Fortune by jespah
Summary:

How do you begin, or begin anew?

What’s going to happen next?

What if you could predict it, or at least have a good handle on forever?

 

What would you do with that information?

And for the people you’ve promised yourself to, forever, what does that really mean? Do you ignore the truth, or do you listen to all of it, even the ugliest parts?


Categories: Enterprise, Mirror Universe, Expanded Universes Characters: Beckett, Doug Hayes, Daniels, Ensemble Cast - ENT, O'Day, Lili
Genre: Drama, Het, Romance, Tragedy
Warnings: Character Death, Graphic Het, Violence
Challenges: None
Series: In Between Days, Hall of Mirrors
Chapters: 32 Completed: Yes Word count: 111984 Read: 77808 Published: 23 Dec 2011 Updated: 31 Jan 2012

1. Chapter 1 by jespah

2. Chapter 2 by jespah

3. Chapter 3 by jespah

4. Chapter 4 by jespah

5. Chapter 5 by jespah

6. Chapter 6 by jespah

7. Chapter 7 by jespah

8. Chapter 8 by jespah

9. Chapter 9 by jespah

10. Chapter 10 by jespah

11. Chapter 11 by jespah

12. Chapter 12 by jespah

13. Chapter 13 by jespah

14. Chapter 14 by jespah

15. Chapter 15 by jespah

16. Chapter 16 by jespah

17. Chapter 17 by jespah

18. Chapter 18 by jespah

19. Chapter 19 by jespah

20. Chapter 20 by jespah

21. Chapter 21 by jespah

22. Chapter 22 by jespah

23. Chapter 23 (Part 1) by jespah

24. Chapter 23 (Part 2) by jespah

25. Chapter 24 by jespah

26. Chapter 25 by jespah

27. Chapter 26 by jespah

28. Chapter 27 by jespah

29. Chapter 28 by jespah

30. Chapter 29 by jespah

31. Chapter 30 by jespah

32. Afterword by jespah

Chapter 1 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Louis Armstrong - Wonderful World

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.


– Brutus, Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

“Let me be there when you tell him. I gotta see the look on his face. Just, do that for me.” – Doug Beckett

“Poor Malcolm, I'm gonna wake him up and stun him. You, uh, I guess everyone's up. So everyone can watch. Please, be kind. You know what this feels like, Doug.” – Lili Beckett

“Malcolm, do you think Doug is a good father?” – Lili Beckett

“Malcolm, you're gonna become a father. Malcolm! Malcolm!” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes, Malcolm, come in. Please, sit down,” Jonathan said.

“Yes?”

“I noticed you asked for leave. A short leave now, and then, what is it?” Captain Archer checked a screen, “Two years. Seems kinda silly to go there for a few days and then return for a couple of years. I mean, I need you, we've got the Coalition of Planets forming and, well, I just need you. Can't you, uh, put the short one off for a while, and just tack it onto the end of the longer one?”

“I, uh, it is within my rights, sir,” Malcolm said, becoming just a slight bit uncomfortable.

“Oh. Well, um, I don't want to pry,” Jonathan said, “Are you, uh, is something wrong?”

“No, sir. It's just, it's private.”

“I mean, if you need to care for a sick family member, I do understand. I hope you feel you can talk to me.”

“It's not that.”

“Are your parents all right?”

“Never better, sir.”

“And your, you have a sister, am I right?” Jonathan asked. He'd never, really, gotten to know Malcolm. Years of service but he barely knew the guy.

“Yes, Madeline. She's doing well.”

“So, uh, what is it that can't wait?”

“I, uh,” he reddened, and pulled a handkerchief out of a zippered pocket, “I should have mentioned this earlier.”

“Oh?” Now he was getting somewhere.

“Yes. And I certainly had the time to. It's not like, as if I am ashamed of it or anything. I suppose I just never really knew how to, to broach the subject. Plus there's an awful lot of explanation that goes along with it.”

“And ...?” This was like pulling teeth.

“And, sir, I am taking a short leave now to, well, to attend the birth of my child.”

There was a stunned silence for a second, then Jonathan erupted, “Child?! Ha, why you dirty dog, not telling us! Tell me, is it that beautiful doctor who was here a few years ago? What was her name, Pamela? She was quite a looker.”

“No, sir. Pamela isn't the one who's pregnant. It's Lili Beckett,” Malcolm said. He touched a dull grey cuff on his left wrist. It was a gift she'd given him, and he touched it whenever he was nervous or apprehensive. It felt strange to suddenly be telling, and to be revealing, what had been going on for a couple of years. It was wonderful, but it was complicated.

“Oh, well, that's good. I understand some women have surrogates. And I'm sure Lili has been taking care of your and Pamela's child as if it were her own,” Jonathan said. He'd have to find the stock of Champagne. Chef kept some, he knew that. This would be a good time to break some of it out.

“No, sir. Pamela's not involved at all. It's just Lili and me, sir. She's having my, our, uh, baby,” he smiled to himself and choked up a bit. He really, really hated showing that, and particularly to his commanding officer! He'd have to control himself, but it hadn't been easy for quite a while. He'd had to hold it all together for months. He'd done his job as per usual, but there had been things that had reminded him of what was happening. Seeing a star being formed had almost made him break down. Meeting a new species had been another cause of a near-meltdown. He didn't enjoy being so emotional, but it was all of a piece.

“Oh. Uh, isn't she married, Lieutenant?” Malcolm nodded, “And not to you. Are you, uh, I realize this is none of my business but, is this child the product of an affair?”

=/=



“Look. I can guess at what's happening – I only have a few pieces of this. … But not all songs are soloes or duets. Maybe yours is a three-part harmony of some sort. 'Cause I can tell you – if Reed isn't in on this, he's gonna be miserable forever. And if you're not in it, you'll be the one who's miserable. And if either of you are missing, she's the one who gets it. Actually, she's the one who gets it either way. If either of you care about her happiness at all, you'll, I dunno. You'll find a way to get this to work.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



“Not exactly,” Malcolm said, touching the cuff more than ever. He'd have to explain.

“Hmm?”

“Do you recall – uh, that's silly, of course you recall – a little over two years ago. There were ten of us who were captured by a species called the Witannen.”

“Of course I remember,” Jonathan said. Deborah.

“And, and they paired us up, in order to, well, there's no pretty way to say it. They wanted us to breed for their own purposes. And, and Tripp and Hoshi were paired, Jennifer and Travis, you and Deborah Haddon, Doug Beckett with Melissa Madden and, and, Lili and me,” he paused for a second, “I don't suppose the Witannen thought we would form true emotional attachments. But we did. I had, I had already felt something for her. But as a married woman, well, you're not supposed to feel such things. Or, at least, not act upon them. But Melissa ended up pregnant and so there would be a connection in any event. As a group we, uh, we decided to keep the attachments, keep them going.”

“I'm not so sure I understand. This is a, what, a group marriage?”

“Well, I'm not married to anyone. And neither are Melissa or Leonora.”

“Who?”

“There are five of us. It's possible because, well, because of things like this,” he hitched up his sleeve to show the captain the cuff, “The, uh, the Calafans. They have a dream state. It's almost an alternate reality, and they make their contacts using a sort of amplifier material that this cuff is composed of. Their lives are filled with, with two sides. A day and a night, and they have relationships in both. So during the day, she's married to Doug Beckett. At night, she's with, she's with me. And at night he is with Melissa Madden who, during her days is with her, with her lover, whose name is Leonora Digiorno. We do, uh, sometimes see each other in person. Which is, uh, well, how this all happened.”

“I'm getting a headache just hearing about it,” Jonathan said, “And nobody minds?”

“I can't speak for all. But, well, everyone tries to be, to be considerate. It's not just our relationships with each other that are important, but the children. They, truly, are the most important parties in this, uh, arrangement. Doug and Lili have two children – you've met their son. Melissa and Doug have a son, and they are, well, she's to give birth to a second one about two weeks after, after my son will be born,” Now he couldn't hold it in, and blew his nose to try to cover it up.

“Lieutenant?” Jonathan asked gently. Well, he'd wanted to know the man. Now, maybe, this was a bit too well.

“I'm sorry, sir,” Malcolm composed himself, “I'm so glad they're the ones who have them. Lili is, she keeps telling me, she's an old pro at this.”

“I guess so. Did you, uh, always want a family?” Other business could wait.

=/=



“Just, consider how today is going to be, and tomorrow, here. And think of the future later, when it has come and it matters. Be happy today.” – Dayah

=/=



“Do you recall, during the Xindi War, we met with another ship that was being, it was being piloted by our descendants?”

“Yes, I, uh, it had turned out I married an Ikaaran woman,” Jonathan said. Not Deborah.

“Ah, yes. Well, I was the only senior officer to die a bachelor. Lili ended up with, with José Torres. Not Jay Hayes, which I suppose would have been fitting. But he, too, died without, without love. It bothered me, sir. More than I let on to anyone. Even to myself, you see. And, well, it was 2157, and, and the Enterprise came to the Lafa System for the first time.”

“I remember that. Lili was, uh, Lili O'Day then.”

“Yes,” Malcolm smiled, “And she and Doug made contact, even though it was completely unwitting. And she, uh, she suddenly became just, I don't know. It was like a light had come on. And I realized she was someone I wanted to really know. And then I couldn't! But I didn't stop thinking of her. Truly, the only time I really took a break from that was when Pamela and I dated. And then in 2159, we went to their home. It was you, me, Hoshi and Jennifer. We all had a lovely time. Lili made a kind of roast, I remember. But while everyone else was taking seconds or being amused by their son, I was, it was, it all came flooding back again. Then we were thrown together. I know the Witannen had no way of knowing that I had felt the way I did. And they had no way of knowing that Doug and Melissa would be so well-paired as well. But whatever criteria they used for making their pairs, it was, it was as if it was meant.”

Jonathan nodded slightly. He and Deborah weren't perfectly matched. She'd had a crush on him the size of Jupiter. Perhaps it had been ideal for her. For him, it had been, well, it had been good, and not just the physical parts. She'd been someone to confide in, and protect, and care about. And now she'd married someone else.

=/=



“What's more important is how we move ahead, together.” – Lili O'Day

=/=



Jonathan shook himself out of his reverie, “Is, uh, do you know the day for certain? I'd hate to set you down on Lafa II and have you wait and then return to the Enterprise, and then have everything happen a day later.”

“She's having a Cesarean, sir. So it's all set. All Hallows' Eve.”

“And she's having a boy?”

“Yes. A boy, sir,” he gripped the handkerchief. Not again.

“Got any names picked out?”

“The baby will be named Declan.”

“Declan?”

“A family name, from Lili's side,” Malcolm explained.

=/=



“I convinced you because I appealed to your sense of efficiency.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“Does, uh, Declan have a middle name?”

“That's my job, sir,” Malcolm smiled.

“Any ideas?”

“I have a list that goes on for pages and pages,” he chuckled a little.

“I bet you do. Are you, uh, going to Movie Night tonight?”

“Yes. After I call her, of course. I need to know how many kicks today, and all of that.”

“Absolutely. Give her my best. And, if it's all right, I'd like to meet Declan sometime.”

“And Marie Patrice, and Tommy and Neil when he arrives, too, yes?” Malcolm asked.

“Sure,” Jonathan said, “If they're important to you, then I guess they should be important to me as well. Thank you for telling me. Dismissed.”

“Yes, sir,” Malcolm said, leaving before he was again overcome.

=/=



Jonathan punched up Communications, “Travis.”

“Yes?” asked Travis Mayweather as he piloted.

“A quick course change. Please lay in a course to the Lafa System. That's not too far out of our way, right?”

“We can be there in a few days at Warp Four,” Travis said after checking a few instruments, “Course plotted and laid in, sir.”

“Thanks. Archer out,” he then sat and dictated.

“Captain's star log, October twenty-fifth, 2161. We are passing Andoria and on our way to the Lafa System. This is a slight detour in order to drop off our Tactical Officer for a few days.

What the Tactical Officer, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, neglected to tell me until now is that this side trip is for a very happy occasion. His son will be born in a few days to his, uh, wife.”


Jonathan stopped dictating for a second. Wife was not the right word.

He punched a few keys on the console to find a thesaurus, “Hmm. Lover seems too personal. Girlfriend? I think she's older than he is. Girlfriend hardly seems dignified for someone over the age of fifty. Sweetheart? Spouse? No. Consort? No, he's not an Emperor. Helpmeet? What are we, in Shakespearean times? Hmm. Soul mate? Heh, I can't embarrass him like that. Even if it is true. Huh. Significant other. That's it!”

He turned on dictation mode again, “Computer, erase the last word. Actually, erase the last sentence. Resume dictation,” he took a breath.

“His son will be born in a few days to his Significant Other, Lili Beckett. Lili is a former Sous-Chef and Steward and has ties to Starfleet. Lieutenant Reed will return for duty after the baby is born but will return to Lafa II in mid-January of 2162, where he will remain for two years.

Also, it has recently come to my attention that Ensign Chandler Masterson and his wife, Ensign Deborah Haddon-Masterson, are expecting their first child. She will be on duty, in Security, for four more months and will then go on maternity leave at the location of her choice. Her husband will be given two years' leave starting a month before her due date.

Finally, with the decommissioning of the NX-01 on the horizon, there will be some other personnel adjustments. I will report these in Human Resources mode.”

He stopped the dictation and switched to a different mode, “Human Resources, provide Lieutenant Reed with one year additional family leave, effective January first, 2162,” he paused, “And Chandler Masterson and Deborah Haddon-Masterson as well,” At least he could give her that. “Promotions. With the decommissioning of the NX-01, my first officer, T'Pol, will be returning to Vulcan. I cannot think of a more suitable replacement than Chief Engineer Charles Tucker III. As of January 1, 2162, he is hereby promoted to full Commander and I hereby offer him the role of first officer in my next assignment, on the USS Zefram Cochrane. In addition, I hereby promote Lieutenant Malcolm Reed to the office of Commander and offer him the role of Tactical Officer on the Cochrane once he returns from family leave. During his leave, I offer the position of Tactical Officer, on a temporary basis, to Ensign Aidan MacKenzie, who is also promoted, to Lieutenant. All promotions are effective as of January 1, 2162. Please let me tell the men, so kindly refrain from sending forms. However, please do send a form to Lieutenant Reed as he may wish to make changes to his listed next of kin.”

He exited human resources mode and sighed.

“Porthos, what do you think of all this?”

The beagle looked at him with trusting eyes but, naturally, said nothing.

He picked up the dog and set him on his lap, “It coulda been me,” he said softly, “Yanno, I have no idea if any of us will ever have normal relationships. But what's normal, anyway, so long as people are happy? Thank you for being there for me, buddy. But I think I better get myself a gal of my own,” The dog licked him in the face, “At least, she'd probably kiss better. And certainly wouldn't have kibble breath,” he smiled and looked out the window. Life could be damnably unfair sometimes.

Champagne! He'd make sure Chef took it out, but maybe after the film had ended.

And he had an idea about that as well, and started clicking Search on his PADD furiously.

=/=

“There is nothing like love.” – Malcolm Reed

Chapter 2 by jespah

“And there were letters. I knew they weren't just being sent to me, but I could, I could believe they were, if I felt it hard enough. And there were photographs! If I squinted just right, I could, I could believe that it was you and me in front of your new business venture, you and I standing on a beach, and you and I holding our, our son.”– Malcolm Reed

“You got bitten. Hard. Don't just concede it.”– Pamela Hudson

“I guess it looks weird, getting that intimate and involved that quickly. I won't deny that my brain's probably rather sex-addled.”– Lili O'Day

“I'd wish you all luck, but, ha, getting lucky is what got us into this in the first place.”– Jonathan Archer

=/=



“How are you feeling, Lili-Flower?”

“Pretty good,” she said, on the viewer, from the den at her home on Lafa II. Her daughter and son ran in and out of viewer range.

“I see you have company there,” Malcolm said, “How many kicks today?”

“Seventeen,” she said.

“Hmm, that's less than yesterday.”

“Are you graphing the numbers, or something?”

“No, no, of course not,” he said, “He just doesn't seem to be as active as, as Marie Patrice was.”

Hearing her name, Lili's daughter stopped for a second and addressed the screen, “Mackum! When are you coming back?”

“In a few days, young miss,” he said, “But your mother and I are going to be a bit busy.”

“A baby's going to come out,” Marie Patrice said.

“Yes, that's right,” Malcolm said.

“We, uh, don't have the specific mechanics on that yet,” Lili said, “But we do know that Mommy's having an operation, but that's not how it's normally done. And Melissa is going to have a baby come out soon, too, right?”

“Uh-huh,” Marie Patrice said, “But that's some other way.”

“Yes,” Malcolm said, “How old is your daughter, again?”

“Two in January,” Lili said.

“My God. They are amazing.”

“Mirror children,” Lili said, “The genetics from the other side of the pond are pretty powerful.”

=/=



“It is ... you need to understand, Lili … I know how it all happened. How that baby got there. How you and me put him there. Very, very sexy.”– Doug Beckett

“You were an animal. The Calafans were staring.”– Lili Beckett

“That's 'cause they could hear you. You're not exactly a little mouse when you, uh, when you know. It must kill ya to keep quiet with Joss in the other room.”– Doug Beckett

“I like to make it so that you have to bite the pillow.”– Doug Beckett

“I'm gonna bite that pillow in half if you keep doing exactly what you're doing right now.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“You seem to be so much smaller than you were when you were expecting her,” Malcolm said.

Since the conversation had turned to more grown-up things again, Marie Patrice returned to running around and chasing after her older brother, Joss.

“Well, I am smaller, even than I was when I was only four or five months along with her.”

“Is that, is that bad? Are you getting enough to eat?”

“Of course I am! Oh Gawd, I am eating half a perrazin all by myself these days.”

“But your, your size. I just, I worry. Are you certain Declan's all right?” Malcolm asked anxiously, touching the cuff a bit.

“Yes. He's fine. He is normal,” Lili said, “It's that the other two were giants. This is the easiest pregnancy I have ever had. We should have six more.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“That's a joke,” she smiled, “If you want to see someone who's gotten as big as I did, maybe give Melissa a call.”

“Is she doing all right?”

“Yep,” Lili said, “She's due in mid-November. I think she and Norri will be glad to be done with this one.”

“Difficulties?”

“I think she's just uncomfortable, but nothing bad. Oof! There was kick number eighteen.”

“Yes, I think I saw that one. I wish I was there, putting my hand on your stomach, feeling it along with you.”

“You were always good at getting Marie Patrice to lay off the kicking,” she said.

=/=



“We are already intimate.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“You'll be here on the twenty-eighth?” she asked.

“The twenty-ninth, I think.”

“Oh.”

“Something the matter?” he asked.

“The twenty-eighth is, do you know what day it was? Uh, four years ago?”

“Hmmm. Was it when you and Doug first, uh, met?”

“Yes.”

“So have that to yourselves, my love. And the twenty-ninth, as I recall, was when I noticed you for the first time,” he smiled, “But you weren't as radiant as you are right now.”

“You're a smooth talker,” she lowered her voice, “You, uh, you don't have to flatter me in order to get lucky, yanno.”

Joss ran in, “Empy's not sharing.”

“Hmm. Come back in here, Miss,” Lili said.

Her daughter obeyed, “Yes, Mommy?”

“What's this about you not sharing?”

“I just wanted to wait on the porch swing by myself, and see Daddy first.”

“Hmm. Okay. But let Joss wait next time, all right?”

“Okay,” she ran off again.

“Do you need to get anything ready for Doug?” Malcolm asked.

“Nope. You can't smell what I'm cooking. I have elekai stew going in the slow cooker. And, uh, the table is set. Isn't it, Joss?”

“Uh, yeah. Hiya, Mackum,” he said, then disappeared to do something which only three-year-old boys who look like they're six like to do.

“I wish I could come there right now, and smell not only your stew but, uh,” Malcolm smiled, “your hair and your neck and then move a bit downwards and then I would not be concentrating on that sense as much as I would be concentrating on taste.”

She chuckled a little, “Oh yeah,” Lili took a thin chain out from inside her shirt. On it were her wedding ring and an old-fashioned skeleton key charm with a solid handle.

=/=



“I should not give you a ring. That would not be right. But I can give you this. It means not just an unlocking of, of me, but also key as in important. You have always made me feel important, and I want you to know how important, how key you are, to me as well. And, and, I hope you will wear this some days, and look at this, and think of me, sometimes.”– Malcolm Reed

“I don't need to look at this to think about you. I already do. I love it. Really, totally love it. And I will wear it every day. It's just right.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“Thank you again for wearing that,” Malcolm said, “I struggled to get you something that would be right.”

“It's perfect. I can't imagine taking it off.”

“I can imagine you, uh, taking something else off,” Malcolm said.

“Oh?”

There was the sound of a door opening, “Hold that thought for tonight,” Lili said, getting up, “Be right back. Doug!” she called.

“Ah, life doesn't get any better,” Doug said, coming in and shaking off some rain, “Beautiful wife, kids not, uh, killing each other too much, and dinner making the whole house smell unbe-freakin’-lievable. Oh, and the recruits were pretty good today. I think they're finally all getting the hang of present arms.”

“Like these?” she asked, opening her arms to hug him. Her arms were tattooed with intricate silvery scrollwork.

“Not exactly,” he said, “Yours are better,” They kissed, “After dinner, let's find them some sort of video to watch. Something engrossing.”

“Oh?” she asked, “I should tell you, I've got Malcolm on the viewer.”

“Right now?” Doug asked.

“Uh, yep,” she smiled.

“Ah, well. But don't forget – a video for them and then you, me, and math,” Doug said. He came within viewer range, “Hiya, Reed.”

“Hello,” Malcolm said, “Everything doing all right?”

“Definitely. We got the nursery all set up. Dec will sleep in there until he's, I dunno, two or so, then he'll switch with Marie Patrice and she'll get her own room. That work for you?”

“Of course,” Malcolm said, “And I can't even begin to thank you. You're going to do so much for him,” he found himself getting a bit emotional, but it was easier to do that in front of the Becketts than in front of anyone else.

“Hey, forget it. I know you'd do the same. And the addition's all done. We had some trouble getting it finished. The workmen got committed to building another place, right near us,” Doug said.

Lili came over, “Yeah, there's land behind us, a little rise. It looks like it'll be a house for humans. There are all these big boxes out there. It might be furniture or appliances or something; I can't tell. I have to keep telling the kids not to go over there and bother the workmen.”

“Do you, uh, know who your neighbors are going to be?” Malcolm asked.

“Not a clue,” Doug said, “Look, I gotta change. Reed, you'll stay with us, right? The couch in the den folds out. Then when Lili's in the Med Center, the Calafans will set it up so that you and Lili can sleep in the same room with Dec for a night or two.”

“Then I'll have to return to the Enterprise,” Malcolm said, “But I'll be back in January.”

“Come back for Marie Patrice's birthday,” Lili suggested, “And in the meantime we'll see if we can find you a temporary apartment or something.”

“Thank you. It'll be a good two years. I am truly looking forward to getting to know Declan really, really well. I don't want to have to guess at what his favorite food is.”

=/=



“There are things I want to tell you. Three words. You know which ones they are. But I cannot. I, it's a pity. I cannot, because I know that you don't –”– Malcolm Reed

“I want to ask you to be patient with me. After all, it took me about two years to know the score. Let me, let me come to it in my own way, at my own pace.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“Wonderful,” she said, “So, tell me Enterprise business,” she leaned over and called, “Kids, come wash up!”

“Not much to tell,” Malcolm said, “We're done with the Augments. I don't think there are anymore. At least, I hope not. And Terra Prime seems to be dissolving as a movement.”

“Good. Don't want you to be in any danger, my soul,” she said.

He smiled, “It's Movie Night tonight, actually.”

“Ah. Very important, then. What does Chip have picked out?”

“It's called Pulp Fiction. He said the director is some chap named Quentin Tarantino.”

“Hmm. You're not thinking of Quentin for Declan's middle name, are you?” she joked.

“Ha, no. But I admit I am stumped. Stuart was in the lead for a long time.”

“That's your father's name, right?”

“Yes. But I'm just not sure.”

“When it comes to you, it'll be right,” she said, “Whatever it is.”

“Thank you, Lili-Flower.”

“I think dinner's ready,” Doug said, coming back into visual range.

“I'd better go. I love you,” she said, “See you tonight?”

“Yes. And I love you both,” Malcolm said, “Just close your eyes and we'll see one another, Lili-Flower.”

=/=



“I'm just sort of a pet names person. Called every, everyone, every woman by one or another, but it was always something more generic, like Sweetheart or Darling. I wanted this one to be more unique and personal.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



Movie Night was packed. Malcolm could barely find a seat. He looked around the crowded room. It was as if there was no one actually piloting the ship, there were so many people there. Seats were lined up against the walls and people were standing. SRO! Pulp Fiction was that good a film?

Chip Masterson, the night-shift Communications Ensign, walked to the front of the room, “Wow, this is an awesome turnout! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, as always, to Movie Night. Tonight's feature is Pulp Fiction, starring, uh, John Travolta, Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman.”

Captain Archer came in and got to the front of the room and stood next to Chip, “Excuse me,” the captain said.

“I see I have a co-host tonight,” Chip said, “Captain, you have the floor.”

“Thanks. I, uh, took the liberty of changing tonight's film,” There were some sounds of disappointment, “And this also goes with the orders that most of you received, requiring your attendance here this evening.”

Malcolm was taken aback. He'd received no such orders. How strange.

“In any event,” Captain Archer continued, “tonight's film has been changed to Kramer versus Kramer. Chip, that's, uh, K-R-A-M-E-R,” Jonathan paused a second, “The film is, in large part, about a divorce. But that's not why I chose it. I also selected it – and believe me, the divorce parts of it aren't some special message I'm trying to get across. It's the other part. This film is also about the relationship between a man and his son.”

Malcolm reached for the all-important handkerchief.

“In fact, the father argues in court that he is the better parent. And he is. I would like to, uh, I would like to dedicate this film to, to someone in our midst who's about to become a father,” Jonathan said.

“Captain,” Chip began.

“You're actually not the first one, Chip,” Jonathan said, “Malcolm, where are you?”

Malcolm stood up tentatively.

“This film is for you. We call you Malcolm. But there's going to be – in less than a week! – someone named Declan who will call you Dad.”

The room got loud.

The women all came up to him first. Hoshi hugged him, and Shelby, and Karin. Deborah came over – she wasn't quite showing yet – and kissed him on the cheek. She whispered to him, “Tell Chip what it's like. He's terrified.”

“I am, a bit, too,” Malcolm admitted.

There were loud popping sounds as Champagne corks flew. Someone thrust a cup in his hands and he nearly spilled it on Ethan Shapiro, who was shaking his hand fiercely.

“Just a second!” Chip yelled from the front of the room, “We actually will show the film. It stars, uh, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep,” he read off a PADD, “And the kid is an actor named Justin Henry. It won, uh, Best Picture and Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. But first, a toast. Captain?”

“Yes,” Jonathan said, getting a cup of Champagne from Deborah, who smiled at him as she held a cup of juice for herself. No Champagne for her, of course, “To Malcolm Reed – going where none of us have ever gone before.”

“Hear, here!” they called out as one.

“Okay, roll it, Aidan!” Chip called as the lights were dimmed and the movie began to play.

=/=



“I'm kind of a cheap date these days. I can't party like I used to.”– Lili Beckett

“I'm finding I prefer a quieter life now, myself.”– Malcolm Reed

Chapter 3 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Billie Holliday - God Bless the Child

“I guess you'll both be pregnant at the same time. I better start ordering pancake flour now, eh?”– Doug Beckett

“Inhibitions fall, libido rises.”– Tripp Tucker

=/=



It was a few days later, the night of the twenty-eighth, nearing midnight.

Two pairs of hands caressed, two mouths kissed and two climaxes occurred, almost at the same time.

They broke apart and changed positions, this time hands on each other in a different way, kissing and kissing again and again until, during and after climaxing.

Spent, they broke apart again.

“I love you,” Leonora Digiorno said.

“And I love you, too,” replied Melissa Madden, “Yanno, I understand that climaxing can bring on labor when you're a good nine months along. And I just about am.”

“Heh, Doug'll be disappointed if he can't be there for the birth. He's seen it, what, three times? I guess that show never gets old,” Norri said.

“Oh, I hope not,” Melissa said, shifting her massive weight a bit, “How jaded would we all be if birth just became another boring thing, to be attended by compulsion instead of being something we wanted to do?”

“True, Mellie. Did you know,” she said, kissing Melissa's fingers, “my parents originally didn't approve of you?”

“Oh? Do tell.”

“Yep. They thought you were a little too capricious for me, my love,” Norri said, “I also think my father kinda had this crazy notion in his head that I'd be able to get over this,” she made air quotes, “being gay business.”

“Ha!”

“Yeah. I wonder if he thought it was weird, all three of his kids liking girls. I mean, for Alex and Phil, he was okay with it. But me? Uh, not so much.”

“You were barely twenty-one when we met, too,” Melissa said.

“And you were ancient! Twenty-three!” Norri joked. They kissed.

“Ah,” Melissa said, but was then kicked, “Uh, hello, Neil,” she said, addressing her huge belly.

“How are you feeling with that?”

“I'll be glad when his little feet are considerably farther away from my bladder,” Melissa said, getting up.

Norri lay back. Life was good. Tommy was sleeping through the night, Melissa would be home for a while, and Neil was almost there. Neil, named, kinda sorta, after her. She smiled to herself, “I never thought that would happen,” she whispered.

“Hmm?”

“Oh, nothing. What have you got there?” Norri asked. Melissa had a small box in her hands.

“I didn't have time to wrap it. But, uh, here.”

“Huh, thanks. But it's not my birthday or anything, Mellie.”

“Doesn't matter. I just wanted to give you something.”

Norri opened the box. Inside was a pair of small hoop earrings in a dull grey metal. “Thank you. This is, uh, these are made of Calafan amplifier material, aren't they?”

“They are. But you don't have to use them for that, of course. I just thought they were pretty. And I figured if you ever wanted the option, well, now you've got your own means if you want to go forward with that.”

“I don't know if I ever will,” Norri said, “I kinda like the randomness of regular human dreaming. But I do love them.”

They kissed.

=/=



“Almost the same as when we first got together. Definitely the same feelings. And the same reaction.”– Doug Beckett

“Nobody makes me feel the way you do. Nobody makes me feel more. The same amount, yes. I won't deny that. But in a different way.”– Doug Beckett

“The same amount – and still wonderful. But it’s differently wonderful. Let me show you our own personal wonderful.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“C'mere, Mrs. Beckett.”

“You sure the kids are asleep?” she asked.

“Are you?”

“Hmm,” she listened, “Yep. I don't hear anyone whispering,” she smiled at him.

“It's just you and me,” he said, kissing her.

She was kicked when the kiss ended, “And, uh, Mister Declan,” she said.

“Yes, and him as well,” Doug kissed her belly.

“You are so okay with this. I am so grateful,” she said.

=/=



“I don't think any other man would do this for me.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“And why shouldn't I be? We have so much time together. And you're happy and I love you and, well, and everything.”

“Very articulate,” she joked.

“You know he's the talker. I am the doer,” Doug said. He took off her maternity dress, “Oh, ho, what's this?”

“I found it in a catalog,” she said, “Maternity lingerie.”

“Very nice,” he said, “Green's a good color on you. Mind if I, uh, check it out a bit more closely?”

“I would have broken it out sooner,” she said, but it came out more like moaning as he kissed her neck, “But it only, uh, came, a few days ago. And we didn't get a good opportunity to test drive it until, uh, now.”

“I see,” he said, pulling down one of the straps of her bra, “You're very swollen. Let me, uh, help you with that,” he unfastened her bra and placed it on the floor next to their bed.

“You're so considerate,” she breathed, pulling down his sweatpants, “And very ready, I see.”

“Uh-huh,” he said, and they kissed.

Her panties soon joined her bra on the floor.

He worked his way down and made it past her breasts to her belly, and then her thighs. She moaned a little and grabbed at a small pillow.

“Ah, effective,” he murmured, also caressing her.

Her reply was muffled as she kept herself quiet by moaning into fabric rather than out loud. No sense in waking the kids and generating a boatload of interesting questions.

When her pulsing had finally dissipated, she gently touched him and returned the favor. He didn't need to be kept quiet – he wasn't loud like she was – but it still felt terrific. Like a slingshot, she had once said. A ricochet.

She came back, and they kissed, “I see the green stuff had its intended effect.”

“You mean the little outfit?” he asked, hand on her waist or, what he could find of it amidst Declan and all.

“Of course.”

“Yep,” he said, “Maybe you'll put that outfit in the wash and wear it again tomorrow – uh,” he checked the clock, “tonight?”

“It's the twenty-ninth,” she smiled.

“Yeah. Four years since I figured out I loved you,” he said.

They kissed.

“Yanno,” he said, “It’s my birthday.”

“No, it's not,” she said, “Yours is in December, or have you forgotten?”

“Lili, it is,” he insisted, “The way I see it, I've got lots of birthdays.”

“Really. You just want a lotta presents.”

“Nah,” he kissed her, “Well, there's the first one, December third, 2102. That's the official one. And then the second one was October twenty-eighth, 2157.”

“The day we met.”

“Right you are. So the following day is also my birthday, because I figured out that you were real and I knew I loved you. And you smelled like oranges.”

“I had probably inhaled a lot of orange oil from chopping them all day long. And, uh, I figured out you were real then, too. And that I Ioved you.”

They kissed.

“But I have more birthdays,” he said.

“Now you're just getting greedy.”

“Nuh-uh. November thirteenth, 2157 is the next one.”

“The day you came over from the other side of the pond,” she said, “I can see that as another birth, definitely.”

“And February fourteenth, 2158,” he said.

“Our wedding day,” she smiled.

“And then September second, 2158.”

“Joss's birthdate. You're taking on Joss's birthdate as well?”

“Yep. And January eleventh of 2160 and May twenty-fifth of 2160 as well, for the same reasons.”

“Marie Patrice and Tommy's births. Man oh man, Mister Beckett, you're gonna need a lotta candles.”

“I'm not even done,” he said, “There's also August second, 2159, the day I met Melissa, and August twenty-sixth of 2159, which was when I realized I loved her, too.”

“I think that's ten already,” she said, “Do you, uh, have anymore?”

“Yes,” he said, “Two more. October thirty-first of 2161 and November something-or-other – a day to be named later – of 2161.”

“Neil's birth I can understand, but Declan's, too?”

“Yes. Declan's, too. We are all family,” he said, “My life since October twenty-eighth of 2157 has been one big reversal. In the past four years, I have become a new man, over and over again, and each time that happens, I marvel at how perfect it is. And I didn't realize I needed for it to change but then it changes, and suddenly I can't imagine what it was like before. It seems impossible that it was that way before.”

“Onward and upward,” Lili said, as he put his hand on her belly and sniffed her hair as they became comfortable together.

=/=



“I bet you fall hard. It's like nothing else.”– Doug Hayes

=/=



Sleep came, as it does after so much activity. For Malcolm, still on the Enterprise, sleep also arrived, for he had had a full day of wrapping up things for a few days so that Aidan would be all right while he was gone, to going to the gym and getting in a good workout because he knew it could potentially be a few days before he'd be able to do so.

The children rested, dreaming of happy things, of small barking dogs and kicking balls and whirling the little mobile around in just the right way so as to make the desired musical chimes that would make mothers and fathers smile.

Leonora took off the earrings, nestled in next to Melissa, put her hand on her partner's pregnant belly, and slept.

She didn't dream like a Calafan, not like the others did. But she didn't because her dreams were already vivid and creative and beautiful. It seemed a shame to lose them. And so she dreamt.

=/=



“I cannot concentrate on anyone else, cannot see anyone else. It would be very unfair to you.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



Norri’s dream

There was a beautiful woman, the color of coffee with cream, her hair carefully arranged in a coiffure held back with a gardenia on the side, over one ear. She was wearing a shimmering evening gown with a lovely large-stoned necklace and was standing in front of a very old-fashioned microphone.

A band was behind her, mainly consisting of a drummer and a pianist and a guitarist but there was also a trumpet player. The music started with the trumpeter.

She began to sing.


Them that's got shall have
Them that's not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

And for Norri, it was so beautiful that she sang along and wept, even in her sleep, heart brimming and full, and spilling over.

=/=



“I want to meet my lover.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“Melissa,” Doug said, his own dream starting as Melissa's combined with his.

“Mmmm, yes?” she asked. They were standing in a field. She wasn't visibly pregnant but it was a dream. You don't have to be huge in dreams if you don't want to.

They walked together, hand in hand, “You make me feel younger than I know I am,” he said.

“Fifty-what?” she asked.

“Fifty-nine in a couple of months,” he said, “And you're not even thirty yet.”

“So?” she asked, “Catch me, old man,” she slipped out of his grasp and ran through the field.

He caught up – or maybe she let him – and they rolled along in a clearing, clothes slipping away as can happen when you are in a dream.

He checked quickly. She was ready. They merged, moving as one, rolling and tumbling. Hot breath and sweat combined in kisses, salty bodies writhing and pushing.

When it happened for him, he buried his face in her neck and kissed her there, feeling her trembling, as it was happening for her as well.

They stayed merged and she held his face in her hands as they both calmed down a bit, “I have never loved another man. I have never wanted to,” she said.

“I'm so lucky,” he said softly, as he placed his hand on her belly which filled, again, with Neil, almost ready to emerge in a few weeks.

=/=



“Whenever you, whenever you think I'm not willing, or I'm thinking of someone else, or not paying attention to you, or not caring about you or concerning myself with, with you, I want you to think, to think about this. Can you do that?”– Lili Beckett

“I'd like to do for you what you did for me this morning. It was devastatingly satisfying.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



Lili also dreamt, as did Malcolm, and their dreams came together just as surely as their bodies would.

They were on the ocean, waves rocking a yacht gently and with no threat of storm or drowning or seasickness. An untouched pitcher of bluish-tinted tropical drinks sat on the side of the deck, next to two empty glasses. Lili wasn't pregnant, either, and lay back in a bikini that was turquoise and white, with a knot at her cleavage. Malcolm was wearing blue swimming trunks. They had just been swimming, bodies damp, hair askew. A large beach towel was on the deck with the logo of the Risa Yacht Club on it. They lay on it.

“I see we were given some lovely treats,” he said, indicating the pitcher. Next to it, as if by magic, sushi appeared.

“Hmm,” she said, “Don't know if I'm hungry. At least not for that.”

“I see,” he said. They kissed, “Now, how does this work?” he asked, fiddling a little with the knot.

“Here,” she said, instead pulling the halter-type top up and over her head.

“Ah, much less complicated than I had feared,” he said, “The remainder seems, eh, simpler to decipher,” she lifted her butt a little off the deck and he took off her bikini bottom.

She grinned at him, “Allow me to assist you,” she grabbed at his swim trunks and began to tug them off. Noticing his arousal, she stopped for a second and smiled at him. They kissed, and she finished what she was doing.

He kissed her shoulders where the straps had criss-crossed and then found himself kissing where the knot had been, and then farther down, to her thighs as she moaned. There was no reason to be quiet. They were the only ones on the boat. Hell, they were the only ones on the ocean.

When they merged, the boat rocked a lot harder and faster than the waves were going, and her arms pointed to true North as she held him close as they climaxed together.

They stayed together, and he put his left hand on her face and she noticed it, a bit of gold flashing in the sun.

“Oh,” she said, looking at the ring.

“Yes,” he said, “It's the only thing that I lack.”

“Malcolm, my love, there's only one reason why you and I aren't married.”

“Which is?” he asked, a tiny bit concerned.

“Because Doug and I already are.”

“I should have acted when I had the chance, is that what you are telling me?”

“I guess so.”

“I can still dream of it, though, can't I?”

“Of course,” she said, “Our secret. And you’ve overcome your feelings about the water. That was a big fear for you.”

“It’s in my dreams, lately. I am still a bit, well; I can admit to you that it is a fear of mine. Are you,” he asked, changing the subject, “are you comfortable?”

They broke apart and she was pregnant again, the bump appearing as they lay there together.

“Very,” she said, “I, uh, I spoke with your parents yesterday.”

“Ah. Is my mother knitting up a storm?”

“Yes. I don't think I'll ever have to buy Declan socks until he's five,” she smiled, “They'll come to Lafa II sometime during the summer of next year. I'm glad to be finally meeting them.”

“I am, too. I've never taken anyone to meet them, ever. I think they understand our arrangement, even if I sometimes don't.”

“I love you,” she said, “And this does feel like a honeymoon. It's okay for it to feel that way. It is more than a little bit okay.”

“I love you, too,” he said, “I wish I could have met your parents, Lili-Flower.”

“That, I'm afraid, can't happen,” she said, “But they would have loved you. And Doug, too. They – my father, he flew a transport. My mother made pottery. They weren't Starfleet types. But they respected it. I know they feel I'm in good hands, both during the bright blessed day and during the dark sacred night.”

“The three of us – well, the ten of us – we are in it for keeps,” he put his hand on her belly and, in response, Declan rolled over a little.

=/=



“I'm in this for the long haul. You better be, too, Reed, because you better not hurt her.”– Doug Beckett

=/=



And all of them together, they kept contact. Norri's hand on Melissa's belly met Doug's hand on the other side, and his other hand, on Lili's belly, brushed against Malcolm's on the other side. And Tommy reached out his hand in his bed, and it met Mama Norri's free hand. And Marie Patrice, in her bed, her hand touched her Daddy's shoulder. And Joss, in his bed, his hand reached out and touched his mother's forearm. And deep within their respective wombs, Neil and Declan felt the warmth and the slight ionization of so much feeling.

=/=



“This might be as romantic and beautiful as you believe it is. I hope that it is, for your sake.”– Jonathan Archer

=/=



And in an unseen corner of the universe, he saw. And he heard them all say a word or two, for now everyone talked in his or her sleep, not just Lili. Random words like love and socks and puppy and wanted and crust were tossed out, into the cosmic ether.

Who was he?

Well, he wasn't exactly a he. He was an it, really. But he seems to be a more personal and pleasant pronoun.

He noticed the energy and the contact. It was somewhat unique. It was worth further investigation. But that would wait for a few days, as he set about giving himself an appearance that would not be alarming. He had many questions, and getting them answered would require some finesse and certainly a means of assuring the person he'd be talking to that he was curious but that, ultimately, he meant no harm.

=/=



“Your mating rituals do fascinate me. Always a complicated minuet of sorts. Mind if I observe?”– DR. Phlox

=/=



In the morning, duffle in hand, Malcolm beamed to the surface of Lafa II.

=/=



“I haven't really had long-term connections. Perhaps this is a way for me to finally, truly have one. And, have, well, I could have a real connection to you. Couldn't I?”– Malcolm Reed

Chapter 4 by jespah

“You humans are weird.” – Yimar

=/=



It – he – took two or so days to make preparations.

Human? He'd appeared this way before, but not during this time period. Check.

Male? Check.

Brown hair? She liked brown hair, or so it seemed. Check.

Bluish eyes? She definitely liked those. Check.

Height? Hmm. One was only one and three-quarter meters. The other was one point seventy-nine. Rather than splitting the difference, he went taller. Taller was better, right? So he went with one point ninety-one. After all, anything much taller would appear a bit freakish.

He clothed himself in a Starfleet Captain's uniform, to impart an air of authority, although Starfleet was beneath him.

Humans? More like insects. Still, if he was going to impress the one he really wanted to impress, then the road to that, the path to it, ran through talking to this other one, the one he'd carefully made up his appearance for.

He continued to wait, a bit longer, as she had things she had to accomplish. He could have taken care of all of that in a flash, but such things were dull. He'd go knock a few planets out of alignment instead, or take a milligram out of the ejecta from a supernova instead, perhaps. So much universe, and so much time! No wonder he was often inflicted with a kind of cosmic ennui.

But he could still wait.

=/=



“This is not the way I thought I'd start a family.”– Melissa Madden

“I don't know how I'd ever have a family. It's not like I'm ever at home.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



It was the thirty-first, very early in the morning.

Malcolm was already up. He'd stripped the fold-out couch and packed. He wanted to be a good guest, but he was also anxious to be underway. At the same time, he was mindful that if he walked into Doug and Lili's bedroom uninvited, that he might see something he didn't necessarily wish to see. It was less jealousy than sheer practicality. So he waited, until it was oh six hundred hours and he was about jumping out of his skin with anticipation.

He knocked.

“Just a sec,” It was Doug's voice. He opened the door and he was shirtless, just in sweatpants. Lili was dressing.

“Oh, sorry,” Malcolm said.

“No, no, it's all right,” she said, “Almost there. Have you eaten?”

“I can't,” Malcolm said.

“You should,” she said, “I'm not allowed to, but you'll be waiting around a bit.”

“Actually,” Doug said, “you'll have some time. Could you, uh, do me a favor?”

“Of course,” Malcolm said.

“She'll have the Cesarean early, and you'll see the baby, of course. Then they'll take the baby to get him weighed and all of that and she'll be put under general anesthesia so that she can get the O'Day Reversal done again.”

“Ah, yes,” Malcolm said, “That's, um, a bit of rearranging?”

“Yeah,” Doug replied, “It's so that Lili and I can, uh, not to draw a picture, but the parts don't fit together perfectly. So the Reversal is done in order for us to be able to, uh, make love safely.”

“Oh,” Malcolm said. He had kind of known that, but it was still a bit jolting to hear. She had told him about how Doug had – completely inadvertently – hurt her almost four years previously. She had nearly died. Things would have turned out quite differently if that had happened, or if the surgery that Doctor Phlox had invented had not been successful. And now, after her third child, she needed it to be done again. Reversal, pregnancy – which required it being undone, then birth, then another Reversal. That had happened twice before. It was a great deal of surgery for one body to have to take.

“Uh, Malcolm?” Doug asked.

“Oh, sorry. Bit of a reverie there. You were saying?”

“You're going to have a few hours. So could you swing by Fep City, pick up Melissa, Tommy and Norri and bring them to the house? Then we can take two cars and go to the Med Center. Everyone's gonna want to meet Declan.”

“Won't you be upset if I'm gone?” Malcolm asked.

“I will be completely under. And then I have to recover for a while from the anesthesia they use,” Lili said, “No worries. I've done this before.”

“Very well. You're the expert.”

“I also,” she said, “I want Doctor Miva to check, see if she can determine how close I am to full menopause. I've kinda considered getting my tubes tied, just want to see if that's necessary.”

“This is the last one,” Doug said, “Of yours.”

“Yeah,” she said, “You all right with that, Malcolm?”

“It's, it's your body,” he said, “Do what you think is best and I shall support whatever that is.”

“Thanks,” she said, “Doug, make sure the kids aren't too nutty today. I told them to try to keep calm but, well, we have to remember, they're both still really little.”

“Sure thing,” he said, “No tofflin juice whatsoever.”

“What is that?” asked Malcolm.

“It's a stimulant,” Doug said, “They're gonna be off the wall enough without it.”

“Hang on a second,” Lili said, “Come look with me.”

The three of them stopped in front of the video cut-out in the hallway wall. Slides went by, family pictures. There was Norri holding up her old-fashioned acceptance letter to graduate school, and an old photograph of Malcolm at school, horsing around with Mark Latrelle. There was a picture of Doug and Lili at the opening of Lili's restaurant, Reversal. Melissa and Doug candidly posing at the start of a hunting trip was another picture. Joss and Marie Patrice sitting together was yet another snapshot. Lili paused the slides for a second, “And somewhere in here – you and me and Declan,” she said, touching Malcolm's arm, “And a picture of all ten of us when Neil comes. And one of you and Melissa and Neil,” she said, now referring to Doug.

“And a million more,” Doug said as they left the house, “I got it set up to pipe in the slides to a wall in Melissa and Norri's Fep City apartment, too.”

“That's a great idea,” Lili said, “So even if we're not in the same building, we can be looking at the same things.”

“And maybe even thinking of the same things,” Malcolm said, as the three of them walked to Lili's car.

The front door opened and the two children ran out, “Mommy! Wait!” yelled Marie Patrice, “Take this with you.”

It was a little lanyard made of soft light yellow yarn, a few clumsily braided strands about twelve centimeters long, “What's this?” Lili asked.

Joss caught up as well, a little breathless.

“It's a present for Declan,” Marie Patrice said, “I made it myself.”

“I did the first knots,” Joss interjected, “And I took you to buy the yarn.”

“That's true,” Marie Patrice admitted.

“Well, this will be very nice,” Malcolm said, “Thank you on behalf of him. When he can talk,” he found himself choking up just a touch, “he shall thank you both himself. His, his brother and sister.”

Doug and Lili kissed, “When you come back, there'll be three of you. I am just a tiny bit sad I'm not gonna see this one arriving. But, Reed, you should experience this for yourself.”

“I hope I can do as well.”

“You'll do fine,” Doug said, “Kids, say good-bye. And then we're gonna make pancakes.”

“I am missing pancakes for this,” Lili said, hugging her son and then her daughter, “Be good for Dad. Be back in a few days.”

=/=



“You turned into such a lovely creature suddenly. That was, it was the day that I realized I was, well, I was developing feelings for you.”– Malcolm Reed

“Well, for some human males, the pregnancies of their partners can be quite stimulating. You must enjoy the fact that you're responsible for her condition.”– Dr. Phlox

“Pregnancy comes with a rush of hormones and a flood of emotions. For some women, if they continue to feel attractive – and if their partners continue to assure them of their attractiveness – those women can become very interested in relations. More so than usual. Stimulus and release probably come rather easily.”– Dr. Phlox

“Well, it's that I had to get her betwee – I mean, after – her pregnancies.” – Rick Daniels

“Who knew pregnancy would be such a turn-on for you?”– Lili Beckett

“But it’s just, you're really amazing when you're pregnant.”– Doug Beckett

=/=



“Hiya, Miva,” Lili said as they walked into the Med Center and were met by her obstetrician. Doctor Miva was a Calafan woman, perhaps about Malcolm's age, with Byzantine silver scrollwork on her arms that rivaled Lili's tattoos. But on Miva, they were natural. She also had wavy silver hair – another indication of her age – and clear light blue eyes like all Calafans from our universe. She'd done this with Lili twice before already.

“Good morning,” answered the doctor, “And you must be her nighttime man?”

“Yes. I suppose I am,” Malcolm answered.

“You don't know?” asked Miva, smiling.

“Oh, I know all right,” he said, “Just, I don't think I've heard it called that before.”

“Well, that is what we say,” Miva answered, “Ah, here we are. You'll change and we'll get started. You know the process, of course. I'll leave you two for a moment,” she did so.

“Nighttime man, huh,” Malcolm said as he watched Lili strip down, “They all do what we do, eh?”

“Yes, when they're old enough,” Lili said, “Hand me that, please.”

“And no one minds?”

“They don't seem to. But they see the nighttime people as being secondary,” Lili said.

=/=



“Lili, it feels like cheating to me. I mean, the Calafans, the way they do things – there are husbands and wives and they, they go to sleep in bed together, maybe even having had lots of hot sex, and they dream about more sex, with other people. I'm like, what the hell? What could possibly be missing that they've gotta do it with someone else?”– Doug Beckett

“You know we can have really good dreams together.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“Secondary?” Malcolm asked, still a tad unsure of things, despite what was unfolding in front of him. He touched the cuff a bit.

“No, not you. You are not secondary,” she said, pulling down on a thin hospital shift she had just put on, “Man, you would think, in 2161, that we'd be able to make these kinds of things better-looking.”

“You look fine,” he smiled at her, “You, you wore a bikini the other night. That surprised me a little – pleasantly, but still. I had thought you were, I don't know, that you wouldn't do that.”

“I have been self-conscious about my appearance,” she said, “And having three kids doesn't exactly give one a flat stomach. But I don't think I care about that anymore. If you and Doug can stand to look at me in a bikini, then I'll wear one, even when I'm awake. Uh, at the beach, of course,” she smiled.

“Standing is not the right word for it, as if it would be barely tolerated,” he said, kissing her, “Very excited by, actually.”

“I'll keep that in mind,” she said, “But first, this. You're going to be surprised at how quickly it all happens.”

“Really?”

“Yes. You'll be a father in less than an hour, my love.”

They kissed.

=/=



“She was so very, very small. They all are. Newborns. It doesn't matter what type. Vulcans, Andorians, Kreetassans, Calafans, Xindi. Humans are, too, I suppose.” – Leveqa

=/=



Malcolm spent more time getting ready than almost anything else. The cuff and the lanyard were made perfectly clean along with everything else. He washed up in the Calafan prep room and then the nurse got him in a hospital gown and then he was worried that he hadn't washed up enough so he ended up doing it all over again. Finally the nurse, who was a young Calafan herself, told him he was fine. She got him gowned up and he was ready, feeling a little silly but also scared.

Miva met him in the delivery room, similarly attired. Covered with the gown, it was impossible to tell that she wasn't human. She just looked Nordic, “I see you've met Yicha,” she indicated the nurse.

“Uh, yes,” Malcolm said.

“All of our names are meaningful,” Yicha said, “Mine means student of faith.”

“Oh, that's rather nice,” Malcolm said, “Did your parents wish for you to attend a seminary or the like?”

“I don't know,” she said, “And you are?”

“Uh, I've looked this up,” he said, “Devotee of Saint Columbia. She was, uh, the patroness saint of poets and bookbinders.”

“So your parents wanted you to bind books?” asked Miva, “Just a moment, Lili, here, I'm going to give you the local now.”

“I don't know about the bookbinding,” Malcolm said, “But Declan means full of goodness.

“Perfect,” Miva said, “Mine just means clay. Now, Lili, can you feel this?” she asked, pressing down a little on Lili's belly.

“Not a bit,” she said, “Uh, Malcolm, stand over here, closer to me.”

“Unless you want to watch the incision being made,” Yicha said.

“Uh, that's all right,” he said, standing closer to Lili and offering her his hand, which she took.

“I love you,” she said, “This is it.”

“And I love you,” he said. He smiled and waited, a little more scared.

The surgery was quicker than he had thought, “Ah, look what I found!” Miva exclaimed as she lifted the baby out.

He began squalling almost immediately. Yicha handed Malcolm a pair of scissors, “Give me a second to tie things and then you'll cut the cord, all right?”

“Me?” he asked.

“You'll do fine,” Miva said, “Here, Yicha, ah, that's good. Ready for cord-cutting.”

“What do I do?” he asked, a little anxious.

“Between here and here,” Yicha indicated, “It's just regular scissors. And there are no nerve endings. Neither of them will feel it.”

Malcolm cut.

Miva brought the baby over to Lili and then Yicha grabbed a small blanket to put around him, “Oh, he's perfect,” Lili said.

“Oh, my God,” Malcolm said, looking down at them, the full enormity of it all finally hitting him squarely, “He is perfect. I have never seen anyone like him,” With no thought to whoever was watching, or how it made him look, or how he didn't like strangers to see his emotions or anything of the sort, he started to cry.

=/=



“I do believe we have a winner.” – Travis Mayweather

=/=



“We'll leave you three for a moment. You're stable,” Miva said. She and Yicha left.

“He has your eyes,” Malcolm finally squeaked out.

“And your cheekbones,” she said, “Now, for this.”

She shifted the baby a little and her right hand was free. She presented her right pinkie to the baby, who grasped it a little with his right hand. She shook just a tad, “I would like to introduce myself,” she said, “My name is Charlotte Lilienne O'Day Beckett. But you can call me Mom. And over here,” she took her pinkie away and Malcolm copied what she had done, “is Malcolm Reed. But you can call him Dad. Your name is Declan Reed. You are our one and only together. But that doesn't mean that you don't have siblings. You do!”

She stopped for a second, and kissed the baby's scalp.

Malcolm said, “You have two brothers and you're going to have a third soon. And you have one sister. Your brothers are Joss Beckett – he's the eldest – Tommy Digiorno-Madden and then the youngest one shall be Neil Digiorno-Madden. And your sister is Marie Patrice Beckett. She's only a few months older than Tommy. Her father and Joss's father – that man is Doug Beckett. But they have the same mother as you do. And Tommy and Neil's mother is Melissa Madden. Their father is also Doug. And the Digiorno part of it all is Leonora, who loves Melissa very much and has adopted Tommy legally and will adopt Neil as well, I'm sure. And, uh, this is a gift from the Beckett children,” he took out the little lanyard and tied it loosely to Declan's left wrist, “There, a little like, like Daddy's,” he said, the cuff flashing just a tiny bit as the gown's sleeve moved.

“So you have a lot of people who already love you, Declan,” Lili said, “There are a lot of people you can turn to.”

“I won't, I won't always be around,” Malcolm admitted to his son, “But I shall make every effort. Every night, when I am away, I will call, without fail. We will be together for the first two years – I can guarantee that. Doug will, for the most part, be the grown-up man in your life. I want you to listen to him and treat him as if he were me.”

Miva came back in a fresh gown, this time not only with Yicha but also with a different nurse, who was male, “This is Perriwev. He's going to be assisting with the O’Day Reversal procedure.”

Master of teeth,” the nurse said, “Surgical nurse, dentist – it's close, right?”

“Pretty close,” Lili said, “You, uh, I don't think you wanna stick around for the remainder of this.”

Malcolm leaned over and kissed her, then kissed the top of Declan's head, “I'll go and get the family.”

She smiled as Yicha took the baby, “You're gonna get weighed, and cleaned up, and you are probably going to have a little milk and it's just going to be wonderful,” Yicha said to the baby as she whisked him away.

“Thank you all,” Malcolm said, leaving the delivery room and heading back to where he'd originally washed up.

Just before the door to the delivery room closed, he could hear Miva saying, “Now, we're going to also do an ovarian scan before we close up.”

He brushed another tear back. He'd have to pull himself together in order to drive to Fep City.

=/=



“And everybody loves you. Daddy loves you. And I love you. And, and Yimar loves you, see? And Brian loves you. And, and Hoshi loves you. And the captain loves you. And Tripp loves you. And Aidan loves you. And Jennifer loves you. And Shelby loves you. And, and, Deb loves you. And Doctor Phlox loves you. And T'Pol loves you even if she doesn't show it. And, and Travis loves you. And Chris loves you. And Chef loves you, especially when he makes you peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And, uh, Chip loves you. And Karin loves you. And Porthos loves you. And, uh, and Melissa loves you. And Malcolm loves you.”– Lili Beckett

“If I were you, I'd probably be bawling, too.” – Jennifer Crossman

“There's new royalty in town.”– Pamela Hudson

=/=



It was raining a little when he got into the car. The clouds were black. It was quite a storm that was kicking up.

=/=



“I am finally with you. I don't wish for this to be the first and last day of that, my love.”– Malcolm Reed

“Careful with the stressing. That's my kid in there.” – Travis Mayweather

“I suppose it takes a while to recover from being thunderstruck. In, uh, in one way or, or another.”– Malcolm Reed

Chapter 5 by jespah

“All right, Lili. I'm going to put on the mask and give you the general anesthesia now,” said Miva, looking down at her patient.

“All right,” Lili said as the fluid in the IV changed color. Pretty soon, she was out of it, and then she was completely asleep.

=/=



“You should know that this mirror is distorted.”– Lili O'Day

=/=



Lili had been having Calafan-style dreams for the better part of four years, and was able to distinguish them from ordinary human dreams by touchstones such as whether she could smell and taste in them and their degrees of vividness.

This was definitely a Calafan-style dream.

=/=



“I was a fourteen-year-old High Priestess. And I wasn't going to listen to anyone. So my first major decision was to throw the door open permanently.” – Yimar

=/=



She saw people, lots of people. Almost all of them were Calafans, but she got the distinct impression that there was at least one human in the mix.

She didn't have anyone in particular to meet. Malcolm and the other adults were awake, and the children apparently were as well. She had the feeling that it was a non-relative.

It was a man, and he was calling for help.

She followed the voice, which was kinda, sorta familiar. And also not so familiar, like it was the relation of someone she knew but not actually a friend. She walked along. The dream was a corridor filled with people, but the Calafans kept pairing off and disappearing into various rooms – drawn, undoubtedly, to lovers and potential lovers, and to beds to try out new relationships or maybe just new positions. If you were already committed, you skipped this part. She knew that. Committed couples just met wherever they wished, having fantasy get-togethers like what she and Malcolm had had recently. Adventures were solely limited by the parties' imaginations. You could fly without wings, run without limbs or make love without the ability, if that had been lost or was on hold due to a disease or injury. In her case, there was the surgical incision from the Cesarean, but she was in no mood to hook up with a Calafan. Her life was as full as she wanted it to be and she didn't want a third one to complicate things even more.

=/=



“Malcolm, this is a dream. People without legs can climb mountains. You don't have to feel any pain.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



So she walked, and the voice got closer, and it had distress in it. A Calafan man approached her, tall, bald and coppery

The copper meant that he wasn't from her universe, but from another one, one which was close to ours but not quite, where everything was pushed in the direction of violence and fear and anger. Where human men outnumbered human women almost two to one. Where no one cooked, or cleaned, or cared for children unless they were extremely low-class. Where parents handed over their children to the state at an early age – and where a good three-quarters of those children were prepared to become cannon fodder and nothing more. Where hope barely survived and goodness and gentleness and mercy and morality were foreign concepts and taken as signs of weakness, to be exploited by the cruel strong.

The meek would not inherit the mirror Earth – excuse me, Terra.

They would inherit ashes.

=/=



“See, the other universe, it was a charnel house. I was one of the walking dead, or at least the walking wounded. And I would touch your hand, or kiss you, or even just see you, and I could contact the living.”– Doug Beckett

=/=



But this was where Doug had come from, and she had visited it less than a year previously, so it wasn't wholly unfamiliar. There was some goodness in there, if you looked hard enough. There were some families. There were even some humans who had figured out that being gentle and kind was a sign of strength and not of weakness, and who had learned that going at cross-purposes didn't get anything done, and that working together was a better strategy – even if the ultimate aim was a less than savory one. They had determined, even, that guilt might have a place and a meaning, and that helping each other, rather than hurting or even going so far as to kill each other, could even move mountains.

The voice was almost in her ear and the scene shifted.


It was a cave. A man was in it, lying there, his hands on some rocks. Nearby were two women – both pregnant. And there were three children.

Two of the children were half-Japanese twins, a boy and a girl. The other was a blond-haired boy. Neither of the women were Japanese, so the children had some other mother.

“Help us,” said the man.

Lili squinted, looking at the unkempt and raggedy bearded soul in front of her, “Chip? Chip Masterson?” she asked.

=/=



“I know this life. It's not a good one. Someone will knife you, or stick you in front of phaser fire, or you'll be on some shuttle that crashes or a transport that explodes. I got no guarantees on the other side. You could die a day from now. But you won't spend your life paranoid, and you won't spend it throwing away human life without a care, just so's you can get better rations, or bigger quarters, or a hotter girl, or a promotion. Don't live that life. I gave up everything to leave it. I didn't do that just so you could go back and undo it all.”– Doug Beckett

“As captain of the Defiant, the first change I will make is in the ship-wide no-marriages rule. From now on, anyone serving on the Defiant can, if they wish, have a relationship, or even marry. And this can even be with people who are serving on the ship with you. I have no need to control that aspect of your lives, but you should be mindful, now, that you owe me a bit for now allowing this. I expect your loyalty, but only when it comes to the ship. Your primary loyalty will be to the Emperor.” – Chandler (Chip) Masterson

=/=



“Do I know you?” he asked.

“Not exactly,” Lili said, “I come from the other side of the pond. The, the other universe, the one where Doug Beckett – I mean, Hayes – where he went almost four years ago.”

“I remember,” Chip said, “That trip took out the Defiant's Transporter Room. It killed Deborah Haddon. And I had to, uh, I had to clean all of that up. It's, uh, cleaning up your exe's remains is not a very pleasant task.”

“I'm sure,” Lili said, “Uh, you needed help?”

“Yes. I am the only one here who's sleeping, so far as I know. I made sure to put my hand on the rocks like Treve said to. And I figured out how to conjure up everyone else who's in the cave with me. But we can't do anything.”

“Can't do what?”

“My wife – I think she's broken her leg,” he indicated one of the women. They were just props in the dream, not really there.

“Ah,” Lili said, “Can you make a splint?”

“No. There is nothing here but rocks. It's a lot of work to get wood and I don't think I should leave the children.”

“Could you carry her? They have a Med Center, just like on my side of things.”

“I could before she got pregnant, but not now,” he said, “Beth can't help me because she's also expecting. And the kids can't – they're too young. Takara and Takeo are less than a year and a half old. Charlie is two.”

“Can you get anyone to help you?” Lili asked.

“Treve and Jennifer and Charles have gone hunting. They could help but I don't know where they are. I don't have any means of communications.”

“I see. Hmm. Hang on. I can go,” Lili said.

“You? You're just some dream sprite,” he said.

“I am no sprite,” Lili smiled, “Someone may be dozing off in the Med Center,” she said, “Even if it's a patient, if they can listen and repeat what I have to tell them, they can wake and tell a doctor.”

“Maybe,” he said, “We don't like the authorities. We live off our wits, completely off the grid. But there's no help for this. I, I've never had this kind of a dream before. Are you even real?”

“Yes, I am real,” she said, “As real as you are. Your wife and Beth should get care, too. You can't just live off the land without them getting prenatal care.”

=/=



“She – if she is pregnant. She is scared. She is worried. She – pregnancy is hard enough, particularly in the beginning. Your body's not your own anymore. You get pulled around all the time.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“I know,” he said, “But if the Empress comes back, she'll know we're here,” he said, “The twins – they're hers, with, uh, with me. Not my finest hour, although they are my children. I accept them, despite their mother. But I'd rather the entire Lafa System didn't know that we were here. Anyone could sell us out. Empress Hoshi could pay a handsome price, not just to get the twins back, but also to get access to her former Chief Engineer, Assistant Chief Engineer, Tactical Officer, and even her babysitter. She would love to be able to torture us personally, I'm sure.”

=/=



“I'm the Empress. I'll do what I like.” – Empress Hoshi Sato

“It's the cleavage.” – Takara (Masterson) Sato

=/=



“I don't know this for sure, but I don't think she'll be back. The last time she was in the area, she lost a Transporter Room, right? I've got to assume that the last time around being here was again unpleasant for her, and it had consequences,” Lili said.

“She lost a lover – the father of her youngest, who I guess must have been born by now,” Chip said, “And troops were killed when the Calafans rose up against their oppressors. It's another reason to lay low – I don't know if they resent all humans. They might.”

“I promise that I will go and get help,” Lili said, “I can't promise that there won't be consequences to me doing that, though.”

=/=



“I hate promises…. Always making you think something's really gonna happen, and it never does.”– Beth Cutler

=/=



“This dream state is strange,” Chip said, “If she could get into our heads and see it, I'm sure the Empress would,” Chip said.

“I don't see her here,” Lili said, “She'd need amplifier metal. I bet that it's in the rocks you're leaning on. But if the Empress was here, I bet you and I would sense it.”

“I can't help being paranoid,” Chip said, “After all, that's what's kept me alive for a few decades.”

=/=



“There are prying eyes. The Empress; she's now living in dreams. It must be the ultimate in despotism, to control not only your subjects' waking lives but also their sleeping ones. Perfect totalitarianism. Now, while I expected and hoped I would have control, I hadn't thought or even really wanted to peek into nighttime dalliances. Maybe I wasn't thinking big enough. I don't know. That hardly matters now.” – Polloria

=/=



“I'll be back with help,” Lili said.

It was a dream, so she didn't have to walk to the Med Center. As she had suspected, she found an orderly dozing off on the job. She told him what was happening and urged him to keep quiet, “Get Doctor Miva,” she said, “Take her when you go.”

=/=



On the other side, in the operating room, they were closing up, and the Doctor Miva from our side of the pond said, “Are you sure about the ovarian scans?”

“Absolutely,” said Perriwev.

“No eggs whatsoever. The patient is fully menopausal and, unless there is chemical intervention, will not bear any more children,” Miva said, “It is a change in a woman's life that, I hope, this patient will embrace.”

=/=



Lili returned to the cave, “Help is coming,” she said.

“We're not supposed to thank, or be scared, or show anything that might be construed as weakness,” Chip said, “But thanks just the same.”

“I remember Beth,” Lili said, “And Charles, and Jennifer, and Treve. He in particular will know me, Lili Beckett. I am Doug Hayes's wife.”

“He and I weren't friends,” Chip said.

“Maybe you are now,” she replied.

=/=



“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.”– Dr. Phlox

=/=



Malcolm got Norri, Melissa and Tommy to the house just as the storm worsened considerably, wind howling and raging, and rain going sideways which turned into snow. Visibility was awful, but they were at the house. He helped the three of them in, and then the four adults ended up pushing on the front door to get it to close against the gale.

=/=



“Smile just a tiny bit. It's been a helluva day. I just want to see a little something good.” – Jonathan Archer

=/=



Unseen, he was just about ready to wrap up his – its – other engagements. A nebula to be stretched here, a starship to be rerouted there. Work was unending!

=/=



“I'd be your prisoner and you'd, you'd be mine.”– Malcolm Reed

Chapter 6 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Lili's song for Declan - La Petite Poule Grise

“… you can't just wish this away.” – Travis Mayweather

=/=



There was a sound of thunder, almost immediately after lightning. It was loud.

Norri jumped a little, “Gaah!” she exclaimed when Melissa touched her arm, “Don't do that.”

“Do what?”

“Sneak up like that. You know I hate thunder and lightning.”

“Er, sorry. It looks bad.”

