Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by jespah, Dec 31, 2011.
so something traveled between, huh? Interesting...
Other stuff has, er, traveled, as the doctor thought she'd been assaulted (keeping the PG-13 rating here ....).
Aidan hadn't even bothered showing up for his shift. Instead, he and Jennifer were in his quarters.
And then she disappeared.
He swore loudly, the moment he realized she was gone. "Damn, just when it was getting good." he announced to the empty room.
Jennifer picked up the PADD cautiously. She hadn't noticed Lili holding it earlier. And where was Lili anyway? She glanced at the writing on the PADD.
'My sweetest Lili,
I don't know if you can see this, but I'll type it anyway, just in case you can. You disappeared once before, but you came back. But this time I'm alone on your ship, and I never have been before. It feels different and very, very wrong. And maybe tomorrow we'll laugh at how scared I'm getting but right now I'm just really, really scared....'
She looked away. She threw on her uniform, grabbed the PADD and ran to the Bridge.
Doug awoke to the sound of a general alarm. He got out into the halls, distracted, without putting the extra dagger in his boot. He was walking to the Bridge, very fast, when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Travis!" he said, “Let's get to the Bridge. She needs us."
"Not so fast, Old Man,” Travis had a knife in his hand. "That's the last time you make me look bad in front of her."
"Look bad? I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, c'mon. Yesterday. When we were testing the phasers? You know I was in the right position, in a perfect position. And you missed. Now she thinks I messed up."
"No, no, she doesn't think that. Like I said then, you don't have any working sensors. So how can you be so sure that conditions were perfect anyway?"
Travis mulled that over for a second. "She still thinks I messed up."
"Well, I can't help you with that,” Doug said, “Didn't she say she was gonna have Targeting tested again overnight? Maybe it's all fixed."
"I, I dunno."
"Look, that alarm won't shut off until you and I get to the Bridge. So come on and like I said, maybe it's fixed. And if it isn't, I'm sure we've got a fresh crisis. Yes? C'mon."
"We're not through, Old Man,” Travis resheathed his weapon.
"Didn't say we were." Together, they ran to the Bridge.
Jennifer burst onto the Bridge. She rarely ever went there. It always felt strange. "Captain, Captain!" she called out.
"Uh, Ensign, not now. We've got systems down shipwide. And ...."
"Sir!" Jennifer insisted. "Lili's, Lili's gone. I think she's gone from the ship. And, and I have, I have this." she showed him the PADD.
"Ensign, what are you trying to show me?"
"Sir, this is a letter from him,” she said.
"Might be related, sir,” Malcolm said, looking up.
"Yep." Captain Archer allowed. "Delacroix, Haddon, you'll need to vacate. Hoshi, contact Dr. Phlox and Tripp Tucker and get them up here for a meeting. Ensign," he faced Jennifer, "stick around for this."
"Captain!" Hoshi said, “I have a message from Chef. Lili never showed up to cook breakfast."
"Delacroix!" Jonathan called after him. "You and Haddon, get down to the kitchen and make yourselves useful while we meet."
"Yes, sir. C'mon Deb. Let's go peel some potatoes." Delacroix said.
Falling falling foggy falling pain dark heat cold itching.
"Ensign, why don't you sit in my seat?" Malcolm offered, once everyone had assembled.
"Thank you, sir."
"All right." Captain Archer said, “We have multiple failures on the ship. No targeting, no outside communications, and no warp drive. Am I missing anything?"
"Impulse power seems to be fully operational. And we're still on course around the planets and moons in the system,” Travis offered.
"We still have torpedoes, too, sir." Malcolm added.
"All right. Ensign, show us what you have."
"I, sir, when I got into bed last nigh-, uh, early this morning, Lili was asleep and talking so I know she was dreaming. But she didn't have her PADD in bed with her or anything. I would have noticed something as strange as that. And then this morning, when the alarm went off, I saw the PADD flashing and no Lili. And there's, uh, there's a message on the PADD."
"Do you think she left voluntarily?" Commander Tucker asked. "I mean, well, don't tell me I'm the only person who's thought of this. She's in this, I dunno what to call it...."
"Relationship." Hoshi suggested.
"I, I guess so." Tripp said, “And, well, maybe they got some way to be together and it just took out a buncha systems. Although, while I'm saying that, it sounds like magical, wishful thinking to me. It's, uh, strange the way the failures occurred, all at oh two hundred eighteen hours. This was no accidental failure stream."
"Sir, the message doesn't seem to indicate that they left together,” Jenny said.
"Oh? What does it say?" Dr. Phlox asked.
"Maybe we shouldn't read it,” Jenny said.
"It, it could be a love letter of some sort." Malcolm offered.
"Yes,” Jenny said.
"We need to follow any lead we can get. Ensign Sato, read the letter."
Doug shut off the alarm as soon as he and Travis had gotten onto the Bridge. "Empress! What's going on?"
"Your protégé never showed up for work last night. And now his girlfriend is missing, too."
Doug flipped a switch to send a message. Nothing. He then clicked open a personal communicator. Nothing. "How long have in-ship communications been out?"
"Since about oh two hundred eighteen hours,” Hoshi said.
MacKenzie ambled in. "Well, there's one of them,” Doug said.
"How do you know Crossman's gone, Old Man?" asked Aidan.
"Ahem,” Hoshi said, “Uh, sir, it feels weird reading this."
"Just read it, Ensign."
'My sweetest Lili,
I don't know if you can see this, but I'll type it anyway, just in case you can. You disappeared once before, but you came back. But this time I'm alone on your ship, and I never have been before. It feels different and very, very wrong. And maybe tomorrow we'll laugh at how scared I'm getting but right now I'm just really, really scared.
I couldn't tell you before, and it was stupid of me not to, because I wasted time. And I let my fear and my history keep me from telling you the thing that I really should have told you from the second time we were together: that you are more important to me than anyone, that you are my light and all I want is to bask in that shadow. And that means what you think it means, and it is very scary to know that I may never be able to really say it to you. I will fight waking up. I always do, and this time I will fight harder. All I can think of to tell you is to tell you it so many times that maybe you're covered for the rest of your beautiful life.
I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you I love you....'
Sir, it goes on this way for pages."
"One thousand, three hundred and forty-six, to be exact." T'Pol said, looking at the version on her own PADD.
Jennifer started to weep loudly. "Ensign,” Malcolm said quietly.
"Go on,” Jonathan said to Hoshi. "Skip that, see if there's something at the end."
"Okay. Yes, here it is.
'It is almost time to wake up, I can tell. And if I could sleep and wait for you, I would. I know you wanted to be equal, but I am your faithful and loving servant. And I will never stop looking for you.
"No, no!" Jennifer said, between sobs. "Lili is, is, she's dead. Or at least she might be. And if she's not, I almost wish I was. Because none of us should have ever opened this. It's not, it wasn't ours in the first place!" Her voice got louder and higher as she choked out the words. "It was private. It was theirs. And now we've, we've spoiled it!"
"Jennifer,” Malcolm said very quietly and offered her his handkerchief, which she took.
"We had to know." Tripp said, “At least it doesn't look like Hayes was complicit."
Hoshi looked up, eyes shining. "It feels like we just violated her."
"Look, let's adjourn,” Jonathan said.
Tripp said, "Crossman, take the rest of the day off."
"I'll, I'll escort the Ensign back to her quarters." Malcolm volunteered.
"Yes, uh, let me go, too,” Hoshi said, “I kind of, I need some air." The three of them left.
"I'll do what I can to get communications back on line. I take it that's top priority. See if there's some request for a ransom or whatever." Tripp said.
"Some sort of an explanation is definitely in order." Archer said, “And let's do something where we're not trampling all over someone's private life."
Falling falling foggy falling pain dark heat cold itching.
Doug was out in the halls. Lunchtime. Ugh. At least it was a break from the endless bickering about who was supposed to be on duty, and what they were going to do about Jennifer. The Empress favored a quick strike, but everything was still down. And not being able to communicate within the ship was becoming exceptionally inconvenient.
He heard his name being called. It was the Empress.
"Something I can do for you?"
"Nothing much more than you normally do,” she said, smiling at him. "You keep a cool head, I like that."
"Makes no sense to me to dole out punishments until after we get Crossman back. Take advantage of people's talents while they're still peaking."
"Peaking. Good choice of words." The Empress was close, very, very close.
"Empress, is there something else you wish to discuss?"
"Yes. You may have heard. I am looking for a little brother for Jun."
"And that little brother needs a father."
"How about Tr-Travis?" Doug asked.
Hoshi smiled. "No. Maybe some other time. I am right now looking for someone a little more, uh, seasoned." she ran a finger down the front of his uniform, to just above the belt.
"What about Jun's father?"
"Oh, him? He's dead. Daniels. What an idiot, always babbling on and on about future this, timeline that. Plus, even if he was alive, I'd still pick someone else."
"Some, uh, special reason?" Doug fought to concentrate but she was awfully close and was beginning to touch him.
"All of my children are going to have different fathers. They'll have different factions and when the time is right, they'll combat for succession. No sense in giving them anything to get sentimental about, other than the basic blood tie to me. I'm going to have lots of them. And they need good bloodlines."
"Like a, like a bull?" he asked, voice rising.
"Yes." she grinned. "Castrate or kill the rejects, of course. My, oh my, Old Man. If I'd known you were still capable, I'd have done this sooner."
"No need to speak."
"Um, uh, Empress, what about, uh, uh, Tucker?"
"Tripp Tucker?!" she laughed. "It probably glows in the dark, assuming it hasn't fallen off by now. Still, if it does glow that would make for a very interesting game of 'Hide the –'. Oh, Old Man. Responsive and everything. I bet you have some bullets left."
"Empress, I, uh, I can't, uh, perform the way I used to,” Doug lied.
"I'll see about that." she said.
He stood perfectly still, at attention, glancing around the hallway which was fortunately empty. He dug his short fingernails into the palms of his hands. This was so not what he wanted to have happening. He thought of Lili for a second, and that made it harder for him to maintain his composure. Then he realized that both the Empress and Jennifer were different from Lili when it came to this. He felt guilty for comparing them, and that made him find his voice again.
"Em-press. I. Don't. Think. We." he spoke slowly and deliberately, getting the words out with difficulty as if he were dictating to history's most incompetent secretary. "Should. Be. Doing. This."
"Oh?" The Empress inquired.
"N-no. I, I value our, our current situation. It. Is. Important. To. Me. That. You. Trust. Me. You won't. Trust. Me. After this."
She said, "You're right. Your value is in me knowing you're not trying to get into my pants."
