the best of circumstances, never mind during the throes of passion. Plus, as you are well aware, the O'Day Reversal – the operation I devised to make everything fit properly – it has been temporarily dismantled to accommodate the growth of the fetus. There is no room, the placenta is too close, and you can harm either Lili or the fetus if you puncture either the placenta or the uterus,” Phlox stated.
“Well, it didn't hurt to ask,” Lili said, putting her hand on Doug's arm. The bracelet glinted a tiny bit in the light of Sick Bay.
“Here, let's have a look,” Phlox said.
She lay back and he placed her in the scanner.
“Ah, there it is,” Phlox said, showing Doug on the screen, “There is your baby.”
“Huh. Crossed legs – he must be modest, eh? He's small.”
“Well, he should be. This is only the twenty-first week after all. Very interesting, I would not have believed it myself if I were not seeing it. The placenta is enormous! How much weight would you say you have gained, Lili?” Phlox asked.
“Maybe thirty-five, thirty-six kilos. This happened last time, with Joss. During the first trimester, I alternated between barfing and eating everything in sight – mainly meat. Then I stopped gaining for the rest of the pregnancy.”
“According to Miva's records, your placenta and your son shifted in terms of weight. So if Joss was a quarter of a kilo to begin with, eventually he became about, let's see, ah, over eight kilos when he was born. A rather large baby – I see you had a Cesarean. I suspect you'll need to have another one,” Phlox clicked a control on the bio bed and it brought Lili out of the scanner.
“Yes, I have one scheduled for January,” Lili said, “He's very active, kicking all the time.”
“Well, that's good. But I can see where that would be troublesome,” Phlox said, “It's probably, huh, let's see if we can induce a kick,” he pressed on her abdomen.
“That is rather powerful,” Phlox said, “At twenty-one weeks, you should not be feeling that much. After all, what we refer to as kicking is usually just the fetus turning over. I suspect the enormous placenta is amplifying everything. Most unusual, but you have other unusual things going on.”
“Other unusual things? Bad things?” Doug asked.
“Oh, no,” Phlox said, as Lili got dressed again, “I took the liberty of running an experiment – I do hope you don't mind, but I was rather curious about this.”
“About what?” Lili asked.
“Your age. The chances of having a child with Down's Syndrome is increased. Yet neither Joss nor this fetus appears to have the syndrome. I did an investigation as I still have a sample from you, Doug.”
“Oh?” Doug asked.
“Yes. I mixed your sample with, well, I must explain: human eggs that carry Down's Syndrome and other genetic issues can emit a different hormonal signature than eggs that don't have such issues. I checked. Your sperm only gravitate in the direction of eggs without such issues. Otherwise, they turn tail and die.”
“You didn't make fetuses or anything, did you?” Lili asked, a little alarmed.
“No, I didn't use eggs – just the hormones. But it's a fascinating window into the overall concept of Survival of the Fittest. In the universe where you originated, Doug, there must be very few genetic issues. The figure is likely not to be, absolutely, zero. But the incidence is probably a lot less than we have here. That has carried over, of course, to here, because you are here. It appears that you are introducing a rather powerful bit of evolutionary biology into the human gene pool.”
“I remember you once referred to Doug as the super male,” Lili said.
“Indeed,” Phlox said, “Your sons will likely inherit this tendency from you.”
“That probably explains why I didn't get pregnant immediately after we began to do it again after Joss was born,” Lili said.
“That was a good eight months,” Doug said, squeezing her hand.
“There were probably a few less than optimal eggs in the pipeline,” Phlox said, “Oh and another thing, which probably also should help to explain the huge placenta and the powerful kicking – you are awash in testosterone.”
“I'm pregnant. How is that even possible?”
“Another bit of survival strategy, most likely. Probably makes the mother stronger and faster as needed.”
“I'm waddling around like a whale.”
“You can probably move quickly if you have to,” Phlox said, “And the fetus is awash as well. It's affecting every test and every instrument I've got.”
“The super male makes super babies,” Lili said.
Yimar and Joss sat in the cafeteria. Everyone else had left. He was still struggling a little with a bowl of oatmeal, but was refusing to let her help him.
Brian walked in, “Ah, company,” he said. He had a bowl of his own in his hands, “I usually eat alone after the breakfast rush.”
“Do you want us to go?” Yimar asked.
“No, no, of course not. Is he okay?”
“Oh, sure. He just wants to try to feed himself. And, as you can see, he's not too good at it. But he does try.”
“Yimar, can I ask you something?”
“What's the silver stuff on your arms? And, uh, Lili has some silver on her arms, too.”
“Oh, well, for me, it's normal,” Yimar explained, “It's called calloo. We start off solid silver and then, when we hit about thirty or so, you start to get white spots and before it goes away completely it eventually becomes this kind of elaborate scrollwork. Lili's tattooed like that – she doesn't really have calloo. It's on our legs, too. Wanna see?”
“Uh, huh. I'll take your word for it,” Brian swallowed hard. Girls didn't normally offer to show him their legs.
“Oh, it's no trouble, really,” she said, hiking up a pant leg, “See? All silvery.”
“How, um, how old are you, Yimar?” he was a little uncomfortable.
“Old enough,” she said, “I get night offers. I can act on them if I want to.”
“I don't understand what that means.”
“We sleep with nighttime people,” she said, “Here, Joss let me help you.”
“We go to sleep and we dream of nighttime people,” she said, “Wait, Lili told me you don't have nighttime people.”
“Well, we do have sleeping with people,” Brian said, “Maybe it's not what you're talking about. I, uh, I don't think we should be talking about this in front of Joss.”
“Ohhhhh,” The light dawned, “It's sleeping, not sex. Well, it can be. And I am old enough now. Are you old enough?”
“Uhh, yeah,” he said. Not that that did him any good usually, “I'm, uh, I'm twenty-one.”
“Oh, I thought you were older. It's all that hair. I'm sixteen,” she said.
“Six-sixteen? And you're, um, old enough?”
“Yes. I am,” she said, “Can I ask you something? Since you asked me and all.”
“Uh, I guess so.”
“Why is everybody so hairy? Is this a ship full of really old people?” she asked.
“No. I mean, most of them are older than me but nobody's really old.”
“See, when you're a Calafan, you start off totally hairless like I still am,” she explained, “It's another thing, you hit about thirty or so and you start to get fuzzy. You get really furry when you're really old. My Father is pretty furry. My Mother is still a great beauty, lots of pretty calloo and not too hairy. I feel like I'll never be pretty like her,” she complained.
“I dunno,” he said, “Maybe you just need to grow into it.”
“What about that really tall guy? He doesn't have a lot of hair, or at least it looks kinda thinner in the back. Is he younger than you are?”
“José Torres?” Brian asked, “I think he's around ten or more years older than I am. And, uh, he's losing his hair, not getting it.”
“You humans are weird,” Yimar said.
On the Bridge, Hoshi dropped her Communications earpiece, “Agghhh!” she cried out.
“Hoshi!” yelled Jonathan, and then they all heard it – a high-pitched whine.
“We're being scanned!” T'Pol yelled over the din.
In Sick Bay, Phlox, Lili and Doug covered their ears.
Just as suddenly as it had started, the whine stopped.
“You'd better stay here,” Phlox said.
“Where are you going?” Lili cried out to Doug.
“To the Armory. I can help there.”
He kissed her and ran out, but he didn't get far.
The entire ship was knocked out.
Everyone from Phlox and his Derellian bat, to T'Pol, to Melissa, to Joss, to Porthos, to Malcolm, to Shelby in the Botany Lab, to Yimar, to Jonathan, to Lili and even the baby she was carrying – all were unconscious.
No one saw the boarding party, consisting of two different species. One species was tall, taller than even José Torres, carrying shocking sticks to subdue anyone who might, for whatever reason, not be fully unconscious. The other species was smaller, more human-sized, with strange, plant-like appendages on their heads and kind of vestigial wings. They were in charge of the taller ones, directing them and having them fetch and carry.
No one noticed the physical examinations, the stripping down of the ten candidates or the internal and external appraisals of them, “Good choices,” said one of the smaller members of the boarding party, a female.
No one noticed the ten being taken off the ship. No one noticed the immense, cloaked ship they were taken to. No one noticed that ship depart at Warp Nine, faster than any ship they knew. No one.
On the other ship, the ten were separated by gender. They were washed and dried, and inspected again. A vet took charge and looked them over. Any viruses were zapped, and all idiosyncrasies documented for later study.
The women woke first, in one chamber. Everyone had a fresh set of clothes next to them. It was just two pieces – a pair of underpants and a shift dress. With nothing else to do, they put them on.
Lili noticed her clothes were a bit supportive – a good thing, considering how her center of gravity had shifted. The others were clingier, more revealing. She looked around. The pilot, what was her name, Melinda? Jennifer. There was a security officer. And Hoshi.
“What do you think we should do, Hoshi?” asked the security officer, “You're our commanding officer.”
“I guess, I am, Deb,” Hoshi said, “We should, uh, figure out where we are, and try to contact the Enterprise.”
“There's a panel up in the ceiling,” Jennifer said, looking up.
“Looks like an air vent,” Melissa said.
Then the men awoke, in their own chamber. They, too, had fresh clothes, undershorts that were kind of long, down to the knee, and a shirt that wrapped. It all seemed to be made of a kind of linen. Jonathan stood up first, “Thoughts?” he asked.
“Scan plus EM radiation must equal this,” Tripp said, “Whatever and wherever this is.”
“Walls are solid,” Malcolm said, banging one with the heel of his hand.
“There's an air shaft up there,” Doug pointed, “But it's too high for any of us to reach.”
“We're moving quickly,” Travis said, “We must've been knocked out when we jumped to warp. This feels faster than the Enterprise.”
“How fast?” Jonathan asked.
“It even feels faster than any Vulcan ship I've ever been on. They can do Warp Seven, right? I dunno, this feels faster,” Travis said.
“Can you estimate at all?” Tripp asked.
“I don't really have a basis for comparison,” Travis admitted, “Nine, maybe? Eight and a half? I'm lost.”
The wall in front of them went from solid to transparent. They could see the women, but there was a hallway in between. And a person was standing there. The same one who'd commented while still on the Enterprise, but they had no way of knowing that. That one spoke.
“Slime molds! I will talk, and you will listen. This can be very pleasant, or it can be quite nasty. It all depends,” she said.
Jonathan demanded, “Who's in charge here? Are you?”
“Now, now, like I said, I talk. But I will answer two questions that slime molds always have. First off, I am a Witannen. And my name is Quellata. Now for the fun.”
They could hear a hissing gas coming out of the vents above. The wall went dark again, and they were again knocked out.
“Report!” yelled T'Pol when she came to, and then she realized she was nearly completely alone on the Bridge. Night shift. They wouldn't be very awake but they'd have to do. She banged the intercom to get it to work, “I need the following crew members to report to the Bridge on the double! Masterson! Torres! Madden! MacKenzie! And, uh, Hamidi!”
Chip Masterson was dreaming. He was performing in that little comedy club on Risa. He was killing.
He said, to an eager audience mostly filled with extremely hot Orion slave girls, “So this Klingon, an Andorian and a Vulcan walk into a bar. And the Klingon's a male, super-tall. And he's completely buck naked, except for a strategically placed piece of string to which there's attached this note. So the bartender gets curious and he reads the note, which says ...”
The Communications chime was loud, and woke him.
“Damn, I never get to finish the joke,” he said out loud to the empty room, and then realized how urgent the call was.
Everyone except for Madden reported, “Where is Crewman Madden?” T'Pol asked, a little desperate.
“I, uh, I don't know, Commander,” said Crewman Hamidi, “There are people missing. Dunno how many.”
“Mr. Masterson, you will be in charge of the head count,” T'Pol said, “There are at least the six missing from the Bridge: the Captain, Mr. Tucker, Mr. Reed, Mr. Mayweather and Ensign Sato. And, um, Security Officer Haddon.”
Phlox called in, “I just lost my patient,” he said, “And it was not in the conventional way. Mrs. Beckett has gone missing.”
They awoke in separate chambers, paired off, two by two, in plain rooms furnished with nothing but a bare mattress on the floor with a thin blanket. The lights were dim but they could still make out who was who.
Deb stood up and smacked the wall, “Whoever you are, and whatever you want, I won't let you hurt the Captain!” she yelled.
“Crewman, I don't know if anyone's listening,” Jonathan said.
“Well, just in case they are,” she said, bristling.
The second shift pilot would have to do, as Madden was definitely gone.
“Mr. Harris, report to the Bridge,” T'Pol spoke into the intercom, again outwardly calm but inwardly, in turmoil. There were eight missing so far.