“I've seen thunder snow before,” Malcolm said, “It was on a planet – I'm blanking on the name now.”

“I don't know as I've seen it here since we settled here,” Doug said, “Uh, let's watch how we behave in front of the kids, okay?”

“Sure,” Norri said, trembling a little.

“Dad, when are we going to see Mom and Dec?” Joss asked.

“Uh, soon,” Doug said distractedly. That had been the plan, but now it seemed unlikely. He clicked open a communicator to call Lili, but only got static.

Melissa saw this, and took out a PADD. She turned it on, and it came up all right, clear and brightly-lit, “Huh,” she said quietly. She showed it to Malcolm.

The two of them went into a corner, “No grid reception, eh?” he said, “That's not good.”

“I just have whatever's on the drive,” she said, “Try yours.”

He did, with the same results. He swallowed hard. What if this meant that something had happened in Fep City? Was the Med Center still intact? Were Lili and Declan all right? He turned around.

“Mackum, you sad?” asked Tommy. He didn't speak too much, what with being so young, but he did sometimes.

“I just, I miss Lili,” Malcolm said. No sense in projecting anything else to the kids.

Doug looked at him, and came over. He very quietly said, “Careful. Keep it together, Reed.”

=/=



“You have enough stress.” – Dayah

“Lili's winding down anyway. This one should be my last child.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



For Lili's part, she was fine. She came out of the anesthesia in time to see Yicha and Miva coming in. Yicha was holding Declan.

Her room had a decent-sized bed in it and a small bassinet, plus a little changing area. Lili smiled, “Ah, my little love,” she said, as Yicha gave her the baby to nurse.

“We are very healthy,” Yicha said, “He's four point oh eight kilograms in weight, and fifty-three point thirty-four centimeters. He's nice and pink, as you can see, and his pulse rate is where it's supposed to be – over one hundred.”

“Plus there's a good, strong cry and he's got good muscle flexion,” Miva said, “He demonstrated on the way here.”

“Has he been fed? Have you been fed?” Lili asked Declan directly. He responded by looking at her, his eyes matching hers.

“He's gotten a little bit of milk from a bottle,” Yicha said, “But I bet he'd like more.”

“Ah, yes,” Lili said. She pulled back a tab on the hospital shift she was wearing, and brought her breast over to the baby, “Here ya go,” he made a face and gasped a little, a slight cry, “Oh, hang on, I'll get closer,” she did so, but he gasped again. She ended up touching his mouth with her finger first, and then her breast. Then he figured out what to do, “There. Now, that was tough, I know. But you're doing fine.”

Miva smiled and said, “I wanted to tell you. We did the ovarian scans. You are completely menopausal.”

“Wow. Last one in,” Lili said, “Hear that, Dec? You're really, really special,” he just did what he was doing.

“Are you hungry?” Yicha asked, bringing in a small tray.

“Yeah, now that I think about it,” Lili said, “Thanks.”

“We'll leave you,” Miva said, “Get to know one another.”

“Did you, uh, did Malcolm contact the Med Center?” Lili asked.

“I don't know,” Miva said, “But we heard reports that there were problems with reception on the grid. Some sort of a weather system near the dishes on Point Abic.”

“Oh. Well, let me know if it clears up,” Lili said, and they left her and Declan alone.

=/=



“More beautiful than I thought.”– Doug Hayes

=/=



The clouds got darker. Norri looked out the front picture window, “Oh, man.”

“What?” asked Doug, “Keep it quiet, Digiorno.”

“Doug, I grew up in Oklahoma City.”

“Yeah?”

“So I've seen tornadoes. See that cloud? It's looking like it's going to become a funnel,” she said, “You got a cellar, right?”

“Yeah,” he said, “We are not gonna panic the kids.”

“Understood,” she said, “But we need to get food, water, blankets and diapers down there. Right now.

“I'm on it,” he said, and turned, “Reed, you're with me.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” Doug said, “Come and help me,” he silently nodded toward the window.

“That's not possible,” Malcolm said, “I wonder how – and why – that's happening.”

“Never mind that,” Doug replied, “Help me with this.”

=/=



“It's a puzzle. I like puzzles. Putting them together, taking them apart and, and reconfiguring them. Seeing the combinations in my head and acting on them.”– Malcolm Reed

“I don't like being confused, and I don't like sitting around and doing nothing.”– Doug Beckett

“Pieces need to be arranged somehow. Rotated, perhaps. No box or guide to look at, though.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



Lili watched Declan nursing and said, “Okay, there are two things for you to learn today. I realize, Mister Reed, you probably thought you were gonna be off the hook, seeing as it's your first day and all.”

The baby concentrated on what he was doing.

“All right, well, first off. You are to memorize what I smell like. I often also smell like food. But I do smell like me. Not, uh, not to say that I don't shower frequently, of course,” she smiled down at him, “And see? You've already passed that. Fifty percent, perfect on your first try! You, sir, are a natural.”

He just did what he was doing.

“The second thing is, you are to memorize what I sound like. Now, I might sing a little sometimes. Actually, allow me to demonstrate,” she sang.

“La petite poule grise
L'était une petite poule grise
Qu'allait pondre dans l'église
Pondait un p'tit' coco
Que l'enfant mangeait tout chaud
L'était une p'tit' poul' noir
Qu'allait pondre dans l'armoire
Pondait un p'tit' coco
Que l'enfant mangeait tout chaud
L'était une p'tit' poul' blanche
Qu'allait pondre dans la grange

L'était une p'tit' poul' rousse
Qu'allait pondre dans la mousse
(L'était une p'tit' poule beige
Qu'allait pondre dans la neige)
L'était une p'tit' poule brune
Qu'allait pondre sur la lune”


“That was all about a bunch of hens and eggs,” she explained, “And look! You know my voice! You have passed with flying colors! Head of the class! Perfect! Valedictorian!” she enthused. The baby finished nursing and gasped a little at her. Much more softly, she said, “Lessons are all done for the day. So you can rest or eat as you wish. And I guess I will, too. Your Daddy will be back soon, with everyone else,” she smoothed his hair a little on his head. It was white-blond, like hers, “See, now, you're all spruced up. You're looking very stylish with your little woolen cuff on, mister. I hear they are going to be showing this look on the streets of Paris soon.”

=/=



“I'm an action guy. Talking isn't always easy for me.”– Doug Beckett

=/=



The two men stripped the blankets off the beds and Doug grabbed a stack of diapers from the stand. Everything was stuffed into duffles – it was whatever could fit, “Take these,” Doug said.

Malcolm was about to go down the stairs with the two very full duffle bags when Marie Patrice stopped him, “Where are you going, Mackum?”

“We're, we are going to go camping. Uh, downstairs in the cellar,” he explained, “Can you, do you see that jug over there? Can you have Melissa help you fill it up and then bring it downstairs? That would be very helpful.”

“Okay,” she said, skipping off. She didn't seem to have any sense of what was happening.

Doug went into the kitchen and began randomly grabbing cans of whatever he could see and putting them into a box. Outside the window he could see the neighbor's house, more or less finished. The workmen had apparently put all of the big boxes into it. Behind it, the clouds were opaque blackish-green in color.

“Uh, Dad?” Joss asked.

“Oh, uh, can you get the can opener out of the silverware drawer and bring it down to the cellar?”

“What about the laser one?” Joss asked.

“No, uh, get your Mom's old-fashioned manual one,” Doug said, “And, um, maybe do that fast.”

“Uh, okay,” The boy started to work. He didn't find it immediately, so he just ended up removing the drawer and taking it with him.

Norri looked out the window some more. There was a muffled roaring sound, and it was getting closer, “This is why I left Oklahoma. Even if it is where the wind comes sweeping down the damned plain.”

“Mama! Cookie?” asked Tommy.

“Uh, maybe later,” Norri said. She began to hunt around, and Tommy followed her, “Whatcha?” he asked.

“Ah, you want to know what I'm doing,” she answered, “Well, uh, I am looking around for things. Come help me,” she found a box of matches in a high drawer in the kitchen, and stuffed the box into a zippered pocket, “Hmm, I think that's full enough, Marie Patrice.”

They capped the jug and Marie Patrice very, very carefully took it down the stairs. Doug was running past her, like a whirling dervish, “Candles! Melissa, get the candles! Uh, they're in the master bedroom. Reed, get a loaf of bread. Norri, uh, fill more jugs.”

The roaring sound got louder.

“Drop what you're doing!” yelled Malcolm, “Let's get down there!”

They did, as the roaring became unbearably loud.

=/=


“I can tell – and I'm sure your son can tell this as well – you look like you're on the rocks.”– Laura Hayes

“Anywhere but here.” – Polloria

=/=



Lili got up tentatively and brought Declan over to the bassinet. She then took a little of the proffered food – a bit of a kind of broth that tasted a bit like potatoes, and possibly was made from them. She then turned on her PADD and clicked on it furiously. No grid reception whatsoever. She looked out the window and saw a perfectly shaped funnel cloud in the distance, in the direction of her home. She swallowed, hard, and tried to figure out how to conceal her fear from the baby, who could potentially pick up on it.

=/=



“People who get shocking news should be sitting down when they hear it.”– Pamela Hudson

=/=



When they were all downstairs, they sat down on the cellar floor and laid out what they'd brought with them, “Dammit, we need more water,” Doug said, “Norri, why didn't you get water?”

“I did what I could,” she said. She started to hunt around the cellar a little.

“Lay off, Doug,” Melissa said, “Marie Patrice, can you show Norri where the camping lantern is?”

“Huh, good idea,” Norri said, “Not what I was looking for, but okay.”

“Here, let's put the blankets together nicely, all right, Joss?” Malcolm asked. He opened up the duffles and they started to take everything out.

Doug started pacing. He kept clicking his communicator open, hearing static, and then closing it, “Melissa,” he finally said, “What do we have for food? I, uh, I just grabbed stuff.”

She looked, “Orange marmalade. Tuna. Homemade, um,” she dipped a finger in and tasted, “tahini. Cashew butter. Tomato paste. Chicken broth. Strawberry jam. And, uh, canned bamboo shoots.”

“There's bread, too,” Malcolm said. He had brought down whatever had been in the crisper drawer. It was homemade wheat bread and a homemade baguette.

“We'll need a knife,” Doug said.

“Here, Dad,” Joss said, indicating the drawer, which was now a jumble, “We have knives in here.”

“They're not sharp enough,” Doug snapped a little.

“C'mon. Be nice,” Melissa said.

“We can, uh, tear off pieces of bread like cavepeople,” Norri said, “Found the lantern, thank you, Miss MP.”

Marie Patrice came over to Doug, “Whatcha doin', Daddy?”

“This thing's not working,” he said, tensely.

“Oh. Can I fix it?” she asked.

“No, you can't.”

“Doug,” Melissa said.

“We aren't gonna be there on time, and Lili's gonna be scared,” he said, “This is not good.”

=/=



“This can only work if we all work together. There can never be any jealousy. You have to let all of that go, but you also have to make it possible for the others to let it go. No one gets to go around hurting the others. No one. You, Malcolm, have this piece, Doug has this one. And, in turn, Melissa has a piece, and Norri has another one.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



She pressed the call button. Yicha came in, “Something wrong?”

“Did the news say anything about that storm?” Lili asked.

“We, uh, we haven't had grid access for a while,” The Calafan explained, “There are doctors visiting here and everything – I know the director wanted to make a good impression. At least the roof doesn't leak, eh?”

Miva came in, “Are you up for a visitor?”

“Malcolm?”

“No. A human doctor is here. He's – he is retired. But he's settling here, and wanted to see our facilities. Can you say hello briefly?”

“Uh, I guess so,” Lili got back into bed and put the blanket around her. No sense in giving this guy a free show.

Not that it mattered too much. He was an older man, thin, with a face that was mostly nose, “This is Doctor Cyril Morgan,” Miva explained, “And this is Lili Beckett. She is our only human obstetrics patient. And her son is our only human pediatrics patient.”

“Ah,” he said, shaking Lili's hand.

“Are you an OB-GYN or a pediatrician?” she asked.

“I am a retired orthopedic surgeon,” he said, “I trust they are treating you well.”

“They are,” Lili said.

“I understand you're quite a pioneer.”

“Yes. You're the first human doctor I've seen here since, well, since always.”

“I'm sure more human doctors will be here soon enough. Perhaps I can get my niece to settle here. She's a plastic surgeon.”

“Oh?” Lili asked.

“Yes. Her name is Pamela Hudson.”

“We've met,” Lili said.

=/=



“Never arrive to a party early or on time. No one should. It's like the old Steady State theory of the universe. No beginning and no end. Or maybe it's just turtles all the way down.”– Pamela Hudson

=/=



“Lili will be fine,” Norri said, still rummaging around, “What's in that box?”

“It says it's children's toys,” Malcolm read off the side.

“Will you cut that out?” Doug asked, getting more peeved and pacing more.

“Calm down,” Melissa took his arm and said that as quietly as she could.

“I can't help it,” he answered.

“It's the pressure drop,” Norri said, her nose in the box, “Ah, there it is,” she took out an old green stuffed dinosaur toy. It was a stegosaurus.

“That old thing?” Joss asked.

“Do you want it?” Norri asked.

“No. I'm too big for that,” he said.

“Good. Then can I borrow it for myself?” she asked.

“Uh, sure,” he replied, and she hugged it to herself as the wind continued roaring outside.

=/=



“Well, I suppose if I had a dinosaur, I'd sleep better, too.”– Hoshi Sato

=/=



“Good! She, uh, she needs female friends,” Doctor Morgan said.

Declan woke and gasped and cried a little.

“I should, uh, let you get back to things,” he smiled, “My granddaughter is four years old. I remember her being that small.”

“I have older ones. But they weren't quite this small, even when they were newborns. It was lovely to meet you,” she said as he helped her up.

“Likewise. Can I, uh, give Pamela your information?”

“Sure,” she said. He clicked his PADD next to hers in order to transfer the data, and then left.

“Just you and me,” she said to Declan as she lifted him out of the bassinet.

=/=



“We never get a chance to be alone.”– Jun (Daniels) Sato

=/=



“Does anyone want a sandwich?” Malcolm asked. No one did, “All right. Uh, let's see,” he said.

“Get my PADD,” Norri said to Melissa. Norri fiddled with it a little bit, “Uh, how about a story?”

“Something nice and soothing,” Melissa said.

“Hmm. How about a classic? Uh, Charlotte's Web,” Norri punched a few keys, “We can, uh, read a bit and go around the room. Malcolm, do you want to start?”

“Uh, all right,” he said, taking the PADD from her, and began to read aloud, “Where's Papa going with that ax?”

He read and they passed the PADD around, the three of them, while Doug continued to pace. The children, more or less, paid attention.

But then the power went out, and Marie Patrice began to cry. The PADD was still illuminated, the only beacon in the cellar. Doug fumbled for the matches and found them, then lit a candle. Melissa started up the camping lantern.

“So much for story time,” Norri said.

“Actually, this is quick. Can I, uh, can I recite something?” Malcolm asked.

“Recite?” Melissa asked.

“Yes, uh, I had wanted to say this when we were all together at hospital, but I wonder if I'll be able to. Uh, today,” he added quickly, “It's, it's a poem I wrote for Declan.”

“Do you need to consult a PADD?” Norri asked, “We should, uh, probably keep them off and save them.”

“It's all right, I know it,” Malcolm said.

Doug just clicked his communicator open again. More static. He closed it and drummed his fingers on the shelf where the sled was being stored. At least he had stopped pacing, “Uh, go ahead,” he finally said, “But nobody better be expecting a poem from me unless they wanna hear about a young lady from Ipswich.”

“Hmm perhaps not today,” Melissa said, “Uh, go on, Malcolm.”

“Ahem,” he said, and then recited from memory.

“My love for you is fully set
and all I can think about is you
Even though we have only just met
your arrival sparks a love so true

With your name we recall another one
Declan O'Day was fated to never leave the other side
I wish he could see you, my beloved son
But that pond, it proved to be far too wide.

I never thought I could feel this way
I never thought I would have the chance –
for, what more can anyone say?
You're the culmination of the sweetest romance.

Our lives will never be the same.
Now if I could only come up with your middle name!”


Melissa and Norri clapped in the semi-darkness.

“Do one for me!” Marie Patrice asked.

“I get the feeling it takes a while to make them up,” Melissa said.

“I shall think of one, when I can,” Malcolm said, “But right now we're a little busy, love.”

There were creaking sounds outside. Norri grabbed Tommy and put him in her lap along with the dinosaur toy.

Doug started up the stairs, “What are you doing?” Melissa asked.

“Going to see if I still have a roof.”

“Let it go,” she said.

“But –”

“No. Let it go,” she said, then grabbed her belly.

Norri looked up, “Please tell me you're not in labor.”

“No. Just kicking,” Melissa said. She came close to Doug and whispered, “The more I get stressed, the more Neil's gonna kick. And you need for me to be able to concentrate on what's happening here, and help with the kids, so that you can do other things. So take it easy.”

“I hate this,” he seethed through clenched teeth.

“Hang in there,” she said.

=/=



“My love for you isn't just hinged on performance. I won't deny that I like it. But to be with you is what really matters.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



Lili went through songs and nursing and tried, on her own, to stay calm. No sense in upsetting such a tiny baby. But she was worried. The funnel cloud was still there, still perfectly shaped. It seemed to have been at her house longer than anyone could have had the right to expect.

=/=



He – it – was responsible for the storm, of course. He waited for her to put the baby back into the bassinet.

=/=



“I come in peace.”– Doug Hayes

Chapter 7 by jespah
Author's Notes:

The unwelcome guest's theme song - John Cougar - I Need a Lover

“I just want to look at your smile close up.” – DR

=/=



Lili held Declan and whispered to him, “Daddy's coming soon. And the whole family. You're going to be surprised there are so many people in the world. And they all love you already,” she gently put him down.

=/=



“He's the cleanest human I've ever known.” – Yimar

=/=



There was the sound of a throat being cleared. Alarmed, Lili turned around to the source of the sound, and supported herself by holding around to the bassinet behind her. She couldn't move that quickly – she still had a great deal of pain and tightness from the surgery – but she was prepared to do whatever she needed to.

It was a man, a bit taller than Doug and a bit older. He was wearing a Starfleet Captain's uniform, but she knew that the only people who were of that rank who would likely be in the area were Jonathan Archer and Erika Hernandez. This guy was someone else.

“Don't hurt him,” she said, trying not to let her voice quaver at all, “Hurt me if you must, but don't touch him.”

“How absurd. I have no desire to hurt the infant. Or yourself, for that matter,” he – it said.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“I have questions. You appear to have some of the answers. Or, at least, you may lead me to the answers,” he said, walking closer.

“Don't come any closer, I'll scream,” she threatened.

“So scream,” he said, “No one will hear you.”

The call button was on a wand, nearby. She reached it and pressed it. No one came. She yelled, “Yicha! Miva! Anybody!”

“Oh, honestly,” he said, “You're wasting your time.”

“Get away,” she said.

“No,” he said.

“Look, if you want to rape me, I mean, I swear, I'll be terrible,” she said.

He laughed, “A primitive life form such as yourself? I mean, you're a human,” he said.

“And you aren't?” she asked.

“No! Really, this is like shooting fish in a barrel. There are some humans who are ... acceptable. She certainly is,” he said, mind seeming to wander for just a moment.

“She?”

“Kathryn,” he said, “But you? You're little more than a unicellular organism.”

“You said earlier I had answers. I am getting the feeling that flatworms don't have your answers,” she said.

“Maybe, maybe not,” he began to approach her again.

“Really, I'm warning you,” she said.

“Warning me of what?” he asked, “Scream your fool head off if you like. It's all right. I can wait.”

She screamed.

=/=



“Hey, I'm half-Irish. Don't mess with me.”– Lili O'Day

“Don't.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



“This is boring,” he finally said, as she finished screaming and ended up just kind of staring at him.

“So leave. Beam out like you beamed in.”

“I didn't beam in,” he said, “I have no need for transporters and such. I'm omnipotent.”

“Huh. Must be nice,” she said, “Got any proof of that?”

“Here,” he said, and the room disappeared. They were on the fourth floor of the Med Center, floating in space – her, him and Declan. The baby began to cry.

“You're scaring him,” she said, “Let me get to him, dammit.”

“Here,” he said, and the room was restored.

She scooped Declan back up and soothed him, then said, “Let me at least, uh, give him to the nurse on duty.”

“They can't help you,” he said, “Look.”

They were suddenly at the nurses' station. Everyone was there, but no one was moving, “Are they alive?” Lili asked.

“Of course they are,” he replied, “Just moving slowly. Time is going faster for you and the little tyke there, but for no other humans.”

=/=



“I swear if I had known time travel would be a way to pick up chicks I'd've been born a better-looking man.” – Kevin O'Connor

“It's time travel and, by definition, it's a bit of madness.”– Malcolm Reed

“I'm not so sure it makes too much of a difference. You know as well as I do that little changes are often just absorbed right into the fabric of space-time. You wear a blue top instead of a red one, chances are extremely small that you'll cause a planetary explosion or whatever.” - Kevin O'Connor

“The timeline is still a little ... caca.” – Kevin O'Connor

=/=



Lili gulped. This was different, “Are you a time traveler like Rick Daniels?”

“No,” he said, “Think bigger,” They were back in the room, in the same places as before.

“You're not God,” she concluded.

“Very good. Much better than the peasants of Corderis Prime. They treated me like, well, in your history it was the Salem Witch Trials that were like that,” he yawned, “So I now stay away from Pre-Warp civilizations. They're too messy and inconvenient.”

“Well, bully for you,” she said, “You, uh, you said you were omnipotent. So, why didn't you just change their minds or something?”

“And get into their little puny heads? Oh, that's not necessary,” he said, “And it's boring. But you – you have a question. And I bet it's how I can be omnipotent and not be God. Yes?”

“All right,” she said, “Tell me that one.”

“Simple. It's the very nature of my species.”

“Species? Do you, uh, make planets, kick off the Big Bang and all?”

“No, no. No more tangents,” he said.

“I don't think you realize – you don't necessarily get to make the rules here,” she said, “Omnipotent or not. You're here to, uh, ask questions?”

“Yes,” he said.

“I won't talk to you anymore unless you tell me who you are,” she sniffed and turned around to put the baby down again.

“Call me Quentin,” he said.

“Tarantino?”

“Why, yes.”

“Why, no,” she said, “Unless you're, what, two hundred years old and direct movies, well, let's just say I have my doubts.”

“All right. Your brain, is perhaps, a tad less puny than I had thought,” he admitted.

“So omnipotence doesn't go hand in hand with omniscience, eh? More's the pity,” she said, “Now, tell me, who the hell are you? And, while you're at it, what are you?”

=/=



“He's exercising veto power over everyone, eh? It must be nice to have such power.”– Leonora Digiorno

“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?” – Yimar

“I'd like to think I'm not just someone.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



“The answer to both is one and the same. Call me by the name of my species,” he said.

“Which is what?”

“Q.”

=/=



“It's like it's all moving at Warp Factor Five and I'm only plodding along at five KPH.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Why me? You said so yourself that you don't think I'm very bright,” she pointed out.

“Your life is somewhat different from other humans – and not just the ones of this time period. You have a permanent relationship with not one or two, but four other humans. And one of them is from, what do you call it? The other side of the pond – that’s sweet, as if the septum between two universes could be bridged in a rowboat!”

“Well, your information is correct. But, uh, what are your questions about, Q?” she asked. She didn't trust him, but so far he hadn't hurt her or Declan.

=/=



“He's gonna leave me.” – Jennifer Crossman

=/=



“Sir, we're a bit off-course again,” Travis said to Captain Archer.

“Oh? How bad is it?”

“Less than point oh one from our destination coordinates,” he replied.

“Do a diagnostic, let me know. Thanks,” Jonathan said.

And it might have been the instruments, or it might have been something else out there. Or, Travis had to admit, it might have been him. He was expertly skilled in piloting, but naturally, like everyone else, he was prone to occasional distractions. Reed becoming a father! He was certainly the first, and that was great and he was happy for the man. But the truth was, he wasn't the first – or, at least, he wouldn't have been, if she had gone the distance. Jennifer. It had been a few years before. They were captured by the Witannen and paired off and, like in a zoo or a farm, forced to breed like animals. Melissa Madden's pregnancy was known to all.

Jennifer Crossman's was not.

She had desperately urged him to keep it quiet. She had gone through with marrying another guy, for gosh's sake! And he and Frank Ramirez looked sufficiently dissimilar that there would have been no way in hell that anyone would have mistaken his kid for Frank's.

And then something had happened, and she had lost the baby. Whether it had been a deliberate act on her part, or something natural, he had no way of truly knowing. They were not pals and barely kept up a correspondence beyond the absolute minimum news that she would send to the entire crew. She was on Encedalus with her husband, and they were trying to start a family.

He knew he had had rights in the matter. But he hadn't pursued them. She had been the most beautiful woman on the ship and he had said nothing about them being together and even less about her conceiving his child.

He had to admit he had not been ready in any capacity. And she hadn't been, either. They had never been in love. They had never even been in like.

“Ensign! We appear to be drifting slightly off-course,” T'Pol said.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, snapping back to reality, “Compensating.”

=/=



“I don't want to do any sneaking around.”– Lili Beckett

“I think it's a bit more mature to be discreet about such things.”– Malcolm Reed

“I don't do good with distance. Or loyalty. I get tempted way too easily if I'm not careful.”– Pamela Hudson

=/=



“It's about Kathryn,” he said.

“Ah. And she's a puny human?” Lili asked.

“Far better than you shall ever be.”

“If you're gonna insult me, I'm not gonna help you. So spill it. What's the deal?”

“I need to perpetuate my species,” he said, “And I have selected her.”

=/=



“I did want you to be humanoid. I mean, I do have standards and all.”– Doug Hayes

“I am not just, just some repository for you.”– Pamela Hudson

=/=



“Does, uh, does Kathryn know about this?”

“Not yet.”

“Would she be receptive?”

“Why wouldn't she be?” he asked.

“Are you that clueless?”

“I'm omnipotent!” he said, a tad indignant, “She won't get a better offer, ever.”

=/=



“Awkward doesn't even begin to describe it.” – Tripp Tucker

=/=



“I can't sit still,” Doug complained.

“Just, just try,” Melissa said, “It's like you've had a gajillion cups of coffee or something.”

“I tell you, it's the pressure drop,” Norri said, “It can make you tense.”

“Well, I got reasons to feel that way,” Doug said.

“Doug,” Malcolm said quietly, coming close, “You're the one who told me to keep it together. You might wish to take that advice right about now, yes?”

“Who asked you, Reed?”

=/=



“You just told me you're in love with another man. Isn't ending it what's supposed to happen?”– Doug Beckett

=/=



“Okay, time out,” Lili said, putting her hands in the shape of a T, “Sit down. Do you sit?”

“I suppose I can,” he said, sitting on the edge of the hospital bed.

“Because I need to sit,” she said. She did so, but far from him, and near the bassinet, “Now, listen to me. This is a sentient being we are talking about. I mean, if I were her, and I don't need you to remind me that I'm not, but, anyway, if I were, I'd want a little say in the matter. Don't you think that's reasonable?”

=/=



“You just decided it, case closed, and there's no discussion. It's like I have no position at all.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“Not if I am the best choice possible. I am the only choice.”

“Hmm. Well, let me ask you. Are you looking for general advice to the lovelorn type of advice from me, or something else? I mean, you mentioned my arrangement. Are you contemplating something like that with her?”

“No,” he said, “Like I said, I need to perpetuate my species.”

“So you're male?”

“In the sense that I don't bear the offspring, yes.”

“But you're appearing in a human form right now, I assume, to keep me from freaking out too much. And, perhaps, to try out this look for her?”

“She's seen me before.”

“Okay. Has she, uh, given you any indications that she has any sort of interest in you?”

“We have stimulating conversations,” he said.

“Oh. Not to get too personal, but, Q, are you anatomically correct?”

=/=



“So show me yours. I'm already showing you mine.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“For my species, yes, I am anatomically correct. Uh, complete. That's what you mean, right?”

“Yep. But not for a human?”

“I can be. But really, is that necessary for you to just answer some questions?”

“Spit out the damned questions already,” she said.

“What are you humans on about, Little Earth Mother? Or, really, any species like you? You meet, break apart and come back together all the time. You take chances and tempt fate and believe in luck. You lose control constantly – it's really quite distressing when you think about it, being out of touch with your own selves so frequently. Why would anyone wish to do such a thing? Love, sex, friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood, parenthood – they're all synonyms for a lack of control.”

“It's the spice in our stew,” Lili said.

“Tell me about this love business. I'm not so sure that I get it.”

“Huh? I can't speak for the whole human race, for all time. You should get a second opinion.”

“Of course not. I'll get a billionth opinion. Never mind about that. What do you think?”

“What's in it for me?”

“For you? I thought you'd do the whole selfless thing. You do that a lot. I've noticed.”

“Please. Selfless is one thing – but I don't know you from Adam. You're just getting to be a pain in the neck. So, um, what's it gonna be?”

“Hmm. I'll answer a few questions about your future. Tell you your fortune. And it'll all be true.”

“I get to ask the questions? And you'll answer them?”

“Yes to both.”

“Will any of the children die young?”

“Define young.”

“It's within twenty-five years older than I am right now, as of this second – seventy-seven years and a few months.”

“Two do.”

“Oh.”

“But one is not too much earlier. He's seventy-four.”

“Oh. Hmm. I guess I can live with that, at least for that one. What about the other?”

“Twenty-two days old.”

“Is it, is it him?” she asked, indicating Declan and trembling a little, “Take me instead, if it's supposed to be him. Let it be me instead.”

“Oh, please! I am not here to take him or you anywhere, at least not on a permanent basis.”

“But – I mean – it seems to me like you might be, you might be a kind of Angel of Death.”

“No, no, of course not. Like I said, I am here for information. I'm no Grim Reaper.”

“This is – Dec is my last child, right?” Q nodded, “So it's Melissa's baby. But – it can't be Neil, right? Please don't let it be Neil. I mean, I saw him older. So that should be impossible, right? Don't let it be Neil. Don't!” she started to cry.

“Now, don't get hysterical. It's not Neil.”

“Then it's one of the others – dead in just over three weeks, is that it? My daughter? My older son? Tommy, maybe? Who is it, Q? Who drew the unlucky card?”

“It’s twenty-two days old, not twenty-two days from now. So, by definition, it’s none of them.”

“None? Then what are you going on scaring me for? Don't be cruel about this kind of thing, lying to me about such things. Don't even kid. I'm sure even Kathryn wouldn't like it if you did that.”

“It is no lie,” he said.

“But you just eliminated everyone from consideration,” she dried her eyes, “You're not making any sense.”

“Oh, that's right. You don't know about Kevin.”

=/=



“I figured I didn't deserve to have survived, like I wasn't good enough and I hadn't done anything to be allowed to be the sole repository of my family's memories and their love and their talents and everything else. I got into trouble and I didn't face it much. I know now what a difficult child I must have been. It wasn't until I became a master of fire that I began to process it. I began to have a handle on what had destroyed my family, and I could turn it to something that was almost good. And I began to slowly realize that my hopelessly old-fashioned, ancient and unhip grandparents were doing the very best they could for me, and that I should try and, and make it so that things wouldn't be so hard for them.”– Lili Beckett

“I wish there was a way that life could go on without you being hurt.”– Jonathan Archer

“You must be the other one.”– Doug Beckett

Chapter 8 by jespah

“Let's conceive this one in love.”– Melissa Madden

“I know that my love isn't going to be enough.” – Doug Beckett

“You will never be hopelessly ugly to me. Don't ever forget that.”– Lili O'Day

=/=



“Kevin?” Lili asked, “When? How?”

“Uh, later,” Q said.

“Don't be evasive,” she said, “Tell me everything.”

=/=



“You're doing your best. He'll realize that someday.” – Brian Delacroix

“You can't tell me too many wonderful things or I get kicked – reminded that I should be down to earth, I guess.”– Lili Beckett

“How absurd. People are dead but delicate flowers survive. A bit of beauty in a wasted land.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



Doug continued pacing.

Malcolm finally looked up, “I have an idea,” he said.

Doug glared, “Let's hear it,” Melissa said.

“Uh, we could – Doug and I – go out for, I don't know, five minutes,” Malcolm said, spinning it along, unsure whether it made any sense, “We can see if the, if the house is intact. And determine whether the storm has passed.”

“We need to wait for the 'all clear',” Norri said.

“You really think they've got a concept of an 'all clear' here?” Doug snapped.

“Dad, can I go, too?” Joss asked.

“No,” Doug replied curtly.

“You'll need to stay here and keep everyone company,” Malcolm said, “We can, uh, get more water, too. If, uh, if it's still bad, we'll just close the door and not even go outside.”

“I dunno,” Melissa said.

“We really should go,” Doug said, a tad calmer, “I, uh, I need to get out of here and do something. I hate just sitting around.”

“Mama, cookie?” Tommy asked Norri.

“Uh, not right now, love,” she said distractedly.

“We could, uh, bring back some, too,” Doug said.

“C'mon, this shouldn't be like heading to the market,” Melissa said.

“Five minutes. No more,” Malcolm promised.

=/=



“You may think you're not doing a damned thing. But you are. Now get them and get gone. Don't dawdle.”– Rick Daniels

“I'm not as delicate as you seem to think I am.”– Lili O'Day

“And you showed me – that you, and me, and what we could, what we have had, that it's all, it's all made from, from sterner stuff. None of it shattered. And I learned that I could do more, and be more, and feel more. The very limits of my intolerance have been stretched.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



“There's not much to tell,” Q said, “Twenty-two days is not a significant amount of time unless you're a mayfly.”

“That may be so, but I still want to know. Tell me all of it,” Lili demanded, “If you want to hear anything from me, get any sort of answers, you'll give me the full lowdown.”

“Huh. Explanations will be unsatisfactory,” he said, “Perhaps I can just show you.”

=/=



“Just keep letting me believe things that I know, really, aren't so.” – Deborah Haddon

“Well, whose morality applies to us? I mean, aren't there species that still have child brides? Do we go by their rules, or ours?” – Brian Delacroix

“I guess we do what we think is most right. All the while hurting the smallest number of people.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“Captain, can I see you for a second?”

“Sure, Travis. In my Ready Room?”

“Thanks.”

As soon as the door had closed, Travis said, “I, uh, some of our being off-course. It's, it's my fault, sir.”

“Oh?”

“I've just, I've been distracted.”

“Something troubling you, Ensign?”

“Yes. But, uh, I can't talk about it. I promised not to.”

“Hmm. Is there anyone you can talk to? Phlox, maybe?”

“Maybe, sir.”

“Tell you what, take the rest of the day off. And talk to someone – even if it just means writing a letter,” Jonathan said, “Will that help?”

“I think so. Thank you, sir.”

“All right. Contact Chris Harris, tell him to come up here and start second shift a little early. Dismissed.”

=/=


“I don't want you to get hurt. I do care about that.”– Jonathan Archer

“I must insist – my condition is – I want pictures of everyone – kids' births and graduations, medal ceremonies, vacations, anything and everything.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“Show?” Lili asked, but the room was already changing.

It was the Fep City apartment – Leonora and Melissa's home. But it was different.

“Uh, what year is this?” Lili had the presence of mind to ask.

Q just stayed quiet, so she looked around. She settled on looking at the video cutout, a slide show of family photographs flying by. There was one of Norri getting her doctorate. Then another was a Prom picture, of what looked like a young Doug with a girl of Chinese extraction. And then Lili realized, it wasn't Doug. That was Joss's Prom picture. She put her hand out to try to pause it and look longer, but couldn't make contact with the display, “What the –?”

“We're not really here,” Q explained, “We are the proverbial fly on the wall.”

“And Declan?”

“Back in the room.”

“A newborn really shouldn't be left alone for more than a minute or so,” Lili pointed out.

“He's on slowed down time now, as well.”

“That molasses time is convenient,” Lili said. She went back to the wall. Marie Patrice was pictured holding up some sort of art project. Tommy was in a scout uniform. And then Doug. It was a picture of him with recruits, but he was far older, “He's, he's what, sixty-five in this picture?”

“Seventy,” Q said.

Lili left the display and went over to the clock. It scrolled through the time and temperature in Fep City and then to the current date – June twenty-fourth, 2177.

“Doug is, he's seventy-four. And, and Melissa is, uh, forty-something.”

“Forty-three,” Q said, “Watch.”

=/=



“That's just like you, Joss, to take the side of a slave or an animal. Really, you're too soft.”– Marie Patrice Beckett (Sato)

“I'm not a perfect person by any means. I have flaws – that's a huge one, of course. All I can hope for is to not pass that along to the kids.”– Doug Beckett

“I got my own imperfections that I don't want to pass along to the kids.”– Melissa Madden

=/=



There was a yowling sound, like a cat in distress, but it was feeble.

“They got a cat?” Lili asked.

Q said nothing.

As Lili watched, Melissa blew by her, into another room. Lili followed.

Melissa was older, to be sure, but she looked even older than she should have – tired, teary, as if she hadn't slept well for a while.

The yowling was a bit louder. There was no cat to be seen anywhere.

Melissa leaned over a crib, and picked up a baby, and Lili saw.

He was the one making the noise. There was no cat, just a newborn. And his eyes – they were too far apart. He cried strangely as she tried to soothe him without much success.

=/=



“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 and I'm not that at all.” – Yimar

=/=



“Q, what's wrong with the baby?” Lili asked, loudly, “Tell me. What's wrong with that baby?”

“Just watch,” he replied.

=/=



“I love my children. I'm proud to take care of them.”– Doug Beckett

=/=



Doug walked into the little scene, “Hey, buddy,” he said as Melissa handed him the squalling infant, who quieted down a bit, “There ya go.”

“You have the touch,” she said, “Doug, do you think he knows?”

“I, I don't know.”

“I think maybe he does, somehow,” she replied.

The baby yowled again, a high-pitched whiny cry that did not feel normal.

“Shh, shh,” Doug said, “Have you tried nursing?”

“He hasn't nursed for over twelve hours,” Melissa said, “We should call Doctor Linwev.”

“No,” Doug said, “We've been over this before.”

“He needs treatment. We need to get him to the Med Center.”

“Which is where we just got him from,” Doug said, insistent, “Linwev let us take him home, to, to, well, uh, for this purpose.”

=/=



“I, too, am a Dad. But I don't exactly qualify for Father of the Year.”– Rick Daniels

“I would rather take care of the children.” – Aidan MacKenzie

=/=



“But why can't they fix him?” Melissa asked, teary.

“We have talked about this,” Doug said, “We both know he's got too many problems. The chances aren't good that he'd survive any surgery whatsoever. To, to, die,” he barely whispered that last word, “on an operating table, versus here, in my or your arms – I mean, if you were Kevin, which would you choose?”

“I hate this choice,” she said.

“It's, it's all my fault anyway,” Doug said, handing her the baby, “I never should have made you.”

“You didn't,” she said.

“C'mon,” Doug said, “We could've stopped this before it went this far.”

“We both chose for him to be born,” Melissa said, “I don't regret that. I love him. I love you, Kevin. Hear that?” she asked the baby, who began yowling again, but he wasn't as loud.

“Here, let's give him the painkiller,” Doug said. He injected the baby with a little hypospray, and the crying changed to just a few gasping breaths.

=/=



“Doug, I know you. You wouldn't be able to stay away. The minute you see that kid, whether it's in person or just a photograph, I know you. You're gonna fall in love. And that's okay. It's what's supposed to happen.” – Lili Beckett

“I don't believe I've seen such devotion.”– Dr. Phlox

=/=



“What is wrong with the baby, Q?” Lili demanded, “Tell me.”

“Monosomy five,” Q said, “The syndrome is called Cri du Chat.

“Cry of the cat,” she said.

=/=



“It appears that you are introducing a rather powerful bit of evolutionary biology into the human gene pool.”– Dr. Phlox

“I don't think that some accident of genetics should make any difference here.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“It is my fault,” Doug was insistent, “Linwev said. It's me. The defect comes from me,” he said, “Blame me for everything.”

“You and I made love, and yeah, he wasn't exactly planned,” Melissa said, “But that is the only fault here.”

“But the genetics are all screwed up,” Doug said, “We can deny it all we want, but I am the cause of this. All of his insides are messed up. His eyes. That way he cries. He'll never have,” Doug stopped for a while, and just cried a bit, then continued, “He will never have normal intelligence.”

=/=



“Weep if it makes you feel better.”– Malcolm Reed

“Well, the super-male makes super babies, as you can see.”– Lili Beckett

=/=



“That's not supposed to be possible,” Lili said, “Phlox had said, back when I was pregnant with Marie Patrice. Doug's sperm can't unite with a faulty egg.”

“And that was true,” Q said, “Back when he was in his fifties, and then in his sixties. But he's older now. And it's not the egg's fault at all. Your husband is telling the truth and is not just being a martyr. He really is at fault. So tell me, why would such a child be born at all? You heard them. They could have stopped it. Why didn't they?”

“It's, uh, well, I can't speak for their choices,” Lili began, “But they love each other. And even with such insurmountable odds, maybe they hoped that somehow it wouldn't be so bad. I mean, do these cri du chat children, can they live?”

“It's not impossible,” Q allowed, “But this one has numerous pulmonary and cardiac problems. The baby has stopped feeding – you heard her say that, yes?” Lili nodded grimly, “His digestive tract is not correctly developed, either. Some of that was detectable in utero. Some, given the current pathetic state of your technology, was not. But even without the details, it was clear that this child would not have many chances in the world. Why was he brought to term?”

“Because they love him,” Lili said, “Even if it's wrong. Even if it's hopeless. They love him. We don't – we're not like the Romans were. We don't just leave our, our imperfect children out on some mountaintop to be devoured by, by wild animals.”

“Is this much better?” Q asked.

“Kevin doesn't know much,” Lili said, “And apparently he never will. But I think he knows that they love him.”

“But that's not enough.”

=/=



“You are my boy. I didn't go away because of not caring or not wanting to know you. I didn't want to go away at all. I love you as much as I love the other kids. I am as proud of you, as invested with you and as identified with you as I am with them. You are my boy.”– Doug Beckett

=/=



“I have something for you,” Doug said to Melissa.

“Oh?”

“I had, uh, I don't know if this is a good time or not. But, uh, here,” he said, as they stood over the crib and looked down at Kevin, who wasn't moving much.

“Um, thank you,” she said, opening up a box that fit in the palm of her hand, “A bracelet.”

“With, see the charm?” he asked, “The, the oval. That's you. And the three circles inside? Those are, uh, they're the boys,” Doug said. He couldn't continue.

She finished for him, “Yeah, I see. The, uh, the biggest one is Tommy. And the middle one has gotta be Neil. And, and he's the littlest one,” she slipped it on her wrist, “And they're, the two bigger circles, they're around the smallest one. So they'll, they'll always protect him. Even, even after,” she picked up Kevin and Doug put his hand on the top of Kevin's hand gently.

The baby took one big gasp and that was it.

=/=



“Just cry.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



“He's, he's done,” Doug said, “Isn't he?”

She put her fingers on the baby's tiny neck, “I can't feel a pulse.”

“Oh, God.”

“Doug, do you, do you think there's a place where, where he is right now? Where he's safe and comfortable?”

“I, I don't know,” he said, “An afterlife? I, I never believed in that.”

“You hear about people seeing lights, and going to them. Do you think that's what happened?” she asked, between sobs.

“I hope it's not just our brains losing oxygen,” he said, “The universe laughing at our tiny lives.”

“Don't say that,” she said, “He can hear us.”

“I don't – uh, maybe he can. Kevin, Daddy and Mommy love you,” Doug said.

“No more pain,” Melissa said softly, “Forever.”

=/=



“I will always be there.”– Frank (Francisco) Ramirez

Chapter 9 by jespah

“Talk for a little while. It can be as little as five minutes. But, really, you both need to process this. I have done this many times, but the first time I was a wreck afterwards, when I thought about what had happened. It wasn't anything bad, but it just – our brains aren't really wired for this. – Rick Daniels

=/=



They were back in the hospital room.

Lili sat down, hard, on the bed, “My God.”

“I still have questions.”

“Go to hell.”

“Now, now,” Q said.

“You should, you should take me instead,” she said, “Really.”

“You?”

“Yes. That baby is innocent and doesn't deserve this. And they, they don't deserve to have to bury him.”

“You honestly think that's how it works?” he asked, incredulous.

“C'mon, don't you have accounts? Me for him. This is my one and only offer, Q.”

“You still think I'm some Angel of Death? How strange,” he said, “And it wouldn't do any good anyway. If you died today, they would never conceive him. Your sacrifice would be for naught.”

“Then tomorrow,” she said, “At some point, the accounts all balance out, right? I die and he gets to live.”

“No, no,” he said, “Your friend, Richard Daniels, he explained this to you. There is only one timeline per universe – one to a customer. Kevin's death is in the timeline. Yours – at least not for now – is not.”

“But how can I help him?”

“My, but you are in a sacrificing mood today,” Q said, “And it's all for a child that isn't even related to you genetically, who would have had numerous developmental difficulties ahead of him if he had survived, and will never know that you exist, and who barely comprehends the world around him. Why would you do such a thing?”

“It's for love,” she said, getting up and going over to the bassinet, “If you do become a father, with Kathryn or anyone else, you should understand that.”

“Love? But it's so abstract in this instance. This child has not only not yet been conceived, the egg is tucked firmly away in the ovary. And the sperm are not only not even created yet, they are nowhere to be found. An accident of timing, a delay, a late transport, or a faster climax, or a crying child preventing or putting off coitus and things turn out far differently. It's all exceptionally random.”

=/=



“I'm going to assume you don't want me dead.” – Susan Cheshire

“I gotta get them paired off soon – it's better for them to start producing their own heirs as early as possible. I know I waited too long. They should learn from my one, rare, error.” – Empress Hoshi Sato

=/=



At the last minute, Malcolm grabbed his PADD.

He and Doug opened the cellar door. It was loud outside but there was no wind within the house.

“So far, so good,” Doug said.

They cautiously went past the door and closed it behind them.

=/=



“Oh, c’mon, you practically had a halo on.” – Doug Beckett

“Do they write my name on a wall or something?” – Jennifer Crossman

=/=



“So it's random,” she said, “But it's still done – at least in our cases – it's done with love. And that child is innocent.”

“Unlike your husband,” Q said.

“My husband has faults. And so do I. And so does every human. I suspect, even Kathryn does.”

“But your husband is a killer, several times over. That little domestic scene you just witnessed is far from typical for him. More of his time alive is spent ending lives, not starting them.”

“Fourteen men and one woman,” Lili said, “I know about them.”

“Yes, but do you know the details?” Q asked, “Has he given you the whole truth?”

“No,” she had to admit that.

“That's right, he hasn't.”

“You've been watching how much of my life?”

“All of it,” he said, “It was a quick diversion.”

“So you've watched me in bed, and having my children and confessing love and all of the other intimate things I've done? Was it good for you, Q?”

=/=



“When you think of how we look when we do it, how we look when we climax, it's all rather comical if you really, really think of it, look at it closely.” – Pamela Hudson

“I'm just dyin' to play doctor.” – Aidan MacKenzie

“Nothing imaginative there.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=


Travis got to Sick Bay. Doctor Phlox was alone, “Can I help you with something, Ensign?” he asked.

“Uh, can I talk to you privately?” Travis asked.

“If you can say it in front of the Derellian bat then, yes,” The Denobulan smiled.

“Yes. Uh, doc, it's, um, it's about Jennifer Crossman. I mean, Ramirez, Jennifer Ramirez.”

“I see,” Phlox pulled up a stool and motioned to Travis to sit down, “Does this have anything to do with the announcement about Lieutenant Reed?”

“A bit,” Travis admitted, “I just, I guess it could have been me. I'm not sure how I feel about it.”

“Well, as I recall you told me at the time that you weren't ready for parenthood. Have you changed your mind?”

“Actually, no,” Travis said, “I don't know if I ever want kids. I mean, I like to think that, if I had to, I could rise to the occasion. I want to feel that I could care for a baby if I had to.”

“But you wouldn't necessarily have done so gladly, eh?”

“I would want to be fair. I mean, it's not the kid's fault, right? It's us. We, uh, we did the deed.”

“It wasn't exactly voluntary.”

“I know, but still! There were things we probably could have done,” Travis said, “But even if it's not my and Jennifer's fault, well, it still wasn't the kid's, right?”

“Absolutely not. Children don't ask to be born.”

“I guess we don't. But I can't help feeling – I dunno – I feel weird about the whole thing. Like I'm not feeling the right things.”

“Whatever you are feeling, that is the right thing,” Phlox said, “You said you were not ready. And you continue to feel that way, and feel that you probably will never want to become a parent,” Travis nodded, “There's nothing wrong with that. And Jennifer not having a successful outcome is, well, it turned out to be in keeping with your feelings. And hers, too, I suspect. But I think, deep down, you cannot help feeling a tad guilty that it worked out so conveniently for you. Am I right?”

“Yeah.”

“But it did work out,” Phlox said, “And whether that was deliberate or not, it is, ultimately, what happened. You are allowed to experience a sense of relief. I don't think you're a bad person if you do.”

“Even though you have children, doc?”

“Especially because I do. You see, for parents, we know how much work it is. You don't just invest the first eighteen or so years. You invest all of them. So to be seeing two people potentially going into parenthood without fully embracing it and wanting it, well, that's troubling to me. I would rather that all parents went in with perfect embracings of their offspring, and with perfect desire to get there. Not everyone does. And you're right, some people truly do rise to the occasion. Others don't, or can't. All children should be wanted. All parents should be willing. I have no doubt that Jennifer will become a mother. And she will be willing and she will be happy and will work hard to make sure that her children are as loved as possible. Her life is on track, and so is yours.”

“But our becoming parents would have derailed that.”

“Not derailed,” Phlox said, “Placed it onto a different track, to be sure. Your lives would be far different. But there are differences if you turn left instead of right, or have the oatmeal for breakfast instead of the pancakes, right?”

“This is a more meaningful decision than that, doc.”

“Yes, but what I am saying is, it is a difference. Thinking back on what could have been is counterproductive. Feeling guilty that it's not what it didn't turn out to be – well, that's also counterproductive. You did not become parents. Your lives will go on. You may change your mind about this, but I doubt you will. It tends to be pretty deeply ingrained, the desire to become a parent. Or to not become one. One is not a defect. The absence of this desire is not fatal to one person. If you all felt that way then, yes, it would be fatal to the human race. But the human race will go on. And you will have your chances to contribute to the lives of children, if you wish to. You will do so every time you read to one, or you help a lost one find his mother again, or when you contribute to making the galaxy a better and safer place. Sperm need not meet egg for you to help children, Travis.”

=/=



“She's got a right to be happy.” – Frank (Francisco) Ramirez

“I, I think I'd need you more.” – Doug Hayes

“It’s that people who love you scare you.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Please, I get no titillation from your couplings,” Q said.

“But you watched anyway.”

“Only to get a sense of who you were,” he said, “You and your husband, you and the short Brit, good times all around, or so it appears.”

“It's not just the bedtime stuff,” she said.

“No, it isn't. There's an awful lot of talking.”

=/=



“It's the stuff that makes up your life. You have allowed me to be a part of it. That's almost as intimate as holding your body to mine, touching and kissing and looking at all of your, your secret places.” – Malcolm Reed

“And yours, too. You've let me into your life, too, Malcolm. And I know that it's not easy for you to do that.” – Lili Beckett

“There was never anyone before who I wanted to open the door for.” – Malcolm Reed

“That depth of feeling can really make you feel alive.” – Pamela Hudson

“I just miss you. I miss our, our immediacy. I miss kissing you when we climax.” – Doug Beckett

“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.” – Doug Hayes

=/=


“Well, we talk because we're involved with each other,” Lili said, “And I bet Kathryn would prefer that, too. You can't just blow into her life, say, 'let's do it!' and then just leave, yanno.”

“I have many things to do.”

“That would be more important? C'mon, Q. Surely even you can see that just abandoning your child is, well, it's not the sort of thing that an evolved being should be doing.”

“Hmm. So this is all done out of love? This, this diaper changing, the disciplining, the driving them around to all sorts of appointments?”

“Yep. There are things that are done that are, shall we say, less than fun. But we do them because our children need us. So we think about how much we love them, and that makes it easier. Even if the diapers are really stinky.”

“My offspring will not have such issues.”

“Excellent,” she said, “Evolution's a wonderful thing, eh?”

“Truly,” he said, “You may ask me another question if you wish.”

“Ah,” she said, “Do any of the children – except for Kevin, I suppose that's a foregone conclusion for him, poor dear – do they die without having had real love?”

“I can't answer that. That's a question for you. Let's table that one.”

“Do they marry?”

“Two do. One of those divorces.”

“That's a pity. Does that one remarry?”

“Yes. This is dull. Don't you have any questions about yourself?” Q asked, a bit peevishly.

“How does my marriage end? Death or divorce?”

“Death.”

“Does he remarry?”

“No.”

“Oh. I don't want him to be lonely,” she cried a little and then picked up the baby again.

“He does not remarry because you do. Really, for someone who does math as often as you do – and I know what that means – you're surprisingly poor with numbers. Your husband is the oldest of the five of you and received horrific or no medical care when he was still in the other universe; of course he would go first. And I'll even give you a bonus one. Your second marriage is to the short Brit. And you're both somewhat old by then, for humans.”

=/=



“I am part-French. And forever, and probably still, there would be, there would be men with a wife and a mistress. And the wife would have the marriage, and the home and the children.” – Lili Beckett

“I can't be called a mistress. The genders are reversed and it's just not manly.” – Malcolm Reed

“I said – the male equivalent of mistress is lover.” – Lili Beckett

“I think that now Doug wants to be a lover, not a fighter.” – Hoshi Sato

=/=



The upstairs was surprisingly intact. Things were off some shelves but the rooms seemed to be all right.

“I could almost swear there was nothing happening outside,” Doug said, “Except something is,” he pointed out the back.

Malcolm looked out through the kitchen window. Up the rise was the neighbor's house, not yet finished. But it couldn't be seen. Instead, the house seemed to be wrapped up in a cocoon of sorts.

“What is that?” he asked.

“Snow, I think,” Doug said.

“That's not supposed to be possible. Tornadoes are supposed to form from the application of moist, warm air.”

“Well, this one isn't.”

Malcolm went to the front and looked out of the picture window, “Look at that,” he clicked a few keys on the PADD and set it to camera mode, and began taking pictures.

“Well, I'll be damned,” Doug said.

The swirling horizontal snow perfectly wrapped around the house and the cars. They were included within the wrapping, swirling snow. Occasionally, there would be tiny breaks in the snow, and they could see blue skies behind the white.

“This is no regular weather phenomenon,” Malcolm said, moving back to the kitchen to get pictures from there.

“I dunno,” Doug said, grabbing a jug and filling it up, “There's no moon here.”

“But tornadoes don't have anything to do with the moon. And you have tides anyway, right?”

“Yeah, we do,” Doug said, “It's because of the two smaller stars in the system, Fep and Ub,” he rummaged around, looking for cookies, and finally found a small plastic container in the refrigerator, “We should go back down there.”

“Will you be all right?”

“I'll try,” Doug said, “At least there's a roof.”

=/=



“If we're gonna have visits, I gotta insist on this one. No one sleeps in – or has sex in – my bed except for my wife and me. No exceptions.” – Doug Beckett

“I don't like sleeping without you.” – Doug Hayes

“I'm just afraid I'll like it too much. It's not real, it's not true. No dream is like this, like us.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



“Oh. Gawd, it feels as if it just happened. How? When?”

“On a hunting trip with his dear, uh, friend, Melissa Madden. The heart just gives out.”

“Oh,” she wept, “It hurts and it hasn't even happened yet. Can't you prevent it?”

“I'm a Q, not a miracle worker.”

“You said you were omnipotent.”

“That doesn't mean I have any interest in preventing this. Or that I should, or that it would be the best thing for anyone.”

“It would be, for him.”

“Humans don't live forever. You'd just find him some time later, or one of your children would. Really, you're not thinking this thing through. Would you prefer if he became disabled, or lost his mind? And, please, you don't know. You may be a little jealous of Melissa witnessing his last moments but the name on his lips – the last word he says – it's not her name. It's yours.”

“I can't continue.”

“Please, we're just getting started.”

“Leave me alone.”

“You see that funnel cloud? I made it. I made it to wrap around your house. Your family is in there. They aren't being harmed but they cannot leave. That storm is going to continue until I get some information from you. I've held up my end of the bargain. Now it's your turn, little Earth mother.”

“I'm too upset.”

“I'd think you'd be fine. You've got a spare.”

“A spare? Is that all you think Malcolm is? This is his son. I don't bear children with just anyone. Only with the ones I love more than anything. And I don't marry without reason. I had other opportunities, and I didn't take them.”

“True,” he allowed, “It must be a powerful thing, this love business. It leads you around and changes your life more than gravity does.”

“An unseen force, I guess,” she said. She put the baby back down as he was sleeping, “You cannot just walk in here and tell me the details of my husband's death without it bothering me. I mean, are you that clueless? Or insensitive? Kathryn's not going to appreciate you if you can't at least muster up minimal sensitivity. And that means giving others their due, even if you know better or even if you are better. Don't be jealous of others – and don't tell me that you're not, because I bet you are, at least a little, jealous of some of us puny humanfolk.”

=/=



“I'm not a romantic guy. I'm not stylish, I don't dance and you will never get me to change my hairstyle, not even when I'm eighty.” – Frank (Francisco) Ramirez

“Letting go of jealousy isn't easy.” – Leonora Digiorno

“… well, he's good to look at but not really that smart.” – Deborah Haddon

Chapter 10 by jespah

“I don't like jealousy. It's toxic.” – Lili Beckett

“I am unlucky in love.” – Malcolm Reed

“The objective is, whoever gets the girl first wins.” – Travis Mayweather

=/=



“Jealous?! Of humans?” Q threw back his head and laughed.

“Methinks you doth protest too much,” Lili said.

“Nonsense.”

“No, no, no!” she grinned broadly and moved closer to him, but her movements were tough and she held her abdomen where the surgical incision was healing, “I do believe I've hit a nerve.”

“I have no nerves to hit.”

“Don't be so sure. There's always someone who's younger, or more mature. Or taller, or thinner, or has more hair. Or is more muscular, or the bust is bigger, or the butt looks better. Someone is always smarter, or funnier, or has better teeth or whatever.”

“She can't do any better,” Q insisted.

“Maybe she doesn't want to,” Lili said, “Have you got a rival, perhaps, Q?”

“Absolutely not. I am the only logical choice.”

“Ah, but that's a qualifier. You're not the only choice, yes? So tell me, about her. And then about your competition.”

=/=



“Too many moths around a golden flame.” – Malcolm Reed

“What kind of a man am I if an imperfection or two affects me so? Is my love real if it can be so easily thrown away?” – Malcolm Reed

“What should we do if, erm, one of 'em turns out to be, uh, not so attractive?” – Tripp Tucker

“If you're not interested because I've got an imperfection, I can leave right now.” – Pamela Hudson

“I may as well be dressed so I can make a quick getaway when you kick me out.” – Pamela Hudson

“So far as they're concerned, I've just got bad taste. But I don't.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



Doug and Malcolm returned downstairs.

“Whew,” Melissa said, “What'd ya see?”

“I've got photographs,” Malcolm said, “Have a look.”

They huddled around the PADD, and Doug passed around the cookies, “Chocolate chunk and there's also a couple of brownies,” he said.

“Even when she's away, she's feeding us,” Norri said, taking a cookie.

“Do those have any dairy in them?” Malcolm asked.

“Possibly a little,” Melissa said, “I'm not so sure that cookies can be made without milk.”

“Hmmm. I shall pass then,” he said, “Now, here, see the swirls?” he brushed his index finger along the pictures and the slide show advanced, “The weather system appears to be kind of wrapped 'round the property.”

“Huh. Weird,” Norri said, “Uh, Malcolm?”

“Yes?”

“Come over to the corner with me for a second. And, uh, bring the PADD.”

“Mama!” Tommy exclaimed.

“Just a minute,” Norri said. In the corner, she said to Malcolm, “I don't want to alarm the kids. But this isn't a normal weather system. I think maybe no more Show and Tell to the kids. The four of us, sure. But put a password on those pictures, okay? And, uh, let's start to think about why they look the way they do.”

“Huh. I'll tell Doug. You'll tell Melissa?”

“Yep. We're a team,” Norri said, “Let's figure this out.”

=/=



“I have conditions. No one confuses the kids. That means we watch the public displays. I'm not joking about this.” – Doug Beckett

“I don't want our sons to grow up with only a little bit of one or the other of us. I don't want to have to divvy up our friends.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



“Kathryn is beautiful, passionate and intelligent,” Q said, “She's a Starship Captain.”

“Huh, the only female Starship Captain I know of is Erika Hernandez. So what year are we talkin' about?”

“2373.”

“Over two hundred years from now, eh? Hmm. And I'm somehow still applicable?”

“Well, your opinions might be. And I say might,” Q said, “The jury's still out.”

“Oh. Do I disappoint you?”

“Your opinions are just, they come with too many messy feelings attached to them, like barnacles.”

“I'm afraid we've all got barnacles. All humans. If you want someone to speak to you without emotions, call T'Pol.”

“That's all right,” Q said, “Vulcans are so predictable.”

“So deal with the things that displease you and – dare I say it? Get over it,” she said.

“Very well,” he said.

“Tell me more about Kathryn. What does she look like?”

“What does that matter?”

“It doesn't. I just want to hear you describe her,” Lili said, “I think that's telling.”

=/=



“She a looker? So I'm shallow. And curious.” – Pamela Hudson

“In the dictionary, under awkward, you'll see a photograph of Malcolm Reed, age fifteen. Go ahead and look when you can, if you don't believe me.” – Malcolm Reed

“Are you saying my daughter is somehow undesirable?” – Empress Hoshi Sato

“I am so not interested in her, not any more. She was – I mean, I'm a guy. I can't help but to react to her, how she looks, what she wears and all.” – Joss Beckett

“You're being thrown over for an older, somewhat plain pregnant woman, if I had to be brutally honest about her appearance. I don't believe it, either.” – Malcolm Reed

“My mother was a ghost. I only remember a light grey shadow.” – Marie Patrice Beckett (Sato)

“You are as lovely as you always have been. Did you think that your beauty was only confined to your skin?” – Malcolm Reed

“Beautiful white hot flame. I just want to be near it, be in it.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



“Uh, auburn hair.”

“What color are her eyes?”

“I'm not sure.”

“You don't know, Q?”

“It hardly seems important.”

“It means you're not paying attention. Do you look her in the eyes when you have your, uh, what did you call them, stimulating conversations?”

“Huh. Perhaps not. Anyway, uh, shorter than my current appearance.”

“Anything else? Does she have, uh, a nice figure?”

He was distracted for a moment, “Q?”

“Oh, uh, blue eyes. And she's has, her body is less massive than yours is.”

“I just had a baby. So, uh, you just checked?”

“Why should that surprise you?”

“Interesting. Have you done anything to signal your interest?”

He was distracted again, “Flowers,” he said, “Or would candles or lingerie be better?”

=/=



“Plus the whole flowers thing is the very nadir of predictability. If someone brings over chocolates or perfume then I'll just gag.” – Pamela Hudson

“You seem to be able to get going with or without lingerie.” – Melissa Madden

“Be a gentleman.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“I dunno,” Lili said, “This isn't exactly 'one-size-fits-all'. You should realize that.”

“I suppose,” Q said.

“What is personal? What does she like?”

“Why should that matter?”

“It's everything! Do you wanna get it on with this woman, or not? I mean without forcing her, of course.”

He was again distracted, “She didn't seem to like it much when I was lying in a nice bed for her – much nicer than the Starfleet regulation equipment she was given. What I offered was far superior. She was rather nasty and ungrateful about the whole thing,” he showed Lili a quick picture of the bed, an image floating in mid-space that soon vanished.

“Sheesh.”

=/=



“Ha, this room still looks like it should be rented by the hour.” – Lili Beckett

“You just wanna get some.” – Susan Cheshire

“I'm not used to women being so aggressive.” – Malcolm Reed

“When I figured he'd be sharing your bed it did give me pause. Even platonically, I did have a pang. I trust him, of course. With my very life. But maybe the word isn't jealousy – envy. Not jealous of sexual contact as I knew there would be none. Just envy that he'd be there and I wouldn't.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



Travis sat in his quarters. Then he got up, and paced a bit, and then he sat back down again.

“Huh,” he finally said, “I can't just sit here.”

He took out a PADD, and began typing.

To: Jennifer and Frank Ramirez, Enceladus Colony
From: Ensign Travis Mayweather, Starship Enterprise, NX-01

Dear Jennifer and Frank,

I hope you're both okay. I am well. I know this letter is probably unexpected.

We just heard that Lieutenant Reed is going to become a father! Or maybe he already is by now. Lili is his son's mother. Did she maybe tell you? I hope I'm not giving you stale news.

But of course it got me to think about things. And I don't want to dredge up any bad feelings. It's all in the past.

I did want you to know that I'm really glad that you are in the middle of your happy ending. I guess that gives hope to all of us.

Take care.

– Travis

=/=



“Doug, if you can't work things out, what kind of hope have I got?” – Jennifer Crossman

“I've sinned and cheated and it's like it's all under false pretenses.” – Jennifer Crossman

“I can do things that I bet you've been dreaming of for a while.” – Tommy Digiorno-Madden (Sato)

=/=



“I beg your pardon?”

“You can't just launch into sex without any preliminaries,” Lili said.

“You did. With both your husband and the short Brit.”

“Is that what this is all about? How to go from zero to Warp Factor Five in five easy seconds?”

“You fell in very easily with both of them.”

“With, with Doug, it started off as a dream,” Lili explained, “I didn't even know that he was real. For the first time, so far as I was concerned, the whole thing was just a fantasy conjured up out of my subconscious.”

“So you feel it was some combination of earlier encounters?”

“It was, and it wasn't. It was definitely better,” she said, “And the start was strange. I don't expect to be slammed into a wall and have that turn into lovemaking.”

“Should I try that with Kathryn, you think?”

“Uh, no. Really, she's liable to have a Security team in her quarters before you got past the first kiss.”

“Their weapons would prove useless.”

“Still – I am assuming you are looking for at least willingness? I mean, you don't want to rape her, right?”

“No, no. But you, your initial couplings with the short Brit weren't exactly voluntary ones.”

“I was already married – and the size of a house, pregnant with my daughter. And our, uh, couplings, as you put it, they were being forced on us by the Witannen.”

“True. But you were the one to tell him that his attentions were welcome. So are you saying that Kathryn could come around? You certainly did.”

“I already knew Malcolm. And I already, well, when Doug and I first started up together, I kind of thought that maybe Malcolm was a little interested. But he didn't pursue anything, and I was off and getting married and pregnant, first with Joss. And my life was already set and it was hurtling down a path that didn't have Malcolm in it.”

=/=



“New couples can be so into each other that it's to the exclusion of almost everything else.” – Lili O'Day

“I tend to fall for women who are either thoroughly inappropriate for me or wholly unattainable.” – Malcolm Reed

“Throughout my life, my life as a lover, that is, I have either pined for the unattainable or held back with the ones I could have, and never truly got close to any of them. With you, though, it is, it has been, well, about testing my limits. About knowing what I could, could tolerate.” – Malcolm Reed

“Lili, I saw that look. I know that look. It's the one that says, 'I'm never gonna have this. I'm never gonna be happy – not really. I won't have love and a family and a future.' I saw that look, and I recognized that look because, well, because I used to see that look every single day of my life, whenever I'd look in a mirror.” – Doug Beckett

“I imagine the next time your husband sees me alone, he'll break my nose.” – Malcolm Reed

“I wanted it to be different with her. Change who I was. Be true.” – Doug Beckett

“You didn't stray – that's such an awful word, as if you were a dog – you didn't, didn't do what you did because you wanted to. But it had unintended consequences. And the same thing happened on my end. Unintended effects.” – Lili Beckett

“I just don't want it to be some horribly clichéd affair, where we go to sordid motel rooms that are rented by the hour, or we tell him that she's traveling for some reason or another. I don't want it to be a lot of lying.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Some of it was related to your husband being thrown in with Melissa Madden, though, right? He had her, so you felt you could have the short Brit.”

“A little bit. I won't deny that. If the parallel hadn't happened, I know I would've felt significantly worse. But those were the cards we were dealt. And my own feelings – I mean, I had them about Malcolm. But at the same time, I was being, well, swept off my feet. So they hit the back burner. And then the Witannen threw them back on the front burner. I have a lot of trouble showing my body to someone, and looking at them, and have us touch each other, and kiss and love each other physically, without it devolving into more.”

“Are you saying that sex makes you fall in love?”

“Not necessarily,” she said, “But I also sensed that Malcolm had really deep feelings. I picked up on that, and my own feelings, they were super-charged again.”

“You had kissed him before.”

“Yes, that's right. I guess I teased him, back in '57.”

