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Lili has found the man of her dreams ...dreams that soon become nightmares! What starts as an erotic fantasy turns into deadly danger that spans the polar opposites of good and evil. Should she trust her feelings for this lover from the Mirror Universe who haunts her sleeping hours? Can love wash the blood from his hands?

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Star Trek Enterprise

Reversal A Star Trek Fan Fiction By J. R. Gershen-Siegel

PG-13- Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be not be appropriate for children under 13

TrekUnited Publishing This is a fan written work

The copyrights & trademarks of Star Trek are owned by Paramount Pictures, CBS Corporation and their licensee, Pocket Books. Any attempt to sell or rent this book should be 3 reported to the copyright owners for their action


To visit Janet online go to http://www.jespah.com

To talk about this book and to find more great Star Trek fan fiction join us on the TrekUnited forum at www.trekunited.com

First pdf online edition 03/01/2011

Published for TrekUnited by L'Stok Press www.issuu.com/Kirok.of.LStok 4


1 It didn't hurt. Well, not too much, when Lili was slammed into the wall. The wall gave. It seemed softer, more pliable than whatever the heck starship walls are really made of. She was spun around, and being kissed, all in pitch blackness. She went with it, kissing back, a little surprised but not unnerved. It was hot. At that very thought, her clothes instantly disappeared -- but that is what happens in dreams. The kissing continued. 5


The man was, who was he? About her height. Endlessly touching her. Endlessly insatiable. They fell onto a bed. It felt like her bed, with the slightly harder side on the left. Rolled around, him on top, then her, again and again. Sweating and grappling. His skin was salty with perspiration. He had a bit of stubble but was otherwise clean shaven. His forehead was a little high, his arms muscular. She had no idea who he was. He said absolutely nothing, and she followed suit. But there was just one moment when she felt she had to cry out in joy. And that was when she woke up. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "What was that all about?" Jenny asked. "Huh, what?" Lili was still groggy. "Roomie, you kinda grunted in your sleep. Actually, it was more like squealing." "I talk in my sleep? You know that." Lili said, stretching. "This was different. It was like -- I could swear you were getting some." Jenny grinned. 6


"Oh, damn, look at the time! Chef'll kill me if I'm late!" Lili quickly got into chef's whites and left. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Empress, there's been a slight sensor glitch." "Oh?" "It's been going on for about an hour. I'd've reported it sooner, but it seemed small." "An hour? MacKenzie, run a diagnostic. Fix it or figure it out. Now." The Empress was in no mood for incompetence. "Yes, of course." Ensign MacKenzie said. It was suddenly hot on the Bridge, and his uniform seemed far too small.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Commander, there's a small sensor glitch." "Yes, Ensign MacKenzie?" T'Pol said. "Didn't seem like much but it was going for around an hour or so." "How interesting. Run a diagnostic and tell Lieutenant Reed when he comes in." "Yes, Commander." MacKenzie started the diagnostic. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Get up!" Jenn shoved him. "What?" he was still groggy. "Look at the time. The Empress doesn't like it when you're late, Old Man."

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"Huh? Oh yeah, I should go." "And change the sheets when you get back. Ugh." Jenn complained. "What? Oh, man. I haven't done that since High School. I'll take care of it. You better get to your shift, too." "Sure thing. I wonder what they'd say if they knew a Lieutenant such as yourself did such, ugh, things." "See if I care." He finished putting on his uniform and raced out.

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2 The Bridge was its usual somber place when he arrived. "What's going on?" he asked. "I'm having trouble with MacKenzie." The Empress said. She looked peeved. "My responsibility, of course." he said. "May I use the Ready Room?" "Of course." she replied. "Ensign MacKenzie, if you please." The Ensign walked in with him. "Look", he said, after the door had safely shut behind them. "I know you came out of a different team, and so did I, but in this team we're cooperative until you prove yourself otherwise. So

9


tell me what happened." "It was a sensor. It had a strange reading for about an hour or so. I, I still don't know what caused it." MacKenzie shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "When did it end and when did it start?" "It ended about eleven minutes ago. And it started maybe fifty-seven minutes before that. I can get the actual numbers if you want." "That's all right, Ensign." he did a quick calculation in his head. The end more or less matched when his dream about the girl had ended. As for whether the starting times matched, that was tougher to determine. "Sir?" "Oh, yes, Ensign. Wool gathering for a second there. Here's what we'll do. There aren't a lot of spare working sensors. So let's keep this one and see if the same thing happens in the next, I dunno, forty-eight hours. If it happens again, we'll have someone from Tucker's team swap it out for a working one and do a full diagnostic. If not, then we're good to go. Sound good to you?" "Yes, sir." "Oh, and Ensign? Next time, just tell the Empress that I'll deal with it, okay?" "Yes, of course. Thank you, sir."

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They emerged from the Ready Room and the Empress approved of their plan, but not until after she had gotten him to monitor the sensor regularly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lili's day went somewhat differently. Chef had, for some reason, gotten onto an orange kick. Orange juice, orange chicken, baby carrots with an orange and dill sauce and, for dessert, orange sorbet. Lili didn't question. That was not her job as sous-chef. She just had to follow orders. So all day long, it was the same. Zest. Halve. De-pit. Juice. Ream. Discard whatever remained. Lather, rinse, repeat. Over and over and over again. By the time it was time to get dinner out, she had about lost her mind with boredom. Her mind wandered while she was wielding the French knife, and she thought of the dream. She ended up slipping and cutting her left hand. It wasn't that bad, so she finished up dinner and had some herself, but eventually the pain because unbearable. She hustled off to Sick Bay which was where she found herself. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Tomorrow, Empress, we should be at the Lafa System." he said, after checking the sensor one last time. "Anything

interesting

11

about

this

one?"

she


yawned. "It has four stars, very unusual." "Not what I had in mind. You know science bores me." she complained. "Yes, of course. It's also close to Klingon space. A good spot for an outpost." he said. "That's more like it." she purred. "Shift's over. Bright and early tomorrow." "Of course." he departed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Ensign, what brings you here?" asked Dr. Phlox. "This." Lili showed him her hand. "That seems rather superficial. Not that I am complaining of the company, of course." "I chopped oranges all day long, Doc." "I see, so you've got some citric acid getting in there. Let's get it cleaned out, shall we?" "Thanks. I mean, I'm usually good with the French knife. I guess I was distracted." Lili said. "Oh? Are you getting enough sleep?" The doctor asked, as he scrubbed her hand. "Yes, but it's very dream-filled. At least last night was. Maybe that's not very restful?" "Ah, dreams. Human dreams are so interesting. May I ask what yours was about, if you remember it? I am fascinated by your unconscious states." 12


"Uh, Doc, it's a little embarrassing." "I am your doctor, you can tell me anything." Phlox insisted. "It's just, this one was, um, it was rather sexual." "Then I am even more interested." Phlox paused a moment. "I am of course joking. Not here to intrude on your privacy." "Do Denobulans dream?" asked Lili. "We do. But it's not as pleasurable as yours, I'm afraid. We mainly seek to solve problems. Like my most recent one. My Derellian bat was off her feed. I had a dream that I had been giving her too much potassium and, lo and behold, I changed her feed and now she's a happy bat again." "That's great, Doc." "All fixed up." "Thank you. And, happy dreaming." Lili said. "You, too." She got back to her room and barely made it into sweatpants before sleep overtook her. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ This time, it was different. She figured out it was him immediately, despite the pitch darkness. They kissed but he pulled back, and put a pillow under her back. He kissed her again, and again their clothes melted away. She took his hand and guided it to 13


her face, to let him know she was smiling. He did the same, then proceeded to begin working his way down her body. He kissed, touched and even put his face against everything. He moved slowly and deliberately, and she got the distinct impression that he was somehow mapping her. Every time she tried to take his face in her hands and bring it to hers, he pushed her back gently. He was having none of it, and continued with his erotic mapping project. When her breathing became labored and husky, he finally came back to her, kissing her deeply and getting on top. He buried his face in her shoulder and inhaled. He stopped for a second, a little confused. "Oranges?" he asked, breaking their mutual silence for the very first time. She chuckled. "Yes." She kissed him and then he rolled her onto her side. He grabbed her back and pushed in as far as possible. He didn't move much, just kept kissing her over and over again as they lay together. Climaxing was easy for her, and she lost track of how many times it happened. He finally tensed, and she realized it was happening for him, too. She kissed him deeply and they could both feel it at the same time, skin jumping, hot hot hot. 14


Spent, they finally separated. She brought his hand to her face again, to show him she was still smiling. He did the same, kissing her fingers as their alarms went off and they awoke in far different bedrooms.

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3 "Ugh! Not again!" Jennifer Crossman was in no mood. "Oh, huh, how strange." he said. "Not as bad as last time, though. "Still! Get those sheets cleaned, old man. It's disgusting." "Listen, Jenn, I ..." he paused. "You what?" she demanded. "I'm, I'm just tired. I'll take care of it later." He pulled on his uniform and escaped to the Bridge, the frying pan to the fire.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Roomie! You were hot and heavy again last night!" 16


Jennifer Crossman joked. "Huh, yes, I guess I was." Lili said. "Are we gonna have oranges on everything again today?" Jenny whined. "I'll make sure we don't. Gawd, I think I'm set for oranges for a while." Lili said, then paused. Oranges. He had said that. She sighed a little. "Gotta run!" Jenny said. "Commander Tucker needs me to test sensor polarities!" She was out the door like a shot. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "The Lafa System is unusual, Captain." said T'Pol. "Four stars. In your own Solar System, Jupiter is almost a failed star, and Saturn possibly could be as well. In the Lafa System, there are three extra stars that probably were initially gas giants, but they became stars instead, as nuclear fusion was ignited." "That is interesting." Captain Archer said. "The strategic position is good, too." "Captain, if I may interject." Ensign Hoshi Sato said. "Yes?" he turned to her. She didn't normally have a lot to say unless it was communications-oriented. "This culture, this language is probably rather telling. See, the four stars are all named. Lo, Abic, Fep and Ub. Now, that's not remarkable in and of itself, but the names have other meanings." "You mean like Aloha in Hawaiian means both hello and good-bye?" asked Ensign Travis Mayweather as he guided the ship through the outer reaches of the system. 17


"Yes, exactly!" Hoshi smiled. "And the names have all of these, well, these value judgments attached to them. Lo isn't just the name of the big, white star. It also means sun, light, and goodness. Abic is the second-largest star -- the yellow one -- and it means second or two. Fep is the dark orangey one, and it means small. Ub is the red dwarf star and it means, red, dwarf or undersized, and evil." "Evil?" asked Captain Archer. "The itchy, captivating light of an irresistible dark star." he said, quoting a late twenty-first century poet. "That's the one." Hoshi said. "Fascinating." T'Pol replied. "Oh, sorry." said the Captain. "Other strategic information, T'Pol?" "The culture has warp drive but they never leave their own system, so far as we are aware. They simply shuttle from planet to planet, depending on temperature, crops, festivals and, perhaps some other purposes." "Like snowbirds, going to a warm climate when the Winter comes?" asked Travis. "Not a bad analogy, I'd say." said Captain Archer. "Take us in closer." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "The First Officer and I will be in the, uh, Ready Room." The Empress said when he walked in. "Yes, of course, Empress." he said, taking his post and relieving Ensign MacKenzie. "Mac, wait before you leave. And, Empress, I will assure you are not

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disturbed." "Good. You're in charge while I'm ... busy." she said, beckoning to Travis, who followed in eager anticipation. Once the door to the Ready Room was closed, there was a sound of some thumping and banging. Ensign MacKenzie looked at him. "Sir?" "Did we, uh, have any more sensor glitches yesterday?" The banging was becoming more audible, and it was being matched with rather loud moaning. "Y-yes, Sir." "How long this time?" "Around seven hours." "Do you have the data that was collected?" "On the console, Sir." "All right, we'll swap out the sensor. Go to Tucker's team -- don't send a message, just go straight there -- and have the sensor replaced. See to it personally." "Yes, Sir!" MacKenzie was audibly and visibly delighted, and fairly well ran off the Bridge. "What is everyone staring at?" he demanded, as everyone got back to work and the banging got louder and faster.

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This time it wasn't oranges and chopping. It was pasta water. Lili was again distracted, and some of it sloshed on her left arm. The Chef pronounced it a second-degree burn and ordered her to Sick Bay. Dr. Phlox tut-tutted and fussed as he bandaged her arm. "More issues with sleeping, Ensign?" "If you mean more vivid dreams then, yes." "Well, they may be interfering with your waking life. I don't want you coming in tomorrow with a detached fingertip or anything of the sort." "Of course not. Doctor, I, I know that one of the symptoms of insanity is being unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality." "That is one definition, Ensign, yes." "Well, I still, I know the difference, all right? But I also, I, like, it's weird. I have, um, my body. It feels like I really did have sex last night. Lots of it." "Oh?" The Denobulan arched an eyebrow. "I feel, uh, pelvically, like something's happened. Does that make any sense?" "Your medical history is that you do talk in your sleep." "Good thing I don't do anything strategic." she said. "True. But as I was saying, perhaps you've become more active, and are digitally stimulating yourself." "Really?" 20


"It could explain some things." The doctor said. "And you have rather long nails. It's possible that you scratched your own cervix." He drew a sheet around the bed she was sitting on. "I can do a pelvic examination now, and take a look." "Okay." she lay back. "Hmm, now let's see. So you have been having rather graphic dreams of late. Ensign, dreams are a definite window into human psychology. You are not in a relationship now, correct?" "No, I'm not, and it's been a really, really long time." "You seem to be a rather lonely woman." "I don't talk to anyone, really, but my roommate and Chef. And you, right now. I'm older than everyone on the ship except for the Captain." "And T'Pol, of course." "Yes, of course." Lili said. "Doctor, did you find something?" He frowned at her. "I will have to report this." "Report? What are you talking about?" She sat up in alarm. "I have found -- Ensign, you have been fully asleep during these encounters?" "Yes." "And, by definition, consent cannot be achieved from a sleeping person." "What? I, Doc, this was consensual. Believe me, it was totally consensual." 21


"You may believe that, but I must intervene as I believe a crime has been committed." "A, a crime?" "Ensign, given my findings, I must ask you: have you been raped before?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Ensign MacKenzie fairly well sprinted to Engineering. There she was, in all her be-uniformed glory: Jennifer Crossman. She was sketching a schematic using a PADD, and didn't see him come up. He grabbed her behind and turned her around. "Aidan!" she gasped. "What if somebody sees?" "Then they'll see." he said. They broke apart when Commander Tucker walked by, then came together again when he had departed. "Why are you here?" she asked, ignoring him nuzzling her neck. "The old man told me to get you to change out a sensor that's not working, and investigate the failure in the old one." "Me, personally? I don't think so." "Well, he said Engineering, so I naturally gave this task to the hottest girl in the Department." "He must finally be slipping." she said. "Why else would he just give you this particular assignment?" "I think you're right, he is slipping. He coulda really

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reamed me the other day, but he was actually, I dunno, almost nice about it. Maybe he's lulling us into a trap. You know, a false sense of security." Aidan said. "Maybe." Jenn admitted. "But I don't know. He's acting weirdly lately. I'll feel him out, see if I can get anything out of him." "I'd like to feel you out." Aidan said, leering at her. "Please, I'm supposed to be working." "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that. But can't you get away a little?" "Hmm, the sensor is located inside that Jeffries tube over there. It'll be a tight squeeze." "That's what I like." he said, hands up and down the outside of her uniform. "It'll have to be quick." She said, grabbing a replacement sensor from a storage area. She looked around nervously. No one was coming. "I can do quick." he said, breathing heavily in her ear. "Yeah, I know." she said. "What's that complained.

supposed

to

mean?"

Aidan

"Oh, nothing." she said, hoisting herself into the narrow electronics service tube, and pulling him in with her. "That's more like it." he said, after kissing her.

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Clothes weren't removed, just pushed to the side and down, and it was, as promised, quick. Neither of them noticed the faintest of cracking sounds when he climaxed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lili didn't want to hear any more of it, and she pulled her uniform back on and ran back to her quarters. Rape? What? It made no sense whatsoever, but nothing did any more. She took a hot shower and willed herself to calm down. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Empress and the First Officer emerged from the Ready Room after several hours. Her hair was askew, his uniform was torn slightly. They were both smiling stupidly. "How soon until we get to communications range?" she asked. "I need to get someone to surrender." she grinned. "Should be there tomorrow, Empress." he said. "Very well. Dismissed."

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4 Lili was in a large room, standing, as pitch black as before. There were footsteps. "Is that you?" she called out. "Yes!" he said, steps quickening. "Talk to me, I'll follow your voice." His voice was familiar and unfamiliar, all at the same time. "What should I talk about?" "I dunno. Whatever you did today, okay?" "Sure. I was, um, I made Pasta alla Puttanesca." "What's that? How do you make it?" he asked. "Just keep talking." 25


"Yes, well, while the pasta water is boiling, you slice a boatload of garlic really thinly. And you cook it and anchovies and capers and a bunch of tomato paste in some extra virgin olive oil, then you toss it all together." "What are capers?" his voice was closer. "They're these little pickled flower buds. Very briny tasting. I ran out, and we won't get any more until we get other supplies, so I added more anchovies. It was a little too fishy, I think. Do you know why that dish has its name?" "No, I don't." he was a lot closer. "It's supposed to be 'pasta the way a whore would make it'. Possibly because of a strong, alluring smell, possibly because it's quick and dirty. Something like that." She stopped. His breath was close. "Go on, if you like. I'm enjoying hearing you talking. We didn't talk before." "Sure we did." she said. "You said 'Oranges?' to me last night." "Yes. Very seductive of me." he chuckled, then kissed her. He came up for air. "What is, what's your name?" "I, um, I ...." "Don't tell me you don't know it." "Of course I know it. It's just, see, I'm a little 26


scared." "Scared?" he held her. "Of what?" "Well, I don't want to exchange names -- or anything really identifying -- until we've seen each others' faces." "Huh? Why?" "Because, you see," Lili said, "what if you don't like what I look like? Or I don't like you? I know it's shallow, but attraction is built on visuals, like it or not. What if you think I'm hopelessly ugly?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dr. Phlox tested and tested the sample. He covered every eventuality. Something was not adding up. He would have to convene a meeting, a subset of the Bridge crew. The two most senior female officers -- T'Pol and Hoshi Sato -- the Captain, and himself. He shook his head. Ensign O'Day had seemed so certain that there was consent. She had even asked for a birth control shot. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "You won't be ugly. I am certain of that." he said. "How can you be so sure?" she cocked a hand on her hip, but he could not see the gesture. "Because your features are symmetrical. I may not know the specifics, but symmetry is the basis for attractiveness. You'll be fine. It's just the details right now."

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"But, but, I just." "There's more to it, isn't there?" he probed. "Yes. I have been, I have been burned before. If you, if you don't like me, I don't want you to feel obligated. And if you, if you reject me, I don't want to have a specific name to curse, And if I, well, if I can't accept you, I don't want you to be able to find me." She trembled slightly. He took her hand. "It's all right. I can, I think I can accept that. I don't love it, but I suppose that makes sense. Can I tell you about what I did today? Unless you, um, you want to do it. We could dream up the bed again." "In a little while, yes. Of course! But I like talking to you." she said. "I like talking to you, too. Feels like, I don't know, like something I haven't felt in decades." "Decades? Aren't something?"

you,

like,

eighteen

or

"I've seen eighteen three times." he said. "You're, huh, over fifty?" she asked, incredulous. "Yep. I'll be fifty-five in about six weeks. You? If, um, if you want to tell me." "I don't mind. I'll be staring down fifty in a little over a year and a half. But you, um, you perform like a much, much younger man."

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"Well, thanks." they kissed. "I'm having a really, really good time. And not just between the sheets. Talking to you is good. Smart, pleasant, I dunno. I hope you realize I am going to like you almost no matter what you look like." "I, I hope that turns out to really be true." she said. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Jennifer stared at the old man's sleeping form. He was really sawing logs. He had muttered something about the number eighteen. Whatever. Cautiously, she got out of bed. He was still asleep. Good. She dressed and tiptoed to the door. She was safely outside and on her way to MacKenzie's when she heard her name being called.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "It is true. Anyway, my day. I determined that you are real." he said triumphantly. "You did? Uh, how?" "There's this sensor. And it's been kicking up for the past two nights. Almost perfectly coinciding to you and me being together. And I bet it'll do it again tonight." he kissed her. "Hmm, I don't think we have sensors that are that good. Not that I know too much about it; I only know what my roommate tells me about such things."

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"Well, we definitely have sensors that can detect it. I mean, maybe we have better sensors than you do." "I, I feel like I should be defending the fine work of our sensors." she joked. "I'm not disparaging your, um, equipment." he said. "But I digress. As I was saying, the sensor. And the activity is recorded. I managed to isolate it." "Are you in Engineering?" Lili asked. "No. Tactical." "Oh. Um, go on." "It pulsed. I then counted how often per minute. Started at about 65, then 74, up to 85, down into the sixties again. Up and down for hours. Got as high as one twenty-eight quite a few times." "What does that mean?" she asked. "I feel like I'm missing something really obvious." "I think it's a heartbeat. More importantly, I think it's your heartbeat." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Ensign!" It was Commander Tucker. "Commander! What are you doing up at this hour?" Jennifer asked, trying to appear nonchalant. "I was just about to ask you the same thing. And I was gonna ask you about leaving your post

30


yesterday. You were gone for about forty minutes." "Oh, um, something came up." "I'm sure it did. Ramirez saw you and MacKenzie go into that Jeffries tube." "Oh." Jennifer swallowed hard. "Listen, it's like this." Tucker said. "I know all about you and MacKenzie. And so does pretty much everybody else except for the Old Man. But I also know what you're doing with your little toy there."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Funny you should say all of that." Lili said. "Because I've got proof that you're real, as well." "Oh?" he asked. "Tell me more." His hands encircled her waist. "You left a calling card last time." "A calling card?" "My, uh, my doctor found, er, something." He figured it out. "Ohhhhh. I kinda had the feeling last night, that that was happening. Do you suppose that I could get you pregnant?" "I think it's possible, so I asked the doctor to give me the shot. But it would be kinda funny if I did have your child." "Really? What would be so funny about that? You'd be alone, with no one to help you." 31


"Well, instead of threatening, 'Wait 'til your father gets home!' I would say, 'Wait 'til your father falls asleep!'" "We really should meet then." he said. "I, I know that, I know it intellectually." she said. "But you know how I feel." A light came on, several feet away in the dream room. It shone a small spotlight, like a lamppost. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "What makes you think you know?" Jennifer asked. "You want what everybody here wants: power. Sex, too. But mainly power. You want to be Head of Engineering, and you want your toy to run Tactical. And then you probably figure you can make a play to overthrow the Empress." "I want no such thing." Jennifer lied. "Oh, c'mon, sister! But I want you to understand something. You need me. You need my expertise and my skills. And you need for me to blame if something goes wrong. I am gonna die soon anyway, of this damned radiation poisoning, and you'll have it all anyway. Just don't jump the gun and hurry me along." "So you're asking me to, what, to protect you? I've got better things to do with my time." she yawned. "I'm not asking, I'm telling. I keep quiet and you get

32


to keep your post. Plus you learn from me and get a great scapegoat for problems after I'm gone -possibly for a few years if you play your cards right. And I also make a dandy human shield for you. And you make a dandy human shield for me (and a far sight more attractive one as well) as anyone looking to overthrow me and take over Engineering has gotta go through you first." "I don't know." Jennifer said, rolling it over in her mind. "Think about it. And while you're at it, you might wanna spare the Old Man for a while, for the same reason." "Ugh." "Well, near as I can see it, if you wanna make a go at Empress Hoshi and her boy toy Travis, you'll both need to be in a strong position. That probably means getting there at the same time, yes?" "I guess." "Crossman, I won't be around for more than a few more months. And then if you wanna strangle the Old Man with his own belt, I say have at it. At least, that's the way I would do it if I were you." "Hmmm. Something to think about." she turned back to her quarters to think it over. Some things were more important than even a good time, and Aidan would just have to wait.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 33


"Did you dream up that light?" he asked. "It wasn't me." she laughed. "None of this makes sense, but it's all dream logic anyway, I guess." he said. "May I walk you over there?" "Yes, but slowly. I want to hold onto this for just a little while longer." "Understood." They held hands, his thumb caressing her fingers. They kissed. "I want to, I want to go first." she said. "You mean stand under the light, or look at me first?" "I want to stand under the light first. That work for you?" "Of course. Ready?" "Yes." She took a deep breath and willed herself into her best dress, a sapphire blue number she had picked up while on shore leave on Callisto. She stepped into the light, where it was warmer than in the rest of the room. "Hmm, mmm, hmmm." he murmured. "You're staring at me." she said. "How can you tell?" "A woman always knows."

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"I, well, I am liking what I see. Very, very much." he said. "But I bet you're not really wearing that dress to bed." "No, I'm not. I just wanted to, I wanted to look good for you." "You look better than good. You look beautiful." "Oh, c'mon. I've got parentheses lines around my mouth, my lower teeth are crooked and my right breast is bigger than my left." "I know all that. And I think you're a little uneven in the breast department because you're right-handed." "How d'you know I'm righ- ? Oh, yeah, from that, I guess." "Yes, from that." he confirmed. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Jennifer slipped back in beside the Old Man. Not what she wanted to do, but she had to think, and could do that better while he slept than while Aidan pawed at her. The Old Man said something about a dress. Whatever.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Oh." Lili said. "I guess I walked right into that one." "But I want you to know," he said, "I don't care 35


about any of that, the imperfections. God knows I've got plenty. I still think you're beautiful." "You should see my roommate, if you want to see beautiful. She's twenty-seven." "I've seen twenty-seven-year-old women before." he said. "I, I don't know how to respond to that." she said. "No need to think up anything. Can I ask you to do something?" "I suppose." she teased. "Could you show me what you're really looking like right now? Whatever you're really wearing to bed. No makeup. Hair doing whatever. Show me that." "Uh, all right." she willed herself back into a tee shirt, cut off sweatpants and socks, her hair a little stringy from needing a wash. "Perfect." he said. "You're not serious." she reddened. "You look fine. You look like a sleeping person. A real person. I like the blonde hair. Even when you don't comb it." he assured her. "Are you, uh, are you Scandinavian?" "No, I'm French-Irish." "You look really Nordic. White-blonde hair, crystal blue eyes, pale skin." 36


"I stay out of sun and all. I burn really, really easily. Mainly I just cook, eat and sleep, it seems." "And you dream." he said. "Are you, um, ready to see me?" "Yes, I think so." He put his hand into the light. It was darker than hers, but pretty much everyone was darker than Lili O'Day. She took it. "I really want you to like me. I really, really want you to like me. How do you, um?" he asked, but before he could finish his question, she was kissing him. They kissed for a long time, eyes closed, and positioned themselves both under the light, or at least it felt that way. They broke away and opened their eyes. She took one look, shrieked and fainted. "Wait!" he yelled, as they awoke to different, colder lights.

37


5 Jennifer grabbed at him. He was waking up anyway, and there was some time before the alarm went off. Not that she really, truly wanted to do the deed, but it would buy her some time as she thought about what Tucker had suggested. "Wha -- huh?" he was still rousing himself. And some parts were rousing faster than others. He blinked several times. "Why'd you have ta go and wake me?" "You were having a dream of some sort." she yawned. "Yes. I was." he was getting more angry than aroused. Jennifer grinned at him. "I like it when you're hot with anger. C'mon. It's been a long time." She

38


tossed her lingerie off and to the floor. He stared at her. Red hair, red nails, red lips. Peaches and cream complexion. There was no question that she was stunning. He bent over and kissed her. "C'mon. Let's be like it was. Do it like we used to last year." she beckoned. She grabbed at him in a way that he used to find scintillating. He swallowed hard and stared at her. "What's bringing all this on?" "I just wanna do it. C'mon, Ol-, uh, c'mon!" "You can't even bring yourself to call me by my name any more. Or are you afraid you'll call out 'Aidan' at the wrong time?" he was no longer aroused and just glared at her. "Wait a second. You want me. You know you do. Lots of guys would kill to have me." she bragged. "Then let them have you. Oh, wait. You already do. Get out. Now. Get your things and leave." "Why should I leave?" "These are my quarters, Jenn. Move it." "I won't have quarters." she complained. "I hear MacKenzie is looking for a bunkmate. Or maybe Ramirez. Or Mayweather when he's not otherwise busy. Yes, I know about all of them. And Delacroix, too." "You're gonna want me back. You can't live alone!"