"Y-yes, Empress." he covered himself. "I, uh, I've sweated my uni. Let me, um, shower and change. Be back at the Bridge in less than half an hour."
"Permission granted. Oh, and you passed the test." she waved him off and glared at a few people in the hallways who had been watching.
"Jennifer," Hoshi said as the three of them walked, "I don't want to leave it like that."
"Neither do I,” Malcolm said.
"But what can be done?" Jenny asked. "The Captain said all the communications were down."
"Uh, maybe there's one channel,” Hoshi said, indicating the PADD.
"Maybe he can find her. He's in a dream. Perhaps he can defy gravity and other physical laws." Malcolm posited.
"So what do you think we can do?" Jenny asked.
Doug was in pain. That kind of overstimulus, without release, was downright torture. He stripped and got in the shower and grabbed at himself.
After spending time trying so hard not to react in any way, it was exceptionally difficult to do the opposite. He thought of Lili. That made it happen for him. He whispered while the water ran, "I hope that's the last time I have to do that without you."
Why did Jennifer vanish? Very disjointed effect there.
Falling falling foggy falling pain dark heat cold itching.
One is Lili, the other is the MU Jennifer.
Definitely meant to be disjointed.
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.
– M. Reed'
"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.
– Hoshi Sato'
"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.
Now I'm really wondering what's going on.
But it wasn't quite time to get up.
He rolled over once, no PADD in hand this time.
Directed dreaming, he thought. "I could try that,” he said softly to the darkness.
It was a white room. Whiter than white. Blinding. Not even like a white star, for hot, white stars are bluish.
There was no blue. It was unrelenting whiteness. The essence of white.
He sniffed the air.
There was a scent. Another dream-that-is-more-than-a-dream, Doug thought.
But the odor was acrid, and was making his eyes tear.
"Where are you?" he called. "Where are you? Where are you?"
For the last piece of the dream, he typed a little more on the PADD, but it was getting foggy and fading from view.
This time, when he awoke, he could not get back to sleep no matter how hard he tried.
"That alien is dangerous." Yimar complained, just outside the room.
"Where is Mommy?" asked Chelben.
"She's, uh, um, sleeping."
There was a crash in the other room.
"Chelben! Stay here! Father, I'm coming!" Yimar cried out, leaving the child and running into the room.
Doug pulled on sweatpants and went over to the ship's gym. He hadn't been there in a while. Despite the early hour, Crewman Cutler was there with Jun. "Here, now," she said to the child, "you play with this. Hit it really, really hard,” she said, bringing down a speed bag to his height that was almost as big as he was.
She straightened up and nodded slightly.
Doug went over to the free weights. He was bent over to grab a larger barbell when he heard voices behind him.
"C'mon!" said the male voice. "It's not like you've got any other offers."
"No. I gotta watch the kid. And I already got a man."
"An imaginary one? You won't get any other offers." the man teased.
Doug turned around. "Delacroix," he said calmly, "she's not interested."
"You really expect me to believe that?" Delacroix asked. "You and I both know the only reason any of the women come to the gym is when they're lookin' for some action. And I'm just the right fella to give ya some, eh Cutler?" he got up in her face even though he was shorter than she was.
She turned her face away. "Oh, and the black eye? It is one serious turn-on." Delacroix added. "I could give you a matching one, ya know."
Cutler bent over. "Jun! Stop playing with that, it's time to go."
"Nuh!" yelled Jun. He was having too much fun hitting stuff.
"C'mon!" Delacroix grinned, grabbing her.
"Crewman!" Doug said, “Leave her alone."
"Oh? And whaddaya gonna do about it, Old Man?" He straightened up but was still considerably shorter than Doug.
"I don't fight children,” Doug spat out, turning away and giving Cutler a quick look.
He wasn't braced when Delacroix hit him hard, straight in the gut, and couldn't help but to react. He reeled back, a little surprised.
"You really are slipping." Delacroix said, laughing.
Doug shook his head to shake off the cobwebs and uppercutted Delacroix to the chin. The smaller man fell onto an exercise mat.
Doug turned to Cutler. His stomach hurt something fierce but he knew it wasn't a bad injury. "Your man should be doing this."
"Yeah, but he's on shift."
"He owes me one,” Doug said.
"I, I know. Look, can we go?"
"Sure. Come on, Jun,” Doug said. Delacroix was stirring a bit and he didn't want to risk a repeat.
They walked in the hall, leaving Delacroix back at the gym.
"Um, thank you." Cutler said, “You've, uh, I guess you had owed me and now you, you don't anymore."
"How did you figure I owed you?"
"The other night. The targeting array was fine. And all the Empress wanted was for that city to be taken down. And I did it for you. So you owed me for that."
"Yeah, uh, a little, I guess,” Doug said, “Huh, no breakfast for me today."
"You're probably better off. Well, this is where I go." they were at the door to the Empress's quarters. "Uh, can I ask a favor?"
She dropped her voice to a barely audible whisper. "I, I want to work in Tactical."
"I know you do – and your talents are being wasted here,” Doug indicated Jun, who was smacking the door with his palm to try to get it to open faster. "But, um, I'd need her approval. And I'm not so sure I could ever get it."
"Yeah. It was a thought." Cutler looked down.
"Hmmm. If the time and place were right, I might be able to put in a good word. But no promises."
"I hate promises." Cutler said, “Always making you think something's really gonna happen, and it never does."
"Where are you? Where are you?" asked the woman in the white room.
"First coherent sentence so far,” Polloria said. She walked out of the room with Yimar. "See how it works?" she said to the girl as soon as the door was shut behind them. "The brain was targeted in a very specific way. So if you tell the alien a word, she'll understand it and know it. But if you don't, it's as if she's never heard of it."
"Can the same kind of thing happen to a Calafan?" asked Yimar.
"Of course not. It only happens to them because they're inferior. All species are inferior to Calafans,” Polloria said decisively.
"Treve says they're not."
"Treve is an idealist,” Polloria said, “When he gets older, like your father, he'll see the light. Of, of Lo."
"Father, are you all right?" Yimar burst in to a room that was all red. There was a gouge in the wall and a piece of equipment on the floor nearby.
"Fortunately, I was able to duck in time. Polloria, let's go outside the room and talk. Yimar, stay here a moment."
"But, Dad! What if she throws another drug delivery tube?"
"We'll be right outside. And I'll call Dr. Baden. Just, just be aware."
Hours later, Cutler looked up when the door chimed. "Uh, come in, I guess."
It was Tripp Tucker. "I, uh, I got done with work early."
"Yeah,” she said, kissing him. "You should know, Jun's awake, he's over there." Jun was staring at an on-screen entertainment of some sort.
"Got it. So, um, how are you doing? Shiner gettin' better?"
"A bit, see? But that side still hurts. Can't eat or smile on the left side of my mouth."
"So I'll just kiss you on the other side, then." He did so.
"Charles, why are you being this way?"
"Well, it's not like last time."
"Last time was a good five years ago."
"I know. But, I mean, you're being nice. And you're almost gentle, even."
Tripp was quiet for a while. Cutler cringed, waiting for another shoe to drop.
"Beth, I'm dying."
"Yeah. I, I know."
"And so you shouldn't get involved with a guy like me. I'm liable to go while we're doing it."
"I don't care."
"You, uh, you need to understand. My guts feel like they're made of tar and my lungs feel like they're filled with ashes."
"Not everything is affected." Beth said, smiling.
"Oh, that's affected, too. I can't, uh, can't do it too often."
"Well I can't, either. It's not like I can get away too much. If the Empress found you here, she'd have a fit."
"Still, I'm a bad risk for ya."
"Lemme tell you something. I am the lowest-ranking pers – , no, creature on this ship. Even Dr. Morgan's lab animals are treated better than I am. Everyone feels they can take a shot at me, and they sometimes do. Jun does it all the time. And this morning at the gym, if the Old Man wasn’t there, Delacroix would've, well, he ...."
"You went to the gym?"
"You sick of me already?"
"No. I had to take Jun for conditioning training. I was not there to look for, for another man. Not that anyone would've been interested anyway."
"I should have protected you. That's, uh, you should stay in, mostly. Safer that way."
"Are you, uh, are you a little concerned about my welfare, Charles?" She came closer and kissed him. "Ow."
"Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to press on the left side there."
"Did you just apologize to me?"
"Uh, yeah. I guess I did."
"We are a pair,” she said, “Both falling apart."
"Come back to the Bridge again tonight."
"I can't always get away,” she said.
"I know. But we'll do the same thing. You bring the kid, and put him in the Ready Room, on the cot."
"Charles! I get the feeling we won't always be able to do it in the Captain's chair! Think of all the people who are on the Bridge."
"Well, it's pretty quiet at oh three hundred hours, Beth."
"I'll try not to be late."
The next time he kissed her, he made sure it was away from the swollen left side of her face. And it didn't hurt much at all.
"Don't, don't try that again,” Yimar said to the woman in the red room.
"Try that again." the woman parroted, reaching for another drug delivery tube to throw.
Weird. What's up with these aliens?
Yimar eluded her and took away the drug delivery tube. This was not good. She was just a kid and, even though the alien woman was lying in a hospital bed, she was still the stronger of the two of them. "I hope this is worth it,” she said.
"Worth it." parroted the woman.
It was after normal working hours, but Deb Haddon and Brian Delacroix were working anyway. The Empress had ordered the senior staff to the Bridge and, with no internal communications working, they were forced to go out and knock on doors.
"This is boring." Deb complained. "We still can't find Tucker."
"Should switch the lights off, turn on an ultraviolet. I bet he glows." Delacroix joked. "Say, um, once we're done with this, ya wanna ...?"
"I'm with Masterson,” she said, cutting him off. "Where the hell is Tucker? The Old Man, easy. In his room. Dr. Morgan, in Sick Bay like he was supposed to be. Empress and Mayweather already on the Bridge. So where the hell is Tucker?"
"We didn't look there,” Brian said, indicating the Empress's quarters.
"We're not supposed to go in there after Jun's gone to sleep. No one's allowed to wake him." Deb pointed out.
"Hmm. We better knock anyway."
It was a few hours later.
"Thank you for coming to dinner, Dr. Baden,” Polloria said, sitting down.
"Ah, this does look good." The doctor said, “And how are you children?"
"Uh, fine,” Yimar said, “Chelben, wait for prayers."
"Father, may I lead the prayers?" Treve asked.
"Thank you, Lo, for this bountiful spread. Thank you, Abic, for the drinks. Thank you, Fep, for the table. Thank you, Ub, for staying away."