=/=



“For a moment, I could believe it wasn't me you were kissing off – that it was, that it was him.” – Malcolm Reed

“It's not a set of candlesticks that someone bought quickly because they didn't know us. It's not a gift card purchased at the last minute. It's not a tablecloth I'll only use once or twice a year. It's not a book I'll read maybe a few times and then put away on a shelf to gather dust somewhere. It's food and it's a card and it's napkins and canisters and by themselves those really aren't a lot of things. But put it all together and, well, this, uh, the cover story is that this gift was to remind Doug and me of home. And it does. It succeeds there, admirably. But the real hidden meaning is, because the kitchen is my room, my place, my domain, the gift is really to remind me, every day, every single day, of the person who gave it.” – Lili Beckett

“It is what I want, it is my, my love, yes, that's the right word – it is my love. It is what I dreamt of, and not just chastely, but for you, it's forcing and it's not you really wanting to do it. As you close your eyes, I imagine you think of, of him. And that hurts so much, so much more. I have waited for, for this. But it's not what I truly desired. The Witannen have perverted it. For so long I've wanted to be close to you. Now all I want to do is crawl away and die.” – Malcolm Reed

“I'm getting tired of, of kissing your shoulder, Malcolm. I'd really rather kiss your mouth.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“And you were – I suppose the word is generous. You allowed it. And then it became more, and you were committed. And your husband and Melissa Madden were committed, and it all evolved into your current arrangement. Isn't that so? But if you had been less accommodating, or had continued to reject the short Brit's advances, or your husband had continued to pull out and otherwise attempt some measure of birth control, you would have returned to your marriage and been done with things. Right?”

“Right. It was a kind of a Rube Goldberg contraption. But everything is. When I kissed him in '57, do you know what I was thinking? Can you see into that?”

“No.”

“Hmm, interesting. In any event, what I was thinking was, I wonder what he's like. I wondered if he would be better, if I got caught up and swept away by the wrong guy. It wasn't that I didn't love Doug, or love him completely. It's that I wondered what would have happened if I had zigged instead of zagged. What if the cross-over from the other side of the pond hadn't worked? Would I have fallen even deeper into dried-up spinsterhood, mourning my lost love? Would I have just married Malcolm?”

“Speculation is useless. Like I said, there's only one timeline to a customer.”

“Is there any free will? Or is it all preordained, Q?”

“Big things are decided. Births and deaths, to be sure. Major events do not and cannot change. But small ones can, and do.”

“So if I decide on a green jacket instead of a yellow one, that's my choice?” Q nodded, “And if I decide to help a crying child who I don't know, or I choose to leave that brat on the corner, is that my choice, even though it might have a devastating consequence?”

“Sometimes,” Q said, “It's decision nodes. The biggest are beyond your control.”

“How big do they have to get before they're beyond your control, Q?”

“We're sliding off-topic.”

“The topic is in the next system,” Lili said, “You have limits.”

“Nonsense.”

“Yes, you do. You can't kick off the Big Bang, can you? Then that's a limit. So there are some out there who are taller and stronger and thinner and younger. And they are somehow better. And you, I think you feel a modicum of jealousy.”

He was distracted again, “Tattoos,” he said absently.

“What of them?” The baby fussed a little so she went over and picked him up, “He needs to be fed again.”

“Then feed him.”

“I'm breast-feeding him.”

“I won't be aroused, if that's your concern.”

Lili sat down on the edge of the bed and faced away from Q. She pulled the tab on her hospital shift and again fed Declan, “What do you want to know about tattoos?” she asked as soon as the baby was settled in.

“Are bigger ones better?”

“Not necessarily. Subtlety is nice.”

“Hmm,” Q said, “Subtlety. So, no huge luxury beds? No large tattoos?”

“You have a rival with a tattoo, eh?”

“A possible rival,” he said, “And the, the flowers?”

“Nice, but a little overdone. Think of something more personal. Don't make it so one-sided.”

=/=



“It'll be an awfully funny wedding, you exchanging vows with yourself.” – Blair Claymore

“Just because I don't want to make your teeth rattle does not make me a gay man.” – An Nguyen

“So girls were a subject of great mystery and fascination.” – Malcolm Reed

“It just had to be right.” – Will Owen

“There's some other sweetie-darling. No, wait, you don't call her that. You call her something else. You don't call anybody sweetie-darling because she's it. She's the one.” – Pamela Hudson

“I hope that my surprises are to your liking.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



Q was again distracted, “She likes puppies. I got her an Irish Setter.”

“Hmm. Okay. But that's another relationship – it's also another bit of bowling over. A bit much, I think.”

“She was less than thrilled. She loved the dog, but ....”

“I think you're gonna keep striking out if you continue this way,” Lili said.

“What would you suggest? Should I fight for her? Would making a big sacrifice like that matter to her? Would needing her forgiveness get me in with her?”

=/=



“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.” – Malcolm Reed

“Just don't – promise me you won't die for love.” – Pamela Hudson

“Doug is a walking male hormone cocktail, he's jumping with it. It's like he was born on steroids.” – Lili Beckett

“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.” – Doug Hayes

“Love me. And that will be how you'll be forgiven. Love me. 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, or a child.” – Lili O'Day

=/=



“Doubtful,” Lili said, “Forgiveness isn't easy to provide, or achieve. I think you'd be adding an unnecessary layer of complexity. And what's this 'getting in' business? Do you want it to be anything more than a hook-up?”

“This, this hook-up, as you put it. It's the main purpose. Without it, there's no success.”

=/=



“Pamela and I are, there's an old expression. Our relationship is what's referred to oh so charmingly as 'Friends with Benefits'.” – Malcolm Reed

“Don't you, um, want to fall in love?” – Lili Beckett

“You fast worker, you. Yanno, I don't introduce you to my friends just so you can hit on them.” – Eleanor Daniels

=/=



“Understood,” Lili said, “But we wouldn't be having this conversation if it wasn't, at least, a little bit about love. Yes? It's about the deed, to be sure. But if it was only about the deed, you wouldn't bother getting advice. Hell, you'd already be done. So something in your apparently vastly superior noggin is telling you that just going ahead and burning up the sheets is not enough. You're not going to be Zeus and some maiden – Leda and the swan, as it were. It's not just about getting naked. Am I right?” She put the baby back into the bassinette and turned around to face him again, “Even in the tiniest way, it's about love. Right?”

=/=



“The first time I saw a girl naked, I was four years old.” – Doug Beckett

“There are plenty of variations that are possible with human males. I could sketch some for you.” – Pamela Hudson

“Might wanna bottle that technique so's we can repeat it later.” – Tripp Tucker

“I suppose I'll just improvise a bit.” – Malcolm Reed

“But we're here to explore and to, to take risks. And I don't think this is a foolish one.” – Tripp Tucker

Chapter 11 by jespah
Author's Notes:

The foolproof song - Marvin Gaye - Let's Get it On

“When the good-time girl's over fifty, it's time for a new good-time girl.” – Tommy Digiorno-Madden (Sato)

“I do trust her, you know.” – Doug Hayes

“Help a girl out.” – Pamela Hudson

“See what you do to me?” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Back to love, then, are we? Tell me about it. And while you're at it – all this breeding. Other than perpetuating the species, it seems, you have a lot of fun doing it,” Q said.

“If you were a human or, really, most species, you'd get that part more easily than anything.”

=/=



“I mean, when I realized that, well, that there was a real possibility that we could be, uh, becomin' parents, I realized how much, well, that I love you. And, and you could, you could learn to love me, too. At, at some point. I mean, we're good friends, right? And that's a good three-quarters of the way there, isn't it? We know we're good together. We both know this.” – Tripp Tucker

“We're not in the same place, you 'n me. And that happens. And that's, uh, that's all right. I love you enough to, to not push it. But I just want you to know. Just, just say the word. And not about, about gittin' married but about just, well, just giving this another chance. Just say the word. Any time, any place.” – Tripp Tucker

=/=



“Whaddaya got there, Jenn?” Frank asked.

“It's a letter from Travis Mayweather,” Jennifer said.

“Huh,” he said, looking out the window. Their home had a view of Saturn, but then again, all homes on Enceladus did. “Is, uh, everything okay?”

“He mentioned Lili and Malcolm. I guess he didn't realize she and I've been in touch.”

“Is that all?”

“He also, uh, he said he was glad that we had a happy ending, Frank.”

“Well, we did – uh, do,” he said, coming over and kissing her.

“Even though –?”

“Even with that,” he said, “I have no problems with us, no negatives. I guess that's bad grammar, but you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I am so lucky,” she said.

“Me, too. And, uh, don't worry about how long it's taking for us to become parents. We will. I can feel it.”

“I suppose I should just be patient,” she said.

“Practicing and trying is kinda fun, though.”

“Whaddaya mean, kinda?” she said, playfully grabbing at him.

“Oh?” he kissed her, “I, uh, you're not ovulating right now, right?”

“Nope. This is just for fun.”

“I can go along with that,” he 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.” – Lili O'Day

“It's difficult for me to, to concentrate while you're, you're doing that.” – Malcolm Reed

“Tell me what to do.” – Susan Cheshire

“I think you'll understand why I'm not so thrilled to have a chaperone right now.” – Doug Hayes

=/=



“Interesting,” Q waved his hand, “All right, I'm human for a while. Let's do it.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Hold on, I have something that I understand is foolproof.”

Music began to play.

=/=



“Yanno, love songs – they really, really stink when you're getting over someone. They just make you feel ten times worse.” – Chandler (Chip) Masterson

“A little mood music to get us goin'.” – Tripp Tucker

“And you, you strike me as a guy who's not listening. Who's busy playing gimme, got it and gimme more.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



Lili laughed, “I know this song. It's old.”

“And it's foolproof.”

“If both parties are interested, then, yeah, I suppose it is. But when one isn't, well, you can forget about it. I'm not swayed by such things. I'm still upset about Doug and all.”

“Why? You know he will die at some point in time. As will you, as will your children, as will everything.”

“Still, I'd rather not be reminded of such things. It's all rather fresh in my mind.”

“Ah, hmm. Well, this should change your mind. I can sweeten the pot,” A slight nod and her surgical incision was healed, and gone. It was as if it had never happened. She went back to the bassinette. Declan was still in there, as before, sleeping. It was only her abdomen that had changed.

“My belly feels better,” she allowed.

“Hmm, more?” he asked.

“More what?”

“More sweetening. Let's see,” he nodded again and she felt another change, “Go look.”

She went into the room's little adjoining bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror, “Twenty-two or so, eh? So you just nod a bit and thirty years are gone. And a few kilos gone as well – that's a bit thoughtful of you, I suppose.”

“You said I should be thoughtful.”

“Still, you think you're gonna bribe me into not feeling awful?”

“Like I said, death accompanies life. You're aware of this every time your husband or the short Brit touches you and it leads further.”

“Never mind that,” she said, “And what makes you think, despite your presents, that I'd want to, well, cheat on them with you? Wouldn't sex just be the betrayal of all of that? My life – and our arrangement – it's strong but I don't really want to test it and, and mess with it.”

“Very well,” he said, “But this is the main crux of the biscuit – human love. And it goes along with mating, and with kissing. All of your cultures do some form of it. I want to know why, and what it means to you, and, well, whether being any good at it will help me with Kathryn.”

“I still don't want to do any of this. You cannot force me. And God knows I don't want my son witnessing a primal scene – even if he is only a day old. I don't want to take the chance that he'd remember any of it.”

“Hmm. Well, how about this? You show me a small piece of it and we'll call it square.”

“How small?”

“The initial advance,” he said, “The icebreaker, if you will. The remainder, well, I can get that from looking at your history.”

“All you need to do is check a good, comprehensive porn collection,” Lili said.

“Later,” he said, “Just show me this one thing.”

“A kiss,” she said, “Nothing more.”

“A kiss it is,” he said. He began changing before her eyes. He was Doug, he was Malcolm, and then he was Paul Mayer, the boy she'd lost her virginity to over two and a half decades before. He was Captain Archer, he was Travis Mayweather, he was José Torres, he was Andrew Miller, and then he was Aidan MacKenzie. He was every guy she'd ever found attractive, ever, scrolling along and along in a seemingly infinite loop of desire.

“Stop it!”

He stopped, settling on Tripp Tucker, “Something wrong?”

“Go back to what you were.”

“I thought this would be thoughtful.”

“No – I can't wrap my head around it,” she said.

“So my appearance – what I came to you as – that's all right?” He changed back and was again brown-haired, taller and about Doug's age or so.

“Sure. It's fine,” she said.

“Good to know. Let's, uh ....”

“Hang on,” she said, “I got conditions. Your hands will go either on my face or around my waist. You will not explore anywhere below my waist and you will not touch my breasts in any manner.”

“You're lactating. Why the devil would I want to touch your breasts? It'd be awfully messy.”

=/=



“Oh, c'mon, not that old ploy. I know what that's gonna turn into.” – Lili Beckett

“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.” – Lili O'Day

“Holding hands seems too personal. As does kissing.” – Melissa Madden

“Maybe a kiss will be a thrill for her. It's just one kiss. Hey, you never know.” – Travis Mayweather

=/=



She smiled, “Well, many human males would find that to be a necessary component of the experience. Anyway, we're clear on that, good. Oh, and when you put that music back on, we're gonna dance.”

“Dance?”

“Yep. Doug doesn't dance unless he's had a few, and Malcolm's too self-conscious. So, we'll dance.”

“I hardly think ...”

“Dance, cowboy.”

=/=



“Well, dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire. Or am I the only one who knows that?” – Pamela Hudson

“'Course if we dance it might turn into something else.” – Tripp Tucker

“You should see me when I'm not pregnant. I can move better.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



The music started back up, and Marvin Gaye began to sing.

I've been really tryin', baby
Tryin' to hold back this feelin' for so long
And if you feel like I feel, baby
Then come on, oh, come on
Whoo, let's get it on
Ah, babe, let's get it on
Let's love, baby
Let's get it on, sugar
Let's get it on


She put his hand on her waist and took the other one in hers. He stared at her so she started leading.

She broke away from his hand on her waist and twirled herself around.

We're all sensitive people
With so much to give
Understand me, sugar
Since we got to be
Let's live
I love you


She smiled at him and came closer again.

=/=



“All I want to do is please you.” – Lili O'Day

“And, at the very least, you can say you were loved a little bit.” – Malcolm Reed

“You make me feel like I'm younger than I am, like I don't always have to be so responsible all the time.” – Jonathan Archer

=/=



There's nothin' wrong
with me lovin' you
Baby, no, no
and givin' yourself to me can never be wrong
If the love is true


She took his hand again and moved him in a different direction, then came closer, cheek to cheek.

Don't you know
how sweet and wonderful life can be?


She smiled against the side of his face so that he could feel it and then took his hand and put it on the side of her face, “Feel that,” she said softly.

I'm askin' you, baby
To get it on with me

=/=



“I feel so much with you. And I don't mean the physicality of it although that is certainly a part of it. It's everything.” – Malcolm Reed

“Just let me believe a little longer.” – Deborah Haddon

“I never get a chance to say or do anything noble. So just, just be quiet for a little bit and, and let me be noble for once.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



I ain't gonna worry, I ain't gonna push
Won't push you, baby
So come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, baby
Stop beatin' 'round the bush, hey


She moved her head back again and looked him in the eye, smiling, “Smile back, Q,” she said, “This isn't a root canal.”

Let's get it on,
Let's get it on
You know what I'm talkin' 'bout
Come on, baby, hey, hey
Let your love come out
If you believe in love
Let's get it on, baby
This minute, oh yeah
Let's get it on
Please, please, get it on
Hey, hey

I know you know
What I've been dreamin' of
Don't you, baby?
My whole body is in love

=/=



“I wanna hear about your sixteen-year-old moves.” – Lili Beckett

“I was terrified that anyone would find out. So it was all rather quick and jolting.” – Malcolm Reed

“I don't share a bed with anyone I'm not on a first names basis with.” – Tripp Tucker

“I love you. I want to please you. And I want to be a part of you feeling good.” – Lili O'Day

=/=



I ain't gonna worry, no, I ain't gonna push
I won't push you, baby,
Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, darlin'
Stop beatin' 'round the bush, hey

Gonna get it on
Beggin' you, baby, I want to get it on
You don't have to worry that it's wrong
If the spirit moves you, let me groove you good
Let your love come down
If you believe in love let’s get it on
Oh, get it on, come on, baby


“You seem to be going through a lot of preliminaries,” he said as they continued moving.

“I like a little romance,” she said, “Be patient.”

=/=



“And my husband and my lover are very jealous men.” – Lili Beckett

“Let's, let's have tonight together. No matter how fast or slow it all goes. No matter how good it even is. But let's at least have it.” – Malcolm Reed

“He won't marry me or anyone else. I can tell. I don't know if that helps things or not. I just believe that people should have all the information.” – Pamela Hudson

“We had a thing. It was a long time ago.” – Doug Beckett

“I still want you. I cannot, cannot stop wanting you.” – Malcolm Reed

“I'm tempted to find out just what sex with you would be like.” – Treve

=/=



Do you know I mean it?
I've been sanctified
Hey, hey
Girl, you give me good feelings, so good

Nothin' wrong with love
If you want to love me
Just let yourself go
Oh, baby
Let's get it on


The music stopped, and she grabbed his arm to stop him from moving. She put her hands on his face and brought it down to hers, “Close your eyes,” she said.

“Why?”

“It's just nicer that way.”

She touched his mouth with hers, lightly, then again, “Open your mouth a little,” she whispered.

“Why?”

“You'll see.”

=/=



“All I can tell you is, breathe through your nose, concentrate on what you're doing and, and think positively.” – Lili Beckett

“Now, just concentrate on how this makes you feel.” – Pamela Hudson

“Am I gonna feel good?” – Izo (Mayweather) Sato

=/=



He complied, and she pressed down harder with her lips.

Several minutes later, they broke apart. She opened her eyes and looked up at him, and smiled.

=/=



“Well, it wasn't exactly fireworks but it wasn't horrible.” – Melissa Madden

“Don't, um, don't tell anyone we did that.” – Lili Beckett

“Nice touch. You've, um, got potential.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



“Well?” she finally asked.

“Fascinating,” he said, “And this leads to intercourse?”

“It can. Or it can just be a kiss.”

=/=



“We shoulda done that earlier. Now we should sleep together.” – Yimar

“Scraps from her table. They will have to be enough.” – Malcolm Reed

“I say 'I love you' far too fast. I stay in relationships that aren't working way too long.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



“I see,” he said, mulling it over, “And Kathryn will like this if I do it?”

“With some preliminaries, I don't see why not. You're a quick study. But, uh, don't just go planting one on her or anything. Remember – subtlety. Otherwise you're bound to just get slapped.”

“Hmm. What's the deal with the tongue?”

=/=



“She threw you a softball. You so shoulda hit that one outta the park.” – Lili Beckett

“I never have to see you again, and I never have to talk to you.” – Blair Claymore

“I'm not the one.” – Pamela Hudson

“I want to believe that someone believes in love, still.” – Jennifer Ramirez

“We should sleep together some time.” – Yimar

Chapter 12 by jespah

“If you were my sister, I would not want you to be hurt.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Oh, huh, well it's more stimulus. And it's tasting. I mean, working with food and all, it's about flavor,” she said, “There's presentation, to be sure, and feeling, but it's also taste.”

“You don't mean, um –” Q asked.

“Not really,” she said, reddening, “But, I mean, look at Declan. His main experiences so far have been that the bad stuff is being wet or cold or not being able to find me. But he's had a lot of good experiences today as well.”

“He's an infant. I hardly think that ....”

“Hear me out. His positives are the sound of my voice, the smells that he's learning to associate with me, too. And there’s also being dry and warm and comfortable, of course. But it's also about how breast milk tastes. For him, it's the most amazing thing, ever. Yanno, when he was small, I once nursed Tommy, to see what he would do. And he fussed a little – after all, Melissa and I smell differently. But he settled in soon enough. Huh, I bet we could do that again, with Dec here and Neil when he arrives.”

“But what does that have to do with things?”

“Well, it's primal. I mean, I don't expect a lover to compare my kisses to breast milk – and I'd be put off awfully quickly if he did. But I do hope that I taste good, and loving and comfortable at times, and sexy and hot and urgent at other times.”

“Not every human culture does that.”

“I understand that,” she said, “I'm just speaking for myself. Don't forget, you're going for a billionth opinion and all, right?”

=/=



“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.” – Lili O'Day

=/=



Jonathan sat in his Ready Room. T'Pol came in, “Mister Harris reports that there is still some navigational drift.”

“Huh, so it's not pilot distraction?”

“Perhaps a little, but there is some other cause.”

“Have they run a diagnostic?”

“Yes,” she said, “Shall I contact Commander Tucker?”

“Definitely,” he said, “Thanks,” she left.

He got up and walked around the small room a little, “Good thing this ship's just about ready to go into dry dock,” he said to Porthos.

He looked out the window and then said, “Computer: dictation mode.

To: Erika Hernandez, Captain, USS Columbia, NX-02
From: Jonathan Archer, Captain, USS Enterprise, NX-01

Dear Captain Hernandez:

I trust this note finds you well. The crew is looking forward to getting back to Earth in a few months for the Alliance ceremony.

I am also looking forward to this as I hope we can spend some time together.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Archer


No, wait,” he said, “Computer, erase the entire letter. Dictation mode.

To: Erika Hernandez, Captain, USS Columbia, NX-02
From: Jonathan Archer, Captain, USS Enterprise, NX-01

Dear Erika,

I trust this note finds you well. I am looking forward to getting back to Earth in a few months for the Alliance ceremony.

I hope we can spend some time together.

Sincerely,

Jon


No, that won't work, either,” he said, “Computer, erase the entire letter. Dictation mode.

To: Erika Hernandez, Captain, USS Columbia, NX-02
From: Jonathan Archer, Captain, USS Enterprise, NX-01

Dear Erika,

I trust this note finds you well. I am looking forward to getting back to Earth in a few months for the Alliance ceremony.

I want to apologize for not calling. I know it has been a while. That was wrong of me.

I hope we can spend some time together, but I can understand if you would rather not.

Take care,

Jon


No, that won't do, either. Computer, erase the entire note.”

He stared out the window, then picked up the dog and set him on his lap, “Yanno, Porthos, this is futile. I should have called. I should have written. I didn't, and I have no right to assume that she would want anything to do with me other than the usual coworker pleasantries. She doesn't deserve that – someone who forgets to call for a few years and then waltzes back into her life, expecting forgiveness. That ship has not only sailed, it's in the Andromeda Galaxy. It's useless for me to speculate, and foolish of me to even ask. And it's not fair to her, being my fallback. She does not deserve that. She deserves to be someone's original go-to. I think we all do. Right, buddy?” he said, “Computer, exit dictation mode.”

=/=



“This is all I've got. What you see in front of you.” – Doug Hayes

=/=



“Anything else you want from me?” Lili asked.

“I can show you some more things. Major events – these would mainly be the sorts of things that cannot be changed within the timeline. We can talk during that. It'll be one hand washing the other, as it were. I suspect that you can provide some information with a little assistance. Your reactions and observations might prove useful.”

“Just negatives?”

“Let's call them main events. The highlights, if you will.”

“You're the kinda guy who fast-forwards to the chase scenes in movies, I can tell.”

“Just watch.”

=/=



“Whoever you are, and whatever you want, I won't let you hurt the Captain!” – Deborah Haddon

“You can still be a soldier. You'll sleep a lot better if you become an honorable one.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



The scene changed. It was Doug and a bunch of recruits. The planet was unfamiliar, with rough terrain, but the same familiar four stars were illuminating the day, so Lili knew they were somewhere within the Lafa System.

“Which planet is this?” she asked.

“Lafa III,” Q said.

“Date?”

“December ninth, 2172.”

“Huh. So Doug is seventy,” she said, “What's going on?”

“Just watch.”

Doug was marching the recruits. Quick formations, elaborate turns and presenting arms, then back again. Some poor Calafan, a coppery fellow from the other side of the pond, wasn't doing so well, and ended up doing push-ups.

“This is a highlight?” Lili asked.

“You're the one counseling patience,” Q reminded her.

“Oh, yes. Sorry.”

There was a communicator chime, and Doug clicked his open, “Yeah? Beckett here.”

The voice on the other end was a bit desperate, “Captain, you're still on Lafa III?”

“Yes, Commander Lloyd. We're near the South side of Enne City,” he leaned away from the communicator for a second, “Aliwev, get them in line. Thanks,” Back to the communicator, he said, “Sorry. You were saying?”

“We have a situation.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” said the voice, “There's a human male at the Unemployment Office in Enne City. He's got himself a phase rifle and an old-fashioned gun and has taken hostages.”

“Huh, my men stand ready, but isn't that a police matter for the Calafan authorities?”

“He says he won't talk to a Calafan. He's demanding to talk to a human.”

“I'm no hostage negotiator,” Doug pointed out.

“Never said you were. But he's threatening to start killing hostages unless he can talk to a human, and soon. You and your men are the closest. You're elected.”

“You better be sending over someone who can really do negotiating,” Doug said, “God knows that's not my background.”

“Just do your best. Keep the hostages alive. Lloyd out.”

“All right, men, listen up! We are going to Enne City, double time. I don't wanna see any stragglers. Now!” Doug yelled.

=/=



“I don't want to make war any more.” – Doug Hayes

=/=



The scene changed to Enne City, which was more industrial-looking than Fep City on Lafa II, which was where Lili, Q and Declan really were. Then again, they were really there over eleven years previously.

A Calafan woman was running around, and seemed to be in charge of something. She finally stopped and said to Doug, “Try the frequency now.”

He clicked open his communicator again, “Hang on, have we got contact?” he asked. He was standing outside the Unemployment Office. His troops were nearby but hidden. The Calafan police were close as well, but Doug was the only one out in the open. The street was roped off.

“Yeah,” came a voice on the other end, in lilting accented speech, “Lemme see you.”

“Here, right here,” Doug said, “I'm unarmed.”

“Is Doug hurt here?” Lili asked.

“Just watch,” Q said.

“Good,” responded the voice with the lilting accent.

“What's, uh, what's your name?” Doug asked, “I, uh, if we're gonna talk, it would be good for us to trade names.”

“Badawi Uhura,” Came the reply, “And you are?”

“Beckett. Doug Beckett. Mister, uh, Uhura, don't do this.”

“I dunno 'bout that, Becks,” Uhura responded, “The way I see it, I got nothin' to lose.”

“Why, uh, why are you doing this?”

“I've been coming here for two years,” Uhura said, “And they got no job for me.”

“What, uh, what do you do? Uh, did you do?”

“Giraffe keeper at the zoological park on Lafa IX,” Uhura said.

“Oh,” Doug said, “Uh, my kids love that place.”

“Everyone's children do,” Uhura said, “But their parents, they don't bring them enough. So they make budget cuts. And I lose my job.”

“Can't you, uh, do something else?”

“It's what I want.”

“I, uh, I understand that,” Doug said, “But these things happen. Maybe you could, uh, care for different animals?”

“No,” Uhura said, “Quit stallin', Becks.”

=/=


“I think it was more a case of, everyone's blind, but my blindness is just slightly less bad as everyone else's.” – Doug Hayes

=/=



“Stalling?” Doug asked, “Uh, what do you hope to accomplish by doing this?”

“See, no one likes this sort of a thing happening, Becks. So I figure, this is a way to get to the front of the line. And get listened to. Smearing a few of the silver ones against a wall or somethin', it gets attention.”

“You really think this'll get you your old job back?”

“I'm not gettin' my old job back, Becks,” Uhura said, “I'm not walkin' outta this one.”

=/=



“I should hate me, for succumbing to this. I shoulda been stronger. I'm supposed to be strong, dammit. I'm supposed to be able to get past such things.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



“Tell me, uh, tell me about the hostages. How many are there? That sorta thing,” Doug said. He was still standing in the middle of the cordoned-off street.

“He looks so vulnerable,” Lili said. Q just directed her attention back.

“Fourteen – no, fifteen,” Uhura said, “One women, fourteen guys.”

“Are they human, Calafan, Vulcan, what?” Doug asked.

“Two humans. The rest are the two color natives.”

“Huh. Well, um, can I talk to them? Maybe to a representative?”

“No,” Uhura said, “You're stallin' again, Becks.”

“I just wanna know what's going on.”

“Simple. I do this and you all listen. Then I get to take out as many of 'em as possible when I finally go up in smoke. 'Cause either you'll do it to me or the cops will, or troops will. I saw ‘em, you know.”

“And your death accomplishes what?” Doug asked.

“My children get my pension,” Uhura said, “That motive enough for you, Becks?”

=/=



“I have to, I have to shout this, because, well, because this has been quiet for too long and it needs to be shouted.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



“But you could, uh, you could do that without, uh, without hurting any hostages,” Doug pointed out.

“They kill me, you kill me, my children get more money than if I just kill myself.”

“Uh, I see,” Doug said, “But it could be less than, uh, fifteen, right?”

=/=



“I'm married to a killer of fourteen men. Nothing you've ever said or done is going to shock me in the least.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“Don't try to talk me outta this, Becks.”

“I'm, uh, I'm not. Just, it could be fourteen, right? Or thirteen?” Doug asked, “Those two humans. You got something against them?”

“They're painters, Becks. There's money to paint these stupid offices yet another shade of depressing industrial grey, but no money for someone to take care of big, beautiful animals.”

“Well, but they're just guys, right? Like you and me?”

“Humans, Becks.”

“Yeah,” Doug said, “And they got up this morning, and they kissed their wives and they said to them something like, 'I'll pick up takeout tonight.' It wasn't, like them kissing them goodbye for the last time, right, Uhura? You gonna make two widows because they were just painting an office building?”

“At least they got someone.”

“You, you said you have children. Uh, how many?” Doug asked. He glanced over at the woman who'd set up communications. She gave him a thumbs-up but he looked a little lost.

“He's in out of his depth,” Lili said, “This is so not his skill set.”

“Patience, little Earth mother.”

“Three. I got me three,” Uhura said.

“Boys? Girls?”

“One boy, two girls.”

“I, uh, I got five,” Doug said, “Four boys, one girl. Maybe, uh, our kids might like each other.”

“Don't be fixing up my children with yours. My daughters are only eight and eleven, Becks. My son is twelve.”

“Oh. Well, my oldest is fourteen. The two littlest boys are eleven. So, they're close.”

“You still got a wife, Becks?”

“Yeah. She's, uh, I forgot to call her before I called you. She's, uh, I bet she's wondering what's going on.”

“You got someone to care about whether you come home at night, Becks. Must be nice.”

“Your children care if you come home tonight, Uhura.”

“They live with their mother. She took them when I lose my job.”

“Would she, uh, come back if you got another job?”

“Who's gonna hire me now, Becks?”

“Give it up,” Doug said, “And you can salvage this.”

“I don't think so, Becks,” There was a shot in the background.

“Wait! Wait! What the hell was that?” Doug barked into the communicator, “I thought we were talkin', Uhura.”

“We are talkin', Becks,” Uhura said, “Stupid copper ones, sneakin' around behind.”

“Is anybody hurt?”

“Whaddaya think, Becks? I was sharpshooter in the army.”

“Anybody dead?” Doug asked, cringing.

“No,” Uhura said, “But they could be. So quit messin' 'round.”

“What do you really want?”

“To talk to Elewev.”

“Who's, uh, who's Elewev?”

“Big silver coward. He's the Zoo Director, Becks.”

“So he's the one who, uh, let you go?”

“You're perceptive, Becks. Get him or you'll hear more shots. I got no qualms 'bout hurting people.”

=/=



“And, when Lili and I first made love, I really hurt her. She almost bled to death. If she had, we wouldn't be having this conversation – I'd be in jail for second degree homicide.” – Doug Beckett

“He can't put a lasso around his own strength, even with me.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



The scene shifted, and it was darker.

“What just happened?” Lili asked.

“The whole thing drags on for a while. No sense in witnessing every single detail of getting the Zoo Director to the site,” Q replied.

“Thanks for that,” Doug said into the communicator as two human males and a wounded copper Calafan were allowed out, “He's on his way.”

“I keep my promises, Becks. And you'll let me talk to Penda, Samara and Andikan?”

“Yes. I swear I will do that.”

“You will want a trade, though.”

“Of course,” Doug said, “Four more out.”

“Four? I only got three children, Becks.”

“Hey, you can't blame a guy for trying.”

“I guess not. You always a soldier, Becks?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“I see your face. You're an old man, Becks.”

“I just hit seventy,” Doug said, “And you? I can't see your face.”

“Forty-two,” Uhura said.

“You should have a lotta time with your kids, then.”

“No, Becks. I'll be done today.”

“I thought we talked about that.”

“We did. But I still know what I gotta do. A man can't provide for the family, he's no kinda man.”

=/=



“I got here and I thought I'd be happy. And it's good here. I'm not unhappy.” – Doug Beckett

“Because you, you can't escape it. You can't just reverse it away and pretend like it never happened.” – Lili O'Day

=/=



“When my oldest was born, I was a househusband,” Doug admitted, “I changed a lotta diapers. My wife went out and worked.”

“And that didn't bother you, Becks?”

“It did a bit. But I, you know, you become a parent and you just do what needs to be done.”

“How long you been living here?”

“Uh, fifteen years. Holy cow.”

“Nobody's been here that long, Becks!”

“My wife and I have. We, uh, we got here in 2157. Got married a few months after that and had our first son months after that. We were the only three humans here for a while.”

“Huh. Just you and the silver and the copper, eh, Becks?”

“Yeah. We, uh, they're good people, Uhura.”

“They're not humans.”

“Do they have to be?” Doug asked.

“I don't know, Becks. But they don't understand us. They got their spares and stuff. Not like we live. They got no morality.”

“Well, it's, uh, it's different. And there are humans who live like they do.”

“They got no self-control,” Uhura complained, “I see a little girl, she comes in and we would let the regulars, if they were really quiet, they could pet a giraffe named Katy. And she was one of them. One day, she comes in with a man, he's not her father. I've seen her father, and he's not it. So I call Security. It looks like kidnapping, right? And she's with, it's she says he's her mother's nighttime fellow. They involved the little girl! She didn't need to know about that.”

“Maybe you're right,” Doug said, “But it's their lives, right? And they've been doing that for a long time. And, uh, there are humans who do that, too. And they just, uh, make sure the kids aren't confused or, or hurt.”

“You know this personally, Becks?”

“Yeah. I, uh, I do,” he admitted.

“I don't know, should I keep talking to you, Becks? You look like a human but you're taking on the mantle of this place, becoming one of them.”

“Is that so, so wrong?” Doug asked.

“Tell me, Becks, you got a silver girl or a copper one? Your boys, they like her? Your daughter, she okay with that? 'Cause I think she'd be growing up, thinking she's never gonna be good enough if she just wants a regular marriage. Your sons think it's okay to get some on the side?”

“It's not, uh, not like that,” Doug said, “I, uh, I can't tell you what's in my daughter's head. But we've never told her that she wasn't good enough. This, uh, it didn't happen because someone wasn't good enough.”

=/=



“I have to wash this all away. … 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.” – Doug Hayes

=/=



“These tangents aren't doing anyone any good,” Lili said, “It was good that he got those three out, but he's got another twelve to go.”

“Let's forward through some of that.”

“Why?”

“It's dull. More talking. Uh, here.”

The scene changed, and it was night.

“You missing seeing your nightfall hottie, Becks?”

“She'll, um, she's probably talked to my wife by now, and knows what's going on.”

“Man, Becks! It's all rather convenient. And for those who have no one – aren't you taking someone off the market by doing this?”

“It's, uh, it's all by choice,” he said, “She, uh, she wasn't looking for anyone anyway.”

“Eh, it's all a mystery anyway, like Vulcans and their suppressions. They will never understand us, Becks.”

=/=



“You all dream, you all meet your dream lovers and have your dreamy affairs with people in the other universe, and it's all dandy for you. But it isn't for me. We have different values. We just, I just, I can't do it.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



There was a light above, “Looks like a shuttle's landing,” Doug said, “It must be Elewev. You ready to give me some hostages for this?”

“Uh, two.”

“I thought we said four.”

You said four, Becks.”

“Three, then.”

“Two,” Uhura insisted.

“Look, this is my first time doing this,” Doug said, “Don't make me look bad, okay?”

“Huh. Three.”

“Thanks,” Doug said, “How many does that leave?”

“Uh, five.”

=/=



“I hate this damned system.” – Empress Hoshi Sato

=/=



“I got him here,” Doug said, “Let me close the connection for a sec and talk to him, okay?”

“Not too long, Becks.”

“'K. Be right back.”

Elewev was a short, officious Calafan, “I understand you're the negotiator,” he said to Doug.

“I'm no professional.”

“But there are, what, eight left?”

“Five,” Doug said.

“Even better. Now, what am I here for?”

“You fired this man two years ago.”

“There were budget cuts. The zoo isn't made of money, you know.”

“I'm sure he realizes that as well. Who, uh, who is taking care of the giraffes these days?”

“Assistant keepers.”

“Junior people – I take it they're cheaper?”

“Like I said, the zoo isn't made of money.”

“Can’t you give him anything?” Doug asked, “He's still willing to hurt people, and he wants to die. He doesn't think he has any options.”

“We couldn't hire him back even if we wanted to. He shot a man today. We cannot have that.”

“So you can't give him anything at all? And he's just done, forever?”

“These are our rules.”

Doug shook his head, clicking the communicator open again, “You there?”

“Yeah, Becks. Elewev's a real pain, eh?”

“He's, uh, right here. He, uh, he says that he can't hire you back.”

“I know, Becks. I just want him to know I'm here. I am here, Elewev. If I die, my children won't go hungry.”

“Our government can take care of them, I understand,” said the Calafan.

“Huh. Governments,” Uhura said, “You hear that, Becks?”

“Do you, uh, have anything you really need to say to Elewev?”

“No. He's here. He can see this.”

“No! No! Wait! Wait!” Doug yelled.

“Wait for what, Becks? You got him here. You got me my kids on the line. You got the humans out, and the Calafan jobseekers. The five left work here in this godforsaken office.”

“So they just got up today and went to their jobs, right? And they thought today maybe they'd have soup for lunch instead of salad, and they ended up here for the last however many hours.”

“Hah, you hungry, Becks?”

“'Course I am. My wife, she's got dinner, I bet.”

“I got no one making me dinner, Becks.”

=/=



“It's the little whiles that matter.” – Doug Hayes

=/=



“I – yeah – I'm sorry. I don't mean to remind you. Just, look, you do this, let's say you mess up, and you end up living. Then you'll be living with guilt. And trust me, that is not a good emotion to be living with.”

“What do you know about guilt, Becks?”

“I got it every day of my life. I did bad things when I was younger. I was a soldier, yeah. I was a mercenary, Uhura. And for the last fifteen years I've been working off that guilt.”

=/=



“I despise what I have done, and what I have become.” – Malcolm Reed

“The ultimate sign of weakness is, it's having a conscience. It's feeling guilt.” – Doug Hayes

=/=



“I ain't gonna live, Becks.”

“Then your children will inherit the guilt. It won't just pass by into nothingness. Someone will feel it. And you, you can take it. But they can't. Look, I am no negotiator. I am no talker. I just got roped into this. But I am here, and I am going the distance because I think your children don't deserve to have their father just commit suicide by committing murder. I got, lemme tell ya, my eldest? He wants to become a veterinarian.”

“They already got vets at the zoo, Becks.”

“Well, sure. Joss is just fourteen. But he, uh, he's gonna need people like you. People who really know the animals. He's just gonna see them sick, or hurt. But you, you see them every single day. You know what they like to eat. You know the ones that are gentle, and the ones that are shy. You know this. And it's worth something. And it's worth more than whatever pension your kids will get from your death. It's worth you living.”

“I'll be in prison.”

“Lots of people are. That's nothing to write home about. But they'll still have you.”

“But no money.”

“And no guilt that you took out five Calafans, who were guilty of nothing more than working in the wrong place and on the wrong shift. You shot a guy, and you've held people hostage. These aren't small things, but they won't put you away for life for that, at least I don't think they will. And you'll get out, and maybe things are all the way over with your wife, but at least your children will know that you loved them enough to not do this. To, to be a better person, and give them, maybe not a happy ending, but a better ending.”

=/=


“I'm not really Jay. I grew up without a sister. And, I'm sure, without his values. I'm an imitation. Not really your brother at all. Not back from the dead, for sure. But, I hope you'll take this day in the spirit in which it was intended. Because, uh, I just want to know who that guy was, and what made him tick. And, and who loved him and all of that. Because he shouldn't be forgotten.” – Doug Beckett

“I, uh, my life isn't the continuation of his story. I don't give him a happy ending. And I probably don't give myself one, either. But at least it's not a story that ended six years ago.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



“So he appeals to the man's responsibility to his family, and that works,” Q said.

“It does?”

“It does. The remainder, the actual freeing of the last five hostages, it's the end of the story.”

“But that bores you?”

“It's more talking. In any event, my question to you is – responsibility is a burdensome thing. A lot of people don't like it.”

“And having children is a big responsibility,” Lili said.

“My thoughts exactly. So if I am to convince Kathryn that taking on that responsibility is worthwhile, this day, this event, it would seem to indicate that larger gestures do work – despite how much you've been telling me to dial it back.”

“Big gestures can work. I don't dispute that. But little things work, too. I know that my car will always be in running order. I depend upon that, but I am also confident in it. And that's because Doug takes care of that. I also never buy peanut butter, because Malcolm sends it. I always know a good book to read because Norri tells me – she always knows. And Melissa always is up for things like picking out curtains – things that Doug would hate. I'm not even so sure she likes to do that, by the way, but she does it. These are little things, but they work. The big gestures that Doug did, and the big things he said – he's right, he's not much of a speaker. But he was also quite literally under the gun. Kathryn won't be, right? So I'd take this scenario as a kind of counterexample, but not wholly. Doug getting that man's kids on the line – that was key. It was probably the biggest thing he did. You mentioned before, that more of his time is spent destroying life than creating it. And I know that's true. But he also preserved it – and here was a shining example. I think his accounts are a bit more balanced out than an initial inspection would indicate, yes?”

A photograph was taken of Doug and his recruits – Lili recognized it, it was the picture she'd seen on the video wall when Q had showed her Kevin. Then the scene vanished.

=/=



“I know that you've got a past. But I think you – we – have got a future.” – Lili O'Day

Chapter 13 by jespah

“Sir, every woman on the ship has a crush on the captain. Or, at least, I know I do.” – Deborah Haddon

“We're all science types. Lucky we can dress ourselves when we're out of uniform.” – Chandler (Chip) Masterson

=/=



Jonathan got up and left the Ready Room, taking Porthos with him, “Commander T'Pol, you have the Bridge,” he said to the Vulcan. She nodded to him and he departed.

He didn't really know where he was going. This wasn't a planned excursion. He just wanted to get away a little bit, and clear his head.

Perhaps what had affected Navigation was affecting him a little bit. Or maybe it was really Reed, and Travis, and thinking about Deb and all that had happened. He hadn't been in love with her, not really, and she hadn't been in love with him. It had been a crush on her part, a wholly one-sided situation. He knew that she was better off. That much was obvious. She was with Masterson, and he was a good person and a decent officer and becoming a better one. He was goofy and funny and certainly better-suited to her than he was.

Still, it was a pang.

Not jealousy.

No.

It was envy.

Envy that they were settling into togetherness, and he was not.

It was a place that he had to admit he wanted to be. But he didn't know the coordinates, didn't know the pathway. It was mysterious, uncharted, unfamiliar territory. And no matter what he seemed to do, he always seemed to be going in the wrong direction.

He found himself in the cafeteria. He hadn't intended to go there. It was undoubtedly Porthos who had directed him along. Beagles were chowhounds. He knew that, and sometimes it was a struggle to keep the little fellow eating right. He had put his love and his attention and his concern into the dog, and that was fine, and it was appropriate. But it wasn't enough.

And that's when he saw her.

She wasn't on shift yet, and it wasn't mealtime, yet there was Deb, grabbing a small salad from the display case. She saw him and smiled, “Will you join me?” she asked. There was no one else there.

“Sure,” he said, taking coffee from the dispenser. He sat across from her, “How are you doing with things?”

“Oh, fine,” she said, “A little kicking – it's a bit surprising at first.”

“Is that a particular craving you're having?” he asked, indicating the salad.

“It's for ginger. The Mandarin Ginger dressing that Chef makes? I could practically just tip the container back in my mouth and drink it these days. I suspect this kid is going to love Chinese food.”

“Maybe,” Jonathan smiled a little, “Do you know – if you'll tell me – if you're having a boy or a girl?”

“A boy,” she said, “We're going to name him Kenneth.”

“That's great,” he said, “Uh, Deborah, I have a question.”

“Uh, okay,” she dug into her salad after slathering dressing all over it.

“Are you, uh, are you happy?”

“Happy?”

“Yes.”

“I, uh, Jonathan,” she said his name softly, like she always had, “is there a reason for this question?”

“I just want to be sure that everything is all right,” he said.

“Nothing more?”

“I, uh, Deb,” he said, “I know that you and Chip are good together.”

“We are,” she said between bites, “He, uh, nobody loves me like he does.”

“Good. I just, I never, ever wanted you to be hurt.”

“I know. The circumstances were wrong,” she said, “And I don't see us as getting here,” she patted her belly, which wasn't that convex yet.

“Me, uh, me neither.”

“Do you wish for that in your life?”

“A bit,” he said, “I just don't know how. I don't, I don't know the way.”

“It'll come to you,” she said, “I feel it.”

He was about to answer her when Shelby Pike came in.

The moment gone, he and Porthos left, and he was left wondering where the start of the pathway was, and where it would lead.

It seemed far, and uncertain, and he didn't like being lost.

=/=



“You might want to stop calling me sir.” – Jonathan Archer

=/=



“I want to know about friendship,” said Q.

“That's wise,” Lili said, “Friends can often turn into lovers, and vice versa.”

“But not always.”

“Definitely not. It's not a one-to-one correspondence. Are you and Kathryn friends, Q?”

“Hmm. She'd be foolish not to be friends with me.”

“That's not the answer to the question, and you know it.”

“Hmm. There are a lot of aspects to friendship,” Q allowed, “Perhaps another main event could help you to tell me about them?”

“Sure,” Lili said, picking up the baby, “Nothing too loud or scary – I want to take him with me this time.”

“All right,” Q said, and the scene began to change.

=/=



“I haven't had female friends. Just Lili, really. But I can't see us, you know, sitting down and breaking bread together. And I would like to break bread together. I wish that didn't have to be impossible.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



There was a PADD on a desk in a Ready Room, but Lili didn't recognize the ship. The room was larger than Jonathan Archer's Ready Room, and the lighting was brighter. There were drawings, framed, on the walls. One was of a woman with three faces, and articles were laid out in front of her – a wooden spoon, a feather quill and a bow with arrows. Her three faces, facing to the left, the right and forward, had brown eyes, and green eyes, and light blue ones, like hers.

The hair was brown, and auburn, and light blonde, like hers.

Lili realized that the drawing was of, on the left, Melissa, on the right, Norri. And she was in the center. Whoever had drawn it knew them all very well.

Another drawing was of the NX-01. Yet another was of a clipper ship.

“Who's the artist?” she asked.

Q said nothing but pointed her toward the PADD. It had gone into sleep mode, and a slide show was scrolling past. There was a picture of her and Doug, standing in front of Reversal.

Another was of Joss and the girl of Chinese extraction, at his Prom. There was a picture of Malcolm and the rest of the NX-01's senior crew being recognized with medals at the end of the Earth-Romulan War. Yet another was Norri holding her old-fashioned acceptance letter to graduate school. One more was Norri apparently getting her doctorate. Tommy in a scouting uniform came next. Then the photograph she had just seen taken, of Doug and his recruits, on Lafa III – the press photograph.

“Which ship is this?” she asked.

Q was still silent, so she looked around the little room. There was a small plaque, which said: August ninth, 2180, USS Bluebird, DC-1505.

“This must be Malcolm's ship,” she said, “I remember.”

“Yes,” Q finally spoke, “You saw an alternate timeline, and his ship had this name. And now it does again.”

“I hope the circumstances are better,” she said.

=/=



“You taught me that all names are meaningful. I had them name it the USS Bluebird. And I did that because, well, it's the bluebird of happiness, right?” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



The door opened, and Malcolm walked in. He was the same as always, but his hair was a steely grey and his face was more lined. But it was him, and he looked very good.

“He's, uh, sixty-seven, right?”

“That is correct,” said Q, “Watch.”

Malcolm picked up the PADD and walked onto the Bridge. Unseen, they followed.

“Are we, are we ready, Travis?” Malcolm asked.

Travis Mayweather turned back from the pilot's station, “Yes, sir. Just about clear of Jupiter Station.”

“Very well,” Malcolm said, “We're off to Vulcan. Warp, uh, warp factor four. Proceed.”

Travis pushed a lever and they were off.

Malcolm sat in the Captain's chair and said, “I, uh, I'd like the intercom, Hoshi.”

“Of course,” she said, “All set.”

“Thank you. Uh, this is, this is the captain,” he said, smiling, “I, um, we are underway. Luncheon is for all today. Let's convene in the cafeteria at, uh, twelve hundred hours and I'm sure Chef Delacroix will have something wonderful for us and I'd like to speak with everyone. So, unless you are on shift, my orders are for you to attend. I suppose it will be standing room only. And my apologies to the night shift for waking you. I promise this is for a good cause. Thank you. Reed out.”

“That went well,” Hoshi said and smiled at him. She was getting crow's feet a bit, but was still as lovely as ever.

=/=



“This will be a very slow race.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



It was later, and they were in the cafeteria. Malcolm had been right. It was indeed standing room only.

“What did you skip, Q?” Lili asked.

“Boring navigational things, lots of talk about changing coordinates. No need to see that, right?”

“Yes,” she said, “So this is the launch date for the Bluebird?”

“It is,” Q said, “Watch.”

Malcolm stood at the front of the crowded room, “I, uh, a few words, if I may. I know we have all met but I wish to tell you a few things right now. Some introductions, even though perhaps they aren't needed. But it's not often that a new ship is launched. There is no time like this,” he cleared his throat, “I should like to introduce the senior Bridge crew – you can see them on the screen behind me, yes? Oh, good. First Officer and in charge of Communications is Lieutenant Commander Hoshi Sato. Our pilot is Lieutenant Travis Mayweather. Our Science Officer is Ensign Lucy Stone. Our Tactical Officer is Lieutenant Aidan MacKenzie. And in charge of Security on the Bridge during the day is Ensign Azar Hamidi. Kindly, uh, switch the picture to Engineering. Thank you. Our Chief Engineer is Jennifer Crossman Ramirez.”

He stood and smiled a little as Lili saw people getting coffee or motioning to have friends sit with them. She knew some of the faces, but people were older, “Everyone looks so happy,” she said.

Q just directed her back.

“Ah, I see, there's the picture of Sick Bay. Our Chief Medical Officer is Doctor Blair Claymore. I hope that you will find all of us approachable. I have known most of my senior crew for a few decades and they are not only competent and loyal but they are also good friends. Now for second shift, who are here with us. Our second shift pilot is Christian Harris. Our second shift engineering crewman is José Torres – that very tall chap over there. And our second shift Tactical Officer is Lucas Donnelly. There are no second shift communications or science officers as those roles are filled by day or night as needed. And now for the people in charge of the night shift.”

“Aidan's gone grey. And José! He's pretty much all the way bald,” Lili pointed out.

“Our night shift is also, mainly, composed of people I have known for a long time. Our night shift Tactical Officer is Ensign Karin Bernstein Shapiro. Our night shift pilot is her husband, Ethan Shapiro.”

“She married him. Oh, that's terrific!” Lili clapped her hands in delight.

“Our night shift Communications Officer is Chandler – I'm sorry, Chip – Masterson. And his wife, Major Deborah Haddon-Masterson, is in charge of Security for the night shift. She is also in charge of the MACOs. Our night shift Science Officer is Andrew Miller,” Malcolm said, “Other people you'll run into are our botanist, Shelby Pike and of course, Chef Brian Delacroix.”

Brian was wearing chef's whites and a blue baseball cap with DC-1505 embroidered on the front.

There was also a logo, a stylized bluebird, apparently designed by the same artist who had drawn the composite picture of Lili, Leonora and Melissa. Brian said, “Today, we've got roast chicken with a pineapple salsa. There are two things I know about Captain Reed – one is that he loves pineapple and the other is that he doesn't like dairy. So you'll see both of those reflected in a lot of our meals. Shelby would be growing a pineapple plantation if he had his way,” The crew laughed a bit.

Malcolm said, “Thank you for those insights into my character,” he smiled, “I want to be serious for just a moment. This ship, it has a rather gentle name. There are those who would, I am certain, prefer a more aggressive name, like the Destroyer, or the Defiant or some such. But I chose this name because; well, because we come in peace. And I want that to be reflected in everything we do. I want that to be known to this sector. But make no mistake. We have the latest in weaponry and defenses. I come out of Tactical, and your safety is of primary importance to me. Aidan, Lucas and Karin are all very experienced and very good at what they do, as are Azar and Deborah. We shall defend this ship to the best of our abilities, whether that defense is accomplished through polarizing the hull plating or by handing out weapons from the Armory. Look 'round you well. There is the possibility, I am sorry to say, that someone standing near you right now might not complete our mission. It is true, and it is unfortunate. It is the nature of what we do here. You have all signed on, knowing this.”

Crew members looked around a bit. Many of them seemed to be so young to be thinking about such things.

“But that's not all,” Malcolm said, “I also want you to look 'round because, well, there are a few couples on this ship. The Mastersons, the Shapiros, and of course Andrew and Lucy, over there.”

“Andrew and Lucy?” Lili asked.

“You have actually met her,” Q said, “She was in your friend Jennifer Ramirez's wedding. Her daughter and your son had words.”

“Oh! Gina Stone! I remember now!” Lili exclaimed, “She smacked poor Joss with a little purse. I bet she liked him.”

“Strange way of showing it,” Q said, “Watch.”

“But there are also a lot of single people on board,” Malcolm said, “Look 'round. You may find yourself marrying someone in this very room,” The crew tittered nervously. He grinned broadly, “And now, I'd like to tell you a bit 'bout myself.”

There was a pause, and he sipped from a cup of water he had with him, “I know I have met all of you, but I feel I should say this. My name is Malcolm Reed. I am sixty-seven years old. I was born in Britain and raised partly in Malaysia. I attended school in the Mother Country – so as you can see I picked up not only an education but also my accent. I was Tactical Officer to Captain Jonathan Archer on the USS Enterprise – the NX-01 – and then I was the First Officer to him on the USS Zefram Cochrane. This is, uh, my first command. I do hope I can serve you all well. I know all of you shall serve me well.”

He paused and sipped again, “And now, I wish to tell you a bit about, well, it's like having a child and that child asks you about the facts of life. And you can be embarrassed and tell it rather badly, or you can abdicate responsibility and then the child learns it on the streets. And it's even worse then and, potentially, very, very wrong. I would rather tell you myself, than have you hear this on the streets,” he took a breath, “There are, as you are all well aware, there are tabloids. And my personal life has, at times, been of interest to them. You have probably heard or read some rumors. I shall set the record straight for you. I am not married. I have a son, Declan. He is almost nineteen. He is attending Oxford for History and Art. I am immensely proud of him. And, and his mother and I have never wed. In itself, I imagine that is not too uncommon, but she is also, she is married to another. Our son is, he is not the product of a sordid affair. I know that there have been some news stories indicating that, and they are wrong. It is, our arrangement is, it is an open one.”

The crew nervously whispered amongst themselves.

“Believe me,” Malcolm continued, “I am more uncomfortable telling you of this than, than you probably are in hearing of it. I assure you that I have no desire to, to change your minds about your lives, and your choices, and convert them over to mine. Rather, all I ask is that you, that you respect my, my life, and my choices. And in return, I shall respect yours – whatever they end up being. My, my dear one – it's funny – calling a woman a girlfriend when she is over the age of seventy is, well, it's absurd. So I shall refer to her by her name, which is Lili Beckett. She will, uh, she will be here on occasion, for visits. She lives in the Lafa System so whenever we are on Andoria or near Klingon space, well, there is a possibility that we will take on a passenger, or perhaps two, if Declan is around. The room next to my own; that is Ken Masterson's room, and he and Dec are good friends and so my son will bunk there. The Mastersons, of course, have the room adjoining on the other side. The other family configuration is on the fourth deck, where the Shapiros have an adjoining child's room for their daughters, Alia and Rebecca, and Andrew and Lucy have the other side, and Lucy's daughters, Gina and Vanessa, if they visit, they will be there. And, well, of course, if Lili comes to the ship she will, uh, well, I don't have to draw you a diagram.”

There was some nervous laughter.

“It's okay, folks, these are the jokes,” Chip interjected.

“Uh, yes,” Malcolm said, “In any event, I am no artist. That role is more than filled by my son. You have, I am sure you have noticed the ship's logo, a bit of a drawing of a bluebird. He drew that,” Malcolm was beaming, “I apologize for so many gory details. But I just felt you should know. Oh, and one more thing! Because of the children on board – even though some of them aren't quite so young as all that – there is a ship's teacher. This is the first time this position has ever been created. I am very pleased to introduce to you our teacher, Miss Susan Cheshire. She and I do not know one another too terribly well, but I am sure we will become acquainted as time permits. And I hope you will all become at least acquainted with, with one another. You need not become friends, of course, and this is no order. But I do urge you to open yourselves up a bit. I know that I spent a great deal of my life enclosed, as it were. And then one day, you lose someone, and the next day, you are standing while their funeral is happening, and you don't even know their given name. That happened on the Enterprise, with our Major Jay Hayes. He kept to himself that much. I hope that none of you are that closed off from the rest of the crew as that. Your lives will, they will be better, I assure you, if you can let others in, at least from time to time.”

=/=



“I'd like to be able to visit on occasion. In person, get together and be together sometimes.” – Malcolm Reed

“I don't intend to be looking for girlfriends. I think my hands will be quite full this way.” – Malcolm Reed

“Privacy must be rather difficult to come by. I have children; I know what that is like.” – Doctor Phlox

=/=



“That's a sweet speech,” Lili said, “And he looks great!”

“You have a one-track mind. There's more,” Q said.

“Oh, and one last thing,” Malcolm added, “If you need me between eighteen hundred and nineteen hundred hours, on any day, it had best be an emergency. Otherwise, I am wholly unavailable. It's not that I don't care for you – do not misunderstand me. It is that, well, that's family time. I shall be calling Lafa II, and Oxford, then. Of course this does not apply when the family is aboard. And when they are! Oh, my dear Lili, perhaps we can persuade her to cook a little something if Mister Delacroix can relinquish the French knives on occasion.”

A crewman whispered to his tablemate, “I bet she can barely boil water.”

“I'll have you know, I am a professional!” Lili exclaimed.

“He can't hear you, little Earth mother.”

“Still!”

“Winston,” the guy's seatmate said, “The Captain's woman is a professional chef.”

“Oh. Huh. Well, maybe it'll be good,” Winston said, backpedaling.

“Captain's woman, eh?” Lili asked, “That makes me feel a little dirty.”

“One track mind, definitely,” Q complained.

=/=


“That was one major fantasy right there. To, to kiss you. In my room. On, on my bed.” – Malcolm Reed

“I'll be sitting there at Tactical and minding my own business. The captain will oh so officially state we're going to some system or another and there's that number, right in the midst of the coordinates. Hoshi blushes, Travis smiles to himself a little and I think T'Pol wonders what the devil it is we're all so amused by.” – Malcolm Reed

“You're such a wicked, wicked woman, Lili-Flower.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



It was a bit later, and Malcolm was back in his Ready Room.

“Computer, dictation mode,” he commanded.

“To: Lili Beckett, Lafa II
From: Captain Malcolm Reed, USS Bluebird, DC-1505

My dearest, most beloved one,

I know that we shall have our call with Dec soon, and we will see one another tonight, as always, but I also wanted to write you this letter. It is the first day, after all, and I'd like to get my thoughts down on paper, as it were. What did Anne Frank say? That paper is patient. And I must agree, even if it is pixels now.

I first off want to thank you for your gifts. I do greatly appreciate them, and I feel that Mister Delacroix will be able to make use of the olowa paste when he next makes pies. I also love the embroidered handkerchiefs. They were a most unexpected and welcome touch when I unpacked earlier today.

I also want to thank you for just being there for me. You have always been so kind and generous to me. Declan could not possibly have a better mother, and I could not have been loved more, or better, by anyone. Much of that comes from Douglas, I know, and please tell him how greatly I appreciate his acceptance. I count him as a close friend, and I hope he feels something of that about me, sometimes. He has certainly shown it over the years.

Please give my love to Leonora and Melissa as well. They have been wonderful friends, too. Tell Leonora that the copy of Moby Dick that she sent will be read as soon as possible.

I do love you so.

Malcolm


Computer, exit dictation mode and send.”

=/=



“We are intelligent people. And we all have big hearts. And it seems painful and unnecessary for us to have to confine those hearts to just one person.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“So, whadda ya wanna know about friendship?” Lili asked.

“Well, aside from your own experience, human relationships have, often, an exclusivity clause. But friendships aren't like that.”

“True. Perhaps it's the lower level of intensity.”

“But sometimes there are instances where – one feels it's a friendship while the other feels it is something more. That was the case between you and the short Brit for a couple of years.”

“You're right,” she said, “He didn't say much, and I just kind of went on with my life. He was, well, he was repressed. There's no other word for it.”

“And he could have had a closer friendship with you during that time, though, right?”

“Yes, and for me that would have been fine. But for him, it would have meant more, and I would have potentially been leading him on. That would not have been fair to him at all.”

“But fairness isn't necessarily a requirement, little Earth mother.”

“I know,” she said, “But it still would not have been right, teasing him like that, making him believe one thing when it wasn't, at the time, the case.”

“Perhaps that is what is happening with Kathryn,” Q said, “Or, hmm.”

“Kathryn leading you on, then?”

“Maybe. But it comes back to, well, jealousy as well. Does making someone jealous work to get them to become receptive?”

“I guess it can,” Lili said, “But that's a terrible foundation for things. I mean, what do you do when the jealousy is done? There are people with that kind of intensity. But I think it must be rather exhausting, all of that overlong, drawn-out passion, where they are fighting and pushing and all, all the time.”

“You fought with your husband when the short Brit came back into your life.”

“I did, and Doug was definitely jealous. He and I, well, we fought in the way that two people who really know each other well can fight. We knew each other's weak spots, and we pressed on them.”

“And you made up after a while.”

“Yes, we did.”

“I understand the making up is good,” Q said.

“It is. But I don't get into fights for the sole purpose of making up. And I don't just have good lovemaking when making up with either of them.”

“You fight with the short Brit?”

“Sure I do, but it's different. With Doug, it's shouting. With Malcolm, it's that we don't speak. Drives me batty.”

“But both types of battles lead to the same conclusion?”

“To tenderness, eventually, yes. We love each other, and we don't really want to hurt each other. Not really, of course. But we also already have tenderness. I love them, and they love me, and that's true whether we fight, when we fight, after we fight, and before. At bottom, we are friends and we are lovers and a few fights don't stand in the way of that. For us, it's forever.”

“But humans don't exist forever.”

“I know, but we still mean it when we say that it is forever,” she said.

=/=



“I want you to know, though, if you can ever see this, that it is forever.” – Lili O'Day

Chapter 14 by jespah

“I am thinking about starting, and doing, and especially finishing.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



There were back in the room, so Lili brought Declan over to the bassinette and put him back down. Then she sniffed the air, “Whoo! Someone needs a change. Hand me, uh, in the drawer by you, Q, there are diapers.”

“I can take care of things instantly,” he said.

“No, no, don't!”

“Why not?”

The baby started to cry a little, “Look, I don't want him to be uncomfortable any longer than he has to be,” Lili said, “But what would I do if you weren't here? And tomorrow? He needs to know that if I do this, it means good things are happening. So hand me the damned diaper already.”

Q complied, “This is all rather primitive.”

“Do you eat? And, uh, the remainder of it?” she asked while changing the baby.

“No, and no.”

“That's a pity,” she said, “Not the, er, end product part, of course. But no eating! My gosh! I mean, food and sex are two of the greatest pleasures in life. Both are extremely primal.”

“Food and sex?”

“Yep. And in a wealthy society, I hate to say it, but there are a lot of people who are more likely to get food than they are to get lovin',” she finished up and addressed the baby in a singsong voice, “There, now! All better!” She smiled at him.

“You provide comfort.”

“Yes, I do. I mean, I suppose a robot could be programmed to change a baby. But if I do it, or Malcolm does, or Doug, or Melissa or Norri, or even an unrelated babysitter like Yimar, well, he can begin to associate adults with making bad things go away. He learns to trust us. You could, uh, take the next one if you want.”

“No, thank you,” Q said.

“Where are we off to next?” she asked, smiling and picking him back up.

Q looked at her oddly, “Uh, I'd like to work things through chronologically.”

“Oh. So whatever comes next is after 2180.”

“Correct,” he said, “And, uh, don't take a passenger this time.”

“Why not? He won't fuss too much. At least, I don't think he will.”

“Still. You will be better off. I can put him back into what you called molasses time.”

“Oh. Hmm. Uh, all right,” she said, putting him back down, and the scene changed.

=/=



“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.” – Lili O'Day

=/=


It was a forest, with the same familiar four stars in the sky. The olowa trees were fruiting and the grasses were green.

“Looks like summertime,” Lili said.

June thirtieth,” Q said.

“Year?”

2181,” he said, “Watch.”

There was a crashing in the undergrowth, and a huge, flightless bird ran by, without a care as to direction or what sounds it could be making. It was the top predator, and it knew it.

“It's an elekai,” Lili said, “So this is the forest in the Southern hemisphere of Lafa II.”

“Yes,” Q said.

A hunting party followed, consisting of about ten Calafans of both colors. Bringing up the rear were Melissa and Doug.

=/=



“You've gotta keep your elbow up.” – Doug Beckett

=/=


“Oh Gawd,” Lili said, voice breaking, “You SOB. This is where he dies, isn't it? You said it was a hunting trip.”

“I did,” Q admitted.

“So this is his day, right? Does an, does an elekai rush him? Is that it?”

“Just watch.”

“No. I don't want to see,” she cried.

“It will happen whether you see it or not,” he said.

“This is – you're hardly advanced if all you do is torture people.”

“You had no such objections when you saw the short Brit take command.”

“Of course not. That was positive!”

“Did you really think that all of the main events would be glowing ones? Did you think everything would be a triumph?” Q asked.

“No. It's just ...,” she just stood and cried for a minute or so.

“It's that it's here, and now, am I right?”

“Y-yes.”

“You short-lived species all get this. There comes a day when a life ends. And that is every day. Every single day, a life ends. Thousands do. Millions and billions in this galaxy alone – they end one way or another. And you go on and live your life, with neither a thought nor a care to the Witannen as they breathe their last. Or the Klingons, as they head to Stovokor. Or the Andorians who are no more. Or the Vulcans who have joined Surok. Or any of a million other sentient species, or even the non-sentient ones. They all pass into dust without you knowing or caring or crying. Does the Xyrillian poet not deserve your tears? What of the Tellarite carpenter? Or the Orion slave girl? Or the Takret priest?”

“I don't – don't ask me that. This is my husband we are talking about,” she stammered out.

“And you love him.”

“Yes. You can't expect me to feel this way about any other death except Malcolm's and any of the children. Not even Norri and Melissa will get this depth of feeling from me. It is – it's like when my parents passed.”

“Yes, your parents. They died in a preventable tragedy. A kitchen fire went out of control when you were only nine years old and were visiting your mother's parents.”

“Yes. And I survived because I went on a trip. There was no other reason that I lived. And my counterpart on the other side of the pond, she didn't go on a comparable trip. So she and her little brother died that day. It was June twelfth, 2118. For this day you’re showing me, it was just over sixty-three years ago. Yet it is sometimes still very fresh in my mind, Q. I don't dream of them anymore – the Calafans saw to that. But I daydream of them sometimes, of my father tinkering with the car or going off to work to fly a transport. Or my mother, humming and singing while she manually spun a potter's wheel and molded clay with her bare hands or scored the edge with a knife to make a design, or painted and glazed it carefully. I can sometimes still see our little house, with its boxwood hedge and the view of Saturn in the sky, all creamy and yellowy, with its titanium rings tilted behind the clouds.”

“Who comforted you after you lost your parents?” Q asked.

“You should know. You've watched my life. It was both sets of grandparents. Mostly my mother's parents, but it was the O'Days, too. They were different, and a lot more standoffish. But they would do things like pick me up from school when I was having a bad day. And I had a lot of those the first year. They didn't live beyond a couple of years after their son's death. But they did help me. And the Ducasses helped even more, everything from giving me a place to live to setting a curfew and helping me with my homework. And when I finally learned how to cook, and to sing, those things came from Lilienne Ducasse.”

“Then you should watch, just the same,” Q said.

“To what end?”

“To see comfort,” he said, “Watch.”

=/=



“You've gotten a lot more aggressive. I like it.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



Doug and Melissa followed along but they were not keeping up very well.

Melissa looked better than when Lili had seen her fussing over Kevin, but she was still tired-looking, as if that had taken so much out of her that it had prematurely aged her. She brought her left hand to her face to wipe a sweaty brow and Lili saw the bracelet Doug had gotten her, with its oval charm with the three circles inside it, “Whew!” she exclaimed, “It's too hot.”

“Yeah,” Doug said, panting behind her, “Feels like another kind of exertion,” he smiled at her and kissed her.

“We're supposed to be hunting,” she reminded him.

“Uh, yeah, I guess so,” he said, “Still ....”

“Aha,” she said, smiling at him, “Maybe we'll go back early.”

He looked at her strangely and she saw him clutch at his chest, and fall, “Doug!” she yelled.