39


"Oh, spare me the drama and just get some clothes on and let your freckled butt be the last thing I see that's yours."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Roomie! Are you okay?" Jennifer was solicitous. "Huh? Oh, yes, I suppose." Lili sat up and hugged her knees to her chest. "Anything you need to talk about?" "Um, no. But thanks." Lili got up and dressed. She didn't want to look at messages or anything -- just get to work and try to think about something else. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "How far away is that ship?" "Perhaps a full day at best, First Minister." "And you said there was an interesting candidate?" "Yes. Our doctors and scientists are working on the arrangements. Almost all of the details have been worked out." "And we will know more about them than they would ever tell us?" "That is the idea, First Minister. Plus, of course, the main purpose can be fulfilled. Polloria is in place and the people will accept her if we can get it all to work just right." "Excellent. And the other --?" "No change, First Minister." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 40


"How far away is that ship?" "Less than a full day, First Minister." "And you candidate?"

said

there

was

an

interesting

"Yes. Our doctors and scientists are working on the arrangements. Almost all of the details have been worked out." "And we will know more about them than they would ever tell us?" "That is the idea, First Minister. Plus, of course, the main purpose can be fulfilled. Polloria is in place and the people will accept her if we can get it all to work just right." "Excellent. And the other --?" "No change, First Minister."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lili barely looked up all day, as Chef had told her there would be an Executive-level vegan dinner in the main conference room. Six people, including the Captain, Dr. Phlox, T'Pol and Hoshi Sato. The other two guests were unknown. She had full rein, and could feed them anything she wished. This was the kind of challenge that Lili liked, and she threw herself into it with gusto. It also, conveniently, took her mind off other matters. By eighteen hundred hours, she was wheeling a small cart into the main conference room. Captain Archer and First Officer T'Pol had already arrived. 41


"Captain! I'm usually early with these things." she babbled as she set the table for six. "We ended up being really early. Here, let me help you with that." "That's my job, Captain." "Um, Ensign, this dinner, this meeting isn't a chance for us to enjoy your cooking so much as it is about you." "Oh." Lili's face fell. "You're not in any kind of trouble." he assured her, putting a fork on a napkin. "We just need to have a talk." Hoshi and Phlox walked in. "Looks like everyone's here." Captain Archer said. "There are only five of us in here." Lili pointed out. "Well, we were hoping there would be a sixth but --?" Captain Archer's voice trailed off as he saw Phlox shake his head. "May I make a suggestion?" Phlox inquired. "Let's save the business for after the meal, if that's at all possible. I haven't had a chance to savor the Ensign's cooking before. At least, not when I have known it is only her doing the cooking." "Actually, Captain, that would be more comfortable for me." Lili said. "My not knowing what this meeting is about is my problem for not checking messages. Plus the whole presentation is to tell you about the dishes. Is that all right?" Everyone nodded. "All right. The theme for this vegan dinner is Halloween, as it is coming up in a few days. It's easy to make orange food." 42


"Ugh, I don't think I want to see another orange for a while." Hoshi said. "Not to worry, I'm just talking about the color, not the flavor." Lili assured her. "So, orange is easy. But black is far more difficult, without simply burning everything. So please indulge me and accept dark brown or dark purple as black, okay?" She took out the tureen and served the soup. "This is a pumpkin curry soup. Normally this soup would be made with a cream base, but in order to accommodate Commander T'Pol, the stock instead is a vegetable one. The pumpkin was roasted before it was purĂŠed. The black in this dish is the dark pumpernickel bread on the side. Bon Appetit." "Won't you join us?" The Captain asked. "Uh, okay." Lili sat down. "Can I ask you something?" Hoshi said. "Er, I guess so." "Why don't you wear one of those chef's hats?" "Oh, whew. Those are called toques. I just don't like them. To me they just separate chefs out from other people. I do need to keep my hair back, so I wear a baseball cap instead." "Titan Bluebirds." Phlox read off the front of her cap. "Is that a favored team?" "I grew up on Titan. They're the hometown nine, but I'm actually a New England Red Sox fan. But that cap's a bit worse for wear. Not really appropriate for an Executive-level dinner." 43


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ He got permission from the Empress to come to the Bridge two hours later than usual, and spent his time packing up Jennifer's things and getting them over to Aidan's quarters. Then he cleaned and scrubbed everything that she had touched or laid on. He even cleaned the soft bridging foam which attached the two twin beds together to make one larger bed. While everything was drying, he sat down on the left side of the bed. A little harder than the right. He smiled to himself slightly. The dream bed was also a little harder on the left. Strange. An image of Jennifer's naked body hit him for just a moment, but it was quickly replaced by crystal blue eyes. He shook his head. "You really are slipping." he said out loud, to no one. "Kinda stupid to do this if she won't even look at you." He went back to cleaning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "And so, after the black sesame seeds in the main dish, and the black seaweed from Europa in the salad, it's time for dessert. Dessert is a sweet potato pie, Southern style, with black Mission figs as a garnish. Anyone have any room?" "Oh. My. God. Ensign, you're gonna make us all fat." The Captain said. "The salad -- that's from Voracious, isn't it?" "How do you know about Voracious?" Lili asked. "When Chef was thinking of hiring you, he had me go with him to your restaurant. And I had the Harvest 44


Salad that night, too." "Oh, good. Did you have the duck? We really don't do duck here -- too messy and too heavy, and not really in the budget -- I used to make Duck Burgers at Voracious. I miss that place." "What happened to it?" Hoshi asked. "I sold it when I came on board. I'll probably open another one when I retire." "Are we ready to start talking about why we're here?" The Captain asked, looking meaningfully at Lili. "I guess so." she said. "Let's start with Dr. Phlox's findings. Doctor?" "I had the occasion to examine the Ensign and interview her. She spoke of feeling, physically, as if she had engaged in coitus. I performed a pelvic examination and found seminal fluid. Due to the Ensign stating that these encounters occurred while she was asleep, the possibility of there being informed consent appeared to be absent." "Did you perform a DNA test?" Commander T'Pol asked. "I did, as per standard Starfleet procedures." The doctor replied. "But then it got interesting. I tested the sperm against every single male on this ship. I even tested it against my own sample. The only male I did not test was Porthos." "Doc, I wasn't doing it with the dog." Lili bristled. "No, of course not. Just attempting a tiny bit of apparently backfiring humor. But testing Porthos would 45


be futile anyway, as he is neutered. In any event, I found no matches whatsoever. I also checked former crew members and there were no matches. I did this even though we have not taken on human passengers or crew for several months." "Are you certain that the DNA is human?" The Captain asked. "Absolutely." Phlox said. "And another things. The semen -- the, everything else but the sperm -- it was saturated with testosterone. Far more than any normal human male can tolerate. It was at a level far more typical of a standard Klingon male." "But you said it was definitely human." Hoshi pointed out. "Indeed I did. This is some sort of super-male, perhaps. Would probably have a high sex drive and some aggressive tendencies. Oh and one more thing." "You mean there's more to this?" Captain Archer asked. "I tested and found that the incidence of Y chromosomes -- which would indicate the potential for male children -- was abnormally high. As in, about three-quarters of the sample, if an ovum had been fertilized, would have resulted in a male child. The normal ratio is far closer to fifty-fifty." "What do you think of all of this, Ensign?" The Captain asked. "Take your time." "No, I, uh, Doc, you said you looked at former crew members. Did you look at all of them? And I mean every single one of them?" "I -- no, wait. There is a class that is missing. I can run 46


the test from here." he punched a few keys on his PADD. "Wait, you've lost me." Hoshi said. "Ah, there it is. Ensign, we have a match, although the testosterone level still seems off." The doctor pulled up a service record and a picture. "Ensign, is this your, uh, friend?" "Yes." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ He lay back after a long day. They were in the Lafa system and were getting some communications hails, but it was the Empress's way to ignore hails until they were right on top of a planet or ship, bearing down and looking huge and menacing. Tomorrow would be time to spring into action. He closed his eyes. He knew there was a possibility -- and that every day that possibility would grow and grow until it became a probability -that he would not survive the night. "Just have to make things right." he said out loud. "And quit talking to myself all the time."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The meeting finally over, Lili crawled into bed. "Gotta figure this out." she murmured as she fell asleep.

47


6 He found himself on a roof deck, with assorted small tables and chairs. There were brown cattails in vases on the tables. She was sitting at one. He approached, and tried to remain nonchalant. "I guess I'm hopelessly ugly." he said, swallowing. "No, no, of course not. Far from it. Please sit down. And, um, it's a little chilly out here." Lili said. He willed himself out of his normal sleep attire, and into a pair of blue jeans, black boots and a black watch flannel shirt, to go along with her turquoise hoodie, jeans and sneakers. "Good idea. So, um, was it what I was wearing last night?" "No." she smiled wanly. "Boxer shorts and a tee shirt are pretty standard sleeping clothes for a 48


guy." "Then, um, please tell me. What is it? What's so wrong? Let me try to fix it." he said. "I -- oh, man. Do you not know?" "Know what?" She sighed. "I, I don't know how to break this to you." "Direct is best." "You're, you're dead." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Oh, get off me, Aidan!" Jennifer snarled. "I haven't seen you all day. And suddenly you're moved in. Which is, um, great. Very unexpected. So this means we can do it more." "I gotta think." "Think later." he commanded. "Do you even know why I'm here?" she bristled. "Yes. You can't live without me." She made a sound and rolled her eyes. "I am here because the old man, well, I got tired of him." she said, avoiding the truth. "Of course." Aidan said. "And he's whipped enough that I even got him to move my stuff. But this is gonna change things.

49


Gotta figure out what he's up to." "Worry about him later." Aidan said. "You. Me. Now."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Dead? Huh? Lemme tell ya, I am not dead. Here, I'll prove it to you." he got up to get closer. "No, no. Please. It's not that I don't want to. I do. And that's what's so disturbing to me. You're dead, and this cannot be happening. It's all dreams and wish fulfillment anyway, and there's always a catch, and that's the catch." her voice was becoming higher pitched and she was speaking faster as a lump rose in her throat. "I'm, I'm not, I'm not dead." he said. "How can I show you that? What, what kind of proof do you have? What's making you think that?" "I -- I saw." she was now really crying, hot tears hitting her face and bouncing off and onto her hoodie. "Saw what?" "Your, your body. I saw them put your body in a big tube and shoot it off into space." "What? When? And I, I don't get it. Not just this but also, you saw me? I never saw you before yesterday." "You, you don't remember me?" "I know I never, ever saw you before. I would 50


have known." "You and I, we would nod in the hallways. We didn't say much. We were not friends. But you could recognize me, I know you could! The Enterprise isn't a huge ship." "Enterprise? That ship was destroyed a few years ago." "Des-huh?" she just started to cry even more, and waved him off when he was all set to bend over her and comfort her. It took her a few minutes to finally get the lump back down to a manageable size. "So, um," he said, "this is weird. You think I'm dead, and I think the Enterprise is dead. And we have the same kind of proof, eyewitnesses, we're both eyewitnesses. I'm not, I'm not a logical guy. If I were a Vulcan or something, I bet I'd have this all figured out already." She nodded but did not say anything. "Hmm, wait. What was the name of the guy who you saw shot off into space?" "It, it was your name. It was Hayes. Major Jay Hayes." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Damn, damn, damn!" Commander Tucker was in no mood. "Something wrong, sir? And, if I may ask, sir,

51


wasn't your shift over hours ago?" "Ramirez, I hardly ever sleep these days. Oh nine hundred hours, eighteen hundred hours, or oh two hundred hours like now, it doesn't matter. I am always on. The Empress doesn't seem to have a problem with me working myself to death." "Uh, no, sir." Ramirez fidgeted. "Check the sensors. None of them seem to be working." "Sir, I ran a diagnostic four nights ago." "Then run another one. Actually, better yet. Take every blessed sensor out and check it manually." "Sir, that'll take weeks." "Crewman, you've got orders." Tucker walked away, muttering to himself. "Stupid screwed up database."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Okay, well, that's not me. I mean, my last name is Hayes. But Jay is my middle name." "Really?" "Yep. My first name is Douglas. C-call me Doug. And, um, I was a Major for maybe all of five minutes. I'm a Lieutenant Commander now." "So you're not .... But the doctor said your DNA matched the sample." "I, I don't think I am. Not that guy, no. I don't 52


think so. But you, um, you said about the Enterprise. Tell me more about the Enterprise. Tell me, tell me something. I've got a feeling I may have an explanation if you can give me enough to go on." "Hmm. Well, um, today there was investigation. Or, well, kind of a meeting."

an

"A meeting?" "I told you, you left a calling card and all, hence the DNA test. And the Exec level, they wanted to make sure there wasn't some mad rapist running around, having sex with random sleeping women. Dr. Phlox said ...." "Phlox?" "Yes. My doctor's name is Phlox. He's a Denobulan." "Yes, I know. And he's also, he's dead." "Nu-uh." Lili shook her head. "Captain Archer doesn't go around hiring dead doctors or anything like that." "Archer? Archer is your captain?" "Yeah. So?" "So, I am thinking I am starting to understand what's going on here. Um, who else was at this meeting, if I may ask?" Doug said. "Commander T'Pol and Ensign Hoshi Sato, 53


because they are the two most senior women on the ship." "Huh. T'Pol is also dead." "And Ensign Sato?" "We don't call her that any more." "Oh?" Lili asked. "I'm getting really confused." "Do you know what a multiverse is?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Tucker buzzed the Empress about twenty times before she finally answered. "Yeah, what?" Travis Mayweather rolled off her. "Empress, I got almost no working sensors any more." "So fix them." "I would, but there is nothing to fix them with, and no instructions anywhere." "You've been going along fine without instructions. Really, Commander, would you quit calling me at such crazy hours?" "Empress, this can't wait." "Yes, it can." "But that database, it's all messed up. It's like, it's like Swiss cheese in there." Tucker complained. "Do your usual magic. Bye." She hung up and grabbed Travis. "Now, where were we?"

54


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Isn't that where there's, like a million trillion universes? And in one, you and I are talking, and in another I'm sitting and reading a book or whatever?" "Pretty much. Could even be finer grained than that. Maybe in one you're wearing a red dress, in another you're wearing a green one and in another one you're wearing tan." "Not tan. It doesn't look good on me." "Okay." he smiled. "But think of it that way." "None of that's ever been proven." she said. "Yes, actually, it has. See, a few years ago, when Forrester was our Captain, ...." "Forrester? He was an Admiral when he died." Lili said. "There's another difference." "Oh, sorry to interrupt." "That's okay. Um, Archer was the First Officer and he heard rumors of an advanced ship, possibly from a different universe. We investigated and, lo and behold, the fellow was right. It was the Defiant. Took it over -- and it became pretty useful when the Enterprise herself was destroyed -- and that was, well, it was about two years ago. There was a power struggle -- there always is -- and Archer ended up being poisoned by his lover. She 55


then took over the ship, had a kid, consolidated her power over that year and then wasn't just an Empress in name only. Now she really is the Empress." "Don't tell me -- it's my roommate who's the Empress." "Only if you're rooming with Hoshi Sato." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "How close are we?" "We have been reviewing every scrap of a record we can find on them, First Minister. We have a truly excellent candidate." "Let's hail them tomorrow." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Ha, no. Holy cow. So this is -- somehow there's a crossing over that's happening again?" Lili asked. "I, I think so. See, the ship is actually from the future. Your future. I am assuming you're from its own private universe although maybe you aren't. Can't say for certain. But, I mean, right now it's 2157." "October." "Yes." he smiled. "Thirtieth, right?" "Well, I think it's the thirty-first by now." she said. "I think you and I have been asleep for a while." 56


"You're, um, you're probably right. Look, uh, is it okay for you to give me your name? I, I feel like I'm at a disadvantage. Are you, uh, okay with that?" "Yes, of course. No manners here." she smiled. "My full name is Charlotte Lilienne O'Day. But nobody calls me Charlotte and no one calls me Lilienne. They call me Lili." "I don't think I've heard a more beautiful name." "Don't be silly, my parents gave me the initials CL-O-D." "They probably didn't mean to do that, Lili." Doug rolled the name around for the first time. "Hmm, I suppose not. Can't ask 'em now." "Oh?" "They died in a house fire when I was nine." "Oh. I didn't mean to pry." "It's all right. Not like you would have known." she reached for his hand, voluntarily. He touched her hand and they were both taken aback with a spark arced between them. "Whoa!" he said. "Even though it's a clichĂŠ, it looks like sparks really do fly between us." "Maybe it's because we haven't touched for over a day." She pulled him close to her -- the sparking had stopped -- and kissed him. 57


He smiled and opened his eyes when they broke apart. "I missed you. I missed that. And I was concern-- no, afraid. Yes, afraid. I was afraid I would never see you. You remember that sensor I told you about? The one that recorded your heartbeat? It wasn't functioning, or something. No heartbeat today. I was scared that you were gone, or dead or out of range forever." "I'm right here." she said. "Let's, um, let's get out of here. Wherever here is." Doug said. "This is actually my old restaurant in San Mateo. Which I will show you some other time." she said, looking at him intently. They were back in private quarters. "Hang on, I'll change out of these." he said. "No, no, let me." "Oh?" "Well, I've been the one holding back. And I remember how good our second night was together, so I want to do something like that for you." "Oh, you liked that, eh? It's Tantric." "Huh, where did you learn to do that?" she asked as she removed his shirt. "I did basic training in Cambodia. Had my first encounter there, too." 58


"I, I see. I liked that we faced each other all night. If there had been light, I would have been looking in your eyes, you know." Doug smiled and steadied himself as he lifted one foot, then the other, for her to take off his boots. "Why would I be with a beautiful girl and not want to look right at her while we were doing it? Makes no sense to me otherwise." She straightened up. "Lie back on the bed, and I'll get your jeans off." "Yes." he grinned. "You take the right side. The left side of the bed is harder than the right." "Same's true of my bed. Funny." she said. "Well, maybe they repurposed the old equipment from the Enterprise and put it in the Defiant. Just 'cause it's old, doesn't mean it doesn't work." "Oh, I see things are working very, very well." she said, taking off his boxers. When he climaxed, the recoil was rougher than anything she'd experienced with any other man, but it wasn't painful. "C'mere." he said, when he had recovered his voice. They kissed for a long time and, when he was ready again, she got on top of him and they went at it for hours.

59


7 "Roomie! Roomie! You up?" Jennifer asked. "Huh, uh, yeah, I guess so." Lili blinked a few times. The alarm was going off. She turned it off. "What's, um, what's happening?" "I got a note from Fra-ank!" Jenny exclaimed. "Oh. The hot planetary geologist?" "The very same." "So, how's life on Enceladus?" "Oh, not the same without me, he's so sweet! He said he sees Saturn's rings every morning." "Well, I imagine he would, Jenny, seeing as Enceladus is a moon of Saturn." "Yeah, well, it got him thinking. And he said the ring 60


made him realize he wanted to give me a ring! Roomie, I'm engaged!" "Ha, that's fantastic, Jenny!" Jenny lunged at Lili to hug her. Lili had never felt that close to her, but smiled and hugged her back. "Oh, you know, I feel just a tiny bit bad." Jenny said. "Bad? How's that possible?" "Well, you don't have anyone. I don't want to make you feel bad or anything." "That's, that's kind of you. But I'm all right." "Lili, I know you and I aren't close, but I still don't want you to be depressed. And as I plan the wedding, it might feel like I'm rubbing your nose in things." "You're not and you won't. It's fine." Lili started to put on her chef's whites. "Hmm, I should fix you up with someone. Before I become Mrs. Frank Ramirez and all." Jenny thought for a while. "How about MacKenzie? He's kinda smokin'." "I am old enough to be his mother." Lili said, rolling her eyes. "And I bet you could teach him a thing or two. Really, it'll be fun, we'll go to Movie Night, and we'll sit together, and then I'll just say I have a headache or something and oops! Suddenly, you're alone with The Mad Scotsman." "You have been planning this, I see." "Oh, c'mon, it'll be fun. They're gonna show this movie called 'Gaslight'. It's supposed to be about this guy 61


trying to convince his wife that she's going crazy. It's, uh, mid-twentieth century. I think it's even in black and white." "No. Thank you. I have to go anyway." Lili checked messages quickly. "Ah, another dinner, I see. I have to plan this today. I can't be thinking about Scottish guys in the Tactical Department." "Not even just one?" Jennifer teased. "No. Besides, what if he has Mommy issues?" Lili leaped out before Jennifer could answer. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug got to the Bridge right on time. Commander Tucker was talking to the Empress. "Ah, good, you can get in on this." Tucker said, by way of greeting. "Oh?" "We got sensor problems. Lots of 'em. I am thinkin' at least half of the ones we thought were barely passable aren't any more. We probably stressed 'em too much." Tucker said. "Can we move them around? Make do, and just not have working sensors in some less critical part of the ship?" the Empress asked. "We'll need them for targeting." Doug said. "Can't have any halfway measures there." "Agreed." said the Empress. "Surely there's somewhere that we can borrow from?" "Huh. We can probably get rid of a few of the redundant sensors in Life Support." Tucker said.

62


"Is that wise?" Doug asked. "Well, I don't see any other option, Old Man." Tucker said. "Can't you fix some of them?" Mayweather asked. "Travis!" the Empress exclaimed. "I am working." "Actually, can't you fix some of them?" asked Doug. "A few. Maybe. We have no schematics, nothing we haven't sketched ourselves. This ship didn't exactly come with an Instruction Manual." "Are we gonna have enough to fly the ship and shoot phasers? That's all I care about. Everything else, we can be blind for all I care." the Empress said. "Yeah, I think so." Tucker said. "But no shooting for at least a few days. We gotta go through all of 'em, see just how bad it all is. So, um, stay out of a war for a little while, okay?" "Sure." the Empress said. "How are your bluffing skills, Old Man?" "Okay, I guess." Doug said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lili got through the breakfast rush unscathed. French toast for almost ninety people and one curious beagle. She'd have maybe a half an hour before the lunch rush would begin. At least the Executive dinner that night would be far less elaborate. She started up her PADD 63


and typed. 'Service record: Jay Hayes.' The computer pulled up a picture. "There you are." she whispered. "But you're a little greyer now, and your hair's parted on the side." Chef was coming back into the kitchen. She quickly turned off the PADD. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "That ship is hailing us, First Minister." "All right. Let us begin." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "This is Captain Jonathan Archer of the Starship Enterprise." "I am First Minister Chawev. May the light of Lo shine upon you." The Captain gestured to cut sound for a moment. "How do I answer that?" he glanced over at Hoshi. "Say something about there being not a lot of light from Ub." "Okay, sound back on, please." He cleared his throat a little. "And may the light of Ub be diminished." "That is our wish as well. We are called Calafans, the people of Lafa. I recognize the Vulcan female or rather 64


her species. They have been here before and our memories of them are good ones. You are?" "We are called humans." Jonathan said. "We are from a planet called Earth. We are here to explore and establish peaceful relations." "And, I suppose, gain a small strategic advantage from our position." The First Minister smiled. He was milky white in color, including long, flowing white-blond hair, with crystal blue eyes and silvery scrollwork markings up and down both arms. "Well ...." "I am sorry. We are used to plain speaking here. I must show better manners. I would invite you down, but my wife is very ill." "Maybe we can help. We have a skilled doctor on board." Jonathan offered. "It is, it is our way to have our people treated by our own. But we appreciate your kind offer. May I speak with you tomorrow? I am also caring for my children while my wife is being treated." "It must be a lot to do." Jonathan said. "Tomorrow is, is good." He cut the communications line. "What was that all about?" "Maybe he had to go pick up his kids from Little League." Travis said. "Hopefully tomorrow his schedule won't be quite so full." Jonathan said. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "That ship has been in range for over a day. What

65


are they waiting for, First Minister?" "I cannot say." The First Minister scratched his arm. It was reddish brown and covered with coppery scrollwork markings.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Ready?" Doug asked the Empress. "Let's do this." she said. He opened the Hailing Frequency for her. "This is the Defiant, flagship of the Terran Empire." "I am First Minister Chawev." came the reply. "May the light of Ub shine upon you." "Surrender now and avoid damage." the Empress threatened. "What if my people refuse?" asked Chawev. "Then we will start destroying your cities, one by one. You have four -- " the Empress glanced over at Doug who gestured for five. " -- five days before we start shooting. Out." "That went well." she said. "Travis, you're gonna be busy for a while. Doug, no interruptions unless they surrender." "Of course, Empress."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lili wheeled the cart back into the main conference room. Now it was the entire Executive group, including Tucker and Reed. She began handing out sandwiches. "Tuna melt for you, Ensign. Pastrami for the Captain, uh, 66


Ham and Swiss on unseeded rye for Lieutenant Reed. Turkey for the doctor, seitan in a pita for Commander T'Pol, Philly Cheesesteak for Ensign Mayweather and a chicken salad on a croissant for Commander Tucker. Salads, too, help yourselves. It's family style." she said, grabbing her grilled cheese on a bagel and sitting down. "Ensign, we are back here because of not only what we were talking about yesterday, but we feel this may be becoming a tactical issue." The Captain said, not even waiting for everyone to finish eating. "Well, sir, I would ask that not everyone on the ship be informed of what's going on. I mean, it's my private life." "True, but we are concerned." T'Pol said. "It is not logical that Major Hayes would be back from the dead." "No, it's not." Lili allowed. "He tells me he's from another universe." "That is one possible explanation." T'Pol said. "But there are other explanations." "We don't think it's a time shift." Jonathan said. "At least, I don't think it is, because of the, of the doctor's findings." "Let's not get into too many specifics, okay?" Lili asked. "Brownie, anyone?" "Oh, those do look good." Lieutenant Reed said. "It is, well, there's a possibility that it's an attempt to get some sort of information out of you. I, I don't mean to be indelicate, but by creating a reasonable facsimile of the Major -- a familiar person -- making him interested in you -- and then you could very well be putty in his hands. Or at least that would be the plan, I suppose. Oh, 67


this is rather good. Did you make these, Ensign?" "Yes, I did. And, um, he hasn't asked me anything tactical. I mean, what would I know anyway? All I do is cook." "Even if he just asked you where the ship is going, or how fast it's going, those could give him an advantage. We don't know much about the Calafans." Tucker said. "The very high presence of testosterone seems to indicate that this facsimile may have been created by somehow altering Klingon DNA." Phlox offered. "You've already decided that Doug is a facsimile?" "Who's Doug?" Hoshi asked. "The Major's name was not Doug, it was Jay." Reed said. "Doug is him. He is Doug. And he looks like, like Major Hayes, because in another universe, he is Hayes. But there are differences. And the name is one of them." Hoshi typed away on her PADD. "Wait a second." she said. She pulled up Hayes's service record and read from the PADD. "Jay Douglas Hayes. Born December 5th, 2102. There's a lot more of course." "He said his middle name was Jay. So he's Douglas Jay, and the one from here, he was Jay Douglas." Lili pointed out. "Ensign, are you being asked to provide compromising information?" T'Pol asked, point blank. "No. No, I'm not. We don't talk about work. He asks me what food I make, sometimes, to make conversation. And he tells me about his work sometimes. He says they're having problems with their sensors. But I don't 68


know anything else." "Are you absolutely certain?" Jonathan asked. "I -- this is an awkward situation. No one here wants to judge. And this is all going to stay completely confidential. We just worry that you're being fed a line of bull." "I see you're all terribly concerned about me." Lili said, rising. "No, it's not just for tactical reasons that we are concerned." Reed said. "If you were my sister, I would not want you to be hurt. Hayes was -- he and I were not friends. But we gained a grudging respect for one another, and he died a hero. I know that Jay Hayes would not try to hurt you." "But nobody knows who -- or what -- Doug Hayes is." Jonathan said. "This might be as romantic and beautiful as you believe it is. I hope that it is, for your sake." "Th-thank you." Lili said, looking down. "You, you don't understand. We have a real connection. He is -- Doug is -- I can't explain. Not without just spilling everything. And I won't do that unless you can come to me with conclusive proof that he is some, some facsimile, and this is only being done to gain some sort of a tactical or negotiating foothold. And, by the way, if that were the case, why exactly was I targeted? Why not pick even my roommate? I don't run the ship, I don't service Life Support, I don't pilot, I don't fire the weapons or anything. If someone's trying to gain an advantage, they made an awful decision as to who to target, yes?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ While

the

Empress

69

and

Mayweather

were


otherwise occupied, Doug surreptitiously opened a PADD at his console. He typed: 'Service Record: Lili O'Day'. Nothing. 'Service Record: Charlotte O'Day'. Nothing. 'Service Record: Lilienne O'Day.' Nothing. Hmm. 'All Records: O'Day'. Approximately 77,000 hits. 'All Records: O'Day, last fifty years.' Approximately 53,000 hits. 'All Records: O'Day, last fifty years. House fire.' One record. Cautiously, he opened it. There were pictures of a destroyed home. And the news report was a grim one. 'Titan: June 12, 2118. Four members of a family were killed today when a kitchen fire went out of control. The dead are Peter O'Day, his wife, Marie HelĂŞne Ducasse O'Day, and their two children, Declan, aged 7 and Charlotte Lilienne, aged 9.' He clicked on a picture:

"Oh, you." he said softly, and closed the PADD before anyone else could see what he was doing.

70


8 When the meeting finally ended, everyone but Malcolm Reed left. Lili looked up as she put the used dishes back on the cart. "Sir?" "May I speak with you, Ensign?" he asked. "Uh, I guess so. But I'm still working. I'm not done until the dishes are out of the sanitizer." "Can we talk while you go back to the kitchen, then?" "Long as it's not too private." she said. "Make sure the door stays open for me, please?" They walked into a hallway. "Ensign, I just, I want you to know that I, when we were talking about not wanting you to be hurt, well, I truly meant it." "I, uh, thank you, Lieutenant." Lili guided the cart 71


along. "It's just, it, well, may I ask you something?" "I suppose." "Like I indicated, I didn't know Major Hayes too well. I know nothing of his private life or his innermost thoughts. We always and only talked about work." Malcolm said. "What is, what is this iteration like? If that's not too personal a question, that is." "That's fine." Lili said. "He's very attentive, very intelligent. When we talk, he seems to be interested in what I do. Things like that." "What, uh, what does he do?" Malcolm then visibly reddened. "I, I mean for work. Not other things. I don't mean to offend." "No, huh, that's okay." They had arrived at the kitchen. "Actually, Lieutenant, he has your job now." "Oh, interesting." Malcolm kept the kitchen door open as Lili got the cart inside and wheeled it over to the sanitizer. "I wonder what my counterpart is doing there. If I have one, that is." "Yeah, it's strange, sort of makes you wonder what would happen if things were tipped in some slightly different direction, and circumstances were changed. Would you still be you?" Lili asked, while loading dishes into the sanitizer. "Precisely." Malcolm started to help her. "No, wait, um, put it in the other way. See the teacup handle? Down and to the left." Lili pointed out. "There, that's right. Thanks for helping; I usually do this myself." 72


"It's unfortunate that you don't have any helpers." "Well, that's just it. I'm the helper." Lili said. "You remember, the Xindi War broke out and the ship had to be cleared of redundant personnel. Chef used to have a saucier, a Pastry Chef and a Sous-Chef. Those jobs were all combined into mine when I came on board. And that's when Doug -- I mean, Jay -- got here, too." "I confess I did not care for him much when he first arrived." Malcolm said, smiling wanly. "But I learned that he was very competent and thorough. Well-respected by the men and women under his command. And certainly capable of not only my job but probably most jobs on board, except in Engineering." "Yes, you have to be a kind of special person to be in Engineering, I think." Lili said. "My roommate, when she talks about work, I don't know what she's saying half the time." "Your roommate is Jennifer Crossman, yes?" "Yep, the Redheaded Bombshell." "Oh, I, I hadn't noticed." "Lieutenant, everyone notices." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug walked back to his quarters. Tripp Tucker fell in beside him. "I got news for you." Tucker said. "Oh? Did I ask for news?" "No. But this you want to hear, Old Man." "Funny you should call me that, seeing as you're probably going to go before I do, Tucker."

73


"Maybe. Anyway, interesting that you tossed the Bombshell out and threw her to the grabby Scotsman. 'Course I wouldn't kick her outta bed myself, but I can see why you might do that." "You? Tucker, I thought you only had a thing for alien tail." "Yeah, T'Pol had a nice, huh, bit of allover padding." Tucker admitted. "She's -- Crossman -going around saying she kicked you out and whipped you enough to get you to bring her stuff over to MacKenzie's. But I know better." "Oh, you do? And this matters to you how, exactly?" "Not too much. But I recognize a finesse move when I see it. You force her hand and push her to the kid before they've really solidified their alliance. And you win either way, as either they bicker so much that the alliance falls apart, or they do it like bunnies so often that they don't have the time to conspire." "What makes you think anyone's conspiring anything?" Doug asked, knowing the answer but asking anyway. "Ha, you're not that naive." Tucker said. "Every single person here is on the make, and Porthos would be if he were sentient enough. They're looking to do both me and you in, and take control of two departments. Then they'll bring the power together, bring in any other groups they can --

74


Security if they can swing it -- and make a run at the Empress herself." "Don't say that about the Empress." Doug said quietly. "Yeah, yeah, I know everyone is listening. You're too paranoid, Old Man." "You get paranoid in my position." Doug replied. "Maybe so. See, when you're like me, you can throw caution to the wind. I just don't give a damn. I'd rather die better, but if I die worse, it's not gonna be much worse and it's not gonna be much earlier, I figure." "Why are we having this conversation?" "Two reasons. First, I like learning from a master although the fact that they can conspire in private when not burning up the sheets is a troublesome flaw in your plan." "Yeah, I've thought of that." Doug admitted. "What's the other reason?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Be that as it may," Malcolm said, "I do agree. The Engineers definitely speak a different language than you or I. May I ask, what do you think you will do when this connection with Hayes ends?" "Uh, what?" Lili turned away. "Damn onions." she muttered although the onions were on the other side of the room and were not what was making her eyes tear. "Surely you've realized. Oh, my. I have really put my 75


foot in it." Malcolm said. "I'm sorry. That was rather boorish of me to inquire." "No, no, I'm okay." Lili said. She wasn't. "I, uh, I've been thinking about it, and the answer is: I have no idea. I just hope it doesn't end." "I think I can understand that." Malcolm said. "I apologize for bringing it up. That was insensitive of me. You, if I were in your position I suppose I would feel the same." "No one's been in this position before, Lieutenant." "Call me Malcolm. And, and let me know, when, uh, when you are ready, uh, afterwards, if you like to talk. I've been told I'm a good listener when I'm not placing my foot in things." Lili smiled slightly, the half-smile that wasn't much of a smile at all, which she used when she didn't really feel like smiling but it was somehow expected of her. "I, um, I think that's generous of you, Lieu--, uh, Malcolm. Look, I'm done here. I need to get to my quarters and get some rest." "And see Hayes?" "If I'm lucky, yes." "Then I hope that you are very lucky." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Okay, so the other reason is, I got little to lose, but you've got a lot at stake. You could use a friend." Tucker said. "I don't have friends." Doug said, although that

76


had not been strictly true for the past few days. "Of course." Tucker said. "A bit of protection, then. I watch your back a bit, when I can. I can definitely keep Crossman occupied with endless diagnostics and schematics. God knows they're needed anyway." "Yeah, I heard about that." "Stupid database." "It was the Empress's decision." Doug said. "So by definition it wasn't stupid." "Yes, yes, I know the Party Line as well as you do, Hayes. But it really was stupid. Erasing all the older records is one thing. I can see not wanting to be able to check out your counterpart in that other universe. But that's as far as it should've gone. Maintenance logs, system specifications, even the recipe for Chicken Noodle Soup! All gone and completely irretrievable. Stupid." "Swiss cheese database." Doug nodded. "I suppose I can occasionally occupy MacKenzie with a few sensor checks. Can't promise anything though, given that he's on the overnight shift." "Understood." Tucker said. "I'm not gonna be around too much longer. I figure I might not see New Year's Day. So after that, you're on your own. Just, uh, just get it so I can die in my own bed. And without a dagger sticking in any part of me, okay?"

