South of Bikini 5: Episode 10- When Worlds Collide

Just suppose… If a writer met his creation face to face…

South of Bikini

 

Series Finale

 

Copyright: 2016, R.G. Beyer

 
 

“When Worlds Collide”

 
 

I really can’t say as to when I first noticed her. She, as they say, was very hard to miss. In fact, even in a crowd of say, a hundred, most eyes would immediately locate her and track her until she disappeared from view by ducking into a store front, entering the subway, or just plain vanishing from sight as a bus or truck passed by.

Just plain vanishing- now that would be novel!

Though, there was something about this woman; she carried herself in such a way that made one think she could do just that. There was just something…I don’t know, something magical about her!

Why? Well. When I first noticed her, I had already been looking in her direction and not noticed her a second before. Moreover, she seemed to blink, shimmer, or vanish for a fraction of a second as I watched.

Weird.

Strange, really. How could a woman of such remarkable beauty simply vanish from sight in the blink of an eye, as if she was a mirage or apparition then reappear in the next? Things like that only happened in movies or books. I mean, how could you not notice a tall, five-nine or five-ten, well-built woman of around twenty with slightly wavy, dark blonde hair down to the bottom of her shoulder blades, and with a bust that announced her arrival proudly, not to mention the most spectacular green eyes I’d ever seen?

No one could forget someone like that, right? I mean, how could you?

Yet here I stood doing just that- trying to remember. The feeling I knew her peeking surreptitiously from some abandoned alcove in my consciousness. She looked so familiar yet so unknown- so…mysterious. I tried desperately to remember where I had first seen this beautiful enigma. Had she been a regular at either the car dealership or a frequent flier here at the airport?

Her age seemed to immediately rule out the first, that job being well over thirty-five years ago, so maybe it was the later? Working here at the airport for over twenty-seven years in one capacity or another, I had met myriads of people, both friendly and not so. Maybe that’s where I first gazed upon this Goddess.

I thought harder about the woman- a true Goddess by physical description. Goddess? Did I really just think of her as a ‘Goddess’? Somehow she seemed more than that. Much more! Goddess just didn’t describe the confidence, poise, and grace she seemed to exude- the kind, charitable, friendly, demeanor she exhibited toward the world as a whole.

To me, right now.

“Um…excuse me? Could y’all kindly give a lady some die-rection? Ah’m lookin’ fer Baggage Claim?” She had said as she approached where I was working- her brilliant smile and sparkling green eyes drawing every bit of attention I had.

“Ahhhhh…”

My mind went into immediate overload as I stared at her. I know my mouth had dropped wide open and that I better regain my composure quickly or she would just become angry and storm away to find assistance from someone else.

“Go that way,” I pointed down the concourse, “You’ll come to a large area with a bunch of high end stores. On your right will be escalators. There will be two sets. Take them down to the Tram station. Take either one of those to the main terminal. Exit the tram and walk past security then take the escalators or steps down to the next level. That’ll put you down in Baggage Claim. Basically just follow the herd.” I told her with a smile I didn’t know I’d shown.

Her mesmerizing smile shifted slightly to show a bit of anger. My sense of humor had done it again.

“I’m sorry. That was my lame…nervous, attempt at humor. I can see that you were offended. I apologize, ma’am. Basically just follow the overhead signs and the other arriving passengers. Most are heading to claim their bags too. If you have any other problems finding it, just ask anyone displaying a badge.” I apologized and raised my access badge as example.

She seemed to freeze for only the slightest fraction of a second as she quickly assessed the laminated, photo-id card then that brilliant smile instantly reappeared and beamed back at me with an intensity I never thought possible!

It was…unsettling…to say the least.

“Thank you, Mr. Gould. Ah think Ah’ll be able ta find mah way. Your directions seem concise and easily understood- ‘specially if Ah jes fall’er the herd.”

I gulped and lowered my eyes.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that…”

“No offence taken, Mr. Gould.” She interrupted. “To tell ya the truth, Ah sometimes feel the same way about summa the folks Ah interact with- amazes me how most people simply ‘graze’ through life, not even the slightest urge or inclination to do more- to take that all important first step toward a possible unknown.” She confided, still holding that wonderful smile.

“You mean if people would just get off their cell phones and really pay attention to the world around them?” I asked but immediately cringed as I heard the chorus to Fallout Boys’ ‘Immortal’ sound from her purse.

Damn my mouth! Here was this fantastically attractive woman who approached me and simply asked for directions and I slipped right back into the routine that brought me to this point in my life in the first place!

My attempted bad witticism apparently went unnoticed though as she gracefully, and quite automatically, retrieved and answered her phone.

“Covington…Ya, mah flight was oh-kay. You know how Ah hate this type a’ travel… Ah know, but it couldn’t be helped, Em. Y’all know’d this one needed mah personal attention or else we stand to lose a valuable relationship… Yes, Ah’m well ‘ware of that fact, sis. Y’all got no worries. Ah’ll seal the deal in a week tops, and…yes, y’all don’t need ta remind me of our upcomin’ meetin’ in Taiwan…No, Ah’ll be done here in six days an’ ten hours, sis. Hey, Ah got to go. Ah got mah bags to find then meet Ricki at the curb….Ya, she’ll probably rub it in my face, You know ol’ Ricki…okay, tell ever’one Ah made it here in one piece an’ Ah’m still sane….You too, Em. Love ya, too. Bye.”

I felt uncomfortable standing next to her as she chatted. I tried not to listen, but the distance between us was sufficiently close that I had no alternative.

“I can’t believe she did that.” She added under her breath in embarrassment while blushing and rolling her eyes once or twice.

“Ah’m sorry, Mr. Gould, you were sayin’?” She apologized after hanging up- focusing her attention back on me.

“Nothing important, ma’am, I almost just stuck my foot in my mouth again. I better get back to work before my boss sees me. Have a nice stay here in Pittsburgh, ma’am.” I replied as I went to turn away from the beautiful creature in front of me.

“Y’all appear to be a very intelligent man, Mr. Gould.” The women said, causing me to stop and turn back around. “How can y’all be satisfied doing custodial work at a busy airport? Y’all seem…underutilized.”

“That’s an interesting way of putting it.” I chuckled despite that actually being the way I’d describe it.

“Ain’t it the way someone like yerself’d describe it, Mr. Gould,” she smiled…deviously?

I was dumbfounded!

“How could you…”

“Oh, Ah’m very good at appraisin’ those ‘round me. One could almost refer to it as a ‘gift’.”

Wish I had a gift that would keep me from opening my mouth at the wrong time, I thought to myself with a sigh.

“Well, I should let you get back to your work. Thank you for the guidance, Mr. Gould.”

“I better let you…” I began to say, but realized she had already said basically the same thing. That struck me as strange.

She giggled and gave me a slight wave with her slender, well-manicured, feminine hand as she turned and began to walk away. I watched appreciatively, admiring the graceful sway of her hips and those long attractive legs. I noticed she was just the slightest bit unsteady on the tall stiletto heels she wore. Maybe she was just tired from her flight- and she only knew where it had originated.

To my horror, she suddenly lurched to one side as her ankle twisted and she almost fell; the only thing saving her was her wheeled carry-on! Knowing that wouldn’t hold her for long, I hurried to her and barely arrived to catch her as the piece of luggage started to slip out from under her.

“Are you alright, ma’am? Should I call for the Paramedics?” I asked excitedly, my concern very apparent.

“What? No. No thank you, Mr. Gould. Ah’ll manage on mah own, thank you.”

She tried to stand straight, but winced as she put weight on her foot. I began to reach for my radio to contact Emergency Services.

“Ah assure y’all Ah’m fine, Mr. Gould. Ah might need some help to one’a them chairs though. Ah should be good ta go in a few minutes.”

Helping her the few dozen feet to an empty gate’s seating area, I eased her down into one of the semi-comfortable seats in the row closest to us.

“Ah’m indebted to y’all, Mr. Gould, thank you.” She smiled appreciatively though I could tell there was still pain underlying.

“I’ll get ahold of the Paramedics, ma’am. They should be here in a matter of a few minutes.”

“Please, Mr. Gould, Ah’ll be fine after Ah sit fer a spell.” She insisted.

I was torn as to what to do. Should I honor her wish to be left alone or should I disregard her and make the call anyway?

“Ma’am, I’m not a doctor as you can see. Airport policy states that I should call this in. You could have broken your ankle or at the very least, sprained it. That requires medical attention- something I’m not equipped for as a janitor.”

“Please, Mr. Gould, Ah just need a few minutes then Ah’ll be on mah way. No sense in making yer life any more stressful than it is now. Ah promise. Ah’ll be right as rain in five minutes.”

“As you wish, ma’am,” I replied as I caved to those beautiful jade eyes and those pouty lips. “I’ll just be over here finishing up, so if you need more help…” I offered before she interrupted.

“That’s so kinda ya, Mr. Gould, thank you.” She said as she began to look in her purse for something.

It never ceased to amaze me how much women could carry in those things. I recalled how my wife always had trouble finding what she wanted…

The sting in my eyes and especially my heart immediately made me fight to repress those memories- memories that- had things gone differently- should have been pleasant. That wasn’t the case however.

I rinsed and wrung out my mop before once again applying it to the tiled floor just outside one of the many restrooms in this concourse. All I had to do was wait for the floor to dry then I could go on my break. One half hour of ‘me’ time away from the menial work I now undertook to put food on my lonely table.

“Excuse me, Mr. Gould?” Her pleasant, but urgent voice instantly scattered the dark thoughts fogging my mind.

“Ma’am?”

“Could y’all possibly help me ta stand? Ah’m afraid Ah need to use the ladies room and mah ankle’s still a might tender.”

I closed my eyes and smiled gently at her.

“Of course, ma’am. I’d be happy to help.”

Awkwardly, I eased her to her feet noting that she was still reluctant to place any weight on that leg.

“Oh dear.” She gasped as she tried, “Ah’m afraid ah may have been a bit hasty.”

“No problem, ma’am. I can help you get over there.” I offered.

“Really? Y’all wouldn’t mind, Mr. Gould?” She beamed that amazing smile directly at me.

“Happy to help, ma’am.”

Slowly, I helped her hobble the few dozen feet to the ladies entrance alcove and stopped. She looked at me pleadingly as if she thought we should continue.

“Think you can manage the rest, ma’am? I’m really not allowed to enter while they’re being used. And there are cameras everywhere to control that sort of thing.”

“As Ah stated before, Mr. Gould, Ah’m a good judge a character, and y’all seem to be honorable and nothin’ close to a pervert. Ah see no harm in y’all helping a temporarily incapacitated young woman in need. Should the authorities approach, Ah’ll vouch fer y’all an’ refuse to press charges.”

Press charges?

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I can’t. My conscience wouldn’t stand for such an ungentlemanly action.” I tried to beg out of this situation.

“You scared, Mr. Gould?” She giggled. “Ah assume y’all have become accustomed to entering these female havens of solitude. Y’all HAVE been cleaning them for a few years, Ah’d imagine?”

“I have, ma’am, but don’t take that the wrong way. I simply clean them, I take no perverse pleasure, it’s just part of my job.”

“Then y’all should have no problem helping me to a stall. Please, Mr. Gould? Ah really need to get in there, please?” She begged with those pleading jade eyes.

Making my decision, I looked around us then down both ends of the concourse to make sure that no one else was around or watching. I couldn’t do anything about the constant surveillance, though.

“Helloo? Cleaner.” I called loudly into the restroom.

When no one answered after two or three attempts, I nodded and gently started to move us across the threshold to this feminine inner sanctum.

“It’ll only take me a minute or so, hun. Ah just need to take care of a few things then Ah’ll go on mah way.” She said having shut the stall door to the handicapped toilet. I detected a slight amusement in her voice as I hurried out and stood just outside the entrance.

“Mr. Gould, could Ah possibly request yer assistance to stand again? Ah’m finding it difficult even with these here handrails.” She called out.

Again I was hesitant, but figured I would be needed.

“As long as you’re decent, ma’am.”

“Given the situation certain areas a me are still unwrapped, Mr. Gould. Ah suggest closing yer eyes if it embarrasses y’all that much.”

Heaven help me if someone were to come in now, I thought as I re-entered the restroom and gently knocked on the door before closing my eyes.

“Ah’m ready, Mr. Gould. Please reach farther in and more to yer left. Ah’ll use mah left arm to steady mahself on the wall.” She guided in a pleasant, even voice. I detected no malice or ill intent of any kind, just a giggle.

A small, warm, soft hand gently took hold of mine and then squeezed tightly. I was surprised by the strength in this woman’s hand.

“Thank ya for the assistance, Mr. Gould. Would y’all be so kind as to help me to the sinks, please?”

I went back outside and waited while she washed and dried her hands then presumably touched up her lipstick or lip-gloss and fussed with her hair.

“Thank ya, fer yer patience, Mr. Gould. Ah’m ready for ya again.” She called to me. I cautiously re-entered only to see her standing on her injured leg.

“There. All better. See? Ah told y’all Ah’d be back on mah feet in a few minutes. Thank y’all for yer assistance, kind sir.” She said still with that brilliant smile as I helped her limp out of the restroom.

She had forgotten her carry-on.

“Ma’am? Miss Covington? You forgot your bag…” I said as I motioned and moved her closer to the nearest wall. I quickly went back into the restroom to retrieve it.

The woman I had just met, now leaning against the wall between the men’s and women’s alcoves- wiped at her cheeks with one hand as she gently rubbed at her injured ankle with the other.

She sniffed back a few tears. “Once more, Ah thank ya, Mr. Gould. Ah s’pose this’ll change yer mind ‘bout alertin’ them Paramedics? Ah really wish y’all wouldn’t do that. As Ah said, Ah’ll be right as rain in a few minutes…maybe just a few more than Ah counted on.”

“Hang on a minute, ma’am. I can help you get to where you need to be.” I said as I immediately keyed my radio and alerted my supervisor that I was going on dinner break. At almost the same time, I spied an abandoned wheelchair at the next gate down. Fetching it, I helped her into it after stowing my work cart nearby.

“Now, where do you need to go, ma’am? Baggage Claim?” I asked as her cell rang again.