“I don't suppose you've got a sense of what's going on, Travis,” Jennifer said.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” he replied, “I'm thinking it's not good if they call us slime molds.”
“I'm sure you're right.”
Josh Rosen made his way to Engineering. He'd been roused out of a sound sleep by the general alarm. He punched a communications panel on the wall, “Rosen to Torres.”
“Yes?” José answered from the Bridge.
“I don't see Crossman anywhere. She with you?”
Nine missing, T'Pol thought.
Doug looked up at the ceiling, “Think you can reach that panel if you stand on my shoulders?”
“I dunno,” said Melissa, “I'm less than one and two-thirds meters tall.”
“That's okay. Together, we're over three. Here, step here.”
“Don't let me fall.”
“Hayes – I mean, Beckett appears to be gone as well,” Phlox reported in, “Can't say for certain but the timing seems right. He couldn't have gotten far from Sick Bay and he's nowhere near here. Phlox out.”
Ten, thought T'Pol.
“You scared?” Tripp asked Hoshi.
“A little. You?”
“I dunno. So far we're okay.”
Lili paced. Malcolm shouted. No one could hear him outside their chamber. He finally stopped.
“Sorry. I was hoping that would do some good. Now it's just made me a bit hoarse.”
“I just wanna get my mind off things. You think they have Joss?” she asked, worriedly.
Kick Kick Kick Kick.
“I don't suppose they do. I think we'd have seen him when we were in the, I dunno what you'd call that. A debriefing. Mixed with insults.”
She smiled wryly, “I should thank you for our wedding present.”
“That'll take your mind off things,” he said, “Did you, uh, was the shade of blue all right?”
“It was great. It was – there was a lot of thought put into it. I'll send you a letter, too. My grandmother did raise me with some manners. But, in person, thank you. It was very nice of you. And, and the rest of the Tactical Department,” she fiddled nervously with her bracelet.
He was about to comment on that when they heard and smelled a gas coming from the vent.
“That's not like the other we had earlier,” he said, “It's kind of a fuchsia color.”
“Do you think it'll kill us?” she asked, panic rising in her voice.
“Maybe,” he said.
Kick kick kick kick kick Kick Kick Kick.
As Lili's stress level rose, the kicking got faster and sharper.
The gas wasn't just coming into one chamber. It was hitting all five of them.
Melissa felt it first, as her face was closest to the source. She fell on top of Doug, who didn't do a very good job of catching her.
Silently, Hoshi clutched Tripp's arm, digging her nails in.
Jennifer stared into space. Travis swallowed hard.
Deb continued pounding the wall as Jonathan watched.
And then there were Lili and Malcolm.
She shook with fear and the pain of rapid-fire kicks. Her eyes shone.
He couldn't protect her, not really. He had nothing to give, perhaps, but an extra nanosecond of life. If they were to die, perhaps if he covered her she'd get an extra nanosecond. It was all he had. It would have to do.
He sat next to her, arms on top of her, holding her to his chest as they both panted and shook with fear.
Kick kick kick kick kick kick kick –
And then the kicking suddenly stopped, and Lili let out a wail that wasn't human.
It wasn't for the end of her life, or the end of Malcolm's or even Doug's.
It was for a much-anticipated, much-hoped-for and much-loved baby that now would never be born.
Yimar sat in quarters, Joss climbing all over her. She punched a console button, “I need to contact Lafa II,” she said.
Chip Masterson came on, “Hang on,” he said, “Okay, go ahead.”
Treve's face filled the little screen, “What's going on?” he asked jovially, then realized she was worried, “Are you all right?”
“There's, um, there's something going on,” she said, voice a bit on edge, “Ten humans were grabbed, including his parents,” she indicated Joss, who was holding onto the edge of a desk and sucking his thumb.
“Do you want to come home? Do you want me to call Father?” Treve asked.
“No, to both,” she said, “I, they can't really let me off anyway. They have to go looking. And I almost want to see if I can work this out myself.”
“Yimar, you don't have to.”
“I know. But, uh, I kinda like being independent like this. And nobody ever leaves our system. I don't wanna spoil it for everybody.”
“C'mon, you're not spoiling it. Things, they, they happen,” Treve said.
“You get to be independent.”
“I am six years older than you are, Yimar.”
“Well, I still want to, I want to try. And I don't want to give up on his parents. It's only been a few hours. How far can any ship get? It's not like anyone can go faster than Warp Seven,” she pointed out, “They have other ships that are looking, too.”
“Is it the Klingons? Their space is nearby, you know.”
“I know. And that's who they first contacted. It seems unlikely, or at least they didn't do anything official or anything like that.”
“I don't want you to be in danger. You're my sister and I love you. Besides, Father will kill me if you get hurt.”
She smiled a little, “I'll be fine. Like you said, things happen.”
“Keep in touch,” he said.
“I will. Yimar out.”
She looked over at Joss, “'Ommy?” he asked.
“No, not Mommy.”
“No, my brother is not your Daddy.”
“'Ommy!” he yelled, then began to wail loudly.
She found the stuffed dinosaur, but that wasn't comforting enough. Then she set him on her lap, shushing him and rocking him, but that didn't work, either. He just kept howling “'Ommy! 'Ommy!” over and over again, teary and becoming more and more incoherent as his face reddened and got wetter and wetter.
Yimar began to realize she was his only caregiver and comforter, on a ship where she knew nearly no one.
Lili finally let out the breath she'd been holding. Still shaking, she looked up slightly, to see Malcolm still leaning over her, kind of smothering her a little bit, and kneeling in front of her.
Then she noticed something else.
A hand groping her.
Crystal blue eyes met darker blue eyes.
Then mouths collided.
Then other body parts collided.
And so it continued, in four other chambers, variations on a theme.
His accent made her giggle.
He was strong.
He had a great nose.
His eyes sparkled.
He was a good kisser.
She was hugely pregnant.
It didn't matter.
She was always someone he'd thought of as a sister.
It didn't matter.
She wasn't his type.
It didn't matter.
She was young enough to be his daughter.
It didn't matter.
She wasn't his wife.
It didn't matter.
Sleep overtook all, as it does after so much activity.
Deep, dreamless sleep.
Yimar got up the following morning, late and still exhausted. She'd slept with Joss in her arms all night, in the bed that Lili and Doug had occupied. Perhaps Lili's smell would calm Joss down. Maybe he was just overly tired from crying. Whatever had happened, he had at least slept, “'Ommy?” he asked as soon as he was awake.
“Not yet,” she said. She looked over the basket of fruit. It was all wholly unfamiliar. She punched the communications console, “I, um, can I talk to, uh, Brian?”
“Delacroix here,” he answered.
“Oh, hi,” she said, “There's fruit in here. I don't know how you eat it. Can you help me?”
“Once I get the breakfast dishes done. Uh, twenty minutes,” he said.
There was a kiss, to Lili's right ear. Then another, to her right temple. The mouth needed a shave, stubble brushing lightly on her face, breath a little warm, small smile next to her cheek. A right hand touched her waist lightly. She could feel the body behind her. Standard morning fare.
Lili lay on top of a strong left arm, with a powerful chest behind her that was breathing regularly. She opened her eyes and followed the arm to its wrist and hand and fingers, to no wedding ring, where she expected one.
Alarmed, she leapt up, as quickly as her bulk would allow.
Kick kick kick Kick Kick Kick.
She grabbed the thin blanket and covered herself. This left Malcolm exposed.
“Oh my God!” she yelled, “What the hell is going on?!?!”
“What –!” he yelled back, then covered himself with his hands.
She turned away, found his shorts and threw them at him. Then she proceeded to look for her own clothes, while still covering herself with the blanket, “What the hell happened?!”
“Don't you know?” he yelled back, putting on his shorts.
“Yeah, I guess I do know,” she said, finding her underclothes, “Don't look,” she commanded. He turned away as she got dressed.
Similar scenes played out in the other four chambers.
“Get your hands off me!” he yelled.
“I – what?”
“You heard me,” he was seething. He stood up and got himself to the other side of the small room, then began to pace.
“Oh my God,” she said, “I never did that with a guy before.”
“Oh God,” Doug said, running his hands through his hair, “You were untouched, Melissa?”
“Crewman, I have behaved completely inappropriately,” Jonathan said, “If you want to file a complaint with Starfleet when we return, I won't object.”
“Sir, that won't be necessary,” Deb said.
“You're within your rights.”
“I know. But, it's okay.”
“It is not okay.”
“Yes it is, sir. 'Cause I wanted to do that.”
“Sir, every woman on the ship has a crush on the Captain. Or, at least, I know I do.”
Jennifer was sitting and rocking in a corner.
Travis got dressed and got up, “I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me.”
“I can't tell Frank. Frank's gonna kill me. Frank's gonna kill me. Frank's gonna kill me,” she kept repeating to herself.
“Jennifer, I'm sorry.”
“Frank's gonna kill me. Frank's gonna leave me. Frank's gonna leave me,” her voice rose in panic.
“Do you s'pose we really meant to do that?” Tripp asked.
“Well, sure, on some level. It's almost like we were drunk,” Hoshi said.
“Yeah. Inhibitions fall, libido rises. I've always respected you.”
“I know. And I appreciate that. I always thought of you like a brother. Never this way.”
“Never? Hmm. Well, I always thought you were kinda cute. But, you know, not approachable.”
“Not approachable?” she asked, incredulous.
“Well, there's the age difference and all.”
“It's not that much,” she said, “Cute, huh? Like a puppy?”
“Ha, no. You know what I mean,” he kissed her and she didn't object.
“You realize we can't do this when we get back to the Enterprise if we expect to have a prayer of ever working together effectively again.”
“I s'pose not,” he said, “So, let's make the most of this.”
There was a sound of hydraulics. The front walls were opened slightly, on the left. Barely seen alien hands threw two tubes into each of the five chambers, “Nutrition time!” yelled gruff, unfamiliar voices.
Malcolm got up and brought the tubes over to Lili, “It's not exactly your gourmet fare, I imagine,” he said, handing them both to her.
“You get one of these,” she said, trying to hand one back.
“I'm not hungry. Besides, you're the one who's eating for two.”
“It won't do us any good if you starve yourself. Don't be a martyr.”
“Very well,” he said, “Only a little,” he squeezed about fifteen cc's into his hand. The paste was whitish in color. He took a taste.
“And?” she asked.
“No flavor whatsoever.”
“Well, this is prison. I guess,” she uncapped the other one and squeezed a mass into her hand, then shoved it messily into her mouth, “Man!” she said, once she'd swallowed it, “Good thing I'm starving.”
“Keep your strength up,” he said, handing her the remains of the other one.
Hoshi and Tripp looked theirs over.
“Looks like tubes of toothpaste I saw in a museum once,” she said.
“Don't suppose they even know what we eat,” he replied, “Gawd, this is bland. Want mine?”
After about a half an hour, the front wall opened again. This time, it wasn't just unfamiliar hands, but entire bodies, tall alien guards. They were huge, almost two and a third meters tall. There was one assigned to each chamber, and they were wielding big sticks. The sticks were pointed between the men and the women, but were directed to the men. Jonathan got too close, and received a wicked shock to his midsection. Deb ran at the guard but was shocked as well. She fell to the floor and writhed a bit.
“Oh, come on!” It was Quellata, “Your first day! Really, slime molds, you'd think you'd be better at this,” she was in the hall in front of the rooms, and wasn't holding a stick, but there was another guard, next to her, dwarfing her. He had one.
Quellata continued, “Now, so far, so good. But you do need to learn how to do this as well. See, this can be almost pleasant. So long as you keep production up, we'll get along fine. If you don't, things will become ... uncomfortable.”
“What kind of production?” gasped Jonathan.
“Isn't it obvious?” Quellata asked, “It's the production of more humans.”
Lili stayed as far away from the stick as possible. The guard was separating the two of them, and herding her out into the hallway. She tentatively stepped out.
“There now, that's right,” Quellata said, “Follow this one. Females only.”
Doug called Lili's name, and got his own nasty shock. Lili looked back, scared, but kept quiet.
Kick Kick Kick Kick.
Pretty soon the five of them were out. Jennifer was really shaking. Lili took her hand.
“Stick together,” Hoshi said quietly.
“We have rights!” yelled Tripp, “It's a part of the Tau Ceti Accords! You can't separate prisoners like this!”
For this, he got his own shock.
Quellata turned back briefly, “We're not signatories. No jurisdiction here,” she said dismissively, then tossed her head and turned, green vines waving a little, and proceeded to walk down the hall. The women followed, prodded by the threatening guards.
T'Pol sat in Jonathan's Ready Room, “Mr. Masterson, get me Admiral Gardner.”
“Yes, Commander,” There was a pause, “Ready.”