77


9 She was wearing a black leather skirt, black boots and a blue sweater that was off her shoulders. Doug ran toward her. "You look beautiful." he said, kissing Lili and instantly changing from a tee and boxers to a black suit he'd once seen in a shop window on Iapetus. "Thank you." She smiled at him. "Any place special we're going, all dressed up like this?" "I don't know. Just thought it would be good to look good. What was your day like? I made apple fritters. Half of them didn't turn out so good, but the dog is really, really happy." "I bet your screwups are better than most of the stuff I've been eating for the past decade." he said. 78


"I didn't do much. You know, sensors and all that. Thought of you all day." "Oh, really? Well, I thought of you, too. But I think we really should work. At least a little bit." she grinned. "Walk with me?" "Sure." he took her hand, and the scene changed to a New England autumn in full color. "I, you didn't tell me you had a little brother." "Probably because I never did." "Uh, never told me or never had a brother?" "Well, both. Where are you getting the idea I have a brother?" Lili asked. "Oh, well, I checked out your counterpart. I hope you don't mind." "Actually, I did the same today. Go on. But, um, tell me, is she like, in prison or something? You look a little odd." "Well, no." Doug said. "She's got the same problem here that I have over there in your universe." "When and where did she die? Wait, I'm not sure I want specifics." "That house fire you told me about." "Oh. And my -- uh, her -- brother? Did he make it?" "No." 79


"Was he, like, a little baby?" she asked, feeling it despite herself. "Seven years old." "Oh, man. I just -- yanno -- I obviously could never have known him, but I still feel strange about the whole thing. Uh, can I ask why you were looking at the record anyway?" "I, uh, I wanted to see if there were any pictures. Didn't want to meet her or anything. She is not you." Doug assured her. "What did you find?" "Just one photograph that wasn't from the disaster. You -- uh, she -- must have been home from school. A little girl and her mother. Her, uh, her face had a flower painted on the side. The little girl, that is." "S'funny. That is one of my best, most vivid memories of my mother. We went to a fair and I got my face painted. It was about three weeks before the fire." Doug held Lili. "Sounds like a good memory." "Why, uh, why were you looking? Really." Lili asked. "I, um, I wanted to have a picture of you, like I said. Because when this connection ends, I won't have much else left." he said, burying his nose in her hair and inhaling a slight scent of apples. 80


"What?" Lili asked, a little alarmed. "Surely you don't think this is going to go on forever? I figure this is a delicate connection. It's going to break at some point in time, like everything else on this ship. I, I don't want it to. Just want to be prepared for the inevitable." "Reed mentioned the breaking to me today, too. Or maybe he was hitting on me. I don't know; he never did that before." "Huh, I'm kind of surprised he hasn't done that before. The Reed I knew really had a thing for blondes." "Since you have his job, where is he now, Doug?" "He's, um, he's another one who's dead on this side of things." "Wow. It's like almost everyone I know is dead there. What about Jennifer Crossman?" Doug blanched. "How do you know her?" "She's my roommate. How do you?" "She was, uh, I should confess something. Up to a few days ago, she was living with me." "Oh." Lili let that sink in. "What happened?" "Whaddaya think? You happened." "That feels really weird to me. Particularly seeing as she's so gorgeous." 81


"Really? I definitely don't notice. Not any more." he kissed her. "Doug, I was thinking." Lili said, after coming up for air. "I, I know this hasn't been happening for a lot of time. We've known each other for a good five days." "Best week of my life." he smiled at her. "Yes, and if, um, if this connection is going to end, well, I was thinking, what if -- if you would have me -- if I were to somehow come over there? To your side of things." "Lili, I don't think that's a good idea at all." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "First Minister, we will need to determine whether they are advanced enough to have a transporting device." "I will get onto their ship tomorrow and check for myself." Chawev said. "Don't worry." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Oh." Lili broke away from his grasp. "I, uh, wait. I don't mean like I don't want you to be near. I, I do." he said. "But this place, this side of things, this is no place for you." "I'm not as delicate as you seem to think I am." "You probably aren't, and you probably think I'm being grossly unfair." "You are." 82


"Well, I don't know about that." Doug said. "I don't think you'd have a place here." "I cook for a living. I can work anywhere." "I'm sure that's true on your, your side of the, of the pond, as it were. It's not work that I'm talking about." "How different can it be?" "Lili, you don't get it. I know something about your side. You're gentler, softer, sweeter and kinder than any of us can ever hope to be. Look," he took her hand again, "let me tell you what my typical day is really like. And I mean really." "Okay." "I hear the alarm and I get up and I shave and put on my uni. Strap on a sidearm and a dagger and an extra one in my left boot. No one knows about that one except for you -- Jennifer didn't even know, and she and I lived together for over a year. I get into the halls and look around to make sure nobody's out to bother me. Grab a cup of whatever slop they have for breakfast. Get to the Bridge. Get instructions from the Empress. She usually disappears for a few hours with her boy toy, so I run things. Make sure no one's shooting at us. Work for six hours, then grab another cup of slop and come back for another round of waiting to be shot at. This is all the easy part. Finish a few hours afterwards and go back into the halls, where the chances are a lot higher that someone will take their shot at me. Grab a few platefuls of a slightly 83


less gooey slop, then get back to my quarters, lock myself in and read until it's time to sleep. And then I see you and I put the rest of it out of my mind until the next morning when I get to do it all over again." Lili looked stricken. "Can't you just quit or something? Or retire?" "Sadly, no. No one leaves these jobs. Actually, wait, there are exactly three ways to leave a job at my level: you die in battle, you die of some disease, or you're killed by an underling trying to get a promotion." "I, I can understand the first one. You're a soldier -- of course it's possible." Lili said. "And the second is awful but not unexpected -- certainly no stranger than how my, my parents died. But the third. Man. You are, you're high-ranking, aren't you?" "I'm fourth in command. It's just the Empress, her boy toy First Officer, and the Head of Engineering ahead of me." "So, um, if underlings kill in order to get ahead, that, uh, that means you did that, too?" Lili asked, looking at Doug with shining eyes. "Doug, tell me the truth. Are you -- are you a killer?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ We can get into position tomorrow or the night after, First Minister." "Good." Chawev said.

84


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ He nodded movement.

slightly,

a

barely

perceptible

"Tell me," she said, "how, how many?" she trembled. "Lili, any, any number is going to be too many, I can tell. I, uh, we both know this connection will break at any time. Let me make things easier for you, and break it myself. Even if I dream about you, I can will myself to dream about something else, just like I willed myself into a suit that I never owned. You, you won't have to worry about me any more. All I ask is one thing." "Hmm?" "I, oh, let me touch you, hold you, for just a little while, right now. And I'll say the number and I'll just go and you can be, you can be free of this, and go have fun with Reed or whoever." He was a little surprised that she acquiesced to him holding her. She said nothing but he could feel her breathing and it was troubled. He kissed her right temple and then whispered in her ear. "Fourteen." Her breath caught. "Do you, do you remember any of them?" "Before I started dreaming about you, I dreamed plenty about them." he said. "Donnelly, Harris, Shapiro, Sulu -- I remember all of them." "At least you do. Can I, can I tell you something?" 85


"Anything." he said. "I don't come in here with completely clean hands, either." "Surely you aren't this way." "Doug, when I was in Cooking School, they made sure we learned where all of our food comes from. So we didn't just farm and garden. We also hunted and fished. And we slaughtered barnyard animals. I cut the heads off chickens and used those little laser gun things to shoot hogs between the eyes. I Kosher killed a cow. Do you know how to Kosher kill a cow?" she asked. He shook his head grimly. "You slit its throat. And I, I messed up. You're supposed to get the windpipe, but I got the carotid artery. Cow's blood was everywhere." "Lili, you killing animals is not the same thing. They're not as sentient." "I know. But there is one time. It was during the Xindi War. You had that, yes?" "Definitely. I fought in it." "Well, they boarded the ship once. Insectoids. They were going from place to place. I'm sure they wanted to kill all of us. They came into the kitchen." "So you used your sidearm?" he asked.

86


"I had forgotten it. Which was dumb but not a huge problem. Kitchens are loaded with weapons." "Meat cleaver?" "Cast iron skillet. Let's just say I squashed a bug and leave it at that. And I, I felt so guilty that, once we'd made peace with them --" "You made peace with the Xindi? We didn't. We, um, the Empire committed genocide. I doubt there are more than a thousand Xindi left of any species." "Oh, my." Lili gulped. "I, I contacted her -- it was a she -- her family. Can't recall how I found them. I wrote and I apologized. And her daughter wrote back and was surprisingly kind. They, they don't live very long, anyway, so she said it wasn't too long before her mother's time anyway, and her mother was a dedicated soldier and so she went the way she wanted to." "Apologizing here is a sign of weakness. I, I am finding that I can say to you that I'm sorry. But not to anyone else." Doug said. "Do you still want to go?" she asked. "No. I never did. It's about what you want. Tell me if you, if you want me to leave." "Like I said, I'm not as delicate as you think." "I can see that. But you still won't really have a place on this side of the pond." 87


"Then there's only one thing to do." she said. "Yes?" "You'll need to come here."

88


10 "I, um, are you sure?" Doug asked. "Because if anything was going to make me hopelessly ugly to you, it was, it was my, my track record." "Doug." she said, taking his face in her hands. "You will never be hopelessly ugly to me. Don't ever forget that." her face had flashes of almost anger. "I, um," he was nonplussed. "It may be a lot for you to forgive, is all I'm saying." "It's like the number of guys I slept with before I met you. You may not love the number, but it's in the past and it cannot be changed now. What's more important is how we move ahead, together." She leaned in closer and kissed him. He put his hand on her back and drew her close. 89


This kiss, it was somehow sweeter than all the others, and he didn't want it to stop. Finally they broke apart. "So, er, how many have there been before me? Uh, you don't have to answer that if you don't wanna." "No, it's okay." she smiled. "You are lucky number thirteen." "Yes, I am very lucky." he said, fingers fiddling with the end of one of her sleeves. "Let's, can we walk some more?" "Wherever you wanna go. Uh, where is this place?" "It's New Hampshire. Over there, see that peak? That's Mount Monadnock. This isn't too far from where the New England Red Sox have one of their parks." "The who?" "Do you, do you have baseball on your side of the pond?" she asked. "Sure we do. Five bases, twelve guys on a team and a lotta fights." "Uh, you mean four bases, nine guys on a team and, uh, only a few fights sometimes." she smiled. "What do you do for fun?" "Fun? Huh, well, aside from the obvious," he looked at her meaningfully, "I go hunting. Fish sometimes. I do like sports, play rugby sometimes, 90


but it's hard to get a team together. You?" "I guess I'm more of a homebody than my job would indicate. I like land. Working it, building on it. I like to fish, too, but a part of that is just being on a boat." "I mainly fish from piers." "You should try boats some time." "I should try a lot of things, I think." he said. "Lili, can I ask you, how do you, um, assuming anything could work and I could be there with you, how would it all work?" "You mean the crossing over process?" "No, not that. I mean after." "Well, they always need good Tactical guys, so you should be able to work with no trouble." "Would we live together?" he asked. "I, uh, would you like that?" "I think so. I mean, I know this hasn't been a lot of time at all. It's just ...." his voice trailed off. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Commander, communications just cut out." MacKenzie said to T'Pol. "To the planet, or all communications?" she asked. "Looks like we can talk to any of the planets. And to any ships in the area. But nothing outside the system." 91


"How very interesting. And perhaps an indication of how welcoming our hosts are. I'll alert the Captain." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ There was a large rock in a clearing right in front of them. "Uh, Lili?" "Yes?" "I think -- uh, I think this is our destination." "Oh?" He sat down and patted his knee. "C'mere." She sat down and faced him. "I like, I like all of this. I don't know if speculating about things is good, or if it's just going to make it all hurt that much more." "Maybe." he admitted. "It's just, I dunno. I don't think I've ever gotten into a relationship before where I really wanted that to happen. The sex part, sure. But the rest of it? Not so much." "Look, I don't even know if you're going to leave dirty socks on the floor or something like that." "I don't, I swear." he said. "I like the place to be clean, things put away." "I have to be really clean for work." she said. "But you might find an occasional hair ribbon in the wrong place. I guess I just sorta think I'm going to pick it up later, and then I forget and whatever it is doesn't get picked up." 92


"I suppose I can make allowances for that." "You'd have to live under our laws, Doug." "I know. I could, I would do whatever I could. I get the feeling that, with the pressure off, I wouldn't be looking to do anything like that, like going up to a Number Fifteen or anything." "That reminds me. Since you have Reed's old job, was his counterpart, uh, Number Fourteen?" "No." Doug said. "Fourteen was Geming Sulu. It was, uh, that was how I got onto the Enterprise in the first place." "So, uh, how did Reed's counterpart get it? If you want to tell me." "It's a little fuzzy. A few years ago, when we got the Defiant, the Enterprise ended up being destroyed. Not everyone made it from the old ship to the new one -- we went in escape pods. I shoved Jenn into one and I got into another. Fought off a kid from Security for it. And I think that happened with a lot of people -- they were either shot or stabbed and kept from getting into pods, or they were hit and dragged out of 'em. As for Reed, specifically, it was either then or before. He had this, uh, this thing he was testing out, a torture device. I think he was hoisted on that particular petard." "Oh, my. I'm sorry I asked." Lili said. "When we got to the Defiant, there was no one in 93


charge of Tactical, and I was the top guy on the MACOs. When the Empress seized power, she installed me as head of Tactical. Funny, I think that was my only actual merit promotion." "Well deserved, I'm sure." Lili kissed him. "I don't know about that. I think it was more a case of, everyone's blind, but my blindness is just slightly less bad as everyone else's." "Don't you know your own system?" "Not really. But no one does." "Huh?" "Lili, remember when I told you about your counterpart, and what happened to her?" "Of course, it was only maybe an hour ago." "Yes, of course. Well, the Empress didn't like everyone knowing. I guess she was disappointed in how her counterpart's life had turned out on your side of the pond. I never really had that as I didn't put it all together that between me and Jay Hayes, we were the same but with switched names. Anyway, the Empress didn't like it, so she ordered the records destroyed." "Uh, okay. everything."

But

that

shouldn't

take

out

"No, it shouldn't. But the deleting was done quickly. I mean, this is the Empress we're talking about. You did what you were told, and fast, fast, 94


fast! So mistakes were made in the deletion coding." "Not so sure I follow you." Lili admitted. "See, they deleted not just references to Hayes but any references to anyone named Hayes. Ever." "Wasn't there a President Hayes?" "There may have been. I'll certainly never know. And it's even any references to anything with Hayes on it. Like if there's a Hayes screwdriver, or a planet called Hayes." "A planet?" "Humor me for a second, okay? If there's a Hayes virus or a Hayes vaccine, all of that's wiped. Same for Tucker, Sato, Mayweather, Archer, Cutler -every single name. This cascaded through the entire database. So any references to, uh, to Beef a la Mayweather or Cutler Falls or a Tucker's deer were also completely erased. Left us with almost nothing. I have no idea which name or names' removals caused the most damage, but it doesn't matter now. It's all permanently wiped and cannot be recovered. The people who screwed up were, of course, tortured and killed." "Tortured? To, to confess something?" "No. They were tortured for the Empress's own amusement." "Did you, um, have anything to do with that, Doug?" 95


"I dealt with finding them, but not punishing them. She, uh, apparently it's a thrill for her if she or her boy toy get to do that." "My God." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Captain was roused out of a dream about water polo. Just about to take the final shot of the game! He shook himself awake as soon as he realized what the problem was. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Let's, um, let's change the subject." he said. "All right." she kissed him. "I should warn you if we live together, that I snore sometimes." "Funny, I've never seen or heard you sleep." "True. Same here." "Well, I talk in my sleep." Lili said. "You give away secret recipes or something? Or do you talk about, about us?" "I, well, Jenny doesn't say. It's probably just a few random words, although about a year ago she said I said, 'Are you searching for buried treasure?' Pretty funny." "What were you dreaming about that you said that?" 96


"Ha, it was sex." she kissed him. "Not as good as this dream. Or any other one with you in it." "You star in my best dreams, too." he put his hands under her sweater. "Are you, um, comfortable?" "Actually, I'm a little, uh, hot." she looked at him intently. "I think you're very hot." he said. "But keep this on." he pushed her skirt up and reached under it. "Well, hang on, I do believe you're looking for these." she said, standing up for a moment and removing her panties. "Red satin. Very nice." he said, admiring them for a second and then tossing them to the side. "If I get to stay dressed, so do you." she said, reaching down and unfastening his pants. "All right." he said, breathing more heavily. "It'll get very hot then." "Good thing it's chilly out." she said, kissing him and getting on top. He sat there on the rock and she did almost all the work, although he did help her move, and guided her a bit. Pretty soon, his shirt was soaked with perspiration and his jacket was sticking to him, but he couldn't stop as they moved together, faster and faster, finally both yelling loudly at climax, voices echoing in the valley. She broke away a bit more quickly than usual. "I, 97


I think we're both gonna have to do laundry. Not my favorite chore." "I can do it." he said. "Come back a sec." She got back on his lap, skirt still askew, still skin to skin. "Of course. Just didn't want, um, moisture plus leather plus delicate skin. Uh, you get the idea." "And thoughtful, too." he joked. They kissed. "Y'know, Doug, it would really be stupid if we were to fall in love." "True." he allowed. "We have no idea if we can be together." They were both silent for a moment. "It's too late now." she said. "Yeah, for me, too." he agreed, kissing her and mussing her hair. This time, they did remove their sweaty clothes, and lay on the ground together, just touching, not saying anything, not kissing. "I, I don't say it much. Haven't said it in many years." he said. "I, uh, it's another stupid sign of weakness. You, you'll teach me to say it more?" "Yes, of course." she said, kissing his cheek. "I should say it now, yes?" "Yes." 98


11 Doug made his way through the halls the following morning, a bit more of a spring in his step than before. A little distracted, perhaps. He heard crying. That could only mean one person. Well, really, two. He turned around. "Jun!" he called out, kneeling. A toddler ran to him. "Unka Duck!" The toddler was followed by a young, tired-looking woman with a fresh black eye. "Crewman Cutler." Doug said, straightening up after the toddler had hugged him. "Lieutenant Commander Hayes." she said. "C'mon, Jun." she held her hand out to the toddler, who was

99


bending over to check out some unseen thing on the floor. "He's getting better with his words." Doug said. "Yes. Well, he's the Empress's son. Wouldn't expect anything less." she said. "Jun, put that down!" "Nuh-uh!" he called out, holding up a tiny brokenoff dagger tip as his prize. "How'd you get the shiner?" Doug asked. Cutler nodded her head slightly in the child's direction. "Jun, put that down!" she repeated, getting exasperated. "You've gotta tell him 'no' more often, I think." "You don't have children. Unless you're his father." Cutler said. "Ha, no, I'm no one's father, so far as I'm aware." Doug said. "Still a mystery, eh?" "From his mannerisms, I'd say Torres or Masterson." Cutler said. "But you didn't hear that from me. Y'know, I think you're one of the only people Jun here actually likes. You should quit Tactical and become his babysitter. Get me a little peace." she said the last sentence barely audibly. "What, and leave all this? Look, I've gotta get to the Bridge." "We're going there, too." Cutler said. "It's his first birthday."

100


"Then I'll walk with you. Halls aren't a good place to be when you've got distractions." "Yep. Big target there." she admitted. "And when the Empress has the next one, that'll only be multiplied." "She's pregnant again?" Doug asked quietly. "I don't think so, not yet. I think she's looking for suitable candidates." "So, not Travis?" he asked. "Ha, nope. Good for fun, not for breeding." Cutler sniffed. "Here we are." Doug said, getting the door to open.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lunch meeting. Main conference room. Lili was again catering for the Executive Team. "We have Thai Panang Curry today." she said. "Tofu for Commander T'Pol, in that smaller bowl over there, and chicken for everyone else, over here. Help yourselves to basmati rice and extra coconut sauce if you like. Enjoy." "Ensign, why don't you stay. This may concern you a bit." The Captain said. "Sir, I think Chef needs me to work the regular lunch rush." "Probably does. But -- does Hayes know anything about any loss of communications?" Jonathan asked. "Um, no. At least I don't think he does. But he and I 101


have not been talking about this much lately." "Have you been talking about anything tactical?" T'Pol asked. "Any clues would be helpful." Travis encouraged. "N-no." Lili said. "I don't even know where they are." "They? Hayes is on a ship?" Malcolm asked. "Uh, yes. It's called the Defiant." "There is no such ship in the Starfleet system." T'Pol said, after checking her PADD. "Well, um, that's what he called it." Lili said, getting uncomfortable. "Ensign, we are still concerned." Phlox said. "This whole situation is well out of hand." "Yes, it's very out of hand." Lili admitted. "He -- I hope you can find some way to bring him here, to our side of the pond. Because -- please -- we want to be together." "Ensign, we will consider that." Archer said. There was a communications hail. He answered it. "Yes, of course. Sending her your way now." he closed the communications link. "You were right. Your boss needs you to serve lunch." "Very well, sir." she departed. Once she was safely out of the room, Archer asked, "Impressions?" "Bringing him over here?" Phlox asked. "Certainly not! Who knows what viruses this man -- if he is a human male at all -- could bring over. Even a common cold. He could be immune, and no one here would be." 102


"I don't even think it's possible." Tucker said. "I mean, it's not like transporting. At least, I'm guessing it's not. Where's the bridge between, what did she call it? One side of the pond and the other. Where and how and when is it all happening?" "It's pretty obvious that it's happening at night." Hoshi said, finishing the last of her rice. "What kind of route are we taking through the Lafa System?" Malcolm asked. "Uh, it's complicated." Travis said. "There are four stars to duck, plus loads of planets, moons and ships always flying around. Figure eight on top of figure eight and around and around. Like an ice skater, kinda." "There may be some point where the doorway between one side and another is wedged open, and then another point when it's closed." Jonathan said. "Or a septum is breached, like how gases are exchanged in the lungs. And then the septum closes up again upon waking." Phlox said. "That could almost explain the biological findings." "This is all speculation that the Ensign's theory about a second universe is at all accurate." T'Pol pointed out. "It's still possible that this is a Klingon ruse, or has something to do with the Calafans themselves." Malcolm agreed. "Have we gotten any communications out since last night?" Jonathan asked. "No." Hoshi said. "And communications were slow and unreliable before that. There are no buoys out here, so even open lines would take a long time to get through. 103


I'm not so sure that any communications for the past week have really made it all the way to Starfleet Command." "So we're kinda sitting ducks here." Tucker said. "We can still leave." Travis said. "At least, I believe we can. Engines seem to be working just fine." "Let's see what our hosts really have in mind. Invite them to dinner tonight, get them here and see if there's a way to talk this out." Jonathan said. "And have the Ensign cater it. Maybe that'll resolve some of this." "How do you figure that?" Travis asked. "Well, there's an old military state of mind," Malcolm said, "You dehumanize your foe. Perhaps that's not the correct word here, but the idea is, you treat your enemy as if he is not sentient and just a mass of horror and subintelligence. But once the soldier meets an opponent and actually gets to know them, that kind of conditioning can fall apart. That's why it's discredited these days. We don't train that way anymore." "Yes, that's my idea." Jonathan said. "If they see the Ensign -- that she's a real person -- I do hope they'll do the right thing and free her from this, this, whatever it is." "Assuming they're responsible for it at all." Hoshi said. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Did you miss Mommy?" Hoshi asked, hugging her son. He hit her in the face. "I guess not." she said, putting him down abruptly. "So, he's one today?" she asked Crewman Cutler.

104


"Yes, Empress." "I had forgotten." The Empress said. "Hmm. There is no candy. She went into the Ready Room and emerged with a small knife. "This was my first knife." she said, presenting it to him. Cutler looked on in alarm. "Empress!" "Are you objecting, Crewman? I can always get another babysitter." Hoshi yawned. "Um, no. It's just, Jun's, his, his, ...." "His eye-hand coordination might not be fully developed yet." Doug pointed out. "Then you'll help to develop it." The Empress said. "Start him on the lab animals in Sick Bay. If Dr. Morgan objects, tell him it's under my orders." "Yes, Empress." Cutler said. "Now take him out of here and don't bring him back until Winter holiday week." "Yes, Empress. Come, Jun! We can play with the pretty knife later." she picked up the child and took the dagger out of his hand, all in one swift motion. He started to wail. They quickly departed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dinner was again in the main conference room. Lili served the Executive Team and two aliens. One was older, it seemed, with flowing white hair and complicated rococo silver scrollwork up and down his arms. The other seemed younger but was completely 105


bald and almost thoroughly devoid of any hair whatsoever. That one's arms were solid silver. "Captain, this is my elder son, Treve." First Minister Chawev said. "Pleased to meet you." Jonathan said, and then introduced everyone around, even Lili. They all sat down. Treve looked up at Lili, then down at the fork set down next to his plate. "I, I can understand this." he said, indicating a knife. "But not this other one. How do you use it? I do not wish to be impolite." "Totally understood." Lili said. "This is a fork. It's held, like, well, you're having roast beef so you'll need to cut. You use the fork to steady the meat for cutting, then you slice it with the knife, then spear it with the fork and eat." "I, I don't follow." "No problem. Uh, are you left- or right-handed?" "I, I use the correct hand. We all do." Treve said, bewildered. "Which is?" Lili asked. He raised his left hand. "This one." "Oh, interesting. Humans can be dominant on either side, sometimes there isn't really clearcut dominance and those people are ambidextrous. Maybe three-quarters of all of us are righties, and I am one, too, but I can cut with either hand. So, here." she stood behind him. "You hold the fork this way when you're cutting, and just saw with the knife. Then put the knife down and switch 106


hands so you're eating with your left." "Why do I switch?" "Well, I imagine it's easier to do the delicate work when you use your left hand." "The correct hand is always better. And, and thank you." Treve said. "My pleasure." Lili said, sitting back down. "Captain, you have a fascinating and beautiful ship. We particularly enjoyed seeing your transporting device. And your crew is as courteous as they are professional." Chawev stated. "Thank you. Best crew in the fleet." Jonathan said. "We are, we're having some trouble with our communications. Might you know something about that?" "There are layers of sodium vapor between Ub and Fep. And there are occasional flares between those two suns as well. These pulses can interfere with any number of more delicate systems. This is one of the reasons why we are on the move so much. When the flaring goes down, my people move in closer. When it kicks back up, we move away. This has been our way for generations." "There is a report of some sodium vapor from when my people were last here." T'Pol pointed out. "But no information on any loss of communications." "Perhaps the older iteration of your communications devices was less sophisticated. It may have been less vulnerable. You see, we have found that increased technological detail and power can often lead to more likely breakdowns." Chawev assured. 107


"That's possible." Jonathan allowed. The rest of the dinner finished in relative silence. Chawev and Treve asked to be excused briefly, in order to pray in private. Hoshi showed them to a side room and left them there. "Father," Treve said, "these are kind people. We should not do what we are planning to do." "It is the only way." Chawev said. "Come, pray with me, or at least we will make it look good. A few moments before we rejoin our hosts." In the main conference room, Tucker asked, "Did anyone buy that?" "Buy what?" Travis asked, finishing his second helping of beef. "The line about the equipment being more sensitive. That's why we build in redundant controls." "Maybe they don't know that." Lili said. "Maybe they really don't have ulterior motives." she said, as she tucked the dishes into her cart. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Now, let's see. Do we have targeting sensors yet?" Hoshi asked. "I'll ask Tucker." Doug communications channel.

said,

opening

a

"Targeting sensors are hit or miss." Tucker said, by way of greeting. "You'll need to fire some practice rounds." "Okay, you heard the man." Doug said.

108


"All right. Practice on one of their smaller cities. On that little rocky moon over there." The Empress commanded, pointing. "Travis, can you take us in a little closer?" Doug asked, swallowing. "Sure, Old Man." Doug set up the forward phaser. He also did a quick analysis, mainly to see if it was working. It was. The city had a population of about 10,000 Calafans. He felt sweat spring out from his palms. War was one thing. He could talk to Lili about that. She would get that. But a massacre of innocents? That was a whole other kettle of fish. "Uh, ready when you are, Travis." "That's Commander Mayweather to you." Travis said, as the Empress busied herself in the Ready Room. "Uh, sure." Doug said. Stupid kid. "In position." Mayweather said. Doug gently nudged the targeting coordinates over one degree. Let's hope you don't have suburbs, he thought to himself. He fired. "Looks like you missed, Old Man." Mayweather said, as soon as the damage could be assessed. "Or maybe you weren't in the proper position." Doug countered. "Which one is it?" The Empress demanded.