“Covington,” she answered. “Oh no! How long y’all think you’ll be, Ricki? Really, that long? Okay, Ah guess Ah got some time to kill here. Call when y’all get to the airport, honey…No, hun, Ah’m not goin’ an’wheres.” She rolled her eyes, apparently annoyed by something the caller had said. “Ha, ha, very funny, Ricki, an’ ya, it’s that time! Ah’ll see y’all when ya get here, bye.”

“Bad news, ma’am?” I asked out of concern.

“Mah ride’s stuck in traffic on sum’thin’ called a Parkway? She’s not sure when she’ll be arriving. Ah guess Ah’m stuck here for the foreseeable future.” She told me shaking her head a few times.

“Y’all wouldn’t happen to know a good place ta eat ‘round here, would ya?” She asked pleasantly.

“Well, Friday’s and Bar Simon are both good places. Bar Simon is a little pricey though. There’s also a bunch of fast food type places if you’re on a budget…but they only stay open til eight.”

“Which one’s quieter, Mr. Gould? Price ain’t no concern fer me on a business trip.”

“Well, Friday’s serves to the tables just outside in the main concourse- we call it the core. This time of day its usually not that crowded.”

“Onward to yonder Friday’s then, mah good man!” She giggled teasingly and pointed ahead of us.
 
 

“Hey, Gil. You get a new girlfriend?” One of the waitresses I’d known for a few years asked as she stepped up to the table we’d taken.

I tried not to let the hurt show in my voice.

“No, Miss Covington sprained her ankle. I was lucky to be near enough to help. She wouldn’t let me call AirComm, though.”

“An’ she still won’t, Mr. Gould.” Covington growled.

“Oh. I shoulda known better! Gil here is one of the Boy Scouts here at the airport, ma’am. You’re in good hands. He’ll see you get ta where ya wanna go. Could I get yinz two something ta drink?” she asked, looking at me curiously.

Ma’am?” I asked looking to the beauty across from me.

“What do you want, Mr. Gould? It’s on me.”

I looked to the injured woman across from me. “Nothing for me, Beth, thanks.”

Miss Covington stared at me a moment with her right brow raised.

“We’ll both have a glass a water and each a us is gonna have one’a them J.D. burgers. Condiments as they was designed. Neither should blush or bleed either. Fries’ll suffice.” Miss Covington ordered as she gave me an evil smile that just dared me to contradict her.

Beth nodded. “I’ll get that right in for yinz guys.”

She hurried away to place the order.

“I’m capable of ordering my own meal if I wanted one, ma’am, but thank you.”

“Ah’m just trying to repay yer kindness, Mr. Gould. And don’t claim y’all aren’t hungry, Ah heard your stomach complaining from inside that restroom.”

I couldn’t help but smile as I shook my head.

“So, Mr. Gould, why do Ah sense y’all could be doing much better for yer self? Y’all seem better suited for some technical profession other than simple janitorial work. Y’all seem the private type so Ah won’t push.” She started off our conversation. Her inquisitive smile countered her last statement though.

“I used to be an electrical engineer here at the airport. Worked on the trains that run between Landside an Airside. A few years back the manager and I had a…um…difference of opinion…so to speak.” I replied as my gaze went to the table.

“Oh, Ah’m sorry to hear that. Y’all seem like a very likable person to me.”

“Thank you, but that was four years ago, and I’m finally free of all the bul...never mind.” I said but decided to stop before my mouth screwed this amazing event royally.

“Ah take it y’all liked what ya did?”

“Used to say I had a ten million dollar train set to play with. That all started to change with the last corporate takeo…” I censored myself again. “Sorry, I’m starting to do it again. I’m sure you really couldn’t care less about my life’s adventures.”

“Y’all select which course yer life takes, Mr. Gould.” She smiled amiably. “Y’all choose your own future.”

“You mean ‘fate’ don’t you?” I asked innocently.

“Ah don’t believe in no fate…nor destiny, Mr. Gould.” She replied, her smile disappearing and expression turning quite serious.

Why did that seem so familiar?

“So y’all like trains, hun?” She asked curiously, skillfully changing the subject.

I nodded. “Mostly steam era trains, but I used to have a nice-sized HO setup in my old house. I haven’t kept up with it for a few years though.”

She nodded. “Any other hobbies, hun?”

“I used to write, but also stopped that a few years ago too, ma’am.”

“Write? So what does a former electrical engineer write about, Mr. Gould? Please don’t tell me y’all wrote those God-awful, dry, technical documents Ah have to read from time to time.”

“Well, I’ve done a few of those in my time, but I’d have to hang myself if that’s all I could write- too bland, that stuff! No, I started to write a science fiction/fantasy adventure. I decided early on to write it like a TV series, week to week kind of format…each episode containing enough of the story to fit an hour-long show.”

“Really? Sounds interesting. Personally, Ah love science fiction! Ah could live and breathe the stuff! Could ya give me an overview?” Her smile displayed genuine interest and curiosity.

I decided to bore her with the basic premise.

“I called it South of Bikini…”

“The title has kinda a sexual conno-tation don’t ya think, Mr. Gould?” She teased.

“The title was actually based on a relative compass heading for one of the key locations of the story, ma’am, but yes, I hoped that it might draw more readers. Anyway, the story centers on a World War Two submarine captain and her crew…”

“HER crew, Mr. Gould? Ah hope y’all understand that ‘til recently there was never a female captain of any naval vessel.” She responded quickly. “Or so Ah’ve heard.”

“That was the twist, ma’am. Somehow, and quite mysteriously, the captain and his crew transform into women- overnight! The story follows their adventures as they try to persuade their Admiral of their previous identities.”

“Hmmm. Cue the fantasy portion of the story. Go on Mr. Gould, Ah’m intrigued.” She said rolling her pointer finger lazily at me to continue.

“After convincing their superior of their identities, the Admiral forms a sort of rapid response and recovery unit that provides a cover for the crew. On their very first mission though, things begin to happen.”

I paused to evaluate her neutral expression.

“Things begun happenin’. Got it. Go on.”

“Each member of the crew begins to show signs of something miraculous happening. The captain herself begins to develop a kind of foresight- foresight that helps her outsmart enemies and rescue their objectives. Later the captain finds she can travel through time and even space. She begins to go on ‘missions’ into the past and future to right the wrongs that appear, in what she calls, the timeline.”

“Hmmm. Interestin’. A soldier that takes on a humanitarian lifestyle; helping instead of hurting. Ah like the premise, Mr. Gould. So, if Ah kin ask. How’d y’all come to develop this fantasy world a yers?”

“I know it sounds stupid or cliché, but it actually started with a dream, ma’am- a very detailed and vivid dream. As I recall, I think I had just finished watching ‘Down Periscope’ with Kelsey Grammer. That night, as I slept, I dreamt I was the lead character- that it was my story.”

“Wow, that musta been some dream! Ah couldn’t imagine the state in which y’all awoke the next morning.”

“I needed a shower, ma’am! I remember waking up covered in sweat with my heart beating a mile a minute.”

“Here yinz go. Enjoy. Just wave me over if yinz need something else, kay?” Our waitress, Beth, said as she placed our meals.

“Thanks, hun.” Miss Covington said with that same brilliant smile.

“So, what sorta adventures did yer intrepid captain venture inta?” She continued our conversation and still seemed interested.

“The first mission she undertook was that of saving her brother, a sailor assigned to the USS Arizona on the day of the attack.”

“REALLY!” She gasped in surprise. “Ah could see where that might be her first objective, but wouldn’t it skew her precious timeline?”

“The mission turned out to be bittersweet in that she had rescued not only her brother, but ten other mates from the same compartment. Not fully understanding her ‘gift’ as she dubbed it, she only transported to the near shoreline adjacent to the battleship on Ford Island. Unfortunately, an enemy torpedo went off course and exploded near their location onshore. She only had time to ‘phase out’ her and her brother, but only barely. The captain received some very severe burns to her back because of the intense explosion.” I told her as I looked up from the tabletop.

My guest quickly wiped at her eyes- those eyes having drifted down to the table as if deep in thought.

“That’s so sad. Ah cain’t imagine how that would affect me. So, Ah assume there musta been some reason she could rescue her brother but not them other men?”

I didn’t answer; instead, I continued my overview.

“Her brother decided to grab a drink of water when they stopped aboard her boat so she could change her ruined uniform. It was just after that that the crew found out the water they had picked up on their very first mission- that of rescuing the people of a small island in the western Marshals, contained some unknown metamorphic agent and had spread into the boat’s fresh water system. When combined with strong alcoholic beverages the agent triggered and brought about the transformation.”

“Interestin’ plot device, Mr. Gould- very original. Ah take it yer captain utilized her crew to ensure each mission was properly staffed and successful?”

I nodded as I swallowed the food in my mouth.

“Yes. She picked the crewman…crewwoman to match the mission requirements. During the course of the series I tried to follow the captain’s development and also tried to spotlight the various gifts of the other members of her crew.”

“So how’d ya imagine the missions, Mr. Gould? Were they based on somethin’ y’all read or watched on television…other than that one movie, Ah mean?”

“Both, ma’am. I loved shows like Ghost Hunters and Ancient Aliens, documentaries on ancient cultures like the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. I tried to imagine and even reconstruct legendary places like Atlantis and Avalon. I even did one story arc on the Great Flood.”

“Sounds like y’all did some research fer this story, so why stop, Mr. Gould?”

“At first I just wrote for my own entertainment then friends and some relatives suggested I publish. It took many months before I decided to…” I looked away for a moment. “to take the leap. I found a couple of websites that looked promising- websites that might not be put off by the characters’ ‘magical’ transformations. Both sites catered to the ‘tf’ or ‘transformation’ of gender, species, and alternate lifestyles. I thought them appropriate for my story. Though the readership exceeded all my expectations at first, each proceeding episode drew less and less readers.”

“By the time I reached the third ‘season’, just a core set of five to six hundred views per episode, per website was the norm. Still, I kept writing. Seasons four and five took quite a bit longer to create. It began to take up much more of my time. My wife…she suggested I was becoming too caught up in my imaginary world…that I should step back from it for a while.”

“From yer sudden change a expression, somethin’ happened at that point, didn’t it? Somethin’ that caused a conflict in yer life?”

“It was a long time ago, ma’am. I’ve been trying the last few years to forget.”

“Ah see. So, Mr. Gould, Ah’ve heard a lot ‘bout this courageous sea captain, but y’all have yet ta reveal what happened after 1944?”

“Over the course of her life she climbed the ladder to reach the rank of Admiral. When I stopped writing at Season 5, Episode 9, she had been married twice and had four children- three daughters and a son, three grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter by the story date of 2035AD.”

Miss Covington was quiet for a moment, apparently doing some math in her head.

“If she’d been in the war then had four kids by 2035, that’d imply she was immortal? It’s logical to make her immortal if she could travel through time. Ah don’t find immortality all that enticin’ though, Mr. Gould. Ah’m sorry, but that’s a whole lotta time!”

“No, no. I’m sorry. I should have stated that she and her crew- anybody that had this agent in their body for that matter, would live for like, a thousand years, maybe more if they could synch with a younger version of themselves.”

“Younger versio…oh, Ah think Ah understand. Being that they could travel through time, they could meet younger instances of themselves. This synching premise is very intriguing! One could stretch such a long lifespan even longer if both versions could agree. Wonderful idea, Mr. Gould!”

“Thank you, I thought it was inventive.”

“So, could y’all describe this captain for me? Ah have an image formin’ in mah mind and Ah’d like to see how close it is to your imagined heroine.”

“I described her as being tall- almost six feet tall- five-nine or ten; dish-water blonde, slender and very attractive. She was smart and well liked by her crew and tried to protect everyone, no matter what side of good or evil, no matter what race or religion, even Republican, Democrat, or Independent. Most of all she protected her friends and family, ma’am; like you said, very humanitarian. She believed in second chances, thirds even, if the situation warranted it.”

Miss Covington smiled and nodded as I thought about that description. Had I just described her? She was tall and slender…long, dark blonde, hair…angelic face…seemed very intelligent…great personality…large boobs, though I hadn’t mentioned that out of respect…

“Oh shit! Its you!” I whispered, flabbergasted by the revelation. I felt my jaw drop open.

“Would either a yinz care for desert?” Our waitress asked as she suddenly appeared at our table.

My guest looked at me as I shook my head no with my mouth slightly open.

“No, I think both of us have had enough, Beth. I’ll take the check if you please.”

“I’ll be right back with it then, ma’am.”

“So, what made you really decide to give up your writing, Mr. Gould?” she asked curiously. Maybe she hadn’t heard my whispered cursing. “It sounds to me like writing may have been a passion of yours. Why would you give up on something you really enjoyed?”

Wait! Where’d her accent go?

If this really was her- that my character, Capt. Alexandra Steinert, was actual flesh and blood, why was she asking me all these questions? Wouldn’t she know all the answers and questions our conversation would produce? I decided then and there that I should probably give a full accounting of my downfall and miserable life as it was today.

“It all started four years ago, ma’am. That year started out differently from those previous. Major road construction projects- especially on the roads I depended on daily to get to work; local roads shut down completely and detoured through towns not equipped for the heavier traffic, they made me feel trapped at home; the time required to traverse these detours added thirty, forty-five, sometimes an hour to my trip time; new corporate policies that changed weekly to provide ‘CYA’, ummm, ‘cover-your-butt’ transparency; my daughter’s rushed wedding… I know these sound trivial and easily surmountable, but the tension and stress continued to build up… then there was my brother…”

“What about your brother, Mr. Gould?” She asked gently, her hands reaching across the table to gently rest on mine. They felt so warm- so soft. Just that gentle touch sent a slight chill up my spine, though.

I took a deep breath before I continued.

“He had been diagnosed with cancer two years before. Two years of every treatment the doctors could think of- two years of waiting and hoping… We found out that spring there was nothing more they could do. I lost my baby brother that July.” I revealed as I wiped my eyes in vain with my free hand.

After all this time it hurt just as bad as the day it happened.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Gould. Were you and your brother close?”

“Not as close as when we were growing up, but we did keep in contact.”

“I suspect there is more, though?”

“He looked like a younger, taller, blonde version of me, ma’am.” I sniffed. “It was like watching me slowly dying and withering away in a mirror. Towards the end he didn’t even look like my brother anymore. It was horrible.”

