Travis Mayweather brought the shuttlepod to a gliding stop on the surface of Lafa II. "Last stop," he joked, "Retirement Acres."
"Very funny," said Lili O'Day, who had been the sous-chef on the NX-01. She and her boyfriend were young to retire, but they were leaving Starfleet just the same. She absently scratched a tattooed arm covered in silvery scrollwork.
"Aw, c'mon," Travis said, "I don't mean anything by it."
The console on the shuttlepod showed the date – November the sixteenth of 2157.
"I know ya don't."
"Oh, the captain said to tell you he was sorry he couldn't see you off personally. Lieutenant Reed said the same thing."
"Oh? They're such sweet guys."
Travis just nodded – he didn't think anyone had ever described Archer or Reed as sweet before. He got up and opened the hatch. She got out and her boyfriend got out, too. They both sniffed the air and smiled.
Her fellow was Douglas Jay Hayes, the counterpart to the deceased Major Jay Hayes. The Enterprise had come to the Lafa System several days before. No one – at least, no human – had known about mirror universes and counterparts. But the entire Lafa System was psionically charged, and Lili had dreamt of a man. And in the mirror, on the other side of a proverbial pond, Doug had simultaneously dreamt of her, and they had fallen in love. The Calafans understood this and were able to briefly drop the veil between the two universes and get Doug over permanently. This was through meditation and a boost of power from the NX-01, the ISS Defiant and even sodium vapor flares from the two smallest stars in that quadruple star system. In gratitude, Doug and Lili had decided to settle on Lafa II as the Enterprise was sworn to secrecy and the entire episode was deemed classified.
There was a native Calafan waiting to meet them, Lili's new business partner, Treve. He and his family had been instrumental in bringing Doug over. They were the only Calafan friends that Doug and Lili had.
He was human in appearance, save for solid silver arms. Plus he was completely bald. Both of those details were signs that he wasn't yet thirty years of age. "I'm so glad you're here," he said, accent clipped and cultured, a product of a privileged upbringing. Lili's PADD was a little slow with the translation, but the context could be readily inferred. "Let's get your bags into my vehicle." Doug helped him.
Lili turned to Travis. "Gonna miss you guys," she said.
"I'll miss you, too," Travis said, hugging her. "I will also miss your strawberry shortcake."
"I see how loved I am," she joked.
"Oh, I almost forgot!" He produced a box from under the front console. "Chef gave this to me to give to you. It's an eventual wedding present, but he says you can open it now."
"How wonderful! But I don't think we'll get married until Reversal is up and running."
"It's what we're naming the restaurant we're going to open up." She looked at him. "It's funny. We've scarcely got two nickels to rub together, but we've got friends. So we couldn't possibly be poor." She was a little teary. She hugged him again and waved as he took off.
Doug touched her shoulder and she turned around. "Just you and me," he said, "well, except for our chaperone." She looked up at him and they kissed.
"Come along now, children," Treve joked. Lili was over forty and Doug was in his mid-fifties – they were hardly kids. "I have found you a place on Enne Street. Enne curves around a lot." He began to navigate as Lili clicked on her PADD and Doug looked out a window at unfamiliar Fep City.
"Good thing Hoshi rigged my PADD so I can read Calafan script," Lili said. "Doug, Enne means water."
"Treve, do you know where I can get a name change?" Doug asked.
"Name change?" asked the Calafan after the PADD – which was slower than a Universal Translator – had converted Doug's and his words.
"Yeah. I, uh, immigrants used to sometimes do this on Terra – I mean, Earth. They would go somewhere and would reinvent themselves, and have a fresh start. So I want to change my last name, to my mother's maiden name, Beckett."
"Well, we don't have last names," Treve said, "so I doubt anyone could do that, or would so much as understand why. I suspect all you will need to do is start calling yourself Beckett."
"Oh, uh, okay," said Doug. "I guess I'm Doug Beckett now."
"Uh, it says here we're passing Fep Street," Lili said, grinning a little, "Mister Beckett."