“Admiral, we have a situation,” she explained, “Ten of our people have been taken hostage. We don't know by whom.”
“Yes, Admiral Black has told me. There are already ships on the lookout,” he replied.
“Yes, but I think there needs to be a much larger search taking place,” she said, “The abduction coincided with an enormous burst of EM radiation. We were unable to pinpoint the exact source as it appeared to be coming from all around the Enterprise. But there is more information now.”
“And we suspect that the lack of clarity was due to the source being enormous. As in, it was a ship far larger than the Enterprise, possibly large enough to engulf it completely. It was cloaked, as well.”
“Any other bad news for me?”
“Without knowing the vessel's course, speed or configuration, we have little to go on,” she stated, “Can we bring in more of our allies to assist?”
“Possibly. It's a bit of a diplomatic issue, though. We're attempting to put together an alliance of species, as you know. This is somewhat embarrassing.”
“Admiral, I suggest you get beyond that. The Captain could be anywhere, and in any condition. As could, among others, two civilians.”
“Yes, of course. Any other ideas on why the ten were, specifically, chosen?” he asked.
“Only that they were all humans. Two pilots, two engineers, one Armory Officer, one former Armory Officer, one MACO, one Communications Officer, one former sous-chef and the Captain – and they were not all pulled from the same parts of the ship. The logic is not yet apparent.”
“Keep trying. And we'll see if we can get the Andorians involved. Gardner out.”
The women were led to a large chamber off the same hallway. It contained several females of different species and about one guard for each five or so of the prisoners. They were placed in there.
Quellata spoke, “This is exercise time. You will not stay with your own species. Everyone follows around. There is no sitting and no stopping, and there is no talking. You,” she indicated Lili, “get behind this one,” she pointed to a female humanoid Xindi. Lili did as she was told.
Jennifer got behind a tall Andorian. Hoshi got in front of a Vulcan. Deb was placed behind a Klingon. Melissa got in front of that same Klingon and behind a shorter Andorian. Quellata, satisfied with the placements, left.
They began to shuffle around slowly. The Xindi in front of Lili spoke quietly, “Lean forward,” she said.
“We're not supposed to talk,” Lili whispered.
“Never mind that. Keep the volume low and stop when they tell you to. There are plenty of spots where they can't really hear us. I am Dayah.”
“My name is Lili. How long have you been here? What is this place?”
“It is a holding center. The Witannen – and their helpers, the Imvari – you've seen the big guards, yes? They are gathering up species with Warp capabilities. We're not sure why.”
“Oh. I wonder why they want us knowing Warp Drive.”
“No idea,” Dayah said, “Possibly it's a means of gauging our overall intelligence.”
“Quiet over there!” yelled one of the Imvari.
They did as told, continuing to walk and then turned at a corner. Dayah whispered, “I have been here for about three years. The Andorians have been here for about nine. The Klingons, six. The Vulcans are newer – two years soon. You're replacing the Kreetassans.”
“Yes. They didn't keep production up. So they were sent to a different unit.”
“We aren't the only twenty-five females on this ship. There are probably hundreds. We suspect three of the other Xindi species are here as well – just not Aquatics – too difficult. You have to be bipedal and breathe air to be here, so far as we can tell, and believe. The Andorians have seen a few species come and go. But don't talk to that tall one. See the one in front of the human with the orange hair? Leveqa.”
“Why shouldn't I talk to her?” Lili asked.
“You are expecting, yes? Rather clever of Quellata, to bring you in. Proven production – plus she gets credit for your child this quarter, I suspect.”
“I'm not due for another five months or so.”
“My, well, then she'll get credit next year.”
“You still didn't tell me why I shouldn't talk to that one.”
“Quiet over there!” yelled another guard.
Several minutes later, Lili asked, “Well?”
“It's stress. No good for your baby. You have enough stress. Just don't talk to Leveqa,” They turned, and could see the men, across a little hallway, in a similar room, also shuffling around slowly with other species.
Lili stopped for a second.
“Keep moving!” yelled a guard.
“Oh,” she said, and did as demanded.
“Ah, yes. It's always a bit of a thrill to see them, isn't it?” Dayah asked.
“There's not a lot to do here. But Quellata has learned that if she treats us a bit better, we give her better production than in the other units. So we get the gas, which makes everything a lot ... easier. And we get the clean ups and the clothes and the tube food. Have you had it?”
“Yes, it's terrible.”
“Oh, you're not doing that right,” Dayah said, “You can think up any taste you like. Just think and it will be it. It works on your brain chemistry a bit like the gas does. At least, that's what we think. Now, let me show you my fellow, and you can show me yours.”
“Why, yes. We're all paired up, and you must be as well. They keep you together until you produce, then you get a few months with the infant. Then they switch you to another.”
“Another? I'm not with my husband. Can we be switched so that we're together?”
“They don't take requests,” Dayah said, “Plus you're supposed to be switched about in order to cover all of the possible combinations. I'm going to assume your baby was fathered by your husband. And if so, you'll be kept apart until each of you has gone through all of the others. How long is typical gestation?”
“Um, nine months.”
“Plus it takes a little while to get pregnant. Could be five or so years until you're together again.”
“I don't think I'll be able to bear children for more than maybe another year,” Lili admitted, swallowing hard.
“Oh, they extend that. I was supposed to end a good two or so years ago. I am sixty-three. Yet here I am, cavorting with my fellow and waiting to begin producing again. Here, let me show him to you. You see your men, right?”
“Not the one with yellowish hair and not the dark-skinned one. There are three human males, one is shorter than the other two? My Emmiz is behind one of the tall ones. See?”
There was a Xindi behind Jonathan, “Yes, I think so. He's behind our Captain if it's who I think it is. He's very young.”
“Almost twenty,” she sighed a tiny bit, “He's so sweet and lovely. Best one I've had here so far.”
Another Xindi woman called out, “You should thank me. I taught him all he knows.”
“Quiet over there!”
The men were having their own conversations. Doug was a few places behind Malcolm, “Reed,” he said, “you and me, once this is over. I don't care where,” he was livid.
“Enough,” Jonathan said in a stage whisper. He was several spots behind Doug, “That's an order.”
“You can't give me orders, I'm retired from Starfleet,” Doug said through clenched teeth.
“Look,” Jonathan said, “I can't begin to know how it feels for you. But right now you both need to be concentrating on getting out of here. And Hayes – uh, Beckett. You're covered by our laws, you know.”
“Not so loud,” Emmiz said behind him, “Don't ruin it for everyone.”
Lili pointed out Malcolm, and then Doug, to Dayah.
“Ah, they gave you the shortest one. Hmmpf. And your husband?”
“He is the oldest one,” Lili replied, “I miss him.”
“Try not to think of that. You'll only upset yourself and that's not good for the baby.”
“What happens to the babies?”
“We're not sure. You get a few months together, the three of you. No gas. Then you hand over the baby and that's the last we've seen of them. We don't believe anything bad happens to them. There's far too much trouble taken to get them born in the first place. But we don't really know,” Dayah admitted.
“How many children have you had?”
“Four here. A boy, a girl and then twin boys last time. My man then, he and I got extra rations. This doesn't count my eldest girl, of course.”
“You have a daughter who isn't here?”
“Correct. She is a medical student. Are any of your people doctors?”
“A pity. I am the closest anyone comes. I am a midwife, self-taught. I stepped up when we first got here – there was no one, and one of the Kreetassans went into labor while we were in here.”
“If this baby is as big as my son, I'll need a C-section. Can you do that?”
“No. I have nothing to cut with.”
“I – the baby will be too big. He'll kill me coming out.”
“They have a vet that can take care of that.”
“A vet,” Lili said, “Gawd.”
Lili whispered after a few minutes, “Does the gas work on everyone the same way?”
“Yes, I believe so. It makes us all very, ahem, interested. Of course there are some who don't need it.”
“Don't need it?”
“Like you and your husband. Surely you would both be willing if you were paired up?”
“The gas works for about six or so hours. Then we all mostly sleep, and usually pretty soundly. It's tiring work, after all. And then you wake up, and you're usually tangled together because you fell asleep that way. But some, they wake up and they still want to. Those – and I am lucky my Emmiz is one of them! – those don't need the gas. They're interested anyway.”
Lili touched her own right temple a second. She'd been kissed there that very morning.
Exercise finally ended after a few hours. They were herded away, by species. First went the Vulcans, on both sides.
“What's happening?” Travis asked an Andorian in front of him.
“You clean up. It’s voluntary this time. You get fresh clothes. Then we go back to the women,” he sighed, “I am with Leveqa right now, to my undying shame and misery. All I can hope is to do the deed quickly so I can move on to one of the others.”
“A great beauty,” he pointed her out, just in front of Jennifer, “But the heart is made of titanium and frozen carbon dioxide. She almost ruined it for us.”
They were the last species allowed to clean up, even after the Andorians. These were big, communal showers, with no thought to modesty. It was quick, and then they were dried by blown air and found their new clothes. Then, as before, it was the women first. They were prodded down the hallway and separated into their chambers. The men soon followed and Lili heard Doug one time, swearing at Malcolm, before the front wall closed.
Kick kick Kick Kick Kick.
There were two more tubes in the room. Malcolm handed them both to Lili, “Luncheon. Or supper, I suppose. I've lost track of the hours.”
“High tea, maybe?” she handed one back.
“No, thank you,” he said, “It’s too bland. I'll wait until I'm truly starving.”
“Oh, we learned, it's supposed to be, you can make up anything and it'll taste like it.”
“How very curious. Hmm,” he took a taste, “Hard-boiled egg, lightly salted. The flavor's right but the texture's wrong.”
“Okay. High tea, right? Pancakes,” she took a taste.
“Pancakes? That's not normally served.”
“Well, I'm pregnant. I get cravings. And I've been wanting pancakes for over a month. You're right, the texture is no good. And the temperature doesn't change. But if they work those two kinks out, these could be a pregnant gal's best friend.”
“Maple syrup? Butter, perhaps?” he offered her the remainder of the other tube.
“I already have,” she smiled a little, “But just the syrup. No butter, it's a waste.”
“Yes. None for me, either. Dairy is not the best thing for me, even, I suppose, in my own imagination.”
“No? I've made you sandwiches with cheese. At least, I think I remember having done that. Did I make you anything you didn't want, Malcolm?”
“Oh, I probably asked for that,” he said, “But I always pay for it later. It’s lactose intolerance – a bit of nasty cramping. Probably nowhere near as awful as labor. I wonder if I'm expected to deliver your child.”
“I learned they have, gawd, they have a vet to do that. I would need a Cesarean anyway.”
“Oh. I wonder if they can hear us in here, or if they're watching.”
“I'm trying not to think about that,” she said.
“Crewman, I want you to find out everything you can, anything you can,” Jonathan said, “About the Witannen, the Imvari, this ship, you know the drill.”
“We all need to do that, so tell the other women when you next see them.”
“Very good, sir. Sir?” Deb asked.
“I was wondering. Since, uh, since we've had relations. And, uh, well, for the duration, I was wondering. Could you, uh, not call me Crewman? Only for the duration,” she added quickly.
“Hmm. Debbie, right?”
“Deborah. Or Deb, sir. Debbie makes me feel like a three-year-old.”
“All right, uh, Deborah,” Jonathan said tentatively.
“Thank you, sir.”
“You might want to stop calling me sir.”
“Yes, uh, Jonathan,” she felt a frisson of excitement in saying his name aloud for the first time, to him, without him objecting or being annoyed.
“Jennifer, I can't stop apologizing to you,” Travis said, “Here, eat something.”
“I don't know what I'm gonna tell Frank.”
“I, uh, I know. Look, uh, why don't you tell me something good about Frank? Like, uh, like how you two met. Would that be something good?”
“Uh, okay. It was on a blind date.”
“A blind date? You, of all people, needed a blind date?” Travis was incredulous.
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“Well, it's just, you're the Redheaded Bombshell. Can't you just get dates to materialize out of thin air?”
“What did you just call me?”
“The Bombshell. Didn't you know the guys all call you that?”
“No,” she said, “Do they write my name on a wall or something?”
“Uh, no, it's not like that. It's not that anyone thinks you're easy. It's that we all know you're the hottest woman on the ship. By a lot.”
“Yeah, you. How can you not know this?” he asked.
“Nobody ever told me,” she said, “Weird.”
“Well, it's true. You are totally hot.”
She swallowed, “I don't want to be hot. I just want to be out of here, and with Frank, and forget this all happened.”
“I know. Tell me about your blind date. C'mon. I won't tell anyone else if you say not to.”