She gasped as she squeezed my hand a little tighter.

“It got worse seven months later when we lost mom.” I sniffed as my eyes began to water.

“That’s terrible, Mr. Gould, though Ah too lost loved ones and know exactly how y’all feel.” She admitted, her accent fading back in.

I decided to take a chance and see if my revelation was correct.

“But can’t you just go back and change things so it wouldn’t happen to them, ma’am?”

The woman across from me smiled even brighter and her green eyes sparkled brilliantly.

“Why, Mr. Gould, y’all implyin’ Ah kin somehow go back in time ta rewrite history as Ah seen fit? No one kin actually do that, sir.” She chided as she looked across the table and directly into my eyes. They were amazingly deep and mesmerizing.

“No one can change the course of time or the history it contains without first runnin’ the possibilities. Dependin’ on those very possibilities, ya still might only be able to change some very small details. Theoretically, it mightn’t be enough to make a difference or change anythin’ at all. Ah’d call those static situations ‘waypoints’, Mr. Gould.”

“Oh Shit! This can’t be happening!” I mumbled loudly to myself as I felt my heart begin to race, and my body begin to shake.

“Please relax, Mr. Gould! Ah ain’t the devil here to take yer soul. Though Ah think Ah mighta met the woman upstairs once or twice.”

I remained silent, afraid to speak another word. What was taking so long for Beth to bring our check? Why was she just standing over at the bar? Why wasn’t I hearing any of the sequence of repeating public announcements?

I gulped loudly.

She sighed heavily with closed eyes and shook her head a few times.

“Really, Mr. Gould? Y’all wrote five, ten episode, seasons ‘bout me an’ mah gals, and when Ah actually show mahself, y’all panic and clam straight up? Makes me wonder if Ah’m really talkin’ to mah biographer or some two-bit plagiarist?”

“Season two had ten full episodes and one addendum to set the opening scene for season three, ma’am. Though, season five only had nine episodes. I guarantee I wrote every single word! I even edited each episode at least a dozen times or more. I AM the author of South of Bikini, Empress!”

“That’s more like it, Mr. Gould! Stick up for what y’all feel’s right.” She told me forcefully.

“But that’s how I lost everything I love and cherish, ma’am. I have a tendency to speak my mind. I’ve been known to say some very….well, some very not-so-nice- though, truthful things…rude things- especially at inappropriate times.”

“An’ Ah screwed the pooch on more than several occasions too, Mr. Gould. Ah don’t have to tell y’all how Ah felt them times, cause y’all wrote it.” She admitted shamelessly before going silent and again looking deep into my eyes.

“So, if y’all are mah biographer, maybe ah should know your actual name, Mr. Gould?”

I was amazed she didn’t already know it. Shit! She did know it. She knew everything about me! She probably just wanted to have a normal conversation.

No. She wanted to tease me- plain and simple! Even so, I decided to answer truthfully.

“Gilbert…Gilbert Gould…and yes my parents had a unique sense of humor. I just go by ‘Gil’ these days. It’s much simpler to type out on cell phones.”

I swallowed hard and braced myself for the answer to the question I was about to ask.

“Can I assume I’m speaking with Admiral Alexandra Frances Covington, ma’am?”

“You could, Gil, but call me Ms. Covington for now.”

My heart sunk, as well as my eyes to the table. In my stories, if the person meeting the Empress was important somehow, she would ask them to call her by her first name.

“Oh. I see. So is Miss Cummins around here waiting for your cue then?” I asked, disheartened.

“Cue? Cue for what, Gi…oh, I see what y’all’re thinking. No, Gil, Jackie Cummins ain’t here, nor will she attempt to erase your mind long distance.

I released the breath I had been unconsciously holding.

“But I’m still not being recruited by your sisterhood, am I?”

“Ah’m afraid y’all don’t fit mah criteria at this time, Gil, sorry.”

“I understand, ma’am. Seems I can’t even meet my own character requirements.”

“Here’s your check, ma’am. I can take that when you’re ready.” Beth said as she was suddenly by our table again.

“Here you go, hun.” My guest offered as she produced a credit card with a spectacular, star-filled, nighttime scene on its face.

“Thank you. I’ll get this back to you right away, ma’am.” Beth said cheerfully as she accepted the credit card and left quickly.

“She one of yours, ma’am?” I asked curiously.

“Not yet, hun. Maybe one day though. She’s got potential.”

Even the waitress meets her ‘criteria’ better than I do, I thought.

“Gil, y’all might wanna answer yer phone.” She recommended out of the blue.

“But my phone isn’t…” I said just before my pants pocket started vibrating.

“Hello?” I said as I quickly accepted the call.

“Have I reached Mr. Gilbert Andrew Gould?” The man’s voice asked through the speaker.

“Yes, how can I help you?”

“Mr. Gould, I’m Sgt. Richard Scorcony of the Pennsylvania State Police. I’m calling because there has been an accident involving your wife and three adult children and you are listed as the Emergency Contact.”

“Oh, God, are they okay?” I gasped, as I looked terrified to my new acquaintance.

“I’m afraid they have been injured, Mr. Gould. We’re transporting them to UPMC-Mercy in Pittsburgh. I can’t go into details of the severity at the moment, but they all should be arriving at the hospital within the half hour. I can talk more about what happened then. I can tell you that Mrs. Gould was asking for you before they got her into the Lifeflight helicopter.”

I suddenly couldn’t speak.

“Mr. Gould are you still there?” The trooper’s voice tried to get my attention.

“I’m on my way!” I cried excitedly.

“I’ll meet you in the Emergency waiting area, sir.”

He hung up.

“I don’t suppose you could…nevermind. Empress, I have to go now. As you already know, my ex-wife, son, my daughter and her husband have been in an accident.”

“I understand, Gil, and I wish them and you luck.” She said as she stood and offered her hand.

“Nice to meet you too, ma’am, though I wished it would be under better circumstances.” I said as I shook her hand and hurried away.

I hurriedly hit my supervisor’s number on my phone and alerted her to the emergency. She wished my family the best and told me to take as much time as I needed.

Within fifteen minutes I was on the road, heading for the hospital.
 
 

2030 hrs, Pittsburgh International Airport, Airside Core, March 20th, 2019AD
 
 

“So, how’d it go, Alex?” Cami asked as she sat in the newly relinquished seat opposite the table from me.

“It seems such a shame he has to go through more heartache.” I told her looking to the table.

“But then he wouldn’t accept your challenge, right?”

“What ‘challenge’?” I asked curiously.

“Well, you’ve never made it easy for anyone, Alex. Except maybe, Lena, but she was already in bad shape. And why lie to him about who you are? He’s already figured out that you’re the Empress, why use your sister’s identity instead?” My assistant asked.

“Because that’s the way it was foreseen by me, sweetheart.”

“That addresses the inquiry in very precise detail, Director.” Cami replied sarcastically.

“Ma’am? Here’s your card back. Oh! where’d Gil go?” Beth, our waitress asked looking to Cami then scanning the immediate area.

“He got a call. Ah believe he had a family emergency and politely excused himself.”

“Wow. I hope everything’s okay! Gil’s already had his share of bad luck the last few years. He’s lost a brother, his mom, his previous job, and early last year, his wife left him. Why do such bad things have to happen to the sweetest guys?”

“He really is a ‘Boy Scout’, Beth, but those things happen. Doesn’t matter who or how decent someone is, things just happen.”

“You mean ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’, ma’am? I don’t believe in either of those! I prefer to believe that we set our own way through life- that we can change our lives for the better just by taking the time to evaluate…consider all our options before we choose one option over another.” The waitress said then glanced away for four seconds.

“Listen to me. Here I am waiting tables, spouting philosophy to my customers! I think Gil’s finally had an impact on me. I’m really sorry, ma’am. I’ll leave yinz two be to talk. Wave me over if ya need anything.” Beth said, embarrassed before turning back to the restaurant’s bar and entrance.

“Our secondary, Alex?” Cami asked quietly.

I nodded with a smile.

Cami and I conversed idly until I noticed Beth coming over to wait on a nearer table.

“Excuse me, hun, could Ah possibly bother y’all fer a glass a water fer mah friend?”

“Sure. I’ll bring that right out, ma’am.”

Two minutes later she placed a glass down in front of Cami.

“Here ya go. Let me know if I can get you something else, okay?”

“Alex.” I said as I looked up at her. “Mah name is Alex. This here’s Cami.”

“Okay, Alex, Cami. Let me know if you two need anything else.” She replied before stepping over to the nearer table to take the newly arrived customer’s order.

Once taking their order, Beth disappeared into the restaurant, presumably to place it. I mentally told Cami to hurriedly chug- my sister’s vocabulary, not mine- the glass then retrieved my flask from my purse.

Looking around, I quickly refilled the glass and waited.

As our waitress came close, Cami took a sip from the glass and wrinkled her nose.

“Cami? What’s wrong?” I asked in alarm.

Beth’s attention focused on me instantly.

“Excuse me, Beth? Does this water taste funny to you?” Cami asked handing the glass to her. “Is there a problem with your filtration system, ma’am?”

Our waitress took a sip and evaluated the taste for two seconds.

“It tastes fine to me, Cami. Would you like me to bring you a new glass?”

“No. It’s probably just me. Sorry to take you away from your other customers.” She smiled brightly.

“My pallet can be very differential at times, ma’am, sorry.” Cami added with a devious look to me.

“No problem, girls. Yell if yinz need anything.” She said with a smile before walking away.

Cami quickly chugged the glass, retrieved a small towel from her purse, and dried the inside surface.

Placing the glass back on the table, She stood and put the towel back in her purse. I followed her lead, and after pushing our chairs in, took hold of our luggage and went on our way.

“You think Ricki Lynn will have something to say about you flying Economy?”

“About Alex flying Ecomony and us taking her place on this mission? Absolutely!’ I laughed, rolling my eyes a few times.
 
 

11:00 PM, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 20th, 2019AD
 
 

“Mr. Gould? Sgt. Richard Scorcony.”

“How are they?” I asked without pause.

“I’ll let the doctors give you the specifics, Mr. Gould. I can tell you that they are all lucky to be alive. The driver of the pickup blew a point two. He’s being processed and locked up as we speak.” He said before motioning me to follow.

“Nurse? This is Mr. Gould. He’s here to see his family.” The officer introduced me at the nursing station.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait here. Mrs. Gould is still in surgery and your sons and daughter are sedated at the moment. I’ll keep you updated as I hear anything. Coffee is around the corner if you want.”

“How are they…my kids?” I asked in concern.

“Kara received a broken ankle; her husband, Glenn, broke his left femur; Brandon received a broken right clavicle. The doctors have set what breaks they can and we’re waiting for their anesthetic to wear off.”

“What about Evie? What happened to her? Why’s she in surgery?”

“The fire department had to cut her out of the front passenger seat, Mr. Gould. The pickup appeared to cross into the oncoming lane, drifted off the berm glancing off a tree, and re-entered the oncoming lane before impacting the front, passenger side of Mrs. Gould’s car. The estimated impact was around sixty miles an hour.” Officer Scorcony told me, sadly. “The paramedics told me she sustained two broken legs and her right arm, severe internal injuries, and they were very concerned about her spine, neck, and skull.”

“Oh my God!” I gasped in shock.

“It was a very messy scene, Mr. Gould. I’m sure the doctors are doing their…”

Whatever came after that, I didn’t catch. I was too overcome thinking about all that might happen- what could go wrong! Why did this have to happen to them? Why couldn’t I be the one that drunk hit instead?

“Mr. Gould? Can I get you anything? Are you alright? Mr. Gould!”

I looked at the blurry officer staring intently down at me.

“Huh? What?” I mumbled dumbly. I felt something damp on my forehead.

“You passed out, Mr. Gould. Are you alright?” Scorcony asked again.

I nodded weakly and realized I was lying down on a gurney.

“Stay right here while I get the nurse.” He advised before moving out of view.

“He’s back with us, Rachael. I’m not sure what happened, I think he needs to see the doctor too, though.”

“What happened?” I heard her ask.

“I’m not sure, I think he stopped breathi…”

Hey there! How you doin’, Mr. Gould?” An energetic, young, female voice asked as I reopened my eyes to see a beautiful, young, brunette nurse smiling over me.

“What…what happened?”

“We’re trying to find that out right now, sweetie. Apparently you stopped breathing for a few minutes and we’re curious as to why.”

“My wife…” I began to say, but she interrupted.

“Is in very competent hands, Mr. Gould! She’s still in surgery. And her condition hasn’t been updated yet. I promise…the second I hear anything, I’ll tell you. Now, I want you to try an’ take it easy while we figure you out, sweetie!” She said gently patting my arm.

I nodded.

“Good luck, I’ll be good, nurse…?”

“Amy. Amy Reynolds, Mr. Gould. Nice to meet you. Now rest easy. Your wife will be okay.”

Again I nodded. The nurse nodded back, smiled, and slowly walked away.

Rest easy, she advised. Ya, right! How could I rest when my wife was in an unknown condition in some operating room?

“Nurse?” I asked as I raised my head to look down the hallway I found myself in. “Hey! Anyone around?”

“Mr. Gould?” A woman’s voice asked from behind me. Her accent sounded like one I’d heard on a vacation to Arizona and the Grand Canyon.

I looked around to her. Her beautiful face matched her accent. Her overall height though, surprised me. She stood almost six foot, easily.

“I’m Dr. Mintaka, Mr. Gould. I’ll be your attending physician this morning? So let’s see what’s going on, shall we.”

“Morning? How’s my wife?”

“Okay, early morning. You caught me. I haven’t been briefed on her condition, Mr. Gould. My priority is you, so let’s get you hooked up.”

“Hooked up? To what?” I asked in concern.

“EKG, Mr. Gould. We suspect you might have had a slight heart attack.” She told me as her eyes closed for a few seconds. She nodded then looked down the hall.

“Ah, good. Amy, could you hook him in and call me when done?”

“Of course, doctor. It’ll only take a few minutes.”

“I’ll see what I can find about his wife.” Mintaka said as she smiled at me and walked away.

“Belle’s really good, Mr. Gould. She’ll find out exactly what’s wrong with you. We’ll get you fixed up in a jiffy- right as rain!” Amy consoled enthusiastically. The spark I saw in her eyes filled me with hope.