"Yes, that's right. This is Fep Street and Imspi Street where my family lives, it's down over there a ways," Treve said, pointing, "Ah, and here we are."
The apartment was a house, squat and single-story. "It's small," Lili said, looking around inside the apartment for the first time.
"We'll save money this way," said Doug, "And at least it's furnished." That was a charitable way of putting it – it was rather Spartan. In the front there was a small receiving area with a single chair. Doorways led away from it. Then in the bedroom, there were open shelves built into the walls, and there was a double bed that probably wasn't long enough for his lanky frame. Plus there was a desk with no chair. A door opened to a little bathroom with a shower and what looked like a bidet.
In the kitchen, there was a small table with two chairs and an empty open cupboard that was not unlike a bookcase. Next to it there was some counter space and a sink and a small sanitizer unit. Another door opened to a food storage area where there was a refrigeration unit with a small freezing compartment. Just beyond the refrigeration unit was a stove, and then the door to the back. And that was it.
"Yeah," she said absently. She went to the stove and tried the five burners. They all worked. The control settings were in unfamiliar Calafan script so she fiddled a bit until she figured out how to turn the flames higher and lower, and then off.
"We should unpack," Doug said.
"Actually, maybe, could we go to a market first?" she asked. "We won't save a lot of money if we go out to eat every night."
"We don't have any Calafan money," Doug reminded her.
"Here, I can loan you some," Treve said. He fished into a pocket and produced several coins, all in a dull grey shade. He placed them on the counter.
"I don't know when we'll be able to change money, or even if your government will accept ours," Lili said.
"No rush, I'm sure they can do that." replied the Calafan. "Now, allow me to explain these." He indicated the smallest coin, which had a single raised dot on its obverse. "This is an ub. It's the smallest of our denominations. You can't buy much with just one. This next one," it was a little bigger, with five raised dots on the back in a pyramid shape, "is a fep. It's the same as five ubs."
"Are all your coins named for the four suns?" asked Doug. Ub was the smallest of the four suns in the Lafa System. The second-smallest was Fep. "So this next one would be an abic?" He pointed to the next-sized coin on the counter.
"Precisely. It's five feps."
"So it's also twenty-five ubs, right?" Lili asked.
"Exactly." It had five raised pyramids on the back, arranged around a central pentagonal-shaped cutout. "And here," the Calafan produced a large coin with an image of four stars on its obverse, "is a lo. It's our main unit of currency, equivalent to one hundred ubs or four abics. Here are two five lo pieces." They had the same image of four stars but a similar pentagonal cutout like the abic.
"Do you have paper money?" asked Doug.
"We do not. That would be lighter, I imagine." Treve smiled. "This is why our tailors fashion us clothing with very strong pockets. Otherwise we'd be losing our funds all the time." He showed off a reinforced pocket on his tunic.
Lili counted. "Uh, looks like this is, um, twelve los and sixteen ubs, total."
"What could we buy with that?" asked Doug.
"Plenty of things. I'll take you to the big open air market. You can also get credit for larger purchases. Tell anyone you work with me and I'm sure you'll get credit. It does pay to be the eldest son of the First Minister and the High Priestess, you know."
"You're a life saver!" Lili gushed. Treve looked at her strangely. Perhaps the translation had failed. "Uh, it means you're very helpful."
"Ah," he said, "I'm sure that won't be the last confusing idiom. Ready?"
The ride was to the outskirts of Fep City, not far from where there were cultivated fields, so that farmers could readily bring their produce to the market. "Now, I need to go and gather my sister and brother from their lessons and then to visit our mother in the Main Hospital," Treve said. "I should be back in about an hour. Will that be all right?"
"Sure," said Lili. "I hope your mother is feeling better. And give our best to Yimar and Chelben," she said, referring to Treve's two younger siblings.
"I will." He departed.
"Ready?" Doug asked, taking her hand.
"You bet," she said, hoping the translation program could keep up with everything.