“I went to Worcester for Engineering, but that was years ago. And, uh, Frank was in Arizona, doing geology study. But I went back to Worcester to see friends and one of my girlfriends had this guy who was hanging around and she thought he wasn't really her type. So she asked if I wanted to be fixed up. And I figured what the hell. So I said okay. He arrived on this transport and we went to the Boynton.”
“What's the Boynton?”
“It's a restaurant. We shared a Caesar salad and steak tips. He had a ticket to go back to Arizona on a transport later that day.”
“So he went back to Arizona and then what?” Travis prompted.
“Not exactly. He didn't leave for four days. And when he finally did leave, I called my mother after I saw the transport disappear and I told her I'd met somebody special. That was about two years ago.”
“And now I've cheated on him. He's gonna leave me.”
“Yes, Joss?” They were in the cafeteria again. Dinner had wound down and almost no one was left in the room. Brian was wiping off tables nearby.
“In front of all these people?” Yimar sighed, “Okay. But you don't like the way I sing it,” she began:
“The duck was quackin'
the duck was laughin'...”
“No!” Joss said sharply, “'Ommy do Duck Duck!”
“Mommy's not here. Best I can do, Joss,” she said.
Chip came over, “Wanna see a magic trick?” He did the old disappearing thumb trick. Joss was mesmerized and squealed with delight.
“Oh, whew, thank you. We almost had a meltdown there,” she said.
“I got a million of 'em,” he said, “Just ask. Oh, hi, Del.”
Brian came over, “Everything okay?”
“The usual. I'm not M-O-M-M-Y, so nothing is right.”
“You're doing your best. He'll realize that someday,” Brian assured her.
“I know this is none of my business,” Doug began.
“Then it probably isn't,” Melissa said.
“Well,” he smiled, face tight, “You said before, about, um, you know.”
“Yeah. That was my first time with a guy.”
“Yeah, that. Uh, what's the 'not exactly' part of that?”
“I'm not exactly an innocent maid,” Melissa said, “I just hadn't, to use a quaint expression, I hadn't gone all the way with a guy. Just with women. Until yesterday.”
“Ohhh,” he paused, “Really?”
“Yeah. Why does that surprise you? Haven't you ever seen a bi person before?”
“I guess I did and didn't know I, uh, did,” he admitted, “I hope I didn't ruin it for you.”
She smiled a little, “Well, it wasn't exactly fireworks but it wasn't horrible.”
“Um, thanks, I think. I never did it with someone who had absolutely no experience before,” he said.
“Not even your first time?”
“God, no. She was, uh, she was a bar girl in Cambodia.”
“Huh. A professional?”
“Not exactly,” he said, “At least, she wasn’t as far as I was concerned. I used to buy her gifts, not give her money. I was young and stupid and I thought I had to give her a lot of stuff and tell her I loved her in order to get her to sleep with me.”
“Oh. Man,” Melissa said, “I take it that it worked.”
“Yeah, it worked,” he said, “I definitely had to give the gifts – the rest of it, though, not so much. Darareaksmey didn't give a damn about me lying to her, telling her I loved her.”
“That name's a mouthful,” Melissa said.
“Yeah. It's Khmer for 'bright star',” he said, “It was, uh, over thirty-five years ago.”
“That's a good ten years before I was born, Doug.”
“Thanks,” he said, “Way to make a guy feel old.”
“I imagine the next time your husband sees me alone, he'll break my nose,” Malcolm said. They had finished eating and were sitting on the mattress.
“No? Lili, he's furious with me.”
“Oh, he may start off that way,” she said, “But that won't be all of it.”
“What are you trying to tell me?”
“Malcolm, despite whatever Doug has promised to me, I suspect that the next time he can get you alone, he's going to try to kill you.”
“So, do you wanna eat, or fool around some more?” Tripp asked.
“I wanna dance,” Hoshi said.
“Dance? This ain't exactly the Palace.”
“I know. I just, uh, something that feels almost like a date.”
“There's no music.”
“So you'll sing,” she said.
“Me? I sound awful. I do hope you're not expecting anything to actually be in any sort of a recognizable key.”
“That's okay,” she got up and held out her hand.
“All right, here goes nothin',” he put an arm around her waist and she put one on his neck, “This is, uh, a song my grandpappy used to sing to my grandma. That okay for you?”
“Sure,” she said, kissing his cheek, “And thanks for indulging me a little.”
“I'll try not to step on your toes. Ahem,” he began, and twirled her slowly in an approximation of a waltz:
“Longing for you all the while, More and more;
Longing for the sunny smile, I adore;
Birds are singing far and near, Roses blooming ev'rywhere
You, alone, my heart can cheer; You, just you.”
“Okay, now, big finish!” he said.
“Let me call you Sweetheart, I'm ...,” he stopped singing and moving.
“Why'd you stop?” she asked.
“I don't think I should be singing the next line.”
“Why not, Tripp?”
“Because, Hoshi, the next line is,” he swallowed and looked her in the eye, “The next line is 'I'm in love with you'.”
“Oh,” she looked at him, “Guess you'd better not. This was a bad idea.”
“Kill me?” Malcolm asked.
“Yes. Malcolm, he's, no one is allowed to know this, okay? You swear to secrecy, and I mean swear,” Lili said.
“You know he comes from another side. It’s a mirror universe, another place. Well, it's a distorted mirror. It's a crazy funhouse. And it's all spiked with testosterone and nastiness and machismo and about three-quarters male.”
“And that's all, uh, let me back up. When it was all first starting a few years ago, when Doug and I first made contact, there was initially a meeting with Phlox. And Phlox said that there's a three to one chance that Doug will father a boy at any time. Doug is a walking male hormone cocktail, he's jumping with it. It's like he was born on steroids, it even all ended up in me during both pregnancies – I'm doused with testosterone at a time when that shouldn't even be possible. And he's typical for there. They are all like that, and they are three-quarters male, like I said.”
“And so things evolved differently there – or at least their culture did. Agriculture isn't as important as hunting. Women aren't as important as men, so they're mostly treated like dirt. And justice isn't as important as revenge and getting ahead.”
“What are you attempting to tell me?”
“I know that when he was brought over, T'Pol thought he might be an escaped prisoner, or that he was eluding justice. That's not quite the case. He wasn't eluding justice because there really is no justice there. No punishments, but also no mercy. He got away with a lot of things. And when he came here, he vowed to me that he wasn't going to do those things anymore.”
“And those were violent things, am I right? He was a soldier. As I have been. We do things that gentle women such as yourself would find reprehensible. But we are ordered to do such things, and we do them.”
“This wasn't in the heat of battle, Malcolm. It was ambition.”
“You heard me. It was to get ahead. You kill your superior officer, you move up a rank. He was your level when he was over in the other universe – fourth in command. So he whacked fourteen men to get there.”
“Was my counterpart there one of those fourteen men?”
“No. That much I do know. But you know Chris Harris?”
“He's a pilot, right? With Travis and Melissa here, he must be pulling double shifts,” Malcolm said.
“Yes, him. On the other side, there is no Chris Harris. Not anymore. Doug knows the specifics. I don't ask unless he volunteers information. And he hasn't volunteered information about these kinds of things for, well, since before Joss was born.”
“So he comes here, and he converts himself into a family man,” Malcolm said, “You said earlier that he vowed not to do violence anymore.”
“Yes. But my understanding is that he gets overly violent while hunting. It's like a blood lust that isn't otherwise satisfied. And he hasn't been really tested here. Not until now. I'm just afraid that he won't be able to control himself. He doesn't always control himself. He can't put a lasso around his own strength, even with me.”
“Do you think he will harm you? Or your child, or Joss?”
“He won't hurt Joss. And he knows this baby,” she patted her belly, and got a kick for her troubles, “is his.”
“And after you have the baby?”
“I don't know. I don't think he'd, intellectually, want to. He's told me he doesn't hit women. But I don't imagine he's been quite so angry at one before.”
“We'll tell him I've been forcing you,” Malcolm said.
“I don't think he's gonna believe that.”
Kick Kick Kick Kick.
“Sorry,” Melissa said.
“That's all right. What was your first one like? Now that we're telling,” Doug said.
“You sure you wanna hear this?”
“Sure. When did you realize you were bi?”
“I was probably not much older than your son is. I mean, you just are one way or the other,” she said, “I went to Europa on vacation and I saw this girl and she and I hit it off. I was, uh, nineteen, hanging around with other flight school buddies. She was there with her parents and there were bonfires on the beach at night and fireworks and tents. And, uh, we made use of one of the tents.”
“Ah. That wasn't, like, last year or anything?”
“I've twenty-five, Doug. That was quite a few relationships ago. 'Course I'll have to explain you to Norri.”
“My girl. We live together on Ceres.”
“Oh. I guess I've been so caught up in my own issues I forgot to ask you if you had any,” he said, “Is this gonna really screw things up for you?”
“Maybe it will a little. Norri knows I see guys sometimes. But it's been really chaste. They try anything beyond about second base and I just bounce outta there.”
“This wasn't just second base.”
“I know. I gotta figure out how I'm gonna explain it,” she said.
There was a hissing sound in all of the chambers, and the fuchsia-colored gas returned.
And so did desire.
She had the most glorious pecan-brown eyes he'd ever seen.
She was creative.
She could take whatever he could dish out.
She was unbelievably hot.
She had gorgeous, glossy black hair.
He wasn't her fiancé.
It didn't matter.
He wasn't the most perfect performer.
It didn't matter.
He scared her a little with how fast it was all moving.
It didn't matter.
He was a little tentative.
It didn't matter.
He wasn't a woman.
It didn't matter.
Sleep overtook all, afterwards. But this time it wasn't wholly dreamless.
She was walking through halls, opening doors and closing them, and calling in to each of them, “Are you there? Is anyone there?”
Over and over again. She walked through plain corridors and decorated ones. Through the holding center and through the Enterprise and through buildings she'd known on Lafa II and Titan and Earth. Walk, open door, peer inside, see no one, call out, close door and then move on.
Again and again until a lightly tapping and caressing hand on the side of her belly woke her, and a British-accented voice whispered, barely at the edge of audibility, “Lili-Flower.”
Lili's eyes sprang open, and she stared into space.
She didn't move, didn't twitch. She had no idea what to do.
The caressing continued. It was very light, not ticklish, and not hard. It was just the side of her belly. There were no movements, no advances, either to her front or her back. It seemed clear that Malcolm wasn't trying to wake her up. She was not leaning against his body.
Her throat was dry, and she finally, involuntarily, coughed a little bit.
“Oh, you're up,” he said. His hand immediately moved away.
He could have, she figured, plausible deniability. If she asked, he could claim he wasn't doing anything. She kept quiet about it, and instead said, “I, uh, I've got a toddler at home. I'm up early all the time.”
“I suppose you would be.”
She sat up and the thin blanket dropped down, exposing her a little. She didn't make a move to recover herself.
“Uh, you'd best ...,” he said.
“Considering what's happened the last few nights, well, you've already seen me in my thousand-kilo pregnant glory.”
“Still,” he moved to sit up but grimaced.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, just a bit of a backache.”
“I shouldn't have, uh,” she said, “I'm not exactly light these days.”
“I don't know.”
“Here. Um, lie on your stomach.”
“I caused this. Let me at least try to cure it.”
“No. If today is at all like yesterday, we'll be walking around for hours. You might as well be comfortable, or as comfortable as you can be.”
“Uh, all right,” he did as requested.
She pulled the blanket down to expose his back, and then started pressing her thumbs in.
“No, a little higher. Yes, that's right,” he said.
“Not so hard. Oh, yes, much better. Thank you.”
“Good,” she said, “That's, um, hate to say it, but that's the same motion and the same force I used to use to burp Joss.”
Excitement gone, he felt safe in turning over and sitting up.
“Your beard's coming in grey,” Melissa said.
“I don't suppose they have much of a concept of shaving here,” Doug replied, “I'm almost fifty-seven. I'd be surprised if it wasn't grey.”
“I'm old enough to be your father. And, uh, don't tell me how old he is.”
“Why not? He's sixty-two,” she said.
“He was an old father.”
“So are you,” she said, “But I'm the fourth of six.”
“Huh. I want a bigger family but I get the feeling this will be it,” he said, and then swallowed. Maybe not, and not the way he'd hoped for or expected.
“Well, it was all right being in a big family, I guess,” Melissa said, not noticing his reaction, “All girls. I bet my father wanted to run screaming from us more than once.”
“Yep. And we're all 'M' names. Monica, Marilyn, Meghan, then, uh, I come in. Then Misty ....”
“Sounds like a stripper's name,” he said, “Er, sorry.”
“She's studying to be an ornithologist.”
“Oh. Uh, wherever you are Misty, I'm sorry. You missed one.”
“Oh. The baby – Miri.”