109


"I've got working sensors. He doesn't." Doug pointed out. "Maybe so." she said. "Either way, fix it. We'll take out that city as soon as we've got navigation back and working perfectly. If we're gonna conquer these people, we need good navigation so's we don't slam into a planet on our way outta this godforsaken system."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lili was back in her room. The dinner rush was done and she was early for a change. Jenny walked in. "Ah, you remembered!" Jenny exclaimed. "Uh, what did I remember? I forget." "Very funny. It's movie night, Roomie!" "Oh. Yeah." "Look, I got it all set up. MacKenzie will meet us there. Wear something, uh, not something you cook in." she suggested. "You're assuming I want to do this." "Well, sure. It'll be fun." "Jenny, I have someone." "You have dreams, Lili. It's about time you went out with someone real. And real yummy. C'mon." "Jenny, I just want to -- " "Go to sleep, right? I hear you talking in your sleep, you know. It's Doug this, and Doug that. And I'm glad you have a really active fantasy life. But don't you think 110


you need an active reality life?" Lili stared at her. "I, um, I don't wanna do anything I, uh, don't wanna do." "Of course not." Jenny said. "Whatever the heck that means. I'm sure Aidan will be a perfect gentleman. Unless of course you decide you don't want him to." "You better not have given him any expectations." Lili said. "Not a one. It's just a movie! Have some fun." Jenny rummaged in the closet. "Here. Wear this." It was the sapphire dress. "Uh, no." Lili said, taking out grey slacks and a purple turtleneck. "Oh, c'mon. Show the poor guy some cleavage." Jenny said. "No. If you want me to come with you at all, I wear this. Mmmmkay?" "Okay. But don't come crying to me if it doesn't work for you." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Almost ready." First Minister Chawev said. "You collected good data, my son." "Father, I still object." Treve said. "Duly noted." the father replied. "But we are going ahead anyway." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Movie Night was sparsely attended. MacKenzie greeted Jenny and Lili but he was not alone. "Lili, you remember 111


Brian Delacroix, right?" he asked. "Sure. Security, right?" Lili asked. Delacroix was shorter than her and even younger than MacKenzie. "Uh, yeah." he said. "So, is everything secure?" she asked. "Yes. The perimeter is secure." he stated. "Let's sit down." Jennifer said. She sat next to Lili, and motioned for Aidan to sit on the other side of Lili. He apparently missed her cue and instead sat on the other side of Jennifer. "Here, Brian." he said, motioning to his friend. "Why don't you sit next to Lili?" Brian sat down and fidgeted. "Do you, um, having you been cooking anything lately?" he asked. "Yes, I cook every day. I made the horseradish sauce and the side dishes tonight." she said. "Oh. Those were really good. You should, uh, you should be a chef or something." "I am a chef." "I mean like a, like a Head Chef or whatever those are called." he said, blushing. "I used to have my own restaurant." she said. "I've done that before." "Oh." he said, and fell silent. "So, um, baby," Aidan said to Jennifer, "I'm glad you finally agreed to this." "Well, um," Jennifer squirmed, "it was my idea. To, uh, to get Lili out of the kitchen. She's a very nice girl." 112


"I'm sure she is." Aidan said. "And you're a very nice girl, too. A very, very nice girl." "Oh." Jennifer said. There was silence. Lieutenant Reed came in and waved. "Oh, hi!" Lili said. "Uh, Brian, can you move over one?" "Uh, sure." Brian said. "I gotta stay on the aisle. Quick getaway, yanno." MacKenzie said. "Can ya move in, Lieutenant?" "Sure." Malcolm said. He sat down between Lili and Brian. Lili sighed in relief. "Uh, didn't know you liked old movies." "They're all right." Malcolm said. "Just something to do to pass the time. Did you make any interesting popcorn?" "No, I didn't get a chance to." Lili said. "Would've made chili corn, or kettle corn, with some honey." "I'm not much of a candy eater." Malcolm said. "But I know some people like it. Do you make candy, ever?" "I can spin sugar but it's usually for cake toppings. I could make rolled sugar, cut it into sticks, flavor it a few different ways. Candy's fun if you've got food coloring, and we don't. We have the flavorings but not the colors, so everything would be clear." "What kind of flavorings do you have?" asked Malcolm. "I like pineapple, if you have that." "I think I do." Lili said. "We have cherry, grape, root 113


beer, stuff like that." "I like root beer." Brian said, and then they were all silent for the film, although Lili did notice Jenny pushing Aidan away. When the movie ended, Malcolm turned to her. "Well, that was strange. Trying to make his wife think she was going mad. I don't suppose any of the women here are that unsophisticated. Ensign, are you off to, to bed now?" "Yes." Lili said. Waiting through the film had been torturous, and she had fought falling asleep. She didn't want to be engaging with Doug with so many people around. "Pleasant, pleasant dreaming then." he said, taking his leave of her. "C'mon, girls, the night is young." Aidan said. "I have to serve breakfast tomorrow." Lili said, walking away. "And, um, I have work to do, too." Jenny said. "Uh, g'night." she ran after Lili. When they were in the halls, Jenny asked, "So, uh, what the heck was that all about?" "Don't you know?" "What?" "Jenny, allow me to explain something to you. Aidan didn't think he was on a date with me. He thought he was on a date with you." "Huh? I guess that's why he got grabby. Very annoying 114


but I think guys are sometimes just like that." "Not necessarily." Lili said. "But, be that as it may, he brought along his wingman and went for it with you." "Wingman? What's a wingman?" "That's Brian. The guy who'll distract the ugly girl, so a guy can make a move on the hot one." "Lili, you are not ugly." "Well, thanks. But I'm no stunner, either, not like you, to be sure. And I'd've been stuck with Brian all night if Malcolm hadn't come along and rescued me." "Malcolm? Ha, Roomie, I think you don't need me fixing you up." "Good, I'm glad you're seeing the light on that." "Well, no need for me to intervene. I think Malcolm -ha, what a totally cute British name! -- I think he likes you." "Oh, pul-eeze."

115


12 "You go on ahead, Lili." she said. "I'm not quite tired yet." She disappeared down a different hallway. Lili walked along to their quarters, trying not to run, not to get too overly excited. The entire day, she'd been a bundle of excitement and nerves. She heard her name, and turned. "Oh, hi, Ensign Sato." "Oh, c'mon, you know we're on a first-name basis." Hoshi said. "Mind if I walk with you a little?" "'Course not. Did you watch the movie?" "Only the last half or so. I get the feeling I missed a lot. Actually, um, can I ask you something, seeing as I have you here?" "Yeah, I suppose so." Lili said. "Hayes, um, can you, will you, tell me what he's like?" 116


"Like, uh, how?" "Well, just, I didn't know him. Nobody did. Most of us didn't even know his first name until his funeral. He was always kind of a swaggery guy, if that makes any sense." "Yes, it does. I got that impression of Jay, too." Lili allowed. "So, is, um, Doug, you said his name was?" "Yes." "Is he swaggery?" "Even more so. Attentive. Letting his guard down." "Is he, um, uh, how shall I put this? The doctor said he'd be like this, this super male." Hoshi said. "Uh, is he?" "Hoshi, are you asking me if he's good in bed?" "Huh, uh...." "No one's telling you to ask me this, are they?" "No, no. I'm just being nosy. Too nosy." "Answer: he is excellent." "That's all anyone can ask for." Hoshi said. "And, um, I shouldn't have pried." "No, um, it's okay. I guess it looks weird, getting that intimate and involved that quickly. I won't deny that my brain's probably rather sex-addled." "This is not the worst thing in the world." Hoshi grinned. "These are your quarters, right?" "Yep. Gotta go." "Have fun." Hoshi said, grinning and shaking her head 117


as she continued walking down the hallway. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It was a beach. Doug was near the water line, standing, wearing orange board shorts. He was waving. Lili willed herself out of cut off sweats and an old baseball shirt and into a white tankini with little shamrocks all over it, and matching boy shorts. She ran over. "Been waiting long?" "Nah. I don't know if we fall asleep at the same time -- maybe we don't -- but it never seems like a long time. During the day, though, that's another story. Hard to wait all day. And, um, I swear I will say it to you first tonight. I swear." he said, kissing her. "Is it hard for you to say it?" "Yes, it is. I've been conditioned one way for almost 55 years, Lili. But I am determined. I'm gonna say it to you first today. I promise." There was a blanket, a cooler and a vase with blue flowers in it. "What have we here?" she asked, sitting down on the blanket. "I didn't know what kind of flowers you like. But I know you like blue. So I, um, I found these in the database and imagined them colored blue. I bet 118


that's all wrong." "Daisies aren't normally blue." Lili said. "But it's the thought that counts." "The other thing I know a lot better," he said, opening up the cooler. He took out a small bottle of Champagne. "May I pour you some?" he asked, popping the cork. "Sure. Lemme see. Ah, Grande Siècle. I am impressed." "I had to look it up. I'm more of a beer man, usually. Is it, is it a good kind?" "Yes, it's a very good kind." she raised her glass. "To, to connections." he said. "And to dreams." she replied. They drank. "Y'know, it's strange." he said. "I normally dream in color, and of course I can hear and feel. But I can smell and taste in my dreams with you." "Well, they're more than dreams." she said. "But I know what you mean. I sometimes smell and taste -- maybe that's related to being in Food Service -but never anything more than something really simple. I once dreamt I made and ate a salad composed of shredded iceberg lettuce and little green scallions chopped finely. Kind of a mundane vision. I mean, I didn't even add dressing." "I haven't had fresh vegetable in a long time." he said. "We get some meat, sometimes, go to planets 119


and hunt. Kind of the alien beef lottery. Never know how it's gonna taste, but it beats the usual junk. But vegetables are such a luxury. We get those vitamins and whatever from this paste stuff. It's mixed in with everything and it's bland." "I wish I could cook for you. I mean really cook, not just conjure it up this way. What would, uh, what would you like if I cooked for you, Doug?" "A steak. A real steak, made from an actual cow. Uh, you wouldn't have to Kosher kill it." "Good. I think I've had enough of that for a while. How do you want it cooked?" "Rare. Just a little crusty on the outside, inside really, uh, really moist." "Bloody?" "Not really. I just don't want it to be dry." "I won't make you a dry steak, Doug. Sides?" "French -- no, roasted potatoes. Skin on." "Green vegetable?" "Huh, hmm. Forget what it's called." he said. "Snow peas?" "Are those like regular peas?" "Yeah, but still in the shell." "No." 120


"Zucchini?" he shook his head. "Broccoli?" "What's that?" "Looks like little trees." "Um, no, don't think so." "Asparagus?" "I know what that is, but it's not what I have in mind." "Spinach!" "Yes!" he said, excitedly. "With a little, uh, softened onions and salt. And real cheddar cheese." "Okay, so a pan-seared steak, a little garlic butter on that good for you?" she asked. "If I have garlic, I might offend." "I'll have garlic, too, and then it won't matter." she smiled. He kissed her. "And, um, you don't have to serve me like an Emperor or anything. I can put together my own plate. You're not my servant." "I know. I just want to do something for you." "You already do a lot for me. Actually, I wonder most of the time what I can do for you. And I keep feeling like I'm lacking and I can't do anything for you."

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"You do everything." she said, kissing him deeply. "I'm not, uh, not necessarily talking about, you know. I just want this to be, you know, I want it to be equal." "Me, too." she said. "And I think it is. You may not realize it, but what you give me is confidence. You make me feel like I'm young and beautiful and desirable -- things I know I'm not." "Don't be absurd. You're all those things." "No. Really. You know I'm not really sitting here in a swimsuit with you. You know why I'm not wearing a bikini? It's because I don't like my belly." "I think you have a perfectly good one." he said. "It's not flat-flat, but it's fine. Don't worry about that." "See? There you go, doing it again." "Doing what?" "Making me believe in myself." They kissed again, and he took off her top and stared at her breasts and stomach for a few seconds. "Lili," he finally said, "this is what I want holding against my chest. I want to feel your belly on mine, your breasts on my chest. No one else's." He took off her little shorts and she took off his. They gazed at each other for a while, not speaking. He took her right hand and kissed it. 122


"This is the best hand." "Oh, and what of the other one?" "This," he said, taking her left hand, "is the second-best hand. This is the best belly." he said, kissing it. "These are the best shoulders." he kissed each one. "These are the best eyes." she closed them and he carefully kissed the lids. "This is the best nose." she giggled as he kissed it. "This is the best mouth." "No, that one is." she said, kissing him. "Your, um, your hip bones jut out just a little." he said. "Yeah?" "I guess I bang them a lot." "That's all right. Will you kiss and make them better?" she teased. "Sure." he said, smiling. "I was hoping for the invitation. I may take a certain, um, detour." "Of course I'll have to return the favor." she said. "Or simultaneously." "My favorite number." he said. "Let's not be crude about this." "I'm not!" he said. "It's a great number, divisible by two primes: three and twenty-three." "Well, now that you put it that way, Doug, let's 123


do some math." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Ready?" "Ready, First Minister." "Then let us begin. They will not know what happened for at least a few hours."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Spent, she rolled onto her side. "You're like a slingshot." "I am? Huh, I wonder how I, uh, compare." "Not to worry." she said. "And you're not being compared." "Thanks. You, you treat me well. Let me ask you, would you stay on the Enterprise. If we were, uh, together?" "Only if you were here." "Well, they already have a Tactical Officer, right? I don't imagine Reed's going anywhere any time soon." "Probably not. And the Excelsior is already fully staffed, too. I know they're building more ships, but that takes a while." "Oh. Hmm. We'd have to occupy our time somehow." "Yes. And not just doing what we were just 124


doing." she reached over and brought his face to hers, and kissed him. "True. We'd have to earn a living. Dig ditches, or something." She smiled. "I would just open up another restaurant, I guess. But it wasn't easy the last time." "How so?" "I like the creative part: the cooking, the menu planning, even shopping and figuring out what's in season or fits in budget. But the haggling with suppliers, getting the construction done, doing the books? That part was awful. I was doing it all on my own. By the time the Enterprise came calling, I was glad to be done with that." "Sounds like you need a business partner." "Are you sure you want to be that kind of a partner to me?" "I like the current way very much." he said, kissing her. "But I can't just sit idly by. Plus I bet I could do all that. Strong arm the contractors, get the suppliers in line, make sure you got your broccoli the way you wanted it." She smiled. "You wouldn't be able to go around breaking arms or anything, you know." "I know. Lili, I'll sweep the floors if I have to. Let's just be together." 125


They kissed. She broke away suddenly. "We need a name! And it can't be Voracious II. Sequels are always pale imitations of originals." "I don't mind pale." he said, holding her face in his hands. "Your eyes, they're like this crystal blue, almost transparent." "Not transparent. If they were, they'd be pink, you'd see blood vessels. I guess they're just a really light blue. But yours! Yours are like stones." "Stones? I don't think that's the most romantic thing you've ever said to me, Lili." "No, it's good. Really. They're kind of bluishgreenish-greyish. Sort of like pebbles you find at the bottom of a clear stream. The best eyes." "Hmm. I disagree. Not the best. You have those. But -- I think I know the name." "Oh? Lay it on me." she smiled. "Reversal." "Reversal?" "Yes. This is -- you've turned me around. And I guess we turned each other around. I, I dunno. It just makes sense to me, but you've got veto power over it." "No, no, wait." she counted on her fingers. "Eight letters. First four, R-E-V-E, can be in black on white background, then a forward slash separator, last four letters, R-S-A-L in white on a black 126


background." "Yeah, you should definitely do the signage. I don't have an artistic bone in my body." he said. "Wait, wait, wait." she said, getting a little more excited. "Hmm?" "Oh, it's ideal. Do you know what rĂŞve means in French?" "Nope." "It means dream." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Ready, First Minister?" "Yes." Chawev said. "Start now." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Let's go to the kitchen. Er, dressed." Lili said. "I want to cook something with you." "I thought we were cooking just fine here." "Yes, but, indulge me for a sec. And then, hah, we'll need a shower." "Oh." He raised an eyebrow and smiled at her slyly. "I see your plan, Miss O'Day." They were instantly transformed to the kitchen and into clothes: Lili in chef's whites and Doug in a pair of tan pants and a green shirt. 127


"Here." she said, handing him a baseball cap. "New England Red Sox." he read off, before putting it on. "My favorite team." she said, donning a West Coast Mariners hat. "We'll make chocolate chunk cookies. Very easy and very fast." "All right." "Here." she gave him her PADD. "Can you write down the recipe while we go? I mean, I know how to make these, but maybe we'll improvise a little." "Sure. You talk, I'll type." "Preheat oven to, um, 177 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Which are, uh, 260 grams of flour ...." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Jennifer walked in late. Lili was dreaming, she could tell. Something about flowers. "Hope you're happy." Jenny said, as she eased herself into her own bed. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Oh my God, these are wonderful." Doug said, eating a cookie. "You were right. This is a fast recipe. And now for a shower." "Yes!" Lili smiled at him, and vanished. Doug put his hand out to where she'd been standing. "Wait, wait, wait! I didn't get a chance to say it!" He looked around, scared. The kitchen was still 128


there. It still smelled of vanilla and sugar and chocolate. The PADD was still in his hands. "Maybe you can see this. I'm, I'm not ready for this, but maybe you can see this." He started to type, and typed for hours until the alarm went off, and he awoke in a pool of cold sweat. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Jennifer woke to an empty room. But in Lili's bed, there was something flashing. She picked it up. It was a PADD.

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13 Aidan hadn't even bothered showing up for his shift. Instead, he and Jennifer were going at it. He was on top, behind her. One hand on her stomach, pulling her back to him and the other on her neck, occasionally grinding her face into the mattress. "I said, 'Say my name!'" he bellowed. "Ai! Ai!" she yelled back, then her voice degenerated into incoherence. Whether that was due to pleasure or pain was unknown to Aidan MacKenzie, and immaterial to boot. "Say it! Say it!" he shoved her head down again. It was getting hotter, and they were moving faster. "Give it up! Give it up!" He was getting closer. She was screaming, nails digging into the sheet.

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And then he climaxed into empty space. He swore loudly, the moment he realized she had disappeared. "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."

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"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. 132


"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 133


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. 134


"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 protĂŠgĂŠ 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." "Yes, sir. 135


'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. 136


"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. Forever, Douglas'." "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 137


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."

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"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." "Oh." "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 now unbuckling his belt. "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

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bloodlines." "Like a, like a bull?" he asked, voice rising as she reached into his pants. "Yes." she grinned. "Castrate or kill the rejects, of course. My, oh my, Old Man. If I'd known you were this, uh, endowed, I'd have done this sooner." "Uhhhh." "No need to speak. But I bet you pierced a uterus or two in your day." "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 got on her knees. 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 far more skilled than Lili when it came to this form of pleasuring. But it didn't

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matter. 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 looked up from what she was doing. "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 straightened up. "You're right. Your value is in me not thinking you're 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. 141


"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, and not climax, it was exceptionally difficult to push himself in the direction of a climax. He thought of Lili, of her hands and her face and her body. That made it happen for him. He cleaned himself off and whispered while the water ran, "I hope that's the last time I have to do that without you."

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14 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."

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"The babysitter?!" incredulous.

asked

Hoshi.

She

was

"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. 144


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?'" 145


"Who?" "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 a breast that was a little too small, and long curly hair. Lili's was straight. He shook his head and pulled his hand back, recognizing the body that belonged to the hair and the breast. "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 that I groped you."

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"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." "Oh?" "Your counterpart." "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 147


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?" "Yes?" "We're on your side." "Thanks, Jennifer." 148


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "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 149


PADD in his hand. "I guess it works." he said. He clicked to open the first note. 'Hayes, 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. 'Major Hayes, 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." 150


'Hi, 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. Your friend, Jennifer Crossman' "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.

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15 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-morethan-a-dream, Doug thought. But the odor was acrid, and was making his eyes 152


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.

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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 left breast. "Crewman!" Doug said. "Leave her alone."

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"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 any more." "How did you figure I owed you?"

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"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?" "I dunno." 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 156


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." "Yes." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "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."

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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?" "What 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

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like they're made of tar and my lungs feel like they're filled with ashes." "Not everything is affected." Beth said, looking down and 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 lowestranking 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 hadn't have been there, Delacroix would've, well, he ...." "You went to the gym?" "Yeah." "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.

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"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.

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16 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."

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"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. "Of course." "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. 162


"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 163


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." "Y-yes, Polloria." "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. 164


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. 165


"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. -- DJH' "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 school early because the disinfectant reeked so badly." 166


"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?" 167


"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?" 168


"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 169


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: 'Hayes, 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 Delacroix crowed. Tucker glared.

found

him!"

"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

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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.

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17 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!" "Talk?" "Yes, talk. Tell me about, about pasta and, and 172


Titan and blue dresses and baseball. Just, just talk to me and let me find you!" "Blue. Dresses?" "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.

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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." "Calloo?" "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." "Ancient?" "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.

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"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 let go of his genitals, grabbed his bald head and kissed him. "What?" she asked. "What do I want to do? Is that what you are asking?" "Yes." "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. He was becoming overwhelmingly aroused. "I, I should tell you. When we, we Calafans, uh, mate --" "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.

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug was stricken. "It's, it's me. It's Doug. Your Doug." "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!" "Yeah?" "Busy?" "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. 176


"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. "Laugh?" "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. "Steak." "Yep." he took her hand and the sparking stopped. "I'm going to get you out of here." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Treve and the alien woman were done and he was contemplating another round. "That was delicious." he said to her. "Delicious." "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." "Name?" "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." "Correct?" "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 sucked a little on his fingers and smiled at him. "You are a naughty alien." he said. "I have no basis of comparison, of course. I, I, one thing that can

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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. "Tight." 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, still aroused but that went away very quickly. He covered his genitals with his right hand. "Incorrect hand!" the alien woman pointed and giggled. "What have you done?" Baden asked.

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"I, I, isn't it obvious?" "Yes, but with an inferior? Treve, rape 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. "Y-yes, sir." "Don't tell me you've pair bonded." "N-no, sir." "You'd best not have. Polloria doesn't want any complications."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 180


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." "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?" 181


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 182


awoke, he typed out his findings.

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18 Jenny couldn't sleep. She got up and saw the flashing PADD. A message. Okay. But it was still early. 'Captain Archer, 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. -- DJH' "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." 184


"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?" "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. SautĂŠing 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." 185


"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.

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"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 presleep 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. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 187


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. "Jennifer?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "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 secondbiggest 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. 188


"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, 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

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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. "J-Jennifer." "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. 190


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 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. 'Hayes, 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'

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Doug typed back. 'Captain, 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. - DJH' The general alarm went off, and he woke that morning for good.

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19 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

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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." "Yes?" 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."

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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 Commander Tucker.

that?"

Captain

Archer

asked

"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. 195


"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.

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"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. "Cutler?" "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?"

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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 198


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.

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20 "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." 200


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "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?" 201


"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. "Huh, wha?" "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 202


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." indicating a small clearing.

Doug

commanded,

"No, here." Travis said, bringing the shuttle down in a more forested area. "Whatever." Doug muttered quietly under his

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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. 204


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 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 205


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 206


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

207


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.

208


"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 Haddon and shoving her onto her knees. "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, getting up. "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

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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."

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21 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 commanded. Now she was silently angry.

had

"Polloria," Chawev began, "perhaps there is a way out of this. After all, Yimar is still a young girl. She

211


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. Yesterday, 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?" Lili nodded. "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?" 212


"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. "Yes." "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. 213


"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.

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"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. Your responsibility that the alien wasn't as, as pliable as expected." "What should we do?" Chawev moaned.

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"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.

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"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 217


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?" "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." 218


"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.

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"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.

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"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

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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. 222


"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. "Yes." 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."

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22 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. "Th-thank you." "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

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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. 225


"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 mission." MacKenzie protested.

talk

about

the

"You gonna keep me longer than I want to be here? Oh, that's not a good move, MacKenzie." she

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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." 227


"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." 228


"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." "Stuff?" "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.

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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 darkskinned model wearing nothing but a pair of what looked like high-heeled cleats. Janeway addressed the camera. "Picard Synthbeer. It goes down ..." he smiled as the model got on her knees. "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. 'Doug, 230


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. -- L' 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?" "Maybe." "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. 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."

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23 It was a large room, and it reeked of synthbeer and pretzels, spiked with a little vomit. "Down in front!" someone yelled behind Lili. She ducked. "I said, 'down in front'!" the person yelled again. "I already ducked!" she yelled back, then turned around and was face to face with a familiar man. He looked like, who was he? The picture on Jenny's desk. Her fiancĂŠ. "Frank Ramirez?" she asked. Ramirez didn't hear her. "C'mon, Dr. Morgan!" Morgan turned. "Very well. Cretins." he departed. Lili looked around. Drunks everywhere. Men 232


groping various women. Strange uniforms. Dim lighting. No one seemed to notice her. There was a communications chime, and she awoke. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The main conference room was filled with Executive level personnel. Lili arrived last, still tired, uniform on. It was only fifteen hundred hours, but she wasn't hungry and wasn't sure she could function. "Ah, good." Captain Archer said when he saw her. "On screen." Hoshi fiddled with some controls. Treve and Chawev's faces filled the room's screen. "So you have a proposal for us?" Jonathan asked. "Yes. We have -- I will come clean with you, Captain." Chawev said. "By doing this, we are hoping for a decreased punishment from our government." "Well, the motivation is immaterial so far as I'm concerned." Jonathan said. "Captain, we have made, we have made contact with our counterparts." Treve explained. "It is, this is a rare thing. We consider it to be a form of, of incest." "But we have news, and we believe it may be good news." Chawev added. "Treve's counterpart is with a female human. An engineer. And she believes that, in particular due to a boost from the sodium vapor flares between Ub and Fep, this will work." "An engineer?" asked Tripp. "Yes. She said her name was Jennifer." Treve said. "She 233


seems to be a rather old woman." Lili smiled slightly. "Jenny's a lot of things but old is not one of them." "Be that as it may," Chawev said, "she is familiar with both your style of ship and hers. And thinks that a crossing-over is possible." "A crossing over?" asked Malcolm. "Yes." Treve said. "We think it may be possible -- with enough power from your ship, the night side's ship, the stellar sodium vapor flares and our resources on the surface, to bring a night person over to your side. Permanently." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Permanent?" Doug asked quietly. "How so?" "Here's the plan." Tripp said, steering Doug into an unoccupied conference room. "We set the Transporter to go to the planet. I don't really care where so long as we don't land in two meters of water or anything like that. Beth and I transport down. You lay charges on the coordinate computer and the transporter pads -- any of the pads we don't occupy -- and, once you've confirmed we're safely down, you set 'em off. Even though the coordinates are recorded elsewhere on the ship, they'll be in such a panic they won't notice that for a while as they'll be busy putting out a large fire. And shuttles are slower than transporting, so even if they get a shuttle out and pointed in the right direction, we're gone from our landing coordinates. And with most

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sensors down, and the two most senior engineers gone, no one's gonna be too good at determining where two humans are in a sea of Calafans, who have fairly similar physiology. Blend in with the locals as best we can, you can probably guess the rest." "And my benefit in all this?" Doug asked. "Other than giving the Empress what-for?" "Well, I figure you can shove MacKenzie off to Engineering if you like. They'll be shorthanded there. Or send over anyone else you don't like. Build your team with any new lackeys you want." "No. I got a better idea. I go down too and we set the charges to go off on a timer." Doug counteroffered. "Or that." Tripp said. "There's no confirmation that way. Plus little cover. With my plan, Beth and me, we get some cover." "You're asking a lot of me and not providing a lot of benefit." Doug pointed out. "I mean, what makes you think I don't want to be gone, too?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "What are the specifics?" T'Pol asked. "The process is three steps." Treve explained. "At least that is how Jennifer sees it, and I think she is correct. The first is collection, the second is amplification and the third is transmission. The collection portion is performed on her ship -- which she estimates has about two to three times the power of your own. The, the 235


subject reconfigures the transportation device to accept considerably more power than usual. And then sets coordinates -- which we will provide -- placing him in the midst of the thickest placement of dishes on Point Abic. Transportation would take longer than usual as there is no room for error and the touchdown has to be perfectly precise." "How long are we talkin'? More than a few seconds in a Transporter stream is pretty torturous." Tripp said. Hoshi nodded. "About an hour, but it must be this way." Chawev said. "This is no mere transport; it is moving this man over to the other side of the septum between the two planes. It is going to take some time." "He's a soldier." Lili said. "And strong." "What's the amplification piece?" Jonathan asked. "The dishes will pick up the signal. For the subject, it shouldn't feel any different. The dishes will then project the signal to its final destination, which is your ship." Chawev explained. "How long does that part take?" Travis asked. "Much less time. A few minutes at best." Treve said. "But it's the final piece, transmission, that will take the longest." "Getting the subject from our surface to your ship -- I assume to your transportation pad -- will take the better part of a day." Chawev said. "Your ship has less power than the other one and, well, as I said, this is no mere transport." "That kind of waiting will be bad." Tripp advised. "I 236


don't think anyone's been in a Transporter stream that long without suffering from pattern degradation." "We don't believe that will happen." Treve said. "But of course we cannot be certain." "Did you -- have you spoken to Doug about this? What does he think?" Lili asked, daring to hope a little. "Oh, we didn't know which human male he was." Chawev said. "Didn't want to target the wrong one, you know." "So he doesn't know?" Hoshi asked. "Not yet. We will need to make contact and inform him, also give him the specifics." Treve said. "Can't we just give him a PADD with the info?" Tripp asked, indicating his own PADD, which was on the table in front of him. "I mean, you want to see him and all, Ensign, but he should have this info in writing." "You cannot truly just leave equipment on the other side." Treve said. "He would be able to type on the device and read it but not move it anywhere. And the preparation will take a little while and movement to a few places. Plus, of course, we must be certain that the right person knows what to do. And that person needs to have it impressed upon him that time is of the essence. The sodium vapor flares provide enough of a boost to make this scenario possible at all. And they are fading. Starting the process tonight -- giving him perhaps an hour to prepare and reconfigure the vessel -is our best possible shot." "I don't know if I can make contact properly any more." Lili said. "I was just there, before this meeting, and didn't 237


see him and no one could hear me." "It's gone asynchronous." Treve said. "Which happens when a less skilled contactor is asleep and the subject is awake. You'll need a bridge over the septum. I can, my father and I, we can do that, through meditation." "I'm no engineer." Lili said. "I don't know if I'd be able to explain what needed to be done. And, I admit, I'll probably be distracted." "Can, um, can you take a passenger with you when you make contact?" Malcolm asked. "That seems to be what Ensign Crossman was, on the other side. Is that correct?" "Yes. She was a passenger. She isn't a contactor at all. She was making physical contact with my counterpart at all times." Treve said. "A passenger on your side -particularly one who stayed awake -- would absolutely need to maintain physical touching with the contactor." "I volunteer." Tripp said. Malcolm gave him the slightest of looks but it was gone in less than a second. "Commander?" Lili asked. "Yes. I volunteer. You said it yourself, you can't explain the nuances. But I can. That all right with you, Cap'n?" "We need to discuss this. Stand by." Captain Archer said. The screen darkened for a moment. "Impressions? And make them quick." Travis said, "I don't pretend to know a lot about this, but I think people should be happy." "He did help us find Lili." Hoshi pointed out. "I think we owe him." "There may be a tactical advantage to bringing Major 238


Hayes here." Malcolm said. "The Major could be a dangerous individual, possibly a criminal." T'Pol said. "And this course of action is risky and unproven, and could damage the ship." "Even if the Major himself is no threat, he could be carrying any manner of microbes that we would have no immunity to. It could be like European settlers bringing smallpox to the Earth's New World." Phlox stated. "You all know my position." Lili said. "I agree that we're risking damage to the ship." Tripp said. "But we're here to explore and to, to take risks. And I don't think this is a foolish one." "Give me a moment to think, then get them back on, Hoshi." Jonathan said. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "So you'll do it the way I like?" Doug asked. "All right." Tripp said. "You got an hour to get ready and pack whatever you want. We gotta take advantage of most of 'em being too drunk to care. And don't forget to pick up the charges." "'Course not, I'm a professional." "Yeah, I know, Old Man." Tripp said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Objections are duly noted." Jonathan said. "And we will make sure that Hayes goes to Quarantine immediately upon arrival. No reunions, no talking, no detours. He runs to Quarantine, with Tripp here running the Transporter. Tripp will get Hayes to Quarantine as 239


fast as possible. And the Ensign, too, of course." "Thank you, sir. I don't know what to say." Lili said. "Well, we don't know if this will work at all." Malcolm said. "True. But for now, there's but one thing to do." Lili agreed. "Commander Tucker, let's go to bed."