Everyone nodded and they started eating.
"Doctor, how is it going?"
"Well, it's going well,” he said, “This alien has an interesting brain configuration. A lot about some strange things, a lot of memory devoted to things like protein and something called cilantro."
Treve smiled. "The alien is a food preparer."
"Yes, she even showed Treve how to use a knife and fork." Chawev said, indicating with his own fork. "A good way to bring her in close and get better readings. You did well, my son."
"Well, I support the main purpose here,” Treve said.
"What's that?" Yimar asked, looking up from helping Chelben cut a slice of a large purple vegetable.
"Yimar, all aliens are inferior to us,” Polloria said, “And this is how we understand that better. They come here and we pluck one of them out and bring them here for a few days of study."
"Well, there's more to it than that." Chawev added. "We position our sensors so that we know when a ship carrying a new species is coming. And for a few days before they get here, we use those big dishes – remember seeing those when we went to Point Abic last year?"
"Yes, Father. They were huge." Yimar agreed.
"Yes, that's right. Well, those dishes emit a certain complex series of waves. You can't see or feel them or hear them. And neither can the aliens. But it affects a few of them and whichever one is most affected is our best candidate. And then when they come closer to our system, we make contact, go on their ship, and then we transport away our candidate for a few days of study."
"Does that hurt them?" Yimar asked.
"It doesn't hurt to be transported,” Treve said carefully.
"That's true,” Polloria said, “Then we wipe their memories temporarily and see how quickly they can relearn them. And while they're in such a state, we can access everything they know."
"Does, does that hurt?" Yimar asked, a little scared.
"They're aliens. They're inferior. It doesn't matter whether it hurts them." Polloria stated. "Finish your dinner."
"And I told you, you need to start getting used to calling me Mother."
The senior officers had reassembled in the main conference room. Captain Archer began. "Well, I don't need to tell everyone here that we've got a situation. What's our status? Travis?"
"We've got Impulse and nothing else. And the controls are frozen, it's like they're locked in place. I can't change course; it just keeps going through the predefined pattern."
"Communications?" asked Jonathan.
"We can't talk to anyone but ourselves,” Hoshi said.
"Tactical?" asked the Captain.
"Targeting array is completely offline. No phasers. Torpedo bays are fused." Malcolm stated. "It wasn't like that before; that might have been some sort of an earlier oversight, but it's that way now."
"Transportation?" Jonathan asked.
"Transporter is operational but I can't input coordinates." Tucker said, “Shuttles exist but those bay doors are fused as well."
"Where are we on repairs?" Jonathan asked.
"I've got a crew devoted to Communications." Tripp said, “Unless you want 'em working on something else. Frankly, since we're just kind of locked into what looks like an infinite loop, we could technically throw almost everyone at repairs. Don't need a pilot, don't need Tactical, don't need Communications. We're nothing without our machines and devices, Captain."
"That is a logical course of action,” said T'Pol.
"Agreed. Now, what about our other problem?"
"Captain, if I may." Malcolm began. "Hoshi and I, it was perhaps incorrect of us to do this without permission, but we felt – or at least I did – a bit guilty about the incident with Ensign O'Day's PADD message being read."
"And ...?" asked Jonathan.
"Well, we – it was my idea, so any blame should fall on my head alone – we decided to ..."
"It was my idea, too." Hoshi piped up.
"What idea is this?" asked the Captain.
"We made contact. With Hayes,” Malcolm said.
"How?" asked Tripp.
"We wrote back to him,” Hoshi said, “And he's written back."
"What is this correspondence achieving?" asked Dr. Phlox.
"Can't tell,” Malcolm said, “Here, I'll read what he wrote:
'Malcolm, Hoshi and Jenn,'"
"Jenn?" asked T'Pol. "Is that Ensign Crossman?"
"Yes. We figured she'd want to be in on it. And we, we needed access into their quarters for this to work,” Hoshi said.
"Could you finish reading the note?" Jonathan asked.
"Yes, sir, of course.” " Malcolm read on.
'I tried that Directed Dreaming like Hoshi recommended. And I think it worked, but I can't really tell. I just saw a lot of white. Maybe a white room, I don't know. The other thing was the smell. It was like the stuff they used to use in my old school to clean the carpets. Didn't hear any sounds, don't know if I was anywhere near Lili. Will try again tonight.
"That stuff is vile." Tucker said, “It's sodium- and sulphur-based and it reeks until it dries." he explained.
"I remember that,” Travis said, “Nobody ever came to my schoolroom early because the disinfectant reeked so badly."
"Uh, this trip down Memory Lane is all well and good," Jonathan said, "but what is it telling us? And, Lieutenant – next time, come to me with your plans. I don't disagree with this but I am still concerned about trusting Hayes at all."
"His observations could be faulty or not even present,” Phlox agreed. "It would be rather convenient for him if he is the one who has the Ensign, and is merely working to throw us off the, the scent, as it were."
"Maybe she's at a school,” Hoshi said.
"Are there other places where such a disinfectant would be in widespread use?" T'Pol inquired.
"Yes,” Phlox said, “Hospitals."
Dinner finished, Polloria pushed Yimar and Chelben out of the room so that she and the three men could talk.
"Do you think Yimar understands the second purpose?" Treve asked.
"Probably not,” Polloria said, “What good would it do to tell a fourteen-year-old child of our politics?"
"She may understand more than we think." Chawev said, “But the specifics would likely be troubling to her. I mean, she knows that a High Priestess must voluntarily designate her successor. She also knows that her mother is the High Priestess and that her mother is very ill. She is well aware that this alien – despite how we have dressed and tattooed her – is not her mother."
"I just perform surgery,” Dr. Baden said, “Tell me, how will the rest of it work?"
"We are going to have the Festival of Lo and Abic in two days. We will bring the alien out, and say she is Yipran. Only the closest of the close will realize it isn't my wife. After all, Yipran has been ill for years. We have publicly prayed for her health for half a decade."
"And the alien will point to me as her successor,” Polloria said.
"Yes, of course,” Baden said, “And then what?"
"Well, as you know, normally we would just return the alien. We did that with the Klingon we plucked, with the Andorian and the Vulcan. Things didn't work out so well with that – what was that other one called?" Chawev asked.
"Ferengi." Treve reminded him.
"Yes, yes, nasty little grasping folk. Where was I? Oh yes, the endgame. We would return the alien but it's not so simple. It needs to be obvious that Yipran has died before Polloria can take her place. So we will need to publicly eliminate the alien."
"And of the real Yipran? Won't that become messy and inconvenient?" Baden asked.
"Only if her existence is revealed. She stays in the Main Hospital, patient #116. In perpetuity, if need be. Declared dead. No family. No friends. No visitors other than you, Baden."
"Father, it is still wrong. Whatever, whatever problems you had with Mother, I, I don't know if I can condone any of this."
"But you've condoned plenty of it already, Treve,” Polloria said, “Why get morally squeamish now?"
"I – Polloria – I was a child when you, you came into our lives and Mother became ill. I have done my best to accept you. And I am, I am glad that Mother will not actually be killed, although if she were at all conscious it might be something she'd wish. But killing this alien? Cannot we put her back as we usually do?"
"You never saw it,” Baden said. He was older than everyone, including Chawev. "But I did. When there is no High Priestess, there is chaos. The people are – we are the best species in the universe but many of our people are foolishly superstitious. They want to believe in an unbroken chain of High Priestesses of Lo, served by faithful First Ministers dedicated to Abic. The succession law exists to fulfill that very purpose. And it also exists to keep potential successors from simply killing an installed High Priestess. But the whole system falls apart if the High Priestess dies unexpectedly. And this situation – where the High Priestess is comatose – has never happened before."
"So Mother will never, ever recover?" Treve asked.
"No. Her body will probably live on for a few more years and then it will be worn out and the fading life will finally end,” Baden said.
"It was fortunate that the humans came along when they did." Chawev said, “We could have waited longer, I suppose. But this opportunity has been truly stellar. As if this alien were tailor-made for this very purpose. Almost a pity we can't trot her out for some other purposes before elimination."
"So, everyone's got their marching orders,” Jonathan said, “And Malcolm, give me a few minutes. I have a letter of my own I wish to write."
"By all means, sir."
Jonathan began typing on his own PADD:
You know I can't reveal much about our situation and I expect you can't say too much about how things are going on your end, either. All we can think of is to check public institutions. Follow your nose. Keep us informed.
– J. Archer'
The senior officers were assembled on the Bridge, except for Tucker. Haddon and Delacroix walked in with him, late.
"Nice of you to drop by." Hoshi snarled.
"You won't believe where we found him!" Delacroix crowed. Tucker glared.
"Never mind that,” said Hoshi. "What's our status?"
"No warp drive. No control over Impulse." Tripp said, “No transporter. No targeting array. Can't get torpedo or shuttle bays open. All communications are dead, even inside the ship."
"Repairs?" The Empress asked.
"Having no working sensors now, it's even harder to tell if we're making any sort of progress." Tripp said, “I need bodies to fix it all."
Delacroix giggled at the sound of the word bodies. Haddon poked him in the ribs to silence him.
"Take whoever you need. And don't dawdle. Now, what about Crossman?"
"No sign,” Doug said, “And no good way to look or mount a first strike. I can assemble a strike force and get it ready, but we'd be all dressed up with no place to go."
"Hold off for now,” said the Empress. "Double shifts starting tomorrow, everyone. And everyone is on repair detail. Get the overnight crew in here. Dismissed."
"So, we're agreed?" asked Polloria, after clearing the dishes.
"Yes,” said Chawev. "Once you have been designated as the successor, we kill that alien. That beast is hazardous. Next time, I might not have fast enough reflexes."
"You have good enough reflexes,” Polloria said, grabbing at him.
OK-starting to see where you are going...
Doug could smell it again, even before he could see it.
Fumes. Smoke. Polluted. Awful.
He fought off sneezing. Sneezing in a dream? He pondered that for a split second. No stranger than anything else that had happened during the past week or so.
He walked through white fog and shadows. "I can't find you." he finally said, in exasperation.
"I can't find you." came her voice.
"Talk to me!" he yelled joyfully. "Talk!"
"Yes, talk. Tell me about, about pasta and, and Titan and blue dresses and baseball. Just, just talk to me and let me find you!"
"Yes! Just speak, babble, it doesn't even have to be coherent." he could tell he was closer but something was off.
"Bab, babble,” she said cautiously. "I, I, Yipran."
It was less foggy, and less white. It was ... silvery.
"Hmm? One more sentence. A few more steps."
"Awake. Four. Friend."