And Lili, watching from her remove, saw, and yelled his name, as well.

=/=



“Y’know, Doug, it would really be stupid if we were to fall in love.” – Lili O'Day

=/=



Melissa clicked open her communicator and yelled, “Treve! Get the hell over here! Get medical help! Now!”

“Melissa,” Doug said, lying there. His voice was soft.

“Yeah? I'm right here,” she leaned over him and held his hand.

“My arm really hurts,” he said, “It's hard to breathe.”

“Help is coming,” she said.

“He's not, he's not rubbing her fingers,” Lili said, “I know how Doug holds hands. He always does that. And he isn't doing that.”

“Don't know if I need any,” Doug said absently.

“You're strong,” Melissa said, “Hold on.”

“It's not easy,” he said, “It's like pushing a boulder uphill.”

“Let me help you,” Melissa said.

“You can't,” he said, “It's my boulder. Mine alone.”

“Just hang on.”

“Melissa, it's not gonna happen,” he said, “This is, they won't be here on time.”

“Of course they will.”

“No. They won't. Don't, don't argue with me,” he said, “Things are foggy. And I know it's not foggy, not really.”

“Maybe your eyesight is going,” Melissa said.

“That's not it,” he said, “I'm not seeing the surroundings anymore. I can only see you.”

“Help is coming,” Melissa choked out.

“It's funny,” he said, “You're very clear. Your big brown eyes, your pretty face – I can see them perfectly. Better than ever. But nothing else.”

She smiled at him weakly, “You're a smooth talker,” she leaned in and kissed him.

He smiled at her, “I will miss you. If there is any consciousness. I will, I will miss you. And, and all of the family. But I don't know. It's so unclear.”

“You're not going anywhere,” she said.

“I am,” he said, “I am going. I'm sorry, but I have to. It's a very strong compulsion. I can't fight it.”

“Don't you wanna be home?” she asked, “Have supper, and talk and call the kids?”

“What I want is not what's going to happen,” he smiled a tiny bit, then looked past her, “It's, uh, it's clearer.”

“So you can see the forest?”

“No,” he said, “I can, I can see a bridge.”

=/=



“You're an extraordinary man, Douglas Jay Hayes Beckett. You did Jay Hayes proud, and you do me proud. I never really understood what the other side of the pond was like, and now I know. It's easy to fall down, and to go the wrong way. It must have been an amazing act of will to you to have any moral code whatsoever. I saw what it was doing to our children. We need to care for them well. It's so easy for them to go wrong.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“A bridge?” Lili asked, face wet.

Q just directed her back.

“Tell me about the bridge,” Melissa said. She had been glancing around, looking for the rest of the hunting party, but now just concentrated on Doug's face.

“People. There are people on it. But I, I don't know any of them,” he said.

“Maybe they're new friends,” she said.

“I don't know,” he said, “It's hard for me to make friends.”

“I think maybe it'll become easier,” she said.

“Wait a sec,” he said, “There. There are two people I know.”

“Who?”

“Jay Hayes and, and I think that’s Malcolm’s counterpart,” he said.

Now Melissa was really crying, “Please don't go.”

“I gotta,” he said, “Jay, he has, he has a little boy with him.”

“I don't know if he had any children,” Melissa said.

“No. It's Kevin,” Doug said.

Kevin? But he's just a baby.”

“Not now,” Doug said.

“Is he all right?” she squeaked out.

“Yes,” he said, “And he has, in his hands, he has this, it's, it's a clod of dirt.”

“Well, you know they like to play in the dirt,” Melissa said.

“Yeah, I guess they do. And the two fellows, they’ve got something for, for me. But I don't understand.”

“What is it?” Melissa asked.

“Melissa,” Doug said, “Don't, uh, let them bury me with my wedding ring. Give it to Joss. Tell Lili when she's ready, to give hers to him, too. I, I want him to give it to his wife when he gets married. And he will.”

“Okay.”

“Give Tommy my medals. No one else will understand them or want them.”

“Of course.”

“Declan can have, I have a watch. I think he would like it.”

“Yes.”

“All of my clothes, give them to Marie Patrice. She can make things out of the fabrics. Tell her to make something nice.”

“I will,” Melissa said.

“Give Neil my, uh, I want him to have my car. He needs one.”

“You bet.”

“Give Norri and Malcolm any papers you think they would like. Make sure the videos keep running, and you all have them and can watch them whenever you want. Take for yourself my, my old phase bow. I know you can't lift it by yourself. But I want you to have it, and remember when I wasn't so weak.”

“You're not weak,” Melissa said, “You're very strong.”

“I can't even lift my head,” he said, “But I don't think that matters anymore. Lili, she gets the house and everything else. There's, there's no cemetery for humans yet. Let her choose where. You know where.”

“Yes.”

“Melissa, I love you,” he paused and looked up and past her, at something, or someone, behind her, “Lili.”

His bluish-greenish-greyish eyes clouded over, and she knew he was dead.

There were sounds of twigs snapping as the remainder of the hunting party got there. Treve knelt beside Melissa. He had silver scrollwork on the arm he put around her.

=/=



“I hope you realize I am going to like you almost no matter what you look like.” – Doug Hayes

“I never loved another man. Never wanted to.” – Melissa Madden

=/=



Lili just stood and wept, “Take me back, you SOB. Get me back to my son. I can't bear it.”

=/=



“I'll stay here tonight, sleep in this bed one more time, smell your smells, think of you, dream of you, of course.” – Lili Beckett

Chapter 15 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Malcolm's final theme - Bruce Springsteen - Prove it all Night

“She is the iron. All I am is tin.” – Doctor Keleth

=/=



Hoshi sat in the cafeteria, alone, mulling over tea and the stars slipping by outside the viewing portal.

The ship was going into dry dock soon, and she'd been offered a place on the USS Zefram Cochrane. Captain Archer had been generous, and she had been promoted to Lieutenant.

But there was something missing, and she was tired of life just being about work.

The early dinner crowd was beginning to come in.

“Is this seat taken?” she was asked.

He was tall, the tallest guy on the ship. He was losing his hair, and worked the night shift, in Engineering. José Torres.

“Huh?”

“I asked you if the seat was taken,” he said.

“Oh, uh, no,” she said.

“Thanks,” he said, “Are you, um, going to Movie Night? Chip is showing Casablanca. It's supposed to be really good.”

“Huh, yeah, I heard it was good,” she said, a little absently.

“Would you, uh, would you go with me?” he asked.

“Hmm?” she said, and then realized what he had just asked, “Uh, sure,” she smiled as Tripp Tucker, unseen, walked in, “I'd love to.”

=/=



“I know they still look while I squire you around.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=


Lili stood in the hospital room and sobbed and sobbed. When the baby joined in, she was able to compose herself a little. She picked him up. “Shh, shh, my little love.”

“I –” Q began.

“Get out. Just get out. You've done enough for one day.”

“I still have questions.”

“I don't give a damn,” she said sharply. The baby started up again, and she shushed him again.

“But –”

“But nothing. How dare you. I don't care how puny-brained you think I am, but you had no right.”

“No right? Little Earth mother, it's not all sunshine and roses. Main events are not just pleasant things, as you have seen.”

“But, that? What did you hope to accomplish by showing me?”

“I want to know about, about comfort,” he said.

“It happens. People do their best. We often have no idea what to say – things are beyond words. So we just hold someone, or we are close by. Or we fumble, but we mean well.”

“But it's not just lovers who do this.”

“Correct. Treve isn't Melissa's lover. He's just a close friend.”

“Friendship, again,” Q said.

“Q, what did you think would happen, by you showing me, showing me that?”

“You can be prepared now,” he said.

“Prepared? How?”

“You will know,” he said.

“I'll be neurotic,” she said, “I'll forbid him from hunting – I know myself, I would do something like that. And he'd either end up sneaking out or something else would happen to him, right? I mean, the timeline can't be changed, not for this – it's just the circumstances that could potentially be altered. So let's say I tell him to not go hunting in June of 2181. And he gives me lip service, because I can't bear to tell him why. And he ends up going anyway. So not only am I mourning him,” her voice broke a little, and she took a few moments to collect herself again, “but I'm also furious with him. Furious for lying to me.”

“Or he could obey you, and then the death would happen at home, to terrify you out of sleeping in your shared bed again,” Q pointed out.

“Possibly,” she allowed, “And he'd be miserable, and questioning. And it would spoil the last month, as I became – become – more and more anxious, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can't just wake up on the morning of the thirtieth and say to myself, 'I think I'll make a frittata this morning, and then I'll start digging Doug's grave so I can get it done before it gets really hot out.' It doesn't work that way.”

“Experiencing the pain now, would that diminish it later?” he asked.

“No. I just get it twice now. Thank you so freakin' much, Q,” she said angrily, then caught herself. She put down the baby again, “But there is one thing.”

“Oh?”

“You were – you were almost, almost, dare I say it? You were almost considerate. You knew it would be a bad time, and you told me not to bring him. Did you, did you give a damn about how it would affect me?”

Q thought for a moment, “You are telling me to be considerate. I admit I could use the practice. And I suspect it would help with Kathryn.”

“Are there female Qs?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“So why are you trying to get with a human? Why not just go with someone of your own kind?”

“Why didn't you originally mate with someone from your own universe? You did not, and the mismatch almost cost you your life.”

“True,” she allowed, “But he and I were thrown together. It was like he was almost given to me.”

“Nonsense. You were lying on a Calafan amplifier, and so was he. And then your respective ships entered space where those amplifiers could be activated. And they were.”

“But we were positive together. It was, it started off as lovemaking. I mean, we could have been hostile,” she said.

“But you were not. And so things unfolded for you. Shall I show you another event? I would like to ask a bit about commitment.”

“Commitment? I will be burying him. Isn't that enough information about commitments to satisfy your curiosity?”

“There are positives as well,” Q said, “Despite what you may think, I am not here to pull the wings off flies, or burn up ants with a magnifying glass.”

“You're spending an awful lot of time with me, Q. Why aren't you out getting your billionth opinion?”

“I can multitask,” he said.

“Surely even you have limits.”

“I do,” he said, “I suspect I need fewer opinions than I had originally thought.”

“Hmm,” she said, “Are our little talks affecting you somehow?”

“A little,” he said, “You have strong opinions.”

“So you feel what I'm saying is worthwhile?” she asked.

“Possibly,” he said, “This one, it will be a positive experience. If you wish to bring the infant, do so.”

She picked up Declan and the scene changed.

=/=



“If she comes back, and I don't, well, it's pretty obvious what you'd do. I just want you to know that I know, and I understand. And I want you to. Be with her. Take care of her. And if the kids are back with her, take care of them as well. Guide them. Just, just do that.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



It was a house that was wholly unfamiliar to Lili, but it was warm and inviting. She looked around a little bit. She, Q and Declan were in a small parlor, “Where is this?” she asked.

Q said nothing.

She walked around a little bit, and found a video wall. She looked at it. The pictures skittered by. One was her wedding photo with Doug. When she saw it, she felt a tear welling up, and quickly brushed it away. Then there was a picture of Norri getting her doctorate. And another photo was Declan getting his bachelor's degree. There was a picture of her with Malcolm, holding baby Declan – a photograph that was clearly a few months from what she knew was the true present time. Another picture was of Tommy in his scouting uniform. There was Joss at his Prom, again, with a girl of Chinese extraction. Another picture was of Norri and Melissa, possibly taken when they had first met. Yet another one was Doug and Melissa with baby Kevin, both of them looking somber and tired. Another one was Malcolm on the Bridge of the USS Bluebird, looking confident and pleased. Yet another was Malcolm with Mark Latrelle, from very young days, horsing around and mugging for the camera.

“What's the date?” she asked.

Q just directed her, and then she heard a yawn. She went over to investigate.

It was a bedroom, and there were two people in bed together, waking up. It was her and Malcolm.

She glanced at the clock. It was oh eight hundred hours. And the date was May twenty-fifth, 2182.

“This is less than a year afterwards,” she said to Q. He just directed her back, and she watched.

In bed, Lili and Malcolm kissed and smiled at each other. He was steel grey, with deepening crow's feet around his eyes. And her hair had gone all white, and the lines by her mouth were deeper. The covers slipped a little, and it was obvious that she was wearing a thin nightie and he was just wearing briefs. They kissed again, and Malcolm said, “Happy wedding day.”

And she responded, “Happy wedding day!”

=/=



“You can always tell me what's going on. Always. When I asked you to marry me, I didn't mean it was just this one-time offer that could be rescinded at any time.” – Frank (Francisco) Ramirez

“I am falling in love with you, whether you like it or, or not.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



The scene changed.

“Wait! What did we skip?” Lili asked Q.

“Surely even you don't want to watch your future self having relations,” he said.

“Oh. Well, uh, yes. That was, um, thoughtful of you,” she said.

Now she recognized the house. It was her house, or at least it looked like it was. They were outside, in the back yard. Chairs had been set up, and there was an altar with a canopy over it.

“Wow, they're, uh, we're expecting a lot of guests.”

“Just watch,” he said.

She walked over to an easel, where there was a large poster. It was an old-fashioned wedding invitation, and it said:

Mr. Declan Reed &
Ms. Marie Patrice Beckett &
Mr. Jeremiah Beckett &
Messrs. Thomas and Neil Digiorno-Madden
request the pleasure of your company
at the marriage of their parents (finally!)
Charlotte Lilienne O'Day Beckett
to Captain Malcolm Reed
Saturday, the twenty-fifth of May
two thousand one hundred and eighty-two
at half past four in the afternoon

In lieu of gifts, the family requests
that you make donations to the Charles
Tucker III Foundation for Promising Engineers

Bring an appetite – the bride is catering!


Lili smiled when she read the last line, “I'm seventy-three and I'm still catering weddings. I must be outta my mind.”

Guests arrived. They looked older, of course, but they were easy to identify. There was Captain Archer – but he had more insignia on his uniform, “Is he an Admiral?” Lili asked.

“By now, yes,” Q replied.

Hoshi was there with a man who was undoubtedly her husband. There was Travis, going grey. And Aidan was there, with a dark-skinned woman who Lili recognized as the teacher from Malcolm's ship. There were Jennifer and Frank, and a girl who was their daughter. And the Mastersons, with their son, they were there. And there was Phlox, with two of his three wives. And T'Pol was there, a little bent, but looking as calm as ever.

Then she saw the children – but calling them children seemed ludicrous. They were adults. Joss looked exactly like Doug, and he was with that same Chinese girl from his Prom picture, “Who is she?” Lili asked.

“Her name is Jia Sulu,” Q replied.

And there was Tommy, in a cadet's uniform. And Marie Patrice was in a creamy dress, holding a small bouquet. Neil and Declan were wearing dark suits. A bald, silver Calafan girl bounced by, and she and Neil disappeared for a second behind a large planting, and Lili saw them kiss for a second, “Who's that?” she asked.

“Yinora.”

“How wonderful,” Lili said. Then she saw Melissa and Norri, both wearing the same creamy gowns as Marie Patrice was. They looked very happy, but a tiny bit bittersweet.

And then she saw, where the chairs were set up, one at the front was empty, and Tommy made it his job to keep people from sitting in it.

=/=



“I may even love you a little bit.” – Treve

“I know that a big piece of your heart is not with me. And I think I'm all right with that. There is no perfection. But there is something. Something very rare and good.”– Malcolm Reed

=/=



The guests were seated, and all the chairs were filled but the one in the front. The wedding party assembled, joined by a man who Lili recognized as being Malcolm's dear friend Mark Latrelle.

Music began, and the officiant entered, and took her place at the altar. She was an older woman in judge's robes.

“Is that Laura Hayes?” Lili asked. Q nodded.

The children assembled, around and by the canopy, and then were joined by Melissa and Norri, who stood near the empty seat but did not block it. Mark took his place as well.

And then Malcolm walked down the aisle, wearing a dark blue suit and, in his lapel, there was a blue and white daylily, bound together with a tiny tofflin reed, tied by three ribbons. One was turquoise, one was snowy white, and the other was dark blue. He stood with his son right behind him, and the two were almost identical, except Declan had Lili's light hair and ethereally light blue eyes. They stood.

And the music changed, and Lili saw herself. She moved slowly. She was carrying a huge bouquet of daylilies, orange blossoms and tofflin reeds, bound with larger versions of Malcolm's three ribbons. Her dress was turquoise, and her shoes – ballet slippers – matched. Her hair was back, bound by a dark royal blue ribbon, almost an indigo in shade. Around her neck was Malcolm's key, flashing a little in the sunshine. There was a small veil in front of her face, lacy white and almost the same pattern as the sinuous silver calloo tattoos on her arms and that could also be seen on her ankles as she walked. She smiled at her guests, taking a moment to look at Calafans, and at people like Pamela Hudson, and Andrew Miller, and Karin and Ethan Shapiro, and the Reeds themselves, looking very, very pleased and proud.

And then she looked up and saw her destination.

=/=



“... the flower's the exciting part. The reed's just an ordin'ry thing. Nothing special or worthwhile.” – Malcolm Reed

“Don't say that! The flower needs the reed. Otherwise it's got no nourishment, no support and is just a bunch of petals falling on the ground. The flower can't live without the reed.” – Lili Beckett

=/=


Lili joined Malcolm, and the younger Lili stood, with Q, just off to the side. The officiant spoke, and she was definitely Laura Hayes – excuse me, Judge Laura Hayes.

And soon it was time for vows.

Malcolm looked at his bride and swallowed hard, and said, “I, I dreamt of this day for a long time. And it's not perfectly identical. But it's very close. And – you know, I had something prepared. But it's all flown out of my head.”

And both Lilis responded, “That's all right.”

The younger Lili laughed a little at that, and watched her older counterpart give the huge bunch of flowers over to Marie Patrice to hold. In the older Lili's hands, there was a blue handkerchief. She – the older one, that is – took Malcolm's hands in hers.

Malcolm spoke, “Thank you. You have always been generous. I, I have loved you for so long that I can scarcely recall a time when I did not. And I don't think that there was, for my life truly began on a day in 2157, when I was having breakfast and a vision came to me and was redolent of oranges. And we have been through a lot, you and I. And here we begin to take more steps in our journey. But these steps are together in one, one glittering pathway.”

He paused for a second, “I, when I dreamt of today, one of the differences that I used to always see was that Doug would be here. And that, I knew it was impossible. I, I have never wished for his death. But to get to this day, there was only one way it led – through the end of his life. I, Lili, I hope that I can do him justice with you. For I know you shall always miss him. I don't see myself as a replacement for him. I can only hope to be with you, for as long as time allows, and to every day fulfill the promise of this day. I have loved you all my life. And I shall love you until its end,” he placed a ring on her finger.

The older Lili turned over the handkerchief a few times in her hands before responding, “I, huh, I'm also forgetting what I was going to say. What is it about being up here that makes that happen?”

The guests laughed a little.

“Don't make fun of me,” she mockingly complained, and smiled, “I, I look at the empty seat, the one that would have been for him. And I look out there, beyond the garden, too.”

The younger Lili looked, and realized there were two markers out there. She quickly looked back at the altar.

“And I know what you mean,” the older one said, “What is it that our friend Ethan Shapiro says? In the midst of happiness, there's a memory of some loss. And I guess that humbles us a bit. I, this handkerchief I have in my hands. It's, it is my old thing and my blue thing. Marie Patrice made it from the shirt that Doug was wearing when he came over. So he's here, a little bit. And I know he's smiling. And he's telling you to do the right things. And I know you will, always. Our children have insisted on this day. And they are so right. It is time – it has been time for quite a while. What I want you to know is that for years you have had my nights. And now you have my days as well. You have been my soul, and now you are also my heart. You have it all. There is no one else. There is no one else,” she placed a ring on his finger.

Laura added, “By the authority vested in me by the Federation envoy for the Lafa System, and by the Calafan government, I pronounce you husband and wife. Do kiss the bride.”

And they kissed, and it was longer than Malcolm had kissed anyone, even longer than he had kissed Pamela when she was leaving and they were breaking up.

It went on for so long that the guests murmured amongst themselves and finally Chip Masterson called out, “Reed! Save some for tonight!”

They broke apart and smiled at each other and then were congratulated by the children.

=/=



“You hear that? You're second-best. And that's a good thing, too, because if this happens, you get to have party time, all the time. You get the sex and the fun and the laughing. And I get to hold her head when she's got morning sickness. And bang away at the cooling unit when it doesn't work and there's a teething child screaming and she hasn't slept well for two days. I get to make sure the car always starts and the bills are paid and the roof doesn't leak. And you get the party.” – Doug Beckett

“What you get is real. It's the parts that really mean something. You're right; I am second best – regardless of what she says. She's too kind and gracious to say otherwise, but someone is in front, and that someone is not me. And, and I'm all right with that. I can't be there to be the one to, to hold her head and go to meet the teachers and all of that. Starfleet will never let that happen. It's half a loaf. But I've always been taught – that's far, far better than none.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



Lili was beaming when they got back to the hospital room, “Thank you for that.”

“I am just showing this to you,” Q said.

“I know. But that was, it was wonderful.”

“May I ask you about commitment?”

“Yes.”

“The short Brit, he waited for you for a long time.”

“Yes, he did. First for a couple of years while I married Doug and settled here, and then after the arrangement started, well, you saw how long. It was almost a quarter of a century. Then it seems our children had to convince me a bit – probably to get me to take off my mourning garb and be ready for a wedding dress. I doubt most people would have such patience.”

“Why do you suppose he did?” Q asked.

“Well, he did have me, kind of, for a long time. Has me. I can't quite get the verb tenses right, it seems. We have the nights together, so he's not just sitting and pining away. He is getting something. Or, he’s getting some. You know what I mean.”

“You need not be vulgar about it.”

“I'm sorry, Mister Sensitive. But he is also a Starfleet guy. And they just don't have a lot of openings for families. I'm very pleased that he has families on the Bluebird, but I recognize that if there is another war, all of those families will be dropped off at Starbases, and couples will be separated, in the hopes that, if one ship is destroyed, at least a child won't automatically have lost both parents. Sad but true, war exists and it's going to trump that. Do you have wars, Q?”

“Hmm?”

“War. Do you have it?”

“Yes,” he said.

“So even you aren't beyond it. When, uh, when was the most recent one, if I may ask?” she inquired.

“It's going on right now.”

=/=



“I feel a little like a teenager again. But with, uh, better activities.” – Lili Beckett

“When the time comes, we'll handle it together. And we'll be together, as long as long as possible. I don't know what I'll do when they separate us.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Right now? Shouldn't you, uh, be somewhere?”

“Like I said, I can multitask.”

“Hmm. Why are you looking to find a mate – particularly one outside your own species?”

“I told you. I am interested in Kathryn, and I want her to bear my child,” he said.

“No. That's your cover story. What's really going on, Q?”

“It's to end our Civil War. We add human DNA to the Continuum, and it will it will help with, with separatism.”

“Separatism?”

“Yes. There are two sides. One wishes for all Q to remain together as one, and the other wish for separations and individuality. I am on that side, and currently that is the losing side.”

“So you've chosen Kathryn to provide that human DNA?”

“Yes. Introducing that factor, for the first time in ten millennia, should solve the problem.”

“So this isn't about love at all, right?”

“It is,” he said, “Perhaps not with her, though,” he admitted, “And it is, a bit, about letting go.”

=/=



“But it's also the feeling that, well, that someone was responsible for caring for, for only you. That they might not have had much, but they tried to, to help you in any way they could. Whatever it was, even if it was to just tell you to not be afraid or give up hope. And it was freeing, too, to be only concentrating on one person and letting all other obligations just kinda fall away.” – Melissa Madden

“And then, suddenly, you were kind of, well, switched on. I suppose that's the best way to describe it. And I felt something. But I could see where you wanted to be, and who you wanted to be with. And, and when your, when everything finally fell into place, I stepped aside. Even though Doug said I was sweet on you, I said I wasn't. But that was not true. And you, you hugged me when you were in Sick Bay, do you remember? It is, I suppose, nothing to you. But for me it was a lot. It meant something.” – Malcolm Reed

“I always cry at weddings.” – Hoshi Sato

“You are the iron. You have always been the iron, and you still are. All I am, all I can ever offer you, is tin.” – Dr. Keleth

Chapter 16 by jespah

“Take the perrazin by the horns.” – Yimar

=/=



He got into the cafeteria just in time to see Hoshi and José Torres sitting together. Hoshi had just said, “I'd love to.”

Love to what?

Eh, it didn't matter anymore.

Except it did.

He sighed a little to himself and grabbed dinner. It was eggplant parmesan. Pan-fried catfish would've been better, but this was okay.

He found himself a seat, alone, and spent some time thinking. He would glance over, on occasion, but they seemed to be having fun and he was not one to intrude on a private party.

T'Pol walked in, and he couldn't bring himself to ask her to join him, either. That would not work. He had been told as much. It didn't work with her, and it didn't work with Hoshi. And here he was, in 2161, eating by himself and musing.

More crew members came in, and a few of the MACOs sat down with him. Julie McKenzie – he knew her. But they were not buddies, and she talked to her other tablemates and he was ignored, free to stare out the viewing portal and watch the stars slide by.

For Tripp Tucker, things had changed, and not changed, in the years of their mission. He had a good job that he loved. He had decent friends. But there was no one special, although it was not due to a lack of trying on his part.

He had had involvements, and some had had unexpected results. He had to smile a little, remembering that. But the two biggest involvements, they had been with T'Pol and, later, with Hoshi. And those had both gone south.

He had to admit, some of it was him being too needy. Reed. Gawd, Reed, of all people, being the first parent on the active crew roster?

He'd be calling home – Tripp guessed that calling Lili's place home was as good a descriptor as any – frequently. He'd be sharing photographs, probably. He'd be spending some of his free time looking at report cards and macaroni art and attentively listening for first words.

Reed.

And not him.

Tripp had been a father. The celebration at Movie Night wasn't quite right. But his becoming a father had not been intentional. And it hadn't had any fun associated with it. And Elizabeth had died so, so very young. She had had no chance whatsoever. There had been no celebrations, just a funeral.

And now, when there had been a celebration, it was for another. He didn't begrudge Reed one bit. And he had seen Malcolm becoming a little more emotional recently. That was a bit of a tipoff, and he had even once asked if anything was wrong, but Malcolm had been stoic although there was a faraway look in his eyes that said – don't ask about this. It's private.

Then again, Malcolm couldn't have possibly been less emotional than he'd been originally.

Hoshi and José left together, and she was smiling at him as he put a hand on her waist to guide her – an act of obvious, tentative, hoped-for intimacy.

And all Tripp could think of was the old expression: a day late and a dollar short.

=/=



“You just, you smelled of oranges. And it was like sunshine and, and happiness. And I subconsciously began to understand that I was tired of darkness and shadows and wanted the sunlight. So I, I stumbled a bit over my words and I said, 'Almost.' Ha, and you asked me if I wanted syrup and all of that and I can't recall how I saved face and what I said to you but it became clear to me that I didn't have everything I wanted, because I wanted something new.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Letting go, eh?” she asked, standing up in the hospital room and looking out the window. The funnel cloud was still out there, still enveloping her house, so far as she could see.

“Yes,” Q said, “My species, we are, well, we are interconnected in many ways.”

“How many of you am I talking to?”

“Just me.”

“Oh. Well, what do you want to know?”

“How do you do it? Particularly when you've been deeply involved, and for a long time?”

“Huh. It's difficult. And in particular, it can feel like unfinished business. I mean, look at Malcolm and Pamela. They had a deep intimacy for about a month. And then she left, but they kept up a correspondence. And if the Witannen hadn't intervened, Malcolm would have met her and they would have, I'm sure, done what came naturally. In fact, I know that they did,” Lili said, “but he was already, in his mind, over her and had moved on.”

“He had moved on, to you.”

“Yes,” she said.

“So he had another entanglement. Would he have ended things with her if you had been unreceptive?”

“Possibly. A relationship that isn't working, well, it's not working. It doesn't, truly, matter, if there is a landing site, I guess you could call it, for one or both of the parties to just, well, take off.”

“Or things could be opened.”

“Or that.”

=/=



“I know there are cracks in our marriage. And I know that both of us have made those cracks bigger. But I think they were there before.” – Lili Beckett

“You have Joss. And Pete. And, and me. Can't I be enough for you?” – Doug Beckett

“What if, instead, what if we crack it all open? And I mean really open.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“It's not for everyone,” Lili said.

“True, and for most of you humans, your minds have trouble wrapping themselves around things like intimacy with more than one person, or relinquishing jealousy,” Q pointed out.

“True,” she said, “Your, what did you call it, a Continuum?” Q nodded, “Your Continuum – I suppose it's a great big well of intimacy, yes?”

“Not exactly. We are, we are together, yet we are apart.”

“Even the most involved couples have their own things. Even if they want to be together 24/7, there are just some times when they are by themselves.”

“That's not it,” Q said, “It's that there is, well, it's like this.”

He waved a hand and showed her, and it was a plain room with a few dozen people. They were all in the same room, to be sure, but they were separate, uninvolved, and not even looking at each other. They were not even at cross-purposes. It was merely that they were existing in the same space. But it was as if they were billions of light years apart. No one touched. No one looked. No one sighed. No one listened. No one spoke. No one even sniffed the air. They were apart.

The scene vanished.

“Q, to me, that's, it's hell.”

“Oh? Really?”

“Yes,” she said, “You don't have a community. You don't have affection. You don't even have anger. You care less for each other than I care about that chair over there.”

“It is because we are bound to lord it over each other,” Q said, “It is the nature of omnipotence, to use it at all times.”

“Even with fellow Qs?”

“Especially. It is, almost, a challenge. And we have few challenges.”

“Life must be dull.”

“It is,” he admitted, “Everything is decided. It's all set in concrete.”

“Your species must be the biggest control freaks in the history of the universe.”

Q smiled a little, “That's a fairly accurate assessment.”

“So what do you need to let go for?” she asked, “You aren't holding on at all, so far as I can tell.”

“Oh, but we are,” he said, “We are clinging and intermixed.”

“But you seem so apart.”

“It is for our own protection.”

“So you are a Continuum, but you keep separate. And otherwise, you would have no selfhood at all,” she said.

“We would control each other.”

“But do you want to be together at all? Even a little bit?”

“A bit,” he admitted, “Without the controlling, though. If that is even possible. May I bring you to another main event as we continue talking?”

“Positive or negative?”

“Positive. But it may be a bit stressful.”

“You'll put him on molasses time?” she asked, indicating Declan.

“Of course,” The scene changed.

=/=



“You'll spoil your appetite.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



There was a clattering of dishes. It was the back of an industrial kitchen, and people were running around. They were human, Vulcan, Tellarite and Andorian.

“This isn't the back of Reversal,” Lili said.

“Correct.”

There was a clock on the wall, and it scrolled through the time – eighteen hundred and a half hours – the temperature – 15.56 degrees C – to the date – November 12, 2191.

“I'm, huh, I'm eighty-two years old and I'm still working in a kitchen?”

“Just watch.”

“Comin' through! Hot stuff!” yelled a Tellarite with a tray.

Lili looked around. There was a PADD on a counter. It was in sleep mode, and she immediately recognized the slide show, “There's Joss's Prom picture,” she said.

The slide show continued. It was Joss and Jia on their wedding day. Another photograph was of Doug and Melissa, on a hunting trip. She swallowed hard when she saw that one. Another photograph was two silver Calafan women, a mother and a daughter, “Is that Yimar?” Lili asked.

“Yes. Do you recognize the younger one?” Q asked.

“Yinora, right?” Q nodded. The slide show continued. There was a formal photograph of her with Malcolm and Declan, and Ethan Shapiro, with Karin and, evidently, their two daughters. Declan was maybe twenty or so, “What occasion is this?”

“Alia Shapiro's Bat Mitzvah,” Q answered.

Then there was a short movie, of her and Malcolm dancing at the Bat Mitzvah. They were smiling so broadly at each other as he twirled her around the floor, “Wow. We're, well, we're good. How the heck did that happen? Malcolm's always so self-conscious.”

“It was one of his wedding presents to you – dance lessons.”

“Oh,” she said, a little disappointed.

“I thought you would be pleased,” Q said.

“I am, and I'm not,” Lili said, “Now the surprise is spoiled.”

She looked back at the slide show. There was Declan again, with a woman who looked a bit like Pamela. It was obviously another wedding photograph, “Who is that?”

“Louise Schiller.”

“Do I like her?”

“You won't see her very much,” Q said.

“So Declan is the divorced child, right?”

“That is correct.”

There was another picture, this time of Neil, with Yinora and with a human woman, an arm around each of them. Then there was another, with Neil and the human woman and a baby. An age-spotted hand reached out and grabbed the PADD before Lili could see more snapshots.

It was her older self. She was more stooped, and was moving a bit slowly. She'd gained a kilo or so. She was wearing chef's whites and a USS Bluebird baseball cap, “Brian!” she called out, “Where are the lettuces?”

“Here,” he said, coming in. Brian Delacroix was in his fifties, and was dressed like the elder Lili was. He was carrying an enormous bag of romaine lettuce.

“Good,” she said, “What about the red deer tongues?”

“This meal is supposed to be vegetarian,” said a Vulcan helper nearby.

“It is,” Brian said, “Red deer tongues are a kind of dark purple lettuce.”

“Oh,” said the Vulcan, “Try the refrigeration unit.”

“C'mon, people!” the elder Lili called out, “Plomeek broth is already out there. We need to be plating!”

Andorians had plates lined up and were loading them up. The elder Lili came over, “Okay, that's good. Now, split that up a bit. Tear up the romaine a little. And that blueberry! Look at that. It's squashed. Toss it, get another one. Okay? You're doing fine.”

She ran off to attend to some other detail.

The younger Lili said, “I had no idea I was so, Gawd, nutty about such things.”

“This is an important banquet,” Q said, “You had reason to.”

“Maybe so, but even I don't want to work for me right now.”

“Watch.”

“Almonds! Where are the almonds?” yelled Brian.

“A moment,” said a Tellarite, “Here.”

“Those are the smoked,” Brian said, “Only put them on the plates with two stripes. For the plates with one stripe, use the plain almonds. Not everybody likes smoked almonds. Okay?”

“Peppers? Where are my red peppers?” Lili called out.

A Tellarite girl appeared, “Here.”

“Okay, one ring to a customer,” The elder Lili said, “How are you coming with the pineapple, Tarina?”

An Andorian girl was slicing pineapple, “Almost there.”

“Good,” The elder Lili said, “Okay, now, where are my beets?”

=/=



'We don't know if you can make one meal out of all of these things at the same time, but we'd like to see you try, and we will eat it no matter what it tastes like. Congratulations from the Tactical Department' – card accompanying gift from the Tactical Department (written by Malcolm)

=/=



“We're making Harvest Salads,” The younger Lili said, “I used to make them at my first restaurant, Voracious.

“These have a significance,” Q said, “Although I am seeing that, it seems strange to communicate through food.”

“You don't eat, I forgot,” she said, “See, communications aren't just verbal and visual. They can be smell and taste and touch. Your people, they aren't communicating at all, Q.”

“I – huh. You're right,” Q said distractedly, “That's surprisingly perceptive of you.”

=/=



“It tastes like chicken.” – Hoshi Sato

“Are you making good sauces?”– Lili Beckett

=/=



The scene shifted to the banquet hall itself. Vulcans were clearing soup bowls as the elder Lili and Brian stood near the dais. Councilman Archer stood at a lectern, and spoke, “I'm sure we all enjoyed the Vulcan contribution to this evening, the Plomeek broth,” he said, “As we all know, thirty years ago, we had a vision of species working together. And four species stepped up. They were Vulcans, they were Tellarites, they were Andorians, and they were humans. And I was privileged to speak at that event. And today, I am so privileged to be here for this dinner.”

=/=



Back in 2161, in the cellar, the children were getting a bit antsy, “Who's up for sandwiches?” asked Melissa, as Malcolm tapped on his PADD and looked at the pictures he had taken of the funnel cloud enveloping the house and the cars. There were a few pictures that truly disturbed him. One was taken in the back, and there were slight breaks in the swirling snow. Through those breaks, he could see copper. Zooming in, he realized it was a Calafan workman at the neighbor's unfinished house. That workman seemed wholly unconcerned with the funnel cloud. It was as if he couldn't see it. And perhaps that was the case. Malcolm knew that it was entirely possible that no one knew that they were trapped within the funnel.

“Oh, uh, sandwiches,” Doug said absently, “Sure. Here, I'll help you.”

Norri tore off chunks of French bread and they smeared it with orange marmalade and cashew butter and hoped the children would be hungry enough to eat such unfamiliar fare as the storm continued to rage above.

=/=



“But the lone jar of orange marmalade. You know I love it but I think there's more to it than that, in particular as it's the only one from Fortnum & Mason.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“And I've kept you from the second course long enough,” Councilman Archer said, “To let you know what you are eating, I'd like to introduce you to our two human chefs for this evening. Lili Reed owns Reversal on Lafa II and has been a professional chef for the better part of six decades. Brian Delacroix is the chef on the USS Bluebird, and has been so since 2180. Take it away, Lili and Brian.”

There was some applause. The elder Lili said into a voice amplifier, “Thank you. We are so pleased to be making you your second course today. When Brian and I were asked to do this, we were a little nervous. And then we got our assignments, and it all fell into place. For who better to make the soup course, than the Vulcans? And who better, of our four founding species, to make the dessert, than the Andorians? And who is better for your main dish, than the Tellarites?”

“Yes,” Brian added, “And what we wanted to do was make you a salad that would evoke our home system. You see – and I suspect you all know this, but it bears repeating – there are eight planets in the solar system. Only two can support sentient life – Earth and Mars. But we humans have adapted to any number of moons and asteroids and even plutoids. Back in her days at Voracious, this was in nearby San Mateo, Lili used to make a Harvest Salad. In fact, that's how she was hired – Councilman Archer loved her Harvest Salad so much that he brought her on board.”

The elder Lili looked down and blushed a bit. Brian continued, “We also realized that there are seven colors of the visible spectrum, and the point of the Harvest Salad was not just to celebrate the passing of summer into autumn, but also to showcase the many colors of produce.”

The elder Lili spoke again, “Our vision was to match the colors to foods and to places in the solar system where humans live. Since we needed one more color, we added brown and hope you will indulge us this little change. As you can see, on the plates you are being given, the dish is very colorful. Representing red are red pepper rings. They were grown on Earth, in Malaysia, which is where my husband is from. So there's a personal connection for me. Ah, there he is, next to Councilman Archer,” she smiled, and the younger Lili looked, and saw Malcolm, who was greyer and his face was more lined, and he was grinning broadly.

The elder Lili continued, “Orange is represented by Mandarin orange slices that come from Mars, which is where both Brian and I attended cooking school. But he's a few classes behind me,” she smiled, “Yellow is pineapple chunks,” Both she and the younger Lili looked at Malcolm, who held up one on a fork, clearly pleased that she had snuck his favorite in there, “They were grown on Ceres, a place that is dear to my, my sisters.”

“I guess I must mean Melissa and Norri,” The younger Lili said, “Sisters.”

“The green is romaine lettuce, from Ganymede, which is Jupiter's largest moon. My, my first husband, he was from there. Blue is, of course, blueberries. They are from Mimas, which is one of Saturn's moons. And Brian is from there, so we have another personal connection. Violet is represented by red deer tongue lettuce, grown on Umbriel, a Uranian moon. Don't be alarmed – the salad is vegan, as are five of the eight dressings. Neptune, and indigo, they are represented by pickled beets from Nereid, one of Neptune's moons. That is another personal connection, as the beautiful Mrs. Delacroix is from there. This is the only cooked portion of the dish. And, finally, our extra color, brown, and to cover the planets we can't live on, Mercury and Venus, we have almonds from Pluto. You may recall, you were asked prior to this dinner whether you liked a little spice. If you said yes, your plate has two stripes, and your almonds have a smoky flavor. If you said no, then your plate has one stripe, and your almonds are unseasoned.”

“We also have eight dressings,” Brian said, “You should have the assortment on your tables by now. Of course, dressing isn't required. Three of the choices are dairy. They are ranch, which is made with buttermilk; parmesan peppercorn which is not too spicy; and there is a creamy Roquefort. The vegan dressings are Mandarin Ginger, which we used to make on the NX-01; a balsamic vinaigrette; an orange vinaigrette with just a hint of tomato and basil; French, which is oil and vinegar and tomato paste with some mild spices; and tahini, which is ground sesame seeds. If you are adventurous, I recommend the Mandarin Ginger or the orange vinaigrette. If you prefer your dressing mild, go with the French. Or you can go completely without. Salt and pepper grinders are on your tables as well.”

Together, they both said, “Bon Appétit!

Lili saw her older self walk with Brian to the Admiral's table. She kissed Malcolm and he fed her a blueberry, and that made her laugh. Brian stood behind a woman who was obviously his wife and rubbed her shoulders.

=/=



“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.” – Doug Hayes

“Nothing says love like leftovers.” – Lili O'Day

=/=



“Communications,” said Q as they returned to the hospital room and the present time.

“Yes. We telegraphed a lot of things that evening. It wasn't just what we said, but we also, I feel, got across, our love of what we do, and how we want to please people.”

“And more.”

“Yes. We told everyone there that some people are very special to us,” she took the chain out from within her hospital shift, showing Q the key charm and her wedding ring on it, “I wear these so that people know that I am in love.”

“Not for possession?”

“No. And the Calafans – they don't quite get it. For them, it's the same perspective as yours – that it's a sign of possession. But it isn't. At least, not with us. Instead, it's a sign of our commitment, to be sure, but also to tell others – I am a woman in love.”

“To call them off?”

“A little. But also just because, well, I would shout it from the rooftops if I could. This is why I could never have had an affair with Malcolm. I would be found out in a half a minute, because I'd be too open about it,” she smiled.

“So, no discretion?” Q asked.

“Well, some. I don't share movies of my lovemaking sessions, or anything. Except, I guess, with you,” she said, a little sourly.

“Oh, well,” he looked down.

“Were you taking notes on technique?”

“No,” he said, “You are very loud.”

“I know,” she said, “I have to communicate my joy.”

“Joy,” he said, absently.

“Yes,” she said, “And what you showed me of the Continuum, you don't seem to have it. Is that a part of why you are fighting?”

“It isn't supposed to be,” he said.

“If you are so powerful, why are you all so miserable? Do you have any togetherness at all?”

“You mean beyond the overall unity?”

“Yes. You said there's mating. Have you got a girlfriend, Q? Or did you?”

“I don't suppose that's the right word.”

“So you do. Or did.”

“Yes,” he said.

“Are you joyous together?”

“Are you asking about whether we do it and have fun doing it?” he was a bit defensive.

“No. I'm just asking if, when you kiss, or whatever your equivalent is, does it make your heart race? If you even have a heart, that is. Or arouse you? Or not even that. Does it make you feel warm and happy and accepted and special? Did you see Brian, as he rubbed his wife's shoulders? Wordless, yet communicating. He was telling her, that he loves her, that she is important, that there are a few hundred, maybe a thousand people in that room, but no one is better or more important. Do you tell your girl that?”

“I hardly think –-”

“Does she have a name?”

“She's a Q. We are all Q. You can call her that.”

“No,” Lili said, “If you want to be individuals, you need names. The only woman's name I can think of that starts with a Q is Queenie. And I've never liked that.”

“Me neither. It seems presumptuous.”

“Hmm. I don't propose to name her. I am not her mother. But for the purposes of this exercise, perhaps we can call her Joy.

=/=



“What makes you think we'll be leaving here for dinner?” – Doug Hayes

“Do yourself a favor and avoid fruit. Trust me.” – Lili Beckett

Chapter 17 by jespah

“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.” – Doug Hayes

=/=



He returned to the cafeteria. He wasn't, really, hungry, but he was a bit bored and didn't really know what to do with himself.

It had been kind of the captain to give him the day off, but he was now lost. The moment he'd sent the letter to Jennifer, he had expected to feel a sense of relief. Instead, he still felt lost.

He got some of the eggplant parmesan and sat down. There was a table with Commander Tucker and a bunch of MACOs. He could have sat there. Hoshi and José Torres were sitting at a different table, and he supposed he could have sat with them, but that seemed to be the very essence of being the fifth wheel.

And he was feeling more and more like a fifth wheel.

He barely noticed when Shelby Pike sat down with him, “Hiya,” she said.

“Oh, uh, hi.”

“You okay, Travis?” she asked.

“Me? Uh, I guess so,” he dug his fork in but just twirled it around, not really taking any food.

“Yanno,” she said, “this is so high in carbs, it's not funny. When I was dancing, I'd have to keep my weight really low. I never ate like this,” she said, grabbing a small forkful and swallowing, “It's funny. I still have the mindset much of the time.”

“Oh? Uh, you don't need to watch,” he said. She definitely didn't.

“Oh, but I do,” she said, “I mean, I would know. Yanno what I mean?”

“I guess so.”

“Travis,” she said softly, “I know you and I aren't close. But I can tell that something is bothering you. You, uh, you don't need to tell me anything. I just want you to know that it matters to me that you're not feeling up to par.”

“Thank you,” he looked at her and smiled a little. How do you begin? He thought to himself. Is this how it should get started? Should it get started?

“I have pumpkins ripening in the Botany Lab,” she said, “They're so pretty. Would you, uh, want to see them some time?”

Maybe something really was beginning.

“Sure,” he said, and found his appetite again.

=/=



“I, there are so many things I've wanted to say to you. Not just here, but for the past two years, Lili-Flower. And now I just can't.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Joy?” Q asked.

“Is that too presumptuous?”

“Not necessarily,” he said, “It's just, it's not so easy. There is a history.”

“If we puny humans can change, why can't the almighty Q?”

“Your attitudes certainly change,” Q said, “Like your words. I have, as we have gone along, I have replayed some of your words in my mind. And others' words as well.”

“Others? You mean Doug and Malcolm's?”

“And more,” he said, “Everyone from your children when you saw them in the mirror future, to your captain, to aliens you've met and even ones you have never met. I have noticed that sometimes you are rather prescient.”

“But I bet, most of the time, that we're not.”

“Yes,” Q said, “And sometimes the reverse happens.”

“We can't predict the future,” she said, “I expect our words can often come back to haunt us.”

“Most certainly. When you talked about your husband making strong and healthy children, and then Kevin came along, you were proven completely wrong.”

“Yes,” she said, then picked up Declan, who moved a bit but didn't fuss, “Knowing the future like this, it's odd. I look at a newborn, but now I can see the divorced man, too. Is he alone for a long time?”

“That marriage was very short,” Q said, “Less than three of your years.”

“Oh,” she kissed the top of his head, “Was it very bitter, or was it amicable?”

“Details, as you have seen, are not necessarily of my concern,” Q said, “But there was a court case and a lot of paperwork filed. He ended up moving back in with you and the short Brit. I suppose I could call him the second short Brit.”

“Huh. He's not from Britain.”

“No, but when he attends Oxford, he picks up the accent.”

“And now I see a child who barely knows how to cry and suddenly I can see him reading John Donne aloud. And painting and drawing, too. I guess he got that from my mother. And Neil – he's not even here yet, but I have seen his women, and his child. He has an arrangement like mine, yes?”

“Yes, he does.”

“And Joss, I see him learning to hit the curveball, and beginning to understand fractions, and I also see him marrying his High School sweetheart. And Marie Patrice, a little girl, I see her as my Maid of Honor. It's all mixed-up.”

“As a Q, we see the beginning, the middle and the end of all main things, all of the things that cannot be changed.”

“Do you see the end to your war?”

“That way is cloudy,” he said, “Which is unprecedented. It is ... unsettling.”

“I can see where knowing the end could be comforting. Even if it's an unpleasant end. I still think I would be a neurotic mess – will be, what am I saying? – when June of 2181 rolls around. But you're right, there is a sense of being prepared.”

“Preparation is not necessarily a bad thing.”

“True,” she allowed, “But I don't want to be smothering. You can be together and not be smothering, Q. That's a part of being together and also being apart a bit. Allowing someone else their space is pretty vital.”

“Shall I prepare you for another main event?”

She looked at him, and then put the baby back into the bassinette, “I – this one won't be positive, right?”

“That is correct.”

She swallowed hard, “The topic keeps sliding around. It comes and goes, and I feel I lose the thread of continuity. Will you, will we get it back? Does this have anything to do with it?”

“It does. And we will.”

The scene began to change.

=/=



“Our house burned down when I was nine. My parents were trapped inside. My father died when a beam fell on him. He was found on top of my mother. I guess he was protecting her somehow.” – Lili Beckett

“But please, don't be gone completely. Answer me tomorrow. Please, please answer. I want so very much to continue to believe.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



It was the same warm house that was not her house. But Lili knew that there was a video cutout, so she went to it first.

There was a picture of a Calafan family, and she recognized Yinora. The man was undoubtedly her husband. They had three children, a girl and two boys. The Bat Mitzvah photo was next. Then Tommy in a scouting uniform. Then Marie Patrice with a man and a young boy and girl at the girl's High School graduation.

“Who is he?” Lili asked.

“Ken Masterson,” Q said.

“Are they my grandchildren?”

“No. They are from a previous marriage. They are Kelly and Wesley Masterson.”

“Oh.”

The pictures continued. It was Joss and Jia at their wedding. And then Neil and his human woman, with their two children, a boy and a girl.

“Tell me about Neil's family.”

“That is his daytime woman. Her name is Ines Ramirez. Their children are Jennifer Leonora and Martin,” Q said.

“She is the daughter of Jenny and Frank, right?”

“Yes. You keep in touch with your Starfleet friends, and the children meet, and such things happen.”

“But Declan's wife, was she somehow in our orbit that way?”

“Her aunt was.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” Q said, “Auntie Pamela Hudson.”

“Ah,” Lili said. The next picture was of Marie Patrice in front of a building that said MP Fashions on the front, “Is that her business?”

“Yes.”

There were sounds coming from another room, so Lili went to investigate.

=/=



“It’s that, it’s that women in love are just, they're so much more beautiful.” – Malcolm Reed

“My real name – the one I was given when I was born – is Charlotte Lilienne O'Day.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“Good morning,” said a much older Lili, in bed, again, with Malcolm.

He had also gone white, and his face was very lined. He smiled at her, “Good morning, my love,” he leaned over and looked at the clock, “Seven hundred hours. And, um, a little less than four and a half degrees. It'll be chilly.”

“Then you can keep me warm?”

“Of course,” he said, “Last night was wonderful,” he kissed her cheek.

“Definitely one of our best times. With, uh, very stiff competition,” she grinned at him.

“Most definitely,” he agreed, “Can I, uh, could I possibly get lucky again this evening?”

“In your dreams!” she said playfully.

“Well, that's about the only way that that's possible these days,” he said, “God bless the Calafans.”

“Yep,” she said, “You're ninety years old and as randy as ever.”

“And you are ninety-three and a half,” he said, “But you don't look it.”

“Sure I do,” she said, “I don't just have parentheses lines; I've got fissures. My hearing is going, you know all of that.”

“I do,” he said, “But, Mrs. Reed – and I don't have to tell you that that is one of my all-time favorite word pairings – well, Mrs. Reed, I am losing my eyesight. So it doesn't matter.”

“In some ways, I wish we could have been together earlier,” she said.

“Well, you would have run faster as I chase you 'round.”

“I would let you catch me,” she said, kissing him, “Did you see that?”

“See what?” he asked.

“Heat lightning.”

=/=



“Lili-Flower.” – Malcolm Reed

“I definitely do. I know. I know that I, that I love you.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



The younger Lili glanced at the clock. There was the date: December third, 2202, “This is Doug's centennial,” she said.

“Correct,” Q said.

“And there is no heat lightning, right?” Q said nothing, “This is her – my – day. Right? Am I right?”

“Just watch.”

“I don't see any heat lighting, Lili-Flower.”

“Maybe my eyes are going, too,” she said, “When do you think Dec will be up?”

“Fairly soon,” he replied, “Perhaps we'll go out shopping for a Christmas tree today. Would you like that?”

“I don't know,” she said strangely, “I just feel like staying here with you.”

“Oh,” he said, smiling and kissing her, “Just you and me, eh?”

“Yes. And, you know, I'd like for him to go out and meet people, but not with us in tow. He needs to meet women. He hasn't been doing that.”

“I know,” Malcolm said, “I suspect he's as much of a late bloomer as I was.”

“But he's also got a painful divorce in his background, which you didn't have.”

“I was self-conscious enough,” he said, “It was so very difficult to get to know anyone, and for such a long time.”

“I know,” she said, “Of course, if you and I had been together earlier, other things wouldn't have happened. We wouldn't have our dear Joss or Neil or any of them. I wouldn't have been receptive to Doug at all.”

“I'm glad things turned out the way they did,” he said, “Because, for one thing, with Doug, you are a devoted grandmother, a few times over.”

“And you are the best grandfather,” she said, “There's more heat lightning. Are you sure you're not seeing it?”

“I'm not,” he said.

“Huh. What's today's date?”

“The third.”

“Oh, my,” she said, “Doug would have been one hundred today.”

He held her close, “He was like a brother to me. I never had one, you know. Have we done him justice, do you think?”

“Yes,” she said, “The room is very grey. It needs a scrubbing.”

“It's the same,” Malcolm said, “Blue walls, furniture, little knickknacks and things, the usual things we have. It hasn't changed.”

“It has,” the elder Lili said, “Malcolm, I think I know what that means.”

“Tell me,” he said voice a little shaky.

“I think it's my day.”

=/=



“I love you beyond all reason, beyond all hope, beyond all belief and beyond all faith.” – Malcolm Reed

“I didn't understand it before, but I think I do now. You see, there are a thousand reasons why things wouldn't work, and hopes can be dashed. Beliefs can be wrong and faith can be tested. But with love, things do work, hopes are restored, beliefs are proven and faith is, it's rewarded.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“Shall I call Declan, or the doctor?” he asked, a bit alarmed.

“No,” she said, “I don't think this can be stopped.”

“Don't leave me,” he said.

“I'm going to have to.”

“But we've only just been able to be together.”

“Malcolm, we have been together, in one way or another, for over forty years.”

“It's not enough time,” he said, “Don't, don't leave.”

“I don't have a choice in the matter.”

“Can't it be fought?”

“No. You just get, you get weaker. I mean, I don't know if I can walk or even sit up. Or even if I should – maybe I should save my strength, you know?”

“Here, I'll come to you,” he said, and kissed her very gently.

She smiled at him, “No one kisses like you.”

“Or you.”

“I'll miss you,” she said, “But I have a feeling, it just might not be that long.”

“I don't imagine how it could be,” he said, “For I cannot live.”

“Listen carefully, okay?”

“Yes.”

“There are recipes in the kitchen. There's the box, but there are some behind the box. Those are the ones that nobody else makes. Give them to Neil. He's the only one of the children who cooks. I know he will make good sauces and good empanadas. I want my ring, and yours, when you are ready, to be Declan's. And the key, too. I have a feeling – I can't explain it – but I feel he will remarry. I think he is too wonderful to not be loved. He will be loved. And it'll be better. Will you do those things?”

“You know I will.”

“I want Tommy to have all of the things I have from Doug. Joss may look more like Doug, but Tommy is Doug's clone so far as I can see. And Joss, I relinquish my share of the old house to him. It will be his, free and clear. Except for my wedding ring and the key, I want all of my personal things to go to Marie Patrice. Every scrap, every bit of jewelry, everything. You have everything else.”

“I don't want things. I want you.”

“I'm sorry,” she said, “You are my heart. You are my soul. But I have to do this.”

“Your heart is broken. Your soul is damaged.”

“No, no,” she said, “You and I will be together. Somehow. I know it,” she said, “Kiss me, please.”

He did so, “I love you so completely. I have never given myself over to anyone like I have to you. And I never will again.”

“It's clearing,” she said, “Before, I could only see you. But now I can see it.”

“What is it?”

“It's a bridge. A stone bridge, with stone sides. But it's not, it's not a scary river that it's over. It's just, it's more, I guess, to keep your feet dry.”

“A safe bridge, then?” he asked, voice shaking more.

“Yes, it's very safe. And there are people coming.”

“When you go with them, that will be it, right?”

“I think so. Please, please kiss me. I can't turn my head or I would do it myself.”

He did so, “Oranges. Sunshine and happiness.”

“Yes,” she said, “I can see my parents. My father, he has a wrench with him. He used to tinker. And my mother, she has one of those little scoring knives for pottery. She has two boys with her.”

“Two?”

“Yes. Kevin is older. He's, he's got a handful of dirt. And the other one, I don't know him, but somehow I think he might be Declan O'Day. The brother I never had on this side of the pond. And he's got a baseball glove.”

“Then you can play again, like you did when you were young.”

“Yes,” she said, “It must be heaven if there's baseball.”

“I guess it must be,” he said, a little calmer.

“A man like you. And two tall men. Jay Hayes, with, with a hammer. And,” she smiled, “Doug.”

“Everyone's carrying something. What does he have?”

“I don't understand it,” she said, “And I think – I know – it's delayed. He has to do something before he can use it. He's not quite finished yet.”

“What does he have for you, my dearest love?”

“It's, huh, it's a wooden spatula. Pancakes are on the menu, I think.”

“Then they shall be wonderful. Do save me one.”

“As many as you want. I love you so completely, Malcolm. I, I want to be next to Doug. With room on the other side, for you.”

“Anything,” he said.

“A kiss?”

“Yes,” he said, and kissed her, “I love you, Mrs. Lili Reed.”

She looked at him, and smiled, and said, “I love you, Malcolm,” Then she looked up, and said, “Happy birthday, Doug. I'm ready.”

There was a gasp of air leaving.

Malcolm let out a loud wail, an incoherent sound that wasn't a word.

Declan came running in, “Dad! Dad!” he cried out.

“She is gone. She is gone. She is gone.”

=/=



“You are right here, always.” – Malcolm Reed

“Even after I die, I will love you.” – Lili Beckett

“Just because she's, she's dead, that doesn't mean that I can't still love her.” – Doug Beckett

Chapter 18 by jespah

“There are, I'm figuring, three of them.” – Travis Mayweather

=/=



The hospital room was small and quiet, and it was slightly redolent of disinfectant, but at that moment, it was all Lili wanted to see.

She sat on the edge of the bed and cried a little, feeling a bit disoriented.

“I knew it,” Q said.

“Huh?”

“Mourning for yourself,” he replied.

“You don't know me at all,” she said, “For if you did, you'd realize how wrong that statement really is. I don't pretend that I'm not a bit shocked by it all. But I go peacefully. I'm not in pain, I'm not alone and I'm not frightened. I am with a man who completely loves me and I love him. I can scarcely think of a better way to go, clear-eyed and aware. It is him who I am crying for. He is so lost, so despairing. And he doesn't deserve to have you looking over his shoulder at his grief.”

“He is – that sound,” Q said.

“The yawp,” she said, “It's from Walt Whitman's Song of Myself,” she quoted, “Um, 'I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.'“

“It is a primitive sound, from before, even before homo erectus,” he replied.

“I imagine it would be.”

“You made that sound. It was the first time the short Brit touched you.”

She thought back, “It wasn't, uh, because of that. It was because I thought I was about to die, and that the Witannen had killed Marie Patrice, in utero. All our love and hopes for that baby, I thought they were dashed.”

“But instead the Witannen were amping up your libidos. It was the first time you and the short Brit had relations.”

“And it was the first time we kissed passionately,” she said, standing up and walking over to the baby, “And now here is the culmination of that passion.”

“But the sound – it seems to bookend your relationship. One would think that that one would be less primal than the one you had with your husband.”

“Well, we're all animals, at bottom, Q, no matter whether we discuss Jane Eyre or fight hand to hand. How far away are we from chimps, and from homo erectus?”

“Not very,” he said.

“How far away are you and Joy?”

“We are different.”

“I get that, and you need not remind me,” she said, “But how have you evolved? What new niches do you occupy? What is your place?”

“Our place? You've, you've seen it.”

“Yes, but what I really mean is what are your roles? We have day, and we have night. Malcolm doesn't pay my bills, although he's been sending gifts and he will be sending support for Declan, of course. But he won't take on that other role until, well, until I marry him. It's not that I can't do it. I was single for a very long time. And it's not that a man is better at that, or anything of the sort. It's just, we pitch in. We all pull together, but we don't all pull from the same side, otherwise, we wouldn't get any purchase.”

“You mean, that the short Brit is second-best?”

“He isn't. And, please stop calling him that. He has a name. And so does my husband. And so do I. Kindly use them.”

“Uh, all right. But the sh– uh, Reed, he does feel that he is second-best. At least, that is what he says, and he says that for decades.”

“Well, it's not true.”

“And the others. The red-haired one, I mean, Leonora, she says she is not really strong when it comes to the children. And the brown-haired one, Melissa, she says she cannot get you to work together. Yet what they are saying, it is wrong, so far as I can tell.”

“Well, you said, our words are often inaccurate.”

“But this is more than that,” Q said, “It is, there are feelings of inadequacy. Your husband, too, Doug, he seems to wrestle with guilt and conscience, and continues to defer to you, even when it's not in his best interests, or even in yours.”

“That's a recipe for disaster,” Lili said, “He was far too deferential when we first wed. And I just went along because I was happy, and I thought he was, too, and we had a little boy to care for, and the restaurant was starting up and the house was being built, and I suppose I missed any signals he was throwing at me. And I thought it was resolved, or at least better, after the arrangement started, for he could have his, perhaps, truer companion in some ways. She can give him things I cannot. And the same is true in reverse, of course. But he doesn't have to let me have my way all the time. That's not his place. His place is beside me, not under me.”

“This is the opposite of what we deal with in the Continuum,” Q said, “Everyone wants to be on top.”

“Not everyone can be.”

“True. And so we either stick completely together and have no individuality and no separate thoughts, or we squabble like we are now.”

He was faraway-looking for a second.

“Earth to Q? Or, rather, Lafa II to Q?”

“Yes,” he said, “I was, Kathryn suggested a non-aggressive way of ending our conflict. She suggested that perhaps I mate with, well, you're calling her Joy.”

“How many places are you right now?”

“Just here and there,” Q said.

“And then. It's later, right?”

“Yes. 2373. And it's on the USS Voyager, Kathryn's ship.”

“You probably should mate with Joy. It's about finding joy, you see. And I don't mean her, so much, as I mean, well, happiness.”

“Happiness? I'm trying to end a war here.”

“There's no need for you to do so grimly, though. Can none of you smile? Can none of you at least, even, feel a little pleasant?”

“No,” he said, “The weight of the universe is on our shoulders.”

“A pity. Making a baby should be fun. Or at least, it should be hopeful. I know that there are children, still, who are the end product of rape. I'm not so sure why someone goes through with such a pregnancy. But they sometimes do. And the child isn't at fault. I hope that those children are loved, and are ultimately wanted, even if their original emergence wasn't expected, or planned, or wished for. This is, of course, different. Do you love Joy?”

“I –”

“The question is an easy one.”

“You asked Doug this, about Melissa.”

“Yes, I did. And he hemmed and hawed, and he denied it, but in the end, he realized that he did. So I repeat, do you love her?”

“I have nothing to compare it to,” he admitted.

“That might be a start.”

“I, I should show you the next piece,” he said.

“I have little doubt that it will be negative,” she said.

“You are correct.”

She bent over and kissed the baby on the cheek, and then said, “Let's just get this over with.”

The scene changed.

=/=



“Thank you for everything you have said, and done, and everything you haven't said. And when it happens for you, I know it will be just as epic.” – Lili O'Day

“I don't know my own mind, or my own heart, at all.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



It was the same small house where Lili had seen her own death. There was the same video cutout, the same knickknacks, the same cheery yellow painted hall. The photographs scrolled again, a parade of weddings and children and Tommy's scouting uniform and Marie Patrice's business. And there were more, of Joss standing in front of a building with a sign that said Beckett Veterinary Hospital. And there was another, of her and Brian Delacroix at the banquet, with Vulcan, Tellarite and Andorian chefs, all holding up their signature dishes. She had a plate of salad in her hands and Brian held a carafe of the orange vinaigrette dressing. The photographs continuing flying by, of Pamela, even, with a Calafan man, but that one skittered by so quickly that Lili couldn't tell who the man was. And another, of her retirement, an elder self handing over a symbolic fork to Neil, in front of Reversal.

“Is Neil a chef?” she asked.

“No. He just runs the place. The chef after you is a Calafan. Watch.”

Then she saw him. He was standing in a doorway, holding onto it, for it seemed to be difficult for him to really hold himself up well under his own power. He was wearing a dark blue suit, perfectly tailored to him, and Lili realized it was the suit he had worn on their wedding day.

“Dad, hey, you look great!” Declan enthused, and he was so similar to Malcolm that Lili did a double take. He sounded the same, he was the same height and, except for having her light blue eyes and blond hair, he was identical to Malcolm in every way.

“He looks almost exactly like Malcolm did when we first got together.”

“He is forty-one,” Q said, “Watch.”

Lili did a quick calculation in her head, “Then it's not long at all. Thank God,” Then she looked around a little more, and saw Christmas decorations up, “What is it, a month?”

Q directed her to a clock. The time and temperature slid by and then the date: December twenty-sixth, 2202.

“This is a little over three weeks since, well, since,” she said. Q just directed her back.

A family was arriving. It was Joss and Jia and their two children, behind them were Melissa and Norri. Malcolm stood, still holding the door jamb, but he put his right arm out, and Joss hugged him, “Dad, you look good,” he said.

“Thank you,” Malcolm said, “I still get a charge out of you and the others calling me that.”

“Why would we call you anything else, Father?” Jia asked, hugging him. She was perhaps forty or so, a little overweight, and going just a bit grey, but she had a beautiful smile and eyes that seemed guileless.

The children then hugged him. The boy was maybe fourteen, “Jay, my boy,” Malcolm said. And the girl, she was perhaps ten, “Shaoqing,” he said, kissing the top of her head.

“How old are the children?” Lili asked.

“Jay – he is Jay Hayes Beckett – he is twelve. And Shaoqing, she's seven,” Q said.

“I guess the mirror genes aren't quite done yet,” Lili said.

Malcolm then greeted Norri and Melissa, and told them both that they looked beautiful. They were both obviously in their mid to late sixties, but they smiled and took his compliments graciously.

“I'm so glad I could see Tommy yesterday,” he said, “And Neil and his brood, and Marie Patrice. Thank you for hosting us,” he said to Joss.

There was busying in the kitchen, and the children went outside. Malcolm was left alone with Jia, “May I ask you,” He said, “could you help me to the garden, please?”

“Of course,” she said, taking his arm, “The day is pretty warm, and the suns are shining brightly,” The walked together slowly and he leaned on her often. He looked around, and seemed to be looking for something.

She set him down on a chair overlooking not only the daylilies but also the two markers, and there was freshly overturned earth next to the larger of the two markers, “Oh, maybe I shouldn't be facing you this way,” she said.

“No, no, it's perfect,” he said, “I can look at her now.”

“You don't have to be reminded right now,” Jia said.

“It's, it's all right. I, you see, most of the time, I just, I'm in the parlor, and I think to myself that she's in the kitchen, and she's making something, but it hasn't quite warmed up yet, so I can't smell it yet. Or perhaps it's raw, like a salad, or some cut-up fruit, so I wouldn't smell the aroma. Or I'm in the kitchen, and I think she's in the front of the house, just coming in with the car, and maybe she needs my help with the groceries. Or I'm in the front, and I think she's out back here, and is weeding the garden or picking flowers or pulling up a carrot. Or I'm coming home, and I think she's in the bedroom, just slipping on her shoes, and about to come out and greet me. Or I'm in our bedroom, and I'm alone, and I think to myself, that she's over at her house with Doug.”

“Father, when my own father died, my mother, she had the same visions,” Jia said, “She would think he was out back clipping the hedges or at work. I guess it makes it easier.”

“It does. For you can think, for just a moment, that they really are there, and not truly gone. That they are still close,” he touched the cuff on his wrist and then pulled out an embroidered handkerchief and used it, “She, she gave me this, both things, actually. She says that I can never have enough handkerchiefs. Said. She said.”

“It's all very new,” Jia said, “No one minds if you get the verbs wrong.”

“I did some research,” he said, changing the subject, “Do you know what your name means?”

“Yes,” she looked down.

“It means beautiful,” he said.

“I know. I can't live up to it.”

“Stuff and nonsense,” he said, “You are beautiful. And Shaoqing – I am so delighted at her name. Young blue. Lili likes blue. Liked.

Jia smiled at him, “Pity there's nothing in the garden right now.”

“It's just bulbs under there,” he said, “They'll come up in the spring, even though things look greyish right now.”

“It's sunny,” she said, “No grey.”

He thought for a moment, “Interesting,” he finally said.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“You always give the best presents,” Jia said, “How do you do it?”

“Oh, well, pull up a chair and I shall tell you my secrets, for you are a beautiful woman and we spies cannot resist such temptresses as yourself.”

She smiled and blushed a little and got a chair for herself.

“Tell you what, you give me a scenario and we'll work it through together.”

“All right,” Jia said, “It'll be Marie Patrice's forty-third birthday on January eleventh. And I have no idea what to give her.”

“Excellent example,” he said, “Now, what have you been observing about her lately? Something that might be a tad uncomfortable. This would be something that she might not talk about.”

“Hmm,” Jia thought a moment, “She squints a lot.”

“Good detective skills,” Malcolm smiled, “And why is that?”

“Because she's beginning to lose her eyesight. She'll need an operation soon.”