“Hey, can I get you something to drink? You seem a little dehydrated. When was the last time you drank anything?” She asked. My mouth did feel a little dry.

“I had a glass of water around 10:30.”

Amy’s face showed surprise.

“That was over five hours ago. I’ll get you a bottle and I want you to drink it all, sweetie.” She ordered.

A minute later I held a bottle of water to my lips, took a mouthful, swished it around, and swallowed.

I felt better already.

Amy gently applied the electrodes of a portable EKG machine to my bared chest. I hoped she’d be just as gentle taking them off.

“Good, you got him to drink. I thought he looked a little dry, Amy.” Mintaka said as she approached.

“You know me, doc. I’m good at spotting dehydration.” My nurse smiled.

“Turn on the power, Igor!” Mintaka laughed maniacally before laughing outright.

“Yeth, math-ter.” Amy giggled rolling he eyes.
 
 

“Well, according to this, you’re throwing a few spikes here and there, Gil. They should smooth out with a few days of rest. So that’s what I’m recommending- a few days rest at home.”

“Might be a problem, doc.” I said as I looked away.

“How could resting at home be a problem?”

“I…um…sort of …I don’t have a home. I live out of my car…since our divorce, that is. Besides, my family is here, so I’m not going anywhere.”

“I didn’t know your housing situation, but admire your devotion to your family. I’m sorry. I suppose I could modify my diagnosis and recommend bed rest here in hospital.”

“I’ll be fine. I wanna see my wife. Now.” I said as I sat up and moved to get off the gurney. I began peeling the probes from my chest, wincing as the adhesive refused to release my few chest hairs.

“Gil, I strongly suggest you remain calm and try to rest.”

“Sorry, doc. Where your job is taking care of me, my job is taking care of my family. Right now, my family is here. My wife…is critical at best. She is my main concern. Now…I’m going to her. With or without you.”

“Very well, Gil, but you feel the slightest bit dizzy and I’m admitting you to your very own room! Are we clear?” Mintaka threatened after closing her eyes for a few seconds.

“Crystal, doc.”

Dr. Mintaka scrutinized me closely for a moment.

“Very well, Gil, let’s get you into some scrubs and see what your wife’s condition is.”

Even in her low-heeled shoes this woman stood as tall as my six-one frame! Somehow, I had seen this woman somewhere. Another woman’s face came to mind- her dishwater blonde hair just a few shades lighter than the hair currently bouncing on the head just a fraction of a step ahead and to the left of me.

I moved my concern slightly to the side so I could rehash the later episodes of my story to see if I could remember mention of the Mintaka surname.

“Let’s go in here and find a pair of scrubs that fit you, Gil.” Dr. Mintaka pointed to a room on our right. She scanned several closets before pulling out a pair of pants and a shirt.

“Try these, Gil.”

“Um…these are women’s sizes, doc.” I advised as I looked at the tags.

“Sorry, force of habit, Mr. Gould.” She opened another cabinet and tossed me another set. “Try these then.”

“Would it be rude of me to ask if you have a sister named Andie, doc?” I chanced to ask after pulling on the scrubs over my work pants.

She gasped quietly.

“Just how do you know my sister, Mr. Gould?” The statuesque woman asked- her expression not quite neutral as she stared at me.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“I am capable of great belief, Mr. Gould.”

I paused a minute to prepare my psyche for the disheartening laughter.

“I wrote about her…and you, doc. I wrote about Atlantis.” I told her sincerely and calmly.

“She was right about you.”

“Who? Who was right about me?” I asked.

“As if you don’t know, Gilbert Gould. Come, let’s check on your wife.”
 
 

“Welcome, Belle. I trust you two scrubbed up before coming in here?” The surgeon in charge of my wife’s procedure greeted as she worked just inside my ex’s abdomen.

“We have successfully performed the archaic purification ritual, though I much prefer ionic sterilization techniques.” Dr. Mintaka replied. I wasn’t sure how her answer made any sense- at least to me.

“Can’t be helped, Belle. Mr. Gould,” I was surprised she even knew who I was given she hadn’t looked up from her patient. “I trust you know you shouldn’t even be in here?” The as yet unknown doctor questioned.

“How is she?” I asked without answering her question.

“Mrs. Gould is fighting for her life, Mr. Gould! We are doing everything possible to keep her alive. I’ve already fixed more holes in her plumbing than I’d honestly admit to though. Belle could you come over and take her left side?” The doctor said as she got hit in the face shield with a shot of blood.

I cringed!

“Christen, could you clamp that one for me? I have a few more sutures to go before I get this one sealed up.”

“Of course, doctor.” The nurse acknowledged as she picked up an implement and placed it carefully into my wife’s belly.

“This part of her large intestine looks like it went through a meat grinder, Emily. I’m not sure I can even resect it to anything stable.

Another nurse- a woman hurried in past me and stopped before the table.

“Doctor! I’ve gone through the inventory, but it seems our supply of ‘O’ positive will not be enough. I’ve placed a call in to the other hospitals in the area, but the forecasted arrival time may not be soon enough.”

“Understood. Belle, I’m not confident I can save this woman without that blood.”

Dr. Mintaka glanced up at me worriedly. “Mr. Gould, are you sure you really want to be in here right now?”

“Use me.” I stated in a calm, controlled voice. It came so easily out of my mouth I was even a bit surprised.

“What?” Use you, Mr. Gould?” The doctor asked in surprise as she looked up from my ex-wife for just an instant.

“I’m ‘O’ negative…a universal donor…take as much as you need from me.”

“Mr. Gould, we’ve already put most of our supply into this patient! I will not entertain the idea of bleeding you dry as well! We’ll have to work faster. Belle? You with me?”

“You there.” I pointed to the nurse monitoring the blood entering Evie. “How much do you estimate you’ll need to save her?”

“Mr. Gould, I’m not sure if one or even three units will help.”

“Gil, stop this! Don’t even think about giving that much. It’ll kill you!” Dr. Mintaka urged as she again glanced up at me in concern.

There was a gurney against the room’s far wall. I hurried over and brought it closer then laid down on it.

“Get over here and get me started.” I ordered, rolling up my left sleeve.

“Do it now, before I change my mind!” I commanded.

Both doctors looked up at each other. Both closed their eyes and sighed heavily.

“Do it!” I shouted.

“Prep him, Janice.” The lead surgeon ordered. The late arriving nurse fetched a needle and everything else she needed to start a transfusion. She looked at me with uncertainty as to what I was demanding.

“Is this how you saw it happening, Emily? Cause I certainly didn’t.” I overheard Mintaka whisper to her fellow surgeon as they pressed on in repairing my wife’s internal injuries.

“Mr. Gould’s preped and ready, doctors.” The nurse, Janice, announced as I started to have second thoughts on just exactly what I was doing, though, Evie would do it for me if the circumstances were reversed.

I paused as I thought about that. There was no way she could do this for me! Her blood type made that impossible.

“Good! This unit is almost kicked, Jan. Emily, I’m ready to make the switch on your mark.” The other nurse, Christen, replied.

“You’re really putting the pressure on me, Mr. Gould! I really hope you understand the severity of all this.”

“Just turn the damn valve and let’s get on with it, doc.” I said serenely.

Both doctors’s looked over at me in surprise.

“He sure has the gonads, Belle. Did you have time to do a workup on him? I know it’s a little late now, but I just wondered what the count was.”

“I didn’t get the chance, Emily. Janice? Take a sample of Mr. Gould’s blood back to the lab and rush the results, please.”

“Right away, Doctor.”

“What are you looking for, doc?” I asked trying to ignore the red liquid running out of my arm through the clear, flexible, hose.

“We want to see if you’re carrying anything out of the ordinary, Gil.” The other doctor, Emily answered.

“I was married to her for over thirty-nine years, doc! I can say that I’m safe…she’s safe…from any funky diseases, that is.”

Both doctors shook their heads after looking over at me again.

I wondered what they could possibly want to check on and had a disturbing thought.

“Oh, you want to check my ‘K’ cell count. I get it.” I said taking the chance and hoping I was wrong.

Both doctors, as well as the attending nurses stopped and looked at me for a brief moment before resuming their tasks.

Shit.

“Mr. Gould? What are ‘K’ cells? I’ve never heard of them.” Dr. Emily asked curiously. I saw Dr. Mintaka glance up at her, but quickly resumed her work.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, doc. Let’s just forget the crazy, old man on the gurney said anything, okay?” I replied despondently.

“Mr. Gould here seems to be a writer, Emily. Dr. Mintaka said with some humor in her voice.

“Is that so? So what do you write, Mr. Gould?” Dr. Emily inquired.

“Science Fiction-Fantasy, but I wasn’t very good at it…obviously. You would have heard of me if I was.”

“Don’t be so disheartening. I don’t want to be dumping your demoralizing thoughts into the patient as well as you blood! Christen, let off the clamp on that vessel. Let’s see if I got all the holes in that one. How about a synopsis of one of your stories?” Dr. Emily asked as she visibly moved an inch or two over to higher in my wife’s gut.

“I wrote about a group of…of people that went around helping people with the special powers they had gained…um…from a…a medical experiment.” I began, but stopped as I became embarrassed.

“Good experiment or the mad scientist type?”

“Good type…humanity saving type, actually.” I told Doc Emily.

“Ah, the best type! Sounds good so far.”

“Sounds like a superhero comic to me.” Nurse Christen admitted with a giggle.

“Actually I designed it to be like a weekly TV series.”

“That’s interesting.” Dr. Mintaka said pleasantly.
 
 

It had been over thirty minutes since I had offered my blood to save my ex-wife on the operating table. I was wondering how I could go this long unless the nurse, Christen, controlling the transfusion had throttled back as the doctors sealed Evie’s leaks.

I won’t lie, I was feeling quite dizzy as I continued to watch my ex’s repairs.

“Emily? We’re all out of sutures. That’s the last one.”

“Dump some alcohol on a few of them. They’re just going to be used in the same body, Janice. I don’t foresee a chance of any re-infection.”

“Understood. Just give me a moment then, Doctor.”

The room suddenly smelled of denatured alcohol and Nurse Janice quickly handed Dr. Mintaka the newly sterilized instruments.

“So. Gil. Can we expect to see any more adventures of your intrepid Empress?” Dr. Mintaka asked as she moved onto another damaged location. She paused a second. “Even not having read any of it, I feel I actually have from your synopsis.”

Yes, I had gotten carried away and jabbered on while they worked.

“Emily. Do you see this?” She whispered to the other doctor.

“No. Neither did you, Belle. Keep working. I think we’ve got her over the hump.

“So…my blood…doin’…job?” I asked, overhearing their conversation The dizziness was overtaking me quickly now.

“Of course its doing its job, Gil. Blood is life.” Dr. Emily reminded me.

“An mmmmy ‘K’ ceeeellz ca onies helps, rey?” I asked as I noticed my speech starting to deteriorate.

“What are you talking about, Gil? What’s with these ‘K’ cells again? Christen, I think Mr. Gould’s almost empty. We’ll just have to hope we’re almost done. Thank you for your assistance, Gil, but we can’t ask you to donate any more life blood without killing you. Do you understand?”

“Damn! Christen? Your assistance here! I just found another gusher!”

“Right away, Doctor.” Nurse Christen said as she moved closer to Dr. Mintaka to help.

That didn’t sound good at all! Carefully, I reached over and increased the flow rate on Evie’s transfusion. I smiled and leaned back on my gurney. I really began to get woozy now. Things started to get very blurry.

“Thanks Christen, that’s got it.” I heard Mintaka say as I entered into a hazy twilight.

“Belle! He opened up his feed! We’re going to los…”

Everything went dark.
 
 

“Hello again, Mr. Gould. I trust y’all’re feelin’ a might better?”

I knew that voice.

Opening my eyes only confirmed a hazy, unfocused shape hovering over me. Blinking a few times helped clear my sight and recognize the face.

I cringed as a chill ran up my spine!

“Its you!” I declared just above a whisper.

“Ah should hope so! If Ah ain’t me then Ah’d wonder who Ah am. That wouldn’ be good neither.” Ms. Covington giggled deviously.

“Y’all know’d ya done somethin’ pertie dumb in there, hun? What po-zest’d y’all to try an’ kill yerself?

“The needs of that one outweighed the needs of this one.” I said quietly as I picked up my hand to point out of the room I found myself in and pointed back to me as I said the last two words.

“Y’all’re a piece of work, Gil. The doctors had yer Ex’s well bein’ well in hand, hun. There weren’t no call for excessive bravery.”

“I did what I thought was necessary. I don’t possess the ability to see the future like you do, ma’am, so I had to wing it.” I protested.

“Y’all think ya got it all fig’ered out, Mr. Gould? Real life ain’t the same as story books. Ain’t no one capable a seein’ ever’thin that’s ahead of em.”

“Then why are you here, ma’am?” I asked pointedly.

“He got ya there, Alex. Welcome back to reality, Gil. You have yourself a good snooze?”

“How long was I out?” I asked and thought about how fitting that question was to the two women standing by my hospital bed.

“Only a couple hours, Gil. Just long enough for your blood pressure to come back up. Evie’s in recovery. We think we got all the leaks plugged and we managed to save most of her liver and almost all of her small intestine- though her large intestine is a few feet shorter than it was.” Dr. Emily said with a pleasant, professional tone, but sad smile. “She’ll have to take it easy for a while and watch around people with colds and flu though. Her appendix had to be removed. We couldn’t save that.”

“Maybe it’ll grow back in time.” I mumbled.

“That organ will not ‘grow back’, Gil!” Dr. Emily chided.

“Ya, whatever.” I whispered. “I guess that blood vessel didn’t reseal itself while you and Dr. Mintaka watched, huh?”

“This again, Gil?” Dr. Emily shook her head a few times- her tone annoyed. “I still have no idea what these ‘K’ cells are that you keep mentioning! Trust me, your results came back clean! No abnormalities whatsoever! Care to explain why you think you might have some kind of foreign bodies- these ‘K’ cells as you call them- floating around in your bloodstream, Mr. Gould?”

“They were in his story, doc.” Ms. Covington answered. “A clever plot device that embued magical powers to his characters.”

“Really? You said nothing about that while we talked earlier, Gil. I do however understand your enthusiasm toward something of your own imagination. I actually like the premise of advanced biotechnology to advance our evolution.”