240


24 There was the barest blip, slightest register of an eyebrow very, very slightly arching, and it was gone in a split second. If Lili hadn't been looking directly at T'Pol, she would have missed it completely. Lili tried not to listen to gossip. She had no idea that that particular rumor had been true. T'Pol said, "This connection should be monitored. Commander Tucker has never experienced it before." "I would suggest that I observe as well." Phlox said. "If the Ensign cannot get to sleep, I can provide a mild sleeping aid, if necessary." "Uh, you do realize I just have Ensign's quarters. There isn't going to be a lot of room." Lili pointed out. "We'd better go now." Tripp said. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 241


Beth Cutler took Jun's hand. "We're going to go play with the pretty knife again!" she exclaimed, trying to sound enthused. "Knife! Knife!" Jun squealed, running down the hallway to Sick Bay. Dr. Morgan was less than thrilled to see them. "I've lost six animals because of you." "Tell it to the Empress." Beth said. "It's time for him to practice, before dinner. Haven't you got something you feed to the snake?" "Hmm. Yes. A mouse." he produced a cage with a small brown mouse in it. "Jun, my boy! Come here and play." "Thank you, Doctor. I'll, uh, I'll be back later." Beth said. "I'm not his sitter. You are." Morgan said. "And I'll need to get new supplies soon. The number of experimental animals is not infinite, you know." "Yes, of course. I'm, uh, I'm going to the Empress right now, and I'll request your new supplies personally." she said and ducked out before he could say anything more. In the hallways, she started down the way to the Empress's quarters and then turned once the door to Sick Bay was closed. Beth walked quickly to her true destinations: first the Mess Hall, then quarters. Then the place where she'd agreed to meet Tripp.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 242


Tripp and Lili walked together as Phlox and T'Pol walked ahead of them. "Uh, I only have one of those really small beds." she said. "Oh?" "Well, I'll probably have to go to sleep more or less right on top of you, Commander." "Ensign," he said quietly, "uh, if I get, um, aroused in any way, you won't, uh, tell anyone, will ya?" "I'll be discreet." "Oh, thanks." he said. "Do you have a sweetheart on the ship?" she asked. "Not any more." he said, looking straight ahead and with a tone that indicated she should drop the subject quickly. "My fault for bringing it up." she said. "It's nobody's fault." he grunted. "You should, um, you should take the right side." Lili said. "The left side of the mattress is harder." "Did you know, Princess, you were sleeping on a pea?" he asked. "Or, well, more like a coin of some sort. We couldn't find it in the database, though." "Hmm. Well, I've heard this system being referred to as a crossroads a few times." Lili said. "Maybe it's like the ancient Phoenicians on Earth. They were traders, so their coins are found all over the place, in all sorts of unexpected locations. Ah, here we are." "Ladies first."

243


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Polloria paced around. "Yimar, you're not doing it right." she whined. "I'm the High Priestess now." Yimar said. "I'll do what I like."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Okay, um, here, you lie here, Commander." Lili suggested. "And, here, hang on, lemme move my arm." Tripp said. "And you should call me Tripp. I, uh, I don't share a bed with anyone I'm not on a first names basis with." "That seems wise." Phlox said, while T'Pol busied herself looking at the picture on Jennifer's desk. "Okay." Lili said. "Put your left arm here, around my shoulder. Other one in front, on my belly, I guess. That good?" "Yep." She turned her head back to him and kissed him on the cheek. "Good night, Tripper." He kissed her back on her cheek. "It's just Tripp." "Oh, sorry." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Mess Hall was easy. Beth grabbed six vegetable paste tubes, and stuffed them into her pockets and sleeves. She tried not to attract attention while getting back to pick up her bag. The halls were mainly empty, due to the game being on.

244


"Piece of carrot cake." she whispered to herself as she hustled to the rendezvous point.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Yimar sat on her mother's bed with Chelben. "I wish you could hear me." she said to Yipran. "I do miss you so." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug went through his things quickly, and packed the only things he wanted. Everything else, it was waste material, so far as he was concerned. The medal for strafing a Denobulan village by himself? Into the disposer. Ganymede Hunters paraphernalia? Trash. And uniforms? Except for the one he was wearing -- gone. He picked up his PADD and began to type.

'Dear Mrs. Donnelly, I would like to apologize for causing the death of your son, Lucas, about thirty-five years ago. I realize that this apology comes very late but I did want to be sure you got it. Sincerely, Lt. Cmdr. Douglas J. Hayes' Next one.

'Dear Mr. Shapiro, I would like to apologize for causing the death of ....'

245


And on and on for fourteen letters. And then one more.

'Dear Mr. and Mrs. Delacroix, I would like to apologize for the recent death of your son, Brian, while on a rescue mission. I was his commanding officer for that mission, and failed to prevent his death. Brian was a good security officer and had a promising future. Sincerely, Lt. Cmdr. Douglas J. Hayes' He put the letters in the queue to go out whenever long-range communications were restored and took one last look at the picture of the nine-year-old Lili. Then he turned off the PADD for good and grabbed a small duffle and his phase rifle. The dagger was in the sheath at his side, and the smaller knife was in his boot. Ready.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The room was shadowy. Lili and Tripp stood in the middle of it, holding hands. "Anybody there?" Tripp asked. It was Treve. Or, rather, two Treves -- one was pale, the other ruddy. And Jennifer, who had complicated coppery scrollwork on her arms and was holding onto the ruddy Treve's arm. "My father, uh, our fathers, will be here soon. Then we can make contact." the pale Treve explained. 246


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The weapons supply closet was not well-guarded. Torres was there, but hammered on synthbeer. "Old Man!" he slurred when he saw Doug. "Uh, sure. Look, don't you wanna get a refill?" Doug asked. "Refill? Oh, huh, s'posed to be here." "No time to talk about this." Doug said, and punched Torres in the jaw. Torres was out. "Thanks." Doug said, helping himself to charges. He quick-marched it to the rendezvous point -- the Observation Lounge.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Did she just move, Doctor?" Yimar asked hopefully. "There are few miracles." the doctor explained. "But you can sit here and talk as long as you like. Perhaps she can hear you on some level." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "What took you so long?" asked Tripp. "A short conversation and some correspondence." Doug explained. "Hiya, Cutler." She smiled slightly. "I can't wait to leave here." Doug was about to answer her when the room changed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 247


There were seven people in a shadowy room, but all Doug saw were crystal blue eyes. "Lili!" he exclaimed. "How? Uh, what's going on?" Tripp answered, "Hayes," he indicated his hand on Lili's, "this is the only way I can talk to you." "S'okay." Doug said. "I trust her. Only the second woman I've ever trusted." He took Lili's free hand, his thumb rubbing her fingers. "Aren't you gonna, like, kiss her?" Tripp asked. "Not that I'm a voyeur or anything." "Tucker, do you realize how awkward it is to kiss your girl when she's not only holding some other guy's hand but your ex is also watching with her new fellow?" "Hayes, my ex is busy observing this whole thing. Awkward doesn't even begin to describe it." "We need to act quickly." The ruddy Treve said. Tripp explained the situation to Doug. "Well, I'm no engineer, either." Doug said. "I can try but I dunno if I can get this all to work as perfectly as it needs to." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Hayes! Hayes! Snap outta it!" Tripp said. "It's like he's in a trance or something." Beth said. "We don't have time for this." Tripp grabbed the Old Man's shoulder to shake him out of it, and the room changed.

248


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "What the hell is going on here?" Tripp asked, blinking several times to get used to the shadows and wondering why he could no longer see Beth. He only recognized Hayes and Crossman out of a group of eight people. "Holy cow." Lili said. She turned to the Tripp she was touching. "I do believe that's your counterpart. Tripp, say hi to, uh, Tripp."

249


25 "It's like looking in a funhouse mirror." said the Tripp holding Lili's hand. "I'm tempted to ask you how you got that facial scar, but we don't exactly have time for pleasantries." The scarred Tripp scanned the room. "It's like the Red Queen and the White Queen in here, if you like chess. Crossman, what the devil is going on?" "I -- it's a way to really, really screw the Empress." she explained. "What's in it for them?" the scarred Tripp asked, indicating the two Treves and the two Chawevs. "They get to do the right thing." Lili said. "And there's gonna be an attack." Doug said. "Tomorrow. What we were planning would've 250


delayed it anyway, but doing more will make it pretty much impossible. The Defiant will limp out of Calafan space and you and Beth won't be bothered. They'll be lucky if they escape with only a few casualties." "Where do I sign on?" asked the scarred Tripp. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Oh Geez!" Beth said. "Not you, too, Charles!" she put a hand on his arm and the fogged rolled in as the room changed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "They get to do the right thing." Lili murmured in her sleep. "Do you have a theory as to why this kind of a transference takes so much power?" Phlox asked T'Pol. "It is unprecedented." T'Pol said. I have virtually nothing to compare it to." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "So you'll do it?" Lili asked. "Sure." Beth said. "I want the Empress and her son to really take a hit -- and if Charles and I can get away while doing so, that's all for the best. But we gotta hurry. There's just so long we'll have free access where we need to go." "One thing you should be told," the ruddy Treve said, "there is a reason for the transference being so difficult. Beyond what you would expect." 251


"Yes." said the pale Chawev. "This barrier is not just a natural one. It was fortified by our ancestors. The night people are, as you can see, they are a distorted reflection of ourselves. And so a fence was erected to keep them on their side, and us on ours." "What are going to be the consequences of breaching the fence, even temporarily?" Doug asked. "The same as breaking any barrier." the ruddy Treve said. "Anyone can go in or out. Fortunately, it will only be a few minutes -- the second piece of the experience. Then it will be done." "Are you endangering yourselves?" Lili asked. "No matter how much I want this, I don't want you to be hurt by it." "Both of our societies are in need of fresh blood and this, well, it may be a way to do that." the pale Treve said. "Perhaps we can redeem ourselves for our wrongs." "We better go." said the scarred Tripp. "Beth, you and I got work to do. Old Man, break the connection soon as you can and head back." "Understood." Doug said. "You don't need me, I'm a Fifth Wheel." the unscarred Tripp said, dropping Lili's hand. "Treve," Lili said, "I'll, um, if it's all right, I'll contact you later. The conventional way." 252


"By all means." he said, and left with his father. "It's good to see you happy, Jenn." Doug said. "Thanks." she smiled and left with her Treve and his father. "Just you and me." Doug said after kissing Lili. "Yes. And tomorrow, that kiss will be real." "Y'know, um, we've only been doing kissing lately. I, uh, I miss the rest of it." he pushed in nearer and she could tell that he was a little aroused. "Me, too." she said. "Tomorrow." "Tomorrow." They kissed again and awoke. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The mouse was out of its cage and Jun toddled after it. "Sick Bay is not the place for this!" Dr. Morgan scolded. "Where the hell is Cutler?" Torres staggered in. "Doc, I don't feel so good." Taking advantage of the opened door, the mouse ran out and Jun awkwardly skipped after it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Tripp got up. "That was ... strange. I got a lotta work to do." he clicked open a communicator. "Crossman, you're 253


gonna be busy for a while. Tucker out." Lili rubbed her eyes. "I, it's dinner time. I should go cook. And, do you think he'll be here for lunch tomorrow?" "The timing indicates that that may be correct." T'Pol said. "Oh! Then I have menu planning to do, if Chef will be okay with it." Lili said. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Aiiiiiiiiidan!" Deb Haddon stretched his name out like a rubber band. "Yeah?" MacKenzie was okay with her, but she wasn't as hot as Crossman and didn't have anywhere near the skills of the Orion girls he'd met in his travels. "I wanna do something different." "Uh, okay." he positioned himself behind her. "Not what I had in mind." she said. "I wanna do it somewhere else." "And so do I." he said, insistent. "But after this, c'mon. Let's do it somewhere else on the ship." she said, grabbing at him to get him ready. "Ah. That's pretty good. Not so quick. Yeah. That's better. Oh, and for a different place, hmmm. You ever done it on a Transporter pad?"

254


26 Small movements. The mouse darted around corners. Jun followed, squealing and lunging, knife at the ready.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Here, hand me that spanner." Tripp said to Jenny. "So, it's agreed. I'll take the first part, where our end begins, and you get the last part, where Hayes arrives?" she asked. "That's the plan." Tucker said, concentrating on his work. "If Hayes is harboring any kind of virus or whatever, I may hit the floor before we even get to Quarantine." "Hmm. Seems like it would be monumentally unfair if that were to happen." 255


"No one ever said this would be fair. Check those levels, okay?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Oh, where has that child gone to?" Morgan asked. Torres looked at him from a bed. "Uh, wha'?" "You're useless." the doctor said. "That damned spoiled brat! I am not responsible for him." The door opened, but Morgan didn't hear it. "Uh, what, Doc?" Torres asked, still drunk, still holding his jaw. "I said -- as if it mattered to you in any way -- that spoiled brat is nowhere to be found. That child needs a good whacking." "Did you just call my son spoiled?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Pork loin. Side of cauliflower with a light cheese sauce. Bulgur with mushrooms. Lili showed Brian how to make the sauce. "And not too high a flame." "Why not? It'll cook faster." he said. "It'll also burn faster, and it'll get gummy." she explained. "Uh, thank you for teaching me this. Do you, do you think -- there are rumors -- you're going to leave the Enterprise?" 256


"That depends how today and tomorrow work out." she said. "Right now, I need to concentrate on working. Take my mind off things I'm really worrying about. Okay?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Tripp hoisted himself into a Jeffries tube. He began rerouting wires and was busy enough with it to not hear Ramirez. He did find something interesting, though. When Tripp jumped out, there was Ramirez. "Sir, may I ask just what it is you're doing?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Doctor, are you ready?" Captain Archer asked through a communicator. "As prepared as is possible. The pathway to Quarantine will be clear and the door, of course, will be open for the Major's arrival. I have everything ready, including tricoulamine." "Tricoulamine? Isn't that a neurotoxin?" Jonathan asked. "Yes." said the doctor. "In case of, well, of Commander Tucker or Ensign O'Day becoming painfully ill. Or of Hayes becoming violent. We are still not confirmed that he will be able to even tolerate the Quarantine delay. A man with such high levels of testosterone is bound to be impatient at best. If he tries to take his frustrations out on, say, Commander Tucker, then I feel we should be prepared." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug looked around the transporter room. He was

257


about all set to just lay charges on the pads when he looked more closely. "Ah, yes." he said to himself. "These will do nicely." he laid three charges on the coordinate computer podium area and the other seven went behind the raised pads. "Yeah. These pads are gonna make excellent shrapnel."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Do you think it will really work?" Treve asked. "I cannot say." Chawev said. "But our government supports it. It looks as if our punishments will be diminished, due to our efforts. That is something at least." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "This," Tripp said, handing Ramirez a cracked sensor that he had found, "is why we don't have working sensors. At least it explains some of them." "But sir, I have readings that indicate that power is being rerouted." Ramirez said. "Huh, well, we don't have real working sensors, Crewman." "Sir, I must insist." "Look, Ramirez, are you lookin' for a commendation or somethin'? 'Cause I don't hand 'em out and I don't have the time. Uh, get this analyzed. Figure out why it cracked. See if we got others like this."

258


"Sir!" "You got orders." Tucker departed. "Okay." Ramirez said to no one. "But I still think it's not just some cracked sensors."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Doctor, you don't make these kinds of decisions." Jonathan said. "I am well aware of that, Captain." Phlox said. "But I want it to be noted that while everyone else is busying themselves with trying to welcome this man, I want it to be understood that we may be unleashing a monster, and wedging open a doorway through which many more could cross over. This could be an elaborate means of beginning an invasion that we could be powerless to stop." "Duly noted." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Empress!" Dr. Morgan said, pasting on a fake smile. "Didn't see you come in." Despite his broken jaw, Torres chuckled a little, then winced. "Of course you didn't. What the hell happened to him?" she asked. "I'll have to wire his jaw." Morgan said. "He won't be able to talk and won't be able to eat anything solid for a while." "There's

almost

nothing

259

solid

to

eat

here,


anyway." The Empress said. "So, tell me about my son being a brat again." "Well." Morgan said, working on Torres while talking. "If I may speak a bit freely, it's just that he is undisciplined. I feel that Cutler indulges him too much." "Cutler does what I tell her to do." Hoshi said. "At least, most of the time. In any event, that's why I'm here. Have you seen her, or Jun? I can't find either of them, and it's time for Jun to have some supper. You need to come with me and look."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Yimar, your judgment developed." Polloria said.

is

simply

not

well

"No, I think it's very well developed." the young girl said. "Yimar, you are, you have been rejecting all advice." Chawev pointed out. "Yes." she said. "Mother is dead and I am the High Priestess. I may be young, still, but you will do as I say. I support this, this plan. And my decision is, for the second piece, for amplification, when it comes through our dishes -- my decision is to throw open the doors and, and to let anyone come and go as they wish, at any time."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Cutler came into the Transporter Room. "I've got the Tactical targeting array rerouted completely.

260


Should be a lot of power. Where are the charges?" she asked Doug. "Over here. And twice as many over there. When they blow, the transporter pads will stay intact, at least for a while. Each one'll whip through the air like a discus. Should be able to do even more damage that way." "Good thinkin', Old Man." He opened his bag and emptied it, then started to remove his uniform. "Don't tell me you're --" she said. "No, no. Just changing." he said. He stripped to his underthings and threw his uniform onto the pads. He put on a blue shirt and a dark jacket, and jeans, and stuffed a few changes of underwear and socks into his pockets. "You look really twentieth century." she said. "Why are you out of uniform?" Tripp came in. "Time's a-wastin', kids. Hayes, what are you wearing?" "These are the only really nice civvies I've got, even though they're hopelessly out of style." Doug explained. "And here." he gave his phase rifle to Cutler. "I don't want this." "Don't want it?" she asked. "No. And here." He handed over the dagger to Tucker, then took the extra knife out of his boot.

261


"You'll need these where you're going. When you meet up with Jennifer down on the surface, these should be of help to you." "Don't you need these?" Tripp asked. "I mean, c'mon. At least keep the knife. You don't know anything about where you're going." "No, I suppose not." Doug admitted. "But I just, I don't want to make war any more."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Do you think propping open this doorway will have consequences? Unexpected ones, I mean." Treve said. "Naturally." Chawev said. "But I think it will all be very good for us. And the government agrees with me. Our lives are about to change." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "All right." Tripp took a deep breath. "First coordinates are laid in. Just push down on the levers. Once we're gone and you've confirmed that, change the coordinates to the second predefined and set to auto. When are the charges set for?" "Seventy minutes from now." Doug said. "I hope for your sake it's enough time." Tucker said. "Bye, Old Man." They shook hands. "Make sure she gets enough to eat." Doug said. He came over to Beth and kissed her on her right cheek. "Don't get another shiner, okay? And, uh, there's a hospital there. Get him there, maybe they can do something."

262


"You know he'll never go on his own." she said. "Well, just try." Doug returned to the coordinating computer as Tripp and Beth stepped onto pads. "Let's go." Tripp said, and Doug pressed down the levers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "It's like waiting for a show to begin." Malcolm said to Hoshi over dinner. "Except we don't know if it'll turn out to be a comedy or a tragedy." she said. "Or a horror film." Phlox said. "Is this seat taken?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Auto. Check. Coordinates. Check. Check coordinates again. Timer. Check. Check timer again. Sweat sprang from Doug's palms as he confirmed things yet again. He looked around one last time. "I won't miss a thing." he said, stepping onto a pad and waiting for the Transporter to send him away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Captain, there's been increased activity around the second-largest planet." T'Pol reported. "Oh?" "More ships are coming." Travis pointed out. "It's even more than were here for the festival the other day." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug was, he was somewhere. 263


Grey. A little warm. Not falling but not really standing. He stood, as best he could, at attention. But that wasn't truly possible, and it was dull. His mind wandered. He thought of Ganymede, and of being a child. He thought of Kathy Norris. You show me yours, I'll show you mine. Oh, yeah. He had been four years old at the time. Then Darareaksmey Preap, the Cambodian bar girl who'd tolerated -- albeit just barely -- a young officer in Basic Training. She had taught him a few things, but almost no words of Khmer, except for the meaning of her first name: bright star. He thought of Susan Cheshire, probably the closest he'd come to a real relationship while in his thirties. They had been together for four months when he'd started to realize just how dependent she was on synthbeer to get through her days. Then Jennifer, sunbathing nude on Risa. They hadn't been together yet -- it was just a tease on her part. And she'd gotten badly sunburned. He'd rubbed a salve on her back and that had turned into something far different. That image was interrupted by his hands around Lucas Donnelly's neck. Then a phaser shot to Ethan Shapiro's belly. And on and on, to knifing Geming Sulu in the gut. There was a voice. "Funny, you can't remember all the lays but you do remember all the kills." 264


Doug was nonplussed for a second. "Jay?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "You will live with the consequences, Yimar." Polloria said. "I cannot help you any more." "Good." said the young girl. "I never asked for that. Nor did I ask to be the High Priestess. But I am now. And you and Baden have been without justice. If our side will not do it, their side might."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "C'mon, let's go do it on the Transporter pad." Deb took Aidan's hand and led him to the Transporter Room. "Huh, there's laundry here." Aidan said. "It's the Old Man's uni." she said, reading off the name on an arm patch. "I bet he's wandering around the halls in his undershorts, drooling." "C'mon. Get your things off and you'll see drool." Aidan said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "You really do have rocks in your head." said the voice. "Jay's dead." "I know that. And I'm thinking you're not, well, not something supernatural." "No." the voice laughed a little. "Don't you know what I am?" The imagery appeared again. Donnelly, Shapiro, 265


Harris, and on and on to Sulu. Surprised or angry, bloody or clean, all at the moments of their deaths. At Doug's own hands. "How are you going to do it, Doug?" asked the voice. "How are you going to be there, live under their laws? How are you going to take what they might dish out, without exploding? Your track record, it's not so good." "I'll manage." Doug said. "And when will you tell her, about the Denobulan village? You know, eighty-six dead Denobulans. Want to see them, too? I've got them all here." said the voice. "And so do you." "I know what you are." "Oh?" "Yes." Doug said. "You're the, the ultimate sign of weakness. I had thought it was other things. But it's not being sick or hurt and seeking treatment. And it's not apologizing. And it's not even admitting that you love someone. No. The ultimate sign of weakness is, it's having a conscience. It's feeling guilt." "Yes." said the voice. "And you do feel it." "I do." Doug said. "This is, it's a new start. And a shot at redemption. And I know that apologizing to all of those families, and her forgiving me, I know that it's not all of it. I know that, now, I know that it's, that I will hold this guilt in me." 266


"And what will you do with it?" asked the voice. "Lead a better life." Doug said. The bottom dropped out. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Jun banged on the door to the Transporter Room. The mouse was somewhere nearby. He didn't know it was the Transporter Room -- he couldn't read -but the mouse was, maybe, in there. "Go check on that." Deb said. "I'll still be here." she was lying back, naked on the pad. "This better not take too long." Aidan said, pulling on briefs and doing his best to hide his arousal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Looks like we're in Act II." Tripp said, communicating to Jennifer. "Okay, I'm coming." she arrived quickly. "I'll hold down the fort for a while." "All right. You call me if it gets, er, hairy. I'll be back at oh nine hundred to relieve you." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Empress and Dr. Morgan saw Jun enter the Transporter Room. "See, he has no discipline. Doesn't even come back when you call him." Morgan said. "He's my son, not a Rottweiler." Hoshi said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 267


It was a crossroads. Thousands, perhaps millions, of Calafans. Red and white, intermingling. Doug watched them passing back and forth for a few minutes. Then the scene changed again. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ There was the faintest of clicks as Aidan leaned over to grab Jun by the scruff of his neck. The last thing he needed was the kid when he was all ready to go. He barely heard the click. Hoshi looked up to see him lifting up a struggling Jun just as the first of the charges went off.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It was the Enterprise. 2:19 AM read a clock. Then over and over again, the same clock. Doug tried to move, but he was brought back to 2:19 over and over again. Finally he was able to move past it briefly. The time between resets got longer and longer. He could wait for about a minute, then everything would be reset to his arrival time. "Must be some time loop or something." he muttered. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Transporter Room was in flames. More charges went off, and a Transporter pad whizzed by their heads. Aidan did the only thing that training required -- he pushed down on top of Hoshi and Jun. A boot flew past. "Is there anyone else in there?" yelled Morgan over the din.

268


"H-Haddon!" yelled Aidan, cowering. Morgan made his way in and found her body, or at least most of it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug found he could wander as soon as time began to stretch. No one could see or hear him. He could see people going about their days, then everything would reset and he'd be back at Square One at 2:19 and could start all over again. Lili was sleeping, and her breathing was quiet and she seemed to be in a dreamless state. Jennifer was monitoring the Transporter. T'Pol was on the Bridge. People walked around, talked a little. Night shift. Two male crew members were in the Observation Lounge. Doug stopped observing them when he realized they were on a date. The Enterprise went about its nighttime business as he watched. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Sir, the cross-over seems to be going smoothly." Jennifer said when Tripp relieved her. "I think we're close to being done; we're starting to get different readings." "All right. Stand down, Ensign. And tell your roommate." Tripp checked the settings again as Lili arrived. "Ready?" 269


"Yes." she smiled. "Just got breakfast done. I hope he doesn't mind I'm wearing chef's whites." "I don't think he's gonna mind." Tripp said. "Here we go." Doug materialized and staggered a little. He looked up, and this is what Lili saw: "Can you run?" Tripp asked. Doug nodded and looked at Lili quizzically. "Let's go." she said, taking his hand.

270


27 Breathless. The run was quick and hot and all three of them were panting by the time they got into Quarantine and Dr. Phlox had sealed the door behind them. Doug stood in front of the little bench and bent over, panting. Lili sat down, put down her PADD and held her side. Tripp shook it off by walking around a little. "Everyone accounted for?" Phlox asked through the intercom. "Yeah, Doc." Tripp said. "I don't think I've ever sprinted quite that quick before." Doug and Lili looked at each other. She trembled a little. "You, you look different from what I thought." she said. "Hopelessly ugly?" he asked. 271


"No. Just, just not exactly the same. Like you're taller, and I thought you'd be greyer." "I am going grey." his eyes flashed downward. "Oh. Me, too." she said, smiling a little. He sat down next to her on the bench. "You're different, too." "Hopelessly ugly, am I?" "Of course not. A bit shorter. And definitely curvier." "I, I'm in Food Service. Most of us are carrying around about nine kilos we can never seem to lose." "Well, it doesn't look like it's in any bad places." he said. "And even if it is, so what." "Your voice is the same. And your eyes are, too." "Yours, too." he said. "I wonder why we didn't have perfect matching. You'd think we would." "Maybe -- if I may --" Tripp interjected, "maybe you kinda idealized yourselves. Or maybe you idealized each other. You know, eye of the beholder and all o' that." "Possibly." Doug said. "I, um, I gotta thank you, Tucker. But I think you'll understand why I'm not so thrilled to have a chaperone right now." "Feels like taking my Prom Date home to meet my grandfather." Lili added. Dr. Phlox waved from the other side of a window in the wall. He spoke into the intercom. "Stay where I can observe you." "And then there's him." Tripp said, facing Doug and Lili, 272


and away from Phlox. "Gawd." she giggled nervously and touched Doug's hand. He looked at her intently. "The best hand." he said quietly. "Hang on. And don't say I never do anythin' for you." Tripp said. He turned to face the window and got right in front of it. He flipped on the intercom. "Doc, I was thinkin', while I got you here. I got this kinda, it's a little bit of a pain and a clicking sound on the right side of my jaw. See it, here?" he opened his mouth wide and did his best to block the window. Lili said, "Y'know, we never actually had a proper first kiss. Where you don't know which side to put your nose on and you're afraid that the kiss won't be welcome or you'll click teeth or something." "That's true." Doug said. "Well, no time like the present." He put his hand on her back and drew her closer. Her breathing got faster. She looked down for a second and then put her hand on his face. It started off close-mouthed. Eyes open. A peck on the lips. Soft. Warm. Light. They opened their mouths tentatively and she looked into his eyes, then closed hers, and he closed his. He drew her in nearer. She moved her hand from his face to the back of his neck. His free hand touched the side of her breast very lightly. Breathing was hot, breath to breath, tasting, touching, no more difference from one mouth to the other. She made a slight noise. He 273


countered by pushing in harder, his mouth covering hers. "And I get it mostly when I talk too much." Tripp said to Dr. Phlox. "Commander Tucker, I can see what you are trying to do, but really. I have to observe them. It is for yours and the Ensign's own safety and well-being. Now, step aside." Tripp cleared his throat, then cleared it louder. Doug opened his eyes and pulled back. He blinked a few times and drew a deep breath. Lili looked up, face flushed. "What's that?" Phlox asked. "On the side of the Ensign's mouth." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Are you seeing consequences of propping open the doorway?" Yimar asked. "Yes." her father replied. "Polloria and Baden have crossed over. Perhaps you are right. Maybe they will face punishment on that side."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug touched Lili's mouth. "It's, it's blood." he said. "It doesn't hurt." she said. "Still, this may be a symptom." Dr. Phlox said. "You need to stay in my line of sight throughout the remainder of Quarantine." "Doc, I think it's just overzealous kissin'." Tripp said. "That may very well be the case." the doctor admitted. 274


"But I refuse to throw caution to the wind." "It's, it's all right." Lili said, wiping the trace of blood from the side of her mouth. More later?" she said softly to Doug. "Yes." he whispered to her and took her hand again. "I, uh, I wonder why we didn't spark that time, when I arrived and we touched." "Well, that was the dream. This is the real part." she said. "This part's better." he said, smiling at her. "How long we got, Doc?" Tripp asked. "If there are no further symptoms, I estimate about an hour for you and the Ensign, and another hour or so for the Major." "Major?" Doug asked. "I haven't been a Major in quite a while." "I guess we've been sayin' that, and thinking about Jay when we've been saying it." Tripp explained. "And you're not him, of course." "No more than you are the guy on the other side with the scar on his face." Doug said. "He, uh, he made this possible. And you have, too. Thank you." "Ah, I'm a sucker for these things." Tucker admitted. "Just don't tell anyone, all right?" Lili turned to Doug. "You, um, you said I was the second woman you ever trusted. May I ask who the first one was? Was it Jennifer?" "No, no." Doug smiled. "It was my mother." 275


"Oh. Well, um, since we'll be here a while, what do you think -- because we don't know this at all -- can we talk about our childhoods? You, too, Commander, if you'd like." she said. "Uh, that's all right. But you two go ahead if you want to." Tripp said. "Well, I don't know if there's a lot to tell, although I get the feeling we don't have the same kind of system you've got." Doug said. "System?" Lili asked. "You live with your folks until you're seven years old. They home school you in things like reading and basic math. Then you get sent to a day school for seven years. Then a high school or academy for, you guessed it, another seven. I was born on Ganymede." "That's a moon of Jupiter, right?" she asked. "It's the biggest one." he confirmed. "I'm an only child. And then I was sent to Triton Day School. Lemme tell ya, Triton is always cold." "When did you see your parents?" she asked. "We have a one-week holiday every season. Everything shuts down. So I saw them during winter week break, that kinda thing. Took a series of tests at the end -everyone does. Maybe five percent become, like, elites, doctors, artists and the like. Another ten percent become engineers. And then the other eighty, eighty-five percent of all of us? We become soldiers." Doug paused for a breath. "Guess where I placed?" Lili smiled. "So you were fourteen and they had your life all planned out?" 276


"More or less. High school was on Terra. I had scored really well so I went to West Point." "What's Terra?" Tripp asked. "Er, sorry to eavesdrop, but it's gonna be inevitable while we're in here." "It's okay." Doug said. "Terra is the home world. You know, third planet from the sun?" "Ohhhh." Lili said. "We call it Earth." "Odd." Doug said. "Anyway, finished West Point and went to basic in Cambodia, which I've told you about. I was there for around four years, waiting for an assignment. Then I just went wherever, did whatever. Did freighter defense to start, then moved up to the MACOs." Lili shuddered when he mentioned moving up. "I see." she said quietly. Doug pressed on her hand a little. "Yeah, it was like that." he admitted. "Took off for wars whenever they intervened. Went to war on his planet, actually." he nodded in the direction of Phlox. "What about the Xindi War? Didja have that?" Tripp asked. "Yes. I fought in the Battle of Azati Prime." "You don't have to talk about that. Not today." Lili said. "How 'bout if I go? Seeing as you only know about the big trauma in my childhood, maybe I should fill you in on a few of the other details." "All right." Doug smiled at her. "Y'know, you mainly smile with your mouth closed." she observed. 277


"My teeth are a little crooked." he said. "I guess I got self-conscious when I was a teenager and that never really went away." "Oh." she squeezed his hand. "Anyway. My life. I was born on Titan. And our lives are very different, as you have surmised. Went to school and all. I'm also an only. And when I was nine years old, well, you know what happened." "And?" Dr. Phlox asked. "I don't mean to pry, but this is interesting if you don't mind telling." "It's all right. I, my parents were killed in a house fire and I was sent to live with my mother's parents, in New France on Titan." "That have anything to do with you becoming a chef?" Tripp asked. "Yes." she said. "The way I processed it all was to become a master of fire. Went to Titan High School, didn't do so well and was probably going to be all set for a thrilling career washing dishes when I got an opportunity to cook for the head of the Martian Culinary Institute." "What did you make?" Doug asked. She smiled. "You knew I would know this. It was Lobster en Croute. It's a strained bisque -- that's a kind of soup -- in puff pastry. I guess I impressed her and ended up being admitted to the MCI. Finished up when I was twenty and first worked at the Tethys Tavern. I didn't just cook there, I tended bar sometimes, too. Went through a bunch of restaurants and opened Voracious on Earth a little over five years ago. Then when the Xindi War broke out, I was drafted and here I am." 278


"So you can make a good martini, Ensign?" Phlox asked. "Perhaps I will ask you to show me that when I am next off-duty." "I also know the proper way to pour a Guinness." she said. "What's that?" asked Doug. "It's an Irish dry stout." she explained. "Ensign, you and Commander Tucker are free to go." Dr. Phlox said. She got up. "Stay." Doug said. "I have to go slave over a hot stove." she said. "Something about a very special lunch for a certain weary traveler." "Oh?" Doug asked, mouth corners turned up a little. "Yes. And I have to supervise and change and get it all ready because it's got to be perfect." "I, I hope you don't serve that traveler like an Emperor. I think he can make his own plate." She smiled. "I'll be off-duty when that lunch starts. So I'll be a guest, too. See you there. Oh, and here." she handed him the PADD. "Something to do to pass the time." She and Tucker left. Doug sighed. "All right. Uh, Doc, if you don't mind, I'll just read." "Very well." Dr. Phlox said. "I am right here if you have any difficulties." Doug clicked on the PADD and started it up again. He read her letter to him and smiled, then started looking at 279


Jay's service record. "December 5th, huh? Strange. I'm two days older than you." he murmured to himself. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "I understand you think you'll continue to evade punishment by being here, Baden." Treve said. "It was all her idea." A ruddy Baden said. "We did not want to kill your mother, but it was necessary. Polloria insisted." "My mother is alive on this side." Treve said. "But no matter. You're both still responsible. I'll contact my counterpart. Your free days are coming to an end. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "You look good, Roomie." Jennifer said as she and Lili stood outside the Main Conference Room. "I feel a little like my boyfriend's meeting my grandparents for the first time." "Well, he kind of is." Jenny said. "It'll all go fine. Oh, and I wanted you to know -- I'm staying with Hoshi for the next few days." "You don't know how grateful I am." Lili whispered. "I can guess." Jenny said. They walked in. Lili sat down with Jenny. Malcolm smiled at her and took a seat one away from her. "Where's the guest of honor?" he asked. "They're on their way." Hoshi said, checking. "That's a pretty dress, Lili." "Thanks. I feel like a teenager."