“Yes. I've had a few of those over the years. They don't give them at my age, you see. So we all go down and into our nineties and beyond with flawed eyesight. Perhaps that will change in the future, but right now, life's a bit blurry, although I can see you perfectly clearly,” he smiled at her, “So she'll have the work done. And it's not frightening or painful, and the success rate is, it's virtually guaranteed.”

“Yes. But I think it would remind her that she's, well, she's getting older.”

“We all are,” Malcolm said, “Except for those who belong to the ages, eh?” he indicated the markers.

“Except for them,” Jia said.

“So if she is thinking that she is getting older, what else might she be thinking?”

“That she's becoming less attractive, maybe?”

“Perhaps. Her mother was older than she is now, when she and Doug got together. And Lili was fifty when I, I, when our arrangement began. And Ken loves Marie Patrice a great deal. I don't think it's vanity. But Marie Patrice may still feel she's not what she was. And none of us are.”

“I guess we aren't what we once were,” Jia admitted, “Hmm. So maybe something that would make her feel more attractive would be good?”

“That's the idea. What would you suggest?”

“She might like going to a spa.”

“That's an idea.”

“But you know, she might feel I'm singling her out,” Jia said.

“Possibly. You don't want to send a message that you really think her looks are fading.”

“Of course not,” Jia said, “Hmm. Maybe I could go with her. Or maybe all four of us – me, her, Ines and Yinora.”

“That's the gift,” Malcolm said, “It fulfills that unstated, unspoken purpose, but the reality is that it does much more, because it's a day that the four of you can all have together.”

“Thank you,” she said, “What will you be getting Marie Patrice?”

He thought for a moment, “Nothing,” he said.

“I don't understand.”

“I shan't be around,” he said, “For this is my day.”

=/=



“It's, it's ionization. It happens in these dreams when people who have really connected and bonded reunite after not having been together for a while. It's happened between me and Doug, and it's happening now between you and me. And I wouldn't expect anything less.” – Lili Beckett

“It is my only certainty. I love you.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Your day?” Jia got up, a little scared.

“Yes.”

“I'll get Declan and Joss.”

“No, no. Just make sure the children are playing elsewhere. But do stay with me.”

“Of course,” she sat back down.

“I, it's funny,” Malcolm said, “I would have preferred to have gone back on the third. And I thought I would, for my heart was – is – so shattered that it feels like I could not have possibly continued. Yet I did, for a little while. And now, to die in the company of a beautiful woman, it is, well, it is all I can hope for, all I can aspire to.”

She took his hand, “You have been very much like a father to me since my own father passed.”

“I spent a goodly part of the first half of my life thinking I would never be anyone's father. And now I am the patriarch of this great family, and you call me that, and Joss, and Thomas, and Neil and Marie Patrice and, of course, Declan, who is the only one who should, by rights. And your children and Neil's, and even Yinora's, they call me Granddad. My only hope, the only thing I have not seen, is for Declan to find a great love.”

“He will.”

“It's all, Lili had said this, it's all rather grey and gauzy. It doesn't matter what the real weather is, I suppose your last day is always mostly cloudy,” he looked a little wry, “Until it suddenly clears. And I am not there quite yet.”

“Tell me anything that you, you need to tell me,” Jia said.

“For Joss, I hope he will like, I have some books. Except for Jane Eyre. I would like for that to be Neil's. Any medals of mine, they should go to Tommy. My uniforms, they are building the Temporal Museum here, and I believe they will want some of them, and perhaps some medals, so work with Tommy, please, to get that squared away.”

“Of course.”

“And for whatever clothing remains, it is, of course, for my daughter. Mine, I never said that before, but Marie Patrice is my daughter, I suppose. I hope she can find something of value, and spin her magic and make it beautiful. After your, your holiday with her.”

“Yes,” Jia said, smiling.

He touched the cuff carefully, trembling fingers tracing its complicated scrollwork in dull, grey metal, “This is for Declan, as is my wedding ring. Lili's ring and her key, they are also for him. They are in the top drawer of her bureau, with her other private things, her pretty lingerie and the like. There's an old card in there as well, it was to commemorate her first marriage, from the Tactical Department on the old NX-01. I, I wrote the card for her. At the time, I didn't want her to know. But now she knows, she has known for decades. I know it's a silly thing, just a bit of paper. But I understand how Declan is right now. That, that card, it was written with every bit of longing I had in me. And I can see that he, too, is filled with longing. All I can pray for is for his longing to be fulfilled soon. The house, naturally, will be his. I hope he can fill it with at least one more person. Please have him over often – he will be lonely, and, I am sure, too stubborn to ask if he can come over.”

“Even though we live nearby?”

“I know him. Lili knows him. He is just like I was.”

“I will extend the invitation – again and again, if I have to.”

“Thank you. Things are clearer now.”

“Tell me, what do you see?”

“People,” he said, “There is, it's supposed to be, I think, a bridge, but it's hard to tell. But I do see my father and my mother. My father, he is, he's holding one of those little glassine bags he used to use to capture insects. And my mother, she has knitting needles, and is working on some sort of project,” he smiled, “There are others. There is Kevin, and he has, this is wondrous, but he has not only a bit of earth in his hands, but there is a small seedling in it.”

“What will it be?”

“I don't know. A man with my own face, from years ago, how very strange. He must be a counterpart to me – he is perhaps the age I was when Lili and I first met. And I can see them, for they were both tall. Jay with a hammer and Doug with, oh, how strange.”

“What is it?”

“He seems to be, well, that he has accomplished what he had to do before, and now he can do this great thing. We can.”

“I'm sure it will be a great thing,” Jia said.

“And a beautiful white flame,” he said, “For she is here. And she's right. We are together again. And she has her wooden spatula. And there is a bit of flour in her hair. Her calloo is completely gone, just like it was on her last day. She is ninety-three, she is eighty, she is eighteen, she is forty, she is sixty, she is every age. Some with calloo, some without as she changes before my eyes. And every age is more extraordinary than the last.”

“You should take her hand, Father.”

“Yes. She has a flashing thing in her hand. And I know when I touch it, and I touch her hand, that I will be away from you,” he said, “It is, it is a key.”

“Her key charm?”

“No. It is a real key,” he said, “Lili has the key. Lili-Flower, you have the key.”

=/=



Whene'er you feel you
you are in need

Remember the Lili-Flower
is supported by the Reed
– inscription inside the key Malcolm gave to Lili

=/=



Jia looked up as the warmth faded and Malcolm slumped over. Declan and Joss walked out to where they had been sitting.

“He is with her now,” Jia said.

“And I know just the place for him to stay,” Declan said, as the three of them looked over at the two markers, which would soon be joined by a third and, now, a fourth.

=/=



“It's a new path. Can't we tread it together?” – Malcolm Reed

Chapter 19 by jespah

“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 O'Day

“I'm not the girl they take home to Mother.” – Pamela Hudson

“Really, do I have to do Science, too? It's so damnably dull.” – Empress Hoshi Sato

“Security. I'm wily like a cat.” – Deborah Haddon

=/=



This time, Lili went over and picked up the baby and just held him for a long time. He finally awoke and cried a bit, “I need to feed him again.”

“So feed him.”

“And myself.”

“Oh,” Q said.

“Hmm, soup's cold,” she stirred it a few times.

“What's a better temperature?”

“Uh, about sixty-five and a half Celsius.”

“Try it now,” he said.

She put down the baby for a moment, “Uh, thanks. How are you liking being considerate?”

“It is ... all right.”

“Would Joy let you do things for her?”

“She doesn't need me to.”

“I realize that, Q. But what if you did them anyway?” Lili had a few more spoonfuls and then picked up the baby again. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she fed him again.

“It's not necessary.”

“The daylilies in my garden aren't necessary. They don't feed anyone, and they're hardly needed to scrub the air or anything. I just like them.”

“Did you know that Richard Daniels added a drop of his stem cell growth accelerator to your garden?”

“What does that do?”

“Your daylilies and your asparagus will come up for, well, it's even after his death.”

“Holy cow,” she thought for a moment as the baby continued feeding, “Don't drink so fast, Dec. I'm not going anywhere, my little love.”

“Eating seems so inefficient.”

“Well, to be sure. But it's more than food for him. He is going to equate it with me, and with love and warmth and all good things. I mean, Joss missed the closeness for months after I'd weaned him. I had to – I was expecting Marie Patrice. And he was drinking plenty of milk from a cup. He just wanted to be held close. He would even ask other women. I suppose he was hedging his bets.”

“He actually asked Commander T'Pol.”

Lili laughed, “That's my boy,” she smiled and addressed the baby, “All done? Okay, let's see if we can make a big burp,” she put a hand towel over her shoulder and rubbed the baby's back a little, until he did just that, “Oh, that was epic!” She put him back in the bassinette, “I, uh, what's beyond the bridge?”

“Excuse me?”

“The bridge. I've just seen four people die. Three of them – well, two, at least – they saw a bridge. And the fourth one couldn't communicate and Malcolm, maybe he just couldn't see it because of there being so many people greeting him.”

“Oh. That.”

“Yes, that. Where does it go? Bridges have two ends to them. I know where the first end is. Where is the other end?”

“I, I don't know.”

“What?”

“I don't,” Q admitted, “I am not in your heads. You know this much.”

“So it's not real? It's just the last few minutes of our lives, as our brains are starved of oxygen? We conjure up this, this pretty fantasy in order to feel better? Is that it?”

“I can't be sure.”

“How come? Can't you do everything?”

“We do not go there,” Q said.

“What do you mean?”

“We generally don't die.”

“Huh. Have you always been? Since the Big Bang? Part of the Big Bang, perhaps?”

“A bit afterwards,” he said.

“Hmm. And you live forever? Can nothing kill you? I mean, there's little sense to a war without casualties.”

“We can be killed. By each other,” he said, “And we have been.”

“And what have your people seen?”

“I don't know,” he said, “They don't share that.”

“Are we together, or not? Did Dante get it right? Is it an inferno, a purgatory and a paradise? Did the Romans? Is it Elysian fields? Or the Hebrews, with their calm endings for the righteous and a hellish Gehenna for the wicked? Or the Klingons as they march, ever onward, to Stovokor? Or the Vulcans, in their merging with Surok?”

“If there, if there was an inferno, would not your husband be there?”

=/=



“I'm the bad girl.” – Pamela Hudson

“Don't come back if you fail.” – Empress Hoshi Sato

=/=



“Possibly,” she had to admit, “I don't know. He caused so much suffering when he was on the other side of the pond.”

“Fifteen human dead; eighty-six Denobulans, eleven Andorians, two Vulcans, one Xyrillian, four Kreetassans, two Suliban, twenty-six Klingons – and those are only the ones he looked in the eye. There were also another seven thousand plus Xindi when he would fire on ships and cities from the Defiant's tactical station. The Terran Empire committed genocide on the Xindi. Doug had a hand in that.”

“I know,” she said, “The morality was, it was different.”

“There was no morality.”

“But he tried to do the right thing. He did,” she said, a bit teary again, “And when he came here, he stopped, right?”

“He is not responsible for any deaths in this universe. That is correct,” Q said, “But there is plenty of blood on his hands.”

“You said he struggles with guilt every day. And, and with conscience. They don't even seem to have consciences over there. At least, most of them don't. They act without fear of consequences because there are none.”

“Yes,” Q said, “The Y Chromosome Skew pushed consciences out the window a long time ago in that universe. It is a militaristic society, not unlike Sparta was over here. The parents give their children over to the state, and most of the children are turned loose in front of phaser fire for the amusement and glory of those above them. Or they are killed in a relentless march of promotion and ambition. Or they kill as they fulfill their own desires and ambitions – or just for fun.”

“They are monsters there,” she said, “But I know that there are some who aren't, relentlessly, evil. Susan Cheshire, for one. She teaches.”

“And she drinks,” Q said, “A way, it seems, to deal with it. And she is low class, and pushed around, as you had seen.”

“But most of the women are mistreated over there,” Lili said, “Even with an Empress in charge of things they're still treated like dirt. But Doug, he didn't go around pushing women around.”

Q thought for a moment, and seemed to be checking something, “I have reviewed his history,” he finally said, “And that is accurate.”

“Tell me,” Lili said, “about our counterparts.”

“Why do you want to know?”

“I just do,” she said, “Let's take a detour, out of this side and out of chronological order, okay?”

“My questions don't concern the mirror.”

“I know that they don't. But you've been putting me through a wringer,” she said, “And we might both find there's something of interest there.”

“Well, you know your counterpart died in the 2118 house fire.”

“Yes. And Doug is Jay Hayes's counterpart.”

“And the sho –, uh, Malcolm. You were told that he fought a Gorn and was injured.”

“Yes, Doug initially remembered wrong, and then he recalled it correctly. And Phlox was given something or other to assure that the other Malcolm would not survive. Those I know. Show me Melissa and Norri. That is, if they have counterparts at all. Do they?”

“They do.”

The scene changed.

=/=


“I am a good girl. Until I'm not.” – Pamela Hudson

“Nice women don't.” – Malcolm Reed

“I'm Security. Wily like a cat. And beyond pain.” – Deborah Haddon

“I've got toys.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



It was an apartment. Functional, industrial and free of any decoration or taste whatsoever, it was grey and charmless.

There was a clock projection on the wall, which scrolled through the temperature and the time and then the date – May eighteenth, 2165.

“This isn't long from now at all,” Lili said, “Whose apartment is this?”

“Just watch.”

There were a few tequila bottles on the floor, and the remnants of a uniform had been tossed carelessly in all directions. A leather skirt had been rent in two and the pieces were on the raggedy couch and next to the start of a bit of worn-down linoleum that led to a meager kitchen which had naught on its open shelves but some jarred tomato sauce and an opened box of dried pasta. While they watched, the box tipped over, and out spilled not only dried pasta but also a couple of dozen roaches.

Lili jumped, “Gawd.”

“This is the other side. There are few niceties,” Q said.

“I know. Still,” she shuddered, “Whoever lives here is a slob.”

There were noises, groans as bedsprings squealed.

“I'm afraid to investigate,” Lili said, but did so anyway.

There were two women in bed, rolling and tumbling. One was a redhead; the other, face obscured, was a brunette.

“Are they together, at least?” Lili asked.

The redhead looked up, and it was Norri. She said, “Man oh man, Leah. I don't think my jaw is gonna recover.”

“Ha!” said the brunette, “That was ... acceptable,” she stood up, naked. She was taller than Melissa and a good fifteen or more years older so, by definition, she was older than Norri.

“Who is that?” Lili asked.

“Her name is Leah Benson,” Q said, “Watch.”

“Only acceptable? Sheesh! What'll ya want next?” Norri asked, getting up and grabbing her lover by the arm.

“Oh, I dunno. Everything,” replied Leah, who then kissed her roughly.

“Ahhh. Yeah, my jaw is so outta commission,” Norri said, holding it. She padded into the kitchen, “Huh. No more Chinese food,” she said, after opening the refrigeration unit quickly, “Looks like I'm outta tequila, too.”

“Get more.”

“Sure,” Norri said, “Huh, I gotta do lesson plans first, for next week.”

“Lesson plans?” Lili asked.

“Norri Digiorno is a teacher on this side,” Q said.

“Not an editor. Did she get her doctorate?” Lili asked.

“No. This is, though, you haven't seen it yet as, for you, it has not yet occurred. But this is the day, on the other side, when the one you know does get her doctorate.”

“Funny how it differs,” Lili said, “I know, I know. I'll watch.”

“Don't do the plans,” Leah said, “Go out and get the tequila.”

“In a little while,” Norri said.

“No. Now.”

“C'mon, Leah! I'll lose my job.”

“This is more important,” Leah insisted.

“No. I got work to do,” Norri said, voice rising.

“Gimme my tequila.”

“No. I am busy,” Norri grabbed for a PADD but was thwarted.

Watching, Lili sprang back, “This is not good.”

Leah cracked Norri across the face, a hard hit that, apparently, was not the first ever between them, “What the hell didja do that for?”

“Get me tequila!”

“I'm busy!” Norri hit back.

“Get dressed and get out there. I am waiting,” Leah seethed.

Norri started to dress.

“Faster!” yelled Leah.

“What are you taking that for?” Lili yelled.

“She cannot hear you,” Q said.

“I know. But still,” Lili replied.

Norri had on her clothes, a faded denim jumpsuit over which she'd thrown a misshapen cardigan. She was looking around for her shoes.

“Go faster!” Leah demanded.

“I can't find my shoes!” Norri yelled back.

This brought Leah over, and she grabbed the smaller woman and knocked her over, “That'll teach you.”

There was a hard, red mark on Norri's face as she struck back, but she was in a prone position and didn't have good leverage. Now Leah held her down and pummeled her, “You will do what I tell you.”

“Y-yes,” Norri squeaked out.

But Leah wasn't waiting to hear that, and put her hands around Norri's neck.

Norri only struggled a little, and then there was a sickening crack.

Leah got up off the body, found her uniform and put it on. She ransacked Norri's pockets to find money, and then a drawer to find jewelry, then left the apartment, not even bothering to shut the door behind her.

=/=



“Get me my ships! Get me my legions!” – Empress Hoshi Sato

“I know you were raised by two women, at least, that was up until eleven or so years ago. And one of them had brown hair and brown eyes that were as big as saucers. And the other one, she was auburn, and books were really important to her. And you saw a British guy sometimes, and he brought you presents every Christmas. Until you ended up here, drawn, somehow, by something. But only half of you belongs here. And the rest belongs on the other side. We humans, we can't go through that portal, not without a lotta help. But you belong over there. And today is the day you're going back there.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



“My God,” Lili said, “It’s so, so senseless.”

“This side is without morality. You already knew that,” Q reminded her.

“I know. But, whoa. Who is Leah?”

“A pilot,” Q said, “For a transport company. Nothing more.”

“That's what my father did for a living. Does she have a counterpart on this side?”

“Why, yes. Leah Benson is the official Starfleet Rabbi.”

“And Norri dies – at least that one does – because she can't get dressed fast enough. There's no other reason?”

“No.”

“If there's an inferno, they should be in charge of it,” Lili said, “They should own it. The twenty side, the mirror side, whatever you want to call it, it doesn't matter, but they should have the inferno named for them.”

“Yes. There are few innocents on that side.”

“Declan O'Day, right?” Lili asked.

“And your counterpart as well,” Q said, “Small children may have their petty cruelties, but they are generally not the killers of fellow sentients.”

“But others, too, like Susan?”

He thought for a moment, “I have reviewed the record. And, except for the alternate, when you were on the other side, Susan Cheshire is not a killer.”

“Yes,” Lili said, “Arashi Sato.”

“You provided the means, but Susan presented them to him, and he took them.”

“And all he thought he was doing was eating an empanada.”

“Correct. It was undone. He is, as of the time period when you and I are in the hospital, he is but two years of age. And a poisoned empanada doesn't kill him – he dies of old age.”

“Does that save my morality?” Lili asked.

“Hard to say. I am no judge of these things,” Q said, “You also killed a Xindi Insectoid.”

“Yes, during the war. Her name was She Who Almost Didn't Breed In Time.

“And you sent an apology. Did you think that would be enough?”

“I don't know,” Lili admitted, “But it was all I could do. She – the Xindi – she would have killed me.”

“Not the same as being murdered for not hopping to it quickly enough to go on a tequila run, but the end result was the same, yes?”

“Yes,” Lili said, “The result is identical.”

“Do you still wish to see what happens to Melissa's counterpart?”

“Yes. I think I owe it to her, somehow,” Lili said, and the scene began to change again.

=/=



“One of my second-favorite girls.” – Malcolm Reed

“Next time, do get him to take care of you first.” – Empress Hoshi Sato

“It's good to be the Empress.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



It was the Defiant, and Melissa was running along a corridor.

“Do you have the date?” Lili asked, breathlessly, as she and Q ran behind.

“September the twelfth, 2166.”

“So a couple of months before the kids will be sledding on Point Abic,” Lili replied, “If this was the alternate, my kids would be just about ready to cross over.”

“But it isn't the alternate,” Q said, “Watch.”

They all arrived at the shuttle bay. The Empress was there, “Get me a pair of Vulcan slaves,” she commanded, “I need new ones to do calculations.”

Melissa nodded and got into the shuttle, along with the Science Officer.

“That is, uh, that's Andy Miller,” Lili said.

“Yes, he was promoted,” Q said.

“Huh. Was that due to, uh, some actions on his part?” she asked.

“Not a murder,” Q said, “Lucy Stone went to the surface. And Miller performed some other tasks. Apparently they were done well enough that the Empress decided to reward him.”

“Oh. So he's her new toy,” Lili said.

“Correct,” Q said, and then directed her back.

The shuttle landed, “That's Vulcan, I think,” Lili said. Q said nothing.

Andrew and Melissa got out, “Looks like they're lined up and ready,” she said, indicating a huge line of Vulcans. They stood, calmly awaiting ... something.

“Have you a voice amplifier?” Andrew asked a Vulcan woman, seated nearby, who was apparently in charge of processing.

“Yes,” she said, handing him one, “These slaves are ready for orders.”

He didn't thank her, he just started to speak, “I have a work detail! It is for the Empress Hoshi Sato! I need a pair of slaves who can perform calculations!”

There was some grumbling in the ranks. About two dozen split off and approached. Andrew looked them over, “What do you know about dark matter?” he asked one.

“The Vulcan Science Directorate says ..,” he began.

“Wrong answer,” Andrew barked, “Next!”

And so on through a few of them until he got to a male and a female, “Dark matter can be used to change time,” she said.

“And to potentially bridge the gap from one universe to another,” The male said.

“Works for me,” Melissa said.

“Okay,” Andrew agreed, “Names?”

“T'Pau,” said the female.

“Kefris,” replied the male.

The four of them walked back to the shuttle, followed by Q and Lili.

“So,” Andrew said to Melissa, “how are you doin'?”

“Morning sickness is still kinda bad,” she replied.

“Oh. Well, that should ease up, right? We'll name him Thomas, right?”

“Right,” she said, “You'll get me off the Defiant before I start showing, right?”

“I'll try,” he said, “No guarantees.”

“Tommy's counterpart?” Lili asked.

“Not exactly,” Q replied.

The shuttle took off all right, but then there was a klaxon warning, “What's going on?” yelled Andy.

“I can't maintain altitude!” Melissa yelled, “Compensating!”

Andrew yelled into a communications console, “We're going down! Mayday!”

There was a loud bang as the shuttle hit the ground. It burned. The two Vulcan slaves got out all right. Andrew got out and went back for Melissa, but she was slumped in the front, “Help me with her!” he yelled, but no one did.

She just said, “Bridge to nowhere,” to him and then her mouth opened and her head tilted to the side.

He put his hand on her neck and checked. He frowned and straightened up and unsheathed his phaser, “Where do you think you're going?” he said to the two Vulcans.

“Uh, nowhere,” Kefris said.

Andrew clicked open his communicator as he kept the two Vulcans covered, “Miller to the Defiant. Get another shuttle. Madden's dead.”

=/=



“You're mine now.” – Jun (Daniels) Sato

“I may not have done it for years, but I can still fight. Beneath a galley slave's uniform beats the heart of a fighter.” – Aliwev

=/=



They were back in the room.

“Did he love her?” Lili asked.

“I don't get in your heads,” Q replied.

“C'mon. Did he love her? Did he at least try to make her happy, or comfortable, or not so alone?”

Q was distant for a moment, “He kept their secret.”

“To save his own hide, I suppose,” Lili said, “The Empress wouldn't like him cheating on her.”

“Undoubtedly she wouldn't.”

“What a wretched existence,” Lili said, “So few of them give a damn at all about each other. It's not unlike your Continuum.”

“We aren't petty little dictators, or tin pot gods.”

“Maybe not, but you don't seem to have kindness. Do you not touch each other out of a sense of decorum, or do you simply repulse one another?”

“I told you, we are locked in continual struggles. Contact means a fight for dominance.”

“And now you're warring for dominance,” she said, “And your factions – how is it that you have factions if you can't stand one another?”

“It is a smaller splitting,” Q said, “Nothing more.”

“Is Joy on your side?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Good,” she said, “At least there's that. Is she on your side because she loves you?”

“I, uh, I am unsure.”

“Hmm. Well let's call that a maybe. She wants to be separate, but maybe that's a way for her to have a better relationship with you, yes?”

“I don't know,” he said, “But these couples, as you saw. They both ended badly. Both Melissa and Leonora would have been better off alone.”

“I can't disagree with that,” Lili admitted, “Particularly Norri. There are people who get into relationships and then the relationship doesn't work but they stay in it anyway, terrified of being alone. That might have been the case with Norri's counterpart. I can't say as for certain. As for Melissa, she got herself into a bad situation. Being the chippie on the side for the Empress's main lover is a very, very stupid position to be in and to be pregnant by him is the very essence of dumbness. Yet she was doing it anyway. It doesn't look like she had any sort of plans. She probably would have gotten herself dumped at some Starbase or something, had the baby and then, who knows? Since they had decided on a name together, I've gotta think that they wanted him, at least a little bit.”

“It's fortunate for her that the shuttle crashed.”

“Yes. It is, really, I guess. I can't see her being able to sustain things for long. She wouldn't be able to go back to work on the Defiant. Andy wouldn't be able to help her or even send money, I suspect. She'd be in a worse position than Norri, at least economically. There's nothing to recommend her pregnancy, yet she was going ahead anyway. Do you think Joy would want to have your child?”

“I don't know,” he said.

“You should find out. Don't just spring it on her or anything, Q.”

“I suppose that would be unwise,” he allowed, “Miller could have fathered a child with the Empress. It was possible, and she was apparently willing.”

“Really?” Lili asked, “I thought, with having Izo – Travis's child – that she was done.”

“But Travis died in 2161,” Q said, “And Andrew was there and available. She was trying, but he made sure that they would not become parents together.”

“So he took the birth control shot?” Lili asked.

“Yes. And not with Melissa.”

“So he made sure that he and Hoshi didn't become parents together. They didn't, right?”

“No. They did not. Izo was the last child. He was born a few months ago.”

“Andrew made a choice. And Melissa apparently did, too. They wanted their baby. And Andrew probably realized that a baby with Hoshi would obligate him in ways that he didn't want to be tied down. But he was willing to be tied to Melissa, at least a little bit. I don't know if that means he loved her at all, but he took a big chance and it was a deliberate act on his part,” Lili said, “It's not necessarily love. And it's not even necessarily a commitment. But it is, at least, an attempt to connect. It's not just mindless coupling, like I imagine it is between him and Hoshi.”

“Connection?”

“Yes. Even though they're separate, they made an effort to connect.”

“And not with the Empress, even though her prospects were infinitely better?”

“Correct. Sometimes, you make lousy choices, and sometimes they're the only choices, but you make them anyway. And you do it, and it's more than just some sweaty grappling in the Ready Room.”

=/=



“Do you know what goes on in my Ready Room?” – Empress Hoshi Sato

Chapter 20 by jespah

“Their wedding vows even take the nighttime arrangements into account. They are, um, 'I will love you all of our days, and support you all of your nights.'” – Doug Beckett

“I support you for this and for everything you do.” – Doug Beckett

“That's the Calafan wedding vows. Love all days, support all nights.” – Lili Beckett

“And day includes the night. So I love you even when you're doing, uh, whatever with Reed. I know he treats you well.” – Doug Beckett

“And I know Melissa makes you happy. They complete our lives in ways we never thought possible, or that we even needed.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



Sandwiches done, the children dozed off while Malcolm, Norri, Melissa and Doug crowded around and looked at Malcolm's PADD. He scrolled through the photographs he had taken. There was one of the swirling snow in the back, and you could see the coppery arms of a Calafan workman at the neighbor's unfinished home. It was obvious that the man was completely oblivious to the tornado encircling the Beckett house. Another was of the front, showing the perfect trajectory of the funnel cloud as it cleared around both cars and then around the house – a deformation that made no sense. Still another photograph was of blue skies just beyond the snow, visible – albeit just barely – through breaks in the snow.

They had to whisper in order to keep the children from becoming alarmed. Doug said, softly, “The whole thing looks odd.”

“Yes,” Norri said, “In Oklahoma, you don't get snow. You get rain. It's warm or even hot, and the whole system develops in the presence of heat. I don't know if there can be exceptions to that, but this, it's strange.”

“The fact that that workman is just minding his own business is what bugs me,” Melissa said, “Does he not care?”

“I don't think he sees,” Malcolm said, “I can't say whether he sees the house at all, but he's clearly not seeing the storm.”

“A force field?” Norri asked.

“Not like anything I've ever encountered,” Malcolm said, “What about you?” he addressed Doug.

“The only thing it's even remotely like is the Tholian web we saw when we got onto the Defiant,” he replied, “But that was in deep space. And this is visible – at least it is to us.”

“Cookie?” Tommy asked. He was sitting nearby.

“No. No more cookies,” Melissa said, “Go nap with Joss and Marie Patrice,” she kissed his forehead and settled him back down.

“This is an imprisonment,” Malcolm concluded, “But to what end?”

“And it's almost thoughtful,” Melissa pointed out as she rejoined them, “Including the cars? That's just weird. We can't take them anywhere, I am thinking.”

“It's as if it's us, and our things, and what we are about, are all being kept here,” Norri said.

“Except for Lili. And Declan, too,” Doug said.

“So we are being kept from her,” Malcolm said, “And she is being kept from us.”

“I don't know about that,” Melissa said, “Maybe she doesn't know about it. I mean, she had the baby; she had surgery and all of that. She's probably worried, but she can't come here anyway. Whoever is doing this, it doesn't need to be so elaborate to keep her out.”

“True,” Norri said, “But it does need to be like this in order to keep us in.”

“We are stuck here,” Doug said, “For how long, we can't tell. Water is still running, and the vegetable garden is even included in this freakishness. If it were about a month ago, we'd have tomatoes we could harvest.”

“How much food is there?” Melissa asked.

“Enough for a few days,” Doug replied, “But probably not enough for more than a week or so, I'm guessing.”

“How will we get out of here?” Norri asked.

“It's a puzzle,” Malcolm said, “We have to look for weaknesses, and, and press on them. Whatever they are.”

“I'd say the breaks in the snow are where we should start,” Norri suggested, “But who knows what happens if we try to cross it? It's a lot of wind. A tornado can tear you apart.”

“Mommy?” Joss asked, a little drowsily.

“Let's wrap this up quickly,” Melissa said.

“We can send something through, and see what happens to it,” Doug suggested.

“Something we don't need,” Melissa said.

Malcolm looked around, then his eyes lit on something, “Are you still using that?” he asked Norri.

“Well, I'd like to,” she said, “But if you need it, go ahead.”

“It's for a good cause,” he said.

“Okay,” she said, “Sorry, Dino,” she said to the green stuffed dinosaur toy, “but I think you're about to go where no stegosaurus has gone before.”

=/=



“I've been holding his future hostage. I've been holding everyone's future hostage. If you, if you dream with him, and it's really good, would you leave me?” – Doug Beckett

“I won't leave you. Would you leave me, if your dreams with Melissa turn out to be really good ones?” – Lili Beckett

“I get night offers. I can act on them if I want to.” – Yimar

=/=



“You know,” Lili said, when they returned to the hospital room, “I can't say that I love all of our choices.”

“They aren't necessarily being done with your approval in mind,” Q said.

“Understood. And I also realize that they just aren't always gonna be good ones. I mean, what's our track record?”

“Track record?”

“Yes. How often do we make good choices?”

“Not much better than fifty percent of the time.”

“But it is over fifty at least, yes?”

“It is.”

“So it's a little better than random chance. Our wisdom and our experience, they are of some use, right?”

“But not much,” he said, “Most of the time, it's as if you don't care.”

“We could be throwing darts at a board, eh?” she said, going over to the baby again, “Or spinning some big wheel, I suppose. I mean, look at the choice he made, when it came to a wife. It didn't work out. And, apparently, it went very badly.”

“I don't have the details.”

“Well, all I have to go on is what you said, and what, well, my future self says to Malcolm. But he remarries, right?”

“Yes.”

“But not until after our deaths. And we apparently don't even see him dating this woman,” she looked down into the bassinette at the sleeping child, “Do we even know her at all?”

=/=



“It can be lonely when you have no one in the night.” – Yimar

“A lot of fantasy. Not that there's anything wrong with that.” – Pamela Hudson

“Well, you see, when you have had enough bitter doses of reality, an escape into a fantasy just seems like a betrayal of all that.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



Q thought for a moment, “Yes, you do. In fact, one of the pictures is of you with her.”

“Oh,” Lili said, a bit more hopefully, “Is she a Calafan?”

“No. She is a human. But – you assumed she would be a Calafan.”

“Hmm. Well, I had thought, you know, when you're very lonely, and there's no one, they can be very comforting people. They seem to accept us, warts and all, a bit better than we accept ourselves.”

=/=



“Would you consent to be my nighttime lover?” – Treve

“There is a means of contacting the sleeping. These dreams are vivid and almost magical. They are a lot like life. And they can be as chaste or as steamy as you wish. They can be a kind of a secondary relationship.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“Strange, how a different species could potentially be better at making these connections. Tell me about the Calafans,” he said.

“No. I think you should tell me.”

“Me?”

“Yes, Q,” she said, “What do you see? What do you think?”

“They are hardly worth getting so riled up about. They do little to found or promote your Federation.”

“Federation?”

“Planetary Alliance,” he said, “That's what you call it during this time period.”

“Huh,” she said, “So they aren't big on diplomacy. Anything else?”

“They have a simplistic belief system. And many of them still believe their old mythology.”

=/=



“We are, quite literally, composed of amplifying material.” – Yimar

“You're surprisingly chipper for someone whose people just lost their big cultural artifact.” – Lili Beckett

“And the Big Bang is one big bang.” – Beth Cutler Tucker

“What they are saying is, on your side, the Big Bang is her climax. On our side, it's his.” – Treve

=/=



“Not everyone understands Science,” Lili said.

“But this is superstition,” Q said.

“All right. So not everyone is a genius. But they have scientists. They do understand enough about how the universe came to be. They have Warp Drive. They have good medical care.”

“For the time period,” Q reminded her.

“Judging them by fortieth-century standards, or whatever you're using, that's hardly fair.”

“Perhaps not,” he allowed.

“They have a good sense of their history,” she said, “Their names, for one thing. They duplicate and honor each other.”

“They have limited names,” Q said, “And they can only pick ones that aren't being used.”

“Right. But that's because they don't have last names. But Yinora – that's, well, the Yi- part, it means student of. Student of Nora?

“No. Student of Leonora.”

“So they allowed a new name. Hmmm. What are her children's names?”

“Yipran, Chelben and Treve.”

“Oh,” Lili said, “Yipran is older. I'd expect her to predecease one or all of her grandchildren. But Yimar's brothers – both of them? Really?”

“Yes.”

“They both die fairly young. Do either of them marry?”

“Only Treve does. Chelben dies when he is twenty. Treve is fifty-eight when he goes.”

“That's still pretty young. Does he have children?”

“His wife is a human. It's impossible.”

“So Yimar is the only one to carry on for them,” Lili said. She changed the subject a bit, “What, to you, recommends them?”

He thought for a moment, “Their proximity to the septum dividing the universes. They can shuttle back and forth, and they do. Your species cannot, and neither can Klingons, Witannen, Xyrillians or the others. Just them.”

“Maybe that's because they have their relationships with the mirror side,” Lili speculated, “They don't marry the other side. At least, I don't think they do. But they do know them. And they love a lot of them. I hope that counts for something.”

“They have some control over it,” he said, “When you were first exposed to their dream state, you did not understand it. And you had little control.”

“But the loss of control was wonderful,” she said, remembering, “Even though I didn't think he was real, at least not to start, Doug’s an amazing lover.”

“Aside from that,” Q said, “Others would have been less receptive. And, on balance, you were both fortunate that you were both receptive.”

“I was single. He pretty much was as well. He had nothing to lose. And I had almost nothing to lose.”

=/=


“I've talked in my sleep ever since I was able to talk.” – Lili Beckett

“You may find the idea of a lover in the night to be very attractive yet.” – Treve

“Well, the dreams aren't just vivid – you can also use all five senses in them.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“But another would have, potentially, tried to exploit you,” Q said.

“They did try to exploit me. And on the other side, they tried to use Jennifer. And eventually Polloria tried to use Doug for her own purposes. She wanted to control all of us. And when we went to the other side, well, when the dreaming was opened to all, the Empress, she tried to control everyone. Or, at least, to listen in, and to watch. Your mind is exposed, and you are very vulnerable.”

=/=



“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.” – Polloria

“If I talk in my sleep, don't hold it against me.” – Lili Beckett

=/=


“Vulnerability is something you surrender yourself to,” Q said, “It's incomprehensible.”

“I do it because the ones I am vulnerable to, they don't exploit me. They love me, and I trust them. I trust Doug not to laugh at me even though I'm not a great beauty. I trust Malcolm to be gentle with me. I trust Melissa, and I trust Norri, to listen when I confide in them, and not be judgmental.”

“We don't have this,” Q said absently.

“Do you dream?”

“We don't really sleep.”

“Would you like to find out what it's like?” she asked.

“I don't see how it matters.”

“I do,” she said, “It is vulnerability. And it is fantasy. And it is stepping into space with nothing under you.”

“I can do that already,” he said, and demonstrated. She, he and the baby were again suspended in midair.

“Not like that,” she said, “And do put us down. Please. This is, at least a bit, unexpected. An experience where you can't see the end of the road. You don't know how the movie turns out. Can you have an experience like that?”

He thought briefly, “It's possible.”

“Then let's do this,” she said.

“Sleep?”

“Yes,” she said, “I need to, a bit, anyway. You forget, but I've had a long day already. It's not every day that I have a baby. And it's not every day that I see such things as you have shown me. I need to rest a bit.”

“And this will prove what?”

“I don't know,” she said, “But you asked about the Calafans. What better way to understand them than to see and feel and touch and taste their secondary lives? At least for a little bit?” She pulled back the covers, “Take the right side.”

“Some special reason?”

“When I made contact with Doug, the harder side of the bed was on the left. And I learned later that that was where the amplifying metal was. It was an old Calafan coin. So that's, now, the side I like,” she sat down, “Same rules as before. You don't touch anything but my waist. Nothing above and nothing below.”

He got in, “You're still lactating. I hardly think that creating a mess is the effect you're going for.”

“Too true,” she said, “Now, rest,” Then she thought a bit, “Mind you, if Malcolm or Doug are available, I'm ditching you for them.”

=/=



“Dream away.” – Lili Beckett

“I will listen for you.” – Malcolm Reed

“It's an old Denobulan tradition. A coin is placed in a bed in order to induce profitable dreaming.” – Dr. Phlox

“She said – the Calafans always say to one another, they don't say good night. They say be with who you desire.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



It was a corridor, filled, mainly, with Calafans. There were a few humans, for Doug and Lili and Malcolm and Melissa weren't the only humans who had this sort of an arrangement. But there were very few of them.

Mostly, it was silver and copper shapes, passing by, meeting and greeting. Some of them flicked fingers at one another to signal an interest. Others tugged earlobes to signify a negative response. Still others touched noses in order to signify a yes – but perhaps not to anything steamy. At least, not yet.

Lili was looked over, but Q was not, and they walked along.

“What are we doing?” he asked.

“Taking a walk,” she said.

“We could do that awake.”

“Yes, we could,” she said, “But this is different. Would you like to walk on Lafa I?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“I don't know,” she said, “But it's overly hot and filled with radiation. It has no atmosphere. I can't live there. But I can dream of being there.”

“I can do that without sleeping,” he said.

“All right,” she said, “Then maybe the bottom of the ocean would be preferred?”

“That's still something I can do.”

“Hmm,” she said, “So in these dreams, we can do what you can do. Right?”

“Not everything,” he said.

“Maybe not everything. But we have, even as we lose control, we gain other elements of control. Yes?” she asked.

“Possibly.”

There were whispers around, in the Calafan language. Lili heard words she knew – enne – water; elle – air; dary – fire; and miva – clay, “That's rather primitive,” Q sniffed.

“What is?”

“They are talking about me in the context of four elements. It's much like alchemy on your home planet. But alchemy doesn't exist, and those so-called elements aren't elements at all.”

“No. They're just representations, I guess. They're ways for a primitive people to attempt to understand the world around them. The ancient Greeks, they didn't know about atoms, except in the most abstract sense. But they did understand that there were differences in the world.”

“That's elemental.”

“Did you just make a joke?” she asked.

“Huh. Perhaps I did,” he allowed.

“I think they're saying this about you because I suspect you're a fully integrated being. You are all the elements. At least, you are all four of them.”

“But so are you, at least in the original sense. That doesn't mean anything.”

“So why are they saying it, do you think?”

“I suspect they don't know who – or, rather, what – I am,” Q stated.

“That's a fair assessment.”

“Must we stay here?”

“No. We don't have to. I just wanted you to see it. They love this. And I can see why. For it's not only a way to have a nearly consequence-free second relationship. It's also a way to extend the life of your relationship. At least the sexual parts.”

“True. The sho – er, Malcolm – on your last day, he tells you that it's the only way you can still have relations.”

“Exactly. And right now, it's usually the only way, too. Without the Calafans, he and I aren't together at all. And we're just left to wonder, and to feel loneliness and being bereft. But with it, we sustain our feelings, and we can act upon them without destroying my marriage to Doug and without losing the thread of our desires. It keeps us together.”

“For some of the humans of this time period who try it, though, it tears their marriages apart,” Q explained.

“That doesn't surprise me,” she said, “It boils down to choices. Good or bad, we all make them.”

“They fuel the timeline,” Q said.

=/=



“If I didn't know they were dreams, I'd swear they were an alternate reality. For the Calafans, they almost are.” – Lili Beckett

“Shutting off the night is a horrific punishment, to make it so that one cannot even dream a prison cell away.” – Treve

“Did you know, Princess, you were sleeping on a pea?” – Tripp Tucker

=/=



“Rick Daniels mentioned that, too,” Lili said as they continued to walk, “Things switch one way, or the other.”

“Yes. It's binary,” Q said.

A woman stood in front of them, tall and strong, with faded silver calloo on her arms and flowing silvery-white-blonde hair.

“Yipran,” Lili said, “Q, this is the High Priestess.”

“I know,” he said.

She smiled at them, “In my waking times, I am still hesitant of speech. But not here. You are not like the others.”

“No,” he said, “I am neither human nor am I Calafan.”

“You are fully joined as a being,” Yipran said, “Day and night both reside in you. Beginning and end – but there is no end for you. And there is barely a beginning, for you were formed when the universe was but a few microns across. You have no heart, no skin, no eyes. Yet – even though you do not admit it – you have pain, you have feelings and you have visions.”

“I know more than you ever will,” he said.

“Yes,” she said, “And my time will be up soon anyway. But you will continue on, as planets form and die and break apart and become new things, you will watch. And as lives begin and end, you will bear witness. And when the last atom has been blown apart in the remnants of the Big Bang, as the last of the energy converts to dark matter, and the universe hits absolute zero, you will be there. And you will watch it, and go with it, as it turns onto itself, and again renews, in an endless cycle. For when it is all dark matter, and it has all recompressed, as it passes through another septum, one that does not yet exist, and it goes to another place, crossing another pond, there will be another Big Bang. As there have been countless ones before, there will be countless ones after.”

This caught Q's attention, “Another Big Bang?”

“Why did you feel this would be the only one?” she asked, “You are fond of telling people that they are nothing special. What makes you think that you are?”

“Yipran, does anything survive?” Lili asked.

“Yes,” she said, “The way we feel does. The way we treat others. It does, too. Those things are eternal.”

“Are they what's on the other side of the bridge?”

“It is your bridge,” Yipran said, “What is there is for you to know, and not for me to guess, or to look over your shoulder.”

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” Lili quoted.

“That is one interpretation,” Yipran said, “Don't forget the nights, too.”

=/=



“But that's just the night. During the day, the two of you are together, as always. You do whatever you like, as usual. You raise the child, of course. You go to work; you have your life together. And Doug and I have our life together. We raise our children and keep our home. I run the restaurant. And at night, he dreams of you, Melissa. And I dream of Malcolm.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



They awoke.

“How is it possible that an inferior species could say such things? Surely she doesn't know. Not truly,” Q said.

“You sound like a man trying to convince yourself,” Lili said.

“No such thing,” he said, “I do not choose to believe her.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, getting up, “But it's all choices, right? How we live, how we love and how the universe turns out, anyway.”

“Except the big things can't be changed,” he said, “The timeline is set.”

“Even for you?”

“Yes. Even for me.”

“And for Joy?”

“By definition, of course.”

“So you know how it turns out.”

“No,” he admitted, “I don't.”

“Tell me, Q, do you think any of this is helping?”

“Yes. I think it is,” he said, “Choices are – at least for a separate entity – they are that same kind of walking in space.”

“But you're used to doing that,” she pointed out.

“It's a loss of control,” he said, “Even having done it before, it's still a bit unnerving.”

“And it's her choice, too, right? You're a little scared, I think.”

“Scared?”

“Yes. You don't know if she'll say yes. It's not guaranteed, and it's not foretold. So you are stepping off a cliff, yes?”

“Yes,” he said absently.

“Are you elsewhere right now?”

“There's a lot of fighting. It's getting worse,” he said.

“Fall,” she said to him, “Step into space. That's what falling in love is. It's giving it all up, and stepping out, even when you don't see the bottom. Fall.”

=/=



“I wonder what'll happen when the Calafans start seeing really good-looking human women.” – Lili Beckett

“You do have a tight leash upon him! What is it you do, that he is countering his very nature? What kind of pleasures do you offer?” – Polloria

“The scent is one way you can tell it's a Calafan-style dream. You can use all of your senses in it.” – Lili Beckett

“Be with who you desire.” – Chawev

Chapter 21 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Melissa's final theme - Joe Jackson - Get that Girl

“Let me show you how alive I am.” – Doug Beckett

“I don't want you to be in danger. You're my sister and I love you. Besides, Father will kill me if you get hurt.” – Treve

=/=



“Fall?”

“Yes. Fall,” she insisted.

“It's not that easy.”

“No,” she said, “It's terrifying.”

“But, she might not,” Q said, again absent.

“More fighting?”

“Yes.”

“The fighting is risks, right?”

“Risks I would rather not be taking,” Q said.

“And it's sacrifices as well, yes? But you would rather not be making those, if you had your druthers.”

“No. I would prefer not to.”

“But they are in your face anyway,” she said, “You can make sacrifices that you don't really want, or you can go clear-eyed into a risk that you embrace. Take a chance, and see what happens, eh?”

“If – this is not a risk you want me to take,” Q said, “If things go badly, there could be a great deal of collateral damage.”

“Life is risks,” Lili said, “Even tiny things like dancing are.”

“Yours aren't like this.”

=/=



“Now, I wanna see everybody out there! This next one – I know you all know it – it's by The Sweet Cupcakes – and it's dedicated to the ladies of the NX-01 and their many admirers. And I count myself among them. Here it is – 'Tough Girl'!” – Chandler (Chip) Masterson

=/=



“Well, you take chances every time the music starts up. I mean, Malcolm feels like everybody's watching him. He and Doug can't loosen up that way at all. I'm glad that at least Malcolm eventually embraces it.”

“I don't mean dancing or something so small. You need to understand, the war is creating supernovas in Kathryn's time period.”

“Oh.”

“And here, there are effects as well.”

“Is it that storm out there?” Lili asked, “I haven't forgotten, my family and a funnel cloud are intimately acquainted now. What kind of danger are they in?”

“They are – it is a wrapping,” he said, “The other effects are in space. The NX-01 is affected.”

“What's happening to the Enterprise?”

“It drifts off course, again and again. Nothing too much, not yet,” he said, “Right now they mainly think it's pilot distraction or slight malfunctions.”

“But it'll get worse?”

“It will if the war continues for too much longer. It will affect plenty of other things as well and other time periods.”

“But the main events – they're safe, right?” she asked.

“Probably,” he said.

=/=



“I'm not a piece of china, Reed.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



“You sound uncertain. Is my family all right? Is the Enterprise? Is – even though I've never met her – is Kathryn all right? And Joy?”

“So far,” he said, “Let us go, and I will show you another piece. It will hide you.”

“Another negative? No, thanks.”

“Negative? What kind of an ego have you got that you think that, just because you and Doug and Malcolm are gone, that the good times no longer roll?”

“Huh. It's not negative?”

“No. It isn't. And it will afford you some protection.”

“Then I'll take the baby.”

“It may be stressful,” he cautioned.

“I can handle that. Can you safeguard my family?”

“What do you think that storm is for?” Lili picked up Declan, and the scene began to change again.

=/=



“Officer, I swear I was only doin' ninety.” – Kevin O'Connor

“Ah, Joss, you should give the next piece to Miss Melissa over there. She is going to become very special to you.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



There was a PADD, on the front passenger seat of a moving car, and it scrolled through the slide show. There was Tommy in a scouting uniform, and then an adult Tommy being promoted to the rank of Ensign. Marie Patrice was surrounded by models – human, Calafan and Andorian – at the end of a fashion show, with the logo of MP Fashions behind. Another photograph was of Marie Patrice, Jia, Yinora and Ines at a day spa, all in fluffy white robes and mud packs, clowning around a bit. Then there was a picture of Neil, looking sweaty, with a finisher medal draped around his neck and Yinora on one side, and Ines on the other, both of them kissing his cheeks – his tee shirt said, 'Kiss me, it's my first 5K.'

Then the PADD slid onto the floor of the car.

“Oh,” Lili said, “Do you control the order of the pictures, Q?”

“No. It's random,” he said.

Melissa was driving, and muttering to herself, “Damned Calafan alphabet!”

The area she was driving in was crowded with small Calafan homes, squat and single-story. There were tiny yards in front, not as big as the one in front of Lili and Doug's home. Taller buildings loomed in the moderate distance.

There was a clock on the dash, and it scrolled through the time – eleven fifty one, and then the date, February twenty-first, 2204.

“I am late! I am so late!” Melissa complained to no one, “Enne Street, where the hell is Enne Street?”

“Enne Street?” Lili asked, “This is the Eastern side of Fep City, I think, at least, from the orientation of the high rises. Enne Street is on the West end.”

“It's near a body of water, yes?” Q asked.

“Yes. That's why it's named that – enne means water,” Lili pointed out.

“Damn!” Melissa slowed down, and there was some honking behind her, “Oh, keep yer tunic on!” she yelled back at whoever was honking, “I am going as fast as I can!”

“Why doesn't she just use the directions on the PADD?” Lili asked, “If she pulls over and puts the destination address in, she can get directions. She doesn't have to be lost.”

“Stupid PADD! Where the hell is it?” Melissa asked, as if in response. She rummaged around on the floor of the passenger side, but the PADD had already slid under that seat, “I swear, these streets were laid out by drunken perrazin.”

“Where's she trying to go?” Lili asked.

“You can't give her directions, you know,” Q reminded her.

“Where the hell did they move Reversal?” Melissa asked, an edge to her voice. She finally pulled over and put her face in her hands, “Is it Enne Street or Dary Street? I forget. Oh, God, I forget.”

“It's the corner of Enne and Dary. The corner of water and fire,” Lili said.

“She cannot hear you,” Q said.

“Unless it was moved, well, that's where it is. Enne curves around and Dary is a long, straight street. If she can't find the PADD, she can ask anyone how to get to Dary Street,” Lili said.

“Late for my own birthday party!” Melissa complained, “Seventy years old today and I can't find the damned restaurant. A place that's been in the same place since I was, what, fifty?” She paused, “No, it was before I was thirty. Before Neil and Tommy were born. Before, before Kevin,” she touched her bracelet, the one that Doug had given her, with the oval and the three circles.

“This is a high point?” Lili asked.

“Just watch,” Q reminded her.

There was a loud bang, and smoke appeared nearby.

“Is she all right?” Lili asked, a bit alarmed.

“It's not the car. It's out there,” Q indicated.

There was rising black smoke from the remains of a shuttle that had hit a small Calafan home.

Melissa got out of the car. She was maybe a half a block from the wreckage, and ran toward it.

=/=



“Someone else will be just as scared as you and me and Lili are gonna be, wondering if their little one will ever come home.” – Melissa Madden

=/=



The scene shifted, and Lili could recognize it, “This is Reversal, right?”

“Yes,” Q said.

“They changed the banquettes. Huh,” she said, despite herself, “There's the family.”

“Where the heck is Mom?” Tommy asked. He was tall, and a bit dark, well-built. He was in civilian clothes, but his bearing was military, as was his haircut.

“I'll call,” Joss said, “You're still supposed to be a surprise,” he clicked open a communicator, “Meliss? Yeah, it's Joss. Uh, you got an ETA?”

“Uh, soon. Very smoky here,” she said.

“Smoky?” Ines asked, “Jenny, can I borrow your PADD?” She clicked around her daughter's PADD until she found the news, “There's an accident on the Eastern side. A, uh, a shuttle. It looks like it hit a Calafan house. Um, Ali and Fep streets.”

“Meliss, are you okay?” Joss asked into the communicator.

“It's black and smoky and icky,” Melissa replied, “And I'm lost,” she said, a bit teary, “I forget where Reversal is. I'm sorry.”

“It's okay,” Joss said.

“Somebody should go get her,” Marie Patrice said.

“Yes,” Declan said, “She's, uh, if she isn't using the PADD for directions, well, someone definitely should.”

Joss turned back to his communicator, “Can you use your PADD for directions?”

“I don't know where it is,” Melissa replied, “Did I take it with me?”

Tommy looked around at the rest of them, “Shouldn't she know that?”

Marie Patrice just nodded, “We didn't want to worry you.”

“Well, I'm plenty worried now,” said Tommy, “I'll go.”

“You don't know how to go,” Marie Patrice said, “Even with a PADD, that area is tricky – street signs can be missing and they're all in Calafan script anyway. I can go with you. Ken, do you mind?” she asked her date.

“No, not at all,” he said.

“Tommy, don't be angry,” Norri said, “We watch every day, and it's not necessarily bad. And we don't always see the subtle changes. You've been away a lot, so it's a much bigger contrast. But she's under stress. So she forgets. That's all.”

“C'mon,” Tommy said to Marie Patrice.

=/=



“I know you'll only try to fix it. And I just don't want to be fixed. This is me. This is who I am. And it's ugly and it's messed up and it's wrong but it's still who I am.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



The scene shifted back to the crash site.

Melissa was ankle deep in rubble, pulling at bricks and bits of twisted metal. Calafans were beside her, silver and copper, clearing debris, “There, over there,” said a heavyset silver fellow, “I think I see some movement.”

“Huh. Maybe,” Melissa said, “Let's concentrate there.”

The two of them pulled up a beam together, and it was true. There was a small Calafan girl, clutching a stuffed linfep doll, “Where is Mommy?” she asked as they pulled her out.

“There, uh, there was one Calafan lady,” Melissa said, “Emergency services took her to the Med Center. We can make sure you get there, too.”

“Is Mommy going to be all right?” insisted the child.

“I think so,” said the man.

Another man came over, “Yidary!” he exclaimed when he saw the child.

“Papa!” she answered.

“Come, we will go to the Med Center. Your mother is there now. Uh, and thank you,” he said to the two of them.

Tommy and Marie Patrice pulled up, and got out of their car.

“Ma!” yelled Tommy.

“Huh. I could swear I heard Doug,” Melissa said to the heavyset Calafan man, who just looked at her blankly.

“Melissa!” called Marie Patrice, coming over, “Are you all right?”

“Yes, uh, Pamela,” Melissa said absently, “Ducks!” she said to Tommy.

“It's me, Tom. Not Joss,” he said.

“Oh, Gawd, Tommy!” she said, hugging him close.

“We're gonna take you to your birthday party,” Marie Patrice said, just as a Calafan press photographer and reporter came over.

“No pictures,” Tommy said, shepherding them back to the two cars.

=/=



“You've got steps one and two and eighty-seven of the formula, and they don't all fit together properly.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



“What's wrong with her, Q?” Lili asked, as the three of them returned to the hospital room. She put the baby on the changing table and started to change his diaper.

“It's the very beginning, the first stages of a disease called Irumodic Syndrome,” he replied.

“So she'll lose her memory?”

“Yes,” he said, “But in this instance, she dived right in, and risked herself. You were right; she could have asked for directions and moved on. Plenty of others did that day, both human and Calafan.”

“No one's under an obligation to stop and help,” Lili said, “But she did. She has training in that area, you know.”

“It's in the process of being forgotten, though,” Q said.

“Then it wasn't, perhaps, her training kicking in. Maybe she just did it because it was the right thing to do.”

“All for people she didn't know – and for the barest of thanks as well.”

“Sometimes we risk ourselves for rewards. And sometimes we don't get those rewards. It doesn't necessarily mean that the risk was a bad one.”

“But it was foolish. If this had happened not too much later, enough of her training would be gone that not only would that child not have been saved, but Melissa would have put herself into danger, and imperiled the other rescuers.”

“But it worked out,” Lili said, “Second-guessing it, and seeing all of the ways it could go wrong, well, that's not necessarily productive, right?” she finished the diaper change and picked up the baby and brought him over to the bassinette again.

“There are trillions of possible scenarios.”

“True. And I imagine that most of them, when you really get down to it, don't affect things much. Would that child have survived without her assistance?”

Q was distant for a moment, “I have reviewed the alternatives. For over half of them, the child dies. In another thirty percent, she becomes disabled because her legs are crushed.”

“So Melissa does a good thing. Even though she's not perfect at it. Even though it wasn't planned. It turns out all right. There were ways for it to all go wrong. But it didn't.”

“The odds were not good,” Q admitted, “But she beat them.”

“Q, what are the odds for the war to end favorably for you?”

“I don't know.”

“Can't you guess?”

“I don't guess,” He said indignantly, “There's too much at stake.”

“Oh, but you do. I mean, was it a foregone conclusion that anything I'd have to say to you would be of value?”

“Hmm. That's correct.”

“Once again, it's that you can't see the end. And that bothers you,” Lili said.

“Doesn't it bother you, not seeing the other side of the bridge?” he asked.

“You got me there. That definitely does bother me. I would like to know that this isn't all for naught.”

“As would I,” he said.

“I guess we both need to just dive in and see what happens.”

“I, uh, the fighting, as it continues. And, as we continue,” he said, “I am seeing it change.”

“Change?”

“Yes. I came here, originally, and it was about Kathryn. And then, it seemed to be about the one we are calling Joy. And now, I think, it's about me.”

“It seems to be,” she allowed, “My family is all right?”

“Yes, they are.”

“Then I don't mind this,” she said, “At least, not so much as before. I won't lie to you. I would prefer to have my family here, and show off my little one. But so long as they are safe, I can do this. Help you, if this is helping.”

“It is making me think,” he said.

“Me, too.”

=/=



“I freak out about plenty of things. But I can tell you're doing your best to make it easier. I just don't feel like I need to freak about, uh, about this.” – Melissa Madden

“Everybody keeps asking me this, and I hadn't said anything. It's not that I didn't feel it. I just – I don't say it much. It's a difficult three words. But I do. I love you, Melissa.” – Doug Beckett

Chapter 22 by jespah

“... it's going to remain hard for me if I have to keep looking at you, and thinking about you.” – Deborah Haddon

“I want to expand my world. I'm just not so sure how to do that.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



Chip Masterson sat up.

He couldn't believe how kind people had been. And they so didn't need to be. But they had been, and not only was he okay, but so were his wife and Beth and the others.

No one had hurt them. No one had ratted them out to the Empress. At least, they hadn't yet. He was always wondering, worrying, when the other shoe would drop. Not if, but when.

But at least, for now, they were all right.

And that doctor – what was her name? Miva? She had been so kind, and so professional. He had had nothing to pay her with until Charles and the others had returned. They had brought in a small elekai, and had shared the meat with the doctor. She had laughed a little, unused to bartering, but it was all that they had. Then she'd heard that Charles was a tinkerer – well, not a tinkerer, he was more skilled than that! And she'd asked him if he could, perhaps, take a look at her cooling unit when he had the time. He had promised, and so that's where he was now, and Jennifer had gone along with him.

And right now Chip, he was back in the cave, sitting with Lucy, who still was in some pain a bit from her leg fracture, but was going to be fine, it was obvious. The kids were pushing each other a little, and he'd had to struggle, sometimes, to get Charlie to stop pulling his daughter's hair, but they were okay and things were, at least for the time being, pretty good.

Maybe they'd be able to get some better clothes. Maybe the kids could finally get some shoes.

Shoes, dropping shoes. Chip's thoughts, as they often did, returned to the Empress and her legions and her ship and her conquests. He had been a conquest, too, as much as the Xyrillian home world had been. When she'd worked her wiles on him, he hadn't thought it all the way through, and she'd ended up pregnant and suddenly there were twins and he was somewhat tied down.

That, of course, had been her plan. She'd go after the higher up men, have a kid with them, and that would keep them around, assuming the men were even one-quarter of the way decent and actually gave a damn about the children they'd fathered. Torres hadn't cared one way or the other, and perhaps that had been better, but Chip wasn't cut from that cloth so, when the twins arrived, he had begun to plot how to, somehow, get them away from her.

And with Lucy, it was even more urgent, as he had fallen for her, hard, and she for him – at least that seemed to be the case – he was often questioning, but it was his insecurities rather than any indications on her part that were causing his doubts – and then they had really needed to leave.

The opportunity had arisen, very recently, and they had escaped. And there were no more birth control shots out in the wilds, so Lucy was expecting, and Beth was expecting again, and they'd end up with a dozen kids between them if they didn't watch it, and Miva had been kind and practical enough to suggest that maybe the next thing they should do, once those two kids were born, would be to get shots so that they could raise this generation without everyone starving.

It wasn't a great life. There was no art, no entertainment, no comfort, and no ease. He and his family were dressed in rags. When the hunt didn't come in, he and the other adults sometimes went without food. He had no idea how the kids would be educated, although Miva had said that they could be put into any of the area schools with no trouble.

But at least they were free, and he was more than grateful for that.

Living in a cave, and eating whatever had been brought down by his friends – brothers and sisters, he had to figure they kinda were – well, freedom was the most precious thing he had, after the family he could see next to him.

Now if he could only get Charlie to quit pulling Takara's hair.

=/=



“Well, don't lose yourself in the process.” – Pamela Hudson

“Easy to forget lots of things.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



“You're distant again,” she said.

“It's getting more complex,” Q replied.

“Well, do you really need to be here? I mean, drop off if you have to.”

“No,” he said, “This also affords some meager protection for me.”

“Oh,” she said, “But you're not endangering us in the process, are you?”

He didn't answer her, but she noticed a small red stain on the left side of his uniform, and it was spreading a bit. He groaned a little.

“Are you hurt? Is that even possible?” she asked, alarmed.

“I am and, of course, yes,” he said, a bit angrily.

“Take Miva out of molasses time. She can help you.”

“No. She cannot,” he said, “I will heal up soon enough.”

“Are you injured on that end, during Kathryn's time?”

“Yes, but in a different place,” he said.

“Huh. Are you in danger of being hit again?” she asked.

“No. Kathryn has gotten me to a safe camp.”

“All right, that was good of her.”

“Yes,” he admitted, “I should have been the one doing that, not the vulnerable one.”

“But you were. You've got, I think, a few conceptions of how things should be. But they're being challenged.”

“By you.”

“And by events, too. I think you need to let go of some of your ideas, as much as you need to let go of your fellow, uh, Q. In order to move on, that is, and really do this, really be together yet apart, and become individuals.”

He was distant for a second, “Another main event,” he said, “It would be safer.”

“This friendly camp – it's composed of other Q? The ones on your side?”

“Some of them, yes.”

“But you're still in some danger?”

“Yes. So we'd best go. In this one, he,” Q indicated the baby “is living with two women.”

“But it's negative, right?”

He nodded, she picked up Declan and off they went.

=/=



“Maybe we're not meant to, to fix everything. … Maybe you're just supposed to be with her, even if you cannot make it all go away.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



It was a kitchen, with blue walls and a large dining table. There were a few pans hanging from hooks from the ceiling, and a few small paintings of still lifes – mainly varying-colored olowa, but also some pears and the like. Lili looked at the pictures and they were signed DR or D. Reed, “He's very good,” she said.

There was a PADD on the table, and it scrolled, again, through the familiar and the not so familiar. There was a picture of a young Malcolm, with Mark Latrelle, horsing around at school. Another was of Tommy being promoted to Major. Another was of Joss and Jia with their two children. Yet another was of Melissa, pregnant, probably with Tommy. Then there was a short movie, of a young Marie Patrice kicking a goal at a soccer game. Another picture was of herself, pregnant with Joss.

Two people walked in, from separate areas of the house, “Is she up yet?” asked Declan, who was one of the two people.

“Not yet,” said Norri, who was the other.

He set about making coffee, and Lili looked at the clock on the wall, as it cycled through the time – oh nine hundred hours and then the date – March twenty-seven of 2209.

“I, this is one hundred years since my birth,” Lili said.

“You know,” Declan said, also looking at the clock, “my mother would have been one hundred today,” he looked and sounded so much like Malcolm, even down to the accent. Lili did a quick calculation and realized he was the same age that Malcolm currently was, so far as she was concerned.

“I miss her, too,” Norri said, “It's been almost seven years and it doesn't matter.”

“Too true,” he said, “I still have the last shopping list she wrote – she used to write them out by hand. I think she would improvise, thinking about whatever was in season, and then would write out her list and go. She needed brown rice.”

“No wonder you always seem to have it,” Norri replied.

“I guess I want to show her that I can take care of things,” he said.

“Dec, we should talk,” she said.

He poured the coffee, and they sat down together, “What's on your mind?”

“I think that Yifep should come here more often,” Norri ventured.

“I see.”

“Look, I know you want to take care of everything, Dec, but it's getting to be too much. I, well, it's harder for me to physically handle her, particularly when she gets frustrated.”

“Well, tell me when she gets frustrated, Norri.”

“It's not just that,” she said, “She gets frustrated all the time now, or at least it seems that way. And, and, I can't handle, uh, I hate saying this, but it's getting tougher and tougher for me to handle the messiest of the chores.”

“Ah,” he said, “Changing her. I can do that.”

“I – please understand. This is my great love. I still, God help me, sometimes see her as a sexual being. And she makes advances, you know. And I usually refuse her, but I sometimes don't. I mean, I love her. But I always feel terrible afterwards, like I've just violated a child. And, and then having to deal with changing her, well, it's the same body parts. It's hard to reconcile in my head, from desire to being her parent to just being, well, just being tired of it all.”

“Let me do it,” he said, “I mean, you do understand that I love seeing naked women. But I don't look at her that way. Not even when she, uh, she's made advances to me, too.”

“You?”

“Yes. She gets me confused with my father more and more now. I don't know if she did anything, for real, and is reenacting it. Maybe after, after Doug died. I don't know. My father, I know, he would've been mortified. He was so devoted to my mother. So I doubt that she tried when she had all her wits about her. But now, she doesn't have the inhibitions.”

“She calls Joss Doug, too, and sometimes Neil as well. Do you think she's, uh, trying anything with them?”

“Not that I know of,” Declan said, “I, um, I can see why this is so hard for you.”

=/=



“You do love her. Even if it's only a little bit. You do. There's one day, when you're fine. And you're minding your own business. And then, suddenly, the next day, you're in love. And you didn't plan it and maybe didn't want it. But it's happened.” – Lili Beckett

“But, well, these are the kinds of things that people who love each other say, and these are the kinds of things that they, that they do.” – Malcolm Reed

“I don't want some icky boy in the bed I share with Norri. Well, I don't. You guys have germs and stuff.” – Melissa Madden

=/=



“Did she ever hook up with Malcolm?” Lili asked, shifting the baby Declan in her arms a little.

Q was briefly distant, “No,” he said.

“So this is just wishful thinking on her part?”

“And it's the disease. She forgets not only names and dates and places, but also decorum, and how to interact with people,” Q replied, “Watch.”

“What bothers me the most,” Norri said, “is that I said forever to her. I said it more than once. And now that it really is coming down to forever, I can't handle it. Dec, I changed plenty of diapers in my life. Yours, even. Why are hers so impossible for me?”

“To change a one-year-old's diaper is normal,” he replied, “And it's not so horrible because it's hopeful, you know. You just, you know they won't be like that forever. With a seventy-five-year old, well, it's a different story.”

She was about to reply when a voice came from the next room, “Special thing! Special thing!”

“That's Melissa,” Lili said, following the sound of the voice.

Melissa was in a bedroom, nearly completely dressed. Her clothing was mismatched, but it was at least appropriate. She had selected bright colors – a child's ensemble. She was standing in front of a small video cutout, watching the slide show as it passed. There was a picture of herself, much younger, wearing Doug's bracelet. And another, of Malcolm, with a beard. And another, of Lili wearing a lacy top that showed a little of her calloo. Melissa smiled at the pictures, and clapped with delight when the short movie of a dancing Malcolm and Lili flashed by, and then when the movie of Marie Patrice kicking the goal played. She then opened up a jewelry box and took out a small item which Lili couldn't see, “Very special thing,” Melissa whispered, and then put it back and shut the box. Then she walked into the kitchen, and Lili followed.

“Good morning!” Norri enthused.

“H-hello,” Melissa said a bit tentative, “Belinda?” Melissa was grey and her face was lined. Her neck was a bit loose but her eyes were those of a child.

“Belinda?” Declan asked.

“No. I'm Norri,” Norri said, “Dec, Belinda was my mother's name.”

“Oh,” he said.

“Malcolm!” Melissa enthused, “Have you brought presents?”