“Pancakes again?” Malcolm asked, taking a tube from Lili.
“Hmm, nope. Lox and eggs and onions. You?” She adjusted the sleeve of her dress, exposing a tattooed arm for a second.
“Sesame bagel. With, uh, blueberry jam. No cream cheese for me.”
“Right. Uh, let's talk about Jenny's wedding. Are you bringing anyone?”
“Yes, I am, actually,” he said.
“Pamela Hudson. Uh, Doctor Pamela Hudson.”
“Very nice. Your parents must be thrilled.”
“My parents haven't met her. And they shan't, ever.”
“Oh. Uh, why?”
“Because, well, it's not very polite,” Malcolm said.
“Pamela and I are, there's an old expression. Our relationship is what's referred to oh so charmingly as 'Friends with Benefits'.”
“Ohhh. Those kinds of benefits. Don't you, um, want to fall in love?” Lili wasn't even sure why she'd said that. It had just slipped out.
“Yes, of course I do,” he said, looking away a little, then stuffed another ten cc's of paste into his mouth, and swallowed it, “I even told her I loved her. But it wasn't true; it was wishful thinking on my part.”
“Well, it's just; I tend to fall for women who are either thoroughly inappropriate for me or wholly unattainable,” he capped the tube and rewrapped his shirt, then offered her the tube, “Do you want the rest of this?”
“I cannot believe you did that again,” Jennifer accused.
“Hey, I'm not just doing it by myself,” Travis replied.
“I hate this.”
“Thanks. A lot.”
“No, I don't hate you, Travis. I just hate what's happening.”
Kick kick kick kick Kick Kick Kick.
“Ow! Pete! God, lay off every once in a while,” Lili complained.
“Oh, is that what you're going to name your baby?”
“Yes. Peter Matthew, for my parents. Every name has a meaning.”
“So you know you're having a boy, then?”
“Chances are too good not to. Doug” and she paused a little when she said his name, “and I won't have daughters. Pete will most likely be our last,” she didn't want to think of how the Witannen were, potentially, going to make a liar out of her.
Kick Kick Kick.
“Yes. No one to inherit your gentle grace,” he said, “What would you name a girl, if you were to have one?”
“Marie Patrice,” she answered quickly. She'd never said that name out loud; it sounded like a magical talisman and hung in the air for a split second.
She was about to say something when she was smacked with another long volley of kicking.
“I get the feeling I could be better at this.”
“It's all right.”
“Uh, well, thanks, but I think you're being overly kind. You're probably used to much younger men.”
“It's okay. I'm totally covered. Really.”
“You have pretty eyes,” he said, “Light brown,” he smiled a little, “Pecan pie.”
The tubes were thrown in. Deb got up and retrieved them.
“Pecan pie?” she asked, handing him one.
“Maybe not for breakfast.”
“I meant to tell you, you talk in your sleep a bit.”
“Yes. I've talked in my sleep ever since I was able to talk,” Lili said.
“Well, you seemed a bit distressed. You kept asking, 'Is anyone there?' I wasn't sure if I should wake you,” Malcolm said, “I do hope you don't mind. I didn't mean to eavesdrop.”
“It's okay. You're a, heh, a captive audience. I was going through all these rooms and checking doors. I couldn't find anyone. I think I was trying to tell them about here, about how to find us.”
“That's what we'll be trying to do, I'll wager, although it would not be in the exact same way. But we will be looking for ways to get a message to the Enterprise, if I know the Captain.”
“Hoshi, did you find where you flung 'em?”
“Sure, right there, under the mattress,” she said, scooping up the two tubes.
“Ah, thanks,” he retrieved his shorts and put them on.
They barely got a chance to eat before the door opened. The drill was as before. The guards separated them, and the women left first.
Quietly, before they were forced into line, Deb said, “Captain wants us to gather intel. Anything is helpful.”
Dayah found Lili again, “Walk in front of me this time,” Dayah said, “I'll give you an examination.”
“Well, this isn't exactly a state of the art Xindi Medical Facility, but it's the best I can do.”
“Quiet!” yelled a guard, and they started shuffling around again.
Dayah put her hands on Lili's abdomen, and then pressed in a little. This elicited some kicking.
“Ah, you have good quickening,” she said.
“It’s signs of life within,” Dayah said, “Not much else I can check, but your baby is obviously strong, unless you’re going to have twins. Are you?”
“No. That much I know for certain.”
“And you have months to go yet. Quellata must be pleased, or she will be. A very fit baby is the ideal.”
“Do, uh, does everyone turn the baby over to her?”
“We all must. And they can make you sleep, as you know, and take the baby then. That's usually how it's done.”
“I see. I just, I want to keep him,” Lili said, patting her own belly.
“We all do.”
Deb was walking behind a Klingon woman, “Do you know anything about our course and speed?”
“Not much. Do you have a pilot? Last known position would be of help,” answered the Klingon.
“Over there. She’s the short woman, with brown hair,” Deb pointed.
“Tomorrow, I will speak with her. As for speed, we estimate at least Warp Eight.”
Jennifer and an Andorian woman were talking. Jennifer said, “What do you know about escaping?”
“Keep your voice down.”
“We don't try, not much, not anymore. The guards are strong and the sticks are always charged, or at least they always seem to be.”
On the men's side, Jonathan asked a Vulcan, “Does anyone have a map of the interior?”
“Nothing other than what we have been able to piece together. Cells line both sides of each corridor. Then these exercise areas, as you know, are on the ends. Between are the cleansing stations.”
“What about where we were first brought in?” asked Jonathan.
“I'm not sure where that is. You forget it has been a few years since my people and I were captured. And they may have changed it.”
“What's going on, in the other units?” Travis asked Emmiz.
“I don't know. No one ever transfers in. They only transfer out, and only if production falls off.”
“Production. It makes this sound like a factory,” Travis said.
Malcolm asked an Andorian, “Do they listen in on our conversations or, uh, observe us at, at night?”
“Are you certain? I mean, it strikes me that it's possible that the Witannen are filming pornography of some sort.”
“No,” The Andorian said.
“How can you know that?”
“Denebian slime devils, or whatever they are calling you, insulting you, what is it?”
“Slime molds,” Malcolm spat out the phrase.
“Yes, well, do you become aroused watching such low creatures mate?”
“Of course not.”
“Same with them. They think you're too primitive to be titillating,” said the Andorian.
Melissa was behind Leveqa, the tall Andorian, “What do you know about the ventilation system?”
“Nothing helpful. Gas comes in,” she shrugged, “It's all you need to know.”
“Can the panels come off?”
“Who knows? Look, I almost blew it for everyone a year ago. Don't blow it for us.”
“How can you, you told me, sometimes they, uh, they want to, uh, do it without the gas. How do you know that?”
“Well, it should be obvious. But I sense you are unsure.”
“And you are unsure of yourself, am I right?”
“I don't know what to think,” Lili admitted.
“It's a good thing. Jannar and I – see him, just in front of your husband? – He and I never got along. The only good thing out of that was that I had twins, so we received extra rations.”
“It's one thing to be friends. But more? I kind of, hmmm, I know that, well, that there was interest. But it was a few years ago. I had thought it was done – he even had, at least, one girlfriend since then. I mean, look at me. I'm not exactly glamorous these days. And I am not young anymore.”
“So? I am old enough to be a grandmother to Emmiz. You are concerned. It is, perhaps, exposing cracks that you didn't think were in your marriage, eh?”
“I also wonder how my husband is getting on with, with Melissa. She’s the short girl. There.”
“She is young. Not to be insulting, that is merely an observation. You do not know what to think.”
“No, I don't,” Lili said.
“Might I suggest something?”
“You're the expert.”
“Hardly,” Dayah said, “Just, consider how today is going to be, and tomorrow, here. And think of the future later, when it has come and it matters. Be happy today. Tomorrow you could be in another unit, and things would not be so nice.”
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, ” Lili said.
“Quiet over there!”
They had showered and were being dried off. Lili approached Melissa, “I want you to know, I'm not angry with you.”
“Oh. I guess you've got a right to be,” Melissa said.
“Well, I was before. But I'm not anymore. It doesn't seem heh, productive,” Lili found her clothes and put them on, “Melissa, can I ask you something?”
“You are, he hasn't hurt you, has he?” Lili asked quietly.
“No. Lili, was he hitting you?”
“No. Oh, no. It's during relations. Has he injured you?”
“I don't get it.”
“I don't want to be drawing a map but, he's, uh, there's a lot there. And he's not always good with control or, or being careful.”
“Ohhh,” Melissa paused to put on her dress, “I'm fine, at least so far, although the first time did hurt quite a bit. But no injuries.”
“Hmm. Maybe he's holding back somehow. I don't want you to get hurt, is all.”
Back in the cell, Lili listened for the men. This time, Doug didn't swear at Malcolm. Progress, perhaps.
Malcolm was pushed back in. She handed him a tube, “Dinner is served.”
“Uh, thank you.”
They sat down on the mattress – the only place to sit.
Lili spoke, “I wanted to talk to you some more about your department's gift.”
“You already thanked me for that. No reason to do so again,” he said, between downing bits of paste.
“I know. It's not about that, not specifically. I'm quite sure I've figured out the real meaning behind it.”
“Meaning? There is no meaning. It's a wedding gift to you and Doug, nothing more.”
“No,” she said, “That's just the cover story.”
Chip and Yimar were running out of tricks to show Joss. Chip had made paper airplanes, done the folded napkin mouse trick and had produced Denobulan coins from behind both of Joss's ears. Every time a new trick was begun, it would hold Joss's attention for a little while, but then his mind would wander and he'd alternately suck his thumb and call out for his mother. The intervals between the calls were getting shorter and shorter, and Yimar was beginning to really get panicky.
It was the cafeteria, and she couldn't just keep feeding him. Finally, Chip said, “Look, I'm pretty much tapped. I'm sorry. I'm just not a kids' performer. And I don't think you want me to be telling him any dirty jokes. I hate to leave you in the lurch like this, but I need to get some sleep. With no Hoshi,” he paused for a second, as he did miss his boss, “I'm doing double duty even before I hit the Borscht Belt here.”
“What's a Borscht Belt?” asked Yimar.
“Uh, never mind. It’s too much to explain. All I'm saying is I gotta be fresh to do my work. Entertaining him is taking too much outta me. I gotta go,” he departed.
She sat there with Joss, who was sucking his thumb and staring out the window, “'Ommy home?”
She sighed, “Not yet.”
He went back to crying.
“Cover story? What the devil are you on about?” asked Malcolm.
“Yes. It's hidden in plain sight, really,” she said, “The box – it's from a big British store.”
“Well, I'm the Department Head. So?”
“Yes. That part's understood. But, you see, the rest of it. Now, I'm sure that Karin picked out what she gave us. And Lucas and Ethan and the others did as well. All of that works totally on face value and that's it.”
“Well?” he turned away slightly.
“It's the rest of it,” she said.
Brian came out, wiping his hands on a dish towel, “Dishes are all done. Hey, buddy, what's the matter?” he bent over to talk to Joss.
“The usual,” Yimar said, “I'm getting to the end of my rope.”
“Hmm. Wanna go see a puppy?” he asked, his voice brightening.
“What's a puppy?” she asked.
“It's a baby dog. The dog isn't a baby but, well, close enough. The Captain has a little dog, and he's staying in Sick Bay until things are resolved,” Brian explained.
“Oh. Is this animal tame?”
“Very. Just make sure Joss doesn't pull his tail.”
“Hmm. Okay. Joss, wanna see a pretty puppy?” she asked, widening her eyes and smiling and trying to make it the most interesting thing to do, ever.
“Puppy?” Joss asked, stopping the crying for a second.
“Yes. Bring the stegosaurus,” Brian said.
“What's that?” Yimar asked.
“Oh, his toy, the dinosaur. It's a stegosaurus.”
“Huh,” Yimar said, “See, this is educational,” she said to Joss, “Let's go see the pretty puppy.”
“Somebody,” Lili said cautiously, “uh, somebody was really careful. They picked out the things that weren't wrapped, and those things were all either British or from the old British Empire, like the nuts.”
“The sun used to rise and set on it,” Malcolm said, “That's hardly meaningful,” he said, protesting a bit too strongly and turning away some more.
“No argument here. The canisters – the tea isn't labeled, but I know for a fact that it's English breakfast. And this, this person knew that I would know, and that I wouldn't have to be told.”
“Everyone knows you're a professional chef.”
“Again, that much is understood. But then there are the napkins. They aren't just an okay blue, or a great blue. No. They are the absolutely most perfect shade. It’s a dark royal, almost indigo. That person knew that that would be the right shade, and it probably took a really long time to find them. And the canisters – stainless steel with a little turquoise inlay on the clamps – that person knew that, even without ever seeing a picture of my kitchen, that person, he knew that the kitchen would be blue and green.”
