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