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“Take the perrazin by the horns.” – Yimar

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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.

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“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

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“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.”

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“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

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“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.

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“You'll spoil your appetite.” – Lili Beckett

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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?”

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'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)

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“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

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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.”

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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.

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“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

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“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

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“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.

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“What makes you think we'll be leaving here for dinner?” – Doug Hayes

“Do yourself a favor and avoid fruit. Trust me.” – Lili Beckett



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