“You, uh, wore those colors a lot,” he pointed out, but his argument was failing.
“I definitely telegraphed the colors. But there's the card, too. Somebody knew I would love a handwritten card, something to hold and look at, again and again. And while everyone signed it, one person – that person – wrote out the original greeting. I don't know people's handwriting for sure, but I can make an educated guess about whose writing it is,” she paused.
She took a deep breath, “It's not a set of candlesticks that someone bought quickly because they didn't know us. It's not a gift card purchased at the last minute. It's not a tablecloth I'll only use once or twice a year. It's not a book I'll read maybe a few times and then put away on a shelf to gather dust somewhere. It's food and it's a card and it's napkins and canisters and by themselves those really aren't a lot of things. But put it all together and, well, this, uh, the cover story is that this gift was to remind Doug and me of home. And it does. It succeeds there, admirably. But the real hidden meaning is, because the kitchen is my room, my place, my domain, the gift is really to remind me, every day, every single day, of the person who gave it.”
“Can I ask you something, Doug?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“Are you holding back?”
“Well, I'm trying to,” he admitted, “I think the reasons should be kinda obvious.”
“Is it possible that you could hurt me?”
“Melissa, you'll tell me if I'm hurting you, right?”
“Sure. It, uh, it did hurt the first time, but I kinda figured it would.”
“What? Oh, no. No blood,” she smiled, “And last night was not too bad at all.”
“That's hardly a ringing endorsement.”
“Well, I don't have comparisons,” she said, “But, I did, uh, do you wanna hear this?”
“I guess so – not too much else to talk about, is there?”
“I had a, um, it was, uh, good,” she said.
“Really? Huh. Why are you asking me about holding back?”
“I'm not making any suggestions or anything. Don't misunderstand me,” she said, “But we're stuck here and this is, well, it's kinda the only really pleasant thing going on.”
“Yeah,” he admitted.
“So maybe don't hold back. Uh, if you think that's a good idea.”
“I don't want to hurt you,” he said, “And I can. I have done it before. Not my finest hour,” he looked away a little.
“I'm built like a tank,” she said, “I can take it.”
“Yeah. I'm not, uh, not telling you to do it now or anything, Doug.”
“I'm just sayin'. Don't, um, don't worry so much.”
Malcolm really turned away this time, and squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingertips and braced himself for impact. Whatever she had to say next was not going to be good, he could tell.
“And, uh,” she said, “that person is, is you.”
He just sat there quietly, and then finally spoke, “I, you were, you were never supposed to know. And you wouldn't have, but the damned Witannen have brought it all up to the surface.”
She stared at his back as he gathered up the courage to continue.
He said, “It was, it was a few years ago. You were, it was when you were first making contact with, with Doug. And something in you turned. You became, well, noticeable. This is not to say that you were, well ....”
“I was a drudge until then,” she said, “All I did was work, eat and sleep. I spoke to almost nobody. I wasn't close to anyone,” she stated.
“And then, suddenly, you were kind of, well, switched on. I suppose that's the best way to describe it. And I felt something. But I could see where you wanted to be, and who you wanted to be with. And, and when your, when everything finally fell into place, I stepped aside. Even though Doug said I was sweet on you, I said I wasn't. But that was not true. And you, you hugged me when you were in Sick Bay, do you remember? It is, I suppose, nothing to you. But for me it was a lot. It meant something.”
“I wouldn't have, would not have, if it didn't have meaning.”
“Still, I doubt somewhat that it meant to you just what it did to, to me,” he swallowed hard, “For a moment, I could believe it wasn't me you were kissing off – that it was, that it was him.”
He took another deep breath, “And then you left the Enterprise, and you began your life away. And there were letters. I knew they weren't just being sent to me, but I could, I could believe they were, if I felt it hard enough. And there were photographs! If I squinted just right, I could, I could believe that it was you and me in front of your new business venture, you and I standing on a beach, and you and I holding our, our son,” he stopped.
“I don't, I don't want you to go through a divorce. I don't want your home broken up. I don't wish your, your husband dead. It's not that. Not at all. I told you – unattainable women. And you are, you became unattainable almost immediately and now, suddenly, you're attainable. But it's all due to this damnable gas they give us to breathe. It is what I want, it is my, my love, yes, that's the right word – it is my love. It is what I dreamt of, and not just chastely, but for you, it's forcing and it's not you really wanting to do it. As you close your eyes, I imagine you think of, of him. And that hurts so much, so much more. I have waited for, for this. But it's not what I truly desired. The Witannen have perverted it. For so long I've wanted to be close to you. Now all I want to do is crawl away and die.”
“See? Pretty puppy!” Yimar said, “Pet nicely, Joss.”
“There are lots of animals to see here,” Brian said, “Doctor Phlox, can we bring him here tomorrow, maybe look at a different animal? If it's not, uh, too much trouble. He's really lonely without Lili.”
“That's understandable,” Phlox said, “Hmm, the Derellian bat will be coming out of its two week hibernation cycle. He can feed it a few pellets, assuming there's no medical emergency tomorrow.”
“Thank you. You're a lifesaver,” Yimar gushed.
“I have been told that before,” Phlox smiled, “But it's still nice to hear.”
They were silent for a while. Lili turned and put her hand on Malcolm's back. Edge of a cliff, she thought to herself. But it was not necessarily such a scary cliff. She moved in closer and pushed her arms through and around his waist. She leaned her mouth on his shoulder and held it there a while.
Finally, she said, very quietly, “Please. Can you turn around? A little? Please? Because, uh, I'm getting tired of, of kissing your shoulder, Malcolm. I'd really rather kiss your mouth.”
He turned to face her, “Are you certain?”
She nodded vigorously, “Lili-Flower, right?”
“Yes. You weren't supposed to hear that, either. I've made quite a hash of things.”
“Heavenly hash is a great ice cream flavor.”
“No ice cream for me, thanks,” he said, “Maybe something sweeter.”
They kissed until the gas started, then rapidly moved onto other things.
It wasn't a perfect moment.
A perfect moment would have had, for one thing, a more comfortable bed. But it was a good moment – one of Malcolm's better ones. He lay back, after they'd broken apart, and held her and kissed her shoulder and thought that, well, this wasn't so bad after all. Life could be far, far worse. He spoke, “I, may I ask? The baby's been awfully quiet. I don't wish to hurt him. Is everything all right?”
“Yes, definitely. And, I don't think you can hurt him,” she said, stretching a little. She smiled at him, “I can feel him moving. He's just not kicking so much. He seems to have calmed down a little. Here, give me your hand,” he complied, “Put it right here,” he placed it on her navel, “Now, press in very, very slightly. Too hard, and you'll induce kicking. Just ... feel.”
He did as requested, and then felt it, moving, a bit of a small wave, a little rolling underneath her skin, “How extraordin'ry,” he smiled fully, feeling warm and a little reddened in the face, “How completely incredible that is. A lot nicer than the kicking, I imagine. You get assaulted an awful lot, Lili.”
“Well, he's calmer now. And I think you have a little to do with that,” she put her hand on his, feeling how warm he was against her belly.
“Yes. I think he likes you.”
“Well, I like him.”
She turned her face back to him and kissed him.
“Your bracelet - is it a very special gift? You never seem to take it off.”
“That's mainly because I don't want to lose it. It was given to me by Yimar's mother. She's, uh, the mother, she's not in very good physical shape, and doesn't speak much. But she took this off her own wrist and gave it to me about a year ago. We had gone there to tell her I was pregnant with Joss.”
“What's the metal? Is it tin?”
“Some sort of alloy the Calafans make. It has amplifying properties but I've never used it for that.”
“Huh. How very interesting. Are you comfortable?”
“Very,” she said, yawning a little, “But I'm also really tired. Would you mind very much if I went to sleep now?”
“Of course not. I shan't wake you.”
“Not even by tapping on the side of my belly?”
“Oh, you felt that?”
“Both mornings,” she said.
“Well, then I suppose I have no surprises to offer you.”
“I'm sure you have plenty,” she said, looking at him meaningfully. She kissed him, but yawned again.
“I hope that my surprises are to your liking. But right now I think you both need to rest. G’ night.”
Lili was dreaming.
She first saw the holding area and then, suddenly, she was on the Enterprise again.
The corridors were mostly empty. It was, after all, the middle of the night.
She saw T'Pol in the Captain's Ready Room, poring over reports and looking – despite her cool Vulcan demeanor – a bit worried.
She then went onto the Bridge and took a look at the night shift crew. Aidan MacKenzie was at Malcolm's station. She smiled a little, thinking of him.
She moved on.
She went to B deck, to where they had been staying. She saw Yimar and Brian outside the room, in the hallway. They didn't seem to be able to see or hear her. No one else had.
Yimar said, “Thank you for being so nice to us. I bet you like Joss a lot.”
“Well, sure,” Brian said.
“And I think you like Lili and Doug, too, to be doing this.”
“Yeah, but I know her better than I do him.”
“Is there, um, anyone else you like?” Yimar asked.
“Uhhh,” he looked around a little, “It's, um, late. I gotta get up early tomorrow. And I bet you do, too. G'night.”
Brian left quickly. Lili followed him down the hall, and called after him, “Brian! You dope! She threw you a softball. You so shoulda hit that one outta the park.”
He didn't hear her.
Lili turned back, and went into the room where Yimar and Joss were staying.
Joss was lying down, but sat up quickly when he saw her, “'Ommy! 'Ommy! 'Ommy! 'Ommy!” he yelled a total of maybe a dozen times, when he saw her. He squealed and laughed and ran over to hug her, nearly knocking her over.
“Whoa. You can see me?” she asked.
“'Ommy! 'Ommy! Duck Duck! Duck Duck!”
“Okay. I haven't seen you in days and you want to be entertained, eh? A mother's work is never done,” Lili said, “Okay, get into bed.”
He complied. She began to sing. Yimar even walked in, but didn't hear her. Only Joss seemed to. Lili even made it through to the end:
...” O pato vinha cantando alegremente, quém, quém
Quando um marreco sorridente pediu
Pra entrar também no samba, no samba, no samba
O ganso gostou da dupla e fez também quém, quém
Olhou pro cisne e disse assim “vem, vem”
Que o quarteto ficará bem, muito bom, muito bem
Na beira da lagoa foram ensaiar
Para começar o tico-tico no fubá
A voz do pato era mesmo um desacato
Jogo de cena com o ganso era mato
Mas eu gostei do final quando ca'ram n'água
E ensaiando o vocal
quém, quém, quém, quém
quém, quém, quém, quém
She stopped. There was never applause, of course. Joss just hugged her, “'Ommy, 'Ommy,” he said sleepily.
“Mommy loves you,” she said, “And Daddy loves you, too. And Yimar loves you. And Aunt Jenny loves you. And Uncle Treve loves you. And Uncle Jonathan loves you. And Aunt Hoshi loves you. And Uncle Malcolm ....” Sweat sprang from her palms and she stopped talking. She sniffed the air.
“Hmm,” Lili said, “You need a diaper change.”
This got Yimar up. She, too, sniffed the air, “Whew!” she said, “Joss, you stinky boy!” Yimar scooped him up and brought him into the bathroom.
“'Ommy,” he said sleepily.
“Just me,” Yimar said.
“Did you hear that?” Hoshi said, sitting up in bed.
“Hear wha–?” Tripp asked, yawning, “Remind me not to think up those pastes as a six pack again, okay?”
“Uh, sure. Y’know, I heard somebody singing.”
“You sure you didn't just dream that?”
“I dunno. I don't think so.”
“Maybe Quellata is serenading us now. A little mood music to get us goin'.”
“No. This was in Portuguese.”
“What's quém?” Malcolm asked her as she woke up, and then kissed her cheek.
“Quém? Huh, and good morning to you, too,” Lili said, feeling him lying behind her.
“Yes. It was, uh, you were talking in your sleep again. Actually, it seemed more like you were singing. Very nice – you have a soft voice. And the words were not English – Spanish, perhaps.”
“Ohhh. The song is Portuguese. And quém is quack in Portuguese.”
“How very odd. I wonder if Portuguese dogs bark differently as well.”
“Malcolm, do you remember that I can have very vivid dreams?”
“Of course. That happened the last time we were in the Lafa System. It's how you made contact – I know that.”
“Yeah. Well, the dreams aren't just vivid – you can also use all five senses in them.”
“So you can taste things?” he asked.
“Smell and taste. And I smelled a dirty diaper last night.”
“That's quite a diaper,” he joked.
