"'Ommy! Mommy!" One-year-old Joss Beckett's voice pierced the night.
His father, Doug, blinked his eyes open. He looked over at the sleeping form of his wife, Lili. "Malcolm," she murmured in her sleep, "that feels good."
"I'm still not used to that," he muttered to himself.
Lili was, for whatever reason, still not stirring. But she was nearly eight months pregnant and needed to sleep. And dream – but her dreams were psionic, and they were directed and amplified by painted callidium on her extremities and the proximity of amplifier dishes on nearby Point Abic. Those dreams, they were a kind of second life, and a second relationship – and they were shared with Malcolm Reed, far away on the NX-01 Enterprise. Doug had his own second dream-based relationship, with a pilot, Melissa Madden, who was serving with Reed. But Doug could not sleep that night and so, there he was, lying awake in the dark, listening to his wife occasionally breathe endearments to another man.
Doug got up. "Comin', Sport." He walked into the nursery, where the toddler was standing up in his crib. "Let's see what the trouble is."
"Nope, you've got Daddy. Now, hang on a sec." He performed the sniff test, and then felt under a swaddled bottom. "You're dry. And we had dinner maybe two hours ago. Do you want water?"
He sighed. "You're stuck with me. Now, it is not time to play or be awake. It is time to sleep."
"Listen, okay? Mommy is sleeping. Which is what you should be doing. Which is what we should both be doing. In, um, in a few weeks, you are gonna have a playmate, okay? A baby sister. We're gonna name her Marie Patrice. I bet she'll even look like Mommy."
"Damn," Doug said under his breath. "Uh, here." He lifted the child out of the crib and brought him over to the master bedroom. "We do not normally do this. But you know, desperate times and all that." He kept the toddler out of reach of Lili, but able to see her.
Lili murmured again, "You know what I like." She chuckled a little in her sleep.
"Jeremiah," Doug said, "you can look at Mommy but you can't touch her right now, or you'll join her dream, even though you're awake. I can stay out of her dreams because I do my own amplified dreaming. That's because there's callidium in Daddy's wedding ring, see?" He showed his hand to his son. "I think her dream will change pretty much instantaneously, but I can't be sure. I know you know Malcolm. And this is all, it's consensual, although it's at times like this that it feels particularly weird. But, uh," he looked closely at Joss, "cut me some slack, all right? I just don't want you to see, um, certain things."
In response, Joss just yelled, "'Ommy!"
Lili's eyes flew open. "What happened?!"
"It's, it's okay," Doug said, "we, uh, he was calling for you. I thought it would help for him to see you but, uh, I guess it wasn't enough."
"It's, um, it's all right." There was a ding, a message on her PADD. In the dark, she fumbled for it, her touch on the screen activating the back lighting.
From: Malcolm Reed, NX-01 Enterprise
To: Lili Beckett, Lafa II
Date: December 26, 2159
Are you all right? You left so abruptly. Are you cross with me?
"Let me, uh, let me just answer this quickly, okay?"
"Sure," Doug said.
From: Lili Beckett, Lafa II
To: Malcolm Reed, NX-01 Enterprise
Date: December 26, 2159
Joss woke me up; he's fine, but I think he could use some attention. Can I see you tomorrow night?
She hit send. "Okay."
"I think, um, I think he's feeling a little neglected lately," Doug explained.
She looked at both of them. "Is he the only one who feels this way?"
"Uh, no, not really. I gotta confess, I do feel weird sometimes, hearing you. Is that bad?"
"Of course not. You feel what you feel," she said, kissing him. "Hmmm," she thought for a second. "Can we try something? Maybe we can all get back to what feels a bit more normal and balanced."
"Equilibrium. What do you have in mind?"
"We haven't shared a dream since, well, since Melissa came into our lives."
"And since Malcolm became, uh, more than just pals with you," Doug clarified.
"Right. So what do you think about dreaming together tonight, and taking Joss with us?"
"As I recall," Doug reminded her, "our dreams were pretty steamy."
"We'll adapt, okay? Just, we'll think of something that he would enjoy. And we can do it together, just the three of us," Lili suggested. "After all, when Marie Patrice arrives, I think there will be a lot of opportunities for him to really feel left out of things. Let's give him some time tonight, where he's the center of attention. Okay?"
Doug smiled, edges of his eyes crinkling a little bit. "Okay. We'll do it." He tapped out a quick note to Melissa so that she wouldn't worry about him not showing up.
They laid down, with Joss between them, his wedding ring touching hers, which was also made of callidium.
It was a carnival, with face painting and cotton candy and balloons. Joss went on a slow pony ride, the animal gentle and sweet as he squealed in delight, most language skills forgotten in his excitement, wonder and surprise. An old-fashioned train ride was next, just one stop, and they got off where there was a pond and had a small picnic. They watched a few at-bats in an old-fashioned baseball game, where the players had handlebar moustaches and wore flannels. Then they took the train another stop, to a petting zoo, where there were animals from Earth and Lafa II and Vulcan and even places like Archer's World, soft and tame creatures that cooed or purred or wagged tails or licked or took a bit of food carefully from an open palm.
They took pictures in an old-style photo booth and were given the key to the carnival's make-believe city, and it all ended with a few minutes of fireworks as Doug put Joss on his shoulders for a ride, and they were magically transported back home.