The Bridge was its usual somber place when he arrived.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"I'm having trouble with MacKenzie." The Empress said. She looked peeved.
"My responsibility, of course, he said, May I use the Ready Room?"
"Of course." she replied.
"Ensign MacKenzie, if you please." The Ensign walked in with him.
"Look", he said, after the door had safely shut behind them. "I know you came out of a different team, and so did I, but in this team we're cooperative until you prove yourself otherwise. So tell me what happened."
"It was a sensor. It had a strange reading for about an hour or so. I, I still don't know what caused it." MacKenzie shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
"When did it end and when did it start?"
"It ended about eleven minutes ago. And it started maybe fifty-seven minutes before that. I can get the actual numbers if you want."
"That's all right, Ensign." he did a quick calculation in his head. The end more or less matched when his dream about the girl had ended. As for whether the starting times matched, that was tougher to determine.
"Oh, yes, Ensign. Wool gathering for a second there. Here's what we'll do. There aren't a lot of spare working sensors. So let's keep this one and see if the same thing happens in the next, I dunno, forty-eight hours. If it happens again, we'll have someone from Tucker's team swap it out for a working one and do a full diagnostic. If not, then we're good to go. Sound good to you?"
"Oh, and Ensign? Next time, just tell the Empress that I'll deal with it, okay?"
"Yes, of course. Thank you, sir."
They emerged from the Ready Room and the Empress approved of their plan, but not until after she had gotten him to monitor the sensor regularly.
Lili's day went somewhat differently.
Chef had, for some reason, gotten onto an orange kick.
Orange juice, orange chicken, baby carrots with an orange and dill sauce and, for dessert, orange sorbet. Lili didn't question. That was not her job as sous-chef. She just had to follow orders.
So all day long, it was the same.
Zest. Halve. De-pit. Juice. Ream. Discard whatever remained.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Over and over and over again. By the time it was time to get dinner out, she had about lost her mind with boredom. Her mind wandered while she was wielding the French knife, and she thought of the dream. She ended up slipping and cutting her left hand.
It wasn't that bad, so she finished up dinner and had some herself, but eventually the pain because unbearable. She hustled off to Sick Bay which was where she found herself.
"Tomorrow, Empress, we should be at the Lafa System, he said, after checking the sensor one last time.
"Anything interesting about this one?" she yawned.
"It has four stars, very unusual."
"Not what I had in mind. You know science bores me." she complained.
"Yes, of course. It's also close to Klingon space. A good spot for an outpost, he said.
"That's more like it." she purred. "Shift's over. Bright and early tomorrow."
"Of course." he departed.
"Ensign, what brings you here?" asked Dr. Phlox.
"This, Lili showed him her hand.
"That seems rather superficial. Not that I am complaining of the company, of course."
"I chopped oranges all day long, Doc."
"I see, so you've got some citric acid getting in there. Let's get it cleaned out, shall we?"
"Thanks. I mean, I'm usually good with the French knife. I guess I was distracted, Lili said.
"Oh? Are you getting enough sleep?" The doctor asked, as he scrubbed her hand.
"Yes, but it's very dream-filled. At least last night was. Maybe that's not very restful?"
"Ah, dreams. Human dreams are so interesting. May I ask what yours was about, if you remember it? I am fascinated by your unconscious states."
"Uh, Doc, it's a little embarrassing."
"I am your doctor, you can tell me anything, Phlox insisted.
"It's just, this one was, um, it was rather earthy."
"Then I am even more interested, Phlox paused a moment. "I am of course joking. Not here to intrude on your privacy."
"Do Denobulans dream?" asked Lili.
"We do. But it's not as pleasurable as yours, I'm afraid. We mainly seek to solve problems. Like my most recent one. My Derellian bat was off her feed. I had a dream that I had been giving her too much potassium and, lo and behold, I changed her feed and now she's a happy bat again."
"That's great, Doc."
"All fixed up."
"Thank you. And, happy dreaming, Lili said.
She got back to her room and barely made it into sweatpants before sleep overtook her.
This time, it was different.
She figured out it was him immediately, despite the pitch darkness. They kissed but he pulled back, and put a pillow under her back.
He kissed her again, and again their clothes melted away. She took his hand and guided it to her face, to let him know she was smiling. He did the same.
He kissed, touched and even put his face against everything. He moved slowly and deliberately, and she got the distinct impression that he was somehow mapping her.
Every time she tried to take his face in her hands and bring it to hers, he pushed her back gently. He was having none of it, and continued kissing her.
When her breathing became labored and husky, he finally came back to her, kissing her deeply. He buried his face in her shoulder and inhaled.
He stopped for a second, a little confused. "Oranges?" he asked, breaking their mutual silence for the very first time.
She chuckled. "Yes."
They kissed. He didn't move much, just kept kissing her over and over again.
She brought his hand to her face again, to show him she was still smiling. He did the same, kissing her fingers as their alarms went off and they awoke in far different bedrooms.