“Well, yeah, they can be. But – Malcolm – it was Joss. I was there. I saw him, and I know he saw me. It was a Calafan-style dream. I was, in a way, really there. I was on the Enterprise.”
“Oh, that time was definitely better,” Melissa said.
“Yeah. You sure there's no blood?” Doug asked.
“No. Quit asking me that.”
“Sorry. It's just – uh, don't say anything, okay? It's just, um, I've injured Lili. Twice. Maybe even a third time but it was milder.”
“What, uh, what happened?” she asked, sitting up.
“I come from – do you know about multiple universes?”
“Well, there are two. Or, maybe, there are more than that. Probably lots more. Probably billions, trillions, infinite ones are out there. And in a buncha them, the big bang doesn't go off, or doesn't go off properly. And in others, that happens, but the Solar System is never formed. In others, you get a Solar System but the dinosaurs never die out. In a subset of those, the dinos die out but the pyramids are never built. And on and on. And one of them is here.”
“Well, another one is where evolution turned left instead of right, and there was a kind of a Y chromosome skew. And there was a spike of testosterone.”
“More male hormones than the average bear? And there are more boys than girls. Uh, okay, I guess,” she asked, “Uh, what are you saying?”
“I come from that one.”
“I do. It's, um, it's not public knowledge. It’s very classified, very weird, as you can imagine. I, Lili and I, we made contact through a kind of dream state. I know it sounds nutty as I say it, but that's the truth. And I got to come here, and leave all of that behind, and I jumped at the chance, because the other side, other side of the pond, it's a hard place. This place is a picnic compared to it.”
“Uh, okay. But what does this have to do with the price of tea in China, Doug?”
“The proportions are different there. So, I'm kinda typical in size and strength for there. But here, not so much. When I got here, nobody knew that. And, when Lili and I first made love, I really hurt her. She almost bled to death. If she had, we wouldn't be having this conversation – I'd be in jail for second degree homicide.”
“So yer sayin' the Witannen know Portuguese?” Tripp asked.
“No. It sounded like Lili's voice,” Hoshi said, “It was a song about a duck, a goose and a swan, dancing the samba. Kind of a silly song, but it was real Portuguese.”
“Isn't she French?”
“Doesn't mean she can't know a song in Portuguese. I mean, don't you know 'O Tannenbaum'? That's in German.”
“I'm not much for caroling.”
“That doesn't matter, now, does it?”
“Well, hmm, no blood, Doug. Really, heh, check if you like,” Melissa said.
“That's okay. I'll take your word for it.”
“It was kinda powerful, though,” she admitted, “Kinda like a Paris tackle.”
“A Paris tackle? You saw the Forty-Niner-Packers game?” he asked.
“Well, sure. Doug, I am the son my father never had.”
“Huh. I bet you're a Packers fan.”
“Nope. 'Niners all the way,” she said, “But they gotta do something about those cheerleading costumes. They're just not skimpy enough.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”
“Joss, what?” Yimar asked, putting him down from the changing table.
“'Ommy, Duck Duck!” he exclaimed excitedly.
“Uh, not now.”
“No! 'Ommy Duck Duck! 'Ommy Duck Duck!” he patted the side of his ear.
“Wait. Did you dream of Mommy singing Duck Duck?”
“'Ommy Duck Duck!” he began running around excitedly, just in a new diaper.
“Admiral Gardner,” T'Pol said, “we need more help with the searching.”
“We have the Kreetassans. And the Tellarites. Andorians, too, but with the Earth-Romulan War heating up again they just can't spare a lot of ships. And neither can we, I'm sorry to say.”
“Well, that is of some assistance,” she replied.
“We also learned – the Andorians said that there was an incident about a decade ago, where ten of their people were transported off a ship after a burst of EM radiation. Those Andorians were not heard from again. We're investigating.”
“Lili-Flower?” he kissed her ear.
“Hmm?” she chuckled a little.
“Scratch what I was going to say. I'll ask this instead: do you, do you mind very much my calling you that?”
“Of course I don’t. I kinda like it, Malcolm.”
“Oh, good, I'm glad. I, uh, I'm just sort of a pet names person. Called every, everyone, every woman by one or another, but it was always something more generic, like Sweetheart or Darling. I wanted this one to be more unique and personal.”
She smiled, “That's sweet. No one's ever called me by any sort of a pet name.”
“He, uh, doesn't?”
“No. Totally practical. Just Lili or Mrs. Beckett when introducing me – which confuses the Calafans. They don't have last names, so half the time they think his full name is Beckett, or mine is.”
“Huh. You know, I wonder if I'll simply forget your real name one day, and just call you Lili-Flower.”
“Well, it's okay. Lili isn't my first name, anyway.”
“What?” Malcolm was a little incredulous, “You don't have to sit by and accept people mispronouncing it, if it's something else. Please, do tell me the right one. I want very much to get it right.”
“Oh, you get it right,” she said, snuggling a little against his chest, “It's – you recall I told you that all names are meaningful?”
“My real name – the one I was given when I was born – is Charlotte Lilienne O'Day.”
“Charlotte? You're a Charlotte? Why don't you use it?”
“I am named after both of my grandmothers. And Charlotte O'Day was kind of a severe woman. I also think my mother wasn't too fond of her mother-in-law. So she called me by my middle name. Her mother was Lilienne Ducasse and Lilienne maybe was too long for a little girl, so I was called Lili.”
“The dreaded mother-in-law,” Malcolm said, “Does, uh, does he get on with your parents?”
“My parents have been dead for over forty years.”
“Oh. You, you must have been very young,” he put his hand back on her belly and the kicking calmed down again.
“Yes. Our house burned down when I was nine. My parents were trapped inside. My father died when a beam fell on him. He was found on top of my mother. I guess he was protecting her somehow.”
Kick Kick Kick.
“I shouldn't have asked you about that. It's rather intimate. Too intimate.”
“No, it's all right,” Lili said, “And it's not too intimate. Look at us. We are already intimate.”
He paused for a while, then turned and put his hand on her face and turned her face so that he could look her in the eye, “There are things I want to tell you. Three words. You know which ones they are. But I cannot. I, it's a pity. I cannot, because I know that you don't –”
She clapped her hand on his mouth, a little harder than she'd intended, “Oops, did I just smack you? I didn't mean to do that with quite so much vigor.”
“That's all right. I'm made of sterner stuff.”
“I, uh, I did that because, Malcolm, because I want to ask you to be patient with me. After all, it took me about two years to know the score. Let me, let me come to it in my own way, at my own pace.”
Yimar skipped breakfast and took Joss straight to the Bridge. This, she knew, was important, even if he was hungry. She'd take care of that later. Right now, this other thing, it had to get done.
She was unaccustomed to Bridge protocol so she just barged in. Chip was sitting at Communications and waved at her. Another man, taller, darker – he was sitting at the Tactical station. A red-haired guy was piloting.
“Commander!” Yimar called out, “Can I talk to you?”
“A moment,” T'Pol said. Why was the child on the Bridge?
Joss fussed a little, “Want o'meal.”
“Yes, we'll have oatmeal later. Commander, I think he saw Lili last night.”
“So he was dreaming? This is hardly a reason to come to the Bridge,” T'Pol hadn't gotten a lot of sleep for the past several days.
“Not quite. Joss, tell T'Pol. Tell her about Duck Duck,” she picked up Joss and held him, close to T'Pol.
“'Ommy Duck Duck!” he said, again patting his own ear.
“Is there a meaning to this?”
“Yes!” Yimar said, “He had one of our kind of dreams. Where people can move around and make contact and it's not just some random thoughts. I know humans have these kind of random thought dreams, but this one was my kind of a dream. It was a contact dream.”
“As I recall, contact passes from one universe to another. Is that exclusive?”
“No. We can contact within the same side of the pond, too,” Yimar said, “Lili has some amplifier on her – she wears a ring on a chain and my mother gave her a bracelet last year. I think she's using them, and coming here. She can tell us things about where they are.”
“'Ommy Duck Duck!”
“She will need to select a better and more reliable recipient for this information,” T'Pol said, “I hardly think her son can repeat coordinates.”
“I understand,” Yimar said, “I can sleep with him in the same bed and keep physical contact, and will probably be able to at least listen in. I don't know coordinates much, either, but at least I can talk coherently,” she offered.
“Perhaps. It could be another way to confront the problem. Mr. Masterson, you will coordinate this.”
Yimar turned, and Joss was brought very close to T'Pol. He reached out and patted her, “Milk?”
T'Pol raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything.
“Yes, Commander,” Chip said, stifling a laugh.
“Deb, I still think this is, well, not the best thing for you.”
“You don't need to protect my feelings, Jonathan.”
“Still, I don't want you to get hurt. I do care about that.”
“Thanks,” she smiled and traced her finger along his left clavicle, “I just, I want you to know. There are a lot of times when I've been afraid.”
“Well, that's normal.”
“Sure. I know. But, I mean, I'm in Security! We're not supposed to get that bad. And I used to. And some of that's come back now. The Witannen, they really scare me,” she said, and shook a little.
“That's the way they want you to feel. Makes them think that they're alive.”
“I know it, but sometimes I wish I could stop trembling.”
“Try not to think of them. Try...”
“I'm thinking... I'm thinking of all the times on the Enterprise when I was scared to death ...and I would see you so busy at your command, and I would hear your voice from all parts of the ship... and my fears would fade. And now they're making me tremble. But I'm not afraid. I am not afraid.”
He kissed her, “I know this means more to you than, well, than it should. I can't give you what you truly want. But if I can make you comfortable, and if there's any way I can make it less frightening for you, tell me, Deb.”
“Keep doing that,” she said, “Just keep letting me believe things that I know, really, aren't so.”
“Travis, just, don't.”
“I'm sorry. I'm still sorry,” he said, shaking his head.
“I can't even respond anymore. This is awful. I never thought I'd become, well, I guess this is what it's like when you're frigid,” Jennifer said.
“Whatever I've been the cause of, Gawd, I'm sorry.”
“I can respond with, with Frank. I do. I just know I won't be able to, anymore. When we get out – if we ever do – he's gonna leave me. I know he's gonna leave me,” she cried and rocked to herself on the mattress, shaking and incoherently mumbling after a while.
“I'll do my best,” he said, “I've held back for a couple of years. I should be able to hold back a bit longer, eh?”
“Thank you,” Lili said, “Ah, look, breakfast.”
Malcolm got up and brought the tubes over, “Breakfast in bed? What are we having?”
“You want me to choose?”
“You have a good imagination.”
“Hmm. No dairy, right? Okay. How about a Mexican frittata?”
“That's an omelet, right?”
“Yes, but you don't fry it. You put it into a pan which can go in the oven – like a cast-iron skillet – and you put in whisked eggs, vegetables, that sort of thing. This will be Mexican so let's add chorizo. It's a spicy sausage. Bake it for a while until it sets, bring it out. I'll garnish it with, uh, chopped raw cilantro and scallions. And top it with fresh avocado slices. Bon appetit!” She shoveled a big gob of it into her mouth.
“Avocado,” he laughed a little to himself as he ate some paste.
“What's funny about an avocado?”
“It's, uh,” he turned serious again, “It's something not too nice. Something I don't think I can tell you if I mean to retain your respect. Or at least your sympathy.”
“Malcolm,” she said, putting down her tube and facing him, “I'm married to a killer of fourteen men. Nothing you've ever said or done is going to shock me in the least.”
Kick Kick Kick Kick.
“It has to do with Pamela.”
“She’s the doctor, yes?”
“Yes. I can't really tell you right now. But I think I will be able to at some point,” he said, “Intimate, right?”
“Yes. Very,” she said, ignoring her food and kissing him instead.
“I just – I know this is insecurity talking. But I can't get over the feeling that you're not willing, that you are thinking of another. Despite what you've said and despite what we've done. I don't mean to be needy but I feel a bit, well, vulnerable.”
“Hmm. Put that down a sec,” he complied, “I'm gonna do something right now. And I don't know how good it'll be. I know I'm not too good at this, but I will try.”
“I don't understand.”
“Shh. Whenever you, whenever you think I'm not willing or I'm thinking of someone else, or not paying attention to you, or not caring about you or concerning myself with, with you, I want you to think, to think about this. Can you do that?”
“I would like to,” he said, hoping it would be something pleasant.
She pulled down on the blanket.
“Nice women don't..,” he said.
“Oh yes, we do,” she said. He had the presence of mind to pull her up to him and embrace her, and kiss her face before the door slid open and they were separated for exercise.
Hoshi walked next to Quellata as they made their way to exercise. She spoke, “Is it forbidden for me to ask you questions?”
“I am under a nondisclosure agreement with my clients,” Quellata replied, “But it doesn't cover every single imaginable topic. Ask. I might even answer.”