"No, you're sleeping,” he said, reaching a silvery shape. It was a curtain. He parted it.
She was – at least, it seemed to be her – lying in a bed. Large tubes in both arms. Unfamiliar monitoring equipment behind her. Arms were, strange, wearing long patterned sleeves.
"Sleeping?" she asked.
"Yes, Lili. You may not believe it, but you are sleeping." he came closer.
"Believe,” she said tentatively, then looked at him quizzically. "Who – who are you?"
Treve really didn't want to be there alone, late at night, babysitting a hazardous alien. Still, he had his studies with him. Might as well be productive. History. Philosophy. Nothing too exciting but not too bad. The life of a future diplomat, he thought to himself. A diplomat to inferiors.
The alien stirred.
"Oh, you're up,” he said.
"Up." she parroted.
"Yes." he came closer for a look. "You must be very old. Your hair is so long. And no calloo any more, too, just bare extremities when we plucked you."
"Yes, calloo. It's what those patterns on your arms and legs are called. Once they're gone, you're close to dying. Doesn't matter what from – you're ancient if you have no calloo."
"Yes. Like you. You're very old. But still strong. Odd,” he said, coming even closer.
She grabbed at him, which surprised him. "Old?" she asked.
"Yes. You. You are old,” he said, but he didn't make a move to take her hand away.
She smiled at him. "Not. Not old."
"Hmm. Maybe not. I don't even know if you humans have calloo. Doesn't matter. I wonder what else is true of your anatomy,” he said, beginning to enjoy her grip on him.
"Anatomy,” she said, smiling. She pulled her thin hospital shift up.
"Oh,” he said, looking down at her. "You may not be able to speak much, but you don't seem to have forgotten this." he bent over for a closer inspection. She then grabbed his bald head and kissed him.
"What?" she asked.
"What do I want to do? Is that what you are asking?"
"I," he smiled, "I am a bit flattered, I admit. I have not been with a woman. Not an alien and not a Calafan. And I'm tempted to find out just what sex with you would be like."
"Sex,” she said, licking her lips. "Like."
This time he initiated the kiss. "I, I should tell you. When we, we Calafans, uh, mate –"
"Yes, when we, when we mate, my, uh, my climax, it takes a while. Everything swells up so that I can release as much, uh, sperm as possible. Things might be – at least that is my understanding – might become sticky. Or, or tight."
"Tight,” she said, hands all over him now, clutching at his clothes to get them off.
Doug was stricken. "It's, it's me. It's Doug. Your Doug."
He was very close, and reached for her. She shrank back.
MacKenzie was ambling through the halls. Sure the Empress wanted him in for repair work. Ugh. How dull.
He spied a lone female. "Haddon!"
"Everyone's busy. I'm just getting off shift, finally." she complained.
"Wanna get off another way?"
"I'm with Masterson." she pointed out.
"Haddon, until Crossman is back, you'll be, uh, otherwise engaged every night. Up for it?"
She looked around and weighed her options, then followed him to his quarters.
"Don't, don't be afraid of me. Please, please, don't be afraid,” Doug said.
"I, I don't, don't ..." her voice trailed off.
"I don't know what's happening with you,” he said gently. "You, you seem sick or hurt somehow. You're in some sort of a hospital, I think. And you don't seem to know me. But I know you. And, and, I will not harm you."
"I, I don't know you,” she said, voice trembling.
"And you don't seem to know yourself, either. You, you are Lili O'Day. You can cook and you can laugh and you are, you are, uh, responsible for me becoming, well, becoming sane,” he said.
"Let me, let me touch you,” he said softly. "Just, please. I've waited so long."
She closed her eyes and braced herself. "God," he said, "what did they do to you?" He reached closer. Several centimeters away, a spark leapt from his hand to her arm. She jumped and cried out incoherently. "Oh my God. I am so, so sorry. I, God, I've made a mess of it. I, I never, never meant to hurt you."
She looked up. "Like, like stones."
"You, you remember something,” he said quietly.
"Yep." he took her hand and the sparking stopped. "I'm going to get you out of here."
Treve and the alien woman were done and he was contemplating another round. "That was delicious,” he said to her.
"Yes, well, I wish I knew your real name, but I'm afraid I don't. And I can't go around calling you by my own mother's name, even if everyone else is going to."
"Yes. You, you have a name. And so does everything else. Like, like here." he pointed to her left hand. "Correct hand. And the other one is the incorrect hand."
"Yes. Correct and incorrect, both sides. And here," he took her hand. "Thumb." he kissed it. "Ub finger." he kissed her index finger. "Fep finger." he kissed the middle finger. "Abic finger." he kissed her ring finger. "And Lo finger." he kissed her pinky.
She leaned over and kissed his arm. "Calloo."
"Yes, that's right. But I don't really have much in the way of calloo yet. I wish I could ask you how old you are. I suspect you're younger than you appear to be, but there's no way of confirming that, not really." He touched her lips and she smiled at him.
"You are a naughty alien,” he said, “I have no basis of comparison, of course. I, I, one thing that can happen when we Calafans mate is, we pair bond very strongly. I didn't think that was possible with an alien. It's not supposed to be."
"Bond,” she said, “Pair."
"Do you want to have another go?"
"Yes!" she said.
While they were kissing, the door opened.
"How?" she asked.
"That's, uh, to be determined."
She shook her head, shaking off cobwebs. "I, oh, where am I?"
"I wish I knew,” Doug said, “You'll need to gather the clues yourself. I can only see whatever you can see."
She looked at him intently. "I, I think I may know you. But I can't place you."
"Treve!" It was Dr. Baden.
"Oh, my!" Treve sprang to his feet. He covered himself with his right hand.
"Incorrect hand!" the alien woman pointed and giggled.
"What have you done?" Baden asked.
"I, I, isn't it obvious?"
"Yes, but with an inferior? Treve, this is an old military tactic. It's a weapon in an arsenal."
"It was what we both wanted,” Treve said.
"Inferiors don't give consent. They can't. Their minds can't wrap around it. Get dressed."
Treve didn't have to be told twice. "Doctor, uh, doctor, I'm so sorry. Please, please don't tell my father or Polloria. Please."
"Allow me to explain this to you." The doctor said, once Treve was dressed. "Actually, not in here. Come with me." They walked into the next room. "Treve, that is an alien. They are no more sentient than the animals in the streams and the fields, that we use for our food. You cannot do such things and not expect there to be consequences."
"I, I know. I don't know what came over me."
"The Festival of Ub and Fep is tomorrow. No time to really do anything about this until after that. And the alien will be eliminated by then,” Baden said.
"Don't tell me you've pair bonded."
"You'd best not have. Polloria doesn't want any complications."
Doug smiled at her. "That's something, at least. I, I don't want to give you too much, too soon."
"Is there, is there a lot?"
"Yes,” he said, thumb caressing her fingers. "There is a lot. There's everything."
"Are we, uh, are we together?"
"Kind of. It's a lot to explain." He sat down on the side of her bed. "You and I aren't even awake right now, which is even crazier. But you and I, we, uh, it's very special."
"Are you in the room with me?"
"No, not, not really. And I don't even know where the room is. Do you, do you have any clues?"
"There is a doctor. At least I think he is one. And children."
"Yes. They are, they are my children."
"No. They aren't. You're being sold a bill of goods."
"A, a what?"
"Um, you're being lied to,” Doug said, “Anything else?"
"It smells bad. Like cleaning solution, I think. And there is, there is my, he says he is, my, my husband. Am I, uh, having an affair with you?"
Doug smiled. "It's not like that." He felt the tug of morning. "I'm going to wake up soon. And the connection will be broken until we both fall asleep again. I know that makes no sense and I don't have the time to explain it right now. I can tell you're recovering but I think you'd better make it look like you aren't. I think if they think you're a lot better, they'll try to figure out why. And then they might cut this connection off again somehow."
"I, I can't pretend to understand,” she said, “I'm not even sure I can trust you, but you seem warm and, and I don't know. There is just something."
"Yes, there is definitely something,” he said, “I would like to kiss you but I don't want to alarm or upset you in any way. But I can't help telling you that that's what I want to do."
She smiled at him. "I, I feel like I barely know myself. But I feel I am a loyal person. Whether I am loyal to this, to my husband, or to you, I cannot tell."
"You'll need to be careful, remember that. Please don't let them think you're more recovered. You've got to go back to just saying a few random words." He kissed her hand. "The best hand. I couldn't resist." He got up.
"Will you be back?"
"Count on it."
He disappeared into the mist and, before he awoke, he typed out his findings.
NOTE: Because I couldn't find if strikethrough can be done here, I'm using underline to indicate it.
Jenny couldn't sleep. She got up and saw the flashing PADD. A message. Okay. But it was still early.
I know she's alive and in a hospital. She's got something wrong, it's like brain damage. I don't really know. She said there were children in the hospital. I think they may have been visiting her. And I am a little a lot concerned that the connection may be fading a bit. I think we need to work more quickly.
"What are you doing up, Doug?" she asked the empty room. "It's not time to get up yet."
There was a chime at the door. She threw a sweatshirt on over her sleeping clothes. "Uh, come on in."
"Oh, uh, Ensign. Sorry 'bout this." It was Tripp Tucker. "And I know it's the middle of the night and all, but I, I was thinking. Something isn't adding up here. Um, I can come back in the morning."
She yawned. "No, that's okay. Inspiration strikes when you least expect it. So, uh, what brings you here?"
"Well I was thinking. The connection always seems to happen when she's asleep. And when Hayes is asleep, too. So I'm thinking, there's possibly some place in this system where we are whenever the connection opens."
"Did you find it? And, uh, why are you here?" Jenny asked.
"I'm getting to that, sorry. Anyway, I found, we seem to hook around the second-largest planet right around bedtime for anyone on regular shift. 'Course people get into bed at different times, and they fall asleep whenever their bodies let them. But it seemed like too big of a coincidence to just dismiss it."
"And the other place is right here. It's her bed. She doesn't, um, sleep walk, does she? 'Cause if she does, my theory's shot to hell."
"No. Talking, not walking."
"Oh? Huh, interesting. Sautéing instructions at night?"
Jenny smiled. "A bit, um, earthier than that usually."
"Oh, yes. Er, shouldn't have asked that." Tripp said, “Moving right along. As you can see, what I have here is a sensor and a recorder. We'll stick 'em under and see what happens."
"Uh, that's all well and good, but he seems to think the connection is breaking." she showed him the PADD.
"Huh, well that's no good. We'll go Old School then, and just poke around." Tripp got down on all fours and looked around the bed.