There was a huge Calafan man in front when they came in, sitting on a stool and whittling what appeared to be the figure of a many-legged animal. He had complicated silvery scrollwork up and down his arms that was not unlike Lili's tattoos. He also had silvery blond hair down to his shoulders. These were signs that he was perhaps fifty years old. He saw how lost they both looked. "Looking for something in particular?" he asked. His accent was almost Irish through the translation program.
"Foods for dinner," Lili said.
"That could be anything. You are not Calafans. I have never seen your species before."
"We're humans," Doug said.
"Interesting," said the man. "You are one of the night people," he said to Doug, using the Calafan term for people from the mirror universe. For Calafans, dreams about the denizens of the mirror were common occurrences. The man then flicked his finger at Lili twice. "Are you vegans?"
"No," she said, "but maybe we'll start with fruits and vegetables, all right?" Doug nodded in agreement.
"Over there," the man pointed. He flicked his finger again as they thanked him and departed.
There was a woman with very long whitish blonde hair and nearly blank arms standing at a stall. Lili knew that the woman was probably rather old. "Can I be of assistance?" asked the woman, her voice quavering a bit.
"Yes, I am looking for something to make for dinner this evening," Lili said.
There were what looked a bit like wheelbarrows with produce in them. It all seemed to be the same kind of item except for its color. One barrow had very dark purple globes of what was possibly fruit. In another, the color was mid-range purple. In a third, there was fruit of a light lavender color. In a fourth, there were grey pieces. Lili picked up a grey piece tentatively and sniffed it. The old woman laughed. "You have never seen olowa before! Those are not for eating! But they do make fine projectiles. That is the discard pile."
"Oh," Lili said, putting the grey piece back. It had felt hard to her, and dense, and the skin hadn't sprung back at all. "What are the differences, other than color? If there, uh, are any differences, that is."
"There are. You have a discerning eye. Here, I will give you a taste." The old woman took out a small knife and first cut open a slice from a small globe that was a very dark purple, a sort of aubergine color. She gave pieces to both Lili and Doug.
"It's sweet," he said, "but I can't place the flavor."
"Pears," Lili said.
"This is very good," Lili said, "You called it, what oh-lo-wuh?" She pronounced the unfamiliar word carefully.
This time, the translation program took a little while to do its work. "Yes. That is olowa. It is very young. That's why it has that color," explained the old woman. She wiped off and then cut open a small globe that was mid-range purple in color.
"What is this?" asked Lili.
"It is still olowa," said the old woman, handing a small piece to each of them.
Lili took a bite and the juice dripped down her chin. "Man! This one is kinda spicy!" Various Calafan men walked by, staring a bit. A few of them flicked their fingers at her and one flicked his finger at Doug. Then they went back to looking at their PADDs.
Doug asked, "Is the light purple stuff also olowa?"
"Yes," the woman said, cutting up another small globe.
"What do we owe you for all of these?" he asked, mindful of their budget.
"We will talk money later," she said. "Try this."
"Holy cow, it's like peanuts," he said. Lili nodded. "We'll, uh," he said, "how much for, I dunno, two of each kind?"
"Sounds good to me," Lili said.
Doug paid the woman, who wrapped everything up in mesh. As they left, the old woman flicked her finger at him. "Huh," he said as they walked. "I wonder what that means."
"Don't look at me," Lili said.
"Can we get meat?" he asked.
"My idea exactly." They passed through crowds of familiar and unfamiliar species. One couple had ridges on the bridges of their noses. They appeared to be very much in love – perhaps this was some sort of a honeymoon type of trip to the Lafa System. There was a family of Andorians who were eagerly snapping photographs of nearly everything. A pair of Vulcan women were discussing something, and their speech was so rapid that the PADD – which was so much slower than a Universal Translator even under the best of circumstances – could not keep up at all.
There were whispers all around them and all that could be understood was the phrase – he is one of the night people.
There was a stall with a wooden sign that was just a crude picture of a bird. There were parts indicated with arrows and circles. Lili approached the vendor, a young woman who repeatedly flicked her finger at Doug. "What is this that you're selling?" Lili asked.
"Elekai," said the young woman. "I have the top half and the bottom half. Good eating."
"What's the difference, other than the placement on the body?" asked Lili.