I narrowed my eyes as I looked skeptically at the pretty, young, doctor. I hadn’t mentioned anything about ‘biotech’ or human evolution.

“Looks like he caught ya, sis. Ah told ya he was a sharp-un.” Ms. Covington replied as she looked at Dr. Emily.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Scott, for breaking your cover. I won’t tell anybody.” I told her quietly.

“Tell me, Gil, how is it y’all know so much about Em an’ Ah?” Covington asked, raising a well-kept eyebrow.

“I told you. It all started out as a dream, Empress. How I got everything so accurate is a mystery to me. I had no idea that I would be revealing you or your sisterhood. You have to believe me.”

Another, shorter brunette silently entered my room, walked behind the doctor and Ms. Covington, and stopped on her far side, closest to me and the head of my bed. I immediately thought of one of the Empress’ Mind Warriors. ‘Camille’ came to mind.

The newly arrived woman’s mouth dropped open instantly.

“He does, Miss Darough.”

“No, he might consider it rude you talking telepathically around him.”

“Please use your mouth, sweetheart.”

I began to smile as I thought: ‘it certainly is rude to talk about me while I’m in the same room, ma’am.’

“My apologies, Mr. Gould. You can understand how we must be cautious when out in the general population.

I nodded. “So what happens now?” I asked.

“Well…that all depends on what yer attendin’ physician says, Gil.”

Dr. Mintaka entered my room and closed the door quietly.

“Ah. Dr. Belletrix Mintaka. Chief Surgeon of Atlantis, I presume?” I said quietly.

Mintaka looked only slightly startled by my accusation.

“Thank you both for helping my wife, doctors. I’m forever in your debt.” I said sincerely.

“We both thank you, Gil. If not for your donation of blood, your wife’s situation would be far different.” Mintaka responded with a nod.

“I had to. I had to help her.”

“So how’s yer patient, here, Belle? He good enough ta travel?”

“Let me check, Alex.” Mintaka said as she raised her hand and began scanning me with her downturned palm.

“I sense no heart irregularities as earlier and his pressure and heart rate are well within normal parameters. His immediate health condition seems stable, Alex.”

This sounded all too familiar as I suddenly remembered one of my mid series episodes.

“Alex, he knows about Khufu and Anna Beth and the broach!”

“Of course he does, Camille. Mr. Gould has an uncanny aptitude for divining our mission specifics and writing about our exploits.” Covington admitted.

“So, I’m actually dying, right? You’re going to take me on one of your trips through time to show me how badly I screwed my future up and then you’re going to leave me to my fate…no you hate that word, don’t you? Leave me to my short future then. I’m to live out what little time I have left with everyone thinking I’m some whack-job with advanced dementia. I’ll never see my wife or kids ever again.”

The four women silently stared at me for a few moments.

“I agree, Miss Darough. Our Mr. Gould has quiet the vivid imagination.”

“Ya, an’ cynical too, yes. Y’all got anythin’ else ya wanna think ta me while bein’ so rude ta Gil?”

“No, Director, I’m sorry. Old habits are difficult to bypass.”

“So, Miss Reilly, why deceive me into thinking you were your sister?” I asked with somewhat of a confident smirk.

“Cause that’s the way Ah seen it goin’ down, Gil. Y’all got a problem with that?”

“Far be it for me to question anything you say or do, ma’am.”

“Wow, no sarcasm there, sis. I like him!” Dr. Emily Scott giggled at my response.

Covington, I mean, Alex Reilly narrowed an eye at me for a moment.

“I recognize the similar speech patterns, Em. Are you up for a chance to experience what only your imagination once was able to realize, Gil?”

In answer, I began to move closer to the side of the bed, lower my legs over the edge, and place my bare feet on the cold hospital floor. Cautiously standing, I reached back to the equipment stand and pushed the power button on my vitals monitor. I began removing the probes from my chest and finger. As before, the adhesive probes refused to release several hairs. Damn, I hated these things!

“I guess if I ask for some privacy you four are just going to phase out and gawk at me as I get dressed, right?”

Alexandra and Camille nodded enthusiastically while the two doctors looked appalled by their sisters. Dr. Mintaka walked over to the room’s closet and retrieved my clothes then handed them to me.

“We’ll wait out here while you change in the lavatory, Gil.” She said. “Won’t we girls?”

Standing up carefully, I strategically placed my exposed behind away from their view- against the room’s walls before reaching behind me, opening the bathroom door, and quickly disappearing behind it.

I couldn’t get that gown off quick enough! Confident that I looked the same as I always had, I dressed and reentered the room.

“And I thought we girls took a long time to dress!” Alexandra Reilly giggled and smiled deviously as I rolled my eyes at her.

“Gil doesn’t trust you, Alex.” Camille Darough snickered.

“Your reputation does precede you, ma’am. Sorry.”

Miss Reilly shook her head in amusement while she grinned.

“Emily already told y’all yer blood work come back normal, honey, an’ y’all ain’t got drunk yet neither. So…” The Empress laughed.

“Of course you read my series.” I stated unnecessarily, though a bit disappointed.

She smiled and winked at me.

“So where are you taking me?”

“Let us join hands and see.” She answered majestically.

“I thought, after season four, you didn’t need to do that anymore?”

Alex Reilly’s eyes sparkled as she winked again.

We were suddenly not in my hospital room, but someplace else entirely!

I began to look around into the almost pitch dark of this place. Wherever we were, that is!

I could just make out the smell of diesel fuel.

I also felt that the four beautiful women were looking expectantly to me.

“When and where are we?” I asked as I tried to keep calm and neutral.

“Now, y’all see how it’s done, gals? Gil here got straight ta the point. He didn’t just ask ‘where am Ah’, he asked the two pertinent questions AND in the right order!”

“When, hun, is December 4th, 1945…”

Hearing the date, I clapped my hands together loudly twice, thereby interrupting the Empress

The lights came on in the huge, flooded, cavern to reveal a World War Two American submarine- in mint condition, tied up before us!

“The Grotto!” I gasped quietly, swallowed loudly, and continued.

“SS353,” I vocally read the number on the bridge superstructure, automatically adding the ‘SS’. “Sand Dollar!”

“My sister’s boat sure is a beaut, ain’t she?” Alex Reilly stated proudly.

My mind was buzzing a mile a minute. If I was standing here looking at Sand Dollar…from this perspective… “then the yellow brick road is…” I slowly turned around and saw the naturally lighted passageway. I gulped loudly. “Right behind me!”

“Wow, Alex, his mind moves almost as fast as yours.” The brunette Mind Warrior giggled playfully.

“I take it your sister and her crew are elsewhere? If they were here, I’d be suspended in midair and immobilized by Jacki Cummins by now, right?” I asked nervously.

“The crew a the Sand Dollar’s down at Pearl attendin’ meetin’s to determine this here base’s future, Gil, so no. But, y’all have nothin’ ta fear from Cmdr. Cummins. She know’d Ah was bringin’ y’all here today. Still, she’s got a long reach these days and could eas’ly reach y’all from there, hun.”

“So be it.” I mumbled. “Miss Cummins? I mean no harm to you or any of your crew…and especially your captain. I plan on doing everything the Empress wants unless I find her request morally questionable.” I said as I looked up to the crystallized ceiling.

Giggling filled my mind! I immediately glared at Camille Darough.

“Not me, Mr. Gould. That’s Jacki’s voice in your head.”

“So why are we here, Empress? What portion of this specific time period requires our help to be realigned?” I asked formally…with maybe a hint of sarcasm.

“Wow, he has you down pat, sis.” Dr. Scott commented gleefully.

Alex Reilly looked at Dr. Scott with a forced smile then looked back at me.

“You can be quite the smart-ass, Gilbert Gould; but sadly there is no mission that I need your assistance on. I just assumed you would like to tour Sand Dollar.”

‘Oh.” I replied quietly as my excitement tanked.

“Sand Dollar, honey? Permission to come aboard?”

The submarine’s running lights came on!

“Mind the boarding plank, Gil.” She continued, motioning us toward the sub.
 
 

I was instantly reminded of my age as I carefully…painfully, wiggled through the bridge’s hatch. That alone took a few minutes as I groaned and exhaled several times.

“Getting old, Gil?” Dr. Mintaka giggled as she gracefully lowered herself through the next hatch to the control room.

“Fore or aft first, Gil?” Alex Reilly asked as the four regarded me intently from around the chart table.

“Stem to stern, I guess, ma’am.” I answered and motioned forward.

Dr. Scott took point and we quickly found ourselves in the forward torpedo room.

The smell of a real, operational, submarine- one that had spent weeks on patrol- didn’t escape me, but I choose to ignore it instead of saying something that might be considered rude. Aside from that this place was amazing…and spotless! It still impressed me how little space there was between rack and torpedo inventory up here. A very buxom, very platinum blonde woman’s face appeared in my mind.

“Oh, she wasn’t THAT big, Mr. Gould!” Camille Darough laughed at me.

“What’s that, Cami?” Dr. Scott asked as from behind me. We had simply reversed ourselves and were now heading aft back into the Officers’ quarters.

Emily Scott closed her eyes for a brief moment.

“That’s actually pretty close, Cami. Corrine’s actual- original- chest size is 38EE. That’s why she normally keeps them dialed back to 36C.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make her so big.” I apologized, cheeks red with embarrassment, my head tilted forward in shame.

“”Please don’t apologize for something you had no control of, Gil.” Alex Reilly more or less scolded as she turned back to me. “You may have envisioned us, but the reality is that we already existed. For whatever reason, you were chosen to chronicle the sisterhood.”

“As if you don’t know, ma’am,” I whispered.

Reilly’s face took on a serious expression.

“Even I have no clue as to why we were chosen, Gilbert! One can only postulate, but I suggest we not speculate too hard.”

“Amen to that, sister!” Dr. Scott added as we passed back through the Con- the radio room, the kitchen, and galley our next stops.

“Not too different from the sub down at the Point.” I observed aloud.

“Sand Dollar has seen way more combat action than Requin, Gil.” Emily Scott proclaimed.

She also doesn’t look like a boat from WWII on the inside.” I said as I stuck my head into Randi and Josie’s domain. “I don’t think high definition LCD displays have been invented yet…if this is 1945, that is.”

“Very observant, Gil. Ah assure ya we’re in ‘45. Like y’all wrote, Sand Dollar’s been modifying herself usin’ mah nanos. So far just her propulsion control system and Randi’s radio equipment’s been completed.”

“I take it, she now has the capability of subspace communication?”

“Woah, woah, woah, this ain’t Meridian, Mr, Gould! Sand Dollar’s just fer terrestrial adventures and not space travel. Why would y’all even think that?” The Empress questioned.

“If I had continued the series, I thought maybe Sand Dollar could venture to Terra Nuevo for a little vacation.”

“Shhhhh!” Alex Reilly quickly cautioned, placing her finger to her lips. “She’ll hear ya, Gil! She ain’t ready fer that yet, an’ Ah don’ wanna rush her inta an’thin’ too stressful.”

Camille Darough and Dr. Mintaka remained quiet but continued to regard me carefully as we passed through both engine rooms and carefully made our way through maneuvering.

“Do you girls have questions for me?” I asked, not standing for their stares any longer.

“We thought only members of the royal bloodline were able to forecast the future, yet here you are, a contradiction to that belief. Alex? If he isn’t family then what?” Dr. Mintaka stated and proposed.

“So…this is the aft torpedo room and the end of our impromptu little tour, Gil.” Alex Reilly announced as she pointed to the ladder and hatch used for loading Sand Dollar’s primary weapons of destruction.

Although way lighter than the Mark 14 torpedoes that surrounded us, I was apparently wider in girth than one. Thanking God that I wasn’t very claustrophobic, I finally…thankfully…extracted myself from the slender escape hatch and groaned as I stood up on the aft deck- my back and knees protesting painfully.

“Must be hell to get old.” Dr. Scott ribbed playfully.

“I’m sure the Empress knows how it feels. You’ve nearly killed yourself how many times now, ma’am?” I countered with a tense smile, hoping I hadn’t pushed my luck too far.

“Touché, Gil. Though in Em’s defense she’s yet ta experience the pain an’ depression of lookin’ at an older version of herself.”

“I’ve seen Alex, sis. I’m thankful I’ve never had that experience.”

“I’ve seen the results severe damage can cause to the Empress as well, Gil. I thank the seven planets I have yet to experience anything that extreme. I have been old enough to feel my joints creak and click, though.” Dr. Mintaka added as she blushed.

The cracking of gunfire echoed through the grotto suddenly.

“What the hell?” I gasped as my attention turned to the brightly lit yellow brick road. “I thought you said the war was over, ma’am?”

“It is, Gil. Let’s go have a look-see, shall we? Cami? How many?” Alex Reilly asked as she hurried across the gang way- her Missouri drawl vanishing instantly.

“I sense three very stupid people, Alex.” She said as her eyes suddenly opened wide. “Alex! I’m reading Janelle, Darren Clemson and…and you, Alex!”

Camille, Dr’s Scott and Mintaka stared at their sister in confusion.

“Alex…the other you…her thought patterns…they’re all over the place!” Camille added frantically. “I think she’s gone off the deep end, Director!”

“Bad Alex, from Season Two.” I gasped. “Why do villains, vanquished previously, keep returning? I thought the Empress reabsorbed ‘Bad Alex’, ma’am?”

“We did, Gil, but you have forgotten the nuances of time travel. This obviously took place before our showdown in that partial, unstable dimension.”

“Oh shit!” I cursed.

“C’mon out, Alex! Ah know y’all are in there! Ah brought some folks that wanna play!” Alex’s voice called from outside.

“Alex? I haven’t seen any of this happening! What are we going to do?” Dr. Scott cried as she looked to her sister, the Empress.

“We get Gil to safety first then we return and take care of our friends outside.”

Alex Reilly paused then looked confused for a moment.

“Take my hands…quickly.” She ordered then looked confused again after we complied.

“You can’t phase OR transit, ma’am?” I asked as if knowing for certain.

She shook her head once.

Aw, shit!” I snarled angrily.

“Sisters, is it just me or have they somehow canceled that part of our gifts?”

“No-go on my attempts to phase, Alex.” Dr. Emily reported.