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The door opened and Phlox and Doug walked in. She nodded her head to Doug, who came over and sat between her and Malcolm. "You look beautiful." he said softly. "I remember that blue dress." She smiled. "Do you, do you know everyone?" Introductions were made. When she got to Jenny, Lili said, "This is Jenny Crossman. She's, uh, she's one of my very best friends." Brian Delacroix walked in with a huge tray. Doug swallowed hard when he saw him. Brian said, "We, um, Ensign O'Day designed the menu. And she insisted that the portions be small because there are a lot of different things. And, um, a heavy lunch would make everybody nap afterwards anyway." "I don't want to be asleep." she whispered to him. He squeezed her knee slightly and she jumped a little. "First we have a salad. On, um ..." Brian said. "A bed of mixed greens." Lili prompted. "Um, yes. And with Mandarin oranges and slivered almonds. Enjoy." Brian set out the plates. Doug whispered to Lili, "Oranges?" "Yes." she said quietly, reddening a tiny bit. He sat there for a while. Everyone stared. "Huh?" he asked. "They're being really polite and waiting for you to start." Lili explained. "Oh, well, on, um, on the other side of the pond, you wait for your superior officer to eat first. So I guess I'm waiting for the Captain, Commander T'Pol and 281


Commander Tucker. Lieutenant Reed and I are the same, so I don't have to wait for him." "Well, we don't stand on ceremony like that." said Jonathan. "But I'll start anyway." he smiled. "Something to drink, Sir?" asked Brian. "Uh, water, I guess." Doug said. "Or show me where to get it." "I don't mind serving, Sir." "We have other things to drink." Lili said. "There's fruit juice and soft drinks. And we have coffee and tea." "Wait, you have real coffee?" "Yes, of course. How do you take it, Sir?" "Uh, black, I guess. I don't want too many overindulgences." "What was the transference like?" Travis asked, between bites. "What's everybody looking at me for? Isn't anyone else curious?" "A long transport is not fun." Hoshi said. "But you were in way longer than I was that one time." "Oh, Emp-- uh, Ensign. Yeah, it's, well, you're kind of alone with your thoughts." Doug said, cleaning his plate. "Next course." Lili prompted. "We have a filet mignon with roasted potatoes and a side of spinach with, uh, with Vidalia onions and Wisconsin cheddar and, um, sea salt from, er ..." Brian said. "Proteus." Lili said. "The, uh, you have the one that's 282


cooked rare?" "Yes, this one." Brian produced the plate and put it in front of Doug. "You remembered everything." he said. "All I want to do is please you." she said softly. He squeezed her knee again, and she put her hand on top of his, under the table. "There's no steak knife." he said. "You don't need one." she said. "Hayes, do you have plans?" Captain Archer asked. "I, um, it depends on a lot of things, I guess. A lot to think about right now. I might just retire. I don't know." "Well, you don't have to decide everything right now." Jenny said. "Lots of time." he said, eating the last of his steak. "Still hungry?" she asked. "Yes." he said quietly, looking at her intently. "We have chocolate chunk cookies!" Brian announced with a flourish. "I remember the last time you made those." Doug said. "Well, I don't think it'll end the same way." Lili said. "Better not." Doug whispered. "Uh, Captain?" Lili asked, blood rushing to her face. "Can we, uh, get these to go?" Captain Archer smiled broadly. "Yes, of course. We've made you sit here long enough." 283


"Thank you, Captain." Doug said, getting up. He looked at her. She was grabbing two cookies and putting them into a napkin. "Thank you all." she said, straightening up. Once they got out of the Conference Room, they ran to Lili's quarters.

284


28 "That's enough running for one day." she said, opening up the door. "Different physical things." he said, taking his jacket off. "This your desk?" "Isn't it obvious? The other one has that huge picture of Jenny's fiancĂŠ." Doug looked. "That's Ramirez. He's in Engineering here, too?" "No. He's on one of Saturn's moons. I forget which one." she said. "I'm not so sure Jenny's quite got it figured out where they'll live when they get married." "Well, she can probably be an engineer anywhere." he said, kissing her cheek and placing his jacket on her desk chair. "I, uh, can we talk just a tiny bit?" she scratched her 285


hand, which was still covered with intricate silvery scrollwork. "Of course." "It's, just, I feel like we kind of skipped over some things. Things that may be more important than we realize." "Yes." he agreed. "Seems like jumping into bed right now, this very minute might not be the best of ideas. Despite our desires." "I, uh, I wanted to tell you. I spoke with Treve yesterday." "Treve? And?" "Well, I asked him if his people ever go to places and eat food that other people have prepared. He said they do it all the time, and it's a very, I guess the word is fashionable, thing to do." "That bodes well." he said. "Is there a location you, um, have in mind?" "Yes. Or, rather, it was Treve's idea. Fep City. It's one of the smaller cities on the second-largest planet but it's where the artists and musicians and the tastemakers hang out. Plus there are other ships coming in all the time -- Klingons, Orions, Andorians and others. He said he doesn't have much of a diplomatic career any more but might want to work with me." "So, you don't need a business partner?" Doug asked, looking at her a little worriedly. "Oh, I definitely do!" she touched his face. "But it pays to have someone else who knows the space and the 286


clientele. I think it could really work." "I'm in." he said. "If you'll have me." She kissed him softly. "Of course. You know I love you. I can send this now." she opened up her computer. "What's that?" "My resignation." "Oh, um, Lili?" "Yes?" "I think we should talk a little more. You need to really know what you're getting yourself into. Not just for the place. But with, with me." "Yes?" "I have things I need to confess to you. And then you should decide, well, decide if it's all worth it. And I'm excited about this, about all of it, but I'll abide by whatever you want." "What kinds of things?" she asked. "Dark things. Things you won't like." he said. "Listen." she said, cupping his face in her hands. "I know this much. I know you're a killer, multiple times over. I know that you lived under a moral code that was different -- no, nonexistent -- versus the one here. I know that you've got a past. But I think you -- we -have got a future." "These are what you'd think of as atrocities." he said, swallowing hard. "I mean, fourteen is not the number. Not really. The real number is a lot higher."

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"More humans?" "Denobulans. Xindi. Klingons." "You went to war a lot, Doug." "I killed Denobulan children." he said. "And I got a medal for that." She trembled a little. "Did you bring it with you?" "No. It was the first thing I put into the disposer yesterday. I, um, this is all I brought." he emptied his pockets onto her desk, next to her communicator. A few changes of underclothes and socks. "I have, I have nothing else." "Don't you have a knife in your left boot?" "No. I gave it to Tripp Tucker before I left. I didn't want to have any of that with me. I don't want to feel like I need it." She nodded. "These are --" she took his hands in hers "-- as clean as I suppose you can make your hands. It is, that is all in the past and over on the other side of the pond. And so long as it doesn't come here, as long as you're done with all of that, it's, it's going to be all right." "I, my temper, Lili. I might not be able to control it." "Well, we're gonna fight sometimes, Doug." "Yes, I know." "Would you, would you ever hit me?" "No. Gawd, no. I never did that. There were fellows who did on my, uh, side. That always sickened me. I intervened whenever I could. But no, I draw a line. I don't hit women. Neither did Tucker. But others 288


certainly did." he shook his head. "I think you'll be all right." she said. "I think we will be more than a little bit all right." "I don't deserve you." he said, sitting on a nearby chair and running his hands through his hair, parting it over to the side unevenly. He folded his arms behind his head and looked up at her standing in front of him. "Don't say that." she said. "Let me look at you." He smiled slightly. "I also want to thank you for the best meal I have ever, ever had." "Well, they're not all like that. I think Brian Delacroix is making dinner." "What makes you think we'll be leaving here for dinner?" he asked. "If you, um, if you'll still have me." "Yes, I will." she said, getting onto his lap. "So we'll save those cookies for later. A little, um, fortification." "Crumbs in the sheets." he said. "Or maybe I'll just use your body as a table." "I was thinking." "Oh?" "I'd like to, um, do it the way we did it the first time. You remember?" "Of course. I was just sleeping, minding my own 289


business, when I get pushed into this wall. So I push back and this girl is kissing me, so I kiss her back and then suddenly we're naked and it is hotter than anything." "You kissed back? I kissed back. You kissed first." "Ha, it's like you thinking I'm shorter and I thought you were taller. I guess we both wanted it to be equal." "I still do." she said. "So no more about who deserves whom, or what." "All right. But I still say you kissed first." he said, kissing her gently. "Hmm, our clothes aren't going to just magically come off. You'd better take off the dress so it doesn't get messed up." "Okay." She got up and pulled her dress off, revealing a purple camisole, matching string bikini panties, a black garter belt and stockings, and her black heels. She kicked off her shoes. "Uh, you don't want me keeping those on, right?" "No. Not into that." he said. "You still have those markings on your arms and legs that the Calafans gave you." "Yeah. Phlox says he can remove them whenever I want. Do they bother you?" "Hell no. It's a road map." He smiled, taking his shirt off, revealing a grey tee. "Ha, what's this?" he said, and reached for one of her baseball caps. He put it on. "I could play fourth base, eh?"

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"There is no fourth base. It's home plate, silly." she knocked the hat off his head. "Focus, Doug." "I can't stop focusing." he said, taking off his jeans and kicking off his shoes. He stared at her for a moment. "More beautiful than I thought." He pulled her in close and pushed her into the wall. "Ow!" she cried out. "Oh, sorry." he said. "Here, maybe, uh, let's get into bed." She threw the blanket off and got on top of the top sheet. He lay down next to her and kissed her. "I, Lili, I want to take you there first." "Doug, you don't have to." "Yes. I don't, I don't kid myself. I know that women don't always get there. And I don't want you to feel you need to spare my feelings if it doesn't happen for you. So let me do this for you." "All I, all I want to do is please you." "You already do." he said, and pulled down one of the straps of her camisole, revealing her left breast. He kissed her neck and then her breast, his breath pulling in. She arched her head back and made an incoherent sound. 291


"Put your hands up a sec." he said and, when she had done so, he lifted the camisole off, and then took off his tee shirt. "That's what I want." he said. "That belly next to mine. Those breasts next to my chest." "Even though these breasts are a bit, uh, more Southerly than you probably thought they were?" she asked. "Doesn't matter." he said. "What matters is, they are your breasts." he took off her panties and tossed them to the side. She tried to take off his boxers but he pushed her back a little. "Not yet." he said. He kissed and licked her neck, then started moving downward. She moaned slightly. "Show me what you do for yourself." he said softly. She pointed and touched. "Here, and here." she said. He concentrated. Touching, tasting, caressing. She gasped and moaned so much that she became hoarse. And then became giddy, giggling and trembling, body jumping. He came back to her. "Now." he said, and took off his boxers. She looked at him and gasped. "What's the matter?" he asked. "It's, uh, it's like good news and bad news." "Oh?" "The good news, Doug, is, you're really big. Every girl's dream, I guess. The, uh, bad news is, you're really, really big. Frankly, I'm a little afraid of you." "I'll, uh, I'll be careful." he said. "Hold back if I have to." He kissed her neck. He placed his hand down where his 292


mouth had been. "You feel ready. Are you?" "Yes." she whispered hoarsely. He got on top and pushed in. The moment they merged, she arched her back. He kissed her neck and breathed heavily in her ear. It was all breath and sweat and movement. Sounds and panting and kisses. Caution was gone. There was no holding back. She was hot, and it felt amazing, and then suddenly she was hotter, and it was like lava, like he was pushing into a volcano. Her back arched more, and the heat was impossible to resist. He tensed, his mouth on hers, her moaning incorporated into their kiss as the heat spread and multiplied. He lay there on top of her, panting. "Huh. Are you, how do you, how do you feel?" he asked, once he had some semblance of his voice again. She still felt incredibly hot. "It's a little," she gasped, "it's like losing my virginity all over again." "Are you, how do you feel?" he repeated. "I know I can, uh, I can stay right here. Go again." "I feel," she said, and trembled a little, "a little like I got hit with a phase cannon." He smiled down at her. "Lili, you're so --" he didn't finish the sentence as she suddenly looked strange. He was suddenly no longer aroused, and pulled out. He looked down and she backed away slightly and sat up. They could both see it -- a dark, purplish-red, rapidly spreading J-shaped stain on the top sheet. 293


"That's not your menstrual, uh?" he asked. She shook her head. "Call Dr. Phlox." she said weakly. "I think I'm hemorrhaging."

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29 It was a blur. Doug was well-trained for emergencies, but this was the first time he'd ever been so truly emotionally invested. Not even the first time Susan had had a blackout had he felt this. So he had no idea how he'd had the presence of mind to pull boxers on, wrap Lili in the top sheet, throw the blanket over her and even open her communicator and scream for Phlox. He barely remembered picking her up, holding her limp body and running in the hallway to Sick Bay. He was somehow sitting on one of Phlox's stools, next to some experiment or another, while a bat squealed occasionally in a nearby cage and Phlox was behind a sheet with Lili and all Doug could do was sit there and stare at the floor and repeat to himself, over and over 295


again, "That's never happened before. That's never happened before. That's never happened before. " And on and on and on and on, again and again, the same four-word mantra. Phlox finally came out from behind the sheet. "Doc?" Doug asked weakly, looking up. "She is stable for the moment. But I will have to perform microsurgery, and I will have to do it soon. All of her inferior and superior vessicles are shredded. There's no other way to describe what I'm seeing. These are, these are the blood vessels in the pelvis, just past the uterus." "But you can, you can, she's, uh ...?" "There are no guarantees." Phlox said. "Her chance of survival is not good. She is in shock." Doug stared into space, starting the mantra all over again. Phlox ignored him and opened his communicator. "Phlox to the Captain. Yes, Captain. Major, uh, Lieutenant Commander Hayes is here at Sick Bay. He should be confined to quarters, at the very least." "What's going on?" Jonathan asked. "He has critically injured Ensign O'Day. She may not survive. It is, it is my understanding that, if she were not to survive, that you would need to get him to the nearest Starbase to face charges." "I'm on my way with a security team. Archer out." Doug kept repeating the mantra. "Look, Hayes," Phlox said. "I don't give a damn whether 296


it was intended." This got Doug to stop, and he looked up and listened. "And it doesn't matter anyway, not so much, not with second or third degree homicide." "Homicide?" "Yes. If she dies, you will be thrown into the Brig and we will detour in order to bring you to justice, Zoph." "Zoph?" "Uh, Hayes. Do you -- do you know what I found? I mean really, really found?" Phlox's voice was rising and a vein was standing out on his neck. Doug shook his head silently, feeling sick. "It's not just the vessicles." Phlox explained. "There is blood on both sides of her mouth. Her throat is rubbed raw." "Throat? We didn't, uh, oh, never mind." Doug interjected. "Yes, her throat. And I found seminal fluid where it's not supposed to go, farther back in the abdominal cavity than a human woman's body can allow. There's blood on your shorts, there's blood under your fingernails." Doug looked in both places. It was true. "I don't know what, what you do, although I can guess, how you, you get your pleasure. But you have wrung her out like a rag." "Doctor ...." "No. You will listen. Human women aren't shaped that way. Neither are Denobulan women, or Andorian women, or Vulcan women. Klingon women are. You could, you should just take up with a Klingon woman. Her throat would be wider, her cervix would be farther 297


back and her uterus tipped up into her abdomen. This is assuming that you ever get out of custody." "Gawd. That never happened on, on the other side of the pond." "Pond?! That's all quaint and cute but it was no pond that you crossed! It wasn't just some hop, skip and jump to a new playground. You crossed a barrier. It was supposed to be a significant barrier. There was a reason it existed, and breaching it wasn't easy for a reason. You and her are barely the same species. It is all out of proportion. These, the species, they should not be mixing this way. I don't, I don't see it as being possible or being at all worth it." "You're Denobulan, doc!" Doug said. "It's the planet where everyone's on the make. Where there's love and sex everywhere. It's one huge party." "Yes. But we don't go around harming the ones we love. I mean, is it a thrill for you? Does a snapping bone get you excited? Do screams of pain make you climax?" "Doctor," Doug said, rising and finding his voice a little, "I know that many years ago, humans didn't see it as being worth it to mix races. I mean, it was about twenty years ago, I would walk around the streets of Titania with Susan, my girl at the time. And people still stared. But most of them didn't. Most of them were okay with seeing a couple where the races were mixed. And, and I think it's going to be that way with species, too. Maybe not right now, but some time. This is, it's going to come up again. We're not the first, and we won't be the last." "Then if this procedure works, I will name it after you." "Me? I don't need that kind of glory." 298


"I'm not speaking of glory, Zoph. Uh, Hayes. It is to serve as a warning to all human females, and Denobulans, and Andorians and Vulcans and Xindi sloth women and Orion women and any others who might benefit, to, to warn them away. From you." Doug balled his fists and then closed his eyes. Bad idea. Bad idea, he thought to himself. "Mark of Cain?" Dr. Phlox didn't get a chance to answer as Captain Archer came in with Deb Haddon and Chip Masterson. "What's the news?" Jonathan asked. "I will have to perform extensive microsurgery." Phlox explained. "And survival is far from guaranteed. I cannot have this man in here. I need to concentrate." "Understood. Doctor, go do what you need to. We will get Hayes back to his, uh, her quarters." Jonathan said. Dr. Phlox left. Jonathan sat down on a stool. "Hayes, sit." "Yes, sir." Doug said softly, sitting. "We'll probably have to explain your rights to you, if, if, well, I hope it doesn't come to that." Jonathan said. "Let's, uh, let's try to think positively." "Positively, sir?" "Yes. Think about what will happen if -- when -- she recovers. When." "Sir, I've made up my mind. If she recovers, I'd like permission to, to leave Starfleet. And just, just get on one of these ships and leave." "With the Ensign?" 299


"No. Just me." Doug said. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "I hate the fact that he'll have a cast on his arm." The Empress complained. "Well, I agree that it doesn't look good, but the child does have a broken wrist. It was a lot easier for you to take MacKenzie falling on you than for Jun to take it." said Dr. Morgan. "Still. Well, and these cuts I've got. There won't be any permanent scarring?" she asked, looking at her cut face in a small hand mirror. "I don't believe so, Empress." Masterson came in, holding something small. "Empress, we have some more findings from the investigation." "Oh?" Hoshi asked. He presented the item to her. "D. Hayes." she read off a piece of cloth. "So he's our bomber. Did you find his DNA at the site?" "On what was left of the uni, yes. Still no sign of Tucker and Cutler, but we have evidence that the Transporter was run at least once." "Keep checking. I don't think we'll head to the surface to look for them. This ship needs repairs, not a wild goose chase, not even for a competent Engineer." Hoshi said. "Yes, Empress." said Masterson.

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"Oh, and Masterson?" "Yes?" "You're promoted to run Tactical." "Uh, thank you, Empress, but won't MacKenzie hate that? He's in line before me." "I have other things in mind for him." she said. "Dismissed."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "I came as soon as I heard." It was Jenny. "How is she?" "Not so good." Doug said. She put her hand on his. "It's, Phlox will do whatever he can." "Look, can you stay with her?" he asked. "I, uh, I'm being confined to quarters." She nodded. "Captain, Commander Tucker knows I'm here." "Okay." Jonathan said. "Come along, Hayes." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Why should I listen to anything you say?" Treve asked the ruddy Baden. "I don't suppose I have much credibility with you or anyone else on this side. Still, it's time, I think. On the other side, the system is weak and, and, well, your mother's counterpart is dead. I gave the injection of tricoulamine. I should be held accountable. And, and Polloria. It was, it was her idea. She is here. Your authorities need to find her." 301


"So you're turning yourself in?" asked Treve. "Yes. I can no longer live with this. That is why, that is why I am here, on this side. But she, she's here because she doesn't want anyone to hold her, ever. If she can't be in control on our side, she'll try to be on yours, and become the High Priestess here." "We don't -- well, the government is still debating it. We might scrap the whole idea of a High Priestess altogether." Treve explained. "Still, your mother remains the High Priestess for now?" Baden asked. Treve nodded. Baden continued. "I don't imagine your mother is safe." "My mother is still comatose." "Doesn't matter." said Baden. "Polloria will make sure that your Yipran, on this side, is dead, too." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug was back in Lili's quarters. He grabbed the stained bottom sheet and threw it into the laundry. And then got into the shower, bloodied boxers and all, and started sobbing. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lili saw a familiar face. "Treve?" "Yes." he said, coming closer, coppery arms exposed. "It is agreeable to see you again." "I don't know if I'm asleep. I guess I am." "You must be." "I spoke with your counterpart." 302


"Oh?" "And he said," Lili stated, "that your, er, his, mother is improving. He also said he knew that your criminals had escaped over here." "Well, I wouldn't exactly call it an escape." Treve said. "My sister is in charge of things now. You remember her, yes? She's just not strong enough, so nothing was really done and there were no real consequences for Polloria and Baden." "So why would they come here?" "For Polloria, since she's not the High Priestess here, I imagine she will try to fulfill that role there. As for Baden, he's a weasel and probably followed her to be a part of all that." "Treve, er, the other Treve, he said their counterparts were in custody on his side. I don't think they're going to be able to do what they're planning." "I don't know." said the ruddy Treve. "Our people are filing back and forth every night, it seems, and I don't believe that kind of exchange will end soon, if ever. Anyone can move freely, or somewhat freely. It's not exactly chaotic but it is throwing our society into a bit of a tizzy. Details are going to be forgotten or glossed over, and a little matter of confining a criminal just might not happen. I am thinking that that is a part of Polloria's strategy -- to continue to sow this kind of discomfort until it morphs into out and out chaos." 303


"I hope it's not too chaotic." Lili said. "I'm thinking of retiring from Starfleet and settling here." "Oh." Treve said. "How very interesting. And it does," he smiled, "make this idea I've had kicking about a bit, it's making that idea all the more plausible." "Idea?" "Oh, yes. Would you consent to be my nighttime lover?" ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug got dressed again, sat in Lili's quarters and pulled out her PADD. There was a file he hadn't noticed before. He opened it. It read: 'Dear Doug, I'd like for you to know exactly what you're getting yourself into. These are links and passwords to every financial account I've got. Love, Lili' He peeked at her finances. She had had a modest salary but had saved most of it. Few big trips and no extravagances or expensive luxuries. And no gifts for anyone for years. "I think you need to be more aggressive with your investments." he said softly. "Assuming you'll be able to actually enjoy them." The door chimed. 304


"Uh, come in." It was Malcolm. "Hayes, I don't know very much about what happened as that is to protect the Ensign's privacy. But I want you to know that, if it ends badly, you won't be around long enough to get to the Brig. I'll do it myself." "Reed, look, you don't wanna do that." "No?" Malcolm's voice was rising. "No. You don't want to become a killer of men. Not for this." Doug was surprisingly calm. "Don't be so sure. And don't try to get out of it."' "Reed, man, I gotta tell ya." "Tell me what?" Malcolm was livid. "Tell you that I won't stay with her. That this is enough, it's, it's more than enough. I can't do this to her again." "So you would abandon her if she could no longer give you what you, what you wanted? You're despicable." "No, no. It's that, she's a very passionate woman. I wouldn't want her to be obligated, if we could, could no longer, you know. I would, I would set her free. I mean, you're sweet on her." "I --? Hayes, it's not that." "No. It is. She said she thought you were hitting on her." "It was," Malcolm was considerably calmer, "it was that I finally noticed her."

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"Noticed? How could you not notice her?" "It's that," Malcolm sat down in Jennifer's desk chair, "it's that women in love are just, they're so much more beautiful." "They're even more beautiful when it's you they're in love with." "I, I wouldn't know." "Oh, c'mon, Malcolm." "No. I don't." Reed admitted. "But you did not see what we did, at luncheon today. The way she looked at you. And, I have to admit, the way you look at her. I, I know that, that whatever this all is, that you, at least I don't think, that it all went very pear-shaped but that you didn't mean to harm her." "I didn't. Gawd, there's nothing I wanted less than that." Doug ran his fingers through his hair and looked down. "I can, I think I can see that. But leaving her? Surely that would be another horrible blow to her." "How can I stay?" Doug asked. "I don't want that part of her life to suddenly be switched off. And to not be able to really touch her. My God, that would be torture." "You'll see what, what the doctor says." Malcolm said. "He's about as angry with me as you are." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lili laughed. "Treve! I am a lot older than you probably think. And you have Jennifer. And I'm, I can tell I'm badly hurt." "Well, being hurt does not matter. This is a 306


dream. You can fly and sing and make love all you like. And, huh, your age. Jennifer is older than I am and that part's all right." "You're being ridiculous. I'm just not wired that way. And I don't think she is, either." she inadvertently touched his hand, and there was a small spark. "Huh, that's odd. I wonder what it means." "That happens all the time with contact from one side to the other. No real meaning." "Even so," she said, "I am not looking for anyone. We humans just aren't wired this way. And how can you be thinking of betraying Jennifer like this?" "Betraying? Oh, dear, is that what you humans think our nighttime relations are?" "Well, yes." "Well, no. We all know about it, and we all do it. And we do it in order to keep our daylight relationships together. You see, the nighttime one -- that person is subordinate. And they know they are. They aren't jealous; it's simply the nature of things. So they act as supporters, helpers, champions, if you will, of the main daylight relationship. You would, I would come to you if I had problems with Jennifer, get your advice and the like. You'd come to me with your issues with your man, whatever they were. Of course, there would be times when we would be doing far more than simply talking. But I think that, since I am 307


with a human woman, it would be most beneficial for me to get this, this advice," he looked her up and down, "from a human woman such as yourself. And, I have to admit, I enjoy her attentions so I do wonder about whether other human woman are similarly, uh, gifted." "Treve. I, I'm flattered. But my conscience, it just doesn't bend that way. I would consider it to be disloyalty. And I think, I heard the doctor say -- I may be, I may be dying. Or I may not recover much. Or not able to, to be with Doug again. Not that way." "Not have physical relations?" Treve asked. Lili nodded. "Well," he said, "surely there must be some way for things to be repaired and improved." "But --" "But nothing. Your doctor exists to serve you. If there's anything I know of Baden, it's that he lived to serve, although not for the best of motives from the best of masters. Still, cannot you speak with your doctor about somehow, I don't know, altering you? Making it possible?" "I don't know. I think right now the plan is to make sure I live at all." "Very well." Treve said. "You may find the idea of a lover in the night to be very attractive yet." "You're still trying. Please, uh, stop trying. I can't think of that right now."

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"My apologies. I do, ah, yes. I believe you may be pulling toward wakefulness now. Let me know if you change your mind." He vanished. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Come with me." Malcolm said. "I'm supposed to be confined to quarters." "I know. I can override that so long as I escort you." he opened the door. "Haddon, Masterson, you come with us." He took Doug back to Sick Bay, where Jennifer was still waiting. "Doctor," Malcolm said, "we will stay out of your way. And if things go very wrong, we will of course escort Lieutenant Hayes to the Brig. But right now, his place is here." "Your timing is impeccable." Phlox said. "I finished up about an hour ago. She should be coming out of the anesthesia soon."

