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“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



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