Location: Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
She was wearing a black leather skirt, black boots and a blue sweater that was off her shoulders. Doug ran toward her. "You look beautiful, he said, kissing Lili and instantly changing from a tee and boxers to a black suit he'd once seen in a shop window on Iapetus.
"Thank you." She smiled at him.
"Any place special we're going, all dressed up like this?"
"I don't know. Just thought it would be good to look good. What was your day like? I made apple fritters. Half of them didn't turn out so good, but the dog is really, really happy."
"I bet your screwups are better than most of the stuff I've been eating for the past decade, he said, I didn't do much. You know, sensors and all that. Thought of you all day."
"Oh, really? Well, I thought of you, too. But I think we really should work. At least a little bit." she grinned. "Walk with me?"
"Sure." he took her hand, and the scene changed to a New England autumn in full color. "I, you didn't tell me you had a little brother."
"Probably because I never did."
"Uh, never told me or never had a brother?"
"Well, both. Where are you getting the idea I have a brother?" Lili asked.
"Oh, well, I checked out your counterpart. I hope you don't mind."
"Actually, I did the same today. Go on. But, um, tell me, is she like, in prison or something? You look a little odd."
"Well, no, Doug said, She's got the same problem here that I have over there in your universe."
"When and where did she die? Wait, I'm not sure I want specifics."
"That house fire you told me about."
"Oh. And my uh, her brother? Did he make it?"
"Was he, like, a little baby?" she asked, feeling it despite herself.
"Seven years old."
"Oh, man. I just yanno I obviously could never have known him, but I still feel strange about the whole thing. Uh, can I ask why you were looking at the record anyway?"
"I, uh, I wanted to see if there were any pictures. Didn't want to meet her or anything. She is not you, Doug assured her.
"What did you find?"
"Just one photograph that wasn't from the disaster. You uh, she must have been home from school. A little girl and her mother. Her, uh, her face had a flower painted on the side. The little girl, that is."
"S'funny. That is one of my best, most vivid memories of my mother. We went to a fair and I got my face painted. It was about three weeks before the fire."
Doug held Lili. "Sounds like a good memory."
"Why, uh, why were you looking? Really, Lili asked.
"I, um, I wanted to have a picture of you, like I said. Because when this connection ends, I won't have much else left, he said, burying his nose in her hair and inhaling a slight scent of apples.
"What?" Lili asked, a little alarmed.
"Surely you don't think this is going to go on forever? I figure this is a delicate connection. It's going to break at some point in time, like everything else on this ship. I, I don't want it to. Just want to be prepared for the inevitable."
"Reed mentioned the breaking to me today, too. Or maybe he was hitting on me. I don't know; he never did that before."
"Huh, I'm kind of surprised he hasn't done that before. The Reed I knew really had a thing for blondes."
"Since you have his job, where is he now, Doug?"
"He's, um, he's another one who's dead on this side of things."
"Wow. It's like almost everyone I know is dead there. What about Jennifer Crossman?"
Doug blanched. "How do you know her?"
"She's my roommate. How do you?"
"She was, uh, I should confess something. Up to a few days ago, she was living with me."
"Oh, Lili let that sink in. "What happened?"
"Whaddaya think? You happened."
"That feels really weird to me. Particularly seeing as she's so gorgeous."
"Really? I definitely don't notice. Not anymore." he kissed her.
"Doug, I was thinking, Lili said, after coming up for air. "I, I know this hasn't been happening for a lot of time. We've known each other for a good five days."
"Best week of my life." he smiled at her.
"Yes, and if, um, if this connection is going to end, well, I was thinking, what if if you would have me if I were to somehow come over there? To your side of things."
"Lili, I don't think that's a good idea at all."
"First Minister, we will need to determine whether they are advanced enough to have a transporting device."
"I will get onto their ship tomorrow and check for myself." Chawev said, Don't worry."
"Oh, Lili broke away from his grasp.
"I, uh, wait. I don't mean like I don't want you to be near. I, I do, he said, But this place, this side of things, this is no place for you."
"I'm not as delicate as you seem to think I am."
"You probably aren't, and you probably think I'm being grossly unfair."
"Well, I don't know about that, Doug said, I don't think you'd have a place here."
"I cook for a living. I can work anywhere."
"I'm sure that's true on your, your side of the, of the pond, as it were. It's not work that I'm talking about."
"How different can it be?"
"Lili, you don't get it. I know something about your side. You're gentler, softer, sweeter and kinder than any of us can ever hope to be. Look," he took her hand again, "let me tell you what my typical day is really like. And I mean really."