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30 "Medical Log, Dr. Miva. Today, we got a very interesting new patient in the Main Hospital. The patient is a human male. Age unknown. Says his name is," the doctor, a female Calafan, read off a chart, "Charles Tucker. Came in with two human females, one has false calloo on her extremities. Also arrived with the elder brother of the High Priestess. Treve has been taken into custody." she paused to clear her throat. "Now for information on the patient. Patient presents with severe, extensive radiation poisoning and a facial scar approximately four centimeters in length. Radiation poisoning is being treated with Cledden in injectable form. Patient is responding well to treatments. Note: patient may be slightly delusional, as per the human female who does not display false calloo. According to that female, the

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patient has been incorrectly referring to her as his wife."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug and Malcolm waited in Sick Bay. Doug stood over Lili's bed. She opened her eyes tentatively, and smiled at him weakly. "You know, your eyes are still like stones." "Yes." he said, letting out a breath in relief. He came closer to her. She reached out and touched his hand. He bent over her and she touched his face and kissed him. "I missed you." she said. "Did you dream?" he asked. She nodded. "See anyone I know?" he asked. "Yes. Treve." "Treve? And how's he doing?" "He propositioned me, actually." Doug smiled. "So, uh, what did you tell him?" "Douglas!" she gasped in mock indignation. "Hayes, I suspect you're in trouble if she uses your full name." Malcolm said, hanging back. "Malcolm?" she asked. "Come here a second. I have a secret to tell you." Doug straightened up and switched places with Malcolm who said to him, "Do you know anything about this?" "Nope." Malcolm came closer and bent over Lili. "Yes?" he 311


asked. She brought her lips to his ear and whispered, "Thank you for everything you have said, and done, and everything you haven't said. And," she paused, "when it happens for you, I know it will be just as epic." She kissed him on the cheek, close to his mouth, brushing his lips slightly at the opposite corner. He shut his eyes tightly and kissed her back on her cheek, close to her mouth, and for a split second he could tell himself that his mouth was really two and a half centimeters to the left and was really squarely on hers. He put his hand behind her back and lifted her off the bed slightly in a hug. She broke the embrace first and fell back a bit onto the hospital bed. "Doug?" she asked. "Yes?" "Am I all right? When can we be together again, and try again?" "We can't." he said, as Malcolm walked back and lightly pushed him back to her. "We just, we can't." "Where's Dr. Phlox?" she asked. "I am right here." Phlox said, parting the curtain in order to join them. "I'll just. Here." Malcolm said, parting the curtain and leaving the little bed area. "Masterson, Haddon, you too, Jennifer. Let's wait outside." They followed him to the hallway in front of Sick Bay. "Doctor, I understand what's happened. That the parts just don't, they don't fit. But what does this mean?" she asked. 312


"I have repaired your inferior and superior vessicles. Or, rather, I have repaired some of them while most were fused together or rerouted. There was also a hole in the back of the uterine wall. That's been repaired. The cervix is all right but had an abrasion. I also cleared your pelvic cavity of seminal fluid in order to prevent peritonitis." "Thank you. And?" she asked. "And that is a great deal of work. Lieutenant Commander Hayes may not be able to get here in time again, if there is another time. It is your prerogative -you are both consenting adults -- but I would advise you, as your personal physician, that it would be an exceptionally foolish course of action." "Doctor, I have a question. And, and, please bear with me because I don't know the anatomical terms and I'm sure my analogy is faulty. But, let's say I was stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey. I would gut it, remove the giblets, that sort of thing. And then I'd have all sorts of room to play around with. Add a cut up lemon or rosemary twigs or whatever." "I'm not following you." Dr. Phlox said. "Well, what if you took out something I, I wasn't really, well, using. Then would there be enough room?" "You don't exactly have spare organs to just toss out. And that kind of butchery went out over a hundred years ago." Phlox said. "No. There's one. Doctor, what if you gave me a hysterectomy?" "Ensign, your uterus is, despite the repairs I have just 313


made, perfectly serviceable. I can't condone just removing it." "Well, I mean, I'm forty-eight years old. I won't be able to have children for more than maybe three years from now, at best. I'm already perimenopausal. If you take out my womb, well, doesn't that just kick off menopause and then it's over and done with? And then you'd have room?" "Lili, maybe you shouldn't be talking this way." Doug said. "Don't go under the knife on my account." "It wouldn't matter any way." Dr. Phlox said. "The cervix would still be in the way." "Couldn't you just, I don't know, push it up and tie it off or something?" she asked. "No, it's a part of the uterus itself." Phlox said. "Let me think about this." He went through the curtain and walked to a different part of Sick Bay. "Lili, this is crazy." Doug said. "And I'm not going to be all right with you just tossing aside childbearing." "I don't have children." she said. "I never, we never really talked about this. Is that something that you, you want?" "I don't know." he said. "I never had a future before. It's hard for me to think in these terms. But -- no matter what -- I don't want you to just give all of that up, even to give up the possibility." "I have an idea." Phlox said, returning. "In anyone else it would be more complicated, but since your inferior and superior vessicles have already been altered, well, that's why I am entertaining this idea at all." 314


"Go on." she said. "I can deliberately prolapse the uterus. Bring it farther in front than normal, and up, not down. Then, as you suggested, pull the cervix up and secure it with an organic mesh. You'd probably feel a bit more bladder pressure at times, but otherwise you should barely notice it, I am thinking." Phlox said. "It is an interesting medical challenge." "What if, Doc, what if she got pregnant?" Doug asked. "Well, that's the truly tricky part. An embryo would implant in about twenty-four hours. And the uterus and cervix would have to be restored to their original positions in order to allow for proper fetal development. Or to terminate the pregnancy, if that was preferred. Therefore, you'd need to know if the Ensign were pregnant within a day or so of fertilization." "I'd have to go to a doctor and get a pregnancy test every time we made love?" Lili asked. "No." Dr. Phlox smiled. "You'd only have to test once per day. And there are home kits you could use. If the test were positive, you'd visit your doctor immediately. The Calafans have advanced medical technology. With your records and anatomical information supplied by me, they could reverse the procedure, and reinstate it after childbirth." "That's a lot of tests." Doug said. "We'd, um, we'd buy them in bulk." Lili smiled at him. "Yes. Doctor, do you think a pregnancy is even possible?" "Yes. I'd say it's more of a certainty in this instance. 315


Even with the birth control shot. When I, Hayes, when I had a chance to investigate a previous, er, sample, I tested its durability. Everything is rather resilient." "Doctor, I never fathered a child on the other side of the, uh, in the other place." "Circumstances are different there." Phlox said. "The birth control shot, I estimate, will have an efficacy of perhaps sixty percent, versus nearly one hundred percent in the usual scenario. Assuming that this all works, of course." "And if it doesn't, we'll try a hysterectomy?" Lili asked. "That would be the next logical course of action." "And if that didn't work?" Doug asked. "Then I'm afraid we're out of options." Dr. Phlox said. "No, Doc. We're not." Doug said. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "MacKenzie! Wait up!" Hoshi called out, following Aidan in the hall near Sick Bay. "Oh, yes. Empress!" he waited for her. "I was thinking." she said to him. "You know I don't have a sitter anymore." He motioned to walk a bit but she stopped him. "Uh, Empress? Can't one of the women --?" "No." Hoshi said. "I need someone with a firm," she began to touch the outside front of his uniform and work her way downward, "hand." She smiled, seeing he was getting aroused.

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"Empress, I'm, uh, no good with, with children." "That's all right." she said, unbuckling his belt and then reaching in. "Oh, how very interesting. Not as, huh, generous as I've seen before, but more than adequate." "Emp --" "Call me Hoshi." she said, getting on her knees. "Ho-Ho-Hoshi," he could not get the word out, "I, uh, Tactical?" his voice rose as she played with short hairs. "You may have heard that I'm looking for a father for my next child. Jun's just got to have a little brother. So when you landed on me that got me to thinking. And while you're a coward, you've still got good ... genes. So that's my, huh, proposition to you. Babysitter and father to my next son, or ..." she paused for a second and squeezed him hard, "or we leave you on one of the rocks in this system. What's it gonna be?" "Uhhh..." "I'll take that as a yes." she began to get to work while crew members stared. "Uh, Emp, uh, Hoshi?" His voice squeaked high. "Please don't, um, huh, use your teeth quite so much." "I'm the Empress. I'll do what I like."

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"Why not, uh, handle the problem from, uh, the other end? From, from my end." Doug said. "Hayes, she won't really feel much of a difference. But for you it would be a significant loss of sensitivity. And it would be as difficult to condone as a hysterectomy." "Doc, I don't, uh, I don't volunteer this lightly. And a lot of me is screaming to take it back." "Doug, really, I don't think you'll have to." Lili said. "I don't want your, your body taking all of it." Doug said. "This is my fault, not yours." "It's not fault." she said. "Well, this is all a moot point if the initial proposed procedure works." Phlox said. "Perhaps it will, and we are speculating fruitlessly." "How will you, uh, know how far to move everything?" Lili asked. "I know the answer to that one." Doug said. "Take measurements." "Measure twice, cut once." she said. "Yes. So before I proceed, you would need to, Hayes, you'd need to become fully aroused. I will, uh, wait outside." He parted the curtain again. Doug began to grab at himself. "No, wait." Lili said. "Let me help you." "You don't have to." "I want to. I can't, um, I don't, uh, my throat isn't as long as it should be for this." she said. 318


"You really want to do that?" he asked. "Yes." she said. "I love you. I want to please you. And I want to be a part of you feeling good." "I'm used to -- except in our dreams -- I'm used to women using that act as, well, as currency." "They shouldn't." she said. "I don't want to do it out of a sense of any sort of obligation, or to try to entice you to do the same for me later. I just want to do this, right now, for you. Show me, show me where it's most sensitive." "Here." he said, guiding her. It took her a few minutes, and all he could think of was that it didn't matter if she wasn't too good at this; she'd get better. He finally put his hand on her shoulder in order to get her to stop. "I, um, I'm ready now, Doc." Phlox came back in. "I see we're ready." he took measurements. "Hayes, you can, uh, finish up. There's a room over there. I will prepare her for surgery now." Doug was about to go when Phlox added, "I'd like for you to provide a sample while I've got you here. But Hayes, do try not to break the beaker." When it was just the two of them, Lili looked up at Phlox. "I know you don't approve of this." "I, well, I've been unfair." he said. "And have been treating you as if you were barely out of childhood when that is not the case. And I, I spoke with Hayes. He mentioned that there are going to be other couples with this kind of mismatch in the future. He is absolutely right." 319


"Then let this experiment -- for that's what it is, I don't kid myself -- be a first step to bringing all of them together." Doug returned. "I, uh, left it in ...." "Yes, yes, of course. Now I really would like to work alone." Phlox said. "When will you be done?" Doug asked. "About two or three hours, I suspect. The worst part is done. Microsurgery was the most difficult part, and it's already been accomplished." "And when can we, can we try again?" Lili asked. "Forty-eight hours. And not a second sooner. Now, it's time. Hayes, I will contact you. Ensign, start counting backwards from one hundred, by threes." "One hundred. Ninety-seven. Ninety-four..."

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31 "I've made a mess of things." A young girl said, solid copper arms folded in front of her. "You're, I think, you're Treve's little sister, aren't you?" Lili asked. "Yimar, right?" "Yes. And you are a human, right? He's, the authorities have him. They, they explained to me. He's taken up with a human." "I know her." Lili said. "I don't even know why he's in custody." the girl said. "Well, Yimar, I can't begin to tell you." Lili said. "But you're a grownup." Yimar sighed. "I never wanted this. I am just a kid! But that, that human, she pointed to me at the festival and I ended up in, 321


in charge." "Then if you're in charge, you can pardon him, right?" "I don't know. I barely even know what he's done. Polloria had said he had broken laws, but I'm confused. I know that she did. I know that Father did. But Treve? All he did was get away." "I don't think Polloria exactly has a reputation for truthfulness." Lili pointed out. "Do you?" "No, I don't suppose she does. And now she's on your side, anyway. I don't suppose what she says should continue to hold any water. Still, I hate that these things are my decision. I feel so unprepared." "On the other side," Lili said, "my understanding is that it's more like a constitutional monarchy. The High Priestess is more of a figurehead. So they still find it odd that I suggested a multitude of priestesses, but the reality is, the High Priestess isn't a lawmaker at all." "Huh. There is a government panel here, but I'm supposed to be running it. And I'd rather just be, well, doing anything else. And I'm being approached by men and boys." "Oh? I think you're a little young for that." "I know I am." Yimar agreed. "Telling me I'm pretty, when I know I'm not. I'm just a mass of arms and legs, I feel. I bump into things all the time. My mother was, she was graceful and lovely 322


and I'm not that at all." "I bet she was just as awkward when she was your age." "You're kind." Yimar said. "I know that Treve had a part in the human woman coming here. But that is our way -- plus, I don't think the human woman is too upset about it now. Father, well, Father and Baden, they were a part of harming Mother. Baden is gone to your side as well. It seems that only Father is accepting his punishment." "They'll be punished on the other side, I'm sure. It's a lot for you to worry about. Maybe trust in the other side's, my side's, system of laws and justice." "They should dole out the worst punishment to Polloria. I should have done it from the beginning, but I didn't really understand it. I think I understand it now." "What's your worst punishment? Is it the death penalty?" "No." Yimar said. "We have, it's funny. When my mother was first being, well, let's call it what it was, poisoned, once the potassium got to a certain level, it had this effect: it cut her off from the night people. We speak to any and all on the night side. As a High Priestess, we often don't have someone special. I think it's that men can be a bit, well, star struck." "You're famous."

323


"Yes. I can barely imagine what it was like for her. Do you have famous, famous humans? The kind that you have crushes on and sigh about and think are wonderful but don't know you exist?" "Sure we do. Artists, baseball players, that kind of thing. About ten years ago, I met Lefty Robinson at a ballgame. I was looking for his autograph. He looked at me with these big, green eyes and asked me who to write the autograph to. And I babbled and by the time I was able to take a look at the autograph, I realized he'd made it out to 'Lisa' and not Lili." she smiled. "He was far younger than I am and definitely not someone I would have enjoyed really spending a lot of time with, but it didn't matter." "Well, I suddenly am one of those." Yimar said. "It's a lot to take, and a cacophony of noise most of the time. I, I don't really have anyone to help me. At least, no one I can really trust, and my little brother is too young." "What about Treve?" "Maybe. But I think he's got his own concerns now, with the human woman." "New couples can be so into each other that it's to the exclusion of almost everything else." Lili explained. "I suppose I should find a way to, to pardon him." Yimar said. "I just need to be able to tell the government panel that Baden and Polloria will be punished on the other side, and know it for 324


certain." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ There was a communications chime. "Come in." Doug said, turning off Lili's PADD. It was Malcolm, carrying a pair of sweatpants. "These are courtesy of Crewman Torres, who says you can keep them." "Oh. Huh, College of William and Mary." Doug read off the front. "Off to the gym, are we?" "Yes. Thought it would do us both some good. Waiting around can't be pleasant." "That's very thoughtful of you." Doug said, changing and combing his hair back. The gym was not too crowded. Hoshi was jogging on a treadmill. Brian Delacroix was pulling on resistance bands. "Fancy some boxing?" Malcolm asked. "Hmm. Let me start smaller. Got a speed bag?"

325


"Over there." Hoshi said, pointing during cool down. "Thanks." Doug just thought about everything that had been happening. Every time he'd listened to someone yell at him and took it, every time he'd swallowed his thoughts, every time he'd been worried and hadn't shown it. All of this poured into punching. Over and over and over again, faster and faster. Connecting felt good, like he was flooding it out of himself. On and on, blurry hands hitting the bag, knuckles bleeding a little. He finally heard a loud pop and stepped back, shaking his head to break himself out of the trancelike pattern he'd been in. The bag was shredded. "Huh, that's never happ --" he started to say, then stopped. "You don't know your own strength." Hoshi said. "Or you can't really control it." Malcolm added. "I can, I can sometimes control it." Doug said. "It's hard to do that all the time. Uh, sorry I broke it." 326


"There's another one in the back, I'm sure." Malcolm said. "Have you, have you ever thought of training cadets in hand to hand?" "Reed, did you not just witness this demonstration?" Doug said. "What if that was someone's face?" "Then you could demonstrate on a heavy bag." Malcolm pointed out. "You have talent. You could probably fell a Klingon or a Vulcan." "Vulcans, yes. Klingons are wilier, at least on the other side." Doug admitted. "But, Reed, the thing of it is, I don't want to do this anymore." "Do what?" Brian came over closer, eavesdropping. Doug positioned himself between Brian and Hoshi and glared at the smaller man. "Uh, man, I don't think she's --" "Hayes. Hayes." It was Hoshi. "Huh -- huh?" Mental cobwebs again. "You were saying before?" "Oh, yes, uh, hi Del. Um, well, I just don't want to do this anymore." Doug relaxed a little. "If you ever reconsider," Malcolm said, "I think you could have quite a career doing that." "No." Hoshi smiled. "I think that now Doug wants to be a lover, not a fighter." "Yeah." Doug said. "The rewards are a lot better. But, huh, I'll think about it. Maybe it could be something I do sometimes." "Your

counterpart

taught 327

hand

to

hand,

and


marksmanship." Malcolm pointed out. "I was, I was not so receptive to his instructions." "Jay was a good teacher." Hoshi agreed. "Wasn't that, um, Reed, Jay's service record -- it's got a warning in it. He was reprimanded for hitting a fellow officer." Doug said. "Someone you know?" "Yes. That would be me." Malcolm said. "Not our finest hours." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The dream changed. "Treve?" "Ah, you've returned." "I can't really control where I go." Lili said. "Oh, well, then I shan't flatter myself with thinking you're here because you're looking upon my proposal with favor." "No, sorry. I saw your sister." "Then you know that my daylight self is in a prison. Although at this point that seems hardly fair. Still, being warehoused here isn't so bad. At least no potassium injections. Shutting off the night is a horrific punishment, to make it so that one cannot even dream a prison cell away." "I talked to Yimar about pardoning you." "Well, that was good of you, but I do hope they don't want me back and trying for a diplomatic career. I'm finding I rather enjoy living out in the open and bringing down food with my bare hands 328


and a knife. I should tell you, I am here because we brought the human male in for treatment. He was becoming difficult and a burden, and slowing us down, actually. Rather worrisome, that. They let Jennifer see me sometimes -- albeit not for very long -- and she tells me he is making progress but is still a tad delusional, poor fellow." "Well, at least he's being treated." "Yes, that's good. I -- the real problem is Polloria and Baden on your side of things. She, at the very least, will be plotting something. I do hope my counterpart is prepared." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The wall communicator at the gym chimed. Hoshi answered it. "Doug, it's Dr. Phlox." "Yes?" "Just about finished here." said the doctor. "I'll be there soon. Hayes out." he closed the comm link. "Del, can I ask you to do something?"

329


32 Baden's dream was its usual beauty. "Miva!" he called out. "That's Doctor Miva to you." she said, kissing him. They were a tangle of arms, his silvery scrollwork complementing her coppery arms. "I know that." he said. "And that isn't exactly news." "Yes, well, I should be treated with respect." "I treat you with plenty of respect, my love." "That's true." she agreed. "We have been together a good forty years." "Do you remember how we met?" he asked, hands around her waist. 330


"Of course. We were at the Abic Festival. And everyone was meditating and I was sitting with Ennewev and they were all droning on and on." "And you were listing the bones of the hand in your head." "I had exams coming up." she said. "Me, too. And so I answered you -- you were stuck on the bones of the Fep finger." "That's right." she kissed him. "I can't stay long; I'm dozing off in a patient's room. A human male." "I love you most of all." he said. "Even more than my daylight wife, when I had her. I know that's not supposed to be, but it's true. You and I are better suited for one another." "I love you almost the same as Ennewev." she said. "Almost." "I can accept that." he said. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug toweled off. There was a communications chime. He covered himself and then answered it. It was Hoshi. "There's going to be an Exec level meeting in two hours. Can you come?" "Sure, but I don't work for the Enterprise." "Captain Archer says it concerns you. It's about when we're leaving the Lafa System." "I'll be out of uniform." he said. 331


"Doesn't matter. Main Conference Room. See you then. Sato out." Doug dressed and then thought better of adding the shirt and jacket. Just the tee. "You're gonna get sick of this outfit, Lili." he said to the empty room. He picked out clothes for her. Jeans. Socks. Sneakers. A grey Mars Culinary Institute hoodie. Turquoise tee shirt. Plain lingerie. "You don't have a lot of sexy things." he mused. "So that'll be one Christmas present." Phlox was waiting in Sick Bay. "She's very groggy." He was right. She perked up when she saw him. "Hey, you." He bent over and kissed her, then sat on a stool next to the bed. "I brought you clothes for when he springs you." "Oh, good." "Not the turquoise hoodie, though. You were, um, you were wearing that when you thought you were gonna break up with me." "That's right." she said weakly. "We should give it to the poor." He took her hand. "Whatever you want." Phlox parted the curtain and came into the bed area. "Lieutenant, ah, I see the problem." "Problem?" Doug asked. "Heart rate is up, so is respiration. Maybe, uh, give her some time right now. Hold hands later." "Okay." Doug said, dropping Lili's hand gently onto the bed. "I'll be back later." 332


"All right." she said, and closed her eyes. "Doc, are you still handing out naming rights for the operation?" he asked. "I suppose so." "Name it after her, if it works." "The O'Day Procedure?" "The O'Day Reversal." Doug corrected. "It's not exactly a re-- that word means a lot to you, doesn't it?" "Yes. It's about turning everything around." Doug explained. "The O'Day Reversal it is." Phlox said, walking back to another part of Sick Bay. Doug sat back and looked at her, watching her falling asleep. He had not slept for the entire time she'd been in danger. It was all too much, and his head tipped back. He was sawing logs soon. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ There were two women, identical but for the color of their arms. They were each holding a weapon. "Who are you?" Doug asked. "We are both called Polloria." said the silvery one. "And it's good that we're finally able to have this meeting." "We've been waiting." said the coppery one. 333


"Oh?" he looked around the room but it was bare. It looked like the inside of the Calafan Main Hospital and smelled of the same cleaning solution. He could not yet see where he could gain an advantage or escape. "Oh, yes." said the coppery, ruddy one. "While you've been busily attending to your lady love, there have been many, many plans made." "And you're going to be right at the centerpiece." agreed the pale one. "Plans?" "Yes, Douglas. Oh, don't look so shocked that we know you." said the coppery one. "When we brought the human female down on my side, and we scraped her brain, we found a great deal of information about you. And that was interesting, and I filed it away mentally, wondering when and how I would use it." "And then the doorway between the sides was shoved open." added the silvery one. "It provided an ideal opportunity. For being High Priestess was a nice idea and all, but it was a small ambition. Now, our ambitions can become considerably, ha, larger." her eyes lingered over a meter lower than his own. Even though he was fully clothed, he involuntarily covered himself for a second. The ruddy one smiled. "Well, there's that. The female did mention where and how well you'd spread your seed. But also how you'd spread weapons fire. And that was more impressive. One 334


hundred forty-six dead by your own hands! Let's see, fourteen humans, eighty-six Denobulans -and most of them in one day! How efficient!" "Eleven Andorians. Two Vulcans. One Xrillian. Four Kreetassans. Two Suliban. Oh and twenty-six Klingons! Most impressive. They are big, powerful beasts." added the pale one. "And that's just the ones you got in person. When we count you pressing a lever or pushing a button and using a Tactical station on any ship, well, the figure jumps to the thousands if not tens of thousands." The ruddy one said. "And I'm -- we're -- sure there's more where that came from." "I don't do that anymore." Doug said. "You will." said the ruddy one. "I'll refuse." "Not so fast. You see, we're in your head. And we can get into anyone's head, including your lady love's." said the pale one. "That's one thing no one's told you about these connections -- Calafans can alter them as desired, and we can go where we like and see whoever we wish." "And most of them, foolish, lovesick ones, they waste their time on sex and socializing." added the red one. "But there's more to it than that. For an inferior species such as yourself, we can control your thoughts. Move you in any direction, lead you around by your noses and pull your strings."

335


"I'll still refuse." "Oh? These aren't just dreams. You should have figured that out by now. These weapons we are holding -- they can still harm you." said the pale one, shooting. She hit him in the left arm, just above the elbow. Involuntarily, he made a noise and covered his bleeding arm. The wound was painful but didn't seem to be down to the bone. Still, he was bleeding a lot. He applied pressure. "You really won't like it if I aim about a half a meter down and to my left." the red one said. "Although it would be a pity to lose that." "Now, you will begin to understand." said the pale one. "We can do this to you. And we can do this to her." "It's not a real wound." he said. "Oh, but it is. Just like you can release seed over from one side to the other, we can release firepower. And, you see, at any time, we can invade your woman's dreams." said the pale one. "And aim this at her head." said the red one. "Or -- oh, this would be delicious -- how 'bout if it's aimed farther down? When she's carrying your child, let's say? A shot straight to the abdomen will dispatch both." "Oh, you know how I prefer efficiency." agreed the pale one. 336


"What do you want from me?" "Something rather simple. You go in there. Room 116 of the Main Hospital. And all you need to do is, kill the woman in the bed. It's easy. You've done it dozens of times before. Smother her with a pillow, strangle her, bend your knee over her collarbone and snap it, oh, use your imagination." said the red one. "I can't get there, even if I wanted to." "Oh, but you're there already." said the red one. "This is a dream, remember? We can get you anywhere. So go and do away with the High Priestess." "You said that wasn't a big enough ambition for you." Doug said, trying to think of a way to buy time. "We did. But this is not so much to take care of her -- although it is a nice bonus." said the pale one. "Rather, it's to cement our new partnership. And get you back into the swing of killings. After all, it's been a few years. So a simple assignment to start, and then we'll work our way up." "What's your -- what's your bigger scheme?" he asked. "You. You're going to be our virus. You see, you take care of Yipran. And that will turn you the way we like." said the ruddy one. "And we'll be able to manipulate you as we ... desire." she grinned at him. "And any human you touch and 337


come in contact with -- awake or asleep -- will pick up on it. Your lady love -- you won't be able to avoid touching her for long. Your doctor. Your friends. Everyone from the captain of the vessel to the girl who cleans the carpets. And that vessel will return to your own space, and spread the infection. It'll go to your home world, to your government and wherever your species is. It'll cross over and affect other inferior species, like Denobulans, as well." "Why me?" "You're an ideal vector. Strong and capable and with a difficult to control aggressive streak." said the pale one. "And you're here permanently. See, Calafans can shuttle from one side to the other, but no one else can. You're here, and you're head and shoulders above everyone else. You're already a natural battlefield leader and you have a good level of access. And you will pass the connection on, from person to person, and they will pass it on." "Like a plague." "A gift." corrected the pale one. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "I think Tripp's doctor is asleep." Jennifer said to Beth. "I'll try to wake her."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lili could not stay awake. She drifted away.

338


Dr. Phlox, not hearing noises, came to check. He saw Doug's bleeding arm and brought over a bandage, and touched Doug on the arm. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Baden and Miva's dream was changing. They were in the hospital. And there were eight people in the room, plus the two of them. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "My, this is a lively party." the ruddy Polloria said. Lili went over to Doug. Phlox followed. "You have the same injury in Sick Bay." he said quietly. Doug swallowed hard. "You were going to tell me," he said, "what your greater goal is." "Oh, really. Humans are so stupid." the pale Polloria said. "Again. You do as we require. Whatever that is. And by turning you, we get to turn your entire species, in time. And you won't refuse us because we can get to this one at any time." She smiled. "Enough talk. Time for action." Doug stood at attention, emptying his mind. Lili stared at him. She could hear voices in her head -both Pollorias. They were debating exactly what to do once Doug was turned. Doug was silent. Lili looked around. Everyone else was being quiet and doing almost the same thing as Doug, with varying degrees of success. Tripp was holding on to Beth's arm. Jennifer was at attention. Phlox was 339


applying pressure to Doug's arm. Baden was holding hands with Miva. No one seemed to be ... thinking. Wait, her mind said. Don't empty your mind. Fill it. Don't empty your mind. Fill it. She took Doug's hand and squeezed it. Don't empty your mind. Fill it. With what? he seemed to ask, in her head. Anything. It doesn't matter. She stared at the others. It doesn't matter. Just -anything. Anything at all. 'The bones of a normal Calafan hand are as follows', Miva thought. 'Once upon a time, there were three little pigs', thought Beth. Tripp thought, 'To achieve a stable warp field, you must first ....' Lili thought, 'Recipe for Rosemary-Walnut Focaccia Bread. First, combine two standard packages of quick-rise yeast with ....' 'Long ago, when the universe was young, there was nothing but Lo.' Baden began to think. Jennifer's thoughts: 'My first boyfriend's name was Robbie Bashir. He kissed me and told me we'd get married. We were both six at the time. My next 340


....' Phlox began naming all of his relatives. Doug thought, 'How to field strip a phase rifle. The basic parts of a phase rifle are as follows: the trigger, the hand grip, the barrel, the sight ....' The Pollorias looked at each other. "Get them to stop!" called out the pale one. "It's a diversion!" yelled the red one. "Stay focused!" The thoughts accumulated to just so much buzzing. It was white noise, just like Lili had heard during the festival. She barely saw Jennifer moving to her right, slowly. Doug dropped her hand and moved to his left. 'I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!' 'The Fep finger has three bones ....' 'Feezal 's children are Fenna, ...' 'Bake for forty minutes or until the top is hard and makes a hollow sound if you rap on it with your knuckles.' 'The intermix ratio should be ...' 'David Stevens, then there was ....' 'Those children can now be seen in our stars ...' 'Place the bolt into the locked position ...' 341


Doug ran at the pale one. Jennifer and Tripp ran at the red one. A shot was fired in the confusion. There was the sound of several kilos hitting the floor. "Help him!" came a woman's cry. Phlox ran over. "Oh, my love." said the injured man. "If I cross over because of saving you, then it is all worthwhile." Hand held. Blood spilled. Life drained. Miva looked up, trembling. "He is lost." Lili felt an arm around her. It was bleeding at just above the elbow. She could feel a shoulder, a neck. She buried her head into the chest. "I'm here." Doug whispered to her. "I'm here."

342


33 When Lili looked up, Beth was standing over the pale Polloria, with a weapon pointed at the Calafan. Jennifer was in a similar stance with the ruddy Polloria, who spoke. "What a rough bit of business it must be for you boys!" she exclaimed. "Watching your women take charge like that. Letting them do your work for you." "This one," the pale Polloria said, "just treats the sick and injured, a nursemaid and nothing more. This one allows his woman -- and it's either, or both of them, I can't be bothered to know which one it is, to do the job while he sits back and trembles, scarred face and all." "And that one." said the ruddy Polloria, indicating Doug. "He's no snarling beast and certainly no soldier, not any more. A mere family, 343


ha, man. A poor choice on our part. We should do better next time." "We should get a Klingon next time." the pale one said. "They don't allow themselves to be shackled and collared." "What makes you think you'll have another chance?" said Beth. "You know, I have no idea what this weapon is set on. It would be a pity if it was set high. Now, let's see. We can see what happens when it's pointed at an arm. What if I point it at your suede head and let it fly?" "Or that." said the red one. "But your kind are weak." "I don't see you holding any cards." Jennifer said. "We're under the Calafan system of laws, not yours." the pale one said. "Killing us just means that you're now subject to our jurisdictions as well. And most of you are already on Lafa II on one side or the other. You'll confess in your dreams. And when you do, you'll be disposed of." "You're lying." said Lili, finding her voice. "Yimar said you don't have the death penalty." "For our people, no. But for other species, well. Despite how satisfying it may be to slay us, it merely means you'll be slaying yourselves." said the darker one. "And that one," she indicated Doug, "he's got it in his fool head to stop killing, although it's in his nature. You do have a tight leash upon him! What is it you do, that he is 344


countering his very nature? What kind of pleasures do you offer?" "They're just trying to get us all angry so we'll make mistakes." Doug said quietly, standing up and helping Lili up as well. "And then they'll try to take advantage. Don't fall for it." "You." Miva said, indicating the pale one. She had been silently weeping over Baden's body but rose and seemed to be gathering her strength. "You are going to lose your dreams. You'll be pumped up with so much potassium it may even end your miserable existence. You forget that their side knows exactly where you are. You're already rotting in a prison cell." "And me." The red one smiled sinisterly. "I'm as free as a beast of the air. You see, you stay here," she gestured in the direction of Doug and Lili, "and I go. And no one need be the wiser." "Lili, wake up!" Doug said. "I can't." she tried. "I just can't. Phlox?" He shook his head. "It seems we are being held here involuntarily." "Yes, now aren't you sad that you didn't do things the way we asked?" said the pale one. "If you had, Douglas, you could be awake when you wished, and enjoying a regular life, such as it would be. But now, so sorry, but you're here to stay. You can't see or hear the waking world now."