Jenny followed suit, on the other side. "What are we looking for?"
"Anything, I dunno, weird."
"Well, the mattress is kinda hard." she pointed out.
"Hmm." he straightened up and sat down tentatively. "Harder side is the left. Huh." He grabbed at the sheets. "Help me with these."
They took the sheets off the bed and then lifted the mattress. "Well, will you look at that." Tripp said.
"What am I looking at?"
"Right there. There was a small hole. And it was filled and stitched up."
"Somebody came in here and did this? The Calafans?" Jenny asked.
"Probably not, but it's possible. Here, touch that." he indicated the filled hole.
"It's not fabric. It's, it's like metal."
"Yeah. It's like someone was too lazy or cheap to cut out a piece of an unused mattress so they just soldered something together, stuck it in, sewed over it and hoped no one would ever notice it."
"We need to tell the Captain,” Jenny said.
"Tell him, too." Tripp indicated the PADD.
A little pacing in his quarters was not calming Doug down. It was early. Why did the break happen early? "That's the second time this has happened. Am I losing contact?" he asked the room.
He put his face in his hands and rubbed his weary eyes. "Stones. Rocks in my head if I screw this up."
The bed seemed harder than usual. It was difficult to get comfortable. "The last thing I need is insomnia."
He lay back again and went through his usual pre-sleep calming ritual – thinking of Ganymede, Springtime. Before he'd started school.
Lili laid in her bed at the hospital. It didn't feel right. The bed just seemed to be too soft. She got up tentatively. "These will have to go." she whispered, removing the big tubes from her arms. She bled a little bit it wasn't severe. "Don't suppose I can ask anyone around here for a bandage."
Cautiously, she opened the door. 208. She made a mental note and started to walk down a corridor, hiding in doorways when anyone was coming.
She walked down a ramp and that seemed to move her down one story. Calafans were coming. She tried one door, then another. Finally, one worked. She pushed in.
Doug was in the hospital again, but by himself. "Is anybody there?" he called out.
"Anybody." came a woman's echoing voice. A familiar voice.
"And that's when we realized we'd better tell you." Tripp said. He and Jenny were in the Captain's Ready Room.
Jenny was glad that she'd gotten her uniform on at least. "Uh, what do you think about the possibility that we're under a time crunch now, sir?" she asked.
"Maybe so." Captain Archer allowed. "Delaying isn't getting us anywhere. So, Tripp, what say you?"
"I think we're going about it only partly right, Cap'n, if I may say so myself. Getting Communications up is fine, and it follows protocol. But we should be getting transport up as more of a priority. Because I'm willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that she's on that second-biggest planet somewhere."
"They could have hundreds of hospitals. And the children? What of them?" Jonathan inquired.
"There are probably a few million children there,” Jenny pointed out.
"Yes, but the First Minister – didn't he say he had kids?" Tripp asked.
"To quote the Commander, 'That seems logical.'" Jenny said.
"Agreed. Now, here, one more message for our man inside,” Jonathan took the PADD for a few minutes. "Get back here, early morning."
This hospital room was different. The walls were red, not white, but it still had the awful smell.
Doug walked in. "Jennifer. Jennifer."
"Who?" she asked. Her arms were covered with coppery scrollwork patterns.
"You. You're Jennifer,” he said, “Do you have any idea where this is?"
"Where this is." she parroted.
"You've got it worse than Lili does,” Doug muttered under his breath. "Well, here goes nothing."
He took her hand. No spark. He dropped it quickly. "Anything?" he asked, searching her hazel eyes.
"Anything." she parroted, and then vanished.
"And I tell you, Treve, they are still our inferiors,” Dr. Baden pointed out.
"Yes, yes, I know that,” Treve said, “But these are people with warp capabilities. Even if we allow for our own personal prejudices and thoughts, we also have to allow for them having technological intelligence."
"And other kinds of intelligence?" Baden asked. "Treve, I will not tell your father or Polloria and we will consider this matter closed. You are a young man and just trying to experience life. But it should have been with a Calafan woman." he scolded. They walked into Jennifer's room.
"Ah, you're awake. Big day today. Festival of Ub and Fep,” Baden said.
"Treve!" she smiled. "I, I, I."
"See? Inferior,” Baden said.
"What are you trying to say?" Treve asked.
"I wonder what that means,” Treve said.
"Probably nothing." Baden replied. "Here, we will need to dress her for Point Abic today. You've seen her naked. You may as well assist."
Lili looked around the room. Tons of machinery, most of it very loud. And a shrunken woman in a bed. There were tubes in her arms and her legs, which were covered with fading silvery scrollwork.
Lili tentatively sat on the bed. There was no one else there. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to intrude. I, I know who I am. Or at least I think I do. I don't think you can say the same."
The woman in the bed said nothing.
Doug's dream was changing, the walls were changing, turning from red to white. "Lili!" he called out.
He was able to glide through halls and down a ramp, seeing unfamiliar parts of the hospital. There was an ajar door. He stopped in front of it. "116." he read.
He pushed in and saw Lili sitting at a bedside. He called her name again, but she didn't turn around. He came closer. "Can you hear me?"
There was no reaction. "God, don't let this be the last of it,” he said. He put his hand out but couldn't make physical contact.
Independent of his touch, Lili got up. "I'd better go now,” she said to the shrunken woman. She pushed open the door and was accosted by doctors.
Doug felt himself pulled away, almost waking. "Probably really waking up now." he whispered. There was the PADD, as expected. He clicked it on.
Check the second-largest planet. And the First Minister, assuming he has a counterpart on your side. Let us know what you get.
– J. Archer'
Doug typed back.
Things are changing. I don't know how long I can sustain this. It's a big hospital, looks to be state of the art. Morgan Phlox would know. It's not her room, but check this one anyway once you're here: 116. I'll help as long as I can.
The general alarm went off, and he woke that morning for good.
The Bridge was packed with the Executive staff. Even Dr. Morgan, who was talking to the Empress. "And I must protest!" he complained to her.
"Oh?" she arched an eyebrow.
"Yes. It's your son. He shredded my Derellian bat with that knife of his."
"And you're actually complaining to me?"
"Well, it was a lot to clean up." Morgan pulled back. "I like a clean Sick Bay."
"Yes, well, you know that Jun has to practice and become skillful. Or would you prefer that he practiced on his sitter?"
"That would be even messier. But the bat, you see. It makes a certain enzyme. Very helpful for treating infections. I won't be able to get another one until we leave this wretched system."
"Can't you just put bandages on everything? Really, Morgan, you know that science bores me." The Empress said, “Ah, the gang's all here."
Doug got to his station, where MacKenzie was standing. "Dismissed,” he said to Aidan.
"No. Keep him here. And you two, stay." Hoshi indicated Haddon and Delacroix. "I have good news. Or, rather, Commander Tucker does."
"Uh, yes." Tripp said, “We can get a shuttle bay open."
"There,” Baden said, “Almost like your mother in her prime." He stood back to admire his work. Jennifer was dressed in a floor-length copper gown with no sleeves and a huge slit going down the front, stopping just before her navel and then starting up again below her knees.
"I wish we had a mirror; you should see yourself. You look good,” Treve said.
"Mirror,” Jennifer said, “Treve."
She touched his face. "Good."
Baden became angry. "Treve, you must control her. Nothing can go wrong today."
"Yes, yes, of course,” Treve said, “Here, sit down,” he said to Jennifer. "We'll leave soon."
"Soon,” she said.
"What are you doing?" demanded one of the doctors in front of Room 116.
Lili blanched. "Doing?" she parroted carefully.
"She must've gotten lost,” Dr. Baden said, “Here, come back with me. Slowly, let's not reopen the arm wounds. You should not go running off like that." he scolded Lili.
"Running off,” she said quietly.
"No. You should not be doing that. You need to rest. You are not well." he shepherded her back to her room, where Chawev, Polloria, Treve and the children were waiting.
"What happened?" Chawev asked, a little alarmed.
"Exploring, I think,” Baden said, “The festival could not have come at a better time. We are losing the connection."
"You sure about that?" Captain Archer asked Commander Tucker.
"Yeah, Cap'n." Tucker said via communicator. "I got a shuttle bay good to go. Can maneuver 'em both out, the way I see it."
"Thanks. Get up here. Archer out,” Jonathan returned to the Bridge.
"Sir, take a look,” Hoshi said, pointing to the screen.
"That's a lot of ships,” Jonathan said.
"They all seem to be going to the second-largest planet,” Travis stated.
"And look over there,” Malcolm said, “Sodium vapor flares are increasing between the two smallest stars."
Hoshi listened in. "Wait, wait a second. I think repairs are working. I've got, wait, wait."
"Can you get a message out?" T'Pol asked.
"I, I think we can listen but not speak,” Hoshi said.
"On screen,” said Jonathan.
"Greetings, Calafans!" It was Chawev, who appeared to be alone on a huge podium. "Welcome to the Festival of Lo and Abic."
"Malcolm, assemble a strike team,” Jonathan said, “Travis, you'll pilot." he clicked open a communicator. "Dr. Phlox, I have an assignment for you."
"Oh?" came Phlox's voice.
"Yes. You, Tripp and T'Pol are off to a hospital."
"Very well, sir."
"Hayes, put together an assault team." Hoshi commanded.
"Delacroix, Haddon," he called. "And, uh, Mac."
"Sir, someone has to man the Tactical Station." MacKenzie pointed out.
"Mac, are you afraid?" Doug asked pointedly.
"Uh, no sir."
"Good. I'll get someone else up here,” Doug thought for a second. "I need a pilot. Can I take Travis?"
"Yes, yes, of course." she took the Communications controls from Haddon. "Gimme those." She fiddled with them for a moment. "Hang on, I've got coordinates. Second-largest planet. A place called Point Abic."
Morgan stood up. He was a thin man who was mostly nose. "I'll be in Sick Bay. Unless you think for some reason I should run the Tactical Station." he sniffed haughtily.
"No. Empress, Cutler can do it,” Doug said.
"Yes, Cutler can. She can bring Jun here and he can watch his first assault,” Doug said.
"Good idea. Always thinking, aren't you, Hayes?" she smiled. "Now get down there and get my Second Engineer back."
Jennifer fidgeted. The gown's fabric was itchy. She grabbed Treve's knee once and he looked at her in terror. "Don't do that." he whispered. They were in the fourth row and probably no one could see, but he couldn't be sure.
"Tre-eve." she smiled at him. "When will this be over?"
He got even more scared. So far as he knew, no one had said the word 'over' to her. The connection was fading and she was fully recovering. And could become very, very dangerous.