"I hear the alarm and I get up and I shave and put on my uni. Strap on a sidearm and a dagger and an extra one in my left boot. No one knows about that one except for you Jennifer didn't even know, and she and I lived together for over a year. I get into the halls and look around to make sure nobody's out to bother me. Grab a cup of whatever slop they have for breakfast. Get to the Bridge. Get instructions from the Empress. She usually disappears for a few hours with her boy toy, so I run things. Make sure no one's shooting at us. Work for six hours, then grab another cup of slop and come back for another round of waiting to be shot at. This is all the easy part. Finish a few hours afterwards and go back into the halls, where the chances are a lot higher that someone will take their shot at me. Grab a few platefuls of a slightly less gooey slop, then get back to my quarters, lock myself in and read until it's time to sleep. And then I see you and I put the rest of it out of my mind until the next morning when I get to do it all over again."
Lili looked stricken. "Can't you just quit or something? Or retire?"
"Sadly, no. No one leaves these jobs. Actually, wait, there are exactly three ways to leave a job at my level: you die in battle, you die of some disease, or you're killed by an underling trying to get a promotion."
"I, I can understand the first one. You're a soldier of course it's possible, Lili said, And the second is awful but not unexpected certainly no stranger than how my, my parents died. But the third. Man. You are, you're high-ranking, aren't you?"
"I'm fourth in command. It's just the Empress, her boy toy First Officer, and the Head of Engineering ahead of me."
"So, um, if underlings kill in order to get ahead, that, uh, that means you did that, too?" Lili asked, looking at Doug with shining eyes. "Doug, tell me the truth. Are you are you a killer?"
We can get into position tomorrow or the night after, First Minister."
"Good." Chawev said.
He nodded slightly, a barely perceptible movement.
"Tell me," she said, "how, how many?" she trembled.
"Lili, any, any number is going to be too many, I can tell. I, uh, we both know this connection will break at any time. Let me make things easier for you, and break it myself. Even if I dream about you, I can will myself to dream about something else, just like I willed myself into a suit that I never owned. You, you won't have to worry about me anymore. All I ask is one thing."
"I, oh, let me touch you, hold you, for just a little while, right now. And I'll say the number and I'll just go and you can be, you can be free of this, and go have fun with Reed or whoever." He was a little surprised that she acquiesced to him holding her. She said nothing but he could feel her breathing and it was troubled. He kissed her right temple and then whispered in her ear. "Fourteen."
Her breath caught. "Do you, do you remember any of them?"
"Before I started dreaming about you, I dreamed plenty about them, he said, Donnelly, Harris, Shapiro, Sulu I remember all of them."
"At least you do. Can I, can I tell you something?"
"Anything, he said.
"I don't come in here with completely clean hands, either."
"Surely you aren't this way."
"Doug, when I was in Cooking School, they made sure we learned where all of our food comes from. So we didn't just farm and garden. We also hunted and fished. And we slaughtered barnyard animals. I cut the heads off chickens and used those little laser gun things to shoot hogs between the eyes. I Kosher killed a cow. Do you know how to Kosher kill a cow?" she asked.
He shook his head grimly.
"You slit its throat. And I, I messed up. You're supposed to get the windpipe, but I got the carotid artery. Cow's blood was everywhere."
"Lili, you killing animals is not the same thing. They're not as sentient."
"I know. But there is one time. It was during the Xindi War. You had that, yes?"
"Definitely. I fought in it."
"Well, they boarded the ship once. Insectoids. They were going from place to place. I'm sure they wanted to kill all of us. They came into the kitchen."
"So you used your sidearm?" he asked.
"I had forgotten it. Which was dumb but not a huge problem. Kitchens are loaded with weapons."
"Cast iron skillet. Let's just say I squashed a bug and leave it at that. And I, I felt so guilty that, once we'd made peace with them "
"You made peace with the Xindi? We didn't. We, um, the Empire committed genocide. I doubt there are more than a thousand Xindi left of any species."
"Oh, my, Lili gulped. "I, I contacted her it was a she her family. Can't recall how I found them. I wrote and I apologized. And her daughter wrote back and was surprisingly kind. They, they don't live very long, anyway, so she said it wasn't too long before her mother's time anyway, and her mother was a dedicated soldier and so she went the way she wanted to."
"Apologizing here is a sign of weakness. I, I am finding that I can say to you that I'm sorry. But not to anyone else, Doug said.
"Do you still want to go?" she asked.
"No. I never did. It's about what you want. Tell me if you, if you want me to leave."
"Like I said, I'm not as delicate as you think."
"I can see that. But you still won't really have a place on this side of the pond."
"Then there's only one thing to do, she said.
"You'll need to come here."