"Linfep linfep linfep."

"Huh, Mommy?" Marie Patrice Beckett rolled over, unused to sleeping in the same bed as her mother.

"Oh, uh, nothing. My mother used to say," Lili O'Day Beckett reminisced for a moment, "that on the first of the month, you're supposed to say 'Rabbit rabbit rabbit'. But there are no rabbits here on Lafa II, just linfep. Close, but no cigar. One of these days, we'll all go to Earth and you'll see real rabbits."

"Okay. When is Dad gonna be back? And Mackum? And what about Ma Mellie and Ma Norri?"

"My oh my, so many questions this morning! And I haven't even gotten into the same room as the coffee yet." Lili swung her legs over to the side so that her feet touched the floor, feeling her fifty-seven-year-old knees creak just a bit. "Still, your questions are legitimate ones. Dad will be home, um, I think on the third. I'm sure he'll be sick of the recruits and camping out by then." At age sixty-three, Doug would likely be waking up on the bare ground of Lafa VIII and feeling even stiffer and achier than Lili was. "Malcolm is still out on the Cochrane, guarding the Romulan Neutral Zone. I have no idea when he'll be returning. Norri and Melissa will be back in a couple of weeks."

"Why are they on Earth again?" The six and a half-year-old had a much easier time getting up.

"Your Uncle Phil is playing in a concert. Now, go wash up and get your brothers up and we'll make pancakes, all right?"

"Do I hafta?"

"Yes, Miss Empy. Now, scoot!" As her daughter left to wake up one full brother, Joss; Lili's son with Malcolm, Declan; and Melissa and Doug's two sons, Tommy and Neil, Lili looked out back. There were a ton of linfep out there, scampering about. They looked like hares, but with small tusks and, as Lili knew, they bred just like rabbits. "Oh, man, we are gonna get holes in the yard again." She tapped out a quick note to Doug on her PADD and sent it.

When you're on your way home, could you pick up a bag of tofflin leaves from the market? We've got linfep again.

She made her way to the kitchen, putting on a smaller pot of coffee for herself and taking out the hazelnut-infused cream made from perrazin milk. A few years in the Lafa System and all sorts of interesting delicacies and hybrid goodies were becoming available. "Pays to be pioneers in a place that isn't so wild," she murmured to herself.

She sat at the big table and looked out the back out a big picture window, where there was still a large gang of linfep hopping and jumping and running around. They definitely looked like they were having fun, so far away from perrazin, who could sometimes prey on them. Up a little rise was Malcolm Reed's house, but the small alien animals didn't go there much, as it had a stand of tofflin stalks. But they sure liked Lili's asparagus and day lilies, although more to run around amongst them and sometimes make nesting materials out of them, but not to eat them.

She sent another note to Doug.

Better make that two bags of tofflin leaves.

The five kids filed in. Joss, an old man of eight, led the way, with Tommy right behind him. Empy then swaggered in, in front of Neil and Declan, who she sometimes tried to lord over. "Mommy said," Empy told them all haughtily, "that we're gonna make pancakes."

"Um, yeah, I did." Lili drummed her fingers on the table, trying to will the coffee to finish up more quickly.

"See? I told ya so!" She flicked her fingers in Neil's face a few times, a few millimeters from his nose. "I'm not touchin' ya, I'm not touchin' ya!"

"Empy! Quit buggin' me!" yelled Neil.

"You should hit her for that!" Tommy told his little brother.

"What?" asked Neil. "I'm not supposed to hit a girl!"

"No, like this!" Tommy demonstrated.

"Ma-a!" It was Joss, "Tommy hit Declan!"

"Mommy?" It was Declan, crying a bit. "Tommy hit me."

"What?" asked Lili. "Um, why?" She blinked a few times and silently thought to herself, Douglas Jay Hayes Beckett, why the hell did you want such a big family?

"I was just showin' Neil how to do it," Tommy explained.

"Thomas Digiorno-Madden, really?" Lili put Dec on her lap. "Shh, shh, it's not so bad. Tommy, c'mon and apologize."

"I was just showing Neil how to do it. I didn't mean nothin' by it."

"I know, but you should still say you're sorry," Lili insisted.

"I'm sorry, Dec." Tommy, a big boy of six, shook Declan's hand.

"And you, Miss Marie Patrice Beckett?" Lili asked a little sharply.

"Yes?" Empy turned around, all sweetness and light, smiling an innocent smile.

"You instigated this. Don't tell me you didn't, young lady. Maybe we won't have pancakes this morning. Maybe we'll have toast and cold olowa fruit and you'll all think about how maybe you could have behaved better this morning." Lili silently prayed for Doug to get on the military shuttle and return a day or two early, or for the transport that Melissa and Leonora would be taking to come home faster than it could really go. Or maybe for the USS Zefram Cochrane, the DC-1501, to miraculously visit the Lafa System even though she knew it was at least a month away at top speed, which was Warp Six or Seven. Five kids! It was all too much.

Declan Reed had dried his eyes and looked out the picture window. "Mommy, what are those two linfep doing?"

"Uh …" Lili wasn't so sure she wanted to get into that at the moment. Coffee, coffee, where was the coffee? Science, get on a coffee transporter system, stat, she silently thought.

"They're telling secrets," Empy reported confidently. "That's what Davey Ryan at school says."

"Maybe that one's kissing the back of the other's neck," Neil offered. He and Declan were both nearly five.

"I dunno," Tommy offered, "I think it's like when I kissed Cindy Morgan behind the school."

"You are kissing now?" Lili asked. One crisis at a time, she told herself. Please, science, beam the caffeine straight into my brain. "Joss, are, uh, you and Jia Sulu engaging in this kissing business, as well?"

"Um, no, Mom," he mumbled, and then he seemed to have figured something out. "Are they making baby linfep?"

Before Lili could even think of what she was saying, she blurted out, "Yes."

"No, no, it's not what I saw Ma Norri and Mommy Melissa doing that time," Tommy reported.

"Oh," Lili squeaked out. She got up. The mission: coffee. And then maybe some courage and imagination; if only she could mix it into the hazelnut-infused perrazin cream! She tapped out a note on her PADD to Melissa Madden and Norri Digiorno.

I think we're going to have the talk. You know the one I'm talking about. You owe me, big time.

She got one good swallow of coffee in as Declan tugged on the hem of her blouse and asked, "Mommy, where do babies come from?"

Lili chugged the rest of the coffee. How to explain not just sex, but also love, and desire? How to explain an open marriage, and five children with three differing parentages? How to explain Melissa's bisexuality, and Norri's lesbianism? How to explain how she and Malcolm would meet in dreams and make love, or how Doug and Melissa did the same, as day and night relationships were both possible in the Lafa System, and that it wasn't considered to be cheating? How to explain premarital sex or even just what it was like to love someone and sometimes have it not work out, as her life had been before Doug had come into her life?

Lili looked at the five faces, at Joss and Empy, who looked like Doug; and Tommy and Neil, who resembled Melissa; and Declan, who was a mix of Lili herself and Malcolm. There was a ding emanating from her PADD, a message, and it made her jump. It was from Doug, acknowledging her request, and saying he'd be home with his recruits in two days, and that he missed everyone.

Before responding to the children, she tapped out one more message.

Better make that four bags of tofflin leaves.