“No, I'm afraid I haven't,” Declan said, “And I'm Declan. But I can make you breakfast. What would you like?”

“Pancakes!”

“All right. This will take a little while. Sit, sit down and we'll get you some juice,” he nodded at Norri, who got up to do just that.

“Where's Doug?” Melissa asked.

“He's ... not here,” Declan said as he set about mixing up the ingredients for pancakes.

“Lili told me he could come over. I mean, you're here, Malcolm. So it's only fair,” Melissa said.

“Here's your orange juice,” Norri said.

“Thank you, Belinda. Is Norri around?”

“Yes. Right here,” Norri said.

There was a flash of recognition, “Norri!” Melissa exclaimed, hugging her, “Sit and have a sandwich with me. Malcolm's making sandwiches.”

Declan continued making pancakes.

“You know, this is a very important glass,” Melissa said, “It was brought here by my ancestors. They came over in big, big ships and they were very rich and they got here and they had to sell all of their glasses because they were made of diamonds. Except for this one.”

“Yes, Melissa,” Norri said wearily, taking an identical glass from the shelf and pouring herself some juice, “It's very special.”

“Oh! Special thing! Special thing!” Melissa enthused, and ran out of the room. She passed the cheery yellow hallway and returned to the bedroom, and Lili followed. Again, Melissa opened up the jewelry box and took something out, and then put it back. Then she returned to the kitchen.

“What is the special thing?” Declan asked.

“Spec –” Melissa began, and tried to get up. Norri put a hand on her arm.

“Tell us. Please?” Norri asked.

“Special,” Melissa said, as if that answered things.

“What is it?” Lili asked.

Q just directed her back.

“I have got pancakes for you, Miss,” Declan said, presenting a plate with two on it.

Melissa grinned, “Malcolm, you make good pancakes. Doug's are better. And Lili's are best of all. But yours are good.”

“You wouldn't kick my pancakes off your plate, then?” he asked, then went back to make more.

“Why isn't Doug making pancakes? Lili said he was coming over. She promised.”

“What do you want to do today?” Norri asked, changing the subject and pouring a little maple syrup for Melissa.

“Football,” Melissa said, mouth full.

“All right,” Declan said, “I bet Neil would like to play.”

“Ah, good idea,” Norri said, opening her communicator, “Neil,” she said, once the connection was made, “can you come over and toss around a football a few times today?”

“Uh, sure. But I need to get to work in about an hour. Be right over. Neil out.”

“Neil's coming,” Norri said, “He's going to play catch with you.”

“Who's Neil?”

=/=



“And thank God I walked in first.” – Leonora Digiorno

=/=



In the cellar, in 2161, things were a bit different.

“How do you think we should do this?” Norri asked.

“No kids,” Doug said softly, as the children began to awake.

“I dreamt of playing soccer,” Marie Patrice said, yawning.

“Did you win?” Malcolm asked.

“No,” she said, “But I did kick a goal.”

“Well, that's still good,” he replied, “You don't win every time.”

“Hang on, kids. We grownups have to talk a little,” Melissa said. She shepherded the other three to a corner, “So, what are we doing?”

“I figure, we can throw or kick Dino here into the funnel, perhaps past it,” Malcolm said, “Can't say as it will do anything but, if the toy is shredded, no one will be harmed by shrapnel.”

“Huh. Good thinkin', Reed,” Doug said, “We should film that, too.”

“Let's not involve the kids at all. Too many distractions,” Norri said.

“All right,” Melissa thought for a moment, “Here's my idea. You three go up. I'll stay here and, uh, I'll tell them a story or something. But you need to toss, film and the third one will be there in case things really go bad – that one will be by the door. Make sense?”

“Sure,” Doug said, “Everybody about ready?”

“Stay safe,” Melissa said, kissing him. Then she kissed Norri.

“I figure I'll be on door detail,” Norri said.

“I can film,” Malcolm said.

“Uh, no,” Doug said, “I think kicking will be better than tossing. I'll film. Okay?”

“All right,” Malcolm said, “Shall we?”

They left. On the front porch, it was odd. The area was calm. Except for the fact that there was a huge, misshapen funnel cloud around the house and all its contents, there was no reason to think it was anything other than a perfectly lovely day. The swirling snow would occasionally break slightly, and you could see blue skies beyond, and the neighbor's house. Workmen seemed to be covering it with something – plywood, perhaps – it was tough to tell. The workmen did not appear to be working with any sense of urgency. It didn't seem as if the plywood was being added to protect that house in any way. The workmen seemed oblivious.

The three of them positioned themselves. Norri stood within the opened doorway. Doug stood off to the side, and started up the PADD's video mode. Malcolm was at the edge of the porch, holding the green stuffed dinosaur toy, “Are we all ready?” he asked.

Doug nodded, “Ready,” Norri said.

Malcolm dropped the toy down and kicked it straight at the funnel cloud.

It was a magnificent kick, but the toy ricocheted off and Norri ended up catching it in both hands, “Ungh!” she exclaimed, air leaving rapidly from the force of the ricochet.

Doug stopped filming. He and Malcolm came over, “You okay?” Doug asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “And so's Dino.”

“It's as if the toy just hit a wall,” Malcolm said, “Any damage to it that you can tell?”

“No,” said Norri, “Let's go back to the cellar.”

=/=



“This is what you get for falling in love with someone who's bi. Temptation is all around.” – Melissa Madden

=/=



Neil arrived soon and, as promised, he and Melissa went into the back yard and began throwing the football back and forth. After a few rounds of this, she got bored. Lili walked out to watch.

“Doug! Let's play something else,” Melissa said.

“Uh, no, thanks, Ma. I gotta go to Reversal now,” Neil said.

She came up close to him and Lili heard her whisper, “Tonight, then, Doug. Everybody will be sleeping. And then you and me, we can do it.”

Neil reddened, “I'm Neil, Ma.”

“Neil?” she asked, “I like that name.”

“Norri!” he called, “I gotta get back to Fep City and go to work.”

Norri came out, “Thanks for coming. I know it's not easy.”

“It's okay when we're just playing catch,” he said, “I can almost believe that she's okay. Or I can justify it; it's like playing catch with Marty or Jenny.”

Declan came out, “Thank you. Our best to everyone.”

Neil nodded and left.

“Where did Doug go?” Melissa asked.

“Doug's gone,” Norri said absently.

“No! Doug is fine,” Melissa insisted, “He's not dead.”

Norri turned white, “What did you say?”

“I want pancakes. Or, no, no, I want a sandwich. Can I have a sandwich?” Melissa asked.

Declan held onto Norri's arm, “She doesn't know. Explaining doesn't do any good.”

“I need to get a very special thing,” Melissa said, starting to walk back into the house.

“Find out what that is,” Norri said to Declan.

He followed her, and so did Lili. Again, Melissa opened up the jewelry box, took something out and then put it back. She then left the bedroom. This time, Declan opened the box and took out the item.

Norri got Melissa into the parlor where there was a view screen, “Lemme see. Would you like to watch something with people dancing in it?”

“Yeah.”

“All right. How about Grease? Let me put it on for you,” The music started up and Norri was able to join Declan in the kitchen, “Have you got it?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, “Look,” It was a tablet. On one side, it was stamped with the letters Tri-C, “I looked it up on my PADD. Have a look.”

Norri scrolled through, “My God. Do you think she remembers why she has this?”

“Probably not,” Declan said, “Tricoulamine. A nerve toxin,” he sighed and put his head in his hands, “She's, well, at some point, she meant to kill herself.”

“And now she's forgotten what it's for,” Norri said.

As if in response, Melissa began chanting, “Special thing! Special thing!” again, and got up and went into the bedroom. Once again, she opened up the jewelry box. But now the tablet was no longer in there, so she began to wail.

Declan and Norri ran in, “What's the matter?” Norri asked.

“Spec –, spec –” was all that Melissa could stammer out, between sobs. Finally, she whined, “Belinda, where is it?”

“Come into the kitchen,” Declan said, “C'mon.”

“Okay, Malcolm.”

The two women sat down, and he brought the tablet over, “Melissa, do you know what this is?”

“Special thing!” she was excited to see it again.

“Yes, but what does it do?”

“It's ... special.”

“Yes. But what do you think it does?” he asked, insistent.

She thought for a while, “Sleep. Forever. I can see Doug again.”

“How does it do that?” Norri asked, voice trembling a little.

“I wouldn't breathe. Not anymore,” Melissa said.

“I see,” Norri said, “When did you get it?”

“Can I watch my movie?”

“Sure,” Declan said, leading her back to the parlor. They spoke a bit, but it was tough to hear them clearly. When he returned to the kitchen, he said, “You know, it's funny. She has these moments of clarity. Like just now. She told me that she knew how the movie turns out. And she's right. So there are some things she still knows.”

“Are you thinking of giving her the tablet?” Norri asked.

“I don't know. A minute or so of clarity – it's really not a lot,” he said, “But we can't get anything more than that out of her these days.”

“Understood,” Norri said. “I'm of two minds about this. I know that assisted – I can't even say the word – but I know it's legal. But only if the person knows what's going to happen to them. We can't just give it to her if she doesn't know. It would be like, well, like her believing that your plain old cheap juice glasses are somehow unique and made from diamonds.”

“It would be like killing a child,” Declan said, “But I don't think she wants to go on.”

“I can't tell,” Norri said, “And I don't want to promote my own agenda. And, at the same time, huh, I figure I will feel guilty either way.”

“We need to make sure. If she understands, then we can let her have it, right?” Declan asked.

“Yeah,” Norri said, “I don't wanna do this. I don't want to be responsible for the end of her, her existence,” she started to cry.

Declan held her for a while, and then walked back into the parlor, “Come with me,” he said to Melissa.

She followed, and they sat back down in the kitchen.

“Tell me what the special thing is,” he said, holding the tablet so that she could see it.

“Medicine,” she said, “Make me, uh, to make me die.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.

“Yes. I need to do this before I forget everyone, and everything. Help me, Dec,” she said.

“Are we in agreement?” he asked.

“Yes,” Norri said, “I'll, I'll get a glass.”

He started to fill it with water, but Norri stopped him, “No. Give her orange juice. Let the last thing that she ever tastes be something she really likes,” Norri started to cry again, and was startled that Melissa put her hand on her arm to comfort her.

Declan hugged Melissa and told her that he loved her. Then Norri kissed her lover and told her the same thing, “Forever. Really.”

Declan gave Melissa the tablet and the glass of juice, and she took the pill. There was just one little gasp. He then put his hand on her neck, “It's done,” he said.

=/=


“I am riddled with imperfections, through and through.” – Pamela Hudson

“You are a worthwhile person. With or without imperfections.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



They were back in the hospital room.

“You turned out well,” Lili said to the baby, and kissed his forehead, “A good, decent man.”

“He ended her life,” Q said.

“Yes, he did. Such as her life was,” Lili said, “She wasn't going to get any better. And all that would have happened, if they had waited a day, or a week, or a month, would have been that her consent and her knowledge would have gotten more and more suspect. At least, by doing it then, they had a fighting chance of her understanding what could happen.”

“So they saved their skins, at least according to the human and Calafan justice systems.”

“It's more than that, and you know it, Q. It's about her knowing what was happening. Otherwise, well, Joss becomes a veterinarian, right?”

“Yes.”

“And he has to euthanize animals sometimes. I'm sure it's difficult. And the animals usually don't know anything that's happening. That's mainly their own limited reasoning capacities, but it's also how it's done. The animal is given a sedative. If it thinks at all, it thinks it's going to sleep. It probably knows that any pain it's got disappears when it sleeps. So it may even think that it's going to stop feeling pain, at least temporarily. But that's it.”

“That's an awful lot of anthropomorphizing.”

“I know. Melissa, even in her condition, was presumably, at least some of the time, more intelligent than that. Certainly she was capable of higher reasoning, but only in small doses.”

“Dose. An interesting choice of words.”

“Yes, I know. But she knew she was getting worse. She was confusing everyone with those who were already gone. She must have missed Doug. And I suppose she missed Malcolm, too.”

“And Leonora's mother, as well.”

“I guess so. This is the very essence of letting go. They gave her the thing she wanted and needed more than anything. She left on her own terms, as well as she could. It was bad enough. Were they supposed to wait until she had no mind at all, and then it would be machines pumping air into her lungs? You say our medical care is primitive, yet we can abuse people with it just fine, just like pros sometimes. They will live with that, you know. But they also know that they did the right thing.”

“Letting go,” Q said.

“Yes. And they had to respect her choice as an individual. For Joy, and for you, people have to let you do what you think you need to – even if it's not the most wonderful thing. If you're competent – or, at least, in this case, transitively competent – you should be allowed to trip and fall if that happens. With my children, I've watched them learn to walk. And it sometimes takes a lot out of me to keep from putting my hand out and guiding them or catching them. But I can't, always. And I try not to. Of course, if they are in any real danger, I'll protect them. But they need to fall a bit, and learn what that's like. The world isn't all soft landings. I wish it was, but it's not. And they need to get it that some landings aren't so nice. But they still have to be able to try new things, and without my interference. Because I don't always know best. Are you staying together in the Continuum because, maybe, just maybe, you all can't bear to see the others fail?”

=/=



“I never did that with a guy before.” – Melissa Madden

“I'm committed. Really, committed. In love, happy, the whole nine yards. And then, suddenly, I've been unfaithful. And then again, and again. And it makes me wonder – because I couldn't resist it – what's really going on. And I figured, yanno, I should totally hate myself, and hate the person I'd been unfaithful with. To my mind, that's what all made sense. And then, heh, suddenly I realized that that person isn't awful at all. And I don't hate myself. And I don't hate that person.” – Doug Beckett

Chapter 23 (Part 1) by jespah
Author's Notes:

Leonora's final theme - Elvis Costello - Every Day I Write the Book

“… you do not have to tell me anything, of course, but, uh, I just gotta say, I bet she's a hellcat.” – Tripp Tucker

“I can't go back to that when we've moved so far forward in the past two years. I'll just have to stay away.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



She walked through the halls, a vision in her midriff-baring uniform. She was looking good after the last one – definitely still a hot little number after having six kids!

At least, that was what she thought of herself.

Andrew Miller was a good find – attentive, better than average-looking and even a decent Science Officer. He was even a bit gallant and sometimes funny. That was all good.

As for child care, she still had Aidan MacKenzie, and even brought him in for some of the fun at times, but he had other interests and – horror of horrors! – even sometimes threw her over for the new teacher, Miss Cheshire. It was daring on his part, and that made her want him even more. As for tossing him into the agony booth for his insolence, she had considered it, and even done it at times, but it always degraded his performance. Plus, she needed him to care for her four remaining kids.

The other two of the six were, so far as she knew, dead somewhere on Lafa II. The twins. Eh, well, she would have liked a daughter, she had to admit. But this was one of the main reasons why she'd produced such a large brood to begin with. It was an heir and several spares, and they could and would fight over the succession once she was gone. No sense in giving them any ties to each other, save the all-important central blood tie to her. That blood tie was not only undeniable, she figured it would keep her alive for many years after they'd all reached the age of majority.

She would teach them well. She already was teaching them, and Aidan and the teacher – what was her name? Suzanne? No, Susan. The three of them were teaching the four children, and Miller even, at times, threw in a few tidbits. They were learning to fight, and to torture, and to collect a generous cut of the winnings from the wagers laid during the weekly Game Night, along with the three Rs. They were learning to treat their inferiors like dirt.

In short, they were learning to be emperors and, if she could just have another one with Miller, she'd have a good basis for the future and could rest a lot more easily.

As she sauntered down the halls, sloe eyes beguiling every comer and turning every gaze into either a withering put-down or an inviting come-on, the Empress Hoshi Sato smiled and had not a care in the universe.

That is, until a small, greyish-white blur brushed her foot as it raced from one opened door to another, mere seconds before it slid closed.

A mouse.

They had been loose on the Defiant ever since Hayes, Cutler and Tucker had departed, never to return. That was, what? 2157.

Yes, her four remaining sons – Jun, Kirin, Arashi and Izo – they were learning many things. If she had a fifth one with Miller, perhaps she'd name him Nezumi – mouse – and he could learn how to be an exterminator.

She hated mice.

=/=



“Unless you, uh, go for an older woman.” – Travis Mayweather

“You will try to reassemble your lives. You'll put your, your puzzle back.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“What do you think just happened?” Norri asked as the three of them returned to the cellar. They had pillows with them, and more bread and water, the pretexts for having gone up there so as not to scare the children or generate too many questions.

“Uh, what happened?” Melissa asked her quietly.

Malcolm showed Melissa the PADD, with the clear little movie of him kicking the toy into the funnel cloud and it bouncing off, “Huh,” Melissa said, after she'd reviewed it a few times, “It's like the cloud isn't a cloud at all.”

“Yes,” he said, “But I can't say what it truly is. And without access to the grid, we don't even have a means of contacting a meteorologist and asking.”

“You really think this is a weather phenomenon?” Doug asked.

“No, I don't,” Malcolm said, “It's just that that's the first specialty that popped into my head. But of course, well,” he sighed, “I suppose it doesn't matter. I just wish I wasn't missing so much of Declan's first day.”

“I know,” Norri patted his arm, “And I can't tell you that there will be other days, even though we all know that there will be. It's this first ever day. And you really didn't want to miss it.”

“No,” he said, “I do, I want to be a good father to him. I just fear that this is, well, it seems inauspicious.”

“I bet a lotta things started out oddly and turned out all right,” she said, “I understand you and Lili didn't exactly have a conventional first, er, well, no specifics in front of the kids.”

“Understood,” he said, “And we most certainly did not. And I am led to believe that such was true between Doug and Lili and between Melissa and Doug as well. I suppose the only truly conventional first meeting was you and Melissa.”

“Yes,” Norri said, smiling a little, “I suppose that's true. Kids, let's get the bedding all set up for later.”

=/=



“Lili is here, and real. I don't have to fall asleep in order to be able to touch her. Not anymore.” – Doug Beckett

“... it's a marriage. And by definition there are only two pieces, and they only fit together in one way.” – Malcolm Reed

“This is, it's going to come up again. We're not the first, and we won't be the last.” – Doug Hayes

=/=



“Fear of failure?” Q asked.

“Yes. Are you all together and clinging because you're afraid that everyone's going to venture out and just fall apart or something?”

“I don't know,” he admitted, “At least, I know of myself that I am ready to go out and, and meet the challenges of, er, the challenges.”

She smiled at him, “Did you have a childhood, parents, that sort of thing?”

“No.”

“Has anyone in the Continuum?”

“There have been children born. And DNA has been introduced before.”

“How long ago?”

He thought for a moment, “About a billion of your years ago.”

“Holy cow,” she said, perhaps a little too loudly. The baby woke up and began to cry a little. She picked him up and rocked him a little.

“What, uh, what is distressing him?” Q asked.

“I have no idea,” she admitted, “Sometimes, it's just a mystery. He isn't wet and I don't think he's hungry. I think he's just tired, and he's being pulled around a bit too much.”

“That pulling around is not going to end. We, uh, remaining here is not necessarily the safest thing to do.”

“I see,” Lili said, “But quickly, a question – how long have you and Joy been together?”

“Uh,” he thought for a moment, “about four billion of your years.”

“When you said you had history, you meant it.”

“Indeed I did.”

“So if the universe is, what, around fourteen billion years old, and you came into being within, let's say, a year or so of that, then you've been with Joy for a good third or so of your life, yes?”

“That's more or less accurate.”

“It's a long time. It looks like Doug and I are together for a third of my lifetime, or close to it. And with Malcolm, we're together over forty years, right?”

“Forty-three.”

“And I'm over ninety when I pass.”

“Ninety-three,” Q said.

“So that's almost half. And if you count the nights, well, it's even longer, I guess. You can count the nights, right?”

“I don't see any reason why not.”

“These are, without a doubt, significant connections. And yours to Joy, it's a significant one as well,” Lili said, “She matters to you, even if you don't say so.”

He was again distant, “Matters,” he said, “You mentioned failure.”

“Yes,” she said, “And I bet Joy's successes and failures mean something to you – possibly as much or even more than your own successes and failures.”

“She's a Q. She doesn't fail.”

“Oh, but you do. Or, at least – no disrespect meant – you can misjudge things. So I suspect she can as well. And you both, as you try new things, well, they might not always go the way you want them to, yes? But your saying this, it bodes well. I am not saying that you should look at her with rose-colored glasses, but seeing her mainly in a positive light, well, it means that you do care.”

“You have imperfections,” he pointed out.

“Countless ones, I'm sure. Yet they're more or less overlooked by the people who love me.”

“Yes,” he said, “You bare your midriff even though it's not as flat as it was when you were younger.”

“That was in a dream with Malcolm. I know I have a bit of a belly. And I've had three children now, so things aren't going to just snap back, not without a boatload of work. But I'll go shopping for a bikini, when I've lost some of the baby weight. I'll go with Norri, and probably Melissa as well, and we'll pick something out. And I will wear it.”

“Because Malcolm wants you to?”

“In part, yes. But also because, well, I think I want to. To hell with anyone who thinks I shouldn't be wearing one. So what?! Life's too short.”

“That is an attitude that I cannot cultivate,” he said, “For life isn't short.”

“Too true. Do you think Yipran was right, that there will be another Big Bang, and that the one you came just after, that that one wasn't the first one?”

“I can't say,” he said, “No more than I can tell you what is on the other side of the bridge.”

He was distant again, “Come, we need to go to another main event. It's not safe here.”

She picked up the baby again, “Another negative?”

“No,” he said, “This one, I believe this one will be very positive.”

“Good,” she said, “My heart can't take another negative right now.”

=/=



“There is nothing like paper.” – Leonora Digiorno

=/=



It was a lecture hall, filled with people. They were backstage. Norri was pacing, “Dammit, dammit!” she muttered to herself.

A clock on the wall behind her scrolled through the time – seventeen hundred hours and fifty-eight minutes and then the date – October first, 2211.

“Norri's, um, seventy-five?” Lili asked.

Q nodded.

“Oh, Neil, thank God!” Norri exclaimed, “Have you got the slideshow ready?”

“Of course, Ma. Take it easy. It'll be fine. You'll be great.”

“I am terrified,” she said.

“They will love you. Trust me,” he said. He kissed her cheek. He indicated the stage, “You're about to be introduced.”

A Master of Ceremonies was on stage. He was a copper Calafan, and he said, “And now it is my privilege to introduce to you the author of the new book, The Human Pioneers of Lafa II. Please give a big round of applause for Leonora Digiorno!”

The audience applauded. Quietly, to herself, Norri said, “It's show time,” she walked onto the stage. Lili and Q followed, staying discreetly to the side.

“I ... hello,” Norri said. The audience laughed a little bit, “I guess I wasn't expecting so many people. I do, I appreciate your coming. So I thank you.”

She sat on a stool that had been set up on the stage, “I know that some of you may have already read my book. Or at least parts of it. So what I'm about to say might not be news to you. But I'll say it anyway,” she smiled, warming up.

The audience, indulgent, laughed a little.

“She's a natural,” Lili said. Q just directed her back.

She continued, “It began, not with a quest for religious freedom, or a grab for land, or a desire to create a utopian society or even on a lark, with people just looking for adventure and a change of scenery. No. It began with a kiss.”

She sipped a little water and continued, “It was – let me go back – to the very beginning. It was December third, 2102. And a boy was born, to Jeremiah and Lena Beckett Hayes. They named him Douglas Jay. This was Ganymede. But it wasn't the Ganymede you and I know, for it was another universe, another side of a proverbial pond. The radiation band – unlike our twenty-one centimeters – it was twenty. And in a place where the odds were about three to one that you'd have a boy, a boy was born,” she paused for a second, “And two days later, also on Ganymede, but on our side of the pond, a boy was born, to Jeremiah and Lena Beckett Hayes. They named him Jay Douglas. The boys were what we call counterparts. They were, physically, identical. But on the side with so many boys, there was a comparable spike of testosterone, and so things were skewed. And on our side, where literature and art and agriculture and peace are valued, on the other side, war and fighting and violence and exploitation – those things were valued instead.”

She sipped again, “The boys grew. And on March twenty-seventh, of 2109, a baby girl was born, to Declan and Marie Helêne Ducasse O'Day. Both sides of the pond welcomed this girl, on the same day. She was named Charlotte Lilienne O'Day. And on our side, she was called Lili, because she was a small thing, and her mother – who had named her, in part for her mother-in-law – didn't want to call her daughter by her mother-in-law's name. And on the other side, we don't know what she was called. So, for the purposes of today, and to make things easier to understand, I will call that counterpart Charlotte,” she paused again briefly, “Both girls grew, and two years later, but only on the other side, a baby brother was born. He was named Declan, just like his father. At age seven, Douglas Jay was sent away to school. This was the Triton Day School. So while Lili and Charlotte were infants, Doug was already separated from his parents and living in what were essentially school barracks. As for Jay, he lived with his parents and attended a regular elementary school. In 2116, Doug took exams, which were required for all fourteen-year-olds on that side. There were only a few possible outcomes. Some would become artists or the like. Others would go into science or medicine or engineering. And a few would go into politics. But the vast, vast majority, they would become soldiers. Doug was one of them. But he scored very well, so he was sent to West Point, on Earth.”

She paused again, “Now, we call our home planet Earth. And West Point isn't for teenagers. But that's not how things were there. And the home planet wasn't even called Earth. It was Terra. As for Jay, he continued living his life. And Lili and Charlotte, they lived theirs. Charlotte, she must have started school that same year. But we don't know where she went. So on the other side, the mirror side of things, you barely saw your parents. You'd be back for a weeklong holiday every season. And in 2118, on June twelfth, Charlotte was back. Little Declan, I suspect, had not yet started school. As for Lili, she went to her mother's parents – Richard and Lilienne Ducasse – for an overnight visit. And this is where things really begin to diverge.”

She smoothed her hair back for a second before continuing, “In both O'Day homes, a kitchen fire broke out. And, in both, it went out of control. And, in both, everyone in the home perished. On our side of things, it was just Declan and Marie Helêne. That's the elder Declan. Two victims. And on the other side of the pond, there were four victims – the parents and both children. So Lili lost her counterpart that day, although she had no way of knowing that. Fast forward, to February thirteenth, 2154. It was the Xindi War, and Jay Douglas Hayes was on board the USS Enterprise. He was a Major, in charge of the MACOs. And he was sent out to rescue Communications Officer Ensign Hoshi Sato. He was successful in his mission, but he was shot by a particle weapon in mid-transport. This killed him, in the presence of his friend, Malcolm Reed. And so on that day, Doug lost his counterpart. But he had no way, at the time, of knowing that, either.”

She shifted her position a little, “Fast forward again.”

“There's more, of course,” Q said.

“Shhh, I wanna hear,” Lili said.

“And,” Norri said, “The mirror side ended up with the Defiant, an advanced ship. And their Malcolm Reed – you remember him? He passed, as a victim of a bribe given to the Chief Medical Officer. It was, apparently, in many people's best interests for him to not survive. So Malcolm – who I will tell you of in a moment – he lost his counterpart.”

“Really, you know this,” Q complained.

“It doesn't mean I don't enjoy hearing it,” Lili said, “C'mon.”

“So we have our five principals. Doug, Lili, Malcolm, Melissa and, well, me,” Norri smiled at her audience, “And here's where it gets interesting.”

“It's about time,” Q said.

“Honestly! If you can hang around some place for a half a millennium, you can sit through a two-hour book lecture, Q.”

“It was October twenty-eighth of 2157. Lili was a sous-chef on the USS Enterprise. The ship was approaching the Lafa System. It was the first human ship to be there, although Vulcans had been there before. The System was of interest because it's near Klingon space, it's not too far from Andoria, and there are four suns. Lili had worked hard that day, like she always did. She was a gifted chef, but fetched and carried, and chopped and cleaned up, for she had little confidence in her abilities and no one to share her life with. She had no one, really, to celebrate the good times with, and she had no one, even, to complain to. Unbeknownst to her, there was a small Calafan coin stitched up in the bottom of her mattress. That night, like every night, she retired for the evening.”

Norri took another sip of water, “And Doug, he went to bed as well. But he wasn't alone. His girl was Jennifer Crossman, who had a counterpart serving on the Enterprise. That Jennifer was Lili's roommate. Now, I have no idea whether Doug even kissed his Jennifer good night. It's entirely possible that he didn't, for they were on the rocks and he felt trapped. But he, it turns out, was sleeping on the same mattress, for the old Enterprise equipment, some of it was repurposed for the Defiant, and that mattress, and another one, were shoved together to make a bigger bed for two people to share. So he, too, was sleeping on an old Calafan coin. And both of them were sleeping not ten feet away from a woman named Jennifer Crossman.”

Norri smiled, “Now, this is where, you see, things are so precarious. For if Doug's Jennifer had preferred the left side of the bed, or if Lili and her roommate had switched beds, then things would have turned out far differently. Jennifer would have met Jennifer, shrugged and, perhaps, battled. But that's not how it happened.”

=/=



'One good love story deserves another. – Hoshi and Chandler.' – inscription written inside the flyleaf of Jane Eyre

“Well, we write our own love story. With a few twists.” – Melissa Madden

“Yeah, the twists. I'm not so sure I like the twists.” – Leonora Digiorno

=/=



“There was a collision,” Norri continued, “But it didn't involve metal or glass. It was of people. And they both remembered it similarly, but differently. You know, it's how any couple remembers their first meeting. Lili remembered being shoved into a wall, and then kissed. Doug remembered pushing back on someone who he initially thought was an attacker, but then he realized that that person was a lot shorter than he, and he then recalls that person reaching up and taking his face in her hands and kissing him. But either way, I suspect that it doesn't matter a lot. Either way, it progressed rapidly, for they both thought it was a regular old dream. So clothes flew away, and, well, I know there are children in the audience. So I won't go into specifics. You see, this is the way I get you to buy my book.”

The audience laughed, “All I can tell you is, they both told me, it was really good. And I mean, really good.”

The audience laughed some more, “The next day, Lili chopped oranges all day long. And that's significant, because a steward leaning over to ask if everything was all right was when Malcolm sat up and really took notice. And he realized that this steward, who he had passed a thousand times in the halls and hadn't given a second glance, that she, was someone he might really want to know. As he said it, she smelled like sunshine and happiness. And Doug noticed it; too, for the first word he ever said to her, that word was oranges,” Norri sipped more water, “Funny how the same thing was noticed by both men. But that would not be the last time that they were both beguiled by her.”

=/=



“She'll deny it up and down, but she's in love.” – Joss Beckett (Sato)

=/=



“And now, I do hope you'll indulge me. But I have some family photographs,” Norri said.

“Wait, Q, what did we skip?” Lili asked.

“You have seen this,” Q said, “You lived it.”

“Huh. I suppose so,” she said, adjusting the baby in her arms.

“All right. First, a few quick ones,” Norri said, “Let me see if I can get this thing to work right.”

She fiddled with the controls a little, “There. Now, this first one is of me, actually. This is when I was twenty-one, when I first met Melissa.”
 Young Norri

Norri continued, “As you can see, I am now twenty-five,” she grinned at the audience and brushed back her grey hair, “Okay, so I'm seventy-five. Can't blame a girl for trying, eh?”

She clicked, “This next one is of Doug, from right around the time that he first crossed over,” she paused, “Wasn't he a looker?”

 Doug at crossover

She clicked again, “Here's Lili, back when she was pregnant with Joss, so it's when they were first married.”

 Pregnant Lili

Chapter 23 (Part 2) by jespah
Author's Notes:

Chapter 23 continued

She advanced the slide show, “Next is Malcolm. This is actually a photograph taken by his old girlfriend, Pamela Hudson, when they were dating. It's from sometime in early July of 2158.”

She smiled, “He was a looker, too, but in a different way.”

 Malcolm when he was dating Pamela

She advanced the slides again, “Next is Melissa. This is from when she was pregnant with her – our – eldest son, Tommy.”
 Pregnant Mellie

“Ah, my beauty,” Norri said, “Now here are some from when the arrangement first started, which was in August of 2159. You may be wondering why we're not all posing together. This is because, except for Lili and Doug, and, for a little while, Malcolm and Melissa on the Enterprise, and then Mellie and me together on Ceres, no one actually lived together. Gotta love the Calafans – they made most of it possible. So, first up is, I hope you'll indulge me, as it's my ugly mug again.”

 Norri at the start of the arrangement

She thought for a moment, “I was, um, twenty-three then. Next on the hit parade is Malcolm. He's forty-six here. This is an official Starfleet photo, so my thanks to them for allowing me to use it.”

 Malcolm official photo

”He's got that look like, I can think of sixty different ways to kill you but I just don't feel like doing it right now, eh?” The audience laughed, “The next picture is of Lili, and this is actually Doug's favorite photograph of her.”

Lili favorite

“She never thought she was pretty, but she was. Fifty years old there, too! Doug used to call her the white-hot flame and I think you'll agree with that assessment, eh? That's just after Marie Patrice was born. Next is my lovely Mellie again.”

 Mellie at the start of the arrangement

“Of course she was just barely pregnant with Tommy then, and only twenty-five. And last is Doug, who was fifty-eight years old, can you believe it? This is my favorite of him.”

Doug favorite

“He was so serious. I wonder, I bet he was thinking – what the hell have I gotten myself into?” The audience chuckled again.

She sipped some more water, “A few more, if you will be so kind. A few family favorites, if you will,” she clicked a bit, “Here's probably my favorite one of Lili,” she breathed, “You can't see the calloo there, but you can see, she's got the key charm on. She was very confident, finally. I think she was around fifty-two or so here.”

 Lili confident

“Here's Lili's favorite picture of Malcolm, taken when he was on family leave to care for Declan.”

Malcolm favorite

“I do wish Starfleet had been more lenient when it came to facial hair. Man, oh man!” Norri pretended to fan herself.

“I think this one is my favorite one of Mellie. You can see she's wearing Doug's bracelet. She became more pensive after Kevin's short life. It changed her.”

Mellie pensive

“Here she is with Doug on the hunting trip when she conceived Neil. It's a happier time, but the photo shows Doug distracted. I get the feeling he was thinking, take the picture already, so we can get outta here and make a baby!”

 Mellie and Doug hunting

”Just a couple more, please,” Norri said, clicking, “This one is Melissa's favorite one of Doug. It's from, um, I think around 2164 or so.”

Doug 2164

“Last one. This is Malcolm's favorite photograph of Lili and it's Melissa's favorite as well. You can kind of see her calloo here. She's about fifty-four or fifty-five here.”

Lili calloo

“So that's, um, that's us. There are more pictures in the book. See, this is another shameless ploy of mine, to get you to buy my book,” Norri said.

=/=



“You were very strong. A fierce lioness. You protected him.” – Malcolm Reed

I don't know what you'd call Norri to us. A good friend, a sister, even, I guess.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



They were back in the hospital room.

“Oh, that was sweet,” Lili said.

“Even though some of the information was incorrect?”

“Well, it's not perfect. It's her perspective, not mine. I mean, I remember the time with the Witannen differently. Norri wasn't there.”

“But the record is not right,” Q insisted.

“I imagine a lot of other historical records are pretty bad,” Lili said, “It's okay.”

“But –”

“But nothing,” Lili said, “She got the names and the places right. And most of the dates are correct as well. It's not perfect. But it's still delightful and sweet and it evokes us, possibly better than we really were. I don't need absolute accuracy. So she didn't perfectly succeed. Again, I say, so what?! Lafa II will continue spinning, even if a detail or two here and there is imperfect. The gist of it is there, the essence survives.”

“Scholars will read this book, and they will not have a clear picture.”

“I know that we have no real idea how the ancient Egyptians really lived,” Lili said, “We've got tombs and we've got some artifacts, but we don't really know how they told jokes or scolded their children or flirted or anything of the sort. I suppose only someone like Rick Daniels would ever really get the complete picture. And maybe he sees the transitions as well, as we slide from time to time, and era to era. I think we can see them now, too. But the details fall away. You said you don't look at details, and you don't get into our heads. Same difference here, eh?”

“Transitions – those are the decisions that pull the timeline along the universe's true course,” Q said.

=/=



“But – my father's family was from Massachusetts. It's an Indian word. It means, 'Place where they don't pronounce their Rs'.” – Lili Beckett

“She – uh, Lili – she always said that all names are meaningful. Not just their meanings and translations but also what they mean to the parents who provide those names to their children.” – Malcolm Reed

Chapter 24 by jespah

“I want to talk to someone who knows about more than just conquering things. Someone who's read a book or two. And maybe kiss that woman a few times, too. And more if she'll let me. Will she?” – Aidan MacKenzie

“I don't go by half-measures. And I will love and support you both day and night, kiddo, like I have ever since we met.” – Leonora Digiorno

=/=



“Transitions and errors,” Q said, “Yours, perhaps, are minor ones. But ours – they can affect the entire galaxy.”

“Yes, collateral damage, right?” Lili asked.

“Correct.”

“So you need to be careful. I mean, when Doug and I fight, we're careful so that the children don't hear. I imagine Malcolm and I will need to do the same.”

“You also, you don't always get along with Melissa, either.”

“That's right,” Lili admitted, “There's push and pull there as well.”

“Push and pull.”

“But – is there a peacemaker among you?” she asked.

“Yes. For the most part, it's Joy,” he said.

“But you've fought with her at some point, right?”

“Not often,” he said, “Although it does happen on occasion. And you have a peacemaker as well, right?”

“Yes,” Lili said, “It's Melissa, actually. She – well – recently Doug and I had quite a row. It was about Joss's schooling. Doug wanted Joss to go to a regular school. He argued that Joss is too big, and too smart for a pre-school program. But he's only three, you see, so I argued that Joss should be home. Melissa is the one who got to the bottom of it, for Doug and I were too busy picking at each other to get to the heart of the matter. And it was, well, Doug was concerned that Joss would be so big, and he'd be bored by the lessons, that he would bully the smaller children. And my end of it, it was that I was seeing my little boy growing up so fast, it bothered me. I mean, I know it'll be a long time before the nest is empty, but I hated – I still do – that they grow up so quickly. It's the mirror genes. Joss is three, but he looks and acts about twice that.”

“And the outcome?”

“We sent Joss – he just started – to a regular preschool.”

“So you won the argument?”

“No, well, not really. It was a compromise. And Doug got something he wanted, which was for Joss to also go into Little League. And, well, he now hits a tee ball with kids who are, chronologically, one to two years older than him. But it's good for him, as he works off any frustrations he may be having. He's a sweet and gentle child, and I can see the future veterinarian in him. But he's also a big kid, so yeah, if he loses his patience, he could hurt another kid. This works out best for everyone.”

“And in the mirror, during the alternate timeline, he was a ballplayer anyway.”

“That's right,” Lili said, “But that was also because, on that side, they don't exactly value vets. He, it's pretty obvious, he grows up well,” she picked up the baby, “This is the only one who's going to remain a child for as long as he should.”

“You'll have more diapers to change.”

“That's true. And I can't say that I'll never complain about that. But it's all right,” she said.

He was distant again briefly, “We should go soon. Another event.”

“This one will be negative, right? It's Norri's death.”

Q nodded as the room began to transform.

=/=


“I'm no teacher, but I can clean the erasers or something.” – Aidan MacKenzie

“I know why you fell so hard, and so fast. It's 'cause, you just know.” – Jennifer Crossman

“I guess we're gonna be parents. You, me and him.” – Leonora Digiorno

=/=



It was a crowded bedroom.

Lili counted eighteen people. There were Joss and Jia, off to the side, with their two kids. Jay looked like a young man; Shaoqing was a teenager. Then Tommy in a Major's uniform, sitting on the edge of the bed, and Declan behind him. Then she saw Marie Patrice with Ken Masterson, and Kelly, who was, perhaps, about thirty or so. And then there were Neil and Ines, with their two kids. Jennifer Leonora was a young woman. Martin Kevin was about eighteen or so. Yinora was there, with her husband and her three children. There was also a silver Calafan nurse who would pop in and out on occasion.

Lili looked at the clock on the wall – September second, 2212 – and the time was sixteen hundred hours.

“Malcolm's centennial,” she said, “And Joss – he's, um, fifty-four today.”

Q just directed her back.

“I bet you're all waiting for me to say something really profound,” came a trembling voice, and Lili saw the nineteenth person. It was Norri, in the bed. She looked shrunken, tired and sick, “But I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you all.”

“You won't, Ma,” said Tommy, and she reached up and tousled his hair.

Lili went over to Shaoqing as she saw that the girl had a PADD with her that had gone into sleep mode. It scrolled through photographs – Kelly Masterson's High School graduation, and Joss and Jia's wedding and the Bat Mitzvah photo of Lili with Malcolm and Declan and the Shapiros and their two daughters. Then there was the short movie of Marie Patrice kicking the soccer goal. Another photograph was of Doug and Lili's wedding. Another was of Declan in front of the Eiffel Tower, and another of him in front of the ruins of Pompeii, painting.

“Got room for one more in there?” asked the nurse.

“Sure,” Norri said.

It was a woman, in her late thirties perhaps, with thick black hair and greyish-blue eyes, “Sorry I'm late,” she said, first to Declan, and then she came over and kissed Norri on the cheek. Then she went back to stand next to Declan.

“Who's that?” Lili asked.

“Hang on,” Q said. He brought her over to where Shaoqing was standing, and indicated the PADD. Q flicked a finger near it and it returned to the Bat Mitzvah photo. From left to right, in the back, Lili saw Ethan, then Karin, then Declan, then her and Malcolm. And in the front were the elder Shapiro daughter – the Bat Mitzvah girl – and the younger one. And Lili noticed something she hadn't before – that the younger daughter was poking Declan in the ribs.

“Who is she, Q?”

“Rebecca Shapiro,” he said.

“She's how old in the photo?”

“Eight.”

“And Declan was twenty-two, or almost, if I recall correctly. So, this young girl has a crush on him. It's pretty obvious from the photo that she's flirting. And he thinks nothing of it, and goes off to live his life. And he marries.”

“Yes, he weds Louise Schiller in 2187. The, uh, that photograph is from 2183.”

“But then he gets a divorce,” Lili said.

“In 2190.”

“And he goes on, and he mourns the end of his marriage and he loses his parents and – I am guessing recently – he heads off to Europe.”

“Yes. It was at Leonora's insistence, after Melissa's death.”

“I thought you didn't pay attention to details, Q.”

“An exception,” he said, “Nothing more.”

“Did he go with her?” Lili asked.

“No. They – well, here. There are photographs,” he flicked his finger again and the PADD showed four photographs, all in four quadrants. There were the two she'd already seen, of Declan in front of the Eiffel Tower and another of him painting the ruins of Pompeii. Another was just of Monet's water lilies, at Giverny. And the last one was of Declan and Rebecca, standing in front of Tower Bridge in London. He had his arm around her and it seemed a little tentative.

“When was the trip?”

“Last summer. 2211,” he flicked his finger again and the photographic slide show went back to a random mode, and a picture of Marie Patrice with Andorian, Calafan and human models in front of an MP Fashions sign slid by.

“So they're together for less than a year.”

“Yes. Watch.”

=/=



“Thank you for making me a mother. I can't imagine life any other way.” – Leonora Digiorno

“Sharing your time – I suspect it's not always easy for him. Much like sharing Melissa's time may not be so easy for Leonora to do. But we persevere. The rewards are too great to not make the effort, my love.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“I suppose the occasion calls for some profundity,” Norri said, “But instead I'd like to tell you a story. Way back when, before any humans were here, it was 2157, in May. And there was this girl. She was barely twenty-one, and had just gotten her BA from Oklahoma State, in English literature. And she didn't know much. She knew she was twenty-one. She knew she loved books. And she knew she was gay. And that was about it,” Norri smiled, “So she went on vacation, to Ceres. It was the first time she had ever been away from home. And, you gotta understand. Ceres is the very essence of a budget vacation. There is no skiing like on Charon. No great architecture, like there is on Triton. No one talks with a pretty drawl like on Titania. There's no view of Saturn like on Dione. There are no beaches like on Ganymede. There are no old human homes like on Mars or the Moon. It's just a view of a lot of other asteroids and not much else. So this girl, she went there. And she didn't have a lot to do with herself. So she ate a lot of Room Service, and she hung around. And not much else.”

She paused for a breath, and Tommy took her hand, “And then on May eleventh, she was sitting in the hotel bar. And this group of pilots came in. And there was this one pilot. She had brown hair, and dark brown eyes, as big as saucers. And the girl, the one from Oklahoma, she realized that, right in front of her, was everything she had ever wanted. But she was scared, so she sat in the back of the bar, and said nothing, worried that she would say the wrong thing, and kicking herself for blowing her chances. But the pilot, she saw. And so she did this,” Norri slowly raised her hand and crooked her finger once, “And the girl came over. And she never left. And now the pilot is gone. And that girl, she is no longer a young girl. And she will see the pilot very soon.”

“No, Ma. You're gonna get better,” Tommy said.

“No,” she said, “Yifep said, and I know she's right. It's why you were called here.”

Norri looked at all of them, her glance lingering, “This is my family. We are young and old, male and female. We are straight, we are bi, and we are gay. We are tall and short, fat and thin. We are Mexican, we are English, we are Italian, we are French, we are Polish, we are Calafan, we are Greek, we are Chinese, and we are Irish, so don't mess with us. We are Protestant, and we are Muslim, and we are Catholic, and we are Buddhist, and we are atheists, and we are agnostics, and we might be Jewish, too,” she smiled, “We are from Earth, and Ganymede, and Lafa II, and Titan, and I bet someday we'll be from Andoria and Vulcan and the Xyrillian home world, and any number of other, as-yet undiscovered places. We are designers, we are healers, we are chefs, we are artists, and we are defenders. And we are sports people, and nurses, and business people, and architects and writers and everything else, because we can do anything. Beware of falling in love with us, for we play for keeps, and we will not let you go. When we say forever, we mean it.”

She seemed to gather her strength in order to continue, “Tom, I have earrings that your mother gave me. I want you to have them. Get a piercing. I don't care where. And if you wear even one of them, you can have a dream, the kind they have here. And maybe you can see someone, and, and be happy. I know Starfleet won't let you wear them with your uniform. But you can wear one to bed, right?'

“Yeah,” he said, “I can do that.”

Jia buried her face in her husband's chest. Lili heard her whisper, “It's like when my father passed. I, I can't watch.”

“I have books, as you can all imagine,” Norri said, “The electronic ones, I hope you will all pass them around. But there are physical ones, made of paper. Tommy, I have Future Shock and 1984, so dystopic. I hope you'll read them, and think about how things could have turned out. How different things could have been.”

He nodded.

“Marie Patrice. I want you to have Jane Eyre. And I also want you to have the bracelet that your father gave Mellie. You know, the one with the oval charm with the three circles. Because, like Jane and Mellie, you are the strong, independent heroine of your own life.”

“Yes,” replied Marie Patrice.

“Neil, I have a book by Samuel Richardson, it's called Pamela (Or, Virtue Rewarded) . Since you're related to Pamela, I would you like for you to have it. Maybe read it with her. She's lonely, and I bet she'd be amused by the company.”

“Of course,” he said.

“Related?” Lili asked.

“Yes,” Q said, “Pamela Hudson is the widow of Yinora's uncle.”

Norri said, “Joss, I have a Bible, both Old and New Testament, and I have a Koran. Those were all owned by my great-grandmother in Sicily. And I have Dante's Inferno, The Purgatorio and The Paradisio. I hope you will read these, and begin to understand just what your father struggled with, from what he had done, before he knew your mother.”

“I will do that.”

“Declan, I have Charlotte's Web, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass,” she paused, “I give these to you, not only because your mother was Charlotte, and because of the connection to a distorted mirror, but also because these are three of the most important classic works of children's literature of all time. And I hope, although I cannot know it for sure, I hope that soon you will be reading those books to someone.”

Declan didn't answer, but Lili saw him squeeze Rebecca's hand.

“Marie Patrice,” Norri said, “I hope you will continue to spin out beautiful things,” she smiled, “Tommy, you are going to go out there, and you'll see things that none of us have ever seen. I do hope you can go in with clear-eyed optimism, and see most species as potential friends, and not hostiles.”

He nodded, and Lili could see that he, the toughest guy in the room, was crying.

Norri looked up, “Out there, it's as crowded as it is in here. My brother Phil, with his violin and bow. And there's Kevin, laughing and chasing another boy. Kevin has dirt and a small plant in his hands, and he's trying not to drop it. And the other boy, he's got a baseball glove.”

She looked back around the room again, “Declan, give yourself up. It's time.”

Declan just stared straight ahead and swallowed, “That's the thing he's most afraid of,” Lili said.

“Neil, one day, Reversal will close for good. And it will not be from anything you said, or did, or anything you didn't say, or do. It'll just happen. But it will be remembered well. I can guarantee you that.”

“Thanks, Ma.”

“More people, and it's clearer, too,” she said, looking back up again, “First, the men. Two are tall, like they were. Jay, with a hammer. And Doug with both versions of Malcolm, I can see them. The mirror Malcolm, he has a wrench. And between Doug and our Malcolm, they are carrying, it's one of those saws that you need two men for. And they can't be unequal, for the sawing would become messy and uneven. So they must work together, and push and pull in tandem.

“Push and pull,” Lili whispered, “How could she have heard?”

“She didn't,” Q said.

“And what I can tell is, for four men, who spent so much of their lives destroying, killing and creating all manner of mayhem, those men, instead, now, they are charged with a task. And that task is to build. For that is what they are doing. They are building a home, and it's for all of us. The mirror Malcolm and Doug had to; they had to work off their debts. The people they saw when they got here, and they didn't recognize most of them, I know who they were. They were the ones, the slain, and their families, all from the other side. But their debts are paid, and now they can work on this.”

“How could she know that?” Lili asked. Q just directed her back.

“White hot flame,” Norri said, “Carrying a wooden spatula and a key. And that will be the key to that home. And my darling Mellie. So strong, so beautiful, so smart. She has a bow, and on her back there is a quiver full of arrows. For she is going to bring home dinner, and Lili will cook it. And for two women who didn't always get along, they will work together, and they will provide and they will fill that house with all good things.”

Norri paused to take a deep, wheezing breath, “And I see what I am being given. For you are what you did, and what you wished for, and what you can do, and what you dreamed of doing. And I am being given a PADD and a stylus. For it is my task to record all of this, and be the historian and the one to add perspective and try to make some sense of it all.”

She looked up for a second and then back at all of them, “Joss, be good to everyone, even when they annoy you.”

And that was it.

=/=



“We can be very kind people to each other when we want to be.” – Malcolm Reed

“I think all we can do is make them the best home that we can, and rise above our baser natures. The five of us are partners, right? If we work together, with what's good from each of us, then I think we'll be really all right.” – Leonora Digiorno

Chapter 25 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Warning - this chapter is particularly violent.

“But what does this have to do with the price of tea in China, Doug?” – Melissa Madden

=/=



“So tell me, Q, is Norri right?”

“I have no idea.”

“Because you're not in our heads?”

“Correct.”

“Uh, why aren't you in our heads?”

“Well, it wouldn't be as much fun that way.”

“Huh. Well, um, what if you could be?”

“It's possible,” Q allowed, “But hardly recommended. A human would be injured. It's far too much for you to handle, as it interferes with your own thought processes.”

“Oh? So, um, but you can do anything, right? You should be able to control things, and make it so that you could be in someone's head without, uh, literally, blowing their mind. Right?”

“I suppose. But you've got messy thoughts. And you have already been cross with me about violating privacy – you certainly were upset when you felt I was in on Malcolm's mourning for you, and then his own death. You did not like that.”

“True,” she thought for a moment, “I want to know what's on the other side of the bridge. I want to know if she's right. And I think that the only way to know it is by being in someone's head. At the, uh, at the very moment.”

“Possibly. But do you think any of you are reliable witnesses? Isn't there influence?”

“Huh. Well, let's see. Melissa hears from Doug what he sees. So if she sees anything that he did, it might just be her thinking of that. Plus she's got Irumodic Syndrome so what she sees might not be accurately observed. And Malcolm hears it from me, so he might also be influenced. As for me, I might hear from Melissa about Doug. And Norri could have heard either from Melissa – about Doug – or from Malcolm, about me. She might even have heard both. I mean, she does have the most detailed of the visions. She might be the least reliable of all of us, although I hope she's not – and I'm also mindful of the fact that the book is inaccurate. After all, the arrangement started in September of 2159, not August. Who knows what other details have been missed by her? So the only person left is, well, Doug.”

“Are you sure?”

“Hmm. Y'know, he might not be reliable, either. After all, well, he's not that religious, but he does celebrate Christmas. He's not totally free of faith. He could be influenced by that. It has to be someone with no ties to faith and no understanding of anything they might hear or see.”

“Perhaps,” Q said.

“It's a bit like – Chip once showed a film on Movie Night called Rashomon. It's about a crime, but there are all of these perspectives. No one seems to be more accurate than another, or less biased. Huh. I am neither lawyer nor judge. How can I make sense of all of the testimony?”

“Don't ask me. Work it out for yourself.”

“Wait. A person with no influences – that's what I need. I need not their testimony but their observations. Someone who hasn't heard of religion. Someone who's only getting, essentially, sensory input. And I think I know who that is.”

“No,” he said.

“Oh, yes,” she said, “But you have to swear – and I mean swear – that you will not harm him. Because if you do, well, I've seen you injured, and I will figure out a way to hurt you, Q, if you hurt Kevin.”

“So you wish to be in Kevin's head?”

“Yes,” she said, “But only for, maybe, a minute before, during, and a minute or so afterwards. Let's say five minutes, tops. Is that possible?”

“Huh,” he thought for a moment, “This has been about Kathryn, and then it was about Joy. And then it was about me. But I think it's now about you. And I don't like the idea of going into someone's head. It's, it is against our ethics.”

“Ethics?”

“Yes. We, we do have them. Somewhat, that is,” Q said, “And keeping out of a sentient being's thoughts – that is one of them.”

“But would you bend your rules?” she asked, “I just want to know. I just, just want to know. Please.”

He thought again, “There will be a price.”

“What is it?”

“Sixteen more events.”

Sixteen?” she asked, “Haven't you had enough fun for one day?”

“They have all, all of them, already happened. And you lived through one of them. But you might not remember it correctly,” he said, “The other fifteen; they're Doug's.”

“Oh,” she said, “The kills. Doug is a killer, fifteen times over – at least when it comes to humans. And, and, me. I killed a Xindi Insectoid. You are talking about those, right?”

“Right.”

She thought for a second, and leaned over the bassinette to gaze at Declan, “I, when we go, for, uh, for that, I need something from you.”

“You're hardly in a position to bargain.”

“But you, you have no quarrel with him, right?”

“No.”

“So, well, he shouldn't see any of that. I imagine it's awful in ways that I can't, well, imagine. And I know Declan is only a day old. But he can't even have the slightest chance of remembering anything. No sights, no sounds, no smells, no tastes, and no feelings – I don't even want him to sense a temperature change. Put him into molasses time while I hold him. Can you do that?”

“Yes,” Q said, “That is, it makes sense,” he waved a hand and the baby was still.

“He'll be all right. You can snap him right out of this, yes?”

“Yes, and I have. You know this.”

“I know,” she said, “It's just that I hadn't really seen him like this. It's unnerving.”

“He is not a corpse,” Q said, and the scene began to change.

=/=



“What kind of a father would I be if I didn't try to get them back?” – Doug Beckett

=/=



Lili was laid back, and it was as unnerving as when she'd really looked at a suspended Declan. She still had him in her arms; she was still herself, her age, and all of that. But she was also, in a way, Kevin. And so, like Kevin, she was being held by Melissa, and Doug's hand was gently placed upon her own.

She looked up, into their worried faces, and found herself taking one huge, gasping breath. But unlike Kevin, she continued to breathe.

“He's, he's done,” Doug said, “Isn't he?”

Melissa put her fingers on Lili's – no, Kevin's – neck, “I can't feel a pulse.”

“Oh, God.”

“Doug, do you, do you think there's a place where, where he is right now? Where he's safe and comfortable?”

“I, I don't know,” he said, “An afterlife? I, I never believed in that.”

“You hear about people seeing lights, and going to them. Do you think that's what happened?” she asked, between sobs.

“I hope it's not just our brains losing oxygen,” he said, “The universe laughing at our tiny lives.”

“Don't say that,” she said, “He can hear us.”

“I don't – uh, maybe he can. Kevin, Daddy and Mommy love you,” Doug said.

“No more pain,” Melissa said softly, “Forever.”

And then Lili saw, as it got foggy, and misty, but the fog cleared quickly, and instead, she could see blue skies, with a few little white, puffy clouds, for contrast, but no threat of rain.

And she could hear two sets of footsteps, coming, feet on stone. One tread was heavier than the other, as if one pair of feet was larger, and attached to an adult, and the other set belonged to a child. And she heard a voice she knew, and it said, “Hold that for a sec, okay?”

“Jay Hayes,” she whispered.

And she could feel a transfer, and gentle hands held her as she was, it seemed, much like an infant, moved from one parent to another, or one holder to another. And she saw, and it was Jay, who always had looked so serious, but he smiled a bit, down at her – and at Kevin. And there was another face, a small boy, with ethereally light blue eyes and white-blond hair, just like hers, a seven-year-old child, who also looked, and smiled, and asked, “When can he play ball with me?”

Jay answered; “Soon,” she felt a much larger hand press a clod of earth into her – Kevin's tiny fist. It felt warm and a little moist, like good soil, where anything could gain purchase and grow.

Their faces moved away a little, and Lili felt herself being carried, and the feet stepped again, two treads on stone. The clouds moved, as she was moved, evidence of passing, and she felt a bit of a dip, as if the crest of a bridge or arc had been crossed, and now it was all downhill, and easier. And she saw the small boy for a second, and he had a baseball mitt, and there was a hammer in his hand, as if he were holding it for Jay.

They stopped, and a woman said, “Welcome home.

“That's my mother's voice,” Lili said.

=/=



“Become Jay. Take on what he was.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



Back in the hospital room, she shook for a moment as she opened her own sweaty, empty fist, “There is something there. There is something there,” she kept repeating to herself, a kind of mantra.

“I don't –”

“There is,” she said, “You gave me, they were Kevin's thoughts, and the things he heard, and his visions, not mine, right?”

“Correct.”

“So he couldn't possibly, well, let's see. Maybe he could figure out Jay, somehow. After all, Jay and Doug, they are counterparts. So, let's assume, for sake of argument that Kevin could somehow figure out a younger Doug. For it's some twenty-plus years since Jay's death when Kevin is born, right?”

“Twenty-three.”

“But let's give that one to the skeptics, all right? That Kevin – who probably couldn't function in society without an enormous amount of help – that, that Kevin could somehow figure that out.”

“A stretch, but all right,” Q allowed.

“But then there's the matter of Declan O'Day. And, and of my mother, Marie Helêne. And the other things. Did Kevin ever see a hammer? Or a, or a baseball glove? Did he ever hear a New France accent?”

“No,” Q admitted.

“There is something there. There is something there,” she was hopeful as she held Declan, and gently rubbed the top of his head a little, tousling his white-blond hair in her fingers.

“You must pay your debt to me,” Q said.

“Yes. The sixteen sights, they will all be, more or less, together?”

“Yes,” he said, “They'll be short, and it will be better if we stay away from here during that. It's not safe here right now,” The scene changed.

=/=



“But it's never careful enough. I'm still the one who ends up broken and bleeding. I'm the one whose life is, is in danger. And that last time, Pete, too. You should just, you should get with her because at least she's not gonna die when you do it.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



It was an industrial kitchen.

“The Enterprise,” Lili said, “I know this date. It's November twenty-first, 2153.”

Lili saw her own, younger, self, aged forty-four, putting a turkey in one of the big ovens, “It was Thanksgiving, I remember now,” said the elder one.

“Turkey's in!” yelled the younger one, “Gonna work on yams now,” The younger one took a cast iron skillet down from a hook attached to the ceiling and then grabbed a cutting board and a French knife. She started to cut off the bad parts of yams and cut them into julienned strips.

There was a Communications chime, and she answered it. It was Hoshi, “Insectoids are on your deck.”

“Coming? Here?” she asked, and the door slid open.

She saw Malcolm and Jay running by, MACOs behind them. Jay leaned in for a second and just said, “Watch it, they've boarded.” Then he ran off.

The younger Lili looked around and turned off the flames on the stove top and the ovens. Then she thought better of that, took the pan off the flame and emptied the julienned yams back onto the cutting board. Now she turned the heat up, everywhere that there was a possible flame, “How's about a little fire, Scarecrow?” she said to herself, clutching the pan and the knife.

“What was your plan?” asked Q.

“I didn't really have one,” the elder Lili admitted, “I was – and am – no soldier. But a kitchen is loaded with weapons. I figured I could use the fire, or the knife or the skillet. It turned out I only needed one of those.”

The kitchen door slid back open and a pair of Insectoids arrived. There were clicking and popping sounds as their mouth parts moved, like just so much interstellar static. They were holding particle rifles. One gestured to the other to circle around. The younger Lili was standing right by the refrigeration unit, and waited.

“That's her,” said the elder Lili, “That Insectoid is She Who Almost Didn't Breed in Time.”

The Insectoid came closer as the younger Lili held her breath, skillet in her right hand, and knife in her left. The Insectoids communicated again, something, perhaps, about splitting up. The door slid open again, and the other Insectoid left.

The younger Lili saw her chance, and raised the skillet to about shoulder level, and whacked the Insectoid, hard, in the face.

A squashed bug, she was, She Who Almost Didn't Breed in Time, and there was a stain on the wall behind where the head had hit. The body fell, and Lili cautiously picked up the particle rifle. The door slid open, and she aimed the rifle at the opening.

It was Malcolm, and he said, “Is everything all right?” He was asking like she was nothing special, just another Ensign. And, at the time, that was exactly what she was to him.

The younger Lili replied, “I don't like bugs in the kitchen. It's, um, it's a Health Code violation.”

“Kindly don't shoot me,” he replied, “Are there any more of them in here?”

“No,” she said, and he left.

“How did you feel about this?” Q asked.

“Awful,” said the older Lili, “Once I realized what I had done. It wasn't a joking matter. Someone was dead – someone sentient. I found a way to contact her family when we made peace with them, and I sent an apology.”

“Did you think that would be enough?” he asked.

“I had no idea. But it was all I could do,” she replied, “Her daughter, she seemed to, well, to kind of forgive me.”

“Forgiveness,” Q said, “You said it wasn't easy to achieve.”

“It isn't. It isn't easy to provide, either.”

“Can you provide it?” he asked, “Once you have seen what I am about to show you?”

“I can't promise anything,” she said, “But I said forever to Doug, and I meant it. So show me already.”

=/=



“Yeah. Charlotte O'Day. That's you. Because, you see, Lili Beckett? She's not like this. She's loyal and she's kind and she's good. And she would never tell me to just go and gallivant off. She would want to, to be with, with me.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



It was a barracks.

“Where are we? And when?” Lili asked, holding the eerily quiet baby close.

“West Point, on the other side of the pond. It's 2122.”

A man blew by. He had a patch on his arm that said L. Donnelly and a Sargent's insignia, “That's Lucas Donnelly,” Lili said.

“Watch.”

Doug came in, fresh-faced but angry.

“He's maybe nineteen here,” Lili said.

Wordlessly, Doug caught up to Donnelly. They were alone, perhaps the other occupants of the barracks were on a day pass or something. Doug grabbed Donnelly and held the older man down, and strangled him with his bare hands. Getting up, Doug said, “I get to move up.”

Lili barely had a moment to react as the scene changed.

=/=



“Any time something like, like that happens, there is someone who mourns, and someone who feels it. I don't relish becoming a killer.” – Aliwev

=/=



“This looks like Vulcan,” Lili said.

“Yes. It's 2125, so Doug is twenty-two.”

A man came in, short, with thick black hair, and walked down a hall to his quarters. Doug was waiting, and phasered him in the belly. The man fell, and Doug rifled through his pockets for a flat rectangular-shaped piece of polymer with a notch cut out of the side.

“That's a room key or a house key,” Lili said.

“Yes,” Q said, “Doug killed Ethan Shapiro in order to get his quarters, which were bigger.”

“But that's not a counterpart to the Ethan I know.”

“No. This is a cousin,” The scene again changed.

=/=



“This is not the time to take out the guy you don't like.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



It was a boxing match, Doug against a redheaded fellow. The announcer was a fellow soldier, who called out to the assembled mob, “And this 2127 match is for a B Rations card! It's Hayes versus Harris. Bets, folks, lay your bets!”

The bout was a quick one, as Doug hit, hard, below the belt. And Christian Harris fell to the canvas as the announcer soldier stuffed a hard card into Doug's gloved hand, “Eat well, Dougie.”

=/=


“That was a game. Children play games. Men take command. A command is more serious. It's dangerous. And you find that sexy.” – Tommy Digiorno-Madden (Sato)

=/=



It was a war zone.

“Where? When?” Lili yelled out.

“2128, on Denobula!” Q yelled back.

Doug was running, dodging fire, with another man in front of him. He grabbed the other man and used him as a shield, in front of phaser fire.

“Who was that?” Lili asked.

“Carlos Castillo.”

=/=



“It's hardly useful unless I can actually watch you two beat at each other, I suppose.” – Marie Patrice

=/=



There was a blonde, looking cheap and easy, standing near an airlock.

“Where and when?” Lili asked.

“It's the ISS Avenger, and this is 2129.

“Who is she?”

“Christine Chalmers.”

“Is she Doug's girl?”

“Not yet.”

Doug came over with a very dark-skinned man, who grabbed the girl, “Ehigha,” she said, “It's over.”

The man looked surprised and then Christine and Doug grabbed him and got the airlock open. Out he went and, after they had closed the airlock, Doug grabbed at her and began reaching under her skirt.

“Gawd,” Lili said.

=/=



“She's actually a little less peeved when she's pregnant. Usually.” – Lucy Stone

=/=



“It looks like, man, there are a lotta Klingons around,” Lili said.

“There should be. This is Kronos, their home world, in 2130.”

Doug was on a carpentry detail, hammering a board over a broken barracks window, when he spotted another man. He attacked that man with the hammer, and beat him with it. The other man was a bloody, pulpy mess by the time Doug was done. When he was satisfied that the other man was dead, he reached into that man's pocket, ignoring money, and took out a card. He only kept the card.

“What, what kind of card is that?” Lili asked, cringing. This one had been particularly gruesome.

“It's a three-day leave.”

=/=



“Lead the way, old man.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



Another man, this time they were near a cliff, “It's 2131. This is Andoria.”

“Oh.”

Doug and the man fought, and the man was pitched over the side.

“What was that for?” Lili asked.

“Wes Goddard wouldn't change shifts with Doug.”

=/=



“I got a gal on Ariel, she's got a nice bod, but her face's like hell!” – Doug Beckett (cadence count)

=/=



There were asteroids in the sky, circling around and nearby.

“Is this Ceres?” Lili asked, “I haven't gone there.”

“Yes. It's Ceres. This is 2132.”

Doug was doing electrical work, rewiring some conduit. A man came by, and he took a live end and pressed it into the man's chest, thereby electrocuting him.

“What was that for?” Lili asked, again cringing.

“Rodney Hamilton was one level above Doug. This act makes Doug an Ensign.”

=/=



“Maybe I'll just take my chances with all of them.” – Aidan MacKenzie

=/=



“What place is this?”

“It's Titania, in 2133.”

“Doug, he met Susan – she was from here.”

“Yes, but this is a couple of years before that.”

Doug was waiting in an alley, and a man walked by. Doug yelled, “Troi!” The man turned, and Doug phasered him in the heart. As with Shapiro, Doug went through the guy's pockets and took out a key.

“Now Doug has Wil Troi's apartment, which was bigger than his own.”

=/=



“You can't breathe in the vacuum of deep space now, can you?” – Empress Hoshi Sato

=/=



It was a hot place, steamy and jungle-y. Doug looked older.

“What is he, thirty-five here?”

“No. It's 2144, so he's forty-three,” Q said, “This is Cambodia.”

“So it's eleven years later,” Lili said, “It's like he, he had these frenzies when younger, but he's more mature. And I wonder, did being with Susan change him?”

“Possibly.”

“This is where Doug did Basic Training. I wonder why he's back for a visit,” Lili said, holding the baby closer.

Doug took out a knife and waited, sneering, angry. A man walked by, too close, and was knifed in the carotid artery. There was blood everywhere.

“My God, what was the reasoning behind that?” Lili cried out, anguished, “It was almost as awful as the, that hammer.”

“Donald Ellison gets eliminated, and Doug gets a raise.”

=/=



“Don't show weakness.” – Marie Patrice Beckett (Sato)

=/=



“This is 2147 – it's the Tellarite home world,” Q said.

Lili just nodded, too shocked to speak.

Doug crouched and waited, rope in hands. He saw a man, “Sorian,” he said, “Gimme your day pass.”

“Get yer own,” sneered Sorian.

And for that, he was garroted, and his pass was taken.

=/=



“I can guarantee you that someone will do something really stupid.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



This time the man was sleeping. Doug crept in and smothered the man with a pillow. A few struggles, that was all, and no one came to the man's defense.

There was a uniform hanging nearby, with a Major's insignia on the arm patch.

“Doug is now a Major, because he has just eliminated Major Ian Landry. It's 2149.”

=/=



“You know – beautiful twins. Can't tell who's who so ya kinda, you know, split the difference – that sorta thing. Don't tell me you never thought of Crossman that way.” – Aidan MacKenzie

=/=



Doug was looking good, but older. His hair was carefully combed and his uniform was clean. He was striding down a hall and smiling a little to himself.