"Bottom is," the translator hesitated, "fattier. It tastes better salted."
"How do you cook it?"
"Roast it in an oven or pound thin to make flat, then wrap around mature olowa and fry in linfep fat."
"What's linfep?" Doug asked. "Do you sell it?"
"I do not. Linfep is sold over there," she pointed.
"Half a kilogram of the upper half – how much is that?" asked Lili.
"Thirteen abics. Lower half is less; it is a special today. Only ten abics."
"Can we afford both?" Lili asked Doug quietly as the girl waited on another customer.
"Yeah, sure," he said, looking at the coins in his palm, and then the ones in hers. "Hey, look, they've got clothes."
"Let's get dinner together first, okay?"
"Okay," he said. "Half a kilo of each kind," he said to the shopgirl. "How big does an elekai get anyway?" he asked as she was cutting from an enormous carcass.
"Three meters high or so." She looked up at him. "Does Mister have a nighttime girl?"
"A what?" asked Doug.
"Nighttime. You know, you sleep and dream of a lover. We do this. You are new here and you are from the night. Perhaps you need one."
"Uh, no," Doug said. "No, thank you."
He and Lili walked to the linfep stall. "I have the fat in jars," said the man at the stall. There were what looked like complete carcasses in the barrow in front of him.
Lili walked over to a linfep carcass and tentatively touched it. It was furry. "It looks a bit like a rabbit," she said. "Are these vegetarian animals?"
"Not always," said the man. He pried open the jaws of one of the carcasses and Lili saw that the linfep, while it otherwise looked just like a hare, had fangs.
"Oh my gosh!" she exclaimed. She paid for a small jar of the fat. "I do hope this isn't too, uh, gamey."
He laughed and, again, there was finger flicking at her from male Calafan customers and from the shopkeeper. She looked at him. "What does this mean?" she flicked back.
"Missus is a pretty lady," he said to her. "The flicking is to show that. Will you tell me your name, and what it means? I want to know." He was close, leering at her. She shrank back.
"What?" demanded Doug. "Are you trying to make time with my girl?" Doug had been a tough guy. He had sworn to Lili that he would leave behind his attitude from that universe. But he still had some vestiges of the harsher, rougher place. He could be very menacing when he wanted to be. His hands balled up into fists as he glared at the Calafan with suspicion.
"But you are a night man brought to the daytime, yes?" asked the Calafan fellow, ignoring Doug's posturings. "Perhaps Missus wants her nights to become spicy again."
"Her nights are still plenty spicy."
"So Mister does not need the tofflin root, eh?"
"Whatever the hell that means," Doug said through clenched teeth, "I don't need it. I don't need anything. Leave my girl alone."
"Missus has her own mind, yes? Why not ask her?"
Lili glanced at the Calafan. "This is a bad idea," she said to him. She retreated some more. She was forty-eight and was not exactly striking, and was unused to being ogled so much.
"Yeah, it's a bad idea," Doug said, getting up close into the Calafan's face. "You touch her, or, hell, you even think about touching her, and you're a goner."
"Doug!" Lili was mortified.
"Missus is upset. Can't you see that? Even the night people can understand that, right? Right?"
"You stay away," Doug seethed. "All of you." He glanced around angrily at a small crowd that had gathered. They whispered amongst themselves. The night people, they have tempers.
Lili got in between them. "Doug, it's the first day. We, uh, there's going to be all sorts of things that won't make sense to us, or will feel like insults when maybe they're not." She turned to the Calafan. "What's, uh, what's tofflin?"
"Missus should go over to that stall over there." He pointed, his arm a mass of silver with white spots. The pattern was not yet coherent, so the man was maybe thirty or forty or so. "And what about your nighttime spice?" he asked again, undressing her with his eyes.
"No, thanks," she said sharply, turning on her heel.
They went to the tofflin stall. There were plants in pots, huge, tall and spindly, and ecru or green, with a few leaves but mostly stalks, some of which reached up a good two meters or so. They superficially resembled bamboo. There were some small bags of what appeared to be flour, probably made by crushing some part or another of the plant. There were also snaky roots tied into bunches with what looked like raffia ribbon, and there were leaves in bunches, but those were tied together and hanging from hooks above. There were clear liquid-filled jars, too, but they were larger than at the linfep stall. The liquid was a light blue-green in color.
