Location: Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
Doug returned to the Bridge.
Hoshi and MacKenzie were still bickering. Tucker was pacing.
"At least we took out that city before the systems all shut down, Hoshi said.
"Who, um, who fired? I was asleep, and Mac here was, uh, what were you doing, Mac?"
"I think it's more who he was doing, Hoshi said.
"Be that as it may," Doug said, "Tucker, did you run the Tactical station?" There was some evidence on there of him looking up Lili's counterpart's record. He really didn't want that to become public knowledge.
"Nope. It was Cutler."
"The babysitter?!" asked Hoshi. She was incredulous.
"The very same."
"Don't tell me she left Jun alone. I'll take it outta her hide." Hoshi vowed.
"No, no, she brought the kid with her. He wasn't sleeping well and she was bored. She put him down to sleep on the Ready Room cot and he was out like a light. Nothing better to do, so she and I played with the targeting array. And, uh, other things." Tucker said, smiling a little.
Doug looked over the controls. It just looked like the phasers had been recalibrated and aimed, then fired a few times. Nothing else appeared to be disturbed. "Everything appears to be in order, Empress."
"Hmm. I'd say the babysitter did a good job, Hoshi said, Oh, and MacKenzie? You'd better watch your back, before you end up as the babysitter." she laughed and waved him away. "Dismissed. Get some sleep and be here for your shift tonight or that won't be such a funny joke."
"Uh, yes, Empress, Aidan said, departing quickly.
"Are you ready?" Chawev asked the young woman next to him.
"Yes, of course. What about them?" she indicated Treve, a teenaged girl and a small boy.
Chawev knelt down to talk to the little boy. "Chelben, your Mommy is awake now. We are going to go in and see her. She won't know who you are, but don't be afraid. Polloria here will hold your hand."
"I wanna hold Yimar's hand!" the boy said, clinging to his sister.
"Well, I tried." Chawev said, straightening up.
"Everyone, remember," Polloria said, "any words you say to her, she'll pick up on. So choose carefully and don't say much. In fact, just let your father and I do all the talking, all right?"
Jennifer sat on Lili's bed. The mattress was a little harder on the left. Strange. "How the heck do you sleep on this thing?" she asked the empty room. She thought of Frank. "I know I'd miss you terribly. I already do, and I can actually get to you." she whispered. She clutched the PADD in her hands but, despite herself, she ended up dozing off.
The room was white, whiter than white, blinding and glaring. But the woman in the bed didn't know that or, rather, registered the color but did not know its name or even the word color. Five figures came into the room.
"Oh, you're awake!" one of them said.
"Oh oh oh oh." the woman replied. Nothing else.
"The words you are looking for," said another, shorter figure, "are 'who am I? Where am I? And, who are all of you?'"
"Yes, who, said the first figure. "I am Chawev. And these, these are your children. Treve here is the oldest. He is nearly twenty. Yimar is fourteen. And little Chelben is four. And this is Polloria. She is, uh, a family friend."
"Who?" asked the woman.
"Oh, yes, you." Chawev said, You are Yipran, the High Priestess of Lo. And you are my wife."
There was someone in Lili's bed. Didn't smell like Lili, but Doug was encouraged. And the fact that he could smell at all told him: this is one of the vivid dreams-that-aren't-really-dreams. He reached out to that person, and his hand made contact with long curly hair. Lili's was straight. He shook his head and pulled his hand back, recognizing the body that belonged to the hair. "Jennifer!" he called out. "What the hell are you doing in my dream?! I thought I told you to get out!"
"Wait, wait, wait!" Jenny responded. "I'm, I'm Lili's roommate. And I'm really worried about her. And you, you must be Doug."
"Yes, uh, okay, you're from Lili's side of the pond, Doug said. Strange that he should be dreaming this way and talking to someone other than Lili. "I, um, I'm sorry. I think I pulled your hair a little."
"No, you thought I was her."
"I was hoping, but you don't smell like her, he said.
"Look, Doug, I don't know how these dreams normally go. Or, rather, I guess I know a little, Jenny said, So forgive me if I'm not too good at explaining anything or if I tell you things you already know."