“What's, uh, the occasion?” Lili asked, afraid to learn the answer.

“He is meeting Shelby Pike for their first ever encounter,” Q said, “It's 2150 and this is a transport from Titan to Ganymede, and right now they're circling Ganymede. Doug wants to get to the surface.”

“In the worst way, I imagine,” Lili said absently, “What am I saying? By definition, it'll be the worst way.”

“Hayes! I got a work detail for you,” said an Asian man.

“I got no time for details, Fong,” Doug said, trying to go around the guy.

“You will do this.”

“C'mon, I got leave!”

“Not anymore you don't,” said Fong, and that was his last mistake. Doug was able to overpower him and, as he had with Christine Chalmers, he shoved Fong out of an airlock. Smiling to himself, he whistled a little as he left, in anticipation of hot sex with Shelby Pike.

=/=



“So this Klingon, an Andorian and a Vulcan walk into a bar. And the Klingon's a male, super-tall. And he's completely buck naked, except for a strategically placed piece of string to which there's attached this note. So the bartender gets curious and he reads the note, which says ...” – Chandler (Chip) Masterson

=/=



It was another Asian man, this one had a Major's rank and a MACO patch on his arm, “Hayes!” he barked, “Get back in line!”

“Yes, sir!” Doug responded. There were dozens of soldiers all around him. Even though he, too, was a Major, he waited with them.

“Now, we're gonna draw lots to get onto the Enterprise!” yelled the Major, “The Enterprise has decent-sized quarters, better food and there are women,” announced the Major. His arm patch said G. Sulu.

Lots were drawn, and Doug did not get a place on the ship, so he knifed Sulu in the gut, “Okay!” Doug yelled, blood on his hands, “I am now the commanding officer for the Enterprise detail! Follow me if you got a place!” There were a few other killings as soldiers pushed to get on the Enterprise. Everyone wanted to be where there would be some women.

“That was 2152,” Q said.

“The fourteenth one, right?” Lili asked, almost mechanically.

“One more,” Q said.

“The next one is after Doug and I met.”

=/=



“Someone's got to be the court jester.” – Jun (Daniels) Sato

=/=



“It's November thirteenth of 2157, isn't it?” Lili asked, “This is the Defiant's transporter room.”

“Yes.”

“Then Doug is about to cross over into our universe,” Lili said. She leaned over and kissed the baby's forehead, “We've met, he's, he's in love and he's, he's leaving it all behind him.”

A uniform was discarded on one of the transporter pads. The arm patch on it said D. Hayes. There were charges laid, behind and to the side of the pads.

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.

The scene shifted a little, a skip of about an hour or so.

“C'mon, let's go do it on the transporter pad,” Deborah Haddon took Aidan MacKenzie'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.

Jun, the Empress Hoshi Sato's firstborn, banged on the door to the transporter Room. There was a mouse 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.

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.

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.

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.

“H-Haddon!” yelled Aidan, cowering.

Morgan made his way in and found her body, or at least most of it.

=/=



“How are you surviving?” – Doug Beckett

=/=



They were back in the hospital room. Lili sat down on the bed and just shook all over. The baby came out of molasses time and started to wail. She couldn't even bring herself to quiet him.

Teeth chattering, she finally got up and had the presence of mind to place him in the bassinette before turning around to address Q.

“What was all of that about? Why did you do this?”

“Me?” he asked, “My dear lady, I am not your husband.”

“I didn't need to see all of that.”

“Oh, but you did. You haven't had all of the information. Not until now. You committed yourself without knowing all of the facts.”

She was gasping and rocking a bit, standing there, “I knew some of this. It, it shouldn't have shocked me so.”

“But you didn't know the details. Your husband doesn't volunteer them, and you don't ask.”

“I don't exactly have the time,” she said, “I can't just ask him about, about that when the children are around.”

“Then ask when they aren't. Put your own physical needs aside and ask.”

“Why?”

“Because you said – you were the one who said this – that forgiveness is hard to give out. Can you give it out for this?”

“I don't know!” she yelled back, baby crying and matching her volume, “Why are you asking me this? Why are you doing this, Q? What the hell did I ever do to you? What purpose is there?”

“I have to learn this,” he said slowly.

“Why?”

“Because I have the same problem,” he said.

“What?”

“I told you – Q have been killed before. There was a young Q, a female. She was raised in a human fashion, and given the name Amanda Rogers. This was in the twenty-fourth century, a bit earlier than my, well, than my current association with Kathryn. Amanda's parents were killed – in a Kansas tornado.”

“The storm,” Lili said, “You said my family was safe.”

“They are.”

“You also said you had showed me the timeline, and that I don't leave Doug.”

“That is the timeline.”

“And then, dammit, you show me this.”

“Yes, and I wonder, would you leave Doug?”

“Are you showing me a timeline, or alternatives, or what? Is it all lies, Q? Have you been lying to me? Except for me killing She Who Almost Didn't Breed in Time, I've got no verifications whatsoever. It isn't even Rashomon if it's all a pack of lies. Is it? Is it, Q? You said you weren't here to pull the wings off flies but you are here to hurt me and mine! You've got no right and no purpose. You don't even know why you're doing this, do you? Are you just making this junk up as you go along, is it? What did you hope to accomplish here, by deceiving and hurting me this way?! How much of a big man are you, how impressive are you, if you can squash me like I'm the bug? Does it thrill you, perhaps? Do you get a charge out of it or something?”

“No. I have questions,” he said, “I am attempting to get some answers. And I have, as you said, struck a nerve.”

“You got questions? Forget it. But I've got a doozy. That Kansas tornado – Amanda Rogers – who, who killed her parents, Q?” Lili shouted, baby still screaming in the background, “Was it Joy?

“Yes,” he said, “It was.”

That brought Lili up short. She went over to the bassinette and picked up the screaming Declan, “I am so sorry, my little love. I am so very, very sorry,” she cried as she rocked the baby to quiet him.

“We are in the same place, you and I,” Q said, “Do you, can you, can you forgive?”

“You?”

“Not me. Doug. Can you forgive him?”

Lili thought for a while, “To be completely honest, I have to say that the thought of leaving him is crossing my mind right now. Just picking up and marrying Malcolm instead. It almost seems easy,” she paused, “I, why doesn't he insist on telling me? He had chances to, particularly before Joss was born, when it was all fresher anyway. Why didn't he tell me?”

“He is terrified,” Q said, “You know him, and he doesn't want to admit it. But he is frightened.”

“Of me?”

“Of you leaving him.”

“Oh,” she said, “and because of that, he can't tell me the truth? Not even a few more than the tiny scraps he's doled out so far? I know of only the names of a few of them. Donnelly, Harris, Shapiro, Sulu and Haddon – those were the only ones I knew. And I knew how Deborah died, but not the others. I am his wife,” she cried, “Not his confessor.”

“True. But you need the whole truth. Don't you? There is a speech, written by one of the better ones of your species – William Shakespeare. It's in a play called Julius Caesar. The speech is ...”

“I know it. I memorized it in school,” Lili said, “Portia says it. She says,

'I should not need, if you were gentle Brutus.
Within the bond of marriage, tell me, Brutus,
Is it excepted I should know no secrets
That appertain to you? Am I yourself
But, as it were, in sort or limitation,
To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed,
And talk to you sometimes? Dwell I but in the suburbs
Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,
Portia is Brutus' harlot, not his wife.'“


“That's the one,” said Q, “You – we both – need to know the full details.”

“Full disclosure,” Lili said, “And then, there is a price that we should pay.”

“A price?”

“Yes. That price is full forgiveness. No holding back,” she said, “If you, if you want to be with Joy. If you really, really want to, and it's not just a lie, well, you will need to do this, too. You will need to hear it all. But you will also need to forgive it all. Can you do that?”

“I –”

“I said, Can you do that?” Lili said, voice rising again, “And if she can love you – then that will be how she is forgiven. Through her acts, and her words, and her gestures. Through her kindnesses and her caresses and her creations. Take in the ugly, because you need to, because it's a part of the whole thing. It's all of a piece. And if you are rewarded with beauty and sweetness and affection and tolerance and consideration, then consider yourself a lucky man.”

“I owe you,” Q said, “And I don't leave my debts unpaid. A moment. I must go, and be with her. But I will be back. Wait, wait a moment.”

=/=



“He's hopelessly ugly.” – Takeo (Masterson) Sato

Chapter 26 by jespah

“I know that this is yours. And it is a symbol, for your mother got it from someone she loves, and gave it to you.” – Lili Beckett

=/=


Ethan Shapiro was running down the Enterprise's halls. He stopped in front of Karin Bernstein's quarters and allowed himself to calm down and catch his breath again. Be cool, be cool, he said to himself. He hit her door chime, hoping her roommate wasn't there.

She answered, and she was alone, “You're early!” she exclaimed.

“Oh, is that a problem?” he asked.

She kissed him, “No, of course not. I'm just freshening up my makeup after shift. C'mon in.”

“Oh, um, okay,” he fidgeted a bit, feeling a tad weird. They had been dating almost a year, but he had been the very model of respectable and so being alone with her in her quarters was, well, unnerving was not the right word. Distracting. That was a good word for it.

She fiddled with her hair and makeup a bit.

“So, um, I'd like to take my best girl to dinner,” he said, “It's, um, I think it's chicken cacciatore.”

“Best girl? You mean there are others?” she teased.

“Uh, no, of course not. Only girl. One and only girl,” he said. Be cool. Be cool. That was not easy.

She turned back to a small wall mirror and he seized the opportunity. When she turned around to face him again, she found him on the floor. His left knee was on the floor itself, his right one was bent. He was kneeling, and he took a small box out from a zippered pocket, “Uh, um, Karin, will you, uh, will you marry me?” he asked.

She looked at him in some amazement, “Yes,” she finally said.

He was up like a shot – he still had the box in his hands – and ran out into the halls, yelling, “She said yes! She said yes! She said yes!”

People came out from quarters. The Botany Lab was nearby and Shelby Pike and Travis Mayweather came out of there. And there were Chip and Deborah, strolling. And Lucas Donnelly and Brian Delacroix had been chatting about something but they stopped to look at the crazy man running around in the halls of C deck. He – Ethan – stopped when he saw Andrew Miller, Josh Rosen and Azar Hamidi, “She said –” He stopped in mid-sentence, in front of Miller, who was Karin's ex. If he'd been a nasty fellow, he would've yelled something like, In your face, Miller! But he wasn't that kind of a guy.

It was Miller who was the gracious one, and he offered his hand and said to Ethan, “The better man won,” But Ethan didn't take his hand; he just hugged him, which surprised Andrew.

“Uh, Ethan?” It was Karin.

“Um, yes?” he answered; running back to her doorway.

“You, uh, don't you wanna give me the box and, um, see my reaction and stuff?”

“Oh. Uh, yeah. Sorry. I got a little carried away there.”

She took the box from him.

“We can, uh, if you don't like it, we can get another one,” he said hastily, but having no idea how he'd afford that.

“I'm sure it'll be great,” she said. Shelby and Deborah came up closer to see. She opened the box and gasped a little, “This must be, it must be very old.”

“Yes,” he said, “It was, um, it was my great-aunt Rachel's. And even before her, I think it was her great-great-grandmother's. It was made for a wedding in, um, 1896.”

She put it on, “It's, um, it's a little big on me.”

“You can get that resized,” Deborah said, and hugged her, “Congratulations!” she enthused.

Andrew came over, and Karin hugged him. He whispered in her ear, “Don't worry about Josh and me. We're not down for the count just yet. You're with the one who really loves you.”

“You will be, too,” she whispered back.

They crowded around her, and him, and the knot of people made it difficult to pass, particularly as others kept joining the throng, once they'd heard the reason for the crowd. There was Hoshi, with José Torres, and the minute she saw what was happening, she hit a wall communicator and told the captain, who then he hit the intercom and just said, “The magic's hit again. We better get this ship in dry dock before everybody gets married.”

Karin and Ethan didn't go to dinner that night. They stayed in, and that was something very new, and when it happened for her, Karin lay back and thought to herself that no one could ever make her happier.

=/=

“We're gonna be there for them.” – Doug Beckett

=/=

“You're back,” Lili said, as Q reappeared.

“Yes,” he said, and smiled a bit.

“Oh?”

“The deed is done,” he said, “I'm gonna be a Dad.”

“Huh,” she said, “That was, um, it seemed fast.”

“Are you denigrating my performance?”

“Um, uh, let's just say it was, er, less than five minutes, Q.”

“What makes you think you weren't in what you've been calling molasses time?”

“Oh,” she said, “But, really, you should, um, stay with her and stuff.”

“Later,” he said, “First, this. The war is done.”

“Maybe I was knocked out a bit,” she allowed, “So are we, uh, done?”

“I still have my debt to you,” he said, “You, uh, about forgiveness. That was the key. I had to, I had to understand that what had happened, it was awful, and it was wrong. But, ultimately, I forgave her. Because I, well.”

“Because you needed to, right?” she asked, “Because if you're going to love someone, well, you forgive them. Even if a court wouldn't. Even if society does not.”

“Yes. Tell me, you, you say forever.”

“Yes, we do,” she said, “Doug and I said it to each other. Melissa and Norri said it to each other. Malcolm and I, Melissa and Doug – and we've said it to our children, too.”

“But you don't have forever.”

“Not here, we don't. If it's real – if what I saw, through Kevin's eyes, and what I heard, through Kevin's ears – if that's real, then we do have a measure of forever. And even if we don't, we still mean it. For us, it is forever.”

“I really do have forever,” he said, “And I am finding out that I, too, mean it. I can, I can mean it.”

“That's wonderful,” she said, picking up the baby again and bouncing him a tiny bit.

“One more thing, one more event,” Q said.

“You don't owe me.”

“Oh, but I do,” he said.

“This is – what? Is it the end of time, is that it?”

“No. But you may find it to be a little bittersweet.”

“I see,” she said, as the scene changed.

=/=

“Our love for you goes on forever, even past the end of our lives. Remember that.” – Lili Beckett

=/=

It was a large outdoor party, in her yard, and the air smelled of barbecue. Lili counted. It was a good twenty-five or so people, maybe more. She heard a British-accented voice call out, “Lili-Flower!

She turned and saw an older Declan, and he had his arms out and was kneeling. A little, partly Asian girl ran over and hugged him tightly, “Great-uncle Dec!” she called out. She was, maybe, six or so. A boy ran after, probably her brother, and Declan hugged him as well.

“Doug,” he said to the boy as he straightened up, a tad stiffly.

“How old is Declan?” Lili asked. Q just directed her back. She found a PADD on a big table, which she realized had been taken out of her own dining room and set out in the yard, and another large table added, clearly from someone else's dining room as well. There were a number of foods laid out. The PADD was next to a big bowl of fruit salad, filled with strawberries and orange wedges and pineapple chunks. She watched as the PADD scrolled through some photographs. There was Declan and Rebecca's wedding photograph, and the one of Neil at the 5K race with Yinora and Ines. And there was another one of Yinora with her Calafan family, and another of Kelly Masterson's High School graduation and another that slid by quickly of, Lili thought she saw, herself between Malcolm and Doug, with Melissa on the other side of Doug and Norri on the other side of Melissa, and each of them was holding a child. But that picture moved too quickly to really be seen clearly.

Rebecca came over to Declan, “Where should I put the salad? Can you find a spot?”

He cleared some space on the table for her. A young man came over and helped. Declan then asked, “Peter, where is Stuart?”

“He's picking up Susan,” said Peter, “He is so nervous. Can you give him a break? She's never met any of them before.”

“Ha, she'll be in for a shock,” said Rebecca, “We will not embarrass him. Much. Kids! Help set the table!”

A silver Calafan girl came over and started setting the table, and a partly Asian woman helped her, “Is that Shaoqing?” Lili asked.

“Yes,” Q replied, “With Yipran.”

“Ah, I see. Looks like Shaoqing is, what, forty?”

Neil came over and picked up the PADD. That jogged it out of sleep mode, and it presented the time – thirteen hundred hours – and the date, October twenty-eighth, 2234.

“Do they have any idea that this is the anniversary of the day that Doug and I first made contact?” Lili asked.

“Probably not,” Q said.

“It's been, um, seventy-seven years. Wow,” she said. Then she thought for a moment, “When we first started talking, I asked you if any of the children died young. And I defined under the age of seventy-seven as young. You said there were two. Kevin was one. The other one, you said that one was seventy-four when he passed. So, hmm, if it's 2234, well, Joss is, uh, he's seventy-six, right?”

“That is correct.”

“So it's not him. And, and I think I remember you said that it was one of the boys. So it's not Marie Patrice,” Lili said, “It's, there are only three candidates,” she looked down at the baby, “And he is one of them.”

“Tommy!” yelled Joss, as a shuttle landed. The side of the shuttle said USS Kelvin. He ran over and the two men hugged, “C'mon, we're gonna embarrass Stu Reed and his new girlfriend,” Joss looked a lot like Doug had looked at the end of his life, but less worried. He hadn't buried a child. And he didn't have the weight of years of guilt on his shoulders.

“You are so mean,” Tommy responded, “I'm in,” he grinned. He was wearing a Lieutenant Commander's uniform.

The little girl that Declan had called Lili-Flower ran by, “Daddy!” she called out, “Pick me up! I wanna see!”

“Lilienne Melissa Beckett,” her father said to her, “you are getting to be a little bit too big for this, you know,” But he picked her up anyway. He was partly-Asian, too.

=/=

“That could be our future daughter-in-law you're talkin' 'bout.” – Tripp Tucker

=/=

The scene jump cut to later.

“What did we miss?” Lili asked.

“More greetings,” Q said.

The family was seated at the two tables. Stuart Reed arrived, with his new girlfriend. He was, as his brother had said, nervous. She was a short girl with a wide, round face and big green eyes. She looked about as scared as Stuart, seeing all of the people.

“Okay, um,” Stuart began, “Everybody, this is Susan Delacroix.”

“A relation to Brian?” Lili asked.

“His granddaughter,” Q said.

“They settled here?”

“On Andoria, actually. She is in High School here – it's a school for the gifted,” Q replied.

Stuart continued, “Let's see. You've met my Mom and Dad and my brother, Pete. Over there is my Aunt Marie Patrice Beckett and her, um, boyfriend, Ken Masterson. And that's his daughter, Kelly. His son, Wes, didn’t come today.”

“Boyfriend! Stuart, when they're over seventy, that's, uh, not the term,” Marie Patrice said.

“Um, what is?” Stuart asked.

“Soul mate. Or something like that,” said Ken.

“That's just Ken,” Stuart said.

“Moving right along,” said Susan.

“That's my Uncle Tommy Digiorno-Madden. He's a Lieutenant Commander on the USS Kelvin.

“I'm the only one here with a real job,” Tommy cracked.

“Ha, the next time you eat at Reversal, I'll be sending you a bill,” Neil joked, “I'm Neil Digiorno-Madden, another Uncle,” he got up and offered his hand.

“And next to him are Ines Ramirez and their kids, Jenny and Marty,” Stuart said, “And, uh, on his other side is Aunt Yinora and her husband, Uncle Fepwev and their kids are my cousins Yipran, Treve and Chelben.”

“I'm already confused,” Susan said.

“We're just getting warmed up,” Neil said, leaning over and passionately kissing Yinora.

Susan was a bit shocked, “Uh, isn't his wife sitting next to him?” she said quietly to Stuart.

“He's not married to either of them. You, uh, you know about the whole day/night thing, right?”

“I thought just Calafans did that.”

“Nope. Humans do, too. That's, um, the different last names – you noticed that, right? We're, um, the grandparents, they did that, too.”

“Oh. It's really complicated,” she said.

=/=

“I got news for you. Your life – your lives – are complicated already.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=

“Me, next?” asked Joss.

“Sure, Uncle Joss. And that's Aunt Jia and their kids are Shaoqing and there's Jay, and his kids are Lili and Doug.”

“I am never gonna remember all the names,” Susan said.

“Don't worry about it,” Rebecca said, rising and coming to the young girl's rescue, “When I married into the family, they were already fairly well set. So I've been in the boat you're in right now. But you see this?” she rolled up her left sleeve and showed a tattoo, “All of the women of my generation have the same body art. So if you see that, then it can only be five of us. Me, Yinora, Jia, Marie Patrice or Ines.”

“Can I see that?” Susan asked.

Lili also peeked. It was a scroll-like tattoo, in silver, around Rebecca's left wrist, made to look a bit like a bracelet. There were even tattoo charms on the bracelet. One was a MACOs insignia. Another was a daylily. Another one was a pineapple. Another was made to look like a book. And the last one was an oval with three circles in it, “We got these when the last of the older generation passed,” Rebecca said, “And that's not too long before I married in. I guess I was committed when I got the tattoo, eh? The symbols all stand for the five people in the earlier generation - Doug, Lili, Malcolm, Leonora and Melissa.”

“Is that, uh, it looks like the same silver on the Calafan lady's arms,” Susan said.

“Yinora,” Rebecca said, “Yes, it's the same amplifying material. So we can have good dreams no matter where we are.”

=/=

“I am happy, despite my many familial complications.” – Dayah

=/=

The scene jump cut again.

Before Lili could ask about that, Q just said, “Did you really want to watch everyone eating?”

“Hmm. Perhaps not. It looks like there were empanadas made. I hope they got the spices right. Those little kids aren't gonna like it if it's really spicy.”

“Must you concern yourself with food all the time?” Q asked.

“Well, it's my thing,” Lili smiled.

The family had gathered on the lawn, “Joss, you are no Spring chicken,” Jia said to him, “Will you please take it easy?”

“Not a chance,” he said, “Who's up for ball?”

They played a bit; most of them, and even little Doug played, and ran around the improvised bases after a series of completely intended 'errors' negated his strike-out. When Joss next came up to bat, he hit the ball far and straight, and no one could catch it.

Lili watched the game a little more, and then saw Stuart and Susan go over to the markers. There were six of them now, “How are they all related?” Susan asked.

“My Dad had three mothers and two fathers. And the little marker, that was his brother.”

“That can't be right,” Susan said, “I mean, who's really, really related?”

“Um, lemme see,” Stuart said, “All the way over on the left is, read that off, okay?”

“It says Leonora Digiorno, 2136 – 2212 – True companion. Adored mother and grandmother,” Susan read.

“That was, uh, they called her Norri. She wasn't anybody's actual, biological mother.”

“Then why is she being called mother and grandmother?”

“She adopted, um, Uncle Neil and Uncle Tommy,” he said.

“Next is the little marker. Kevin Madden-Beckett, 2177 – Adored brother and son. We hope he now has a chance,” Susan read, “Why isn't there a death date?”

“He, uh, he was less than a year old when he died.”

“Oh. That's horrible,” she said, “So he's related to, um, your Uncle Joss?”

“Same father. Different mother.”

“Huh. Next is Melissa Madden, 2134 – 2209 – Caring companion, mother and grandmother,” she read, “So she was Kevin's mother?”

“Yeah, and she's Neil and Tom's mother, too. And, um, she and Norri were, uh, that's why it says companion.”

“Oh. Um, if Neil and Tom are named Digiorno-Madden, then why isn't Kevin?” Susan asked.

“I'm not sure,” Stuart admitted, “Maybe because he was the last one. Or maybe because he was so delicate. I guess, um, it was some sort of a decision. I'm sure I'll never know.”

“Why did they do that?” Lili asked.

“It was,” Q said, “and you know I'm not one for details.”

“No, you're a big picture kind of a guy.”

“Well, that comes with the territory,” he admitted, “But it was because your husband insisted. He wanted the lost child to be readily identified as his,” he directed her back.

“Next to her is the stone that says Douglas Jay Hayes Beckett, 2102 – 2181 – Devoted husband, father and companion,” Susan read.

“He, um, Doug is father of my uncles Neil, Joss and Tom. And he's Aunt Marie Patrice's Dad, too.”

“What's the Hayes part?”

“It was his original last name. He, um, he came here and he wanted to change his life, and, uh, reverse it. So he changed it to, I think it was a family name. It's, uh, why the restaurant is called Reversal,” Stuart explained.

“So he's the Beckett part of Digiorno-Beckett?”

“That's right. Yeah, I didn't mean to forget, but he was also Kevin's Dad.”

“Okay. Next is the one with the flower engraving. It says Charlotte Lilienne O'Day Beckett Reed, 2109 – 2202 – Loving wife, mother and grandmother,” Susan read, “So is she your grandmother?”

“Yes,” Stuart said, “She was Joss and Marie Patrice's Mom. And she's my Dad's Mom, too.”

“Or Mum, as he likes to say,” Susan said, “The last one says Malcolm Reed, 2112 – 2202 – Beloved husband, father and grandfather. So that's your grandfather?”

“Yeah. He was a Starship Captain, it was the USS Bluebird. My other grandparents, you'll meet them some time, too. They live on Denobula.”

“That would be great,” Susan said, “Are there a lotta names there to remember, too?”

“Not too many. My Grandma Karin, Grandpa Ethan and my Aunt Alia and her family. Not too many,” he put his arms around here, “So, um, whadda ya think?”

“I thought it would be scarier meeting them all but they're all right. I do hope they don't want me to get a tattoo, though.”

“Ha, that's not necessary,” Stuart said, “That was because, uh, my Grammy Lili, she had these big long tattoos up and down both arms and on her legs, too. There's pictures. Come with me, I'll show you some. Okay?”

They walked back into the house, and Lili followed. Stuart showed the video cutout, and it scrolled through various scenes. He hit a few keys, “Okay, now it'll go chronologically. Ready?”

“Sure,” said Susan.

“Here's, uh, my Granddad Malcolm and his friend, I think his name was Mike. This was at school on Earth. I think it's around 2131 or so.”

“It's 2130, and that's Mark Latrelle,” Lili corrected him, “Yeah, I know he can't hear me.”

“This one is from 2157. It was taken on Ceres, when Granny Norri and Grandma Melissa first met. Here's Grammy Lili and Grandpa Doug's wedding picture. It's from 2158. And the same year, here they are with Joss as a baby. I think she was already expecting Joss when they got married,” Stuart said.

“Oh, a family scandal!” Susan exclaimed, “This one must be the opening of the restaurant.”

“Yep. Same year. They musta been busy. And this beach one, I think it's the next year or so.”

“No Joss? Huh, I bet that was a second honeymoon or something.”

“Maybe a first if she was pregnant during the first one, eh?” Stuart asked, “Here they are with Joss and Marie Patrice when Aunt Empy was just born, so it's gotta be early in 2160.”

“Empy?”

“Uh, MP, like in MP Fashions? And here's Grandpa Doug and Grandma Melissa with Uncle Tommy,” Stuart thought for a moment, “That's the middle of 2160, and it's about when the whole big arrangement got started, or so.”

“So that big tough guy was this little cute thing? Ha!” Susan said.

=/=

“I hope that you will realize that it shouldn't matter who has which mother. We are all family. Do your best to stay together. Be strong and stay alert. There are a thousand things I could tell you about where you may be going but the biggest one I can tell you is to not show weakness.” – Doug Beckett

=/=

The scene jump cut a bit.

“Hey!” Lili exclaimed.

“You've seen these already,” Q said.

“And here's, uh, this is my great-uncle Treve and his wife.”

“She's a human,” Susan said.

“She's Pamela,” Lili said.

The scene jumped again.

“And this is me, with the folks and Pete. I'm, uh, two here, and Pete is five.”

“You were so cute. You still are,” Susan said, kissing him. They ignored the rest of the photographs, which were more pictures of the latest generation.

=/=

“You have my hairline. You have my nose. And even if you didn't, I would still know you were mine. You were, you gotta understand, Neil. You were made by two people who loved – love – each other.” – Doug Beckett

=/=

The scene jumped, and they were outside.

The smallest children were all tuckered out, and sleeping under a spreading olowa tree.

The couples had paired off, for the most part.

Lili felt a bit like she was spying. She saw Joss and Jia; he pinched her bottom and asked, “Can I, uh, hit a home run tonight, too?”

“Uh, I think so,” Jia replied, “I am your biggest fan.”

A walk over to where Declan and Rebecca were sitting was another occasion for eavesdropping, “I like her. She's nice,” Rebecca said.

“I do, too,” Declan said, “I do hope he's happy. He's so young. If he really has found the one, that is. He didn't wait as long as I did. Of course, you were well worth the wait.”

“You won't have to wait tonight,” she whispered to him.

Neil was sitting between his two ladies, with Fepwev nearby as well, “I tell ya, if ya don't mind, Fepwev, the nights are as magical as the days are.”

“As well they should be,” the Calafan answered, “Let's wear each other out,” he said to Yinora.

She grinned at him, “Oh and then I will sleep and sleep. I hope you wear each other out as well,” she said to Neil and Ines.

“Huh, I suppose I'll have my usual dreamy dreams,” Ines said.

“Or you could take a bit of amplifier with you,” Yinora suggested, “I bet there would be a lot of fingers flicked in your direction.”

“Would you mind?” Ines asked Neil.

“When the hell would I ever mind?” he replied, “I'd say it's about damned time.”

Marie Patrice and Ken were just kissing. The only one who was alone was Tommy.

“Does he ever find anyone? I remember, Norri gave him her earrings. Does he use them, Q?”

Q thought for a moment, “He does wear one at times. I cannot say whether it works for him.”

“Oh. That's unfortunate,” Lili said.

=/=

“It's a great number, divisible by two primes: three and twenty-three.” – Doug Hayes

=/=

The scene jumped again, and the children were absorbed watching something on the view screen in the house. The older adults were all sitting together and lingering over coffee.

Joss said, “Do you remember when you first figured out what math was?”

“Oh my gosh,” Marie Patrice said, “I was at college. And I had just, ahem, done the deed for the first time. And I put, ahem, two and two together.”

“I was fourteen,” Declan said, “And my parents, they referred to it as a great number, you see,” he said, “Well, I heard of it while I was away at school, and then I realized my parents were probably doing that very thing. It was shocking. I suppose, like any generation, I thought that mine had invented sex.”

“You weren't, uh, already doing it then, though, right?” Rebecca asked.

“No. Not quite yet,” he replied.

“Well, I got you all beat,” Tommy said, “I was six.”

Six?” Neil asked.

“Yep. And you remember, Mom and Norri, they used to call it a fine figure? Well, I was sent home early from school once. I was a naughty child, you see. And they weren't expecting me or anything. I, uh, I got an eyeful.”

“Oh my God,” Ines said, cracking up.

“Yeah,” Tommy said, “And I was, yanno, I'm discovering girls, and I see that, and all I can think of is, what the hell do you people need me for?”

“Well, when my parents were a lot older, you see, Mum was going a bit deaf,” Declan said, “And I don't think they cared so much about being quiet. So I used to hear them a bit. Two people in their nineties, going at it, both sleeping and awake, at times. I didn't walk in on them, though.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember finding these; you remember Mom and Malcolm’s bed had these little throw pillows on it?” Marie Patrice asked, “Well, the pillows used to change. And I remember finding one in the trash when I was, like, I think I was about twenty-two or so. It had all these tooth marks on it.”

“What?” asked Yinora.

“Mom was, uh, she was kinda loud. So I think she was biting down in order to keep from making noises. I mean, we'd've all been treated to an eyeful then,” Marie Patrice said, “She and my Dad had the same rotating throw pillow situation on their bed. I guess it was a solution she kept with.”

“I heard the bed a few times, when Dad would come over,” Neil said, “And by the time I was around sixteen or so, I figured out what was going on and all I could think of was, Go Dad.”

“Same thing in our house,” Joss said, “He came in with a hammer and nails and stuff once to reinforce the slats.”

Lili cringed a little at the sound of the word hammer.

“I remember once, man, it was some hunting trip. And Dad and Mom, they must've been in some horrible fight. I was in High School. And they had probably really been fighting about something. And then something just changed, and I guess they apologized, and then there were just no words. And Mama Norri, she told us we were going to go out for dinner,” Tommy said, “The two of them, Dad and Mom; they just went straight into the bedroom. No words, nothing, not looking at anyone. It was like they couldn't be anywhere else,” he said, “And, um, she ended up pregnant with Kevin.”

Kevin,” Declan said.

“Here's to Kevin,” Marie Patrice said, and they all raised their coffee cups. Lili could see that she was wearing Melissa's bracelet, with the oval charm with the three circles in it.

“Mom and Dad had something like that, too,” Joss said, “It was, you see, a few years before that. And I was, uh, thirteen, maybe. Dad ended up having to do a hostage negotiation. I dunno why. He was never that good at expressing himself verbally. But he made it work somehow. And it was hours and hours. Everyone came over. And he finally came home, it was really late. Mom had fed everybody but herself. And Dad saw Melissa, and he kissed her, and then Norri, gotta love Norri, she was amazing. She just said to us, Kids, you're gonna stay at the apartment tonight. Don't even bother packing.

“That's right,” Neil said, “And they just walked right into the bedroom, not even talking. She musta been terrified that he would die there, that day. I know Mom was, and Ma Lili, she really must've been, too. I remember seeing her drop things and swearing and stuff, she was just jangly.”

“My parents, too. There was one time; it was a few years after they had wed. They were not speaking. It was for days. I don't know what the reason was,” Declan said, “But somehow, at some point, there was forgiveness. I don't know the specifics. And they just, I knew enough to clear out. I ended up walking 'round Fep City, long past midnight. I came home and their door was open, and I saw them. They were sleeping, but they were so completely intertwined, as if they had to have every possible surface touching the other person. And their eyes, moving and jumping under the lids.”

“That's rapid eye movement dreaming,” said Jia.

“Yes, and a few words, too. My mother talked in her sleep. So did my father, but my mother really did, and she was saying something about forever.”

“They all talked in their sleep. I recall Mama Norri saying something about the word wonder at one time,” Tommy said.

Stuart and Susan came over, “Can we take a family photo?” he asked.

They got up and gathered the children. Joss spent some time getting the camera and tripod set up, and they assembled. His family was all the way on the left, as he stood with Jia, and Jay, and Shaoqing and Lili and Doug. Then Tommy stood next to him and elbowed him and said, “Gimme some room, Old Man,” And they laughed.

On the other side of Tommy was Marie Patrice, with Ken, and they insisted that Kelly stand there, too. And then Neil, and the Calafan brood stood together, and Ines with Jenny and Marty. Finally, all the way on the right, were Declan with Rebecca and Peter and Stuart. They, too, insisted, and Susan joined them.

The picture was snapped.

=/=

“Yeah, we'll do math. Every night and every morning if you like.” – Doug Beckett

“And you've got your father's eyes – all bluish-greenish-greyish like stones, like the pebbles you find at the bottom of a clear stream.” – Lili Beckett

=/=

“I want to show you something,” Q said.

“Oh?”

He waved a hand and the family froze in position.

“Are they on molasses time now?” Lili asked.

“Somewhat. I want to show you, now, what happens on the other side of the pond. Based upon the people who Doug is responsible for killing.”

“Q, this is a happy time. Please don't spoil it.”

“Please. We have talked of forgiveness. I just, you need this information as well. Watch.”

“First, here,” he put his finger out and Rebecca, Peter and Stuart were all erased.

“What just happened?”

“Ethan Shapiro is killed. So there is no Rebecca.”

“But that wasn't her father. It was his cousin,” Lili insisted. She held the baby close.

“True. But the elder Ethan's death causes the parents to delay relations for one night. The dice roll differently. So Ethan's mother still becomes pregnant. But this time the child is a girl. Erin Shapiro. So, no Rebecca.”

“Oh, my.”

“And here,” he said, and he flicked his finger at the family. If a Calafan had done that, it would've been a come-on. Instead, he wiped out Jia, Jay, Shaoqing and little Lili and Doug, “With no Geming Sulu, there is no Jia Sulu.”

“Oh. That's horrible,” Lili said.

“And here,” he wiped his finger over Ken, who disappeared, but was then replaced with a darker, shorter man.

“What happened there?”

“Ken's mother – for the Ken who's supposed to be here – she's Deborah Haddon. But in the mirror, Deborah Haddon died; the last of Doug's fifteen victims. So instead there is still a Ken Masterson. But his mother is Lucy Stone.”

“I remember, I had a dream and I saw the mirror recently. It was Chip, and his wife, and the wife was pregnant. Lucy,” Lili said, “I see that Kelly is different, too.”

“Not Kelly, but Denise. And there’s no Wesley now, either.”

“Is Neil affected?” Lili asked.

“No. Ines's parents, Jennifer Crossman and Frank Ramirez, still exist, although things are different in the mirror, of course. Plus the Calafans are wholly unaffected.”

“Yes,” Lili said, “But, huh, can I do that?” she asked.

“If you wish. Here, you can do that now.”

“Let's see what happens if there is no Doug,” she said. She wiped her finger over Joss, and then Marie Patrice, and then Tommy and Neil. They all disappeared, along with Neil's children. Doug's marker also vanished, along with the small one for Kevin. Others disappeared as there was no reason for Ines Ramirez and Ken Masterson to ever visit Lafa II, much less move there, “We're left with Fepwev and Yinora and their three. And, and Declan.”

“Six,” Q said.

“But no, that's not right,” she said, and wiped the rest of the scene, “For without Doug, Malcolm and I never connect, because I was a drudge and I wasn't open to being with anyone. So there is no Declan. And, and Melissa and Norri? We never – I never – would have known them. So their markers must go, too. And Yinora wouldn't be named that. She wouldn't be named student of Leonora if Leonora never, ever comes here.”

“True.”

“And I wouldn't have settled here, so wipe my marker, and wipe the house while you're at it. The Calafans don’t come here, if there's no house or anything. It’s just an empty lot near the dishes,” she paused, “And, and you should wipe me as well. Because the Calafans were – at least Polloria was – they were going to kill me back in '57. I was kidnapped. That's why I have these tattoos on my arms in the first place. They had used me and they were going to kill me, but the only reason why Malcolm and the others could find me was because of Doug.”

Q thought for a moment, “That is accurate.”

“He made it possible, because we were in dream contact. So, yes, he's done tremendously horrible things. I don't deny that. But he's done a lot of good. And he tries, every day, to do more. He can't erase the past and just reverse it away. But he wants the future to be better. Put those people back. Put back the markers and the house as well, while you're at it, too. Because Doug – they all spring from him. Even Declan, who isn't related to him at all? Even Declan, my little love here, he exists because of Doug. So put them back, all twenty-plus of them. And remember that Doug Beckett put them there. Is he forgiven? Hell yeah, he's forgiven.”

Q flicked a finger again and the scene was restored, and the family was moving around again.

“There will be one more marker, for this occasion is the last time that the five eldest children are together,” Q said, and he showed her the seventh one.

She walked over to it, and read, “Thomas Digiorno-Madden, 2160 – 2234 – Beloved brother and son. Hero.

“He dies in the service of his captain, George Kirk.”

“And without ever having found love?”

“I don't think so,” Q said.

“Oh, Tommy. Is this the last of the markers?”

“Yes. The family decides that the dead are overtaking the living, so the rest are buried in the local cemetery or elsewhere. It is only these seven markers that remain here,” Q said.

“Does the family survive?” Lili asked.

“Not forever, of course, but the human race does not. But, a few highlights of the future, if you like. I can show you them.”

=/=

“All names are meaningful and important. Wear yours proudly.” – Lili Beckett

=/=

It was a large Starship, and a man was walking down the halls, confident and proud.

“It is the year 2379. That is Martin Madden. He's the new First Officer on the Enterprise-E, under the command of one of my favorite humans, Captain Jean-Luc Picard.”

Martin Madden

“So this is after Kathryn. Huh, why is Digiorno lost as a name?”

“It just is.”

Lili looked, and Martin Madden had a tiny bracelet in his pocket. It had an oval charm with three circles in it. He took it out and touched it once before going onto the Bridge.

“Melissa's bracelet,” she said.

“A good luck charm, so far as he is aware. And it’s something to give to his bride, when he meets her.”

=/=

“The light that was in your eyes when Marie Patrice first started walking – I shan't forget that.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=

It was the captain of a small vessel.

Captain Jay Douglas Hayes

“Who is that? He's very good-looking,” Lili said.

“He's Captain Jay Douglas Hayes, and this is 2991. That is a series twenty-four craft.”

“Hayes?”

“Yes. You saw Douglas Malcolm Beckett at the barbecue. He ends up as a somewhat rebellious child, and changes his name back,” Q explained.

“No wonder Rick thought my last name was Hayes,” Lili said.

“You can't see them, but he's got a pair of earrings in one pocket – earrings that you know well. They are for him to give when he meets someone. It will be a few years from when this photograph was taken.”

=/=

“I know you wanted to be equal, but I am your faithful and loving servant. And I will never stop looking for you.” – Doug Hayes

=/=

“Speaking of Richard Daniels,” Q said.

Richard Daniels

“Rick is my descendant?” Lili asked, “And, uh, someone should tell him. That is not a good look for him.”

Q smiled a little, “His full name is Richard Malcolm Daniels. Declan's elder son is Peter Matthew Reed, and his son is Charles Malcolm. And, eventually, the Reed name is lost, but Daniels replaces it and, in 3069, Richard is born. This photograph was taken in 3109, not too long before he made contact with you. Within his uniform – for that is what that outfit is – he wears your key charm.”

“Rick said he had a sister. Can I see her? Is that all right?”

“All right,” Q said, “I had two favorite humans – Picard and Kathryn. I'm only doing this because you're becoming my third.”

“Tell me the truth, Q. It's the way I kiss. It's how I make you feel,” she teased him.

“No, it's how you have made me think. And this is Eleanor Daniels. She – the Leonora name is lost, but it's replaced by the name Eleanor.”

Eleanor Daniels

“She's a beautiful woman. And that's the Cuff of Lo on her left wrist, right?”

“Yes. It is,” Q said.

=/=

“She had the jeweler design it to her specifications. It's jagged on the side, you see. And the two rings, they were to fit, jagged edge to jagged edge. She never picked hers up, of course. I, I had the jeweler melt it down. I wear it now, on the same hand where I wear the cuff you gave me. They are my reminders.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=

They were back in the hospital room.

“So I'm a favorite.

“I never should have said that,” Q said.

“It's all right. I won't tell anyone,” She thought for a moment as she put the baby back into the bassinette, “I, um, have a request.”

“Oh? This wasn't enough for you?”

“I want to, uh, I want you to wipe my memory of this. All of it.”

“Why?”

“I, well, it's not right,” she said, “Not all days are huge, red-letter ones. Instead, most of them are small, but they can be meaningful. I thank you for showing me all of the main events in our lives, but all of the parts in between are equally vital. And I want to live them, and experience them the way I'm supposed to, by being a part of them and not by being a removed observer.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Really. I don't want to take away things that I was never meant to see, like Doug's death, which belongs to Melissa, or, or Malcolm's death, which belongs to Jia. I don't want to look over Norri's shoulder while writing. I don't want to think of Melissa in any way other than as her smart, capable self – the woman I know right now. It's wrong for me to know these things, Q.”

“Are you absolutely certain?”

“I am. I don't want to know any of it, or remember a damned thing. I just want to roll the dice like everybody else, even if they're loaded. Give me my fortune cookie along with everyone else, and I'll crack it open when I'm damned good and ready, thank you.”

“Very well,” he waved his hand. But he only removed 99% of what he had done that day.

=/=

“You know I love you, at least a little bit.” – Jennifer Crossman

“I might love you a little bit, too.” – Treve

=/=

It was a plain room, with a lot of people in it, not looking at each other. Q got there. It was the Continuum.

And there she was.

He approached her, and said; “Can you be Joy?”

“I don't know. Is that possible?”

“Hmm. At least you didn't say no. Do you think that being a bit together, and a bit apart, can save us from extinction?”

“We will just have to find out. The way is unclear, and I can't see the other side,” she said.

“Would you let me kiss you?”

“I don't know. It seems so primitive.”

“Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.”

=/=

“Be as happy as you can. And have your dreams. Don't let anyone invade your head.” – Lili Beckett

=/=

Lili looked down at the nursing baby, and then at the changing table, where there was a bag, “Huh, that wasn't there before,” she said, “Lessons are all done for the day. So you can rest or eat as you wish. And I guess I will, too. Your Daddy will be back soon, with everyone else,” she smoothed his hair a little on his head. It was white-blond, like hers, “See, now, you're all spruced up. You're looking very stylish with your little woolen cuff on, mister. I hear they are going to be showing this look on the streets of Paris soon.”

She got up, still holding him, and walked over to look outside, “Looks like that storm's all done.”

=/=

“Will I remember any o' this after you turn the clock back?” – Tripp Tucker

Chapter 27 by jespah

“Time to get back to the best parts of our lives.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



Time had been restored, a bit, and some things had not happened yet, like the marriage proposal, and Hoshi being asked out, and Travis writing a letter, and Jonathan and Deborah talking. All of those things would happen soon enough, for they were wholly unaffected and removed from what had happened on Lafa II. Or hadn't happened yet, that is.

Q and Joy stood, removed, “All of this touching,” she said, “Why didn't we touch for the first four billion years?”

“I've forgotten why,” he said, “Does it displease you?”

“No,” she admitted, “And all of these details. Why are we watching this?”

“It is ... interesting,” he said, “And perhaps there is something major, amidst all of the minor things and picayune details.”

“Perhaps,” she allowed.

=/=



“I want us to work, to pull together. In, in whatever, uh, configuration that it becomes.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



They managed to get everyone into the two cars without incident.

“Huh, looks like that storm blew over,” said Norri, “A good thing. I do so hate those things. It's why I left Okla-freakin'-homa.”

“Wait, wait a sec!” said Joss, getting out of Lili's car, “I have to get something for Declan.”

He ran down into the cellar and Melissa followed, “Need my help?”

“Yeah. There's a box with our old toys in it. Can you find it?”

“Sure,” They rummaged around a little, and found it.

Joss reached in and took out an old, green plush dinosaur toy. It was a stegosaurus, “Think he'll like it? It's, uh, it's not new.”

“That's okay,” Melissa said, “You loved it and it's from you. So it's just right.”

They went back and got into the car again.

“Okay, now are we ready?” asked Doug.

“Yes, yes, now go!” Norri said from the back seat, “Let's see that baby before he turns forty.”

=/=



“It's like pulling in a catch, a net of fish, I guess. I, I had thought there would be only, uh, two people in the crew. But maybe it's a bigger boat than I'd thought.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



Lili waited, alternately holding Declan and looking at him, and sometimes just putting him down and having a little soup. Her surgical incision hurt a bit, and she was tired, but she was determined to stay awake.

When the family came in, it was well worth the wait. She was standing, nursing Declan when they walked in, Malcolm first. He took one look at her and said, “I was trying so very hard not to weep, and now I'm afraid that's just going to happen all over again, Lili-Flower.”

“That's right,” Doug said, coming in after him, “I had forgotten you hadn't seen her nurse before. Amazing, isn't it?”

Extraordinary,” Malcolm replied.

“Well, you'll get to see me nursing, too, soon enough,” Melissa said, walking into the room.

“At this point, when you come back in January, the only breasts you aren't gonna see will be mine, Malcolm,” Norri said, “'Course, if you bought me dinner first ...,” he looked shocked and she finally playfully punched his arm a little, “Kidding. Joke. Really, c'mon, folks, these are the jokes.”

“Oh. My,” Malcolm said, swallowing a little and fingering the scrollwork on the dull grey Calafan cuff he wore on his left wrist.

Joss ran over, “Mommy, can I give Dec his present now?”

“Just a sec. He's gotta finish up,” Lili said. The baby did so, and she held him and burped him a little, “Okay, we're ready,” she covered herself up again a bit.

“This is Dino,” Joss said, “You can keep him. I'm too big for him. But if you get scared or something, maybe he can stay with you, or something.”

“Joss, that is very, very thoughtful of you,” Lili said, “I know Dino means a lot to you.”

“Well, Tommy just never seems to be scared. And Dec is so little,” Joss said.

“Look, you put the cuff on him,” Marie Patrice said, “That's just how I thought it would look on him,” she said, indicating the little yellow wool lanyard that Malcolm had loosely tied to the baby's left wrist.

“Yes, he's very, very stylish,” Malcolm said.

Tommy was in Norri's arms. He leaned over and pointed, “Baby,” he said, “With white hair.”

“Kinda,” Norri said, “Can you say blond?”

“Forgive us for being late,” Doug said, “It was a little stormy, but it's all cleared up.”

“Forgive,” Lili said, absently, “Uh, can you all, um, take the baby for a few minutes? I, uh, I want to talk to Doug. Alone.”

“What?” Melissa asked.

“Please,” Lili said.

“Are you sure that's wise? He's a newborn,” Malcolm said.

“I know that look,” Doug said, “It means, we better do this. And, uh, he's gonna be perfectly fine. There's a million nurses around.”

“Yes. Please,” Lili said.

=/=



“… 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….” – Doug Hayes

=/=



They left.

“Okay, uh, what's so urgent?” he asked, kissing her.

“Doug, I know it is neither the time nor the place. But I want to ask you someday soon, I want you to tell me, about the fifteen.”

“The fifteen what?” he asked, although he was well aware of exactly what she meant.

“You know what I'm talking about,” she said, “The fifteen kills,” she paused a little. She knew she needed to hear it but that didn’t make the asking any easier.

There was silence, and Doug swallowed hard, “You, uh, you don't want to hear about that.”

“Yes, Doug. I do.”

“No, really, you do not, Lili,” he said.

“I – Doug – I have to hear,” she said, “I must insist.”

“Please,” he said, “I am begging you. Don't, don't ask me about them.”

“I must hear this,” she said.

“Please,” he said, “You, oh God,” his voice dropped to a barely audible whisper, “Please don't. Please don't leave me.”

She put her hand on his arm, “Don't worry about that.”

“But you will,” he said, “You, you will,” his face was getting wetter as he said that, “You will.”

“No. I will not,” she said. She came closer, and kissed his cheek, “I love you. And it's forever. Don't, don't ever worry about that.”

“But –”

“I won't leave you,” she said, “I didn't leave you when Melissa came into our lives and I won't leave you because of any of this.”

“But, but why would you upset everything like this? We're going along just fine.”

“We are,” she admitted, “But we could be – can be – so much better. You can keep this secret from me for the rest of our, our lives, or you can come clean, once and for all. We can get through this and put it past us for good.”

“You'll stop loving me,” he barely squeaked out.

“That's impossible.”

“You will,” he said.

“No,” she said, “I don't need to hear it now. Not this minute, not this day. This day is for Declan. But I want you to tell me, and soon. It's, Malcolm will be here a few days, and then he'll be back for Marie Patrice's birthday, and he'll stay for a couple of years, on family leave. Let's try to get this resolved before then. It – really, everyone, you need to clear things up with all of us.”

“All, all of you?” he was even more afraid, if that was at all possible, and shook a bit, “I, I can't do that.”

“No one is going to hurt you,” she said, “I promise.”

The family came back in.

“I guess you're not done yet,” Melissa said, “We can come back later.”

“No, no,” Lili said, “Let's do this. I'll take the kids and go back out there. We'll say hi to the nurses on duty. And the four of you can talk a little. Okay, Doug?”

“I, I guess so,” he said.

She left with the children.

=/=



“You're a Starfleet guy. If this was conventional, you'd have to go flying off to this place and that crisis. You wouldn't be home for report cards and first steps, or to get the furniture moved. Don't knock this and keep thinking you're second best. I think you're getting a very good deal here.” – Pamela Hudson

=/=



The hallway was cheerily lit and bustling with activity but, despite that, the baby slept. Lili found herself an unoccupied chair.

Miva came over, “Care to meet a human doctor?”

“Um, all right,” Lili said.

He was an older man, thin, with a face that was mostly nose, “This is Doctor Cyril Morgan,” Miva explained, “And this is Lili Beckett. She is our only human obstetrics patient. And her youngest son is our only human pediatrics patient for today.”

“Ah,” he said, shaking Lili's hand.

“Are you an OB-GYN or a pediatrician?” she asked.

“I am a retired orthopedic surgeon,” he said, “I trust they are treating you well.”

“They are,” Lili said.

“I understand you're quite a pioneer.”

“Yes. You're the first human doctor I've seen here since, well, since always.”

“I'm sure more human doctors will be here soon enough. Perhaps I can get my niece to settle here. She's a plastic surgeon.”

“Oh?” Lili asked.

“Yes. Her name is Pamela Hudson.”

“We've met,” Lili said.

“Mister –” Joss began.

“That's Doctor Morgan,” Lili reminded him.

“Oh. Uh, Doctor Morgan?” he asked, “Were you on Earth for the World Series?”

“I was on Earth. But I'm afraid I was a bit busy with other things. I didn't have the time for that,” Doctor Morgan said, “I have a granddaughter. Maybe you and she would like to play together some time?”

“Sure,” Joss said, a little tentatively.

“She has a new puppy,” The doctor added.

“Oh! That would be great!” Joss got very excited.

“Joss, calm down a little. Really! He loves animals. He's going to be a vet, he says. So, about Pamela, you really think she'd settle here?” Lili asked.

“Possibly. And, you know her?”

“Not too well. But everything's been positive so far,” Lili said.

“Good! She, uh, she needs female friends,” Doctor Morgan said.

Declan woke and gasped and cried a little.

“I should, uh, let you get back to things,” he smiled, “My granddaughter is four years old. I remember her being that small.”

“I have the older ones, as you can see. But they weren't quite this small, even when they were newborns. It was lovely to meet you,” she said as he helped her up.

“Likewise. Can I, uh, give Pamela your information?”

“Sure,” she said. He clicked his PADD next to hers in order to transfer the data, and then left.

=/=



“Pamela, she was working on one of those mobile surgical units. She wasn't doing plastic surgery anymore – she was trying to reattach limbs. She had, I feel, become the doctor, if not the person, that she probably always had in her.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



The four of them came out of the hospital room to find Lili and the kids.

“So, are you at a consensus?” Lili asked.

“Yes. Let's, um, get back to the room,” Melissa said, “Private stuff. With, uh, with the kids.”

“Kids, c'mon!” Norri called.

They returned to the room.

“Okay, it's like this,” Melissa said, “We'd, um, it would be easier for Doug to talk about things if it wasn't to so many of us.”

“And you're the best person for the job,” Norri said, “You've known him longer than any of us,” she picked up Tommy.

“So we were hoping you could act as, well, as a sort of a representative,” Malcolm added.

“I could do that. Is that all right with you, Doug?” Lili asked.

He nodded.

“Let's make it, um, Neil is coming in a few weeks, right?” Lili asked.

Melissa held her own belly as a kick was delivered, “Yes. And right on cue,” she went into the little bathroom, “Keep talking,” she called out.

“Perhaps it should be after that,” Malcolm said.

“Then we're getting into Thanksgiving, and then it's Doug's birthday and suddenly it's Christmas,” Lili said.

“Wait,” Doug said, “December, um, fifth.”

“Jay's birthday,” Lili said, “He would have been, uh, fifty-nine, right?”

Doug nodded.

“A fine day,” Norri said, shifting Tommy in her arms.

“We can go, uh, there's an olive grove we own, uh, Reversal actually owns it, I own it with Treve,” Lili said, “It's on Lafa VI. We're trying to grow all of the ingredients to make hummus. It's nice there, kind of a Mediterranean climate.”

“We could get a transport there, I guess,” Doug said.

“We'll take the kids, of course,” Melissa said, when she returned.

“Doug,” Norri said, “everybody here loves you. That's not going to change.”

“Even, uh, even me, despite the hist'ry that you and I have,” Malcolm said, taking Declan from Lili, “Like a brother. I never had one.”

“I never had a brother, either,” Doug said.

You do now,” Malcolm said.

=/=



“She has goodness in her. Even if she doesn't admit it or see it.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“What comes next?” Joy asked.

“Watch.”

=/=



“I want us all to be more integrated in each other's lives. And that doesn't just mean spending more time with her. It also, I figure, means that I take you on the transport to Andoria or wherever the Enterprise is sometimes, and you, you get to visit him more. It's only fair. And it's not just for the sake of fairness. I don't, I'm not keeping an accounts book or anything, Lili. I just, well, I saw him, just as you did. And he was hurting and it was nutty, but he came and he did whatever he could to make it so that I – we – could meet Neil, even for one time. And I know he wanted to see you, but it wasn't just that. He also, he took care of them as much as he could. I had asked him to, and he did it. Neil was no relation to him whatsoever, and neither was Norri. He coulda just walked away. And he didn't. He cared for them as much as, as much as I do.” – Doug Beckett

Chapter 28 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Doug's final theme - Billy Joel - Honesty

Warning - this chapter contains recollections of particularly violent scenes.

“How the hell did you escape death?” – Empress Hoshi Sato

=/=



Lafa VI was a pretty place, all green and gold. The transport set them down a ways from the olive grove, so Lili and Doug walked a bit. She carried a cooler basket and he carried a rolled-up blanket.

“I still don't see why you're treating this like a picnic,” he finally said, when they had gotten to the grove itself.

“Well, we might get hungry,” she said, “Over there, that looks like a good spot.”

“I am so not gonna get hungry,” he said, looking around, “The place is deserted.”

“As well it should be,” she said, “Treve and I told everyone to clear out, so they're off working by where the chickpea plants are growing.”

“You told Treve?” he asked, a bit annoyed.

“No, I did not tell Treve. Nothing more than just to tell him that we'd be here and no one else should be. And he was fine with that,” she said, “Don't worry. And here, let's spread out the blanket.”

“You're still treating this like a picnic,” he complained, but complied.

“Well, we don't have to sit in the dirt.”

“You're gonna want me to.”

“Just, humor me, okay, Doug?”

“Uh, all right,” he said, and sat down.

She sat down and placed the cooler basket over to the side, “Well?”

“I'm not sure how to begin,” he said.

“Let's start, uh, chronologically,” she said, “First one.”

“Um, all right,” he said, “I was, uh, oh man, I can't do this.”

“Yes. You can,” she said.

“Why are you asking this now, all of a sudden?”

“I, just, I think it's time to come clean,” she said.

“But –”

“Douglas Jay Hayes Beckett, you are a fifty-nine year old man. You are the strongest man I know – stronger even than Malcolm. You can do this,” she said, “And I will be here with you, every step of the way, and we will get through this,” she took his hand.

“Maybe, uh, maybe don't hold hands,” he said, dropping hers, “I think I'll need to get up and, and pace around a bit. Are you sure there's nobody here?”

“There is no one here. Feel free to shout if you must.”

“Uh, okay,” he took a deep breath, “It was, um, it was 2122. I was at West Point then. Nineteen years old. I had this, uh, well, you know his counterpart. It was Lucas Donnelly. He was my commanding officer, really, but he was no more than a Barracks Chief. He had a Sargent's rank. And I, I didn't want to be pushed around so I made up my mind to hop over him. And there, uh, there was only one way to do that. I didn't have anything with me, and I kinda wanted to see if I was strong enough. And, uh, I, you don't want to hear this part, Lili.”

“Yes, I do. Full disclosure, Doug.”

“I, it was like when Malcolm and I were doing that demo, right before the arrangement started. I just put my hands around Donnelly's neck, and I squeezed as hard as I could. And he struggled a bit, but I was, I was strong enough, and then it was done, and I could move up. God help me, I had wanted to do that to Malcolm. What the hell is wrong with me?

“Shh. Just, this is, we're gonna get the poison out,” she said.

“And I was made the Barracks Chief. It wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and Donnelly was dead. And I started to have these dreams about him. He was commanding me more than he had when he was alive. Not, not like I was delusional and he was telling me to commit crimes. It, it wasn't like that. It was more, I would hear him like I had heard him when he was alive.”

“Maybe you didn't yet realize it, but what you had done, it bothered you.”

“Yes. It did. I didn't, um, get it then but that was the first bit of guilt and, and conscience, I guess.”

“That's a good thing,” Lili said.

“I suppose. Didn't do Donnelly any good, though,” he said, “Uh, the next one, it was on, it was on Vulcan. I was a graduate by then – got outta West Point in 2123 and I had had Basic in Cambodia, too. I was a mercenary, would go wherever there was fighting. But I had to have a place to live, because I wasn't really set on a ship or anything. So I'd decided on Vulcan, 'cause it's warm like Ganymede.”

“You have never liked the cold,” she commented.

“Yeah. And, uh, I didn't have very nice quarters. And I wasn't supposed to. I was not a very good soldier – just a big, undisciplined lummox. And I wanted bigger and better ones, but I didn't wanna have to do any work in order to get them. So, um, I was in the base apartment building and I waited for this guy, Ethan Shapiro, to come in. I had a phaser with me, and I shot him in the belly. I, uh, I went through his pockets.”

“Were you, uh, Doug, I've never known for you to be a thief.”

“It was only for the room key. That was all that I wanted. The guy had money and I didn't take it, I remember. I don't know why. I mean, it's not like it woulda mattered to him or anything. But I didn't take it, I swear. Just the, the key. Spent the next few days clearing his stuff out and when his father came over to see what had happened, I hid but I anonymously gave out info that did direct the guy to his son's stuff.”

“You just took the room key?”

“Yeah. Strange,” he said, “And I, um, the first time I slept in those quarters, I heard two voices – Shapiro's and Donnelly's – in my dreams.”

“Go on.”

“The, uh, the third one; that was Harris in, um, 2127,” Doug said, “You know his counterpart, he's a pilot. Well, there were boxing matches. I was pitted against him. We were both these big brutes. The prize was, it was a B rations card.”

“What are B rations?” she asked.

“You're supposed to get meat three times a week,” he said, “For A rations you get meat every day. C rations are twice a week, D is once and E is never, unless you hunt your own. Uh, when I met you, I had an A rations card but there wasn't a lotta meat so it was more like having a D card.”

“Oh.”

“It, uh, bets were exchanged. I learned later that the odds were six to one in my favor. And I hit him as hard as I could, in the kidneys. He went down like a sack of, well, a sack of these olives. He was, uh, probably dead before he even hit the canvas,” Doug paused for a second, “And that night, the song turned from a duet into a trio.”

“You can do this,” she said.

“Fourth one was, we were at war on Denobula. It was, um, I was twenty-five, so it was 2128. That one was really quick. I was caught in cross-fire and grabbed a guy who was running with me and I used him as, well, I guess the expression is human shield,” he admitted, “I, uh, I didn't know the guy at all, never even heard him talk. I learned later that he was named Carlos Castillo. And I didn't know his voice, so my dreams provided one for him. I ended up imagining him sounding like ballplayer Lefty Robinson, from the South American Pistoleros. The tide of battle started turning, and I found myself cut off from my unit at a Denobulan village. I went in, loud and angry, and I strafed it. I killed eighty-six Denobulans then, mostly children. And when I got back to my unit the next day, they pinned a medal on my chest,” he swallowed, “I, well, I didn't hear them in my dreams. I just saw those. It was all those kids with no chance. I know you only asked about the humans.”

“It's okay. You tell me anything you feel you need to.”

He got up, “The fifth one was, I was barely twenty-six. And man oh man, you're gonna hate me for this one more than probably most of them.”

“I'm not gonna hate you, Doug.”

“It was, we were on the ISS Avenger, which is where that boxing match had been, too. And there was this girl, Christine Chalmers. And at the time I thought she was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. She was this blonde, really built. Now, she's the kind of woman I would just pass on the street and think: cheap. But not then – I just didn't know any better. And she was interested in me, and she would send out all of these signals but then she'd just tease me. She was Ehigha Ejiogu's girl.”

“Who?”

“He was, uh, he was Nigerian. And she told me she was bored with him.”

“Why didn't she just break up with him?” Lili asked.

“I realize now that she was playing with me, just wanted me to do what I was told. You know, see if I would be a good little attack dog for her. She told me I couldn't get any while he was still alive, so we arranged it. She was waiting by an airlock and I walked him over there. She told him it was over and I overpowered him and we got him outta the airlock. And then, man, you are gonna hate me.”

“Stop saying that.”

“I, uh, Lili, that was foreplay. I, um, we did it against the wall of the ship, right next to that airlock.”

“Oh, my,” she swallowed hard.

“And I heard him, and I saw him, not just when I slept that night but any time I did it with her. I cheated on her, like I did with, with everyone until, um, until you. With the other girls, I didn't see him or hear him yelling. But with her, yeah. She, well, she wasn't exactly faithful, either, and she left me for some other guy. I forget who now.”

“I don't hate you,” Lili said.

“The, uh, the sixth one was, well, you might wanna rethink the idea of hating me,” Doug said. He turned around and leaned against a nearby olive tree, his face obscured, “I gotta stop.”

“We can take a break.”

“No, I can't continue,” he said, “This one is, it's really bad. It’s worse than the last one. You're gonna stop loving me.”

“And that means this one is important and you have got to get it out of you, Doug. I will not stop loving you.”

“You will. And you'll, you're gonna leave me for sure.”

There was a little silence, “I will not leave you,” she said, “It doesn't matter how, how bad it is.”

“It is going to matter,” he insisted, “It will.”

“Come here,” he didn't, so she got up and put her arms around his waist, “Turn around and face me.”

He did so, slowly, eyes bloodshot, “I'm afraid.”

“I, I know,” she said, “Whisper it. Don't even let the air hear you.”

“It was 2130. I was twenty-seven years old. It was the Klingon home world. We had conquered it, my part in that was twenty-six dead Klingons. And I had a job; it was to put boards over the broken barracks windows.”

He stopped whispering so she kissed him on the cheek, “It's okay. I'm right here.”

“And, and I was working with a hammer and nails. Old-fashioned kind, you know?” She nodded and he continued, “And I, I wanted, this guy, Tim, uh, Tim Randall, he had a three-day pass. And I, I wanted it. I didn't want anything else from him. Just the three-day pass card.”

“Go on.”

“Lili, he, I, oh, I can't tell you,” his voice started to really crack.

“Yes, you can. You can tell me anything. Remember how I told you that I'm not as delicate as you think I am? Well, it's still true, Doug.”

He barely squeaked out, and she had to really strain to hear him, “I, I used the hammer. B-both ends. The, the head and the, the claw end. I, I just kept going and going and going. I was in a frenzy and I just couldn't stop. The, the other ones, up 'til then, they were all quick. This one wasn't. I, I caused that man so much pain.”

She held him, and tears squeezed out of her eyes as well as they stood there for several minutes. She finally said, “The poison is, it's coming out. It'll all be gone soon.”

“But I'm just giving it to you,” he cried.

“No, no. It's all going away. It's like, if you've ever blown away dandelion seeds. It's going to fly away on the wind.”

“And, and leave a weed in someone else's garden,” he said.

“The guilt will remain,” she said, “That part won't go away. But the secret – that thing, we can exorcise that demon. But only if you keep on trusting me. Do you?”

He nodded, voice breaking but audible, “This next one, the seventh. It was the following year, on Andoria. I had done my part there, too – eleven dead Andorians. And I, I wanted Wes Goddard to change shifts with me, and he, he wouldn't. And we brawled and we were near this cliff and I just threw him over the side of it.”

She just nodded.

“The, the eighth, it was on Ceres. It was 2132. I, I was rewiring conduits and I put a live wire onto Rodney Hamilton's chest so that it would, it would hit his heart. They, they made me an Ensign for doing that.”

“You had told me that this was how to move up,” she said.

“Y-yes.”

“We're halfway home,” she said, “We're getting through this, you and me.”

“The, the ninth one, it was on Titania.”

“Was this while you were with Susan?”

“No, uh, two years before, in 2133. I was, uh, thirty years old.”

“Okay,” she said.

“It was about a key again. I, I wanted a bigger apartment. This was a private apartment, not military. I, I phasered Wil Troi. Right in the heart. And I took his key.”

“But nothing else?”

“No. Nothing else. But what should that matter? He's dead either way, Lili.”

“I know. I just, I don't know why I'm asking that,” she admitted.

“The, the tenth one, I was back in Cambodia. I wanted to see if I could see Darareaksmey Preap. She was, uh, I had, I had lost my virginity to her, back when I was twenty-one. It had not ended well with Susan. It wasn't right what I did to Susan. She was sick, she was an alcoholic, and I couldn't handle it. She blacked out, more than once, while we were together. I was so scared, getting her to Medical. Not as scared as, as when I had to take you.”

“I remember,” she said.

“Yeah. But it was bad enough. And she needed compassion, but I just, I ran off. I couldn't handle it, and I was just immature and she, I think she suffered for that. And I went from woman to woman and nothing lasted and it, this was, uh, nine years after I had known Susan. And I don't know what possessed me, why I thought I'd be remembered by this, this Cambodian bar girl who wasn't even very pretty or memorable or anything. But I got myself transferred back there. She was already gone. So I instead looked to make some money and get out. And, and there was this guy who was in the way of my getting a raise,” he stopped for a moment, “It was greed. It was just greed. I had this damned chorus in my head – a chorus of the damned – and I wanted more money. So I knifed him. Blood everywhere.”

“It's like when I was in cooking school and I had to kosher kill a cow. It's just an awful, nasty business.”

“This was no cow. It was a man. He was named Donald Ellison. I was forty-two years old. I hadn't killed anyone for eleven years. I should have known better by then. I was in better control of myself. This was just cold-blooded,” he said.

“But you had a long stretch there,” she said.

“It wasn't like I was kind then, or before, or after,” he said, voice still teary, “I had killed two Vulcans by then. Four Kreetassans. One Xyrillian, too. I even got two Suliban in the mix, but that was later.”

“You were a soldier. Soldiers do that,” she said.

“I still don't know why you haven't stopped loving me, uh, yet.”