Two women were handling the stall, perhaps they were sisters. "Tofflin juice?" one of them asked.
"Can I taste it first?" Lili asked.
A small amount was poured into a shallow cup. "It is for energy," said the other shopgirl.
Lili tasted it. It was a little like honeydew melon. Then it hit her, and her heart started to race like an express train. "Whoa!" she exclaimed. "It's a stimulant."
Doug came over. "Don't drink any more of it. Unless, of course, you wanna be up all night." He smiled at her and put an arm around her. "Here, I'll have some, too." He took a sip. "Huh, that is strong. Say," he said to the shopgirls, "what's so special about the roots?"
One of the shopgirls giggled at him a little nervously. "It is in case Mister has problems in the bedroom. But Mister," she flicked her finger at him, "I think he does not have such problems."
"I'll, um, go look at the clothes," Doug said, shaking his head and laughing a bit. He gave Lili a share of his remaining funds.
"How much for a bag of the flour?" Lili asked.
"Ten feps. It is made from the stalks. We can throw in a jar of juice for only one more fep. Otherwise it is normally three feps."
"All right. What about the leaves? How do you cook them?"
"Missus should not cook them. They contain naturally occurring tricoulamine and are poisonous. But if there are too many linfep around, you can spread leaves on the ground and that will remove the unwanted visitors from your yard."
"Huh, maybe next time."
"Lili?" It was Doug. He had on a blue Calafan tunic that he was trying on. "Whaddaya think?"
She smiled at the shopgirls as she paid them. "Just a sec."
She came over. "I like it. You're going native, eh?"
"I guess I am. The pockets are heavy duty and have little compartments; they can definitely hold the coins. You got everything you want?"
"I dunno, maybe."
A small shuttle landed near the market. Eska hunters got out and brought over huge carcasses to an unoccupied stall. Their kills were enormous squid with fourteen or so tentacles or perhaps they were legs. They were as wide and seemed to be as sturdy as the legs of a full-grown elephant. Lili immediately went over. "What are those?"
"Prako," said one of the hunters. "Twenty los for each."
"Too rich for my blood," she said, "Where are they native?"
"They are from outside the Lafa System. That is why they are expensive."
"I see. Thank you." She walked away.
"It's too pricey," she said to Doug. "How much for your tunic?"
He looked at the sign that was stuck into the barrow where the tunics were placed. "Uh, it's three pyramids and four stars."
"Excuse me, Miss, is this one lo and seventy-five ubs?" Lili asked.
"No, it is fifteen los."
"Oh. We can't afford it," Lili said.
"Wait, Treve said we could get credit," Doug reminded her.
"Treve? You know Treve?" asked the shopkeeper.
"He's my business partner. We're looking to open up a restaurant in Fep City," Lili explained.
"Credit then! You will need someone to make uniforms and tablecloths. I hope you will keep me in mind. And it will be thirteen los." She tapped out the information on her PADD and clicked it next to Lili's in order to transfer data.
"Oh, thank you! That's very kind of you," Lili said. She turned and almost ran into a small Tellarite child carrying what looked like a linfep carcass until she peered more closely and realized it was a stuffed linfep toy, but the toy's skin was real linfep fur.
"Had about enough?" it was a clipped, cultured accent – Treve himself.
"Yeah, I think so," Doug said. "Whaddaya think?" He modeled the tunic.
"That is a Lafa V fashion. They are a bit more like workingmen there; I suppose that would be the best way to put it. There are a lot of factories and the like."
"So I look like a construction worker?" Doug asked.
The translation, again, was a little delayed. "Perhaps a little," said Treve.
"Treve!" Lili said, suddenly getting an idea. "Come to dinner. Bring your brother and your sister, all right?"