Tripp and T'Pol piloted the shuttle while Phlox sat behind them. "I wonder if either of you have any ideas about something I found." Tripp said.
"Oh? You don't want to concentrate on this mission?" T'Pol inquired.
"Well, I think it's a little related." Tripp explained. "Plus we got a few minutes."
"Oh? I am as ready as I suppose I can be,” Phlox said, “So, what is your question?"
"I found – I was looking in the Ensign's bed and also in the beds in storage. Even Hayes, Daniels and Cutler's old beds. And a lot of them had these, these metal discs in them. Just sewn up at the bottom of the mattress. I looked and I didn't have one, and Ensign Crossman and I didn't see one in her bed, either. So I think they weren't put there by the Calafans. But, strange."
"I fail to see how that's in any way related." T'Pol said.
"Actually, Commander, were any of the discs, were they coins?" Phlox asked.
"Yes." Tripp said, “One of them, I think it was an old Greek drachma from Earth. Kinda rubbed down, hard to really tell. That mean anything to you?"
"Absolutely,” Phlox smiled. "It's an old Denobulan tradition. A coin is placed in a bed in order to induce profitable dreaming."
"Profitable? You mean like, to make money?" asked Tripp.
"No, profitable in the sense of, well, more like productive. Solving problems and all. Perhaps some of the Enterprise's beds were produced in a Denobulan factory."
"Maybe." T'Pol allowed. "And the relation is?"
"Well, I was thinkin'." Tripp said, “What if the coins are somehow magnifying what's happening to Ensign O'Day? I mean, no one else had wacky, vivid dreams, right? But she's sleeping on top of a, an amplifier of some sort. Don't know if Hayes is on his side, but if he is, that might be a reason why they were thrown together."
"Fascinating." T'Pol said, “There is the Main Hospital."
"We can't be certain it's the right one,” Phlox pointed out.
"Let's give it a try." Tucker said.
"And now my son, Treve, will tell the story of Lo and Abic." Chawev said. There was thunderous applause.
Treve got up. Lili had been sitting between him and Baden. "Now, you must be very quiet." Baden whispered to her.
"Quiet,” she said.
You're still spelling Trip wrong.
That' all you have to contribute? Is there a "sneer" smiley?
I doubt it.
Although you've been here a lot longer than I have so I could be mistaken.
"Once, when the universe was young, there was nothing and no one but Lo. But she was by herself, and lonely. So she broke off a piece of herself and that became Abic,” Treve said, “They became lovers and their joy was heard throughout the young universe."
Lili was hot. It was stifling on Point Abic.
Treve continued. "But they did not know, that they lived at a crossroads, and that there were others. Night people."
Now Lili pricked her ears up.
"At night, Lo thought she was with Abic. And Abic, he thought he was with Lo. But Abic was with Ub. And Lo was with Fep. From dusk until dawn, Abic thought he was loving Lo, pleasing her, being one with her. But it was tricky Ub instead."
"And it came time and Ub and Lo both became heavy with child. After they gave birth, it was clear that Abic and Fep were not the fathers they thought themselves to be. They made sure the next time, and Ub and Lo became pregnant again. Those four children were banished to the stars by their parents, and we see them today in our sky,” Treve said.
"Let us pray,” Treve said. The entire audience became silent.
Lili was nodding off. It was just too hot.
Doug was sitting in the back of the shuttle with Deb Haddon and Brian Delacroix. Travis and MacKenzie were piloting the shuttle.
Doug was beat. Double shifts were doing him in. He closed his eyes for just a moment.
"You're back!" Lili called out.
"You couldn't hear me last time, when you were in the room with that, that sick woman,” Doug said, taking her hand in his.
"Doug, I was awake then. Strange. Doug, I think the connection is unraveling."
"Yes, I think you're right. Where are you?"
"On the summit of a place called Point Abic. I'm supposed to point to a woman named Polloria when I get a cue."
"Hmm. Do you think this is the final connection?"
"Yes,” Lili looked at him with shining eyes.
"Regrets?" he asked her.
"None from my time with you,” she said, “I feel I should be telling you something strategic, but all I want to do is kiss you."
Doug only hesitated for a moment. "Lili, I love you." He then kissed her more forcefully than either of them expected.
"Wake up, Old Man!" Deb shoved him in the shoulder, hard.
"Ha, Old Man, are you crying?" Delacroix asked mockingly.
"No, 'course not. Just allergic to something. Probably MacKenzie's aftershave. You're not supposed to bathe in it, Mac."
"Someone likes it that way." MacKenzie said.
"Almost there,” Travis said.
"Well, here it is. Room 116." Tripp said, pushing the door open.
"There is no indication of a human in the area." T'Pol said.
"That's definitely not the Ensign,” Phlox said, “I, I wonder what we are supposed to be doing here." he clicked open a communicator and contacted Captain Archer.
"Well, interesting,” Jonathan said.
"Captain, I don't believe it would be ethical for me to treat this woman. So, what should I do instead?"
"I think, Phlox," Jonathan said, "that instead you need to diagnose her. Archer out."
"Very well,” Phlox said, “But I am beginning to feel this is like Fenna all over again."
"What's Fenna?" Tripp asked.
"Fenna is not a what. Fenna is a who. Or, at least, she was,” Phlox explained. "Commander, kindly investigate what those tubes are for while I examine the, the patient."
T'Pol did as instructed and began tapping on her PADD.
"Here, set down here,” Doug commanded, indicating a small clearing.
"No, here,” Travis said, bringing the shuttle down in a more forested area.
"Whatever,” Doug muttered quietly under his breath.
"And now we will contact the others." Chawev announced to the crowd. "Be with who you desire."
Lili could hear people whispering and murmuring around her, and they were mainly answering, "Be with who you desire."
Everyone but Lili closed their eyes. She could suddenly hear not one, not two, but thousands of voices. She looked around. No one's mouth was moving. Their eyes and lips were closed, yet she could hear them. Yimar's voice: "Grandfather, I miss you." Baden's: "Come to me, Miva. It has been too long." Chawev's: "It is time."
Then Lili noticed that Treve didn't have his eyes closed. Her eyes met his briefly and then he stared straight ahead, avoiding her gaze.
The murmuring became a louder buzz, and Lili noticed that Baden appeared to be aroused. A quick glance confirmed that a lot – although not all – of the men were in a similar condition. The buzzing became louder and lost all coherence until it was one long shriek of undefined noise. She covered her ears and could not block it out. It stopped suddenly. "Group sex?" she asked Treve quietly.
"Not exactly." he whispered. "Can't explain right now."
"And now, Calafans!" Chawev called out. "Yipran is back! And she is here to designate her successor!"
"You'll need to stand up now,” Treve said to Lili, helping her up.
Jennifer looked around the packed venue. "I choose, hmm, Treve!" she called out, giggling.
"You can't choose him. It has to be a woman!" Polloria was seething.
"Oh. Well,” Jennifer spun around and pointed. "Her."
It was slow going in the dense forest. Doug and Deb Haddon were in front, followed by MacKenzie and Travis. Brian Delacroix was bringing up the rear.
Large animals trotted all around them. "Looks like game to me." MacKenzie aimed his phase rifle.
"Focus, Mac. Our objective is the summit,” Doug said.
"How do you know where to go, Old Man?" Deb asked.
"I just, I just know. C'mon."
There was the softest of clicks. The sound of a safety catch coming off. Doug had a split second to hit the ground.
"Fenna is, was, well, there really isn't an equivalent human word for it. She was not my daughter and not my niece. She was my wife Feezal 's child but not mine, not biologically. But I cared about her, of course. She was family. She was very young and very, very foolish,” Phlox began.
"Lots of young people are." Tripp pointed out.
"To be sure,” Phlox agreed. "She met a man who was thoroughly inappropriate for her. And, and it did not turn out well at all."
"It is my understanding that Denobulans wed three persons, not one." T'Pol said.
"That's almost always the case. But in very, very rare instances, a one-to-one bond is formed. That would not have mattered so much, except that Zoph turned out to be violent,” Dr. Phlox said, “Here, let's take this tube off the patient's leg for a moment while I get a reading. Zoph, well, he beat Fenna. He beat her so severely that she ended up precisely this way: in a persistent vegetative state. Feezal agonized over the decision for years. And Zoph didn't make it any easier for her, and blocked her at every turn. We finally ended up taking him to court for control over Fenna's medical future. We, fortunately, we won our case and Fenna was taken off life support machinery. She died peacefully – or as peacefully as is possibly, given the circumstances. But Zoph. I am not, I like to think I am not a vengeful person. But ...."
"But you can't help being angry that it's him who's alive and not her." Tripp said.
"Precisely,” Phlox said, “Hand me the scanner, please."
Lili stood and blinked a few times in the heat. "I, I don't understand. Why does there have to be only one High Priestess?" she asked. "Why can't every woman be a High Priestess?"
"Because it's not done that way!" Polloria was apoplectic.
"Wait, wait." Chawev said, “The, the government will debate this important question. We are, we are adjourned."
"How very interesting. And disturbing,” Phlox said.
"Yes." T'Pol added.
"Wanna clue me in?" Tripp asked.
"These tubes are delivering almost 100% pure potassium to the patient." T'Pol said.
"Well, isn't that a good thing? It's like food, isn't it?" Tripp asked.
"In smaller doses, yes. And I don't pretend to know Calafan physiology that well,” Phlox said.
"But?" Tripp prompted.
"I would say, in my considered medical opinion, that the excessive amounts indicate a far different motivation. Do you concur?" he asked T'Pol.
"I do,” she said.
"And ...?" asked Tripp.
Dr. Phlox said, "I believe this patient is being poisoned."
"Father, what shall I do?" Yimar asked. Jennifer was still pointing at her.
"Uh, stand up. Let the people see you. Acknowledge them, and see if they will accept you."
"It's not supposed to be a child!" Polloria yelled.
Yimar got up and the crowd roared.
"What does that mean?" she asked, a little shakily.
A shot was fired.
Doug knew not to get up, but he did have to lift his head in order to see what was going on. A hand shoved him down again for an instant, and another shot was fired.
He raised his weapon.
"Don't bother, Old Man. I took care of it." Haddon said, putting her weapon back.
It was Delacroix. She'd blown away most of his face. He was writhing on the ground, clearly incapable of recovery.
Doug looked at Delacroix. "Fifteen,” he said, and prepared to fire.
"No. Allow me,” Travis was grinning and, before Doug could stop him, he had dispatched Delacroix, by grinding his boot onto what was left of the injured man's neck.