“I’m also a ‘no-go’, Empress.” Dr. Mintaka confirmed sadly.

“Cami, can you reach Jacki over at Pearl?”

“Negative, Director. Whatever device they are implementing, telepathic communications have also gone offline.

“Well ain’t this a cluster!” I commented angrily.
 
 

1:00 PM, Ni’ihau, Hawaii, December 4th, 1945AD
 
 

“Certainly is, hun. Cami, y’all feel upta openin’ a can a whoop-ass?” Alex Reilly asked her Mind Warrior.

“Maybe she should try it out in here to see if that part of her gift is working first, Empress?” I strongly suggested. “If we just stormed out now without verifying our assets we could be in trouble.”

“I agree, Mr. Gould. Testing my abilities would be very prudent.” Camille Darough said as she nodded to me.

“Very good suggestion, Gil.” Alex Reilly agreed, as did both doctors.

Camille pointed to a few wooden crates stored off to the side of us and began to concentrate.

Nothing happened.

“My gift seems to be completely nullified, Director. Now what?” She said looking distressed.

“Can you try stopping time or slowing it? Maybe see if you can still slow the speed of light?” I suggested.

“We won’t know if it works or not, Gil. There would be no indication in the calmness of the Grotto.”

“Then I’ll just step over here, away from you royals. If I keep moving, we’ll know.” I said as I walked about twenty feet away and began waving my arms around in circles. “Ready when you are, ma’am.”

From my perspective, my arms never stopped moving. Alex Reilly’s expression turned sad.

“Well, that didn’t work.” She groused.

“So what now, Alex?” Camille asked. “If our gifts don’t work, how can we get out of this?”

“We could do things the old, barbaric way.” I suggested.

“Like how, Gil?” She asked, curious to hear my plan.

“They have guns…apparently…right?” I asked.

“Sure sounded like it, Gil.” Dr. Scott answered.

“Then we need guns too.”

“So where will we get these ‘guns’, Gil?” Dr. Mintaka asked.

“Dr. Scott, has Sand Dollar been decommissioned yet…here…in December of ’45, I mean?”

“No. And she won’t be decommissioned either. Admiral Demmit will conveniently neglect to file her Decom request. Sand Dollar will secretly become the next oldest, commissioned Navy vessel in American’s history.”

“Next oldest, Emily?” Camille asked in confusion.

“Arizona is still the oldest commissioned ship on the Navy’s books, Cami.” Dr. Scott informed.

“So…getting back to Sand Dollar’s weapon’s locker…” I hinted to refocus us on the original question. “Does she still have hand-held weapons and ammunition for said weapons in her armory? And…do you know where the key is?”

“How is a rifle or pistol going to help us out of this situation, Gil? They have gifts like we do…at least Janelle and ‘Bad Alex’ do.” Asked Dr. Mintaka.

“But, as I recall, Janelle Hathor is a fire elemental, and not a very impressive one at that. AND, if our Empress cannot use her gifts it then makes sense that ‘Bad Alex’ and Hathor can’t either. Assuming, of course, whatever is disrupting them has a large enough coverage pattern.” I proposed.

“Excellent idea, Gil! Logical and very well thought out.” Alex Reilly smiled.

“Okaaaay. So we can’t use our gifts and neither can they…except maybe that little dweeb, Clemson!” Dr. Scott summed it up.

“I just happen to know where Alex keeps the key. Let’s go. Gil, stay close to the hatch and let us know if they come into the Grotto. If warranted, we fire up Sand Dollar and pilot our way out of here to open water.” Alex Reilly suggested.

“That would work, assuming any of us had experience at her helm, ma’am. My dad was Army. He taught me never to volunteer.” I confessed with a tense smile.

Alex Reilly looked down in despair.

“Look,” I said seriously, “I’ve been to a gun range a few time in my life. I know how to aim and pull a trigger.”

“Gil, we really don’t want to hurt them. Let’s just try to disable their equipment and hope they high-tail it out of here.”

“That’s my plan, Empress…but…” I said as I looked at the four women with me.

“If it all goes to hell in a hand basket, I’m going for the jugular. I’m not a part of your sisterhood and am therefore not bound by your high moral standards. I will also protect all of you to the best of my ability. End of Story!” I warned. “The Empress of Time and Space and her sisterhood must continue to exist to guard the timeline. Now, let’s see what goodies Sand Dollar carries in her armory.”
 
 

“M1’s, Model 1911’s, six, fifty cals…” I paused as I stared at an unusual standout. A Peacemaker? Really?” I asked nobody in surprise.

“It was Grandpa Steinert’s favorite piece. My sister brought it along just in case.” Alex Reilly replied.

I picked up an M1 and started looking it over before grabbing a few clips and carefully stuffing them into my pants pockets. Dr. Scott chose a 1911 and several loaded magazines. She locked one into the grip of the gun with graceful experience and placed the others into her purse. She effortlessly pulled back the slide to chamber a round. Dr. Mintaka also selected a 1911 and placed several loaded magazines in her purse, loaded and chambered a round as Emily Scott did.

“This is the device’s safety?” She asked Dr. Scott placing the pistol on it’s side and pointing to a small lever.

“You got it, Belle. Just don’t point it at anyone, will ya?”

“Acknowledged.”

“Why a rifle, Gil?” Camille asked with curiosity.

“Well, since the Empress wants me away and somewhat safe from the conflict, I figured I’d find a nice secluded spot and snipe the shit out of them.”

“With an M1?” Dr. Scott questioned.

“They were pretty accurate weapons and not the worst things to shoot.” I argued. “If I can just keep our friends pinned down while you girls look for and disable that jammer…maybe scare the piss outta ol’ Darren a little…it’d be worth it.” I laughed. “I never liked his character anyway!”

“Just don’t aim to kill, Gil. They all gotta meet their destinies.”

“You gotta be kiddin’ me! The Empress of Time and Space spoke the word destiny? On purpose? Impossible! What has this world come to?” I ranted sarcastically.

Tone it down, Gil, I thought to myself. Sarcasm is what got you fired in the first place! Alexandra could drop you in a time and place where your mouth could get you killed…or worse!

“Tell me, Gil, would you care to meet some living dinosaurs?”

“Point taken, ma’am. Shall we go say hello…with our little friends?” I asked as I held up and shook the rifle.

It’s amazing how adrenaline can improve mobility. I didn’t even feel the ladders, but I did fight to pull myself out of the bridge hatch and stand upright.

Camille handed my rifle up and I took the time to adjust its strap and place the weapon over my back before climbing down to the main deck.
 
 

As we neared the end of the yellow brick road, Alex motioned us over to hug the smooth, glass-like wall. Inch by inch, we made our way closer to the outside world. From my position, I could make out the tropical foliage just outside. I couldn’t spot any movement or human presence.

Alex Reilly motioned me back from the end and held her index finger in the air. I saw her begin to concentrate.

As expected, the walls of the yellow brick road began to glow and vibrate in a very low, audible tone. The nulling field must be weaker out here, I thought. That might cause some problems.

Several shots ricocheted into the tunnel and we all dropped to the floor in response.

“I know that move, dear sister! Now, just come out with your hands up and I won’t waste any time killing you!” ‘Bad Alex’ shouted.

“A bullet to her arm or leg will only slow her down, right?” I asked as I picked myself off the smooth ground.

Alex Reilly grinned deviously and nodded.

“Gil, there are some larger rocks off to the left of the entrance. One is about ten feet away. We’ll give you some cover fire as a distraction.” Dr. Scott told me. I nodded my understanding and readied myself.

Doctors Scott and Mintaka nodded to each other then stepped forward and began laying down cover fire. I sprinted out of the tunnel and scurried behind the mentioned four-foot diameter rock. Quickly, I repeated my actions three more times.

So far so good, I thought as I quietly inserted the first clip into my M1. A huge, green, broad leaf of one of the local plant species provided adequate cover over the rock’s highpoint. I was able to use it to cover most of my head, thereby leaving just my eyes peaking out between it and the top of the boulder. I still didn’t see anything moving.

Several more rounds fired off from my previous position. This time I caught movement off to my right, about fifty yards ahead of me.

Carefully, I moved my rifle, slowly brought it up, and placed the rifle’s stock and barrel on the boulder’s top. I carefully and quietly took aim at where I had seen the movement. Of course it would’ve been nice to have a properly sighted scope…any scope would have been nice, but the original sights had to do. Holding my breath, I squeezed the trigger.

The report of the rifle echoed off the steep cliff wall.

MOTHERFUCK! THAT WAS CLOSE!” echoed off the same volcanic, rock wall. The male voice seemed genuinely surprised.

Repositioning myself, I reset for my next target. Once again taking careful aim, I squeezed the trigger.

Once again the report from the rifle echoed off the cliff face.

As did a women’s scream! I hoped that she was just wounded.

More gunfire erupted from just inside the yellow brick road and I detected more movement from the semi-dense tropical foliage. My third target revealed herself.

I took careful aim again, and fired. Having a feeling about this one, I hurried and moved to the next closest boulder.- just in time to hear a bullet ricochet off the rock at my previous location. Strangely, I hadn’t heard the report from any other weapon though.”

I guess I just found ‘Bad Alex’, I thought to myself and thanked the maker I had sense enough to change locations. Thank you, ‘Medal of Honor’! I paused a moment to think. If our opponent could use her gift then the device was short range…Very short range! I had to get back and tell the others!

Or, I thought, maybe I should carefully look around the entrance to the Yellow Brick Road. That might be the better way to go.

I aimed once more and fired another shot- this time back at my first target.

This time a man’s voice cried out in pain. Had I actually got lucky a second time?

“Fancy shootin’ there, Tex. Specially fer a Garan” Alex’s voice said from right behind me.

Shit.

Without wasting another second, I dropped the rifle, twisted around, and grabbed the woman around her waist with my arms and held on tight!

“Not this time, honey!” I shouted as I squeezed as hard as I could. My hope was to expel the air from her lungs similar to the way a corset would.

She screamed!

My entire back erupted in extreme pain and intense burning as she dug her claws into me, first tearing my shirt to shreds! I willed myself to hold on and to even tighten my hold on her.

She was frantically shredding my back to pieces with her fingernails, yet I maintained my hold on her hoping Alex Reilly, Camille, and Doctor’s Scott and Mintaka arrived soon.

“Well, what do we have here?” a male voice asked limping closer. “Foreplay. Can I watch?” He asked with a disgustingly pleasant tone. His left pant leg displayed a big, wet, red stain.

The burning and pain from my back was so intense I felt like I would pass out any second!

I tried forcing my head into her diaphragm, just below her ribs, hoping that might force more air out of her as her desperate scratching continued.

My legs suddenly went numb and I lost strength in them.

Alex, where are you!

Bad Alex was starting to tire…or my efforts at incapacitating her were starting to have effect as the scratching began to lessen.

I was on the verge of unconsciousness- my vision starting to close in from the sides. Stars filled what sight I still had left.

The feeling of flames intensified the burning and pain on my back!

Hathor! I thought as everything began to darken. A shot rang out and I was suddenly on the ground. The scratching on my back stopped completely, but the pain and burning intensified.

“You bitch! You shot me!”

“Shut up before Ah put another drain hole in yer pumpkin, asshole! Now step away from the old man. Cami? Y’all got Hathor?”

“Immobilized and about four meters above us, Alex, but where did Bad Alex go?”

“Good, hun! ‘Bad Alex’ run off like the coward she become. We already know where she’ll turn up. Now, wipe Hathor. Ah want no smidgen of a memory of this incident in that dense cranium of hers, got it? Darren honey? Run! Pray Ah don’t let Cami loose on y’all! Git! Skee-daddle! Vamoose!”

“Alex?” Camille’s voice cracked in surprise.

“Do as Ah say with Hathor! It ain’t Clemson’s time, sweetheart.”

“Doing it as we speak, Director.”

“Oh my God! Alex! Gil! He’s got third degree burns on his back and he’s got a large open wound between his ‘T5’ and ‘L3’ vertebrae! Alex! She’s severed his spine between his ‘T7’ and ‘T8’and his ‘T10’ and ‘T11’! He’s lost complete control of his legs and lower abdomen. Alex, I can’t do anything about this, here or at Reilly.”

“Will he live, Em?”

Dr. Scott didn’t answer- that I heard anyway.

“You girls safe?” I croaked as a pair of hands began checking for other injuries. I thought that I already had enough.

“We’re fine, Gil. What possessed you?” Dr. Mintaka asked. It sounded like she was crying. I tried opening my eyes only to see dark spots filling my sight and not much of anything else.

It was hard to even think over the immense pain encompassing my body right now.

“It was...fun.”

The intense pain suddenly ebbed.

“I’ve blocked the axioms carrying the pain signals to your brain, Gil. It’s only temporary though.”

“I appreciate it, doc- makes it easier to say goodbye.”

“What do you mean, Gil?”

“I’m not completely stupid, Camille. I picked up on the stagnant pause when asked if I’d be okay. I’m paralyzed and losing a significant amount of blood. Even to me that doesn’t define a confident prognosis.”

“You’re going to make it, Gil. Emily and Belle are the best in the business. You’ll be good as new…”

“Give it a rest, Alexandra. We both know that’s not how this story ends.”

“That’s not true, Gil. This isn’t the time or the place, my noble scribe!”

I began sniggering as my focus continued to deteriorate and the stars again encroached on my vision.

“Gil? Don’t you dare close your eyes! Gil?”

“Mr. Gould? Stay with us.”

Things started to go dark.

“Gil! You hear me? GIL!”

“Gil!”

“Mr. Gould!”

“Gil.”

“gil.”
 
 
 

“Gil?”

“Mr. Gould?”

“Gilbert Andrew Gould! You had better wake up or else! Limited time offer!

“Evie?” I barely mumbled. My mouth felt so dry. Everything was still dark around me. Worse yet, It felt like I was lying on my stomach.

“Gilbert? Are you really awake?”

“Evie? That you?” I croaked a little louder. Now noticing my face was in some kind of donut thing.

“It’s me, you jerk!” It sounded like she was crying. “Gilbert. The doctors say you’ll live. You’re going to be okay.”

“My legs…won’t work.”

“Dr. Mintaka? How could he know? How, if he just woke up…how could he know he’s paralyzed?”

“He may have been awake for a short period of time after the accident and before the paramedics arrived. I’m not entirely sure.”