“I don't really have a choice in the matter,” she said, “I am just going to love you. Despite all of this.”

“Huh. I don't pretend to understand,” he took another deep breath and sniffed, then rubbed his eyes a little, “The eleventh one was on the Tellarite home world, three years later. I wanted a day pass. The guy's name was Evan Sorian, and I garroted him with a line of rope. All for a one-day pass. It seems so cheap. I was doing this for so, so little.”

“It's – it was always that you wanted something,” she said.

“Definitely. I always wanted something. Number twelve was Major Ian Landry, two years later. That one was, God, it was so cowardly. I went into the man's bunk while he was sleeping and I just smothered him with his own pillow. And they made me a Major for that,” he swallowed, “Jay was a Major. But it wasn't because of anything like that. He, he was disciplined, and, and he rescued a MACO unit on Kronos and he showed leadership on the field and he was not like this.”

“You are not Jay.”

“You're damn right I'm not. He was, he was a much, much better man. And so is Malcolm.”

“Doug ....”

“No, really. He is. He keeps thinking, and he says it sometimes, that he's, that he's second best. And I'd, I had tried to make him think that. But it's wrong, it's not true. He is better than I am. By, by far,” his eyes were streaming.

“This isn't a contest. We've all tried to live that, that we are equal and not in some sort of weird competition with each other. We aren't.”

“This isn't like in bed or anything. This is overall. He is the better person, Lili.”

“He isn't any better than you are. It's like, well, it's like saying that Tommy is better than Marie Patrice. That he's somehow some better child, more worthy of our love.”

“You know what I'm talking about.”

“Just, just keep going,” she said, “He's not totally without sin, you know. He has things that he's done. And one day we may very well be having a similar conversation so don't think he's some paragon of virtue, Doug.”

Really?”

“Yep. Maybe not the same and maybe not to the same degree, but he's done plenty. Covert stuff. There's no pretty bow on it. He'll have a day when he has to come clean, too.”

“Huh,” Doug said. He rubbed and wiped his eyes and straightened up a little, as her statement seemed to have given him some strength, “I, I think I can continue. Push through, and get to the finish line.”

“Good,” she said, “Number thirteen.”

“Thirteen,” he said, “That one was, it was about a woman again.”

“Oh?”

“But not the same way. I had met Shelby Pike. I had gotten hooked up with her because she did these, uh, you could hook up using a communicator. She had, uh, she was a pilot on the other side of the pond, not a Botanist like here. And she had a business on the side there. It was turning tricks. So I had this agreement with her, I was gonna meet her on Ganymede. I hadn't been back since I was a kid. My, well, my father was already dead and my mother was dying. So I had reason to go back but it wasn't for them – it was because I wanted Shelby. She was, I can't explain, at the time, there was just something that really, um, rang my bell about her. So I had plans, and I was all ready to go. This was for the first time. It was, uh, 2150 and I was on this transport from Titan to Ganymede.”

“Titan?”

“Not the kinda Titan you grew up on. It was, well, Titan was, I was living there in between assignments. I was forty-eight years old and a lotta guys in my position, they woulda either been settling down in some way or another or going for a better detail. I was still taking a lotta orders. So I was ready to head out, and get a shuttle to the surface when this guy, Kurt Fong, he was trying to give me a work detail. If I wasn't going to meet Shelby, I probably woulda done it. I mean, those things always meant extra cash and believe me, with Shelby, I needed extra cash. But that wasn't what I had in mind and I didn't want to be late. So, um, I pitched him out of the transport airlock. Same as I had with Ejiogu, over twenty years previously,” he furrowed his brow.

“And then you got to see Shelby.”

“Yeah. I, uh, she got a piloting job on the Enterprise not too long after that and I stopped seeing her when that happened. But, uh, number fourteen brought that a bit full circle. I was, uh, we were to draw lots to get onto the Enterprise. It looked to be a good detail. Quarters and food were supposed to be better, plus there were women. I mean, there were so few women on the other side of the pond. You could go for days without even seeing one. It could be really tough,” he took a breath, “And so Major Geming Sulu, he was running the lottery. He was the same rank as me but he was put in charge of it. And I didn't get in, so I ended up knifing him in the gut. Others did similar kinds of things. A lotta guys wanted to be on the Enterprise. This was 2152; it was in preparation for the Xindi War. And that's how I got onto the Enterprise. We, we had the Xindi War and I was in the air, not on the ground for once. But I pulled the trigger plenty of times with phase cannons and the like, and, well, we were committing genocide on the Xindi people. I figure I was responsible for at least a few thousand Xindi deaths of any of their species. Stayed outta trouble and on the Enterprise, working for Reed, actually. He was not a nice man on the other side, but we weren't at odds because, uh, Shelby was African and Jennifer was a redhead and, well, that Reed only liked blondes. So I was okay with him but God knows we were not friends.”

“Which eventually brought you to me,” she said.

“Yes. And in the meantime, the Enterprise was destroyed not too long after Archer found the Defiant. We left in escape pods. I was really with Jennifer by then, but we weren't living together yet. I threw her into one and I fought off a kid from Security for my own. Pretty soon after that, Reed had died in Sick Bay and so no one was in charge of Tactical. The Empress promoted me, and I became a Lieutenant Commander. It was the only time, until I got here, that I was ever promoted without, well, without somebody having to, to die.”

“And then we met in 2157.”

“Yes,” he said, “And, you gotta understand, by this time all fourteen of them were living in my dreams. I dreamt of them every single damned night. And the others – the Denobulans, the Suliban, the Vulcans, the Xindi, them, too, but those were silent. The human dead, though, they talked. They were a kinda Greek chorus from hell. Every single damned night. And then it was October, it was October twenty-eighth, and I got into bed early because I wasn't feeling too well but I didn't want anyone to know. It was, it was a sign of weakness to show you were sick.”

“But you had a doctor.”

“Yeah, but that didn't matter. You weren't supposed to use him unless things were really, really dire. Believe me, you didn't want to. So we were coming up to the Lafa System. I went to bed and fell asleep and, for once, I wasn't dreaming of all of them. It was, it was kind of a hallway to start. It was, Lili,” his voice started breaking again, “it was the first time in thirty-five years that I wasn't dreaming about the people I had murdered. I was, it went pitch dark in the dream, and I got shoved and I shoved back, pushing this, this person into a wall. And that person was smaller than me, and I somehow realized that that person was, was a woman. And, and her hands were small and soft and she, she put them on my face. And she kissed me. And I didn't know why. I didn't deserve to have her kiss me. So I kissed her back. And she was so, so soft and so gentle and nobody; nobody had been that, that sweet and kind to me, not ever. Not since, since I was just a little boy and my mother would spend time with me, teaching me to read and all of that,” he just stood there and sobbed for a while.

“It was a long time ago.”

“I want to tell this. Because I, I haven't told this,” he croaked out, “I was sent away to school before I was seven. It's too young. I, I missed her. I wasn't supposed to. You were supposed to be tough. And I, I wasn't. And I got beat up for it. It wasn't until I got bigger, and I just, you get hard. Those who get hard and cruel, they were the survivors. The ones who stayed gentle, they were usually beaten to death or something like that. And there I was, I was almost fifty-five years old and no one had been kind to me in almost five decades and there was this woman – you – and you were so, so loving. And we, you know, you were there.”

“We made love.”

“Yes. And it was so wonderful,” he said, “It wasn't just, you know, satisfying. It was also just, you were good to me. No one had ever been good to me. Not there, not anywhere. And I went to work the following day, and Aidan MacKenzie said that there was some sensor acting up and I realized somehow that sensor had traced you, your presence. And I kind of clutched at that, because I figured, if a sensor could somehow pick you up, that you might be real.”

“That first night, I was unsure whether you were real. But I was hoping that you were. The next day, I got distracted and cut my hand with a French knife, thinking about you,” she said.

He smiled a little, but still looked pained, “And then, that second night, my dream was just of you. No hall – it was just dark as the darkest midnight, but I could feel you, your body and your hands were soft and your hair was straight and I just touched you all over because I never, ever wanted to forget you. And your, your shoulder, you, you smelled like oranges. And I hadn't had an orange in years, and no one smelled like freshness and good things. They all smelled of decay and overripe rotting. But you, you didn't. You were alive. I knew you were alive. You were real. You had to be. And I vowed I would never, ever hurt anyone again, because I knew that someone like you wouldn't tolerate that. And all I wanted to do was find some way to please you, and be with you. But then when I crossed over to come to you, Deborah Haddon was, was there,” his voice turned pained again.

“Yes. You didn't mean for her to be hurt.”

“But my intentions don't matter in the end,” he sobbed, “I laid explosive charges behind and to the side of the transporter pads. The idea was, Tucker and Cutler would beam to the surface, and then I would go, but I would be transferred over, from one universe to the other. But in the meantime, Tucker and Cutler needed cover. And I needed it, too, in case the Calafans were wrong in their calculations, or if somehow something went haywire. I didn't want to end up on the Lafa II on the wrong side of the pond but, if that happened, I knew I had to at least escape the Empress. So the plan was to blow up the transporter Room. And Deborah Haddon would've been fine if she didn't go there. I don't know why she did, but she did. And she was, well, I can guess at what happened to her body.”

“I had contact with Chip Masterson on the other side,” Lili said, “And he, well, he told me he had had to clean that all up. I cannot imagine what that must have felt like.”

“Not just her, but, but all of them,” he said, “Somebody had to pick up the, the pieces of Tim Randall,” he cringed, “I, I sent out apology notes but it's just not enough.”

“It was the same with me and She Who Almost Didn't Breed in Time,” Lili said, “It was gruesome. I, I whacked her in the head with a cast iron skillet. I almost completely decapitated her. And I was shaken when I finally realized what I had done. I threw the skillet into the disposer. It was a perfectly good, well-seasoned pan. Chef was furious initially, and then I explained and, well, neither of us would've been able to use that pan again, after having known that there were the, well, the brains of a sentient being on it. I sent an apology, you know this.”

“Yes, and that's what made me think to do that on my end. It never would’ve been my idea. But the apologies were late. I don't know if they did any good, or if they just opened it back up again.”

“I think it's better late than never, Doug. Like now. Isn’t it better to get this out, now, than to just live our lives and never, ever talk about it?”

“I don't know,” he said, “Is this better? Can you really still love me, at all? Can you, can you look at me the same way again? I'm just afraid that you, that you can't.”

“You're right, I can't,” she said, and he cringed and shook, “I look at you better.”

Better? But why?” His eyes were crimson.

“Because, even though I had to pull it outta you, this took a lot of courage, Doug,” she said, “You are braver than you think, and it doesn't come from training or weaponry. It comes from your honesty. Hand me the cooler.”

He did so.

She opened it, “I took the liberty of bringing this,” It was a small bottle of Grande Siècle Champagne. She then took out two glasses, “Do you remember having this?”

“In a dream,” he said, voice returning to normal, “We were on a Ganymede beach I had conjured up from my memory. You were wearing a swimsuit with four-leaf clovers all over it.”

“That's right,” she said, “And that time, you provided the drinks.”

“True,” he said, much calmer, “What, uh, what would we be drinking to?” he asked, popping the cork, “I don't know if it feels like a celebration so much as, well, like having been through an ordeal.”

“Well, it was. But you had said that you have a lot of birthdays. The day we met, the day you realized you were in love with Melissa, the kids' births, and all of that. And maybe this is another birthday for you.”

“Maybe,” he poured, “Do you remember what we drank to then?”

Connections and dreams. And that was when we talked about what I would cook for you the first time I'd see you, and you picked out the name Reversal.”

“And as I recall we did a little math, too,” he said, “I, I don't know if I feel perfectly well. It's not an absolution. I still have guilt.”

“I don't expect that to go away quite so quickly,” she said.

“What, uh, really, what brought on your desire to know all of this?”

“I – it's, well, it's what I want to toast,” she said, raising her glass, “To honesty. And to forgiveness.”

And to love,” he said, “To always, forever, love.”

=/=



“How come – when you and I do it – I have to have surgery for cryin' out loud? I can't have sex with you without having my body altered. And I've had that done twice. And it'll be a third time after Pete here is born. But she, she's fine. Not a scratch on her. Why is it so rough with me? Why can't you be, why can't you touch me, when I'm not all altered, without, without hurting me?” – Lili Beckett

=/=



“C'mere,” she said, putting her glass down.

Really?”

“Yes, really. I want to love you. I want to give myself to you because I know that you just gave a helluva lot of yourself to me today, Doug.”

“Even though you know?”

“It's because I know. I am not your, I am not just some chippie for you. I am not a casual acquaintance. I am not some passing fancy.”

“Definitely not a passing fancy,” he touched her hand but he was a bit tentative, as if they were just beginning to date.

“I am your wife,” she said, “And, so far as I'm concerned, that is forever. Even after the end. It is forever. For I don't know how I know this, but I know that there is something there, and if I can be there, then you will, and we all will. I want to show you my body. I want to give you my heart. I want your hands on me. I want your mouth. I want all of it.”

“These hands have committed crimes. This mouth has cursed and condemned people, and conspired against them.”

“But they are your hands, and that is your mouth. I remember, you told me you wanted my breasts on your chest.”

“Yes, I did. And I still do. If you'll allow that.”

“And you said, when we first were really together, in person, you said it didn't matter that maybe my breasts were more southerly than you were expecting.”

“No, it, uh, it didn't matter, and it doesn't matter because, well, because they're yours.”

“Exactly. And yes, you've done unspeakable things,” she said, “I can't wish it all away, and neither can you. But, at bottom, I think that this, well, I think that your sharing this, it creates even more intimacy, as if that was even possible. But it seems like it is. I feel perfectly connected. To you, to Malcolm, even to Norri and Melissa. I feel like this day is nestling us all deeper together. Does that, does it make sense?”

“Yes. It does. I, we are together. All of us. There's barely a me anymore, except for the bad parts, the parts that still need atonement, that are still wrong. But anything that is good from me, it is a part of a greater whole.”

“For all of us, we are a part of a greater whole,” she said, “Come closer and, uh, we can really become one.”

“You sure there's no one else around?”

“Positive,” she said, pulling at his shirt.

I have always known that you were beautiful,” he said, taking off her top, “Even before I could see you, I knew that. And it's the parts that I can't see that are the most beautiful of all. Your heart. Your soul. You, you said that I was your heart, and Malcolm was your soul. And I would say that you are my heart, and Melissa is my soul. But the truth is, you are both, and she is both, and I bet he is both. There are no half-measures.”

“He is both. And Norri! Can't forget her. She makes it all spin.”

“You bet,” he said, “Can I kiss you?”

“We're married. You don't have to ask.”

“Oh, but I do,” he said, “I want to know if it's all right. For, for me to love you. If I, well, if I have permission.”

“Stop,” she said, “We are to be equal.”

“Yes,” he said, “But right now I am outside the gate. Tell me if it's all right for me to enter.”

“Yes,” she said, “And to stay.”

He drew her closer and put his arms around her, and they kissed, sweeter than before. And when the last of their clothes were off, he looked at her and said, “You've had three kids.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“A bit,” he said, “But don't worry, for every line and everything that anyone else might see as imperfect, well, it's not. It's evidence that you have laughed, and you have loved, and you have been loved, and you still are. And it is proof that you are a mother and you are a wife and you are a companion. And you are familiar and you are home, but you are also the sexy, white-hot flame.”

“And you are the wind,” she said, “You are breath and movement and a blur of activity. You are fast but you are gentle. Not a hurricane, not a tornado, but a breeze that freshens the atmosphere and blows away trouble.”

“And I also snore,” he reminded her.

“Hey, I'm trying to be romantic here.”

“As am I,” he said, “But I'm not too good at talking. All I want, all I need, is to be in the white-hot flame.”

“Then do that,” she said, “And know and see much I love you.”

“You'll see how much I love you, too.”

They rolled onto their sides, and he pushed in, and it was far, but not painful, and not a danger to her. She began moaning almost immediately, as it felt so good. And he kissed her moans, and her throat, and her breasts, and his hands on her waist and her back directed her and moved her along. She was hot, hotter than hot, and even in the pleasant December weather, they both sweated and groaned with the exertion. They rolled, him on his back, and then her onto her back, as they continued, and sometimes their eyes would close, but they mostly stayed open, as they watched each other and made sure that they were feeling as much happiness as possible. She pulsed and pulsed and, finally, it happened for him, and they both yelled, and made noise until their throats were raw.

And in a valley, where the workmen were tending to the chickpea plants, they thought they might have heard something, but they dismissed it as just the wind and went back to what they had been doing.

=/=



“If I can give you anything, anything at all, let it be that I make sure that you never have to have that.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



And in the Fep City apartment, while the children watched a film on the viewer, Melissa and Norri had their own version of happiness, as they rolled along on their bed. And when they broke apart, Melissa said, “You're like the ether.”

“The ether?”

“Yes. I've been reading. It's Hindu. Kind of a bit of sound and communication – the recorder of it all,” Melissa said.

“Uh, I wasn't filming this or anything. That's just weird.”

“No, of course not. I do love you so. Just, you're like the essence of connection.”

“And you, you are earth,” Norri said, “Brown-haired girl, you may be a pilot, but you are the earth. And you are who I love.”

=/=



“We won't put it down if we, er, use the table for, ahem, unconventional purposes.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



Both couples slept, as it was exhausting, and the weather on Lafa VI was so lovely and drowsily warm, and the Fep City apartment was so comfortable and the bed was so soft. And in his quarters, Malcolm, too, lay down and rested, just a moment, after shift ended and before supper.

=/=



“You already had the fight. Everybody got a prize.” – Takara (Masterson) Sato

=/=



For Doug and Melissa, it was a garden. They walked through it and smiled at each other. Few words were necessary and, when they found a particularly pretty patch, they lay down together.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“Yeah. I am now,” he confirmed, “I love you.”

“I love you, too, you icky boy.”

“I cannot believe my good fortune, for she still loves me, too.”

“She can't stop,” Melissa said, “And neither can I. I can't stop the wind.”

“And you are the earth,” he said to her, “All warm and welcoming, and solid. You, you ground me,” he said, “It is impossible for me to quit loving either of you.”

They kissed, and words fell away as they touched each other, and merged. Where Lili had been hot, Melissa was cool and slow, and it was prolonged. She pulsed and giggled a little, overstimulated as they pushed together and, finally, their pleasure was multiplied and they remained as one, together.

=/=



“I want to make love to you. Not have hot sex, but make love. …That is what I want – it's what I demand of you. Can you do that?” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



For Lili and Malcolm, he was lying down in his quarters and she came to him, “A vision,” he said, sitting up, “Most unexpected but very welcome. Is it all done, is everything all right?”

“Yes. We're good,” she said.

“I shall have to do something like that, at some point as well,” he confided to her, “Section Thirty-One business can be terrible. When I am, when I am there with you, please, one day, let us get away and I will tell you.”

“Whenever you're ready. And I will be there and I will not judge your actions and you can rest assured, that I – well, all of us – we will continue to love you. For we cannot help it. There is no choice in the matter,” she said, “Your eyes, they're like the deep blue sea. And that's what I think you are. The water, the ocean, the river, the tides. Constant but also constantly changing.”

“Even though the water scares me a bit?”

“Maybe even because it does,” she said, “It inspires a deep feeling in you.”

“Not as deep as my feelings for you,” he said, kissing her, “For you are the white-hot flame and when the water meets the flame, it's a lot of sizzling and popping and everyone should know how much, well, how much passion there is.”

She smiled at him and ran her fingers through his hair.

“Do you, uh, want to go anywhere special?” he asked, “I don't have much time. It's just a short lie down – we – the Enterprise – the charter signing is coming up but we have heard from Shran.”

“Shran? I thought you had told me he was dead.”

“Apparently not. And, he has, his daughter, apparently she has been abducted. We're, we are going to Rigel X and I imagine that rest will be hard to come by, Lili-Flower.”

“Huh, well, I've been in that predicament. And I bet they're both scared – Shran and his little one – so if Jonathan wants to help them, then it must be a good idea.”

“It does worry me a bit,” Malcolm admitted, “But you're right; I should have confidence in his leadership. I have had confidence in him for years now, so there's no reason to change that. Tell me, can I take you anywhere special?” he repeated.

“This is the special place where I want to be,” she said, “Right here, in your quarters, to make love to you here.”

“Things are a bit packed up already,” he said, “For I am off to a certain planet in a little over a month, to be with the most wonderful people. But in the meantime, you will share a Lieutenant's bed?”

“With great pleasure.”

“That's the idea,” he said, kissing her.

Their clothes scattered onto the floor and it was definitely sizzling.

Mouth met mouth, hands met hands and when they merged, they pushed in hard, together. She got on top, and straightened her back, and in the light of his quarters he could see the key charm flashing between her breasts and she could see the cuff on his wrist as he held and caressed her breasts and then when he moved his hand to touch her face. She brought her face down and kissed him and pretty soon his sheets were tangled and half on the floor. He had never been much for making any sort of noise, but he made some then, for it felt too good and there was just too much stimulus, and he just had to give voice to his pleasure. When their climax happened, she was quiet for once, kissing his throat as he called out her name.

They laid together, still touching and intertwined, when he heard the communications chime.

“I must go,” he said, “Rigel X awaits.”

“I love you. I'll see you in person really soon.”

“And I love you. And we can recreate this then, and a thousand other expressions of love.”

=/=



“I am in for a penny, in for a pound.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



“Sweet,” said Joy.

“A moment more,” Q said, “They will all be together again soon. And I think that is something we should watch as well.”

“Very well,” she said, “But once that is done, you'll ask Kathryn to be Junior's godmother, yes?”

“Yes.”

=/=



“Yimar's little brother, his name is Chelben. And that means faith of the heart.” – Lili Beckett

Chapter 29 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Lili's final theme - Fleetwood Mac - Dreams

“Don't tell me my feelings, Malcolm. I know them. I know them. Like I am finding that I know you – how you wake up on a hair trigger, how you flex when you think I'm not looking – but I think you secretly hope I am. How you make silly jokes. How you sneeze, even. How you kiss, how you walk, how you make love.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



Jonathan piloted the shuttle. Malcolm's things were in the back, three large duffles and some boxes, plus a much smaller duffle, “How do you think you'll tell her?” Jonathan asked.

A small clock on the instrument panel said January eleven, 2162. Malcolm thought for a moment.

“Straightforwardly. I hadn't wanted to keep it from her but I did wish to tell her in person. She, she knows I've been saddened by something.”

“We all have.”

“And I don't want to spoil Marie Patrice's little party. But, well, I've got to tell Lili about this.”

“Ready to land,” Jonathan said.

“Landing thrusters on,” Malcolm replied.

The landing was a smooth one and you could see a light-haired woman standing, waiting, with a baby in her arms. The hatch was opened and she smiled broadly at both of them. She went over to Malcolm and kissed him, “Oh, it's wonderful to see you, love,” she said.

He held her, feeling badly about keeping this thing from her. He couldn't wait, and he just blurted out, “Lili-Flower, Tripp is dead.”

“Wh-what?” she asked.

Jonathan nodded, “It was recent. It happened while we were getting Shran's daughter back. Malcolm, he wanted to tell you in person.”

Absently, she stood there, and then thrust Declan into a very surprised Jonathan's arms and just hugged Malcolm for a while, both of them crying, “Now I know why you've been so quiet lately,” she finally squeaked out.

Doug came over, “Hey!” he was enthusiastic and also hugged Malcolm and clapped him on the back but immediately realized that things were not right, “What's going on?”

Tripp Tucker is dead,” Jonathan said to him.

Doug took the baby from Jonathan, “I, oh God. How horrible.”

Malcolm finally composed himself, “I didn't want to spoil the party. But I couldn't keep it in any longer.”

“It's all right,” Lili said, drying her eyes, “And you didn't spoil anything. Look, we're gonna still have the party. And, and Jonathan, stay. Please. You, you look like you could use a gentle little party.”

“I really should be –”

“Please?” she asked, “You both look like hell. Really, I think it would be good for you. For both of you, to, uh, to just be around good people. This isn't a huge rah-rah party. It'll be low-key, I swear. There are only gonna be a few kids aside from our own. But just, get away from your obligations a little. Okay?”

“I, uh, an hour,” Jonathan said, “I can do an hour. But no more.”

Lili took the baby back and the three men grabbed Malcolm's things to bring them over to the house. Marie Patrice came over, “Mackum!” she enthused and he picked her up, hiding the way he was feeling from her.

“I don't think you have met Captain Archer,” he said to her.

“I didn't bring you a present, I'm sorry,” Jonathan said.

“It's all right,” she said.

“He did get you your sled. This was before you were born so you don't remember that,” Malcolm told her.

“Oh! Then thank you,” she said. He put her down and she ran back to the house. They followed.

Melissa and Norri were quickly alerted that things were a bit somber.

“We, we've been looking for an apartment for you,” Doug said to Malcolm, “Got a few choices for you. Why don't you borrow Lili's car tomorrow and head out to them, and pick out the one you like the best? I think Lili's gonna have restaurant business in the next few days but I bet Norri wouldn't mind you bouncing any ideas off her.”

“That's, thank you,” Malcolm said absently.

“And if anything's too expensive, let her take the lead. The Italian in her just comes out and she is, well, she's the best haggler I know,” Doug said.

“That's, that's good.”

“Let's, you're among friends,” Doug said.

And they were, for there were some Calafans there already.

“Captain, this is Treve, my business partner,” Lili said. The young, bald Calafan man got up to shake hands, his bare arms a mass of silver, “His little brother, Chelben, his mother, Yipran. And I think you might remember his sister, Yimar.”

“Hiya,” Yimar said, “It was, um, while Lili was pregnant with Marie Patrice. I was Joss's babysitter.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “I take it you're not the sitter anymore.”

“Nope. I'm at the University.”

“Oh, and Captain, this is my obstetrician and dear friend, Miva,” Lili said.

Miva got up. She was a little thing; arms all covered with complicated silver scrollwork. She had impossibly light blue eyes and silvery blonde hair. A tiny bracelet was around her even tinier wrist. She flicked her finger at him, “I am glad to know you,” she said, her voice high-pitched but pleasant, “Is Captain your first name?”

“I, uh, no, it's a title. Like Doctor,” Jonathan said, sitting down next to her, “I, um, I can't place your accent, but it sounds familiar.”

“Oh, it's only my low class speaking,” she said, “I am from Lafa V. It's where all the factories are.”

“No, it's not, it doesn't seem to be low class,” Jonathan said, “It's, it's delightful.”

“Ah, Miva's brogue,” Melissa said, coming over with baby Neil, “She sounds like she's from the Auld Sod, eh?”

“Yes! That's it!” he said, “You sound Irish.”

“Oh, perhaps I do,” she said, “Uh, Captain? Do you have a first name?”

The air began to fill with the scent of barbecue.

“Yes. I'm sorry,” he said, smiling, “It's Jonathan. I'm Jonathan Archer.”

“Oh! We don't, we don't have last names. I still find that strange, and I've known the family now for a few years. And all of these other humans coming in as well! More names to remember. It's confusing.”

“Well, we do that because otherwise you wouldn't know which, well, which Jonathan you were talking to,” he said.

“You mean there is more than one Jonathan?” she asked.

He nodded, “Isn't there more than one Miva?”

“Oh, no, no. We aren't allowed to repeat. You have to wait for someone to, well, to die, and then their name becomes available for parents to name their child. It can be a bit of a struggle if two children are born near the same time, so parents have taken to reserving names while the baby is still in utero. It works out for the best. So, tell me, what does Jonathan mean?”

“Uh, mean?”

“Yes! All of our names have meanings.”

“Here,” Norri came over with a PADD, “I work for a publisher. The bestseller for human books here, by far, is this one,” It was The Big Book of Human Baby Names, “The Calafans love, love, love that sort of thing. It's a common thing here when you're introduced, for someone to ask you what your name means. Oh, and I'm Norri Digiorno.”

“Ah, Lioness, I see you've made your introduction,” Malcolm said, coming close, “Captain, this is Declan. I know you saw him earlier, but perhaps you weren't properly introduced.”

“He is a beautiful baby,” Jonathan said, “Paternity is obvious – he's got your cheekbones already.”

“Yes. And his mother's lovely coloring, eh?” Malcolm said.

“He looks a bit – well, Lili does, too – like the Calafans,” Jonathan pointed out, then he remembered his manners, “I, uh, my apologies, Miva, I didn't look up my name.”

“Oh, not to worry,” Miva said, “I took a peek. It means gift from God.”

“Oh. I had no idea,” he said, “And, um, what does Miva mean?”

“It's not very exciting. I mean, Treve means messenger, Chelben means faith of the heart and Yipran means student of the skies, while Yimar means student of the maps.”

“And Miva?” he persisted. He took a quick look at her left hand. No rings. Maybe that meant what he thought it did?

She looked down, “It just means dirt.”

“Dirt?”

“Well, a specific kind, but I’ve forgotten the precise English word,” she said, “It's kind of, uh, mixed with, what is enne in English?”

“Water,” Yimar said, getting up to help with the food.

“Ah, well, it's kind of like wet dirt,” Miva said.

“Mud?” Jonathan asked.

“No, no, it's, uh, it's very moldable. You can, you can put uh, dary on it. What is dary, Treve?”

“Fire,” he said.

“Yes, yes, you can put the fire with it and it hardens and you can make food storage vessels out of it,” she explained.

“Oh! Clay!” Jonathan said.

“Yes, yes, that is the word. I am clay.”

“Huh. That's a man's name,” he said, “It's short for Clayton. And, uh, let's see. That one means town on clay land,” he smiled.

“Are ya saying I am like a man?”

“No, no, no,” he said, “Definitely not.”

“Are ya a married man, Jonathan?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh! My apologies! I forget that most are not so frank of speech,” she said, “It's my Lafa V upbringing. We are taught to be blunt.”

There was a bit of a commotion as another car arrived. Lili went over to greet Doctor Morgan, who got out with two little girls, “I apologize for not giving you any notice of this,” he said, “But my granddaughter here had a friend over. Is that all right? And, and I brought another surprise guest. We, uh, we brought chairs for them.”

“Oh, good. And it's no trouble at all. There's plenty to go around,” Lili said, and Pamela Hudson stepped out of the driver's side.

“I'm glad. Reed'll be shocked. Are you okay with this?” she asked.

“Of course,” Lili said, and then surprised her by hugging her, “You're an old friend, so far as I'm concerned.”

Joss came over, as one of little girls was leaning into the car to bring out a small black and white puppy on a leash, “Oh, wow!” he exclaimed.

“Now, Joss, let's greet our human guests first, please,” Lili said, “This is Doctor Hudson. She is a good friend of Malcolm's.”

Pamela knelt down and shook the little boy's hand solemnly, “He's gonna be good-looking,” she said, “You can already tell. He has great eyes,” she straightened up.

“This is my granddaughter, Cindy Morgan,” Doctor Morgan said, “And this is her friend, Jia Sulu. Oh, and this is Fenway.”

The dog, a Boston Terrier puppy, wagged his tail in greeting. Joss said a quick hi but made a beeline straight for the puppy.

“He's got his priorities,” Lili said to Pamela.

“They'll change,” she replied as they walked over to the dining table, which had been brought into the back yard for the occasion. There was a view of the garden, but nothing was blooming yet.

They found Malcolm sitting with Declan in his lap, talking to Treve. He got up quickly, “Pamela?”

“Yep,” she said, “In the flesh and twice as real,” she leaned over to hug him, her perfume heavy in the air. Treve took one look at her and flicked his finger at her twice.

Malcolm made the introductions, “I'm surprised to see you.”

“My Uncle Cyril lives here now. It seems it's getting to be a nice place to retire. And, yanno, they'll probably need human doctors.”

“I don't know that there will be such a need for plastic surgeons,” he said.

“Well, maybe not. But I can do other surgery,” she said, “It's good to see you. You're happy. That's, well, you weren't happy with me,” she admitted.

“I only wish you happiness, Pamela,” he said, “In whatever form it takes for you.”

“Maybe not with kids and all. You know I'm not the domestic type. No kids for me, thanks. But you! Look at you! I bet you're a pro with the diaper changes already.”

“I am getting there. Doug, however, holds the current land speed record,” Malcolm gestured over to Doug, who was manning the little barbecue grill. He waved.

“You getting along okay?” Pamela asked.

“Yes. And a lot better in the last month or so,” Malcolm said, “It's as if it's all gone to another, another level.”

“And things are good with her, too? You'll be here a while.”

“Things are incredible,” Malcolm said, “But I do have a question, uh, Captain. If I'm not interrupting anything,” The baby started to cry a bit so he put his hand under Declan's butt, “Ah, we are dry. So we are hungry.”

Lili came over, “That's my cue,” she said, sat down, and proceeded to feed Declan.

Jonathan turned away a bit. That was, perhaps, a little too much, “Uh, Malcolm, you had a question?”

“Yes, I, sir, I couldn't help but noticing, but I think it's a bit of a clerical error. I, well, I requested two years of leave, but the, the records say three.”

“It's no error,” Jonathan said, smiling, “Consider it a baby gift. From me to, to both of you.”

“Thank you,” Lili said, “That means more to us than almost anything you could have picked out. See, Malcolm, maybe Jonathan here also gives perfect gifts.”

Jonathan turned away again, as she was still a bit exposed. Miva looked at him and said, “It is, I imagine, sometimes hard to reconcile things that one might desire versus what is used to feed an infant?”

“Huh?” But of course she was right.

“Oh, my Lafa V manners are out in full force today!” she exclaimed, “And if you're not careful, I'll talk your ear off, too, Jonathan.”

“That's all right,” he said.

Malcolm saw the older Calafan woman sitting, looking a bit lost, and went over to her, “Yipran,” he said, “Can I get you anything?”

The cuff he wore on his wrist flashed a bit in the January sun, “I ... the cuff of Lo,” she said, tentatively and slowly, “It ... is ... yours?”

“Yes,” he said, “Lili gave it to me. It was; it was the first time she told me that she, well, that she loved me.”

Yipran put her hand on his face, a trembling gesture from a woman with faded calloo who was coming to the very end of her life, “I ... am glad. She chose ... wisely. Both ... of you. Day and ... night. Both are ... wise choices.”

“Thank you,” he said, “Your people have been wonderful to us.”

“But ... it was ... not when ... it started,” she said, “You ... were ... we were ... suspicious,” That last word was a tough one for her to get out, “Now ... we ... know better.”

“And so do we.”

“You are ... fully joined ... as a being. All elements. It is ... what happened ... in the beginning,” she said, “How we ... feel and ... how we ... treat each other ... those things survive.”

He smiled at her, “Love is the eternal thing, isn't it?”

“Yes.”

“So, Pamela, tell me, what does your name mean?” asked Treve.

“Excuse me?”

“Allow me,” said Norri, “Ah, that's nice. It means honey.”

“That makes sense,” Treve said, and he flicked his finger at Pamela again.

“Uh, c'mere a second,” Norri said, getting up and gesturing to Pamela. They walked over to the grill.

“Uh, okay,” Pamela said, “What's up?”

“He is coming onto you,” Norri said.

“Really?”

“Yep. It's the finger flicking gesture. It means he thinks you're one hot ticket,” she explained.

“Oh. But he's, what, seventy?” Pamela asked.

“He's not even thirty,” Doug said, “And you should check out how Miva's hitting on Jonathan.”

“He has no idea, I bet,” Norri said, “Got any burgers ready?”

“Uh, sure. These are medium well,” Doug said.

Norri took the plate over to Jonathan, “Did Miva tell you what her gesture means? The one where she does this?” Norri demonstrated the finger flicking.

“Uh, no. Does it mean I've got potato salad on my uniform or something?”

“No, no,” Miva laughed a little, “It means that I find you attractive.”

“Oh,” he said, “Well, um, I, uh.”

“You need not respond in the affirmative,” she said, “I am just used to plain speaking.”

“It is in the affirmative,” he said, “But a little, um, unexpected.”

“I forget that humans tend to wait and plan and be shy about such things. We are bold, you see. Are you a married man?”

“Um, no.”

“Oh! I would have thought you would have been snapped right up,” she said.

“No,” he said.

“Well, I am a married woman,” she said, “But I don't have the night.”

“Huh?”

“I have a husband. His name is Darywev. It means master of fire,” she explained, “But that's the day. At night, no one for a few years now.”

“You're, um, you're married and we're talking like this?” he asked. This was even more uncomfortable than watching Lili breastfeed.

“Oh, yes, your relationships are night and day but ours are not. We have two sides, of a coin, as it were. Darywev and I are together during the day but we sleep and he meets his dear lady and for the past few years I have met no one special.”

“Captain, if I may,” Malcolm came back with another plate of food, “It's the night relationship, it's what Lili and I have. Day is between Lili and Doug, and also between the Lioness here and Melissa. And night, for Doug, is with Melissa.”

“And nobody minds?” Jonathan asked.

“They don't mind much,” Malcolm said.

“It's not for everyone,” Lili said.

“It's, well, it's very different,” Jonathan said, “Can I, uh, I do have one more thing to tell you.”

Doug had finished barbecuing and came over. Lili finished feeding Declan and gave him to Norri, who sat down next to Melissa.

“We're listening,” Lili said.

“Huh, I guess this is good news, so I don't mind telling everyone at once. Malcolm, due to, well, due to Tripp's death, I need a new First Officer,” Jonathan said.

“Sir....”

“You'll be on leave for three years,” Jonathan said, “And just, just be on leave and enjoy your life here. Although I would like to be able to, to contact you at times, if that's all right.”

“Of course it is.”

Jonathan said, “For those years, Hoshi will fill in as First Officer, but only on a temporary basis, on the USS Zefram Cochrane. Aidan will fill in at Tactical as we had planned. I was going to make you a full Commander anyway. Tripp was going to be my First Officer. But now, when you come back, I can't think of anyone I want in that role more than you.”

Malcolm swallowed a little, “Are you, uh, sure that Hoshi wouldn't want to stay on after three years?”

“There'll be a place for her, I'm sure,” Jonathan said, “Whaddaya say?”

“I say all right.” Lili came over and kissed him.

“Great. I have to go now,” Jonathan said, “But thank you all for, well, for something positive. I've had a lot of negative lately,” he got up to walk to the shuttle, and Miva fell in with him.

“If you don't mind, can I say a little something?”

“Sure,” he said, “But I do have to go.”

“I know,” she said, “You are troubled. I am sorry if I went on like a fool. Humans are different. I should know that by now.”

“No, it's all right,” he said, “I'm flattered. Actually, I'm more than flattered. But it's impossible, right?”

“No. It isn't,” she took the teeny tiny bracelet off her wrist; “There is an ore. It is all over this world and on at least eleven of the twelve planets in this system. It might even be on Lafa I, but that place is hot and full of radiation, so no one's bothered to check yet. We fashion it into an alloy, and that alloy is used to make all sorts of things. It is in everything from jewelry to mobiles that parents hang over their baby's cribs. We use it to sharpen our focus, and meet our dear ones at night.”

He took it from her, “It's tiny.”

“Only because my wrists are so small. You could use it. You can have it, it's all right. You put it on, and go to sleep. You will see a long hallway, filled with many people. If you want to stay, you stay. If you want to leave, just awaken yourself. And if you do want to stay, you can call for someone. And if they are available, they will answer.”

“But isn’t it cheating?”

“For us, it is not cheating. It is what we do. Our hearts have more than one chamber.”

“Well, my doctor is a Denobulan. They all have three spouses apiece. I suppose this is similar.”

“Yes,” she said, “And, the dream, it doesn't need to be anything steamy. You can just meet a friend and talk about the weather, or some sporting event.”

“I, this would never fit me,” he said.

“All you need to do is hold it and have contact with it.”

“And if I said Miva, you, would you answer?”

“Yes,” she said, “For on this side of the pond, there is but one Miva.”

“I don't know.”

“You don't have to do anything that you do not wish. You can even go and never make contact. And that's all right. It's just an old bracelet. But I see you are troubled, and you are lonely. And you don't want to admit it, but that is driving your life right now.”

He swallowed hard, “How?”

“How did I know?” he nodded. She continued, “Partly a lucky guess. But also, partly, just knowing that look, the edges of it, when you think no one else is looking, when you look away and your eyes are unfocused and look far. I know this look, for it is my own.”

His communicator chimed, “I'd better go,” he said, “Thank you.”

Malcolm came over, holding Declan, “Sir.”

“Call me Jonathan. At least while you're on leave. I insist.”

“I just, si–, Jonathan, I just want to thank you for everything you have done for me, and for everything you have done for us. You are welcome here at any time.”

“You're good people,” The communicator chimed again; “I'll be back.”

He got into the shuttle and lifted off. He soon began to dictate, “Computer, human resources mode.

On the USS Zefram Cochrane, I ask that a kind of variable family pod be set up. I figure this would be a double quarters where one side is for parents and the other for children, with a door between in addition to the usual door configuration. The children's room would be smaller. For families with children of both genders, it could be a triple setup with parents in the middle and children on either side. If space is at a premium, two sets of parents could be on either side of one children's room, and their unrelated children could share the middle, smaller, quarters.

Computer, dictation mode.

Captain's Personal Log, January eleventh, 2162.

I have a plain circle of metal here, about fifteen centimeters in circumference, to guess. And I, I don't know what I want to do with it.”

=/=



“I wish I hadn't, but I heard their final words to one another: 'I love you, Tripp.' 'I love you, Hoshi.' See, I didn't want to be a part of so much intimacy. But I couldn't crawl away from it. After all those years, all that intervening time, there was still something there. At least they passed together, more or less.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



Lunch finished, candles blown out and cake eaten, the children ran around a bit. Lili and Malcolm sat down together.

“I haven't really had a chance to mourn yet,” he said.

“Plenty of time for that.”

A car came up, and an Asian man got out of it. Lili got up, “Can I help you?”

“Yes. My name is Geming Sulu. I understand my daughter might be here.”

“Ah, yes,” Lili said, “Over there. Can I interest you in some lunch? We've still got plenty.”

“Oh, that's all right,” he said, “I need to get her back to her mother. Come, Jia!” he called.

“We were having such fun,” she gushed, “Joss is so funny.”

“You can play again later,” he said, “But right now it's time for me to get you to your mother's house. It's her weekend with you.”

“Excuse me,” Treve came over, “Can you, could I impose upon you to take Miva home? She lives on the Western side of Fep City.”

“No, it's no trouble,” They left.

“We'd better go, too,” Yimar said.

“And us,” said Doctor Morgan.

“Actually,” Treve said, “would it be possible, Doctor Morgan, if you could take my family home? I can, I can take Pamela home later.”

“All right,” Doctor Morgan said, “But it'll be a little crowded.”

Yipran was helped up, “A ... good choice,” she said to Treve, “And will ... become a better one ... over time.”

They departed.

“I have an idea,” Lili said to Malcolm.

“Oh?”

“Yes. You and me. We'll sit under the olowa tree and nod off.”

“Lili-Flower,” he said softly, “I hardly think this is the time or the place.”

“Not for that reason,” she said, “There's someone I would like for you to meet.”

“Very well,” he said, “Can we take Declan? Or is it too soon?”

“I think it'll be fine.”

Lili went over to Doug, “We're gonna go to the other side of the pond. It'll just be for a little while.”

“Okay,” he said, kissing her, “Be with who you desire.”

=/=



“I know that we shall see one another in our dreams – I can certainly promise you that – but I just, it's a bit of unfinished business and, well, I was waiting for the right moment and to not be rushed but I guess this moment will have to do.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



Chip and Lucy sat in the cave. It was cool and damp. Januarys were not so good there. Her baby had come, and that was wonderful. Kenneth Masterson! He looked a lot like Lucy, and that was more than a little bit all right.

Jennifer was there, with Treve, and Beth, too. Beth was hugely pregnant and looked really uncomfortable. Charles came in with a load of firewood – a most welcome sight. The twins and little Charlie trailed after him, carrying smaller sticks. Chip was so pleased. The twins had really come around. There were still times when they behaved like the spoiled brats they'd been when he and Lucy had first brought them to Lafa II. But they were getting better all the time.

It was pleasant around the fire, and everyone began to drowse, near the rocks that were flecked with a coppery ore.

=/=



“Please, you're talking about the future Mrs. Tucker there.” – Tripp Tucker

=/=



It was a hall.

Lili and Malcolm walked together, him carrying the baby, “What is this place?” he asked.

“Ah, I had forgotten you hadn't seen this,” she said, “This is where people meet when they're unsure of who they're going to see.”

“But you are sure.”

“Yes. But we're also crossing the pond,” she called out, “Tucker!”

Tripp looked up, “I heard my name,” he said to Beth, “But this is a dream.”

“It's like when we got here,” she reminded him, “It's more than just a dream.”

He picked up Charlie and they started walking toward the sound of the calling voice. The air was slightly redolent of roasted meats.

And they saw a man and a woman, and the man was holding, it was obviously, their baby. The woman said, “I was hoping to see you.”

“Reed?” Tripp asked.

“Yes,” Malcolm replied.

“But you're dead,” Tripp insisted.

“My counterpart, I suppose,” Malcolm said, “On your side of things. But here, I am as you can see.”

“Hayes's wife,” Beth said.

“Yes,” Lili replied.

“I, this is jarring,” Malcolm said, “For on this side, both of you are gone.”

“How odd,” Beth said, “On our side, we are as alive as you must be on yours.”

“Is that your child?” Tripp asked.

“Yes. Declan Reed,” Malcolm said.

“This is Charlie,” Tripp said, “He's our first. And Beth, well, it'll be soon.”

Lili remembered something, “You're going to have a girl.”

“How can you know that?” Beth asked.

“I had a chance to see a little, tiny bit,” Lili said.

The others from the cave came over, “Major Reed,” Chip said, “Gone but not gone.”

“Commander Reed now,” Lili said, “And father.”

“And father,” Lucy said, “As is Chip. And him,” she indicated Tripp.

“We are here because the other Tripp – our Tripp – he has passed,” Lili said.

“I'm not him,” Tripp said.

“I know,” Malcolm said, “No more than I am your Major Reed.”

“It's a good thing you're not Major Reed,” Jennifer said, “He was cruel and sadistic.”

“The other side is different,” Lili said.

“Is Hayes dead, too?” Tripp asked.

“No. It's just day and night. Ask Treve there to explain if you don't already know,” Lili said.

And, even though he had been told before not to disturb sleeping adults, Tommy was drowsy, and their laps looked so inviting. So he crawled under the spreading olowa tree and onto Lili's lap as she slept, and joined the dream.

“Who's this little boy?” Jennifer asked as Tommy appeared.

Lili looked down, “Ah, I bet your mother is wondering about you,” she said to him. Then she straightened up and said, “This is Tommy. He's one of Doug's four children.”

“So the Old Man is a family man,” Chip said.

“His life is not what it was,” Lili said.

“Neither are ours,” Jennifer said, “This is no ship, and the Empress, we feel that she is far away. The children might not have shoes, but we are free.”

“And you'll carry on, I'm sure,” Malcolm said, “And in a way, our Tripp and our Beth remain alive.”

“As does our Malcolm, but improved,” Jennifer said, “And I get the feeling your counterpart is gone, too,” she said to Lili.

“She is,” Lili admitted, “And, for us, it is also a bit as if Jay Hayes, were still with us. Despite what Doug says, he is, in some ways, Jay all over again.”

“You're funny,” Takara said to Tommy as he stood there with Malcolm and Lili, “He's almost as funny as Charlie.”

Tommy then hid behind Malcolm, “I think that might be an indication that someone likes someone a little,” Malcolm said.

“Maybe,” Beth said, “But they can't be together.”

“Except for this way,” Lili said, “'Course that would all be years from now, if it matters then at all.”

“Can we be in touch? Like this, sometimes?” Malcolm asked.

“If you like,” Tripp said, “But I am not the guy you knew.”

“Neither am I,” Malcolm said.

“Maybe it can be better this way,” Lucy said, shifting little Kenneth in her arms.

“Charles,” Beth said, holding his arm a little, “I can feel that the fire is dying down.”

“We should go,” he said, “Keep, keep in touch.”

They awoke.


“Lili?”

“Yes?”

“I know Declan's middle name.”

“Oh?”

“But I need to write something first,” Malcolm said. He gave her the baby back and got up. He grabbed his PADD and started writing, pausing every now and then to get the rhyme just right.

=/=



“More than just a sonnet or two.” – Malcolm Reed

Chapter 30 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Upshot theme of the series - Sister Hazel - All for You

“Funny how things turn out.” – Emmiz

=/=



He finished, and put his PADD down.

He came over to where Pamela and Treve were laughing over something or other.

“What's that plywood over there?” Pamela asked.

“We have no idea,” Melissa said, “Isn't it ugly?”

“There's a house under there somewhere,” Norri explained, “But if they wanted to put a fence around it – and God knows why they'd even need to – well, they could've picked a better way of doing that.”

“I have a few gifts,” Malcolm said.

“More presents?!” Marie Patrice called out.

“Yes, but you've already gotten yours from me. This is one more, and, and one for Doug, as I wasn't here for his birthday,” Malcolm said.

They all sat down and Malcolm opened up the smaller duffle, “First, for the birthday girl.”

It was a small package and she tore into it eagerly, “Ohhh!” she was very excited.

“Let's see what that is,” Lili said, “Ah, gloves.”

“Not just any gloves,” Malcolm said, “My mother knitted them herself.”

“And they're yellow!” Marie Patrice enthused, “My favorite!”

“Ah, and a little lace on the cuffs. Very nice,” Pamela said, “Here, let me show you a way to wear those,” she put them on Marie Patrice and folded the lacy cuffs over, “Now, how do you like that?”

“Oh! Perfect!” Marie Patrice ran around and admired her new look. Then she stopped, “I can't write too well but I want to write a note to Grandmother Mary, and thank her.”

“Tomorrow,” Lili said, “Maybe Norri can help you if she's not too busy. She's very good at those things.”

“And now for you,” Malcolm said, handing Doug a large box.

“Huh, well, first off, you shouldn't have,” Doug said, but he opened it anyway. It was a toolkit. “Ah, perfect! I needed these; I keep borrowing them from friends.”

“Dad, can we make something?” Joss asked.

“Sure,” Doug picked around amidst the crescent wrenches and then frowned, “There's, there's a hammer,” he said worriedly.

“Well, I don't suppose it would be a good toolkit if there wasn't one,” said Lili, adjusting Declan in her arms.

“But, uh, you should take it. Don't, uh, you shouldn't trust me with a hammer,” Doug said, “I don't think I should even touch it.”

“You okay, Dad?” Joss asked.

“Doug,” Melissa said, “Do you trust Lili with a cast iron skillet?”

“I don't see what –”

“Just, do you?” she persisted.

“Um, of course.”

“Even after what happened to She Who Almost Didn't Breed in Time?”

“Huh. Yeah. I do trust her,” Doug said.

“And you've been trusted with phasers, and with rope and knives and all of that, right?” Norri asked, handing Neil over to Melissa.

“I suppose so.”

“Can't we make something, Dad?” Joss asked.

“Uh, yeah. Maybe we can,” Doug said. He touched the hammer gingerly, “It's just metal and wood, right?”

“Yes. And I bet the same tree also made chairs and bed slats. And the same batch of alloy probably made belt buckles,” Lili said, “It doesn't have any power over you.”

“Yanno, it doesn't,” he said, “Not anymore.”

=/=



“I don't think it's doing any of us any good to ignore the elephant in the room. We all came through this experience, and it's got fallout to it, and you're lookin' at it. But it's also, well, I think we'd all be foolish and in some pretty deep denial if we didn't admit to ourselves – even if we couldn't admit it to each other – that it felt pretty damned good.” – Melissa Madden

=/=



“May I borrow your scarf?” Malcolm asked Pamela.

“Oh, this old thing?” she joked, untying it. It was green, with lotus blossoms, “Whaddaya have in mind?”

“Something, uh, um, nothing untoward,” he said, reddening just a bit.

“A pity,” she said. She turned back after handing him the scarf, “Now, Treve, tell me again about the big, blond buffalo you have here.”

“Well, they can get you if you're not careful. Are you careful? Because I wouldn't want to see you eaten by a big perrazin,” he said, and that was all that Malcolm heard as he went back and approached Lili. She realized something was up and handed Declan over to Doug.

“I have something I'd like for you to do,” Malcolm said to Lili.

“Oh?”

“Yes. But you'll need to put this on first,” he said, as she stood up. He stood behind her and tied the scarf on like a blindfold.

“Why?” Tommy asked.

“Just because,” Norri said.

“My God, this thing is doused with perfume,” Lili whispered.

“Ah, yes, Toxic.”

“Please, Malcolm, it's making my eyes tear a little.”

“I shan't buy you perfume,” he said, “So don't worry 'bout that. But you're all right, not too uncomfortable?”

“Not bad. But I don't want to be wearing this for too long,” she said.

“No worries. Come, now, hold my hand and we'll walk a bit.”

“Okay, but you'll have to guide me. I am blind with this thing on.”

“Here, now, step here, slowly.”

“We're going up a small hill?” she asked.

“A bit,” he said, “A little farther. All right, now, wait just a moment.”

She could hear a few sounds, a slight bit of banging and then an unfamiliar voice said, “Here, let me help you with that, sir,” Then there was a bit more banging, like things were being moved a little.

“And?” she asked.

“And here,” he pressed something into her hand. It felt like a flat rectangular-shaped piece of polymer with a notch cut out of the side.

“It feels like, uh, like my house key,” she said.

He got behind her and kissed her neck, and then took off her blindfold. She looked up and gasped, “It is your house key,” he said.

It was the neighbor's house, and the sounds she had been hearing were of the plywood that had been encircling it – that plywood was being moved away.

“You – it was covered for a while,” she said.

“Yes. That was so that you and your family wouldn't be able to see that it was being painted turquoise.”

She was still in a bit of shock. She looked down at the key in her hands. It was a dark royal blue, almost an indigo, “And this key fits?”

“Try it if you're unsure,” he said.

They walked over to the front door, where there was a sweet door knocker shaped and painted to look like a bluebird, “Oh, I love it.”

It's, well, it's the bluebird of happiness, right?”

“Right,” she said, and tried the key in the lock. It fit perfectly. The door opened.

The place was mainly unfurnished, and much of it remained unpainted, “I wanted you to have the opportunity to fix it up as you wished. So pick out colors and furniture and all of that when you like.”

“I, uh, but why?”

“This is our house. Mine, for when I am here, and yours, for when you wish to visit me. And I hope you visit me a lot. And, and Declan's of course. When I am here, once he is no longer nursing, he will stay with me here. And when we are older, and I have retired from Starfleet, I shall live here. And I will live out my days here.”

“Oh, Malcolm.”

“And it belongs to you, too. Your name is on the deed. If I pass before you, then you shall own it.”

“Don't talk about that.”

“Oh, but it is inevitable. One day, one of us shall pass. But that, I feel, will be a long time from now, Lili-Flower,” he said, “I want you to know, you are the mistress of this house. And while we are not married, I, still, I hope I can persuade you to visit often.”

“I know that that is the one thing you want that I cannot give you,” she said, “I love this house. I can visualize a yellow hall and I can see, that video cutout will soon be scrolling through all of our photographs. And I love you. But –”

“Understand something. When I sleep, before you join me, I have regular dreams. And those are of a certain day. And, if you've very late, those dreams are of a certain night as well. And I know that I am no soothsayer. What I hope and dream for, that piece won't necessarily ever come true. But you are here, and I can be close to you. And from your kitchen, down there, you can see this kitchen, up here. And while you flip pancakes, I shall see, while I am scrambling eggs. And from the parlor, I shall be able to see and hear your car.”

“And when I weed the garden, I can look up and I can see you, and wave,” she said.

“Yes,” he took her left hand and kissed the fourth finger.

“My wedding ring. From Doug.”

“Yes. Long may you wear it.”

“You mean that?”

“Absolutely. I don't wish him harm. That is a part of why I had this house built in the first place. I am not; I do not desire to replace him. Only to supplement him in your good graces.”

“We'll work out some sort of a schedule, I guess.”

“Yes.”

“And when your bed arrives, we'll have to break it in.”

He smiled at her as he held her, “That is why the master bedroom is on the other side. A bit of soundproofing, my love,” he kissed her.

=/=



“It's not necessarily unfair. You'd be sleeping. Everybody sleeps. I can't get into your dreams. All that's changing now, really, is that I know, more or less, what those dreams are. But you and I, we have the big thing, the big love.” – Leonora Digiorno

=/=



They returned to the family and Lili showed off the key.

“Come up later,” Malcolm said, “But there's nowhere to sit yet, and it's all still somewhat unpainted.”

“Will you let me help you pick everything out?” Norri asked Lili.

“Of course.”

“A project! Awesome!” Norri picked up Tommy and whirled him around, “Shopping!”

The kids wandered off as Lili and Melissa both settled in to feed their sons. Doug and Malcolm busied themselves in taking the presents into the house. Pamela and Treve were out strolling.

Then they heard the sound of a crying child. Five adult heads turned as one. Norri was the closest, and she ran over. It was Tommy.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Mama!” he cried a little, and she held him, “I want Daddy!”

“Doug?” she asked, but he could not hear her, “What's the matter? Talk to me, Tommy.”

“Empy said. Empy said,” he just repeated.

“Excuse me, Miss Marie Patrice,” Norri said, “Come over here.”

“Um, okay,” she came over. She was still wearing the yellow gloves.

“So, what happened?” Norri asked as Tommy started to calm down.

“Empy said I can't have two daddies,” he said.

“Oh?” Norri asked; eyebrow arched.

“Well, no. I mean, if he has two mothers then he can't have two daddies,” Marie Patrice said, confident that her logic was impeccable.

“Uh, where are you hearing that?” Norri asked.

“You just can't!” Marie Patrice insisted.

“Tell you what,” Norri said, “Come here and sit by me. And Joss, come over, too,” he came over.

“I'm gonna tell you a little something,” Norri said, “Now, babies are made by only two people. There’s just one Mommy and one Daddy. And that decides what a baby is going to look like. So Declan looks like Lili and he looks like Malcolm because he was made by them, and only them. Are you with me so far?”

Tommy nodded.

“And Tommy and Neil were both made by Melissa and Doug. And Marie Patrice and Joss were made by Doug and Lili.”

“Did you make any babies?” Marie Patrice asked her.

“Uh, no,” Norri said, “But that's okay. Because just because there's only two people who can make them, that doesn't mean that only two people can love them. Right?”

Maybe,” Marie Patrice allowed.

“And a lot of people are very sad and aren't well-loved,” Norri said, “But for the people who are, well, why should there be any restrictions put on them? Now, tell me, do you have any aunts and uncles?”

“Sure,” Joss said.

“Tell me who they are.”

“There's, um, Aunt Marilyn and Aunt Meghan and Aunt Misty and Aunt Miri and Aunt Monica,” Marie Patrice said.

“Yes, they are Melissa's sisters. And you aren't related to any of them but they're still your aunts, right? Are there any others?”

Joss said, “There's, uh, Uncle Phil and Uncle Alex.”

“Those are my brothers,” Norri said, “And I'm not related to you, so neither are they.”

“Aunt Mad,” Tommy said.

“Madeline,” Norri corrected him, “She is Malcolm's sister. And you are not related to her, right?”

“And Aunt Laura,” Melissa said, coming over, “Jay's sister. She's, well, she's as close as Doug comes to having any family here, other than all of us.”

“That's right. And you've got grandparents, too, right?” Norri asked.

“Grandmother Mary and Grandfather Stuart,” Marie Patrice said, looking at her gloves.

“And they're Malcolm's parents. Right? And there's Grandma Belinda, too. My mother,” Norri said.

“And my parents, too,” Melissa said.

“Are you going to tell them that they can't be your grandparents?” Norri asked, “That they can't love you and visit you and write to you and send you nice things?”

“I guess not,” Marie Patrice said, “I'm sorry, Tommy.”

“There ya go,” Melissa said.

=/=



“It's going to end. One way or, or another.” – Malcolm Reed

=/=



It was dinner time, and they sat together and laughed and talked. Plates of orange chicken were passed around and the sides of roasted potatoes and spinach with a little Cheddar cheese and softened onions rounded the other way and a bowl of pineapple chutney also made its rounds.

“I, ahem,” Malcolm said, standing up, “I dabble a bit in poetry.”

“And the black arts, too, I hear,” Norri joked.

“No, no, no, Lioness. Kindly do not defame my character,” he smiled, “But I had written a sonnet earlier for Declan. And you might recall that the chap does not yet have a middle name. Well, I should like to rectify that now, if I may.”

“Go for it!” said Pamela, clinking her fork against her glass.

“All right then. All the endorsement I need.

A memory remains; it will be within you,
of a fine friend and engineer, a gifted man.
Charles, he was, and so you are, too –
That will be your middle name for your entire life's span.

Family for you is easy to define,
for you truly have two fathers and three mothers.
It draws a sinuous calloo-line
through a sister, too, and three loving brothers.

There are those who will say it is not real,
that this tree of genes and love cannot be alive.
But I say: let's go by what we feel.
Why stop at two parents? Why not have five?

You're the child of Lili and Malcolm, Doug and Melissa and Leonora, indeed:
our very own Declan Charles Reed.


Uh, and that's it,” he said.

“I love it,” Lili said, “Declan Charles Reed. Hear that?” she said to the baby, who was sleeping in her arms.

“Thank you,” Doug said to Malcolm, “He helped me get here. I wouldn't be here without Tripp – without either of the two Tripps, actually.”

“And both Jennifers, too. They helped. And Beth,” Lili said.

“And both Treves,” Malcolm said.

“I suppose I had a small part in that,” Treve said.

“Oh? Were you very heroic?” Pamela asked him.

“I was very meditative,” he smiled.

“It still helped. In part, I'm not here without you,” Doug said, eyes shining a little.

“These days,” Lili said, “they have been one long transition, as we all went from being a bunch of individuals to us all being here together as one. They are kind of, I don’t know, in between days. It feels like, now, our real lives can finally begin.”

“Yes. We can now truly begin,” Norri said.

“The bag!” Joy said, “It seems rather rude that you provided a gift and, here it is, a good month later and they still haven't opened it.”

“They're about to,” Q said, “Watch.”


“Do we have any dessert?” Doug asked.

“We have, well,” Lili gave Declan to him and got up, “I have fortune cookies. But there are only five of them. I've got regular cookies for the kids. A little chocolate chunk for them, plus there are oranges, of course.”

“Don't worry about any fortune cookie for me,” Pamela said, “Too many carbs.”

“You're watching your figure?” Treve asked, eying her form, “It doesn't seem like you have to.”

“Oh, I do,” she said.

“Oh, then, no fortune cookie for me, either,” Treve said.

“All right,” Lili said, and took the cookies out of the bag. She presented them to the other four, who all took one.

Leonora cracked hers open, “Huh. Oh my. It's, it's perfect.”

“Really?” Doug asked.

“Yes. It says, well, it says: The lioness always protects the cubs,” she looked up, “No one could know that you call me that, Malcolm.”

“Have you any lucky numbers on the back?” he asked her.

“Ha, just one. It's a fine figure. Look, Mellie.”

“Too funny,” she grinned.

“May I go next?” Malcolm asked. No one objected, so he opened his, “It says, oh, my, it's as if they knew me, whoever wrote this. It says: You are never second best,” he felt his eyes tearing a bit, “How could they have known that sometimes, despite what you all say, I sometimes worry about that?”

“Never worry about that again,” Doug said, “Because you aren't. You go next, Melissa.”

“Okay. Hmm, it says: You are the perceptive peacemaker,” she read.

“That's definitely you,” Norri said, “Look at your lucky numbers. And you should, too, Malcolm.”

They both turned theirs over, and laughed, “It is ... a great number,” Malcolm said, showing the slip of paper to Lili.

“Me, too. A number divisible by three and twenty-three,” Melissa said.

“You should go next, Lili,” Doug said.

She opened hers and read it to herself, “I, no, I can't reveal this.”

“Why not?” Melissa asked.

“I'm just, I'm afraid it won't come true,” she said, “But I will tell you, I've got that same lucky number,” she laughed.

“They know us. Somehow,” Doug said, “Here's mine: You have turned your life around for good. They do know us,” he said, “All I want is to be with all of you. And, and that comes from, from turning myself around. And they think I have. Have I?”

“Yes,” Malcolm said, “You have. Completely.”

“You have,” Lili said, “I can say that with no reservations.”

“But you still won't show us your fortune,” Doug said, “But, ha! I have that same lucky number. Sixty-nine.”

“What's so funny about that number?” Joss asked.

“Uh, maybe we'll wait 'til you're older to explain that, Ducks,” Lili said.

=/=



“I don't give names without some sort of, well, something behind them.” – Lili Beckett

=/=



Jonathan got into his quarters and Porthos jumped off the bed. He turned the tiny bit of metal over in his hands a few times, “Think I should do it?” he asked the dog.

Porthos was silent on the matter.

Jonathan leaned back and held it in his hand. It was so small, so delicate. He couldn't get more than four fingers into the circle.

=/=



And there was a hall.
And he found himself in it.
And he called out a name.

=/=



“So we're being given a second chance. Or maybe it's a first chance. A smart chance. We can do this right, or at least right-er.” – Doug Beckett

=/=



Dishes in the sanitizer, and the suns were beginning to dip lower in the sky, Treve said, “Would you like a family portrait to be taken?”

“Yeah,” Melissa said, “The lighting looks good.”

“And this can go into the video stream,” Norri added.

“Into my house, and into your apartment and into your house, too,” Malcolm said.

“Exactly. Here, let's stand over by the garden,” Lili said, and they gathered.

Norri picked up Tommy and stood over to the left. Then Melissa, who was holding Neil, got next to her. Then Doug lifted Joss onto his shoulders. Joss was holding an orange in his hands. Doug came over and stood next to Melissa. Lili picked up Marie Patrice, who was still wearing her little yellow gloves, and stood on the other side of Doug. And Malcolm, who was holding Declan, stood on the other side of Lili, and you could see the cuff of Lo a little bit, from the way he was holding his son.

Pamela and Treve fiddled with the camera a bit, “You have to compensate for the light,” she said.

“And hold your elbow up, nice and straight,” he said. He put his hand on her waist tentatively.

Melissa whispered, “Hey, check that out.”

“Do you think Pamela knows how Calafans mate?” Lili asked.

“I'm sure she doesn't. Is it, uh, very, uh, interesting?” asked Malcolm.

“It's a little like dogs on Earth,” Doug said.

“What, the position?” Malcolm asked, reddening.

“Not necessarily,” Melissa said.

“But it is interesting,” Norri said.

Lili said, “It's that, after climax, he swells up in order to assure that he passes all his sperm to her. So I understand that things get pretty tight – that's not a bad thing, of course – and they can kind of stick together for a while.”

“I suppose that means a quickie is out of the question,” Malcolm said.

As they laughed, the photograph was snapped, and those were, they all agreed, some of the best smiles that anyone had ever gotten out of any of them.

And Lili knew that, for her family, the future was unknown, just as it is for all families. But they would be together forever, for however long forever really meant. And so long as they felt the way they did at that very moment, and they loved and cared for each other the same way that they did at that very second, it would not hurt.

=/=



There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.


– Brutus, Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

May you have profitable dreams.

– Old Denobulan nighttime wish

I will love you all of our days, and support you all of your nights.

– Traditional Calafan wedding vows

Be with who you desire.

– Calafan nighttime wish

You will always be lucky in love.

– Anonymous fortune cookie fortune writer (Lili's fortune cookie)

Afterword by jespah

Dear Reader,

Thank you for hanging in there and reading along. I hope you've enjoyed reading. I've certainly enjoyed writing.

If this is the only one of my stories you've read, well, there are more, in a series that I have been referring to as In Between Days, as they are intended to bridge the gap between the Enterprise canon mirror universe episodes and the last episode: These are the Voyages.

The series begins with a prequel about childhood in the mirror universe, called Paving Stones Made From Good Intentions. This introduces Doug. There is also a prequel about Chanukah on the NX-01, called The Light. That story also introduces secondary characters Karin, Ethan, Andrew and Josh, who are also followed, behind the scenes, throughout the series.

The third story, which introduces most of the main characters, is called Reversal. The Calafans are also introduced here, as are secondary characters Chip, Deb, Aidan, Jennifer, Brian, José, Shelby, Frank and Jun. The truly focal character is Lili.

The fourth is Intolerance. It introduces Pamela, who is practically the sixth main character, and Melissa. The focal character is Malcolm.

The fifth is Together, where the arrangement begins. Leonora is introduced. This is the story about Melissa, and is probably the most loving of the stories.

The sixth is Temper, which provides some more context. The focal character is Doug.

And the seventh is the one you presumably just read, Fortune. This story is one of the bridges to my next series. The focal character is Leonora.

There are any number of things that I could tell you right now, but I'd probably just end up writing another book if I got them all in. One thing I do want to mention is the successor series. I have enjoyed writing too much, and have been too inspired lately, to just let that go. The spin-off character – if you've read Temper, he should be pretty obvious.

In the meantime, I hope that you enjoy these characters, as they are not gone. I write all sorts of prequels, sequels, fill-in and alternate scenes and scenarios for them to supplement the seven main tales. Doug and Lili, Melissa and Norri, and also Malcolm, but even more secondary characters like Pamela, Chip, Treve, Jennifer, Aidan, Jun, Yimar, Shelby, An and others are alive and well in even more stories.

As for Jay – the real Jay – he is no criminal, of course, and I am happy and proud to be beside him in both our days and our nights. To quote Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books, Reader, I married him.

Be with who you desire
. Thanks again.

jes

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