Doug winced and looked away for a second.
"I get to move up, right?" Deb asked.
"Yeah,” Doug said grimly. "That's the rule."
"Good!" she chirped.
"Hey, Haddon,” Travis said, coming over, not even bothering to wipe off his bloodied boot. "I got a job for you." He licked his lips.
"Oh?" she asked.
"Yeah. Gotta have it right after. This won't take long,” Travis said, reaching for her.
"We're on a mission, remember?" Doug bristled. "Have your fun later. The Empress will oblige, I'm sure."
"Since when are you so formal?" MacKenzie said, “I'm sure she'll do you, too, Old Man. That is, if you're capable."
"We don't have the time,” Doug spat out. "Oh and when we're done, and we've got Crossman back, do me a favor? I figure you owe me, Travis, for letting you finish Delacroix off, like I know you like to do."
"Depends what it is,” Travis said, annoyed that his fun had been spoiled, but recognizing that he did owe a small favor.
"Yeah." Haddon said.
"Let me stay out here on this rock. Tell the Empress you fragged me. That way, you can get a promotion, too, Mac. No muss, no fuss. You can even tell her I cried for mercy and anything else that gets you your jollies. But me? I'm stayin' here."
Calafans were pouring down the hillsides. Malcolm and his team couldn't make any headway. "Let's rendezvous with the other shuttle." he suggested. "We're too outnumbered to do anything here."
There was a sound at the door. Tripp looked up. "Show time, I guess."
Four Calafans came in. "What are you doing to this patient?" asked one of them.
"I could ask the same of you,” Phlox said, “Do you know that this patient is here because of a crime?"
The ride back to the hospital was slow and torturous. Treve sat with Jennifer. She sat close to him, looked him up and down constantly.
"Get that beast back now." Polloria had commanded. Now she was silently angry.
"Polloria," Chawev began, "perhaps there is a way out of this. After all, Yimar is still a young girl. She will need guidance. Which she can get from you."
"I have been waiting for years for this. And this inferior just, just, I can't speak,” Polloria said.
"Five years or so." Chawev said.
"Eight." Polloria corrected him.
"Eight?" he asked. "Where are you getting eight from?"
"Oh, don't be a fool,” Baden said, “The foundation was laid before, oh, forget it."
"Foundation for what?" asked Jennifer.
"For today. For what you completely messed up,” Polloria said.
"Wait, wait, what foundation?" Treve asked.
It was a slow ride back. Treve sat with Lili. "Can you tell me now?" she asked quietly.
He nodded. "The meditation you saw, the group meditation. We do it every year. Actually, we do it every night, but as a group a few times per year. Today, for the festival, was one of those times. We, we make contact with the night people. Did you see those big dishes on the side of Point Abic?"
"Those are amplifiers. The night people, they can be seen any night, but it's when we all get together and are near the amplifiers that we get a truly clear picture."
"Who are you contacting?"
"Lovers, mostly. I don't have a lover, so I kind of bowed out. Of course a child like Yimar wants to talk to her grandmother or someone like that. And Chelben doesn't even know anyone; he is a bit too young to really be able to act as a conduit."
"Wait, did you say you have nighttime lovers?" Lili asked.
"Quiet over there! I have a headache!" Polloria snarled.
"Treve, I have one, too, a lover in the night,” Lili said softly.
He was caught up short. "That's – that's not supposed to be possible among inf – uh, other species."
"A crime?" asked one of the Calafan doctors.
"Yes." T'Pol said, showing him her PADD.
"There are tens of thousands of milligrams of potassium being pumped into this patient." The doctor read off. "No wonder she is comatose."
"Captain, I have a reading,” Jenny communicated to the Bridge.
"Go ahead,” said Jonathan.
"Those dishes all dotting up and down that hillside? They're all, they're made from the same alloy as the disc Commander Tucker and I found in Lili's bed."
"Is it exact?" he asked.
"Almost,” she said.
Back at the hospital, Chawev, Treve and Polloria held Jennifer down while Baden held a weapon to her head. "There. That oughta keep you, beast,” Baden said.
Polloria paced furiously. She took off a little jacket she'd been wearing and threw it on a chair. "Get those children out of here. There's been a change of plans."
Treve shepherded his little sister and brother out of the room.
"Tell me about the eight years, Polloria." Chawev insisted.
"Eight,” Polloria said, counting them on her fingers. "Three to get things started and prime you. Five with Yipran in that bed downstairs."
"Primed?" asked Chawev.
"Listen," Jennifer said, “I may not know you people much at all, but I can recognize a scam when I see one. She came on to you, right? Shook her tail at you or whatever it took. You weren't doing so hot with your wife then and so you went along with it, and you ended up bonding, which really threw a wrench into things at home. You're doing her and you're keeping it from your wife, who's getting sick and nobody can explain it. Am I right?"
"More or less." Baden admitted.
"And you even make it look good by having another kid. But it goes haywire when your wife gets really sick. And you're incapable of just doing the deed and finishing her off, so the wife lingers. On and on and on – that's your five years, right? But those previous three or so? That was this one, and this one," Jennifer nodded first to Polloria, and then to Baden, "getting everything ready. Some kind of slow method, something no one would notice or detect. Your wife would probably just look tired. Which makes this one," she nodded again to Polloria, "even more attractive to you. After all, your wife is getting older looking, and your girl just looks hotter and is gonna do you even more, 'cause your wife can't any more. Right?"
Chawev looked ill. "You said Yipran would be able to live."
"It's your indecision that has created this situation, Chawev,” Baden said, “An injection of tricoulamine would end everything and would possibly be considered merciful under the circumstances."
"You said there would be chaos." Chawev pointed out.
"I did,” Baden said, “But this stringing it all along is not much better. It was your idea to pull in the alien and have it all tie to the festival. It is your responsibility that the alien wasn't as, as pliable as expected."
"What should we do?" Chawev moaned.
"This situation cannot be sustained,” Polloria said, “But dispatching this one in public is not gonna happen; there's no time. It'll have to be done today. Then you'll bring Yimar in front of the people and we'll, we'll take her under our wing. Nurture and guide her and tell her what to do."
"Your regular life is over, Chawev,” said Baden. "You'd best go along with this or we will speak with the government. You'll be removed as First Minister and your little ones taken from you."
"So, so we should, should get rid of this one now?" Chawev asked.
"Yes. And the person to do it is Treve,” Polloria said.
"There's too many of them!" Travis yelled.
"We're outnumbered. Fall back!" Doug answered.
"To where?" Haddon asked.
"There's a building back there. The Main Hospital,” Doug said, “We'll go there."
"How do you know about that, Old Man?" asked MacKenzie.
"I just do. Now, quick march!" Doug commanded.
"So we are in agreement?" Polloria asked Baden and Chawev.
"Yes. I will get my son back in here to do the deed. I am," he said to Lili, "I guess I am sorry you were caught in this. But, you see, you cannot be kept alive. You know too much about this. You are proof that this happened. The rest of it, I will fix somehow, get the government to reject your proposal of having virtually infinite priestesses."
"It doesn't have to be this way,” Lili said.
"Yes, it does,” Polloria said while Chawev left the room.
Treve was left alone with Jennifer once he'd shown he would hold the weapon at her head. "I, I'm not a killer."
"I know,” Jennifer said, “But I am."
Malcolm clicked his communicator closed. "Room 116,” he said, “Looks to be this way."
"Treve, I don't think this is in your make up,” Lili said.
"It's, it's not. But you can read between the lines here. This is going to unravel my family."
"What about your mother?"
"My mother? She has been effectively dead for half a decade. No matter what the reason is, she's just gone."
"Who's been treating her? Other than Baden?" Lili asked.
"N-no one." The light dawned. "Do you think another doctor could ...?"
"It's worth a try, isn't it?" Lili said, “Haven't he and Polloria been lying to you and your Dad all along? Why wouldn't your mother's prognosis be a lie as well?"
"J-Jennifer," Treve said, "that is your name, yes?"
"I have an idea. Can you, do you think you can run?"
"Only without this heavy gown on. There's the hospital shift. I could run in that." She dropped her dress to the floor.
"I, huh, I'd best focus,” Treve said, “Here, you can put this on, too." he gave her Polloria's jacket.
"A little large,” Jennifer said, “Now what?"
"This wall is an outside wall,” he said, “Once I'm done, you shoot straight through it. This is the second story. You can jump down, probably not injure yourself. And just get to the forest. You'd have to live there for, well, until further notice."
"What about you?"
"I said you do this after I'm done. So, this first." he pointed the weapon at his own head.
A doctor looked over the patient. "This is, I could swear this is the High Priestess. Even though we saw her this morning. But, but, this woman, I think this is really her."
"An imposter?" asked another doctor.
"Yes," said the first, "perhaps to assure proper succession. That would be my guess."
"Then the First Minister is ...?" asked a third doctor.
There was a sound at the door.
"What's taking so long in there?" Polloria demanded from outside the room.
"Just a, just a moment,” Treve said.
"My ship is out there. They're looking for me,” Lili said.
"Get on with it, Treve!" Polloria yelled.
Jennifer got up and approached Treve. "Don't do that,” she said, “Come with me."
"But, I am no good at such things,” he said, “Blood sickens me. I can't hunt, and I'm barely in any shape to run."
"Doesn't matter,” she said.
"Do you, do you care for me? Are you, is there a bonding?"
"I, I don't know yet,” she said, “But I do know that something in here," she tapped her temple, "has changed. Maybe the way your doctors fixed me up, maybe it's more permanent than it's supposed to be."
"I'll only slow you down." he insisted.
"Then I'll speed you up,” she said. Her hand on his, they pointed the weapon at the hospital wall and fired.
"What was that?" MacKenzie asked.
"Sounded like weapons fire. Over there,” Doug pointed with his phase rifle. "Fire over there."
"That's where we're going, isn't it, Old Man?" Haddon asked.
"What's this?" asked the Calafan doctor.
"Lieutenant, good to see you,” said Dr. Phlox. "Have you found the Ensign yet?"
"No, we were hoping she would be with you."
There was the sound of a weapon being discharged.
"Up one flight,” Malcolm said, running toward it with Travis, Haddon and MacKenzie right behind him.
The hospital wall was in flames. "You could go through there, go to freedom. I suspect we could give you asylum for saving me,” Lili said.
"My, my sister and my brother. I don't think they're safe. I don't trust Polloria at all, and I scarcely trust Father with them now."
Polloria, Chawev and Baden burst into the room. "What's going on?" Polloria demanded.
"She gets to leave." Treve announced. "Either through there or the door. Doesn't matter much, although through there will help you to save face." He indicated the now-absent wall.