“Accident? I thought I was…”

“You were in an accident while on your way home from work, Mr. Gould. The authorities said you went through the open driver’s side window- that your seatbelt snapped as your car flipped several times. They found you upside down- back against a tree- your spine in bad shape. You are very lucky to be alive and to have escaped the gas tank explosion.” Dr. Mintaka informed me.

So that was the cover story? I decided to go with it. I suddenly wondered why I could remember my trip to 1945. Why didn’t Camille Darough erase me?

“Could you wheel me closer to him? I’d like to hold his hand.”

“Sure, Mrs. Gould. Let me move some things around so I can get your wheelchair in there.”

“Gil, I’m here for you.” I felt a familiar, warm, hand take mine. I immediately recognized my ex-wife’s touch. It felt wonderful!

“Evie. Are you okay? Dr. Mintaka? Is she going to make…?”

“A full recovery? Yes, Gil. Evelyn Gould is well on her way to a complete recovery. She’s made miraculous progress in the ten days since her accident.” Mintaka’s voice assured me, pleasantly.

It had been that long? Hmmm, obviously the Empress’ doing. She jumped us nine days ahead.

“Why can’t I see, Doc?” I asked, finally noticing the pressure against my eyelids and no noticeable light variations in the darkness.

“The paramedics noticed some blood from around your eyes, Gil. Your pupils were unresponsive so they assumed the worst and bandaged them just in case.” Mintaka answered.

“And what is your diagnosis, Doc?” I asked patiently.

“Well, let’s find out. I’m going to remove the bandages. Now, I have to carefully lift your head to do that. You might want to close your eyes and open them slowly when I tell you.”

I started to notice an increase in light as Dr. Mintaka removed the gauze wrapping my head slowly.

“That’s the last of the bandage, Gil. I’m going to remove the pads over your eyes now. Keep your eyes closed please.”

The ambient light hitting my pupils increased ten-fold as she gently placed my head back into the specialized headrest. The feel of it reminded me of a chiropractor’s table.

“Wow! That’s bright.” I winced while still holding my lids tightly closed.

“Slowly open your eyes, Gil. As you’ve already noticed they’ll be a little sensitive at first. Be patient and don’t rush it.

I snapped my eyes open and was rewarded by blisteringly bright light! Things started to normalize and focus as I blinked wildly for a few minutes. There was a mirror placed on the floor below me. I looked at the two people reflected in it.

Dr. Mintaka was glaring at me intensely so I moved my eyes further right and saw my ex glaring at me also.

“Why so happy?” I asked.

Evie rolled her eyes then continued her glare.

“You never will change will you?” She asked in an irritated tone.

I knew that tone very well.

“I thought you always said I was perfect just the way I was?” I challenged with as much of a smile as I thought I could get away with.

Dr. Mintaka looked like she was having trouble stomaching my reply. She rolled her eyes several times.

“Ummmm…I’m not going to walk again am I?” I asked, depression sneaking into my voice as I tried to move my lower extremities, but couldn’t feel a thing.

“There’s always a chance, Gil, never assume…”

“Let’s be practical, doc, I’ll…”

“Let’s be positive here, Mr. Gould!” She countered angrily.

“Gil? Why didn’t you tell me you were living out of your car? Why would you do that?” Evie asked out of the blue as she continued to look between my body and my reflected face.

It was my turn to glare- as much as I could, given my present predicament- at Dr. Mintaka.

“It just seemed the thing to do, dear. You needed the money more than I did.” I admitted.

“But living like a hermit, Gil? Why?” Evie pressed. “We had such a good life, before…”

“Before my characters took over my life? Before they became my assumed, sole focus? Before you accused that they meant more to me than you, Evie?” I asked as I looked intently at her sad face reflected below me.

“That was never my objective…to alienate you…to slight you, dear. I’ve never stopped loving you. And…and I wanted you to have the best of what I could provide…” I paused momentarily.

“Even if I had to go without to accomplish that.”

Things were very quiet in the room for a few minutes as I stared down into the mirror and regarded the reflections of the two women attending me. Both seemed to be having a difficult time handling what I’d said. Sappy, I know, but it was what I felt I had to do for the woman I still loved. I owed her everything.

“So is Dr. Reilly scheduled to come in to see me, Dr. Mintaka?” I finally asked with a confidence I didn’t really feel.

“How do you know Dr. Reilly is on staff here?” Mintaka asked, taken by surprise. Evie gasped at my question.

“Heard her name mentioned while we were all in the operating room two weeks ago. You seemed to think she diagnosed patients correctly ninety-nine percent of the time.”

I had hoped that explanation would not only cover my slip up with Evie in the room, but gain information on my future. I knew that these two doctors belonged to the royal bloodline…at least they did according to my story.

“Actually, because of your injuries, Dr. Scott will be consulting with me, Mr. Gould.”

“Oh.” I replied, disappointed.

“Dr. Scott? Gil. She’s my doctor as well.” Evie announced brightly.

“I know. I met her when you were in surgery.” I admitted, but added. “When I volunteered to be your emergency blood supply.”

“You? You were there? You were the one they told me almost…” She instantly glared at me.

“We were strapped for your blood type since donations have fallen off the past few months. Being as his blood type- ‘O’ negative- is considered a universal donor, Gil demanded we use him for your transfusion, Mrs. Gould- even when his diagnosis on your blood requirements differed from ours.” Dr. Mintaka’s reflection looked to Evie’s. She quickly looked back to me though.

“I still say it was reckless of you to ignore Emily’s order to cease the donation and increase it instead, Gil. Though, after finding that hidden leak under Evelyn’s right lung, I’m very grateful you did. I don’t know how you knew, but you saved her life, Gil.” Dr. Mintaka admitted.

I watched as her disapproving glare burst into a smile for a quick second before adding.

“It was still a very dumb thing to do!” She added, quickly switching back to her angry look.

“You did that for me, Gil? Why? Why would you risk your life for…but we aren’t married anymore!” Evie asked, her expression melting instantly.

“It was the right thing to do.” I said simply.

“Besides, I still love you…despite what that stupid piece of paper says, Evie!”

“You stupid, hard-headed, man! Why can’t you just let it go?” Evie cried and wiped her eyes several times.

I remained quiet, choosing not to answer and engage in the argument that question always proceeded.

“I really hate to say this, but I’m glad he is so stubborn, Evelyn. You might not be here today if he wasn’t.” Dr. Scott inserted as she appeared in the room’s doorframe. “So, how’s our resident hard-case today?”

“He regained consciousness about thirty minutes ago, doctor. His back seems to be healing nicely and I anticipate rotation in four days if his recovery stays on schedule. There appears to be no major damage to his eyesight, despite him not following my verbal cautions.” Mintaka reported professionally.

Dr. Scott barely stifled her laugh as I suddenly saw her in my limited, reflected view.

“Alex was definitely right about him, wasn’t she, Belle?” She said quietly, casually.

“Alex usually is, Emily.” Mintaka admitted with a knowing giggle.

“Who’s Alex?” Evie asked curiously.

“Dr. Alexandra Reilly.” Mintaka responded instantly, without thinking.

I noticed Evie’s face fill with shock as she inhaled quickly. Had she remembered the name from my story? Had she finally changed her mind, discontinued her self-imposed prohibition of my writing, and given it a read?

“Dr. Mintaka, might we have a word in private?” Dr. Scott requested quickly as I followed her eyes to my ex in her wheelchair.

“Certainly, doctor. Gil, Evelyn, I’ll be just out in the hall if you need me for anything. I’ll be just a few minutes.”

“They’re both pretty young, but certainly seem to be excellent doctors; don’t you think so, Gil?” Evie asked after both disappeared from the doorway and she seemed to compose herself.

I wondered, though, how completely our two doctors had ‘disappeared’.

“I’m betting they’re both much older than they appear, dear.” I stated, deciding to see how much she had read…and believed.

Much, much older, I thought to myself.

“Oh?” Evie’s sudden change of expression as she raised an eyebrow dared me to expand on the statement. I had to be subtle since this was an open invitation to a fight.

One she usually won as I’d just remain silent in response when I felt the argument had nothing more to prove.

She’s a very smart girl, I admonished myself. Let her figure this out on her own.

“They have to be twenty-six or slightly older. They don’t act like interns, though, and neither struck me as new to the operating room two weeks ago.” I voiced my suspicions.

“I like them, Gil. I like how Dr. Scott told it straight with no him-hawing around. They don’t appear to be hiding anything from either of us.”

“No, they’re not hiding anything!” I said sarcastically. “They told me exactly what my chances at walking again were, right?”

“Gil, you have to have hope! Keep upbeat.”

“Ya…upbeat…”

“I’m serious, Gil!” Evie declared emphatically.

“I won’t be able to work like this…I don’t know how I’ll provide for you no…”

“Stop it, Gil! Just…just stop! We’ll figure something out.”

“Not on one salary ‘we’ won’t.”

“I’ll find a way, Gil. You can move back in when you recover and…”

“No. I can’t do that! I’ve put you through enough already. You don’t need a cripple holding you back. I’ll figure something, myself.” I argued strongly.

“No, not this time, Gil! This won’t all work out for the best like in your books! This is real life, Gil! Things don’t happen like that here. Life isn’t something scripted! Sometimes there’s just no ‘Happily-ever-afters’ here in the real world!” Evie countered, instantly angered.

‘Ah, shit!’ I cursed silently. Even when I try to avoid it, I step in a huge pile! Might as well go all out now.

“You’re wrong about that, Evie. Somehow, the people in my stories are real and I can prove it!” I declared vehemently.

“You’ll never change, Gilbert Andrew Gould! Dr. Scott? Dr. Mintaka? I want to go back to my room now, please!”

Dr. Scott appeared back in the doorway.

“Did you want me for something, Evelyn?”

“I want to go back to my room, doctor.” My ex declared angrily.

“Alright, honey; here we go.” Dr. Scott said as she entered and carefully wheeled my ex out of my room.

“Please get better, Gilbert.” Evie said coldly just before she disappeared into the hall. Dr. Mintaka re-entered my room. Her sad reflection appeared in the mirror.

“I think she’s starting to come around, Doc.” I said in a sad, but neutral tone.

“Was it your intention to slip that hint to her? Did you know she had started to read my stuff? Does she mean something to your sisterhood, Dr. Belletrix Mintaka, Chief Surgeon for the city of Atlantis, and half-sister to the Empress of Time and Space?” I added quietly so that only the two of us could hear.

“I have to continue my rounds, Gil.” Her reflection moved out of my view. “I’ll check back on you in a few hours. Expect a nurse to come in to take a blood sample. With the damage done to your back, I want to keep an eye out for infection.”

“What sort of infection?” I asked confidently, but Mintaka had apparently already left.
 
 

“Knock, knock?” A pleasant sounding girl’s voice called into my room.

“Ya, I’m decent.” I answered. It had been at least an hour since ‘my’ doctor had swiftly left.

“Oh drat!” The voice giggled. “And there I thought I’d get a good look at that yummy tush all the nurses are talking about!”

“Should I start selling tickets? A buck a squeeze, Sweetie?”

“There’re only ten of us on the floor, Mr. Gould. You might make a few hundred unless word got out to the other floors.” She continued to giggle pleasantly. “But we intend to keep you all to ourselves.”

I expected a devious grin to go along with the tone. A beautiful, young, brunette nurse appeared in my reflected view. She did indeed have a devilish grin displayed on her stunning face.

“Good after-noon,” She said in a low, sinister, accented voice as she looked at me through the mirror below me. “My name is Vla…Chrysta,” She giggled and continued with her Bella Lugosi impersonation. “I’m here to suck…take your b-blood!”

My nurse began laughing and I saw her hand go to cover her mouth.

“Oh,” She paused to wipe her eyes. “That never gets old!”

“No,” I deadpanned. “It never does, Nurse Veratu.”

“Boy, someone’s in a mood today.”

“And I’d like to remain in this mood, thank you very much, Chrysta Westgate, Reilly Research Facility’s resident Emotions Telepath.” I said icily.

“Alex told us you were sharp. Don’t worry. I have my orders, Gil. ‘Don’t play with the writer’s emotions, hun’, is what she said. ‘He has yet to write the final chapter’, she warned. Whatever that’s supposed to mean!” She told me, doing a fair impression of the Empress.

“So you’re checking for nanos, I take it?” I asked outright. “Cause the way I feel at this moment, they aren’t working if they’re in there, ma’am.”

“I’m just here in a healthcare provider capacity, Gil. I have no idea what Alex’ plan is for you…or where you fit into it. So…I’ll be taking three vials of your lifeforce and giving them to Belle and Emily. No ‘gifty’ hocus-pocus on my part, alright?”

“Okay. I’ll try not to move much.” I said dejectedly. “What’s with the full bottle of alcohol? That stuff can kill ya.”

“Oh, now don’t pout like that, Gil. I’m sure Alex has seen your recovery. After all, you’re the one that invented…I mean…conceived of us. I mean…its hard to believe we exist because of your writing…because of your imagination.” She said in awe, but with a smile. “And I’m doing a favor for Cami. She needed a fresh bottle from the supply closet; thought I’d stop and get your samples on my way over to her station. Kill two birds with one stone as you say here in the ‘plus’ centuries.”

I thought about the plausibility of her explanation a moment before getting back to the real topic.

“Somehow, Ah think you ladies existed fer a might longer spell, an’ it were jes’ dumb luck Ah imagined it at all.”

“You do her perfectly, Gil, with the exception of your octave, but I think you’re underrating your gift and abilities.”

“Gift? Hardly! My imagination is just that. How could I have possibly been the one that brought all of you to life? I’m not a God…not even in my own fictional universe.”

“There are some scholars and scientists that believe in the multiverse, Gil. One proposed theory is that our imaginations constitute one of them. Think about it before you shoot it down.”

Her reflection regarded mine for several seconds.

“When we dream…whether its a vivid one or not…doesn’t it feel like we were there? Don’t you have to ask yourself if it was real after waking?” She paused.

“Think of all the really good movies you’ve been to in a theater environment, or maybe even a good book. Aren’t those media capable of carrying you away from this reality, even for a short time, to take you to some other place, some other time, possibly another world, or even a completely different universe?” She paused again.