"Understood, he said, Is she all right? That's all that matters."
"I, I don't know. She's, she's just gone. And we can't communicate outside of the ship so we can't even figure out if someone has her."
"I was, uh, concerned about that." he admitted. "We have, uh, there's someone missing on this end, too."
"Huh, interesting, Jenny said, We, um, I gotta confess. We read the letter. Had to, um, had to make sure you weren't the one who'd taken her."
Doug swallowed hard. "That was, uh, it was pretty private." He paused. "I guess at least you know it wasn't me."
"No, no, of course not. Hoshi, um, her and Malcolm's idea, it was for us to write on the PADD, see if you could read it and write back. We figured that might be a way for us to talk. I, I didn't mean to fall asleep here. This bed isn't even very comfortable. It's weird for me to be here. I feel like I'm really intruding."
"You're still young, he said, When you get older, a hard mattress is better for your back. Still, I am thinking there is something important about the bed."
"There must be, Jenny said, So if I, uh, if we write to you and leave the PADD here on the bed, you can get it?"
"Only one way to test that out, Doug said, You'll need to wake up."
"How do I do that?" Jenny asked. "I mean, we're talking and I feel fully conscious but I know I'm asleep. I suppose I could scream in this state and not wake up. I know, um, Lili sometimes does, Jenny reddened more than usual.
Doug smiled. "I'm sorry if we've ever woken you up. Look, um, maybe you can wake yourself up. You know how like, sometimes, if you're having a nightmare, you can just tell yourself it's not real and break the spell? Try something like that."
"Uh, okay. And Doug?"
"We're on your side."
"How are you feeling, Yipran?" asked a new person in the room. "I am Dr. Baden. You have been asleep for about five years. It's natural to feel bewildered."
"F-five?" the woman in the bed looked down.
"M-mother," said Treve, "your, your arms look like that because you've gotten, gotten older. See how mine are all silver? And Yimar and Chelben's are, too. But Polloria has some white spots and then Father has a lot of patterns like you do. Same with the hair. See how you have hair, and Father does? And Polloria has a little but no one else does? That's another sign of, of aging."
Polloria glared a little at him and then relaxed. "Your legs look all patterned like that, too. Take a look." she pulled back the sheet covering the woman and, sure enough, the legs were also endowed with a complicated Byzantine scrollwork pattern.
"Older?" asked the woman.
"By five years, Polloria said.
"Yipran, you were pregnant with Chelben when you fell ill. He was delivered right here in this room, over four years ago. Come here, Chelben." Chawev beckoned to the youngster, who didn't want to leave Yimar's side. "Come, Chelben, and kiss your mother."
"She's not my mother." Chelben complained, and hid behind Yimar.
Jennifer disappeared, but Doug's dream did not end. He sat there on the dream bed and held the PADD in his hand. "I guess it works, he said. He clicked to open the first note.
If this works, and we can communicate this way, I hope you will work with us to get the Ensign back as quickly as possible. I cannot promise any incentive other than her safe return. From what I remember of your counterpart, I believe he'd be more than up for this, at least as a challenge. Let us know.
"Ha, Malcolm, all business, Doug smiled. "Well, the only payment I want is to be with her again." He opened the second note.
I'm sorry we read your letter. We were hoping you could get onto a Calafan ship or planet or moon. Since you're in a dream, maybe you can make that happen. When I was having bad dreams after being kidnapped by the Xindi, Dr. Phlox told me how to do something called Directed Dreaming, where you push your dream into a particular direction. Let me know if you're not sure how to do that. Thanks for helping. I hope we get her back soon.
"Much nicer than your counterpart, Doug said, Okay, let's see what you have to say, Jennifer."
I don't really know what to write. I'm just really worried. I think if we all put our heads together, we can figure this out. Everybody misses her.
"This is almost quaint, Doug said, Let's see." He began to type, much slower than the previous evening. When he was done, he laid back on the dream bed and inhaled Lili's scent, still there. "Come back come back come back" he whispered as he awoke.