Doug glanced over. All of the talk of nighttime spice was making him interested in something other than a meal. "Maybe Treve and his family want to stay in tonight." He came closer and pressed on her hand. He very quietly said, "We need to get used to the new bed."
She reddened a little. "I know, but we can do that a little later, right?" She pulled on his sleeve and even more quietly said to him, whispering in his ear, "We need to thank him somehow."
"Oh, uh yeah. Treve," he said more loudly, "please come to dinner."
"I would be delighted."
The four of them sat together as Lili served. "Now, I have no idea how anything turned out. Chef Slocum from the NX-01 gave us a few things so I added some of them in there and so it's kind of, er, eclectic."
There was a salad made of strips of different-colored olowa. But there was no dressing. The meats were the upper half of an elekai, ground and made into meatloaf and topped with some of Chef Slocum's homemade tomato sauce and garnished with strips of the lower half of an elekai. There was more olowa on the side, but it was only the lightest-colored kind, which had been fried in linfep fat as suggested. She knew enough to not give anyone any tofflin juice at supper, so they all had tumblers filled with ice water.
Lili sat down. "Well?"
"Most interesting," said Treve. "I don't know as I've seen elekai cooked in quite this manner."
"The upper half seems to taste more like chicken," Lili said after tasting some.
"And the lower half is, I can't place it," Doug said. "Fatty chicken?"
"No, I think it's more like duck," Lili said.
"I don't know what any of that is," said Yimar. She was a fourteen year old girl and she and their younger brother were as bald as Treve. "C'mon, Chelben, try the molded loaf."
"I don't wanna." Chelben was a little boy of four. "I want perrazin!" He folded his solid silver arms and pouted a bit.
"Peh-rah-zin," Doug said slowly, turning over the unfamiliar word as he said it for the first time, "what's that?"
"Here," Yimar clicked on her own PADD to show him a picture.
"It looks like a big blonde buffalo," Doug said.
"With tusks like a walrus," Lili added as she looked. "How do you like to eat elekai?" she asked the little boy.
"He likes it baked with tofflin flour paste," Yimar explained after a delay with the translation. "But I can never get it right."
"Well, I'll try that next time, all right?" Lili said.
"Lili is trying very hard," Treve said to his brother. "Please have a few bites."
Chelben pushed the sauce away and then, finally, ended up eating some. Then he ate the fried olowa but not the raw.
"That's a victory," Yimar said. "Usually he doesn't eat that much olowa."
"How is your mother doing?" Doug asked.
"Better; she is beginning to recognize us again," Yimar said as the translation was, again, a little delayed. "It is very moving to see."
"Treve," Lili asked, changing the subject, "we got a lot of this when we were at the market." She flicked her finger a couple of times.
"Oh, I should have warned you. So many people are on the make, it seems. It means that you're attractive and wanted. I do hope you didn't do this in response." He touched the tip of his nose.
"What does that mean?" asked Doug, taking seconds of the loaf.
"That means yes," Yimar said. "And this is no." She tugged on an earlobe.
"There's a lot to get used to here," Doug said.
"I'm so glad we know you," Lili agreed. "Otherwise this would feel so impossible."
"You've got novelty on your side. And I suppose we have knowledge," Treve said. "I'd say we are at the start of a good partnership. For the restaurant and anything else that grabs our attention."
Lili brought out dessert, a small cake made from tofflin stalk flour, linfep fat and some blueberry jam that Chef Slocum had given them. She cut the cake into six pieces.
Chelben loudly counted the pieces. "Ub, fep, abic, lo, thumb, ub twice thumb." He looked up. "We only have thumb people, not ub twice thumb."
"The extra is for your mother in the Main Hospital," Lili said, "you can keep the piece in the freezing part of your refrigeration unit and, when she is well enough, please give this to her, from us."
"What kind of cake is this? It is good," Yimar said.
Doug thought for a minute, about to say blueberry. Instead, he said, "I think we'll call it Partnership Cake." He looked into Lili's eyes, the lightest possible blue, and she smiled at him. Those were two of the many things he already knew he loved about her. She nodded once in acknowledgement and agreement.
"Bon appetit," said Lili.