“All right. Uh, where are you from?”
“Oh. That I will answer. My planet is in what you refer to as the Delta Quadrant. It's called Dawitan.”
“Oh, thank you. Uh, what's the ultimate purpose of all of this? Why do you want so many babies of different species?” Hoshi asked.
“That is definitely under the nondisclosure,” Quellata said, “Ah, here we are. You know what to do, slime molds,” she departed.
Lili was pushed in front of the tall Andorian. Jennifer was behind Dayah. They began to walk around.
Lili said, “You're Leveqa, aren't you?”
“I was told not to talk to you.”
“That's probably wise,” said the Andorian.
“When someone is being shunned, you don't inquire such things of them.”
“You have marks like a Calafan,” Leveqa pointed out.
“Yes, I have tattoos,” Lili said.
“Keep quiet!” yelled a guard.
Malcolm walked in front of Emmiz, “Do you know how to handle a medical emergency?”
“Emergency?” asked the young Xindi.
“Yes. What if there's a problem while in the cell? Can our captors be reached?”
“Yes. You can pound on the wall near where it opens on the left. I had to do that when Rellie gave birth. She was my first and I didn't know what to do. Now I'm experienced,” he said a bit proudly.
“Oh. Interesting. Thank you.”
“Which one is yours?” asked Emmiz.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your partner. See mine? She's in front of the orange-haired human. See?”
“Oh. She's rather, uh, there's a significant age difference.”
“It doesn't matter. She's my fourth. My best! It's funny. We came here; we were grabbed from the Betar Colony. I was a student of course. She was a government functionary of some sort. We never would have met. And even if we had, she's old enough; I could have been her grandson. Funny how things turn out.”
“So, which one is yours?” Emmiz asked again.
“Oh. The one with the very, very light hair.”
“Ah. She's very fat.”
“She's expecting a child!”
“Ah. You must work very fast, then.”
“It's not, it's not my child. She was pregnant before we got here,” Malcolm said.
“Do you like her?”
“I, I'd rather not say,” he said, keeping in mind that Doug wasn't too far behind him. But he smiled to himself. The morning had been excellent. Every moment seemed to be an improvement over the last.
Jennifer walked around, miserable. Then she began to notice something. There were small gestures. Andorian antennae would waggle, very slightly. Xindi fingers would crook. Vulcan eyebrows would be raised slightly, or heads would nod. Klingons would sneer or shake their heads. Her fellow humans would nod just a tiny bit. Wave a little, too.
It happened when they saw the men. It would be a small look here, a tiny movement there. Tripp winking at Hoshi. Hoshi looking down, then up, making eye contact. Lili reddening a little. Jonathan smiling slightly. Deb tugging on her ear.
Jennifer kept walking. The gestures stopped when the men were out of view.
There were more movements as she turned again. A small wave from the Xindi to each other, the woman in front of her waved at a very young Xindi man who waved back. If Jennifer blinked, she'd have missed it, it was so subtle. A Vulcan woman coughed slightly, and a Vulcan man responded in kind. Doug narrowing his eyes. Melissa chewing on a fingernail for just a second. A Klingon tossing his hair. A Klingon woman responding by flaring her nostrils.
Travis just looked straight ahead. So did Jennifer. There were no messages being passed between the two of them.
But the others, they all were saying the same things, Jennifer could tell.
I miss you.
I love you.
I can't wait to see you again.
Just wait until I get you ...
This wasn't home. The Enterprise wouldn't have been, for much longer, either. Not for Jennifer. She and Frank would be apart for a while as she finished out her tour. But then she'd move to Enceladus, and they'd be together, and would start a family. The children would, she had hoped, take after Frank – his dark eyes and hair, his silly snorting laugh.
But that dream was a million light years away and, seemingly, a thousand years old. It was gone, dead, DOA.
And Jennifer instead saw her future in the holding center. She saw the people in front of her, the Xindi woman, an Andorian, Lili, another Andorian, a Klingon, Melissa, yet another Andorian, a Vulcan, a Klingon, but, in her head, they transformed. A child with Travis. Then one, perhaps, with the Captain. Then Tripp. Doug Beckett. Malcolm Reed. And then back to Travis. Over and over and over again, until her body wore out. She would be a brood mare, nothing more, breeding, perhaps, champion racehorses or prize heifers for some unknown alien clientele. It was an endless, shuffling line of despair.
There was no way out. No hope. No way to fix it.
The decision was made in a split second. She didn't weigh the options. She didn't have to. You don't have to, when it's your only option.
She ran at one of the guards, yelling and screaming. And the guard began to shock her with the stick.
The men saw it, and they stopped walking, until they were prodded along themselves. But something was horribly wrong.
Dayah broke ranks and ran to the fallen Jennifer.
A Klingon yelled, “Get medical help! Now!”
Jennifer was convulsing. Dayah finally got her to stop and leaned over her. Quietly, the Xindi said, “I know how you feel. And not one of us hasn't wanted to do that. You may hate your man. But if you care at all about any of your fellow humans, you'll stop this foolishness. Otherwise, you'll ruin it for all of them.”
Jennifer didn't answer and just stared into space.
Lili held her own belly.
Kick kick kick kick kick Kick Kick Kick.
Quellata burst in with the vet, who was of her species. The vet went to work. Quellata went up to one of the Imvari, “You're not supposed to shock them that much! We need this stock! Now get them moving again!”
They had been walking for a while, trying not to look at Jennifer, lying in the middle of the floor and being administered to.
“This is reminiscent of two years ago,” Leveqa finally said, behind Lili.
“What happened two years ago?”
“It was November. I think. It seems like it was a November.”
“What happened in November?” Lili asked.
“She was so very, very small. They all are. Newborns. It doesn't matter what type. Vulcans, Andorians, Kreetassans, Calafans, Xindi. Humans are, too, I suppose.”
“Yes, definitely. My son was helpless for a long time, even though he was a big baby,” Lili said, holding her belly.
“It was, it was easy,” Leveqa said.
“What was easy?”
“It. It was easy. Serin will deny it, but he was a part of it. We decided it together.”
“Tell me only what you want to,” Lili said.
“Serin will say it was only me. He's a coward sometimes, and it's hard to be shunned. I do understand that. But he had a role in this, as well.”
A few minutes later, Leveqa spoke again, “He didn't want to name her. Said she was so small, she'd never survive. It seemed pointless, like it would hurt. But I didn't listen. I named her Erell.”
“Oh. And they took her?” Lili asked.
Kick Kick Kick.
“It was easy. I nursed her. We held her. We looked at her. She looked up at us, antennae moving a little. Newborns don't have good control, so their antennae only move a little. And they moved, just a little.”
“It must have been hard for you to give her up,” Lili said.
“It was ...,” Leveqa paused for a second.
“Only tell me what you want to,” Lili repeated.
“We decided. It had been maybe an hour. Serin pinched her nose closed. And I put my hand on her mouth. And we held ourselves there until she stopped struggling. It was only a few minutes. She was such a tiny thing. It didn't take long. It was ... easy.”
Kick kick kick kick kick kick kick Kick Kick Kick.
“Oh Gawd,” Lili whispered.
“Erell will never be hungry. She will never have her heart broken. And she will never work for, or breed for, the Witannen or their clients. Never.”
Lili put her hand behind her back and opened it, “I don't know if this helps. I know this helps us.”
Leveqa took her hand and gripped it, “It helps us, too.”
Exercise ended, and the men went to cleansing.
“Captain, you should know, Lili-Fl–, uh, Lili, she was able to, she feels, make contact with the Enterprise last night,” Malcolm said.
“What? How is that even possible?”
“It's a type of Calafan dream state,” Malcolm said.
“Yes,” Doug added, “She can do that. I kinda can, too, but she's better at it than I am. I tend to ignore the signals more these days.”
“If she can contact T'Pol, she'll need every bit of information we've got. Everyone, tell Malcolm anything you know. And I mean anything, any little bit. You might think it's not important, but it can be,” Jonathan commanded.
Doug hung back while the others talked to Malcolm. When they were done, Quellata returned and they were being herded back to the cells. All he said to Malcolm was, “I'm watching, Reed. Don't think I'm not. You're not off the hook.”
“Are you all right, Jennifer?” Travis asked.
“Huh? Oh, not too bad,” she said, “But sick to my stomach,” she refused the tube of paste he offered her.
“I don't want you to get hurt.”
“We're gonna get out of here,” he assured her, “Don't worry.”
“Too late for that,” she sighed.
“It’s pretty horrible what happened to Jennifer,” Melissa said.
“She okay?” Doug asked.
“I think so. She walked out under her own power.”
“Well, that's something at least.”
“She must've been pretty desperate,” Melissa said.
“She's a strong girl. A little confused, I think.”
“Aren't we all?”
Tripp said, “This isn't feelin' like too much fun anymore. No offense.”
“None taken. Tripp, she was trying to kill herself.”
“I know. How, uh, how long we been here, would you say?”
“Over a week, I think. I feel like I'm losing contact with reality, with the outside.”
“I think that's the idea. I talked to a few of 'em as we were going around.”
“Yes, the endless Dante circles of hell,” Hoshi said.
“Yep. The meaningless journey. Well, they almost – and this was a Klingon and a Vulcan, but maybe they aren't all like this. They kinda seemed like they almost had sympathy for the Witannen. They kinda identified with Quellata, and wondered why Jennifer would be so, well – they said it, not me – inconsiderate.”
“It's like Stockholm syndrome,” Hoshi said.
“Yeah. No wonder they don't try to escape.”
“We'd better make our move pretty soon,” she said, “before we get too comfortable here.”
“Deb, when you next see Lili, tell her anything strategic you've got. Make sure the other women do, too. After exercise – you'll have some semi-private time when showering.”
“Yes, of course. Anything else, Jonathan?”
“Yes. Smile just a tiny bit. It's been a helluva day. I just want to see a little something good.”
She felt the same frisson of excitement as before, “Whatever I can do for you, tell me.”
Kick Kick Kick.
Lili held her belly again. Malcolm came over and put his hand over hers, “Here, let me help you with that,” he said.
“Thanks. A little better. It's been a little tough for me to calm down.”
“Understood. Here, let's sit,” he sat behind her and put his arms around her, “Any better?”
“Malcolm, I talked with one of the Andorians. They had told me not to speak with her. But I'm stubborn Irish so I did it anyway. And it turns out, Gawd, it's awful. She, um, she and her partner – they smothered their own baby rather than turn her over to Quellata,” Lili started to cry a little.
“Oh my. Shh,” Malcolm whispered in her ear, “Shh. Weep if it makes you feel better,” he kissed the top of her head. She leaned against his chest and cried.
She finally stopped, “I don't know if I could do that.”
Kick Kick Kick.
“I will, I will do what, whatever you wish,” he said, “I'd rather, rather not harm him,” he took a breath, “But I will do whatever you think is best.”
“I don't know what decision I'll make.”
“No need to decide right now. You're how far away?”
“It's gone over to four months away,” she said, “If I'm counting the days right.”
He did a quick calculation in his head. Four months plus a few – three? Then another nine, and possibly as many as another three. A year and a half together. Maybe, “When the time comes, we'll handle it together. And we'll be together, as long as possible. I don't know what I'll do when they separate us.”
“I don't want to think about that right now. Malcolm, did you ever want children? Marriage and a home? Tell me, one way or the other. I just want to talk about something else.”
“Well,” he said, moving his hand back to her belly, “Do you remember, during the Xindi War, there was this time when we met up with another Enterprise? Kind of a strange thing. A ship being manned and piloted by the descendants of the crew.”
“Yes. I recall that. And I agree that it was strange.”
“Well, I was the only senior officer to die a bachelor,” Malcolm swallowed, “It's bothered me a little bit ever since. But I don't know how I'd ever have a family. It's not like I'm ever at home.”
“You must've had someone. I know all the women were taken. Was it Major Jay Hayes, by chance?”
“That would have been poetic justice,” she said, “But, no. It was actually José Torres.”
“That very tall chap in Engineering?”
“The very same. We had a daughter, too. Maria Elena.”
“So am I too short for you?” Malcolm asked.
“No, of course not.”
“Why didn't you try to pursue things with José?”
“Well, I'm a good decade older than he is. And I think I was the least desirable woman on the ship. I doubt he would have gone after me if I wasn't, literally, his last option,” she said.
“I don't think so. I know you're not, by any stretch. And, at the very least, you can say you were loved a little bit,” he said wistfully.
“You can say the same.”
There was a hissing sound.
“That damnable gas,” Malcolm said.
“Now I know they're not listening in,” Lili said, “Otherwise they'd have figured out by now that we don't need it.”
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