"You can't do anything right!" Polloria complained.
"Now, now." Chawev said.
Yimar came in with her brother. "We heard shouting,” she said, “What's going on?"
"Your, your brother is, ...." Polloria began.
"Coming to his senses." Chawev said, “As am I."
"The people will be told. You will go to prison for sure, both of you." Baden threatened.
"Father?" asked Yimar. "For what?"
"For harming a lady downstairs, I'd guess,” Malcolm said, coming in with his team.
Chawev snapped back. "What?"
"Yes,” Phlox said, breathless, behind Malcolm and with the Calafan doctors trailing him closely. "For the potassium poisoning of a woman who has been identified to me as being the High Priestess of this system."
The jump wasn't easy, but they both landed all right. Jennifer took Treve's hand. "Which way to water? We'll start with that."
"Uh, that way." he pointed. They started running. As Treve had said, he wasn't in much shape for running, and needed to rest after a while.
While they were sitting on a rock, Jennifer heard her name being called.
"You all right?" Tripp asked Lili.
"Yes, I think so,” she said, “Good to see the cavalry get here on time."
He clicked open a communicator. "Cap'n, we got her."
"What about Hayes?" asked Jonathan.
Lili shook her head.
"I don't, I don't think so." Tripp said.
"Return to the ship as soon as possible. Archer out."
"Will you release control of the ship?" T'Pol asked Chawev.
"It, the control can be released but there may be some small damage. Our, our method is to suppress memory. The, this woman's memory was, was suppressed, and so was your ship's. Your ship, essentially, forgot how to do some things. All to keep you here and let us do our work. We, our way is to study an individual and see how well that individual recovers from this kind of induced aphasia. Your systems should be similarly affected." he explained.
"And the rest of it?" Malcolm asked.
"That was extra,” Treve said, “To, to try to jerry-rig our politics. It, it did not work as expected."
"Ready to go?" asked Tripp.
"I won't see him again, my nighttime man, will I?" Lili asked Treve.
"Let me think about that,” he said, “And, Father, it may be best for you to think on that as well. If we can ever make amends to these people, perhaps that is what we need to understand."
"Aidan?" Jennifer asked.
Jennifer blinked several times. She and Treve were holding hands. Both of them were dirty from running through the forest. "These are your people. You should go with them,” Treve said.
"No,” she said, and turned to walk away.
"The Empress won't like this,” Travis warned.
"The Empress can go to hell for all I care,” Jennifer said, “And you can quote me on that."
Haddon cocked her weapon and aimed it at Jennifer. Doug pushed her arm down. "No. Don't do that. We found her body in the forest. That's gonna be the story."
"Empress won't be happy,” Travis repeated. "Delacroix down and no Crossman to boot."
"Yeah," Aidan said, “So someone's gotta take the fall for that. It's not gonna be me." He pointed his weapon at Doug's head. "You're coming back with us, Old Man."
Malcolm was all set to fly the shuttle but the moment he looked in Lili's eyes – really looked at how red they already were – that seemed impossible. "Haddon, pilot the shuttle,” he said. He went to the back and sat with Lili.
He offered her his handkerchief. "Here, keep it,” he said.
"Come here,” he said, and put an arm around her. He leaned in and briefly touched his lips to her hair, hoping she didn't feel it and no one had seen the gesture. "Just cry." he whispered.
"That was better than last time,” Treve said.
"Yes. A lot less fumbling,” Jennifer said, smiling. There was a small campfire burning nearby, lights flickering on their bodies.
"Did I, did I displease you last time?"
"No. But there's something to be said for experience."
"True. You know, Polloria and Baden are such hardliners. If their faction stays in control, we will probably be outlaws for the remainder of our days. However, however long yours are."
"Treve, you keep saying things like that. Just how old do you think I am?"
"I, I suspect that it would be foolish of me to, to answer that." he smiled. "But I think your signs of aging are different from ours."
"Treve, I'm only twenty-seven years old,” Jennifer said.
"Oh. Well, that explains your, um, vigor." he kissed her. "Another round?"
"We should sleep,” she said, “Despite the fun, you and I need to find some place tomorrow, where we can stay a while, and set up a temporary shelter. Sleeping under the stars is no good when it's raining out."
"I'm glad you're here,” he said, “I may even love you a little bit."
"I may even love you a little bit, too,” she said.
Jenny was waiting at the Shuttle Bay. She looked at Lili. "Oh, Roomie. How do you feel?"
"Like a shuttle hit me."
"I'll take her back to quarters,” Jenny said.
"Very well." Malcolm replied, the shoulder of his uniform damp. "You'll let me know if, if anything,” he said to Lili. "Although I know there's nothing that, that can be done."
Lili nodded and they departed.
The shuttle arrived in the bay. "C'mon, Old Man. Time to pay the piper,” Travis said. MacKenzie kept his rifle pointed at Doug, but lowered it once the shuttle hatch was opened.
The Empress was waiting. "Huh. I see you failed,” she said.
"She was dead when we got there,” Doug lied. "Del was, uh, killed in action. Haddon here should move up a grade."
"Yes. We'll go in tomorrow for another strike. This time it'll be with both shuttles. We still don't have transporter capabilities." Hoshi commanded. "In the meantime, get to the Mess Hall and take control of Game Night. It's getting too rowdy and Jun can't sleep with all the racket."
"Empress, we really should talk about the mission." MacKenzie protested.
"You gonna keep me longer than I want to be here? Oh, that's not a good move, MacKenzie,” she said, “Travis, you're with me. Haddon, dismissed." She left with Travis, who followed eagerly.
"Babysitting drunken crewmen? Ha, that's almost as good a punishment as what I had in mind." MacKenzie said to Doug.
"Father, I think we need to make contact,” Treve said, back at their home.
"Treve, we are going to be judged tomorrow, the next day at the latest." Chawev said, “There's little sense in it."
"For a day, you and I are still free men." Treve replied. "Apologies mean nothing. We need to see if, if we can take any sort of action to rectify what we've done to these people. That woman – she looked as if we had removed a planet from under her and she was falling in space."
"They are not our equals."
"No, Father, I respectfully disagree. And, and even if I am wrong, we still must try. The night people – they mean something to us. But to them, to the humans, it seems, it means more to them if it's someone who's right there. We should determine if there is any way – any way at all – to bring the night here."
"There are legends." Chawev allowed. "Sketchy details. It's a part of why the dishes on Point Abic were constructed. That much I know."
"Then I know who we should contact,” Treve said.
"All right." Chawev said, “Let us try. Be with who you desire."
"Yes, Father. Be with who you desire."
Back in their quarters, Lili just sat and rocked and cried.
Jenny didn't know what to do. "I, I can't tell you to stop." she finally said, “If I were you, I'd probably be bawling, too."
That made Lili stop for a moment. She dabbed her eyes with the saturated handkerchief. "It's, it's like this. It's like, I guess, like being a widow. Only there's no body. Except there was a body. It was, it was Jay's, and it was two years ago. So I've been through that part already, kinda. And now the real feeling of it all is smacking me."
"Just let it out."
"I, huh, it's not fair. I mean, we both knew this was coming. It was such a nutty thing. And, and it all happened so quickly. It hasn't even been two weeks and I'm just, I'm devastated. I, uh, I should get my, my mind off things. I should go to work."
"What, and cut your hand off with a knife? You're not in any condition to go back,” Jenny said.
"But, but, no matter how I feel about things, people need to eat."
"They'll find someone to fill in. Delacroix's actually been doing pretty well."
"Del? Huh. Never pegged him as the cooking type."
"Well, he's not very creative,” Jenny said, “But what he does is adequate. Nobody's starving."
"I should thank him, maybe write him a little note that can go in his file."
"Lili, you, uh, there's stuff on your PADD. Don't know if you want to read it."
"Yes. We, um, he was able to read and write on it for a while. He, uh, he wrote you a letter. I'll, I'll leave you alone to read it."
The Mess Hall lived up to its name. It was smelly and disorganized, and currently chock-filled with inebriated crewmen. The game was on the widescreen: the Ganymede Hunters versus the South American Pistoleros. The Pistoleros were at bat – Ty Janeway and Lefty Robinson. The Hunter pitching was Aditya Balakrishnan and Amanda Cole. The windups were interrupted, and the batters charged the twin mounds.
"Boys and girls! Fight in the first ten minutes! Anyone who bet on that can go double or nothing!" Masterson yelled over the din.
It wasn't the only fistfight. Two crewman argued over a mug of synthbeer and ended up whacking each other in the jaw. Doug only intervened when the weapons came out. He went back into a corner. This was not a good place to spend time. He didn't want synthbeer, didn't want to watch the game and certainly didn't want to be around slobbery drunken people. He spent his time looking around the room.
Haddon and MacKenzie were in a different corner. He was grabbing her bottom. Masterson approached them. Someone turned the sound down on the widescreen. "This oughta be good." Ramirez yelled from the back.
It was a quick match. Masterson staggered and fell and became sick when MacKenzie hit him in the belly with a chair.
"I'm with Mas – uh, MacKenzie now!" Haddon announced to the assembled mob.
The sound was turned back up on the widescreen. A commercial. "And this fight was brought to you by Picard Synthbeer." It switched to a slick ad. Ty Janeway in full uniform, with a stunning dark-skinned model wearing nothing but a pair of what looked like high-heeled cleats. Janeway addressed the camera. "Picard Synthbeer. It goes down ..." he smiled, "smooth." Back to the game. The Hunters were winning.
Doug got up. "Okay, okay, turn it down. Empress wants the kid to sleep. So either watch in your quarters or slap on earbuds. And that means everyone." He left.
Lili sat in bed, reading. "Forever, Douglas." she whispered softly.
She began to type.
I learned a long time ago that you never say mine when it comes to the people you love. It's been almost forty years but the lesson applies now more than ever, I think. I want you to know, though, if you can ever see this, that it is forever.
Spent, she put her head down on the pillow. "I'm afraid to sleep." she whispered to the empty room. "I'm afraid there will be nothing."
In the halls, Doug was heading back to his quarters. Tripp fell in with him. "Got a minute?"
"I, uh," he looked around furtively, "I got the transporter working again."
"That's not what the Empress said."
"No. Only three people know it's up. Tell me, what's that planet like?"
"Hot. There's game animals. Medical care. Don't know how the people are but there's a lot of forest. It seems sparsely populated so there's room. Planning on a little Shore Leave?"
"Planning on permanent Shore Leave." Tripp said, “But I need some help."
Separate names with a comma.