345


Lili dropped Doug's hand and went over to the pale Polloria. "And if we kill you here?" "We're holding the keys to the prison we've placed you into. Tell you what," said the dark one, "you allow us out, and we'll drop a key for you." "Or you," Lili said, addressing the pale one, "you go. Only you. But before you do, you tell us where your counterpart is." "You won't turn us that easily." said the red one. The silvery one said, "Why should I do that?" "Because they may not figure out the details, but we'll be searched for. And someone is going to find Baden's body. Isn't he in the same prison as you are?" Doug asked. "Ye-es." she said cautiously. "And he's got a large hole in his torso, right?" Miva asked. "Oh, my poor Baden." "Be tough for them to miss that." Tucker pointed out. "And if you tell us where she is," Jennifer said, "maybe at least you will be able to keep your nighttime life. What I've learned from Treve is, you're all dependent on it. Not having it hurts you like a death hurts you, because it is a death to you. They could intervene with the government and get you a bit of leniency." "We could do that." Lili said. 346


"Don't listen." the ruddy one said. "I'd say it's your best option." said Beth. "Death here, dream death there, or maybe you get to at least maintain your status quo. Not that that's so wonderful, but right now it's all that you've got." "Point Abic. The, the dishes." the pale one said quietly. "It's crowded there, no one will see me." said the red one, beginning to disappear. Beth just moved her arm over and down and shot. There was a shriek and some drops of blood when the ruddy Polloria had completely departed. "I, uh, don't think they'll miss an ankle injury." she said. "You said there could be leniency." the pale one said, shaking a little but maintaining her hold. "Yes." Doug said. "And I promise that we will try." "Dr. Phlox! Dr. Phlox!" came a voice from far away. "That sounds like Hoshi." Lili said. "We can hear the outside world." Doug said. "Thank you." he said to Polloria. "You owe me." she replied. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Doctor! Doctor!" Hoshi called through the Sick Bay 347


intercom. "Y-yes?" Phlox shook himself awake. "What seems to be the trouble?" "You and Doug are late for that meeting. I'll patch you through now." "Oh, uh, all right." Phlox said. "Hayes!" "Uh, yes?" Doug shook off the cobwebs. "We can take it here. Let the Ensign rest a bit. Without dreaming, hopefully." The two of them went through the parted curtain to a different part of Sick Bay. "Ah, Captain!" Phlox said, once he'd gotten the communication to display on a little screen. He took a look at Doug's arm. The bleeding had stopped. "Good to see you. Just about ready to start." Jonathan said. "Actually, Captain, we need to contact the surface first." Doug said. "They should check the dishes area. I think they'll find their escaped criminal. And she won't get too far -- her ankle is hurt." "Hoshi, can you send out a message?" "Yes, of course." Hoshi left the conference room briefly to do as was requested. "Now, we are meeting in order to assess our condition. Tripp?" "Everything's workin' except for communications outside the Lafa System itself. I figger it is the sodium vapors that are continuing to give us a hard time. We get past those, I think we'll be good to go." 348


"Good." Jonathan said. "Doctor, Hayes, I asked you to participate because of Ensign O'Day. How long until everything is, uh, resolved?" Doug looked at Phlox. "Your call, Doc." "A little less than two days from now." he said. "Do you and she still want to settle here?" Jonathan asked. "Yes." Doug said. "More than ever." "Seems foolish to just leave and come back." Tripp pointed out. "A logical course of action would be delaying for two more days." T'Pol said. "We can continue to take readings on the effects of the quadruple star system." Hoshi came back in. "It's done. And, Captain, once we have communication back with Starfleet, I imagine there will be a lot of letters and reports. We should stagger them a bit." "Reports? Oh, man, I had forgotten." Doug admitted. "I, uh, Captain?" "Yes?" "Can I ask a, a small favor?" "I'm listening." "Looking at Jay's records, I know that his, his next of kin was a sister, he had a sister, Laura. I would like very much for her to not find out about me through some press release or other means, other than me just telling her. She doesn't deserve to be traumatized by seeing my face on her view screen, looking for all the world like 349


Jay's back from the grave." "How do you imagine we'll explain any of this?" Malcolm asked. "If you want to talk about multiverses and the Calafans, I won't stop you. And I don't want you to lie to Starfleet. Just, um, if you can tell them that there was just this human male, if you have to mention me at all, that he was just here. This system is a crossroads. It's not an impossibility that someone could end up here." Doug said. "I haven't really thought this through, but I think that Laura Hayes maybe shouldn't have to get all the gory details, not just yet, and I know that your regulations would require Starfleet to inform her of, of something if I made it into the official report." "I'll sleep on it." Jonathan said. "Oh, and Hayes?" "Yes, sir?" "Since we have a little more time together, we'd like to do a debriefing with you tomorrow. Can you -- would you -- tell us everything you remember about the Defiant?" "I, huh, I was thinking about that, if I owed them any loyalty whatsoever." Doug admitted. "I'm thinking that I don't. They never really did anything for me while I was there. I'll tell you what I know." "Tomorrow, then. Archer out." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Sick Bay doors opened. It was Brian Delacroix, holding a large bag. "Doc, where do you want this?" "It rather depends what that is." 350


"It's your dinner, sir. And the Ensign's, too." "I didn't ask for -- ah, please tell Chef that I appreciate the kind gesture. And you were very thoughtful as well." "Sir, Chef didn't think of doing this. Lieutenant Commander Hayes did." "Oh, well, uh, thank you." Phlox said. Brian left. "Hayes," Phlox said, "you did not have to do this." "I don't have a lot." Doug said. "But I do have my gratitude for what you've been doing. And she needs to eat, right?" "Something easy." Phlox said, looking in the bag. "Ah, soup for her. Good idea. And a turkey sandwich for me. I don't imagine you knew that I like them. Did the Ensign tell you?" "No, actually. I didn't think of this until Reed and I were at the gym. I asked Del to just pick out something you liked." "Let's see if she's up for it." The doctor said. Lili was. "Ah, chicken noodle. Chef made this a few months ago. Nothing says love like leftovers. It's still warm." "Here, let me help you." Doug said. "No, it's okay. I can feed myself." "You can do a lot of things but right now I think you're very tired. Let me." he insisted.

351


34 "Oh, there you are." Lili was considerably more alert. "I missed you last night." Doug kissed her. "Doc said you needed to sleep. And I kinda needed to sleep flat. I won't, uh, I don't like sleeping without you." She smiled and sat up. "Did you see anyone we know?" "Yes." he said. "I had a dream about Miva." "Oh. Did you tell her how sorry we both are for her loss?" "Yes, of course. She said, and man, I don't know how they do it, but she said she's still got her husband and while it hurts her, she's still kind of covered. She said she knows her counterpart is also a doctor on this side."

352


"Good to know." Lili said. "I dreamed of Beth Cutler. She says Tripp, uh, she calls him Charles, she said he's getting better." "I have a debriefing I need to get to. Spill all about the Defiant. How do I, um, look? Keeping in mind you're probably already sick of this outfit." "Perfectly fine." she said. "We should buy you more clothes." "And sexy things for you." he said. "But I don't know how much of a budget we've got to work with. I, uh, I have an idea of how to help with that." "Oh?" "I don't want to say until I make a few inquiries, okay? You can handle a little surprise, right?" "Sure." she said. "I'll be here; Jenny's going to come visit me and I'll probably also do a lot of sleeping. I love you." "And I love you." he said. "Now, I'd better go." he kissed her face and departed. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Executive level staff were assembled in the Main Conference Room. Brian was setting out breakfast foods. "And, uh, we have two kinds of danish and there are muffins. Fruit over there, coffee and tea, and everything to go with it is over here." 353


"Crewman, you seem to be enjoying your new role." Malcolm said, grabbing a sesame bagel. "Yes, sir. I'm thinking of enrolling at the Mars Culinary Institute. I'm gonna ask Ensign O'Day to put in a word for me." "I'm sure she'll do that for you." Malcolm said, smiling a little tightly. "All right," Jonathan said once everyone had sat down. "Hayes, you're on." "First, I want to reiterate that I'm no engineer." Doug began. "And Tucker and Crossman can be reached, through either Lili or me, at any time. So you should talk to them, too, at some time. Tucker here, in particular, should talk to them." "You do realize how I made contact with you last time, right?" Tripp asked. "I, uh, she and I, we ...." "What Commander Tucker is trying to say is," Phlox said through the screen at Sick Bay, "that he and the Ensign crawled into her bed together." "It was the for the purpose of making contact." T'Pol clarified. "Uh, yeah." Tripp said. "I'm sure you were a gentleman." Doug said. "I do trust her, you know." "Moving right along," Jonathan said, "the debriefing?" "Yes, of course." Doug said. "The Defiant is around one hundred and fifty years later in design than the NX-01. The main difference is, it's loaded with sensors. They are everywhere, and they have to be maintained at a level 354


that's just not done here. The entire hull is one huge sensor grid. Every system is sensor-dependent. So here's what that means. Let's look at Tactical, which of course I know the best. It means that targeting is better and more accurate. It means that targeting takes into account not only X, Y and Z space coordinates but also the speed, pitch and yaw of the ship in a way that I know you just don't do right now." "What sort of weapons does the Defiant have?" Malcolm asked. "Photon torpedoes, but way more banks than you've got. And phasers, not phase cannons. They're, um, phased energy rectification. They target and pinpoint synchronous light. I don't know all the physics of it -wish I did." "What about defenses?" Jonathan asked. "Shielding." Doug replied. "Deflector shields, to be more precise. They work by returning energy to whatever blast you're receiving. Again, I don't know a lot of the specifics. They can and do fail, and more often than we'd like. Can't run the Transporter while they're up, either." "Fascinating." said T'Pol. "What about navigation?" Travis asked. "Again, it's related to all of those sensors." Doug said, drinking some more coffee. "More sensors means you can maneuver through difficult terrain more effectively. The computer can make many more calculations per millisecond, so you can avoid hitting asteroids and whatnot. Speed is better, too. We -- er, they -- do Warp seven all the time, and can crank it up to Warp nine but that puts a big strain on things. I don't think Warp ten is 355


possible as the technology stands." "And for fuel? What are they usin'?" Tripp asked. "Dilithium crystals." Doug replied. "Some sort of a matrix." "What about communications?" Hoshi asked. "There are hand-held communicators. They flip open, just like yours do, but they're a bit bigger. Bigger ship communications are more powerful, more long-range. There's a, um, a thing that the Communications Officer sticks in her ear. Helps her hear better. Dunno what it's called." "Is there a lot of translating?" Hoshi asked. "Pretty much none, but it's possible that the Defiant's language database -- the only part of the database that is really still fully intact -- has most if not all of the languages in the area already programmed in. If they go outside of the immediate neighborhood, I imagine translating might become necessary again." "I guess I'm not obsolete yet." Hoshi said. "Do you have information on the Science station?" T'Pol asked. "I don't know much. I'm sure having more sensors helps in all sorts of ways I can't begin to think of. I do know that it's possible to pick out a human biosign with a lot more accuracy than you've got, and from a longer range. That gets tied into communicators, usually; the signal is bounced off and a Transporter lock can be established much more easily. Wish I could tell you more, sorry." 356


"Do you have any information on medical?" Phlox asked. "Pretty much none. There's a lot of complicated-looking equipment but I'm sure that Morgan doesn't know how to use it properly." "Do you know anything about Command?" Jonathan asked. "Some. I got put in charge a lot. Captain's chair has more communications options and a sensor readout on the armrest. Oh, and tricorders. Captain's got one that's more complex than everyone else's. They're, um, they record all sorts of input, sort of like the PADDs you've got. Small screen at the top, dial in the middle right, buttons on the side. You can patch them into the ship's computer and have it analyze whatever you're recording. They are kind of like portable sensor banks, I guess." "Anything else you can tell us?" The Captain asked. "Mostly just superficial things. Uniforms are different. Ship is brighter, both inside and out. Hull is very cleanlined." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "Hi, Jenny." Lili smiled. "How you feeling?" "Better. A lot better. I think we'll be out of quarters by late tomorrow or so." "And then you're leaving." Jenny said. "I'll miss you." "And my chatty dreaming?" 357


"Yes, and your chatty dreaming. You seem, well, you seem really happy. Next time we get back to the Solar System, I'm gonna see Frank." Jenny smiled. "He, uh, he's really the best thing that's ever happened to me. Yanno, I know why you fell so hard, and so fast." "Oh?" "It's 'cause, you just know." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The meeting was finally breaking up. It had been going on for hours. "Reed, can I ask you something?" Doug said. "Certainly. Walk with me to the Bridge?" "Sure. Uh, you mentioned me teaching hand to hand. You still think that's a viable option?" "I don't see any reason why not. Brush off your marksmanship skills as well, I'd suggest." "You, um, do you think it's at all lucrative?" "You can check with Admiral Black, I suppose." "I, uh, I just want to provide for her." Doug said. "I should tell you what she said to me when she hugged and kissed me." "I, you don't have to." "But, I do, Hayes. It was, she just wanted me to know that when I fall, it'll be like that. Like what, what you have." "I bet you fall hard." Doug said. "It's like nothing else." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 358


"What is it now?" Travis rolled off her as she peevishly answered a Communications chime. "We're free of the Lafa System." Ramirez said. "Warp drive is coming back on line." "Good. Now get to work on fixing the Transporter. And get that rodent infestation out of there. I hate mice. Sato out." But she'd failed to fully close the link, so Frank Ramirez was treated to the sounds of Hoshi and Travis hitting it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "I'm sorry I was later than expected." Doug said. "It's okay, you let me know. I mostly slept anyway. Dreamed of Jennifer. She said Treve was pardoned. Oh and I spoke with the other Treve, the one on our side." Lili said. "Yes?" "We have a place to live, at least for a while. He says it's not very big." "All it needs is a bed," Doug smiled at her and kissed her, "a stove, and a desk." "A desk?" "Yes. You don't expect to go completely without outside communications, do you?" "I suppose not. Oh and a big wooden table. 'Cause, um, we need to serve food. And, uh, maybe use it for ....." she teased. 359


"We'd better laminate it then." "It'll get slippery." she said. "It's either that, or splinters. And you don't want splinters there." "This is what heavy tablecloths are for, Doug." He yawned a little. "It's not the company, it's the hour." "Here." she moved over a little in the small Sick Bay bed. "Uh, okay." he said. He moved one of Phlox's stools over and drew the curtain around the bed. He took off everything but his tee and boxers. "Here, can you stand a sec?" "Sure." she got up tentatively. He got into bed and helped her in. "Here, put your head here." He kissed the top of her head. "This is very comfortable." she said. Phlox came in. "I'm getting interesting readings -- ah, that would be why. Lieutenant Commander, you do realize that you still have until tomorrow before you can attempt relations." "I know." Doug said. "But can I stay with her? You won't be far away. I'll let you know if she's in any, uh, distress." "Very well." Phlox said, departing and drawing the curtain again. "It is going to be odd," Doug said, "to lie here and not touch you, uh, that way."

360


"Well if I get pregnant you know you'll have nine long months without anything, as the doctor will have to undo the whole thing for the sake of, of, you know." "Yeah." he said. "We'd have to do a lot of math." "I'm not too good at that." "You do fine." "Well, I can see that there's room for improvement." she admitted. "You'll get better. Lili, do you think you'd ever take one of those nighttime, uh, lovers? Like the Calafans do." "No. I'm all set. You're my, my, uh, mine." "I thought you said not to say 'mine'." he pointed out. "Well I really believe it now." Her turned her face back to him and kissed her carefully. "Oh, I have to tell you. My idea." "Oh?" "Yes. Reed says he thinks I can teach hand to hand for Starfleet. Marksmanship, too." "What would that entail?" "I checked. Two weeks in San Francisco, a few times a year." "I'd miss you." "You'd come with me." Doug said. "What if the restaurant needed me?" "I, I think I'd need you more." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 361


"Medical log, Dr. Phlox." Phlox dictated nearby. "Patient is a forty-eight year old human female. A pair of extensive procedures were performed in the pelvic region and on the reproductive organs in order to make intercourse with an unusually well-endowed human male possible. The implication is that, if the procedures are successful, that such a regimen could be duplicated in the case of human females desiring coitus with Klingon males and other larger and more powerful humanoid species, perhaps including Gorn. This procedure is not considered to be applicable to nonhumanoid species." He paused and sipped some water. "Before discussing the technical aspects of the procedure, I'd like to add a personal note. It is not my intention to judge a patient's personal life or her choice of mate. Motivation can be difficult to determine but it should not be tainted with prejudgments about the rightness or wrongness of a particular union. I found that I was confusing this patient's circumstances with those of a family member, and the comparison was an unfair and inaccurate one. For the record, I would like to say that this patient is not entering into this procedure lightly. As for her, her significant other, while it is clear that such a procedure will be somewhat convenient for him if it is successful, I have also, I have, I don't believe I've seen such devotion." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Doug was sawing logs already. Lili smiled and leaned against his chest. "Tomorrow." she whispered. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It was a trial, that much Lili could tell. 362


It was the end of it. "And you are hereby sentenced to potassium blockage." A judge on a five-Calafan panel said to the ruddy Polloria, who stood waiting for sentencing, leaning on a table as she took her weight off her injured ankle. "Do you have something to say?" "No." Polloria said. "I'm done." The pale Polloria was then sentenced, to life in the prison. The rest of the dream was a blur of officials talking. Lili recognized Treve amidst the pale faces, sitting with his siblings and father in the audience. There was a hand on hers, thumb caressing her fingers. She turned and it was Doug, sitting with her. He smiled at her as they awoke. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It was the morning already. Phlox stirred and came in to check on them. "You're free to go." he said. Doug helped her up, then dressed and helped her to dress. "I will," Phlox said, "get some breakfast and then be back here in about an hour. So, um, take a little time before, er, diving back into things so that I can be prepared in case I am needed." "Thank you." Lili said. "Let's go." Doug said. 363


"Yes, but slowly. I can't really run this time." "All right." he said, holding her hand. "Walk with me in the halls, and I'll show you off." "I need a shower." she said. "Me, too." he said. "You, uh, owe me one." "One what?" "A shower." he said.

364


35 The hallways were strangely magical. Doug had never liked starship hallways. They had been places where someone would try to knife him. Or, at best, conduits between one assignment and another, or a gateway to an encounter, perhaps, but nothing more, nothing special. Yet there they were, holding hands like schoolchildren, smiling and laughing and talking to anyone who went by. Lili introduced him to, it seemed, everyone, and he was as gracious and polite as he could be, and they were all so very kind. People asked about their future plans, and he freely spoke of the restaurant and Lafa II and possibly doing some training for Starfleet. He felt young and alive -- it was like walking in a garden. They stopped and he backed her into a wall and kissed her. She was a little surprised by that and said, "I thought you didn't like public displays." 365


"I guess I do now. Changing my mind about lots of things." he took off his jacket and casually flung it over his shoulder, and looked over to her frequently as they strolled. "Oh, hi, Ethan." he heard her say. "Hiya, Lili. I hear you're leaving." said a young Crewman. "Doug, this is ..." He didn't hear the rest of it. He knew who that was. It was like a crash, the end of the idyllic mood, replaced instantly by chaos and pain, fear and nausea. His thumb had been caressing her fingers. He stopped doing that, and instead pressed it into her palm. She glanced down, seemed to catch the signal. "Uh, we have to go, Ethan. I'll see you later." she smiled at Ethan Shapiro as he walked away. Doug steered her into a nearby empty lab. "What's the matter?" she asked quietly, as soon as the door had closed. He looked down. "That was Number Two." He was unsteady on his feet, reeling. "Ohhh." she said. "When did, when did it happen?" "Thirty-two years ago. On the Vulcan home world. I phasered him in the belly." Doug said, shaking. "No, wait, wait. I guarantee that that kid is at least a good five years younger than that." Lili said. "So unless you got him in utero, that's not him." "The name is the same. It looks just, just like him." 366


"No. It's the nephew of him. Or his son. Or some cousin or something." "The name ..." "The names don't have to match. And neither do a lot of things. You should know that better than anyone, Doug. You should know that this mirror is distorted. It is not him." she made as if to leave the lab. He put his hand out to stop her. "Lili, this is, I am so stupid. This is going to keep happening. There are a lot of people I can run into, and I know what I did -- if not to them, then to their families." "You'll be on Lafa II." "And what about when the Enterprise comes back? Or I go and I do training? I am gonna see these, these ghosts over and over again. Did you know I almost popped Delacroix because he was in almost exactly a situation when I did that on the other side?" Lili shook her head. "But you didn't, right? Doug, you're right. This is going to keep happening." "Yes." he said softly, trembling a little. "What did you, what did you expect? Doug, coming here, did you think it would all be gone? You would have escaped all of it?" "I, I don't know what I thought." he said, voice breaking. "Because you, you can't escape it. You can't just reverse it away and pretend like it never happened." "I know." he said. "It's shame. It's guilt. It's fear. I feel sick. I feel physically ill." 367


"Why did you, why did you come here? Why did you come to this side?" "I, I wanted to be with you." "I know. But why else?" "It was, I, Gawd, I'm not making any sense. It was, I thought I could leave it all behind me. Achieve, maybe, some measure of forgiveness. But that's not the main reason. I came here because of you." "So the rest of it, it's secondary?" he nodded. She continued, "You came here for love?" her voice was rising. "Yes." his body shook. "Then prove it." she said, almost shouting at him. "Love me. And that will be how you'll be forgiven." "I, I...." "Love me." she insisted sharply. "And love our home. And love our friends. And love everything we make together, whether it's a restaurant or a hand to hand class or a pumpkin pie or, or," her voice dropped to a whisper, "or a child." "Do you want that?" "I want whatever happens." she said softly. "And if we don't become parents, then we don't, and we'll have happy lives together. And if we do, then we'll have a happy life to share with someone else. Who, who we haven't met yet." "A happy life?" "Yes. That is what I want. And I think we can have it. 368


And you know what else I want?" "Tell me, and I will try to give it to you." he said. "I want your playfulness. I want your spirit. I want your strength. I want your kindness -- yes, you have it. I want your thoughtfulness. I want your risk-taking. I want your ambition. I want your joy. I want your, your everything. And in return I give you mine." she said. "You said I gave you confidence." "You do." "No. You already have it. I get it from you." he said. They left the lab and went back to quarters. He put his jacket down and looked at her. "I have to wash this all away." he said. "I know it's not really gone, the guilt and all. But I want it to go away for a little while, and, and be with you, now." "Do you know forgiveness does?"

what

"Tell me." "It doesn't make it all go away. Not at all. It does, though, make it so that you can live with yourself a little easier, and a little better. And it makes it so that you can move forward." "I guess that's all I can, I can ask for." "Here." she said, unbuttoning his shirt. "It's time to let it 369


go. If only for a little while." He took off her hoodie. "It's the little whiles that matter." She stripped the rest of her clothes off, and he did the same, standing and staring at her. She checked her face in a mirror. "Gawd, I really need to wash my hair. It's a sweaty, sticky mess. Why didn't you tell me?" "I, I told you I was going to like you, almost no matter what you looked like." "What's this almost business?" "Well, I did want you to be humanoid. I mean, I do have standards and all." he smiled at her tentatively. "This is all I've got. What you see in front of you." "Coincidentally, that's all I want." she said. He followed her into the little bathroom and she turned on the shower. "C'mere." she beckoned, getting in. There was a moment when getting clean turned into getting down and dirty. Their breath was fogging up the shower door when she finally switched off the water. "Here." she said, handing him a towel. He rubbed her back. "Don't get too dry." She smiled. "Not a chance." She sat down on the bed and trembled a little. "Cold?" "No. Just realizing, remembering what, what happened the last time. A little scared." "I come in peace." he said, kissing her.

370


"You'd better." He lay her back and rolled her onto her right side. He put a pillow under her back. She brushed a damp strand of hair away from his face. "I remember this way." "Yes." he said, and touched her, then kissed her neck and worked his way down. When he felt she was ready, he came back. "Are you ...?" "Yes." she said, teeth chattering a tiny bit. He kissed her deeply. "Tell me." he said. "Tell me if anything is off. Anything at all." She nodded. They merged. Slowly, tentatively. He cautiously pushed in a little more and kept kissing her. She let out a little moan when the kiss stopped, and he got confused and thought he was harming her. He almost lost the thread of desire, but she pushed a little on his back so that he could be in deeper. He kissed and licked her neck, moved down to her breasts and back to her mouth again. She writhed under his touch, breath labored and loud in his ear. He put his hand on her thigh and guided her leg around behind his legs to lock him in place. She was pulsing, hot and rapid, and that did it for him. He tensed and she braced herself, holding her breath as he climaxed. They opened their eyes and looked at each other for a second. "Check! Check! We have to check!" she cried out. 371


They sprang apart, both leaping out of bed to the left side of it. She put her hand down on herself. He inspected the sheets carefully. After a minute or so, they both looked up. "Did you find anything?" he asked. "N-no blood." she said. "You?" "No blood." he dropped the top sheet onto the bed and approached her, enveloping her, arms around her arms, mouth on the top of her head. He whispered, over and over again, "We can do something. We can do something. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God." For her part, she was shaking. She put her head up. "Is this how it's gonna be?" "I don't, I don't know." he sat down on the bed, and she sat beside him. "I, uh, I can't do it the Tantric way every time. It's, it takes a lot outta me to hold back like that for a long time. Hard to stay patient and move slowly when it feels so good to move fast." "How, um, how often? Wait, I don't want to be selfish." "Only maybe once a week." he admitted. "Can you live with that? We could do math or something, right?" "Yes." she said, then thought better of it. "We should, we should try it the regular way." "You mean --?" "Yes, Doug. We need to know if we can, if we have options." "I don't want to harm you." "I know. But we need to test this. I mean, what if we forget one time? Or we just, we mess up?" 372


"I can't, couldn't let it happen to you again." "This is the best opportunity." she said. "Phlox is just a communicator call away, and he knows what we're up to. Keep what you need, uh, close. Shorts, communicator, anything else. Just in case." "Are you sure?" "Yes. I want to be with you all the way, any way that we can." She kissed him. "Absolutely sure?" "Yes!" she said, a little more sharply than she'd intended. "Lili!" he exclaimed. "You've gotten, well, angry a bit lately. I suspect that underneath your chef's whites you're a bit of a spitfire when you get riled up. I think you may have a bit of a temper." "Hey, I'm half-Irish. Don't mess with me." "I will mess with you all I like." he said. "But I am, you do recognize, I am scared that you'll, well ...." "Like I said, you'll be prepared and we'll see what happens." "Here goes nothing." "Here comes everything." she corrected him and touched him. He was almost effortlessly aroused again. "You have the right touch." "So do you." she panted, while he was helping her get ready again.

373


This time, they merged quickly and deeply. Fast, sweaty movement. Panting, hot breath, mouths grazing necks. She pushed back on his shoulders and rolled him onto his back. Moving fast, he put his hands on her breasts and pushed her away and pulled her back, coming in close for kisses and away for pushing. She was hot and moaning, clutching his shoulders to steady herself. Her movements got more and more uncoordinated and he rolled her onto her back. Pushing down, hard, his mouth on hers, endlessly kissing her, endlessly insatiable. It was time. He tensed and let his breath out in her ear as he climaxed, her voice loud as her face contorted with her own. They were panting, asynchronously panting. He found his voice after maybe a minute. "We, we have to check." he said. "Yes." she breathed. They got up again, and did as before. He was done checking first, and stared at her for a second. "If I didn't know why you were doing that, I'd swear you were ...." She smiled. "No blood." she said, inspecting her fingers. "None here either, just evidence that we made love. I'll, um, I'll take that side." "You don't have to." "It's okay." he said, clicking her communicator open. "Get me Doctor Phlox. It's, it's not an emergency." "Phlox here." 374


"Doc, we're okay." he said. "Might I suggest you attempt another position?" Dr. Phlox asked. "Make certain before you declare yourselves fully fit and all." "We already did that." Lili said. "Very well then. I will see you tonight for your farewell dinner, is that correct?" Phlox asked. "Yes. I'm making holiday foods, since I won't be here when they come around. Christmas ham, potato latkes and tabbouleh, salads, a vegetarian hoppin' John for those who keep kosher or halal and of course for Commander T'Pol." "Sounds marvelous. See you then. Phlox out." Doug put the communicator back on Lili's desk. "Lili," he said, "I swear to you that I will never leave you that fast again." "Doug, don't write checks with your mouth that maybe your body can't cash." "I, I know that eventually I'll get to the point where I can't just keep going, just move from one climax to another without resting in between. But until that happens, I'll stay right with you, keep it going, as long as you want it, whenever you want it. Because that's what I want, too." She kissed him. "And when we do sleep?" "I will hold you and keep you warm and smell your hair. I will never buy you perfume. I never want you to smell of anything but food and yourself." "What if I make something with sardines in it?" 375


"Then we'll take another shower together." he said. "And I promise that I will always let you know when things are right, and when things are wrong. If I'm tired or having PMS or whatever. I won't blindside you. And, and I want you to smell like you, too. Because that's how I was able, that's how I knew it was you, back when it was just dark and I didn't know your face." He kissed her deeply. "Lili, I was thinking. I, well, Jay had a sister. And it would be really bad if she were to find out about me by just stumbling upon me or something." "Hmmm?" "So I was thinking, I should change my name." "Change your name? But I love Doug and I love Douglas Jay and I love Douglas Jay Hayes." she said. "Just a new last name. I'd stick it on the end." "Oh? Well, don't make it anything I can't spell, like Grabinsky, okay?" "Can you spell Beckett?" "One or two Ts?" "Two." he said. "Where's Beckett coming from?" "It was my mother's maiden name." "Ah. Well that would honor her." she said. "Hmm. Doug Beckett. Douglas Jay Beckett. DJ Beckett." "No, no, Hayes would still be in there. So it would be DJH Beckett." 376


"Ah. Huh." she said. "You know, I'm in love with this guy." "Oh?" "Yeah. He's thoughtful." she kissed him. "Strong." she kissed him. "Handsome." "You'd better get your beautiful crystal blue eyes checked." She smiled. "Sexy." she kissed him deeply. "And his name is Doug Beckett." They kissed and she touched him again. He was beginning to be aroused again. He smiled at her. "Definitely the best hand." He kissed her again, hand lightly tracing the underside of her breast. "Lili?" "Yes?" she gasped. "I was thinking, you should really change your name, too." "Oh? To what?" she asked, looking deeply into his bluish-greenish-greyish eyes. "Beckett.�

377

Gershen-Siegel : "Reversal"  

A PG-13, ENT fan fiction novel: written by J. R. Gershen-Siegel Lili has found the man of her dreams... dreams that soon become nightmares!...

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