“Gil, you have done the same thing with your fictional series. You’ve designed a reality that is so close to yours, but still a close dimensional cousin that the characters are relatable- three dimensional.” She paused as her smile broke through her serious expression.

“Goddess, Gil! You’ve created a character that has the ability to cross the dimensional and universal barriers! If someone like the Empress exists in even just one dimension or universe, wouldn’t it stand to reason that she could…would travel here to find you eventually?”

I understood her thinking and, from her perspective, it seemed logical, but I had doubts as to whether I deserved the praise, the elevation to ‘creator’.

“Whether you accept it or not, Gil, you are effectively our creator- the designer of our base universe. If just for this world…this universe.”

“Ah ain’t no goddamn deity!”

Chrysta Westgate giggled as I saw her reflection smile brightly.

“I can see how much of you there is in Alex, Gil. I think you could call her your avatar?”

“I’m no where near as special as Alex…any of them…or any of you for that matter. I’m just a regular guy with a weird, wild imagination.”

“I think I see what Alex sees in you, Gil. Her. She sees herself in you…albeit a more ‘normal’ version of her, you’re less adventurous...and less diplomatic…and…”

“Oh, do go on, Miss Westgate. I don’t feel substandard enough right now.” I interrupted sarcastically.

“I’m sorry, Gil, but hey, I didn’t ply my gift on you, did I?”

“And I would notice…how?”

“Good point, I see…”

CODE BLACK IN EMERGENCY TRIAGE! ALL AVAILABLE MEDICAL STAFF ARE TO REPORT TO EMERGENCY TRIAGE IMMEDIATELY!

“That’s my cue to go, Gil. I’ve got just enough time to drop these off at Emily’s office. I’ll check in again when I can. Take care, Gil.” Nurse Westgate advised pleasantly before quickly exiting my room.
 
 

“Hello again, Mr. Gould.”

That voice! The Empress’ voice. Alex was in my room, but somehow the voice had a different tone than it did when we met previously. A…a condescending tone. I’d heard this version of the voice once before- and not all that long ago either!

I had to remain calm and I saw no way out of this. I was at her mercy.

“Hi Alex. I thought you would be attending to the code black with the others?” I greeted, trying to keep my dire suspicions out of my voice.

“You, of all people, know I’m not that kind of doctor, Gilbert.”

“So…what can I do for you, ma’am?” I asked the reflection dressed in WWII era Navy dress whites.

“Oh, I just popped in to check your dressings, Mr. Gould…see how the old back is healing.”

The sudden stinging pain indicated that she had cut and ripped some of my bandaging away. I fought the pain valiantly.

“Uuuuhhhhh! In this case, I don’t think that method works very well, ma’am.” I grimaced.

“Hmmm? Oh, I beg to differ. It seems to have opened those professionally sealed wounds exquisitely. They’re bleeding quite nicely now. Less chance of infection too, right, Gilbert?”

“I wouldn’t know about that, ma’am. I’m just a custodian and couldn’t even pretend to be a doctor.”

“A custodian? Who even uses that term in this day and age? You know what I think, Mr. Gould? I think you’re a writer! A writer that invented a make believe world filled with all kinds of strange and bizarre people…and mythical creatures too, let’s not forget the mythical creatures!”

“Okaaay. So I’ve done a little writing in my spare time. I’m not gifted by any stretch. I’ve mostly written down my dreams, so what, ma’am?”

“So…” This Alex paused as I thought I felt a finger or two moving gently across my skin just above my wounded back, like she was admiring her previous work. “So did you ever hear that little ol’ theory that dreams can kill you? Did it even occur to you that your dreams really would do that?”

I tried not to make too big of a show of suddenly gulping back the huge ball of spit that had instantly collected in my mouth as she continued. This was not looking good for me at all.

‘And you can’t even write your way out of this one, Gil!’ I thought to myself.

“Tell me, Gilbert. How does the pain feel? Does it feel as exquisite to you as it does to me?” She asked in that condescending tone.

“Gee Alexandra, I didn’t know you were into BDSM. Pardon me if I can’t reciprocate.” I sassed defiantly.

“Oh, I haven’t even begun yet, Mr. Gould. Did you know that you could easily kill someone if you stab them between the third and fourth thoracic vertebrae? I’ve never believed that, but always wanted to find out. Could you possibly help me prove that theory, Gilbert?”

“I didn’t know that, ma’am. I did know that you could kill someone by using your palm to violently shove a person’s nose back into their skull- Common knowledge in the Special Forces these days.”

‘Just turn me over and I’ll show you, Bitch!’ I thought angrily.

“An amusing bit of information that could be used some other time, I’m sure.” She laughed. A shiver ran down my spine as I again felt her finger actually slide down my spine, but disappeared about two-thirds of the way down.

“If you really want to see me suffer, there’s a used syringe in the hazardous waste container on the wall. Just shoot a large air bubble into my IV line and watch as I go into convulsions until I die. Will that sate your deep, twisted hunger for revenge, Alexandra Steinert?”

‘Shut the hell up, Gil!’ I thought to myself.

“Intriguing, but that’s still too fast, Mr. Gould. I’m looking for something a little bit more…temporal.”

“Naturally.” I deadpanned as I figured ‘to hell with it’ and decided not to play nice anymore.

“Why not pay a visit to the research lab two floors down. I’m sure they have some venom or experimental reagent that will take hours to kill me off. That’s what you want, right? To make Alex pay for abandoning you in that alternate chunk of reality you waste huge amounts of energy on just to hold it together? You want to make her suffer like you’re doing right now? You want everyone involved to feel your pain and torment?”

“My, you are the defiant one, Mr. Gould. One would suspect that you feel you have nothing more to live for. That is more the truth than I think you can comprehend.”

“I should have never created you, ‘Bad Alex’. I always told myself that such villains were cliché, gauche, and childish…flawed in more ways than I could count. Against my better judgment though, I wrote you! Alexandra- the alter ego…the very worst of the Empress- quite corrupt and mad in mind and spirit! You, Alexandra ARE the worst thing I’ve ever written!” I declared coldly.

“Maybe I won’t allow you to die so slowly after all, Gilbert. Maybe I’ll just end you quickly and watch all of this- all of them- dissolve into the ether like my sister expected me to do!” She threatened.

So that’s what she meant! Somehow I didn’t see that working very well given the things the Empress had been through in previous seasons.

“Then do it and reduce the surplus population, Alexandra! Do it so I won’t have to look at your disfigured face or listen to your contemptible, glass etching, bitching!”

An intense burning pain reasserted itself in my back. I cried out in agony! I could only imagine what she had done to my newly reopened wound- the same one she, herself, had caused however long ago on Ni’ihua.

“Really? Scratching my back again? You’re a coward, Alexandra Steinert!” I gasped hoarsely through gritted teeth in defiance of the pain. “You’re afraid to actually take someone’s life!”

“I’m not a coward, Mr. Gould. I just haven’t decided how to end you yet. There are so many variations on the theme. Huh…rubbing alcohol. How convenient. You know, they say that wood alcohol will make you go blind if taken internally, though in some cases it can cause a horrific death.”

“So humor your internal masochist, Alexandra! Pour the stuff into my open flesh and relish in the sound of my screams and spasmodic convulsions! Do it, you coward!” I challenged. “I dare you, you twisted bitch!”

“You are quite annoying, Mr. Gould- and overly brave…not to mention stupid and reckless. Hmmmm. I think I just might have found the perfect mix of torture and morbidly, slow death. Let’s try a little experiment, shall we, Mr. Gould.”

“Bring it on, Alexandra! Better make it good, too!” I hissed hoping the action would defer some of the intense pain radiating from what was left of my spine.

I saw her produce and hold a syringe so that I could see it and her deranged expression in the reflective window to my small world. In her other hand, she held up the full bottle of alcohol Chrysta Westgate had unknowingly left behind. Disappearing from my limited view for a moment, she reappeared and dramatically expressed some clear liquid from the needle. Immediately, the smell of alcohol filled my nostrils. She was humming ‘In The Mood’ of all things, while doing it. There was a sinister smile pasted on her face, too.

“Well. It was nice to meet you, Mr. Gilbert Gould. Do enjoy your eternal rest knowing that my sisters won’t be very far behind.”

It took an enormously long time for me to feel the effects of the isopropyl alcohol she’d injected into the IV hooked to my body- the burning sensation running up my arm and expanding in my chest and other arm. Maybe it was just the anticipation of what was to come that slowed the passage of time. My arteries and veins began to feel like they were on fire- my head ready to explode! Whether I cried out or not, I couldn’t say as the painful burning took all my energy and concentration to fight.

It was a losing proposition though. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt this was my final chapter- the end of MY story. I could no longer see the mirror below me- not knowing if my eyesight had been affected or had just had my eyes closed tightly in retaliation to the insufferable burning flowing rampantly throughout my old, battered, and abused body. It had served me well for over sixty years and now, in a matter of minutes, I would no longer require it. I would finally be at peace. Away from the pains and disappointments of this life…away from all those who would do me harm or take advantage of my generosity…away from the hideous creation that might still be gloating over me…away from my loved ones that I disappointed with my character flaws…away from my beloved not-so-imaginary heroines.

Alex Reilly had said I wasn’t yet ready. I guess…I guess I’d never know now.

Evie and the kids’ faces’ appeared vividly in my defeated mind. I wished each of them a far better life than I had as I began to fade away into the cold, dark…lonely… nothingness.
 
 
 
 
 

My eyes opened on a pleasantly lit, generic, hotel room, impartially decorated, yet somewhat bland to the eye. A very utilitarian place as it lacked any personal touches.

Where was I? Was this heaven? Hell? The much-rumored pergatory? Why a hotel room of all things?

Why was I resting on my back having no immediate sense of the unimaginable pain I’d just experienced evident there, or in any other part of my body?

Of course…there wouldn’t be pain in Heaven, I reminded myself. But would that be the case for the ‘other’ places as well?

“Oh! You’re awake? I’ll let them know.” A pleasant, young woman with long, wavy, brown hair smiled. She could have easily been the Playboy playmate of the year, I thought off-handedly. There was nervous relief evident in her voice as she stood gracefully and walked to my right, to what looked like an open doorway and hallway beyond.

“Try not to move or speak. I’m not sure you should be awake yet.” She advised nervously as she exited and quickly disappeared down the pleasantly lit hallway.

What did she mean by ‘she wasn’t sure I should be awake yet’? What was going on here? Where was ‘here’ anyway?

Maybe this was just some ‘waypoint’, a stop off on the way to the afterlife?

“Oh? Already? That’s never happened before! Yes, go get her.” I heard from right outside the room.

Still confused, but mostly terrified of where I was, I carefully, almost covertly, scanned the room I found myself in. On closer inspection, it appeared somewhat bigger than a typical hotel room. Closer to a one bedroom apartment, I’d say.

One that I could see Evie and I…

Who was I kidding! I was dead and this was probably what was left of my brain cells firing off in some weird sequential playback of my life! Randomly firing synapses, that’s it- the much-talked-about ‘Life’ flashing before my eyes! Hmmph! This sucked! It was so cruel! I wanted to get this over with before something really embarrassing popped up.

Could what I saw around me now be a memory of what our first apartment had looked like and it had been so long I didn’t recognize it? Funny, I could have sworn we had a small kitchen and small table, four chairs…oh well…maybe I’d been wrong in my recollection all these years.

For all I knew Evie would probably come walking through that door any moment now!

“It’s about time you wake up!” A somewhat familiar voice declared with a nervous giggle from the open doorway, as I’d found myself staring at the room’s ceiling. The pleasant voice reminded me of Evie’s, but how she sounded just after we’d met. Forty years ago!

The young woman who owned the voice even reminded me of my beloved of thirty-eight years… before our split…and my subsequent death. This woman even displayed the very same mannerisms and facial expressions Evie used to use, as she stood across the room, scanning me curiously!

Of course, this woman had never seen me before now.

This young lady’s face…just as I remembered my wife’s! Her hair- silky, dark brown- the exact same as Evie’s had been back then. Even the style was the same! Poker Straight, parted just right of center, cute curled bangs long enough to obscure a top fraction of her left eye, the rest cascading just past her shoulders... I liked the style on her though. Evie had had it shortened and permed for our wedding, I remembered fondly…

Damn these dying memories!

“Once again you’ve surprised me, hun.” A very familiar voice said from the doorway. “And they call me the ‘enigma’!” It added with a pleasant snort.

One of the Alex’ stood there carefully summarizing- evaluating- analyzing, me.

She must have called me…what was left of me that is…my life energy…my…my spirit, into her private domain. That was what this was! I had been called to the Empress’ private domain. For what purpose, I could only speculate.

I silently glared at the two women standing in this…this construct of a hotel suite and waited patiently for Alexandra to ask something of me or reveal her plan.

A sudden thought occurred to me. It was so laughably off-the-wall, but completely understandable for a universe I had imagined. I felt myself smile. That actually surprised me. I didn’t think I’d be able to feel emotion in the realm of the deceased.

Could I now be part of her ‘Upper Management Team’? Me, common schmuck, Gilbert Gould, the author of South of Bikini- the so-called ‘creator’- the imagineer- of her and her universe…

“I’m not sure I can do this, Alex.” The woman having Evie’s youthful form and voice rudely interrupted my thoughts. I detected extreme nervousness, awkwardness, and a large amount of stress in it.

Was the Empress of my imagination actually encouraging this girl to inform me of my demise?

Even I couldn’t imagine something so awful- so cold and heinous!

“Then allow me, sister.” Alex Reilly, or was it Alex Steinert or Covington, or even Alexandra from Terra offered. It really didn’t matter which at this point. I had already made my peace…

“Welcome to Reilly Research Station, Gillian Ann Gould.”
 

Fine
 
 
 


 
 

Sorry this took so long to post- weather being weather and all...
 
My heartfelt thanks go out to all the loyal readers of this series. I hope you all have enjoyed the Empress’ adventures over the past few years- I know I’ve enjoyed writing each and every episode of Alex’ story.

Added thanks go to those who left encouraging feedback, volunteered language translation, caught math mistakes, and contributed valuable military knowledge that added realism and believability to the South of Bikini Universe. I am grateful for your input and enthusiasm.

On behalf of the Alexandras and their sisters, thank you,

R.G. Beyer



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